Italy and Great Britain produced a long list of boxers who won the world title and defended it abroad. Some of them were good enough to become champions in the United States where they are still remembered. France, Germany and Denmark never had many top fighters, but the best of them were very good. A few of them became legendary. Just think about Marcel Cerdan and Max Schmeling. The European country with very little tradition in boxing is Holland. Can you name a Dutch champion? Probably not.

At Gleason’s Gym, they remember Don Diego Poeder because he was trained by Hector Roca when he won the WBU cruiserweight title with a TKO 10 over Terry Ray on June 15, 1997 at Foxwoods. But, does the general public know anything about Poeder? Just for the record, he was active from 1994 to 1999. He came back in 2004 and has fought five times since then, losing his last two bouts. His record is 24 wins (18 KOs) and 4 losses.

In the most recent European Boxing Union rankings, you won’t find a Dutchman in the top-10 of any division. There are only two guys who could make it, but won’t for different reasons. Richel Hersisia is number 16 among heavyweights, and the EBU ranks 21 guys in that division. Hersisia looked good at the beginning of his career, winning his share of minor titles, but he was KOed in four rounds by Audley Harrison (on March 20, 2004 in London) and that says it all. Today, his record stands at 27-1 with 21 KOs.

Raymond Joval cannot be included in EBU rankings because he is the IBO middleweight champion. If he relinquished the IBO belt, Joval would be ranked number 1 or 2 and get a shot at European champion Amin Asikainen, because Lorenzo Di Giacomo is ranked number 3 and he is not better than Joval. In 11 years as a professional, Joval built a record of 35 wins (16 KOs) and 4 losses. On December 23, 1995 he won the Benelux middleweight title (Benelux stands for Belgium, Nederland and Luxembourg) and started building his way up in the rankings.

His first big win happened on June 26, 1999 in Italy: he defeated Agostino Cardamone (TKO 9) for the WBU middleweight title. That was a very important triumph because Cardamone was one of the best European fighters of his era. He defeated Silvio Branco three times: twice on points (after 12 rounds) and once by KO 10. Cardamone closed his career with 33 wins (15 KOs) and 3 losses. He won the Italian and European belts, challenged WBC champion Julian Jackson (losing by TKO 2), then won the European title again and took the WBU crown from Silvio Branco. After losing to Joval, Cardamone hung up the gloves.

Raymond Joval lost the WBU belt against Antonio Perugino. The latter was another excellent middleweight who became Italian, WBC international and WBU champion. After his win on points against mediocre Orlando Acuna, Perugino lapsed into a coma, then recovered and called it quits. His final record stands at 23-0, with 8 KOs. After losing to Perugino, Raymond Joval went back to the right track defeating decent South African Mpush Makambi for the IBO belt. Joval defended it four times. He was stripped of the belt after losing a non-title affair to Sam Soliman on July 18, 2004. Joval became IBO champion for the second time on June 3, 2005 with a UD over mediocre Lansana Diallo, but gained credibility in his first defense with a TKO 10 over Shannon Taylor (whose record was 42-3-2) in Australia.

In my opinion, Raymond Joval would gain even more credibility if he won the European title. There are many alphabet organizations that sanction world title fights, but only one rules boxing in Europe. Becoming EBU champion really means being the best in the continent. Besides, if he wins the EBU belt, he will help the popularity of boxing in his own country.

Today, fighting sports in Holland are synonymous with Muay Thai and K-1 Grand Prix. That’s the real issue: Holland has produced a long list of champions in the other fighting sports. Many of them were so good that they dominated the European scene and even made it in the Orient. Ramon Dekkers accomplished what most people considered an impossible task: he became a superstar in Thailand. Born on September 4, 1969 in Breda (Holland), Ramon KOed the most dangerous Muay Thai artists at Lumpinee Stadium (which is Bangkok’s version of Madison Square Garden).

If you write on Google “Ramon Dekkers Video,” a list of videos of his most exciting fights will appear. I suggest you to look at the one produced by Pharanq – the title is “Ramon Dekkers Muay Thai Highlights” – which lasts 5 minutes and 34 seconds and will allow you to see some terrifying KOs. My favorite is the one against famed Coban: Dekkers punches him around the ring, closes him in a corner, then delivers a terrific combination of right and left hooks to the head. Coban goes down, but Dekkers doesn’t let him reach the floor, he grabs the Thai and delivers a knee to the face. The referee counts over Coban, before he gets up. Dekkers hits him with a left hook to the jaw; while Coban is going down Ramon delivers a right hook to the face causing Coban to fall in the opposite direction. This time, Coban is down for good. With such outstanding talent as Ramon Dekkers making it big in Muay Thai it is obvious that the youngsters dreamed of being like him, rather than dreaming of being boxer who could just win minor titles.

As a matter of fact, boxing only draws small crowds in Holland. On the other hand, 17,500 people were in attendance at Amsterdam Arena last May 13 for the World Max (the K-1 for middleweights) which included Ramon Dekkers vs. Joeri Mes. After three 3-minute rounds under K-1 rules (punches, kicks and knees), the young lion defeated the 37-year-old legend on points. It should have been Ramon’s last fight, but you never know with such a great champion. Given Ramon’s popularity in Thailand, where he gets mobbed on the street like a boxing champion in the United States, he could receive an offer for a new fight. After all, Dekkers became a legend because he always fought everybody, everywhere, anytime. That’s why he was the first Westerner voted Fighter of the Year by the Thais.

When Ramon Dekkers came to Italy for two days to teach in seminars, I went to the Adriatic Sea to meet him. The first day there were so many people attending the seminar that interviewing The Diamond (that’s the nickname given to him by the Thais) was impossible. The second day, I got to talk to him. You can read what he told me about Muay Thai in the interview published by TSS last July 3. Now, read what he said about boxing in Holland:

“My first martial art was judo, which I practiced for a few months. My first ring sport was boxin,g which I did for one year and half. One day, I went to a Muay Thai gym and fell in love with it. The owner of the gym was Cor Hemmers who became my first and only trainer. He always believed in looking at every fighting art to learn new things and that’s why I never left boxing. I kept on improving my hooks and combinations, something that many Thai warriors didn’t. It has to be noticed that Thai judges consider more important Muay Thai techniques like elbows, knees than punches. Thai fighters know this and don’t train properly to throw punches and defend from them. That’s why I scored many KOs with my hooks. Coban was the greatest star of Lumpinee Stadium and I KOed him in a minute. My hooks were so fast and effective that he just couldn’t understand where they were coming from. Today, I opened my own gym in Breda and I teach boxing to all my students. Even if they ask me to show them how to throw those spectacular jumping kicks, I tell them to learn boxing first because it’s much easier scoring a KO with a good hook to the chin than any other way. ”

The way Ramon KOed Coban reminded me of Mike Tyson at his best. The one who pushed Larry Holmes to the ropes, hit him with a wonderful combination and finished him with a terrible hook to the jaw. Let’s get one thing straight: I think that Larry Holmes in his prime would have KOed Tyson because Iron Mike could never absorb any punishment and Larry had the power to hurt him badly. Not surprisingly, Mike Tyson is quite popular in Holland where he met Ramon Dekkers. In fact, Ramon put his photo with Iron Mike on his business card writing Legends of the ring.