by Monti DiPietro
HIROSHIMA, June 14, 2005 — A display of superior stamina and newfound prowess with kicks propelled Bob “The Beast” Sapp past three opponents and earned the American former-NFLer the Championship at the K-1 Japan Grand Prix ’05. Sapp, who has been criticized in the past for fading shy of finishing a single round, battled through eight tough rounds tonight to win the tournament before a full house at the Hiroshima Green
Also on the card, in Superfight action, Ray Sefo reaffirmed his status among the K-1 elite by dispatching Ruslan Karaev; and South Korean fighter Hong-Man Choi remained undefeated in K-1 with a win over Tom “Green Beret” Howard.
The first of the Japan GP tournament matchups was a battle of two tough guys, as Tatsufumi Tomihira and Hiromi Amada stepped in for a repeat of their semifinal war at the Japan GP last year. Amada won that bout by third round KO, going on to take the
tournament, and was many experts’ pick to repeat as Japan Champion this year.
But Tomihira has shown steady improvement in K-1, impressing many with his first round KO win over K-1 veteran Mike Bernardo last year. Here the scrappy Karate fighter — who the Japanese media have dubbed “Mr. Yellow Card” for his tendency to record fouls –
started off with kicks, but ate a lot of leather in the early going as Amada was characteristically aggressive with the fists.
Amada repeatedly moved in with the punch combinations in the second round, while Tomihira stayed light on his feet, peppering his opponent with low kicks while looking to get the high kick through. In the third, Tomihira closed the distance to work the knees, and
fired in more low kicks — while, again, Amada was there with the fists.
It was a close fight, and an uncommon 1-1-1 result from the judges forced an extra round. Here, Tomihira was more aggressive, scoring points with low kicks and jumping in with knees. Amada wanted to do it all with his punches, but now Tomihira was controlling the
distance well enough to stymie these attacks. When it was over Tomihira had exacted revenge for his loss last year, recording an upset win by split decision to advance to the semis.
Yusuke Fujimoto took on Hajime Moriguchi in the second fight. Moriguchi, a late substitute in this tournament, had not fought in K-1 since dropping a decision to Nobu Hayashi back in 2002, and looked rusty in the early going. Fujimoto, on the other hand,
was aggressive from the start, snapping in quick hard low kicks and combinations to set the pace. In the second it was Fujimoto again looking good with the low kicks and threading straight punches through to rattle Moriguchi. In the third round Fujimoto led with the jab and put some nice rights in to score enough points to win with the night’s first unanimous decision.
The lone non-Japanese fighter in the tournament, Bob “The Beast” Sapp brought a 20cm (8″) height and whopping 60kg (135lbs) weight advantage to the ring for his quarterfinal match with former wrestler Yoshihiro Nakao.
From the bell, The Beast charged forward in his signature style, but Nakao intercepted him center-ring to go to the clinch. Sapp threw several kicks and a couple of knees to demonstrate greatly improved legwork and balance here. Several times during the bout Sapp appeared to pump late blows down on his opponent after a slip, but the referee was always quick to separate the fighters. In the second, Sapp threw kicks and knees as well as punches, but Nakao was cocky and defiant — dropping his guard and taunting The Beast. The final round saw Nakao start with a brave flying kick then move in with the punches, but Sapp came out better with his counters. There was a final questionable attack on Nakao while he was on his knees in the third, and this time Sapp was assessed a yellow card.
The Beast’s improved stamina was evident here, as he continued to come in with attacks right up to the final bell — a little bit past the final bell, actually. A wild ride culminating in a unanimous decision for Sapp.
A couple of capable technical fighters, Tsuyoshi Nakasako and Hiraku Hori, did battle in the last of the first-tier bouts. Once touted as the next big thing from Japan, Nakasako has had a tough time as of late, losing three of his last four — and had to be looking to change his luck here.
But Hori, at just 23 years of age the youngest fighter in the tournament, was confident and well-balanced with good evasive technique and solid punch and kick combinations. Nakasako stepped in with the right straight in the first, but was not able to take control, as Hori the southpaw held his ground. The second saw Hori start with a dandy combination and keep the pressure up with a wide variety of punch and kick attacks. After a Hori high kick opened a cut over Nakasako’s eye, time was stopped for a doctor check, but Nakasako was cleared to continue. Now somewhat more desperate to score points, Nakasako repeatedly invited Hori in to mix it up, and Hori obliged to effect.
In the final round the two went toe-to-toe, and both scored with punches, Nakasako looking good with an uppercut. After stepping back, Hori just missed with a big high kick, and a moment later Nakasako connected with one of his own. In the late going, the pair looked tired, but Hori hang on, having done enough to win a unanimous decision and advance.
The first of the semis saw Tatsufumi Tomihira take on Yasuke Fujimoto. After a slow and cautious start by both fighters, it was Fujimoto who came in — the right straight punches doing well for the glabrous gladiator. But Tomihira was solid with his blocking, and soon took to tossing the kicks in. This was beginning to look like it would be a long, hard battle. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was over.
With Fujimoto’s guard down after throwing a punch, Tomihira seized the opportunity to snap a perfect right high kick up which connected fully with the side of his opponent’s head, dropping him in a heap. A woozy Fujimoto struggled to his knees, but could not make it to his feet, and Tomihira had the KO win and a trip to the final.
Bob Sapp and Hiraku Hori made a wild start to the second semi. Sapp shifted to overdrive here, bulldozing in on Hori from the bell with his fists wailing relentlessly. This continued until Hori slipped to the canvas, after which time was stopped and a doctor check called due a cut over Hori’s left eye. He was cleared to continue.
Sapp was doing something he hasn’t in the past — breathing deeply. This kept the big guy’s energy level up much longer than usual, and he looked great with the jabs, haymakers and hooks until well past the halfway point, when he finally slowed down. Now Hori was able to take the initiative, pumping in body blows and tossing up high kicks while Sapp rode the ropes. But The Beast’s blocking was sound and he got out of the round.
In the second, Sapp stepped forward with punches, and put some low kicks in for good measure — really, Hori was not up to stopping this new improved Beast. After a break from a clinch midway through, rather than charging in, Sapp stayed back and invited Hori to come to him. This the Japanese fighter did, and during the ensuing slugfest Sapp got a right hook through to stun Hori. Quickly, Sapp came in with another right and then a third to score a down. Hori beat the count, but after resumption Sapp simply got the big punches working again. In no time Hori was on his knees and the referee had no choice but to stop the fight, putting Sapp into the final.
Bob Sapp and Tatsufumi Tomihira put on a heck of a show in the final. The Beast came on strong in the early going, charging in and scoring a down with a right hook just seconds in. Tomihira had no effective defense against Sapp, and went to the bear hug clinch repeatedly out of desperation, for which he was assessed a yellow card. Sapp just kept on coming, corralling Tomihira into the corner midway through the first and beating him up to score a second down. Tomihira showed a lot of spunk, and the yellow card man had to laugh when Sapp tagged him on the back of the head while he was on his way to the canvas — a taste of his own medicine? Sapp very nearly got the third and decisive down near the end of the first, when a combination of punches and knees against a cornered Tomihira put him off balance, but the Japanese fighter was saved by the bell.
In the second Sapp again managed to pound away on a Tomihira closed up in the corner, but could not score any more downs in this bout, as Tomihira showed a lot of heart to stay on his feet — even when Sapp put a precise high kick up at the clapper. The third round
saw Tomihira start with punches, but Sapp answered this by charging forward once again, throwing good hard low and mid kicks. As the fight wore down, the two tired fighters reached something of a stalemate — Tomihira had nice low kicks and body blows, but they didn’t have the oomph to hurt Sapp, who was slower now but no less tough, launching attacks to the end.
A unanimous decision and tournament win for Sapp, who addressed the crowd from center-ring: “I want to thank all the Japanese samurai warriors tonight! They put up a hell of a fight, but I’m not tired, and for that I want to say a special thank you to my trainer Sam Greco!”
In the post-tournament interviews, Greco had praise for his student: “When Bob called me about training him for this tournament the first thing I asked was ‘Are you serious?’ He said he was, so I gave him my conditions — first, he would miss the Hollywood premiere of The Longest Yard (Sapp stars in the new version of the classic football film); second, he would leave Seattle, where he lives, and Japan, where he enjoys the good life, and move to Australia to train every day. He accepted, and came over and trained like a true, dedicated athlete. I believe in Bob Sapp, he will only get stronger.”
Sapp was bruised but beaming at his post-tournament interview: “It was the hardest I’ve ever trained, I totally changed my style. I think I may have broken my ankle tonight and I tore a nail off my toe, which hurts something awful, but I believe that if you’re going to get hurt, you have to make sure the other guy hurts more, so I just kept going on sheer aggression. I’ve had low points in my career, now this is a high point and I am enjoying it! I think I’ve proven I belong in K-1.”
With the win, Sapp picks up 5,000,000 yen in prize money (about 48,000 US dollars or 40,000 Euros) and a place in the World GP Final Elimination September 23 at the Osaka Dome — an eight-bout, one match format tournament that will qualify eight fighters for this year’s Tokyo Dome Final.
In advancing to Osaka, Sapp joins Choi Hong Man (South Korea), who won the Asia GP in Seoul this March; Glaube Feitosa (Brazil), who took the USA GP title in Las Vegas in April, Semmy Schilt (Holland), victor at the European GP in Paris last month; and Jerome LeBanner (France), who beat Cyril Abidi in a special qualifying Superfight also in Paris. 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) — have a bye to Osaka. The three remaining spots will be filled at the World GP Intercontinental in Honolulu next
month and the World GP Repechage in Las Vegas in August, with one additional fighter to be selected based on extraordinary performance in the ring this year.
There were two Superfights on the card:
In the first, South Korean behemoth and 2005 Asia GP Champion Hong-Man Choi stepped in against “Green Beret” Tom Howard of the United States.
“Choi is a household name in Korea, a national hero.” said Korean media producer Yun-Sung Ji, who came to Hiroshima to cover the fight. “Everyone in Korea is extremely interested to se how he does in this bout!”
Choi stands 218cm (7’2″), which gave him a 26cm (10″) height advantage over Howard. Undaunted, the American threw the first strike, an overhand (what else?) right punch. Choi answered with a knee. Howard continued throwing the overhand, mixing in some low kicks, but could not get past Choi’s reach to do any damage. For his part, Choi looked more than capable with his left jab and threw several good punch combinations.
Midway through the first, Choi went on the attack, moving in on his opponent, closing the distance and throwing knees. Choi’s sheer size and power proved too much for Howard, who powerless to defend. It was a left knee that got up to Howard’s face from the clinch
to send the American tumbling backward and onto the canvas in a heap. Howard looked like he might try and beat the count, but there was no point, as his face was awash with blood. An impressive KO win for Choi, who now has to rank as one of the best of K-1′s big
The second Superfight pitted K-1 veteran Ray Sefo of New Zealand against Russian kickboxer Ruslan Karaev.
Karaev looked pretty good here — for about a dozen seconds. From the bell the Russian came in quickly with a left hook, then tossed up a good high kick, intent on taking charge. But Sefo would have none of it. Showing why he is arguably the best puncher in K-1, the Kiwi went in with his fists, intrepid, backing Karaev into the corner. It didn’t take long
before a left hook connected to put the Russian down. Seconds after resumption, Sefo planted three more punches on the hapless Karaev’s kisser to bring the referee in. A standing count was called, but Karaev was in no condition to continue, and so Sefo had the
“Of course I’m happy with the win,” said Sefo in his post-fight interview. “Although it was my first fight of 2005, I kept up my training and I was ready. Now, I’m more than ready for my next fight!”
The K-1 Japan Grand Prix 05 attracted a sellout crowd of 7,166 to the Hiroshima Green Arena. It was same-day broadcast across Japan on the Fuji TV Network and in South Korea on the MBC ESPN Network; and can be seen on a delayed basis elsewhere — check with local providers for scheduling details.