Students clambered to attend a masterclass by Rico Verhoeven. And then it was finally time: the students were ready and very well presented. And Rico noticed that too: “If I had known about the dress code, I would have turned up in black tie too.” The man of the people explains how he got to this point and reveals who Rico is.
Focus is what got him where he is. When his father became injured, he started giving kickboxing lessons. Six-year old Rico went along and became obsessed with the world of kickboxing. “Peter Aerts was my hero, I wanted to be like him.” He retained that focus and after a long wait for a worthy opponent, he finally entered the ring at the age of sixteen. “I was told my opponent was 24 years of age. However, when he was announced, it turned out to be a 28 year old man. I looked at my father, who made it clear I was capable of taking him on”. His father was right, Rico knocked him out in the second round. And then everyone realised: that Rico is talented, he’s going to go very far.
Signed up with Glory
In 2012, Rico signed up with Glory, the world's premier kickboxing league. The matches took place on the other side of the world in Tokyo, Japan. He came up against Rotterdammer Sem Schilt in the second round. “That was on 31 December 2012. Naturally, I would have liked to have been with my family, but I had to do this. Sem was a formidable opponent and unfortunately, I lost the match. Sem eventually won the Glory Heavyweight Grand Slam in 2012. But what he told me lifted me, I felt like a winner. He said: You are going to be world champion in 1-2 years.”
Rico became world champion in 2013 at the age of 24. A lifelong dream came true. He thought the sponsorships would pour in, but that was not the case. “I arrived at Schiphol expecting to see dozens of TV cameras at the gate. My family and friends turned up in droves, but there was not one TV camera to be seen.”
His second passion is acting: “You can do everything in film that you can’t do in real life.” He is playing the lead in a Hollywood film at the end of this year. He achieved that with his drive. He has often been turned down for roles, but he doesn’t take no for an answer and just kept trying.
Rico studied International Business. With a marketing slant and in English, because you can always use it in future. He is surrounded by a team of trainers and assistants and he added a PR element over the course of time. They developed a profile together to show the man behind the fighter. He is a man of the people: positive, fit, open and respectful. He has a content team that records his day-to-day life on social media.
Rico on the diving board in a speedo
Rico was invited onto the SBS6 programme ‘Sterren springen’. “I didn’t understand why people participated. But once they mentioned the figure involved, I immediately understood why people voluntarily jumped into the water from a high diving board.” But Rico wanted to make a good impression and didn’t want people to think of him just in terms of ‘Rico on the diving board in a speedo’. He really wanted to show the real Rico, the person behind the fighter. And he could do that on ‘Chantal blijft slapen’, for example. “Did you know that she doesn’t actually sleep over?!”
The match against Badr Hari in 2016 was the turning point: the good guy against the bad guy. “Not everyone is a fan”, he says of a photo, “You see this man, he’s not a fan. He is giving the finger. But I don’t care. I am focused. I don’t even see it.” His focus is on winning and that is what he goes for. Winning championships. Becoming the kickboxing champion. “I don’t allow myself to be influenced by what others think and feel. I follow my dream.” The same was true of the fight against Badr. Badr fans virtually entered the ring prior to the match. But Rico does not allow himself to be intimidated: “When the bell rings, you only have yourself to rely upon. I do not allow myself to be distracted. He is just a man to me: 2 arms and 2 legs. After the fight: 1 arm and 2 legs :-)”.
The sponsorships and partnerships poured in after this match. From Zonnatura too. “I thought the brand was a little old fashioned. But the objective was for me to promote healthy eating and that appealed to me.”
It says Fighter on Rico’s merchandise. “You should not take the word fighter literally, but rather think of it as fighting for your health. The brand represents inspiration and giving strength.” He also published a biography, a genuine bestseller: “The book made number 1 in no time and pushed Dan Brown from first place."
Are those stare-downs actually real? “Yes, those stare-downs are 100% genuine. He has a stare-down contest with the campus manager to demonstrate. He is impressed: “I can see why she is in charge, because she really is in charge! “