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Rico vs Jamal: inside battle of giants

World heavyweight kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven defends his title against Jamal Ben Saddik in the main event of GLORY REDEMPTION today (4pm ET).
It’s the biggest kickboxing fight of 2017 and fans of top-level striking around the world are paying close attention to it.

On the one side Rico Verhoeven, the most dominant champion in the history of heavyweight kickboxing. Standing opposite him is Jamal Ben Saddik, who at 6’9” and 260bs (120kgs) is literally the biggest fighter on the GLORY roster.

Not only is Ben Saddik the biggest heavyweight kickboxer in GLORY, he’s also one of the few to hold a win over Verhoeven. It came back in 2011, a second-round TKO scored in the Moroccan’s pro-debut , and he’s confident he can repeat the feat this Saturday night and ripped the world heavyweight title away in the process.

It’s a fascinating match and almost guaranteed to produce some of the most compelling action of the year. GLORY laid on extra security for today’s official weigh ins because tensions had already spilled over at the pre-fight press conference and no risks were being taken a second time.

Tensions between the two are so tightly wound that they have threatened to spill over and become physical several times in the build-up to this bout. It took the intervention of several staff members to separate them when a staredown at a recent press conference turned ugly.

At the root of the rivalry is a 2011 fight when both were young up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves. The competitive bout finished in the second round when Ben Saddik landed a right hand which knocked Verhoeven down. Even though Verhoeven beat the count, his trainer called the fight off, resulting in a TKO win for Ben Saddik.

Fast-forward to today and Verhoeven is heavyweight kickboxing’s undisputed king. Not only has he has mounted five successful defenses of the title since winning it, he has hardly lost a round since joining GLORY back in 2012.

During Verhoeven’s upward trajectory since that 2011 loss to Ben Saddik, he has honed himself into one of the most technically proficient and superbly conditioned athletes in this sport’s history. He has a close working relationship with the champion boxer Tyson Fury and that has helped shape his own boxing skills into some of the sharpest in the game.

Ben Saddik’s own path since that 2011 win has been rockier; his professional career started with a three-fight win streak but soon ran into a three-fight losing streak and then turned into an irregular run of wins and losses.

It only recently emerged that across that period he was battling cancer - two separate bouts - and so his sudden descent into inconsistent form starts to make more sense. Having recovered his health last year and officially receiving the all-clear this year, he is now on a 4-0 win streak as he goes into this title shot.

GLORY color commentator ‘Bazooka’ Joe Valtellini is fascinated by this Saturday’s rematch. The former welterweight champion is better placed than most to offer technical insight into the pair, given that he himself held a GLORY world title before retiring in 2014.

“What we’re looking at here is two big guys who are similar in terms of height and weight, but very different in terms of style. As the saying goes, styles make fights and the winner here will be the fighter who can impose his will on this contest,” says the Canadian.

“Verhoeven is one of the most technically gifted heavyweights ever. He’s got a full range of skills - punches, kicks, knees - and he’s very clever, very strategic. He picks guys apart, breaks them down very methodically.

“Because his skills are so rounded, he can work multiple targets at the same time. When the opponent moves to defend one of those targets, he switches his attention to whatever other target has just been exposed.

“But his key weapon really is his fitness. Rico’s fitness and conditioning are infamous. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t training camps, because he works like crazy every day. He himself has said that his focus on fitness is ‘obsessive’.

“What that means is that he has an inexhaustible gas tank and he’s as fresh in the fifth round as in the first. That’s a hard thing to fight against.”

Ben Saddik’s key weapon is obvious: his power. In particular, his sledgehammer of a right hand. Of his 32 professional wins, 26 have been inside the distance. His knockout ratio of 84% is one of the highest finish rates of any fighter on the GLORY roster.

“He’s the biggest fighter on the roster and he’s one of the most powerful. That right hand is a killer but he also has really heavy body kicks. One of his team said that when his kick lands full force, it’s like a tree falling on you,” says Valtellini.

“What Ben Saddik is looking to do here is put the pressure on Verhoeven early and make it into a war. He needs to hurt Verhoeven early to get his respect, rattle his composure. The more that he can make this into a kind of a streetfight, the better his chance of winning.

“And you’re not just fighting against Rico, you’re fighting his gas tank. Letting the fight go to the later rounds favors him, so Ben Saddik will want to pull the trigger early, get straight into the fighting and, if it goes his way, get out of there quickly.

“It’s a really interesting fight and it’s one of the most viable threats Rico Verhoeven has faced in recent years. That 2011 fight will be on both of their minds going into this Saturday’s fight but whether it’s redemption or a repeat will depend on who successfully imposes their game.”

GLORY REDEMPTION takes place today, December 9, at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands and airs exclusively on UFC.tv via pay-per-view from 4pm ET. Order at UFC.tv/gloryredemption.

Saturday, January 20
10PM/7PM
ETPT
Boston, MA

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