Lucia Rijker: Success can be the kiss of death

Kickboxing and boxing legen Lucia Rijker speaks to Warrior Code
Written by Guido de Boer
Published on Jul 28, 2022, 6:24:23 AM
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What goes through your mind when, as a world boxing champion, you finally have to draw the conclusion that your time as holder of the belt is up? That you are past your peak and a new generation of fighters has already emerged who will do anything to knock you off your throne? As a fighter, how do you get out of that merry-go-round in time so that you don't have to deal with long term health problems after your career, because you couldn't admit that your time as a champion is over?

These are some of the questions that, according to former world boxing and kickboxing champion Lucia Rijker, sooner or later will come and haunt the minds of many professional fighters. They provide a unique insight into the mindset involved in a successful career. The mindset doesn't just come from the pressure that fighters put on themselves but equally from a feeling that they have to keep going for everyone but themselves: “Success can also be the kiss of death.”

Lucia Rijker came into contact with Buddhism at a certain point in her career. This gave her a new form of consciousness. It showed her the power it can give to sail your own course in both her career and life outside of sports. Rijker specifically came into contact with Nichiren Buddhism, where the core of philosophy revolves around a process of awaking. For example, that you should not act from a sense of guilt but from a conviction that not everything has to be perfect. As long as you stand by your own decisions. That you are 100% aware of what you are doing.

Rijker: “For me personally, I noticed, it was about overcoming a sense of inferiority. I always looked at myself as a fighter who is very talented and head and shoulders above the rest, but actually overcompensating for my feelings of inferiority. Maybe because I'm a woman, but I did all this to become the best in the world, of course. That is exactly why I felt that the awakening process of Nichiren Buddhism very much suits and fits me. You were suddenly allowed to set your own goals and convert worldly desires into an opportunity to let go of transformation.”

Rijker, now 54, came into contact with the sport when she was 14. She has seen how many celebrities who knew the sport in the Netherlands have had to hand over the baton (sometimes forced) to the next generation. Simply because their time was up. It started with Rob Kaman, still seen by many as the best kickboxer in the world from Dutch soil ever, who had to make way for Ernesto Hoost. Then came Bonjasky, Schilt and Dekkers, who again went after the crown of Hoost and so it goes on.

When you're in the middle of it, according to Rijker, you don't think about it that much because you're only focused on the one you want to 'catch', and then you are the king or queen. Once you have the title you will be in anxiety all day because everyone is training to knock you off your throne again. Rijker: “It can really be a brutal and unavoidable thing.”

How ruthless success can be became clear to Rijker when the American boxer Floyd Mayweather was recently inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame after a glittering career in which he never lost. Once Mayweather got on stage and started his speech, he couldn't stop crying for the first 3 minutes. The discharge was clear. Here was someone who suddenly remembered where he came from and why he ever fell in love with the sport. Regardless of his entourage and fans, who all have different interests in ensuring Mayweather continues boxing for as long as possible.

"between boxers, it's another day at the office, sometimes you win sometimes you lose."

Rijker: “He was suddenly at home and could vent in the company of his buddies. In the gym, between boxers, it's another day at the office, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But to the fans, you're a kind of demigod with whom you have to live up to very high expectations all the time, which may not even be yours anymore!"

“In addition, as a fighter, and certainly as a boxer, you also run the risk of (minor to severe) brain damage. What will continue to bother you after the end of your career, that is something that outsiders will never experience. What I'm saying here is that we have to recognize that it's important that we don't go on too long. That we don't get addicted to the fame and the money and stay in that mindset that you can't be knocked off the throne."

Rijker started in the sport when she was fourteen. During her career she initially didn't consciously considered possible brain damage. “Ignorance is part of being young. Even if everyone around you by way of speaking falls over, but you have such a deep hunger for something. Thinks if you get a bite out of that, it's going to feed you. Then you do whatever it takes to get it. My body was my God, everything I asked for I got done. I was a machine and my life was combat. When I look back on my career, there have also been things that I now think it's incredible that I wasn't concerned with the possible consequences for my body. At the same time, I also think that if I hadn't done certain things or hadn't been hungry, would I have become the best?”

Yet you also wonder how far a boxer can ultimately go to achieve the world title. Although Rijker has come out of her career relatively unscathed, she has had some traumatic experiences over the years that she now thinks, was it all worth it?

"That someone indirectly through me may have to endure the rest of life as an invalid. That touches me… right in the middle of my soul."

“I had a picture on my wall of a fighter who had died after being hit in the ring. I also trained with guys who had beaten someone else to death in a match. That opponent had collapsed and then died. I also held someone in my arms who was knocked out by my fighter, moaned in pain. No one actually realized there was something wrong with her. She ended up in a coma for two days and was left with a scar that ran the length of her skull from the operation. She was a single mother with one child. You can't just shrug off something like that, I really felt it in my soul. At such a moment you wonder how it is possible, if I give my all for my fighter and want him or her to win, because this is the result. That someone indirectly through me may have to spend the rest of their life as an invalid. That touches me… right in the middle of my soul.”

With the knowledge and wisdom that the Lucia of today has, has a message for her fourteen year old self. “You're good enough as you are, and you're lovable. From that sentiment, train your ass off. As a talented athlete, your only duty is to reach your full potential. Everything else around it is a puppet show and you can close yourself off from that.”

After a career that speaks for itself, Rijker has been admitted, like Floyd Mayweather back in June this year, to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2020. She has a lot to look back on. “I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to make a valuable contribution to expanding the popularity of women's boxing. A martial arts as a sport that can easily be practiced by girls, and that women's boxing has been admitted to the Olympics."

“When I first attended an Olympics in 2012, I heard 17,000 people shouting for a boxing match between two women. At that moment I felt like a kind of grandmother who left the store well for the next generation to take the sport to the next level. When I saw young fans walking around with t-shirts depicting the female boxers, I felt like I had done my job.”

“In my time I was seen as a freakin' freak and had to suffer to get recognition. A very spartan existence where it was all or nothing in terms of your career. Of course I was able to experience all the success that there was to experience. To now see that kickboxing is also seen as a therapeutic sport and is supported by a much wider audience is fantastic, because I still have such a warm heart for the sport. That is why I think it is so wonderful to be able to experience the enthusiasm for the sport myself.”


Lucia Frederica Rijker is a Dutch professional boxer, kickboxer, and actress. She is the most successful professional with 17 out of 17 wins in her boxing career, and 35 out of 36 in kickboxing. She drew once, never lost. Rijker was sometimes dubbed by the press "The Most Dangerous Woman in the World", "Queen of Lightning," "Lady Ali," and "The Dutch Destroyer."

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