Choi Wins K-1 Asian GP; Bonjasky Dispatches Mercer
SEOUL, March 19, 2005 -- Making big waves in his K-1 debut, Korean fighter Hong-Man Choi turned aside three opponents to win the Asian Grand Prix in Seoul. Choi picks up a shiny trophy and a check for ¥6 million (about US$55,000/45,000) with the victory, and becomes the first fighter in 2005 to qualify for the K-1 World GP Final Elimination tournament, set for Osaka this September.
'Kohi' Defends Title; Kraus Shocks Buakaw at K-1 World Max Japan
TOKYO, February 23, 2005 -- Thirty-two year-old Takayuki Kohiruimaki fought his way past three challengers to win the World Max Japan 2005 at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo tonight. 'Kohi' picks up six million yen for the feat, and advances to the K-1 World Max 2005 Final, set for this May 4.
Two former World Max Champions, Albert Kraus and Buakaw Por Pramuk, also went head-to-head on this night in an exhilarating Superfight -- and we'll get to that, but let's look over the tournament bouts first.
These were contested under K-1 rules -- three rounds of three minutes each with one possible tiebreaker in the quarterfinals and semis, two possible extra rounds in the final.
A kickboxer fighting out of the Team Dragon gym, Kohiruimaki also won the World Max Japan last year. He was keen to repeat this time round, but his title defense was almost derailed in the first fight, where he came up against the very determined Seidokaikan Karate fighter Kazuya Yasuhiro.
In the early going, Yasuhiro looked good, leading with front and low kicks and clocking Kohi with a right straight punch. Yasuhiro deftly switched to a southpaw stance for a spell midway through the first round, this the better to put low kicks in. In the second, Kohi worked the counters, then began to come in with the knees and punches. But Yasuhiro made partial contact with a spinning kick, and threw a punch or two in the late going to stay competitive. In the third, Kohi got a decent rally going, chasing his opponent round the ring, and looking more confident to finish on a high note.
Judges called it a draw, and sent the boys back in for a tiebreaker round. Here Yasuhiro let fly with some flashy stuff, spinning kicks and big overhands, and put a hard right straight punch in to rattle Kohi midway through. Kohi worked the legs low on counters, and threw the high kicks up in the frantic last half of the round before Yasuhiro connected with a spinning kick to score the last point of the contest. It was close, and more than a few were surprised when Kohiruimaki squeaked through to the semis with a split decision.
The second bout was a battle of the mono monikers, as Tomo took on Kojiro. Tomo is the little brother of K-1 veteran Musashi, and the familial resemblance is as evident in their discipline (Seidokaikan Karate) as their faces. Tomo also had the distinction, at 187cm (6'2"), of being the tallest fighter in the tournament. But could he live up to the reputation of his clan? His opponent, Muay Thai stylist Kojiro, had been on a slide prior to this fight, losing his last four -- so both fighters had something to prove here.
And thus it was hard to understand why neither put a whole lot of effort into the bout. Tomo came out with perfunctory punch and kick combinations, and worked the right some. But Kojiro's defense was sound, and he was quick on the counters. Nothing (save a Kojiro low blow) did much damage in the first round. The second saw more of the same, both fighters staying outside and going to the clinch rather than mixing it up when the distance closed.
It was anyone's for the taking when the bell sounded to start the third. Kojiro finally began to look like he wanted it more, forcing the fight with punching attacks, while Tomo too often simply raised the guard to close up. A lackluster affair, Kojiro went through by unanimous decision for a semifinal date with Kohiruimaki.
A meat and potatoes kickboxer, Kozo Takeda made it to the final at the 2003 World Max Japan tournament, losing there by decision to Masato. His opponent in the third quarterfinal was Olympic Wrestler-turned K-1 fighter Kazuyuki Miyata, making his K-1 debut. Miyata was added to the card when Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto was forced to withdraw after exacerbating the shoulder injury he suffered in his New Year's Eve dance with Masato at the Osaka Dome. (A somber Kid entered the ring before the tournament to apologize for disappointing his fans, and promised he would be back soon. Fortunately, recovery is expected to require weeks and not months.)
Sometimes a late substitute can have an advantage, especially when his opponent is unfamiliar with his style. Here Takeda spent the first round studying Miyata's style, which was characterized chiefly by bouncing, dancing, and endlessly circling. Takeda stood center ring, and he watched, and he waited.
The bleach blond Miyata tried some splashy spinning kicks and flying knees, but these did not get in -- the cool Takeda simply grabbed the offending leg then countered.
Occasionally, Takeda fired in a low kick, and it was clear Miyata did not know how to block these, and it was clear they hurt. The rookie kept on circling, while Takeda kept on watching, until finally, midway through the third, Takeda moved forward and put in two clean low kicks to earn two clean downs and take the win.
At just 163cm (5'4"), Takehiro Murahama was by far the shortest fighter in this tournament. But the never-say-die former JSBA Cardinalweight Champion packs a lot of punch from that small frame, and has given more than one opponent a hard time in the ring. Plus he has one hell of a chin. Here, Murahama met the kickboxer Hayato, who brought a 17cm (7") height advantage to the ring.
Murahama got the footwork going, stayed out of harm's way, and bullied Hayato into the corner with punches early in the round. But Hayato threaded a right straight in soon afterward to earn a down. In the second, Murahama again got the punches working to put Hayato on the ropes, and almost dropped him with a right hook. Hayato tried to use the knees from in close, but he was sloppy with these, and Murahama got the best of most exchanges.
The third started with Murahama firing in low kicks, following these up with his gatling gun punches. The two were toe to toe when Murahama got a highlight reel high kick way up to his opponent's head to score a down that brought the crowd to their feet. Hayato only just beat the count, but the referee took a good look at the rubbery-legged fighter and decided to stop the bout. An impressive KO win for Murahama, who advanced to the semifinals.
In first of the semis, both Kohiruimaki and Kojiro looked healthy (although Kojiro's right eye appeared slightly swollen) and raring to go. The pair engaged in a good old fashioned staredown at center ring during the referee's instructions. When the fight started, Kojiro hammed it up with a bit of Ray Sefo-like taunting, dropping his guard and doing the monkey, waving his right in the air, inviting Kohi to come in and mix it up. Kojiro looked good here, and got in with several left straight punches midway through. Although Kohi placed a couple of high kicks, it was Kojiro who had the momentum going into the second.
Here, again, Kojiro was the more aggressive fighter, but as is wont to happen in K-1, everything changed with a single blow -- a Kohiruimaki quick left hook that stunned Kojiro and sent him to the canvas. Just seconds after the bout resumed, Kohi got in again, this time with a right that sent Kojiro down and put Kohi into the final.
It was supposed to be Murahama and Takeda in the second semifinal, but a wicked gash on Takeda's shin prevented him from continuing in the tournament. Instead, 31 year-old kickboxer Akeomi Nitta, who had KO'd Ash-ra in the reserve fight, suddenly found himself with a shot at glory.
Again, Murahama faced a 17 cm height disadvantage, but to his credit he put the better stuff across in the first, doing it all with the fists. Nitta changed tact in the second, after absorbing an earful of advice from cornerman and K-1 veteran Nicholas Pettas, and began throwing low kicks. Nitta seemed unsure how to finish his attacks, and was unable to really take control, but he looked better as the round went on. In the third it was more of the same -- repeated low kicks and kicks to the body by Nitta, who finally scored a down seconds before the clapper (although Murahama strongly argued he had slipped), and went on to win by unanimous decision.
Kohiruimaki, the Defending Champion; and journeyman Nitta, parachuted in from the reserve bout; made for a final matchup that few would have predicted. The final also ended in a manner that few would have predicted. Just seconds in, the first real strike of the match was a Kohi front kick that glanced off Nitta's neck and caught him on the chin to send the fighter down, where he stayed for a good long time. A KO victory at just 36 seconds into the first.
"I have known Nitta for a long time," said Kohiruimaki after the fight, "in fact one of my first K-1 fights was against him. So I was happy to have the unexpected chance to meet him in the final. It was a tough eight, and for me the pressure was on from my very first fight. But the support of my fans helped me through!"
The victory put Kohi in the May 4 K-1 World Max Final. He will be joined there by seeded World Max Champions Albert Kraus of the Netherlands (2002), Masato of Japan (2003), and Defending Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand. The other four fighters for the final will be determined by past performance records in World Max.
There were also three Superfights on the card tonight
In a clash of Muay Thai stylists, Japanese fighter Kinami stepped in against French fighter Farid Villaume, who went all the way to the final at the King's Birthday Cup in Bangkok in 2003. Both fighters were making their K-1 debuts.
Villaume threw the first kicks in this technical fight, and looked in good form in the early going. But Kinami surprised the Frenchman midway through the first with a left high kick that connected just below the ear to score a down. In the second, Kinami was cautious, while Villaume took more chances, attacking primarily with fists, throwing in the occasional knees and kicks.
The third saw somewhat more spirited action, Kinami throwing up high kicks, Villaume countering well with the knees. Both fighters had the fists working late in the round, and Kinami's face got bloodied, but the similar fighting styles made for mostly even exchanges. Judges saw a draw and so the two went in for another round.
Here the pace picked up again, and although both had their chances it was Villaume who connected more often, mostly with knees and punches, to take the unanimous decision.
In a Superfight contested under K-1 Romanex Rules, MMA fighter Caol Uno of Japan took on Serkan Yilmaz. Yilmaz has a knack for bringing flashy spinning attacks to the K-1 ring, and has shown that he knows how to throw a good honest straight punch as well. But the Turk lacks experience on the mat, and that was evident here from the start. After some comic posturing in the opening seconds, the two fighters got down to grapple without a single strike having been thrown. Uno soon got into a side mount, but Yilmaz was able to muscle his way back to his feet, and for awhile there, seemed in a good position, his arms wrapped round Uno's waist from the rear. Uno slipped out, got the takedown and a full mount, and began to put in the punches. Yilmaz squirmed for position, but something bad happened on the way to the reversal, as Uno got the legs up and round Yilmaz's midsection, then grabbed and hyperextended the arm for a quick submission.
The final Superfight was the subject of much interest and speculation from K-1 fans and media: Dutch fighter Albert Kraus, who took the first-ever World Max Championship in 2002, against Defending World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk. The 23 year-old Buakaw has quite possibly the best legs in World Max, while Kraus is a well-balanced fighter, especially strong with his fists. The question here was, could Kraus get inside to hand the Thai wunderkind his first defeat?
This was a thrilling contest. Both fighters were light on their feet, focused, and had their timing on. Kraus sent the right overhand in a couple of times in the first, but Buakaw was easily quick enough to get out of the way. Buakaw brought the low kicks, and in the second round intensified his leg attacks to include knees and high kicks. But midway through the second, a rare mistake by the Thai fighter left him vulnerable for a counter, and Kraus seized the opportunity, looking very smart snapping in the right hook to score the first down ever recorded against Buakaw.
For the rest of the round, Buakaw tossed kick after kick in on Kraus, but the Dutch fighter showed his mettle, blocking the blows with no apparent ill effects.
In the third, Buakaw again got the rapid fire kicks going. Although Kraus managed a straight punch or two, he was mostly on the defensive here. Kraus did step in from time to time, and made partial contact with some left straight punches, although he paid a price getting past Buakaw's legs to do so. By the end, judges decided Buakaw had made up for the down. One liked the Thai fighter, the other two saw a draw, and so the bout went to an extra round.
Here Kraus reached down deep and mustered the discipline and fortitude to sharpen up and go on the offensive. Instead of blocking Buakaw's kicks, now Kraus read his opponent with more skill, ducking out of range when the feet came flying. This permitted Kraus to snap back in faster with counters. Kraus threw a bunch of rights -- and most missed -- but he was a more aggressive fighter here, mixing up his attack to include body blows and finishing off with a halfway good spinning kick.
At the final bell, both fighters climbed corner posts to pump their fists in celebration, confident they had won. The crowd let out a laugh when Kraus ran over to Buakaw and jumped up behind the fighter, the better to share his enthusiasm. Startled, Buakaw turned round, at which point Kraus smiled and gave him a kiss. Buakaw didn't know how to react, so he smiled too, and the two warriors hugged in a heartwarming display of mutual respect and good sportsmanship befitting one of the finest fights in World Max history.
And then, as the ring announcer's voice boomed out, the atmosphere was suddenly very serious. It was close -- the first judge gave the nod to Kraus by a half point, the second to Buakaw by a point. As the fighters fidgeted and the crowd sat on the edge of their seats, it was revealed that the third judge liked the Dutchman by a half point. With the narrowest possible split decision, Kraus took the trophy. More importantly, he proved that Buakaw can be beat.
Buakaw limped to his post-fight press conference, explaining that he had hurt his foot in the second round. "I'm sorry to disappoint my fans," he said. "I will try to do better next time."
The bruised but beaming Kraus had this to say from the winner's circle: "I trained hard for this fight and I was ready. I must say that I have a great deal of respect for Buakaw, but I want to be the best this year!"
The K-1 World Max Japan 2005 attracted a sellout crowd of 10,723 to the Ariake Coliseum. It was same-day broadcast on the TBS network in Japan. The official results and news on all K-1 events are available on the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp).
Special thanks to Monte Dipietro and K-1 for this review.
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