The moment the Netherlands seems to embrace kickboxing en masse, the problems at the leading martial arts federation Glory pile up. The calendar has been emptied, dozens of top athletes are waiting in suspense.
“Those 3.5 million Dutch viewers for Rico against Badr were the icing on the cake for me. A cake that I’ve been baking all my life”, says Cor Hemmer’s pride.
The same Hemmers (64) resigned a few days ago as executive director of sports and general advisor, after the media company Talpa had already decided earlier in the week to dissolve the ongoing contract on the broadcasting rights of Gloria events with immediate effect. However, he is willing to return, “when they have solved their problems”
And that while in December last year everything still fell into place. With the two heavyweights Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari in the ring, the fight of the century in the most beautiful ambiance imaginable.
Watch a report below about the fight between Verhoeven and Hari last December.
“A sold out Gelredome, countless prominent figures from the world of television and sports“, sums up Hemmers. “This evening was proof that the image of the sport had long since moved in the right direction. Other sponsors and new investors were already presenting themselves. The interest in the sport is now very broad.”
And yet the end of an era is approaching, because it’s messing around within the organization. Glory would face a million-dollar debt, and the coronation crisis would be the final blow.
Old naval base
It is not that far yet, though athletes are becoming impatient. World champion Verhoeven keeps his finger on the pulse of Glory, who himself hardly ever comes out with news. At the end of July two events were announced in an old naval base in Katwijk, but they have been cancelled in the meantime.
The 28-year-old Yousri Belgaroui was supposed to be in action during that tournament, but has now changed his training schedule to complete a renovation to his house.
“In four weeks we’re expecting a little one,” he says with pleasure. “They say the birth of a child is the most beautiful thing you can experience. But I think it will be a tough competition with kickboxing, because I live for that sport. When you’re in the ring, it’s really an explosion of emotions.”
A good preparation for a match takes an athlete at least fifty days. “But if the rumours are true that they want to organise something later in the month with the help of a new media partner, that would still be possible for us. I put everything down to pop there. I want to secure my future as a kickboxer.”
There is no umbrella organisation in kickboxing, explains Hemmers. “The one who is the best in the league where all the top players of that moment in his or her class are under contract, is the world champion.”
And that union is Glory now, without any doubt. But not for the first time a leading organization would go down, as happened with predecessor K-1. Belgraoui does not want to anticipate things. “The hope of success is too great to give room for doubt.”
Certainly the lesser known fighters are the victims of all uncertainty. For them it is relatively a great sacrifice to continue to invest in their bodies in the current uncertainty.
Lorena Klijn made her debut in Utrecht at the end of February on the main stage during Glory 75, for the time being the last kickboxing gala held under the current flag. “These are wonderful events to attend. Although at the moment I didn’t get a lot of them myself. I was very introspective.”
“For women in my position it is not yet possible to live fully from the sport. There is less to be earned than with the men”, says 32-year-old Klijn. But the love of fighting also wins her over scepticism. She knows what she’s doing it for. “It’s a great sport. You train every part of your body. It’s also good for your self-confidence.”
Many kickboxers step aside to earn a living in this competition-free period, usually by giving lessons. The big boys have it easier. Verhoeven, for example, can also be booked as a speaker or host.
Especially annoying are the prejudices about the sport. Because although the sport is gaining enormous popularity in every respect, every setback is highlighted from the darkest point of view. Klijn: “But let them also take a look at other sports. A lot of money is involved in football. Who tells me it’s pure what’s in the skybox?”
Hemmers has been in the world long enough to look over Glory’s current problems. “The kickboxing will eventually go on again. It would be worse if the coronavirus measures had to be tightened up and contact sports were banned for a longer period of time.”
The general public is anxiously awaiting a third meeting between Verhoeven and Hari, the duel which had an unsatisfactory end twice due to injuries. Whether Glory succeeds in reinstating the circus or whether a new union is created will not make any difference to Hemmers’ work. “I remain committed to the sport. With or without Glory.”