The long-awaited clash between heavyweight kickboxers Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari went down in the main event of Glory: Collision. Verhoeven, the Glory heavyweight champion, Hari the former K-1 heavyweight champion and, to his fans, still the real number one heavyweight kickboxer. Today they settled the question. After 1 minute and 22 seconds in the second round Hari was forced to give up the fight, after suffering a broken arm caused by the left knee of Verhoeven.
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The two central characters in this fight were so dynamically opposed they could have been created by scriptwriters. Verhoeven is a clean-cut family man whose chief pleasure in life is to spend time with his two young daughters. Hari is a figure as infamous as he is famous, as often to be found in the newspapers gossip pages as their sports pages.
Hari is a dark, brooding figure who carries an air of menace. For many years he freely associated with one of the Dutch underworld’s top criminal figures, their association only coming to an end when the said person was shot to death in a hail of bullets. Hari himself gave the impression that the only thing which prevented his becoming a full-fledged gangster himself was his success in the ring.
Verhoeven could not be a starker contrast. Born and raised in a small town far from Amsterdam, the closest he has come to criminal infamy is a parking ticket. If the gossip columnists wanted to catch him they would have to be lying in wait at 5am, not to catch him falling out of a nightclub but rather to see him warming up for his morning run.
Both are technically proficient but deploy their skills in different ways. Hari is a risk-taker and will go all-out for a finish when he sense the possibility. Verhoeven is a strategist and very restrained; he does not believe in rolling the dice, preferring instead to take opponents apart methodically. Unfortunately they couldn’t go down in the process.
It was being billed as the biggest fight in kickboxing history. Normally this would be hyperbole from promoters but in this instance it very much stands up to scrutiny. Back when Japan was the world’s leading market there were certainly larger events in terms of attendance, but it’s difficult to think of a kickboxing fight which rivals this one in import. It brought together two top-tier names for a fight which is attracting a global audience.
The main event was loaded with import and storyline but, more importantly, it was guaranteed to be a tremendous fight. Both participants are elite and has a lot invested in the outcome. The fans, though sometimes overheated, created a phenomenal ambiance.
That last fact may be worth considering more fully. In the build-up a lot of the focus has been on Hari’s enormous physique and his huge number of knockout wins versus Verhoeven predominantly winning by decision. But Hari’s susceptibility to a stoppage was being overlooked. Hari wasn’t able to give his fans what they came for. He did won the first round very professionally, leaving Verhoeven with a nosebleed after the first 3 minutes.
At the same time, Hari, who has also won most of his fights by stoppage. His knockout rate contrasts starkly with Verhoeven’s, who overwhelmingly tends to win by decisions, and is why this fight is considered a pretty even match despite Hari’s relative inactivity this past two years.
In 2015, Hari fought just once, a third-round stoppage of Ismael Londt in a fight in Chechyna. He did not look as sharp as explosive as he had in his peak competition years, but by all accounts he was not especially motivated by the fight and didn’t train very hard for it. From the start of 2015 until now Verhoeven has gone 5-1, the decision loss being a rare wobble of form in China in January last year.
Hari was in superb physical condition for this fight with Verhoeven and has extensively documented several intense months of preparation. But Verhoeven’s fitness was a whole different level; he is a lifelong athlete and extremely self-disciplined. He has talked about how training for him begins every morning when he is putting his breakfast together.
All told, it was a fascinating piece of matchmaking and has legitimate claim to being one the biggest fights in the sport’s history.
The rematch has already been agreed upon. To be continued…