In the GLORY 35 NICE main event, Artem Vakhitov came back from an eight-month injury lay off to stop Zack Mwekassa in the second round and in the process remind people that he is one of the top talents in kickboxing today.
Vakhitov's preceding appearance was at GLORY 28 PARIS when he took the belt from Saulo Cavalari. He was due to defend against Mwekassa at GLORY 31 AMSTERDAM but was sidelined through injury, with the result that Mwkeassa fought for and won an interim belt on that show.
That made the GLORY 35 main event a title unification fight from which the winner would emerge as the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world. For Vakhitov, it would represent confirmation of his status as #1, for Mwekassa the completion of an incredible journey.
Mwekassa came into GLORY from professional boxing. Despite his novice kickboxing game, he was able to starch Pat 'HD' Barry at GLORY 16, commencing a run of crushing knockouts which won him fans around the world.
Vakhitov, on the other hand, is about as completely skilled as it is possible for a kickboxer to be. He does everything well: hands, knees, kicks and defense. He is extremely adaptable and combines strategy with power, a difficult mix for anybody to handle.
The strategy in this fight was to go to Mwekassa's lead leg early and land on it often. That targeting was reinforced by Mwekassa's strange response – instead of blocking a kick with a shin-check, he would simply absorb it.
Whether he thought that this dissuade Vakhitov by making him feel like his kicks were ineffective is unclear. What is clear is that the kicks were doing damage – Mwekassa took around twenty clean kicks to his left thigh and the leg was in obvious distress by the second round.
A leg-kick TKO – that classic finish of the olden days – looked to be on the cards. But Vakhitov hastened things along with a thunderous punch midway in the second round which floored Mwekassa. He beat the count but looked shaken; Vakhitov went after him on the restart and was soon able to drop him a second time.
This time there would be no restart. Referee Paul Nicholls looked at Mwkassa and determined that he was in no state to continue, calling an end to the bout and cementing Vakhitov's status as the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world. The title belt stays in Russia and, on the basis of that performance, looks like it will remain there for some time.
Artem Vakhitov (17-5-0) def. Zack Mwekassa (15-4-0), KO, R2