Badr Hari, born and raised in the city, has an infamously similar temperament. Throughout his career he has been prone to explosions of temper and even on an average day, his mood was felt to veer toward the dark and stormy.
It was a surprise then for Amsterdam media to be confronted with a cheerful, conversational Hari (106-13, 92 KO’s) at last week’s press conference to promote his upcoming rematch with Hesdy Gerges (50-19, 23 KO’s).
Their 2010 fight ended in controversy after Hari’s temper got the better of him in the second round. Hari knocked Gerges down legally but then kicked him in the head while he was downed, resulting in immediate disqualification and the passing his heavyweight title to Gerges.
Things don’t get much more heated than an illegal assault on an opponent in the ring and so it could reasonably be expected that tensions might be high when the two came face to face at the press conference.
Instead, Hari was all smiles. He chatted with the media, cracked jokes and spoke respectfully of Gerges. He also reflected on the 2010 incident and observed that he was at that time still immature. He talked about recent years being a period of growth and personal development.
The change has not gone unnoticed by his long time trainer Mike Passenier, head coach at the eponymous Mike’s Gym in north Amsterdam.
“Like he said, he’s more mature,” says Passenier in his trademark low growl. “He had some tough times over the years, I did my best to help him, now he seems like he is grown up. Now he likes training, he likes working out. His attitude is different.
“There was a time when we were fighting in Japan. We would fly to Japan, put the luggage down in the hotel and he would get to the gym and start running. Now again he is doing that, coming in from Morocco, comes to the gym, starts running. After training he wants to do extra sprints even.”
Still though, Hari’s simmering internal rage has played a major role in making him the fighter he is today. It powered his fighting and made him an equally fascinating figure outside of the ring. If that anger is dissipated, does Hari not lose something of himself?
According to Passenier, the anger is still there when needed, it just gets harnessed in a more efficient manner these days.
“We’re all from the same side of Amsterdam and when you’re from that side, if you want to make real money, make a success of yourself, the only way really is to do it in sports. That [social disadvantage] made him a little angry and I was always ready to trigger that in him,” hesays.
“I used to be screaming at him, shouting. He needed to be focused and ready, anger brought that out. In those days the only things we had were each other and being more willing to die in there than the other guy was.
“Me, Badr, Melvin Manhoef, we all had that mentality. When I discovered it in him, I triggered it a lot. But things change. Back in 2000 we would be angry even on the drive to the airport to go and fight. Now we only need to be angry two minutes before we walk out of the dressing room.”
Passenier also commented on an exchange Hari had with a journalist who asked him whether Gerges was “a warm up fight” for a future rematch with Rico Verhoeven. Hari slapped the suggestion down and said it was “rude” to talk about Gerges in such a way.
“There are no warm up fights. We step in the ring always prepared 100%. These are heavyweight fighters, one punch can change the fight immediately, Hesdy does not want to give up, ever. He always wants to fight even if there is one second left,” he says.
“In this fight we have to send a message, to everyone in the heavyweight division: be prepared, take care. Badr is here now.”
GLORY 51 ROTTERDAM takes place Saturday, March 3 at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with Hari and Gerges in the headline slot.