SEOUL, September 29, 2007 -- Fightsport's most coveted crown, the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship, is bestowed on a single warrior at the conclusion of a year of regional qualifying tournaments. From Honolulu to Amsterdam to Hong Kong to Las Vegas and beyond -- the battles have been waged. And now, from the hundreds of hopefuls have emerged 16 men who stand on the verge of greatness.
Tomorrow these fighters will step into the ring at the Seoul Olympic Complex for eight single-match contests, fought under K-1 Rules, with the victorious octet advancing to the WGP Final in December. Nowhere on the WGP calendar is the talent pool deeper or the action more thrilling -- each fighter is fresh, has prepared for a specific opponent, and knows he must unleash his all in the do-or-die event.
On the eve of the tournament, participating fighters appeared in a press conference at the COEX International Hotel to share there thoughts with local and international media.
The first matchup features Defending K-1 Heavyweight Champion Badr Hari of Morocco, who will face the surprise winner of this August's Battle at the Bellagio tournament in Las Vegas, Doug Viney of New Zealand.
Said Hari: "Last year I was in the final 16 but didn't make it. This time it will be different. I trained hard and I'm ready to KO someone!"
Viney: "I'm also ready, and I'm sure the fight will be exciting!"
The second bout is a clash of size and power versus raw determination, as the Defending WGP and Super Heavyweight Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland takes on this year's Europe GP tournament winner Paul Slowinski of Australia.
Schilt: "I'm happy to be here as Champion, I want to show a great fight, I don't care who I meet as long as he comes in 2nd!"
Slowinski: "Semmy's a big guy so I have a big job tomorrow, but I feel good about fighting him and I'm looking forward to it!"
A couple of quick and technical fighters will go at it in the third bout, as two-time WGP Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland meets Stefan "Blitz" Leko of Germany.
Bonjasky: "It's always exciting to be here in Korea, I will do my best to win so my fans here can have a great time!"
Leko: "This is my 10th year now in K-1, I will do my best to win it!"
In the next bout it will be another German, power-punching Chalid "Die Faust," taking on the Brazilian with the out-of-this-world kicks, Glaube Feitosa.
Feitosa: "It is my second time here in Seoul, I will do my best to perform at the top of my ability!"
Faust: "I feel great, I know it will be very good!"
French K-1 veteran Jerome Le Banner was scheduled to fight Ruslan Karaev, but K-1 reported that the Russian fighter had been injured in a traffic accident and could not make the trip to Seoul, and that a replacement would be announced "in a few hours." This prompted undercard fighter Young Soo Park, during in his comments to the press, to declare to K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa his strong desire to fight LeBanner.
"Well, I hope the boss can take the offer of this Korean guy," piped in LeBanner, "I don't know him, but why not give a new man the chance to go for my chin, rock and roll!"
Sure enough, scarcely an hour after the press conference had finished, it was decided that Park, whom Tanikawa termed "passionate and courageous," would get his wish.
The sixth fight will feature 23 year-old Japanese kickboxer Junichi Sawayashiki, who stunned the K-1 world by defeating LeBanner this March. Sawayashiki will fight Asian GP '07 Champion Yasuke Fujimoto, also of Japan.
Fujimoto: "It is my 2nd time here in Korea, last time I had a good performance, and I want to win again this time!"
Sawayashiki: "It is an important fight, I want to do my best!"
Three-time WGP Champ Peter 'The Dutch Lumberjack" Aerts has, incredibly, appeared in every WGP Final since K-1's inception in 1993. If he wants to stretch the streak to 15, he'll have to get past another veteran, Kiwi slugger Ray Sefo.
Aerts: "Well, we're two old men, and only one can be in final, that's all!"
Sefo: "Yes, that's about it, two old men! Peter is a great warrior, a great man and a great friend. I wish the best to him and to everyone in the event!"
The Main Event will see local hero Hong-Man Choi in a revenge match against the only fellow to beat him this year, hard-hitting Samoan-American Mighty Mo.
Choi: "It's my third year now in the World Grand Prix, I want to do my best to win this time!"
Mo: "Well, Choi and I will do it again, hopefully I can repeat the last result and I will be in the Final!"
The K-1 World Grand Prix '07 Final Elimination kicks off at 17h00 at the Olympic Complex in Seoul and will be broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji TV network and in South Korea on CJ Media. The event will be delay-broadcast in 135 countries, contact local providers for scheduling information. Check the K-1 official website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for official results and coverage of this an all K-1 action.