Kickboxing is one of the most popular combat sports that has been around since the 1950s. Though kickboxing is often associated with countries with strong martial arts cultures, such as Japan or Thailand, the nation that actually dominates the sport is the Netherlands.
Along with soccer, kickboxing is a national sport in the Netherlands, and this country alone has produced dozens of kickboxing world champions. For example, during the glory days of the K-1 organization, 15 out of 20 World GP champions were Dutch, and fighters from this nation continued to dominate the sport.
So let’s take a closer look at the best Dutch kickboxers in history, their stories, and their careers.
11. Alistair Overeem
Overeem is primarily known for his accomplishments in mixed martial arts (MMA), where he fought for all the major promotions such as PRIDE, UFC, and StrikeForce. However, he also had a successful kickboxing career where he was able to reach the pinnacle of the sport. In 2010, he transitioned from MMA to kickboxing to win the prestigious K-1 tournament. During this run, he beat some of the legends of the sport, like Badr Hari, Peter Aerts, Gokhan Saki, and Tyron Spong.
Like most Dutch martial artists, Overeem started his journey in kickboxing, where he trained with other famous Dutch fighters. During the late 90s and early 2000s, he would simultaneously fight in both MMA and kickboxing. But after losing a couple of kickboxing fights, he would put all of his focus on MMA for the next decade.
When he switched back to kickboxing, Overeem arrived looking like a monster. Despite weighing over 260 pounds, he was packed with muscles and was very agile for a man that size. Inside the ring, he primarily relied on overwhelming his opponents with size in the clinch and using this position to destroy them with vicious knees. This was a tactic he would later use a lot in the UFC as well.
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10. Tyron Spong
Tyrone Spong is one of the most underrated kickboxers in history. He competed in 116 pro matches, out of which he won 107, 73 by knockout, and lost only 7. Though he never won the K-1 title, Spong was able to win the “It’s Showtime” world title and the Glory Slam Tournament.
At the age of 29, he decided to test his skills in professional boxing, where he holds an undefeated record of 13-0. He also fought in MMA, twice for the WSOF promotion, where he scored two wins, and once for Eagle FC, where he lost to Sergei Kharitonov.
9. Badr Hari
Badr Hari is the kickboxing equivalent of Conor McGregor. That is, Badr is a global kickboxing superstar who deserves much credit for popularizing the sport in the 2000s. Even though he never won the K-1 title, mainly thanks to his wild personality, Hari is far more popular than most other kickboxers on this list. In some way, Hari was a total promotional package. He was a troublemaker, outspoken, charming, and a very aggressive fighter.
Inside the ring, Hari would always throw each shot with full power and the goal of knocking his opponent out cold. He never bothered much about being tactical and navigating his way to a decision victory. From the opening bell, he would start swinging power shot after power shot until he or his opponent went down.
Though this style certainly cost him a better career, it’s also the reason why he is so popular.
In his long career, Hari won the K-1 and “It’s ShowTime” heavyweight titles, but he never won the prestigious K-1 World Grand Prix despite reaching the finals two times.
8. Rob Kaman
Kaman is one of the biggest names in Dutch kickboxing, and he learned how to fight directly under the tutelage of Jan Plas at Mejiro Gym in Holland. Plas is one of the sport’s pioneers and is considered the father of the famous Dutch kickboxing style.
During the 80s and 90s, Kaman emerged as one of the first kickboxing superstars. Inside the ring, Kaman shined with incredible footwork and crisp boxing. But his primary weapons were laser-perfect leg kicks, which he utilized to perfection. In fact, Kaman was so good with this specific technique that he finished many of his matches with vicious kicks. He would chop the opponent’s legs until they couldn’t stand anymore.
This earned him the nickname “Mr. Low-kick,” and he is widely regarded as the father of this technique. Or at least, he is a fighter who popularized low kicks in combat sports. In his career, Kaman managed to win world Muay Thai and kickboxing titles 9 times in two weight classes, which makes him one of the most accomplished kickboxers on this list.
7. Andy Sauwer
Andy Sauwer is perhaps technically the most proficient fighter on this list. His fighting style is a great example of the Dutch school of kickboxing and how it all looks in practical application. He became a global sensation while fighting in the K-1 organization, winning two K-1 World Max titles. Later, Sauwer would go to Japan and become a four-time ShootBoxing champ, and he also fought for “It’s Showtime.”
Watching him perform during the mid-2000s was breathtaking, as he would step on the gas right from the opening second and wouldn’t stop until the final bell. He would put pressure on his opponents and often overwhelm them with his relentless pace, high output of strikes, and accuracy.
Like a pure Dutch fighter, he relied heavily on his hands to throw a barrage of punches before unleashing his kicks. One of his signature moves was to back his opponent against the ropes with hard punches before blasting them with a flying knee to knock them out.
Sauwer fought as a professional for 22 years, during which he scored an amazing 161 wins, out of which 98 were knockouts and only 22 losses—a truly fantastic fighter.
6. Rico Verhoeven
Rico Verhoeven represents the modern school of Dutch kickboxing in the heavyweight division. He is, by far, the most successful GLORY kickboxing champion in history, with ten title defenses on his record. He basically cleaned out an entire generation of contenders and holds many records. In modern times, Verhoeven is considered the Anderson Silva of kickboxing, and yes, he is that dominant.
Although he weighs close to 265 pounds (120 kg), Verhoeven is not a typical heavyweight fighter. He is very athletic, strong, flexible, fast, and moves and strikes like a light heavyweight. It’s always amazing to watch him perform, as you don’t get to see a man his size moving that well and being so fast and agile.
On top of that, he is an intelligent fighter, extremely focused on making reads, gathering data, adapting, and implementing tactics. He has a tight defense and very powerful low kicks. Like most Dutch fighters, his boxing is also very good, especially the jab, which he uses to keep his range or set up attacks. What’s more, he used to train a lot with the legendary heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury.
5. Remy Bonjaski
Stylistically, Bonjaski might be the most exciting kickboxer of all time. Unlike most other Dutch fighters, Bonjaski’s style is rooted in Muay Thai, and he used a lot of Thai boxing moves in K-1. His signature move is the “flying knee,” which is why people gave him the nickname “The Flying Gentleman.”
Apart from knees, Bonjaski also had quite unusual kicking techniques. He would often throw jumping roundhouse kicks, for example, and knock people out cold. Like Thai fighters, he also never relied too much on his hands and punching combos. He would use his hands to close the range and set up powerful kicks and knees.
In some ways, Bonjaski was the total package and a nightmare matchup for anyone. He was very athletic, fast, durable, skilled, and, on top of that, very unpredictable with these unorthodox moves. The majority of his opponents had a tough time reading his style and predicting what he was going to do next.
In his career, he won the K-1 World Grand Prix tournament three times and beat just about every big name from his generation.
4. Peter Aerts
Peter Aerts is a true K-1 legend and a fan-favorite fighter who left nothing but carnage in every fight. He won the prestigious World GP title three times in the 90s and was so dominant that people called him “Mr. K-1”. But what’s even more impressive is that he was K-1 World Grand Prix runner-up in 2006, 2007, and 2010, when he was already out of his prime—this on its own shows you how good Aerts was.
His fighting style was simply brutal. Though most kickboxers on this list have good kicking techniques, Aerts probably has the best. Right from the opening seconds, he would rely on his long reach to blast his opponents with hard and precise kicks, often knocking them out in spectacular fashion. Sometimes, Aerts’s opponents would fly through the ropes or lose consciousness mid-air.
This is not a big surprise considering that Aerts came into kickboxing from Kyokushin karate, where kicks are the main weapon. Kyokushin also taught him how to throw kicks from all angles and ranges, making his game more versatile. He scored 108 wins in his career, out of which 81 came via knockout.
3. Ramon Dekkers
Ramon Dekkers is a legendary Dutch kickboxer and, inside the ring, probably the most violent one too. He is one of the few foreign fighters who managed to travel to Thailand, home to Muay Thai, and beat Thai boxers in their own game. Despite having a hard time adapting to new rules and strategies, Dekkers was able to conquer Thai boxing and beat the best fighters at the legendary Lumpinee Stadium. People often refer to him as the Mike Tyson of kickboxing, and this is not far from the truth.
Though he won many titles, Dekkers was widely known for his aggressive fighting style. His nickname, “Turbine From Hell,” perfectly illustrates his identity in the ring. Back in the day, you rarely saw him step back, as he was always marching forward. He was throwing each strike with full force, and it’s amazing how he was able to maintain such a high output of strikes over the entire match.
Thai boxers, who primarily rely on kicks and clinches, had a tough time dealing with his advanced boxing combos. This approach earned him a lot of love and respect from the fans and the “royal award” from the Thai Royal Family. Sadly, Dekkers passed away on February 27, 2013, at the age of 43.
2. Semmy Schilt
Semmy Schilt is among the most accomplished kickboxers in history and physically the most intimidating one. Standing 6 feet 11 inches tall, Schilt was one of the tallest fighters in history. Weighing 255 pounds, he moved with the agility of a man half his size. Schilt was a force to be reckoned with.
And apart from superior genetics, he is a highly skilled fighter, proficient in multiple martial arts like Kyokushin karate, where he was a world champion.
Schilt actually started his career in MMA in the late 1990s. He fought primarily in Pancrase, where he was the open-weight champion. Later, he switched to PRIDE FC, but he lost to Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Nogueira. He even fought under the UFC banner twice, where he beat Pete Williams at UFC 31 and lost to Josh Barnett at UFC 32.
He would also enter the K-1 competition during this time, where he enjoyed huge success. Between 2005 and 2010, he won four World Grand Prix titles and became the K-1 Super Heavyweight Champion. After the collapse of K-1, Schilt signed with GLORY Kickboxing, where he also won both the Grand Slam tournament and heavyweight championships—a truly remarkable martial art career.
1. Ernesto Hoost
Ernesto Hoost is a kickboxing legend and, by many, the best K-1 kickboxer of all time, and it is hard to argue against that. He fought the best of the best K-1 fighters for 13 years, from 1993 all the way to 2006. During this time, he managed to win the prestigious World GP tournament four times.
Though his finest performances were during the glory days of the 1990s, his ability to beat younger champions when he was already out of his prime was incredible. The main reason why he was able to dominate the sport for so long was his incredible technical proficiency. The mix of high fighting IQ and perfect fighting skills is why people see him as the GOAT of kickboxing.
Watching him perform was like watching a ballet. He almost effortlessly destroyed his opponents with perfectly placed kicks, knees, and punches.
Hoost wasn’t physically strong or big, nor did he possess big power in his hands. Hoost was simply good everywhere, which is why people call him “Mr. Perfect.” One of his favorite combos was to throw a cross, follow with a body shot, and finish the combo with a powerful leg kick. Apart from K-1, Hoost is also a multiple I.S.K.A and W.K.A world champion.