K-1 Japan Grand Prix 05 Press Conference
HIROSHIMA, June 13, 2005 -- The rainy season is draped over Tokyo like a wet blanket, but down in Hiroshima today it was sunny and warm -- an appropriate atmosphere for one of the local highlights on the K-1 calendar, the Japan Grand Prix. Scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday June 14, the eight-man elimination tournament will advance a single fighter to the K-1 Final Elimination on September 23 at the Osaka Dome
LeBanner Beats Abidi; Schilt Wins Paris GP
PARIS, May 27, 2004 -- Jerome LeBanner came out better than Cyril Abidi in a grueling battle of the Gauls Superfight; and Dutch Seidokaikan Karate fighter Semmy Schilt turned aside all challengers to capture the crown in the K-1 European Grand Prix 2005.
The event was K-1's third in the City of Light and drew 11,250 boisterous fans to the Palais Omnisport Paris Bercy. All 11 bouts on the card were fought under adjusted rules in deference to the French sanctioning organization's restrictions on knee strikes.
The Superfight between Jerome LeBanner and Cyril Abidi was the most highly-anticipated bout on the card. The hard-punching LeBanner's tight technical style and killer instinct have made the veteran one of K-1's most feared combatants. And then there is Abidi -- the relatively lanky and cocky street punk, a kickboxer whose wild and wide-open style has produced some of K-1's most exciting matches over the last few years.
From the introductions it was clear the crowd was solidly behind LeBanner, who received thunderous applause. In sharp contrast, Abidi's entrance was met with a riot of jeers and boos, tempered by the scattered cheers of a few bravely defiant fans. It should be pointed out that the crowd was not acting from a strictly personal bias -- another determining factor was the fact that the Paris St. Germain and Marseilles football (soccer) teams have the most intense rivalry in the French League. With Abidi from Marseilles, the Normandy-born LeBanner was adopted by the arena full of sports fans as a Parisian for the night.
There was no sportsmanlike touching of gloves, instead this bout started with a bang, the two combatants literally smashing into one another in what would become a veritable streetfight. What it lacked in grace this bout made up for in raw emotion -- these two were at war, and it went on the entire five scheduled rounds.
In the first LeBanner soon got the better of it with his right punches, while Abidi could only rarely put the kicks past his opponent's very capable blocking. The atmosphere in the arena already electric, LeBanner turned it up a notch when he scored his first down with a brutal right just 28 seconds into the second round. But there was a nasty cut over LeBanner's right eye, the result of accidental head-to-head contact, and for a tense moment, time was stopped for a doctor's check. With the bleeding judged as not serious enough to warrant a stop, LeBanner was allowed to continue.
In the third, LeBanner again leaned in with the punches, and, head down, repeatedly plowed forward, like a tank, taking the fight to Abidi. Again the right earned LeBanner a down here, and it now looked as though LeBanner might be holding off finishing the dizzy Abidi, intent instead on inflicting ever more punishment on his archrival. LeBanner pushed Abidi onto the ropes, and put the punches in, then stepped back to fire in high kicks -- but through it all, to his credit, Abidi never gave up, and tried valiantly to get something going. He lost this round on all the cards -- he lost all the rounds on all the cards, in fact. But, he fought on.
Abidi appeared somewhat revived at the outset of the fourth, while LeBanner seemed to be running out of steam -- but again LeBanner reached down and got his right in, late in the round this time, and again he scored a down. Abidi had a desperate late rally of his own here, and there was a second time stop for a doctor check on LeBanner's eye, but again he was cleared to continue.
The fifth and final saw LeBanner cock Abidi's head back with a right straight punch, then do the same again seconds later. It was amazing that Abidi stayed in this one -- afterward K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa remarked that perhaps the fight should have been called earlier, but the referee was respecting the fighters' desire to soldier on to the end. Abidi kept on swinging, and put the high kicks up there, but LeBanner continued to block with ease. There was some confusion at the end, as LeBanner put another brutal right in, then shoved Abidi to the canvas after Abidi's cornerman stepped into the ring. And so on. So although the two fighters went pretty well all the way to the final bell, the bout was officially scored a fifth round TKO for LeBanner.
There were no hugs or congratulations after the bell, but one would like to imagine the fighters left the ring with greater respect for one another than they had when they entered.
LeBanner went to have his eye checked and so did not appear for his post-fight interview. A battered Abidi did, however, come out for his -- further testimony to the warrior spirit that characterized this fight.
"I'm from Marseilles," Abidi laughed defiantly, "and we don't give up -- we fight with all our heart. I was not 100%, I hurt my leg in a motorcycle accident not long ago, but I don't want to make excuses -- I lost, that is sport and that is that. But he is in the hospital right now, not me! Anyway, I want to tell my fans that I hope I didn't disappoint you, I tried my best but unfortunately I didn't win. Thanks for your support, I will do better next time."
To the tournament:
Alexey Ignashov, considered a favorite to defend the European GP Championship he won here last time round, came up against Japanese fighter Noboru Uchida in the first bout. Ignashov brought a 12cm (5inch) height and 22 kg (50 lb) weight advantage to the ring. Further, the Belorussian had spent several months preparing for this bout at Ray Sefo's gym in New Zealand. But, ominously, Ignashov's right knee was revealed to be bandaged when he entered the ring.
From the bell an adjustment in style was apparent as Ignashov worked a variety of different punch attacks and was quick with the evasions, but didn't throw kicks. Despite the straight punches and hooks, Ignashov never really got Uchida in trouble here, while the Japanese fighter kept coming in with his own punch and low kick attacks. Throughout the second, again, Ignashov stayed back, rarely using his legs.
Just as Ignashov's lack of aggression began to elicit jeers from the crowd, he put a right punch in to stun Uchida, and followed this up with a nice left hook. But Uchida was always coming forward, and used low kicks to balance out his attacks. In the third, Ignashov again eschewed kicks and although he did rather nicely with the fists, he was far from the explosive fighter he can be. Here again, Uchida's low kicks were scoring points, and although it was a close call, judges liked the Japanese fighter, who reacted with a look of surprise when his upset victory was announced.
In the second matchup it was Aziz Khattou of Belgium and French fighter Naoufal "Iron Leg" Benazzouz, a late substitute for Chalid "Die Faust," who was forced to withdraw due a hand injury. Iron Leg had the height advantage here, towering 11 cm (4 inches) above his opponent, and Khattou didn't seem to know how to get in on the big guy. So in the early going Khattou retreated often to a defensive posture. Benazzouz soon found a hole in the defense, and brought the Iron Leg up to the side of the Belgian's head to score a down. Khattou just beat the count, but soon after resumption the Iron Leg struck again to earn Benazzouz the win under K-1's two-down rule.
The third pairing saw Semmy Schilt step in against Petr Vondracek of the Czech Republic.
And here we had an even bigger height differential -- Schilt, who stands 211 cm (6' 11"), towered a full 28 cm (11 inches) over Vondracek. The big Dutch fighter came in surprisingly fast, and chased his opponent round with the fists early in the first. But to the crowd's delight, Vondracek closed the distance and fired a number of tight hooks and uppercuts in late in the first to take the round on all three cards. In the second Vondracek started well, but Schilt put a left front kick in that winded the Czech and forced a standing count when he could not assume a fighting position. Schilt now took charge of the fight, connecting with a hard high kick and generally using his preternatural reach to fire in the blows at will, and scored a second and decisive down just 20 seconds from the end of the round. A good effort by Vondracek, but Schilt's size and power proved too much to overcome.
In the last of the tournament matchups, Japanese fighter Nobu Hayashi took on French fighter Freddy Kemayo. This was a most exciting fight, Kemayo looking light on his feet and throwing in fast and impressive combinations that included low, high and ax kicks and solid punches to the head and body. Hayashi was no slouch, but Kemayo was better from the bell, totally controlling the fight. In the first round, it was the fists that earned one down, and the fists again seconds later that got another to take the win and a trip to the semifinals.
In the first of the semis, Iron Leg Benazzouz dominated Uchida from the start, much to the delight of the increasingly noisy partisan crowd. In the first, Benazzouz snapped in the low kicks and looked good with his blocking when Uchida tried to counter. Iron Leg controlled the distance and the flow with a solid repertoire of high and low kicks through the second, and was usually better with the punches as well. The third started with a fancier Benazzouz launching spinning kicks, but these missed and so the French fighter soon settled back into his proven power attacks. Uchida tried to snipe in with the low kicks and threw a few punches, and wasn't bad -- always alert and looking for his chances -- but Benazzouz clearly had the edge here and so went through with a unanimous decision.
The second semi pitted Schilt against Freddy Kemayo. The thing about Schilt's size is that he can keep you back with his reach, then fire in "low" kicks which just might end up smacking you in the head. This Kemayo learned in the first round, and as the kicks pelted him, inflicting no small amount of pain and, moreover, keeping him outside. Kemayo frequently tried to pass and get inside to box, but Schilt repeatedly stymied him with the clinch. The Dutch fighter was shown a yellow card for this in the first, and a red card in the second. Alas, even as the crowd screamed encouragement, it was becoming apparent that Schilt represented a challenge beyond Kemayo's not inconsiderable abilities. In the third, after absorbing a lot of punishment, Kemayo took two right kicks to the head which left him stunned. The referee stepped in to call a standing count, and as the French fighter drooped against the ropes, smiling in contemplation of the hopelessness of his situation, the bout was called and Schilt was in the final.
And so the French fans had a final local hope -- could the Iron Leg chop down the seemingly unbeatable Schilt?
As it happened, Benazzouz gave Schilt a very tough ride -- remaining focused, light on his feet and good with the evasions to stay out of harm's way through the first. Benazzouz was quick and precise with his attacks, low kicks and combinations, just missing with a haymaker and putting a left straight punch up to rattle Schilt. For his part, Schilt was less aggressive here, and looked reluctant to move forward and take punishment from the Iron Leg.
But, as every K-1 fan knows, any bout can change with a single strike -- and that is what happened here. Benazzouz was leading smartly with his right, and had just put in a good low kick down when Schilt capitalized on a chance, firing in the perfect right punch to drop his opponent to the canvas in a heap. Benazzouz just barely beat the count, but when the referee asked if he was ok, the answer from the swaying French fighter was a simple but truthful "No."
An impressive run for Benazzouz, but this was Semmy Schilt's night. By winning the K-1 European Grand Prix 2005, Schilt advances to the World Grand Prix Final Elimination at the Osaka Dome this September.
"I feel very good," said a beaming Schilt in his post-tournament interview. The Dutchman was quick to give credit to his opponent. "The first fight, against Petr Vondracek, was very hard. He was aggressive and at first, I kept wanting to knee all the time. By the second fight I had adjusted, but Freddy Kemayo, I didn't know him but I will say that he is one tough Frenchman. And I was also surprised by Naoufal Benazzouz, he had a lot of good attacks. But now I am on my way to Japan for the September event. I know there will be a lot of tough fighters I may face there, but I'm not afraid of anyone, I feel confident I can win!"
The second Superfight featured Mavrick of Germany and Japanese legend Nobuaki Kakuda, who promised to show the true Japanese Karate spirit in his return to action after a hiatus of several years.
Fit and ready, Kakuda looked like he really wanted to fight, and wasted no time coming in with his fists. Less than a minute in, with Mavrick retreating, Kakuda planted a right hook on the feckless German to score a down. Mavrick could not find his feet, and Kakuda had the win. In a display that brought a roar of appreciation, Kakuda addressed the crowd in French afterwards, thanking them for their support.
In other action, the tournament reserve fight saw Petar Majstorovic of Switzerland tangle with Gregory Tony of France. Tony got a good uppercut through in the first, and had the better of it again in the second with his combinations. These two are good friends, and that may explain why Majstorovic never got angry and pushed the fight. The challenges were there, but Tony was always better, smart with the combinations, and so the Frenchman took the unanimous decision.
In a 70kg weight class open bout, talented French fighter Samir Berbachi threaded a left straight punch through on counter to score a third round down against Karim Mahri, and weathered a late rally by Mahri to win the 2min x 5R contest by unanimous decision.
The K-1 European Grand Prix 2005 was broadcast in Japan on the Fuji Television network; on the pay-per-view network inDemand across North America; and on Eurosport and TPS Star in Europe. There will also be broadcasts on a delayed basis in scores of other countries, check with your local network for details.
See the official results here: http://www.so-net.ne.jp/feg/k-1gp/top661.htm
Special thanks to Monte Dipietro and K-1 for this write-up.
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