Press Release by Monti DiPietro (Photos courtesy of FEG)
Hawaii is the land of the laid-back — US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s return this afternoon to his native Honolulu was met not by a scream-fest, but rather by thousands of smiles at a sun-drenched reception by Keehi Lagoon. In this Pacific paradise, it’s all about “cruising,” or taking it easy. Even when it comes to fightsport productions.
K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Hawaii features the K-1 USA GP ’08 tournament, a trio of Superfights and a handful of other bouts featuring local and international K-1 fighters. Although this is looking like one of the mo’ bettah fightsport events of the year, the days leading up to it have been, true to the Hawaiian style, decidedly laid-back. Native son and former sumo wrestling Grand Champion Akebono, who is co-producing the event, cruised into the Level 14 theater in Honolulu yesterday to emcee a relaxed introduction to the fighters, while at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani hotel, fighters have been popping in for (outdoor) interviews over the last couple of days.
On Saturday night, the tempo will pick up and the energy will reach fever pitch. Here are the fighters’ thoughts on the eve of the action.
A chance to advance to this year’s K-1 World GP Final 16 Tournament is the prize in the K-1 USA GP ’08, a classic K-1 elimination tournament that sees eight fighters meeting in quarterfinal bouts, the winners advancing to a pair of semifinals, the victors there going head-to-head in the final. And so, the man who would be this year’s USA GP Champion will have to prevail in three bouts tomorrow.
In the first of the quarterfinals, American slugger Mighty Mo, the tournament winner last year in Hawaii, will face compatriot Justice Smith.
Said the confident Mo: “I’m training with Jamie Fletcher and for the last month or so I’ve been working with Josh Barnett as well. I think this extra MMA training has been good for my conditioning and stamina, and it will help in K-1. I only know my opponent Justice a little, I won’t say it’s going to be an easy fight, but maybe after it’s done, if I knock him out in the first round, then I’ll say it was an easy fight! I didn’t specifically train for him, just the regular two sessions a day, cardio and hard sparring in the gym. There ain’t too many people who can take my power, so I’m hoping for a knockout.
Replied the 206cm/6’9” Smith, a kickboxer and sometimes actor who appears on the television show American Gladiator: “I’ve been trying for five years to get into K-1, and now I want to show everyone that I belong here. I don’t want to brag but I’ve trained religiously, and my shins are like steel. I know Mo is powerful, but I’m powerful as well, I’m going to work my hard jab for a while, and pick my strikes with precision. I know if I catch him he will go down!”
In the second tournament matchup, it will be the rotund American Butterbean taking on Hawaiian Wesley “Cabbage” Correira of Hawaii.
Butterbean is also something of a media celebrity — he recently finished filming for “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.” A comment that he admired K-1 veteran Peter Aerts “because he’s a well rounded fighter” drew a chuckle from the media, who suggested a parallel with Butterbean’s own physique. “Well, Aerts is well-rounded in a different way than I am. I’ve been working on my technique, and I have some surprises ready.”
Pressed for details, the fighter explained, “Take the double low kick for example, a lot of people throw the low kick but they don’t double it up — that gets people’s attention! I want to win the tournament on Saturday — it’s nice to win a Superfight but when you win a tournament, that’s what people remember you for.”
Correira, who takes his nickname from comparisons to a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, said he can absorb a lot of strikes because his “head is full of concrete and stuff.”
“But I’ve worked on my technique as well, so there will be more than just taking blows. I like K-1, and I feel comfortable with all styles of fighting, I just spent four months of hard training in Bangkok to sharpen up my muay thai, to work on different angles. My style is like a big pot of hobo stew, where you throw in a bunch of stuff and mix it up!”
“I know Butterbean really well and he knows me really well. From the sound of the bell I’m just going to go after him and it will be a slugfest, both of us throwing blows until someone gets knocked out.”
Opening the second tournament bracket are Turkish kickboxer Gokhan Saki, who moved up from the reserve bout when Chalid “Die Faust” was scratched due delays getting a visa; and a boxer and muay thai fighter — the German-born, Hawaii-based Deutsch Puu.
Saki said he was ready to fight in the tournament. “I know when I am in the reserve that someone may go out, because two years ago that happened to me in Amsterdam, and I fought in the final [losing to Bjorn Bregy]. I always train for the entire tournament, and I’m a well-balanced fighter, so I’ll be ready.”
Puu, who recently left the US Army after 12 years of service, said the change in opponent doesn’t overly concern him. “I had a game plan for Chalid, because I knew he likes to step forward, which I like, but I’m hoping Saki will also want to step in and fight.”
The All-Army 2003 boxing champion, Puu also believes he has what it takes to go through to the final. “I started as a boxer, most of what we did was tournament style with several fights in the day, so I don’t have to worry about fighting three times. I’ve been doing muay thai as well, so K-1 fits my style. Also, K-1 is the biggest in the world so I want to show the world that Samoans are not only strong with the punches but can kick as well. I will be smart and fight for the points, but if a knockout comes, it comes. My goal is to win the World GP Championship in Japan.”
The last of the tournament quarterfinals pits Danish kickboxer Nicholas Pettas against Rick Cheek of the US.
Pettas, known in Japan as the “Blue-Eyed Samurai,” came to Hawaii a week or early in order to acclimatize. “I’ve been training hard here, where there are fewer distractions and I can concentrate on preparing for the tournament, which I can see myself winning. Of course, everyone faces the same challenges — to keep moving forward while avoiding damage. In full-contact karate we fight in many fights in a day. That spirit has made me what I am today — I have the calm that allows me to focus on finding the solution when the storm is raging. I stopped karate for three years to work on kickboxing training, using my hands to create opportunities for other things, and I think that’s made me a better fighter, with intensity and a varied arsenal. I will do whatever is right depending on the situation.”
Cheek seemed amused to discover his opponent’s nickname: “The ‘Blue-Eyed Samurai,’ that’s a real pretty name for him,” he laughed. “I don’t really come up with cute names, I’m the savage and I come in to be the most aggressive I can be, win the fight and get out as fast as I can. I don’t know if Nick should be going around calling himself a samurai, but if he is then more power to him. I’ll be the samurai with brown eyes if you like.”
“I’ve been preparing using multiple sparring partners, with a new partner every round so they are always fresh. Also, I have a new trainer, just for conditioning, stamina and core strength and balance and so on. I don’t think Nick is going to try to box me, I think he’s going to come out looking to chop my legs out. So I’ll be ready for that and counter him with my strongest weapon, punches.”
K-1 Heavyweight Champion Badr Hari of Morocco will meet Croatian MMA fighter Domagoj Ostojic.
Remarked a relaxed Hari: “I feel very good, I trained very hard and I’m ready as always. You must not forget, I’m 23 years old, I’m just a kid with a dream — I want three belts [the World GP, Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight]. I’m 100% confident I can do that, if I weren’t, I would just stay at home. As for Saturday, I don’t know much about Domagoj except that I fought him a couple of years ago and knocked him out. I advise him to keep his hands high because that’s what I want to do tomorrow, just knock him out to finish the fight.”
Ostojic has a vivid if painful memory of his KO loss to Hari, a loss he is keen to avenge: “That was three years ago, and I underestimated him. He was 10kg lighter then and I thought ‘what a skinny kid!’ This time, I’ll try to keep to the middle of the ring and answer his punches, I think mine are stronger. I learned a lesson when I underestimated Hari, maybe he’ll learn the same lesson tomorrow.”
Australian muay thai fighter Paul Slowinski will take on Moroccan kickboxer Aziz “Iceman” Jahjah.
Slowinski was confident his training with K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost would stand him in good stead. “I’ve been working with Ernesto on getting the distance right, getting in and out and boxing, and topping it off with kicks. I want to put aside the muay thai style and fight more in the explosive K-1 style. I’m ready to fight. I know Aziz’s strong points, his right hand, I’ve seen his fights and he’s technical and good but I don’t think he’s fought many heavyweights or taken kicks from heavyweights, so we’ll see.”
Jahjah said his right straight punch and knees would make the difference, “All I know about Slowinski is he is a K-1 fighter, and this is just a routine fight for me. Yes, I’ve watched some videos of Slowinski, but tomorrow when I see him in the ring I think I can win easily.”
In the last Superfight, it will be American MMA fighter Scott Junk versus Min Soo Kim, a South Korean judoka.
All three undercard fights are acting as reserve matches for the USA GP tournament.
In the first reserve (first substitute into the tournament), it will be South Korean shot putter Randy Kim 196cm/6’5″ and 180cm/5’11” Vilitonu Fonokalafi, a Hawaiian MMA and muay thai stylist who put his goal for Saturday succinctly: “It’s K-I, so KO, that’s it.”
Gokhan Saki’s promotion to the tournament opened up a spot in the second reserve fight. Junior Sua, a 41 year-old Hawaiian fighter, now faces the daunting proposition of stepping in against German K-1 veteran Stefan Leko.
And in the last of the undercard bouts, Japanese kyokushin fighter Koichi will make his K-1 debut against Dutch Muay Thai stylist Rico Verhoeven.
All bouts will be fought under Official K-1 Rules (3Min. x 3R, with a possible tiebreaker round, two possible tiebreakers in the tournament final and the Superfights)