The odds were stacked against Reinier “The Dutch Knight” De Ridder in 2020, but he overcame them all to produce one of the most electric campaigns in ONE Championship.
When all was said and done, the 30-year-old had maintained his perfect record and added two more wins – one of which came in the biggest fight of the year.
That fight was the main event of ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX in October, where De Ridder challenged two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang for his middleweight belt.
Despite his opponent’s history of dominance in the Circle, “The Dutch Knight” shocked the world with a flawless performance to snatch the biggest prize in mixed martial arts.
It was an incredible turn of events after it looked like De Ridder might have missed his chance earlier in the year.
De Ridder began his 2020 season in February with a unanimous decision win over Leandro “Wolf” Ataides at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE.
That performance made “The Dutch Knight” the #1 contender for the ONE Middleweight World Championship, but the three-round battle against the dangerous Brazilian took its toll and forced him to turn down a date with Aung La N Sang in April.
“It was a minor shoulder injury, but it was very short notice after a very tough fight for me, mentally as well,” De Ridder says.
“It was my first fight going to a decision, so I needed some time to contemplate and reset everything. They asked me to be back in seven weeks, so it was just too short of a time.”
Vitaly Bigdash filled the void, but then the worldwide spread of COVID-19 forced ONE to postpone its events for a few months.
Ultimately, it was a blessing in disguise for De Ridder.
When the world’s largest martial arts organization put the wheels in motion for its grand return, the Dutchman got the opportunity he believed he deserved.
“I made my case in the three fights before and my entire career,” he says.
“I always thought I deserved it more than Bigdash or anyone else in the division, so I was pretty sure I was going to get the call.
“I made sure to voice that as well on my social media, and then finally I got the call just after my boy was born. He was a week old when I got the call that I’d be fighting in eight weeks.”
The De Ridder family’s new arrival had an effect on “The Dutch Knight’s” preparations for the ONE Middleweight World Title bout with Aung La N Sang in October, but he found a balance between his personal and professional life.
By the time he arrived in Singapore and had a few good nights of rest in the hotel, he was ready for the biggest match of his career.
“I didn’t really have a lot of sleep, so it was an interesting time. But we made the most of it,” he says with a laugh.
“I put everything else aside – I didn’t teach any classes, took a step back from my other work, and went all-in on focusing on every part of the game – mentally, physically, and technically.”
Things could not have gone much better when the Breda native entered the Circle.
Aung La N Sang came out aggressively, but De Ridder got him onto the mat quickly. From that moment on, the Dutchman was in control.
The defending middleweight king could not find a counter to the challenger’s grappling, and he was forced to tap out to a rear-naked choke at 3:26 of round one.
“It was all according to plan – exactly how I’d envisioned it, exactly what I’d been training for my entire life,” De Ridder explains.
“I was entirely in control from the moment I grabbed him. From the moment I had the body lock on him, standing, I knew it was mine.
“I knew I had it in the end, but before that, he was defending very well. I knew he was not going anywhere, but he defended very well. He placed his body in the right spot. He scooted down a little bit, so when our backs were against the cage, there was no option to finish him there.
“The positioning wasn’t perfect, so that’s when I let go of the left hook to give him some space to move, let him have the thought he was going to escape. He took the bait, and I could adjust to take the right position. From then on, I was in the right position to finish.”
In addition to claiming the ONE Middleweight World Championship, De Ridder was also recently named the “Top MMA Fighter Of 2020.”
Now that “The Dutch Knight” has the belt, he has a target on his back, but that does not faze him.
Since his victory at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX, De Ridder has continued to train and he promises to be ready to defend his middleweight gold whenever he gets the call.
However, if he could have his wish, the Breda resident would like to compete in front of a big crowd again.
If he has to wait for that, he believes that would allow a clear contender to emerge, because the leading contenders are both coming off a loss to him.
“I was saying for the entire week before the fight, I would never escape fighting [Aung La N Sang] twice in a row,” De Ridder explains.
“But to be honest, the way this went down, it wasn’t really even a fight. To me, it doesn’t seem like the logical step to fight him straight away again. What I would suggest is for him to fight Ataides now. Make that happen soon, and I’ll fight the winner.
“[Beating Aung La N Sang again] is not a real goal or challenge for me right now. Maybe I could finish him sooner? In two minutes? How could I improve on this?”
However, De Ridder is more open to the idea of a rematch with “The Burmese Python” when he considers the opportunity to challenge for the ONE Light Heavyweight World Title, which the Myanmar hero still owns.
“That would entice me a little bit,” he says with a laugh. “Yeah, why not?”
De Ridder is ready for any challenge. His main goal is to be active and compete three times in 2021.
Although he has his hands full with his children and the expansion of his gym, he has no doubt he will stay on the middleweight throne.
The Dutchman would like to show a little more of his striking skills, but if that’s not an option, he believes his grappling is levels above any of his rivals.
Plus, as the undisputed, undefeated ONE Middleweight World Champion, he is not concerned with calling anyone out. His only goal in the Circle is to defend his belt and build a legacy that his growing family can look back on with pride.
“I’m in an amazing position in life – not only my personal life, but professionally as well,” he says.