When it comes to combat sports and their eternal quest for mainstream legitimacy the enemy is always within. Concerned parents and politicians can moan and wail all they want; as long as mixed martial artists and boxers and kickboxers keep their violence inside the ring or the cage, as long as they are convincing in their argument that combat sports are first and foremost sports and fighters athletes, the road to broad cultural acceptance is open, if not always smooth. The history of MMA is all about that: the conversion of savagery into sport and brutality into art. All the money and fame and political affiliations were bound to follow suit.
But the problem with combats sports, the ever-precarious position, the danger hovering always overhead—the danger always threatening to drag fighting out of the mainstream and back into the shameful underground—is that there will always be some fighters (not all, for sure, maybe not even many) who would be fighters even if they weren’t athletes, who would find fights even if those fights weren’t legitimate, whose aggression is innate and beyond their power or desire to quell. These fighters may have found a way to sublimate their instinctual bloody tendencies and make them profitable and even something to be admired, but all it takes is one of them giving into the violence inherent in them to give all of combat sports a bad name.
Perhaps no one fits that bill better in 2017 than Badr Hari, the great Moroccan-Dutch kickboxing champion who, despite 15 legendary years in the sport, is known as much for his litany of assault charges as he is for being a former K-1 world champion and World Grand Prix finalist. In October 2012, Hari, who has admitted that he is sometimes overwhelmed by his violent tendencies and is “able to explode at any moment” like a “storm, a hurricane, a disaster,” found himself charged with eight different crimes of violence, including assaults against an ex-girlfriend, several club bouncers and owners, and Dutch businessman Koen Everink.
Today, a Dutch court found Hari guilty of aggravated assault and disturbing the peace in relation to his attack on Everink (who was murdered in an apparently unrelated incident last year) at the Amsterdam Arena in 2012 and an incident at a nightclub in Amsterdam involving broken glass. During his encounter with Hari, Everink suffered a broken nose, eye socket, and ankle. Hari was apparently angry at comments Everink had made about Hari’s then girlfriend Estelle Cruijff. The court sentenced the kickboxer to two years in prison, a sentence Hari’s lawyer, Benedicte Ficq, called “incomprehensible,” though Hari will likely end up serving only six months. Ficq told reporters that Hari, who was not present at the court hearing, will return to the Netherlands to serve his sentence.
The verdict puts a cap on what has been a rough few months for Hari. In December in Oberhausen, Germany, the kickboxing veteran returned to the ring for the first time in over a year, against heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven, and suffered a freak fight-ending arm injury after winning the first round. Though Hari has made no statement, either about the verdict or his future as a kickboxer, one would have to assume that as kickboxing struggles to keep up with the mainstream success of MMA organizations like Glory and K-1 will be increasingly wary of letting volatile fighters like Hari, fighters seemingly incapable of keeping their violence contained outside the ring, compete for their organizations.
Or maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe fight promotions, for all their talk of decency and cultural sophistication, know that a hothead with severe narcissistic tendencies, a long history of criminal assaults, and an inability to control the “chaos and noise” inside him will always sell more tickets that any mere “athlete” could ever hope to.
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