TOKYO, April 12, 2008 -- Hoping to make history for a second time, former K-1 World Grand Prix Grand Champion Mark Hunt returns to the ring tomorrow against the three-time and defending K-1 WGP Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland.
It's been five years since Mark Hunt last fought in K-1, but fightsport fans everywhere remember the New Zealand boxer's 2001 World GP performance, when he took the sport by storm. Hunt first KOed all three opponents to win the Oceania GP elimination tournament in Melbourne. Then, at the Tokyo Dome in December, he dispatched K-1 stars Francisco Filho, Stefan Leko and Jerome LeBanner to become the first-ever non-European K-1 World GP Champion.
Hunt would love to score another upset tomorrow, when he faces the juggernaut that is Semmy Schilt in the Main Event at the K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Yokohama.
The event features nine bouts, all fought under regular K-1 Rules, in a one-match format. Participating fighters met the media today at the Fuji TV headquarters in Tokyo's seaside Odaiba district.
Three consecutive championships attest to what Semmy Schilt is capable of. But the Dutch seidokaikan fighter was characteristically reserved at the press conference, answering questions about his fight with Hunt -- in which his K-1 Super Heavyweight Belt is also up for grabs -- by coolly repeating his trademark mantra: "I'm glad to be here as the Champion, and I will show a great fight."
Hunt, likewise, was not exactly gabby: "Wish me luck!"
Only when asked about the height difference --- Schilt stands 33cm/13" taller than Hunt -- did the stocky Kiwi loosen up. "Really?" he asked, affecting befuddlement, "there's a height difference? I don't think so." When pressed by the reporter, Hunt smiled. "Semmy's the three-time champ and he's a great fighter, we'll just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow."
Tomorrow's penultimate match up is a bout between kyokushin karate fighter Ewerton Teixeira of Brazil and Japanese karate fighter Yusuke Fujimoto, who won last year's K-1 Asia GP in Hong Kong and has honed his skills at the respected Mejiro Gym in Holland.
"I trained hard in preparation, Fujimoto looks in good shape, but I will do a great fight," said Teixeira. Replied Fujimoto, "My opponent has good upper body strength and is competing in K-1 for the first time, so I look forward to meeting a new fighter, but I mainly focus on myself and on making a good fight. I'm in great condition, and I'm ready to go!"
At 35 years of age, seidokaikan veteran Musashi is Japan's most accomplished K-1 fighter. At the Yokohama Arena he will step in against compatriot Junichi Sawayashiki, a 23 year old fighter whose shocking upset win over Jerome LeBanner last year established him as one of Japan's rising K-1 stars.
"I trained hard and long, and I believe I'm prepared to win," said Musashi. Sawayashiki, looking relaxed, promised, "tomorrow I will be aggressive, and I will win."
In a highly-anticipated matchup, it will be K-1 living legend Ray Sefo of New Zealand entertaining the explosive bad boy Badr Hari of Morocco.
Said Sefo, "I heard in one of his interviews that Badr said I had better be in shape, well that's true. My last year was terrible, but I am in great form now. I have nothing but good things to say about Badr, he's young, talented, determined and wants to win. But I want to win too, and tomorrow I'm coming after him."
Replied Hari, "I don't know what to say, Ray said enough, just make sure to get your ticket because I promise a big knockout, that's the only thing I can promise, a big knockout!"
The Brazilian with the magic legs, kyokushin fighter Glaube Feitosa, will meet low-kick specialist Arex Roberts, a kujyuken-kaikan fighter from the United Kingdom.
Said Feitosa, "I practiced, I trained with [Francisco] Filho, and I will do well." Speaking in fluent Japanese, Roberts replied, "It's my debut and I'm facing a great opponent so I think it's a great chance to do a great fight, and that's what I hope to do."
The Squat Samoan with the herculean right hook, Mighty Mo, will step it against cocky Japanese kickboxer Keijiro Maeda.
"I am back," said Mo, "because I want to make some noise and fight a good fight." For his part, Maeda went off on a bit of a tangent, "I've been playing a computer game recently, called 'Monster Hunter' and I've got quite good at it. They say that Mo has 'monster hands', but tomorrow I want to make him say 'stop, I've had enough, no more'!"
Veteran kickboxer Petr Vondracek of the Czech Republic will take on Japanese karate stylist Mitsugu Noda.
"I will be strong and fight to win," said Vondracek. "I know my opponent is a strong fighter," replied Noda, "but my goal this year is to win the Japan GP and I want to get off to a good start, so I can't lose tomorrow!"
The hard-hitting German, Chalid "Die Faust" hails from the champion-producing Golden Glory gym in Holland. Tomorrow he will meet the technically-advanced Russian kyokushin karate fighter Aleksandr Pichkunov.
In his last K-1 fight, after eating a knee, Die Faust lost to Glaube Feitosa, another kyokushin fighter. So this is something of a chance for payback. "I am very well prepared, and I want to wish my opponent good luck," said the gentlemanly Die Faust.
Pichkunov also lost his last bout, after being out-punched by Doug Viney. "I'm happy to have another chance in K-1," said the Russian. "This time it's only one match, so I can give my all in the one bout. I wish good luck to everyone, especially me!"
The nine-bout card starts with a couple of Japanese -- Takashi Tachikawa, known for his hard low kicks, and Hiroyuki Enokida a 37-year-old seidokaikan stylist. In undercard action, it will be Tsuyoshi Nakasako of Japan and compatriot Takumi Sato; and Kyoung Suk Kim of South Korea taking on Tsutomu Takahagi of Japan.
The K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Yokohama kicks off at 3:00 pm. on Sunday, April 13 at the Yokohama Arena. It will be broadcast live across Japan on the Fuji TV network, and on a delayed-basis in a total of 135 countries around the world. For local broadcast information, contact your 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.