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Peter Aerts is one of those strikers you always wished would have given MMA a serious try. You can’t really blame him for sticking with kickboxing, though.
Over the course of a nearly thirty-year career, Aerts became a legendary fighter and a superstar in Europe and Asia. The Dutch heavyweight won multiple world titles and became known as “Mr. K-1” for his feats in the now defunct top global kickboxing organization.
Kickboxing brought Aerts riches and fame. So, even though this writer would have loved to see what he could have done with his skillful chopping leg kicks in MMA if he had given it a serious commitment, one understands why he stuck with the one who brung him to the dance.
On the day before he is set to fight for a final time, now as a part of the organization that has replaced K-1 as the world’s top striking promotion, Glory, Aerts is in the lobby of the Keio Plaza hotel in Tokyo. He appears to be having the time of his life.
Watching Aerts sign autographs, pose for pictures and smile widely he appears to be on a goodwill tour, not a day away from doing battle against a hungry, young fighter. Kickboxing is a huge spectator sport in Japan.
Back when Pride was the top MMA promotion in the world and filled 60,000 seat arenas, K-1 still blew it away in terms of popularity. Not too far away from the hotel, there is a steakhouse called Ribera’s Tokio. Two of its steaks are named after kick boxers.
To Aerts, it seems like just yesterday that he was a 15 year old kid making his fighting debut.
“At the time, it all just happens,” he tells Cagewriter.
“So, you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t see it happen as it does. Now, when you look back, you say, [expletive] (laughs). At that time, you’re too busy. Now, you realize how big things got and everything that happened.”
In fact, the Muay Thai specialist out of Holland says that he never really made a conscious decision to become a pro fighter. His life just got caught up in the whirlwind of his quick and lasting success in the ring.
“I don’t know [if I ever decided to become a pro fighter]. I was 15 years old when I first started fighting. In my first seven fights I knocked out six people. I fought for the European title. It all happened so fast. I didn’t decide to become a professional, it just happened,” he says.
“Now, when you get old, you think about what has passed.”
One of the things Aerts thought about while reflecting on his career was how it was time to hang up his gloves. Though he could still make money as a prize fighter, he says the physical toll has just gotten to be too much.
“I’m 43. My hand is broken in three places,” he explains, looking down and pointing at his wrist.
“It hurts all the time.”
When it came time to schedule his retirement fight, Aerts says that Japan was the obvious choice for location. It may not be his homeland but the fighting nation made Aerts a king.
“I became big here. I became famous in Japan so I wanted to do my last fight here,” he says.
His team and family, who he has brought with him to Japan for the occasion, surround Aerts. Given how jovial and light the fighter is today, just a day before he’ll have to throw down, one wonders if it is easy for him to flip that switch and go from happy go lucky to kill-mode.
Aerts’ explanation for how he knows he’ll be ready and sharp come fight time is simple – it is what he does.
“I love this game,” he says, as an explanation for how he can turn it on once he steps inside the ropes.
Peter Aerts highlight reel:
“You ask my wife,” he goes on before calling her over.
“When I don’t have a fight I become…” Aerts searches for the right word in English. He asks his wife, the woman who suffers through his, well whatever type of mood he’s trying to describe. She can’t find the word, either. Then, Aerts asks a coach, whose English he says is better than his, to describe how the fighter gets when he doesn’t have a fight to prepare for.
His coach doesn’t hesitate to offer up a word. “Obnoxious,” he says.
“Obnoxious!” Aerts roars in nodding and approving laughter.
“I am obnoxious when I don’t fight. My wife, she says, ‘go fight!’”
That all, of course, begs the question of how Aerts will keep himself busy after his fight career is over. He says he has plans to return to pro-wrestling in Japan, a seemingly always available money-making option for the super famous super athletes in the country, and that he plans to coach.
“I have my own gym, you know, I want to teach,” he says.
“I want to pass on my knowledge to other people.”
In a few hours, Peter Aerts, one of the best kickboxers in history says he will walk to the ring to fight as a professional for the final time. Once he does, he’ll turn from the happy, smiling guy he was on Friday in the Keio Plaza hotel lobby, into the fearsome fighter the world has come to know.
Until then, he’s enjoying the view of the sunset.
“I’m just relaxing now, before the fight,” he says.
“But when I go to the stadium tomorrow, I’ll think about it, get nervous and all that. Now, I’m relaxing, sleeping, talking. Enjoying my time.”