He may be old for a fighter, and a little battered around the edges, but Peter Aerts is dearer to fight fans hearts than any bright young prospect or housewive’s favorite.
At 42 years of age, Aerts is nearly two decades older than ‘The Goliath’ Jamal Ben Saddik, and about twenty kilos lighter. “The time of the old men is past,” Ben Saddik asserted recently. “Give them to me and I will knock them out.”
Indeed, Ben Saddik was expected to take this win easily and add another marquee name to his resumé. He almost managed it too. Aerts took heavy fire in the first round and several blows left the Dutch Lumberjack lumbering and staggering.
An early cut over the right eye also caused concern to those on Team Aerts which, judging by the cheers, appeared to be most of the arena. The doctor looked at it several times and it was in a bad place, running into Aerts’ field of vision.
If it were any other fighter, the doctor’s mind may have been different. But Aerts has earned the right to be given some leeway and he made it into the second round, for what it was worth. The sold-out Ariake Coliseum and the millions watching around the world were sure the fight was going to end with a second-round KO.
And it did - but not the one everyone expected.
Bleeding, stunned and having already been near-KO’d, Aerts came out of his corner like a man possessed and started hammering away at Ben Saddik with everything he had.
Ben Saddik may be huge in stature but he is comparatively light in experience, while Aerts has faced everyone of note, including five fights with the even bigger Semmy Schilt. This level of ferocity was something new for him. Technique went out the window; this was a fight in the trenches.
A whirlwind of brawling. Suddenly a punch connected, and Ben Saddik went down. As he hit the canvas the arena jumped to its collective feet and counted along with the referee. Ben Saddik beat that count but incredibly he was soon back down again from a right hand, and again the crowd were counting along and clearly hoping for an Aerts win.
Ben Saddik beat the count a second time but the tide of the fight had clearly turned; Aerts was now the hunter. The towering Moroccan was tiring quickly and Aerts was still going at him relentlessly. Covering up on the ropes, Ben Saddik found an Aerts knee coming towards his face.
The next thing he saw was the canvas as he dropped heavily onto both knees.
Three knockdowns in one round means the end of the fight. The crowd knew it and Aerts knew it. It took a moment for it to sink in for Ben Saddik but he was already an afterthought. All attention was on the old warhorse Aerts, who at 42 is still writing his name into the history books. This time it is for one of the greatest comebacks of all time, in any fight sport.
“I knew this fight was going to be tough, I expected it to be one of my hardest fights. He hit me very hard in round one, two or three times, and I was in big trouble for a moment,” Aerts revealed afterwards.
“Actually he popped my ear. One punch he hit me with, it wasn’t a punch it was a slap, right on the ear and I don’t know, it kind of popped my eardrum or something. I couldn’t balance, I was staggering.
“But near the end of the first round I was starting to get my range and I knew I could win the fight in round two. I knew I could hurt him. I could hear it when I was hitting him. And I could hear him getting tired, so I just kept going. I knew I had to get him finished.”
And now the obvious questions are once again being asked of Aerts. After a long and storied career, is he finally going to call it a day and retire?
“Ah I don’t know,” he said with a huge smile, clearly having no intention at all to hang up his gloves. “We will see…”