Sugar Ray Robinson, Fedor Emelianenko, Marcelo Garcia, are beyond all time greats in their field, they are athletes who are broadly considered the best ever at what they did. Fedor Emelianenko dominated the heavyweight division in the most talent rich promotion, and held eight wins over UFC champions along with victories over K1 legends, Olympic gold medalist judokas and all time great grapplers. Robinson was so dominant as a boxer that the term pound for pound was quite literally invented for him, to make it clear that he was the best boxer, even if he couldn’t necessarily beat a heavyweight.
Yet, Giorgio Petrosyan to me stands above the rest. I do not think there has been a combat sports athlete as dominant or consistent over time, as The Doctor. Today I’ll be making the argument for why Giorgio Petrosyan is not only the greatest kickboxer of all time, but the greatest combat sports athlete who ever lived.
First, the housekeeping. There will no doubt be people who want to bring up the likes of Samart Payakaroon or Saenchai as greater fighters. Would Samart Payakaroon have beaten Petrosyan in a Muay Thai bout? I would hope so, given that Petrosyan is primarily a kickboxer. We’re not talking about who has the best technique necessarily, or who would beat who, and Samart will get his own article making the case for him as the greatest in the near future – but for now we are talking about dominance within a single sport.
The masterful thing about Petrosyan is when you look at his style, he truly isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary or unorthodox, he is simply perfectly refined for one approach, smothering and countering.
Petrosyan builds his style of teeps and shoves, which he uses to keep his opponents at bay, allowing him to take an angle and force the opponent to turn. He will then hit the opponent while they are turning. Rince, repeat. He then uses very simply, precise slips and counters at this new found range, to score points and hopefully stop an opponent.
Petrosyan’s style is careful, he’s doesn’t take crazy risks, he is very much like a doctor. This simple approach of push your opponents into your preferred range, smothering their offence, and then countering from that preferred range is something that any fighter on paper can do – yet Petrosyan has done it at such a high level that his opponents frequently look mid level.
Petrosyan has fought the best of the best, consistently across his career (put a pin in that for later) but his fights have rarely ever been close. Outside of his 3 losses, the only two opponents who have seemed to really give him trouble have been Buakaw, who was already K-1 Champion at the time a young Petrosyan faced him, and Petchmorrakot, who’s bout with Petrosyan has been a source of controversy which we’re not going to bother with today.
The rest of his opponents, despite being world class fighters like Albert Kraus and Andy Souwer have looked baffled and confused. Souwer was resorting to throwing desperation spinning kicks just in the hopes of catching Petrosyan with something big, which the Armenian-Italian would then effortlessly dodge.
Let’s pull that pin back out and talk about consistency. Most great fighters have a clear career prime. Anderson Silva was at one point considered the greatest UFC fighter of all time, the UFC fan base is quite fickle however and soon moved onto the next flavour of the month. When he was at his peak it was clearly in the late 2000s, where he racked up an excellent undefeated streak and saw many highlight stoppages. He fell off and didn’t compete at that level later in his career, and interestingly enough, Silva in his early career in Pride wasn’t the best either.
We can’t really say this about Giorgio Petrosyan, who has consistently beat the best fighters in his division for the entirety of his career. The first two years of his career saw him fight Fabio Pinca, who would go on to become Rajadamnern Champion, we would then see him repeatedly beat the under rated Abdallah Mabel, who himself had beaten the legendary Sakmongkol.
His first major bout, the one that put eyes on him, was his fight with Buakaw. Buakaw was, as mentioned before, already a two time K1 Max Champion, he held wins over Masato, Albert Kraus, John Wayne Parr, Andy Souwer, Yoshihiro Sato amongst others. Petrosyan by comparison was just a young kickboxer who no one really expected to do that well.
Yet Petrosyan fought Buakaw to a draw. I think the sign of a fair draw is when the audience are truly split over who won. Many Buakaw fans will say that Buakaw completely dominated the fight with clinch work. Others will point out that Buakaw legitimately struggled against Petrosyan in kickboxing exchanges, but however you slice it Petrosyan was a developing talent who fought K-1’s best fighter in his prime to a draw.
From here we see something we have never seen in kickboxing before. Petrosyan would go on to dominate three generations of kickboxers. In a few short years he would win back to back K-1 World Max tournaments. This would see him beating the best of K-1’s Era as the top promotion in the world, before they gradually shifted to becoming more exclusively a J-Kickboxing promotion. He would hold wins against Kraus, Souwer, Kyshenko, Sato, Zambidis, Kem Sitsonpeenong, Cosmo Alexandre Yuya Yamamoto and more.
For those who aren’t familiar with kickboxing, it’s hard to articulate that he beat literally every major name from that era, with the exception of Masato, who had retired, and Buakaw, who he never rematched.
We would then see him dominate a second generation of kickboxers, as Glory was founded and started signing some older K-1 talent, along with new previously undiscovered kickboxers. Starting out strong with a rematch against Fabio Pinca, Petrosyan would once again dominate the scene with wins over Robin Van Roosmalen, who went to serve as a dual division champion for Glory, and Davit Kiria, Josh Jauncey, Enriko Khel and Jordan Watson.
His sole blemish comes from a KO loss to Andy Ristie, an excellent fighter who ultimately ruined his own career due to feuding with his coach Lucien Carbin. Not much became of Ristie after that victory, but for Petrosyan, who had been winning on the scoreboards ahead of a loss, it really only served as a bump in the road.
He would take a year to recover before racking up another 20 fights, with 19 wins and one no contest. This streak would see him beating the best of our current generation of kickboxers, including winning the One Kickboxing Featherweight GP, which was truly stacked with the likes of Yodsanklai, surprise upset maker Samy Sana and Petchmorrakot amongst others. With wins over Petchmorrakot and the at the time, very scary Sana, Petrosyan would once again dominate a tournament format. Even the current One Featherweight Champ, Chingiz Allazov would suffer a loss to Petrosyan during this time period.
There are many great fighters, but it’s hard to weigh any of them up against Petrosyan. The Doctor has fought 112 times at the time of writing, and has lost only three of them. He has had unparalleled dominance and longevity in a sport which takes a brutal toll on the body. When you look at other greats of combat sports, like Mayweather, or Silva, there are always the questions of who they didn’t fight. This accusation can never be made against Petrosyan, as I can’t think of another fighter who truly beat every top name in the sport.
For that and many other reasons, Giorgio Petrosyan for my money, is the greatest combat sports athlete of all time.
Mma, One championship, Giorgio petrosyan, Mixed martial arts
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