Rico Verhoeven is the Champion that Kickboxing Needs

(GLORY Sports International/James Law)

After letting the action from GLORY: Redemption settle into the ether for a week, there are a few things that have people in the kickboxing world talking, namely the return of Badr Hari in March and who he should fight. There are other stories as well, like where does Nieky Holzken go from here, but they haven’t found as much traction. What’s perhaps been the most interesting story is one of the more subtle ones, which is the story of Rico Verhoeven once again cementing his place at the top of the kickboxing world.

At GLORY: Redemption Rico Verhoeven was tested. He fought a man that had not only beaten him before, but knocked him out, and this guy was in arguably the best shape of his career. Jamal Ben Saddik was not only a worthy contender, but one of the few fighters to really test Rico Verhoeven’s mettle in the ring. Benjamin Adegbuyi was able to test him in their first meeting, but burnt himself out early and found himself against the cardio machine that is Rico Verhoeven. While Jamal Ben Saddik was on this same path, he held up shockingly well in the later rounds, although Verhoeven had slipped firmly into control of the fight, which ultimately led to the knock out victory.

Of course, Rico Verhoeven’s performances in the ring aren’t the only thing that defines him. In 2017 it’s virtually impossible to ignore the choppy political climate in the western world, including cultural tensions from essentially everywhere that isn’t rooted in being white. In Europe there have been long, drawn-out talks about refugees, the introduction of other cultures at a higher concentration and what it means for Europe as a whole. In America, well, we have Trump, we have the Alt-Right, we have had literal white supremacist rallies and it’s safe to say that the western world in general is immersed in this discussion about culture. Even the British royal family is about to bring a woman of color into the mix.

Kickboxing is not immune to this, either, and while many of the people involved in the public-facing side of kickboxing are respectful, professional and positive figures, fans of the sport are still largely diverse, coming from different cultural, ideological and political backgrounds who all share a love of the sport. That means that inevitably some of this racially-charged ugliness was bound to spill over. This didn’t fall upon deaf ears and Rico Verhoeven noticed it as well, which prompted this tweet earlier this week.

It’s hard to ignore that in the last year alone Verhoeven has fought Dutch-Moroccan Badr Hari, Moroccan Ismael Lazaar and now Moroccan Jamal Ben Saddik. Morocco, of course, is a part of the middle east with the official religion in Morocco being Sunni Islam. So it’s logical that, to some fans, they saw Rico Verhoeven as a man defending Europe from middle eastern Muslims, which, of course, Verhoeven was quick to swat down.

Verhoeven has grown into his role as one of the best kickboxers in the world, no doubt, but he’s also grown into his role as the spokesperson for the sport as well. Verhoeven understands that there isn’t room for that kind of negative, regressive thought in the modern world and would rather focus on remaining a positive influence to anyone willing to listen. Kickboxing has a lot of great champions, but Rico Verhoeven proves himself each and every time he’s in the public eye as the champion that the sport of kickboxing needs, probably not the one it deserves.