Kickboxing's biggest star, the controversial and talented Badr Hari, has announced that he's leaving kickboxing for boxing. Badr Hari, a 26-year-old Dutchman of Moroccan descent, is a former K-1 heavyweight champion and has easily been the most charismatic figure in the sport for the past five years.
Coming on the heels of 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeem's decision to abandon the sport for an exclusive contract with the UFC, this is a major blow to the sport. Or rather, it is a response to a series of serious blows to the sport.
You just can't make big money as a kickboxer in 2011. Overeem has publicly stated that he still hasn't been paid for winning the K-1 tournament last year.
Kickboxing, never a mainstream sport in the U.S., has long relied on Japan and Europe, especially the Netherlands, for its fans. Unfortunately combat sports in Japan have taken a nose-dive in the past five years. While kickboxing itself hasn't been implicated in the corruption scandals that drove MMA off of Japanese television and wrecked the reputation of Sumo, all of combat sports has suffered in Japan.
In Europe, where multiple major kickboxing figures have been linked to organized crime and big-time drug dealing, it's almost as bad. Badr Hari's rival Hesdy Gerges was arrested earlier this year and accused of being involved in a 280lb cocaine deal. Jan Plas, one of the fathers of kickboxing in Holland, died in jail in 2010 after being linked to organized crime and drug dealing at the highest levels.
Badr Hari's own antics haven't helped the sport's reputation any either. He's been named in a number of assault cases, most involving brawls in nightclubs. The end result of all the bad publicity has been the de facto exile of kickboxing from Amsterdam, the long-time world capital of the sport.
With no major paydays coming from Japan and the prospect of big paydays in Europe greatly diminished, Badr Hari is making a perfectly logical decision. While he's facing long-odds against making it as a boxer in the U.S., at least he's got a fighting chance of carving out a career, something no kickboxer has today it seems.
Badr Hari's announcement, like Alistair Overeem's before him, is less a case of an athlete moving from one sport to another for personal reasons than it is a case of a passenger leaping off a sinking ship.