Ibrahim “Mr. Cool” El Bouni (37-6-1) put on a phenomenal performance in his ONE Super Series debut in July, and now fans are eagerly awaiting his return in anticipation of more explosive action.
After Khbabez’s own thrilling debut, in which he finished Alain “The Panther” Ngalani with a third-round salvo, this is a match between two of the organization’s heaviest hitters, and El Bouni is excited by the prospect.
“Tarik fights with his heart. I like that, but it’s another level for him when he fights me,” he says.
“Mr. Cool” showed how dangerous he is when he dispatched four-time kickboxing world champion Andre “The Giant” Meunier in just 91 seconds at ONE: BATTLE FOR THE HEAVENS.
The Amsterdam resident anticipated a rush from the gargantuan Australian, and he lived up to his moniker by deftly slipping “The Giant’s” hard right hand, before returning fire with the finishing blows.
It could not have been a more perfect debut, and his confidence is high thanks to that night in Guangzhou, China.
“Meunier is a good fighter. He’s strong. He came with a big punch like I was expecting, but it was not a problem. I moved away and countered with my punches and kicks,” El Bouni recalls.
“The whole show was great, and I met a lot of good people and cool fans. They give me respect, and I give them respect, so I cannot wait to fight my second fight for ONE.”
He faces another colossal task in Yangon, only this time it is against an opponent he is more familiar with.
Both El Bouni and Khbabez are top-level kickboxers in their homeland, and the two share Moroccan heritage.
For these reasons, the pair is well acquainted, and the Gym Haarlem product had some hesitation about taking the bout – at first.
“I know Tarik. He’s a good guy – not only inside the ring, but outside of it, too,” El Bouni adds.
“I thought we would probably face each other here, but after three or four more wins, and then for the title.
“We both fight for the Moroccan flag, so at first I was thinking of saying no, as I don’t normally like that. But then I heard that he wanted to do it, so I said, ‘Okay, no problem.’ If he wants it, he will get it.”
The heavy hitters from the Netherlands both left lasting impressions with their victories as fresh faces to the ONE Championship ring. Now, the fans have some idea of what to expect.
Given the 25-year-old’s knowledge of his adversary, he believes he can predict the way Khbabez will come at him when the contest begins. He is a powerful puncher who likes to walk his opponents down, but that is not enough to faze “Mr. Cool.”
“I know him well. We competed in many of the same organizations in Holland. He’s very good. He pressures and is aggressive – coming forward with punches,” El Bouni says.
“He wants to keep coming towards you to make you tired, but when he fights me, he will think he has to change his style.
“My distance is longer, and we also have the 4-ounce gloves. It feels very good. Every punch comes at you very hard, so I cannot wait.”
Both warriors have already shown themselves to be among the elite heavyweights in the world, and now they will be aiming for a second, explosive victory in their return bout down in the light heavyweight division.
El Bouni believes he will emerge victorious inside the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium on 26 October, and he warns the passionate fans in attendance not to blink.
“I hear the crowds there are powerful and crazy. I like that,” he says. “I just need to tell them not to look away, because whether it’s one second or 20 seconds, something will happen!”