Reinier “The Dutch Knight” De Ridder has broken through ONE Championship’s middleweight division like a demolition man taking a sledgehammer to a brick wall.
Now, the Dutchman will attempt to swing steel at two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang and capture the latter’s ONE Middleweight World Title at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX in the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Friday, 30 October.
De Ridder will enter the clash with a perfect 12-0 slate, a stellar 93 percent finishing rate, and a track record of shattering almost every opponent who’s stood across from him.
Martial arts fans may be familiar with the Dutchman inside the Circle, but there were many moments outside of competition that shaped the undefeated World Title challenger.
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De Ridder was an only child to his taxi driver father and civil servant mother, and the early portion of his youth in the Netherlands brings back positive memories.
“I’m a Dutch-made man,” the 30-year-old says proudly.
“I had a really nice childhood. I grew up in a small place just outside Tilburg and, like a lot of Dutch cities, there were a lot of good possibilities.”
De Ridder was a strong student academically, but he did not enjoy learning in the classroom setting. That led to a lack of discipline in school, but he was able to channel a more focused energy into athletics.
“In sport, I always did very well. I was always very athletic,” he says. “I did judo from a young age, and I was always playing football on the fields outside.
“I found out that my true talent is in my motor-learning skills – if someone shows me a move, I can copy it, internalize it, and use it very quickly.”
A Martial Arts Reality Check
While De Ridder started practicing judo at the age of 5, he didn’t fully excel in martial arts until finding his true combat sports passion.
“I didn’t have a rough childhood and I never had to defend myself on the streets,” he says. “It was just a good sport to do. It was a hobby, a good way to train, and something I always really enjoyed.
“It never got really far. I won some regional titles in judo, but nothing major. Everything just started to click with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts later in life.”
While BJJ would ultimately carry him to great heights, the Dutchman’s first encounter with the discipline as a 19-year-old did not impress him.
De Ridder then tried his hand at some other sporting endeavors, but when a colleague urged him to give “the gentle art” another try, he obliged. Evidently, it turned out to be a life-changing experience.
“I moved to Breda for university and I was looking for another judo club to train at. I couldn’t really find one, but I heard about a sport called BJJ and I thought I’d give it a try,” he says.
“I wasn’t really charmed by it at first. I stepped on the mat and handled all the guys, and the teacher didn’t want to roll with me as he saw I was giving the others trouble.
“I thought, ‘This is not for me, it is too easy.’ I wanted to look for something else, so I did some rugby and I was looking for another judo club. But then during an internship, a guy I worked with told me about another gym to train at.
“I went there for the first time, and it was amazing. I was rolling with the smaller guys, and everybody was tapping me. I definitely went home with a smaller ego, but with a new goal in life.”
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Going It Alone
Though his early childhood was content, a 14-year-old De Ridder experienced a major upheaval when his parents divorced.
Both his mother and father did their best to share their parenting duties, but this meant instability at a precarious time for the teenager.
“I stayed with both of them two weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for me,” he says.
“It just drove me crazy. Moving all my stuff all the time wasn’t nice. There was no consistency. I needed some stability, and it wasn’t really there.”
When De Ridder had the opportunity to move to the bigger city of Breda to continue his studies, he took it and began to pave his own way.
“I just wanted to take care of myself. I left home at 18, and it was very good for me,” he says.
“It gave me a chance to discover myself, and to train as much as I wanted. I’m very much independent anyway, so moving out on my own helped me a lot.”
Independence Pays Off
De Ridder flourished in Breda and has remained in the city where he forged his own path as an athlete, gym owner, and physical therapist. Meanwhile, he made his professional mixed martial arts debut in 2013 and never looked back.
“Man, those first few fights were crazy,” he says.
“I was terribly nervous before the first fight, but when the ref said go, something switched. I turned on. I forgot about all the striking, and I just ran towards the guy, grabbed him, and choked him out.
“It was the biggest rush I’ve ever felt. To be in there and to let your skills go was crazy.”
As time wore on, the Combat Brothers representative’s competition experience in judo and BJJ helped him take control of his emotions.
His confidence also grew as he continued to rack up victories on the road against tough, hometown opponents. Along the way, he became a two-time European Mixed Martial Arts Champion.
A final victory in South Africa gave “The Dutch Knight” a 9-0 record with a 100 percent finishing rate, leading him to The Home Of Martial Arts.
A Stellar Career In ONE Championship
“The Dutch Knight” proved that he had the striking skills to complement his submission game when he stopped the Brazilian in the second round with knees.
Then in his most recent outing this past February, De Ridder went the distance with Leandro “Wolf” Ataides at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE, scooping up the unanimous decision and booking his ticket to challenge Aung La N Sang for the ONE Middleweight World Title.
While De Ridder plans to take “The Burmese Python” down and choke him out, the showdown against the reigning divisional king will no doubt be the toughest challenge of his career.
And if he overcomes the man standing across from him – especially with another finish – the Dutchman might just be on his way to establishing himself as the most dominant middleweight in ONE Championship history.