It was definitely a shocking moment for Moroccan kickboxing star Badr Hari, his fans, and the fans of the game around the world to witness the sad ending to his fight against Rico Verhoeven on December 21.
Rabat – The long-awaited face-off, marketed as the biggest fight in the history of kickboxing, strangely ended in a similar fashion to the first clash between two of the biggest names in the history of the sport.
In 2016 the Moroccan fighter had to pull off from the fight in the secondround due to an arm injury. This time it was an injury in the left leg during the third round that put an end to quite an impressive performance by Hari.
The result was quite disappointing to many of Badr Hari’s fans, especially in regard to the build-up to that rematch. It was funny to see some conspiracy theories floating around, with some YouTube users swearing that the fight was scripted, and that Hari faked his injury to avoid going to the fourthor fifth rounds because he knew he was going to lose.
Those bold statements were advanced despite the fact that a clearly out-of-shape Hari knocked down the younger and more athletic current Glory champion twice, something which most heavyweight fighters in the promotion have failed to do despite being more active than Hari, who has been fighting only now and then.
Apparently those super-zealous ‘’fans’’ feel that Hari let them down. For them, Hari can only be celebrated as a Moroccan pride if he keeps winning. But to lose, even if it was due to an injury, makes you unworthy of all the praise that was heaved upon you before.
While Hari clearly has nothing to prove, as he is recognized worldwide as one of the most popular kickboxers to ever compete, a number of Moroccan fans only learned about him when his kickboxing career took a down-spiral.
Some of them seem to have little appreciation for a champion who, whether we liked it or not, was the top athlete to represent Morocco in combat sports on a high level before other names took center stage like Ilias Bulaid and Jamal Ben Seddik in kickboxing, the Azaitar brothers (Abu and Ottman) in MMA, and Mohamed Rabii in boxing.
Great, but could have been greater
There is no doubt that Badr Hari is a living kickboxing legend. The Moroccan fighter is one of the biggest names in the history of the sport. His popularity did not wane despite the fact that his glorious years are gone.
At quite a young age Hari was making a name for himself in K-1, the Japanese organization that helped popularize kickboxing. By 2007, then in his early twenties, Hari became the next rising star within the promotion while competing along with older and more experienced fighters such as Peter Aerts, Ray Sefo, and Semmy Schilt.
His wins over the three aforementioned fighters, all legends of the sport, cemented his legacy as one of the most vicious contenders in the heavyweight division. His short-tempered character, along with his aggressive fighting still, high knock-out ratio, and the bad-boy image that stuck to him for years all helped boost his career and popularity. While many people liked him, for others he was a bad representative of the sport—especially with incidents when he punched and kicked his opponents, Remy Bonjasky and Hesdy Gerges, while they were on the floor.
One thing was sure though:love him or hate him, as a kickboxing fan, you could not be indifferent to someone like Badr Hari.
In the span of seven years he had won K-1 and ‘It’s Showtime’ heavyweight titles, reached the final of the K-1 Grand Prix two years in a row (2008-2009), scored some of the most memorable knockouts in the history of kickboxing, and defeated big names such as Alistair Overeem and Gokhan Saki.
While his long ride was set to continue, his career would suffer due to his behavior outside the ring, with him being charged of incidents of physical assault which led to his arrest and detention.
From 2012 onward, we would only see a pale version of the old Badr Hari. He turned into a fighter who lost his long-known knock-out power, lost the rage for winning, was mostly after money-fights, and scored wins against fighters who were way past their prime while avoiding more serious challenges from more fit fighters. His time fighting for the Russian promotion Legend and the Dubai-based GFC had nothing to resemble his more shining K-1 days.
Time to hang the gloves
Strangely enough, Hari was relatively unknown in Morocco when he was already a big name in Asia and Europe. It was only when he started to appear more on Moroccan media and settled down in the kingdom that the base of his local fans seemed to grow.
These fans cheered for Hari even as he unconvincingly won GFC’s tournament in 2014, beating his former K-1 opponents, Stefan Leko and Peter Graham, two fighters who were way past their prime.
His performance against Ismael Londt in 2015 under the banner of Akhmat Fighting Championship in Chechnya was his best since he knocked Gokhan Saki out in 2012. But, despite the win against a strong opponent, Hari proved once again that he is not the same fighter he used to be. He gassed out during the fight. And while he knocked his opponent four times during the bout, it was clearly he was no more the same knock-out artist from the K-1 days.
Still, hiring Badr Hari was the perfect move for Glory. The Moroccan fighter was still a big name worldwide and a potential match-up against the organization’s undisputed champion, Rico Verhoeven, was going to be a major success. And so it was.
The König Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen, Germany was packed with fans on both sides, with thousands of people travelling across Europe to watch the fight. Only a fighter with the name Badr Hari could generate so much enthusiasm.
His performance during the fight was quite impressive, winning the first round and landing one jab after another, causing Rico’s nose to bleed. The disappointing way the fight ended almost made a rematch a must.
While Hari’s career on the biggest kickboxing stage in the world was set for a promising rebound, a Dutch court decision sentencing him to prison in 2017 came to cast doubt on his future.
His comeback to the ring against Hesdey Gerges in March 2018 would cast doubts of another kind. Hari was unimpressive, even as he scored a win against his Dutch-Egyptian rival—a win that would be later on be changed to a no-contest after both fighters failed a drug test.
While these events would have meant the Moroccan legend stood no chance in his rematch against his opponent who has been dominating in his Glory fights for years, Hari seemed the better fighter as the two kickboxing stars traded shots and kicks in the Geldrome Arena in Arnhem in the Netherlands.
Against all odds, Hari dropped Verhoeven to the floor with a right hand in the first round and a head-kick in the third. But, in his rush to score a knock-out, the Moroccan kickboxer brought upon himself his own demise.
Hari apparently wanted to recreate his legendary spinning back-kick knock-out against Stefan Leko in 2005. But his failed attempt resulted in a shocking injury, leaving fans with their thirst for a proper way for the fight to end, which is a with knock-out, unquenched.
Hari’s unfortunate injury comes at a time where he says he is a better person now, trying to shake off the ‘Bad Boy’ image that accompanied his career, swapping it for that of a family man who brings his daughter to the arena and playfully spars with her inside the ring ahead of one of the biggest fights in the history of the game.
As Hari was carried out of the arena on a stretcher with his face buried in his hands and tears of emotion running down his cheeks, questions arise on whether he should retire.
While his performance against Rico showed how much of a smart and experienced fighter he is, putting the most dominant heavyweight kickboxer today in a difficult spot, some might argue he is no longer physically prepared to compete on such a high level.
Certainly only Badr Hari can make such a decision. He alone knows how long he wants to stick around in kickboxing and if he still has motivation to compete. What is sure though is that, as he turned 35, he will not have much time especially if he wanted to stay on top of his game.
Whether he decides to hang the gloves or keep fighting, the Moroccan fighter has already left an undeniable mark as one of the most popular kickboxers of all-time and one of the top athletes to ever represent Morocco.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission.