By Monti DiPietro
HONOLULU, July 29, 2005 — Under the stars, on a balmy Hawaiian night, brawler Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge of Trinidad and Tobago scored three KO wins in three bouts to win the K-1 World Grand Prix in Hawaii Tournament. In a mixed martial arts contest also on the card, BJ Penn beat Renzo Gracie.
Held at the Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, this was the first-ever open-air K-1 event outside Japan. It kicked off with a pageant of local culture — as a bevy of beauties swung their hips in intoxicating hula maneuvers, a traditional Polynesian fire dance summoned the spirits of the island ‘ikaika’. Lona, the Hawaiian God of War, surely smiled as he gazed down upon the scene.
All the bouts here were contested under regular K-1 rules with the exception of the Main Event match featuring Hawaiian wunderkind BJ Penn and Brazilian veteran Renzo Gracie, which was conducted under mixed martial arts rules.
The Gracie/Penn fight had fans, Hawaiians in particular, buzzing with anticipation. It followed on Penn’s victory in Honolulu last November over Renzo’s cousin, Rodrigo Gracie, by unanimous judges’ decision. Renzo was looking to avenge the loss, while Penn was here to prove that his “new style” of mixed martial arts would prevail again over the “old school” Gracie Family fighters. There was a veritable eruption from the crowd when their ‘Bruddah’ BJ strode into the ring.
The bout began with Gracie getting a takedown fairly quickly, forcing Penn to a guard position. There were punches to the head from both fighters, but Gracie could not pass and Penn could not reverse and the pair remained locked in something of a stalemate through the end of the round. Due his superior positioning, Gracie came out of the first up on two judges’ cards.
A much different second round saw the pair remain on their feet. Here Penn was able to inflict damage with punches, scoring solidly with a left straight that cocked Gracie’s head back and bloodied his face. The Brazilian repeatedly went for the takedown, and Penn repeatedly answered with the fists and the knees and more punishment.
In the third it was Penn who went for the single-leg takedown, then passed Gracie’s guard fairly well with punches. Late in the round Penn moved to a side mount and at the bell — which is to say, too late — finally got into a full mount position. All three judges gave him this round as well as the second, and Penn had the unanimous win — which left him happy, but not over overjoyed.
“Renzo fought harder than I expected, and I wish I’d only had 30 more seconds, because I think I had him at the end and then the bell sounded,” said Penn post-bout. “That’s why I prefer no-time limit fights, because once I got on top if I’d had even 30 more seconds I would have finished him off with punches.”
Asked about his approach to fighting, Penn waxed poetic. “Victory is reserved for those willing to pay the price,” he said. “I refuse to lose!”
Also big on the card (literally) was a K-1 Rules Superfight featuring Hawaiian ‘moke’ Akebono and Hong-Man Choi of South Korea. A Sumo Wrestling Yokozuna (Grand Champion), Akebono is a living legend in his home state. Here he stepped in against another giant of a man, Hong-Man Choi — the surprise winner at the K-1 Asian Grand Prix earlier this year. Choi is also a national hero, his compatriots marvel at the size and strength of the former Ssirum Wrestler. A total of 380 kilograms or 840 pounds of warrior were in the ring in this battle of the behemoths.
The last time these two met, in Seoul, Choi won. Here, Akebono hoped that the hometown crowd would help him exact revenge.
The crowd cheered wildly during Akebono’s introduction, but unfortunately no amount of noise could get the former Sumo Grand Champion past Choi’s long reach. Try as he might in the first, Akebono was unable to get in on the big Korean, who simply stood back and threw in punch after punch. Akebono never got a sustained attack going here, and soon he was rattled and retreating. Choi made it look easy as he moved in and pumped the left, twice, for a down. Akebono beat the count, but could not finish the round, as Choi again laid in with the punches for a second down and the win.
From center ring, Choi called out to a Mike Tyson, who was sitting ringside, and invite the boxing legend to join him in the ring. “I want to fight you!” cried Choi. Tyson smiled, and shook Choi’s hand.
In the third Superfight, Japanese Seidokaikan fighter Musashi met Rickard Nordstrand of Sweden. This was a very interesting matchup, with Musashi now clearly ranked among K-1′s elite; and Nordstrand attempting to build on a strong performance against Defending World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky in Stockholm earlier this year.
Both fighters were focused and good with their movement in the first, Nordstrand switch-hitting against the natural southpaw Musashi. The Japanese fighter had his hard low kicks here, but Nordstrand let loose with a flying knee and generally held his own. Both fighters got their licks in through the second, Nordstrand tossing some good kicks, Musashi better in the late going, connecting with a solid left – right punch combination.
A technical third saw Nordstrand throwing the low kick, Musashi always countering immediately with one of his own. Nordstrand had some mid kicks here as well, but Musashi put a left jab in on the Swede’s face and stepped in with hit-and-run attacks to score points while staying out of harm’s way. Not a commanding performance from the man who has placed second at the World GP Final two years running, but good enough to give Musashi a majority decision.
Threading through the evening along with all the Superfights, was of course a K-1 World GP qualifying tournament, the eight hopefuls aware the man who went through would win a spot at the Osaka K-1 World GP 05 Final Elimination in Osaka this September.
In the first tournament matchup, Gary Goodridge took on local freestyle fighter Wesley “Cabbage” Correia. Goodridge likes to take the fight to his opponent, but here it was Correia who got the fast start, moving in with straight punches, putting his opponent against the ropes. But Goodridge weathered the early attack and then, with an uncharacteristically disciplined style, came back with technical kick and punch combinations to take control of the bout. Midway through the first Correia found himself in trouble, and soon Goodridge’s solid attacks resulted in a down. After resumption, Goodridge put in a low kick to drop Cabbage a second time and earn a trip to the semifinals.
American Carter Williams captured the K-1 USA Championship in 2003, and in the second tournament bout here his opponent was Japanese fighter Nobu Hayashi, a late substitute who brought plenty of experience against good fighters to the ring.
Williams kept the guard high and threw kicks from the start, which Hayashi answered in kind. Williams planted a nice knee here but the first was otherwise uneventful until the clapper, when Williams suddenly got a right hook in on an off-balance Hayashi to score a down. In the second, Williams fired the quick high kicks up and also put some good straight punches through to take control of the fight. The third saw both men working good combinations, Williams better when the distance closed, Hayashi opting too often for the clinch. A well-deserved unanimous decision for the American.
Butterbean (USA) is a good old boy with a big old gut and a good hard hook. In the third matchup, the 363lb (165kg) fighter took on another big American, Marcus “XL” Royster (330lbs/150kg). An open-rules scrapper making his K-1 debut here, Royster didn’t seem to know how to attack his rotund opponent, and every time he came in Butterbean was waiting with the hook. Butterbean pounded Royster with a right overhand in the first, and had him stunned some but could not finish it. The second saw Butterbean showboating and taunting as the crowd chanted his name. Royster tried to put the knee up here but again ate fist for his efforts. With neither man eager to move in the action slowed almost to a standstill by the end of the round.
Things picked up some in the third, Butterbean bulldozing in with body blows. Royster answered this with the clinch, and collected a yellow card for doing so. Soon afterwards, Butterbean chased his retreating opponent, smacking in a jaw-rattling right, and moments later worked the fists again to earn a standing count and all the points he’d need for the unanimous decision.
In the last of the quarterfinals, Yusuke Fujimoto of Japan, a solid Karate-based technical fighter, spotted American Scott Junk 105 lbs (48kg). Junk trains with BJ Penn and so was instantly adopted as the crowd favorite. This bout started fast, with great energy from both fighters. But as they settled in, it was clear Fujimoto had the better low kicks, while Junk’s leg attacks mostly sailed wide.
The second began with Junk flailing desperately, and when the discipline-challenged fighter grabbed Fujimoto from behind, threw and then crashed down atop him, time was called and Junk was assessed a red card. From the resumption Fujimoto stepped in with the fists, which Junk could only answer with the clinch to ride out the round.
It was sloppy in the third until Fujimoto snapped a right punch in on a counter. This caught Junk on the nose and dropped the American hard, giving Fujimoto the win and a trip to the semis.
The first of the semis saw Goodridge come out like a loaded gun, swinging the big fists relentlessly. Williams never found his form here, and sunk ingloriously to the canvas after absorbing three right hooks. After the resumption, Williams fell victim again to the same attack, the second and decisive down coming just 1:13 into the opening round. Goodridge would be fresh for the final.
Before the second semi, it was announced that slotted fighter Butterbean had sustained an injury to his left leg during his bout with Royster and could not continue. It was also announced that Mike Malone, who had scored a unanimous extra-round decision against Dustin Hanning in the reserve fight, had not been cleared to continue during his post-fight doctor’s check. And so, under K-1 rules, it fell to Marcus Royster to step in against Yusuke Fujimoto.
Again, Royster was aggressive from the bell, plowing Fujimoto into the corner and letting loose with punches. There followed some spirited exchanges, but Fujimoto had the superior technique, and picked the perfect time to fire an uppercut in on in Royster to score a KO victory and earn a date with Goodridge in the final.
And so the final pitted Goodridge’s power and aggression against Fujimoto’s technical prowess — a classic K-1 showdown. Surprisingly, Goodridge was cautious in the early going, staying back and watching. Fujimoto kept his head down and picked his spots well, deftly moving forward in the crouch to throw punches. Fujimoto had the body blows working here, and scored with some uppercuts and kicks — but Goodridge’s blocking stood him in good stead. Late in the round, the real Goodridge finally came out to play, firing a barrage of punches, scoring a down with a left hook. A badly shaken Fujimoto beat the count, but seconds later Goodridge put the Japanese fighter down again. It took some moxie, but Fujimoto managed to stay on his feet to make it out of the round.
The second was most thrilling — a re-energized Fujimoto in with body blows and connecting nicely with a left straight, uppercuts and a high kick. But just as it appeared the tide was turning, “Big Daddy” slugged Fujimoto with a right to put him on the canvas once again. By now, the crowd was cheering as loudly when Fujimoto wobbled back to his feet as they were when Goodridge knocked him down. Again, Fujimoto was tough enough to get out of the round.
The third was do-or-die time for Fujimoto, who started in with kicks, looking for the Hawaiian miracle which, alas, was not to be. Goodridge just had too much stamina and power here, and threw some low and high kicks of his own to boot. It was a left hook for the first down, and a left kick for the second. As the battered Fujimoto lay stretched out, with the crowd wondering if he could possibly get up once again, the Japanese fighter’s corner had the good sense to throw in the towel.
Post-bout the applause was equally loud for both of these warriors, who put on a tremendous battle to finish the tournament in fine style.
“I had a dream and I believed in it and I did what I needed to do,” said Goodridge post-tournament. The Hawaii GP Champion also paid tribute to his unusual support team, “I couldn’t have done it without these two,” he said, pointing to trainer — his strikingly attractive, blond-dreadlocked sister, Susie; and sparring partner — Andrew McMichael, a plump and pale Canadian drama student who is Goodridge’s neighbor in Ontario, Canada.
(McMichael explained his sparring technique thus: “Basically I wear a big belt and lots of pads and hold a big medicine ball, and then Gary punches the hell out of me.”)
With his victory, Goodridge picks up US$10,000 in prize money and advances to the World GP Final Elimination, set for Osaka this September. This will be an eight-bout (‘one match’) tournament, with winners advancing to the ’05 Tokyo Dome Final. Already qualified for Osaka are the 2004 Final Eight — Remy Bonjasky (Holland), Mighty Mo (USA), Peter Aerts (Holland), Ernesto Hoost (Holland) Francis Botha (South Africa), Ray Sefo (New Zealand), Musashi (Japan) and Kaoklai Kaennorsing (Thailand).
Joining these fighters will be Choi Hong Man (South Korea), who won the Asia GP in Seoul this March; Glaube Feitosa (Brazil), who took the US GP title in Las Vegas in April; Semmy Schilt (Holland), victor at the European GP in Paris in May; Bob Sapp (USA), who won the Japan GP in June; Jerome LeBanner (France), winner over compatriot Cyril Abidi in a special qualifying Superfight in Paris; and now Goodridge. One more fighter will qualify when this year’s runners-up do battle in the last-chance Repechage Tournament at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas this August, with the 16th and final spot at Osaka to be awarded to a fighter who has exhibited exceptional fighting spirit on the year.