Throughout the history of modern professional kickboxing there has been one lynchpin holding it all together, that has been heavyweights. There has always been an odd fascination with two goliaths, larger-than-life titans, stepping into the ring and throwing giant shots at each other. Smaller fighters have risen in popularity, but under the narrative of a David vs. Goliath, not usually within its own division. That isn’t to say that there aren’t staunch fans of two fighters of the same weight competing, because there are, but heavyweight fights have always been the featured attraction and appealed to the widest audiences. But these days it seems like heavyweight kickboxing is less and less relevant, with lighter weight classes taking center stage. You still can't deny that heavyweights are an attraction, though.
We are living in the wake of K-1’s glory days in heavyweight kickboxing. Peter Aerts, Semmy Schilt, Remy Bonjasky, Ray Sefo, Ernesto Hoost and Jerome Le Banner are all retired. This generation of heavyweights has been rather thin thanks to a downturn in business and the advent of a viable light heavyweight weight class that has attracted some of the lighter heavyweights that would usually just tough it out with the bigger guys. The lack of huge paydays and giant backing like FEG had with Fujii TV in Japan has meant younger stars turning their attention to boxing or MMA where there are more assurances.
There was temporarily a glimmer of hope on the horizon when GLORY kicked into high gear, as we saw in GLORY 4’s Heavyweight Grand Slam tournament. Of course, four of those fighters went on to drop in weight (Jurkovic, Bouzidi, Verlinden, Saki), three have since retired (Schilt, Aerts, Bonjasky), some faded from view (Guidon, Raoumaru) while others just haven’t fought in a very long time in the spotlight (Ghita, Kharitonov). In fact, if you were to look at the 16 fighters involved in that tournament only four of them are still active in GLORY’s heavyweight division (Verhoeven, Zimmerman, Braddock and Jamal Ben Saddik).
From a narrow view those are without a doubt four of GLORY’s top heavyweights at the moment. When browsing through GLORY’s rankings the only top contender that has been added in the years following GLORY 4 has been Benjamin Adegbuyi. A cursory look through their rankings is actually kind of depressing. Ben Edwards has decided to focus on boxing, older gatekeepers like Freddy Kemayo and Mladen Brestovac aren’t about the set the world on fire, nor will the new additions of the monotone Xavier Vigney or the spirited but still not quite there Chi Lewis Parry.
Looking at our own top ten (which will be revised as soon as Jay is done with his Hollywood responsibilities), for fighters outside of GLORY there is Hesdy Gerges, Andrei Gerasmichuk, Zabit Samedov and Ismael Londt. Gerges just lost to Jahfarr Wilnis, who oddly enough hasn’t been seen in a GLORY ring in quite some time. Most of these fighters are competing wherever they can draw a paycheck from and fighting infrequently, hardly moving up the ranks of the division.
Other bigger name heavyweights out in the wild are the ever-unpredictable Badr Hari, the young, still not in shape Ismael Lazaar and SuperKombat’s stable of Heavyweights including the part time Catalin Morosanu and the recently-returned Raul Catinas. The picture that I’m painting here is that of a heavyweight landscape that does little to inspire. That isn’t to say that there aren’t good heavyweights out there, but there has been a disconnect between the generations where there was very little overlap between them. The last K-1 World Grand Prix Champion was Alistair Overeem, who quickly hopped back to MMA after the fall of FEG’s K-1 and the last big heavyweight tournament champion was Semmy Schilt, who never fought against after GLORY 4.
Rico Verhoeven has had impressive performances and is without a doubt the dominant world champion for the division right now, but the GLORY 11 tournament being a four-man and lacking in older, more established stars only hurt everyone involved. There wasn’t much of a narrative of Verhoeven overcoming greats to claim his top spot, just questionable downs against Gokhan Saki and a disputed win over Daniel Ghita. Even in winning the championship at GLORY 17 it was in a rematch with Ghita where Ghita fans are still crying foul after all of this time that Rico didn’t “do enough.” To no fault of Verhoeven’s there are not many top contenders left for him. The Zimmerman fight had that big fight feel to it, but Zimmerman’s freak injury took some of the shine off of it, and the rise of Benjamin Adegbuyi happened largely on non televised undercards, giving fans little reason to believe in or care about him.
Heavyweight kickboxing right now is at a crossroads, living in a post-FEG era that can only be defined as fragmented and getting worse. So I want to ask you a question; who do you think will be the next big heavyweight kickboxing star? Is Rico Verhoeven the star that is slowly growing, or will the relative lack of competition hurt him in the long run? Or, has the rise of the smaller, more technical weight classes made the heavyweight spectacle a relic of the past now?
Right now it feels like while there are solid fighters in the heavyweight division, some of the talent that would usually prop it up has been dispersed to light heavyweight and even middleweight. That being said, fans still want to see heavyweights rumble.