OSAKA, December 30, 2005 -- There is no bigger holiday in Japan than New Year's, a time comprised of countless age-old traditions. The munching of mochi (sticky rice); the liberal imbibing of sake; and the loud ringing, at midnight, of the neighborhood temple bell 108 times have been joined recently by a new way to celebrate December 31st -- the K-1 Premium Dynamite extravaganza.
TOKYO, November 19, 2005 -- Dutch fighter Semmy Schilt turned aside three challengers to win the K-1 World Grand Prix '05 Final at the Tokyo Dome tonight. The 32 year-old Seidokaikan Karate fighter recorded a convincing unanimous decision in his first bout against Ray Sefo, and went on to KO Defending Champ Remy Bonjasky in the semis, then Glaube Feitosa in the final to emerge triumphant.
Schilt's karate background affords him superior speed and stamina -- he won the WGP in Paris this May, and coming into today's Final he was widely regarded as the best of K-1's big fighters (height 212cm/6'11"; weight 121kg/267lbs). Schilt becomes the fourth Dutchman to win the K-1 World GP, and the first Karate fighter to wear the crown since the late great Andy Hug in 1996. Along with fightsport's most prestigious Championship, Schilt picks up US$400,000 in prize money.
The eight-men-in-one-man-out K-1 WGP Championship tournament is the culmination of scores of fight events held round the world over the last year. All fights were contested under regular K-1 rules -- three rounds of three minutes each. The judges -- from Japan, the United States, France and Holland -- could call for a possible tiebreaker round in the event of a draw, and for two possible tiebreaker rounds in the final.
The card's first matchup pitted two-time Defending K-1 WGP Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland against Hong-Man Choi of South Korea.
A former Silum wrestling Champion, Choi debuted in K-1 this year and came into the Final undefeated in six matches, having used his size more adeptly than some other K-1 behemoths. Choi is a national hero in Korea, and a sizable contingent of fans flew in from Seoul to cheer him on today. The sleek and lethal Bonjasky, meanwhile, is known for his spectacular flying knee and kick attacks. But his fans had to be wondering if he could get those up and in on the 218cm/7'2" Choi.
Bonjasky mostly eschewed the fancy stuff here in favor of a smart and precise attack built on low kicks. From the bell the Dutchman was light on his feet, kept his guard high and close, and snapped in hard low kicks. Choi led with his left jab and was solid on counters, and early on corralled Bonjasky into the corner to pump in some fist. Late in the first, Bonjasky saw a kick answered aggressively by a charging Choi, but neither fighter dominated in the round, which was scored a draw on all three cards.
The second saw Bonjasky launch a flying kick, only to have Choi answer again with punches. Bonjasky's low kicks were working better, and looked to be stinging Choi now. But the Korean used his reach well to control the distance, and again Bonjasky could not mount sustained pressure. In the third Bonjasky was the aggressor again, working the hit and run low kick attacks before landing a high kick to the left side of Choi's head. Choi's game was all counters, and he was not half-bad with these -- judges however liked Bonjasky's superior aggression and awarded him a slim but unanimous decision and a trip to the semis.
The second bout saw Schilt take the first step toward his Championship in a contest with Ray "Sugarfoot" Sefo of New Zealand. Schilt towered 28cm/11" above Sefo, but the Kiwi warrior hoped to counter that with techniques acquired while sparring with the also very tall Jan "The Giant" Nortje. An iron-jawed slugger, Sefo came into the tournament as many experts' pick to win.
Alas, it was not to be, as an all business Schilt took the fight to Sefo, who really did not look his usual self here. Schilt initially used front kicks and jabs to control the distance, and when Sefo stepped in with the fists Schilt went to the clinch and brought up the knees. Schilt got five knees to Sefo's head in the first round alone. And then it got worse.
In the second Schilt had low kicks working well, and although Sefo made some contact with a dandy spinning back punch and a right overhand, he was rattled badly when Schilt followed a left high kick with a straight punch. By the start of the third Sefo was bloodied and all but beaten, but to his credit Sugarfoot kept calling Schilt in, hoping against hope that he might get a hook round and in to score a down. But Schilt was in control, with all manner of kick and punch attacks. Sefo took a standing eight near the end of this one, which went to Schilt by unanimous decision.
The third quarterfinal was a showdown between a couple of K-1 veterans, French fighter Jerome Le Banner and Peter Aerts of Holland.
LeBanner brings preternatural aggression to the ring, tagged by many as the best K-1 fighter never to win the WGP. Aerts meanwhile is the consummate cool customer, a technical fighter with great kicks who has won the WGP three times. Incredibly, Aerts has appeared in each and every K-1 Final since the sport's inception (13 straight, a record that probably will never be broken). In the three previous meetings between these two, Aerts had the edge, 2-1.
LeBanner the southpaw got the best blow through in a tepid first, snapping Aerts' head back with a right straight punch. In the second LeBanner came alive with the fists, backing Aerts onto the ropes and finding his spots with deadly precision. Aerts' low and middle kicks were not enough here, as LeBanner began to take charge.
But Aerts picked up his pace in the third, and connected with middle kicks in the early going. LeBanner threw some kicks of his own, but half-heartedly -- as he clearly was more comfortable with his fists. The highlight of the round occurred when both fighters connected at the same instant with right hooks -- and LeBanner's mouthpiece went flying. Aerts won the third on all cards, but judges saw the fight too close to call, and so a tiebreaker round was prescribed.
Here both fighters looked fatigued, but it was Aerts -- the oldest guy in the tournament at 35 -- who launched more attacks, striking with the legs and bringing up the knees. The huffing and puffing LeBanner didn't have any more gas in his tank, and that sad fact was noted by the judges. They gave the decision to Aerts, and now all three Dutch fighters were in the semis.
In the last quarterfinal matchup, it was Japan's favorite son, Seidokaikan fighter Musashi, taking on 22 year-old wunderkind Ruslan Karaev of Russia.
Musashi's steady hard kicks earned him runner-up honors in the last two WGP Finals, while K-1 newcomer Karaev has overwhelmed opponents with his lightning quick, non-stop attacks. Karaev did high altitude training in Karuizawa, Japan in preparation for this fight, with a mind to improving his breathing and stamina.
The Russian dynamo came out like a loaded gun, pelting Musashi with kicks. Karaev kept the pressure up with a mixed bag of attacks including a spinning back kick, and some blistering punch and kick combinations. Musashi was good with his blocking and evasions, though, and always there with the low kicks. The second saw a more confident Musashi holding his ground, landing a right hook on a counter and good with the low and middle kicks, while Karaev connected with a right uppercut and a spinning back punch.
The third followed a pattern -- Karaev in with punches, Musashi ably blocking then countering with hard low kicks, but in the final seconds pattern suddenly disappeared and the boys went instead to a slugfest, and Karaev might have got the best of that wild exchange. Judges saw a draw and called for another round.
Here Musashi worked the hard low kicks and these stung Karaev. A break was called when Karaev accidentally head-butted Musashi, and after resumption we had another frenzied finish. Karaev made contact with a left straight punch and a spinning back kick while Musashi kept his legs busy to the end. A close fight which went to Musashi by decision.
The first of the semis saw Bonjasky fight his second big opponent -- and a more daunting one -- in Semmy Schilt.
This one lasted scarcely two minutes, as Schilt took the initiative from the bell, pumping in punches, kicks and knees while Bonjasky remained on the ropes, closed up in defense. Schilt's power got him through the defenses easily enough, and after a left knee to Bonjasky's head left the Champion badly shaken, Schilt followed up with punches and a hard front kick to score a down. Only 30 seconds after resumption, it was a knee to the abdomen that felled Bonjasky for a second time, ending the bout and putting Schilt through to the final.
Before the second of the semis it was announced that slotted fighter Peter Aerts had suffered cracked ribs and could not continue in the tournament, and so his place would be taken by the winner of the first reserve match.
That bout had Brazilian Kyokushin Karate master Glaube Feitosa fighting Trinidad and Tobago tough guy Gary Goodridge.
Goodridge had worked the body blows from the start, while Feitosa kept his guard high and countered with adroit legwork. Feitosa dislodged both Goodridge's tooth and mouthpiece with a frontkick in the second, and added fists to his arsenal here. For his part Goodridge initiated very little through the round, and was bleeding badly from the nose and mouth. Goodridge did step in with punches in the third, but Feitosa settled into a defensive posture to ride out the round and collect a comfortable unanimous win.
And so it happened that the victory got Feitosa a spot in the semis against Musashi.
The two were tentative from the start and the first round was about even -- a technical fight with the two kickers predictably trading kicks, neither able to dominate. But suddenly, just seconds from the bell, Feitosa surprised Musashi with a quick right straight punch to the kisser, and scored a down.
Seeing his chance, Feitosa was uncharacteristically aggressive in the second, charging in with kicks and punches, pushing Musashi across the ring not once but twice before finishing with a perfect flying knee to the nose to drop the Japanese fighter hard. Musashi didn't even try to beat the count, and that was that -- in an improbable scenario, Feitosa was now the man who would face Schilt in the final.
The final was a rematch of the Osaka Elimination bout between these two in September. Feitosa lost that fight by decision, and the Brazilian had no more luck tonight, as his Cinderella run was abruptly stopped by a Schilt knee in the first round.
Schilt did not give Feitosa a chance to work his magic, coming in fast and hard from the bell with punches and knees. Feitosa strived to counter from close in with overhand punches, but it was no use, as Schilt got his left knee up and dropped his opponent hard just 48 seconds into the round. A convincing victory to finish a perfect tournament for Schilt.
"I want to thank all my fans and friends who supported me," said a beaming Schilt, who picks up US$400,000 in prize money along with the crown. "I was motivated to win and I did it! I'm also glad I could give the fans some good fights! My goal is to keep the title next year!"
In the second reserve we had another thrilling bout, between Croatian Kickboxer Stefan Leko, making his return to K-1; and Badr Hari of Holland, making his K-1 debut.
After parading blissfully through what seemed the most protracted ring entrance in K-1 history, the lanky Hari got down to business, snapping up high kicks and threading in an excellent body blow in the first. Meanwhile, Leko stayed back and looked for chances. But surely Leko -- a technical fighter who has been all but deified by K-1 purists -- was going to pick it up in the second?
Well, no. What did happen in the second is Hari wheeled off a brutal spinning back kick and smacked Leko hard on the jaw with his heel. Leko was out cold even before his limp body crashed to the canvas. A highlight reel blow and a terrific win for Hari, who showed good sportsmanship by helping Leko to his feet some minutes later, when the dazed German had finally opened his eyes.
All in all, a super Final, which attracted a crowd of 58,213 to the Tokyo Dome. The event was broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji Television Network and Fuji Satellite TV; in South Korea on MBC/ESPN; and on Canal+ in France. It will be delay-broadcast on EuroSport across Europe, on ProTV in Romania, ViaSat Sports in Denmark, GroboSat in Brazil and on TV New Zealand. In total, the K-1 WGP '05 Final will be seen in some 90 countries -- check with local broadcasters for scheduling details.
Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for the official results and full coverage.