TOKYO, August 29, 2008 -- In an atmosphere that was half school festival and half fightsport event, Japanese teens who dream of becoming tomorrow's K-1 stars showed their stuff tonight at the K-1 Koshien King of U-18 Final 16 Tournament. Held at the Differ Ariake Hall in Tokyo's seaside Odaiba district, the event showcased the new K-1 Koshien series.
Paralleling the hugely popular Koshien high school baseball tournament -- which enjoys television viewer ratings exceeding those of Japanese major league baseball -- K-1 Koshien is open to high school students age 16-18, with a weight range limitation of 57kg/126lbs to 62kg/137lbs. Bouts are conducted under K-1 rules, but with two-minute instead of three-minute rounds. Fighters wear ten-ounce gloves along with shin and foot pads.
Tonight's event featured 16 fighters, who came out of qualifying tournaments held earlier in the year in Tokyo, Aomori, Aichi, Fukuoka and Osaka. Established K-1 fighters such as Musashi and Takayuki Kohiruimaki attended the qualifiers to help evaluate the talent.
Kensaku Maeda, the K-1 World Youth Director and an organizer of the Koshien Tournament, said he was impressed with the kids' skills. "Personally, I started training in martial arts when I was 18. But due to the popularity of K-1, young people in Japan now start training much earlier in their lives. I'm pleasantly surprised to find so many high school students have already developed excellent K-1 fighting skills."
Tonight's one-match format whittled the Koshien field down to eight fighters, who will go head-to-head as part of the World Max Final event this October 1. Those four winners will compete for the K-1 Koshien Championship at K-1 Dynamite on New Year's Eve.
In tonight's Main Event, kickboxing wunderkind Hiroya -- who trains and attends school in Thailand -- scored downs with a right hook and a left straight to earn a unanimous decision over the Kyushu, Okinawa and Shikoku Koshien Champion Kengo Sonoda.
"I was a little nervous fighting in the main event tonight," said Hiroya afterward. "But from now I'll do my best to pick up the pace! There are many good fighters developing in K-1 Koshien, but I can't worry about them, I just have to keep getting stronger myself!"
Meanwhile, Koshien Chubu Champion Ryuya Kusakabe downed Ryuma Tobe with a right hook en route to a unanimous decision; and Kickboxer Tsukasa Fuji squeaked out a split decision over Taishi Hiratsuka.
A Koshien fighter to watch is Saitama's Shota Shimada -- whose fists earned him a third-round down and a unanimous decision over Hirohito Yamaguchi. "I really want to start training for the next event in October," said Shimada, "but first, I have to finish all my piled-up homework!"