Rico Verhoeven Details GLORY 54 Training, In And Out Of The Ring

GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven (53-10) returns to action this Saturday in Birmingham, England, when he takes on Mladen Brestovac (56-12) in the main event at GLORY 54. The bout is a rematch from their 2016 encounter at GLORY 28, which saw “The King of Kickboxing” get his hand raised after a dominant unanimous decision victory.

Verhoeven, 29, has won five fights in a row since defeating Brestovac, and is on the brink of setting the record for most wins in GLORY (he is currently tied at 16 with Robin van Roosmalen), and most title defenses (he currently holds the record with six). Meanwhile, Brestovac, the No.8-ranked GLORY heavyweight, has gone 5-1 since losing to the champion, knocking out his last two opponents: Jahfar Wilnis and Hesdy Gerges.

What’s changed since that GLORY 28 encounter?

“In him, I don’t think a lot has changed, but I’ve changed a lot,” Verhoeven told FIGHT SPORTS. “I think [I have] more experience, [I’m] more mature physically and mentally. I’ve been staying active, so these five-round fights are easy work for me.”

If we are being honest, the champion’s last fight against Jamal Ben Saddik, which he won by knockout in the fifth round, wasn’t easy early on. Verhoeven, in what many consider a career-defining performance, got caught with a big punch in the first round, but recovered, took control, and scored the KO in the final frame.

“I think it was a situation, like all circumstances fell together and that’s how I got hit in that first round,” said Verhoeven, who recently auditioned with Sylvester Stallone for a role in Creed 2. “If I didn’t get hit, it would’ve been another clean victory for me. After that first round, I won the second, third and fourth. And in the fifth I finished him. So, it’s just that one mistake I made in the first round. I walked into a straight right. That’s it, you know? I said I made a mistake, but did he get lucky? Maybe. Did he time it? I don’t think so. I just stepped … At the moment he threw a left-right [combination] and I walked straight into that right. So, yeah, it happens. I got over it and he was done after that first round.”

The champion can not afford to make a mistake and get clipped with Brestovac’s best weapon, his left high kick, which goes by the same name as the Croatian veteran’s nickname: “The Scorpion Sting.” Brestovac’s last opponent, Gerges, found out the hard way, and got finished by that kick just 37 seconds at GLORY 45. Verhoeven was in attendance that night, and GLORY captured his reaction as he sat in shock at what went down.

“It was crazy,” Verhoeven recalled. “Hesdy was pushing the fight and pushing the pace. He was doing a good job. The funny thing was, and where my reaction came from, in the interview, Hesdy was saying Brestovac was a good fighter, but like, his only weapon is that high kick. He got caught with it, and that says a lot about Brestovac, his quality and his timing. So, yeah, I was like, ‘Oh my God. He said it and still he got caught with it.’ It was crazy.”

What is the best way to defend against Brestovac’s left high kick?

“I don’t really think there is one way to fight him because even with pressure he can still hit that kick,” the champion explained. “He can even get it from a very close distance. It’s a very dangerous kick and I think the best solution is to keep your hands up as high as possible.”

Boxing in Bolton

In preparation for GLORY 54, Verhoeven spent a couple of weeks in Bolton, England with renowned boxing trainer Peter Fury to continue to further advance his striking skills. Verhoeven has trained with Fury quite a bit over the last several years and said, “It’s always good. For me, what’s nice is that just everything he tells me. We’ve been training so long together it isn’t new anymore. But we keep freshening it up.”

Said Fury in a recent GLORY preview video: “He’s totally dedicated. He listens. He’s a good learner. He does everything he’s told, and he perfects it until he gets it right.”

“That’s the only way, right?,” said Rico, when asked about Fury’s compliments. “I know I’m not the biggest talent, but I’m for damn sure the hardest worker.”

While his last bout was “like a Rocky movie” and fun for the fans, Verhoeven said there is always “room to improve,” and to “make sure some things don’t happen any more.”

So you can expect to see a much sharper version of the champion this time around. “No doubt,” he said. “No doubt.”

An amazing moment with a dying fan

Manon Janine Verhoef, a female kickboxer and huge fan of Verhoeven, had just one wish in her final days of a losing battle with cancer: to receive a visit from the GLORY heavyweight champion. So, she had a friend of hers send a request to Verhoeven’s management in hopes it would lead to him visiting her room at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.

“We got this request from this very sick young girl,” Verhoeven said. “A year before—or like six or seven months before—she attended one of my clinics. And so, a good friend of hers sent that picture [from the clinic] to my manager, and he told me her story.”

Verhoeven’s manager informed him of Verhoef’s request for a hospital visit, and that she was terminally ill and didn’t have much time left. Once he was made aware of the situation, “The King of Kickboxing” told his manager to “make it happen,” but there was a bit of an issue standing in the way: his never-ending schedule of training, TV shows, interviews, photo shoots and everything else that comes with being a GLORY champion and national icon in The Netherlands. It wasn’t going to be easy to clear some time to get over to Amsterdam to make Verhoef’s special request a reality, but he was determined to find a way.

“I said, ‘I don’t care. Make it happen. We are going to make some time free to go there,'” said Verhoeven, who will defend his title against Mladen Brestovac at GLORY 54 in Birmingham, England on Saturday. “So, now I’m talking about a Friday, and we arranged the meeting for Tuesday. But it was for her already at a critical point. Is she going to make it to Tuesday because she had fluid behind her lungs and everything. She had surgery to get the fluid removed. She was very short of breath. Luckily for her, and for me of course, it worked.”

The champion fondly shared some of the memories from meeting Verhoef, and what that day meant to him.

“When I got there she was fully dressed in a very beautiful dress and she was so happy to see me,” said Verhoeven, who has now defended his GLORY heavyweight title six consecutive times. “We sat down. We had a chat. We had fun. We laughed. We even cried. Because for me it’s such a special feeling … She told me, ‘Hey, I don’t feel sick right now. You’ve given me so much joy and power.’ That was an amazing moment.

“She was really happy afterwards, and I still got a lot of messages from her and from her family that week, and literally six or seven days later she passed away. I think the 17th of April, I was giving a clinic in The Hague. Her parents came over to talk to me and said they were thankful for me for being there. They printed the picture of me and her and they had it right above the casket. It was a beautiful moment for them. It was very special.”

What’s next?

With a win over Brestovac, Verhoeven will extend his win streak to 10 straight, and 16 in a row in GLORY. The GLORY heavyweight division is not exactly loaded with talent at the moment. But as for who may be next after “The Scorpion Sting,” the champ said he’s only focused on GLORY 54.

“I have no clue,” he said. “Actually, to be honest, I don’t look past this fight. It’s a very serious challenge. Like I said, I’m focusing on this fight. Let’s see what GLORY brings me afterwards.”

And for the record, yes, he’s tired of being asked about a potential rematch with Badr Hari.

“Uh, pfft, yeah, because I can’t answer it,” he said. “That’s the problem. I can’t answer it. I say, ‘Hey, let’s go. What are we waiting for?’ But, yeah, it’s quiet on the other side. Let’s see what they come up with. I have the feeling they are avoiding me for some reason.”

Why would they be avoiding you?

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Do they want to hype the fight? Do they think he’s not capable of beating me anymore? I don’t know. No clue, but I’m ready for this fight. I’m ready for any fight. So, like I said, for me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Badr fight or a Brestovac fight, because I’m always 100 percent.”

Whatever or whoever is next, Verhoeven says it will most likely be a title fight. Three of his last four fights were all non-title affairs, and Brestovac was originally scheduled to be a non-title fight before GLORY changed it to a title bout.

“If it’s a non-title fight or title fight it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “But a title fight, in the end, made more sense. So I understand them as well because if you lose in a non-championship fight then even though being the champion it doesn’t feel like being the champion any more. So I think they are talking about—or thinking about—making it a title fight every time I fight. So let’s see what they come up with.”

And, of course, his title-defense record means a great deal to him, and he said he’d like to see it extend into the double digits.

“Yeah, it means a lot. And like I always say, I want to take this sport and everything to the next level. I think I’m doing that. We are really pushing it. We are getting great partnerships with great brands and doing great stuff. So I’m really enjoying that, and like I said, pushing the pace and bringing it to the next level. So let’s hope I make it to 10.”

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