Rico Verhoeven remains ‘The King of Kickboxing’ - but it was a close-run thing. Badr Hari’s hand was taking a firm grip on the crown before misfortune struck early in the third round.
Since taking possession of the title in June 2014, Verhoeven’s reign over the heavyweight kingdom has been largely untroubled. But tonight the rebellion was nearly completed in the very first round, as Hari landed a right hand which knocked the defending champion down for an eight-count.
That count was the first knockdown Verhoeven has suffered in the GLORY ring. And as Verhoeven went down under the bright lights of a sold-out Gelredome Stadium, the roar of 31,000 fans went up.
Pre-fight, Hari had talked of seeing holes in Verhoeven’s game which he felt confident of exploiting. “It’s all about angles,” he said. This, as it turned out, was not hyperbole - Hari did indeed seem to have decoded Verhoeven in a way no other fighter has managed.
Confident in his lines of attack, Hari delivered them with concussive force. Throwing everything with bad intentions, he was rewarded with that right hand got through and put Verhoeven down for a count.
Hitting the canvas was a stern test for Verhoeven; he passed it with flying colors. Far from breaking the champion’s composure, the incident roused him to furious intensity and led to a firefight.
The rivalry had superhero-esque qualities to begin with, Verhoeven and Hari’s personalities and public images being so different. The fight extended those; having hovered on the edge of defeat in the first round, Verhoeven came back strongly and won the second.
Verhoeven was still down on the scorecards going into the third - Hari had a 10-8 score for the first round due to the knockdown, Verhoeven won the second 10-9 - but the fight felt even. Hari quickly shattered that, knocking Verhoeven down with a head kick.
Unbelievably, a champion who had never been knocked down in GLORY had now been downed twice. It seemed a certainty that Hari was now about to seize the crown by force - until he tried to do so in flamboyant fashion.
Whether he saw an opening or merely wanted to do something flashy, we will likely never know. But Hari elected to throw a spinning heel kick at Verhoeven - the same kick with which he once crushed his rival Stefan Leko many years ago - only to come undone by his own hand.
The kick landed, but not flush. Verhoeven landed a counter kick at the same time. Hari went down. Somewhere in that sequence, something snapped - a knee ligament, a shinbone or the achilles tendon.
Hari’s corner screamed at him to regain his feet, but their man was unable. He managed to roll over to an all-fours position but wasn’t able to stand. The fight, which just moments ago was heavily in his favor, was suddenly over - and Rico remained the champion.
“I let myself get surprised twice tonight, so I am very disappointed in myself. But otherwise the game plan was working, outside of those mistakes. I let my emotions get the best of me a bit. I got hit, but I got back up,” said Verhoeven.
“I was losing, but I was still in the fight. It’s not over until the fifth bell rings. The fight isn’t over until it’s over.”
Both fights between Verhoeven and Hari have been sell-outs. Does tonight’s outcome naturally lead to a COLLISION 3?
“Let him get healthy and we’ll do it again!” said Verhoeven.
Other standout performances at GLORY: COLLISION 2 included Zakaria Zougarry dominating Asa Ten Pow to hand the American his first loss in GLORY; Mohammed Jaraya won a war with Massaro Glunder and Antonio Plazibat bested Jahfarr Wilnis.
The most notable performance outside the main event though was Alex Pereira’s. The middleweight champion stopped Ertugul Bayrak to score the fourth first-round knockout of his GLORY career and the fifth KO victory of his last six wins.
Rico Verhoeven def. Badr Hari by TKO (leg injury). Round 3, 0:59 (World Heavyweight Championship)
Luis Tavares def. Stéphane Susperregui by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Mohammed Jaraya def. Massaro Glunder by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Zakaria Zouggary def. Asa Ten Pow by unanimous decision (30-27 x5)
Alex Pereira def. Ertugrul Bayrak by knockout (left hook). Round 1, 3:00 – for middleweight title
Serhii Adamchuk def. Aleksei Ulianov by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30, 27-30, 29-28)
Ariel Machado def. Michael Duut by unanimous decision (29-26, 30-25, 30-25, 30-25, 30-25)
Itay Gershon def. Zhaoyang Li by majority decision (28-28, 30-26, 30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Antonio Plazibat def. Jahfarr Wilnis by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Donovan Wisse def. César Almeida by majority decision (28-28, 29-27, 30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Nordine Mahieddine def. Cihad Kepenek by extra round split decision (10-9, 10-9, 9-10, 9-10, 10-9)
Ulrik Bokeme def. Kevin van Heeckeren by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Rebekah Irwin def. Yi Xu by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)