Published on Nov 14, 2013

Every athlete has strengths which give them an advantage over opponents. Where one is powerful, another is fast. One is tall, another has the reflexes of a cat. But natural attributes can take a fighter only so far. What success really comes down to is hard work. 

Who wants it the most? Who trains the hardest? Who sacrifices the most? The fighter who does all that will be the one who is working hardest to achieve his dream. GLORY athletes have to eat, sleep and breathe kickboxing. 

One fighter clearly doing all of that is Rico Verhoeven. The young heavyweight is not someone you will catch hitting flying knees and spinning back-kicks, but he is a strong and skilled kickboxer. Even his GLORY 11 semi-final rival Gokhan Saki admitted pre-fight, “Rico is a hard worker”.

Verhoeven, 24, is a fresh-faced young man who keeps himself to himself. His record of 42-7-1 is impressive but even one year ago most kickboxing fans would have only been vaguely acquainted with his name.

Today Verhoeven is the top of the heavyweight pile thanks to winning the GLORY 11 CHICAGO Heavyweight Championship Tournament with a career-best performance. In fact, over the last four months he has defeated three of the world’s top heavyweights.

Verhoeven rematched and beat Errol Zimmerman at GLORY 9 NEW YORK in June, then beat Turkish superstar Gokhan ‘The Rebel’ Saki and Daniel ‘the Savage Samurai’ Ghita in the same night at GLORY 11. Saki and Ghita are ranked #2 and #3 in the world. 

This was the first time GLORY was broadcast live on SPIKE TV. More than 750,000 American viewers caught the broadcast. For many of them it was their first time encountering kickboxing and they were blown away. 

Rico’s victory in the tournament was a masterpiece of strategy which required him to maintain intense focus and stick to a very precise gameplan. Saki and Ghita brought very different things to the ring and both were capable of stopping the fight with one blow.

In the semi-final fight with Saki, it was important for Verhoeven to stop him getting his hand combinations going. He used a lot of inside low-kicks to the front and back leg to stop Saki setting his feet and letting those fast hands go. 

Once he had intercepted Saki, Verhoeven would counter with strong punches. One of these earned him a knockdown call from the referee, though it was controversial and afterwards even Verhoeven admitted it probably should have been ruled a slip instead.

But the knockdown was awarded and it fired Saki up even more. He went for the kill and Verhoeven had to really keep his composure and stick to his gameplan devised by his mastermind coach Dennis Krauweel. Verhoeven did what he needed to do, winning a decision and booking a spot in the final.

There he met Romania’s Daniel Ghita. Where Saki is a devastating puncher, Ghita is more of a kicking specialist, though he also has heavy hands of his own. The two were former training partners and Ghita was used to sparring with the young version of Verhoeven.

So the gameplan here was to rush in and get to work on Ghita, showing him that the young boy was now a dangerous man. Verhoeven also wanted to push the pace and make Ghita fight at an exhausting pace, trusting his own conditioning to hold out.

The third round was one of the most amazing in kickboxing history, a real Rocky moment. They stood right in front of each other and exchanged blows non-stop. Fatigue set in on both sides but Ghita appeared to be the more tired.

Verhoeven looked like he was ready to go a few more rounds of the same. The judges saw him as the victor and awarded him the unanimous decision. At just 24 years old, Verhoeven became the GLORY Heavyweight Tournament Champion. A bright future awaits him, and the hard work will continue.

By Martijn De Jong

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Who will win the featherweight contender tournament at GLORY 43?