TOKYO, July 7, 2008 -- Japanese kickboxer Yoshihiro Sato, 27, upset two-time K-1 World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand tonight at the K-1 World Max 2008 World Championship Tournament Final 8. In the evening's Main Event, Japanese kickboxer Masato defeated Armenian fighter Drago.
With thunderclouds blanketing the Tokyo sky, the air hung hot and humid inside the historic Nippon Budokan. A full house of more than 11,000 turned out for the fightsport extravaganza, which comprised four World Max Championship elimination bouts, along with four one-match World Max bouts; a trio of contests in a new 60kg/150lbs weight class, and a pair of K-1 Youth bouts.
With its 70kg/154lbs weight class, the K-1 World Max Series is one of the most popular fightsport championships anywhere. The World Max tournament format has been modified for 2008 with the introduction of a new, three-stage final. The winners of regional qualifying events held earlier this year in Japan, Holland, South Korea and Poland joined last year's best at the Hiroshima Final 16 one-match elimination in April. The eighth winners from Hiroshima went head-to-head tonight in a one-match format, with victors advancing to the October World Max Final.
First up in the elimination bouts was a contest between Japanese kickboxer Yasuhiro Kido, who won this year's World Max Japan tournament; and 21 year-old Ukrainian muay thai fighter Artur Kyshenko, who brought a World Max record of five wins and two losses to the ring.
A dozen Kido low kicks to start, Kyshenko looking to punch before shifting gears and responding with kicks of his own. The technical Kido had the better legwork through the first round, although Kyshenko blocked the high stuff. In round two, Kyshenko threw tight combinations to effect, closing to work the body. Kido looked to be in trouble here, although he planted a knee late in the round to keep it close. In the third Kyshenko showed he can throw low kicks as well, repeatedly stinging Kido's left knee and closing with the fists. Kido kept coming back, but his knees and high kicks were ably blocked. A unanimous decision, securing Kyshenko a spot in the World Max Final.
"Kido talked a lot before the fight," said Kyshenko afterward. "He said I have a weak mind, but I didn't say anything because I wanted to show in the ring that my soul and spirit are strong. He tried to surprise me in the first round with some tricky stuff, and when he started throwing low kicks I threw low kicks back, because I wanted to show I could beat him at his own game."
The second of the Final 8 matchups saw two-time and Defending World Max Champion Andy Souwer of the Netherlands taking on K-1 World Max Europe 2008 Champion Warren Stevelmans of South Africa.
Exchanges of hard low kicks to start, Souwer with the edge in power, Stevelmans building better combinations -- stepping forward to pound in body blows. Souwer made his mark late in the first with a punishing knee that was the strike of the round. Stevelmans was pesky again in the second, snapping in low kicks and closing to work the body, landing a good hook, blocking a Souwer knee. In the third the circling Souwer suddenly launched a right hook that sent Stevelmans reeling across the ring. Souwer gave chase, but Stevelmans stayed on his feet, mounting an able defense with low kicks and straight punches. Souwer managed another hard knee before the end of the round to cement it. A unanimous decision for Souwer.
"Warren is powerful, tough an explosive," said Souwer afterward, "so I had to watch out because I knew he could change everything with one punch. But I think my experience made the difference in this fight. Now that I'm going to the final in October, I'm confident that I can defend my title."
The third qualification bout had two-time World Max Japan Champion Yoshihiro Sato taking on two-time World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand. These two had already fought twice, Buakaw winning both times.
Sato, who stands 11cm/4" taller than Buakaw, has used his knees to effect against other opponents. But here Buakaw worked the distance well, tossing in low kicks, leading with the left and throwing the hard right through the first. In the second, Buakaw kept the left arm extended far forward, and turned sideways he didn't give Sato much to hit. Again the Thai master controlled the distance with front kicks before exploding with the right. Frenzied action at the clapper, Sato in with an uppercut, Buakaw landing a right straight.
Buakaw was Buakaw again in the third -- ahead on all cards, he might have figured on coasting to victory -- as he coolly snapped the front and low kicks, coming in with the right straight, his positioning and evasions almost perfect.
Almost, because then it happened. Amid a punching exchange near the ropes, with both fighters swinging, Sato in the blink of an eye exploited an opening and found the side of his opponent's jaw with a right straight punch. The pair's relative momentum conspired against Buakaw, and the fighter many regard as virtually unbeatable went down hard. Buakaw lay motionless for a long time, and as a shocked silence gave way to a roar from the crowd, Sato leapt atop the corner posts in delirious celebration.
"I think the biggest reason I won this fight was that I did what I planned," said Sato in his post-fight interview. "My tactic was to watch Buakaw in the first round, move in more aggressively in the second round, and then make a dash to finish him in the third. I kept saying that luck has been following me, and today I was also very lucky! Both my punches and low kicks were good, and my shin became very tough as a result of my hard training."
"I also did weight training before this fight," continued Sato, "it was the first time I've done that, and it was very effective as I felt my punches were very powerful. I'll keep working on this for the final in October."
The last of the Final 8 bouts featured Japanese uber-kickboxer Masato, who won the World Max Championship in 2003 and finished second last year, taking on Armenian muay thai stylist Drago.
Nonstop action in this bout, Masato setting the pace early with low kicks and rapid-fire straight and body punching combinations. Drago held his guard high and close, and Masato's incessant attacks had the effect of keeping it that way through most of the fight, although Drago did come across with a quick right straight punch and a high kick in the first. When Drago dropped his guard and let out a yell, the unshakeable Masato simply fired in a right to shut him up.
Masato's shock and awe strategy continued through the second, as he repeatedly punched into the guard, then powered under it with uppercuts, tossing in low kicks on the retreat. Drago continued to counter -- a left straight punch making good contact, a couple of axe kicks falling short and a high kick ably blocked. Masato walked in with a terrific kick to Drago's thigh, but otherwise used the legs mostly in quick combinations.
Masato scored with low kicks, body blows and uppercuts in the third. If Drago had figured on letting the Japanese fighter tire himself out that did not transpire, as Masato maintained his gatling gun offense to the final bell. The aggressive strategy and superior stamina delivered Masato a well-deserved unanimous decision, and a spot in the final.
"I knew from the first round that there was no way I'd lose because I could clearly see Drago's techniques and strategy," said Masato afterward. "But still I couldn't hit him cleanly, I think all the Dutch fighters have the same fighting style -- even if they are damaged by low kicks, they keep coming forward. I wasn't totally satisfied with tonight's fight because I was supposed to KO Drago -- I don't consider him a strong fighter so it's not special for me to win a decision against him."
And so on October 1 at the Budokan it will be Souwer vs Kyshenko and Sato versus Masato, the winners in those two bouts fighting, on the same day, for the K-1 World Max 2008 Championship Belt.
Featured among tonight's other World Max bouts was a Superfight showdown between the inaugural World Max Champion, Albert Kraus of Holland, and compact Greek slugger Mike Zambidis.
A speedy Zambidis, light on his feet, darted in repeatedly through the first, peppering Kraus with the straight punches and low kicks, working the body and just missing with a big right overhand. But Kraus had also landed a few, a knee opening a cut over Zambidis' left eye. In the second Kraus was more aggressive, throwing the straight punches and getting the knee up once again, but again Zambidis' speedy strikes, including a barrage of hooks, scored him points in this gritty contest.
In the third, Kraus' low kicks were in short supply, but the Dutch fighter got the knee up again, prompting a doctor's check. Cleared to continue, Zambidis brought aggression and variety -- pumping in body blows, throwing high kicks and launching a couple of flying knees. A close call, going to Zambidis on one judge's card but scored a draw on the other two.
Alas, the cut near Zambidis' eye precluded him fighting the tiebreaker round, and so under K-1 Rules Kraus was given the win.
Andre Dida of Brazil stepped in against Remigijus Morkevicius of Lithuania in another Superfight. Both these fellows do a fair bit of mixed martial arts fighting, but tonight was a test of their striking abilities. It was a test that Dida passed with flying colors.
An early down for Dida came courtesy a right hook. Morkevicius attempted to rally with combinations but Dida was unstoppable, sending the Lithuanian to the canvas twice in quick succession with another right hook and then a right uppercut. The three downs earned Dida a KO victory in just 1:43 -- a simply overwhelming performance by the 25 year-old Brazilian.
Seidokaikan fighter Hiroyuki Owatari of Japan met compatriot Masaki, a kickboxer, in a battle of K-1 rookies. The 31 year-old Owatari, who works at an advertising agency and who Japanese media have dubbed the "fighting salaryman," got his shot in the ring after an impressive performance at a K-1 open tryout event in March.
Nobody better mess with Owatari at the water cooler, because this is one tough paper pusher. From the start he laid into Masaki with the fists, landing a formidable right straight then following with a left hook, a knee and a high kick to open a cut on his opponent's face. The ringside doctor had a look and called it at 1:53. Convenient for Owatari, finishing this early, as he's expected at his desk by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.
The evening saw the debut of a new 60 kg/132 lbs weight class, which K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa predicted would deliver action "even faster then World Max." Sixty kilograms is a common fight weight in Japan, and tonight three Japanese stepped in against Europeans in this weight class.
Daisuke Uematsu hosted fellow kickboxer Eddy Juozapavicius of Lithuania, both fighters making their K-1 debuts.
Juozapavicius wanted to punch, but Uematsu got an early knee up from the clinch to score a down, and soon afterward pumped up a few more against his closed-up opponent to score another. Juozapavicius looked sorely out of his league, and Uematsu finished him off cleanly with a right straight punch at the clapper.
Japanese karate stylist Susumu Daiguji of Masato's Silver Wolf Gym took on Konstantin Trishin, a Ukrainian muay thai champion fighting in K-1 for the first time.
Superior speed in this dance, both men in motion throughout. Daiguji started with one-two combinations while Trishin was adept with the low kicks, getting a left high kick up and onto Daiguji's head, and making partial contact with a spinning back kick. Trishin was fast and flashy again in the second, scoring with an axe kick and a right straight; while Daiguji was a beat late with most of his stuff. The Japanese fighter pressed with punches to start the third, but Trishin's evasions and blocking were up to task. Tricky Trishin finished with pizzazz, whirling in back kicks -- before getting a bit too jazzy at the clapper and eating a Daiguji right straight punch for it. Nevertheless, a majority decision for the Ukrainian.
Also at 60 kg/132 lbs was Haruaki Otsuki of Japan versus David Douge of France -- two kickboxers making their K-1 debuts.
From the start Otsuki kept his opponent at bay with front kicks. When Douge charged past with punches Otsuki turned these away and was better with counters. Midway through the first Otsuki spun in a back punch to the head, following with a right to the body to score a down. Otsuki cut an intimidating figure in the second, his fists cocked low at the waist, hulking forward as if stalking Douge before exploding with big hooks and closing with body blows. The hapless Douge could not get at Otsuki, and in the third a series of desperate attempts left him dangerously vulnerable. Otsuki mercilessly pounded in the punches, sending Douge to the canvas twice. At the clock wound down, and with the beaten Frenchman now apparently attempting takedowns -- the referee stepped in to call it with one second remaining. A KO win for the dominating Otsuki.
The first of two K-1 Youth matches gave the ring to a pair of promising 19 year-olds -- Belorussian Denis Telitsa connecting with a dandy right cross on a counter to down Hirotaka Urabe of Japan and pick up the win. The second World Youth match saw 19 year-old Kizaemon Saiga of Japan outperform fledgling karate fighter Tyron Van Wyk, 16, of Australia, to win by second round KO.
In a World Max undercard fight, Alviar Lima of Cape Verdi scored downs in the first two rounds, and notched the win when the ringside doctor would not clear German Mark Vogel to start the third.