Much is being made of this clash and rightly so – it’s got everything you could want from a big fight.First there’s the bitter personal rivalry; these two do not like each other at all and have spoken freely and contemptuously about each other as the match has drawn closer.
Second, it’s a rubber match. They first met in 2012 in the Netherlands, a fight under the It’s Showtime banner, and it ended quickly. Zimmerman knocked Verhoeven with the two having been in the ring barely a minute.
They rematched at GLORY 9 NEW YORK in late 2013 and this time it was Verhoeven who emerged triumphant, taking the clean unanimous decision victory after a one-sided fight in which he outworked, out pointed and basically out-classed Zimmerman.
Now they are 1-1 and this fight on Friday will settle that trilogy, although kickboxing being the way it is there’s every chance this rivalry runs to a ‘best of five’ or more.
Finally, it’s a clash of styles and philosophies.
Zimmerman comes from a school of thought which had Ramon Dekkers as its star pupil. He is from Hemmers Gym, founded by Cor Hemmers and now run by his son Nicky Hemmers.
Dekkers, who tragically passed away in 2013, was Nicky’s brother and a trailblazer in the Muay Thai world. He was the first European to go to Thailand and really demolish top Thai opponents. It made him a megastar there – upwards of fifty million people in Thailand watched his fights live on television – and reinforced his home gym’s core philosophy.
What made Dekkers so fearsome and so famous was his tendency to walk opponents down and just batter them with hooks and kicks. He was like a turbine. This methodology he passed on to Zimmerman, who has combined it with his natural power to become a scary knockout machine in his own right.
Over at Verhoeven HQ, aka Team SuperPro, things are different. Verhoeven is the new breed of kickboxer, the modern athlete who has made sport-science into his religion. He measures everything: his weight, his food, his output of strikes.
If Zimmerman is a barbarian, Verhoeven is a scientist. He is a student of the game and devoted to his craft. He doesn’t get out of shape between fights, only vaguely knows what the inside of a nightclub looks like and generally conducts himself in the manner of an Olympic athlete.
Watching the two of them in the ring together is like watching fire meet ice: Zimmerman with his forward pressure and insanely dangerous bombs from right and left; Verhoeven with his strategic placement of shots, his creation of openings and his geometric movement.
Zimmerman’s big weakness over the years has been his conditioning. He admits he never used to train that much, relying on his power to end fights early, and so that has often caused him to lose to opponents who had no business beating him on any given day.
Verhoeven’s fitness is never in doubt; he has stamina for days and can maintain high-volume output for five rounds if necessary. The criticism constantly leveled at him – and Zimmerman has said this repeatedly – is that he has comparatively few knockouts on his record, for a heavyweight.
His critics say he is “not explosive” (Ghita, before both of their fights) and “not a real fighter” (Zimmerman, before this one) but Verhoeven answers that with a smile. “Maybe I don’t need to be,” he said in response to Ghita’s criticism last year. “I’m beating these guys anyway, so it doesn’t seem to matter.”
This really is one of those fights where the winner will be whoever can impose his gameplan. Their strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly. Zimmerman is most dangerous early in the fight but must fear the later rounds, where Verhoeven feels as fit as he did in round one and can keep pouring the combinations out.
If it ends inside the distance, it will be Zimmerman who does it. If it goes all five rounds, Verhoeven will have put on a clinic in the championship rounds. The outcome of this fight really is that clean-cut. Place your bets…
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