Rico Verhoeven praises Tom Aspinall as ideal training partner who always wants to learn: ‘He’s like a sponge’

Rico Verhoeven knows elite striking.

As the reigning GLORY heavyweight champion, with an undefeated run that dates back nearly a decade, Verhoeven has established himself as one of the greatest kickboxers in history. While kickboxing has always remained his primary focus, he never passes up on the chance to work with fighters from other sports like boxing or MMA, which includes regular sparring sessions with current UFC interim heavyweight title holder Tom Aspinall.

Aspinall has proven himself to be one of the most well-rounded fighters in the heavyweight division, but his improved striking has caught more than a few opponents off guard, including Sergei Pavlovich, who he defeated to win the interim title this past November. Verhoeven says he’s been working with Aspinall for several years and he’s always been impressed by the evolution in Aspinall’s striking arsenal.

“It’s amazing,” Verhoeven told MMA Fighting. “I’ve been working with Tom for a few years now. We’ve really been putting in work and it’s just fun, because Tom is an amazing guy and he’s so dedicated. It’s fun while training, even though we’re sparring and doing this, doing that, but it’s fun. It’s just two motivated guys that are doing what they love to do.”

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Of course, the rules for striking in kickboxing compared to those in MMA are vastly different. From the size of the gloves to certain weapons in MMA like elbows that aren’t available to kickboxers, Verhoeven and Aspinall really do come from two different worlds.

That being said, the 34-year-old Dutchman says it’s those differences that actually make Aspinall an ideal training partner, because he deals with situations and scenarios that force him to think outside the box. Verhoeven also praises Aspinall for always wanting to learn and then taking those lessons to heart when incorporating new tricks for his MMA fights.

“The growth that Tom has been going through over the last few years is amazing,” Verhoeven said. “I see so many similarities between us because we’re never in a comfortable position. Like, ‘Oh, now we’ve made it! We’ve been here and this is it!’ No, we just keep working, keep trying to get better.

“He’s like a sponge. He’s trying to get as much information out of me as he can. He just keeps getting better. We send him home with stuff he can work on. He comes back and [he says,] ‘I’ve been working on this, I’ve been working on that.’ He just keeps getting better. That’s what I try to give him.”

Because Aspinall comes at him with an approach not typically seen in the kickboxing ring, Verhoeven promises he learns something new during every training session as well.

“What he brings to me is a different level and a different approach to standup fighting,” Verhoeven explained. “He’s an MMA fighter, so the whole standup game is different. I understand for a lot of people and a lot of outsiders look at it like it’s fighting, so it’s all the same. Well, it’s not. It’s a huge difference.

“For me, I like to train with Tom because he attacks me in a different, unorthodox, non-kickboxing way that keeps me on point as well.”

Verhoeven routinely works with Aspinall for his own upcoming fights, including the first-ever GLORY heavyweight grand prix that takes place on Saturday in the Netherlands.

The one-night, eight-man tournament is unlike anything GLORY has done before, but takes a page out of history from promotions like K-1 that ran grands prix like this years ago.

Those epic tournaments helped build some of the most legendary names in kickboxing history, and Verhoeven hopes to etch his name alongside them on Saturday — even if he admits that there are some nerves about competing in this kind of format.

The winner ultimately has to endure three fights in one night, so Verhoeven understands that injuries and other issues could potentially arise that might impede his path to the finals. It’s a risk he’s willing to take for the chance to add a grand prix title to his résumé.

“A lot of emotions going through my body,” Verhoeven said. “It feels like we’re going back in time. I’m excited, I’m nervous. I’m putting everything on the line for this tournament, so it has me going again.

“[It’s] not always the case that the two best guys end up in the finals. It’s a little bit of a lottery, but in the end, I like it. It’s fun. It’s good for the fans. Everybody’s excited. We’ve got a big arena and people are crazy excited about it. So let’s jump in and make history.”