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Rico Verhoeven: “I’m more than a fighting machine”

by News Room
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Rico Verhoeven’s (35) dynamic life moves in all directions as a businessman, actor and kickboxer. He is also a father of three children and a good guy who overturns the prejudices surrounding his sport. “I am much more than that fighting machine.”

We meet Rico Verhoeven at The Kickboxing Society in Rotterdam. A gym reminiscent of a luxury wellness center: nice music, beautiful changing rooms with alternating concrete and wood panels. Still, members learn to spar and hit here.

The 12-time world champion, co-owner of this new sports complex, has just trained with the group for an hour. He puts on his shoes, puts on his bracelets and sits down to explain that kickboxing schools should no longer look like faded glory. Because the prejudice surrounding his sport is close to his heart.

“Let me start from the beginning. I became world champion in Chicago in 2013. Had a real world performance there, was the youngest ever world champion. And assuming the camera crews would meet me at Schiphol,” says Verhoeven. “My friends and family were standing there with banners, which was very sweet and dear. But there was no press to be seen.

Then the penny dropped: the image of kickboxing is not good. Focus too much on negativity. Sports don’t deserve that, and I’m not like that. Since no one ever thought of fighting for a better image, my supervisor Karim and I made a career plan in which we embraced this topic.

Kickboxing is now very popular and things are indeed civilized in our world. But there is always a small group that messes up. You can see the same in football. 20 percent of the supporters destroy the city, while 80 percent watch the match in silence. Yes, there are kickboxers who do not walk within the boundaries. I just want to radiate positivity.”

The unrest surrounding the rematch between you and Badr Hari did not help this image.

“In particular, the differences between us were put under a magnifying glass and the match was shown as Holland-Morocco. It looked like a movie script: good dude vs bad guy. When Badr was given the image of a bad guy, I was portrayed as a calm guy who also knows how to fight. That’s what made it so great, I think. Shame. When Badr and I see each other, almost nothing happens. We have one important similarity: we love our sport.

Do you think it’s important that we see the person, as you call it, behind the fighter?

“Well, I’m much more than that fighter. A normal guy who could be your next-door neighbor, takes his kids to school and has a nice chat. This helps show that kickboxing is a sport for everyone, average men, women and children.

You are anything but average.

“My life is hectic, chaotic and busy. I literally fly from here to here. Kickboxing has brought me a lot and can bring a lot to everyone, in different ways. It makes you proud and boosts your confidence. It’s nice to know that problems can always be solved if something happens. Which doesn’t really mean you can take kickboxing to the streets. If you do, you will leave here immediately.”

What is your philosophy and that of The Kickboxing Society?

“It’s fun and fitness. And that you will heal yourself. It’s not all about punching and kicking, you’re not in the right place for that. We talk about technique, flexibility, fitness, self-confidence, mental toughness, things that suit my training style. And empty it over your bucket too.”

How full is your bucket?

“For me too, the bucket is sometimes full and needs to be emptied. Everyone suffers from this, for example because of other people’s energy, at work or in your relationship. Sometimes it’s all a bit too much. I know there’s nothing better than hitting it against the punching bag.”

You are divorced, live with your girlfriend.

“Most of life consists of choices. Let go, forgive, hold on, be angry. Choices that hurt everyone. That’s what happened to us. If you are not happy yourself, you cannot make someone else happy. But are we talking about kickboxing again?”

How do you feel when you sit across from your kids at the breakfast table the morning after a fight with a black eye?

“When I got that famous hit in the eye, it was almost Halloween. So we make a joke out of it. My kids grew up with it and know this is part of it. During my last fight I fell. I teach them that it’s just like in real life: we fall, get back up and keep going. Because nothing can be found on earth, I always say. And when you get up, you’re always one step further than you were, you’ve learned from it. Either way, you might wonder if what I’m doing is the best example for them.”

In?

“I don’t know. I mainly give them lessons. Except for the youngest, who is six, they all do kickboxing. They are doing well and especially enjoy training with dad. But dad is a tough teacher, just like my dad was to me. When we start planking together, I ask: when do we give up? We never give up, dad. That’s what they never see me doing. But I know I have to balance some of the things my dad does taught me as a child. Although it benefited me greatly afterwards.”

You just signed a new three-year contract. How long do you plan to continue kickboxing?

“I do many different things, for example I am a co-owner in five companies with which I am affiliated. Think ice baths, car styling, fintech (financial engineering, ed.). Because this makes my life so varied, I’m probably not ready for kickboxing yet.”

Aren’t you afraid you’ll take too many hits and suffer brain damage or become demented?

“For me, fighting is really chess. I have created a certain fighting style that saves my head as much as possible. I fight as safely as possible. Some find this boring, others call it tactical and intelligent. Anyway, I try to win in a way that affects my body the least.

And what’s the situation?

“That I’ve had problems with everything at times. Look at my fingers, I think I broke them all. Fortunately, I am well taken care of, I have a team of experts around me. And I eat healthy, balanced and often: six carbohydrate-rich meals a day. I’ve also had my head checked regularly.”

And will you trade your kickboxing career for the silver screen? Can we still call you an actor?

“I’m not quite there yet. Although I was told last week that I should stop calling myself an aspiring actor. Although I now have a few films to my name and even a lead role in an action film Black lotus I’ve played, I think it’s hard. Put me in the ring and I know what to do. But put me on stage and I’ll do my best. I like to learn, I take acting lessons and I ask questions so I can improve. But I’m not sure yet.”

Where does that passion come from?

“I’ve been a movie freak all my life, I find it interesting how the story is told. It’s great to literally be in that role, to show myself in a different way. Especially when I’m playing a role that I couldn’t get because of my body, because I really want to act. And no, I’m not afraid of the spotlight. This is probably because I never take myself that seriously. Not even as an actor.”

When do you feel you will reach the top of Hollywood?

“If I can play a Marvel superhero. Take Captain America, wow… That’s so cool. Imagine if something like that worked, that would be crazy. Then I’ve completely checked off my bucket list.”

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