Last Updated on September 27, 2022
Kickboxing is not only a martial art but also a challenging sport that appeals to all ages. Despite being an independent fighting system, kickboxing also comes in different forms, including Dutch kickboxing, Lethwei, and the well-famed Muay Thai.
Now, before you find out why kickboxing is many things to different people, please read on and know more about the best kickboxers of all time.
- The Best Kickboxers in History
- Watch This!
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Kickboxers in History
You might wonder what makes a champion different from an experienced, hard-working professional fighter. Do physical and mental attributes make a man reach an extra mile in kickboxing, or is it luck and purely hard work?
The United States is well-known for adopting expatriate practices. In 1964, Ed Parker founded American Kenpo and launched the first Long Beach International Karate Championship. This competition introduced Bruce Lee to the public for the first time.
It's the same championship that launched Chuck Norris, Benny Rodriguez, Bill Wallace, Billy Blanks, and Joe Lewis to stardom and eventually gave birth to full-contact kickboxing.
And, of course, who can forget about kickboxing's version of Mike Tyson in the persona of Ramon Dekkers? The man is a legend, and among the most outstanding Dutch kickboxers the world has ever known.
Ramon Dekkers, a Dutch Muay Thai legend, became famous because of Muay Thai kickboxing. This combative style is one of the best self-defense programs and an excellent way to sweat.
Dekkers made a name in Thailand as one of the early influences in inspiring many Thai fighters to engage in boxing.
The best kickboxers of all time originated worldwide with their winning techniques. Many national champions even had less than ten kickboxing fights, and other continental champions never experienced fighting outside their country.
Martial arts have complex origins on the battlefield; their training can be grueling. Even the best kickboxers continually prove their worth at risk of physical injuries. Like kung fu, you can trace kickboxing origin as an ancient sport from the Shaolin temple in Okinawa.
Muay Thai kickboxing encountered profound changes before it became a modern contact sport and found its way into Europe well before the twentieth century.
Therefore, it raises the curiosity of several martial artists about what attributes make an ultimate fighter. We know it takes hard work and practice to acquire Muay Thai titles. You'll have a long, daunting list to go over the things that make someone a kickboxing champion.
With that in mind, let's discover more about the world's most famous kickboxers and see what we can learn about their journey:
1. Peter Aerts
Aside from being a Dutch kickboxer and a three-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion, Peter Aerts is also an actor. He starred in New Kids Turbo, New Kids Nitro, and De Familie Slim in 2010, 2011, and 2017 respectively.
Despite practicing martial arts since 1983, it was in 1985 that Peter made his debut in the professional kickboxing world. He competed against top kickboxers like Ernesto Hoost and Andre Maanart, and as young as nineteen, he already earned his first title as world champion.
It only took him a year of training in Muay Thai kickboxing before that first victory against Amsterdam's Jan Oosterbann. Even if it was a unanimous decision victory for Hoost during a 1988 match against Peter Aerts, it did not stop the latter from fighting.
Aerts' Dutch-style kickboxing strategies earned him a globally-acclaimed title as the "The Dutch Lumberjack."
As one of the Dutch kickboxing champions, Peter Aerts credits his cheerful disposition, colossal knockouts, and, more importantly, his remarkable fighting spirit for his success. He was one of the veteran fighters of the K-1 Grand Prix Tournament.
Now at 51, Peter passes on his powerful striking concepts and strategies to other Muay Thai fighters through his gym, the Fight Institute Peter Aerts. It's either he teaches at the gym or provides exceptional coaching services.
2. Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic
Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic is one of the best fighters in kickboxing history who also made his way to fame through the K-1 World Grand Prix.
Despite starting his kickboxing career with reasonable success, it's undeniable that Mirko Cro Cop is the best heavyweight champion with his legendary high kick. Even as a successful K-1 World Grand kickboxer, Cro Cop eventually shifted his focus to mixed martial arts.
Many doubted his kickboxing prowess at first, saying he was too small, yet Mirko Cro Cop proved them wrong. He even won the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix in 2006 and joined UFC in 2007.
K-1 World Grand Prix rules may resemble that in Muay Thai except for the absence of elbow strikes, throws, and restricted clinching. It's more of Dutch kickboxing and not Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude van Damme's traditional kickboxing, which most of us recognize.
Cro Cop might be the only kickboxer who did not start his kickboxing history with fights but shorter sprint-style training in track and field events. Mirko trains from 100-meter to 400-meter dashes before becoming passionate about combat sports, specifically MMA.
3. Badr Hari
There is no doubt that Badr Hari is the best heavyweight kickboxer with an impressive record of winning against Anderson Silva in K-1 World MAX 2012. Before Hari's reign as the K-1 World Max champion, he also won via TKO in "It's Showtime Leeuwarden" in the same year.
It is no secret that Hari was a brilliant fighter and K-1 Grand Prix heavyweight champion. The man's reputable two-time victories explain his title as "The Golden Boy." He is the kind of fighter who does not hesitate about going all in without fail.
Even if he wanted to start kickboxing when he was seven, it was during his teenage years that Badr Hari rose to stardom.
Even Mohammed VI, Morocco's king, praised Badr Hari for his exemplary achievements. Hari's considerable followers weren't only because of his bad boy reputation; no one can deny that the man has an aggressive fighting style.
Despite being one of the most lightweight fighters on the K-1 World Max roster, he still took on all his opponents.
Badr Hari's first K-1 card in 2005 was a rematch, but he had to take out Stefan Leko to avenge his previous loss. He eventually succeeded with an all-time K-1 World Grand Prix knockout.
Much to the surprise of many viewers, Hari defeated Leko with the same spinning kick the latter used on him but hit Leko's jaw this time. It was a spectacular fight, with none of the two fighters' careers ever being the same again.
4. Ernesto Hoost
One thing's certain, Ernesto Hoost is not "The Original Stylebender" or "Mr. Perfect" for nothing. His kickboxing record will leave everyone in awe, considering that Hoost is a four-time K-1 Grand Prix champion.
Ernesto Hoost started training at fifteen, and most of his fights as a beginner happened at the Sokundo Gym under the supervision of Tom Vriend.
Eventually, Ernesto moved out of Sokundo Gym to take advantage of Johan Vos' innovative training methods, where he learned multiple combat sports styles.
Throughout his entire kickboxing history, Hoost wasn't a mere world champion; moreover, to say he's excellent at combining techniques is an understatement. Debuting in 1993's K-1 World Grand Prix Champion, Ernesto was only eighteen years old during this first fight in kickboxing.
Initially, Hoost didn't win the title. After defeating Peter Aerts in the quarter-final and Maurice Smith with a high-kick knockout during the semi-finals, Ernesto lost in the finals against Croatia's Branko Cikatic.
He even competed and became a two-time champ in 1993 and 1994's K-2 tournaments. Ernesto Hoost encountered many of the famous kickboxers of all time, developing his best fighting styles by learning through his experience working with the best.
It is no surprise that Hoost is among the best heavyweight kickboxers of all time, with his phenomenal knockouts by punches, knee strikes, and kicks. Ernesto had ninety-seven victories and sixty-two knockouts when he retired from kickboxing.
5. Alistair Overeem
Alistair Overeem is a combat sports veteran of MMA and kickboxing, with a career span of twenty-one years since 1997. When he was nineteen, Alistair began joining MMA competitions in various organizations.
Knocking out fourteen opponents became his passport for debuting in UFC, where Alistair defeated Todd Duffee, Brett Rogers, and Kazuyuki Fujita.
Overeem still won ten of the fourteen kickboxing matches he fought for before he finally shifted from kickboxing to mixed martial arts. Additionally, Alistair's knees are as powerful as his fists in most of his knockout strikes.
He won eight fights by unanimous decision using his knees matched with powerful punches to seal the deal. Nonetheless, many kickboxing supporters also know that Alistair had several wins by submission.
As "The Demolition Man," Alistair Overeem, even at 205 pounds, was able to compete in the middleweight class division. He eventually transitioned into another weight class, the light heavyweight division, after developing his UFC career.
PRIDE FC invited Overeem to join them after he gathered an impressive record of 10-3. His first fight upon entering PRIDE FC happened in 2002, as he pitted against Yusuke Imamura with a booming knockout.
6. Rico Verhoeven
Rico Verhoeven is more than a common household name in martial arts. Besides being a famous heavyweight fighter, he continues to reign as "The King" in the Glory heavyweight championship.
Rico's humble beginnings include learning Kyokushin karate through his father's help when he was five, but he later finds competitive sports more exhilarating, explaining the transition.
Due to his athletic build, it was difficult for Rico to find suitable opponents as a teenager. Hence, at sixteen, Verhoeven was already competing with grown-ups and a Glory heavyweight champ at twenty-four.
He has been the reigning champ in this combative sport since 2014, with eleven successful title defenses to add to his fame. This reputable kickboxer continues to maintain MMA and professional boxing matches despite focusing on his kickboxing career for more than five years.
Unknown to some people, Verhoeven has extensive experience in combat sports, apart from his spectacular journey within the Glory ring. Rico had boxing training with Tyson Fury and trained MMA with Francis Ngannou.
Mike Tyson is Rico's regular training even before the peak of each other's success in combat sport. That partnership is a significant part of the latter's development as a fighter and in his career.
Being in a weight class division where physique matters, Verhoeven makes an intelligent and exciting fighter who chooses talent over brute force in winning against opponents. He claims that putting enough focus and intensity into his work contributed to his success.
Additionally, Verhoeven believes in learning from failures. He calls his match against Jamal Ben Saddik a redemption fight after losing to the man six years ago.
7. Semmy Schilt
Besides being a martial artist and Ashihara karateka, Semmy Schilt is also a Dutch kickboxer. Schilt is a four-time K-1 World Grand Prix champ and one-time champion in Glory Heavyweight Grand Slam.
At the age of eight, Semmy Schilt began practicing Kyokushin Kaikan under the guidance of his parents until he became interested in Ashihara Kaikan.
As an innate fighter by heart, Semmy is already a black belter at eighteen, debuted his MMA career in 1996, and made his way to UFC in 2001.
Despite losing against Josh Barnett in UFC 32, Schilt has many achievements, including his participation in Pride fighting championships and K-1 finals. He even won against Ernesto Hoost at the K-1 Premium Dynamite in 2005 but lost against Peter Aerts in 2006.
In 2009, Schilt bagged his fourth World Grand Prix title. And as if achieving the titles wasn't enough, he even had a jaw-dropping record as the fastest fighter winning three bouts in only 352 seconds.
The mere thought of winning over world-renowned kickboxers in such a short time is unimaginable, but Semmy Schilt made that happen. Moreover, Schilt competed and won against four different opponents during his last fight.
His fifth heavyweight Grand Prix victory happened when Semmy was 39, and that was also his last match, announcing his heart condition months after the event.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who is martial art's best kickboxer?
You will certainly get different answers if you try asking who the best kickboxer is for everyone. Each kickboxing star has a unique fighting style, and considering how kickboxing evolved throughout history, the best kickboxer for one person might differ for another.
Peter Aerts is a heavyweight champion in three K-1 Grand Prix tournaments, while Ramon Dekkers is likewise a superstar in Dutch kickboxing. Giorgio Petrosyan has remarkable defense techniques, and Rico Verhoeven is a reputable Glory heavyweight champion.
Who among the top kickboxers is the highest paid?
Identifying the highest-paid kickboxer is as challenging as determining who the best one is. Not every kickboxer discloses income to the public, but you can be sure that kickboxers don't earn as much as MMA fighters.
Despite Andy Souwer's 8-Million net worth, Badr Hari is what many consider the highest-paid heavyweight kickboxer due to his earnings of about $272,257 per fight.
Who among the UFC fighters are the best kickboxers?
Some of the greatest kickboxers, such as Donald Cerrone and Alistair Overeem, are famous for their UFC successes despite not obtaining the gold. Rico Verhoeven might be "The Kickboxing King" in Glory Heavyweight Championship, but Israel Adesanya is UFC's best kickboxer.
Adesanya's 75-5 professional kickboxing record in Glory Kickboxing competitions was his claim to fame. He may not be an icon in grappling techniques, but Adesanya is an intelligent fighter. He has creative boxing skills and powerful kicks and understands his range well.
No martial art enthusiast succeeds in pursuing kickboxing and muay Thai championships with sheer talent alone. Hard work, dedication, resilience, and love for the sport are some of the variables you will notice among our greatest kickboxers.
To pursue an MMA career or become the best kickboxer yourself, you must train hard and do so consistently. You can try signing up for kickboxing classes or participate in amateur bouts and keep improving by familiarizing the rules and techniques.
Whether it's Muay Thai, American or Dutch kickboxing, the best fighting style will always depend on your needs and goals. Who knows? Maybe in time, you will be among the top kickboxers like the one you admire now.