Ibrahim “Mr. Cool” El Bouni is skilled, entertaining, and prepared to show the world he is ready to become a ONE Super Series World Champion on Saturday, 7 July.
The Moroccan will make his ONE Championship debut at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER against Australia’s Andre “The Giant” Meunier in a 105-kilogram kickboxing bout inside the Guangzhou Tianhe Gymnasium in China.
He may just be 25, but he already has a 36-6-1 professional record, and picked up the A1WCC Kickboxing World Championship after defeating three opponents in one night. He also had an impressive run of stoppages, which confirmed his reputation as a dangerous opponent for any heavyweight.
“I won 10 bouts in a row, all by knockout in the first round,” he says. “I am proud of that.”
“When I step into the ring, do not look at your phone or anything. You have to focus on me, or you will miss something. I will give the ONE Championship fans something special.”
Entertainment has been at the forefront or “Mr. Cool’s” mind since an early age.
Born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, he was a popular kid, but perhaps not the most focused student in school.
“My childhood was very relaxed,” says El Bouni.
“I was a kid who was always playing and joking. I was outside the house most of the time – always out late.
“I did not do well in the lessons. I did not want to learn that stuff, and did not take it seriously. I just liked to joke and play, and this got me into some trouble.”
Growing up with two rambunctious brothers, martial arts were an appealing alternative to academia.
At the age of 11, El Bouni’s older brother, Abdel Hadi, took him to join Gym Haarlem, so he could have an outlet for his excess energy.
The facility’s trainer was a neighbour who had already trained one member of the family. He recognised kickboxing would be an ideal pursuit for young Ibrahim, too.
“My brother suggested I go along, and since then, it has been training, training, training,” he says.
“I saw it like a PlayStation game. I did not take it seriously. I thought: ‘If you spar with me, I am going to play and joke with you. I will make you dizzy.’ That is what I liked.”
In order to become a success, however, El Bouni had to learn a hard lesson.
Abdel Hadi did not think his younger brother was taking his training seriously enough, so he banned him from the gym. If he wanted to make a living from martial arts, he needed to learn the value of the discipline he was training.
“I was always training at the gym, but also playing,” he recalls. “I was playing too much and making jokes in the gym lessons. My brother made me take a one-year break because of that.
“I missed the first month, and then asked him again. He would say, ‘Monday, we can go,’ but every week he said that, and it took a year before he finally let me go back.”
When he was allowed to go back to Gym Haarlem “Mr. Cool” knew he could not afford to lose that kind of time again. Determined not to miss out on any more opportunities, he restarted his training with renewed focus.
He would also get further encouragement to take his training seriously when his elder brother suffered a serious knee injury, which meant he would never be able to compete.
It had been Abdel Hadi’s dream to compete for a living, and now it was up to his little brother to chase his goals in his stead.
“My brother told me to go do it, because he could not. He was the better one, but I got the experience. He got injured before he got the chance, so I do it for him and my family,” El Bouni explains.
“My trainer got me my first match in 2010. I was 17 or 18. He said I was not ready, but he wanted to see what I could do.
“That motivated me. I had the first one, and it was a draw. After that, I knew I wanted kickboxing to be my career. I kept training, and kept winning.”
Ever since returning to the gym and doing everything his coach asked of him, El Bouni has reaped the rewards.
He channelled his personality into a unique style and earned fans around the world. He is a creative, hugely entertaining kickboxer with a big bag of tricks to draw techniques from.
He was a dominant force in his amateur career, and after turning professional at 20 years old, he has had great success for such a young man in the dangerous waters of the heavyweight division.
Slaying “The Giant” in style in Guangzhou would his greatest triumph yet, and put him on the path towards his the biggest prize in martial arts.