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A Word with Our Friend (Dave Walsh Interview)

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by Leo Poroshin

Armenian kickboxers are among the best in the world.  Starting with the phenomenal Giorgio Petrosyan, about to make his Glory return, HyeFighters made their presence felt on the kickboxing circuit, winning top honors and accolades.  We are honored and proud to write about their accomplishments.

In this we are greatly aided by David Walsh, an American writer.  His site, Liverkick.com, is amazingly comprehensive, and he seems to never miss an event, giving it due coverage.  It’s especially impressive considering how much kickboxing is still, unfortunately, unknown to American fans at large, most of whom are barely aware of this entertaining, fast-paced, and physical combat sport.  We have conducted an interview with Dave, to find out more about how he came to be the champion and chronicler of kickboxing, and what he thinks of Giorgio’s chances and Armenian kickboxers.

 

1) First of all, thank you for your time. Let’s start by telling a bit about yourself-what you do, how long you have been operating your site, what your aspirations are?

Dave Walsh: Oh man, well, first off, I’m an American, which when it comes to kickboxing and running a site about kickboxing seems like an anomaly of sorts. I’ve done a lot of things in my 32 years, including being a professional musician, worked in PR, have ran a bunch of sites covering MMA and kickboxing and am a novelist, currently finishing up my third novel and working on a fourth as well because who needs a break, right?

I started a kickboxing blog in 2009 after helping to run an MMA site for a few years. MMA had kinda gotten stale to me (I started watching in the mid-90’s, mind you) but kickboxing had never lost its luster, so I looked around and saw that there were a ton of MMA sites, all regurgitating the same news stories. Everything was copy and paste, maybe splash a few malformed opinions in there and they were doing well. As a fan of kickboxing I was frustrated that these MMA sites were covering the sport so exhaustively and that they had all branched out to cover stuff like BJJ competitions and amateur wrestling while completely ignoring professional kickboxing. So I started a site alongside Fraser Coffeen (who is now over at BloodyElbow) called K-1 Legend where we set out with two goals; give kickboxing the same kind of coverage that other sports were getting and to get bought out by a major blog network. We put a lot of work in and everyone was linking to our coverage and within a matter of months SBNation (now Vox) bought us out, brought us on board and we started HeadKickLegend.com.

That went really well and quickly became *the* kickboxing site for most people, but the money was just not good (even though the traffic was steadily building) and I got an offer from MiddleEasy to start my own site up (again) to be a part of a network they were launching. This meant selling my own ads and actually seeing the revenue from it and having more control over all of it, it also meant that anything that was published was owned by myself, not the site network like the previous one. In retrospect it kinda sucked having to completely rebuild the site’s traffic like that and that promise of greater fortunes didn’t materialize for years. Oh yeah, and the sport of kickboxing “died” and came back within that span of time.

What’s funny is that right now isn’t looking too different, in the grand scheme of things. Oh kickboxing.

2) Obviously, you’re a great fan of kickboxing, muay thai, and kyokushin karate. Can you tell us what drew you to these particular sports?

DW: As a kid I really, really loved Bruce Lee and I thought the idea of the whole one night tournament thing was really cool. At the time I was about 11 and I was taking Kenpo, this was just after the first few UFCs happened and a few of us were talking about it like kids would. You know, none of us really understood it and were pretty sure that people were fighting to the death like in Bruce Lee movies, even if they weren’t. Our instructor was a weird, surfer/stoner dude that we all respected a lot and he overheard the conversation and basically said “that stuff is bullshit.”

That was enough to catch my attention, what could be better than essentially the game Pit Fighter on PPV? He talked about this thing in Japan, K-1, that was some big tournament of the best kickboxers (you know, like JCVD) in the world. I bit, borrowed a tape from him and saw Peter Aerts’s 1994 K-1 World Grand Prix run and I was hooked. Getting these events on tape in the US was a bit difficult, but within a few years the internet and tape trading was helping with that. I was big into Japanese pro wrestling as well in the late 90’s so I’d just get anything that I could get my hands on from Japan, from wrestling to Pancrase, Shooto, RINGS and whatever else, but K-1 was always my favorite.

I think the biggest thing for me was that it felt larger-than-life. K-1 was the right mix of real fighting with that pro wrestling pageantry. It was still real and had that visceral appeal to it, but it was impossible to watch it and not feel like it was the most important show on Earth.
3) In terms of marketing, fan interest, revenues, I think it’s fair to say that in USA (as well as Russia and some other markets) kickboxing is currently treated as a distant third cousin of professional boxing and MMA. Would you agree that it’s an unhealthy dynamic? And how can this public mindset be changed?

DW: MMA is kind of the juggernaut right now, which is funny because for a while it’s popularity was really waning. This year has seen a resurgence for the UFC on PPV here in the States, but the sport doesn’t have that same kind of mass appeal that it did a few years back. Back then it was sort of fresh and new feeling, now it’s just another thing to watch every Saturday. Boxing is hot and cold, but man, kickboxing is just non existent.

Part of the problem is that kickboxing hasn’t been a part of the culture and many link it to the strip mall karate boom of the 1980’s thanks to stuff like the Karate Kid. That helped to solidify martial arts as something for nerds or children. Professional kickboxing did exist here and we had some decent exports like Benny Urquidez, Rick Roufus, Don Wilson and a host of others, but a lot of them made their names internationally, not in America. Kickboxing briefly aired on TV here, but kickboxing can’t ever get its shit together and somehow always falls into the hands of the corrupt and that didn’t last long.

GLORY on Spike was really the first time that kickboxing had been on American TV (other than ESPN3 at 3am or whatever K-1 had, or K-1 on HDnet) since the early 90’s. The problem now is that MMA is the norm, it took those old notions about martial arts and turned it into this “bro” sport. Now that jock from high school can say he “trains MMA” and gets to pound on people and call it martial arts even though it is an entirely different concept than what most martial arts teach. People view kickboxing as a “part” of MMA, not as its own sport (the same with muay thai), so they somehow view it as not as technical, complicated or valuable.

I remember back to GLORY 10 and Ron Kruck was interviewing Laura Prepon, who starred in That 70’s Show and Orange is the New Black. She’s a well known MMA nut and loves grappling, so he asks her what she thinks and she said it was cool, fun, but that it wasn’t as complicated as MMA or BJJ. I feel like that sums up how MMA people look at kickboxing and it’s ridiculous.

At this point I’m not sure how you change it other than just having it readily available. The big change needs to be athletes choosing kickboxing over boxing and MMA, but with big name kickboxers opting to try their hand at boxing and MMA this is looking like a bit of a dead end.

4) This may echo an earlier question, but what, to you, makes kickboxing a “watchable” sport, what makes watching it a rewarding experience? What is its potential to reach a wider audience, that is-to develop a broad fan base?

DW: Man, I really feel like kickboxing could be so huge if people would just give it a chance. A big issue over the last year or so is that GLORY had the platform, but they kinda blew all of their money early on. Instead of being consistent with the quality of their shows, they had to scale back and some of the more recent shows have just been trashfires of cards with a solid main event. I get it, I get why they were doing it and what their intentions were, but if I had tuned in for the first time to GLORY San Diego I’d probably never watch it again.

Kickboxing has always been exciting and the top talent out there are amazing to watch. Those guys need to be front-and-center, but at the same time I understand those guys need to make as much money as they can while they are in their primes, so I don’t blame Saki or Spong for holding out for more money, or Rico, Nieky and van Roosmalen looking for big paydays outside of the sport.

Right now kickboxing is so fragmented and really only has local appeal in each market. If you are living in the Netherlands you only care about Dutch kickboxers, if you are in Romania you think these Romanian guys are the best, if you live in Italy you want to see Petrosyan, if you live in Spain you want to see these Spanish guys and so on and so on. This kind of stuff has led to the sport not being accessible to the general public beyond that one area. Hell, even K-1 was a Japanese product aimed at Japanese fans.

You’ve seen GLORY stumbling around the past few years trying to remain “international” but to appeal to American audiences because there is more money to be made in the US market and desperately clawing at any American to be their breakout star. There needs to be a shift in marketing to the entire sport and somebody willing to promote all of the best fighters under one roof. That’s what the UFC did and you know what? They didn’t need only American stars to grow in the US. At certain points in their history most of their titles have been held by Brazilians who still sold PPVs for them.

5) Would you say that Glory is making strides to be a heir apparent of K-1 as a main promotional company for kickboxing? What other worthwhile promotions can you mention and how well do they do the job of presenting the sport and creating interesting shows?

DW: No. I mean that with all due respect to them. There are a lot of people within that organization that I know pretty well now, that I respect and really want to see succeed, but they have made too many mistakes that have cost them dearly over the past year or so. Everyone can see that post-GLORY 17/Last Man Standing they are struggling. K-1 was unique in that they had the backing of a major broadcast television network in Japan. Fujii TV and TBS (Fujii for K-1 WGP, TBS for K-1 MAX) were paying millions of dollars for those shows to happen, they were promoting them everywhere and people tuned in. People loved it. Ties with organized crime (which are everywhere in combat sports) were their ruin and there was a major public image crisis because of that.

That being said, the next big thing in kickboxing could very well be K-1 Japan. I don’t know if you guys have been watching those shows, but they are the absolute best events going right now, the best roster of talent and it’s really picking up steam in Japan right now. Funny how that works, right?

Right now is weird for kickboxing. It very much feels like late 2010 all over again in that people are just waiting for GLORY to fold but there is no It’s Showtime to carry the torch right now. SuperKombat has made attempts to expand beyond the Romanian borders a few times now and I like them, but I’m not sure how they’ll succeed promoting Romanian fighters throughout Europe. Morosanu and the Stoicas are a big deal in Romania, but if you take them to Belgium or somewhere like that you’ll just have Dutch fans craving one of their locals destroying them, that’s it. If they can diversify? They could make a big dent in Europe.

I’ve always been a fan of Carlo di Blasi’s style of promoting and I was really bummed when Fight Code didn’t work out, but Venum Victory World Series feels like a spiritual successor in a lot of ways, we’ll have to see how their 2016 looks. Enfusion seem to be happy in their role as a small-time league promoting up-and-comers, which is good for them.

Honestly, the biggest thing going right now is Kunlun, though. China is the next market that is going to explode for kickboxing. There is a lot of money to be made there if you are willing to play by their rules, there are a lot of people to watch. Some of those K-1 Global shows in China pulled in monster TV ratings, like dozens of millions of viewers. They kinda bungled their chance there, though. I’m not sure what happened, I think that they wanted more than the Chinese government was willing to give, but they were putting on shows featuring Chinese fighters and that’s what they want over there. If Kunlun or WLF can keep up their momentum we’ll see China as the next Japan as the mecca for kickboxing.

 

7) Over the years we saw several notable examples of MMA fighters taking part in kickboxing and vice versa (Crocop, Gegard, Alistair, Semmy Schilt, etc). What’s your take on this and do you see a potential benefit for both sports?

DW: If you would have asked me back in 2009 and 2010 I could have said that yes, there was a benefit to this kind of crossover. The atmosphere was so different then, though. K-1 was the juggernaut and were able to offer their fighters a chance to switch over to MMA without breaching a contract and it felt important. The only game in town right now for fighters who want to make money is the UFC and the UFC isn’t going to allow someone to take kickboxing fights.

Now? Damn, it’s bad. When a kickboxer decides to try their hand at MMA it feels more like feeling out career opportunities than it did before. K-1 and DREAM being intertwined led to some great moments, but without that kind of relationship between a kickboxing organization and an MMA organization? Yikes. Bellator and GLORY could have done that, SHOULD have done that, but no.

Not a fan of it.
7) Tempted to ask, who do you think is the best Armenian fighter out there, but I think we all know the answer to that. So, to rephrase the question-what are your thoughts on Giorgio Petrosyan’s place in the development of the sport? What impression did his comeback made on you so far? Do you think he’ll be able to reclaim his position at the top of the rankings, and what would it take?

DW: Ha! Yeah, it’d have to be Petrosyan, wouldn’t it? I’ve always been a huge fan of his. He’s so immensely talented and fun to watch. He’s actually not traditionally fun to watch, like you aren’t watching Mike Zambidis or anything, but his technique is just killer. When you are watching him you know that you are watching a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

I’m not sure how I feel about his comeback thus far. Not to knock his opposition thus far, because they’ve been pretty good, they aren’t at the level of the top guys in the division. He’s looked… human against them, which concerns me. He’s not slipping every strike anymore, he’s getting hit a bit more and a part of me worries that if he keeps going we’re going to see a very good fighter, but not the fighter that we saw before. That we’ll lose that special thing that we had in him where we could all say without any trepidation that he is the best fighter alive in any sport.

He’s got a tall order in front of him with facing Jauncey as a come back to GLORY, then fight either Robin or Sitthichai (probably Sitthichai?) to reclaim his throne. I don’t envy that task.
8) Petrosyan’s next fight, a return to Glory, is coming up. His opponent is an up-and-coming young Canadian fighter Josh Jauncey. What can you say about Jauncey? Do you think it will be a good fight, and if so-why?

DW: Josh is a very good fighter and I think that a lot of people underrate him. The fight against Sitthichai showed some holes in his game, but his mentality was that he had to get through the first fight, he never really thought that he’d get to fight Sitthichai and he just kinda froze. He’s still very young and he was the one that was actively pursuing this fight with Petrosyan. Did his team see something he could exploit? I don’t know, but when someone actively pursues a fight against a guy who was once the very top guy but had a bit of a fall there is usually a reason.

If Jauncey wins this is the biggest win of his young career and he can claim to be one of two people to beat Giorgio Petrosyan.

I do think it’ll be a good fight, though. Petrosyan has shown some issues possibly with confidence since his return, he’s getting hit and Jauncey will look to exploit this, I think. But at the same time, landing 1 strike on Giorgio Petrosyan and throwing 10 to land that one opens up a load of possibilities for Petrosyan to counter, which has always been his specialty. I really wish these fights were longer because I don’t think that three rounds will give a satisfying outcome to this.
9) What other Armenian fighters have impressed you? Any that you’d advise to keep an eye on, perhaps young ones or fighting in regional circuits?

DW: If we are counting Petrosyan, I want to say the Grigorians. Marat and Harut are tremendous fighters and of late, Marat in particular is really one of the best in the world at such a competitive weight class. Not too sure about the regional stuff, there is so much stuff going on that it’s hard to always keep track of. I try, but just not enough hours in the day sometimes.
10) Finally, anything else you’d like to say to the fans of kickboxing, Armenian and in general?

DW: Just keep your head up. Kickboxing is great and we all know it, it’s just other people that haven’t caught the fever yet. But as long as we keep pushing forward with it they’ll take notice. Support your favorite fighters (but do it respectfully, their opponents have friends, family and fans just like you) and support the fighters that are good, positive role models. It’s very much in vogue to like these guys who come across as tough guys who are involved in some shady stuff and really, that’s what holds the sport back.

Look for the good guys, they are out there, and let them know that you appreciate them.

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