Madison Square Garden is to the fight game what Fenway Park is to baseball, the Boston Garden to basketball or Wimbledon to tennis: an iconic venue, the name of which instantly conjures up the ghosts of past greats.
Muhammad Ali fought there. So too Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Jack Dempsey and 'Sugar' Ray Robinson. For fight fans this is hallowed ground and onto it, on July 14th, steps 19-year-old British featherweight standout Bailey Sugden (8-1). He is mindful of the significance.
“People spend an entire career fighting and never get to compete in Madison Square Garden. I'm just 19 years old and I've been invited to compete there. It's a huge honor. And I'm only getting started,” he says.
“My brother Chad [Sugden] fought for GLORY in Las Vegas and that's another place you always want to fight if you are a fighter, and I also want to fight there. But I think Madison Square Garden is another level again.”
Sugden comes from a fighting family. His father Dean was a champion kickboxer in his day and his brothers Chad and Regis are both professional fighters. Chad was a successful amateur boxer turned kickboxer and has now returned to boxing as a professional. Regis competes in Mixed Martial Arts; both are older than Bailey.
“My father is a massive influence on me, obviously. I was about six years old when he won his world title and I remember getting in the ring after he got his belt and I was stood there shadowboxing. I think that moment, being part of that, gave me the bug,” laughs Bailey.
“I started training at the age of five and from the age of ten I was taking competition seriously. Having my father and older brothers as fighters themselves helped me a lot and sparring with my two brothers is great. They are my hardest training partners by far.
“Right now Chad is pursuing professional boxing and doing well for himself. He was a very talented amateur boxer when he was younger, he won a silver medal in the Golden Gloves. He then turned to kickboxing and honestly I think he could beat any welterweight in GLORY right now if he wanted to, but GLORY 23 in Las Vegas was his last kickboxing fight before he went pro as a boxer.
“Regis has gone 3-1 as a professional MMA fighter and right now he is looking to get find the best promoters in the UK and get busy. He's not looking to sign long-term deals right now because he wants to fight frequently. I think it's great that all three brothers are in different sports because it means our gym will have three world champions in different disciplines!”
Championship titles are things that none of the brothers are strangers to, having met with success after success in their chosen fields. Even Bailey, the youngest of the three, has held numerous titles, though he says that in kickboxing the GLORY title is “the only one that really matters to me”.
Among the best of the 19-year-olds credits are three from the World Kickboxing Association (WKA). In 2008 he won the WKA British Open Championships in his weight class. In 2009 he won the gold medal in the World Championships, held that year in Spain, and in 2013 he travelled to Latvia to win a silver medal in the same competition.
Bailey is also a two-time winner of the 'Five Nations' competition. This league was modelled on the 'Six Nations' rugby tournament and saw champions and contenders from five nations – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – battle it out to determine which of them was top dog in northern Europe.
All of this has him entering GLORY at #17 in the featherweight rankings. It is a lowly position, far removed from the lofty heights that such names as Robin van Roosmalen and Giga Chikadze occupy but, for Bailey, it is all just a matter of time.
“I'm ranked #17 and I think that's fair. I didn't fight in GLORY yet and you never know where you are 'til you fight there. The best of the best are there, it's the UFC of kickboxing. But I am planning to climb fast as I can,” he says.
“That's why I was so focused on getting into GLORY. The only world title which matters is the GLORY world title. First things first, I have to beat Arthur Sorsor in New York. He looks like a machine, but I don't think he can handle me. After that, yeah, I am looking to work my way towards Roosmalen, or whoever has the belt.”
GLORY 43 NEW YORK takes place Friday, July 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.