Next week’s GLORY 62 Heavyweight Grand Prix is being warmly anticipated by Cor Hemmers, GLORY’s Managing Director of Sports.
Hemmers was one of the most successful trainers in kickboxing history before transitioning into a matchmaking and sport ambassador role when the GLORY Kickboxing organization was formed in 2012.
In a previous age, a decade before GLORY established itself as the sport’s premier league, the top competition in kickboxing was the K-1 World Grand Prix final.
A one-night, eight-man tournament which gathered participants from around the world, it was the platform upon which the likes of Semmy Schilt, Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky and Mark Hunt built their legends.
Schilt was the only four-time winner of the annual competition, while Bonjasky and Aerts have three wins apiece. Hunt won the tournament once, as did Alistair Overeem.
Schilt and Overeem both trained under Cor Hemmers in their kickboxing primes, as did a host of other top names.
“World Grand Prix winners who trained with me were Semmy Schilt and Alistair Overeem,” he recalls.
“Then also Gokhan Saki, who won the Hawaii 8-man Grand Prix, Stefan Leko, who won the Las Vegas 8-Man Grand Prix, Sergei Kharitonov, who also won the Las Vegas tournament, Ruslan Karaev, Errol Zimmerman…”
There are few trainers in any sport who can lay claim to having trained so many championship-level fighters. indeed, such was the popularity of Hemmers training room at the time, he often had several fighters at once in the same tournament.
In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, there is a tendency for fighters who train together to refuse to fight each other. Sometimes it is from a sense of camaraderie, sometimes from a sense that being from the same team would mean their secrets were laid bare to each other.
Kickboxing, in contrast, has a long tradition of fighters being willing to face anyone at all, at any time. The sparring is notoriously hard and fights are often just an extension of the training room intensity, rather than being any level above it.
“It’s true, sometimes I had as many as four fighters at one time in the same tournament, often making it to the later stages at the same time. What a luxury problem to have, as a trainer,” laughs Hemmers.
“But look, it’s a sport, like any other. The Williams sisters can play each other in tennis and still be friends, right? These boys can fight each other in the ring and also be friends before it and after it, no problem.
“If I had several fighters in the same tournament, I would continue to train them, but I wouldn’t let them spar each other. We had so many fighters around the place that it was easy to give a guy a full sparring regime without needing to spar someone they potentially would have to fight in some weeks.
“Of course, there would be some tension between them in the gym sometimes, but it was all in a sort of friendly way. They would trash each other, but with a smile. It was never a problem.”
Training so many champions has given Hemmers an insight into what a fighter needs to do in order to win a tournament of this caliber.
“There are lots of factors, it’s the sum of many things. It starts with the luck of the draw - maybe you draw an opponent that you can easily deal with, or an opponent who has a very difficult style for you.
“Then you have to have the mentality and the motivation. It’s not just one fight. To win, you’re going to have to sit backstage and prepare yourself to fight on three different occasions.
“That’s a hard thing to do, especially later in the tournament when are injured, you’re tired, you’ve used energy, your hands and shins hurt. That’s when your mind has to be strong. You will have to fight through the pain. Your ability to suffer will be tested.
“For a good example of this, look at when Gokhan Saki had to fight Alistair Overeem in the 2010 semi finals. He suffered a fracture in his forearm against Daniel Ghita in the quarter-finals but had to face Overeem in the semi-finals.
“Backstage, he said to his cornerman Ramon Dekkers that he thought his arm was broken. And Ramon said, ‘So what? You have two arms, use the other one. This is a chance to show your character!’”
“I was training both fighters at the time, so I absented myself from the corner. Martijn de Jong had Overeem and Ramon took Saki. And they made a great fight - Saki was doing very well until he took another big kick on the fractured arm.
“In these tournaments, anyone who makes it to the final is doing something heroic. The semi-finals even. Everyone is injured after their first fight: shins, thighs from low kicks, plus whatever else you’ve suffered.
“Doctors are constantly monitoring the fighters between stages, but even with the all-clear there is still a degree of pain that the fighter must overcome. Taking low kicks to the thigh is hard after one fight, never mind one or two more fights after that.
“Your team know you are hurting but they should also be watching the other guys in the tournament and letting you know that they are hurting too, they are also taking damage. You’re not alone in this.
“What I really like about this format is that it can be where your star is born. You can come in as an absolute nobody and over the course of three fights you can become a hero. In one night even the most casual fans who know nothing of the sport can come to know you and become your fan.
“It’s where legends are made, and there will be new legends made next week at GLORY 62 in Rotterdam!”
GLORY 62 ROTTERDAM takes place next Saturday, December 8, at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Among the Heavyweight Grand Prix participants are Benjamin Adegbuyi, Jamal Ben Saddik, Guto Inocente, Junior Tafa and Jahfarr Wilnis.