By Monty DiPietro of K-1
(photo courtesy of FEG)

Asia GP 06 Seoul Press Conference

By Monty DiPietro

SEOUL, June 2, 2006 — A teeming metropolis of more than 10 million, the South Korean capital plays host this Saturday to the K-1 Asia Grand Prix. The eight-man elimination tournament will advance a single fighter to the K-1 World GP Final Elimination at the Osaka Dome this September.

The event kicks off at 15h30 at the Seoul Olympic Complex, and will also feature a trio of big-name Superfights. In interviews and a press conference at the Coex Intercontinental Hotel, fighters shared their thoughts with local and international media.

K-1 has caught on in a big way in Korea, the press turnout here was on par with K-1’s biggest Japanese productions. The fighters, reveling in all the attention, looked a fit and ready bunch, and had a good time talking and joking with reporters.

Much of the attention was focused on the Superfights, in particular the Main Event showdown between K-1’s biggest fighters — Defending World GP Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland and local favorite Hong Man Choi, the Defending Asia GP Champion.

Said Choi: “I had hurt my ankle and couldn’t work on the treadmill for some time but I am fully recovered and have been running since the Las Vegas event, my stamina is back. I know Semmy is strong, but on Saturday it is fifty-fifty.”

“I feel much more confident than when I started last year,” explained Choi, “my defense is improved and I have been training hard and studying other fighters, so I want to try some new techniques this time. It will be comfortable fighting someone my own size. In my mind, he’s like a ‘jujuba’ [a tall Korean ice cream cone], and last night I dreamed of eating a jujuba, so maybe that means I can take care of Semmy tomorrow!”

Schilt worked his own food metaphor: “Well, I think preparing for a fight is like making a noodle soup, if you have all the ingredients and a good recipe the soup will be very good. For me everything is in place — training and environment and personal life and so on — so I know I will have a good result.”

“Of course, Choi is big but against big guys I can fight more freely,” said Schilt. “Even if he is a little taller than I am, I have more skills, stamina and motivation, and I will hit him harder.”

A reporter asked Schilt, who is quite popular in Korea, if he would want to say ‘sorry’ to his fans here for what he plans to do to hometown fighter Choi.

“The way I see it, my K-1 success started here in Korea, so it is great to be back,” smiled Schilt. “But do I want to apologize to Korean fans if I beat Choi? No.”

A second Superfight will pit the explosive Russian fighter Ruslan Karaev against slugger Ray Sefo of New Zealand.

Mindful of Sefo’s extensive experience, one of the first things reporters asked of the K-1 veteran was his opinion of Choi.

“Well, his athleticism surprised me,” said Sefo, “he has improved a lot in one year of K-1, there are not many big guys like him who can move well and have stamina. But Schilt is good and he’s big too, so I’d also say it’s fifty-fifty.”

Addressing more immediate concerns, Sefo had this to say about his Superfight with Karaev, whom he quickly dispatched in the pair’s previous meeting: “Ruslan is a good fighter and a good person. Last time I knocked him out in 37 seconds, so this time maybe I should try to do it in 10 seconds? I’m just kidding about that, but I’m ready and I’m sure it will be an explosive fight. The pressure is on him this time, so ring the bell!”

Said Karaev: “I have been thinking about my debut fight against Ray last year. I had been out of the ring for some time before that, so Ray was a tough opponent for me. This time I have spent two weeks training right here in Korea, so absolutely I’m ready and will put on a great fight for all my fans in Korea.”

The third Superfight will feature Peter Aerts of Holland and Hiraku Hori of Japan.

Aerts was asked straight off about his literally last-minute substitution (in a bout with Ernesto Hoost) after the Bob Sapp debacle at the Europe GP three weeks ago in Amsterdam.

“I’d eaten a big meal and had a few drinks the night before,” laughed the three-time WGP Champion. “But I climbed into the ring for the good of the sport and for the fans. This time, I’m properly prepared. Hori is tall and kicks a lot so I’ll have to get close, but I think I have more power so I can win.”

A veteran of all 13 WGP Tokyo dome Finals, Aerts was queried on this year’s crop of K-1 fighters. “There are some good new guys now,” he said, “but I still think the fighters with the best chance to win this year are Schilt, LeBanner and me!”

Well aware of his underdog status, Hori paid tribute to his opponent: “I respect Peter, he was my role model when I started in K-1. But Saturday is fight day and of course I am here to win. I have been working on my stamina and will try to avoid Peter’s right punch and his kicks, and give my all!”

In the Asia GP 06 Tournament:

The first fight will see Yusuke Fujimoto of Japan take on Dong Wook Kim of Korea.

Fujimoto: “I am honored to be here in Korea in the tournament and will do my very best.”

The meaty Kim has a head approximately twice the size of his opponent’s, suggesting either toughness or that Fujimoto will have a big target to aim for. For his part, Kim naturally prefers the first interpretation: “It is my debut, and I will fight hard!”

Thai wunderkind Kaoklai Kaennorsing will square off against Tsuyoshi Nakasako of Japan in the second bout.

Kaoklai: “I am happy to be here again and will not disappoint my fans.”

Sporting a new corn-row hairstyle, Nakasako, said only that he would also do his best.

Mourad Bouzidi of Holland will meet Iranian fighter Mehdi Mirdavoudi in the third quarterfinal.

Mirdavoudi: “I came all the way from Iran to show you my fighting style, and will give my best effort.”

A protégé of Peter Aerts, Bouzidi smiled at the Korean and Japanese mispronunciations of his name, but remained remarkably cool for a debut fighter: “Peter is a good trainer and good friend, it’s two years we have worked together and he has helped make me ready for this fight and ready for K-1. I’m going to win the tournament!

Korean fighters Min Soo Kim and Kyoung Suk Kim will do battle in the last of the first-tier contests.

Min Soo: “It is a pleasure to see all these people here and I know many more will be at the arena on Saturday. I plan to fight like a crazy man, so everybody watch out!”

Kyoung Suk: “This is new for me, I am used to mixed martial arts, but I an confident I can adjust and do well in K-1.”

K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa, speaking in somewhat-labored but much-appreciated Korean, predicted a great tournament and Superfights.

It was also announced that Korean Asian Games record-holding shot putter Randy Kim is expected to debut in K-1 later this year.

The K-1 Asia GP ’06 will be broadcast live on MBC and MBC/ESPN in South Korea and on the Fuji Television Network and Fuji Satellite TV in Japan. The event will be time-delay broadcast on EuroSport across Europe, ProTV in Romania, inDemand in the United States, Viewers’ Choice in Canada and GroboSat in Brazil. The K-1 Asia GP ’06 will be seen in over 100 countries, please check with local broadcasters for scheduling details.

And as always, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete post-event coverage.

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With profound sadness, we note the passing of American K-1 fight commentator Ryan Bennett, who died two days ago in a single-vehicle accident near his home. He was 35. A consummate professional and warm-hearted individual, Ryan will be deeply missed. On behalf of all fighters and fans, K-1 offers prayers for the members of Ryan’s family who remain hospitalized in the wake of this tragedy.