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Masato Masterful in Hiroshima

    Wed, 2008-04-09 08:01 — Monty DiPietro

    HIROSHIMA, April 9, 2008 -- Twenty-nine year-old Japanese kickboxer Masato out-punched South African boxer Virgil Kalakoda to emerge victorious tonight in the Main Event at the World Max '08 Final 16 Tournament in Hiroshima.

    HIROSHIMA, April 9, 2008 -- Twenty-nine year-old Japanese kickboxer Masato out-punched South African boxer Virgil Kalakoda to emerge victorious tonight in the Main Event at the World Max '08 Final 16 Tournament in Hiroshima.

    Masato won the World Max Championship in 2003, and made it to the final last year. Here, Masato wanted to prove he's still a force to be reckoned with. Kalakoda, meanwhile, had won seven of his eleven World Max fights, and stepped in the ring with a chance to claim a spot at the top.

    From the opening bell, Masato was the more aggressive fighter, throwing the low kicks and closing with body blows and tight combinations. Kalakoda kept his guard high and close, and but for a couple of unsuccessful punching attempts, did little to challenge.

    The South African switched to an unusual cross-arm guard late in the round, and in the second opened up some, shifting his weight forward, looking for way in. But Masato's lateral movement kept him out of trouble, while his zippy punches and kicks to the midsection proved the best strikes of the round. All three scorecards had Masato ahead in both the first and second rounds. One had to wonder what Kalakoda was waiting for.

    In the third, Masato's go-to strategy paid off, as he got round his opponent's guard with a right hook. Kalakoda fell hard to canvas, and there was no way was going to beat the count. A tremendous performance and a KO victory, confirming Masato as not only Japan's best, but one of the world's best.

    "I said I wanted to beat Virgil with a punch and that's what I did," said a beaming Masato in his post-fight interview. "Now, because my predictions are coming true, let me make another one -- I will win the World Max Championship this year!"

    The K-1 World Max is one of the most thrilling fightsport competitions in the world today. With its 70kg/154lbs weight class, World Max delivers an unparalleled combination of speed and technique that have made it a favorite of sports fans everywhere.

    The road to this year's World Max Championship has three-stages. The final and semifinals are scheduled for October, and the fighters competing there will be determined at the historic Nippon Budokan in July, when the final eight square off in a quartet of elimination bouts.

    Tonight, all eyes were on Hiroshima. The event featured 16 fighters from 12 countries in eight elimination matches -- with the victors going to the Budokan.

    Aside from Masato, three other World Max Grand Champions competed in Hiroshima.

    Defending and two-time Max Champ Andy Souwer of Holland stepped in against the small Greek with the big punch, Mike Zambidis.

    The first round saw Zambidis closing sharply to score with a right hook and flying knee, Souwer doing well with numerous low kicks and a punishing right knee. In the second, Zambidis got another knee up and brought on an aggressive barrage of body blows at the clapper, but his front leg was beginning to bruise at the thigh from Souwer's kicks. A hard-fought third round, Souwer continuing to press with the low kicks, Zambidis closing up his guard and blasting in with body blows.

    All three judges called it a draw, and so a tiebreaker round was prescribed. Zambidis waited for Souwer to make the first move -- a high kick that missed -- then exploded with the fists. The Greek fighter's blocking was sound, he it looked like might have stolen this one -- until, after an innocent Souwer jab, he let his right guard drop. Souwer wasted no time firing up a high kick that smacked Zambidis hard on the side of head. Souwer got the win by KO -- and remarked afterward that he believed he had earned a win after three rounds -- but this was a much closer fight than many would have expected.

    In the evening's penultimate bout, two-time World Max Grand Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand met the first-ever Max Champion, Dutch boxer Albert Kraus.

    Buakaw had the more balanced attacks through the first round, mixing it up with punches and kicks, scoring with a left hook. Kraus rarely kicked, but did block most of what came his way, and made good contact with an uppercut. In the second again Buakaw skillfully brought his varied arsenal to play, while Kraus continued to close with the jab and again landed an uppercut. Seemingly indefatigable, Buakaw kept on coming and in the third used the legs and fists alike, but Kraus showed excellent blocking, and pounded in a left straight punch to keep it close.

    Judges could not agree on a winner, and so called for an extra round.

    Buakaw now threw everything but the kitchen sink at his opponent, but Kraus' evasions and blocking were up to task. A tough one to call, and a mixed reaction from the crowd when Buakaw's arm was raised.

    Kickboxer Yoshihiro Sato, the 2006 World Max Japan Champion, took on Murat Direkci, a tough Turk who had posted an impressive first-round KO victory over Albert Kraus in his last fight.

    Sato brought a 10cm/4" height advantage to this fight, but Direkci responded fittingly, using front kicks to control the distance and getting through early with a couple of creative ascending punching attacks. In the second round Sato fired in low kicks, and although these did little to discourage Direkci from coming forward with the fists, they were taking their toll on his legs.

    The third saw spirited efforts from both fighters. Sato cocked his opponent's head back with a front kick, and make contact with the left straight punch, Direkci putting an estimable punch through late in the round. The blocking was sound and there was little apparent damage but this was an entertaining technical bout. The win went to Sato by unanimous decision.

    Twenty-one year-old Ukrainian kickboxer Artur Kyshenko stepped in against Ray Sefo protégé Jordan Tai of New Zealand in a terrific contest.

    An exchange of hard low kicks to start this one, before the fighters switched to punches. Tai put a nice right overhand on target, before Kyshenko came in with straight punches and connected with a sensational high kick. Tai took a hard knee at the end of the first, but got out of the round. Tai pumped up a nice uppercut midway through the second, and while Kyshenko was good with his knees, Tai ably answered one of these with a right punch to score a down late in the round. A furious end to the second.

    And a furious start to the third, as all manner of attacks were unleashed -- straight punches, spinning back punches, high kicks and knees galore. Kyshenko got a high kick and knee in to drop his opponent, but these were both ruled slips. Tai was aggressive with his fists, and at the end of it all the judges called for a tiebreaker round.

    The extra round was again non-stop action, Tai putting in an uppercut and nice high kick; Kyshenko also scoring with a high kick, and rattling his opponent with a mean knee and right cross. If it were possible to raise both fighters' arms, it would have been deserved. As it was, Kyshenko had enough of an edge to get the win.

    In a showdown between emerging fighters with consummate provenience, Italian Saro "The Sicilian Don" Presti of Team Peter Aerts met South African Warren Stevelmans, who trains with Remy Bonjasky at the VOS gym that Ernesto Hoost made famous.

    The two sparred tentatively through most of the first round before Stevelmans countered a Presti low kick attempt with a left hook to score a late down. It was Stevelmans again in the second round, controlling the fight effectively before charging in with a left knee that connected squarely with his adversary's jaw. The Italian could not beat the count, and Stevelmans had the convincing win.

    Armenian dynamo Drago tangoed with Gori, who hails from tiny Rota in the Mariana Islands and fights for the United States. The pair showed similar styles, both testing with jabs and kicks before a Drago left punch distressed Gori, who went stumbling toward the corner but stayed on his feet and escaped the round. In the second, Drago picked up the pace, and a high kick deposited Gori on the canvas, although this was ruled a slip. The third saw more aggression from the Armenian, who confidently fired in high, front, and ax kicks as he chased Gori round the ring. A body blow earned Drago a down late in the round, after which he attacked with sufficient aggression to score two more downs and finish the fight, the decisive blow, a left hook, coming with only four seconds remaining.

    The number four told a different story in the following bout when Yasuhiro Kido, who won the World Max '08 Japan in February, took on South Korean kickboxer Chi Bin Lim. The bell sounded and the pair closed to center-ring, whereupon Kido fired up a right knee to the chin, and Lim went limp and collapsed. Time elapsed? Only four seconds. It appeared no one was more surprised than Kido -- who gleefully hopped round the ring to the delight of the crowd.

    In a fast and spirited undercard bout, Yuya Yamamoto of Japan went with kicks while Brazilian Marfio "The Warrior Tiger" Canoletti used the fists. There was action from start to finish but in the end Yamamoto was launching the majority of the attacks. Superior stamina proved the difference as the Japanese fighter was awarded a comfortable unanimous decision.

    All fights were conducted under K-1 Rules -- 3min. x 3R with one possible tiebreaker round.

    There were also a pair of K-1 World Youth special matches. Japanese wunderkind Hiroya, 16, entertained 15 year-old compatriot Tsukasa Fuji in a 60kg/132lbs matchups. Both boys had their chances here, Fuji adept with his front kicks, Hiroya showing his versatility with low kicks and punch combinations. In the third round, Hiroya hurt his opponent with a left punch to the body and follow it up with a couple of rights to finish on the offensive and pick up the win by unanimous decision.

    Meanwhile, at 55kg/121lbs, it was Shota Takiya of Japan and Vitalij Lisnyak of the Ukraine displaying quick combinations and great technical promise in a bout that ended with a split decision in favor of the Japanese fighter.

    The K-1 World Max '08 Final 16 Tournament attracted 6,700 fans to the Hiroshima Green Arena. It was broadcast live in Japan on the TBS network. For delay broadcast information in other countries contact local providers. For complete coverage of this and all K-1 World Max and World GP events visit the K-1 Official website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp).

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