SEOUL - The Europeans fared well as always, big Hong-Man Choi squeaked out a controversial win, and Japan’s new wunderkind scored an upset tonight at the K-1 World Grand Prix Final Elimination in Seoul.
Fightsport’s most coveted crown, the K-1 WGP Championship is bestowed each year on a single warrior after a worldwide series of qualifying tournaments. On this early autumn evening, the top 16 stepped in for eight fights at the Seoul Olympic Complex, with the eight winners earning a spot at the WGP Final in December.
The Final Elimination is one of the GP season’s highlights—nowhere on the calendar is the talent pool deeper. Each fighter is fresh, has prepared for a specific opponent, and knows he must unleash his all in the do-or-die event. A very vocal crowd further pumped up the intensity for a tournament that was nothing short of terrific.
The first matchup featured Defending K-1 Heavyweight Champion, bad boy Badr Hari of Morocco, facing the surprise winner of August’s Battle at the Bellagio tournament in Las Vegas, Doug Viney of New Zealand.
Viney took the early initiative, stepping in and scoring with the straight left, firing the low kicks, hooks and body blows. Hari took his shots from outside, connecting solidly to rattle Viney’s jaw, but the Kiwi’s superior positioning usually kept him one step ahead. Hari however got the combinations going nicely in the second to force the fight. The lanky Moroccan then perfectly picked a chance, countering a Viney low kick with a devastating right cross to deposit his opponent on the canvas. Viney could not beat the count, and Hari was on his way to the December Final.
“Everything that I do is calculated,” said Hari afterward. “He was very well prepared for my jab, after the first round I could see that. So after that I threw my jab, and set him up for the other punch.”
The second bout was a clash of size and power versus raw determination, as the two-time and Defending WGP and Super Heavyweight Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland took on this year’s Europe GP tournament winner Paul Slowinski of Australia.
Slowinski joked at the pre-event press conference that he had a “big job” ahead of him here, and that was no exaggeration. At 212cm/6’11” Schilt is one of the largest fighters in K-1, and has the technique and speed to boot. One has to go back more than a year to find a loss on Schilt’s record.
Schilt closed to work the knees to start, but Slowinski showed good evasions, and challenged the Champ with some solid straight punches. For a time, that is. Scarcely midway through the first, as Slowinski was backed against the ropes, he briefly relaxed his guard and Schilt brought the left knee up hard, catching him on the right of the jaw and crumpling him to the canvas. Slowinski got to his feet, barely in time, but the referee didn’t like the look of his bloodied face, and waved his arms to stop the fight, giving Schilt the KO win.
Schilt says his goal is to win the GP Final three times in a row. “I think tonight I’ve come a little bit closer to that goal,” he said after the bout.
A couple of quick and technical fighters went at it in the third bout, as two-time WGP Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland met Stefan “Blitz” Leko of Germany.
Leko brutalized Bonjasky’s gonads when these two met at last year’s Final, kicking him below the belt twice times in their quarterfinal matchup, prompting a long break and a postponement. Bonjasky went on record saying he suspected the second blow was intentional. And so, this had the makings of a “revenge” match.
Leko had the low kicks and combinations working from the bell, while an aggressive Bonjasky went with his signature flashy flying knees and high kicks. At one point, when a Bonjasky kick hit Leko’s midsection, the German fighter played the crowd with some “I’m alright, what’s the big deal?” theatrics.
Maybe he shouldn’t have mocked Bonjasky like that, because now “The Flying Gentleman” redoubled his efforts, and in a moment had flown in with a right knee to the jaw. A howling strike, which downed Leko. A convincing KO romp for Bonjasky, who after a trying string of personal tragedies looks to be back in absolutely top fighting form.
“My mother passed away recently,” said Bonjasky, “and winning this fight was like giving a trophy to her, so I’m really glad.”
In the next bout it was another German, power-punching Chalid “Die Faust,” taking on the Brazilian with the out-of-this-world kicks, Glaube Feitosa.
Die Faust came out swinging, but it was Feitosa who had the better first, controlling the distance with front kicks, countering with a left knee to score an early down and answering his opponent’s haymakers with a left straight punch to score a second down late in the round. This one went the distance and the crowd loved it—there were gasps of astonishment when Feitosa serpentined his kyokushin kicks; and roars of approval when the plucky Die Faust weathered repeated the blows but continued to come back on the attack.
Both fighters got through in the second and third with uppercuts, straight punches and kicks. Die Faust ate a hard knee and stumbled some in the third, but showed a good chin as Feitosa could not finish him, and the bout ended with no further downs. Really a great, fast and spirited contest, Feitosa’s hand raised by the referee but the boisterous standing ovation clearly going to both fighters.
In his post-fight interview, Feitosa spoke about his preparations for the December Final: “I train to get stronger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I will—it takes a lot of work to improve. Rather than focusing on one thing, I know that I need work on everything.”
Next up, French K-1 veteran Jerome Le Banner took on late substitute Young Soo Park of Korea. The scheduled qualification bout between LeBanner and Ruslan Karaev, was turned into a Superfight when Karaev could not make it to the event.
Park started aggressively, firing in three fast low kicks to elicit cheers of encouragement from the crowd. But LeBanner was not buying into the Cinderella scenario, and marched forward with the fists. Now it was the Frenchman putting on the pressure, and it didn’t take long before Park looked out of his league. A LeBanner right hook proved the decisive blow, sending the Korean down hard, where he stayed, sorely unable to beat the count.
Remarking this year’s Final falls on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, LeBanner joked with reporters afterward, “I want the fight in December to be a big Pearl Harbor. Banzai!”
The sixth fight featured Japanese kickboxing sensation Junichi Sawayashiki, who stunned the K-1 world by defeating LeBanner this March, and turned 23 only last week. Sawayashiki’s opponent was compatriot Yasuke Fujimoto, the Asian GP ‘07 Champion.
Fujimoto started with low kicks, and put a couple of straight punches through to bloody Sawayashiki’s nose, prompting a couple of doctor checks. Sawayashiki looked skittish, not committing to attacks even as he absorbed more blows from Fujimoto.
In the second Sawayashiki swung wildly but was rarely on target, until he got a knee and punch combination through to drop Fujimoto. Now it was Fujimoto, bleeding from above his right eye, who got the doctor check. Full-on fisticuffs followed resumption, and at the clapper Sawayashiki brought up a right high kick to score a second down.
Fujimoto was terribly wobbly in the third, his legs buckling at even the suggestion of a strike. After calling a number of slips, finally the referee ruled a down, then a second, then a third, and Sawayashiki had the win.
Testimony to the youngster’s spirit, he fought on to victory despite having had his nose broken in the first round.
Three-time WGP Champ Peter “The Dutch Lumberjack” Aerts has, incredibly, appeared in every WGP Final since K-1’s inception in 1993. To stretch his streak to 15, he’d have to get past another seasoned veteran, Kiwi slugger Ray Sefo.
It was all Aerts in the first. Although Sefo managed a nice right straight punch that cocked Aerts’ head back, he looked less than 100% here. The Lumberjack got the fists and textbook combinations in at will, and repeatedly chopped Sefo down with low kicks, these finally scoring a down late in the round. At the bell Sefo uncharacteristically walked away from his opponent. If there was any doubt Sefo was in distress it was confirmed when he did not answer the bell.
The ringside camera zoomed in on the doubled-over Sefo, revealing tears streaming down his face. When Aerts wrapped his arms around his long-time friend, the crowd knew this was no time for jeers, and offered the pair a warm round of applause.
“It was not a problem,” said Aerts afterward. “Ray said he was a little bit sick, but the fight was not too much of a problem. I wanted to hurt his legs and that worked out.”
The Main Event saw local hero, the gargantuan Hong-Man Choi, in a revenge match against the only fellow to beat him this year, hard-hitting Samoan-American Mighty Mo.
With the crowd chanting his name, Choi looked down on his rotund opponent for a long while before making a move. Mo tried a kick to no avail, and came in with haymakers that made only partial contact. Finally Choi got the knee in, then a front kick, then swatted at Mo with a left. But Mo stood his ground, despite more swatting and hammer punches from Choi.
In the second Mo barreled in with the fists and this seemed to unnerve Choi, who answered with feeble jabs. A Choi low blow toward Mo’s groin brought controversy—the referee did not call a time out, but instead issued a standing count. The two then briefly mixed it up, Mo putting Choi in the corner and connecting with a couple of overhands, while absorbing a knee.
The third saw Choi, his left glove glued to the side of his head in perpetual guard, smacking down the occasional hammer punch, stretching in front kicks and scoring with a good hard middle kick midway through; Mo at darting in from distance to throw the overhands, tagging the Korean with a right and a left.
The judges gave it to Choi, but the decision hardly received the reaction one would associate with a convincing win.
“I feel I was robbed. I should have won,” said a disappointed Mo after the fight. “He must have picked up a new technique—the kick below the belt! I really think that there should be a third fight. There was a lot of favoritism here, next time I want to fight somewhere else.”
Informed of Mo’s protestation, Choi said, “I don’t have any problems with the decision—I wanted to beat him by KO but beating him by decision is good. I was very nervous yesterday, I kept remembering Mighty Mo from that time, so I only slept for three hours and I was tired. If he wants a rematch, anytime!”
Tonight’s eight winners will participate in a draw here in Seoul tomorrow, September 30, to determine the matchups for the December WGP Final.
In other action on the card, the Opening Fight saw 217cm/7’3” Young Hyun Kim of South Korea use the big knees and low kicks to beat Ryushi Yanagisawa of Japan. In undercard action Kyoutaro Ranger of Japan won over South Korean Kyoung Suk Kim under the three-downs-in-a-round rule; while in an all-Korea match, Min Soo Kim beat Randy Kim by decision.