TOKYO, October 11, 2004 -- Fighters participating in the K-1 World Max 2004 Champion's Challenge met the media today at a Shin Takanawa Hotel press conference. The nine-bout event, set for October 13 at the Yoyogi Olympic Gymnasium in downtown Tokyo, will feature the world's best in K-1's under 70kg weight class.
Kaoklai Takes K-1 Asia GP; LeBanner Also Wins in Seoul
SEOUL, July 17, 2004 -- Muay Thai fighter Kaoklai Kaennorsing of Thailand dispatched three opponents to capture the K-1 Asia Grand Prix 2004 Championship. The tournament featured eight fighters from five different Asian countries, and was held at the Jamsil Olympic Complex in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Kaoklai is both the youngest (20yrs) and lightest (78kg) fighter ever to win a K-1 World GP tournament.
In a K-1 Superfight on the card, French kickboxer Jerome LeBanner, returning from an injury that has sidelined him for a year, made quick work of American fighter Terrence Reasby. Defending K-1 World GP Champ Remy Bonjasky and Kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa also won their Superfights in Seoul.
Korea is home to Tae Kwon Do, and two dozen local schoolchildren put on a charming display of the art during the opening ceremonies. The peninsula also counts some two dozen other disciplines as part of its rich martial arts heritage. Moreover, Korean people in general are immensely interested in fighting sports -- as attested to here by the frequent, often deafening cheers from the sellout crowd.
The Asia GP tournament followed the signature K-1 elimination format -- four quarterfinal bouts advancing four fighters to a pair of semifinals, the two winners there meeting in the final.
In the first quarterfinal matchup, American-Japanese fighter Akebono met 18 year-old Chinese Sanda fighter Zhang Qing Jun. A Former Sumo Grand Champion, Akebono brought a 122kg weight and 18cm height advantage to the match.
There was not a lot of excitement in this one -- Akebono held his ground center-ring while Jun circled, occasionally coming in with a low kick followed by an overarm right punch -- an attack designed to overcome the height disadvantage. Veteran referee Nobuaki Kakuda cautioned, yellow carded, then red carded the two for the lack of action, but this didn't help much. Akebono launched a couple of Sumo shoves, and worked the knee from the clinch several times, but really neither man deserved the win here. Judges called it a draw, and after an extra round gave the decision to Jun, whom they saw as marginally better.
The second bout pitted Mongolian Dolgosuren Sumiyabazar against Shingo Koyasu of Japan. Sumiyabazar is a two-time freestyle wrestling Olympian, a brother of current Sumo Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Asashouryu; Koyasu meanwhile is a Seidokaikan fighter with five years of K-1 experience.
This started totally differently from the first fight, and that was more than welcome. Both men were light on their feet, dancing and deking round the ring. Sumiyabazar was good with his footwork, stepping in well, only to miss with his punches. Koyasu had the good low kicks, snapping his right foot against Sumiyabazar's left leg with some effect. Koyasu had more panache here, executing a spinning back kick and a somersault heel.
Early in the second, Koyasu came in with a volley of punches and kicks that trapped Sumiyabazar in the corner. The Mongolian turned away in despair, and absorbed several blows without responding before his corner threw in the towel to stop the bout.
Tsuyoshi Nakasako of Japan stepped in against Lee Myeong Ju in the third quarterfinal. Nakasako had been struggling some, dropping seven of his previous eight bouts. Ju, meanwhile, brought a record of 21 wins in 24 Muay Thai fights to his K-1 debut. Hailing from Daejeon, a city of some 1.5 million located in the center of the ROK, Ju was one of two fighters representing the host country here.
Nakasako started out by casually snapping in a low kick, but Ju quickly let it be known that he wanted to go head-to-head with his Japanese opponent, and this turned into a real slugfest. Ju brought the crowd to their feet by dropping Nakasako with a knee in the first, but this was clearly a below-the-belt blow, and so time was called, Ju was cautioned and Nakasako was given two minutes to recompose.
Ju launched a decent flying knee after the break, and kept up the pressure in the second. But as the fight went on, Nakasako took control, and in the third he brutalized the Korean with punches from in close, landing five unanswered blows on Ju's bloodied face then scoring the bout's only down with a right. The crowd did about all it could to support him, but the gutsy Ju was clearly outclassed here. It was national pride that kept Ju on his feet to the final bell, when judges rewarded Nakasako with a well-deserved unanimous decision.
Korean-Canadian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Dennis Kang appeared in last quarterfinal against Kaoklai Kaennorsing.
Although his previous ring experience had been in MMA, Kang prepared for his K-1 debut with help from former Canadian and Commonwealth Boxing Champ Tony Pep, and this was evident as he came out swinging, to the delight of the partisan crowd. Kang looked focused and had the speed in the early going, throwing the punches and blocking Kaoklai's kicks well. But when Kaoklai got a right punch over and onto the jaw, it seriously rattled Kang, who fell backward against the ropes before bouncing forward and onto Kaoklai. The two fighters went down in a heap, but Kang did not get up. A solid KO victory for Kaoklai, who would be the freshest fighter in the semifinals.
Before the first of the semis, it was announced that Zhang Qing Jun would not be able to continue due a fractured shin. And so Seo Chul of Korea, who had KO'd Dev Kumar Ghimire of Nepal in the first round of the reserve fight, stepped in against Shingo Koyasu in his place.
This bout turned out to be the closest on the night. From the start, Chul tossed the jab and stepped in with the right hook. But these punch attacks seemed not to cause much concern for Koyasu, who turned most aside and stuck with his kicks throughout. Chul's hooks got Koyasu running in the second, and the crowd liked that, but you don't get points if your opponent stays out of your way, you get points for hitting him, and Chul could not do that as much as he needed to.
In the second, Koyasu's dandy overhead kick attack made partial contact with the side of Chul's face for points, and as the fight went on Chul looked more and more fatigued.
All Chul had was the right hook in the third, where Koyasu was better with the low kicks and got another fancy move -- a sort of scissor heel kick -- in for partial contact. The judged announced the rarest of decisions, a split draw (30-28 Koyasu; 30-29 Chul; 29-29 Draw), and so an extra round was prescribed.
Here Chul was tired and his punches feeble -- he tagged his opponent a few times but there was little damage inflicted. Koyasu simply had the better stuff with his kicks, and took the decision to go to the final.
In the second semifinal, Kaoklai met Tsuyoshi Nakasako. From the start, Nakasako put his head down and used his 20kg weight advantage to gracelessly march in on Kaoklai. For his part, the Thai kept his arms wide apart for balance and pushed back with the front kicks, snapping in the occasional low and mid kicks. Neither fighter dominated in the early going, but in the second both found their spots, Kaoklai with low and mid kicks and a couple of good right hooks, Nakasako with low kicks of his own and some solid straight punches. Nakasako also got his third hard knee to the groin of the night in the second round.
Kaoklai kept up the front kicks in the third, and sent some punishing knees up from the clinch. Nakasako planted a solid high kick on Kaoklai's head midway through. but Kaoklai quickly countered, and now used the front kicks to position Nakasako for attacks. As Thai fighters will, Kaoklai seemed to have more stamina than his opponent in the late going, and took the third round on all cards to win the fight by majority decision and move to the final.
Kaoklai and Koyasu put on quite a show here, frequently bringing the crowd to their feet. The first was about even, Kaoklai working the hard front kicks and alternating low and mid kicks; Koyasu in with low side kicks and the occasional punching attack. Notable was Kaoklai's incredible balance, notable also was his stamina, a product of the tough schedule Thai fighters learn to endure.
Kaoklai's focus was superior in the second, although Koyasu was able to catch him a couple of times with sensational spinning and cartwheel kicks. Kaoklai got the flying knee working here but Koyasu's defense was sound, and the heading into the third, Koyasu had just a half-point edge on one card, Kaoklai was up by the same, slightest of margins on another, and the third had the bout even.
And although the third was a brutal round, even is how the two would finish it. Kaoklai really worked his kicks here -- it soon became evident that his front kicks were doing more than creating distance, they were also rattling Koyasu's head. Kaoklai threw some rare punches here, and Koyasu again had his low kicks. Both fighters were quick and effective on the counters, and Koyasu had the strike of the round -- a somersault heel that made partial contact and helped secure the draw.
In the extra round, it was all-out war. Kaoklai intensified the front kicks, and powered up a number of good knees from the clinch. Koyasu got a punch and low kick combination through to keep it even, and was helped when Kaoklai was shown the yellow card for holding. Kaoklai kicked Koyasu in the head at the clapper and it looked like the fight might be over, but the Japanese fighter was saved by the bell. Judges wanted another round (there are two possible extra rounds in the final), and so the boys went at it for a fifth and final time.
Here there was no doubt that Kaoklai was the better fighter. The relentless Thai kept his guard low, daring Koyasu to start something, and was able to strike at will, frequently connecting with Koyasu's now bloodied face. Kaoklai had the knees working, and got that front kick through again and again, while Koyasu could do little but try, in vain, to stay out of harm's way. The crowd took Kaoklai into their hearts, and erupted when the decision went his way.
With his win, Kaoklai collects 60 million Won (about US$55,000/45,000/¥6million) and advances to the GP 2004 Final Elimination this September to fight for a spot in the Tokyo Dome Final.
"I would like to thank K-1 and Korea," said the smiling Kaoklai in his post-tournament interview. "I feel tired of course, but also I am very happy. I fought what I think was a typical Muay Thai style, and I fought hard right to the very end."
Kaoklai is the second Thai in 10 days to win a major K-1 tournament -- his compatriot Buakaw "Por Pramuk" upset Defending Champion Masato in the final to win the K-1 World Max 2004 Championship at Yoyogi Olympic Gymnasium in downtown Tokyo on July 7.
There were also three Superfights on the Seoul card:
In the first, Defending K-1 World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky of the Netherlands met Aziz Khattou of Belgium. Bonjasky had been victorious in nine of his last ten K-1 fights, while Khattou was on a four-bout winning streak of his own coming into this dance.
This started out as a classic K-1 bout -- technical but very fast. Bonjasky was in with his signature legwork, scoring nicely with a flying knee; while Khattou went with the fists, just perfect with the rapid-fire body blows. Khattou also had some smart combinations here, and the first round was scored even on all cards.
In the second, Khattou kept his guard open and low, and moved well with a nice punch and high kick combination in response to Bonjasky's repeated knees. But midway through the round, something went terribly wrong for the Belgian. After blocking a Bonjasky high kick, Khattou's left arm cocked awkwardly down, and he fell to his knees, clutching at his forearm. Time was called and the ringside doctor had a look at and a talk with Khattou, who was ok'd to continue. But things were not ok, and in the first contact after resumption, Khattou fell again, grimacing and clutching his lower arm, and the referee quickly stepped in to stop the fight.
In the manner of a true Champion, Bonjasky knelt and was the first to check on Khattou's condition. (It was later announced that the Belgian had sustained a pulled muscle -- he did not require a trip to the hospital.)
Maori fighter Toa of New Zealand appeared in the second Superfight against Brazilian Kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa of Brazil. Toa looked focused here and used his 35 kg weight advantage to manhandle Feitosa about, backing him into the corner twice in the early going. But as is wont to happen in K-1, things changed in the blink of an eye. After throwing a couple of low kicks, Feitosa stepped back and snapped one of the trademark Kyokushin rising kicks in on his opponent. The left leg appeared headed for Toa's chest, but at the last instant it twisted and rerouted to the side of the head below the ear to turn out the big guy's lights.
In his eagerly anticipated return to the K-1 ring, Jerome LeBanner of France met American fighter Terrence Reasby. One of K-1's fiercest fighters, LeBanner had taken a year off to recover from a broken left arm. The Frenchman didn't look like he's lost his touch, though, ending the fight with a KO in just 53 seconds.
Both LeBanner and Reasby mixed it up fairly well from the bell -- but when LeBanner got in with a left hook, Reasby never quite recovered. The American spent the next ten seconds or so crouched over, which might be a reasonable defensive posture in boxing, but is suicide in K-1. LeBanner put the knee up, and then was gentleman enough to ease Reasby down to the canvas, where he lay, quite unable to beat the count. When LeBanner climbed on the cornerpost to grandstand for the crowd, there was nothing short of delirium in the room.
Said the Frenchman in his post-bout interview: "I'm back, and my goal this year is the same as it was last, to be the king of kings!" When asked how long he plans to stay in the fight game, LeBanner replied, "I'll just keep on going, there is absolutely no age limit!"
In undercard fights, Kwak Yun Sub of Korean beat compatriot Jung-Jung Hoan, and Frenchman Rani Berbach beat Kim Sin Gyeom of Korea, both fights decided by unanimous decision.
Special thanks to Monte Dipietro and K-1 for this write-up.
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