This week the MMA media heralded the retirement of one of the most interesting characters in the complex tapestry that is the history of martial arts. Dutch Muay-Thai specialist Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel steps away from the sport with an official record of 38-16-1(1 NC) and a staggering 32 wins by way of knockout. If you’ve ever watched Yvel fight, the surprising thing isn’t that he has won 32 fights by knockout, but rather that he has recorded 6 submissions. To call Yvel a striking specialist would be a gross understatement, but that is a big part of what has made this extremely passionate fighter a fan favorite for many years; Gilbert Yvel will never be in a boring fight, not if he has his way at least.
The Brazilians have gained a reputation in recent years for being particularly raucous crowds, but new fans are not aware of the wild atmosphere in the Netherlands, where the Dutch people have been known in the past for having some of the most bloodthirsty crowds in the history of both MMA and kickboxing. In 1997, when a young Gilbert Yvel made his MMA debut in match for Rings Holland, he became an instant favorite among these fans longing for intense action. That night Yvel put a devastating Thai boxing clinic on Judo specialist Rob van Leeuwen, punishing him with kicks to the body, knees to the liver and head, and open hand palm strikes to the head (as punches were illegal under Rings rules) until the corner mercifully threw in the towel. Yvel would win his first 9 fights, all by way of knockout with the exception of fellow dutch bad boy “Dirty” Bob Schrijber before suffering his first professional loss in a rematch with Schrijber. Schrijber is probably best remembered for executing one of the most flagrently illegal techniques of all time, when he threw an axe kick to the head of a grounded opponent after the bell, all while holding on to the ropes resulting in a DQ loss to Daijiro Matsui in Pride; but in the first fight after losing to Bob Yvel would commit the first of his own famous fouls when a match with Karimula Barkalaev resulted in Yvel being disqualified for biting his opponent.
In the Rings of Kings
After securing a reputation as a devastating knockout artist with a penchant for occasional in ring shenanigans, Yvel made the transition from regional shows in Holland to the infamous Rings organization in Japan. At this time in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Rings was home to many of the greatest fighters in the sport including Dan Henderson, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko. It was during this time that Yvel did some of his best work and established himself among the elite heavyweights of the sports with KO wins over TK Kohsaka(2x), Kiyoshi Tamura and Valentijn Overeem. It was also during this time that he stopped Semmy Schilt, who would win the prestigious title of King of Pancrase within six months of his loss to Yvel, and would go on to become four-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion and come to be known as perhaps the greatest kickboxer of all time.
Career in Pride
Yvel is perhaps best remembered for his time in Pride, which is odd when you consider his relatively low level of success in the organization. Yvel entered the Pride Fighting Championships as an extremely hot prospect and was immediately thrust against an extremely high level of competition. Yvel would suffer grinding decision losses to Vitor Belfort, Kazyuki Fujita, and Jeremy Horn inside the Pride ring, but it was also the home of perhaps his highest moment of glory. On August 27th, in front of 35,000 fans in attendance to see one of Pride’s greatest events, Yvel provided an electrifying knockout when he slammed his foot into the head of Canadian Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge. During this period of his career Yvel would also flesh out his reputation for less-than-legal antics, famously eye-gouging Don Frye on multiple occasions. It was shortly after, however, that Gilbert secured the crown jewel of his 3 disqualifications when he not only knocked down a referee with a viscous hook during a dispute over a clinch position in Holland, but then proceeded to kick the referee after he was on the ground.
Yvel would continue fighting and finish his career going 7-4 after his final fight in Pride. Gilbert finally came to the Ultimate Fighting Championships following a brutal first round KO over a man many regard as one of the finest strikers in the heavyweight divisions history, Pedro “The Rock” Rizzo. Yvel would go 0-3 during his only career UFC run, which sadly came many years after his prime had already passed. During this run he lost a competitive but unanimous decision to Ben Rothwell and lost in exciting one round affair with future champion Junior Dos Santos before suffering the only real bad loss of his career when he was stopped by Jon Madsen. Yvel was unhappy with his conditioning and rededicated himself after being cut by the organization, and finished out his career with two fights at 205 pounds in the RFA. The first saw Yvel stop young fighter Damian Dantibo in the first round, and the second saw him provide a classic Yvel knockout when a left hook-right hand combination severed the consciousness of feared striker Houston Alexander from reality. Yvel was in perhaps the best shape of his career in his final two fights, which made it somewhat surprising when he hung up the gloves this week.
A Legacy of Excitement and Intensity
Although Gilbert’s career may lack a definitive defining feature such as a big world title or other such defining achievment, Yvel still has his place in the history books. He came up as one of the most exciting fighters, established himself as one of the finest strikers the sport has ever known, and provided us with some of the most violent and memorable knockouts of all time. He may have had some rather obvious holes in his game, but Yvel was extremely talented in one facet of mixed martial arts and few men can say that they stood toe-to-toe with the Hurricane and emerged with all their brain cells intact. Yvel may have developed a reputation during his career as a malicious bad boy, but in his final years he was able to shed that reputation effectively and go out with two brutal knockouts and in the best shape of his career. Let us not remember Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel as a dirty fighter, as to do so would ignore the complete package of this piece of the MMA history puzzle. Rather let us remember him as one of the most fiery and passionate competitors the sport has ever known, who brought great excitement with every victory of his entire career.
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