Glory heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven faced controversial star Badr Hari on Saturday in the biggest fight in recent kickboxing history and a rematch three years in the making. 30 thousand people packed Arnhem’s Gelredome to witness the most important fight for the legacies of the two greatest heavyweights of this era.
Verhoeven (55-10, 16 KOs coming into the fight) has dominated the heavyweight division for the past few years. His clean-cut image helped distance kickboxing from its sulfurous reputation in the Netherlands due to organized crime ties (a reputation Hari’s repeated legal troubles had a big part in perpetuating). He’s also been criticized for his fighting style and fighting in a weaker era than K-1’s heyday.
Hari (106-13, 92 KOs coming into the fight) is the last relevant veteran of the K-1 era, a fearsome but at times inconsistent KO artist that has always been close to the top but never managed, whether because of losses in the ring or issues outside of it, to quite become the undisputed top dog. After their first fight ended inconclusively three years ago when Hari sustained an arm injury in the second round, a rematch has been on every lips but Hari’s prison sentence postponed it until last weekend.
For Verhoeven, the rematch was the opportunity he needed to silence doubters by exorcising the last remnant of the K-1 era. For Hari, it was potentially the last chance to finally, in the twilight of his career, claim the throne he’s been so close to before and give a movie ending to the wild ride his career has been.
Expectations were high, and somehow from the start, the fight lived up to them. Verhoeven came out more aggressive than anticipated and Hari knocked him down midway through the first with a right hook counter. Verhoeven regrouped and used his excellent boxing to low kick combinations to take the second round. Hari came out in the third and immediately knocked Rico down again with a left high kick, putting the champion in a scoring hole he’d need at least a knockdown to climb out of and setting the table for exciting championship rounds in what was already shaping up as a clear fight of the year contender. However, as any long time kickboxing fan will tell you, this sport loves chaos and it follows no one more closely than Badr Hari. Just a few seconds after the second knockdown, Hari threw a spinning hook kick and injured an ankle ligament leading the best heavyweight fight since K-1’s demise to an unsatisfying end.
Unfortunate ending aside, the fight should be considered a great success for Glory. It somehow exceeded most expectations and in addition to the sold out stadium crowd, the fight was watched by over 3 million people in the Netherlands (a similar rating to Ajax Amsterdam Champion’s league semi final against Juventus last year). Hari’s recovery is expected to take a few weeks so barring further craziness, expect a third fight at some point in 2020.
The rest of the card, a very solid and deep offering also delivered with a variety of good fights and compelling match ups. Alex Pereira, the middleweight and interim light-heavyweight champion, notched another middleweight defense and a third KO of the year contender in his three-minute destruction of Ertugrul Bayrak. The win further staked his claim as the potential fighter of the year for 2019 and cemented him as one of the scariest men in the sport.
If the currently injured light-heavyweight champion Artem Vakhitov isn’t available to unify soon, a light-heavyweight fight with Luis Tavares, who defeated Stéphane Susperregui by unanimous decision after sending him to the canvas with a nasty body shot in the first round, sounds like the best option for Pereira. Tavares is an excellent boxer with very good head movement and I’d personally consider him the toughest possible math up for Pereira outside of Vakhitov.
At middleweight, 22 year old prospect Donovan Wisse defeated Pereira’s old Brazilian rival Cesar Almeida (though I personally thought the fight should have gone to an extra round). His recent win streak warrants a title shot, but he’s already (wisely) asked for more time before facing the champion and Pereira’s performance against Bayrak is unlikely to put him in a hurry.
At featherweight, former champion Serhiy Adamchuk defeated Aleksei Ulianov is an excellent technical fight that saw the Ukrainian finally land his trademark rolling thunder in the closing moment of a very close fight to earn a rematch with current champion Petpanomrung in February.
Still at 65kg, Zakaria Zouggary overwhelmed American prospect Asa Ten Pow for three rounds in what was the American’s first taste of elite competition. With this and his brilliant KO win over Abdellah Ezbiri in October, Zouggary is in prime position for a shot at the winner of Petpanomrung vs Adamchuk.
Overall it was Glory’s finest event since Glory 66 in June and a great way to close 2019 for the organization despite the unfortunate end to the main event (which from their point of view maybe isn’t that unfortunate given that they’ll get another hotly anticipated rematch out of it).
Glory Collision 2 Results and highlights:
Rico Verhoeven def. Badr Hari by TKO (leg injury). Round 3, 0:59 – for heavyweight title
Luis Tavares def. Stéphane Susperregui by unanimous decision
Mohammed Jaraya def. Massaro Glunder by unanimous decision
Zakaria Zouggary def. Asa Ten Pow by unanimous decision
Alex Pereira def. Ertugrul Bayrak by knockout (left hook). Round 1, 3:00 – for middleweight title
Serhii Adamchuk def. Aleksei Ulianov by split decision
Ariel Machado def. Michael Duut by unanimous decision
Itay Gershon def. Zhaoyang Li by majority decision
Antonio Plazibat def. Jahfarr Wilnis by split decision
Donovan Wisse def. César Almeida by majority decision
Nordine Mahieddine def. Cihad Kepenek by extra round split decision
Ulrik Bokeme def. Kevin van Heeckeren by unanimous decision
Rebekah Irwin def. Yi Xu by split decision