Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

With the return of Badr Hari announced last Saturday at GLORY 49, kickboxing fans are already clamoring for–and have really since last December–the rematch between “The Golden Boy” and GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven.

Hari is set to return at GLORY 51 on March 3 in Rotterdam, but if your hoping to see the highly-anticipated matchup against Verhoeven, you’re likely going to have to wait until the end of 2018.

“I think at this point, Badr wants to do a tuneup fight first,” GLORY CEO Jon J. Franklin told MMA PLUS. Rico has been fighting every three or four months and Badr hasn’t fought in a year at this point, having gone through some of the things he’s gone through. I think we will see and this is obviously up to Team Badr Hari a tuneup fight with Badr in Rotterdam, and then our goal is to get ‘Collision 2’ done by the end of the year.”

Rushing to make the rematch wouldn’t make much sense at this point for GLORY. Allowing Hari and Verhoeven to fight other opponents first gives the promotion ample time to promote the rematch properly, and for the narrative to continue to build throughout the upcoming year.

“Things don’t build in a day,” It takes time and it takes effort. This storyline is a great one. It’s organic, but we also have to make sure it’s scheduled at the right time and right place. Both fighters have to agree on all the terms. That’s the plan. Ultimately it’s up to Team Badr and Team Rico. But, I think they both want the fight. Obviously, Rico does. We want to make that fight and that is our goal for the third quarter.”

Rivalries make it much easier for fans to get invested in a big fight, and for them to slap down their money for a pay-per-view event, which for GLORY PPV events is usually around $29.99. It’s not rocket science. A rivalry gets people talking, and it catches their attention. It becomes a foundation to build upon for a promotion.

Franklin says it’s a necessity.

“You need a rivalry. McEnroe needed Borg and the Red Sox needed the Yankees, Ali needed Frazier, and Tyson needed Holyfield. That’s what makes the big stories. So, Rico needs a Badr. Conversely, Badr needs a Rico. And this may end up being the biggest rivalry in kickboxing.”

With Hari’s legal troubles behind him, Franklin says that will now open the door for the rematch to take place in Holland.

“All that stuff is behind him now, so it opens opportunities for us to perhaps bring that fight back to Holland, if that is approved by all the people who need to approve it,” said Franklin. “That would be spectacular to be able to do that. So, putting this deal together… Deals are never easy, of course. All the fighters want what’s best for them. We want, obviously what’s best for them, but also we have to keep commercial constraints in mind. Ultimately I think it will work out for a positive situation for everybody.”

If the Verhoeven vs. Hari rematch ends up happening in Holland, it will likely be the headliner for the now annual year-end PPV card. And with two year-end PPV cards now in the books, Franklin said the goal for GLORY is to establish an annual “pay-per-view tradition for kickboxing.” Franklin wishes for the promotion’s yearly PPV to grow into an annual kickboxing event that becomes synonymous with the GLORY brand. He mentioned the likes of Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Rose Bowl–all annual sporting events–as examples for what he envisions for GLORY’s future.

“We are trying to create some classic events on the annual sporting calendar in kickboxing just like other sports do,” he said, “and be the Kentucky Derby of kickboxing every year.”

Of course, fans and media have been skeptical of GLORY’s decision to go with pay-per-view as the sport is still struggling to find traction in the U.S. Franklin was asked if that is a chief concern moving forward. In addition to wanting to establish a PPV tradition, Franklin said it’s also about finding “a balance between being a financially successful company and growing the sport.”

 As for who Hari will be facing at GLORY 51 on March 3, Franklin said that announcement will be made as soon as GLORY finalizes the matchup.

“We will announce a March opponent as soon as it’s cleared and agreed by all the parties involved.”