Badr Hari ended his kickboxing career yesterday with a first round knockout of fellow top heavyweight, Gokhan Saki. Now that Badr has left the sport, the heavyweight division that has been unstable ever since the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix is now just as up in the air as it's ever been. His departure shakes up the landscape of the heavyweight division, leaving it wide open and creating a vacancy that may or may not be filled.
Badr isn't the only one leaving, and there are others that could potentially do the same. Peter Aerts will finally be ending his legendary career on June 30 at the age of 41. Tyrone Spong's future in kickboxing is uncertain after the fight with Peter Aerts, as he's living in the US and training with MMA fighters like Rashad Evans. Spong has openly discussed a potential move to MMA.
Other top fighters in the sport appear to be sticking around for the time being, but age isn't on their side. Jerome Le Banner is still fighting at the age of 39, already having a fight scheduled for March 23 against Errol Zimmerman. Le Banner also has his "World Tour" that he can fight for but at such an old age for a fighter and having been in the sport for so long, who knows when he'll decide to hang up the gloves. Semmy Schilt, although ranked #1 on our Liverkick.com Heavyweight Rankings, is 38 years old. Schilt signed a long term contract with Golden Glory/Total Sports Asia though, so it seems as if he'll stick around for at least a few more years.
The fact is, the older fighters that have reigned atop the sport for so long won't be around forever, and it's up to the fighters of the current era in kickboxing to fill the vacancies that they leave behind them. Daniel Ghita stepped up to the plate with his knockout of Hesdy Gerges yesterday and really, fully cemented himself as an elite kickboxer. Ghita has put the full package together with the addition of lethal hands to his arsenal. Gokhan Saki, although stopped by Badr Hari, also signed a long term deal with Golden Glory/TSA is still a top kickboxer. Errol Zimmerman is only 25 years old and has already had a career revival of some sorts, capping it off with his knockout of Rico Verhoeven yesterday after an undefeated 2011. Rico Verhoeven and Hesdy Gerges need to rebound from losses to top fighters, but they should be able to hover around the Top 10.
There's a substantial drop off between the elite of the division and the rest. There are many young fighters in their 20s who have upside like Ismael Londt or Igor Jurkovic. For heavyweights, a much greater time period is usually available to develop, as opposed to lower weight divisions. Daniel Ghita is starting to fully hit his stride at the age of 30. Ernesto Hoost didn't win a K-1 World Grand Prix until the age of 32. Many young fighters are out there, but it's yet to be seen if they'll develop into top fighters. Some like Badr Hari and Gokhan Saki emerge earlier than others.
Right now, Semmy Schilt, Daniel Ghita, Gokhan Saki and Errol Zimmerman are what I would consider the men to beat in the heavyweight division with Badr Hari gone and Peter Aerts having one more fight. It's up to the younger, "newer" fighters to step up to the plate and help fill the top of the heavyweight division.