If someone has grown up as a combat-sports athlete in the Netherlands, what is the first thing that comes to mind? It’s most likely kickboxing. Dutch is to kickboxing as Thai is to Muay Thai. It’s no secret that some of the best kickboxers and kickboxing coaches in the world are Dutch. However, the best combat-sports athlete to possibly ever emerge from that country actually grew up as a grappler.
ONE Championship’s reigning middleweight and light heavyweight MMA champion Reinier de Ridder is more than the real deal. Many mainstream fans might assume that the best MMA fighters in the world are in the UFC, but ONE’s two-division champ is an undefeated killer who is willing to take on anyone in his path.
De Ridder actually has three professions. He received a degree in physical therapy in Breda, which is the city he lives and trains in. He has a physical therapy practice there, right next door to Combat Brothers, the gym he co-owns with his coach Harun Özkan. His fighting career and his two businesses are all the result of what the only child has done since he was a young child.
“I started judo at the age of five, then quit when I was 15, 16, and I got to know about the drinking, girls, all the good stuff,” de Ridder told Combat Press. “So, I took a few years off, and then I moved cities to Breda to train jiu-jitsu. I went to a gym there for the first time, and I pretty much beat everybody. It was very easy. The instructor didn’t want to roll with me, because I beat all his people. And, I said, ‘This jiu-jitsu stuff is bullshit, so I’m not going to do this again.’
“And, then a few months later, someone told me, ‘You went to the wrong gym. You should go to this one. There’s some good guys there.’ I went there for first time, and all the blue belts, small guys, [70-kilogram] guys, they beat me, and that really sparked my interest. Ever since then, I haven’t really missed that much training. From jiu-jitsu, MMA came pretty quickly.”
The 31-year-old de Ridder, who holds black belts in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, had done a lot of competing prior to embarking on his MMA career. Before starting his own gym five years ago, he was training out of a Renzo Gracie affiliate in the area.
“I did a lot of jiu-jitsu tournaments, and I won the Abu Dhabi World Pro at blue belt,” de Ridder said. “Then, my goal was to win the European IBJJF tournament, and I got a silver medal three times in a row. I was in the final every time, meeting somebody who just stalled and ran away. I lost by points or by ref decision or whatever. I was very frustrated I said, ‘Fuck this shit. I’m going to do MMA.’ I did my first amateur fight, and choked him out in a few minutes. Then, I said, ‘Let’s do a pro fight.’ Then, I kept going. I was pretty successful every time, so this is why I’m still going right now.”
De Ridder’s first pro fight was in Jun. 2013, and he won by submission. He would go 9-0 over the following five years, racking up seven submissions and two knockouts, before signing with ONE to kick off 2019. After putting together three more wins in theh promotion, he faced Aung La Nsang, who was a two-division champ, twice in a row. Their first meeting was in Oct. 2020, and de Ridder submitted Nsang for the middleweight belt. The two met again six months later, and, after five rounds, the judges awarded de Ridder the victory, as well as the light heavyweight strap. A lot has happened for de Ridder in the last three years.
It was in 2019 that “The Dutch Knight” received his black belt, and withing months, he also married his wife. Shortly after that, the couple gave birth to their second child, his son. He also has a daughter who just turned four. In addition to his two titles and his successful businesses, life has been good.
“We started the gym, because we had a falling out with the with the guy we trained with before,” said de Ridder. “[My coach] said, ‘Why don’t we do this for ourselves?’ We did, and it’s still very fun and very satisfying to help people. We have a lot of people coming in now, because they see what I do in the cage. They come in, and they want to train as well. I think we’ve helped a lot of young people out by showing them martial arts, showing them good values, and getting some people in shape. It’s cool. We really enjoy it.
“We have a lot of high belts already. We have some purple belts, brown belts and black belts, so we teach a lot of jiu-jitsu, but we teach a lot of MMA and kickboxing as well. Of course, we have classes every day, so it’s like a full-time gym. My physio practice is next door, so now I have someone to work for me there, and I can just focus on running everything.”
De Ridder has carried his successes into 2022 without skipping a beat. He defended his middleweight title in February with a third-round submission of Kiamrian Abbasov. He then competed against multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion Andre Galvao in a grappling match at ONE X on Mar. 26. While the two went to a draw, it was a great experience to compete against a guy at that level.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” de Ridder intimated. “This year has been very good, very active. The grappling thing was very cool, as well, against Galvao, and I hope to do a lot more after this fight. I want to be back soon, and I want to make these years count. I want to beat everybody they put in front of me. I know I can beat everyone. I don’t care about weight classes. I just want to keep going and do something nobody else can.
“At the moment, I was very bummed out that I didn’t get to finish [Galvao], but, looking back, it’s alright. I didn’t have time to prepare for him specifically. I haven’t been doing grappling competitions for years, and I get to face one of the best in the world. I can at least hang with him. It’s okay for now.”
In April, de Ridder also came to the United States to train with a few gyms. At his level, he has made a lot of solid connections, and the invites came pouring in when he decided to cross the pond.
“I met [Sanford MMA head stand-up coach] Henri [Hooft] a couple times here in Singapore,” explained de Ridder. “They told me, ‘Why don’t you come out after the grappling match?’ It would be good to travel a bit with the family, so I brought my wife and kids to Sanford. I spent a little time training with everybody. It was very nice to train with Aung. He met my wife, met my kids, so it was very special moment for us. It was cool to train with all those killers over there, but, to be honest, for me, the cherry on the cake was definitely Austin.
“To be able to train with Gordon [Ryan] and train under John Danaher was a huge honor. They taught me so much. All the stuff I’ve been putting into my training daily ever since, so I’ll definitely go back in the next couple of months. I want to do this a couple times a year – take a few weeks, visit a few different gyms. The last two weeks of August, I’ll do a bit of a tour through Europe, see some seminars and training at different gyms, and then somewhere in the winter, I’ll go to America again for a couple weeks.”
On Friday, Jul. 22, at ONE 159, de Ridder is set to defend his middleweight title for a second time when he faces former ONE middleweight champ Vitaly Bigdash in the main event. Bigdash has been in ONE since 2015, and is currently riding a three-fight winning streak with the last one coming over Nsang in Feb. 2022. That was a bit of poetic justice for Bigdash as Nsang is the one he lost his title to back in Jun. 2017. The Russian has his eyes set on regaining the title he once held, but de Ridder has other plans.
“He’s pretty strong, but his cardio is not really there,” said the Dutch Knight. “His cardio is not that great. He gasses out pretty easily, maybe because he’s that strong. His striking is pretty quick, not like crazy power, but his hands are pretty quick. He kicks pretty nicely. His footwork is a bit not as developed, and he’s pretty slow on his feet. He’s very cautious, which might be a good thing. He doesn’t really overextend. He doesn’t really go crazy. All in all, it’s a good match-up.”
While his next opponent is his immediate focus, de Ridder has been very vocal about his future plans in ONE. He already holds belts in two divisions, so why not make it a third?
“I’ve definitely been calling for it for a little while,” said de Ridder. “I want to do a heavyweight fight. I think I can beat all these guys. I think I can beat the heavyweight champ as well. Let me write history.
“My natural weight class is middleweight. I can make that with a bit of a struggle, but it’s pretty easy to make for me. And, light heavyweight is fine. Heavyweight is definitely over my size, but I can I think I can do it. My technique is on such a level – my cardio, my strength – on such a level, that it does not matter.”
Tomorrow, live on ONE’s website, starting with the lead card at 6 a.m. ET, de Ridder will look to defend his belt against the man who once possessed it. This will not be an easy task, but one he expects to win handily.
“You’ll see me press the action, wear him out, break his will and submit him.”
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.