In the wake of last weekend's GP, most discussion focused on the big wins by Peter Aerts and Alistair Overeem. But one fighter who drew my attention for very different reasons was Errol Zimmerman. Competing in the reserve fight against Ewerton Teixeira, Zimmerman was defeated soundly in a fight that may cause you to rethink his current K-1 standing. Why? Let's take a look.
To start, let's roll back to 2008. This was the year Zimmerman made a splash in K-1, winning the World GP Amsterdam title. That night, the Golden Glory fighter turned heads with wins over Atila Karacs, Bjorn Bregy, and Zabit Samedov. Immediately, people were interested in the Bonecrusher, and he only increased that interest and hype with his dominant Final 16 victory over Glaube Feitosa. From there, Zimmerman took out Teixeira in the GP quarter-finals, making it to the final 4 where he was defeated by Badr Hari in one of the best fights of 2008. As the year ended, Zimmerman was on a roll, coming from semi-obscurity to being a top 5 fighter in just a few months.
As 2009 started, Zimmerman hit a bit of a bump in the road. He followed up the Hari loss with an ill-advised MMA fight against Minowaman at Dynamite!! before suffering back to back loses to Peter Aerts and Mourad Bouzidi. Those loses were somewhat troubling, but Aerts is always dangerous, and the Bouzidi loss came from a freak cut, so there wasn't a huge cause for concern. Yet.
That changed last weekend. In his reserve fight with Teixeira, Zimmerman did not just lose, he lost decisively. Worse, he looked, in a word, bad. Kogan and The Voice called him "bloated," which was an apt description. After a year plagued by rumors of lackluster training habits, Zimmerman looked out of shape, unprepared, and simply out of his element. It was the kind of performance that brings his entire recent career into stark perspective. And when you look back at recent years, you see a disturbing trend in Zimmerman's performances, and that trend points decidedly down.
Since that career-defining 2008, Zimmerman has gone an unimpressive 3-6. But it wasn't until recently that his loses started to look bad. In addition to the Teixeira fight, Zimmerman looked completely over matched when knocked out by Daniel Ghita, and was made to look somewhat foolish by Semmy Schilt earlier this year. However, it's not the losses that really show Zimmerman's troubles - it's the wins. Of those 3 wins, only 1 was a stoppage. That fight, a 24 second KO of Catalin Morosanu, was so brief that it said almost nothing about where Zimmerman stood (though it did speak volumes about Morosanu). The other 2 wins were an extra round decision over the unranked Wendell Roche, and a close majority decision over Glaube Feitosa in the 2009 Final 16. The Feitosa fight in particular stands out, as the Brazilian had only fought once since being dismantled by Zimmerman a year earlier, and was on the verge of retirement. This had all the ingredients to be a Gerges/Fujimoto style win for Zimmerman, but instead Errol struggled, barely sneaking by the man he had so easily handled not long ago. Against both Feitosa and Teixeira, we saw Zimmerman losing ground against fighters he handled not long ago. Instead of hitting the upper ranks and continuing his rise, Zimmerman has fallen fast.
Sadly, this kind of story is all too common in sports. It takes great dedication to make it to the upper reaches of any professional sport, and once you make it there, it takes even more dedication to maintain your spot against an increasingly tough level of competition. But at the same time that these athletes must step up their game, they are also faced with increased fame and popularity and all the distractions that accompany them. There is a great temptation to coast on your talent instead of pushing harder, and right now it seems like Zimmerman is indeed coasting.
For a prime example of where this can lead, Errol need look no further than another fighter in action last weekend. Alexey Ignashov was once poised to be the next big name in K-1 and kickboxing. But at his height, temptation took over, and Ignashov's career plummeted. Just hours after Zimmerman's loss, Ignashov too was defeated, bringing an uninspired ending to the Red Scorpion's 2010 - the year that was suppossed to be Iggy's glorious comeback, but could end up as his swan song.
For Zimmerman, the end of 2010 is a clear crossroad. If he continues as he has been, he will be another in a long line of underachievers who did not quite hit the levels their earlier careers forecast. But if he makes changes, the man who rolled through the 2008 Europe GP, who pummeled Glaube Feitosa, who gave Badr Hari all he could handle - that man has the skills to be a future champion. The choice is his.