For complete coverage of this and all K-1 events visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp).
SEOUL, September 27, 2008 -- The fighter they call the "Dutch Lumberjack" has cut down many an adversary in his illustrious K-1 career, but tonight Peter Aerts outdid himself -- overcoming a 20cm/7" height and 17kg/50lbs weight disadvantage to beat three-time and defending K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Semmy Schilt in the Main Event at the K-1 World GP 2008 in Seoul Final 16.
No fightsport competition can match the drama of the annual K-1 World GP Final. But for many purists, the sheer depth of talent in the K-1 WGP Final 16 makes this an equally exciting, must-see event.
Early each autumn, culminating scores of regional qualification and elimination tournaments held around the globe, the best 16 stand-up martial arts fighters in the world go head-to-head in eight bouts at the K-1 Final 16. The winners advance to the K-1 WGP Final, to fight for the world's most prestigious fightsport championship; while the losers limp home empty-handed. For the athletes did battle tonight at Seoul's Olympic Sports Complex, the Final 16 showdown was nothing short of do-or-die.
Fighters from the 2007 K-1 WGP Final automatically qualified for this year's Final 16, while the other participating fighters either prevailed in one of this year's regional qualifying tournaments or were voted onto the card by fans. All bouts were fought under regular K-1 rules -- three rounds of three minutes each, with two possible tiebreaker rounds.
In the Main Event, Semmy Schilt of Holland met compatriot Peter Aerts -- a K-1 veteran who has also thrice won the World GP and holds the distinction of being the only fighter to have competed in every K-1 World Grand Prix final since the sport's inception in 1992.
It's no easy task to figure how to beat Semmy Schilt, because so few fighters have managed the feat. With just two losses in 30 fights (one coming against Aerts in 2006), Schilt is the most dominating fighter in K-1 history and the strongest champion of any fightsport in the world. But tonight the timeless Aerts -- whose last World GP championship came 10 years ago -- executed an intrepid go-to strategy to slay the giant and establish himself as a leading contender for this year's K-1 crown.
Aerts started fast and hard, charging through Schilt's preternaturally long reach with a vicious punching attack that backed the big seidokaikan fighter over the ropes. No slouch, Schilt fought back, slamming in punishing low kicks. But Aerts refused to stay outside, first answering Schilt with low kicks of his own, then relentlessly fighting through to close on his opponent, landing a great right hook then planting a straight punch up and smack on the money. Throughout, Aerts kept his guard out far in front, swatting at Schilt's fists then barreling forward with punches. By the end of the first round it looked like he just might have a chance. The crowd was starting to believe, and the arena got loud.
In the second round, Aerts again went all-out, fighting past Schilt's legs and fists with more guts than grace. Schilt was now in a defensive mode, desperately trying to fend Aerts off with front kicks. But Aerts would not stop, and continued taking the fight to his opponent, pushing forward with the fists, at one point knocking Schilt's mouthpiece out.
Schilt, clearly surprised, resorted to the clinch, for which he received a warning. In the third round Schilt landed a couple of brutal lefts, but Aerts did better with a right that was the strike of the night, and his aggressiveness crescendoed to the final bell.
The first judge's card had it for Aerts, but the second scored the contest a draw. The exhausted Aerts was visibly relieved -- actually he was ecstatic -- when the third card gave him the win.
"I'm not happy," said Schilt afterward. "I should've done more, but Peter put on a lot of pressure and he didn't let me fight."
Said a beaming Aerts, "I feel good, it was a hard fight. It's difficult to fight a guy like Schilt, you have to keep going at him. My trainer made a good plan for tonight, I'm the doer but he's the thinker, so I'll let him explain!"
Aerts' trainer, Jan Plas, explained. "Schilt's a big guy who needs lots of space, he works with a big circle but if you give that to him he's going to kill you! So the way to beat him is to get inside his circle, and that's with Peter did perfectly."
In the evenings penultimate bout, K-1 2007 and 2008 Heavyweight Champion Badr Hari took on Hong-Man Choi. Hari is an explosive fighter with a tremendous KO ratio. While many place the 23 year-old muay thai fighter at the forefront of the sport's new generation, some still see the outspoken Moroccan as a punk. Hari thrives on his bad boy image, which he carried into the ring tonight for a date with Korea's favorite son. Choi is a former ssirium grand champion who stands 218cm/7'2".
Following a thunderous ovation for Choi, the fighters engaged in an intense staredown during the referee's pre-fight instructions. When the bell sounded, Choi sent in a solid front kick. Then Hari took over, circling and firing in low kicks and straight punches. Choi countered promisingly, making contact with a straight punch, but Hari came back with a dandy leaping right straight punch to finish the first. Hari's speed carried him well here, but early in the second, Choi's power shifted the balance. As Hari came in to deliver a punch, the big Korean tagged it "return to sender." A left to the nose followed by a right hook deposited Hari on the mat. Although Hari sustained no apparent damage, the down put Choi up on all cards.
Hari circled once more in the third, repeatedly darting in with low kicks and closing to pump in body blows. Absorbing the strikes slowed Choi, who could no longer effect counters, his few attacks coming with front kicks.
One judge liked Choi, while two saw a draw, prompting a tiebreaker round. But a distressed Choi did not answer the bell, his corner throwing the towel to give Hari the win.
"Scoring a down on Badr is good enough for someone who hasn’t been fighting for one year," said Choi in his post-bout interview. "But I was nervous so I couldn’t move well, and I made the decision to stop. It wasn't an injury, I was just concerned about my next fight."
Hari had a different take, suggesting his body blows had cracked Choi's ribs. "I had no problem with the extra round, I was prepared to go 100 rounds if I had to -- more rounds just give me more time to beat him up! He only touched me once in the fight, that was the count, and although he's become better, he's not strong enough to beat me. To the fans in Seoul, I'd say I'm sorry I had to beat up a Korean guy, but that's my job!"
Brazilian kyokushin karate fighter Ewerton Teixeira earned a spot on tonight's card by winning this year's K-1 Japan GP. His opponent was Japanese seidokaikan karate fighter Musashi, who failed to qualify for last year's Final 16, and came to Korea aiming to reclaim preeminence among Japanese K-1 fighters.
Both combatants tested the distance early, jabbing and tossing low kicks. After a couple of his kicks fell short, Teixeira commenced aggressively closing on his southpaw opponent with the right cross, and this threw Musashi off. Early in the second Musashi was shown a yellow card for clinching. Soon afterward, Teixeira planted a left that sent the Japanese fighter reeling, then sustained a good punching attack to finish the first in control.
The fighters came out swinging to start the third, things getting messy in close before a lull marred by clinching. Musashi switched his stance to make contact with a couple of lefts, but Teixeira did better late with a left straight, and took the win by a comfortable unanimous decision.
"Winning is matter of who trains better," said Teixeira afterward. "I'm very happy that I have made it to the final tournament and I will do my very best."
Flashy Dutch kickboxer Remy "The Flying Gentleman" Bonjasky used his signature spectacular knee and kicking attacks to capture the WGP Championship in 2003 and 2004. Here he fought Australian muay thai stylist Paul Slowinski, who trains with K-1 legend Ernesto "Mr. Perfect" Hoost, and earned a spot on the card through fan voting on the K-1 website.
Bonjasky closed up against Slowinski's early combinations then answered with a couple of flying knees that left Slowinski's nose bloodied and his legs shaky. Bonjasky continued with a swell left straight punch and a high kick but Slowinski would not go down. In the second the pace quickened, both fighters staying close and mixing it up with hooks, body blows and low kicks hooks. Another Bonjasky flying kick made partial contact before things slowed and the pair rode out the round.
The third was give-and-take before Slowinski launched a solid uppercut and took it into a promising punch volley. Bonjasky was slowed by the blows, and Slowinski appeared to have found the distance for his meat-and-potatoes fistwork. But Bonjasky rebounded, connecting with a couple of high kicks to stop the pestering, finishing on the offensive and with enough on the judges' cards for a majority decision.
"I should have finished Paul but I couldn't," said Bonjasky in his post-bout interview. "I'm not happy with my fight today, I need to train hard for the final."
Dutch kickboxer Errol Zimmerman, this year's K-1 Europe GP Champion, fought kyokushin karate fighter Glaube Feitosa of Brazil in an electrifying bout.
With musical accompaniment provided by a live rapper, Zimmerman made his ring entrance in a skeleton costume and mask. Then Feitosa walked in wearing a karate gi. The guys were dressed for the show, and it was spectacular.
Plenty of punches early on, but neither fighter letting much get past their high guard. After using his speed to lead with the right straight for a time, Zimmerman started landing big hard hooks around and behind Feitosa's close guard, prompting a standing count at the clapper. There was a fleeting window of opportunity between the completion of the count and the bell to end the first, and Zimmerman leapt through it with a flying knee. Feitosa stumbled out of the round but was in big trouble.
The remainder of the bout saw Zimmerman frenetic with the knees and punches, including a novel leaping hook. Zimmerman had done his homework, and as time wore on used his left to lower Feitosa's guard before powering in the right. The hardest high kick here was also delivered by the Dutchman. Almost as surprising as Zimmerman's power, stamina and smarts was Feitosa's chin. The Brazilian had been compromised since the late first -- and had taken blows galore since then -- but stayed on his feet, and even managed to get the crowd to their feet with a late rally.
But without a doubt, it was the 22 year-old Zimmerman -- with perhaps the best bout of his young career -- who had made the statement. A well-earned unanimous decision.
"I'm happy with my fight," said Zimmerman afterward. "I was able to get some downs against Glaube, an experienced fighter. I had prepared for Glaube's high kick, and my plan was to try to go on the attack after defending. I'm very young, but I will try to take the belt!"
Veteran slugger Ray Sefo has come awfully close, but has yet to win the World GP. Although slumping with a five-bout losing streak, the perennial fan favorite was voted onto the Final 16 card. Here, Sefo's chances for advancement hinged on a contest with Turk kickboxer Gokhan Saki, whose tough and technical fighting style earned him the K-1 USA GP 2008 Championship.
Sefo came in with some speed to start, doing well inside with body blows and low kicks. Sefo deftly dodged a high kick, and countered well through the balance of the first before taking the initiative in the second, setting with the jab and closing with the right hook. Sefo threw more than a few kicks through the first two, and a high kick at what he thought was the end of the second -- Seki surprising him with a flying kick at the final second. Some characteristic guard-dropping and monkeying from a nonchalant Sefo in the third, Saki playing it straight with combinations to keep it close. Sefo thought he'd won, but the judges saw a draw and called for an extra round.
In the tiebreaker, Saki went with quick low kicks while Sefo stayed back, coming in only occasionally with punches and low kicks. The dozen years that separate these two had come into play against Sefo, who was now looking very fatigued. At one point, he simply fell to all fours. Saki may not have hurt Sefo, but he did put through more than enough strikes to take the win by unanimous decision.
"I should have done a lot better, but maybe I was too nervous fighting with Ray because he is my favorite fighter," commented Saki later. "But I thought that I won the first and third rounds, I didn't expect it to go to an extra round."
Queried regarding his sixth consecutive loss, Sefo said "This is fightsport, there is always a winner and loser. I'm not retiring yet, there are other fighters who are older than me, maybe I'll train with Peter [Aerts] next year!"
Another K-1 veteran and fan favorite, kickboxer Jerome LeBanner took on 24 year-old Japanese fighter Junichi Sawayashiki. LeBanner was looking for some payback -- Sawayashiki upset the Frenchman in March, 2007.
In their last bout, Sawayashiki had circled to stay out of harm's way, but this time LeBanner wisely caught off the ring, and tagged his opponent with the right. The Frenchman was in control throughout, connecting at will with straight punches, firing the occasional high kick and closing with body blows. Twice in the first round Sawayashiki looked rattled. In the second LeBanner again positioned to stymie Sawayashiki's perimeter strategy. Again LeBanner scored frequently, and got a down with the fists at the clapper. Sawayashiki did not adjust in the third, and now the cumulative effect of LeBanner's blows had him dazed and confused. With the Japanese managing only feeble attempts at counters, LeBanner came out with a unanimous decision.
Said LeBanner afterward, "I'm not happy with my fight today, my opponent was circling and didn't fight at all, even when I dropped my hands to provoke him!"
The last of the Final 16 Tournament matchups pitted this year's Asia GP Champion Ruslan Karaev of Russia against fan selection Chalid "Die Faust" of Germany. A huge cheer when Karaev was introduced, and a dynamic start by the Russian -- closing aggressively with punches and kicks. Die Faust took a few, but closed up and rode it out. After a Karaev back kick, it was Die Faust's turn, scoring a down with a left to the body. More close fighting through the end of the first and start of the second, Die Faust picking his spots well to bloody his opponent's nose and take a nice lead on the cards.
It was a Karaev right uppercut, backed up by a left straight, that scored the Russian his first down. Die Faust barely beat the count, and struggled after resumption to marshal some offence. But the German fell again as Karaev was persistent with the knees and punches. The valiant Die Faust made it to his feet, only to become Karaev's punching bag, and in a moment the ref called it. A thrilling battle, Karaev fighting at his best to get the KO win.
"I dedicate this to my mother, who passed away a month ago," said Karaev. "I didn’t have time so much to prepare for this fight. However, I know that Chalid has good punches and that I had to be careful about that, I got caught once and that was enough. But I was motivated to in the fight, I was going for a KO!"
The opening bout featured a couple of South Korean fighters, Yong Soo Park and Randy Kim. Both connected solidly with punches in the first. In the second, after a Kim low kick, the referee come in to issue a standing count on Park for turning away from the fight. Park, whose leg had been tangled in the ropes, appeared either stunned or befuddled, but in any case did not adapt a fighting pose before the referee elected to call it, giving Kim the KO win.
In undercard action, Belorussian kickboxer Zabit Samedov used an impressive arsenal of punch and kick attacks to outscore Brazilian kyokushin fighter Fabiano Da Silva of Brazil and take a unanimous decision; while Keijiro Maeda of Japan KO'd South Korean Min Ho Song in the third round of their contest.
In a change from the practice of previous K-1 WGPs, tonight the Final 8 matchups were determined in the ring immediately after the Final 8 had been determined. A random draw assigned the selection order, then the fighters one by one made their way to a stage representing the Final 8 tournament bracket. Up first, Karaev put himself into the third fight. Bonjasky was next, and opted for the fourth fight. Zimmerman than went to the second bout.
Saki, selecting fourth, was the first to commit to an opponent, matching himself up with Karaev. Selecting next, Teixeira decided he liked his chances against Zimmerman in the second bout. Aerts eschewed a matchup with Bonjasky, going instead to the still-empty first bout -- traditionally regarded as the most desirable fight, as it affords the greatest recovery-time before the semifinals. LeBanner, with the option of Aerts or Bonjasky, put himself in against the latter. Hari therefore ended up with Aerts first on his dance card for the December 4 World GP Final. The matchups are posted on the K-1 Official Website.
The K-1 World GP 2008 in Seoul -Final 16 attracted 15, 769 to the Seoul Olympic Complex. The event was broadcast live across Korea by CJ Media and in Japan on the Fuji TV Network. For scheduling information in other regions contact local broadcasters. For complete coverage of this and all K-1 events visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp).