Heavyweight kickboxing is most likely the reason why we are all here. Sure, a lot of us grew to love and appreciate a lot of other weight classes, but chances are if you got into kickboxing you got into it because of big guys throwing bombs at each other. The K-1 World Grand Prix was the gold standard in kickboxing for a very long time and produced some of the absolute best and most entertaining fights imaginable. Things have changed, though, and the old guard is mostly retired or on the way out. Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky, Ernesto Hoost, Semmy Schilt, Jerome Le Banner and the other fighters that made Heavyweight kickboxing feel so special have had their time in the sun and rode off into the sunset.
Now is the time for a new generation to battle for Heavyweight supremacy. There have been fighters who have fought in the interim era, guys like Badr Hari, Gokhan Saki, Errol Zimmerman and even Daniel Ghita who were primed to take the throne but they either ran into roadblocks from the older generation or ran into the younger generation. Rico Verhoeven is the embodiment of this new era in Heavyweight kickboxing and his title defense against Benjamin Adegbuyi will be the first actual “new” Heavyweight title fight that we’ve seen in this era.
Stop and think about that for a minute. Rico was tied up with Daniel Ghita and Errol Zimmerman, two fighters who were involved in the tail end of the K-1 days and saw their primes during that era into the It’s Showtime and early GLORY days. While Rico Verhoeven did have a few fights under the K-1 banner, he never made it into the K-1 World Grand Prix due to his age and lack of experience. Now he is a fully formed fighter and champion. Benjamin Adegbuyi is a talent that was fostered entirely in a post-K-1 World Grand Prix era under the SuperKombat banner before entering into GLORY.
There have been some criticisms of GLORY throughout their tenure, some of it warranted and some of it unwarranted, but their desire and ability to create new stars has been a struggle for them. When GLORY launched the big stars from the K-1 era were on the way out and the fighters who came in at the tail end of the era (your Sakis, Ghitas, Spongs, Zimmermans) were deservingly expensive for their accomplishments but didn’t bring with them the same name recognition that an Aerts, Hoost, Bonjasky or Schilt brought with them.
Rico Verhoeven rose to prominence in an unlikely field of top contenders. Rico had his shot against some of these bigger names previously and while he held his own and showed flashes of brilliance, there was still something missing. It wasn’t until his fight at the GLORY 4 Grand Slam Tournament with Semmy Schilt where he had an awakening that he could hang with the best in the world, that there was no reason to be tentative or concerned anymore; he had become one of the best. The Rico that we saw after that had a new fire lit under him that led him to a GLORY 11 Heavyweight tournament victory and then a GLORY Heavyweight Championship victory over Daniel Ghita. He went into his fight at GLORY 19 against Errol Zimmerman after a stumbling in China against Andrei Gerasimchuk with a renewed focus and was looking great until Zimmerman tweaked his knee.
For Benjamin Adegbuyi his story is a bit different. Eduard Irimia of SuperKombat saw something in the Heavyweight and helped to foster his career under the SuperKombat banner. This meant that he was immediately thrust into the spotlight as one of their top Heavyweight prospects while given fights that were appropriate for his level. It’s hard to argue with that, although there was a lot of hyperbole surrounding Adegbuyi for years because of his highlight reel of knockouts against lesser opponents.
Simply stated, Adegbuyi’s growth stage was televised on a national platform in Romania and around Europe which led to him becoming and incredibly popular fighter that many fans saw as the next Heavyweight champion of the world. It took time, though, and Adegbuyi was capable and willing to put in the work to reach the level where he is at today. When he entered GLORY he worked his way up the ladder and now has his chance to prove how far that he’s come.
The fight itself is a fascinating one as well. Rico Verhoeven is a technical, kick-oriented fighter who is not afraid to trade but prefers a slower, more methodical pace. His defenses are great for a Heavyweight and he now pieces together strong combinations and is a lot more comfortable with his hands. Adegbuyi is fine technically, but he’s best known for how hard he hits and how he pieces together finishing combinations. If Benny can find a hole he’ll take advantage of it.
This leads to what should be an exciting fight. Verhoeven should have the edge thanks to his defenses and ability to score points like we saw in his fights with Saki, Zimmerman and Ghita. They all felt that Rico didn’t do enough to “beat” them, but he still won and in every case it was clear what he did to win. For Adegbuyi he will be looking for a knockout, which isn’t to say that he won’t be careful and technical, because he has grown as a fighter and has become more careful, but his best chance to avoid what happened to Zimmerman, Ghita and Saki is to do what they couldn’t; knock the Prince of Kickboxing out.