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30th May 2018

Kickboxing’s answer to Anthony Joshua is fighting in Birmingham this weekend

Could we see a cross-sport clash between Rico Verhoeven and 'AJ'?

Darragh Murphy

Casual fight fans in the United Kingdom probably don’t even know his name but Rico Verhoeven can’t walk down the street in Holland without being swarmed for autographs and pictures.

Verhoeven exudes superstardom and unlike the biggest names in other combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts, he is almost singlehandedly carrying his sport on his broad shoulders.

The reigning GLORY heavyweight champion has never fought in Britain before but he is more than familiar with what these shores have to offer, having previously sparred with the likes of Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte.

“The English fans are crazy about combat sports. You see how much they like boxing and sell out arenas. It’s amazing. I’m definitely sure that kickboxing is a sport that they will embrace too,” Verhoeven told JOE at his Halsteren gym last week.

“You see the popularity of Anthony Joshua, for example, and I definitely take it as a compliment that I’ve been compared to him in the past. I think it’s mainly for the way that we represent our sport in front of the world. We focus on being the gentleman, being the sportsman and being the athlete instead of giving a platform to the trash talk and all the disrespect that comes with that. On that side, I can definitely understand the comparisons.”

Verhoeven has already arrived in England ahead of his title defence this weekend against Mladen Brestovac, a fighter over whom Verhoeven already holds a victory.

Headlining GLORY 54 in Birmingham’s Genting Arena this Saturday, Verhoeven will hope to add the 54th win of his career to his impressive record.

The 29-year-old is on an incredible unbeaten streak in GLORY and while kickboxing will always be Verhoeven’s first true love, he has previously tested the waters with a first-round knockout win in his mixed martial arts debut and he remains open to the idea of a monster cross-sport clash with Joshua down the line.

“A fight with Anthony Joshua would definitely be fun. I think it’d be different and a big fight because it’s two different disciplines and, yeah, let’s see if we can maybe make it happen in the future,” Verhoeven said.

“Let’s do a mixed fight. I heard him say in an interview that he would be interested in a mixed fight but I think that question was about MMA and he said he didn’t want to do the grappling and the wrestling. That’s essentially saying that he wants to do a stand-up, kickboxing fight. He said that he could kick but just didn’t want to deal with the grappling or the Jiu-Jitsu. So, OK, that’s actually a kickboxing fight? So why not? Let’s do it!

“How cool would that be to have two champions from different disciplines that will cross-mix in both sports? I could come over to his side for a boxing match and then he could come over to my side for a kickboxing fight.”

At 6 ft 5 in and 261lbs, Verhoeven’s hulking physique bears an uncanny resemblance to Joshua’s and, with his size, the Dutchman is very easy for fans to spot when he walks to his gym each afternoon.

Verhoeven typically does a morning session with head coach Dennis Krauweel in which he focuses on technique before he works on his strength, flexibility and explosive power later on in the day.

Krauweel, who has worked with Verhoeven since 2005, has explained what it’s been like witnessing first-hand the meteoric rise of one of Holland’s most recognisable sportsmen.

“Look, kickboxing is mainstream in Holland! We are mainstream, the gym is mainstream, Rico is mainstream. He’s a celebrity! What Anthony Joshua is in England, Rico is in Holland,” Krauweel said.

“All I knew when I first met Rico was that I had a young, big lad with a desire and that’s where it started.

“We have gone on to build a total framework around him that is totally suitable to what works best for him.

“The best is still to come because he is becoming more and more mature in the head. The body is at its most powerful between 28 and 33 or 34 on average. He is just 29.

“You can see it in his muscle tone. With every fight, he’s getting a little bit more defined and more muscular without getting heavier. He’s the same weight but the quality of his muscles is improving.

“Then you have the quality of the mind. He is the father of three children and he might have his problems and his things but with these problems that every human has, they make you a stronger man. Then in the ring, when you’re experiencing real tension, you can perform with relaxation because you’re a stronger individual.”

To help him prepare for the upcoming challenge of Brestovac in Birmingham, Verhoeven has brought in a southpaw in the form of sparring partner Ondrej ‘Spejbl’ Hutnik.

Hutnik has been showing Verhoeven some tips and tricks that left-handed fighters tend to use and he’s been impressed with the GLORY champion’s progress.

“He can definitely be kickboxing’s answer to Anthony Joshua,” Hutnik said.

“Rico has everything it takes to be a superstar. He’s got a big, strong body but, and this is very important, he’s got good will. He’s got perfect technique, reliable trainers, great facilities here. That’s everything you need to be a true champion.

“He also looks good. That’s why I think he’s the most marketable heavyweight in the whole world. He also works very, very hard and some people might not see that but, behind the scenes, it’s very hard work.

“He’s a typical Dutch-style kickboxer. He eats clean and nobody is more dedicated than Rico Verhoeven.”

GLORY 54 takes place on Saturday 2 June at the Genting Arena. Tickets are available from The Ticket Factory