In the sport of kickboxing there aren’t many dream fights left. Masato has retired, Buakaw has moved on to whatever promotion pays for his exclusivity to operate outside of the bounds of actual divisions, and the heavyweight greats that made K-1 and heavyweight kickboxing the spectacle that it is today have mostly sailed off into the sunset. While there can be arguments for batons being passed to a new generation, the lesser, more fractured platforms and the sudden retirements of fighters like Sem Schilt has put a damper on the division. That’s why this last dream fight between Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari matters so much, yet at GLORY 33 it is put in question.
Newer stars either never materialized or burnt out. Daniel Ghita became a Romanian politician after disappointing losses to Rico Verhoeven, Badr Hari was primed to take the sport to the next level and refused to control his temper, Alistair Overeem chased his dream of UFC gold and guys like Tyrone Spong saw a future in boxing that kickboxing could never give them. Top fighters like Robin van Roosmalen and Rico Verhoeven are even seeing possible futures for themselves in MMA, with both having sights set on the UFC.
Through all of this, Rico Verhoeven arose, coming from a background of being a solid heavyweight, but young and unseasoned. He looked like he would be the next Hesdy Gerges; a top guy who came close, but never quite put it all together to become what he could be. Yet, he persevered. Something changed inside of him when he fought Semmy Schilt. Schilt was a monolith in the kickboxing world, an unstoppable beast of a man, a legend, yet Rico stood with him, took his shots and survived. The fighter that emerged from that fight was changed and since then we’ve seen Rico Verhoeven climb the ladder, rung-by-rung and represent kickboxing unlike anyone else in a modern age.
Rico has plowed through the division and while there are fights to make, there aren’t huge money fights to make, or are there? When the idea of a fight against Badr Hari emerged it seemed ridiculous.
Badr Hari is perhaps the exact opposite of Verhoeven. Verhoeven had a quiet start to his career, while Badr Hari was the “Golden Boy” almost from the start. He was pegged for greatness, but he had a temper and at times lost it in the ring. That meant getting knocked out when he shouldn’t have and it also meant losing fights that he was winning because of getting frustrated and attacking downed opponents. His opponents in the ring and innocent backstage placards weren’t his only victims, eventually it spilled over into the public and Badr Hari became a guy better known for snatching headlines for his legal problems than fights. Eventually the only people that would pay his rates to fight were warlords and wealthy Middle-Eastern men who perhaps thought they had struck gold by getting access to Hari, only for things to get weird.
While Hari has curated his career, Verhoeven has fought anyone that GLORY has thrown at him and done so as a professional. Rico does the media, he’s affable and does what he needs to do. Not only that, but he’s sparred with top MMA guys and dabbled in MMA himself, making him a bigger media target.
So the very idea of them fighting seemed not only odd, but like the strangest mishmash ever. Yet, this is exactly who is left in kickboxing with star power. Badr Hari represents the latter days of K-1’s prominence, while Rico represents the GLORY era. Badr Hari was never K-1 World GP Champion, but that was mostly his fault, it was there for the taking and he pissed it away.
Yet, there, in the shadows, stands Anderson “Braddock” Silva, the unlikely challenger to Verhoeven at GLORY 33 and the potential spoiler. Fans are excited to see Badr Hari fighting a top level guy again, thankful that he hasn’t had legal issues yet and that the fight has an actual date and venue, yet, if Rico Verhoeven loses, does the fight still have value?
The risk seems almost unfathomable. Who would take such a bold risk heading into the biggest money fight left in the sport of kickboxing? Those in power are perhaps viewing Braddock as a guy that will put up a fight, but has no chance of beating Verhoeven. Or maybe they see that Braddock has a chance and simply don’t care? This is a sport, after all, and fighters lose. Let the sport sort itself out.
The allure of Badr Hari fighting in GLORY alone will move tickets, but those tickets don’t go on sale until the week after Braddock vs. Rico. While I wouldn’t call Rico Verheoven foolish, the idea of him fighting in Kunlun Fight against a relatively unknown Andrei Gerasimchuk and getting manhandled while his wife was in labor with their daughter and Rico was in no headspace to fight is still fresh in my memory. That was the night that GLORY’s unstoppable champion got hurt by a guy who went on to do pretty well, but not great afterwards. It’s also the fight that GLORY refuses to acknowledge because they know how it looks.
Yet, here we are, Rico Verhoeven heading into the biggest fight of his career and Anderson “Braddock” Silva is being treated like a truck stop on the way to his destination. Rico will get some highlights and hype heading into the fight with Badr, no sweat. Except for the fact that the lead up to this has been all about Rico’s fight with Badr Hari. Nobody wants to talk about Braddock. Braddock who worked hard to get here, Braddock who has lost bullshit decisions and perhaps hurt himself by not turning up the heat when he needs to, Braddock who gets passed over for his shot time and time again. Yet here it is, here is Braddock Silva’s shot.
So while Rico Verhoeven is the king of kickboxing, moving on to face an invading warlord and thwart him back into the history books, one guy is realizing his career dream and he’s not gonna go down without a fight.