Press Release by Monti DiPietro (Photo courtesy of K-1)
The K-1 World Grand Prix Final is the planet’s premier fightsport event, the annual culmination of scores of elimination tournaments held round the world. Hundreds of hopefuls have fallen by the way, outclassed by the eight elite fighters who will go head-to-head this Saturday night at the largest venue in the world’s largest city, Tokyo.
The event follows K-1′s classic tournament format — four first-tier bouts advanced a quartet of fighters to the semifinals, the winners there meet in the final. As such, the man who would be Champion will have to dispatch three opponents in a single day.
There won’t be an empty seat in the Tokyo Dome, and in Japan alone millions upon millions more will watch live on television, keen to see who will be last man standing and pick up the US$400,000 in prize money — who will be crowned the King of Kings.
This is prediction time, and many are picking Semmy Schilt — the towering Dutch Seidokaikan fighter and defending World Grand Prix champion. Schilt stands 212cm/6’11″, and comes with a full set of skills — speed, power, and prowess with both the punches and the kicks.
“Last year, it was clear that the other fighters couldn’t land punches on Schilt’s face,” says K-1 World Max fighter Masato, who figures the big guy will have little trouble repeating as Grand Champion. The Japanese sports media generally share Masato’s opinion, citing Schilt’s superior legwork is further evidence of his invincibility.
Popular Japanese media personality Norika Fujiwara, an avid and longtime K-1 fan and commentator, points out that to win the tournament, Schilt must get past his first fight opponent, Frenchman Jerome LeBanner. “The first fight is the biggest fight of the night,” says Fujiwara, “and I think Jerome can win that one. If so, he should go all the way.”
Over to Europe, where Marko Ervasti, editor of Scandinavia’s Fighter Magazine also predicts a LeBanner tournament victory. In Spain, Ricardo Diez Sanchis of Cross Combat magazine says he likes the chances of World Grand Prix ’03 and ’04 Champion Remy Bonjasky. “I think that the winner in the quarterfinal fight between Remy Bonjasky and Stefan Leko will have a serious chance to get the belt;” says Sanchis. “Bonjasky’s record in this kind of tournament is amazing. If Bonjasky is in the ring, he is the contender to beat!”
In the United States, Stephen “The Fight Professor” Quadros backs big Semmy Schilt. “He has the limb length, speed and power to be a problem for anyone here, so barring any kind of injury sustained during the grueling three matches it takes to win the K-1 World Grand Prix, I feel that Semmy will repeat as champion.”
Elie Khoury of California’s MMA Sports Magazine and longtime K-1 USA writer Michael Afromowitz both also tip Schilt to grab the glory this Saturday, making the Defending Champion the overall favorite.
A different point of view, however, is emerging from the boys down under. Australian Michael Schiavello, a television commentator for Fox Sports, TVNZ and InDemand USA, has seen a lot of K-1 action over a lot of years. This time around, he expects to see an upset, courtesy Brazilian Kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa.
“My money is on Glaube,” says Schiavello. “He is K-1′s most improved fighter and has a newfound aggression and will to win that will carry him all the way. His kicking arsenal is superb, so is his ability to take a knock, but most impressive has been the improvement of his boxing skills training under former amateur boxing heavyweight champion Faii Falamoe. Feitosa is now a genuine knockout threat for any fighter.”
Fellow Aussie Mark Castagnini of International Kickboxer and Blitz Martial Arts magazines is a former Australian Muay Thai Cruiserweight Champion. Like Schiavello, Castagnini has a good feeling about Feitosa. “He could be seen as somewhat of a outsider, but I think Feitosa is hitting form when it counts and could go all the way this year. His boxing skills have improved and his Kyokushin spirit equips him well to deal with this tournament style event.”
Further support for Feitosa’s chances comes from the international fightsport website kakutougi.info, whose Stuart Tonkin says, “At the end of the night I believe it will be Glaube smiling. In the last two years he has lost to only to Schilt, and his hand combinations at the Osaka Final Eliminations were the best we have ever seen from him. He is obviously confident in beating Ruslan, whom he selected to fight first. I believe 2006 is the first year we will have a Brazilian K-1 champion!”
Also being mentioned in many experts’ predictions, especially in Japan, is K-1′s only four-time World Grand Prix Champion Ernesto “Mr Perfect” Hoost, who came out of retirement to compete in this tournament; and the fast, technical and powerful package that is Stefan “Blitz” Leko. And who knows — the relative lack of attention and expectations could present opportunities for fighters Ruslan Karaev and Chalid Die Faust. As anyone who is followed K-1 will tell you — when the bell sounds, anything can happen.
In a disappointing bit of news for K-1′s many Korean fans, Hong-Man Choi, originally scheduled to participate in the tournament reserve bout, is now slated for an operation to remove hematoma from his quadriceps superficial (from an injury suffered in the Osaka Elimination), and so will miss the tournament. The “Techno-Goliath” is expected to make a full recovery and be back in action next year.
Taking Choi’s place against Kiwi Ray Sefo will be Dutchman Melvyn Manhoef; while in the first tournament reserve it will be three-time World Grand Prix Champion Peter Aerts of the Netherlands and Japanese Seidokaikan fighter Musashi.
A special Superfight was also announced today, that will feature K-1 Oceania Champion Paul Smolinski and Dutch bad boy Badr Hari.
The K-1 World Grand Prix Final is set for Saturday, December 2nd at the Tokyo Dome. It will be broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji television network. In other regions, check with local providers for scheduling details.