SEOUL – The K-1 World Grand Prix ‘07 Final Eight were determined at the Seoul Olympic Complex Saturday night. Sunday, in the Grand Ballroom of the COEX Intercontinental hotel, the first-tier matchups were set for the Dec. 8 Yokohama Arena GP Final.
The pairings were decided with a system that combines choice and chance. One after the other, in an order decided by lot, the fighters were free to select any available position on the tournament tree.
French K-1 veteran Jerome LeBanner got the first choice, and went to the “A” spot, red corner in the first bout. This is a fighters’ favorite, as competing first affords the winner a longer rest period before the semifinals.
Twenty-three year-old Japanese wunderkind Junichi Sawayashiki, who had drawn the number two selection, went against the “start early” strategy, opting to avoid LeBanner and instead put himself in the “H” spot, blue corner in the fourth quarterfinal. LeBanner was seen having a bit of a laugh at this.
Next up was Korean fighter Hong-Man Choi, the biggest guy in the tournament, who made a bit of a deke on the stage, suggesting he might line up beside Sawayashiki before walking over to the “B” spot and a date with LeBanner. This delighted the Frenchman, who exchanged high-fives with Choi.
“I am very happy to fight this giant guy,” said LeBanner, “Dec. 8 will be a new Pearl Harbor!”
Choi answered, “I am honored to be fighting someone I respect.”
Two-time WGP Champ Peter Aerts of the Netherlands was up next, taking the spot beside Sawayashiki to set up a fight between the tournament’s oldest fighter (Aerts is 36) and the second-youngest (Sawayashiki is 23).
“He had a good fight last night,” said Aerts, “but I chose him because he has less experience.”
Sawayashiki just smiled and joked, “Same with me.”
Two-time WGP Champ Remy Bonjasky of Holland got the fifth choice, and went to the “F” spot, blue in the third fight. He was followed by Moroccan Badr Hari, the K-1 Heavyweight Champ and youngest fighter in the tournament (Hari’s birthday is Dec. 8, he will turn 23 on the day of the tournament). Hari made his way directly to the “E” spot, pairing himself with Bonjasky.
“I’ve wanted to fight Remy for long time,” said Hari. “If I’m lucky I can get him and Peter in one night!”
Said Bonjasky, “Hari is talented, but now comes now the real challenge for him.”
This left Semmy Schilt, the two-time and defending WGP Champ and the current K-1 Super Heavyweight Champ, to fight Brazilian Kyokushin star Glaube Feitosa. Schilt had the next choice and went to the red corner in the second bout, leaving Feitosa the blue.
“I’m just happy to be in this first bracket!” said Schilt.
“It’s an honor to fight defending champion,” replied Feitosa. “I will do my best.”
The truly international final, featuring three Dutch fighters and one each from France, Morocco, Brazil, South Korea and Japan, is set for Dec. 8 at the Yokohama Arena.