Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

At the current rate which GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven is operating at, his back should be killing him. But not from overexerting himself due to too much training, though, more from the task of carrying the kickboxing promotion on his back.

Verhoeven, 28, is the face of GLORY, and easily its most recognizable name and biggest star. At GLORY 46 on Saturday–the promotion’s maiden voyage into China–he’ll face former UFC heavyweight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the main event, a three-round non-title fight. But “The King of Kickboxing” won’t get much rest afterward because he’s already booked to defend his title against Jamal Ben Saddik on the promotion’s year-end pay-per-view card GLORY: Redemptionslated for December 9 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Does the champion feel like there is any extra weight being placed on his shoulders by having two fights booked simultaneously?

“No, not really,” Verhoeven told MMA Plus via phone call from Ko Samui in Thailand where he’s preparing for GLORY 46. “That’s what a king does. He’s working hard on the bottom and still reigning at the top. That’s what we are doing. I want to take this brand to the next level.”

There was no hesitation when he was asked about the challenges of being the face of GLORY and being attached to two fights at once. The Dutch champion fully embraces the grind and truly seems to enjoy every single bit of it, saying, “I love it.”

For Verhoeven and for GLORY–who partnered with private equity firm Yao Capital to make the venture into China possible–that starts with breaking ground in the Asian market, a territory Verhoeven wishes to “conquer.”And a memorable heavyweight bout with the face of the promotion would certainly leave a good first impression on the Chinese kickboxing fans.

Silva, the champion’s 38-year-old opponent at GLORY 46, has gone 1-7 in his last eight fights in MMA (six losses by TKO or KO). Considered shopworn by most pundits, it’s quite obvious the Brazilian was booked solely for name recognition as opposed to being an actual challenge for the best heavyweight kickboxer on the planet, and barring a shocking upset, should get laid to waste rather easily by the champion.

But don’t tell that to Verhoeven, who said aside from Silva’s 16-second KO loss to Stefan Struve at UFC Fight Night 87, all of his fights have been mostly competitive.

“He got knocked out in a few seconds by [Stefan] Struve,” Verhoeven said. “In all the other fights it was a war,” said Verhoeven, who along with his wife Jacky welcomed the birth of their son Vince in September. “That’s what he brings. He brings war. He’s a hard fighter. It’s not that he gets knocked out after you hit him once, you know? He just comes in and he wants to fight. That’s what he shows and I think that is why GLORY chose him. He wants to bring fights and bring the fight to you. I respect that.

“It’s so easy to judge from behind the keyboard if you have never been there,” he continued. “You have to be there and feel what it is to take a punch to the face, what it does with you and how hard it is to come back from certain situations. And on the other side, of course, how good it is if you come back. And if you get outclassed for two rounds and in that third round you find a way to win that fight. It is what it is. It’s opinions. That’s what it is.”

Verhoeven has been preparing for his upcoming bout at Superpro Samui, the famous Muay Thai gym in Ko Samui, which is about a three-and-a-half hour flight from Guangzhou, the host city for GLORY 46. He arrived there early from his home in the Netherlands so he could adapt to the time change and climate.

“I’ve been working hard like always,” said Verhoeven, who’s defended his title five consecutive times before winning back-to-back non-title fights against Badr Hari and Ismael Lazaar. “Putting the work in. Studying the videos of ‘Bigfoot.’ Just preparing a good game plan. Focusing on what needs to be done. I’m enjoying myself. I’m on the right path.”

When asked what stood out in his film study of Silva, Verhoeven credited his punching power, which he has done before in the lead up to this bout. But he also mentioned Silva’s ability to weather the storm and rally late.

“He can take a lot,” Verhoeven said. “In the fight vs. Alistair [Overeem] he got outclassed for two rounds. And in that third round he found a way to come back and surprise with the high kick and that great uppercut. You gotta watch out for that. This is a guy that stays dangerous for the whole three minutes every round. So, we gotta watch out for that.”

After Silva, Verhoeven will close out the year against Saddik at GLORY: Redemption, a rematch of their first encounter from 2011, which resulted in a TKO win for “The Goliath.” Verhoeven put a quote out on Twitter recently, saying, “Sometimes you have to take a loss to become a boss.”

He elaborated on its meaning.

“If you just looked at what happened to him after he fought me all those years ago and look what happened to me,” Verhoeven explained, “If you just check the fights and the outcome of the fights, it says enough. That’s where that quote came from. Sometimes you have to take a loss to become a boss. Because I lost a few fights. I made some mistakes. But look where I am now. Look where he is. That’s the bottom line.”

Does he look back at the loss to Saddik as a defining moment in his career and one which led to substantial growth?

“Definitely. Every loss I’ve had was a learning and growing experience for me because I lost some fights, but they were all mistakes and things that could get fixed or get better. After that loss those are the things I’ve been working on. When I fought Jamal I made a mistake. When I fought Errol [Zimmerman] I made a mistake, but I learned from those mistakes and that’s why I am the fighter I am today.”

Now that he’s fully booked for the rest of 2017, Verhoeven has his eye toward an even bigger 2018. And something else on the horizon is the possibility of landing his first big movie role, which is something he’s been actively pursuing for the past couple of years, having gone on several auditions. He couldn’t disclose any information on his latest audition, except to say it’s for “a huge movie.”

“I just did a big audition before I left for Thailand. At the last moment a big audition came in. Let’s see what it does for 2018.  I feel like this role as been written for me. This could be Rico in a f***ing movie. So I’m excited as hell. I can’t wait to hear about what they thought about this audition. I’m waiting for a response. It’s big. We are doing fun stuff.”