For a minute there, Hoffman Estates had become a sort of hot bed for combat sports. That green extension of distant Chicago twice housed Fedor Emelianenko fights, once against Brett Rogers (the fight the wheels began to come off) and once against Dan Henderson (white gloves, white hot action). As far as fight game oddities go, it was always a joy to see Fedor’s long-bearded Russian priests walking around in stark contrast to the Claim Jumper just across the parking lot from the Marriott.
Now that Strikeforce is no more, fights are harder to come by there. But on Saturday night, the kickboxing promotion Glory 11 will go off at the Sears Centre, featuring its hybrid star Tyrone Spong. It will be Glory’s debut on Spike TV, which means it’ll be kickboxing’s turn to get ran up the flagpole. For aficionados of versatile stand-up striking, this is the sport.
And Spong, a champion kickboxer, will be looking to avenge a sideways fight with the Australian Nathan Corbett, who for all intents and purposes beat him back in 2009 in Jamaica. There’s some bad blood between the two, since a sure victory for Corbett became a "no-contest" when he threw some extracurricular punches after the referee was already waving him off.
That is, there is bad blood from Corbett’s side of things. For Spong, who’s won eight kickboxing bouts in a row, the second encounter is far more casual than that.
"Honestly, for me it’s just another fight," he told MMA Fighting. "For [Corbett] it’s a big deal. People, and I’m not trying to sound no type of way, but before this nobody even spoke about Nathan Corbett. Now he’s fighting me, people are talking about him. It’s a big deal for him. I don’t have bad blood. What happened, happened."
And what happened was good old-fashioned controversy, which never fails to be a great table-setter for a redo.
"The fight was ruled a no contest -- that’s not me, I didn’t call the fight," Spong says. "I’m not a judge. I’m not the commission. [Corbett] knocked me down, and after that the referee was waving the fight off already, so he would have got the win. He would have got the win for sure. And then, once I stood up, he threw a few more punches, and the commission, the judges, they called it a no-contest. I never, ever said that I won that fight, and I never said he didn’t win that fight, so for me personally, I lost that fight. It’s just a good rematch for me, because I can straighten that out. Other than that, it’s just another fight for me, no big deal."
As of 2012, Spong has begun moonlighting as an MMA fighter for the World Series of Fighting, where he’s gone 2-0 in its light heavyweight division. With a mystique that preceded him into the cage -- his kickboxing nickname is "King of the Ring" -- the expectations have been pretty lofty for the Dutch-Surinamese fighter, who trains with the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Fla.
Therefore, in his last bout against Angel DeAnda, Spong underwhelmed some fans with a no-frills decision victory -- particularly after having made short work of Travis Bartlett (KO) in his MMA debut nine months earlier.
His segue into MMA is a work in progress, but Spong intends to keep switching between the ring and the cage.
"I was satisfied, it was a ‘W,’" he says. "That’s the most important thing for me -- I need to win. Sometimes fight fans, what do you expect? [DeAnda] was 11-1, and in his last 10 fights he’d won by KO. That means he’s actually doing something right. And I proved I could go three five-minute rounds in an MMA cage. To me it was okay, just another victory. I was happy with it. If I can work on certain things, of course [I will]. That’s the challenge, and I like that."
For whatever reason, kickboxing, which is big in Europe and other parts of the globe, has been slow to warm up to America. Spong thinks that Spike TV will work to cultivate an audience.
"If you want to grow up to be something big, you’ve got to start eventually -- and this is the best start I can imagine," he says. "[Spike TV] is mainstream media. So I think it can get really big here in the States."
As to why it hasn’t already, Spong shrugs his shoulders, but does have a couple of theories.
"You know, since I’ve been in the States a lot of media has been asking the same question," he says. "I think in North America, people are very sports minded, and I think they’re just used to MMA. They grew with the sport, MMA and boxing, but most recently MMA is very popular. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s that there’s two guys in a cage and it’s just something brutal."
He says that without the nuances of the ground game, it actually translates better into what the larger majority of spectators want to see. (Read: Knockouts).
"When I’ve been to the MMA fights, and I’ve been to a lot of UFC fights, when the guys are striking, it’s all good," he says. "Once it gets to the ground, they start booing. So I really couldn’t understand why kickboxing isn’t mainstream and that popular here, because kickboxing stands for just striking, two guys standing out there banging it out. It’s constant action."
Spong will be the first to try and make new converts. He headlines the Glory 11 card (9 p.m. ET), which also features a bout between Joseph Valtellini against France’s Karim Ghajji, as well as a one-night four-man heavyweight tournament. The 28-year old Spong gets the chance to show off the refinement of his stand-up game to all of America, which is by turns explosive, technical, balletic and violent -- sometimes in the same sequence.
"I think it’s a big accomplishment for myself, being a main event on Spike TV," he says. "And also a little bit of being the face of Glory and being the ambassador for kickboxing as a sport here in the States. So, it feels pretty good."