Rico Verhoeven: From Tyson Fury's punchbag to Hollywood superstar… the undisputed 'King of Kingboxing' on his incredible rise from obscurity

It would be unfair to call him kickboxing's answer to Anthony Joshua or John Cena – those compliments are still not enough.

Unlike AJ, Rico is the undisputed heavyweight king of his sport and while Rico and WWE legend Cena both share amazing physiques and the same Hollywood film role, only one is a real hard man.

The 29-year-old posterboy for premier kickboxing promotion Glory has just voiced the Dutch version of Ferdinand – the animated story of a fighting bull that banked over £200million at the box office.

And he is defending his nine-fight unbeaten run – dating back to 2015 – in the UK in Birmingham on June 2 with the help of long-time co-trainer Peter Fury – the brain behind Tyson Fury's world title win.

His fans include the Dutch royal family – who want him to help fight youth obesity – Iron Mike Tyson and ex-heavyweight world champ Fury who is a former sparring partner.

Since the most recent addition in September, Rico is also a doting dad to three children who are more thrilled by his cartoon character than his incredible fight record and belt haul.



But the giant who sits on the ring apron at the Team Fury gym and talks about legitimising a once crime-associated sport and granting the dying wish of a fan, is far from terrifying.

And he is quick to admit in his early rounds with Fury – before his incredible 2015 heavyweight title win over Wladimir Klitschko – he was schooled by the Gypsy King when their sessions started around 2013.


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Rico told SunSport: “The Furys were training in Belgium and I wanted to evolve in boxing.

“So we went sparring and it just kept happening, Tyson was sparring with a lot of guys but most of them – after one or two sessions – said ‘that’s enough for me’.

“I got my ass kicked as well but I knew I could learn a lot from Tyson and from his then trainer Peter.

“We sparred and sparred and sparred and finally I asked Peter if he had the time to train me and he said yes.

“There was a mutual respect because they were having trouble finding sparring partners and we were more than willing to do it.

“I think they have helped with my strengths in kickboxing, people tell me I am the best because of my footwork and movement and fitness and switch-hitting but that is what we have got from them.”


Showing the girls their little brother #excited #family #love

A post shared by Rico Verhoeven (@ricoverhoeven) on

Showing the girls their little brother #excited #family #love

A post shared by Rico Verhoeven (@ricoverhoeven) on

Since graduating from being Fury’s personal punchbag, Verhoeven’s career and profile have soared.

Four of Verhoeven’s last five wins have come emphatically inside the distance – top-level opponents from Morocco and Brazil in venues across China, Germany and New Jersey have been blasted out of the ring.

The rewards are coming thick and fast for the man once nicknamed ‘The Prince’ but now regarded as ‘The King’.
His professional kickboxing record reads 53 wins, 10 losses and 1 draw and he has since avenged two of his early losses later in his career.

The makers of Ferdinand reached out to him after he had a small role in the latest sequal to iconic martial arts film Kickboxer and Rocky legend Sly Stallone has a phone full of his photos.

Hollywood is a long way from the small Netherlands district of Bergen op Zoom that Rico raced out of but he’s already made a massive impression on some of the world’s biggest stars.

He said: “Being in Ferdinand was amazing, I enjoyed it so much.




 

“Just before I came here it arrived on iTunes so we bought it and had a watch. It is still strange when I watch it and hear my voice, it’s crazy.

“It’s very strange, the first time I met Mike Tyson he said ‘Hey man, I was only talking about you last Saturday’.

“I could not believe he was talking to me, about talking about me!

“And when I went to L.A for an audition with Sly Stallone I saw him scan through his phone and he had all these photos of me and I had no idea what was going on.”




Rico’s three most recent defeats have come via decision, meaning you have to go back to 2012 to find his last KO defeat.
It’s an incredible career for a young up-and-comer who used to get schooled by Fury in Belgium when no other fighters could stand the Gypsy King’s beatings.

Verhoeven has every reason to get carried away with his own success – like Conor McGregor and his recent New York bus attack.

But the dedicated martial artist – who was originally trained by his karate black-belt father – shows no sign of careering off the rails.

Instead, Verhoeven recently took the time out of his gruelling and lucrative schedule to visit a terminally ill fan.

Manon Janine Verhoef was a keen female kickboxer who idolised Rico and even attended one of his classes.

In the space of three months, a rare form of cancer robbed of her of her health, hair and eventually her life.

But one afternoon the agony of her impending departure and the crippling chemotherapy she withstood was lifted by a surprise date that she defied the odds to make.

In the bearpit of a boxing gym in Bolton surrounded by hardened fighters, Rico allows himself a rare moment of vulnerability.

He said: “She was a real fan, she had been at a few of my fights and even came to one of the clinics I run where we had a photo taken together.

“It was pretty special, she had one last dream to meet me one last time and a friend of her reached out to my manager.

“She was diagnosed on October and I think she passed away in January – it was so sad.


“My schedule was insanely busy and I could not see how we were going to do it.

“On a Friday we decided to cancel an appearance and go to see her on the Tuesday but then we were told that such was her condition that she might not even make it to the Tuesday.

“She had a surgery to remove fluid on her lungs which luckily worked and she was fine for Tuesday.

“It may sound strange but we had a fun time, we had a great talk and a laugh. We shared a few tears together but if i could take her pain away even a few moments then it’s a blessing.

“To be honest I did not want to publicise our meeting – I don’t want that sort of credit or attention  – but she asked me to post some photos on my Instagram to help highlight her charity and her blog, she always thought of others.”

As the summer and Glory 54 approaches,  Rico will put all his media opportunities and good deeds on the backburner.

The laser-like focus will be on Mladen Brestovac, who has 35 knockout wins on his record but also a 2016 points defeat to Verhoeven.

A spike in savagery has been noticed on his record and the wish-granting, cartoon-character voice has every intention of continuing the brutal trend.

He said: “If you look at my last six or seven fights, I think my KO record is hitting 80 per cent.



"People before said I was the best but criticised that I was not knocking people out.

“The thing for me always is to get the win if that comes by decision then fine and the same for a KO, I will not force it.

“I do not want to get hit, too many fighters want to go toe-to-toe but I know that getting punched in the head is not good for me – it’s not good for the looks or the brain!

“Peter always tells me to fight smart, fighting is a thinking man’s game. I want to win and stay safe and if I can knock his head off, I will.”

Despite his model-good looks,  frightening record and remaining potential, Verhoeven insists he is a simple product of hard work.

There is he insists nothing special about him and like many of his fans he is just a kid who went to school and fell in love with a sport that happens to have a brutal reputation.

But his daughters are already following him into the gym – after years of late nights – and it's parenthood that is driving him more than anything around his waist or in his bank account.

He said: “I have been to school and gone on to do international business studies but I love this sport and I am just good at it. I am just your average joe.

“Everyone sees that and can realise that it is not only crazy guys who jump into fighting.


“It’s good for young kids and girls to feel confident through training and martial arts, my girls are training.

“I want them to be tough and not crying as soon as they fall down – I want them to feel strong and confident about themselves.

“I am enjoying parenthood again – I started off with two girls but every night they were up three or four times but my son either gets up once or sleeps right through – he’s making it very easy, a real blessing.

“They are the motivation behind all of the hard work, we have to make sacrifices with diet and training and asking a lot from our bodies and minds and our loved ones. That’s the hard part of that’s also the reward.”

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To purchase tickets for GLORY 54 on 2nd June at the Genting Arena in Birmingham go to www.theticketfactory.com or call 0844 338 0338.

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