K-1 World Max Japan 2005 Press Conference
TOKYO, February 22, 2005 -- With public interest in K-1's 70kg World Max fighting class at an all-time, more than 100 media reps from Japan, Korea, Europe, Oceania and the Americas filled a press conference today at the Shin Takanawa Hotel to get a look at the eight fighters who will battle in the World Max Japan 2005.
Brazilian Dynamite: Gracie Submits Akebono
OSAKA, December 31,2004 -- Royce Gracie submitted former Sumo Yokozuna Akebono to cap off a night of action at the K-1 Premium Dynamite 2004. Held at the Osaka Dome, the annual New Year's Eve extravaganza featured seven bouts under a variety of Free Fight Rules (based on K-1's ROMANEX Rules); a trio of regular K-1 Rules fights; and a unique meeting between Bob Sapp and Jerome LeBanner, which saw the combatants alternate sets of rules in each round.
The main event saw Akebono, in his Free fight Rules debut, fighting for Japan against Jiu-jitsu master Royce Gracie of Brazil. Bred of the mixed martial arts world's most respected family of fighters, Gracie is a three-time UFC Tournament Champion.
With his pedigree, one might have expected this to be an easy fight for Gracie -- but the weight difference here was incredible. Gracie tips the scales at just 81kg (179lb), while Akebono weights in at a whopping 220kg (484lbs), darn close to three times as much. Plus, Akebono had been working with famed personal trainer Mak Tanaka (Oscar De La Hoya, B.J. Penn, Magic Johnson). And so there was some reckoning, from the standpoint of physics in particular, that Akebono might be able to simply smother Gracie into submission.
The bout, scheduled for two ten minute rounds, lasted just 133 seconds.
Things started with Gracie light on his feet, throwing a kick or two, looking confident. When Akebono lumbered forward to engage his opponent, Gracie offered minimal resistance and the two tumbled to the canvas.
Akebono ended up on top, but did not have a favorable mount. As Akebono shifted his weight in an attempt to reassert himself, Gracie slowly began to squirm for position. He first got a leg up, then commenced to work his magic. Methodically, the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master delved, deeply, into the blubbering mass atop him, finally extracting an arm. Then, with consummate skill, he worked a wrist lock. Poor Akebono began to wince in pain, and with no chance of escaping, had no choice but to submit.
"I did everything my trainers told me not to do," said the dejected fighter afterward.
Gracie, meanwhile, was delighted with his performance: "I had a strategy and I discussed it with my family and my team. I knew I had to bring Akebono to the ground, and I knew the best way to do that was to let him come to me! It worked perfectly, what you saw tonight was exactly what I trained to do!"
There was tremendous fan anticipation for the penultimate bout, a clash of the titans between K-1 veteran Jerome Le Banner of France and American Bob "The Beast" Sapp. This four-rounder was fought using two distinct sets of rules -- the first and third rounds conducted under regular K-1 Rules (three minutes each), the fighters switching to open-finger gloves to mix it up under Free Fight Rules (five minutes each) in the second and fourth rounds.
Although Sapp had wanted to start this one with a Free fight Rules round, LeBanner of course preferred the first round be conducted under K-1 Rules, and used his 10 years of experience to pull rank. And so, with K-1 Rules set for round one, the Frenchman came out looking for a quick KO, which he very nearly got.
This was not a pretty sight for Sapp fans -- after a signature charging start, the big guy spent the balance of the round doubled over, his guard pressed close to his face, absorbing punch after punch from LeBanner. Midway through, after a dozen unanswered blows, Sapp collapsed and LeBanner looked in great position to finish his dazed opponent. But Sapp retreated, turtled over, ran away, and otherwise did whatever he could to get through the round and stay in the fight.
In the second, under mixed martial arts rules, things improved greatly for Sapp. Here The Beast was able to execute a quick takedown and get into a full mount position. He began to rain down the punches, but luckily for LeBanner, ran out of steam after a minute or so. Although he stayed on top for almost the entire round, Sapp was unable to use his dominant position to inflict the damage required to win. Neither was he able to work any sort of submission hold here, and soon it was time for round three and the 10 ounce gloves, and LeBanner again had his chance.
Sapp had some success with a defensive charge-and-clinch strategy in the early going of the third, but soon LeBanner was again throwing in kicks and punches at will which put an exhausted Sapp in graceless retreat. Despite all the punishment, Sapp showed a lot of heart and stayed on his feet, and soon it was LeBanner who was tired and unable to finish.
The fourth saw some new variations on the same theme, Sapp using his size to dominate but not able to put the necessary power into his blows to end it. There was a reversal, though, and when the two went north-south, LeBanner got a number of knees in on Sapp's head. Again, however, there was not enough sustained pressure. LeBanner spent some time in side mount in the late going here, as did Sapp, but neither man was able to punish for a tapout or position for submission. Sapp was on top and threatening to maybe do something with LeBanner's right arm when time ran out. Under the agreed upon rules, the fight was declared a draw.
Said LeBanner post-bout: "I wish I could have beaten Bob in the K-1 Rules rounds, but I made it through the mixed martial arts rounds so it was a learning experience for me, and I am happy with the result."
Sapp, who dedicated the fight to the memory of sparring partner Masaki Miyamoto's father, who recently passed on, said he was also pleased with the fight: "I took some damage in the K-1 rounds and got tired, but I was better in the mixed martial arts rounds. I think if a mixed martial arts round had come first I'd have had more energy and could have done better, but that's the way it goes."
Elsewhere on the card:
The event's opening fight was one of the night's most surprising. It saw Frenetic French kickboxer Cyril Abidi step in against Bobby Ologun for a Special Free Fight Rules bout. (Here, a down due a strike resulted in a 10-count, no kicks were permitted against a downed fighter, and no kicks or knees to the head were permitted under any circumstances.)
The Nigerian-born Ologun has ridden his lovable misfit foreigner persona to popularity on Japanese television, and most experts expected him to look no less out of place in the ring with Abidi.
But, surprise! From the bell, Ologun charged in and effected a takedown to get into a mount. Abidi neutralized this by wrapping his arms round Ologun's head, and things stayed in a stalemate until, at the clapper, Ologun muscled free to a kneeling position to throw a dozen punches down on Abidi's head.
In the second Abidi strove to stay on his feet and strike, but Ologun, wanting none of that, threw his arms round the Frenchman's waist and the two tumbled down. Abidi briefly got in on Ologun's half guard before Ologun twisted out and got on top again. Abidi, who is at his best when flailing his arms and legs, looked listless on the mat and on the defensive, which is where he was for most of this fight. In the third, Abidi got a right hook in to trigger a 10-count. But soon after resumption, again it was Ologun who got the takedown and mount to control the pace.
There was no surplus of style in his strategy, but Ologun tangled up Abidi and planted enough punches to score points. When it went to the cards it was Ologun by unanimous decision. The Nigerian looked nothing short of overwhelmed as he sobbed with joy from the winners' circle. Afterward, Ologun quipped: "I won because I had no fear, with no fear, it is no problem!"
Francois "The White Buffalo" Botha impressed many at the K-1 World GP Final, getting past Peter Aerts and then almost beating eventual Champion Remy Bonjasky in the semis. Here the South African boxer got down in a Special Free Fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama, a Japanese judo stylist who won it all in the 81kg (178lb) class at the World Judo Championship last year. (In this fight, no kicks were permitted against a downed fighter, and no kicks or knees to the head were permitted under any circumstances. Also, one 'rope escape' -- in which a fighter deliberately touches the lower rope and a break is called -- was permitted per round.)
Botha brought a 13cm (5") height and 34kg (74lb) weight advantage to this clash, but it was Akiyama who looked bigger here. From the start the Japanese fighter took the initiative, manhandling Botha first with a takedown before slipping to a side mount, all the while supremely focused and picking his opportunities intelligently. Botha bucked free but could not get to his feet and was forced to defend with bicycle kicks. Akiyama made several passes before getting in and taking hold of Botha's right fist, slipping to the side and working an armbar to earn the submission.
In the next bout, 29 year-old Japanese fighter Caol Uno, a Pro Shooto Fourth Welterweight Champion, took on former Lumpinee Stadium Light Weight Champion Chandet Sorpantrey of Thailand. (This Special Free Fight had a 71kg (156lb) weight class and a provision that a maximum of 30 seconds could pass with the fighters on the mat before a break and standing restart.)
An accomplished striker, Sorpantrey was making his Free Fight debut here. Uno, on the other hand, is accustomed to working on the ground. It was evident that Uno wanted the takedown as soon as possible, but Sorpantrey did a good job of keeping him at bay with low kicks. In the first round, Uno got through twice for takedowns, but on both occasions, Sorpantrey wrapped the arms round and simply tied him up until the 30 seconds had timed out.
In the second, Uno got the takedown early then surprised his opponent by working round to a rear mount. With good purchase from that position he put the choke sleeper on to get the tapout in a matter of seconds.
In another of the Free Fight Rules contests, Don Frye of the United States did battle with Japanese wrestler Yoshihiro Nakao. The legendary Frye is a master of several fightsport styles, but was nonetheless winless in four bouts coming into this one. Nakao, on the other hand, was undefeated in his last three. This was a rematch of the pair's meeting in May at Saitama, which was stopped early after accidental head-to-head contact opened a deep cut over Frye's right eye.
The two wasted no time getting in each others' faces, there were heated words and a hard shove from Frye during the referee's instructions. Frye threw a few jabs before Nakao dove in for the takedown. Here Frye worked a front choke before the two got back to his feet. Nakao connected with several punches before getting in again. But Frye worked well from the full guard, getting the right up. Worrying here was another cut that opened over Frye's eye.
In the second, the two traded punches before Nakao got the takedown. Frye reversed and the two went to their feet again, went down north/south for a time before Nakao got back on with a side mount. Frye's defense was sound, but he was unable to get any attacks going here, whereas Nakao sporadically fired in the knees and punches to effect.
Again, Nakao took the initiative in the third with a takedown to the side mount. Frye looked increasingly fatigued, while Nakao just kept on coming in with knees to the midsection and punches to the head. Again, Frye tied up his opponent and controlled the distance well such that the blows which got through did not connect with severity. But in the absence of any good counters those strikes were enough to earn Nakao points, and it was an easy call for judges to give the Japanese fighter the unanimous decision.
The first of the K-1 Rules bouts on the card featured K-1 veteran Ray "Sugarfoot" Sefo of New Zealand and slugger Gary Goodridge of Trinidad and Tobago. Both of men are given to quick starts, both like to step in and mix it up with the fists, and neither give an inch. In other words, this matchup had all the makings of a total war. It more like a blitzkrieg.
From the bell that the fists were flying, and wouldn't you know -- it was Sefo who had the better licks. A right hook sent Goodridge to the canvas a mere nine seconds in, and after the count it was a left hook followed by a right uppercut which put Goodridge down again. Slowly, Goodridge stood up, sort of, but was not up to the task of remaining in one position, as his rubbery legs wobbled him this way and that. The referee wisely waved his arms in the air to end the fight and Sefo had the KO victory at just 33 seconds of the first round.
The ever-improving Musashi has advanced to the final bout of the Tokyo Dome World GP two years running now, and here Japan's best K-1 fighter met American pro wrestler turned contact fighter Sean O'Haire in a K-1 Rules bout. The big O'Haire, who fights for BJ Penn's MMA Team, surprised many pundits when he brutalized Shungo Oyama with punches to take a KO victory just 31 seconds into the first round of their dance at the Rumble on the Rock in Hawaii last month.
Fighting in his hometown, Musashi had the Osaka crowd pumped as he made his entrance. But from the bell, it was O'Haire who came in. Crouched low, leaning forward, O'Haire tossed in a number of jabs, a right, a low kick and put some knees up from the clinch before Musashi had thrown a single strike. O'Haire looked decent here, working the body blows and connecting with a right uppercut in the early going. Musashi was, as it happened, simply biding his time. Late in the round, after connecting with a couple of low kicks, Musashi planted his left foot on the right side of O'Haire's face for a down.
In the second, it was evident O'Haire had not fully recovered as a hard front kick put the American on the canvas once again, and just seconds after resumption Musashi ended the fight in a convincing fashion with another high kick.
Maybe he had been a little rattled in the first round, but for whatever reason Musashi seemed to have briefly forgotten where he was after the fight, thanking the "Tokyo Dome" crowd for their support from the winners' circle. The forgiving Osaka crowd was of course amused by the slip of tongue, and an embarrassed Musashi corrected himself with a chuckle before thanking one and all.
Added Musashi in his post-bout interview: "I didn't know my opponent so I decided to let him come at me in the first and see what he could do. In the second, I fought back, showed him what I could do."
In a K-1 Rules fight between two of Japan's most popular 70kg (154lb) weight class fighters, 2003 World Max Champion Masato took on the explosive Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto, a mixed martial art specialist. Personality-wise, these two are a study in contrasts -- pretty boy Masato the polite and soft-spoken type, Yamamoto the tough-talking punk.
The Kid has looked very strong since his 2003 debut, and entered the ring unbeaten in his four K-1 and mixed martial arts bouts. But Masato, regarded as one of the world's best stand-up fighters in his class, was determined to stop that streak here. After receiving bouquets and encouragement from 2004 World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk, the two fighters got down to business.
This was a fast-paced, furious fight from the get-go, probably the best bout on the night. Masato got a right straight punch in early on, but Yamamoto the southpaw was able to counter in kind. The Kid proved more than capable in blocking Masato's high kicks, and threw a couple of low kicks of his own. A right hook got through to Masato's head halfway through and seconds later Yamamoto shocked the crowd when he put a left in to score a down. True to his mixed martial arts training (and bad-boy image), Yamamoto instinctively rushed in to finish off his downed opponent, but the referee quickly stepped up to remind the fighter that is not permitted under regular K-1 Rules.
Soon after the count, a low kick hit Yamamoto hard below the belt, and, as doctors investigated, for a long while it appeared the fight might have to be stopped. But, given five minutes to recompose, Yamamoto indicted he was ok and the fight resumed.
The second round saw no abatement in the action, both fighters nimble and quick and throwing hard strikes. Masato's legs were better, and a kick to Yamamoto's chin stunned the fighter, who turned away and so was assessed a standing count. Afterward it was all Masato, who leapt in with flying knees and kicks and then worked the knees from the clinch, looking for the decisive down. But the Kid weathered the storm, landed a couple of haymakers on the counter and continued, undaunted, to step in with punches.
The third saw Masato staying with the leg attacks, working knees and tossing high kicks. Several times Yamamoto seemed to defy nature by not only remaining standing but rallying with aggressive counters. As the clock wore down, the two commenced to literally throwing themselves at one another to end this thrilling contest.
Both young men were bashed and battered and doubtlessly ushered in 2005 nursing their bruised bodies, but it is Masato who got the trophy, by majority decision.
Masato attributed his success to superior legwork, but was very impressed with Yamamoto: "I was most surprised with his kicks," he said post-bout, "I didn't expect that at all."
Contested under Free Fight Rules was the battle between veteran Japanese Pro-wrestler Kazuyuki Fujita and Karam Ibrahim of Egypt, a gold medallist in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Fujita humiliated Bob Sapp at the Saitama ROMANEX event this May, and has pounded it out with some of the best in mixed martial arts in his long career. Ibrahim, some ten years younger, was making his debut in the sport. Could the Egyptian use youth and speed to avoid the strikes, go to the mat and out-finesse his opponent?
He tried, but he failed.
Things started out well for Ibrahim, and he showed he could stand up and throw a punch, knocking Fujita down with a left but not quite quick enough to get in and follow up. Actually, the two never went to the mat in this one, for just as Ibrahim was attempting a low kick, Fujita countered with a hard right to put the Egyptian on the canvas. Fujita quickly jumped in to finish his opponent off, but that was unnecessary, as Ibrahim, motionless on his back, was already defeated. Quickly, the referee jumped in to pull Fujita off and stop the fight.
In an undercard bout, Pro-wrestler The Predator, appearing in his second Dynamite event, won a Free Fight Rules bout against another two-time Dynamite participant, Kristof "The Phoenix" Midoux of France. This one was over in a minute -- The Predator quickly got the double leg takedown, then relentlessly worked kidney punches from a rear mount position. Midoux attempted to squirm free, but The Predator slid up and got an lock on Midoux's left arm, hyper-extending at the shoulder while twisting Midoux's neck into the canvas to force a submission.
Making appearances in the ring to express their desire to fight in K-1 next year were American mixed martial arts master Heath Haring, star Korean wrestler Che Hong Man, and popular Japanese amateur wrestler Akihito Tanaka.
The K-1 Dynamite 2004 attracted 52,918 to the Osaka Dome and was broadcast in Japan on the TBS television network. The event will be available on a delayed basis elsewhere, check with your local providers for details. Check the K-1 official website (www.k-1.co.jp) for the official results.