Peter Aerts: All The Hits

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International Kickboxer Magazine, July/August, 2015

Peter Aerts has recently announced his retirement due to an inability to recover from injury, bringing down the curtain on a phenomenal career.

Aerts is a fighter with a deeply held conviction about fighting; it’s what he is and what he does. As he said in the post-fight interview after an early K1 victory; ‘I love kickboxing; kickboxing is my life.’ This kind of single-sentence zinger is the bane of interviewers the world over, but provides the single window through which to view the man and his achievements.

In the way that MMA sought to find the ultimate fighter by putting two men in a cage and letting them go at it, in the early nineties, Mr Ishii’s nascent K1 organization asked the question in a more civilized way. Which style of stand up martial art (kakutogi) would prevail under a set of standardized rules to provide an even – and (relatively) safe playing field?

As Brad Pitt explained in Fight Club; it was on the tip of everybody’s tongues and Mr Ishii just gave it a name – and a set of rules to go with it. Ishii got the recipe right: his promotion provided a fast-paced, technical contest with a high knockout quotient which entertained both martial artists and uninitiated sports fans alike.

Despite the fact that the commentary was entirely in Japanese and most Western fans had to resort to satellite television to watch it, K1 had been set up as an international Grand Prix and soon garnered a passionate international following.

K1 had its problems, however; one of which being the fact that almost all the dominant athletes came from a small European country better known for its cheese, weed and wooden footwear. Against that background, two outstanding fighters emerged.

There are two reasons for the claim Aerts is greatest fighter of all time. The first is his acumen. While Ernesto Hoost was an immensely skilled tactician, Aerts put the art in martial artist. He wasn’t gifted with the technical grace of Remy Bonjasky, but he had a seemingly supernatural ability to know when to throw either his right hand, or right high kick, to deliver the near-fatal coup de grace.

The second reason is that the rate of attrition in kickboxing is immensely high, precisely because the point of heavyweight fighting is inflicting grievous bodily harm on your opponent. If that is true, then Aerts is rightly described as the greatest because, during his twenty seven years as a professional, he dished out the most, and soaked up the most as well.

In celebration, International Kickboxer now presents a review of Peter Aerts’ finest moments.

Top Five Fights

  1. Ernesto Hoost – 1988

Peter Aerts entered his first professional kickboxing match at eighteen, just one year after commencing training in Muay Thai. Shortly after, he met the man who truly became his nemesis – Ernesto Hoost. Hoost defined himself as a cagey, strategic fighter, narrowly defeating Aerts by decision and setting in motion a rivalry that would run through the K1 Grand Prix like a seam of gold.

aerts-vs-hoost-japan-osaka-october

  1. K1 GP Final – 1998

1998 was Peter’s year. After losing to Francisco Filho the year before after splitting his shin when kicking, Aerts had rebounded with a brace of victories. He arrived at the K1 GP Final that year having defeating both Hoost and Hug at separate engagements.

The first round of the Final saw him destroy Japanese fan favourite Masaaki Satake with knees from the (then permitted) clinch. Aerts followed this up with a very entertaining, albeit short match against South African Mike Bernardo. In order to antagonize Bernardo, a devout Christian, Aerts had the number ‘666’ emblazoned on his Lumberjack jacket. It did the trick and he quickly stopped Bernardo in the first round.

The final saw him once again facing off against Andy Hug. He swiftly put Hug to sleep with his trademark high kick, claiming his second K1 Final victory. The 1998 K1 Final has been included here as one fight because the full duration of Aerts workload on that evening constituted a total of six minutes and forty-three seconds.

  1. Cyril Abidi – 2000

During the nineties Peter Aerts was seemingly unstoppable, dominating the competition. In the year 2000, his fortunes took a turn for the worse. The dark horse that appeared on the horizon was Cyril Abidi. The first time they met, Abidi drew him into a brawl and knocked him out in the first round to the crashing disbelief of the entire world. Given the opportunity to redeem himself shortly after, Abidi repeated the trick and stopped Aerts – in the first round – once again.

Abidi himself was an uneven competitor, achieving a mixed bag of results. However, just as Bob Sapp, regardless of his questionable standing could always upset Ernesto Hoost, so too could Abidi bring Aerts to grief. Central to Abidi’s success may have been exactly his ability to irritate Aerts. Describing their rivalry, he said, ‘When I fought him, I fought with my heart, not with my head.’

  1. Semmy Schilt – 2006

Semmy Schilt put the ‘super’ in super heavyweight, standing two hundred and twelve cenimeters tall and weighing one hundred and thirty kilograms. Early in his career, his combination of sheer physical size, endless cardio and technical skill seemed a juggernaut that was going to put an end to the competition itself.

Aerts met Schilt in a super-fight at the Auckland leg of the 2006 K1 grand prix. Things weren’t looking good at the referee’s instructions when Schilt stood over Aerts, almost a full foot taller. Peter had clearly watched the tapes closely beforehand and with a liberal amount of clinching, he managed to secure the decision and hand Schilt the second loss of his professional kickboxing career.

  1. Errol Zimmerman – 2009

Aerts and Zimmerman met early in 2009 at the K1 GP in Yokohama, Japan. Zimmerman had been defeated for the first time in almost three years at the end of 2008, when he met Badr Hari in the semi-final of the K1 GP final. Zimmerman, an outstanding member of the new breed of Dutch heavyweights, had emerged into K1 with a stellar run. He handed summary floggings to his opponents, employing a straight-forward combination of granite chin and heavy hands.

At that time, Aerts and Zimmerman’s careers were on opposite trajectories. The match quickly became a brutal slugfest with both men soaking up and dishing out some of the most intense blunt-force trauma kickboxing can lay claim to. After three rounds, it seemed almost sadistic for the judges not to separate them by decision. Rather, they insisted on an extension round, at the end of which, Aerts was awarded the victory.

Top Five Knockouts

  1. Adam Watt – 1992

Adam Watt was a talented Australian karate fighter, living and training in Japan. He had little experience of kickboxing, however, when he was slated to fight Peter Aerts. Aerts took him to task, catching him with his famous right high kick and finishing the fight in the second round.

The thing that makes the knockout remarkable is Watt himself. After being caught, he stood bolt upright, feet together, with one glove up near his ear as if answering the phone to God. After some seconds, Watt crashed to the canvas like a tree.

  1. Maurice Smith – 1993

In the early nineties, kickboxing was established as a sport, but was yet to have a standardized competition to sort the world’s best fighters into some sort of ranking. Maurice Smith had built a deserved reputation as a man to fear based on a size, strength, and sheer number of victories. He had already fought Peter and lost by decision over a total of nine rounds in Paris, in 1992.

Almost a year later, the two fighters rematched in Amsterdam. Aerts had developed significantly as a professional in that time, and also used his previous experience of Smith to work him out, knocking him cold in the first round. It is one of the best examples of Peter deploying his spectacular, right high round kick.

  1. Stefan Leko – 2001

Stefan Leko was another K1 stalwart, featuring alongside the other fighters who were prominent in the nineties. He met Aerts, a good friend, in the Las Vegas 2001 K1 tournament qualifier as an opponent for the first time.

Leko had a canny approach to Aerts, who had a habit of kicking off his front leg to the forearms of his opponents to hamper their punching. Aerts, long and lanky as he is, would open his body right out and as Aerts bought his left leg back, Leko stepped in and hit him straight on the chin with a heavy right cross, sending him to the canvas.

Aerts, clearly hurt, managed to beat the count. When he tried the left kick again, Leko met him with the same reply and handed Peter the most grievous knockout of his career. Peter fell on his back, looking like a seagull that had been shot out of the sky.

That knockout is included here for two reasons. The first is that it was so gruesome, it would have ended the careers of many other fighters. The second is because it became a feature of the ESPN highlight commercial for that year, playing on repeat around the USA.

  1. Gary Goodridge – 2004

Gary Goodridge was a fighter who also had a successful run in the early UFC. He was a big, physically imposing man whose actual performance – as a kickboxer – never seemed the equal of his promise. That said, he was dangerous enough to qualify as a legitimate opponent.

Aerts dominated Goodridge, stopping him in the third round. The win is recorded as being a stoppage by leg kicks, but realistically, the leg kick was the thing that made him fall. Aerts had hit Goodridge with everything except the kitchen sink.

Peter Aerts k1 vs boxer_low5. Mighty Mo – 2010

Mo is a big, powerful man. He’s the sort of fighter who is probably best addressed the way Kaokalai Kannaenorsing fought him; lots of footwork to turn the fight into a ‘catch me if you can’ situation.

Aerts, of course, did it the other way around and cut Mo’s legs until he could barely move, finishing the fight with a combination of punches and kicks proving that, even after twenty years, Aerts still had it.

***

The thing that truly defines a fighter is not the titles he has won; it is the quality of opponents he has faced. In Aerts’ career, he underwent sustained rivalries with almost all of the most distinguished fighters on the K1 roster.

It is impossible to discuss Andy Hug, Jerome Le Banner, Semmy Schilt, Sam Greco, Mike Bernardo, Ray Sefo or any of the truly great fighters in a meaningful way without comparing them to Peter Aerts.

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