Rico Verhoeven is two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle on a six foot five frame. He has beaten Peter Aerts, Daniel Ghita and Gokhan Saki in the ring, and he's one of the most polished technicians you could hope to find in his weightclass. He has an eleven fight winning streak in GLORY and is the consensus number one heavyweight kickboxer on the planet. He's even made threats about competing in mixed martial arts and made a successful MMA debut in October of 2015. So why does it seem like nobody gives a damn?
Kickboxing has never had anything like the popularity it should have. When Demian Maia easily choked Carlos Condit in the UFC the other week and legions of MMA fans on social media made it clear that they didn't care about the ground game, you had to ask why kickboxing is so hard to get people into. But in the golden days of K-1 a heap of heavyweights became superstars in Japan through the many tournaments and regular star-studded cards. Aerts, Hoost, Hug, Bonjansky, Le Banner—the golden years were not short on star power. Even below them you had the sometimes greats: Filho, Feitosa, Sefo, Hunt, and the gatekeepers who could knock anyone out on any given night like Mike Bernardo. A few more big names added themselves to that list in the later years of K-1 such as Semmy Schilt and Badr Hari, but many of the old timers hung around forever.
At GLORY 8 in Tokyo, Jerome Le Banner and Peter Aerts were both shells of their former selves but received the greatest ovation from the audience of anyone fighting that night. Both were given easier fights but Aerts was still blasted all around the ring before turning the bout around with a come from behind knockout. It is clear that many fans are yearning for a bygone age of kickboxing. Hoost retired years ago, Bonjansky, Sefo and Le Banner have finally accepted that they are done, Bernardo and Hug are dead. The problem is that the new generation just isn't here yet.
A quick look down Liverkick's official heavyweight rankings (which are accurate and well thought out, the state of the heavyweight division is no fault of theirs) will reveal why it is so hard to care or get invested in Rico Verhoeven's fights. If you thought the UFC heavyweight rankings were thin, GLORY's will blow you away.
Anderson 'Braddock' Silva, who Verhoeven just defended his heavyweight title against, is ranked #8 in the world and has gone 2-5 in his last seven, getting stopped in all but one of his losses. The same Silva who was blasted in two minutes by Daniel Ghita, Errol Zimmerman and the natural light heavyweight, Gokhan Saki. Meanwhile the #3 ranked fighter in the world is Ismael Londt, who most will remember for losing to the hundred and thirty year old Mirko 'Cro Cop' Filipovic in 2013, and who was TKO'd by the long past prime—and always just moments from committing a felony—Badr Hari in 2015. Verhoeven himself was easily handled by a forty year old Semmy Schilt in 2012 and despite GLORY constantly playing up his winning streak within the promotion Verhoeven was handed a loss in a strange performance against Andrey Gerasimchuk in China last year. Not to mention the very close decision over the ancient Peter Aerts that Verhoeven took to win the GLORY title. In K-1 it was fine that everyone had victories over everyone else because of the big name victories they did have. To an outsider—in fact, to a jaded insider—the current heavyweights seem to be ranked because the guys who were beating them aren't around anymore.
But that is a tremendous shame, because Verhoeven is a treat from a technical perspective. A long time sparring partner of Tyson Fury, Verhoeven's jab is becoming one of the sharper jabs in kickboxing. He pairs this with a solid straight kicking game. Verhoeven used to like a stepping lead front kick to the body (a la Semmy Schilt) but has been developing a nice oblique kick into the hip joint or body with his right foot in recent bouts.
While Verhoeven has often simply put on his earmuffs when under fire, and his head movement seems as though it will never be significant to his game, Verhoeven showed a nice leverage guard or stiff arm inside of Silva's flailing right hands. Here Verhoeven stiff arms Silva away to break his momentum and create distance, then comes back in with the left hook into uchimata-geri that would prove his real hurting blow in this bout.
Verhoeven's real gift has always been in timing his heavy low kicks as the opponent is setting their weight to hit. This was how Verhoeven was able to tenderize the blisteringly fast Gokhan Saki's legs in their bout. In stopping Silva, Verhoeven showed shades of Andy Hug's offensive strategy—focusing his ire upon his opponent's less conditioned rear leg.
A Kyokushin karate favorite, hence the uchimata-geri name, kicking across to the inside of the opponent's rear leg allows a fighter to throw his strongest kick against the weakest portion of the opponent's less conditioned leg. Sounds great right? But it's tricky because it relies on you being almost on top of your opponent, in the sort of range which is common in a Kyokushin match as both men exchange body blows but which isn't at all common in kickboxing.
Throughout the bout, Verhoeven had been showing a nice little shift off to his right to get the angle on Silva but had not been able to capitalize on it.
Here it is spliced in with a Carbin shift, a backstepping right hand, a lead hook into rear low kick, and that nice push kick. The whole bout was a Verhoeven clinic.
After the first knockdown Verhoeven came out quickly, took this angle and nailed Silva with a left high kick through the guard as Silva turned to face him. Beautiful use of a dominant angle to land on an opponent who was essentially on one leg as he pivoted.
For the final knockdown, Verhoeven showed his crisp lead hook to right low kick combination. A staple of combination kickboxing and power low kicking. Except the second time he did it, he stepped slightly deeper on a forty-five degree angle and punted Silva's back leg out for the TKO victory.
Verhoeven's division in 2016 has all the depth of a puddle, but don't confuse that with him simply being the best of a bad lot. As a combination fighter he is far more thoughtful than many of the great heavyweights who have competed in kickboxing. Factor in his extremely large frame even within that class and he might be something we have never seen before. At just twenty-seven years old we have many more years of Verhoeven to enjoy—whether he can draw in the viewers in kickboxing, or whether he makes a serious run at MMA remain to be seen, but you will certainly learn some new looks from watching him fight in the meantime.
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