Levi Rigters, 26 years, kickboxing heavyweight, aspiring world champion and since recently the proud father of twins. Rigters' last fight was scheduled to take place on March 19 during Glory 80. He was supposed to headline the event against Belgian Jamal Ben Saddik, the Belgian who got very close to beating world champion Rico Verhoeven last year. The latter eventually had the edge and successfully defended his title.
Rigters and Saddik were due to appear on Glory 80 after the fight between Badr Hari and Arek Wrsoszek, when a part of the audience decided otherwise. It was mainly the supporters (or probably just hooligans) of the Polish fighter who during the fight, all bare-chested and perhaps also under the influence, decided to brutally interrupt the fight and go after Hari's supporters. Fortunately, a real disaster could be prevented, but it was obvious the organisation had lost confidence in being able to continue the show. Rigters and Saddik's fight was postponed until further notice.
Even though it was tough to accept, the unexpected early end to the evening may not have been entirely inconvenient for Rigters. His girlfriend, heavily pregnant at the time, went to the hospital together with Rigters immediately after leaving the stadium. Three days later, healthy twins were born. It must have been a rollercoaster of emotions for the fighter and his girlfriend. Now, for the first time in an interview with Warrior Code, Rigters recounts some of the emotions of that evening:
“It’s obvious that it could have been one of the biggest nights of my career. I was all ready, my hands were taped up, I had my gloves on and I got the heads up that we would be doing our ring walk in just a few minutes. We had a TV up on the wall in the locker room where we could watch Badr's fight. All of a sudden, we could see that things were starting to get a bit noisy. Then, people all started running and suddenly chairs were flying through the hall. At first you think this is fine, it will continue, but then you speak with the organisation. Their first proposed plan was to have the match take place without an audience that very same evening. However, they eventually decided the situation was too precarious and they rescheduled the game as such.”
Was there much discussion afterwards within the kickboxing world, between fighters, about what went down that very evening?
"Hell yes. Of course we all know that these sorts of things used to happen more often at the notorious boxing galas. However, there was a genuine feeling that kickboxing was losing this decade old stigma.. It is such a shame that something like this still happens and, in the public's perception, it actually puts the sport 1-0 behind when you think about all the negative publicity that came with this."
You had obviously hoped to push aside Saddik and line yourself up for the title fight against the champion Verhoeven. That has now been put on hold.
“That's right, it would have been either Rico or the Croatian Plazibat because they were both above me. At the moment I have indicated that I will not be available for competitions because of the twins and that I would like to participate again from the end of the summer. I think I am fairly unthreatened in third place so I can afford this break for now and then rejoin.”
You're 26, it’s obvious that you have a lot on your plate. You want to challenge for the world championship belt before the end of this year and win the title. Do you already have an idea of how fatherhood can be combined with a professional kickboxing career?
“In fact, combining has not been possible since birth. There is of course so much that comes at you at the same time and the focus just has to be on the boys. That's no different, but I notice that this is gradually getting easier. Of course, the help we receive from family and friends cannot go unmentioned.”
Are you able to maintain some type of workout program these days?
“A month ago, I counted myself lucky if I was able to squeeze in two sessions a week. Now, that has thankfully increased to about 3-4 times. I hope to be in a position to get back into some sort of structured training routine over the next couple of weeks and resume my road to the belt accordingly."
Is becoming a professional kickboxer in the Netherlands a lucrative career path?
“To be honest, the fighting itself is tough. Only if you are the number 1 like Rico you will succeed. I've always taught a lot in the gym myself, so that's where I got a lot of my income from. And, there is no denying, you obviously depend a lot on sponsors."
Fortunately, I have a long-term partnership with Reebok in place who support me in everything related to clothing. In addition, you work with many other and smaller sponsors. It is actually very rare that you find a sponsor who actually stays with you throughout your career. In the past, I always had quite a lot of sponsors who wanted to work with me, but I now also have a manager who manages these commercial relationships for me.
Although Levi has been working with the very same trainer for over a decade - Jamal and for over 12 years - the wider team around it has been subject to change over the years. Partly because as a kickboxer it is crucial to get new input and to give impulses to the way you train, but also because people change teams or careers themselves. It comes with the necessary challenges but also benefits when you add new people to your team as a kickboxer."
We also recently read that you have become very involved with meditation and that it is really an essential part of your preparation. Is that something that more fighters already do or are you still the exception so far?
“I have recently hired a meditation but also a breathing coach to help me with this. It gives me peace of mind, the feeling that I am more in the 'now' and can focus more. Of course in the ring, but also at home. I noticed that I could be quite distracted and then really took this seriously in the run-up to my last fight last September. I immediately noticed a world of difference.”
There may be a certain vulnerability going out from the fact that you dare to speak openly about this. From our perspective, meditation classes and a breathing coach are not part of everyone's plan yet and may, for that matter, not be considered an essential part.
“True, but I also want to be careful about claiming that it can work for everyone. Each fighter makes his own individual decision. I noticed that it resonated with me and I benefited a lot from it, I would like to build on that. That's not to say that I don't think there are certain fighters who could benefit greatly from it. I could, so to speak, point out a few.”
The fact that as a young fighter you are very consciously involved with the mental aspect, is that also a sign that the sport is modernising?
"I think so. Of course there has always been a certain amount of attention for it, but I don't think it has ever been really appreciated. I hope to be able to contribute to that.”