Yoshihiro Akiyama spoiled Denis Kang)‘s HERO’S debut with a KO victory tonight at the HERO’S Korea 2007. Held before a boisterous sellout crowd at the Jang Chung Gymnasium, the HERO’S Korea 2007 was a staggeringly ambitious production—featuring no less than 24 fighters in 12 bouts contested under HERO’S mixed martial arts rules.
The main event, keenly anticipated by fight sport fans in Korea, Japan and around the world, saw Yoshihiro Akiyama of Japan take on Canadian Denis Kang.
Akiyama, the HERO’S 2006 Light Middleweight Champion, was returning to action after serving a suspension for over-oiling his body at the HERO’S Dynamite event last New Year’s Eve. The slippery 32 year-old Japanese judoka faced a formidable opponent in Kang, a 30 year-old Canadian mixed martial arts fighter who packs a heck of a punch, and was making his HERO’S debut. The bout was contested with an 85kg/187lbs weight contract.
Kang threw the first strike, a low kick, then tested with jabs and straight punches. Both men kept their guards high, in no rush to close there were more jabs, straight punches and low kicks. Akiyama, fighting in shorts instead of his judogi, stayed at the perimeter, circling to his left, while Kang, head down, followed with the occasional punching attack—textbook combinations which Akiyama capably evaded or blocked. Meanwhile, in an effective if unspectacular manner, Akiyama was getting through with counters, picking his spots, putting the more surgical strikes forward. By midway through the first, Kang’s nose was bloodied.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was Kang who made the first and only takedown attempt in the fight. Equally surprising, Akiyama would have none of it, electing to fight this one on his feet. Time was running down in the first when Kang backed himself into the corner, intent perhaps on making his circling opponent approach him squarely. The tactic backfired miserably however, when Akiyama stepped in with a dandy little move, feigning a left, then another, before bringing the right in hard. Kang collapsed to the mat, Akiyama quickly planting another right for good measure before stepping back to let the referee through to call it. An impressive win for Akiyama.
“My mother supported me through the problems I had over the last year,” said Akiyama post-bout. “She was ringside tonight and I just want to say thanks to her and all my fans. I think I won because I was relaxed, when I saw that my jab had made Denis’ nose start bleeding, it made a big difference, gave me more confidence and helped me relax and focus even more. I hope to fight again soon, but it would not be right for me to expect I will be invited to Dynamite this year, we’ll see.”
Nearly half of the fighters on the card—including the two headliners—were either Korean or of Korean extraction. And the partisan crowd had plenty of opportunity to cheer, as local fighters did remarkably well on the night.
Another eagerly anticipated matchup pitted Korean judo and mixed martial arts fighter Dong Sik Yoon against Fabio Silva of Brazil. There was a bit of drama when these two appeared center stage at the pre-event pres conference, Yoon adapting the usual stoic fighting pose while an in-your-face Silva brandished fists and stared menacingly at his opponent. Silva, who is known for his strikes, probably intended to intimidate Yoon with the fist-waving and the glaring. But Yoon got a bit of a laugh when he said, “I don’t fight with my eyes, maybe he prefers to fight that way? I prefer to fight in the ring!” Retorted Silva, “I know what a real fight is, I will show you what a great fight is, and you will lose!”
And so the boys were, as they say, ready for war. Yoon brought an early takedown to half mount, moved easily to full and began to hammer in the fists. Silva spun round, whereupon Yoon locked things up from guard, forcing a re-stand. A close clinch against the ropes went horizontal in no time, Yoon out-positioning his opponent to get a good many strikes in. Silva never found his stride here, the determined Yoon controlling all aspects of the fight, finally flipping Silva over, wrestling an arm free and hyperextending for the tapout win.
“It was especially sweet,” said Yoon afterward, “because I had won my last two fights with armbars, one from a mount and one from the back. I said before the fight that I wanted to make an armbar from the side, and I am delighted that my wish came true!”
The evening’s first bout featured 35 year-old multi-disciplinarian Bernard Ackah of Côte d’Ivoire and wrestler Poai Suganuma, 26, who fights with the respected BJ Penn Team in Hawaii.
Ackah wanted to stand and strike, but Suganuma took a double leg takedown and mount early on. The Hawaiian Volcano rained some punches down, and as the pair were twisting on the mat was able bring the legs round and lock up an arm, bringing the referee in to stop the fight even as an unhappy Ackah protested that he had not tapped out. A TKO win for Suganuma.
Next up were a couple of pocket-sized fighters competing with a 73kg/161lbs weight contract—21 year-old A-Sol Kwon of Korea and Daisuke Nakamura of Japan.
Lots of low kicks and jabs to start, both fighters getting inside with good punches. Late in the first a series of Kwon punches and a knee dropped the wobbly Nakamura to the mat and the Korean youngster tried to put in the fists. Nakamura was able in defense, but could do nothing with his attempts at a heel lock, while Kwon was also less than effective on the mat.
It was all punches in the second, both fighters looking tired and increasingly slack with their guards, Nakamura’s repeated lefts badly bloodying Kwon’s nose to prompt a couple of doctor checks. A sloppy round, dozens of punches passing easily, Nakamura doing better, but Kwon staying in it with a knee and making partial contact with a high kick.
After taking more punishing punches to the face in the third, Kwon finally dove in for a takedown. But when the two tumbled it was Nakamura who got the better position to submit Kwon with an armbar.
Judoka Min Suk Heo of Korea made his HERO’S debut against Japanese pro-wrestler Katsuyori Shibata.
A tentative start, Shibata finally taking the initiative and bringing a right round to his southpaw opponent’s midsection, Heo answering with knees from the clinch. The pair went to the mat midway through the first, Heo in half mount and putting in the fists, Shibata tightening the legs to deny his opponent a clean line of attack, the stalemate prompting a re-stand. Heo got a few hooks and a knee in to stun Shibata late in the round, but was unable to finish, and the shaken Shibata had to be happy to hear the bell.
Some fisticuffs to start the second, then a protracted period of clinching in the corner. The referee called for action three times before Heo brought the right uppercuts. The Korean connected solidly several times, added a tight right hook, and Shibata slumped to the canvas. Victory for Heo.
A 90kg/198lbs matchup saw Carlos Newton of Canada mix it up with Shungo Oyama of Japan.
Another fists-first fight, Newton stepping in first but Oyama getting the first advantage, sending the Canadian reeling with a right. Newton went for a takedown, which Oyama shook off, and once again the pair went with the punches. Oyama chased and scored nicely, opening a cut over Newton’s right eye to prompt a check by the ringside doctor. After resumption, the bout went to the mat, but neither fighter had chances there, and the first ended with little more in the way of action.
The second saw a focused Oyama ever advancing, testing with low kicks and the jab, working again with the knee and prompting another doctor check on Newton’s eye. Tirelessly, Oyama kept the pressure up through the remainder of the round, picking his spots well, while Newton just didn’t seem to know how to get to the southpaw.
In the third Newton threw graceless haymakers that missed big before eating a couple of straight punches, failing in a takedown and then ending up on the mat and on the wrong end of a series of punches to the side of the head. A fatigued Newton tapped out and Oyama had the win.
The next fight featured Brazilian jiu-jitsu sensation Marcelo Garcia and Korean judoka Dae Won Kim.
From the get-go Garcia went straight for his opponent’s leg. Kim avoided the takedown twice. The third time, however, Kim found himself on his back. A bit of twisting and turning brought Garcia round to rear mount, followed by a lot of twisting and turning as Garcia struggled to work the choke. But Kim denied the Portuguese purchase, and to the crowd’s delight reversed at the bell to end the first.
Kim tried a new game plan in the second, charging forward at full throttle with the fists, sending his opponent into a desperate retreat. Garcia wanted the takedown, but his lunge for the leg was met by a hard knee. As torrent of blood erupted from Garcia’s forehead, a roar erupted from the partisan crowd, delirious with Kim’s TKO win.
The crowd also very much enjoyed the effort by celebrated wrestler Tae Hyun Lee of Korea, who needed next to no time to beat Yoshihisa Yamamoto of Japan.
The aggressive Lee plowed into Yamamoto early, punching his opponent to the mat, tossing in a good kick then getting on top to pound in the punches. With Yamamoto making no move to defend himself, the ref called it, bringing the cheers up once again.
Local favorite Min Soo Kim of Korea, a decorated judo stylist, stepped in against Japanese pro-wrestler Minowaman.
Kim brought a 25kg/53lbs weight advantage to this open-weight-class bout, and used the beef to bulldoze Minowaman into the corner, whereupon he pumped in a dozen blows. Minowaman showed a good chin, got out of harm’s way, and came back with some fast punches of his own. Kim was soon on the attack, but was overzealous with a knee to his prone opponent—the foul earning him a yellow card. Minowaman got a recovery period, and to his credit stepped forward with attacks after resumption. Kim took everything that came his way before starting in with his own punching attack, overwhelmed Minowaman and bringing the referee in with his arms waving. Another win for the home side.
Veteran Seidokaikan fighter Taiei Kin of Japan went up against Croatian mixed martial arts specialist Zelg “Benkei” Galesic. These two like to stand and strike, and Galesic made good with his first licks—a right straight and a left high kick both catching Kin hard on the face. These strikes were all the Croatian would need, as they opened a nasty cut over Kin’s right eye. Time was called, the doctor had a look, and that was it. Kin could not continue so Galesic had the win.
In undercard action it was Magomed Sultanakhmadov of Russia over Eun Soo Lee of Korea, and Japanese fighter Ryo beating compatriot Masanori Tokoka—both wins coming by TKO due to referee stop.