Bellator Kickboxing’s debut event goes down Saturday in Torino, Italy, and the California-based promotion has its sights on making kickboxing a major sport in America.
Bellator President Scott Coker understands the sport as well as anybody on the planet, and he knows he can’t build a monster without monsters. That’s why he perched world-renowned striker Melvin Manhoef atop Saturday’s marquee.
The Suriname-born Dutch resident is regarded as one of the premier knockout artists in both MMA and kickboxing, a skill set Coker is hoping to showcase on Saturday when “No Mercy” takes on relatively inexperienced Romanian Alexandru Negrea.
“I don’t know much about him other than, when he fights, he comes to bang,” Manhoef told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “Myself? I come to bang. So, when you have two guys banging, it’s going to be a nice fight for people to watch to and help introduce [America] to kickboxing.
“He’s a nice fighter, a good tough guy,” Manhoef added. “He’s got strong hands. His kicks, not so much; his hands are much better. I don’t mind it if I don’t know him, because I respect all the fighters I face. I am taking him very seriously because anything can happen.”
Manhoef knows he’s here to put on a show and to help Bellator turn kickboxing into a much more popular sport stateside, and it’s a roll he’s ready to embrace.
“I’m happy to be helping build kickboxing in America,” said Manhoef. “I told them I wanted to do it and that I would love to kickbox for them. This is great, to be something like this. This is great because I can now do both kickboxing and MMA at the same time.”
Manhoef has spent the vast majority of his career in Europe, where kickboxing does big business. He’s seen the sport languishing in the U.S. but believes that, in time, things can change for the better. However, Manhoef is realistic.
“It’s going to take a while, I think,” he remarked. “What K-1 did, for example, that was a different level. But I think if Bellator puts on great fights and the people enjoy it, it can go good. There already is a lot of kickboxing in America, but if Bellator does this right and puts on great fights, people will appreciate the sport more. This is the whole thing about fighting because everybody likes action and entertainment. I think in a few years it will be big.”
Bellator Kickboxing airs Friday, April 22, on Spike TV.
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