Ramon Dekkers: The Legend and the Legacy

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International Kickboxer Magazine, May/June 2013

Ramon Dekkers was the most significant Western fighter to wear the Mongkon. In fact, he and Rob Kaman can be credited with re-inventing Muay Thai in Thailand, its country of origin. He racked up a string of wins against the best Thais in the business and carved out an indisputable reputation in the process. The decision was unanimous; Dekkers was the first non-Thai to be recognized by the Thai press as ‘Fighter of the Year’ in 1992.

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That achievement was topped earlier this year when the Thai Royal Family recognized him with an award for services to the sport, as well as appointing him the ambassador for all foreign fighters in Thailand. Again, on February 27 this year the world took notice. 43-year old Ramon died as a result of heart failure while riding his bike.

He is credited with 221 fights throughout the duration of a stellar career, winning 186 of them. In fairness, it must be remembered that his retirement was an on-again, off-again affair, and many of his losses occurred during that period. Toward the end of his career Ramon was so injured he couldn’t train, his left ankle having been surgically fused because of repeated breakages. He would hit the pads a couple of times to get his eye in and then fight.

Ramon had a date with destiny the day he walked into Cor Hemmer’s ‘Meang Ho’ gym in Breda, Holland. Dekkers was thirteen and had some experience with Martial Arts, having trained in judo and boxing. The instructor, Cor Hemmers, was teaching Muay Thai.

Hemmers himself had been a successful martial artist. He had trained and fought in both boxing and Kyokushin karate, eventually progressing to Muay Thai. In Thai Boxing, he had found an opportunity to bring both of those skills together. Hemmers had had 29 fights for 25 wins and, as a result of his experience, had developed a somewhat unique method of training and fighting. Ramon was perfectly suited to it.

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Dekkers on left, Hemmers on right

According to Hemmers, boxing was the cornerstone of an effective Muay Thai or kickboxing style. The hands set the optimal distance to work at; from that distance, all other weapons will work effectively – that and the fact it becomes easier to land powerful kicks once your opponent is busy coping with your punches. This approach was the direct opposite of the traditional Thai style. Thai orthodoxy was built around kicking because the kick is a long-range, high-scoring weapon that allows you to inflict maximum damage from a safer distance.

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Ramon made his debut at sixteen years of age, winning in trademark knockout style against a much older, more experienced boxer. He continued to build his reputation on the back of a spotless record. He won his first title at age 18; the MTBN Dutch Championship on 15 November 1987.

From there, made his way onto the world stage, meeting – and defeating – the best the sport had to offer. In Amsterdam, he defeated Namphon, the reigning Lumpinee champion, by points decision. From there, he found himself rematching Namphon at Lumpini stadium in Thailand. He couldn’t repeat the feat, however, and lost on points.

As many will know, the scoring system for Muay Thai is difficult for a Western audience to understand. The highest-scoring technique is dumping the other fighter on the canvas. Kicks and knees also score highly, while punches, unless they visibly injure the opponent, won’t score at all. Ramon struggled with the rules, but made up for it with his trademark combination of technique, power and aggression.

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Thai fighters of that era had rudimentary hand skills at best. They were far more inclined to punch rather than box and generally didn’t waste much time at punching range. They were more interested in using punches to transition from long distance (kicking) to short (grappling, knees and elbows). This was all very well; Ramon proved the idea that if a man was powerful and skilled enough, he could knock you out in that dangerous middle ground. It is, after all, hard to argue with the judges’ decision when you’re lying on your back.

Watching highlight reels of Ramon makes the reasons for his dominance immediately apparent. His hyper-aggressive style and extraordinary power meant that his best opponents, such as Saengtiennoi ‘The Deadly Kisser’, were forced to match his awesome power and technique against their own durability. “He was a machine,” Ramon said of Noi. “He just kept on coming.”

Ramon met Coban ‘The Cruncher’ Lookchaomaesaitong on April 21, 1991. Ramon was knocked out by way of left hook, but was soon to avenge the loss when the two fought again. Between 1991 and 1993 Ramon fought Coban a total of four times, producing four fights which aficionados rate as the very best engagements in the history of the sport.

On the eighteenth of March 2001, Ramon fought Marino Deflorin in Amsterdam. It was an even contest until Ramon caught Deflorin and knocked him out with a left hook. Afterwards, he announced his retirement. As with most fighters it didn’t stick, however, and Ramon returned to the ring in 2005.

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He took an MMA fight on a few days’ notice and lost by heel hook. From there, he participated in a number of K1 fights, notably tearing his right shoulder and being unable to punch before he fought Duane Ludwig. That aside, he still managed to floor Ludwig every round and walk out with a decision win, carrying his trophy with the only hand he could use.

Ramon busied himself after retirement by putting his formidable knowledge and experience to work as a trainer for both Team Dekkers and Golden Glory. He made his mark on fighters from around the world.

Paul Briggs, world Muay Thai champion and eventual world light-heavyweight contender was coached by his father, who went to great trouble to mail-order videotapes of both Dekkers and Kaman. Watching those tapes became both the basis of Briggs’ style and his approach to training. “Ramon had incredible technique and was strong, both mentally and physically. He didn’t flinch; he just absorbed all the punishment. Dekkers bought his own version of Muay Thai, rather than trying to be Thai himself. In doing that, he changed the sport.”

Ramon once fought in Australia, at Festival Hall in 1995. On the undercard was an up-and-coming champion, Anthony Vella. “He was the greatest ever,” says Anthony. “He took the sport to the next level, and inspired a lot of people. As far as Westerners fighting Thais, the Dutch did it first. They led the way. [Ramon] forced the Thais to change their game plan. Before that, they pretty much just kicked.”

Anthony counts meeting Ramon as one of the highlights of his career. “He came and congratulated me after my win. It was really inspiring.”

Ramon also had great impact on other trainers. Marcel Dragan first met Ramon at the Golden Glory gym in Breda in 2008 when he bought with him his talented heavyweight prospect, the shy but intimidating Raul Catinas.

“The morning training was over and Cor Hemmers introduced us to [Gokhan] Saki, [Alistair] Overeem, [Nicky] Holzken and [Errol] Zimmerman, who were drinking a cold juice at the bar. We talked for a while; Cor told us about the training schedule and then he left.

“I stepped into the gym with the feeling that I was in a temple where the Gods of War were worshipped. There was only one man, wearing a cotton anorak with hood, collecting the pads and shields left on the floor by the fighters. ‘Where can Ramon be?’ I asked myself, impatient to meet the European who defeated the best Muay Thai fighters in their own territory. While I was thinking about this, I collided with the shoulder of the man who was gathering the gear and whom I considered to be just an employee. The man apologized and turned around: it was Ramon Dekkers.”

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Dekkers was the ideal coach. Not only did have knowledge and experience, his character meant that he was capable of being both tough when necessary and tender, also. One of his amateur fighters, Frank Van Der Korput, remembers him thus:

“My most fond memory of Ramon is when he tried to glue up my cut eyebrow. From quiet tough guy he instantly went into sort of a father-mode when he saw my bloodied face and guided me to a chair.

“I remember walking into his gym in the Pelmolenstreet for the first time, impressed by all the tough guys hanging around; the smell of stale sweat and Thai oil, and by how short Ramon actually was. He was always a bit quiet; he almost seemed too shy to talk about anything else than technique or training methods.

“Just being in his presence was a huge motivation to train harder though, to take more punishment and to dish out even more. I became a reasonably skilled amateur fighter and developed a passion for the sport. I got the confidence and felt I had the right to walk into dirty backstreet gyms all over the world.”

Frank attended Ramon’s funeral in his hometown of Breda, on March 7.

“I took the afternoon off work to attend. So did about 2000 other people. Quite a crowd at the funeral place; people from all walks of life came to pay their respect, people in shell suits next to people wearing Saville Row’s finest. A lot of prominent figures; Peter Aerts, Marloes Coenen, and other fighters. There was an airplane dragging a banner with a diamond on it circling the city that read ‘The Diamond 4Ever, Rest in Peace.’

“The ceremony itself was a sober event. The undertaker talked about Ramon’s life, achievements and death. In between some relatives spoke, also. When Ramon’s youngest daughter, Quinty, stood up and read out a last message for her father, the distinct sound of hearths breaking was clearly audible. Ramon’s brothers, Nicky and Carlo, also gave a brief talk about what their brother meant to them.

“Cor Hemmers, looking older and fragile, told the story about how he met Ramon’s mother, what it was like training young Ramon, what they achieved over the years, first in Thailand, later in the Netherlands and all over the world. Despite his fragile appearance, Cor made a strong impression. He was stoic in restraining his emotion.”

I had the honour of being trained by Ramon in 2008. I had great trouble concentrating and often frustrated him because I was suffering from a bad case of being star-struck. I had similar problems with Stefan Leko and Chalid ‘Die Faust’ Arrab, but with Dekkers, it was different. He was the sport; both his mode of training and because of the way his performances in the ring had changed it. It was as if he had re-created Muay Thai around him and the world had taken notice.

The first, most striking feature was his power. When I trained with him, he had been enjoying the good life and had probably weighed about eighty kilos. He punched and kicked as hard as some of the Golden Glory heavyweights and every time he hit me, I couldn’t even cover or check properly, let alone remember the combination. All I could think was, “Wow! I’ve just been hit by Ramon Dekkers!”

One night, we had to essentially cross Holland to attend a ‘Kickbox Gala’ to see Gokhan Saki and Errol Zimmerman fight. Ramon drove; I sat in the passenger seat and his step-brother, Nicky Hemmers, sat in the back. The Volkswagen GTI has a reputation for being a fast car; that night, Ramon proved it.

We overtook most of the traffic as if it was parked as Ramon wove his little white lightning bolt in and out of traffic. I sat very still and watched the speedometer. Nicky probably took note of how stiff and still I was, and, laughing, he explained that Dutch speeding tickets were a lot cheaper than Australian ones, and this was the way Ramon normally drove.

It seemed to me that you saw the essence of Ramon the man both when he was fighting, and when he driving. He was in control, and it wasn’t in his nature to worry. When we got to the fights, I got out of the car and had to prevent myself from kissing the bitumen.

“See? Safe and sound,” he said. “No problem.” That was Ramon. Faster and faster and faster.

Last Session at Golden Glory 016Thanks to Mark Van Hogeloon, long-time Dekkers Sportschool member, for fact-checking and advice.

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2 Responses to “Ramon Dekkers: The Legend and the Legacy”

  1. that was beautiful..much respect.

  2. Amazing article on Ramon Dekkers. I stayed up late reading this and could not stop because it was so well written with such thorough facts. Respect from the USA.

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