Someone kick me, I must be dreaming: Glory 9 comes to NYC

I’ve been like a kid on Christmas morning all day today. I’m going to the Glory 9 New York event at the Hammerstein Ballroom, which not only brings some of kickboxing’s most elite talent from all over the world to our fair city for the first time, but also promises one of the biggest payouts in the U.S. to date to the fighters. While other combat sports like boxing casually boast big dollar purses pretty frequently, it’s way less common for fighters in kickboxing to get paid their dues, and this event will pay a $200,000 grand prize to the champion of the 8 Man Light Heavyweight tournament.

As if that weren’t enough of a big deal, the tournament card reads like a who’s who of kickboxing, but any of the undercard fights would be a main event on their own. There’s been a ton of buzz surrounding Tyrone “King of the Ring” Spong, but I am most excited to see Daniel Ghita smash some legs with his savage low kicks. I was lucky enough to meet him at the open workout earlier this week and had a complete fangirl meltdown which I was only somewhat successful at hiding because I was too starstruck to do anything other than stand and stare. I told my boyfriend that if I ever left him for Ghita, good luck getting me back from him – this is a man who was a bodyguard for the Romanian president. He fights for FUN.

The fights will be available to stream at the GLORY website here, and I just heard that CBS Sports will also televise it afterwards, so no one has any excuses for missing this historical event.

Shine Bright – R.I.P. Ramon “Diamond” Dekkers

I seem to be the bearer of bad news lately. I was crushed to hear that the Muay Thai legend, Ramon “Diamond” Dekkers, had died of a heart attack while riding his bicycle in his hometown of Breda this past Wednesday afternoon. The rumor was so fresh that I literally had to translate Dutch news pages to get the story, and the whole time I was keening, “Please, let it be a hoax!” Unfortunately, it is all too true.  Dekkers passed away too young at age 43.

Anyone who is curious about Muay Thai or watches a fight eventually learns about Dekkers, an eight-time World Champion with over 200 pro fights by the time he retired.  For the uninitiated, I suggest doing a web search for the fights between Dekkers and Coban “the Crusher” Lookchaomaesaitong, which I consider to be the Muay Thai rivalry equivalent of Gatti versus Ward.

Finally, to give you another idea of what a legend the man is, a guy who knew I was into Muay Thai used a rare Dekkers highlight reel as date bait to bring me back to his apartment, claiming the tape (VHS, serious) had “kicks so sick, you’re going to lose your mind.”  Yeah, I went to his apartment to watch the tape.  It was amazing.

Keep on shining, Ramon.  Hope you’re still kicking ass wherever you are now.

Keiko Fukuda: “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.”

If you are remotely interested in the world of women’s sports and in particular, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), then chances are you have heard of a former Olympic Bronze Medalist Judoka named Ronda Rousey who is making waves in the UFC. However, long before Ronda was even a gleam in her daddy’s eye, another woman named Keiko Fukuda was making her own incredible journey in the world of martial arts, quietly and determinedly leading the way for Ronda and many other women like her.

I was incredibly saddened to hear that Shihan (Grand Master) Keiko Fukuda died recently at the very ripe and respectable age of 99. Descended from samurai, she was the last living person to have trained directly under Master Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, at the Kodokan, as one of a class of only 24 women. She is also the first and only woman ever to receive the rank of 10th dan. The first I ever heard of her was when she was awarded this honor from USA Judo after literally a LIFETIME devoted to teaching, in July 2011.

For anyone who whines about having to wait their turn, pipe down and listen up. Due to the sexist and traditional belief that there was no need for women to progress past the 5th level, Fukuda had to wait 30 years, while her male colleagues advanced, before she was finally promoted to the 6th dan in 1972. She was then denied promotion again to the 9th dan by the Kodokan just before her 88th birthday (although she received it later in 2006). A weaker person might have become embittered or turned their back on the sport, but despite these hardships, Fukuda displayed incredible grace, remained a lifelong devotee and ambassador, and was a living embodiment of her motto: “Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically.”

Her lifelong achievements and dedication are even more incredible when you think of the other traditional mores of her time and culture. If you think it’s hard to swim against the current here in the United States, you’ve probably never experienced the joys of trying to make your own way in a Confucian society. Members of her family hoped she would eventually marry one of the other Judo practitioners, but Fukuda remained unwed, dedicating her life to the art of Judo and teaching that art to others, saying that it “was my marriage… I just never imagined how long this road would be.”

Keiko Fukuda is a role model to any woman anywhere who wants to achieve something in a male dominated arena, athletic or otherwise. The first time I watched the above clip, I cried. In fact, I cry every single time I watch it, and am always amazed and awed by the strength of this remarkable woman. Rest in peace, Shihan Fukuda. Thank you. You were and will always be an inspiration.