Press Release by Monty DiPietro
OSAKA, September 23, 2005 — Forget tulips, cheese and Vincent Van Gogh — for K-1 fans, Holland is known principly as a producer of premier K-1 fighters. For the second consecutive year, there will be three entries from the Netherlands at the K-1 World Grand Prix Tokyo Dome Final, this after all participating Dutch fighters emerged victorious at today’s K-1 ’05 WGP Final Elimination Tournament at the Osaka Dome.
The event featured combatants from a dozen different nations — K-1 GP ’05 Tournament-winners along with the ’04 Final Eight — in a one-match elimination format. The seven winners here now qualify for the K-1 WGP Tokyo Dome Final this November 19. (Remy Bonjasky, who fought and won in a Superfight tonight, had already earned a bye to the Final as the Defending WGP Champion.)
The first matchup on the card featured Ray Sefo of New Zealand and the 80kg Kaoklai Kaennorsing of Thailand. Both the smallest and youngest-ever K-1 Tournament Champion, Muay Thai wunderkind Kaoklai is precise and relentless with his low kicks; while veteran Sefo is murder with the fists, and considered one of the best K-1 fighters never to win the WGP Final.
This was a surprisingly one-sided fight, as Sefo led with a right straight, then surprised Kaoklai with a low kick that put the Thai off-balance. As usual, Sefo repeatedly dropped his guard and invited his opponent in, answering Kaoklai’s kicks with punches. This was expected to be all feet versus fists, but Sefo threw many more kicks than usual throughout the bout.
Although it wasn’t always pretty, there was plenty of hard core action, as the two men repeatedly charged at one another. In the second Sefo cut off the ring, turned sideways in defense against the kicks, and amid the chaotic clashes was able to score a down with a right hook which caught Kaoklai round the side of the head. Again in the third Sefo taunted the Thai, who was woefully unable to work kicks to keep the distance as he has in the past, and tried instead to hurt Sefo with his hands. It was in vain, as Sefo dominated in every respect to take a comfortable unanimous decision.
The second bout saw Russian dynamo Ruslan Karaev, who pounded his way through the Las Vegas GP Repechage tournament last month, step in against Rickard Nordstrand of Sweden. A finalist in the K-1 Scandinavian ’04 GP, Nordstrand was named as a late substitute when four-time K-1 WGP Champion Ernesto Hoost was forced to withdraw due an aggravated leg injury.
Karaev started strong and swift, rattling Nordstrand with a right then laying in with brutal combinations. Nordstrand had some good hard low kicks here — and his conditioning as a player in the Swedish Elite ice hockey league stood him in good stead as he proved able to absorb a lot of punishment.
Karaev launched his spinning back kicks in the second, and got a good right through to stay in control. In he third round the Russian put a dandy spinning back punch in right on the money. To his credit, Nordstrand read Karaev better as this fight went on, and stayed in the thick of it to the end, frequently stinging Karaev with the low kicks but unable to score the down he would need to inch up on the scorecards. In the final analysis Karaev was simply the more aggressive and better fighter, and took the unanimous decision.
Brazilian Kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa wowed Las Vegas fans when his kicking prowess carried him to victory at the K-1 USA GP earlier this year. Here he went up against Semmy Schilt of Holland, whose lethal combination of technique and power carried him to victory at the K-1 Europe GP in Paris this May.
Schilt brought a 20kg/50lbs weight and 18cm/7″ height advantage to this dance, and easily controlled the distance throughout with low kicks and one-two straight punch combinations. Feitosa didn’t look like he knew what to do here, tossing several meek jabs in early but otherwise mostly closed up tight on the defensive. In the second again, Feitosa struggled to get within striking distance, and when he did was met with the clinch and messed up with big Dutch knees. When the deadly Kyokushin high kick finally materialized late in the third — connecting with Schilt’s head and stunning him — the crowd cheered, but for the judges it was too little too late. A unanimous decision for Schilt.
Jerome LeBanner defeated compatriot Cyril Abidi in a grueling Paris Superfight to earn his place here. The Gaul’s opponent tonight was Gary Goodridge, a Trinidad and Tobago-born brawler who makes his home in Canada. Goodridge got his spot on the card by taking this year’s K-1 Hawaiian GP in convincing fashion.
These two fighters are friends outside the ring, and have similar builds and similar styles, marked by explosive starts aimed at the quick KO. But this one was all LeBanner, as the French powerhouse barreled in with hard low kicks and a brutal one-two punch combination from which Goodridge never recovered. A LeBanner left straight punch rattled Goodridge before a right high kick to the head put him down. Seconds after resumption LeBanner’s relentless low kicks hurt Goodridge badly and earned the Frenchman a second down. Goodridge limped to the corner and closed up, hoping to recompose and get out of the round, but LeBanner just kept on coming, firing in a barrage of blows to force a referee stop even as Goodridge went tumbling once again to the canvas. An overwhelming display of power that saw LeBanner return to the form that had made him such a force in K-1 in years past.
Said LeBanner post-bout: “It’s all about training. I’ve had the same team since my Paris fight with Abidi, and I will take them with me to the Tokyo Dome and all the way to victory.”
Peter Aerts of Holland met American Mighty Mo in the fifth tournament bout. Three-time K-1 WGP Champion Aerts is a seasoned fighter with a complete arsenal of technical attacks, while Mo is a heavyset power puncher possessed of almost superhuman strength.
Aerts aggressively fired in hard low kicks from the start. Mo was not immediately proficient with his defenses, and wobbled under the Lumberjack’s attacks. However, the American soon began to bring the leg up in response, and contact with Mo’s knee opened a cut on Aerts’ right shin. This prompted a doctor check, but Aerts was cleared to continue. Now Mo laid in with body blows, and threw a few kicks of his own, but Aerts was always better with the counters, and planted some good punches of his own, while Mo missed repeatedly with his signature overhand right. Like LeBanner before him, the ageless Aerts was at the top of his game, and early in the second put a middle kick in that dropped Mo to the canvas, wincing and clutching at his right knee. Mo struggled to beat the count but his feet would not hold him, and Aerts had the win.
Francois “The White Buffalo” Botha of South Africa faced Musashi in the next contest. Among the crew of former boxers who have tested their skill in the K-1 ring, Botha has probably adapted the best. But he had his hands full here against Musashi, a Japanese Seidokaikan Karate fighter who has evolved from also-ran status into one of the best in the sport, finishing second at the K-1 Final the last two years running.
Botha took the center of the ring and led with the jab, his right cocked and waiting, while Musashi circled, firing in the low kicks. Some of these connected solidly, but Botha also clocked Musashi more than once with the right and delivered some good body blows. Musashi stepped in and boxed some in the second, and brought the left kick up nicely here, connecting with Botha’s head and midsection, but Botha was otherwise capable on defense. Musashi was seeing Botha’s right now, staying out of harm’s way while scoring points with his low kicks and a nice left.
In the third Musashi was better with quick combinations, Botha missing again and again with the right. Although Botha’s blocking was good throughout, his jabs were the only offence he had going, and these were no match for the power strikes the Japanese fighter threw back. A fairly close fight, with Musashi taking a unanimous decision.
In the battle of the behemoths Main Event, it was American Bob Sapp (200cm/6’7″; 145kg/319lbs) against South Korea’s Hong-Man Choi (218cm/7’2″;161kg/355lbs). The 24 year-old Choi has plenty of speed for a big guy, and won the K-1 Asian GP in Seoul this year. The always explosive Sapp, meanwhile, overcame his discipline and stamina deficiencies to become this year’s improbable Japan GP Champion. Both men stepped into the ring undefeated in K-1 this year.
Both men bulldozed in from the start, flailing punches punches and more punches. This was both a wild fight, and a purist’s nightmare as most punches missed, some were blocked, and but a few found their target. Sapp threw a couple of solid low kicks here before the pace slowed down to the point where the two fighters were standing motionless, staring at one another while panting for breath.
The rested combatants started the second round in aggressive fashion, wildly flailing punches punches and more punches. Again, a purist’s nightmare as most punches missed, some were blocked, and but a few happened to find their target. And, again there was a slowdown and then more standing and panting, which prompted the referee to call time and remind the fighters that they were here to fight. Obediently, Sapp and Choi resumed wildly flailing punches punches and more punches. And again, most punches missed, some were blocked, while but a few found their target.
In the third, both fighters recommenced wildly flailing punches punches and more punches. But there ensued a sloppy clinch, from which Choi brought a knee up squarely to Sapp’s face. This was the decisive blow. A stung Sapp turned away and as Choi pursued him Sapp was assessed a standing count. His nose badly bloodied, Sapp showed some spunk after resumption, varying his attacks somewhat and managing to get a knee of his own up on his opponent, but Choi fought through to finish with a win by narrow majority decision.
Again, definitely not a purists’ fight, more a war. The crowd was engrossed, and the fighters’ battered faces post-bout testified to the brutality of the action.
“I should have used the knees more,” said Sapp afterward, “but that’s the game. In the end, I beat myself.”
Said Choi: “It was a tough fight. So far I’ve only been working on one-two punch combinations. I will try to learn more for the Tokyo Dome.”
Although he was forced to withdraw from the tournament, Four-Time WGP Champion Ernesto Hoost of the Netherlands made the trip to Osaka to deliver a message to his fans:
“I have had an injury to my left leg, the fibula head bone, for almost 2 years now, and it’s not getting better. I must be realistic, I turned 40 this year and I’m not getting any younger or stronger, and so at this point I’ve made the decision not to compete in tournaments anymore. I have not planned my retirement fight yet, because I think I could still do Superfights, but not before the end of this year at the earliest.”
There were also a pair of Superfights on the Osaka card:
In a highly-anticipated matchup, Defending WGP Champ Remy Bonjasky met Belorussian challenger Alexey Ignashov, who is coming off a knee injury which prevented him from training properly for almost one year.
Bonjasky started in with low kicks, which Ignashov coolly answered with left straight punches. Ignashov put a good right punch in to the body and a hard knee up midway through the first, all the while using the left jab to control the distance. But the fighters appeared overly cautious through the first, and lack of aggression was to mar the entire bout. In the second Ignashov started with a promising hard low kick before the fight again settled into a minimal strike-and-counter pattern. Ignashov worked the body again here, and there were a few good kicks from both men, but neither mounted sustained pressure.
Bonjasky boxed in the third, keeping his guard high and affording Ignashov little opportunity to work anything but low kicks. Given that these two are counted among the hardest and most creative kickers in the sport, this was another relatively listless round. Judges didn’t see a winner and so called for a tiebreaker.
With the fight up for grabs, again, unfortunately, there were long stretches of inactivity in the extra round. Bonjasky was however a little better, initiating more attacks, connecting with a left and following that with a good middle kick. Bonjasky launched one of his flashy flying knees, and although he missed he deserves credit for at least trying. As the round wore on, for his part Ignashov appeared content to let the clock run out. Judges saw Bonjasky as marginally more aggressive and so awarded him the unanimous decision.
“It wasn’t my best fight,” understated Bonjasky later.
In the other Superfight, Seidokaikan legend Nobuaki Kakuda of Japan tangled with Australian George “The Iron Lion,” the brother of famed former K-1 fighter Stan The Man.
Kakuda looked right fit for a 44 year-old, and traded hard low kicks with his opponent in the early going. But midway through the first, The Lion got in with a left straight to the snout to score a down, and kept the pressure up through the end of the round. In the second, Kakuda fed The Lion a few good fists and was alert with his evasions. The third saw an agile Kakuda put the Aussie off-balance with a left straight and work the right to effect. But that was not enough to overcome the down, and judges unanimously scored the contest in favor of The Lion.
In an undercard fight, Alexandre Pitchkounov of Russia used tight combinations to beat French fighter Rani Berbachi by unanimous decision.
The World Grand Prix 2005 Final Elimination in Osaka attracted a crowd of 31,800 to the Osaka Dome. It was same-day broadcast in Japan on the Kansai and Fuji TV network, in South Korea on MBS ESPN and in New Zealand on TVNZ. There will be delayed-broadcasts on Eurosport across Europe, Viasat in Scandinavia, ITV in the UK and Astro in Malaysia. For scheduling information in these and other locations, check with local providers.
See the K-1 Official website (www.k-1.co.jp) for the official results.