Throughout history there have been many so-called ‘dream matches’ that for one reason or another, failed to materialise.
It has created an unfavourable void which often poses us to ask the question, ‘what if’?
However often occurring, this isn’t always the case. As GLORY Kickboxing are looking to prove, even the most unlikely of dream match-ups can in fact become a much welcomed reality.
After months of anticipation, GLORY have officially announced that Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari will square off December 10 in Germany in a showcase dubbed GLORY Collision. It will be the convergence of kickboxing’s past and present when kickboxing’s poster-boy meets the sport’s most formidable bad boy.
Prologue to GLORY Collision
After a long negotiating progress to secure the fight, GLORY CEO Jon Franklin expressed his ‘delight’ that the premier Kickboxing promotion will play host to GLORY Collision, the biggest fight in kickboxing history.
He said: “This is the fight the fans demanded, this is the fight that both Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari wanted, and this is the fight that we are delighted to say is finally happening.”
Behind-the-scenes, it’s a fight that GLORY have been working on tirelessly for a number of months. A match epitomised by Verhoeven’s established dominion over the Heavyweight division, no foe in the modern era has yet been able to match the Dutchman’s level of superiority in GLORY.
The first real talk of the fight begun last February, after Hari released a target list over social media, listing six fighters the Moroccan intended to ‘hunt down’. One of the names being Verhoeven.
Prior to his fight with Benjamin Adegbuyi at GLORY 22: Lille, “The King of Kickboxing” would finally respond to Hari’s callout, putting the two-time world champion on notice.
“Of course, I’m ready,” claimed Verhoeven, without even blinking an eye. “If the opportunity comes, I’m there. Let somebody bring that fight, I would love that fight, I would never deny it, I would take it with both hands.”
He continued: “For me, in the end, he’s the only guy I haven’t fought in the game.”
After beating Adegbuyi in Lille, Verhoeven would go on to further his name as the world’s greatest Heavyweight, knocking the Romanian out six months later. This spectacular finish – Verhoeven’s first 2009 – set the scene perfectly for the ultimate showdown with kickboxing’s bad boy at GLORY Collision.
Negotiations intensify as Badr’s past hinders
In April it was reported that numerous promoters were trying to secure the fight between Badr and Rico, including a six figure offer from the Netherlands. But, further controversy for Hari outside of the ring continued to hinder the fight’s progress.
It’s a definitive narrative that has plagued the latter portion of his career, with the Moroccan “Golden Boy” serving jail-time in 2012 following an assault at a nightclub, as well as involvement in another incident in late April, 2015.
However, almost a year after Verhoeven had first responded to Hari, it seemed as if the fight was all-but signed. Appearing on Ziggo TV’s PepTalk both Verhoeven and Badr Hari’s coach Mike Passenier confirmed that the fight was in its final negotiations. It was a significant public breakthrough which set the wheels in motion for GLORY to confirm their interest.
With the fight finally confirmed in July, the hopes that the fight would take place in native Holland were squashed. The reason for this was confirmed by Hari’s coach Passenier in an interview with Anoop Hothi, clarifying Badr’s past convictions as the reason why the fight couldn’t happen in The Netherlands.
It would have been a huge deal to see the most anticipated showdown in modern kickboxing history happen in Holland, but it is clear that the pure severity of GLORY Collision will draw a global audience, regardless of its location.
Redefining the sport of kickboxing
At long last the occasion for the biggest ‘collision’ in the sport’s storied history was set, the significance of which unparalleled in importance. In recent years kickboxing has struggled to retain the audience it once enjoyed during the ‘Golden era’ of K-1 during the 1990s and early 2000s. Gone were the days where promoters could afford to invest multiple-millions of dollars into events and purses.
After both K-1 folded in 2012 and It’s Showtime merged with GLORY, it was evident that the landscape of kickboxing had changed remarkably.
At its core the sport itself remained the same, but once the ridiculous money started to dry up, the figure heads began to drift away. Whether it was into the emerging MMA or away from the sport completely. It was because of this and the dwindling star power in kickboxing which had a major impact on the depletion of the casual fan base.
Kickboxing now enjoys a much more cult following, the purists remain loyal to its modern form but the sport has often struggled to re-ignite the casual fan base. However, it is clear that GLORY are trying to combat this with their broadcast focused stragetgy making them one of the most viewed sporting platforms in the world.
Their expansive dealings to stream programming on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN gives the promotion a massive mainstream platform. ESPN has a reported audience of 89,465,000, with UFC Fight Pass the premier subscription service for fight fans.
The response to the announcement of GLORY Collision ushered an unprecedented response, causing the teaser trailer of ‘Badr vs. Rico’ to go viral. 339,000 people watched the video on Facebook, a whopping 128,000 more than the population of Germany city Oberhausen, the rumoured location for the event.
It is this growing international exposure which makes the Rico vs. Badr fight so crucial; not only for GLORY, but to the future of kickboxing.
The most anticipated fight of a generation
It is the merger of the past and the present, but it is Hari’s experience which many believe could hold an advantage of the younger Verhoeven at GLORY Collision.
“Who? Rico? When he was fighting with shin protection and headgear, I was already a household name in Japan, where the real men were fighting,” joked Hari.
It is the polarising character of Hari which has made him one of the biggest kickboxing stars of this generation. The man who made his debut in 2000 has beaten all-time greats – including Semmy Schilt, Peter Aerts and Gokhan Saki – with his conclusive 88% knockout ratio a major factor in his career accolades.
GLORY Matchmaker Cor Hemmers; who was active as a coach during Badr’s prime, commented on the powerful striking style of the Dutch-Moroccan.
“Badr is a fighter who is going for the knockout. This is spectacular for the fans but also hold risks,” explained Hemmers speaking exclusively to MMA Plus. “Although, Badr also went down to the canvas himself various times through this risky holding style. That is what makes Badr Hari interesting and respected, he has that mental strength and fighting spirit.”
This is one of the reasons why it is such a pivotal fight for Verhoeven. In spite of his accolades as the best Heavyweight kickboxer, his record lacks a career defining scalp to boast his true legitimacy among the best there ever was.
The GLORY Heavyweight champion Verhoeven has long enjoyed a reign of dominance over his division. In 12 GLORY fights, he has only ever lost once. A unanimous decision defeat to Schilt, the man considered by many the greatest kickboxer, ever. Verhoeven’s success largely bodes down to the technical approach he applies, this includes his lead jab – which he has advanced working with Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury – and his ability to sit behind it and methodically punish his opponent over five rounds.
GLORY’s Matchmaker also offered his thoughts on the the talent of the champion: “Rico is more of a strategist and a technician, he takes fewer risks than Badr and this makes it difficult to enforce a knockout win,” explained Hemmers. “But because of that it is also difficult to fight and defeat him. He is always in excellent condition. Fitness, technique, his strategic insight and analysis are his strongest weapons.”
Equally just as much weight rests on the shoulders of Badr as he looks to dispel the doubts of those who have questioned his validity in recent years. Many have criticised Hari for his decision to only take big money fights in Dubai and Russia, seemingly avoiding the top names from central Europe. Verhoeven has risen to every occasion put in front of him, never backing down from a challenge in his conquest to become the rightful “King of Kickboxing.”
With a collision of great proportions finally approaching, both men will come to terms with the enormity of an event which will define two decades of kickboxing. Everything has lead to this, nine minutes of GLORY which, to them, will feel like an eternity.
Verhoeven represents the new guard, a prodigy grown in the modern light of kickboxing, aided by its viral expansion. Whereas Hari embodies the struggle of the old guard and their battle to legitimatise kickboxing for future generations. Regardless of the outcome, it will be nine minutes that forever change the history of the sport, as one man cements his legacy as the greatest that ever lived.