Dutch kickboxing icons pay tribute to Rico Verhoeven
Rico Verhoeven’s win over Benjamin Adegbuyi was as significant a win as he’s had so far in his illustrious kickboxing career. Not only did it mean Verhoeven would end 2016 as the GLORY heavyweight champion, but ‘The Dutch Prince of Kickboxing’ put on a dominant display in his home country of Holland in GLORY’s first-ever card in the country.
The performance not only had the 8,000 fans in attendance on their feet, but it also caused a stir among some of Holland’s kickboxing legends.
Among the onlookers in the arena that night were three living legends of the sport. Remy Bonajsky, Semmy Schilt and Ernesto Hoost are all multi-time heavyweight tournament champions, earning their laurels back when K-1 in Japan was the sport’s flagship organization.
All three declared themselves to be very impressed by Verhoeven’s performance against Benjamin Adegbuyi. The fight ended with a minute left in the first round after Verhoeven ended what had been a technical masterclass by landing a right hand which stopped his Romanian challenger.
“Rico looked sharp. Everything Rico did was landing. Right now he is the man,” enthused Remy ‘The Flying Gentleman’ Bonjasky.
“He would have fit in the Final 8 [back then] for sure, he would be right in there with me, Semmy, Ernesto, Peter [Aerts] and all the other top heavyweights. He would have fitted in there very well on tonight’s form.”
Ernesto Hoost agreed. “Rico was great. Everything was right. His kicking, punching and timing were all perfect. Benjamin had no chance at all. For sure he would have been up there. He is eager, sharp. Unreal. The way that he fought tonight he would have made it very difficult for all of us,” he said.
Schilt, sat between Bonjasky and Hoost on the ringside front row, also concurred. “I think Rico was very sharp when he entered the ring and he did a really good job. Being in Amsterdam maybe put a little pressure on him but he looked stronger than he did even in Paris, even thought it was the same opponent.”
All three declared themselves excited by Verhoeven’s performance but insisted they had no desire to be back in the ring themselves. “I am 50 years old and I had my time, life moves on,” smiled Hoost.
“Jealous? No, I fought in the biggest arenas so I have nothing to be jealous of. But this is one of the best GLORY cards I have ever seen. This has had some great fights, some great knockouts,” said Bonjasky.
Schilt echoed their sentiments. “I fought everyone there was to fight and I beat them all… What I do now is I have my own academy and I train all the kids, that is where my heart is. Of course when I see a fight like Rico’s my heart goes up, my adrenaline is pumping, but no, I have a good life now.”
All three also agreed that Verhoeven’s image is the one that the sport needs today. He, and they, were instrumental in the Amsterdam mayor’s office deciding to grant GLORY a license for the show, ending a five-year moratorium on events taking place in the city.
“They used to say that kickboxing events were networking events for the underworld. I didn’t agree with that. Some of us spoke with the mayor and we were able to convince him that we are real sportsmen and this is a real sport and to give us a chance. So I am very happy about that,” explained Hoost.
“It is good for kickboxing for Holland and maybe even good for kickboxing around the world because the rest of the world looks here…[Rico] is good-looking, well-spoken, has a good clean image, he is a very good ambassador for the sport.”
Schilt paid compliment to GLORY’s format, which is entirely sport-focused. Spectacle and pageantry takes a back seat to the action in the ring, which is where the elite combat athletes on the roster get to show their skills.
“I really like this setup. In Holland this is really unique. GLORY is set up more like a sports show but in the past, kickboxing events were set up more like an entertainment show – dancing girls, VIP tables next to the ring, people showing off there wanting to be seen… This [GLORY] show is more of a real sports event, an event for everybody, I like it very much,” he said.
The presence ringside of Amsterdam’s mayor and the national government’s sports minister excited Bonjasky’s interest.
“This is great for Amsterdam and great for kickboxing. You see the mayor here and it is just great, the event has been just flawless. He seems to be enjoying it, and the sports minister Schippel, so fingers crossed this means a new era for kickboxing here,” he beamed.