By Monty DiPietro, pictures by K-1
Die Faust: Der K-1 Vegas Meister!

LAS VEGAS, April 29, 2006 — Thomas Jefferson once said “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it!” There is good reason to call Chalid “Die Faust” Arrab a lucky man — but his success at the K-1 USA Grand Prix tournament tonight was, in the final analysis, the result of a great deal of very hard work.

Just one week ago, while he was driving along the Autobahn in his native Germany, Arrab’s BWM was struck by another car and sent flying from the highway. The car was wrecked, but Die Faust (which is German for “The Fist”), walked away unharmed. Then, after winning his first fight tonight, Arrab lost a split decision to Carter Williams in the semifinals. But Williams couldn’t continue due injuries, and so under K-1’s substitution rule the fortunate Arrab advanced to the final in his place. Die Faust was down on points on all three judges’ cards going into the last round and looked like he needed a miracle — but the fighter somehow came through once again to pick up the victory.

With his win, Die Faust Arrab takes the K-1 USA Championship belt and earns a trip to the World GP Final Elimination. There he will battle for a spot in fightsport’s most-prestigious tournament, the K-1 Tokyo Dome Final.

While Die Faust was the night’s number one star, the entire “Mayhem at the Mirage II” event was absolutely thrilling.

All bouts were contested under regular K-1 Rules (3Min. x 3R w/1R tiebreaker).

The first tournament quarterfinal featured Rock ’em Sock ’em Gary Goodridge, a Trinidad and Tobago-born, Canadian-based slugger. Big Daddy’s opponent was Kengo Watanabe of Japan, a freestyle martial arts fighter and sometime action film star.

A tough training regimen and egg-white diet brought Goodridge to Vegas looking trim and fit. From the bell, he barreled in with his signature punching attack, tossing the haymakers in one after the other. Watanabe attempted to counter but was overwhelmed by fists, and a right hook dropped him after just 40 seconds. Watanabe couldn’t find his feet, and so Goodridge had the KO win and was through to the semis.

A bit of last-minute card-shuffling saw American Scott Lighty promoted from the reserve bout to the tournament bracket after scheduled Superfight participant Glaube Feitosa broke a toe in training. A Muay Thai stylist, Lighty got to the final at the “Mayhem at the Mirage” event last year. His opponent tonight was Las Vegas’ own Dewey “The Black Cobra” Cooper.

With mixed martial arts legend Chuck Liddell working his corner, Lighty looked cool and confident, snapping in several spot-on high kicks in to start the first. Cooper’s blocking was sound, but he was getting rattled nonetheless. By midway through Cooper was working the distance better, and established himself with some quick punch combinations.

Lighty started the second round aggressively, and soon Cooper was on the wrong end of a bunch of body blows, low kicks and straight punches, and looking shaky. But The Black Cobra once again finished well, with middle and high kicks. In the third, Lighty pressed an increasingly fatigued Cooper against the ropes and was better with the punches and kicks. Cooper managed some late strikes but these lacked KO power. The judges scorecards unanimously put Lighty, who had started on the odds board as the 20-1 longshot, into the semis.

The odds-on favorite was Carter Williams, a California street kid turned martial artist who upset the field to win the K-1 US GP in 2003. The 26 year-old Williams faced Yusuke Fujimoto of Japan in the next bout. These two guys have issues. Broken nose issues.

A Williams knee foul cracked Fujimoto’s snout when these two fought in Vegas a year back. This time, Fujimoto was bent on revenge. “I’ll not only win the fight,” he joked beforehand, “but maybe I’ll break Carter’s nose while I’m at it!”

Williams has beefed up some — he weighed in for this fight at 121kg/266lbs, some 10kg/21lbs heavier than in his last K-1 appearance. After a slow start, Williams got things going with a high kick then worked the right hook on a counter to score a down. Fujimoto was fast with his kicks, but generally held back until the second, when he endeavored to come in low with the fists. But Williams made his opponent pay for the attacks with excellent punches on the counter.

In the third, Fujimoto socked Williams well with a hard body blow and leaned in more with the punches. Williams looked good with a high kick that made partial contact, but as the round wore on, he increasingly resorted to clinching. The American had, however, put enough points up to squeeze through by unanimous decision. His nose was still intact — but the night was young.

In the last of the quarterfinals, boxer Die Faust Arrab took on a former wrestler, hard-hitting Sean O’Haire of the United States. At the pre-event press conference, Die Faust had promised to show fans a “secret” new strategy for the fight. And from the start of this bout it was no secret that Die Faust’s strategy was to pummel. Arrab stepped in quickly from the bell, firing in all manner of punches, and O’Haire never had a chance. A couple of right uppercuts KO’d the American, and put Die Faust into the semis.

The first semifinal pitted Gary Goodridge against Scott Lighty. Again, Goodridge bowled over his opponent, finding the jaw with a right seconds in to score a down, and after resumption pumping the fists in to put Lighty on the mat once again and win under K-1’s two-down-in-a-round rule. The crowd, apparently unfamiliar with the two-down protocol, erupted in a chorus of boos — more than a few probably frustrated because their bets were off.

A couple of sluggers, Carter Williams and Die Faust Arrab, went at it in the second semi. In the early going Williams was fast with the fists, Arrab good with combinations and an uppercut. In the second round Williams was more aggressive, bloodying his opponent’s right eye. But midway through, Williams charged forward with punches to put Arrab on the ropes, then dropped him with a right knee to the sternum.

Williams worked the body again in the third, pumping in the fists to score a second down. But Die Faust was not out of it yet, and mounted a remarkable punching attack comeback to rattle Williams, then banged in a right hook that very nearly put the American down. Williams was hurt and wobbling, but somehow stayed on his feet. In the dying seconds Williams could only clinch, and was warned by the referee. Die Faust kept on coming but could not get the down he needed, and Williams escaped with a split decision win.

Then it was announced that Williams could not continue due a broken nose and shin injury suffered in his fight with Die Faust, and so the German was sent back in to face Goodridge in the final.

Goodridge had fought a total of just 76 seconds on the night, and as the fresher of the pair made an energetic start. Mindful perhaps of the fate of Goodridge’s earlier opponents, Die Faust elected to stay in motion, circling the perimeter of the ring to avoid the fists. Despite Arrab’s evasive measures, Goodridge caught up with him, throwing in a quick left hook to score an early down. But Arrab was not about to quit, and soon took Goodridge to the corner and communicated his defiance with a barrage of body blows.

The second, again, saw Goodridge score an early right hook down only to have Arrab rally with a ferocious punching attack of his own. This was now a slugfest, both combatants giving as good as they got. Testimony to the fury in the ring came when Goodridge pumped a potent knee up to Arrab’s face. In any other bout this should have been a down, but Die Faust just shook it off and came back.

Heading into the third, Die Faust was trailing badly on all cards due the two downs — the only thing that could possibly win it for the German was a KO, and that meant going all out. Which is exactly what he did.

To his credit, Goodridge responded to the challenge — rather than closing up or resorting to clinching, he fought back with gusto — and probably had the better stuff for a time, scoring with a kick followed by a good hard right, then hammering in the fists. It was while Goodridge was pounding Arrab with haymakers that the German raised his head and clobbered his wide-open opponent with a right hook to the jaw. Goodridge tumbled to the canvas and lay there, and the crowd leapt from their seats. The roar was deafening. It was over, Die Faust had capped the comeback in dramatic fashion to become the K-1 USA Champion.

“With all that happened over the last week, I believe it was meant to be,” said Die Faust afterward. “I think the difference was my good training — we trained for the KO, because it is difficult to win on points. Now I have more K-1 experience, and in the future I promise many more exciting fights!”

Asked if he would use his prize money to buy a new car, Arrab laughed: “No, the car was fully insured and anyway the accident wasn’t my fault, so I think when I get home my team and I will just celebrate in our own usual way!”

In the Superfights:

Like Die Faust, Defending K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Semmy Schilt fights out of the Golden Glory Gym in Holland. The Dutch fighter is tough, technical, and very big — standing 211cm/6’11 and weighing in at 123kg/284lbs. Only one man, the legendary Peter Aerts, has ever beaten him. Here, Japan’s premier K-1 fighter Musashi stepped up hoping to become the second.

Schilt pounded in a right hook to take control early. Musashi tried to work the low kicks but Schilt used his reach to effectively keep his opponent out of range, and responded with knees when the distance did close. He was mostly stymied, but when Musashi finally got a left straight punch up late in the first the crowd gave a cheer of appreciation for the Japanese fighter’s pluck.

The second saw Schilt solid again with the punches and seemingly impervious to Musashi’s attacks. The Japanese fighter did get some kicks in and made partial contact with another left straight punch, but was unable to sustain any pressure. To make matters worse for Musashi, late in the round he was cautioned for excessive holding. Schilt was the boss again in the third, and when the final bell sounded he had taken all rounds on all cards for the convincing win.

A K-1 veteran with a lethal combination of fast and technical punch and kick attacks, Stefan Leko of Germany took on Ruslan Karaev in a second Superfight. Karaev is a 22 year-old Russia who brawled his way to the “Mayhem at the Mirage” Championship last year.

Leko forwent the flashy productions that characterized other fighters’ entrances, walking alone to the ring with only a low-key Ennio Morricone musical accompaniment.

Karaev wasted no time firing in a spinning back kick, but a cool Leko answered directly with a spinning kick. The two then tested for some time, Leko with the low kicks and Karaev with springboard punches. This was a classic bout, technical, fast and with plenty of powerful, spirited exchanges.

In the second Karaev was the more aggressive fighter and late in the Russian got the down he was looking for with a right uppercut followed by a left. Leko was stunned afterward but made it out of the round.

In the third Leko went with low kicks, tossing in a dozen to pick up points, but Karaev was able to get the right in again for another down. Leko, however, turned the tide in spectacular style, speeding in a brutal right to score the down of the fight. Karaev just beat the count, and weathered a late flurry to get out of this one with enough points to win by unanimous decision.

The Defending K-1 Asia GP Champion is the gargantuan Hong-Man Choi (218cm/7’2″;161kg/355lbs). In the night’s final Superfight, the Korean faced former wrestler Sylvester “The Predator” Terkay of the United States, a large fellow himself at 198cm/6’6″;138kg/305lbs.

Choi made a very Vegas-appropriate entrance to the thumping beat of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.” When the two titans stood toe-to-toe for the referee’s pre-fight introductions, there were gasps of astonishment from the crowd.

This was pure power versus power from the start. Choi put in a left straight punch in for an early down, then worked the knees looking for another. But the Predator showed a good chin and stayed standing, and as the round progressed looked better with his own attacks, lunging forward with a good right straight punch and putting in the low kicks.

Terkay took the initiative with his fists in the second, but Choi answered with a left straight punch to score another down. The Predator was now bleeding badly from the right eye, but showed strong spirit to keep on coming. At one point the tied-up pair teetered against the ropes and almost went over for what would have been a most unwelcome visitation on the front row spectators. Choi had a laugh at that. Late in the round a Predator right punch stunned the Korean, who might have gone down but for the bell to end it.

The third was incredible. The intrepid Terkay, his face awash in blood, won the hearts of the crowd with repeated attacks on an exhausted Choi. There were mighty body blows and straight punch combinations from in close, but Choi stayed on his feet, and managed to counter even to the final bell. A great match, the unanimous decision announced in favor of Choi. The crowd gave both boys a standing ovation, and after Choi’s arm was lowered, rewarded The Predator with one of the loudest cheers of the night.

In Undercard fights:

The peppy tournament reserve bout saw Russian karate fighter Alexander Pichkounov edge American kickboxer Patrick Barry by split decision; Maurice Jackson also took a split decision over Daniel Green; John James beat Imani Lee by unanimous decision; and in a World Max (70kg/154lbs) bout, Fernando Calleros beat Danny Steele by unanimous decision.

Sonsy Las Vegas-based LaTasha Marzolla, both a former Playboy centerfold and an accomplished kickboxer, met her match in Michelle “Lady Action” Ishio. The athletic Ishio was good with the legs, pressing throughout and scoring a third-round high kick down to take a female featherweight fight by a comfortable unanimous decision.

Once again, Scott Coker and his K-1 USA team put on a first-rate production to fill the 4,609-seat MEC hall at the historic Mirage Hotel and Casino. Among the notables in attendance were actor Bruce Willis and Defending IWGP World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Brock Lesnar. “It was an amazing show,” smiled a both exhausted and elated Coker after the event, “the best we’ve ever had in Vegas!”

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

Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete coverage of all K-1 events.