Is Badr Hari Still The ‘Bad Boy’ of Kickboxing?
Throughout his kickboxing career, Badr Hari (106-13) has always been known as a ticking time bomb. An enigma of a personality with the ability to explode at a moment’s notice. The former K-1 heavyweight champion has beaten some of the best fighters in the world during his career but has also beaten himself. His name has been linked to arrests, assaults and jail time outside of the kickboxing ring, and is synonymous with two disqualifications inside of it. Despite his checkered past of unpredictable and troublesome behavior, which has cost him thousands of dollars over the years, and at times his freedom, Hari still remains one of the most popular kickboxers on the planet.
Hari, 33, proved his fanbase is as enamored with him as ever when he returned to the big stage and made his GLORY debut in December 2016 against Rico Verhoeven at GLORY: COLLISION. The fans inside Konig Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen, Germany went berzerk, climbing the apron of the ring just to get a glimpse of their favorite fighter. Some clutching cell phones to record the historic moment they became part of.
“I’ve heard crowds as loud or louder and I’ve seen WWE fireworks displays at Wrestlemania and everything that has just been crazy,” GLORY play-by-play commentator Todd Grisham told FIGHT SPORTS.
“But as far as fans getting involved like that, outside of Murthel Groenhart getting punched in the face by fans [at GLORY 42], it was one of the most intense atmospheres I’ve ever been in. Obviously, it turned out great and everybody had a laugh and they were all in a good mood. But who’s to say it didn’t start a riot and we had Andrew Golota and Riddick Bowe all over again.”
“Golden Boy” lost that bout to Verhoeven via TKO in round two after suffering an arm injury and didn’t fight at all in 2017 due to serving several months in prison for a pair of prior incidents, including the 2012 assault of the now deceased businessman Koen Everink. But he instantly became the talk of the kickboxing world once again when GLORY made a surprise announcement on December 9, 2017, at the promotion’s year-end fight card, GLORY: REDEMPTION, that Hari signed a multi-fight contract and would return to Amsterdam to headline GLORY 51.
And this wasn’t just an announcement via graphics being placed on the screen or a press release. GLORY went out of their way to announce Hari’s signing and did so in grandiose fashion. The arena went pitch black and a special trailer played on the big screen for the capacity crowd inside Ahoy Rotterdam.
That’s because Hari–to steal Ron Burgundy’s words–is kind of a big deal. And he has what few fighters possess: the “it” factor.
“I’ve equated him to being kind of like Holland’s version of The Rock with a nasty side,” said Grisham, the only person in the U.S. to speak to Hari prior to GLORY 51. “You know what I mean? He’s got that exotic look. He’s got that great smile. He’s got a great physique. Women love him. But he’s also got that edge to him that The Rock doesn’t have.”
That edge that Grisham is referring to is why kickboxing fans around the globe will be tuning in this coming Saturday afternoon when Hari takes on Hesdy Gerges in the main event of GLORY 51 at Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The fight is a rematch of their 2010 encounter in the It’s Showtime promotion, where a downed Gerges won the bout via disqualification after getting kicked in the face by Hari to win the heavyweight title.
In a press conference last month in the Netherlands, Hari was asked to explain how he lost control that day.
“In that stage of my life, I was young, I was very emotional, [you are] still looking for who you are, still fighting with your feelings and emotions and you go all the way in everything,” he said. “I think that is what happened. I think I just snapped and he paid for it at that time. The audience was a big loser and we are here to make things straight again.”
The fight has been billed as “Bad Blood” by GLORY, and Cor Hemmers, GLORY’s head of talent operations, said the fight boils down to a “matter of honor”. But it appears that Hari is merely taking it as another fight, while Gerges is seeking redemption from what went down eight years ago. At the press conference, where Hari was all smiles, Gerges said he’s “Going to bring a war, nothing less,” making it crystal clear he’s wanted this rematch badly for a long time now.
Hari said their first meeting hasn’t been on his mind at all, but said he was more than happy to give Gerges, who has now lost four of his last six fights, a chance at redemption.
“When I was coming back and GLORY gave me the opportunity to fight again, they were asking me which fight I wanted to fight at the moment,” Hari said. “Hesdy was making a little bit of noise that he really wants it so here we are. We don’t duck. We fight. I will see him on the 3rd of March.”
The edgy Hari that everyone is always expecting was completely absent at the press conference in the Netherlands. The fighter known for once getting into a brawl at a 2006 press conference with Peter Graham, and trashing a dressing room following a loss to Ruslan Karaev, was on his best behavior. Clad in a blue suit that afternoon, he represented GLORY quite well. And if you weren’t aware of his past, you’d swear he was an ambassador for the sport of kickboxing.
“He was like an angel,” said Grisham, who was on hand that day. “There was word he wasn’t going to do a staredown and was going to be difficult to work out. He came in and was full of sunshine and rainbows and everyone loved him. No high jinks, but knowing Badr Hari that could all change on a flip of a switch.
“When he’s on he’s on. He’s very charismatic. He’s very nice. I haven’t seen the ugly side of him. I know it exists because I’ve watched tape. As far as what I’ve experienced, he’s all class.”
The Moroccan-Dutch fighter has clearly matured and his days of being a loose cannon appear to be behind him now–at least outside of the ring. He told Grisham in a recent interview, that being a father of two has given him “a whole different motivation.” But as for how he is inside the ring, Hari told Grisham in that same interview, “I still have the switch.”
“I think every fighter has it,” he continued. “With me, it’s a little bit extra. This is who I am, so I’m lucky to still have it.”
That switch has allowed him to triumph over the likes of Semmy Schilt, Gokhan Saki, Alistair Overeem and a host of other big names since he began his kickboxing career back in 2000. It’s also led to not only the disqualification in the first fight vs. Gerges back in 2010, but another disqualification in a 2008 fight against Remy Bonjasky. Hari lost control and punched and stomped a downed Bonjasky in the K-1 World Grand Prix Final.
“I really hope that he’s left that behind,” Bonjasky said in an interview with GLORY this week, speaking of Hari’s past indiscretions. But no one truly knows whether Hari has left the dark days in the past or hasn’t, and that’s part of the alluring nature of the former It’s Showtime champion.
The mental makeup that has pushed Hari over the edge several times in his career is also what has made him great, according to his long-time coach “Big Mike” Passenier, who shared a story of how hard Hari pushed himself in a K-1 World Grand Prix win over Ray Sefo in 2008.
“I took him to the dressing room and he immediately collapsed and starting coughing blood and everything,” Passenier told FIGHT SPORTS. “And he almost pissed himself. That’s how deep he’s willing to go. But that’s also from the same fuse that disqualified him against Remy Bonjasky or against Hesdy Gerges. Once you take the good, you also have to take the bad.”
On if he thinks Hari could lose control in the ring again, Passenier said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m a trainer. I”m not a shrink. I don’t know what’s going on in his head. The only thing I can do is guide him in fighting. And I know, and I’m not ashamed to say this … because he can blow a fuse and I get the benefit of this by pushing him and pushing him. Other fighters don’t want to be pushed like he wants to be pushed.”
So in a way, Passenier is playing with fire by pushing Hari to the limit in order to get the best version of him in the ring. He knows exactly how his fighter operates, has accepted it long ago and is willing to live with the results whether good or bad. And while Hari has been disqualified twice before, Passenier says he’s not concerned about it happening again. “Why would I be?” he said. “We win together. We lose together.”
Gerges says he’s been “Waiting a long time for this” rematch, and mentioned via the pre-fight quotes released by GLORY, that he feels like Maximus from the 2000 movie Gladiator because of the great shape he is currently in. But can he win the crowd like the famous character played by Russel Crowe did? If Hari’s last fight is any indication, Gerges will be hard pressed to do so.
Hari’s fans blew the roof off of Koenig Pilsener Arena at GLORY: COLLISION, but that fight was in Germany. GLORY 51 is taking place in the Netherlands, where Hari hasn’t fought since defeating Gokan Saki back in 2012. The demand to see him there will be huge, so you can expect a lively and raucous crowd on Saturday afternoon. Gerges is from the Netherlands, so he will have some fans in the building for sure, but Hari’s fans should easily outnumber them. “Hari fighting in Rotterdam and just having a fight in that country is a big deal,” Grisham said.
Just how much of a part can the crowd play in the fight?
“It always plays a part,” said the No.6-ranked GLORY heavyweight Ismael Londt, who lost to Hari by TKO at the Akhmat Fight Show in Grozny, Russia in 2014.”Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.” Londt faced a much different set of circumstances than Gerges will since Hari is friends with Grozny president Ramzan Kadyrov, which made for a very hostile crowd. Londt said “some things happened just before the fight,” but would not reveal them. “He won and I lost. That’s what it was,” he said, refusing to make any excuses.
Grisham made a good point about how the noisy crowd could negatively impact Hari because it will make it hard for him to hear instructions from Passenier, who can often be a calming presence for his fighters. There is always a chance he won’t be able listen to his corner due to the noise and instincts will ultimately kick in. “That crowd is going to be going so berzerko, if he lands a big clean punch they are going to want him to go for the kill.”
Hari continues to say all the right things and it appears he is no longer kickboxing’s resident “Bad Boy,” but the possibility of him going off the rails still exists. As the saying goes, what’s past is prologue, which is why so many are drawn to the 18-year veteran like moths to the flame. They are watching because the mystery of Hari remains intact, and the element of impending danger still radiates. So is Badr Hari still the “Bad Boy” of kickboxing? Well, he’s no longer who he once was, but there is always the chance that version of him returns.
“People connect change with something not good. I don’t think I’ve changed. I just think I’ve gotten smarter. I’ve been the bad guy for a long time. Maybe it’s time to switch the style up … or maybe not.”