By Monti DiPietro
OSAKA, September 22, 2005 — Many warriors were called, and the few who were chosen met the press today in advance of the K-1 ’05 WGP Final Elimination Tournament. Set for tomorrow at the Osaka Dome, the event will feature this year’s top fighters and the ’04 finalists in a one-match elimination format to qualify seven men for the K-1 WGP Tokyo Dome Final this November. (Remy Bonjasky, who will be the eighth fighter at Tokyo, earns a bye as the Defending WGP Champion.)
A couple of Dutchmen and a pair of Americans are among the combatants from a dozen different countries who fought their way through elimination and qualifying tournaments to get to Osaka. For many K-1 fans, this tournament, with its card of do-or-die bouts featuring all-fresh fighters, is every bit as thrilling as the Tokyo Dome Final.
In the first matchup, it will be Ray Sefo of New Zealand taking on Thai wunderkind Kaoklai Kaennorsing in what promises to be a battle of punches versus kicks. Muay Thai master Kaennorsing is both the smallest and youngest-ever K-1 Tournament Champion, while veteran slugger Sefo is widely considered, along with Jerome LeBanner, as the best K-1 fighter never to win the WGP Final.
Sefo: “It’s an honor to be here among the top 16, and I am ready. I wish good luck to all.”
Kaennorsing: “I hope to make a strong impression on all my Japanese fans
The second bout will see Russian dynamo Ruslan Karaev, who pounded his way through the Las Vegas Repechage tournament last month, taking on Rickard Nordstrand of Sweden. Nordstrand was named as a late substitute when four-time K-1 WGP Champion Ernesto Hoost was forced to withdraw due an aggravated knee injury.
Karaev: “I am so happy to be fighting in such a big place as Osaka Dome, I can’t really say any more about my opponent because of the last-minute change, but I hope to win and move into the top eight for Tokyo Dome.”
Nordstrand: “I’m very happy to get this chance, I will do my best and hopefully it will be enough to win!”
Brazilian Glaube Feitosa was adopted by the Vegas fans when his kicking prowess carried him to victory at the Battle at the Bellagio earlier this year. Tomorrow he will step in against Semmy Schilt of Holland, who powered his way through the field the win the Paris ’05 GP.
Feitosa: “I am honored to represent Kyokushin Karate and I hope to put on a great fight.”
Schilt: “I will put on a great show.”
It also was in Paris that Jerome Le Banner defeated compatriot Cyril Abidi in a grueling Superfight to earn his place here. The Gaul’s opponent tomorrow will be Gary Goodridge, a Trinidad and Tobago-born brawler who makes his home in Canada. Goodridge got his spot here by winning the K-1 Hawaiian GP in convincing fashion.
LeBanner: “I am happy to be here, this is a special match for me because I respect Gary very much. But it’s business tomorrow, we will have a great match.”
Goodridge: “Jerome and I are friends, and I have respect and admiration for him. I would say there are four heavy punchers in K-1 — [Ray] Sefo, Mighty Mo, LeBanner and myself. I have fought all of them and I have been knocked out by all of them! So, I promise if Jerome beats me tomorrow I will support him at the Dome. And, I hope he will do the same and work my corner if I win. Merci, mon ami!”
Peter Aerts of Holland will meet American Mighty Mo in the fifth tournament bout. Aerts is a three-time K-1 WGP Champion, smart with his balanced technical attacks, while Mo is a power puncher possessed of almost superhuman strength.
Aerts: “It’s going to he hard because I know Mo’s a good fighter, but I’ll do my best.”
Mo: “It is an honor to fight Aerts. I will show my best abilities tomorrow.”
Francois “The White Buffalo” Botha of South Africa will meet Musashi in the next contest. Botha is a former boxer who has adapted well to K-1, while Musashi is Japanese Seidokaikan Karate fighter who has evolved from also-ran status into one of the best, finishing second-place in the K-1 Final the last two years running.
Musashi: “Botha is a strong fighter, but I have prepared well and will do my best.”
Botha: “I’m still learning, and they say you learn through your mistakes. But I will not make any mistakes tomorrow!”
In the battle of the behemoths Main Event, it will be American Bob Sapp (who received a spirited rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the assembled for turning 31 years-old today) taking on Hong-Man Choi of South Korea. Choi is a big guy with speed, while the always explosive Sapp has overcome his stamina deficiencies of late to show he can go the distance.
Sapp: “They call Choi a giant, but tomorrow I think they’ll just call him knocked out! Maybe I’ll use a left hook, but Peter Aerts is suggesting a high kick. Anyway, I guarantee the giant will fall!”
Choi: “He’ll KO me? No way! Sapp is babbling and I have nothing to say about that, I’m just here to fight.”
Although he was forced to withdraw from the tournament, 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 fibula head bone for almost 2 years now, and it’s not getting better,” said the somber four-time WGP Champion. “When I was kicking in training it gave me pain, so my choices were either to fight in a bad condition, or to not fight at all. I decided on the second. My goal was to become a five-time WGP Champion but I must be realistic. I’m not getting any younger or stronger, and so 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 will be a couple of Superfights on the Osaka card:
In the first, which has the makings of a classic, Defending WGP Champ Remy Bonjasky will take on Alexey Ignashov of Belarus.
Ignashov: “This is a very important time for me. I had a knee injury last year and I couldn’t train properly, but now I am recovered, and I want to repay my fans, who stuck with me through the difficult times, and show that I am back!”
Bonjasky chose to deliver his press conference message to the tournament fighters: “I wish you all good luck, show your spirit!”
In the second Superfight, Japanese veteran Nobuaki Kakuda will tangle with Australian George “The Iron Lion,” the brother of legendary K-1 fighter Stan The Man.
Kakuda: “I fought Stan the Man 10 years ago, but I was not at my best unfortunately. Now Stan is retired, but I am happy to have a chance to fight his brother George. I will do my best.”
“Iron Lion”: “This is my first K-1 fight, but I did all my homework. I respect Kakuda, he fights with great spirit, and I will give it my best shot.”
The World Grand Prix 2005 Final Elimination in Osaka kicks off at 16h00 local time on Friday September 23 at the Osaka Dome. It will be 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. In these and other locations, check with local providers for broadcast schedules.
As always, visit the K-1 Official website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete coverage soon after the final bell.