by Monte DiPietro, pictures Courtesy K-1
TOKYO, July 20, 2005 — Twenty-two year-old Andy Souwer of Holland turned aside three fighters — beating Defending Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand in the final — to win the K-1 World Max 05 Championship today at the Yokohama Arena. With his victory, Souwer pockets a cool 10 million yen (90,000 US dollars / 75,000 Euros) in prize money.

Souwer is the second Dutchman to wear the World Max Crown — compatriot Albert Kraus won the inaugural Championship in 2002. (The 2003 winner was Japan’s Masato; who Buakaw beat in the final last year.) With its 70kg (154lbs) weight class, World Max offers a light-on-the-feet, fast-paced variety of the K-1 experience and has become a big hit with fightsport fans around the world. The eight-man elimination tournament and Superfights on today’s card were contested under regular K-1 rules (3 min x 3 round w/one tiebreaker round, two possible tiebreaker rounds for the final only).

The first tournament matchup saw the quick and technical Japanese fighter and ’03 World Max Champion Masato pit his kicks against the brutal fists of compact Greek slugger Mike Zambidis.

Masato started out as expected, firing in low kicks, which Zambidis surprisingly answered with more than a few good low kicks of his own. Zambidis put a nice left body blow in early on and followed up with a flying knee to end a hard-fought first round. In the second, Zambidis was aggressive, leaning in and looking confident with his stuff — and frequently had his opponent on the defensive.

But Masato got what he needed in the third, planting a right straight punch on Zambidis’ jaw on a counter to score a down that brought the crowd to its feet in rapture. Zambidis was visibly disappointed with himself for his defensive lapse, and turned up the pressure in the late going, but Masato was more than able to hold on and take the unanimous decision.

A thrilling bout and a solid effort from Zambidis, whose legwork was much improved. But what was this — as he left the ring, Masato wore a grimace of pain on his face, and had to be helped in walking by his cornermen. Clearly the Japanese fighter was hurt, and time would tell how badly.

In the second matchup, it was kickboxer Takayuki Kohiruimaki of Japan and Dutch Shootboxer Andy Souwer. The pair were tentative in the early going, tossing front kicks to control the distance and unwilling to mix it up until Souwer started to step in with punches. The fight frequently went to the clinch thereafter, both men working the knees to little avail. There was more of the same in the second, Souwer in with punches and Kohiruimaki tying him up with the clinch. Souwer took control late in the round, brutalizing his opponent with straight punches and hooks, and at the bell a knackered Kohiruimaki was turned away, clinging to the ropes.

The third was all Souwer, the Dutch fighter connecting with straight punches and body blows, and putting a high kick or two up for good measure; while about all Kohiruimaki could manage was the clinch. There were scattered groans of disbelief when one judge called the fight a draw, but thankfully the other two were more perceptive, scoring Souwer up by a comfortable margin to give the Shootboxer a trip to the semis.

Albert Kraus of Holland tangled with John Wayne Parr Australia in the third bout. Kraus is a great puncher and former Champion, but Muay Thai stylist Parr was many experts’ pick here. The Australian came out with fire in his eyes, laid in with punches and landed a solid left hook, but Kraus was generally good with his blocking, leading with the left and following nicely with the right and body blows. Parr, meanwhile, was unable to get his kicks working here.

Parr attempted high kicks in the second, but these sailed past Kraus, who was always in motion and repeatedly stepped in to close the distance and work the body. Both fighters got some licks in, but neither was able to inflict serious damage here.

The third was fast and hard, Kraus pumping in body blows and cocking his opponent’s noggin back with a hard right uppercut. Parr put the kicks up and rattled Kraus on occasion, and threaded some good punches through to keep it close. But Kraus was just a bit faster throughout, light on his feet, always there with the proper attack for the situation and showing superior evasive techniques.

At the pre-event press conference, Parr had confidently mapped out his road to tournament victory, and looking past the opening bout might have hurt the Aussie, in any case he didn’t have the focus or drive to carry him through. A smart fight and unanimous decision for Kraus, who advanced to the semis.

The last of the quarterfinals had Defending World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand taking on Mongolian fighter Jadamba Narantungalag.

Narantungalag put power behind his early punch/kick combinations, but Buakaw weathered these, keeping his cool and looking for openings. Not a lot of strikes connected in the first, and in the second, it was Narantungalag who got the first good kick in. Both fighters connected here, but the fight was far from technical.

In the third again there was too much clinching. Buakaw had the best strike here with a left short hook, but could not put the decisive blow in. The Thai fighter planted some hard kicks to Narantungalag’s midsection, and although he was not at his best, he was good enough to squeak through with a majority decision (one judge saw a draw).

In the aftermath of the tournament’s first bout, the question of damage to Masato’s leg had weighed heavily on the minds of the Japanese fighter’s fans. Unfortunately, their worst fears were confirmed when K-1 Rules Director Nobuaki Kakuda stepped into the ring to announce that a hairline fracture on the left ankle had rendered the Masato unable to continue in the tournament. A terrible break for the former Champion, who limped into the ring to apologize to his fans.

In what had been a weird reserve fight earlier on, Kazuya Yasuhiro of Japan suffered three low blow kicks from Darius Skliaudys of Lithuania in the first round (earning the Lithuanian a red card); then had a bad cut open over his right eye in the second, which forced a doctor stop. The fight went to the cards, where Yasuhiro prevailed by a point on each to win.

And so the Seidokaikan fighter was handed an unexpected opportunity, taking Masato’s place against Andy Souwer in the first of the semis. Yasuhiro came out like a loaded gun, firing a flurry of punches in on Souwer, then leaping and flipping numerous fancy back and overhead kicks toward his flabbergasted opponent. These missed, but kept Souwer on the defensive from the get go. In time, however, Souwer found his form and put a left punch in which reopened the cut over Yasuhiro’s eye. There was another doctor check, and Yasuhiro was cleared to continue, but moments later it became apparent to all that the cut was not going to close up, and the fight was stopped, putting Souwer through to the final.

Albert Kraus is the only fighter to beat Buakaw in K-1 (by decision, this February), and the Dutch fighter had to be looking to repeat that achievement in the second semi. But Buakaw was apparently thinking revenge, for he looked faster and more focused here, snapping in three hard low kicks to start the round. With jabs and front kicks, Buakaw controlled the distance, and Kraus could not get in much through the first.

Buakaw took charge in the second, although Kraus connected with a couple of punches, the Thai fighter was better with high and low kicks, knees, and put on a surprisingly good display of boxing midway through when the two got close. The third saw Kraus increasingly fatigued, while Buakaw the dynamo just kept on coming with the leg attacks and punches. Aware he was down on points as the fight wore down, Kraus desperately tried to get the right hook in for a down, hoping to force an extra round, but his attempts were stymied by good blocking. The result was a comfortable unanimous decision for Buakaw, earning the Thai a date with Souwer in the final.

Coming off his quick and painless first round victory against Yasuhiro, Souwer was fresh for the final. Buakaw had fought longer on the night, but the Thai is know for his stamina.

From the bell, Souwer took to throwing straight punches and combinations, while Buakaw fired in low and middle kicks, and made partial contact with a high kick. Souwer was more aggressive at the start of the second, but when the distance closed the pair too-often ended up locked in the clinch, twisting away as if in a vertical wrestling match. Souwer led with the right punch to effect here and midway through the round pumped a good left in, but Buakaw was equally effective with the kicks. The second ended with a nice volley of punches from Souwer, but none of these hit the target cleanly. The third saw Buakaw throw more punches, while Souwer was again good with the right, snapped a left in and mixed his attacks up well with kicks. Again, neither fighter able to dominate due the excessive clinching and throwing. At the bell both fighters raised their arms to signal victory.

Judges also saw it even and called for a tiebreaker. Here again Buakaw stayed back with the kicks while Souwer leaned in with the one-two punch combinations. When the pair got close, again we saw the clinch, and so there was little sustained striking. Souwer adjusted his style somewhat here — resigned to the clinch, he came off the breaks with quicker punch attacks, intent on beating Buakaw’s kicks and outscoring the Thai fighter. Souwer recorded a good right straight, but without a really good strike from either fighter, judges sent this contest to a fifth and final round.

And again, coming back the many breaks, Souwer was faster in with his fists, and midway through made partial contact from in close with a left uppercut. The Dutchman repeatedly complained about Buakaw’s clinching, and in the end, it may have been Souwer’s greater willingness to mix it up that tilted judges in his favor, giving him the win with the narrowest possible margin of victory — a split decision after two tiebreakers.

“I want to thank my team, my family and my fans!” said a teary Souwer from the winner’s circle. “I never dreamed I would make it here, none of the fights went the way I though they would, it was a strange night!”

“In the end, I was frustrated by Buakaw’s clinching,” said Souwer later, “I think he was afraid of my punches. But I had good stamina so I could have kept on going for a couple more rounds!”

Asked what he plans to do with the considerable winner’s purse, Souwer didn’t miss a beat: “My partner and I have a seven month old son, I’m going to spend the money on my family!”

In a Superfight on the card, Kickboxer Yoshihiro Sato of Japan met Virgil Kalakoda. The son of legendary South African trainer Steve Kalakoda, Kalakoda impressed in his K-1 debut this May, where he held his own but lost by decision against Albert Kraus.

Here, Kalakoda was the more aggressive fighter from the start — head down, always rushing in with the fists. Sato stayed almost exclusively with the low kicks, and Kalakoda got the best of it with a right hook, left uppercut and left straight punch in the first.

In the second, Sato tried to use his 6cm (2″) height advantage to bring up the knee from the clinch, but Kalakoda countered well with body blows and overhands. Kalakoda tossed a few low kicks here, but obviously wanted to box, smashing in a wicked left straight. The third saw more hard punches from the South African, including another spot-on left straight. Although he was clearly ahead by this point, Kalakoda did not hang back but kept inflicting punishment to the end to earn the unanimous decision.

“Sato fought a hard fight, he’s tough,” said a gracious and emotional Kalakoda in his post-bout interview. “It feels great to pick up my first win in World Max, I am very happy and ready to continue on in the sport!”

A special 75kg Superfight saw Ramon Dekker of Holland and American Duane Ludwig go head-to-head. Dekker is 35 years old, Ludwig almost a decade younger — and so this was a classic experience-versus-youth matchup. Dekker was always moving forward in the first, and late in the round powered a terrific left straight punch in on Ludwig’s jaw to catapult the American back and score a down. In the second, Dekker, looking focused and fighting smart, again took the fight to Ludwig. The American had his moments to be sure, and was good with low kicks and a couple of combinations, but Dekker was better, and got a left hook in here to score a second round.

In the third, Dekker was textbook perfect, rattling Ludwig with a right high kick then firing the left punch in once again to score a third down. A good sport, Ludwig beamed a smile as he sat the canvas — a smile that said ‘if I am going to be beat up, there is no shame in being beat up by a master on his game’ — for that is what Dekker was tonight. The two combatants embraced warmly after the fight as Dekker was awarded a unanimous decision.

In the opening bout, Japanese fighters Akeomi Nitta and Koutetsu Boku made a war of it — non-stop action with Nitta taking the close but unanimous judges’ decision.

The K-1 World Max 05 Final attracted a sellout crowd of 17,720 to the Yokohama Arena, and was same-day broadcast in Japan on TBS. The event will be shown on a delayed basis in 64 countries — look for it on MBC ESPN in South Korea, ViaSat in Scandinavia, Eurosport in Europe and the Middle East, ProTV in Romania and GloboSat in Brazil. For scheduling information check with your local network.

The official results are on the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp).