HONOLULU, August 9, 2008 -- Kickboxer Gokhan Saki upset the field tonight to win the USA GP '08 at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. The 24 year-old Turk -- a late substitute who came into the tournament with but four K-1 bouts to his name -- turned aside three opponents en route to victory.
The K-1 World Grand Prix '08 in Hawaii featured the K-1 USA GP tournament, along with a trio of Superfights and other bouts featuring local and international K-1 fighters.
The K-1 USA GP followed the classic K-1 elimination tournament format -- eight fighters meeting in quarterfinal bouts, the winners advancing to a pair of semifinals, the victors there going head-to-head in the final.
In the first of the quarterfinals, 185cm/6'1" American slugger Mighty Mo, who won the Hawaii tournament last year, faced compatriot Justice Smith, a 206cm/6'9" kickboxer. Smith circled with the jab to start, but Mo got a hard right in on target. There was a protracted time stoppage after a Smith knee smashed Mo in the orchises. Mo had anguish tattooed on his face, but after a few minutes of recovery time was able to resume. An aggressive Mo barreled in on his opponent with the fists swinging, but the closed-up Smith weathered the storm and responded with a knee. In the course of the ruckus, head-to-head contact opened a cut on Mo's face, prompting another time stoppage for a doctor's check, and a one-point penalty for Smith.
In the second Mo got in and connected with uppercuts, hooks and knees; but Smith took the blows, responding with front kicks to open up the distance and escape the round. Figuring he was behind on the cards, Smith threw a couple of desperate high kicks in the third, but could not sustain the attacks. Mo closed again, pumping in the right hook and uppercut. Smith would not go down, and these were two fatigued fighters by the final bell. Mo took the majority decision.
In the second tournament matchup, it was rotund American boxer Butterbean taking on multidisciplinary fighter Hawaiian Wesley "Cabbage" Correira of Hawaii.
Slow going through the first round, the fighters standing center-ring, and but for a occasional low kick the action confined to punches that could make it across Butterbean's prodigious physical form. But then, early in the second, from out of nowhere a Cabbage high kick clocked his opponent on the side of the jaw. A look of astonishment flashed across Butterbean's face as he clutched at his opponent's leg to stay his fall. But fall he did. A KO win for Correira and a trip to the semis.
Opening the second tournament bracket were Saki, who had been promoted from the reserve bout a day earlier when scheduled fighter Chalid Die Faust could not secure a visa; and the German-born, Hawaii-based boxer and muay thai fighter Deutsch Puu.
Saki threw the hard quick low kicks to start, while Puu -- who desperately wanted to get close and punch it out -- never got his chance. The hapless Hawaiian's legs were gone by midway through the first, when Saki's kicks earned him two quick successive downs to make it official.
The last of the tournament quarterfinals pitted Danish karate stylist Nicholas Pettas against kickboxer Rick Cheek of the United States. This one started promisingly with Pettas throwing low kicks and just missing with a high kick, Cheek stepping in when he saw an opening. But suddenly, a wincing Pettas offered up his glove to Cheek, who appeared to not understand what was happening. Actually nobody seemed to know what was happening as Pettas turned away and walked to his corner. The referee, who likes to know what is happening, followed Pettas, who made an explanation, whereupon the ref waved his arms to signal an end to the fight. The last ones to know what was happening were the crowd, who by now had began to jeer. Pettas took the ring mic to say he was injured and could not continue, and later explained he had aggravated a groin injury sustained in training weeks earlier.
Another injury changed the matchup for the first semifinal -- it was announced prior to the bout that Mighty Mo could not continue in the tournament due damage suffered in his scrap with Smith. Under K-1 rules, reserve fight winner Randy Kim took Mo's spot against "Cabbage" Correira.
An aggressive start to this one, Kim firing in kicks, Cabbage closing with fists. Kim had the more varied attacks through the first -- low kicks, knees, a spinning back punch and a couple of good right crosses that made contact -- but could deliver the decisive blow. In the second, however, it was evident that Correira's trailing leg was hurt. Kim focused his attacks there, striking on the inside of the calf to score a down, then kicking the leg again to get a second down and pick up the win.
The second semi saw Saki and Cheek in a spirited contest. Cheek came out with some good stuff, sailing a high kick wide and making partial contact with a spinning back kick. But Saki was smart and steady with his hard kicks and one-two combinations. It was a couple of Saki kicks that brought Cheek down the first time, and an expertly-timed left to the body that put him on the mat again to send Saki through to the final.
And so Saki met Randy Kim in the final. Saki started with some fancy kicks and combinations, planting a high kick that Kim ably blocked, the Korean stepping through with the fists to keep it close, then putting an ax kick long and onto the shoulder blades. In the second, Saki timed a left perfectly to drop Kim, but the Korean jack-in-the-boxed to his feet to barely the count. Kim was standing but he was hurting.
Smelling blood, Saki went on the offensive, approaching his closed-up opponent with fists. Kim endeavored to rally, spinning a back kick short then stepping in with a right, which Saki coolly countered with a left that sent the Korean down. This time Kim did not beat the count, and Saki had the win and the tiki-adorned USA GP trophy
With his victory, Gokhan Saki earns a spot at the K-1 World GP '08 Final 16 Tournament, set for September 27 in Seoul.
"I feel really good," said Saki afterward. "Although I was scheduled for the reserve, I trained to be ready to fight through the entire tournament, because the same thing happened to me two years ago in Amsterdam, when I went from the reserve to the final [losing to Bjorn Bregy]. So my conditioning was good, but still I was little nervous in the first fight. It was nice having the crowd get behind me as I progressed through the tournament -- I feel like my team and I are the new Hawaiians!"
In the evening's Superfights:
K-1 Heavyweight Champion Badr Hari of Morocco met Croatian MMA fighter Domagoj Ostojic. It was Hari by KO when these two met three years ago, and Ostojic had vowed to avenge the loss tonight. But Hari had other ideas.
The bell rang, the fighters closed to the center of the ring, Ostojic tossed a low kick, and then, the fighters simultaneously threw lefts. Both punches landed, and although a rattled Hari stumbled backward and into the ropes, it was Ostojic who went down. The Croatian could not beat the count, and Hari had the win at 0:19.
"I just opened with the jab and he went over," said Hari in his post-fight interview. "I normally knock people out with my right, but I think I showed tonight that I can do it with my left as well -- I'm becoming a dangerous man! I'm a little disappointed I couldn't show the fans more, but I showed them a KO. I'm satisfied, because it's a fight, and the nicest things you can do in a fight our not get hurt, and knock people out!"
Australian muay thai fighter Paul Slowinski took on Moroccan kickboxer Aziz "Iceman" Jahjah in a thrilling back-and-forth contest.
A fine start to this one, Slowinski moving forward with tight technical kick and punch combinations, Jahjah scoring points from in close with the fists. In the second, Jahjah turned on the hurt, sinking a punch for a down then chasing Slowinski. The Aussie fighter got the down back with a right straight punch on a counter, but Jahjah soon connected with a right hook to score his second down. At this point it was looking bad for Slowinski -- but after sending the Aussie stumbling, Jahjah pulled away, apparently believing he'd won the fight. Slowinski stayed in his feet and made it out of the round. The lack of finish would come back to hurt Jahjah in the third round.
Here a refreshed Slowinski chased the increasingly fatigued Jahjah with punches to earn a standing count, then, to the delight of the crowd, pumped in a right hook and an uppercut to drop the Turk. Jahjah was hanging by a thread now, and Slowinski dispatched him with a couple of hooks.
"I had a game plan," said Slowinski, "but Aziz's right just kept coming in so quickly that I had to scrap the game plan and fight a brawl instead. I'm glad I got the win!"
In the third Superfight, it was American MMA fighter Scott Junk versus Min Soo Kim, a South Korean judoka.
Junk tossed low kicks and led with the right cross to start, and was looking good until he ran into a Kim straight punch and went down. Kim scored a second down with a left hook from close to take a strong lead on the score cards. There was some trash talk in the ring after the bell to end the first, cornermen stepping in to help the referee separate the fighters. In the second Kim the southpaw took a number of low kicks to his right leg before closing with fists, but Junk's blocking was sound and the American continued to put up points with his legs. In the third Junk again chopped at Kim's leg with low kicks, but found only fists or the clinch when the distance closed. Junk could not get the down he needed to get it close, and Kim coasted to a unanimous decision.
All three undercard fights acted as reserve matches for the USA GP tournament.
In the first reserve, South Korean shot putter Randy Kim (196cm/6'5") stepped in against the 180cm/5'11" Vilitonu Fonokalafi, a Hawaiian MMA and muay thai stylist.
Fonokalafi passed Kim's low kicks to strike in the first, Kim replying to the invitation with some good fistwork of his own before coming in with a knee that rattled Fonokalafi. By early in the second Fonokalafi appear to be entirely out of gas, and Kim needed only the limpest of lefts to send him to the canvas, where he stayed.
Gokhan Saki's promotion to the tournament had opened up a spot in the second reserve fight. The last-minute replacement was German K-1 veteran Stefan Leko, who went up against Junior Sua, a 41 year-old Hawaiian. Some might have figured Sua as way out of his league here, but the local fighter marshaled a terrific effort, surprising Leko with a right hook to score an early down. Leko had a smile on his face as he rose from the canvas, and now found his form, scoring two quick downs -- the first a standing count, the second courtesy a knee -- to bring this one to its logical conclusion.
In the last of the undercard bouts, Japanese kyokushin fighter Koichi made his K-1 debut against Dutch muay thai stylist Rico Verhoeven. The boys mixed it up well, both getting the strikes through, both tough enough to take them. It went to the cards where Verhoeven took a unanimous decision.