Press Release by Monty DiPietro for K-1 (Photo courtesy of K-1)
TOKYO – Shoot boxer Andy Souwer turned aside three challengers to win the K-1 World Max ’07 Final Wednesday at the historic Nippon Budokan. It was the 26-year-old Dutch fighter’s second World Max Championship; he also claimed the coveted belt in 2005.
The first quarterfinal was a keenly anticipated matchup between all-round kickboxer and media darling Masato of Japan, who won the Max Belt in 2003; and Thai fighter Buakaw Por Pramuk, whose positively lethal legs and fast fists made him the two-time and Defending Max Champion.
Both fighters got the low kicks going early, and the first round had plenty of action — Buakaw scoring with body blows and a high kick, Masato getting an uppercut in before surprising his opponent with an innocent-looking right straight punch to score a down.
The second saw Buakaw good with the hard low kicks, Masato leading with the left straight and deftly picking his spots on the counters, connecting with another uppercut. Masato used the ring to effect, moving to his left, forcing Buakaw to approach with less than perfect positioning. In the third Buakaw needed a down to get back into the fight, but was uncharacteristically tentative with his attacks. Masato meanwhile continued his mastery, focused and fast with the straight punches, closing for another uppercut while absorbing his opponent’s low kicks. A fine performance from Masato for the well-earned unanimous decision.
The second matchup featured power puncher Mike Zambidis of Greece, a compact bundle of strength and determination; and Ukrainian Artur Kyshenko, a Muay Thai fighter who also likes the fists.
A slow first, Kyshenko with occasional high kicks, Zambidis blocking well and countering with low kicks and body blows — neither fighter connecting decisively, a slight edge to Kyshenko evidenced on two judges’ cards. Better action in the second, Zambidis darting inside with punches but Kyshenko employing his 5cm/2″ height advantage to arrest the Greek with long low kicks.
In the third, Kyshenko went with the fists, pumping in body blows, while Zambidis launched a couple of flying knees that came up short. Spirited action to end the fight, which one judge gave to Kyshenko and two saw as a draw, triggering a tiebreaker round.
A more aggressive Kyshenko in the deciding extra round, in with proficient kicks and combinations; Zambidis meanwhile circling with a hit-and-run strategy, missing again with his flying knees but getting body blows through. A difficult one to call, the decision going to Kyshenko.
Dutch boxer Albert Kraus’ speed, smarts and punches won him the inaugural World Max Championship in 2002. In the third tournament quarterfinal, the 27-year-old Max veteran met the two-time and defending Japan Max Champ, kickboxer Yoshihiro Sato.
Sato started fast, intent on using his reach and 10cm/4″ height advantage to run Kraus down. But the Dutch fighter was equally aggressive, moving past the straight punches and knees with body blows and uppercuts. Sato sent a number of high kicks up throughout this one, but Kraus’ evasions and blocking were sound.
In second, a Sato knee looked to have Kraus in trouble, but the Dutch fighter answered with a dandy straight punch and left hook to regain his momentum. The third was thrilling, both fighters repeatedly clashing. Sato again used his long legs to fire the low kicks, and leaped forward with the knees. But a determined Kraus was smart in all aspects of his game — his movement and positioning were perfect, and he tallied big time late in the round with a punch combination that snapped Sato’s head back and, were it not for the ropes, might have put him down.
One of the best fights on the night, the unanimous decision going to Kraus.
Andy Souwer of Holland set off on the road to glory against Muay Thai stylist Drago, an Armenian known for both aggression and creativity.
The pair kept their guards high and close and traded hard low kicks and straight punches in the opening moments, Souwer sailing a high kick just over Drago’s head. The second saw Drago taking some chances, leading with the jab and closing with body blows, Souwer coming back with the knees and kicks. And then, in an instant, it was over. Drago leaned in with a left straight just as Souwer was bringing a right hook around. The fighters’ arms brushed past one another, and Drago’s missed and Souwer’s connected, knocking the Armenian out cold.
The first semifinal pitted Masato against Kyshenko in a back-and-forth battle. Masato started fast with the low kicks and straight punches to put his opponent on the defensive. Kyshenko rallied promisingly with some big haymakers and high kicks, but was shut down well by Masato’s stinging low kicks. Even as Masato appeared to be in control, the limping Kyshenko came back with three hard right straight punches, and now it was Masato in trouble. Kyshenko was chasing his opponent when the bell sounded to end the first, and took the round on two cards.
In the second Kyshenko resumed the punches, Masato the low kicks. The distance had closed with both fighters at center ring and exchanging punches, when Masato rammed in a left hook to drop Kyshenko, who was unable to beat the count. Masato moved on to the final.
It was Kraus and Souwer in the all-Dutch second semi. Souwer had very little rest time between his quarterfinal and this fight, but nonetheless brought some strong attacks, setting the distance with front kicks, pumping the knee up and putting the low and middle kicks through in the first, picking up the pace in the second to score with combinations, body blows and high kicks. Kraus got inside, only to be stymied by a high and close Souwer guard. A Kraus left hook in the second kept it close, but Souwer had the better stuff overall, connecting with a nice right in the fast-paced third and taking the decision on two cards, with one judge calling a draw. Souwer, with the narrowest of majority decisions, now had a date with Masato in the final.
The dream final brought the crowd to their feet, the encouragement deafening as their favorite son made his way to the ring. Masato took the initiative from the bell, charging at Souwer with straight punches and body blows, getting full contact with a hard left punch. Souwer weathered the attacks, closed up in defense. Souwer’s attacks were less than overwhelming. He missed with a high kick and saw his low kicks answered fearlessly with more straight punches.
But in the second Souwer turned it up a notch or two, throwing low kicks and flying in with the knees; while Masato pressed forward again to deliver the one-two straight punches, unleashing the uppercut that had done him well in his earlier fights. Souwer persisted with the low kicks and by midway through the round they were seriously slowing Masato.
The turning point came late in the round, Souwer smashing in a right straight punch, catching his off-balance opponent with a number of hard low kicks. At the clapper Souwer was chasing the retreating Japanese fighter and when the bell sounded Masato slowly slumped over the ropes, hurt and exhausted.
The ringside camera stayed on Masato between rounds and the question now was whether he could answer the bell for the third. The time ticked off, the announcer called ‘seconds out,’ but Masato’s cornermen remained huddled round their seated fighter, who had pain tattooed on his face. A quiet, mournful shake of the head and the hint of a smile from Masato and it was over.
Souwer leapt in the air, then dropped to the canvas and bowed to Masato, lifting the Japanese fighter to his feet as the crowd rose to theirs to offer both warriors a standing ovation.
In his post-fight interview, Masato told reporters that injuries to his hand and legs from his bout against Buakaw had badly limited him in his subsequent fights.
Commenting afterward on his strategy for the final, Souwer said, “My trainer Andre Mannaart and I knew Masato wanted to rush me with punches, so we had this plan to use kicks. My ribs and my ankle were hurt in my fight with Kraus and my right hand was also causing me pain, but I had to give my all against Masato, who is one of the best!”
With the victory, Souwer reclaims the belt he surrendered to Buakaw last year and also picks up a cool 20 million yen in prize money.
“My second son was born just last week,” said Souwer, “I will put this money in the bank for him and his brother.”