Photo: James Law/ GLORY Sports International

The kickboxing world was at a standstill for Badr Hari’s (117-13) return to the ring at GLORY 51 on Saturday afternoon in Rotterdam, Netherlands. And the newest version of the enigmatic fighter, weighing 28 pounds lighter than his previous fight, proved to be a successful one, and showed he’s still one of the best heavyweights in the sport.

Hari, 33, defeated Hesdy Gerges (50-20-1) by unanimous decision inside Ahoy Rotterdam, much to the delight of the Netherlands fans, who were thrilled to see Hari fight in the country for the first time since 2012. Four of the judges scored the bout 30-27, with the fifth judge scoring the fight 29-28, all in favor of Hari.

The matchup was a rematch from their It’s Showtime matchup in 2010, which Gerges won via disqualification after Hari kicked him while he was down on the canvas.

Hari was the more active fighter early on in the contest, and it was evident right away that he is now much quicker after dropping nearly 30 pounds. In the opening round, Hari pushed forward, and Gerges was on the defensive, using his usual shell defense. It was a competitive round with Hari landing some good punches, and Gerges landing some solid low kicks. Hari threw a spinning-heel kick toward the end of the round, which got a huge pop from the crowd even though Gerges blocked it.

In the second, Gerges pressured Hari early and had him backed up against the ropes, but couldn’t capitalize. Soon after, Hari began to take control of the fight. Moving forward with his guard held high in front of him, Hari walked down Gerges and started landing big punches to the body. Twice in the round, Gerges lost his mouth piece, and it appeared he may have done it purposely to buy himself some time.

Hari continuing to press forward in the third round, attacking the body of Gerges while mixing in some nice low kicks and a few knees as well. Hari was putting his foot on the gas pedal, while Gerges, who was visibly tired at this point, began to fade. The Moroccan-Dutch fighter landed a big right hand with under a minute left, and knocked Gerges to the canvas after kicking out one of his legs while he attempted a spinning strike, but he couldn’t put him away.

“We know it wasn’t going to be an easy fight. I don’t know a lot of fighters who have knocked Hesdy out,” Hari told Todd Grisham after the bout. “He had a couple but he’s a hard, tough guy. The main goal like I said in the interviews I wanted to take off some ring rust. So I needed these rounds.”

He added: “He really annoyed me. He was like, ‘I’m going to make him quit,’ and it only made me hungry. He knows me very well. I”m a tough kid. I’m from the streets. I don’t take sh*t, and I don’t give up. If I give up it’s because I cannot fight. But today I gassed him out. He was tired. I saw it in him. He didn’t train hard enough for me.”

Hari then mentioned a rematch with current heavyweight champion Rico Veroeven (53-10), and Grisham asked him if he had a message to send to the champion.

“I don’t have to give him a message,” Hari said. “The fight was a message. People are always concerned with my condition and my physique. Nothing wrong with my condition my friend. Nothing wrong with my physique. I’m strong. I’m fit and I’m lean.”

In the heavyweight co-main event of the evening, Tomas Mozny (20-6-1) defeated GLORY newcomer Daniel Skvor (25-7-2) via unanimous decision. Three of the judges scored the bout 30-27, and the remaining two scoring it 29-28, all in favor of Mozny. The fight was not a particularly exciting one. Mozny was the more active striker, and outside of getting caught with a big right hand in round one, out landed Skvor and remained in control throughout the three-round contest.

Eyevan Daneneberg (28-6) won the night’s welterweight “Contender” tournament by defeating Thongchai Sitsongpeenong (137-36) and Justin Pienot (61-16) to earn the Ramon Dekkers memorial trophy.

It was all “Mr. Cool” in the final, who defeated Sitsongpeenong by unanimous decision. Four judges scored the bout 30-27, while the fifth judge scored it 29-28, all in favor of Danenberg. The 25-year-old Aruban used his 6′ 4′ frame and long reach to his advantage. He found success with some solid boxing, and by landing knees to the body when closing the distance to outpace Sitsongpeenong.

Danenberg, who is now 5-1 in GLORY, advanced to the tournament final with a split decision victory over Pienot (61-16). He earned a pair of 30-27 scores and one 29-28, while two judges scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Pienot.

In the opening semi-final bout of the afternoon, Alan Scheinson (50-6) had three judges award him the opening round, and four judges award him the second, but Sitsongpeenong rallied back in round three to earn the split decision victory and advance to the final. Three of the judges scored it 29-28 in favor of the Thai veteran, with the remaining two scoring it 29-28 in favor of Scheinson.