by Monti DiPietro – Courtesy of K!
Kudos for Kid Dynamite!

OSAKA, December 31, 2005 — Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto beat Genki Sudo to become the first fighter to wear the Hero’s Middle Weight Championship Belt. Yamamoto needed less than one round to achieve the feat at the Osaka Dome K-1 Premium Dynamite event.

There is no bigger holiday in Japan than New Year’s, and no more popular way to celebrate December 31st than the K-1 Premium Dynamite extravaganza. Dynamite ’05 featured seven fights contested under Hero’s mixed martial art rules and four K-1 and K-1 World Max bouts.

Osaka Dome is smaller and “more intimate” than its Tokyo counterpart. Moreover, Kansai fans are uncommonly boisterous. The fight action, the festivity of the season and a singing-in-the-ring performance by Rock ‘n Roll legend Eikichi Yazawa combined to make this an unforgettable night.

The Main Event, the Hero’s Middle Weight Championship Tournament Final, was a showdown between two dynamic Japanese fighters — Genki Sudo and Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. Sudo is very good on the ground, while Yamamoto is an aggressive fighter with superior strikes. Pre-event, a cocky Yamamoto quipped that the bout “will be a piece of cake, I can just relax and take it easy — the win will naturally follow.” As it happened he was right about the result — but it was not exactly “a piece of cake” getting there.

Both these boys had won their previous three fights to get to the final, and so the atmosphere was electric as they made their ring entrances. Speaking of ring entrances, Sudo’s was, as always, spectacular — a dazzling postmodern pastiche of cyborgs, geisha and electrobeat. One wonders who Sudo spends more time with — his trainer or his choreographer.

Sudo started the bout with his sly, turned-sideways circling routine — a unorthodox approach that appears comic only until Sudo unleashes one of his equally unorthodox but lethal attacks. Yamamoto stayed center ring, focused and cautious, and watched Sudo circle.

Sudo landed a couple of good side kicks, then Yamamoto engaged him, and in the frantic exchange Sudo ended up on his back. But the fighter was good with the bicycle kicks to keep The Kid at bay, then with incredible speed jolted to his feet again. Yamamoto looked tentative for a time, off his game even, before throwing a couple of low kicks and executing a takedown. He went to the mat in Sudo’s guard, but there was little action there, and the referee called for a standing start.

And then it happened — Sudo missed with a straight punch, and Yamamoto countered with a right hook that caught his opponent on the side of the face and sent him down on his back. The Kid wasted no time moving in, and rained punches down even as the dazed Sudo struggled to get the legs up to defend. A punch glanced off Sudo’s face, and another hit him on the chin, cocking his head back. Quickly the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. Sudo got to his feet immediately, and was less than pleased with what he considered an early stoppage.

Yamamoto’s wife and two children joined him in the ring for an emotional victory celebration. Later, proudly wearing the Hero’s Belt, the Champ had this to say:

“When Genki hit me early on, his finger must have scratched my right eye, because I couldn’t see very well at all for some time. But then I threw that right hook — I didn’t expect it would connect but it did, which was lucky as it got me out of trouble!”

“I trained so hard for this bout that I wasn’t able to celebrate Christmas with my kids. When they came into the ring afterward, I was so happy I cried. Now our celebration has begun! Happy New Year everyone!”

The Dynamite card started off with a quartet of Hero’s Rules bouts (5Min x 3R unless otherwise noted).

Peter Aerts of Holland, a Three-Time K-1 WGP Champion, stepped in against Shungo Oyama of Japan in the first matchup. This was over in a flash — Oyama charging forward looking for the leg takedown, Aerts sprawled to foil him, throwing a good right straight punch. But a persistent Oyama did get the takedown, and with relative ease twisted a heelhook on his Dutch opponent to force a tapout barely a minute into the contest.

Another K-1 veteran, hard-hitting French Kickboxer Jerome LeBanner, took on big bad Alan Karaev of Russia in the second bout. A former arm-wrestling and amateur Sumo Champion, the 180kg/397lbs Karaev was winless in two mixed martial arts attempts coming into this fight.

LeBanner started out with a couple of kicks, but Karaev quickly closed the distance and got a takedown which he took to a full mount position. A good bit of wriggling earned LeBanner a reverse, and soon the Frenchman was in a backmount. But Karaev escaped, and the two soon went back to their feet. LeBanner fired in punches that put Karaev off balance, following with a sloppy takedown that backfired — and now Karaev was up in mount position again. The pair stayed there, locked up, until the bell ending the first.

In the second round, LeBanner boxed and threw low kicks from the start, which a fatigued Karaev did nothing to counter. LeBanner then got the middle and high kicks up to hurt his opponent, and now looked in control of the fight. A middle kick dropped the listless Russian, whereupon the referee stepped in to stop the punishment. A convincing display of patience, power and prowess by LeBanner to take the KO win.

Next up, a truly weird occurrence. As freestyle wrestler Yoshihiro Nakao of Japan and American mixed martial arts fighter Heath Herring made their way to the center of the ring for the referee’s instructions in advance of their bout, a cocky Nakao put his face up in close to Herring’s. The Japanese fighter might have been thinking stare-down and psych-out, but an apparently homophobic Herring had a very different interpretation, and immediately clocked Nakao in the nose, knocking him out cold.

“That was an illegal act!” screamed an indignant Herring even as trainers scrambled to attend to Nakao, “He tried to kiss me on the lips like a homosexual — I’m not gay!”

After much confusion and consultation, Nakao was helped out of the ring, and it was announced he would be examined by doctors to see if he might fight Herring later on the card. But the clearance was not given, and in an unusual decision, Herring was disqualified and Nakao awarded the win for a fight which, technically, had never actually started.

A 75kg/165lbs weight class bout set for 5Min x 2R (with a possible tiebreaker round) featured Olympic wrestling Gold Medallist Katsuhiko Nagata of Japan in his K-1 debut against Remigijus Morkevicius, a tough striker from Lithuania.

Nagata quickly scored a deft single-leg takedown, and went to the side mount. But the Japanese fighter couldn’t do any damage, and soon Morkevicius was in guard, striving to get the legs up. Nakao looked confident here, and was able to pass on occasion with punches, but for the most part Morkevicius’ positioning, with his arms wrapped round Nakao’s head, kept the fight in a stalemate. Twice the pair were stood up due a lack of action, and twice Nakao got a fast takedown, only to have things end up in the same deadlock.

The second was similar, Nakao on top, Morkevicius keeping him tied up, both men tossing only perfunctory strikes — Nakao with the fists toward his closed-up opponent’s head, Morkevicius with the heels to Nakao’s kidneys. Again the two were restarted, Nakao avoiding the Lithuanian’s strikes by coming in to the clinch then twisting a down to return to the mat and the same position. In the end, judges liked Nakao’s aggressiveness, and rewarded him with a unanimous decision.

A series of K-1 Rules bouts followed (3Min x 3R with a possible tiebreaker).

The first saw K-1 star Remy Bonjasky of Holland, a Two-Time World Grand Prix Champion, going up against Sylvester “The Predator” Terkay of the United States. Bonjasky is masterful with the flying knees and kicks, while Terkay is all brute strength. Imagine Porsche versus Bulldozer — the Porsche is a finely-tuned performance machine, but it can do precious little when pinned against a wall. That’s what happened in this surprisingly close contest.

Bonjasky started with a high kick, but Terkay got a hold of the leg and marched the Dutchman back to the corner and put in punches. The Predator repeatedly corralled Bonjasky into the corner or put him against the ropes to pound in the fists, and Bonjasky closed up repeatedly in response.

Through the fight Bonjasky elected to go with single-strike attacks, but Terkay was good with his blocking on most of the high stuff, and looked able to absorb the low kicks. He also kept on coming with the punches.

In the second Bonjasky got a dazzling high kick up and in, but Terkay looked good throwing some low kicks of his own. At one point, after The Predator put in six unanswered punches to his opponent’s head and midsection, it looked as if Bonjasky might fall.

But Bonjasky stayed up and stayed in it, and in the third kept his guard high to weather the storm even as the tough Terkay bulldozed forth with Bob Sapp-style haymakers. Bonjasky finally got a flying knee up here, and unleashed a flurry of punches at the clapper to make it close. A good hard performance by Terkay in a fight that could have gone either way. One judge gave the bout to The Predator, while two liked Bonjasky — who had to be happy to get out of this one with the split decision.

Japan’s best K-1 fighter, Musashi, took on powerhouse Bob “The Beast” Sapp of the Unites States in the next K-1 Rules fight. Before this one, Sapp joked, “There is no question Musashi has conditioning and technical ability, the only question is — will we still be friends after I knock his ass out?” Musashi responded with a laugh, “Yes, Bob, I do hope we can continue our friendship!”

Sapp, as usual, had an aggressive start, coming in on Musashi with the big fists. Sapp led well with the jab, Musashi the southpaw switching to orthodox to match up. Musashi didn’t get the low kicks going well here, and Sapp surprised with a nice high kick which, however, missed. Musashi stayed cool even as Sapp put in some solid body blows. The American looked focused and disciplined here. Well, at first, anyway.

In the second, Sapp revisited his bad boy past. After Musashi had twisted away on the ropes, Sapp pummeled him, twice, in the back of the head. The fouls dropped Musashi, prompting both a red card and a time stop.

A valiant Musashi recovered and was cleared to continue by the ringside doctor. But from the resumption, Sapp chased him with punches to score a down. Musashi just barely made the count, and only got out of the round when the fatigued Sapp simply stopped attacking.

The third was another story, as a revitalized Musashi took the fight to Sapp. Fighting now from the southpaw stance, Musashi’s evasions were much improved, and he rallied with a variety of excellent punch and kick combinations before getting a devastating middle kick in. As Sapp winced in pain and doubled over, the ref stepped in to call a standing count. Musashi finished the fight with punches, outperforming his opponent to earn the victory by unanimous decision.

“I knew, fighting Bob, that something, um, strange might happen,” said Musashi in his post-bout interview. “He did start strongly, and so I thought I would wait for him to run out of gas. When he did, that’s when he gave me the hits to the back of the head. Well, after that I decided to do my thing!”

Hopefully, the two are still friends.

Next up was a highly anticipated fight between former World Max Champion Masato of Japan and compatriot Akira Ohigashi (this a 72kg/159lbs weight class bout). Ohigashi, a former Japan Super Welterweight Boxing Champion, had to be looking to get in fast with the fists, before Masato could wear him down with his kicks.

Masato’s left leg was said to be suspect from an earlier injury, but the fighter wasted no time getting in and stinging Ohigashi with the low kicks. By midway through, Ohigashi’s left leg was badly hurt, and although he wailed with the fists Masato saw everything coming his way and displayed superior evasive techniques to stay out of harm’s way. When Masato scored a down with a low kick at the clapper, it was clear Ohigashi was in way over his head.

The second saw a hit-and-run Masato totally frustrate his opponent, connecting at will with high kicks and punches. But it was the low kicks to Ohigashi’s left leg that did the most damage, dropping the boxer three times to secure Masato the KO win.

Topping off the K-1 Rules contests was a bout featuring the finest Dutch fighters past and present — Defending World Grand Prix Champion Semmy Schilt and Four-Time Champion Ernesto “Mr Perfect” Hoost. Schilt is a giant of a Seidokaikan Karate fighter who blossomed this year, breezing through the opposition at Paris before capturing the crown at the Tokyo Dome scarcely six weeks ago. For Hoost, who has battled injuries, the last day of 2005 marked his first fight of the year.

The first round was technical but nasty, both men testing with low kicks, looking for their chances to follow up. Hoost was cool and looked good threading in the right overhand punches, but an undaunted Schilt was always in forward motion, launching hard fast textbook combinations to effect.

Early in the second, Schilt pumped a hard left knee up to score a down. The ringside doctor had a good long look at Hoost’s face, and with the bleeding from the nose unabated after several minutes, stopped the fight, giving Schilt the win.

“I came here as the World Grand Prix Champion because I won in November,” said Schilt post-bout, “but now that I have beaten Ernesto, I have to say I feel like the true Champion!”

From there it was back to Hero’s Rules, and a David versus Goliath matchup. American former Sumo Grand Champion Akebono brought a whopping 130kg/280lbs weight advantage to his fight with Bobby Ologun of Nigeria. Ologun is a popular television personality in Japan, and a sometime-fighter who shocked the Osaka Dome crowd a year ago with a mixed martial arts win over French fighter Cyril Abidi.

The first round saw Ologun trying a hit-and-run tact, but Akebono managed a bearhug that gradually evolved into a takedown. He then lay almost motionless atop Ologun, apparently intent on smothering him into submission. Ologun opened the second with a kick, but soon Akebono was atop him again, and writhe as he may Ologun could not shed the big blanket of blubber. With the action stalled a break was called and the two stood up.

Ologun circled, searching for a point of attack, while Akebono used glacier-like speed to somehow close his opponent into the corner and push, apparently intent on crushing him into submission. The third was different — both stayed on their feet. Ologun circled, firing in the occasional low kick, Akebono waiting and waiting before suddenly lunging out to hit Ologun with an open hand, apparently intent on swatting him out of the ring.

These two will not enter the K-1 pantheon for their performances here, but they did give it a go, and produced a bout that was a bit of fun to watch. Ologun got the unanimous decision to remain undefeated in Hero’s.

Anyone disappointed with the lack of technical excellence in the previous thingy had to be delighted by the next match — a special format (10Min x 2R to KO/submission) bout which pitted the experience of Royce Gracie, a 39 year-old Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master bred of the sport’s premier fighting family, against the intrepid 28 tear-old grappler Hideo Tokoro of Japan.

This was one of those engaging bouts which you are more than content to see end in a draw (Gracie had requested special rules stipulating that if there was no KO or submission, the fight would not go to a judges’ decision).

Both men gave their all in this fight. Tokoro got an early high kick in and then a left punch before going down after a mix-up. Gracie held the Japanese fighter’s feet, looking to pass before electing to go into Tokoro’s guard. The aggressive Tokoro soon reversed, and much of the rest of the fight was spent with Royce in guard. This illustrated, however, just how good the Gracies are in guard position, as the left side of Tokoro’s face was repeatedly punched, his kidneys repeatedly heeled.

Gracie mostly kept his legs clamped tightly round Tokoro’s waist, and despite executing several slams Tokoro could do nothing to shake his opponent. The grappling was close and tough, every muscle working constantly for an inch of advantage. When the two broke, it was clear Tokoro was at his best in the transitions, connecting with a high kick, and storming in to pass with punches before Gracie could get him down and tie him up to start working the fists and heels again.

In the second Tokoro tried a flip kick but this backfired and Gracie got into a side mount. There followed a thrilling series of rapid reversals before the two ended up standing in the clinch. Gracie got the next mount, and had Tokoro twisted up well, but the slippery Japanese fighter brought cheers from the crown with his ability to squeeze, buck or squirm out of just about anything.

That is, until Gracie got him in a backmount. Now things looked bad for Tokoro, as Gracie put in more punches — but try as he might, Gracie could not work the choke that would force the submission.

“There are no easy fights,” said Gracie afterward. “Tokoro is always aggressive and so very dangerous. I wasn’t perfect, but I think it was a great fight even though it ended in a draw.” Indeed.

The K-1 Premium Dynamite! attracted a sellout crowd of 53,025 to the Osaka Dome and was broadcast across Japan on the TBS network and on a time delay in Europe on EuroSport. For other scheduling information contact local broadcasters. As always, check the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete coverage.