by Monti DiPietro – K1
TOKYO, November 16, 2005 — As the countdown continues to the K-1 World Grand Prix ’05 Final, speculation is rife regarding who will earn fightsports’ most coveted crown.
Set for November 19, the K-1 Final is the culmination of scores of fight events held round the world over the last year. Survivors on the long road from preliminaries to qualifiers to eliminations, the final eight will step into the ring at the Tokyo Dome this Saturday evening knowing they are but three wins away from the richest and most prestigious fightsports title of its kind — the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship.
Powerhouse nation Holland will be well represented at the Dome — with three-time WGP Champion Peter Aerts; the mammoth Semmy Schilt, and of course the Defending Champion, Remy Bonjasky all on the card.
Not surprisingly, many watchers are excited at the prospect of Bonjasky taking an unprecedented third consecutive WGP title. Brice Hoarau of the French fansite MuayThaiTV says he has no doubt Bonjasky will prevail; while veteran American fight writer Stephen “The Fight Professor” Quadros reckons if it isn’t Bonjasky it will be one of the other Dutchmen.
“Remy technically has a more complete set of tools at this point than anyone else in the tournament,” says Quadros, “but I think his biggest problem will be if he faces big Semmy Schilt in the semi-finals. Since this is Schilt’s first K-1 World GP he will be extra sharp and focused. Semmy’s height (210cm/6′ 11″) and reach will be a major problem for anyone on the roster. I have always predicted that Schilt would take the final tournament if and when he entered it.”
Actually, there is a very real possibility that we could see an all-Holland final match,” reckons Quadros, “with Bonjasky and Schilt potentially squaring off on one side of the bracketing, and former three-time K-1 champ Peter Aerts waiting on the other end.”
For me, it looks like Holland will have its fourth K-1 title!”
Quadros is not the only expert who thinks Schilt’s size and skills afford him an excellent chance in his first WGP final. Marko Ervasti, Editor of Fighter Magazine in Sweden, picks Schilt as his tournament dark horse. But as for who has the best chance to win it all, Ervasti figures two-time runner-up Musashi will become the first-ever Japanese WGP Champion.
Musashi is also tipped as the man who will wear the crown by Ricardo Diez Sanchis, Content Director at CrossCombat Magazine in Spain. Meanwhile, Sanchis names big Hong-Man Choi of South Korea as his possible dark horse in the tournament.
Over in Poland, Andrzej Strauss, K-1 Editor at the mmaniacs.pl fansite, selects Schilt as his dark horse, and for his favorite picks Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo of New Zealand. A popular choice — as Sefo emerged the clear overall favorite of the experts polled.
Frederic Rousseau of Punchmag in France figures Sefo’s “iron chin” will get him through, adding he thinks Schilt will give the Kiwi his biggest challenge.
Stuart Tonkin and Tobian Martinsson of the fansite kakutougi.info concur: “Looking at what the top eight have accomplished as of late, we’re expecting a Sefo vs LeBanner final. Semmy Schilt has yet to face a power puncher at the level of Ray. Previous performances and records aside, fight day is a new day. It’s K-1 and anything can happen. But at the end of the night, we believe Ray Sefo will be crowned K-1 Champion.”
Michael Schiavello wears many hats. The New Zealander is K-1 Commentator for Fox Sports Australia and TVNZ New Zealand, and an Editor at International Kickboxer Magazine. He is also very familiar with Sefo, and is sure Sugarfoot’s time has come.
“This has been a form year for Sefo, having dispatched of Kaoklai with relative ease in the qualifiers,” says Schiavello. “With Ray taking on Schilt you probably have the biggest height differential ever encountered in a GP. But Ray’s been training extensively with Jan The Giant (210cm/6’11) in preparation for that. He’s in the best physical shape he’s been in for years, and like a fine bottle of wine just keeps getting better with age.”
Schiavello picks Ruslan Karaev as his dark horse, as does Jeroen Winters of MartialArtsNews in Holland. As for the championship crown, Winters is probably the only Dutch K-1 expert who doesn’t think it will end up in his country.
“The 2005 final line-up is a card of real full-contact martial artists,” says Winters. “We will have a winner who knows what it is to make a comeback after a serious injury and who is fully entitled to become the K-1 champion — and that is Jerome LeBanner!”
“Jerome is in great shape and very eager to get this title because he’s running out of time since he is almost 34 years old,” says Winters. “It would be a nice early birthday present for the giant French fighter.”
Finally, Japanese sportswriter Takao Matsui of Kakutogi Tsushin (Martial Arts Magazine) says he also believes LeBanner is the most likely tournament winner. Echoing the sentiments of many in Japan, Matsui says Schilt is the dark horse who might just power his way through the field to an upset victory.
So there you have it — a survey of experts and every one of the final eight gets mentioned at least once — a wide open Final awaits this Saturday!
The tournament reserve bouts will see Gary Goodridge fight Glaube Feitosa; and the much-anticipated return to K-1 of Stefan Leko, whose opponent will be announced at the pre-event press conference Friday November 18.
The K-1 World Grand Prix ’05 Final will be broadcast live on the Fuji Television Network and Fuji Satellite TV in Japan, in Korea on MBC/ESPN and on Canal+ in France. The event will be delay-broadcast on EuroSport across Europe, ProTV in Romania, ViaSat Sports in Denmark, GroboSat in Brazil and on TV New Zealand.
As always, check the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for the latest coverage.