by Monty DiPetro
K-1 will make history this summer when, for the first time ever outside Japan, the world’s premier fight sport goes open-air with K-1 World Grand Prix in Hawaii 05, set for July 29 at the Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

All tournament and Superfight bouts will be contested under regular K-1 rules with the exception of a special match featuring Hawaiian wunderkind BJ Penn and Brazilian veteran Renzo Gracie, which will be conducted under mixed martial arts rules. This fight has Hawaiian sports fans hopping with anticipation, and follows on Penn’s win in Honolulu last November over Renzo’s cousin, Rodrigo Gracie, by unanimous judges’ decision.

The Gracies of Brazil are mixed martial arts most revered family — their name is synonymous with Jiu-jitsu in Brazil, and so Renzo will be looking for revenge. He has the pedigree, but Penn, regarded as one of the world’s finest young grapplers, will have both youth and the hometown crowd on his side.

Penn had this to say regarding the fight: “I don’t care if we stay on our feet or if we go to the mat. I am ready to do it either way. Renzo Gracie is a fine fighter but he represents the old school of Jiu-Jitsu. On the other hand, I represent the new style, the next generation, and I want to prove that the new style is superior!”

Another Hawaiian will appear in the second Superfight (under K-1 rules). The much-loved ‘moke’ Akebono is a big former Japanese Sumo Wrestling Yokozuna (Grand Champion) and a living legend in his home state. Here he will step in against another giant of a man, Hong-Man Choi of South Korea. There will be a total of 380 kilograms or 840 pounds of warrior clashing in the ring during this battle of the behemoths.

Choi was the surprise winner at the K-1 Asian Grand Prix earlier this year, and is currently the only undefeated fighter qualified for the Osaka Final Elimination, having beaten none other than Akebono along the way.

For Akebono, the question is — has the big guy found a way to harness his incredible power and can he put a stop to Choi’s streak? Expect to hear the cheers all the way to Diamond Head if he does.

Said Akebono: “I’m glad I get the chance to face him again. Last time, his size didn’t bother me, but because of his height [Choi is 218cm or 7’2″] it was the first time I had to defend against blows coming from above. Now I know how smaller fighters feel! I’m in top condition this time and because the fight is in Hawaii, I can’t afford to lose, you know? That kind of pressure makes it easier for me to train even harder!”

Of course, Choi has a thing or two he wants to prove as well: “As the Asian K-1 Champion and as a Korean, in Hawaii I want to show the world that Asians are strong. I hope to use the experience in Hawaii to prepare for the big match at the World GP Final Elimination in Osaka.”

In other Superfight action, Rickard Nordstrand of Sweden will try to build on a strong performance against Defending World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky in Sweden earlier this year when he takes on Japanese Seidokaikan fighter Musashi. This is a very interesting bout, with Musashi now clearly ranked among K-1’s elite, and Nordstrand aware that an upset win here would reflect very favorably on his future in K-1.

The event will also incorporate the eight-man K-1 Intercontinental GP Tournament, the last of the regular qualifying tournaments for this year’s World GP Final Elimination.

The Final Elimination is set for Osaka this September. It will be an eight-bout (one match) tournament, with the winners advancing to the this year’s Tokyo Dome Final. Already qualified for the 16 Osaka spots are the 2004 Final Eight — Remy Bonjasky (Holland), Mighty Mo (USA), Peter Aerts (Holland), Ernesto Hoost (Holland) Francis Botha (South Africa), Ray Sefo (New Zealand), Musashi (Japan) and Kaoklai Kaennorsing (Thailand).

Joining these fighters will be Choi Hong Man (South Korea), who won the Asia GP in Seoul this March; Glaube Feitosa (Brazil), who took the US GP title in Las Vegas in April, Semmy Schilt (Holland), victor at the European GP in Paris in May, and Bob Sapp (USA), who won the Japan GP in June. Also going to Osaka is Jerome LeBanner (France), winner over compatriot Cyril Abidi in a special qualifying Superfight in Paris.

The Champion in Honolulu will pick up the 14th of 16 spots at Osaka. One more fighter will qualify when this year’s runners-up do battle at the last-chance Repechage Tournament at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas this August, with the final spot being awarded for exceptional fighting spirit on the year.

Fighting in the Hawaiian World GP tournament will be K-1 stars such as Gary Goodridge, Hiromi Amada and Carter Williams, as well as local fighters such as Wesley “Cabbage” Correia and Scott Junk.

K-1 World Grand Prix 2005 in Hawaii is set for July 29 with a July 30 rain date. It will be broadcast in Japan on the Fuji TV network; and in North America on both InDemand and DirecTV at 9 PM Eastern Daylight Time (18h00 Pacific Daylight Time) on Sunday July 31. South Korean fans can tune into MBS ESPN for live coverage. There will be delayed-broadcasts on Eurosport across Europe, Viasat in Scandinavia, ITV in the UK and Astro in Malaysia. Check with local providers elsewhere and for broadcast schedules.