Plenty of names at Bellator 223 on Saturday night in London: Rich talent in Gegard Mousasi, Paul Daley, James Gallagher and so on … but Melvin Manhoef is one we should take note of, and enjoy, for the Dutch fighter will not be around forever. Manhoef steps into the combat arena here at Wembley’s SSE Arena, then he will fight once in Amsterdam next year, and then it will be goodnight and goodbye to a 25-year career.
Put Manhoef’s MMA and kickboxing fights together, and this is the 43-year-old’s 100th professional fight against Kent Kauppinen in West London.
Without ever really getting enough praise, Manhoef is a fight sports legend, having fought in divisions from welterweight to heavyweight since 1995. Five feet 8 inches tall, a 71-inch reach, unbelievable power, technique and tenacity. Extraordinary really. Even his opponent Kauppinen, an exciting fighter himself, and sixteen years younger, grew up as a fan of Manhoef. Little wonder. The Surinamese-Dutch fighter has always had that thrilling berserker style, the kind of wrecking machine that you just sit back and admire as pure fighting.
Daley, the British fighter whose style is modelled on Manhoef, calls him ‘big brother’ and lived in his house in Holland training with him for some time as a young fighter. Not given to trash-talking – not even aware, I must add, that he was reaching his century of fights – rarely trumpeting his own talent, within the fight sports industry, he is both loved and respected in equal measure.
To see Manhoef being raised to the top table at yesterday’s Bellator news conference in Leicester Square at the Odeon Luxe was a moment worth savouring.
Manhoef has worked so hard to maintain his intensity. “I am a pure fighter, and that will, never change,” he told me yesterday.
Even yesterday, Manhoef gave off an air of nonchalance. After Bellator president Scott Coker and head of the Europe office of the fight league David Green had outlined long-term commitment to the European cause yesterday, with Gallagher and Jeremiah Labiano, getting lairy, Daley threatening to KO Erick Silva, and reality television star turned fighter Aaron Chalmers talking of his thrill at being amongst some great fighters, it was Manhoef who was given a round of applause from the media gallery, fighters, and their teams.
It was borne out of respect for an elder statesman who has given his all fighting in more than a dozen fight organisations, and in eleven countries on every continent. If there had been fighting on the moon in the last twenty years, ‘Manhoef on The Moon’ might have been one of them.
Manhoef had some views on the middleweight main event title fight, too.
Looking at the contest between Mousasi and Rafael Lovato, he agreed that the defending champion must look to keep the fight standing. “I think he should do that, it makes sense. If he goes on the ground with Lovato, it’s his choice, but I don’t think he should. Then it’ll be hard fight for him.”
“If he points fight, then it’ll be difficult for Lovato. We don’t know how much Lovato has changed. Maybe he’s going to walk him to the fence and then take him down. We don’t know how he’s going to fight.”
Manhoef fought and lost, to headliner Mousasi, in DREAM. “I lost to him. At that time he said he would stand and brawl with me, but he took me down. It was DREAM, yes. He won the tournament. He is one guy I should congratulate because I think he is one of those fighters most underrated.”
“He has so many wins. I have a lot of respect for him. He is doing a great job here. He came to Bellator, won the title. He was in the UFC, where he deserved a title shot. He never got it. I don’t know why. Gegard is very quiet guy, so maybe that’s why.”
Mousasi himself revealed what we all really know that he will ‘point fight’ jiu jitsu ace Rafael Lovato, in his defence of the middleweight title, but amongst the maelstrom of fights, you might want to not miss Manhoef on Saturday night. His fight with Kauppinen will be a thriller as long as it lasts.
Ambitions ahead for Manhoef include bringing more fighters over from his native Surinam. “They (the fighters) are there. Now I’m not doing so much because I have so many things in my head. But when my last fight is done I will start again. I had three guys fighting, but now I have so many things so I’ve had to let them loose a little bit. I have my own gym and I’ve got to prepare myself for this fight.”
And Surinam ? “It’s coming up. My nephew is coming up. He’s very good. There are new talented guys. Fighting in Glory, they are doing good. The country is very quiet and developing. It’s almost like a new country. You can enjoy and do a lot of things there, like sightseeing, and the food is good.”
There were thoughts on Daley, too. And that recent stalemate between Daley and Michael Venom Page.
“Of course I was a little bit disappointed for him, although I love Michael as well. Paul is my buddy. I know him from when he was a kid. He came to Amsterdam and lived with me. Now I find it very nice to see him develop. It’s time for me to say goodbye. For Paul, he still has some good fights in him.”
Manhoef believes this is the best time in MMA, or indeed in fight sports. Period. “Yeah. I think this is the best time to be fighting because it’s more entertainment and better safety. More money in it. The guys can build a life out of it. If I could go back in time and come ten years younger then I would, because then you’d see something else.” If only… happy one hundred Melvin Manhoef.