Carlos Condit, Alexander Crispin, Ricardo Barros, and Sonny Nohara impress at the K-1 Tryouts
Friday August 11, 2006
The K-1 tryouts held on Friday August 11th in Las Vegas, Nevada attracted both professional and amateur fighters alike. They came by car and bus, and some came by airplane. They came from small towns and big cities from all parts of North America, Europe, Africa, South America, Oceania, and Asia. They brought their fight shorts, their trainers, and they brought their dreams to the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, for an unprecedented three days of K-1 Open Tryouts. Over 100 would be K-1 fighters came to show one of the most prestigious fighting organizations in the world their best stuff, and when it was all said and done, K-1 was impressed. Professional fighting icons Gary Goodridge and Tom Erikson were on hand to help judge the tryouts along side Akira Maeda, the president of K-1’s Mixed Martial Arts organization, K-1 Hero’s. Other notable figureheads in the sport that were on hand to witness the tryouts were Cecil Peoples, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, and “Mighty Mo” Siligia.
"The average age was about 25, and a lot of them had a Muay Thai background," said K-1 USA's Bradley Duong, who helped process the hopefuls. “They had to contact K-1 to reserve a spot, do some paperwork, and then come on down and sign an injury waiver. Most of the competitors also arrived with a package with bios, stats, pictures, and even DVDs of themselves in action. It was impressive how serious they were!"
However, some were unintentionally amusing to those in attendance. As the K-1 Director of Fighter Development, Sven Bean, had everyone line up and introduce themselves to the panel of judges, one chubby Caucasian fighter crouched into a “horse stance” and claimed to be “the 32nd disciple of the Shaolin Temple”, then suddenly put a fist in an open palm and bowed. The looks on the judges’ faces said it all, as they didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or ask him to leave. Sympathetically, they let him stay, only to watch him later get destroyed during the live sparring and grappling sessions.
Each fighter was asked to speak into a video camera to frame them in front of a live televised camera and to provide a glimpse into each individual’s character. The judges started things off by having groups of five fighter’s run wind sprints where they had to run down touch a line, run back to the wall, and continue this process 5 times until they finished the sprint. The goal was to warm the fighters up and single out the fighters which arrived in poor condition or were not putting forth an acceptable effort. Next, Sven Bean had his three world champion trainers led by Striking Unlimited’s Ken Hahn, lead each fighter in some pad drills. The trainers called out a mixture of four counts, leg kicks, and knees where the judges could evaluate some of the technique and power each fighter possessed standing up. After that the fighters were instructed to put on head gear, shin pads, and 16 oz. gloves, as they were paired up, and engaged in some limited sparring. However, before the sparring began, Gary Goodridge asked for anyone with a world title to step forward. He then had the eight fighters who claim to be a world champion in some organization pair up with each other and instructed them to go 100%. Unfortunately, those who were trying to show off or brag about some belt they supposedly won, were brutally exposed. One tubby fighter with a mullet, in particular, who claimed to be an amateur “kumite” kickboxing champion, was blasted with a right knee to the left eye so hard, that it completely swelled his eye into a massive purple lump even with the protection of head gear. In the end, the fighter whom clearly stood out in the judges’ eyes during the stand up portion and sparring session of the tryouts was clearly Carlos Condit (16-4), who fights out of Fit NHB in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Afterwards, each participant was invited to share any other skills they had, which is when those who were only there to tryout for K-1’s kickboxing promotion K-1 World Max, packed up and left, while those trying out for K-1’s MMA promotion K-1 Hero’s, continued. Tom Erikson started the instruction by having the MMA participants demonstrate their take down, sprawling, and wrestling skills. Next the fighters were again paired up on the ground to demonstrate their submission skills on a 10 foot by 10 foot grappling mat. This is where Gary Goodridge and Tom Erikson encouraged each fighter to look for a submission and finish it. Again, much like in the striking segment, this led to the exposure of who was the real deal and who was clearly in over their heads. As the guy who claimed to be “the 32nd disciple of the Shaolin Temple” and another scrawny and extremely hairy participant were quickly submitted with an array of submissions and at one point the hairy little guy was caught in such a deep arm-bar, that Gary told him that he might want to put ice on his arm. As the guy turned around to look at him, Gary repeated, “yo seriously, go put ice on that arm”. This showed everyone how serious the judges were taking this, as they had no time to waste on people that clearly had no fighting, striking, or grappling experience.
The most impressive fighters in the MMA portion of the tryouts were Alexander Crispin and Ricardo Barros, black-belts out of Gracie Barra, whom went on to submit all of their opponents (8 total submission combined). Just as impressive and perhaps the most surprising of all was Sonny Nohara out of Marc Laimon’s Cobra Kai Academy. The thing that was so surprising and admirable about Nohara’s performance is that he has no MMA experience and simply came along with me to watch the tryouts. After viewing the early group of fighters that tried out in the morning session, combined with some steady coaxing from myself and K-1 trainer Ken Hahn, Sonny went and through some fight shorts on, filled out the required paper work, and jumped right in the thick of things in the last group of the day, which so happened to be the most talented group of the day. He won his wind sprint race, displayed solid stand up when sparring with the eventual winner Crispin, and demonstrated very slick jiu-jitsu after being paired up with a much larger MMA veteran on the ground. He quickly swept his opponent and went on to catch his opponent in an arm-bar from the guard, a triangle, and a rear naked choke all in the matter of 3 minutes.
While most used the last opportunity, after the grappling session, to run through some final submission techniques or to demonstrate additional striking attacks, Canadian Andrew McMichael elected instead to do an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe. To the great amusement of all in the room, the 20 year-old purred his version of "Happy Birthday Mister President," in a suitably coquettish voice, into the ear of Gary Goodridge's girlfriend Susie. McMichael (166cm, 95kg) has eight years of wrestling experience and has been working on Muay Thai to develop his striking. He describes his style as "I'm going to knock your head off!" His singing can be described as, well, "inspired."
The K-1 Tryouts was an exciting time overall and K-1 was pleasantly surprised with the overall fight skill levels and talent exhibited at the tryouts, particularly in the World Max and Hero’s (under 70kg) class. The organization will be pursuing discussions with selected fighters, particularly Alexander Crispin and Carlos Condit, and hopes to make an announcement regarding this in the near future.