Press Release by Monti DiPietro – Photo courtesy of K1

TOKYO, April 5, 2006 — The four K-1 World Max Champions all emerged victorious tonight in the World Max Final Elimination ’06 at the Yoyogi Olympic Stadium in downtown Tokyo. The seven-bout card featured elite World Max fighters in a one-match elimination tournament. The winners — along with an eighth to be named for exceptional fighting spirit — advance to the World Max Final at the Yokohama Arena this June 30.

Since its inception, K-1’s 70kg (154lbs) World Max weight class has garnered a tremendous swell of fan interest both in Japan and internationally. As World Max enters its fifth season, all four previous Champions remain serious threats to repeat. But to get to this year’s Final, each had to get past a tough challenger tonight.

Shooto Boxer Andy Souwer of Holland used his speed, skill and smarts to win the 2005 World Max Final. In tonight’s first bout, the Defending Champion stepped in against “Shinobu” Tsogto Amara, a Mongolian karate fighter making his K-1 World Max debut.

Amara made a good start, firing in low and high kicks straight punches, body blows and a couple of spinning punches against a closed-up Souwer. But the Dutch fighter soon found his form, and had the legs working through the end of the round and into the second. Amara, however, refused to be intimidated, and chased Souwer with some solid combinations to end the second. The third started with a grand right high kick by Souwer, but Amara then stepped up and laid in with the fists to e effect. Souwer couldn’t find his distance here, and so began to answer Amara’s fists in kind, which led to a thrilling climax. It was close — one judge saw a draw, one liked Amara by a single point and the other gave Souwer the nod by the same margin — and so we went to a tiebreaker.

Here Souwer’s experience stood him in good stead as he carefully picked his chances. A right straight punch and some knee work made the difference, allowing the Defending Champ to advance with a unanimous decision.

Souwer was not especially pleased with his performance: “He’s surprisingly tough, I hit him hard but couldn’t hurt him,” said the Dutchman in a post-fight interview. “But I came here to get through to the Final, and I did that, so I achieved my goal.”

The second matchup featured Armenian-born, Holland-based fighter Drago; and Philippine-born, Danish-raised, America-based Ole Laursen. The youngest fighter on the card at 21 years of age, Drago is a Muay Thai fighter who credits inspiration to the Rocky film series. Laursen comes from a diverse background that includes boxing, Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.

His guard high and out, Laursen set the pace early with low kicks and quick combinations. Drago countered dangerously with one-two punch incursions, setting up with overhands and stepping in with the uppercut. Both men got good lefts through here, but in the second it was Drago who put superior pressure on his closed-up opponent, forcing a standing count midway through.

Laursen fired high kicks up to start the third, but Drago was proficient with his blocking and evasions. Drago leaned in with the straight punches on the counter and soon was once again feeding Laursen leather. The Armenian also made partial contact with an ax kick here, and finished solidly enough to take a comfortable unanimous decision.

Power-puncher Mike Zambidis of Greece met Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Sato in the next bout. Sato won the Japan Max this February, and has been dubbed the “Max Semmy Schilt” for his height. At 185cm/6’1″, he towers a full 18cm/7″ over the bantam Zambidis.

Not surprisingly, Sato worked the legs here, peppering Zambidis with low kicks from the get-go. The feisty Greek tossed some low kicks, but had better results with the fists, stepping in early with a left hook to rattle Sato. A spirited Zambidis had more in the second, setting with body blows then showing good timing to put the quick biff up and over Sato’s guard. But Sato was relentless with the low kicks — as time wore on Zambidis’ upper legs hued black and blue. It was an inspired effort, but Zambidis just couldn’t get the down he wanted. Meanwhile, Sato’s kicks racked up enough points to secure a unanimous decision.

“The punches in the first round hurt me,” said Sato post-contest, “and so I was happy to pick up the win!”

Takayuki Kohiruimaki of Japan fought Chi Bin Lim of South Korea in the next contest. Lim won the Asia Max GP this February in Busan, and has become something of a celebrity in his home country, celebrated in newspapers and magazines. Kohiruimaki won the Japan Max in 2005, but injuries have kept him out of action for most of the time since.

Kohiruimaki ranks as one of Japan’s best Max fighters, and appeared fully recovered here, aggressive with the low and front kicks. Lim had some stuff of his own, a right straight punch on the counter in the first cocked Kohiruimaki’s head back. Lim stepped in with a combination to start the second, and was more aggressive and better with the fists through the round.

In the third both went for broke, Kohiruimaki showing a good chin to absorb a Lim straight punch before rallying with low kicks to score a down. Lim fought on, but could not stand up to Kohiruimaki’s legs. The Japanese fighter kicked hard to pick up a second down, and seconds later kicked again to get the third and the KO win.

Albert Kraus of Holland was the first-ever World Max Champion back in 2002. Here he tangoed with Ali Gunyar of Turkey. This was something of a revenge match for Kraus, who had lost to Gunyar in a recent European kickboxing event.

The pair took few chances in the early going — guards high and close, testing with jabs. It was the second before things picked up, Gunyar forward with high kicks and looking to step in with the knee, Kraus closing well with hooks and an uppercut. No bone-crunching contact however, and the round ended about even. Up a notch in the third as Gunyar got the punches going and followed with some hard low kicks. But Kraus set with a front kick then clocked Gunyar hard with a right hook, finishing nicely with a one-two punch. Gunyar put a left in and there was a spirited exchange to cap this one, which judges gave to Kraus by unanimous decision.

“I really felt that I had to win this one,” said Kraus afterward. “I was prepared and ready to do it!”

Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand is a consummate kicker who won the 2004 World Max Championship and was runner-up at last year’s Final. In the penultimate bout here he took on Virgil Kalakoda of South Africa. Kalakoda is a boxer who beat Tae Woong Shin Bi in a Busan Superfight this February for his second consecutive K-1 victory. He is also the son of one of K-1’s most respected trainers, Steve Kalakoda.

The classic boxer versus kicker contest began with Kalakoda charging in with his fists wailing. With the distance closed, Buakaw was forced to respond with punches of his own, and these were not at all bad. After breaking, Kalakoda threw the overhand right to pass, but Buakaw pumped in knees when the two got close. The pattern more or less the same through the fight — Kalakoda throwing the punches, Buakaw answering with kicks. When Kalakoda got past the low and middle kicks, Buakaw was able to tie him up and bring up the knees.

Kalakoda had a dandy left hook in the second, Buakaw a good high kick in the same round. But too often the pair ended up on the ropes in the clinch. After repeated breaks, Buakaw was finally cautioned for clinching in the third. What with all the stop-and-starts, judges couldn’t pick a winner here and so called for a tiebreaker.

The fourth round started with better movement and some vigorous exchanges. Kalakoda had a couple of punishing lefts in the early going, but Buakaw was deft with the punches himself, connecting with a straight left that was the strike of the round. The Thai also had expert evasions here, repeatedly pulling out of the path of Kalakoda’s fists. Again, a close round to end the very close fight, adjudicated by split decision in favor of Buakaw.

“I had problems with my breathing in the ring, I was hyperventilating” said Buakaw post-bout. “It was not my best performance.”

The Main Event was a showdown between Masato, the 2003 World Max Champion and Japan’s most potent Max fighter; and Remigijus Morkevicius, a lightning-quick and hard-hitting Lithuanian unbeaten in three K-1 contests.

The bell sounded and Morkevicius came in like a loaded gun. Masato attempted to stave the attack with a low kick, but sheer momentum dashed the Lithuanian through his opponent, and a high kick and three punches drove Masato back to the ropes. When Morkevicius then flew in with a knee, Masato was very nearly overwhelmed with the fight scarcely a minute old. But Masato mustered his Champion’s spirit, answering with a hard right straight punch, then a right uppercut, and now he was back in the fight. Morkevicius was however relentless, and leapt and rained in attacks on Masato, who clearly had his hands full with the Lithuanian southpaw.

The second saw Masato forgo technical prowess and any plan of out-pointing his opponent — now it was all-out war. Morkevicius’ attacks were met with hard punches, and soon Masato was taking the initiative. After a sloppy exchange center-ring, Masato got his opponent against the ropes and put in a flurry of punches. A knee from the Japanese fighter and now Morkevicius was in trouble. Masato connected with uppercuts and a left hook as his opponent turned away, then doubled over, and in a flash the towel flew in from Morkevicius’ corner. Masato had the KO win — but when the crowd’s ovation was extended to both combatants.

“It was a do-or-die fight,” said Masato later. “In the first round he was very strong but I read his attacks, so in the second round I could match and counter them. I know when a fighter comes out like he did, very aggressively, if I can match him then I can break his spirit. That’s what happened tonight.”

In the undercard bouts:

Nick Gonzalez of the US impressed the K-1 organization at the Las Vegas open tryouts last year. In his K-1 debut here Gonzalez met Tatsuji, runner-up at the Japan Max earlier this year. This was a hard-fought bout — both boxers focused, quick and in the thick. As it wore on it was Tatsuji who showed better stamina and more aggressive attacks to take the win by unanimous decision. The other undercard fight featured a couple of Muay Thai stylists, with Toshiyuki Kinami of Japan beating Soren King of Australia by unanimous decision.

In order to keep the action fast (mirroring rule changes made in the World Grand Prix series), K-1 announced prior to tonight’s event that World Max referees would penalize fighters who resort to clinching and holding to slow down fights. This is a protocol that K-1 is intent on continuing.

The K-1 World Max ’06 Final Elimination attracted a sellout crowd of 10,800 to the Yoyogi Olympic Stadium. The event was same-day broadcast across Japan on the TBS Network — in other locations check with local broadcasters for time-delay scheduling. As always check the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete coverage soon after the final bell.