BUDAPEST, February 8, 2008 -- Last year, K-1 expanded westward from Japan and met with great success in Korea. Now, K-1 heads eastward from Holland, bringing a World Grand Prix event to Central Europe for the first time. Tomorrow's K-1 Europe GP '08 Final Elimination at the Budapest Sports Arena will qualify fighters for the European final, set for April in Amsterdam.
Since K-1's inception in 1993, apart from a solitary trip New Zealand, the WGP Championship has remained in Europe, usually Holland. The first-ever K-1 champion, Branco Citatic, hailed from Croatia. Is there any chance this year's K-1 Champion could also come from Central Europe?
WGP '08 Final Elimination promoter Igor Jushko is cautiously optimistic: "I'm not sure about this very year, it's a question of time, but with the development of fighters and larger productions we are seeing, I think sooner or later -- maybe sooner than later -- we will have a new champion coming Central Europe."
"Holland has a long tradition of kickboxing and muay thai, clubs and gyms and competitions are numerous, and they have dominated K-1 for years. But I think the new generation of Dutch fighters are not as competitive, something has changed. Central Europeans on the other hand are very well-positioned, they discovered the sport later than Holland, and have been working very hard trying to catch up, which I think they've accomplished."
"I also think that the audience here is learning to appreciate K-1, the simple rules make things interesting because different fighters from different backgrounds can bring different skills, with their advantages and disadvantages, to the ring to compete against one another. Central European audiences are certainly getting an education with every new K-1 competition that comes here, and the widespread live television coverage also helps. Judging by the numbers of fans coming to these events in the television numbers, the audience is growing very quickly."
Tomorrow's card includes six elimination matches, with substantial representation from Central and Eastern Europe. All bouts will be conducted under K-1 Rules (3min. x 3R Ex.1R). On the eve of the events, the fighters met the media today at the Hotel Stadion in central Budapest.
In the first matchup it will be last year's WGP Las Vegas finalist Zabit Samedov of Belarus taking on Brazilian muay thai fighter Vitor Miranda.
Miranda: "Samedov is a great fighter, very experienced, but I trained hard and I will do a tough and beautiful fight. My focus is to be complete, both faster and with better stamina, because I believe to win you have to be complete. I grew up watching Musashi and from my size and stature I think I can fight like him. Tomorrow I want to move forward all the time aggressively.
Samedov: "Miranda is strong, but I will be stronger and faster. And I will be more cuter! I am doing everything I can to win tomorrow and get to the final Amsterdam, because it is my goal for this year is to make it to the final eight and kill (Defending K-1 Champion) Semmy Schilt!
The next fight will feature boxer Erhan Deniz of Turkey and Rumanian Catalin Morosanu, who, somewhat surprisingly, is a third-year law student.
Deniz: "Two years ago, I went to Holland and trained at Meijiro for a week, I would say definitely the training is better in Holland, there are better fighters and they train only for K-1. Now I'm spending most of my time in Holland training, but I will always fight for Turkey. Turks like fighting, you can see kickboxing on television, and the Turks are proud of me -- they like me and I like them! I want to make them proud, I want to look nice, talk nice, and fight nice. I think Japanese fans know what it means to be a good fighter, I want to show them a good Turkish fighter that they will have confidence in."
Morosanu: "I have six years experience playing rugby, and now for three years I've been fighting. So I suppose I am still a beginner, but I hope to hit hard enough to KO all my opponents with my left uppercut o the liver. In Rumania there are many gyms, all sorts of styles, we like karate, and we love K-1. Personally, I always very much liked Bob Sapp, I think I'm the only fighter in the world who likes him! He didn't have much technique but he had strength, maybe that's something like me?"
In the next fight it will be muay thai fighter Sergei Gur of Belarus and kickboxer Freddy Kemayo of France.
Kemayo: "I want to get revenge on Sergei, he beat me last time we fought, I made a mistake and he took advantage of it. He is aggressive and a great fighter, but I want to win. In the last two months I have lost five kilos, with a better diet and jogging and so on, so I believe I'll be faster. Another thing that's motivating me is I have two kids now so I want to be successful for their future."
Gur: "In the last few years, I've trained hard with my gym Chinook, I had about 10 fights since I last competed in K-1, and I beat Freddy Kemayo in Slovakia by KO with knee. Kemayo is not easy to fight against, his main force is that he's unpredictable and that makes him dangerous. But I want to win and I want to go to Amsterdam and win the Europe final. I plan to be aggressive, take the initiative."
Dutch kickboxer Errol Zimmerman will step in against Tovarovic Damir of Croatia.
Zimmerman: "I'm just twenty-one years old, but I've been with the Golden Glory gym for three years. I started fighting when I was 12, but I quickly became too big and too strong so had to fight against guys much older than me. Now at Golden Glory, I spar with top fighters like Stefan Leko, sometimes I feel like I did well, even though I know it's not a fight it's just sparring. I'm ready for tomorrow!"
Damir: "I also started training, in boxing, when I was 12, and I have trained every day since then, have had over 100 boxing matches. I had a chance to go to the 2004 Athens, and in that fight I got a knockdown but lost on points, that's when I made my decision to go into K-1. My inspiration is Mirko CroCop, who I've sparred with often. He only wants KOs, and I think he is the best fighter ever. Of course, when we sparred he was better, but I always stayed with him, and I always stayed on my feet!"
Attila Karacs of Hungary will take on Petr Vondracek of the Czech Republic.
Vondracek: "I want to do my best tomorrow, I have no comment on Attila, he's tall and he's technical with his punches, so he's dangerous. My manager told me to say No comment. I trained hard but it is a long way to go to get the Championship. I want to win here and win in Amsterdam, I want to win every fight, and with a bit of good luck I think I can. Or [laughing] you never know, I might et KO'd in the first round!"
The last of the elimination bouts features top karate stylist Bjorn Bregy of Switzerland and kickboxer Poula Mataele of New Zealand.
Bregy: "Last year, my low point was Amsterdam, or I lost in the final. But beating Ray Sefo two months later was the high point! However, this is a new year. I have lost a few kilos so I can move fast and fight fast. I know Mataele is talented, all New Zealand fighters have spirit that helps me fight better!"
Mataele: "I'm training in Holland now, with Andre Mannaart, and it is totally different than in New Zealand. With Andre's guidance I can get to the real spirit of K-1. Of course I still have a good relationship with Ray, but I don't feel the need to get revenge on his behalf tomorrow, I just feel lucky to get the opportunity to fight Bregy, he's at the top in Europe. He is big, good physique and strong, but when the bell rings it comes down to who is the best in that moment. There is always the chance for the underdog to come through, and Andre and I have made strategies to do that!"
The K-1 world Grand Prix Europe Final Elimination takes off at 7:30 pm. on Saturday February 09 at the Budapest Sports Arena. For live and time-delay broadcast information, contact your local provider. Check with the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for comprehensive coverage of this and all K-1 events.