In a way, selecting the 2017 fight of the year was a lot easier than it should have been. While there were a lot of standout fighters in 2017, including a lot of fighters that went on to become world champions or do incredible things, nobody really had a crazy year. Superbon, who was easily the fighter of the year, suffered a loss near the tail end of the year that helped to bring him down just a peg or two. A loss or two shouldn’t really derail someone, but when it comes to measuring who the most important fighter of the year is, there are a lot of metrics in place beyond just winning fights.
A big part of being the best fighter in the world is what the fighter does other than just win fights. Rico Verhoeven is an event fighter, as in when he fights people tune in. Rico Verhoeven fights are as close to a special event that kickboxing has right now. He’s the franchise player for GLORY and the most important name in kickboxing in a post-FEG K-1 world where Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Semmy Schilt and the rest have mostly retired.
So yeah, while a guy like Takeru had a good year as well and is gaining popularity, the popularity of the sport hasn’t been entirely on his shoulders for years now like it has Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s 2017 was a mixed bag with only three fights under his belt: Ismael Lazaar, Bigfoot Silva and Jamal Ben Saddik. Out of those three fights only one was for the world title and it was his first defense since September of 2016 when he fought Braddock Silva.
When push came to shove, though, he was able to thwart Jamal Ben Saddik in the best shape of his career, while being tested and proving that he won’t flounder under extreme pressure. There’s always this joke that there are certain moments for a president that help them to become “presidential,” and for Verhoeven his moments were the knockout on Benjamin Adegbuyi and weathering the storm against Ben Saddik to roar back with a knockout.
Rico Verhoeven is still the best spokesperson for the sport of kickboxing and the inevitable upcoming bout with Badr Hari will do the best business that the sport has seen since 2010. Many will point to Badr as the lone reason why, but that’s ignoring that the only fight that people want to see for Badr anymore is Rico. It takes two to tango and Rico Verhoeven has earned everything that he has in the sport of kickboxing.