There is a stigma attached to Badr Hari that isn't going away any time soon. Such is the case when you are a fighter who has been linked to trouble both inside the ring and out of it, and you are also pals with the Chechnya president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Hari, 31, long known as the "Bad Boy" of kickboxing, has been disqualified on two separate occasions. One, for kicking a downed Remy Bonjasky in K-1 back in 2008. The other for kicking a downed Hesdy Gerges in It's Showtime in 2010. Throw in the various legal troubles he's been involved in, including multiple arrests, assault charges, a few jail sentences, and the picture is very clear: Hari has done some bad things and been in quite a bit of trouble in his time.
But with friendship, or any true relationship, comes acceptance. And good, bad or indifferent, Hari's long-time coach, "Big Mike" Passenier accepts his fighter and friend for who he is, while also seeing a much different side of the kickboxer than anyone else is privy to. And he will once again be in his corner on Saturday (December 10, 2016) at GLORY: COLLISION in Oberhausen, Germany.
"It's always been like this," Passenier told MMAMania. "We made one deal when we started. I said, 'let me tell me you one thing: I don't bother in your life and you don't bother in mine. If you don't want to know my opinion then don't ask.' That worked for us. After the Remy [Bonjasky] fight (Hari was disqualified after kicking Bojasky on the ground) he just walked to me and he said, 'Mike, I'm sorry because I lost a lot of money and you lost a lot of money.' I said, 'listen, don't tell me sorry. Keep sorry for the other guys. We win together and we lose together. You want to tell me what happened than you let me know. If you don't want it, than don't tell me. It's that simple.' And he says, 'really, you don't want to know?' I said, 'no.' He said, 'ok.' So that creates another environment for him."
Passenier, who works with many talented fighters like Gokhan Saki and Murthel Groenhart at his gym in Oostzaan, Holland, "Mike's Gym," has been the coach of Hari for over a decade now. And the bond that the two of them share, he says, is a very special one.
"It is," said Passenier, who can always be seen kissing his fighter on the forehead prior to a fight. "Yes it is. You know it's also like where you get older you don't make so many new friends in life. We started training and from training we started traveled for fighting a lot. And we were away a lot and experiencing a lot. You start talking with each other and sharing each other's minds and thoughts and before you know it it's 11 years later and you are having the time of your life every day."
MMAMania learned from a source that Hari wasn't present at the GLORY pre-fight meetings this week, where the commentators speak with the fighters to gather information for the broadcast. Based on his reputation, one would assume it's just Hari not paying the meetings any mind. But Passenier explained the reason behind Hari's absence.
"You have to know the reason why he didn't show up," Passenier said, explaining what happened. "Two of our cornermen are staying in a different hotel across the street. When we arrived yesterday we went to settle in, eat, and around 12 o'clock at night the other guys went to the hotel and the hotel said they didn't have any reservations. We tried to call people, nobody answered, so they had to sleep on the couch in our room. At the end of the day it was a mistake of the hotel. The thing that should've happened, GLORY should've sent a guy over here, just check us in, and there are some other small things like this."
Passenier said the situation eventually got resolved and the two cornermen got a room. It turns out someone at the hotel -- which is 40 minutes outside of Oberhausen due to the enormity of the event -- had turned them away on the night they were trying to check in. The next day, the hotel argued that no one had come in at that particular time, when in fact, they had.
It wasn't a distraction for Hari, Passenier says, because he wasn't going to wake his fighter up in the middle of the night to let him know what was going on. However, they spoke about it the next day and that's when Hari, who was acting on behalf of his crew, decided they weren't going to do be doing anything that day after what had transpired.
"Next morning we were in the hotel and we had breakfast and we start discussing these things," said Passenier. "He said, 'you know what. We just take the day off. We don't travel. These guys are tired enough. Listen, GLORY can do whatever it wants. I'm not showing up either.' That's it. Nothing more nothing less. Not about being emotional. It's about being … If you want to be a team leader, if you want to have a group around you, you should stand up for your crew, so you can get the best out of them as well and that is what he did."
"They say he is emotional," he continued. "It's not like he's emotional. He just says to all the other guys and to all the organizations what other fighters want to say, but never say.
On the negative opinions about Hari, Passenier has a "to each his own" stance on the matter. But based on Hari's standing in the sport and widespread popularity, Passenier says that should afford him a lot more than just an average fighter.
"Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course," he said. "Some people call it emotional. Some people call it, mood swings. Some people say that he's impulsive. But, most of the times that is not the case. Because if you look closely and you ask, 'why does he do this?' and he gives you his point of view, then you see, 'ok that's the point of view.' And I think a guy of his caliber can also ask a little bit more attention from any organization because you know what happened? This show was sold out six weeks ago or four weeks ago."
GLORY: COLLISION, which will take place at Konig Pilsner Arena, is indeed, a sold out show. And it is being billed as one of the biggest kickboxing fights of all time. Passenier is certainly no stranger to huge fights, and he says this one between Hari and Verhoeven reminds him "of the old K-1," which had many legendary fights during its peak.
So what exactly has he been doing to get Hari, who hasn't fought in over a year, prepared for a showdown against the currently GLORY heavyweight king?
"We had a long training camp," he said. "First two months on and off and then four months intensively, and that means training six days a week, several hours a day. But we did it and now we are ready to fight."
Passenier gave an example of the amount of trust Hari has in him as a coach.
"Yeah, he is always trusting my input for fighting," he said. "That is the weird thing about us. If I tell him, 'put your arms down.' He will put his arms down. Even if he is sparring. He just has to trust me. And that's the way that things are in life. You have to have somebody that you can trust unconditionally. You have to know that he is the one who is always there to help you in good times and bad times. That's what I always try to do is be there for him."
While he wouldn't reveal the gameplan for obvious reasons, he did give a little insight on what he and Hari worked on to try and dethrone the current GLORY heavyweight king.
"Well, we got a plan, but you will see on Saturday," Passenier said. "In my opinion it's quite simple, but it just needs to be done. Sometimes these things. The hardest thing is to make simple things look easy. That's what it is in life. We did some simple things. I think on Saturday everybody will be pleased when we whip his ass and then we will be back in the saddle again where we belong, in the top spot."
On the magnitude of the fight, Passenier said, "the whole world is watching. Millions of people, camera crews, television internationally in 170 countries. It's going to be on pay-per-view on the UFC channel (UFC.tv.) so this is humongous." And he's hopeful it will propel the sport he's invested most of his life in to new heights, aside from putting Hari back on the map as a top kickboxer.
"Some other impressive fights will come out of this," he added. "And also, I hope some other viewers who are now watching football, soccer, baseball, basketball and all the other sports will tune in and say, 'well, this is also a terrific sport. Let me follow this sport as well.' I've fought for kickboxing to grow. And I've fought for GLORY to grow. This is what they need and what they are going to get."