The future of K-1 kickboxing is bleak at best following the cancellation of the Grand Prix tournament that was expected to go down before the close of 2011.
The kickboxing promotion that has been around since 1993 held tournaments and events all over the world, including several MMA shows, but now with financial troubles mounting they appear to be in dire straights.
The cancellation of the K-1 Grand Prix seems to signal the death knell for the Japanese promotion, but former K-1 fighter Rick Roufus believes it’s something that had to happen sooner or later.
“Actually I think it’s good,” Roufus commented on the cancellation of the Gran Prix when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio. “K-1 unfortunately has not paid so many people, has not paid medical bills, which is one here, they never paid my medical bills, among I could go down the list of so many other athletes and I think it’s time for a change.
“I think they need to come in and clean out the closet and get everything right so they can take care of the athletes and put it back where it once was.”
Roufus competed for K-1 for several years and through several Grand Prix tournaments himself. He says the financial problems that K-1 is currently under scrutiny for goes back much further than just the last few months or even years.
Roufus says it was after his own knee injury suffered in a K-1 event that he found out that his medical bills weren’t getting paid.
“When I went to buy a house here in Arizona I had my credit pulled and they said you have about $7,000 in medical bills unpaid that I had to get taken care of and they never paid nothing,” Roufus stated.
“I don’t think it’s right that somebody takes time away from their family, their job, puts their life on the line, busts their butt in training to go all the way over there and not get paid, and get told ‘oh, I owe you’ or ‘I’ll send it to you’. Are you kidding me? Come on, that’s just not right.”
Roufus points back to the time when original K-1 founder Master Kazuyoshi Ishii ran the promotion, but after a 2003 conviction in Japan for tax evasion the promotion underwent major changes and it hasn’t been the same ever since.
“The whole thing messed up I think when Master Ishii went away,” said Roufus. “Master Ishii, he would have never allowed any of this to happen. Unfortunately, he had to go away for a while and they took everything from him. I hope it does come back, but I can’t read the future to tell what’s going to happen.”
Several athletes have made claims against K-1 for non-payment including Tyron Spong, as well as Roufus mentioning names like 2011 K-1 champion Alistair Overeem, as well as longtime friend Ray Sefo, who he believes is owed upwards of a $1,000,000 from K-1.
K-1 was always seen as the model and biggest organization to promote kickboxing, but with them seemingly banging on death’s door, what will it take for big time kickboxing to return to the main stage around the world?
Roufus points to the UFC’s business model where owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta along with Dana White lost millions of dollars to invest in a dream that when realized became one of the biggest money makers in all of sports.
“You have to get someone willing to lose millions to make billions,” Roufus commented. “If they want to compete with MMA or alongside MMA, or the UFC, they need to be willing to do that I think, make sacrifices.”
So is anyone willing to do that? Roufus believes there is a viable contender to K-1’s throne, but like anything it’s going to take time and money to see if that will pan out as a long term solution.
“I think there’s another big promotion out of Holland ‘It’s Showtime’ with Simon Rutz. I think he’s on hold to find out what’s going to happen. I know he’s working with HDNet, they have been talking about doing something in America. Whether it gets to the level of K-1, I don’t know,” said Roufus.
For his own career, Roufus is keeping busy and while he’s no longer affiliated with K-1, he’s still teaching the next generation of fighters at the MMA Lab in Arizona where fighters like Ben Henderson and Efrain Escudero train, while still pursuing his own fight dreams.
Roufus next competes this weekend in Las Vegas where he faces fellow K-1 veteran ‘Mighty’ Mo in a headline kickboxing match-up.