Rico Verhoeven – The prince has become the King

By: Frank Nelissen


They often say “Three times a charm”. After 2 articles on young heavyweight kickboxer Rico Verhoeven, titled “The prince on his way”, I didn’t expect to be able to call him king this quickly.
By the time of my last article on Verhoeven, no one knew there would be a heavyweight tournament at GLORY 11 Chicago on October 12, 2013.

While GLORY was busy focusing on their Spike TV debut, 4 talented heavyweights were focusing on a one-night 4-man tournament with a jackpot of no less than $ 250,000.
Number 1 ranked heavyweight Semmy Schilt seemed to be retired although there still hasn’t been an official announcement from GLORY or the 4-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion himself. Anyhow, he didn’t participate to the event, just like Peter Aerts, who was ranked number 4 before this tournament, and Remy Bonjasky, ranked number 5 at the time.

Number 2 Gökhan Saki, number 3 Daniel Ghita, number 6 Rico Verhoeven and number 8 Anderson Silva participated to the tournament.

GLORY seemed to be focusing on the ‘American’ way of hype, with several fighters talking more trash than we’ve seen of them before. At the end of every pre-fight interview, the fighters looked into the camera and stated a message for their opponent; something that seemed to be a request from GLORY. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that when you’re focusing on your new key market, but not all fighters seemed very comfortable with this.
The tournament semi finals were Gökhan Saki vs Rico Verhoeven on one end of the bracket, and Daniel Ghita vs Anderson Silva on the other end.
Many fans, as well as Saki and Ghita themselves, were expecting the Turkish ‘Rebel’ and the Romanian ‘Savage Samurai’ to meet in the final for their 3rd encounter. Saki declared about Verhoeven he is not a talented fighter, just a hard worker. About Ghita he said that the Romanian had excuses after his 2 losses against Saki, and that he’d probably have more excuses after another loss in the heavyweight tournament final. However, that final wasn’t meant to happen…


The ultimate upset
Even though Verhoeven replied to Saki’s words by saying he would “smash” Saki, many didn’t believe that, since Rico isn’t known for his knockouts. And Rico didn’t succeed in smashing Saki, but he surely defeated him!
While Saki is trying to convince his followers on Twitter and Facebook that he lost because of a “bullshit 8 count”, many know that’s not the issue. After the very first time that moment was shown from a different angle, everyone could see that the 8 counts were “bullshit” indeed. Photos show that the referee even looked straight at Verhoeven’s right cross connecting with Saki’s shoulder, not his jaw. Because of the kick that Saki received prior to the right cross, he wobbled on his legs and the punch put him off balance. It’s unbelievable that a referee gives an 8 count for this, but it happened.
Saki got frustrated and pushed the referee because of this decision, and Saki is very lucky he didn’t receive an official warning for this. The ref was wrong, of course, but as a sportsman – a professional one for sure – you should be able to keep your composure whatever happens.

 


There were more moments in that fight that had a somewhat ‘extra’ meaning.
1)    Saki getting an 8 count – unfairly
2)    Saki not getting an official warning or disqualification because of pushing the referee
3)    Saki kicking Verhoeven in the groin (I assume it was accidental)
4)    Saki not being able to land his crushing hooks

Especially the kick to the groin was something Verhoeven had to deal with, on top of facing one of the world’s best kickboxers and knockout artists.
Personally, I think the 8 count wasn’t the only thing that frustrated Saki during the fight. Verhoeven did a fantastic job of keeping his distance with kicks, using his power to push Saki away when necessary, using great timing to kick away Saki’s legs which took him off balance and especially keeping a very tight defense, so Saki’s devastating hooks couldn’t find their mark.
For some reason, Saki didn’t seem like his usual self. I saw few long combinations and his stamina didn’t seem to be ‘tournament-proof’. During the GLORY 8 Tokyo Heavyweight Grand Slam Tournament, Saki kept trying to get close to Semmy Schilt in the semi finals, and the determination was clear to see from Saki’s end. I missed that determination in the fight against Verhoeven, but my believe is that Verhoeven should receive the credits for that. Verhoeven’s camp had come up with the perfect gameplan and Saki wasn’t able to work his angles well enough to connect his punches.
I honestly believe that Verhoeven defeated Saki also without the 8 count.
After 3 rounds, Verhoeven got the decision from the judges and advanced to the tournament final; something many had never expected, and Verhoeven had already caused an upset.
On the other side of the bracket, Ghita quickly dismantled Anderson ‘Braddock’ Silva by a first-round knockout. The odds seemed to be in Ghita’s favor looking forward to the final.


Tournament final
It’s no secret that Ghita and Verhoeven have trained a lot together. Ghita declared in an interview that Verhoeven’s progress was partially due to the many sparring sessions he had with the Romanian. He stated he knows Verhoeven inside out and so Verhoeven wouldn’t be a problem for Ghita. How different reality was going to be…

 



In my opinion, the most progress Verhoeven has made is mentally. In my first article on Verhoeven, I wrote that the KO loss against Errol Zimmerman and the way Verhoeven would return from that could be a key point in his career. I’m not the kind of person to say “I told you so” but I think the return from that heavy KO actually WAS a key point. After Zimmerman, Verhoeven lost to Sergei Lashchenko and Semmy Schily by decision, and he defeated Ben Edwards, Hesdy Gerges, Sergey Kharitonov, Jhonata Diniz and avenged his loss to Zimmerman by defeating him in New York at GLORY’s US debut.
I think that going the distance with Semmy Schilt was already a massive mental boost to Verhoeven. If you can manage to hold your own and not getting KO’d against the most dominant heavyweight in kickboxing history, that says a lot. The win over Zimmerman has wiped away the bad feeling after the KO loss at the 2012 It’s Showtime show in Leeuwarden and must have increased his self-confidence.

When you beat Saki in a fight where you nearly experienced any serious dangerous problems that is exactly the final boost you need to face the scary Romanian in the final. Verhoeven knew that he was now a serious contender and it’s amazing to see that Verhoeven has lost his fear in the ring. Judging from his interviews, I think he absolutely respects his opponents, but the most important difference between now and not so very long ago is that Verhoeven is done showing his respect in the ring.

His eyes, and, more importantly, his body language now show that he wants to be in control and dominate the fight. He keeps pressure when necessary and keeps his distance when the gameplan asks for it.
Verhoeven’s willpower seemed to be bigger than Ghita’s and that might have been the decisive factor in that awesome final. Both men exchanged and put up a great performance in a fight that deserved to be the final of a heavyweight tournament. It’s only justice that the winner of this great fight was crowned to be the new GLORY heavyweight champion.

As said, Verhoeven’s strong willpower seemed to make the difference as to why the judges awarded him the decision victory.

Verhoeven has come a long way and is now the GLORY heavyweight champion of the world. Even though Verhoeven has climbed the ranks slowly but surely in the beginning, and has risen to the top like a comet the past few fights, the champion status has come pretty suddenly. While his physical and mental progression increased more and more in his fights, he suddenly let go all of his maturity after the referee raised Verhoeven’s hand for the second time that evening. After receiving the belt and the check with the tournament bonus of $ 250,000, he screamed “How much?!”, referring to the quarter million USD. Someone who is used to be at the top would not likely do something like this, but Verhoeven can easily be forgiven for this behavior. Becoming the heavyweight champion is a tremendous achievement, and winning that title after beating Gökhan Saki AND Daniel Ghita on just 1 night, that is just plain fantastic! No one will blame you for being that happy when you’ve been a prince for so long and you’re finally being crowned the King after this spectacular performance.

 



Former manager Simon Rutz will probably be enjoying this victory as well, after so many people telling him he was wrong when he signed Verhoeven at the age of 16, making him the first B class fighter with a K-1 contract at the time K-1 was still very big. 8 years later, all those people and the ‘keyboard warriors’ on forums worldwide have to acknowledge Rutz was right. Rutz even posted on Verhoeven’s facebook page “This wasn’t a surprise, was it?” and has shut everyone’s mouth by doing so.


What’s next?
It’s interesting to look forward after October 12. With Semmy Schilt still not officially announcing his retirement, what are the odds of the Grand Slam champion meeting the Heavyweight champion in the ring for a second time? At the time I write this article, the GLORY heavyweight rankings are not updated yet. I expect Verhoeven, currently ranked number 6 on the website, to at least climb 1 spot, but probably 2 spots up the ladder. Looking at the points, I don’t think Verhoeven will make it past Ghita’s number 3 spot. So being ranked number 4 (if so) and having defeated number 2 and 3 (on 1 night!!!) it would seem obvious to fight the number 1. Or will Schilt still announce his retirement and is Verhoeven set to prepare for a rematch with Saki or Ghita?

Of course I could speculate a lot, but we’ll just have to wait for GLORY’s decision on what will be Verhoeven’s next fight. This tournament victory has probably given him even more confidence than he already had coming into this tournament, so the danger lies in becoming too confident, underestimation of opponents and even arrogance. After Saki’s words that Verhoeven is not a talent, but just a hard worker, it would have been easy for Verhoeven to respond like “Well Saki, seems like my hard work has beaten your talent” but Verhoeven is still a class act.

I don’t expect Verhoeven to suffer from any of the aforementioned conditions, not in the least because of the team that surrounds him. In his post-fight interview in the ring, Verhoeven pointed out he has learned a very valuable lesson from veteran Alviar Lima: work, work, work. He obviously realizes that nothing comes for free and I’m sure Lima will see to it that Verhoeven keeps working.
Let’s not forget about the architect of the gameplans and the head coach of Verhoeven, Dennis Krauweel. Krauweel has done an amazing job keeping his young prospect on track, building him physically, mentally and strategically. Verhoeven now has the calmness to keep listening to the instructions of his corner while he is in the ring and this is such an important matter in his success.

Being crowned king at the age of 24 is not something every fighter can deal with. I think Verhoeven’s descent is beneficial for him, coming from Brabant. His current situation seems to be stable as well, being settled with his girlfriend and little daughter. Hopefully this situation and his team will keep him down to earth, but I don’t think that will be problem for the giant.

I will definitely keep following the current champion and this probably won’t be my last article about the man I started writing about on February 14, 2012 after his KO loss to Zimmerman. My last sentence back then was “The prince who might be on his way to kingship”.
Now he’s 24 years old, mentally and physically very strong and already defeated some of the best heavyweights on the planet. What’s more to come for this young man who has reached kickboxing royalty? We can only fantasize about his potential legacy and sky seems to be the limit.

Congratulations to Rico and his team for winning the GLORY heavyweight title.
Rico Verhoeven, I salute you and I wish you the best of luck for all your future fights. You have completed ‘my’ circle already and I hope you will have a long and successful career ahead of you.

Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/frank_nelissen

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