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Hawaiian Punch Courtesy Mighty Mo; Hari Wins the Belt

    Sun, 2007-04-29 22:05 — Monty DiPietro

    HONOLULU, April 28, 2007 -- Hard-hitting American Samoan fighter Mighty Mo turned aside three challengers en route to the tournament victory, while Badr Hari donned the Heavyweight Belt tonight at the first major international K-1 World Grand Prix event of the year.

    HONOLULU, April 28, 2007 -- Hard-hitting American Samoan fighter Mighty Mo turned aside three challengers en route to the tournament victory, while Badr Hari donned the Heavyweight Belt tonight at the first major international K-1 World Grand Prix event of the year. Held at a boisterous Neal Blaisdell center in Honolulu, the thrill-packed evening featured a classic eight-man elimination tournament, four Superfights with major K-1 stars; and, in the Main Event, the inaugural K-1 Heavyweight Title Match.

    This year, K-1 introduced a 70kg/154lbs - 100kg/220lbs weight class. To earn the honor of fighting for the Heavyweight Belt, 22 year-old Moroccan bad boy Badr Hari and Asia GP 2007 Champion Yasuke Fujimoto of Japan both won tough qualification bouts this March -- Fujimoto beating compatriot Musashi, Hari dispatching Ruslan Karaev of Russia.

    Tonight, it was clear from the bell that Hari wanted that new gold and black belt, and wanted it badly. Straight off, the Moroccan stepped in with a couple of low kicks so powerful that they nearly knocked Fujimoto over, then followed up with a high kick that only just missed. Fujimoto tried to get into this one, squaring off against his opponent, but Hari coolly threaded a left straight punch through the guard to drop the Japanese to the canvas.

    Fujimoto beat the count and came back intent to mix it up. Hari obliged, and in the clash of combinations got the better stuff through -- a left hook putting Fujimoto off balance, a high kick thwacking the Japanese on the side of the jaw and sending him to the canvas where he lay. The referee took one look at the almost motionless Fujimoto then waved his arms. It was all was over in a scant 56 seconds -- and although everyone calls him the "bad boy," for a moment there the victorious Hari smiled with the vernal joy of a preteen blowing out his birthday cake candles.

    "I let my jab work for me and he went down, then I waited for the moment to finish, my policy is the shorter the fight the better," said Hari afterwards. "You fight all your life for this moment, I always dreamed to be a K-1 champion. Now I'm ready to defend my belt against the top contender, people have seen what I can do now and whoever knocks on my door is welcome. I'm 22 so I'm still getting heavier, but if I have to fight over 100kg[220lbs], then I'll go for the Super Heavyweight Belt. And the Grand Prix Final too, this year I want to go for everything!"

    In the eight-man tournament, the first bout had garnered keen interest from local fans, as Mighty Mo took on silium wrestler Kyoung Suk Kim of South Korea. Spirited applause greeted Mo's ring entrance.

    Built something like a squat tiki, Mo is both accustomed to and very good at taking on taller fighters -- his victory this March over Hong-Man Choi a vivid example of that. Here the 15cm/6" height disadvantage wasn't an issue. Kim tried to use low kicks to keep Mo at bay, but the intrepid Samoan walked straight through these to deliver his punches, and in no time a left hook had put Kim down for the KO win.

    The second of the quarterfinal tournament matchups featured South African kickboxer Jan "The Giant" Nortje and the superfly Julian "Towering Inferno" Long, a 216cm/7'1" American boxer making his K-1 debut.

    Long did what he had to do here -- move forward quickly with punches before Nortje's low kicks could slow him down. The strategy worked for a time, and after a sloppy exchange Long got a left haymaker round to open a cut on the side of Nortje's eye. A doctor's check cleared the South African to continue, and Nortje finished the round with some hard low kicks.

    Kick is what Nortje needed to do, and he sagely stuck with the strategy in the second. After a few hard blows connected with Long's weedy legs, the boxer grimaced and went down. The American barely beat the count, but clearly his right leg was shot. Nortje exploited this by pumping in the low kicks to put Long down again. Under K-1's two-downs-in-a-round rule, Nortje collected the win and advanced to the semifinals.

    Twenty-six year-old American kickboxer Patrick Barry is a rising force, training now with Ernesto Hoost's "Team Mr Perfect." In the third tournament matchup tonight he faced his biggest challenge yet in Trinidadian-Canadian slugger Gary "Big Daddy" Goodrich.

    Goodridge's do-or-die starts have thrilled fans and earned him legendary status. But Barry must have seen the tapes, because he got the jump on Goodridge here, firing in the low kicks with such speed and ferocity that his opponent never got the chance to fight his fight. The low kicks sent Goodridge to the canvas twice in the early going, the first ruled a slip, the second a legitimate down. It was however a punishing left high kick that proved the decisive blow -- Barry's timing and execution flawless as he caught Goodridge hard on the side of the head, opening a deep gash near the eye and sending a river of blood down Goodridge's face. Goodridge stayed on his feet, but the ringside doctor needed only one look to determine he could not continue. Barry went through to the semis in fine style, upsetting the man many had picked as the favorite to win the tournament.

    Wrapping up the first-tier bouts was Japanese scrapper Tatsufumi Tomihira and another tough customer, karate fighter Alexandre Pitchkounov of Russia.

    Tomihira and Pitchkounov both tested early with low kicks and jabs before Pitchkounov stepped in with a rapid-fire punching attack and a knee to drop the Japanese fighter for a count. Pitchkounov opened the second with a pretty spinning back kick that just missed, then put Tomihira on the ropes with another series of punches, clocking his opponent hard a couple of times. But Tomihira fights with a lot of heart, and did not go down, and did not stop attacking right through to the end of the round.

    Incredibly the gutsy Tomihira took the initiative early in the third, with punch and low kick combinations, but Pitchkounov soon resumed control, beating on his opponent for a down, shortly afterward putting several straight punches right on the button to score a second down and the right to advance.

    The applause was louder when Mo made his appearance against Nortje in the first of the semifinals, and a chant of "Mighty Mo" echoed through much of the first. Nortje used the jab to control distance well in the early going, but after he appeared to have hurt his foot while striking Mo's knee, the Samoan snuck in with a left punch to score a down. In the second Nortje led with the left jab again, but was no longer following up with kicks, leaving Mo the chance to get in. This he did midway through, closing for a fistfest, stunning Nortje with a left and then pounding in a herculean right to get the KO win and a trip to the finals.

    It was Pitchkounov vs Barry in the second semi, the third time these two have met in the last 18 months. Barry showed impressive focus, positioning and timing here, staying with Pitchkounov through a tentative first. The American has legs like tree trunks, and powered in some hard low kicks to start the second. But Pitchkounov soon saw a chance, firing a high kick up to put Barry down. The success seemed to fire up the Russian, who now took control with low kicks, knees and a couple of spinning back kicks.

    The meat and potatoes Barry brought some urgency to the third, in with low kicks, and while neither fighter could dominate here both had chances. Unfortunately for Barry, while throwing a kick late in the round he smacked the top of his foot hard onto Pitchkounov shin. Pain stung the American's face as he stumbled backward and to the canvas, ironically taking a count as a consequence of his own attack. This bit of bad luck, along with Pitchkounov's finesse and experience earned the Russian a unanimous decision and a date with Mo in the final.

    The crowd thundered encouragement as Mo marched to the ring for the matchup against Pitchkounov. The Russian got polite applause and he also got a couple of boos. The crowd was pumped, the fighters were too.

    Mo put the first bit of pressure in, backing Pitchkounov against the ropes with punches. But Pitchkounov closed up and weathered these, before launching a dandy spinning back kick that caught Mo on the head and sent him down hard. The crowd went silent now, until Mo, bleeding from the back of his head, got to his feet to beat the count. A doctor's check made for a few nervous moments before Mo was cleared to continue.

    Now Mo charged forward, bulldozed Pitchkounov onto the ropes, and laid in with the punches, a left hook putting the Russian down and bringing the crowd to their feet. Pitchkounov attempted some fancy kick attacks here, but Mo stuck with a press and punch strategy, and power would prevail over finesse this time.

    There were some low kicks and knees and good body blows from Mo in the second round, and again the crowd was chanting his name. The third was Pitchkounov's last chance to equalize, but Mo surprised him with a low kick -- talk about beating a man at his own game -- and because Pitchkounov stumbled away he was assessed a down. Smelling blood, Mo came in quickly after resumption, putting Pitchkounov on the ropes and pounding in the body blows, getting a down with a right hook. Half a minute later Mo visited just about the same treatment on the hapless Pitchkounov, and that was the end. The crowd exploded -- their hero had won the tournament and a spot in this year's K-1 Final Elimination.

    "The kick to the head shook me pretty good," said Mo afterward, but if you're going to hurt me then I'm going to hurt you ten times more! I wanted to return the favor, and all my family and friends and fans gave me energy, I didn't want to let them down!"

    There were about 30 of Mo's family members in attendance, most wearing custom-made Mighty Mo T-shirts. They hailed from Hawaii, Samoa and California, said his sister, Becca Taafuli: "This is incredible for our family, it is a blessing!"

    A Superfight much anticipated by the Hawaiian fans saw local fighter Mike Malone step in against the gargantuan Hong-Man Choi of South Korea. At the pre-event press conference, Malone made light of his 14"/36cm height disadvantage by climbing atop a beverage case to warmly present Choi with a big jar of kimchi, Korean fermented vegetables.

    Malone moved around a lot here, circling before suddenly darting in a punch or a low kick, and it thrilled the crowd when the he managed to connect. It was Choi however who brought more power to his strikes, getting a down first with a knee and then with a left hook. In the second Malone employed a sneak attack, hanging back with a nonchalant look on his face before torpedoing in a kung fu kick. One has to be creative to fight Choi. Malone's punch-and-run technique had everybody excited -- even Choi appeared amused. Midway through the second Malone leapt with a punch that made partial contact, while Choi simultaneously put a left hook in. The two blows put one man down, and that man wasn't Choi.

    Malone fought an entertaining fight, repeatedly retreating then charging in despite the fact that Choi's knees were waiting for him. A bunch of downs in this one, which finally ended only because the American had badly injured his leg during one of the exchanges and could not continue. As Malone shook his head in disappointment, Choi walked over, smiled a big wide smile, and wrapped his big arms round the spunky American.

    "I ate the kimchi Mike gave me, it was delicious" said Choi afterward. And he's got cool tattoos! This marks a new beginning for me, and I am looking forward to my next fight!"

    A big-name Superfight tonight set two-time WGP Grand Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland against Brazilian kyokushin karate fighter Glaube Feitosa.

    A technical style marked the bout as the pair stood close, guards high and tight, and traded low kicks and the occasional punch, both attempting to find a time and place to plant the high kick only to be stymied by the others defenses, Bonjasky managing to get the fists in a couple of times in the first.

    More careful fencing in the second, Bonjasky again managing to get through, this time with a knee while countering a Feitosa straight punch. Plenty of one-two combinations here but few follow-ups and little in the way of killer spirit. Until the third round.

    Now, finally Bonjasky became aggressive, with hard low kicks and knees. But again the Dutch fighter did not sustain the pressure, and Feitosa was able to get back in it with a miscellany of attacks, throwing in one 30 second period a jab, high kick, front kick, low kick, hook, body blow, back kick and uppercut. But Bonjasky was blocking all there, and the Dutchman rallied with gusto at the 10-second clapper with a half dozen hooks and a couple of high kicks, making good contact. A smart way to end the fight, which yielded the closest of decisions -- one judge scoring a draw, the other two seeing Bonjasky as just a single point better, but enough for the win.

    Twenty-two year-old Japanese judo and kickboxing sensation Junichi Sawayashiki stunned the K-1 world with a victory over Jerome LeBanner at Yokohama in March, in a Superfight tonight he stepped in against South Korean shot putter Randy Kim.

    Sawayashiki moved well throughout, light on his feet, circling and picking his spots, snapping in jabs and a high kick that made partial contact in the first. It was more of the same in the second before Kim backed himself onto the ropes and invited Sawayashiki in. The pair mixed it up some with the fists, but Sawayashiki got the better of these exchanges, pelting Kim with hard punches to send him into retreat for a standing count. The battered Kim could not answer the referee's call, and Sawayashiki the wunderkind had another impressive win.

    The night's first Superfight saw the increasingly charismatic Aussie Peter Graham take on Jerrel Venetiaan, a Dutch "Team Mr Perfect" kickboxer. This was a tempestuous three rounds, Venetiaan responding to Graham's in-your-face pre-fight staredown by sticking out his tongue and licking at his opponent's chops and nose. Both men started aggressively with quick combinations, Graham using the fists late in the first to score a down that a visibly upset Venetiaan protested to no avail. In an intense second, Venetiaan mixed up the attacks -- alas when he caught Graham below the belt with a hard knee and followed up with a kick to his tumbling opponent's head this prompted a time out and one-point penalty. After resumption, a maddened Graham laid in with the fists, and just missed with a rolling thunder flip kick to end the round. Graham missed once more with the same attack in the third, then switched to right hooks, clocking his opponent several times. Graham was looking somewhat fatigued toward the end, and Venetiaan blasted a few through here, but it was too little too late, and Graham picked up the win by unanimous decision.

    In the tournament reserve bout, American kickboxer Billy Hall showed some promise in the early going against his opponent, kyokushin karate fighter Takumi Sato of Japan. But Sato rallied with effective punches midway through the first to notch a couple of knockdowns and take the victory.

    There was a special amateur fight before the opening ceremony, conducted with protective headgear. Mighty Mo's son, Mighty Mo Jr., is just 14 years old, and his relative lack of experience got him into trouble against 19 year-old American fighter Ky Hollenbeck, who executed a creative double spinning rear kick midway through the first to drop Mo Jr. for the win.

    The K-1 WGP 2007 in Hawaii attracted a crowd of 7,066 to the Neal Blaisdell Arena and was broadcast across Japan on the Fuji TV Network. For scheduling information in other regions consult local broadcasters. For comprehensive coverage of this and all K-1 events visit the K-1 Official Website: www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp.

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