OSAKA, September 29, 2006 -- From Auckland to Amsterdam, from Tokyo to Las Vegas to Seoul and back again, a year of red-hot regional tournaments have boiled the K-1 fighter pool down from hundreds of hopefuls to 16 survivors. Tomorrow, the Osaka Jo Hall will play host to these warriors in the 2006 K-1 World Grand Prix Final Elimination Tournament.
The event features 2006's winners and exceptional fighters along with the finalists from the 2005 WGP. It will comprise eight one-match bouts (fought under regular K-1 Rules, 3min x 3R), with the eight victors advancing to the December Tokyo Dome Final for a shot at fightsport's most prestigious prize -- the K-1 World GP Crown.
A wide variety of fighters will step into the ring tomorrow -- veterans and up-and-comers, finesse fighters and brawlers alike. Today they met the media at the Osaka Imperial Hotel.
The card's first matchup will be a battle of relative newcomers, as the explosive Russian kickboxer Ruslan Karaev, 23, will see if he can outpower 21 year-old enfant terrible Badr Hari of Holland.
Sporting a dowdy brown V-neck sweater, Hari didn't look like the instigant who socked Peter Graham in the jaw at the New Zealand GP press conference earlier this year. Hari had a new shtick this time. After Karaev described him as "fast," Hari set to slouching in his chair and speaking in the most sluggish of murmurs.
Hari: "Um, (pause) I dunno about Karaev, I guess I just want to knock him out or something. Um, (pause) I forgot my medication so I can't put it in words, um, yeah, um, about the fight, um, I have nothing to say, um, (pause) I hope Ruslan takes his pillow with him because he is going to have an early bedtime and a nice sleep. If he forgot his pillow he can ask Ray Sefo."
Later, when it was the other fighters' turn, Hari repeatedly tugged at the microphone cord like an impish child. The media was generally amused by the antics, some of the fighters looked like they were not.
Karaev: "The best 16 are here and I am proud to be part of it but I want to be in the top eight so I will beat Hari."
Scheduled fighter Peter Aerts was forced to withdraw from the event due to illness, but his substitute, Gary Goodridge of Trinidad and Tobago, said he hopes to make a good go of it against two-time WGP Champion Remy Bonjasky.
Goodridge: "I've got some big shoes to fill because Peter is one of my favorites. Remy is definitely a legend and I'm happy to be here to challenge him. I have dreams and aspirations to be the best, we'll see what happens!"
Bonjasky: "I hope to have a good fight and wish everybody good luck!"
The dedicated and technical Kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa of Brazil will match his preternatural kicks against the powerful feet and fists of Oceania GP Champion Paul Slowinski Australia in the third bout.
Feitosa: "Thanks to Kyokushin and my team, this will be a tough fight and I will do my best!"
Slowinski: "Thanks, this is a very big fight for me. I know Glaube is a finalist from last year, so he has pressure. I am a new guy so feeling no pressure, just looking forward to it!"
Defending Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland will face this year's Europe GP Champion, Bjorn Bregy of Switzerland. Bregy put a major stare-down on Schilt when the two posed for the photographers here, an intimidating tactic Schilt simply ignored.
Schilt: "He stared at me so what? I can stare back but that doesn't solve anything -- tomorrow we will decide. I'm happy to be here, and will do my best!"
Bregy: "I will fight the Champ and that is a big challenge so I'll try very hard. Like Semmy said, we will decide tomorrow in the ring!"
The incomparable Ray Sefo of New Zealand will face another veteran, K-1 Repechage tournament winner Stefan "Blitz" Leko of Germany.
Sefo: "I have lots of respect for Stefan as a fighter and a person, I remember I told him he was my pick to win Vegas last month, now it is somewhat ironic that we are matched together here. When you have a personal relationship you know that sometime you will have to fight, this is it, best of luck to all!"
Leko: "I am in good shape, I fought Ray eight years ago in Osaka and he won, so I will win this time, and yes, good luck to everyone!"
K-1's only Four-time Champion, the legendary Dutch kickboxer Ernesto "Mr. Perfect" Hoost, is coming out of semi-retirement to tango with the this year's Asia GP Champion Yusuke Fujimoto of Japan.
Hoost: "I am glad to be back, tomorrow I will give 100% and hope to be in Tokyo in December in my bid to become five-times K-1 Champion!"
Fujimoto: "It's my first time in the Final Elimination and I am meeting Ernesto Hoost who is a great fighter! I will do my best!"
Japanese Seidokaikan stylist Musashi will be fighting in front of his hometown Osaka crowd tomorrow when he takes on the USA GP winner Chalid "Die Faust" of Germany. The two engaged in a friendly bit of banter here.
Musashi: "I am well prepared and in great condition, I know Chalid is very strong will do my best!"
Die Faust: "I respect Musashi, he's fought the best, but I think it will be like he's fighting two people tomorrow! I have one favor to ask him, if he will give me his [rather snazzy] shoes after the fight?"
Musashi: "My shoes? I'll think about it, [laughing] I know Chalid has a fast car, maybe he'd let me take a drive in it?"
Die Faust: "It's a deal, next time you come to Germany!"
Finally, in a battle of power versus size, it will be Frenchman Jerome Le Banner and the gargantuan Hong-Man Choi of Korea. It was announced that LeBanner was delayed en route to Osaka and could not attend the press conference. But Choi said he was ready and waiting.
Choi: "I look forward to seeing Jerome as soon as possible, I have been working very hard to be the champion this year!"
All the action kicks off at 4:00 p.m. Japan time on Saturday September 30 at the Osaka Jo Hall. The K-1 World GP 06 Final Elimination will be broadcast nationwide in Japan on the Fuji TV Network and on MBC & MBC-ESPN in Korea. It will be delay-broadcast in 116 countries, check with local networks for scheduling information.
For complete coverage, check the K-1 Official Website (http://www.k-1.co.jp).