There's no easy way to talk about the sudden and untimely passing of someone young who had a bright future ahead of them, especially when the individual had already shown flashes of brilliance in a short life. The sport of kickboxing is one of the most thrilling in the world, with action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats and enough intrigue, flash and politics in play to enrapt even the least sport-minded of fans.
Without a doubt, Marc de Bonte was a special fighter and person who left an indelible mark in his short time in the limelight. Fighting inside of a division that has been ruled over by Nieky Holzken for as long as there have been championships in major organizations, de Bonte rose up to prominence within the GLORY ranks and after a few cancellations, the trigger was pulled for Marc to fight for the title at GLORY 16. The fight was supposed to be against Holzken, but injury had plagued him throughout the year, meaning the clash wouldn't happen just yet. This set the stage for de Bonte to fight Karapet Karapetyan at GLORY 16 Denver where he won the world championship. He was just 24-years-old at the time.
As a writer (sometimes even a journalist) a part of my job is to remain impartial, which includes not publicly claiming favorites and avoiding discouraging fighters I'm not quite fond of. That night I was there live for what was Marc de Bonte's crowning achievement of his professional career, I got to see him emotional over winning the world title, to see the look in his eyes, the relief and the determination and it felt special. While I only briefly spoke with him that night, congratulating him and seeing how proud he was has taken on new meaning in the light of his passing. It was difficult not to feel his passion and get swept up in it, to feel like we had all witnessed something important from someone special.
He was only a few years into his professional career and was so ready to take on Nieky Holzken, a man that was almost ten years his elder and who had fought the best in the world in multiple weight classes before paving the way for a welterweight division, but he wasn't afraid, he was ready to prove himself. Even though he knew that people were expecting Holzken to take his title, he was still there and he was still proud of his accomplishments.
What struck me about Marc was that he was soft-spoken and respectful, even in the face of the biggest victory of his entire career. Even when he spoke about Nieky Holzken -- and I can remember the thick accent that he pronounced the name "Holzken" in like it was yesterday -- it was almost in reverence. That fight never materialized, as de Bonte lost the title just over a month later to Joseph Valtellini and shifted his focus towards professional boxing. Much like the rest of us, he faced his share of setbacks in his career.
The few times that I spoke with him afterwards he was always exactly as I had remembered him; kind, respectful and down-to-Earth. Perhaps that is what makes his passing all-the-more difficult to comprehend and process. Marc de Bonte wasn't a guy with a long rap sheet, a guy snatching headlines for assaulting anyone or smuggling drugs. There weren't hushed rumors about what sort of people he ran with or how he played gangster when the lights were off him. He had a girlfriend that he'd post photos with on Instagram regularly, his family thinks the world of him and he didn't even drink. This wasn't one of those "bad seeds" that we regularly have to talk about.
Instead he had returned to kickboxing and was chasing his second world title. The sport had genuinely missed him and his return was something that caught everyone's attention. In fact, he was scheduled to fight in just a matter of weeks from now in China, where he was involved in a tournament for a world title. So when he was reported missing on November 4th there was a lot of speculation, but the reality was that Marc was on the upswing again and everyone was pulling for him. He'd turn up eventually, right?
The weeks dragged on without word, his family and friends became increasingly desperate and finally, on November 24th, a body was found near his car, twenty days after his disappearance, with police confirming his identity days later. There will be speculation, investigations, allegations and everything in between in the coming weeks, months and years about what happened to Marc. Hopefully his family and close friends will get the closure that they need while the rest of us remember Marc for the brief, fleeting impact that he had on the sport and just how brightly his light burned for someone as young as he was.
Marc was a glowing reminder that these larger-than-life characters in the sports world are just as vulnerable and fallible as the rest of us are. They feel the same range of emotions that we do, face the same daily struggles and have to fight for inspiration not only in their careers, but themselves as well. Marc came back to kickboxing and was going to leave his mark on the sport, his friends and family have spoken about how excited he was to fight again, to entertain us and to prove himself to the world.