by Monti DiPietro – Courtesy of K1
AUCKLAND, March 5, 2006 — Twenty-five year-old Muay Thai fighter Paul Slowinski turned aside three opponents to win the K-1 Oceania Grand Prix ’06 tournament at the Trusts Stadium tonight. In Superfights on the card, Ray Sefo won the main event, and Defending WGP Champion Semmy Schilt’s first-ever K-1 defeat came at the hands of compatriot Peter Aerts.
The K-1 Oceania was a classic K-1 eight-man knock-out format tournament. First-tier 3min x 3 round matchups advanced four men to a pair of semifinal fights, and the two winners there met in the final. With his victory, the Polish-Australian Slowinski (190cm/6’3″; 107kg/235lbs) advances to the K-1 World Grand Prix ’06 Final Elimination at the Osaka Dome this September 30.
In advance of the tournament, K-1 announced new rules to crack down on defensive techniques that slow a fight’s pace. In order to ensure more strikes per round, holding is henceforth prohibited, with refs penalizing fighters for infractions.
After a robust Maori folk music and haka war dance performance center ring, the tournament’s first-tier bouts began with the explosive Marseilles kickboxer Cyril Abidi taking on Hiraku Hori, a 23 year-old Japanese up-and-comer whose boxing background has taught him to use his reach (Hori stands 198cm/6’6″) to advantage.
Abidi came out with low kicks which Hori was able to block or absorb without difficulty. Abidi got a hard right straight punch in on Hori’s nose, and seemed to be taking control. But a Hori kick caught Abidi awkwardly on the inside of the thigh, and he went down. The referee initially ruled this a slip, but when Abidi turned away from the fight a down was called. He got through the round but it was evident all was not right with the Frenchman.
After a doctor’s check on Abidi’s leg at the start of the second, he was cleared to continue and made something of a go of it. But Abidi frequently favored his taped-up ankle — a previous injury which might have been aggravated. Hori recorded another down halfway through the second, and it was a prudent decision from Abidi’s corner to throw in the towel before the third, taking their boy out and putting Hori into the semis.
Jafa fighters Jason Suttie and Pola Mataele tangoed in the second matchup. Mataele fights out of the Ray Sefo Fight Academy gym, and at 200cm/6’7″ was the tallest fighter in the tournament. Jason “Psycho” Suttie is a tough, squat veteran with 59 bouts under his belt, including a win over Mataele last year.
The crowd was solidly in Suttie’s corner — after Ray Sefo he’d got the loudest cheer during the opening ceremony’s fighters’ introductions. This must have energized Suttie, who wasted no time — throwing a hard right overhand then following with a quick punch combination that pinned Mataele in the corner. Mataele later recomposed and got some low kicks in to keep it close.
Suttie, however, had the better stuff throughout. The second round in particular was thrilling, as the pair repeatedly went head-to-head to slug it out. And in the third, it was the younger Mataele who looked the more fatigued. A majority decision for Suttie.
The third fight saw a couple of kickers — Peter Graham, a veteran Australian who won the Oceania GP in 2003 and 2004;and the untamed Badi Hari of the Netherlands. Hari is only 21 years-old, but already his bad boy reputation precedes him. Graham and Hari exchanged words at the press conference a day earlier and engaged in some pushing and sparring afterwards. There is, as they say, no love lost between these two.
Graham wanted to box in the early going, but Hari used front kicks to keep him at bay. Hari had the faster and harder low kicks throughout, and while Graham’s textbook combinations were good they were nothing spectacular. Graham connected with a right high kick late in the first and a right uppercut in the second but it was Hari who provided the visual excitement here, throwing spinning back kicks and haymakers — although most of these missed or made only partial contact. Hari threaded a solid right straight through in the second to cock his opponent’s head back, and as the third wore down it looked like the Dutch fighter had this one locked up.
But then, in the blink of an eye, Graham shocked everyone in the building — not least Hari — and stole the fight. From out of nowhere, the Aussie spun round a back kick with perfect execution. The heel hit Hari hard on the head and the fighter went down, knocked out cold. Amazingly, Graham had beat the flashy Dutch wunderkind at his own game, and in highlight-reel style.
The crowd jumped to their feet, awarding Graham an extended standing ovation. When they finally sat back down, Hari was still in the ring, lying flat on his back.
Slowinski got started in the last quarterfinal, going up against Rony Sefo of New Zealand. Sefo has learned a thing or two as the training partner and younger brother of one of the K-1 greats, but had yet to solve Slowinski, who had beaten him twice before tonight’s meeting.
The first was relatively even, both fighters able with the combinations and solid on defense. Sefo picked things up late in the round, putting Slowinski on the ropes with a barrage of hooks. In the second Slowinski stepped in and Sefo ate some leather and absorbed a few kicks — but was generally there with the counters and had a couple of good low kicks of his own. Both fellows slowed some in the third, Slowinski only occasional with low kicks, Sefo wobbly and half-hearted at times. There were flashes of energy here and there and a good finish with the two exchanging punches. Judges thought Slowinski brought more to the ring and so gave him the unanimous decision.
Hiraku Hori and Jason Suttie fought in the first semifinal. Hari chased Suttie some with kicks in the early going, although midway through Suttie closed the distance and pumped in a few fists. Hori’s reach stood him in good stead, and through the second he avoided any serious threats while racking up the points with his technical strikes. Suttie seemed frustrated by Hori again in the third, and could not get anything going. But, once again, just when it appeared one fighter was comfortably ahead on points and could coast to victory, he hit the ditch hard. A Suttie right hook, thrown during a mid-ring exchange between the fighters, connected soundly with the side of Hori’s head and dropped the Japanese fighter to the canvas for a KO, and Suttie was in the final.
The second semi saw Peter Graham and Paul Slowinski mix it up. Both men wanted through, and the focus and spirit was there from the start. Neither gave the other much to hit, although Graham put the punches in fairly well and Slowinski did connect with some good hard low kicks. Slowinski intensified those low kicks in the second to effect, and soon Graham’s left leg was hurting and he was wincing. As the midway point approached Graham was limping. Slowinski exploited the weakness and pumped in a couple of low kicks to score a couple of downs and get the win and a date with Suttie in the all-Oceania final.
With everything on the line, Slowinski kept his guard high and his kicks low, while Suttie went mostly with a quick punching attack. The two went at it throughout, Suttie clocking his opponent with a hard straight punch in the early going, Slowinski landing a dandy high kick soon afterward.
Slowinski showed some boxing prowess in the second. Alas, despite repeated cries of “Jason!” from the crowd, Suttie was simply outmuscled here. After an exchange midway through the second, Slowinski saw an opening and threw up a high kick to drop Suttie and pick up the Oceania GP Trophy.
“I really wanted to bring it home” said an emotional Suttie to the crowd afterward, “but I’ll continue to fight until I get there. If I die in the ring, I die happy . . .”
Slowinski’s victory speech was well-received by the good-sports crowd: “From day one I worked hard for this — I usually train in Muay Thai style but I focused instead on punching this time. So, thanks, New Zealand! And thanks to my trainers and team, and especially thanks to my girlfriend who had to put up with all this shit over the last three months!”
Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo appeared in the main event, taking on South African boxer Francois “The White Buffalo” Botha, a former I.B.F. Heavyweight Champion, in a Superfight. The bout was Sefo’s first in his native New Zealand in more than eight years.
Known for his fists, Sefo elected here to display a more varied fighting style. Sugarfoot led with three low kicks before attempting an ax kick that just missed. Botha came in with a jab then tried the right overhand, but couldn’t lay a glove on his opponent until he got a few left straight punches through in the second. But Sefo wasn’t going to lose this one, and he connected with a nice high kick midway through the bout, then executed a beautiful spinning back punch seconds later. When Sefo resorted to his lazy-guard mocking-apeman routine, Botha charged in and tagged him a couple.
But Sefo again dropped the guard and taunted Botha in the third. The South African’s overhand right got in, but Sefo showed a good chin and kept coming back with the neat combinations. In the end, it was easy for the judges to give Sefo the win by a comfortable unanimous decision.
“I wasn’t expecting Ray to kick so much,” said Botha in his ring comments, “but he kicks like a mule!”
“Francois took this fight on short notice but fought like a warrior,” said a triumphant Sefo. “Thanks to him, and thanks all my people here in New Zealand for supporting this sport! I feel great!”
A second Superfight pitted Defending K-1 World GP Champion Semmy Schilt of the Netherlands against compatriot Peter Aerts, a living legend who has won the WGP three times. The gargantuan Schilt has been unstoppable, recording 13 wins and one draw in his 14 K-1 bouts coming into this event — but Aerts the “Lumberjack” cut him down to size.
Despite the new rules, there was too much clinching in this bout. Otherwise it proved a study in strategies. Schilt was intent on staying outside and tossing in kicks, and his size made this a safe choice. Aerts, meanwhile, had to get inside, and that meant getting past Schilt’s kicks and fists, striking once at most while avoiding the big knees. Aerts did well — he got a good overhand right punch in early in the first and landed another in the second, and had the low kicks on throughout.
Aerts showed smarts and a lot of heart, and kept bringing the fight to the big guy, although Schilt was never in any serious trouble. Both fighters scored points with combinations in the middle going.
The third round was Aerts’ chance to get ahead, and he rose to the challenge, fearlessly crashing through Schilt’s guard — only to be repeatedly stymied by a big bear hug. Eventually, Schilt was given a yellow card for his attack-stifling holding tactics, and shortly afterward got a second. This had to have influenced the judges, who regarded Aerts as the more aggressive fighter and rewarded him with the upset win by majority decision.
“I feel great,” said a beaming Aerts afterward amid a throng of autograph-seeking fans, “Semmy is tall and big and so he’s difficult to fight against but I won, that’s the important thing! I really feel great!”
In the tournament reserve fights: Jay Hepi of New Zealand beat Ben Edwards of Australia by majority decision in a spirited contest; and in a bout deadlocked after three, Matt Samoa of Australia was awarded the win when Sydney Asiata of New Zealand could not continue due a shoulder injury.
The K-1 Oceania Grand Prix ’06 attracted a sellout crowd of 8,800 to the Trusts Stadium and was broadcast live on the Fuji Television Network and Fuji Satellite TV in Japan; on TV2 in New Zealand; and on MBC/ESPN in South Korea. The event will be delay-broadcast on EuroSport across Europe, on ProTV in Romania and GroboSat in Brazil. In total, the Oceania GP will be seen in more than 60 countries — please check with local broadcasters for scheduling details.
And as always, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete