For a moment it looked like the fight might not happen. The noise in the Konig-Pilsener Arena was deafening as Badr Hari made his way to the ring to meet Rico Verhoeven in the GLORY: COLLISION main event and when he stepped through the ring ropes it only got louder.
Suddenly there was a commotion around Hari's side of the ring as Hari's supporters, many of them young and of the same Dutch-Moroccan background as him, surged past security to mount the ring apron and get within touching distance of their idol.
There were several minutes of pandemonium as officials rushed to restore order. For every second of it, Hari and Verhoeven had their eyes locked on each other. They stared each other down from their opposite corners of the ring in a continuation of the intense face-to-face they had at the preceding day's weigh-ins. Emotions were running high on all sides.
Order was quickly restored and the over-exuberant fans were returned to their seats so that the fight could commence. The opening bell made real a bout which many thought impossible and which up until that very moment had borne a whisper of uncertainty, even with Hari in the venue for the two hours beforehand.
Months of interviews, analysis and verbal sparring had raised the stakes for both fighters. Verhoeven is the GLORY heavyweight champion but this was a three-round non-title affair, a superfight to settle the difference of opinion between he and Hari as to which of them is the best.
Verhoeven is usually a careful starter but in this instance it was he and not Hari who went on the attack first. His pushing forwards had an air of near-recklessness and suggested that the normally emotionless champion might be suffused with anger and emotion. Hari met the attack and countered. The fight was on.
In the build-up, much had been made of Hari's relative inactivity in the last two years and its contrast with Verhoeven's frequency of competition against the top active heavyweights today. On paper that was a big advantage for him but there was little sign of ring rust in Hari; he had prepared well for this encounter.
He was definitely taking Verhoeven very seriosuly though, in spite of pre-fight comments to the contrary. Anyone expecting him to go after Verhoeven with wild abandon was disappointed. He was careful and methodical in his approach to one of the most technical fighters in heavyweight history.
That approach led to him scoring more cleanly in the first round and had him ahead on the scorecards going into the second. Verhoeven turned up the pace and the two were scrapping heavily when Hari found himself backed onto the ropes. Verhoeven hit him with a clinch-knee and Hari moved to block the strike. The referee then intervened to break them and return the fight to open movement.
As the referee made distance between them Hari looked down at his right arm. He continued looking at it as he ignored the referee's instruction for the fight to recommence, prompting the referee to examine the arm himself. As soon as he did so, the fight was waved off. A large contusion could be seen on the upper right forearm. It was suspected – and later verified by x-ray – that the forearm bone was broken.
Verhoeven jumped on the ropes to celebrate his win by Technical Knockout, though the manner of the finish of course was not as satisfactory to him as he would have liked. He and Hari talked a little between themselves and it seemed there was an exchange of smiles.
Then the post-fight interviews commenced. Verhoeven thanked his fans and offered Hari a rematch when the arm was back in working order. Then it was Hari's turn to speak. Addressing Verhoeven directly he said, “I give you your credits, but I swear, next year I will knock you the f--k out.”
With that he exited the ring to go backstage and thence to hospital for the arm to be treated. Verhoeven celebrated with his team then went backstage to prepare for the post-fight press conference, at which he confirmed his interest in a rematch.
Verhoeven won the first battle, but the war is not over. Expect more fireworks between the two heavyweight rivals in 2017.
Rico Verhoeven def. Badr Hari, TKO (arm injury), R2 (1.22)