Los Angeles, Calif.: Rico Verhoeven pulled off one of the greatest feats in the heavyweight annals of kickboxing history last October in Chicago at GLORY 11, when he defeated not only Gokhan Saki in the opening round, but also Daniel Ghita in the tournament final to win it all that night.
It was a career highlight for the Dutch kickboxer, who is now set to face Ghita in a rematch at GLORY 17 on Sat. night (June 21, 2014) at The Forum, this time to become the GLORY heavyweight champion.
Ghita fired the first salvo that has led to a lot of verbal jabbing between the former sparring partners leading up to their rematch. There have been insults in written stories, interviews and on Twitter. The main knock on the No. 2-ranked heavyweight is that he doesn't knock anyone out.
It is true that Verhoeven, 25, hasn't won by knockout in 14 straight fights, but he has won 11 of those battles, is 6-1 in GLORY -- with his only loss coming to the great Semmy Schilt -- and is on a five-fight winning streak. In his last fight, he defeated another legend of the sport, Peter Aerts at GLORY 13 in Tokyo.
Verhoeven said he "enjoyed the training they had together" and he was actually really disappointed when the trash talking from Ghita began.
"It's not the way I work," Verhoeven explained to MMAmania.com at the GLORY 17 open workouts inside Dynamic Martial Arts in Los Angeles. "I give people my friendship, my hospitality, just being nice and taking people in my gym. We just work with people we like and click worth. When he just turns like that, in the end it shows real people, it shows the real person."
According to Verhoeven, the slights and insults by Ghita date back to GLORY 9 in New York.
"Yeah he already started last year," he said. "We heard him say the fight in New York when I fought Errol Zimmerman, 'Rico never knocks anyone out' and this and that. Before the tournament (GLORY 11) I felt something, you know? After the tournament, then the whole bad blood thing started from his side to the public, 'Rico is a fake champion.' For me it doesn't make sense, but probably for him it does."
"He came at me and I was like 'okay.' I don't know where it came from," Verhoeven would say the next day at the GLORY 17 press conference. "Saying things like 'Hey princey, the king is here.' I don't know what movie he was watching that gave him all that confidence, but he should watch it a couple times more before Saturday."
When the two fought in the GLORY 11 tournament final, Ghita was the fresher fighter after scoring a knockout victory of Anderson "Braddock" Silva in the first round. Meanwhile, Verhoeven had to go a full three rounds against Saki to get to the final fight.
The fight was a back-and-forth battle that Verhoeven would win by unanimous decision. Ghita would complain later that he felt it should've went to an extra round.
The chance to be at top condition and face Ghita outside of a tournament is something that excites him.
"Definitely," he said with a smile. "I'm fit. I'm 100-percent fit. Last time I did three rounds before and he only did two minutes and I still out-gassed him."
When asked about Ghita also being at 100 percent at GLORY 17, Verhoeven argued the Romanian was in fact, just as fresh as he was the last time they fought due to getting the first-round knockout over Silva.
"Yeah okay, but a two-minute fight, how can you not be almost 100 percent?" he said. "Maybe 95 percent."
Verhoeven said he trained "only for Saki" in preparation for GLORY 11, and went into the final "clear minded." He definitely thinks that Ghita was "frustrated" by the loss to him and that's why he has said the things he's said leading up to their rematch.
Ghita is still ahead of him in the rankings, and that is something that the 43-8-1 fighter is bothered by.
"It's just, in the end it's just making sure you perform well," he explained. "Make sure in the ring your performance is strong and solid. That's how it is. Apparently his performance is not always solid and now he's the number one. He lost twice last year. How is that possible? It is what it is and now I'm going to show I'm the undisputed."
"I've been on a winning streak like crazy," he continued. "I'm feeling good. Of course. I'm a fighter. I like this game and being on top is fighting the top. In the end, that's all it is. You are a top fighter and you are fighting top fighters. All these guys are great athletes and for me it's another moment to prove myself. I'm always enjoying myself. I enjoy it so much. I've been working so hard to get here and now I'm here and still working hard to stay here."
As for the actual fight between the two, Verhoeven said, it's going to be "real business."
"For me, it's going to be two, 100-percent guys giving it their all and just putting on a great show. "It's going to be one hard fight, but I'm going to win for sure."
He is entering the prime of his career and is taking on one of the legends of the sport in the biggest card of GLORY's history. He has looked back and reflected on his career and how far he has come said it "feels" very much like a movie.
"In a movie you see small children thinking about their future, thinking about maybe being a pilot or a fireman, in my position, thinking of being a kickboxing champion, and 20 years later you are that person," he said. "Maybe a handful of people accomplish that. For me it's so amazing. I'm enjoying life."
Maybe the fact that he is long overdue and Ghita has said many times how he can't knock anyone out could lead to a knockout and a Hollywood ending at "Last Man Standing."
"I knock him out hard, that would be sick," Verhoeven said with excitement. "That would shut his mouth forever."