by Monty DiPietro – K-1 Media (Photos courtesy of FEG)
OSAKA, JAPAN – Yoshihiro Akiyama defeated Kazushi Sakuraba in the Main Event, Hideo Tokoro upset mixed martial arts legend Royler Gracie, and Defending K-1 World GP Champion Semmy Schilt beat Peter Graham to notch his sixth-straight win tonight at the K-1 Premium Dynamite ’06 event at the Kyocera Dome Osaka.
With matchups comprising fighters with all manner of skills, sizes and shapes, Dynamite has become a popular part of the New Year’s Eve experience in Japan, appealing equally to martial arts purists and dabblers, appealing even to grandma and grandpa. A live and television audience numbering in the tens of millions watched tonight’s 14 bouts — contested mostly under Hero’s mixed martial arts rules, with a quartet fought under K-1 rules.
The main event was a 85kg/187lbs showdown between Japanese fighters Yoshihiro Akiyama, who brought a judo background to mixed martial arts to capture this year’s Hero’s Light Heavyweight Championship; and Kazushi Sakuraba, whose tremendous achievements in mixed martial arts, not least of which his success against the world-famous Gracie clan, have made him into a living legend.
Both fighters tested with kicks from the bell, Sakuraba lunging in several times looking for a leg takedown, Akiyama backstepping to foil him. The pair fought the first almost entirely on their feet, exchanging a flurry of punches at the midway point. But roughly halfway into the 10-minute first, the pair went to the mat. Here it was Akiyama who got the upper position and put in the punches. Akiyama rained quite a beating on Sakuraba, who was able to partially block many of the strikes, but in no position to launch any counters. Finally, the bell was sounded to stop the bout in favor of Akiyama.
“I am of course happy with the win,” said Akiyama from the winner’s circle, “but I think it should have been stopped earlier. This was a fight, but it is also a sport. I understand that since I won the Hero’s title earlier this year, fighters are going to try their best to beat me, I have to remember that and not be too cocky in the ring. This is a great way to finish the year, and I look forward to spending 2007 as the champion!”
Among the K-1 rules bouts (all fought with a 3min x 5R format) was a matchup that saw WGP ’06 Champ Semmy Schilt of Holland step in against World GP in Melbourne ’03 Champion Peter “Rolling Thunder” Graham of Australia. Schilt’s knees are the most feared weapon in K-1, but Graham positioned and blocked well to stay out of harm’s way, and just missed in the first with one of his spectacular rolling thunder flying kicks. Graham was aggressive again in the second, mixing up the attacks well, threading in a good body blow, coming just short with a spinning back punch but also eating a solid left straight. Schilt’s size and strength stood him in good stead as usual, and Graham paid a price getting inside.
Graham appeared fatigued by the end of the third, dropping his guard to call Schilt in; an invitation the Dutch fighter declined. Schilt continued to fight cautiously but solidly through the fourth, waiting for his opponent, staying out of the path of another rolling thunder attempt. More of the same in the final round, Schilt jabbing well from outside, clinching and bringing up the knees when the distance closed. Graham’s late rolling thunder attempt missed once again, and although Graham scored with a couple of body blows, Schilt was better here, connecting with a hard high kick. Kudos to Graham for staying on his feet, but in the end it was a unanimous decision by a comfortable margin for Schilt.
“It was short notice for the fight but I am happy with the result,” said Schilt afterward. “Peter is a strong fighter and always dangerous. Now that it’s over I can look ahead to 2007 and becoming a three-time World Grand Prix champion!”
Nicholas Pettas, the Danish karate great who has not competed in K-1 since breaking his leg in a bout with Sergei Gur back in 2002, made his long-awaited return in a K-1 rules bout with Dutch “golden” bad boy Badr Hari.
There was all manner of legwork in the fast-paced first — Hari firing up middle and high kicks, Pettas in with the low, spinning and ax kicks. Hari used his reach to keep Pettas outside, jabbing and pushing with front kicks. Pettas kept on coming, but appeared to be having a problem with his left arm. Hari’s fist connected with Pettas’ elbow in the second, and the Dane turned away in pain, the referee stepping in to assess a standing count. Soon afterward, Pettas winced in pain after blocking a kick with the same arm, and his corner threw in the towel, giving Hari the win.
K-1 World Max ’03 Champion Masato of Japan took on former Japanese middleweight boxing champion Satoru Suzuki in a 73kg/160lbs weight-class bout. This was a fast and furious fight, Suzuki connecting solidly with the straight punches and blocking Masato’s kicks well. But in the second Masato came out much more aggressively, relentless now with his low kicks, and in no time Suzuki’s left leg was hurting bad. A couple of kicks dropped the boxer, who beat the count, but with his mobility compromised, Suzuki was no longer able to come forward with the punches. Masato simply picked his spots, getting at the lame leg to drop his opponent twice for the victory.
Japan’s strongest K-1 heavyweight, Musashi, went up against the power-first shot-put champion Randy Kim of South Korea in the fourth of the K-1 rules matchups. Winless in four K-1 fights this year, Musashi wanted to finish 2006 on a positive note before his hometown crowd. But Kim took the initiative in the early going, coming in with one-two punch combinations, clocking the Japanese fighter with a straight left. Musashi began to work the low kicks some in the second, but could not sustain pressure. Kim’s guard was terribly low and loose throughout the fight, and in the third round Musashi finally exploited this, firing in a right hook and following with a left to put Kim down hard and pick up the win by KO.
Hero’s rules mixed martial arts format bouts were the focus here, with keen interest focused on the two Ologun brothers, who hail from Nigeria and have carved out a niche on Japanese television shows. Big brother Bobby, who enjoyed remarkable success in the last two Dynamite events — dispatching Cyril Abidi and former Sumo Grand Champion Akebono — faced another big challenge in Korean K-1 fighter Hong Man Choi, who was making his mixed martial arts debut.
All smiles, Choi the loveable brute rapped and danced his way into the ring, followed by Ologun, who wore a Nigerian gown and a headband emblazoned with the kanji for “party.”
Ologun charged forward from the bell with his legs flailing, intent on surprising Choi with a flying knee, or perhaps a kick — this wasn’t clear as Ologun’s wild trajectory landed him woefully short, and he ended up in a heap on the mat. Choi nonchalantly reached down, grabbed a leg, dragged Ologun to the center of the ring, and began pumping in the fists. Several blows to the face later the referee literally leapt between the pair to stop the bout, waving his arms even as Ologun vainly protested, “It’s not over!” Called at a mere 16 seconds, this was the fastest win ever recorded by Choi.
The younger Ologun, 23 year-old Andy, faired better when he entertained television personality and sometime jiu-jitsu fighter, Ken Kaneko of Japan, in a 72kg/158lbs match. Kaneko came in quickly looking for a takedown, and while Ologun clearly wanted to fight on his feet, it wasn’t long before the pair went to the mat. But Ologun did a fine job in guard, tying his opponent up to repeatedly force standing starts, whereupon he punished Kaneko’s right leg with low kicks. The fight went the distance, Kaneko’s leg only barely able to support him by time the final bell sounded, Ologun picking up the win by unanimous decision.
In a 70kg/154lbs matchup, it was Katsuhiko Nagata of Japan, a Greco-Roman wrestling silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, facing countryman Shuichiro Katsumura. A surprisingly spirited start, both wrestlers coming out swinging fast and hard. Nagata got on top of his felled opponent midway through the first, then fired in a dozen punches to earn a referee stop and victory.
Japanese pro wrestler Tokimitsu “Kendo Kashin” Ishizawa shed his mask to face Seidokaikan fighter Taiei Kin, also of Japan. Kin fiercely resisted Ishizawa’s early takedown attempts, peppering his opponent with low kicks before firing up a high kick to the jaw to end it in spectacular style.
In a 70kg/154lbs bout, 41 year-old Royler Gracie represented Brazil’s foremost fighting family against a mixed martial arts scrapper 12 years his junior, Hideo Tokoro of Japan. The pair went to the mat early and stayed there, twisting and turning for purchase in an exciting first marked by a number of deft reversals. In the second, after an extended period of clinching, Tokoro surprised Gracie with a well-placed jumping knee, following up with punches before going once more to the mat and stalemate. Tokoro was the more aggressive after the standing restart, firing in fists and kicks to end the round. The third saw a lot of good action on the mat, Tokoro creating numerous chances against his experienced opponent. Gracie got into mount late in the round, and went to the side to work a triangle even as the final bell sounded. But this was, as they say, too little and too late, and when the judges’ decision was announced it was Tokoro whose arm was raised. A huge win for the Japanese fighter, who was all smiles as he high-fived gleeful ringside fans during his exit.
American-Japanese Former Sumo Grand Champion Akebono was back at it here, lumbering his 210kg/463lbs frame into the ring to meet the 230cm/7’7″ Brazilian Giant Silva in a battle of the behemoths. After an early clinching session came dangerously close to spilling over the ropes and into the crowd, the men earthquaked to the mat, where Silva got hold of Akebono’s right arm and hyperextended for a submission.
With it’s festive New Year’s Eve atmosphere, Dynamite provides the perfect vehicle for Japanese fighter Genki Sudo’s elaborately choreographed ring entrances. Sudo showed up for his date with American fighter Jackson Page accompanied by a dozen acrobatic dancers in a theatrical treatment, which suffused the animism and astronomy-based Mayan rituals of the first millennium with the contemporary bling of a Las Vegas production number.
When the bout finally started, Page rushed past Sudo’s peculiar crab-walk and extended-rump defensive posture and quickly affected a takedown and mount. The wily Sudo however turned this to his advantage, squirming to work his legs round Page’s head for a triangle choke and submission.
Somewhat anti-climatically, the fight had ended faster than the ring entrance. But Sudo was not done with the dramatics: In his victory speech, he first thanked the crowd for their support, then abruptly announced he was retiring from the fight game effective immediately. He later explained to reporters that a neck injury suffered earlier this year forced him to rethink his future, and said he now plans to spend some time traveling the world and writing.
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto of Japan, currently training as a wrestling hopeful for the ’08 Beijing Olympics, tested his skills against Hungarian Istvan Majoros, who won the Olympic gold in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the ’04 Games.
Yamamoto turned aside Majoros’ early single-leg takedown attempt, got into a reverse headlock then pumped up a knee before starting in with the low kicks, which Majoros clearly did not like. The Hungarian wrestler was no fonder of the hard knee visited upon his midsection shortly afterward, and collapsed to the mat. Showing Olympian sportsmanship, The Kid eschewed further hard attacks on his prone and defenseless opponent, waiting instead for the flummoxed referee to step in and stop the fight.
In an undercard bout, Yukiya Naito of Japan weathered some early attacks before getting big Korean Dong Wook Kim on the ground and pounding him into submission.
The K-1 Premium Dynamite event attracted a sellout crowd of 51,930 to the Kyocera Dome Osaka. The event was broadcast live on New Year’s Eve on the TBS network in Japan, and in South Korea on MBC-ESPN. Delayed pay-per-view broadcasts will be available in some 50 countries, check with local providers for scheduling details. As always, find comprehensive coverage on the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp)