Special to: K-1
Vegas Aug 06
By Monty DiPietro
pics "Courtesy FEG"
OntheMat will be ringside for the event!
LAS VEGAS, August 10, 2006 -- The season's major international tournaments are done and the stage is set for the K-1 World Grand Prix '06, when this year's top fighters and last year's finalists go head-to-head at the Final Elimination in September at the Osaka Dome. There remain but a pair of spots for that 16-man single-elimination event, and this Saturday night at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, eight hopefuls will fight their hearts out hoping to grab one.
The K-1 World GP '06 in Las Vegas II continues the last-chance repechage format that has become a tradition for K-1 and Sin City. The year's tournament runners-up, along with regional tournament winners and other impact fighters will compete in a classic eight-man elimination tournament for the chance advance to Osaka.
Today at the Bellagio, MGM Mirage Sports Events Director Bob Halloran, a great fan of K-1, presided over a press conference where fighters met the media. "Go ahead and ask whatever you like," Halloran smiled to reporters, "this is different from boxing, we have got real gentlemen on this dais!"
The first bout will feature Alexey Ignashov of Belarus and Imani Lee of the U.S.
Ignashov is a K-1 star who won the Europe WGP '03 in Paris, but has been dogged by untimely injuries since. Having trained over the last year in both Japan and New Zealand, the 28 year-old muay thai fighter says he is both mentally and physically ready this time: "It's my first time here in USA and I mean to make the best impression possible!" Fans are expecting no less -- at press conference time, the Bellagio odds board had Iggy at 3/2, making him the clear favorite to win the tournament.
But first he'll have to get past Lee, a tough former boxer who has taken to K-1 in a big way "When I first saw K-1," said Lee, "it was like a dream come true. It's boxing and kickboxing at the same time, and since my last K-1 fight, I've worked with my trainer Eddy Millis to develop complete K-1 skills, so I can fight not only my hands. I'll show everyone Saturday!"
The second quarterfinal matchup will pit perennial contender Michael McDonald of Canada against Ariel Mastov of Uzbekistan.
McDonald is popular here, having already won three K-1 tournaments in Las Vegas. The early money places him as the second favorite to repeat, with odds of 5/2. "I'm here to do my best," said the soft-spoken muay thai fighter, "and come the end of the night I'll be the one with my hand raised."
Ariel Mastov is a late substitute for scheduled fighter Jeremy Williams, who was not cleared due a stipulation by the Nevada Boxing Commission. Said Mastov: "I feel much better to be in the tournament instead of fighting in the reserve bout, this change gives me a real chance to progress in K-1."
Starting the second tournament bracket it will be Stefan "Blitz" Leko of Germany and American Scott Lighty.
A veteran kickboxer, Leko is the complete K-1 fighter -- technical, fast and powerful. He won the Vegas GP in 2001, defeating Peter Aerts in the finals with a right straight punch KO that has been replayed numerous times on ESPN highlight reels. "I'm in best shape of my life," said Leko, "I will win this to get to the last 16 in September."
Lighty, meanwhile, has emerged as K-1 USA's great white hope. The no-nonsense muay thai fighter came into the last Vegas event as a 22/1 longshot but used a good all-round set of skills to make it to the finals. Lighty looked delighted to be back and ranked significantly better at 8/1 this time. "I am here to chew bubble gum and kick ass," he laughed, "and I brought a lot of bubble gum"
The last quarterfinal sets Gary Goodridge against Carter Williams of the U.S.
Goodridge was a late substitute here when visa problems kept Magomed Magomedov out of the United States. The Trinidad-born, Canada-based fighter is a brawler and proud of it.
"I was in Jamaica last week, I drank a little and partied some, then got back home and got the call at 1:00 am yesterday," said Goodridge. "So I'm here and now it's time to man-up. My plan is always the same, to win early!"
A troubled street kid turned K-1 powerhouse, Carter Williams is another good bet to triumph Saturday, sitting at 7/2 on the odds board: "I am back in hard training, doing lots of running. K-1 has to do with heart, so this time no matter what, I will keep on going!"
In Super Fights:
K-1 veteran slugger Sefo has power, a great chin, and an uncanny ability to both read and unnerve his opponents. The Kiwi recently bought a $2.6 million dollar home in Las Vegas, and said he hopes to make a good impression on his new neighbors. "I always feel welcome in Vegas, I'm ready to go, my opponent is a KO artist himself, we have similar styles so it will be a great fight!"
That opponent is muay thai fighter Azem Maksutaj of Switzerland, who said simply that he was "Glad to fight a big star like Ray Sefo."
Another Las Vegas resident, Dewey Cooper, made his K-1 debut in Japan seven years ago and is a regular participant in K-1 events here. The 31 year-old makes up for a lack of size with a smart technical fighting style and a devil-may-care approach.
"The psychological thing of a Superfight is easier for me," said Cooper, "there is less stress than wondering who I might fight next in a tournament Saturday I got one guy to defeat, so let's see what the hell happens!"
Cooper will have his hands full with Ruslan Karaev of Russia, who won the K-1 in Las Vegas last August. Karaev is a dynamic fighter known for his explosive starts. "I trained back home in Russia this time," said Karaev. "I appreciate Dewey's style, but he should count on me to win!"
In a K-1 World Max (70 kg weight class) Superfight, it will be Americans Fernando Calleros, a kempo karate fighter; and muay thai stylist Duane Ludwig.
Ludwig is an easygoing and well-liked boy-next-door type. He is also one of the hardest punchers in K-1 Max. "Well, win lose or draw I want to have a good fight," said Ludwig, who turned 28 earlier this week. "I'm sure it will be a good fight!"
Calleros said he had developed a new sense of purpose in the ring, and pledged to give it his all on Saturday.
The K-1 WGP '06 in Las Vegas II -- Final Elimination Quarterfinals kicks off at 7:00 pm at the Bellagio Grand Ballroom. All bouts will be contested under regular K-1 Rules.
The event will be broadcast live on the Fuji Television Network and Fuji Satellite TV in Japan, and on MBC and MBC/ESPN in South Korea. It will be time-delay broadcast on EuroSport across Europe, ProTV in Romania, inDemand in the United States, Viewers' Choice in Canada and GroboSat in Brazil. In all, it will be seen in over 100 countries, please check with local broadcasters for scheduling details.
And as always, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete post-event coverage.