K-1 Tryouts a Terrific Success
They came by car and bus, and they came by airplane. They came from small towns and big cities from all across the North American continent.
They brought their trunks, their trainers, and they brought their dreams to the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, for an unprecedented three days of K-1 Open Tryouts.
Buakaw Bests the Best at World Max 2004 Final
TOKYO, July 7, 2004 -- A seemingly undefeatable Buakaw "Por Pramuk" of Thailand kicked his way past two tough opponents, then upset defending Champion Masato in the final to win the K-1 World Max 2004 Championship at Yoyogi Olympic Gymnasium in downtown Tokyo. The 22 year-old Buakaw becomes the first-ever Thai K-1 Champ, and takes home 10 million yen in prize money for the feat.
K-1 World Max fights are contested under K-1 Rules. The 70kg weight class delivers the fast action that has made the format a fan favorite round the globe. A series of elimination tournaments qualified fighters for this eight-man final -- previous World Max Champions are Albert Kraus of the Netherlands (2002), and Masato f Japan (2003).
Tonight's first quarterfinal saw Takayuki Kohiruimaki, who won the World Max Japan Tournament this February, take on the hard-hitting Mike Zambidis of Greece. Zambidis has beaten some of the best (Albert Kraus, John Wayne Parr) in his short World Max career, and lost by a close decision in his first-tier matchup with Masato at last year's Final. But Kohiruimaki brought a 13 cm height advantage to this contest, and that was to prove the difference.
A fast start here, with both fighters light on their feet. Zambidis took the initiative, peppering his opponent with low kicks before surprising him with a dandy jumping right hook. When Kohiruimaki found himself off balance, Zambidis charged in without mercy, establishing a pattern that would recur throughout this dance.
In the second, Kohiruimaki got the right knee up from the clinch to score the match's only down, and it was a point which would prove very important, as Zambidis really turned it on in the last half of the fight, especially in the final seconds of the second and third rounds.
Kohiruimaki's attack was built almost exclusively on knees, the few high kicks he threw went harmlessly through the air. Zambidis was more versatile, smart throughout with his unusual jumping punch attack, attempting a couple of Bonjasky-style flying knees, even. But the height difference proved difficult to overcome, as Kohiruimaki always had the clinch-and-knee. An exhausted Kohiruimaki was cautioned in the third for holding, but survived the late, frenzied Zambidis attack to collect a unanimous decision.
Kohiruimaki stayed ringside to watch the second matchup, aware that he would be facing one of the fighters, either Buakaw or Australian John Wayne Parr, in the first semifinal. Parr looked very tough in defeating Duane Ludwig this April, while Buakaw carried the not insignificant pride of Thailand into the ring.
Both fighters kept their heads down and worked the legs in the early going, Buakaw turning into his quick, hard, low and middle kicks to great effect. Parr got some good punches through here, and had the body blows working in the second. Buakaw did not want to box, however, and answered again and again with the excellent kicks.
The very focused fighters were dead even on all cards going into the third round, which was another tight and technical three minutes. This gave the judges no choice but to score the bout a draw and call for a tiebreaker. Both fighters had their moments in the extra round, Parr catching Buakaw off balance in the corner and planting a right on his kisser, Buakaw coming back soon afterward to connect with a good high kick. The judges were faced with an uncommonly tough call, and crowd went deathly silent as the cards were announced. The first judge liked Buakaw by a point, but the second favored Parr by the same margin. The third gave the nod to Buakaw, and put the Thai through with a rare split decision.
The third quarterfinal pitted Defending World Max Champion Masato against 28 year-old Mongolian karate fighter Jadamba Narantungalag. Masato is nothing short of a teen idol in Japan, this was evidenced by the throngs of gleeful young women in the audience. The foppish 25 year-old rode an eight-match undefeated streak into the World Max Final, making him the clear favorite to win it all. But Narantungalag has shown he is an unpredictable fighter -- at the pre-event press conference, when a reporter asked him if he would bring any secret strategy into the ring against Masato, he smiled and said, "Yes, I have a secret strategy, but if I told you then it would no longer be secret!"
The first round was fairly even, Masato scoring with a quick knee and left hook, Narantungalag connecting with a spinning back kick and coming in with a good one-two punch attack. In the second Masato got a left jab onto Narantungalag's nose, and threw a few good low kicks into the mix to score some points, although the spirited Narantungalag was able to back Masato into the corner and inflict some damage as well.
A Masato low kick in the third put Narantungalag on the canvas, but this was ruled a slip as the Mongolian was also in the process of attacking when the contact occurred. Masato was focused here, but Narantungalag was no slouch, and kept on pushing, just missing with a big right haymaker and, seconds later, connecting, albeit sloppily, with his secret weapon -- a sort of flipping heel blast. An exciting fight -- one judge saw a draw, the other two liked Masato, and the Japanese fighter was through to the second semi.
The last quarterfinal featured 2002 World Max Champion Albert Kraus and Russian Muay Thai fighter Shamil Gaydarbekov.
A tentative start saw Kraus throwing low kicks, testing with the jab and occasionally coming in with the right, while Gaydarbekov stayed mostly defensive with the exception of an opportunistic knee attack launched from a strange clinch that had Kraus crouched. Gaydarbekov looked better in the second, working the knees and throwing some high kicks, and this was anyone's fight going into the third.
But here, again, Kraus gave little indication of urgency, letting Gaydarbekov bring the fight to him. It was only seconds before the final clapper that Kraus got over and in with a punishing right hook that cocked Gaydarbekov's head to the side, and almost looked like it would put him down. A nice finish for Kraus, who, like Masato before him, had to settle for a majority decision as one of the judges remained unconvinced he had done enough to earn the win.
As they stepped in for the first semifinal, neither Kohiruimaki nor Buakaw bore any indication of injury, and the fight got off to a pedestrian start, both men standing back and tossing in low kicks, trying to get a feel for their opponent.
But then Kohiruimaki threw in an extra strike while holding Buakaw's extended leg, and something seemed to change in the Thai fighter's attitude. First it was a stare, which Kohiruimaki did not acknowledge, and then it was a snarl. When the fight resumed it was a barrage of low kicks and knees.
Working first on Kohiruimaki's lead (left) leg at the calf, Buakaw soon had the Japanese fighter in trouble. After chasing and throwing the retreating Kohiruimaki to the canvas perhaps a half-dozen times, Buakaw got to the clinch and threw knees first to the body and then to the doubled-over Kohiruimaki's chin, and got a down.
In the second, Buakaw did more of the same -- the odd punch, but primarily low kicks from outside and relentless knees up from the clinch. Kohiruimaki could not find a suitable counter, and in no time Buakaw's knees had earned him two downs and a trip to the final.
A camera on Masato as he watched the Kraus/Gaydarbekov bout showed the defending Champion's right eye swelling badly, and when he came in to meet Kraus in the second semifinal his eye was no better. By the time Masato had won this slugfest, both his eyes were swollen half-shut.
The rematch of last year's World Max Final was a fast and furious three rounds, one of the best bouts on the night. The boys did a good deal of boxing, Masato also directing hard low kicks to Kraus' left leg at the thigh. In the first Masato got over with a left hook that landed on Kraus' forehead, and the Dutchman reached back for the ropes to steady himself. The invitations don't come much clearer than that, and so Masato quickly came in with a series of punches on the stunned Kraus, who ably blocked them, but was unable to keep his balance and so went down.
With a point in the bank, Masato elected to start the second with low kicks and try to keep his opponent at bay. But Kraus would have none of that, and launched some good punch attacks. Masato's defense was sound, however, and his kicks continued to bother Kraus. In the third, Masato had more low kicks for Kraus, who was able to get in with a straight left on a counter and follow this up with a barrage of body blows, but could not score the down he needed to equalize on the cards. In the end, a bloodied and bruised Masato remained up by one point on each card to take the unanimous decision and advance to the final. With a second straight World Max Championship now within Masato's grasp -- the question was --could he reach it with those swollen eyes?
As he marched in for the final, Masato's eyes were still looking awfully nasty, and it soon became clear he didn't have enough gas in the tank to get him through. Meanwhile Buakaw, the Muay Thai Marathon Tournament Champion, had all the stamina he needed and then some.
Buakaw strode in confidently to his endearing ethno-beat entrance music, and from the start answered every single Masato attack with several hard kicks. Masato also has punishing low kicks, but due perhaps Buakaw's years at Lumpini Park, he seemed not at all bothered by these. As the fight wore on, Buakaw worked the front kicks to effect, and snapped in hard and quick low, middle and high kicks when the distance closed. With Masato increasingly fatigued, there was plenty of clinching in the late going, but to his credit the Japanese fighter launched attacks to the bitter end.
Buakaw was not only masterful with his legs, he also proved exceptionally quick in getting out of the way of Masato's fists. Masato did connect with a right hook in the second, which brought the partisan crowd to its feet and earned him points on the judges' cards -- but he was unable to mount a sustained rally. Buakaw coolly recovered and had it all happening in the third. By now the few punches Masato was throwing were sailing well wide of the target. At the bell, Buakaw leapt onto the ropes in celebration while Masato skulked away, and some in the audience made for the exits. But two judges figured a tie on their scorecards and so an extra round was called for.
Masato tried his best here, but was totally outworked, literally clinging to the ropes for support. At the bell Masato was slumped over and had a tough time standing up -- meanwhile Buakaw was turning a cartwheel center ring. A look of relief crossed Masato's face when Buakaw's victory was announced. Moments later, as the Thai fighter was hoisting his trophy, Masato was already en route to a local hospital for a safety checkup.
"Masato is an excellent fighter," said a beaming Buakaw in the winner's circle, "but he was tired and he was hurt from his earlier fights, and so I won."
Buakaw also told reporters that his toughest opponent on the night had been Parr, and that his greatest achievement was "showing just how powerful Muay Thai is in open competition."
An upset for sure, but nonetheless a very well-deserved victory for the young Thai fighter, who said he plans to put his 10 million yen prize money in the bank.
In the tournament reserve match, All-American Duane Ludwig stepped in against acrobatic Turk Serkan Yilmaz. Things had not gone Ludwig's way in K-1 as of late, and the talented fighter was still looking for his first win in 2004.
Things got off to a spirited start -- a Yilmaz left to the jaw and a Ludwig knee from the clinch scored a down and a standing eight count respectively in a first round that left both fighters' faces badly bloodied. Ludwig worked the knees well in the second, launching a dozen up on his opponent in the first half of the round; while Yilmaz was again flashy with his spinning kicks. In the third, Ludwig leaned in with punches, and Yilmaz was quick with hooks when the distance closed. But Ludwig got a good left hook in here to win the round on all cards, and in the end the judges saw the American as the more aggressive fighter overall, so he took a unanimous decision.
The card also featured a "K-1 Special Mixed Rules" four-round bout between Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto and Kazuya Yasuhiro. In this unique contest, the fighters wore open-finger gloves, and alternated rounds between K-1 and ROMANEX Rules.
Yamamoto is wildly popular in Japan, and looked the pop star here with silver hair and matching silver trunks. He wanted to go to the mat with Yasuhiro, but with K-1 Rules prescribed for the first round, he could not. Yasuhiro's K-1 experience stood him in good stead, and a right straight punch put an ugly bruise under Yamamoto's left eye in the early going. Yasuhiro had the best of everything here, but Yamamoto was able to get out of the round, and turned things round in the second.
From the bell Yamamoto went for the tackle, but when he got it he dove in a little too quickly, and Yasuhiro got the arms round for a front sleeper. With Yasuhiro, the referee, the crowd and the announcers all looking for the tap, Yamamoto instead somehow muscled his way out of the hold, got into a full mount and started throwing punches. The pounding went under the ropes so the referee called for a standing restart, after which Yamamoto again got into position and started to throw the punches. This time Yasuhiro bucked then let the heels fly by way of defense. Yamamoto leapt in during the ensuing skirmish, and managed an arm bar to submit Yasuhiro for the win just seconds before the clapper.
In an undercard fight, Takashi Ohno of Japan beat Vincent Swaans of The Netherlands by first round TKO.
The 2004 K-1 World Max 2004 Final drew a sellout crowd of 14,819 and was same-day broadcast in Japan on the TBS network. Check the K-1 Official website (http://www.so-net.ne.jp/feg/k-1gp/top612.htm) for the official results.
Special thanks to Monte Dipietro and K-1 for this write-up.
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