Press Release (Courtesy of K-1)
LAS VEGAS – Whether it’s billabong poker, indoor skydiving or a comely companion – you can find just about anything you’re looking for in Las Vegas. But this morning Scott Coker’s K-1 USA production team were stumped. Finally, just minutes before the World Grand Prix in Las Vegas press conference, Tony Valente rushed into the Bellagio Hotel and Casino with a wide smile on his face. His frantic search, covering more than 65km/40miles, was a success – Valente had found the flag of the Republic of Belarus.
The red, green and white national banner was installed alongside nine other flags as the world’s top martial arts fighters made their way to the podium. In what has become an annual tradition, K-1 had arrived in Las Vegas.
The K-1 World Grand Prix ’07 in Las Vegas comprises an eight-man elimination tournament to qualify a single fighter for the WGP Final Elimination in Seoul, as well as a trio of Superfights featuring some of K-1′s biggest international stars. The action happens at the Bellagio this Saturday night. Today, the fourteen fighters met the media.
“I’ve fought six times in Vegas, and I win all my fights here!” said German kickboxer Stefan Leko, whose straight punch KO of Peter Aerts at the Bellagio made the ESPN year-end sports highlight reel in 2001. “My motivation comes from a love of the sport, nothing is more beautiful than wining a fight, it is a great feeling!”
Leko’s Superfight opponent Saturday will be American Mighty Mo – a big fellow with one heck of a right hook. “I feel strong,” said Mo, “Stefan Leko is up there with the best and my goal is to be there too, so I will bring the best to compete with the best. I have learned a lot, what mistakes not to make, and I’m sure it will be a good fight!”
K-1 veteran Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo of New Zealand has made Las Vegas his home for the last year. The 36 year-old slugger will take on Bjorn Bregy of Switzerland in another highly-anticipated Superfight. “Age is just a number, I feel like I’m 24″ laughed Sefo. “Martial arts has been part of my life for 20 yrs, I got my first gloves at age 5. I love training, I wake up and run from 6 am, and I’m in the gym hitting pads every evening. My opponent is very strong and he will come to fight, which I love – don’t blink or you may miss it, because it won’t go to the last round!”
Said Bregy, who won the K-1 Europe GP last year: “It’s my first time to fight Ray, although I’ve watched him fight many times. Of course I know he’s one of the best, but if I didn’t think I had a chance to beat him I wouldn’t be here.”
The third Superfight will feature Petr Vondracek of the Czech Republic and Ariel Mastov of Israel. Both men were guarded with their comments, saying that they were in fine shape and would put on a great bout.
The K-1 event’s eight-man tournament will advance a single fighter to this year’s WGP Final Elimination in Seoul. At press conference time, the Bellagio Sports Book odds board had Rick Cheek as the favorite to win it all. The former American Armed Forces Heavyweight Boxing Champion was listed at 9/5.
“Fighting in K-1 is a dream come true,” said Cheek, who at 122kg/270lbs is the second-biggest fighter in the tournament. “It’s great to represent the USA, and I will win it for the USA! Of course first I have to get past this monster, Imani Lee!”
Cheek’s quarterfinal opponent – the “monster Imani Lee” – is the biggest fighter in the tournament at 135kg/297lbs. A former heavyweight boxer, Lee was relaxed and playful with the press: “I’m not saying I’m the greatest, but I’m the latest and I’m here to win, it’s my time and I’m going to make it happen!”
Also fighting in the first bracket is karate stylist Alexandre Pitchkounov, who ranked second on the odds board at 3/1.
“Of course,” said the reserved Russian, “the best will win.”
Pitchkounov’s opponent is Tsuyoshi Nakasako of Japan, the tournament longshot at 25/1. Promised Nakasako, “I will push myself to the limit this time!”
The first fight in the second bracket will see Muay Thai fighter Patrick Barry of the United States take on Rickard Nordstrand of Sweden. Barry tragically lost a grandmother and his family home when Hurricane Katrina hit his native New Orleans two years ago. “Things are on the up with us now, the hurricane was not enough to stop us,” said Barry. “To prepare for this tournament, I trained with Ernesto Hoost in Amsterdam, because I believe to beat the best you have to train with the best!” At the time of the press conference, Barry was third on the odds board at 7/2.
Nordstrand, meanwhile, divides his time between Muay Thai and ice hockey – consistently leading the Swedish Elite League in penalty minutes. “I like to train, it’s fun, and I hope to win Saturday,” said the lean Nordstrand. “Maybe all the skating has built up my leg muscles!”
The last of the quarterfinals will feature two more Muay Thai fighters – Belorussian Zabit Samedov, who at 23 is the youngest man in the tournament; and Esh’Chadar Brown Ton of the United States. Due a travel hitch, Samedov did not arrive in Las Vegas in time for the press conference. Brown Ton was here, and the Texas pastor they call “The Dispossessor” assured all present: “Thanks to my God, in my mind I can already see victory ahead.”
In the tournament Reserve Fight, Doug Viney of New Zealand will take on Mahmoud Fawzy of the United States.
All fights will be conducted under K-1 Rules (3Min. x 3R with a possible tiebreaker).
The K-1 World Grand Prix ’07 in Las Vegas kicks off at 7:00 pm in the Bellagio Grand Ballroom. It will be broadcast in Japan on the Fuji TV network, with rebroadcasts in 135 countries – contact local networks for scheduling information. Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for comprehensive coverage of this and all K-1 events.