Press Release by Monty DiPietro for K-1 (Photo courtesy of K-1)
TOKYO – The K-1 World Grand Prix Final format has not changed since K-1′s debut in 1993 – four first-tier bouts advance a quartet of fighters to the semifinals, the winners there square off in the final. As such, the man who would be crowned the King of Kings will have to get past three different opponents in a single day. The 15th K-1 World Grand Prix Final is set for the Yokohama Arena on Dec. 8.
This year’s finalists, in order of their bouts on Saturday, are veteran kickboxer Jerome Le Banner of France; South Korean Hong Man Choi, a 218cm/7’2″ former Ssireum Grand Champion; K-1 Super Heavyweight Champion and two-time and defending WGP Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland; Brazilian kyokushin master Glaube Feitosa; the K-1 Heavyweight Champion, Moroccan bad boy Badr Hari; two-time WGP Champion Remy “The Gentleman” Bonjasky of Holland; veteran three-time WGP Champion Peter Aerts, also of Holland; and 23-year-old Japanese kickboxer Junichi Sawayashiki.
With just days remaining before the decisive clash, K-1 writers and commentators from around the world weighed in with their WGP predictions and comments.
From the respected Japanese martial arts magazine Kakutogi Tsushin, Takao Matsui confidently predicted that this would be the year that Peter “The Dutch Lumberjack” Aerts captures his fourth WGP crown.
“Peter is in form,” says Matsui, “his low and high kicks are both working, and he looks stronger than ever. I think we’ll see a repeat of the ’98 K-1 World Grand Prix Final, when Peter won all three of his fights by KO. He could do that again this time.”
Matsui names Badr Hari as his dark horse candidate this year.
From the Tokyo-based English-language web site kakutougi.info, Stewart Tonkin also has a soft spot for Peter Aerts:
“Looking at the match-ups, I think Peter Aerts has the easiest opening fight,” says Tonkin. “His semi-final match would be against someone carrying damage from the war that Hari vs. Bonjasky promises to be.
“Last year Peter went all the way to the finals after having trained for just one fight, and he gave Semmy a serious run for his money. This year he is in form and, barring a training injury, I can see him equaling Ernesto Hoost’s record of four WGP Championships. A final between Peter Aerts and Jerome LeBanner would be enough to bring a tear to the eye of all long-time K-1 fans.
“But the easy pick, and perhaps the smart one, is that Semmy Schilt will be getting his hands on his third WGP belt. Aside from being dropped by Ray Sefo in his first fight of the year, no one has gotten close to even looking competitive when facing Semmy.
“Having said that, 2007 has been the year of upsets and I have a feeling there might just be another one at Yokohama. He is an underdog here, but I never count out Glaube Feitosa. His is the opening match that most resembles Masato vs. Buakaw in K-1 Max. If Glaube does manage to clear the insanely high hurdle that is Semmy Schilt, his confidence will be so good that I think it will be difficult for anyone to stop his momentum.”
We move across the Pacific to the United States for the thoughts of one of the world’s most respected martial arts experts, Stephen “The Fight Professor” Quadros (StephenQuadros.com).
“I see no reason that Semmy Schilt should not repeat this year as K-1 World GP Champion, if he has no significant injuries going into the tournament,” says Quadros. “Schilt can only be beaten by age in my opinion because he, like Ernesto Hoost and Peter Aerts before `him, is the ultimate natural-born physical prototype for K-1 fighting; a tall, quick Dutchman with knockout power.”
Quadros backed up his prediction with detailed fight-by-fight fight predictions:
“Jerome Le Banner has been a sentimental favorite to win the GP for several years running, but has always come up short, pardon the pun. And it will once again be that very area, his height disadvantage when facing Hong Man Choi, that denies him becoming the 2007 K-1 WGP champ. Choi by decision.
“Semmy Schilt will have a few problems early on with the athletic Glaube Feitosa, but will use his natural gifts of linear attack to eventually catch, hurt and dispose of the Brazilian. Schilt by TKO.
“Badr Hari is relatively new to this level of competition and will be fired up emotionally. Multiple titlist Remy Bonjasky will need to put all his focus and experience to use to win this one. Caution is an audience’s worst enemy, but it will be the Dutchman’s best friend. Bonjasky by decision.
“Peter Aerts has been here since the beginning, literally. He lost a close if not controversial decision to Hoost in the first ever K-1 back in 1993. Since then he has won the tournament three times. But age and wear are catching up to him. Will Junichi Sawayashiki be the one to oust him one final time from the tournament? No. Aerts by KO.”
“A semifinal of Choi versus Schilt II is another classic Godzilla clash. Semmy will use his quickness to hurt Choi to the body with his front kick. That weapon will dictate a less than crowd-pleasing win. Schilt by decision.
“Whenever you have two legends who have both captured the Grand Prix several times meet in the finals you have something beyond the norm. Remy is the new guard in this particular match and will be sharper in the punching and kicking exchanges. Bonjasky by decision.
“Part of me wonders if Schilt and Bonjasky ever get tired of facing each other. Schilt will always be a bad matchup for Bonjasky, simply because of reach and quickness of penetration. I cannot see Semmy losing this. Schilt by decision.”
Adds Quadros, “If Hong Man Choi duplicates his unbelievable victory over Schilt on this special night in the semifinals, he will be my dark horse choice for Champion this year. Ever-improving speed and agility for the Korean giant spells the same kind of trouble that Schilt has presented opponents for years.”
Finally we move to Europe.
In Sweden, Anders Eriksson of Fighter Magazine (fightermag.se) offers a unique take in his fight-by-fight predictions:
“In the first quarterfinal, with Choi’s size, LeBanner has to catch him making a crucial mistake. Hong Man has newfound skills and mistakes are becoming few and far between. Choi by decision.
“Feitosa’s strengths, as a tall, tricky, and a little awkward karate fighter, are basically the same as Semmy’s. But Semmy is bigger and probably better. Nothing Feitosa does will surprise Semmy. Schilt by 2nd round TKO.
“In Badr Hari vs Remy Bonjasky, I believe this will be entirely up to Remy. If he comes hungry, well prepared and determined to win, he will beat Hari, even if it won’t be an easy fight. If he is even a little resigned or off, Hari will run away with it. Bonjasky by decision after an extra round.
“Junichi Sawayashiki will make a name for himself, fighting against Peter Aerts as if there were no tomorrow, but he won’t upset Aerts’ experience in the end. Aerts by decision.
“In the semis, Choi upsets Semmy by applying pressure in a fight where neither connects cleanly; and Remy beats whomever of the two he is fighting.
“So I think the final will be Remy Bonjasky vs. Hong Man Choi. A strange fight, difficult to judge, but Remy’s style is more orthodox and easier to reward on the judges’ scorecards. Remy becomes champion after two extension rounds.”
And from Tim Leidecker, of the German web site groundandpound.de:
“Even though it is not the most creative pick, I think that Semmy Schilt will three-peat,” says Leidecker. “He has beaten his first round opponent Jerome LeBanner before and will certainly seek revenge in a potential semifinal clash against Hong-Man Choi. In a possible final I could imagine him again winning a decision over his compatriot Peter Aerts, provided that the ‘Dutch Lumberjack’ makes it through the previous rounds unhurt.
“The dark horse in the tournament certainly has to be Moroccan shooting star Badr Hari. His bout with two-time winner Remy Bonjasky has fight of the night written all over it. It will be too early for him to go all the way though, as a possible semifinal meeting with wily veteran Peter Aerts should prove too much for him. But at only 23 years of age, Hari has at least another ten chances to make it better.”
A quick survey of other comments, predictions and readers’ polls from international fightsport websites and magazines also points to Schilt as the favorite.
The K-1 World Grand Prix Final 07 kicks off at 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Yokohama Arena. It will be broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji TV network, and delay-broadcast in some 130 countries around the world. For scheduling information contact local providers. Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for more information on this and all K-1 events.