Widely considered one of the all-time great Heavyweight kickboxers, Peter Aerts has battled injury, age, and a litany of elite opponents. Aerts' head kick would become the stuff of legend and his importance to the rise of K-1 to its golden age of being the premier kickboxing promotion in the world would result in one of his nicknames being "Mr. K-1".
Aerts, like the vast majority of children born in Eindhoven, Netherlands, played soccer as youth. Born in 1970, Aerts played soccer for about seven years and then in 1983 began to take Tae-Kwon-Do, drawn to combat sports through his uncle and grandfather. In 1984, Aerts began training Muay Thai at the "Judoka-Kickboxing" gym in Best, Netherlands with Eddy Smulders.
After just one year of training in Muay Thai and kickboxing, Aerts took and won a professional fight. Aerts would meet one of his primary rivals early in life as he faced Ernesto Hoost in a 1988 kickboxing match in the Netherlands. Aerts, just having turned 18, lost by decision, but it was far from the last time he would face Hoost.
Aerts continued to to train with Eddy Smulders, and together they moved from Best to Eindhoven to train at a gym called simply "Champs". Aerts continued to fight through his teens to great success. In 1990, while still nineteen, Aerts was given a fight for the International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) Heavyweight Title against Jan Oosterbann in Amsterdam.
1990 04 01 Peter Aerts vs Jan Oosterbaan
In 1991, Aerts switched gyms again, but this time left his coach behind, joining Thom Harinck at Chakuriki Gym in Amsterdam. He then beat Frank Lobman to win the WMTA (World Muay Thai Association) Muay Thai Championship.
Aerts then took a fight against American kickboxing great Maurice Smith in France and won a decision. A month later, he knocked out Australian fighter Adam Watt in Tokyo, Japan. Aerts would close out 1992 with a second victory over Frank Lobman and a draw with Karate fighter Masaaki Satake in Japan.
Aerts started off 1993 by winning the European Muay Thai Championship with a knee strike knock out of English fighter Peter Selkthorpe. He then had a rematch with Maurice Smith, this time in Amsterdam.
Smith had held and defended several titles, and had gone nearly ten years without losing a fight. His first loss to Aerts broke that streak and Smith was looking for redemption.
Aerts would dispatch Smith with a technique that would become his calling card, the right high kick.
The knockout earned Aerts attention and an invite to a tournament of a newly-formed promotion, K-1. The promotion was holding a Grand Prix in 1993 and invited eight fighters based on achievements in kickboxing. It was a huge honor for Aerts, who was the youngest fighter in the tournament.
Aerts drew his old adversary Ernesto Hoost in the first round of the tournament. Aerts would lose a close decision, but he had found a home in K-1. He returned for the K-1 Illusion show where he used a high kick to knock out American Dino Homsey and then returned back to the Netherlands to defend his Muay Thai title twice, first against Rob van Esdonik and then Markus Fuckner.
In 1994, Aerts was invited back to K-1 for their Grand Prix that year. In his first fight, Aerts was rematched with Rob van Esdonk. Aerts was knocked down early in the fight but came back to score one of the iconic knockout wins of his career.
K-1 WGP 1994 - Peter Aerts vs Rob van Esdonk
Aerts advanced in the K-1 Grand Prix tournament for the first time and in the next round he would face hyper aggressive American kickboxer Patrick Smith. Aerts would do more than survive Smith's early storm; he would return fire and finish Smith in just over a minute.
K 1 1994 Peter Aerts vs Patrick Smith
In the finals, Aerts rematched the karate fighter Masaaki Satake that he drew with in 1992. In the finals of the K-1 '94 Grand Prix, Aerts out-landed Satake both in quantity and quality of strikes to claim his first K-1 title. Aerts would return home a star and win a homegrown kickboxing tournament, the "Night of Stars" tournament, defeating other Netherlands standouts like Rob van Esdonk and Frank Lobman again.
Aerts then defended his WMTA Muay Thai title again and won a K-1 fight against Glen Parker. Riding this momentum, Aerts qualified for the the K-1 1995 World Grand Prix with a low kick (T)KO of Kirkwood Walker.
In the first round of the Grand Prix, Aerts easily disposed of karate fighter Toshiyuki Atokawa and advanced to the semifinals. There, he faced the only man to have beaten him twice, Ernesto Hoost.
Much like their second fight, this one was razor thin, and when, after three rounds, it went to a draw, the fight went to an overtime round to determine a winner. Aerts was able to get the nod in his first win over Hoost and advance to his second Grand Prix finals.
K 1 1995 Peter Aerts vs Ernesto Hoost
In the finals, Aerts would be faced with the hulking French brawler Jerome Le Banner who had laid waste to his two opponents in his run to the final. Aerts again showed his ability to absorb punches as Le Banner threw heavy leather early in the fight, but it was a straight right hand to the liver from Aerts that ended up leaving the Frenchman gasping on the canvas.
Aerts had his second Grand Prix title at just age 24, and the sky appeared to the be limit for this young man who was just entering his physical prime as a fighter. Aerts would close 1995 strong with a win over Sam Greco, and a knockout win over a hard hitting South African named Mike Bernardo.
Bernardo had boxed in South Africa, and had only recently made the move over to kickboxing. He had two wins over K-1 great and fellow God of War Andy Hug, but Aerts dispatched him easily enough.
But Aerts would be seeing the South African again very soon, and after the Dutchman knocked out Jean-Claude Leuyer to qualify for the K-1 1996, they were matched again. This time it was Bernardo that knocked out Aerts. He had Aerts in trouble for much of the fight with chopping hooks from the clinch and in the third round he blasted the two-time champion with a left hook that left Aerts sprawled on the canvas.
Aerts would get two consecutive rematches with Bernardo to close out 1996, and lose both of them. In the first, Aerts was disqualified for a kick to Bernardo's groin less than two minutes into the fight, and the second came in the third round of K-1 Star Wars, where Bernardo landed a big right hook to knock out Aerts again.
In the wake of this three fight losing streak, Aerts left Thom Harinck's gym and went to train with a retired former K-1 fighter Andre Mannaart.
Aerts' first fight back to K-1 after his three loses was against Swiss fighting legend Andy Hug. Despite being the taller fighter, Aerts seemed dwarfed by the physical bulk and aura of Hug, but the Dutchman was not intimated and ended up hurting Hug and finishing him with a very slick right hand.
K-1 Classic - Peter Aerts vs. Andy Hug - K-1 KINGS '97
Aerts would go onto the '97 Grand Prix. In the first round, James Warring gambled on a fake glove touch to set up a punch, and when that failed Aerts put him down with a huge head kick in the third round. In the quarterfinals, Aerts faced Mike Bernardo yet again.
In a classic bout, they fought back and forth for three rounds before Aerts dropped Bernardo for the count with a straight right hand to the body, avenging his losses. Aerts couldn't make the comeback story complete however as he lost to Andy Hug in the semi-finals of the tournament.
Aerts rebounded quickly by beating Ernesto Hoost at K-1 Kings '98. But things soon got rocky again as he lost a five-round Muay Thai fight with Andy Hug and then suffered a cut on his shin against Francisco Filho.
Aerts entered another run in the Grand Prix, and won his way to the final, where he again was faced with Andy Hug.
Andy Hug vs. Peter Aerts - K-1 GP '98 FINAL (via K1)
At this point, Aerts had been fighting professionally for ten years and normally an article like this begins to wind down as the fighter coasts towards retirement. And while it is true that Aerts would never win a K-1 Grand Prix or any title again, he was far from done.
Aerts went 6-1 to close out the twentieth century, and as 1999 gave way to 2000 many of K-1's first generation of greats began to fade away. Andy Hug tragically passed away, and as the new generation of talent entered the sport in the 2000's many of the greats that had helped make K-1 the premier kickboxing promotion in the world left.
Branko Cikatić, Mike Bernardo, Sam Greco, and Stan Longinidis all retired, but Aerts remained.
Aerts was forced to pull out of the 2000 Grand Prix after winning the quarterfinals due to injury. In 2001, Aerts made it to the final of the US Grand Prix but lost to Stefan Leko by knockout and had to pull out of the World Grand Prix after a win due to a broken foot. In 2002, he lost to Ray Sefo by split decision in the quarterfinals, and in 2003 Aerts lost a majority decision to a Japanese fighter known as Musashi.
In 2004 and 2005, Aerts suffered injuries during the Grand Prix that forced him to withdraw. In 2005, Aerts dipped his toes into MMA, winning one fight and losing another in the second half of 2005.
Heading into 2006, Aerts was matched with defending Grand Prix Champion Semmy Schilt for a kickboxing card. Aerts was a dramatically different fighter physically than the lanky Dutch kid that had taken K-1 by storm ten years earlier, but even a bulked up version of the Dutch Lumberjack was dwarfed by the giant Schilt. Aerts reminded the whole kickboxing world that he was still an elite fighter by taking the fight to Schilt and winning the decision.
That year, Aerts would make the finals of the K-1 Grand Prix, but there Schilt took his revenge, claiming the 2006 K-1 World Grand Prix title. They would meet again a year later in the 2007 Grand Prix final and Aerts suffered a knee injury just a minute into the first round.
In 2008, Aerts eliminated Schilt by decision in the first round, but then lost to Badr Hari in the Quarterfinals. In 2009, a loss to Alistair Overeem kept Aerts from qualifying for the Grand Prix that year, making it the first Grand Prix field not to feature Aerts in K-1 history.
Aerts would muster up one last Grand Prix run, beating Brazilian Ewerton Teixeira for a spot on the field. In the quarterfinals, Aerts quickly knocked out Mighty Mo and was set to face Semmy Schilt again in the semifinals. Schilt hadn't lost in over a year and seemed to a shoe-in to make the final against Alistair Overeem.
But against his old rival, Aerts, now 40-years-old, was able to muster up one last great performance.
Semmy Schilt vs. Peter Aerts - K1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final GP (Semi Final)
Aerts would go to one last K-1 Grand Prix final, but he would be beaten by Alistair Overeem in just over a minute. After 2010, Aerts would go 2-3, and announced his retirement in December of 2013.
Peter Aerts finished his career 105-32-1 with 79 wins by knockout. His head kick is legendary and his celebrity was a key part to K-1's golden age in the 2000s. He was a multiple-time champion in both kickboxing and Muay Thai, and inspiration for a whole generation of Dutch fighters. Peter Aerts is a true modern day God of War.
Peter Aerts Highlights (via LiouvilleVN)
For more Gods of War be sure to check out the full Gods of War Pantheon.