Looking back on Melvin Manhoef’s career, it appears as if it were designed on a drawing board.
The middleweight knockout artist -- who will meet Robbie Lawler in a featured bout at Strikeforce “Miami” this Saturday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. -- spent the first decade on the European mainland, competing almost exclusively in his home country of Holland. Manhoef enjoyed mixed results, but his path to prominence became more structured when he joined Mike’s Gym in 2005.
The gym’s head coach, Mike Passenier, had strong connections to the United Kingdom, which led to Manhoef making his promotional home inside Cage Rage for 18 months. With that, “Marvelous” was born. In three outings at the Wembley Conference Centre and another at Wembley Arena, only one of his opponent’s -- Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos -- survived the first round. His slugfest with the Brazilian remains an all-time classic.
Through Cage Rage’s cooperation with Japan’s Fighting and Entertainment Group, the parent company for K-1 and Dream, Manhoef made the jump to the Land of the Rising Sun in 2006. Known as “Black Storm” in Japan, he endured the most grueling schedule imaginable, fighting 10 times in MMA and thrice more in K-1 in a two-year timeframe. Only Manhoef’s irresistible knockout power allowed him to run the gauntlet mostly unscathed, though he did submit to Korean judoka Dong Sik Yoon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in June 2007.
The 33-year-old Dutch destroyer returns to American soil this weekend, when he collides with Lawler, the former EliteXC middleweight champion.
“It’s great to fight in the U.S. again,” Manhoef told Sherdog.com. “I have been in the states for the past three weeks already to train with my friends at American Top Team, and I really enjoy it here. It’s a great country, and the people are very nice. I hope I can fight here many times and show the fans my knockout power.”
The move to ATT was born out of necessity, as Mike’s Gym in Amsterdam was destroyed in a fire last month.
“The fire was a real disaster for all of us,” Manhoef said. “First of all for Mike Passenier, of course, who had put his heart and soul into his gym, but also for me, as a lot of my past and many memories are connected with it.”
Manhoef was training for a New Year’s Eve bout with 2006 Pride Fighting Championships welterweight grand prix winner Kazuo Misaki at the time of the fire. Though the incident interrupted his preparation, he stopped Misaki on strikes in just 1:49.
“I had the problem that we had no gym to train, so I had to go to several different places every day,” he said. “Traveling took up a lot of my time, and I couldn’t train like I was used to, which was very frustrating. Thanks to Ricardo Liborio and everybody at American Top Team, I will be perfectly prepared for my next fight.”
Manhoef, who owns 23 knockouts among his 24 victories, knows the fight against Lawler presents a significant opportunity for him.
“I’m very happy to sign with Strikeforce,” he said. “It’s a great chance for me and my career. Robbie is a strong fighter; that’s why I can’t give any predictions on the fight yet. We will have to see in the ring in Miami this Saturday. All I can say is that it will be a spectacular fight and I will give my all.”
Of course, more challenges exist beyond Lawler. Strikeforce boasts one of the deepest middleweight divisions in all of MMA, featuring champion Jake Shields, Olympic wrestlers Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Nick Diaz, UFC veteran Scott Smith and many others.
“I don’t judge other fighters,” Manhoef said. “We will see how I match up when I fight one of them. For now, I just focus on my first fight in Strikeforce. It’s different to fight in the U.S. than in Japan, so my focus is on this fight only.”
Manhoef might also cross paths with Santos, who debuted in Strikeforce in June.
“It would definitely be nice to rematch Cyborg,” he said. “Both of us grew a lot as fighters, and it would definitely be a different fight than last time.”
Billed as “No Mercy” in the states, one of MMA’s most dangerous knockout artists has his sights set on making a splash on the American fight scene. He vows his approach and attitude will not change, promising non-stop action from the opening bell.
“I want to thank the American fans for their great support, and I hope they will enjoy my fights,” Manhoef said. “I can’t promise a win in all of them, but I guarantee it’s gonna be exciting and spectacular.”