by John Evans for MMAWeekly.com
(Photo by Scott Elliot)

SEOUL, South Korea – On Sunday night, even the cheap seats were sold out in Seoul’s Jangchung Gymnasium where $190 U.S. would get you a ringside view of the action. Since the demise of Pride Fighting Championships, K-1 Hero’s has inherited the moniker of Asia’s premier MMA promotion.

With a main event pitting Denis Kang against Yoshihiro Akiyama, as well as fights showcasing former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Carlos Newton, Japanese TV personality Bernar Ackah, and the mixed martial arts debut of arguably the best pound-for-pound submission grappler in the world, Marcelo Garcia, it was no wonder that one Sprit MC heavyweight, a veteran of shows in this very stadium, resorted to creeping through a service entrance using borrowed credentials.

Six of the twelve main card fights featured Korean fighters, including four matches billed as “Korea versus Japan,” with the promoter’s obvious intention being to play upon a long-standing rivalry and boost television ratings in the two countries, where MMA events air on an almost daily basis. Going into the contest, the cumulative record for Korean fighters was 4-10-0, while their Japanese opponents entered at 57-52-8.

The evening began with wins for Masanori Tonooka of Japan, (def. Ryo Kakigawa at 1:30 of the first round via TKO), and Magomed Sultanakhmadov of Russia, (def. Eun Soo Lee of Korea at 3:33 of round one, also by TKO). Sultanakhmadov was the stand-out fighter, using a stiff jab from the southpaw stance and brutal low kicks to the inside of Lee’s left leg as groundwork for the knockdown and flurry that would finish him. Though relatively untested at this event, Sultanakhmadov is a well rounded fighter who won’t be appearing on under cards for long.

The first of the main card contests was a 205-pound fight between Bernar Ackah and B. J. Penn protégé Poai Suganuma. Soon after the bell, Poai improvised a takedown and began striking to the ribs from Ackah’s half-guard. Transitioning from an arm triangle attempt into rear mount, Paoi flattened out Ackah and landed a number of left strikes to the head. After another cycle through rear mount and rear naked choke and arm triangle attempts, Poai finally initiated a solid arm bar as Ackah attempted to escape from full mount. Although Ackah would later protest, the hold appeared to be sunk tight, and after a yell that was interpreted as a verbal submission, the referee stopped the fight with 1:59 remaining in the first round.

Ackah, who began his MMA career with impressive wins over Hyun Pyo Shin and retired NFL wide receiver Jonnie Morton, adds this second loss to a knockout suffered at the hands of Melvin Manhoef in his last outing.

The next fight pitted A Sol Kwan, arguably the best Spirit MC fighter with a losing record, (the twenty-one year old has only two losses, both to Kwang Hee Lee, the current Spirit MC welterweight champion), against seasoned DEEP and Pride fighter, Daisuke Nakamura. This was the fight of the night.

Round one began with exchanges of low kicks and jabs, evolving into a true slugfest before Kwan dropped Nakamura with a knee and ensuing flurry. From there Nakamura had a brief stay at rear mount, before an unsuccessful toe hold attempt.

The slugfest turned into a full-blown headhunt in round two. Several times during this round Nakamura was visibly rubber-legged, but it was unclear if he was truly rattled or if he was just trying to bait the less experienced Kwan to within range of his stiff jab. The round was stopped twice, both times to control bleeding from Kwan’s nose. Just before the bell, Nakamura landed a hard right that appeared to send a tooth flying.

In round three the fight bogged down. With both fighters visibly exhausted and Nakamura continuing to earn the better of each exchange, Kwan went on the offensive after a third break to control the bleeding from his nose, presumably warned by his corner that he was on the verge of a doctor’s stoppage. After a failed takedown attempt, Nakamura submitted Kwan via arm bar with 1:49 left in the round. (Korea 0, Japan 1).

In a 187-pound contract fight, Min Duk Heo took on Katsuyori Shibata. This fight began with some short-burst, head-down overhand flurries, only to lull into a mid-round notable for a couple of lead rights landed by Shibata to the diaphragm of Heo, before evolving into an exchange of soft knees that ended with the two fighters on the canvas, Heo in half mount and pounding. Shibata’s defense prompted a standup, after which Heo landed a right, a knee, and several unanswered blows, but was too exhausted to capitalize before the bell.

Between rounds, an equally wasted Shibata rested on the canvas beside his stool. After several calls for action from the referee and some clinch work in the corner, Shibada went down under a deluge of undercuts and hooks mid way through the second round. (Korea 1, Japan 1).

Next, Carlos Newton took on Shungo Oyama in what was anticipated to be a tough battle between experienced, hard-hitting fighters at pivotal points in their respective careers. It wasn’t. The former UFC Champion looked heavy and flat-footed from the start, and out of his natural weight class at the contracted 198 pounds. After being hit early with a series of right-left combinations, Newton responded with a momentary stare-down before being hit with a flurry that left him stunned. With 1:51 left in the first, time was stopped to attend to a cut over Newton’s right eye. Calls of “Hands up!” and “Chin down!” from his corner were answered with a takedown attempt that ended after a scramble with both fighters standing.

In the second round, Newton was on the losing end of almost every standing exchange, throwing his punches one at a time while Oyama answered with combinations. By the third round the stadium was almost silent. Newton threw a couple flipping jabs that looked like Floyd Mayweather on Phenobarbital and gin then was stuffed on a double-leg attempt. Oyama pounded to the side of the head and Newton tapped out due to strikes.

The crowd erupted to welcome Marcelo Garcia, three-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club division champion, to the ring for his professional MMA debut against Dae Won Kim, a fighter at the losing end of submissions in two of his last three outings. From the bell, Garcia went for single leg takedowns. The third attempt ended with Kim on his back. A lot of scrambling and ineffectual striking terminated with Garcia in rear mount attempting a rear naked choke, but Kim escaped and landed a straight right to end the round.

Kim went on the attack to start the second. A lunging right hand left Garcia dazed as the follow-up flurry drove him into the corner. A hard knee from Kim sent Garcia into guard. The fight was stopped twenty seconds into round two for a cut that had opened on Garcia’s forehead.

If you’ve seen the video of Min Soo Kim getting pummeled by recent UFC acquisition Brock Lesner, then no description is necessary for the beating Tae Hyun Lee gave Yoshihisa Yamamoto and you can skip to the next fight. Ssirim wrestling champion Tae Hyun Lee is almost that big and the beating he gave the thirty-eight year old Yamamoto was almost that bad. Think looping lefts and rights, a middle kick followed by a short pounding on the canvas, and you’ve got it. (Korea 2, Japan 1).

Coming off four consecutive MMA losses, Korean punch-sponge Min Soo Kim was seeking to chock his slide with a win against Japanese crowd favorite Ikuhisa Minowa. On paper, this fight looked like a mismatch, (Kim is 3-6-0, while Minowa is 38-25-8), but in this instance the deciding factor was size, (Kim weighed in at 254 pounds while Minowa tipped the scales at 201 pounds).

Apparently incensed by the smaller Minowa’s lean build and athleticism, or motivated out of embarrassment for his own dough-like consistency, Kim charged from the opening bell. He quickly forced Minowa to the corner with a deluge of overhand rights and lefts and though Minowa fought back hard, it was soon clear that the pairing was a simple size mismatch. A temporary break in the action occurred with 3:37 elapsed, when Kim was yellow carded for an illegal knee to the head, (Minowa had three points down), but this served only to delay the inevitable. Even in the center of the ring, Minowa simply could not reach the larger Kim. The referee stopped the fight at 3:46 of the first round. Kim celebrated by climbing the ropes on each side of the ring and leading the crowd in Minowa’s signature victory cheer. (Korea 2.5, Japan 1)

The showcase fights began with Teiei Kin, (212 pounds) of Japan versus Croatian Zelg Galesic (183 pounds) in what was billed as a 187-pound contract fight. It took only thirty-six seconds for Galesic to land a straight right followed by a left high kick that opened a cut over Kin’s right eye. The fight was ruled a TKO by doctor stoppage.

The press conference tension between Dong Sik “I don’t fight with my eyes” Yoon and Fabio “I know what a real fight is” Silva carried over into the pre-fight instructions as Silva once again tried to spontaneously combust Yoon with his stare. Soon after the bell, Yoon shot in and Silva fell back to half guard. From there Yoon moved to full mount and began pounding. After several transitions, Silva spun a reversal. Yoon locked down and with 6:50 left in the round, action was paused to re-stand the fight. A clinch on the ropes led to a nice body lock takedown by Yoon, who began pounding from the half mount position. Following a failed heel hook attempt, Yoon transitioned smoothly from half guard to a high tight mount, where he paused just long enough for all 5,289 in attendance to find cadence in their chants of, “Arm bar! Arm bar!” Yoon responded by muscling an arm free and earning his third straight victory via arm bar submission with 3:42 remaining in the opening round.

Both main event fighters were coming off extended layoffs – Kang due to a broken had that required surgery, Akiyama due to suspension – are Korean crowd favorites and appear to be at or nearing the prime of his career. Jangchung Gymnasium is home to Spirit MC, an organization in which Kang currently holds the heavyweight belt. Akiyama could slather himself with Nonoxynol 9 before a fight and still be adored by 98% of all Koreans. Both fighters entered the ring to deafening cheers.

Kang was the aggressor from the opening bell, mixing hard right punches with his jabs and landing several low kicks, but Akiyama countered to end most of the exchanges with more accurate strikes. Around 2:30 into first 10:00 round, the fight was paused to attend to blood streaming from Kang’s nose. After the re-start Kang attempted a takedown, but both fighters remained on their feet. From there Kang elected to face Akiyama with his back to the corner, but when a single right uppercut dropped Kang, Akiyama threw only a half hearted follow-up at the obviously disoriented fighter. Even before the referee could cover Kang, Akiyama was running toward his corner to celebrate.

Kang exited the ring under his own power, but skipped the post fight press conference and left the stadium in an ambulance, while Akiyama lingered in the ring for a confetti-strewn photo session with the ring girls.
(Final score: Korea 3.5, Japan 2.)

Final Results from K-1 Hero’s, Jangchung Gymnasium, Seoul

Yoshihiro Akiyama def. Denis Kang by KO (Punch) at 4:45, R1
Dong Sik Yoon def. Fabio Silva by Submission (Armbar) at 6:12, R1
Zelg Galesic def. Taiei Kin by TKO (Doctor Stoppage) at 0:36, R1
Min Soo Kim def. Ikuhisa Minowa by TKO (Punches) at 3:46, R1
Tae Hyun Lee def. Yoshihisa Yamamoto by TKO (Punches) at 1:03, R1
Dae Won Kim def. Marcelo Garcia by TKO (Doctor Stoppage) at 0:20, R2
Shungo Oyama def. Carlos Newton by Submission (Punches) at 2:42, R3
Heo Min Seok def. Katsuyori Shibata by TKO (Punches) at 1:31, R2
Daisuke Nakamura def. A Sol Kwon by Submission (Armbar) at 3:09, R3
Poai Suganuma def. Bernard Ackah by Submission (Armbar) at 3:05. R1
Magomed Sultanakhmedov def. Eun Su Lee by TKO (Punches) at 3:33, R1
Ryo Kakigawa def. Masanori Toonoka by TKO (Punches) at 1:30, R1