Tyson Fury upset Wladimir Klitschko this past Sat. (Nov. 28, 2015) to win The Ring, IBF IBO, WBO, and WBA heavyweight titles (highlights here), ending the Ukrainian's 11 year reign as champion with a unanimous decision victory.
GLORY heavyweight champion, Rico Verhoeven (46-10), has been a sparring partner of Fury's the last few years and, of course, he was excited Fury upset Klitschko to win the title.
"No doubt," said Verhoeven, who defends his heavyweight title against Benny Adegbuyi (22-3) at GLORY 26 on Friday (Dec. 4, 2015) in a rematch from GLORY 22. "He did it. He performed well and had a game plan well executed. It was perfect."
Verhoeven, 26, and his longtime trainer, Dennis Krauweel, had been looking to elevate his boxing skills about four years ago, he said. When a chance meeting at an event in Belgium -- where Fury also has a gym -- led to their pairing.
"We were looking in Holland, but there were not a lot of good heavyweight boxers in Holland," Verhoeven explained. "So, it was difficult. So, we just kept looking around and keeping our ears open. And, so, we were at an event in Belgium close to the Fury gym. And they were saying, 'oh he is the No. 1 British boxer,' and this and that. We were like, 'who is this guy?' And then my trainer Dennis had contact with them and we heard they were looking for sparring partners, so we said, 'yeah, let's spar. Let's see what happens.'"
But, when they sparred for the first time, Verhoeven got whooped like never before by the tall British boxer named after Mike Tyson. It was an eye opening experience to say the least.
"We met and we went for our first sparring and it was crazy," recalled Verhoeven. "This guy is 6' 9" and he closed both my eyes. I was wearing a head guard for like four rounds and I said, 'I don't see shit through this thing.' I took it off and said, 'let's go.' Both of my eyes were already closed with a head guard on. It was crazy. We were just training and you see the difference between boxing and in kickboxing. We just -- especially in the beginning -- we just walk straight forward.
"For me, when I was just a good kickboxer, just went up straight forward, hands up and … Don't do that against a boxer because I know, he closed both of my eyes. I learned definitely from that situation. After like five rounds, my trainer said 'ok' -- because my conditioning is always well -- he says, 'ok let's go. Now we are going to put the pressure on him.' And he just switches up to southpaw and he's just pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. I was like, 'what the fuck?' I was looking at my trainer like, 'what is this guy doing?'"
"The Prince of Kickboxing" lives in Holland, close to the Belgium border, so with only a 10-15 minute drive to the Fury Gym, he continued to spar and learn the sweet science with Fury and his trainer and Uncle, Pete Fury. "I went to their gym in Belgium. They came to our gym. We just combined and it was perfect. That was the moment for me when my boxing game went to another level and I became champion for the first time," he said.
It wasn't only the fact that the gym was in close proximity to him, it was also the desire to learn from the man who sewed both his eyes shut with his fists in their first sparring session and to hone new skills he would add to his stellar kickboxing arsenal. Verhoeven was determined to get better and not back out or quit like many of Fury's sparring partners have been known to do.
"It was amazing," said Verhoeven, on training with Fury. "From that moment on, even though I got my ass kicked, I was like, 'I need this. This is great for me.' From that moment on we started working together and doing more sparring and was getting better and I was I getting hit a lot less and I was giving him a hard time as well and by doing that I gained so much respect from the Fury Team because everybody who they were sparring with quit after two or three rounds. They were like, 'it's not my thing man.' He just knocked everybody out. Not with bad intention, he was just too good for everybody."
This was back when Verhoeven was still training with Daniel Ghita, who he has since defeated twice. The first time in the tournament final at GLORY 11 and the rematch at GLORY: "Last Man Standing," where he won the GLORY heavyweight title. Both wins were by unanimous decision. Verhoeven and Ghita used to work with Fury together, he said. That is, until the Romanian stopped showing up, leaving him with more one-on-one time with Fury.
"He would just take me and Ghita on back-to-back," Verhoeven said. "It was crazy. Just the two best kickboxers back-to-back for 12 rounds, pop, pop, pop. And then at a certain point Ghita was backing out of training. Every time like an hour or two hours before training I'd come to the gym and ask my trainer, 'where's Ghita?' 'Oh, he's not coming.' 'He's not coming? God dammit. I have 12 rounds all by myself.' For me, that was the moment I kept gaining experience and learning so much. Peter Fury helping me out with boxing techniques because I gained respect with them by just every time turning up, even though -- especially in the beginning -- I was getting my ass kicked. They were like, 'hey this guy is good, we need this guy in our camp.' One thing led to another, and since then we've been working together."
An interesting part of this past camp working with Fury, was the fact that Verhoeven's upcoming opponent, Adegbuyi, was also sparring with Fury, unbeknownst to him.
"It was funny, because I think it was the first week that I came into camp there and the driver, he told me, he's a friend of mine as well. He said, 'tomorrow this other kickboxer comes. Benny something,'" Verhoeven recalled. "I said, 'what? You gotta be kidding me.' I said, 'let me check the list.' He gave me the list and I saw his name. I was like, 'I fought this guy like two or three months ago. Are you serious?' He said, 'that will be fun because you guys are all in one house.'"
The GLORY heavyweight champion may have beaten Adegbuyi in dominant fashion the last time out at GLORY 22 in June, but the two are very civilized outside of the ring. It would be much different if it was Verhoeven's biggest rival, Errol Zimmerman. With Adegbuyi, they are professional and respect one another, so being there at the same time to train with Fury wasn't an issue.
"Yeah, of course," he said. "For us it was no problem. It was strictly business. When we fight, we fight. It is what it is. We do what we do best, and that is put on a show. We both want to win and I wish him the best, but I just wish myself a little bit more."
Verhoeven does have one professional boxing match under his belt, a knockout win over Janas Finfera in Darmstadt, Germany back in April of 2014. This past October, the veteran kickboxer stepped into the cage for the first time and picked up a technical knockout victory in his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut over Viktor Bogutzki at RXF 20 in Romania. He is focused on GLORY 26 right now, and doesn't know if he'd try boxing again. But he does want to give MMA another go.
"Maybe. I'm not sure. Like I said before, in a perfect world, I would do kickboxing, boxing, and MMA all on the highest level. But, I'm a realist and I know that is impossible. You can only focus on one thing at a time. It's difficult. I also want to take another step toward MMA and trying to focus on all three is going to be difficult. But, of course, I'm going to keep training with Tyson and keep evolving my boxing skills and keep getting better because I can also use that in MMA and in kickboxing. We can't look into the future so let's see what happens."