When Regian Eersel makes the walk to defend his ONE lightweight kickboxing world title on Friday, April 22, he will flip the switch from his laidback self to his fearsome alter ego – "The Immortal."
The Dutch-Surinamese striker’s pre-fight ritual involves donning a mask – both literally and figuratively – so that he can perform at his best inside the circle.
And in his headline appearance at "ONE: Eersel vs. Sadikovic," challenger Arian Sadikovic will have to deal with the consequences against a man who's won 18 straight bouts.
But while kickboxing fans have grown accustomed to seeing the iconic headgear at events, Eersel actually resisted the idea at first.
"First of all, the mask is because my fight name is 'The Immortal,' Eersel explained. "The mask is from the movie '300,' and when the movie came out, I had just started with that nickname. So I thought, 'OK, why not use the mask for my fight image?'
"Then my manager said, 'You should buy the mask and come out before you fight with the mask on. People are gonna love it.' I was like, 'No, I can't do it. Coming up with a mask, I'm going to look like a fool.' My manager said, 'Oh, believe me. Just try it.'"
Despite his uncertainty, Eersel heeded the suggestion – and it quickly paid off.
As he walked out for a matchup in China, the Suriname native felt an incredible reception from those in attendance – and the mask has become synonymous with his entrances ever since.
It's even a permanent fixture in his life, as "The Immortal" has the sinister-looking face etched onto his body.
"I tried it the first time, and the audience was going crazy," he said. "I thought, 'OK, maybe this works!' So I started using the mask, and now it's part of myself.
"I added it as a tattoo because it reminds me of the first time that I became a world champion at Lion Fight. It reminds me of the hard work and dedication I put in for my first title."
The difference between Eersel and 'The Immortal'
Based on Eersel’s interviews and interactions in everyday life, fans know he's a soft-spoken, non-confrontational character. But when it comes to combat, everything changes.
In fact, the ONE lightweight kickboxing world champion – who's looking for his fourth straight defense – was given "The Immortal" moniker due to his unyielding ferocity and endless gas tank.
"(My training partners) said I never get tired," recalled the Sityodtong Amsterdam representative. "And also in my amateur fights, sometimes between the rounds, I would just go to my corner, grab some water, and visit my coach.
"Then after like 20 seconds, I would stand up in the middle of the ring to show that I'm ready to fight, and the audience loved it. So that's why my friends gave me the nickname."
The change of personalities to "The Immortal" happens whenever Eersel steps into the circle, and it offers a dividing line between competition and outside life.
But while his two personas appear to be polar opposites, the dominant divisional king says the ruthless fighter is always there beneath the surface – just waiting to be unleashed.
"The switch is difficult," he added. "Everyone asked me that, but I can really tell you I have almost another person inside me that is full of aggression, and it comes out in the ring. When I'm in there, I'm just in kill mode."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.