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Sakuraba Still Dynamite!!

    Mon, 2007-12-31 14:14 — Monty DiPietro

    OSAKA, December 31, 2007 -- Veteran Japanese fighter Kazushi Sakuraba, 36, beat Masakatsu Funaki in the Main Event tonight at the K-1 Premium Dynamite!! Also victorious at the New Year's Eve fightsport extravaganza were Kid Yamamoto, Bob Sapp, and 16 year-old karate stylist Yudai.

    OSAKA, December 31, 2007 -- Veteran Japanese fighter Kazushi Sakuraba, 36, beat Masakatsu Funaki in the Main Event tonight at the K-1 Premium Dynamite!! Also victorious at the New Year's Eve fightsport extravaganza were Kid Yamamoto, Bob Sapp, and 16 year-old karate stylist Yudai.

    Since its inception five years ago, Dynamite!! has become one of the world's most popular fightsport productions, broadcast live across Japan with viewer estimates of up to 30 million. This is fightsport entertainment for the entire family -- featuring wily veterans and wide-eyed teens; popular Japanese television tarento; foreign behemoths; and yes, enough elite-fighter matchups to satisfy the martial arts purists.

    Dynamite!! was held before a full house at the Kyocera Dome Osaka. Seven bouts were fought under HERO's Rules (mixed martial arts), and eight under K-1 Rules (standup).

    In the Main Event it was a couple of Japanese mixed martial arts legends meeting under HERO'S Rules, with a 85kg/187lbs weight contract. Kazushi Sakuraba and Masakatsu Funaki brought a wealth of experience and illustrious careers to the ring. Both are grapplers and so this fight was expected to go to the mat early.

    There were a few low kicks and punches to start, both fighters connecting smartly before an off-balance Sakuraba managed a takedown to mount. Funaki coiled up, and after the pair spent some time locked in a Greco-Roman embrace Sakuraba emerged standing over his opponent. Funaki used bicycle kicks to keep his opponent at bay, smacking one up to the face, before Sakuraba grabbed the feet and came down to a side mount to begin fishing for the armbar. The pair were wrapped tight when Sakuraba worked Funaki's right arm free, twisting it behind the back to force the submission and take the win.

    "It's been seven years since I fought Funaki and I was surprised at how good his punching and timing are," said Sakuraba in his post-fight interview. "He is stronger than I remember, I was planning to pound on his face, but he was so good at blocking that I couldn't." Asked about FEG Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa's call for a Sakuraba vs Rickson Gracie fight next year, Sakuraba replied, "I'm up for it, I've never fought him, but I can only think of one fight at a time. This was a good year and I was relatively uninjured, so I'd like next year to be like that!"

    The card's penultimate matchup featured Japanese mixed martial arts star Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto and Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Rani Yahya in a 61kg/135lbs HERO'S contest. Yahya charged in early swinging away, only to have his momentum kiboshed by Yamamoto's surgical left punch. Yahya made attempts with low and high kicks, but the Kid was better with his counters, and repeatedly closed to point with a strike-and-retreat strategy. Yahya several times saw his leg takedowns stymied, and when the Brazilian did go to the ground Yamamoto declined the invitation, electing to hang back for a re-stand. In the first and second there were periods of frantic punching exchanges, but despite copious attempts, neither fighter could knock the other down.

    The Kid's low crouch contrasted with Yahya's upright stance, and allowed the Japanese to both jump forward with punches and stave off takedown attempts. Following more fruitless flailing of the fists in the third, Yahya threw three high kicks, all of which were ably blocked, before Yamamoto connected squarely with a right, then a left, to leave Yahya dazed and down in the corner. The pumped-up Kid stepped in to fire kicks at his opponent's head, making partial contact before the referee intervened to stop the fight, raising Yamamoto's arm in victory.

    "I kept a good distance to keep my opponent for coming in with a tackle," said Yamamoto afterward. "His punches were unorthodox so I hesitated a bit. A punch got through in the second round and I was seeing double after that. But in the end I came out with a win!"

    Five years ago, American fighter Bob "The Beast" Sapp had one of the most recognizable faces in Japan. Tonight Sapp returned for a HERO'S bout with another very recognizable face, Japanese television tarento and comedian Bobby Ologun of Nigeria. The question was -- which face would be more recognizable after the fight?

    After a couple of unabashedly over-the-top ring entrances, the pair set up for their showdown. From the bell, Sapp marched forward as Ologun pranced about out of reach, until finally Sapp got a grip and a takedown. The Beast muscled his way into a full mount which, given his mass, offered Ologun little if any chance for escape. Sapp tried in vain to wrest his opponent's arm free before abandoning that endeavor and simply pounding down the fists to earn a referee stop and the win.

    "I'm happy overall," said Sapp in his post-fight interview, "but I know what I need to work on. It's good to be back. I think the audience wants more of the Beast and I want to do more. I plan to sit down with FEG and see what 2008 has in store, it should be a happy new year!"

    In other HERO'S fights:

    Kiyoshi Tamura of Japan took on compatriot Hideo Tokoro. These are a couple of mixed martial arts specialists, and not a strike was thrown before they went to the mat courtesy a Tokoro takedown. After a restand and a solid Tamura middle kick, the pair went to the mat once more where, alas, not a whole lot happened. Tamura allowed his opponent to stand, threw a kick or two and then they were down again. A round with plenty of ups and downs but little apparent damage. More grappling in the second, Tamura not capitalizing on a rear mount, Tokoro reversing but similarly unable to gain good position before another of many referee-ordered re-stands. But for a solid Tamura left hook, another round marred by a lack of action. With his 17kg/38lbs weight advantage, Tamura had the edge in power, and hard low kicks earned him some points early in the third. A relatively lackluster affair that finally found its conclusion when the pair went to the mat midway through the final round and Tamura extracted an arm and hyperextended for the submission.

    Japanese former pro wrestler Minowaman went up against Zulu, a Brazilian who weighs in at a whopping 185kg/408lbs. Minowaman declared before the fight that weight difference was less important than spirit in a fight. But as Zulu stood center ring, Minowaman showed only spirited jogging, circling the ring's perimeter more than a dozen times -- perhaps intent on dizzying his opponent? The cat and mouse game played out for several minutes before Zulu finally got a hold of Minowaman and smothered him. Then the bell sounded.

    In the second it was more perimeter play for Minowaman, who only occasionally darted in with low kicks. Again, Zulu eventually caught his opponent, throwing him to the mat like a rag doll. Soon, Minowaman managed to get to his feet and began running circles again. Had the bout been fought on a tennis court this might have gone on forever. As it was Zulu cut off the ring and got another takedown, but was woefully unable to work a submission before the bell sounded. Zulu tracked and downed his prey again in the third, and this time his hammer punches prompted Minowaman's corner to throw the towel.

    The ever-aggressive Dutch kickboxer Melvin Manhoef made his Dynamite!! debut, testing his mixed martial arts skills against Japanese boxer Yosuke Nishijima. The two strikers squared off from the start, Manhoef coming in with a flurry of punches that left Nishijima stunned against the ropes. Somewhat surprisingly, Manhoef then elected to execute a takedown, quickly assuming a full mount to finish his opponent with the good old-fashioned ground 'n pound.

    In a 70kg/154lbs bout, it was wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata of Japan versus lean mean multidisciplinary fighting machine Joachim Hansen of Norway. After a bit of sparring, Miyata got the takedown and mount, but Hansen's guard forced a stalemate and re-stand. Miyata connected with a high kick and a left hook, but Hansen scored a strong down with a left hook. As a vulnerable Miyata lay on his back Hansen approached, only to be stopped by the bell. Miyata got another takedown to start the second. Hansen was good in guard, then suddenly rolled his opponent into a choke sleeper for the tapout win.

    There were some big names competing in the K-1 Rules side of the Dynamite!! card.

    World Max star Masato of Japan made his annual appearance, hosting accomplished South Korean boxer Yong Soo Choi. This was a fast and furious fight, Choi using his reach to chase Masato with straight punches in the early going, Masato answering in kind. Choi would have loved to box with Masato, but this is K-1, and Masato positively flummoxed the Korean with his legwork. Choi never found his distance, as most everything he swung sailed harmlessly past Masato. With excellent timing, Masato released a high kick that rocked Choi's jaw and put him down in a heap. Masato turned away, apparently believing that was the finish -- but Choi valiantly beat the count, and managed to get out of the round. In the second, Masato controlled the fight with his kicks and knees, and although Choi connected with a good right straight punch here, so did Masato. In the third Masato kept up the pressure, unleashing his full arsenal of attacks on an exasperated and exhausted Choi, whose corner had little choice but to throw the towel.

    "I didn’t want the towel to be thrown in," said Masato afterward, "I wanted to finish him with a punch. I could feel that my punches were solid, but his punches didn't do squat. As for going for K-1 Max Championship again, I say this every year -- but yes, I want to. The training menu has already been decided. My trainer said it's going to be tough, with lots of running (laughs). As long as I'm in the game, I want to shoot for number one. If I don't, I'll regret it. I'll fight until I’m satisfied. I tried a bunch of different things recently, but in the end I'm addicted to the fight game!"

    Seidokaikan fighter Nicholas Pettas of Denmark pledged to mark the 20th anniversary of his first-ever karate lesson with a victory over ssirium wrestler Young Hyun Kim of South Korea. This was no small challenge, as Kim brought a 37cm/12" height and 50kg/134lbs weight advantage to the ring. Both fighters had a plan -- Kim wanted to close and bring up the knees; Pettas wanted to chop away with the low kicks.

    Pettas' plan prevailed. The Dane avoided the knees while repeatedly firing in hard low kicks, and as the clapper sounded, scored a down when Kim's battered left leg gave out. In the second, incredibly, Pettas got a high kick up to his opponent's head, then moved in with big overhand punches. It was a right that proved the decisive blow, as Kim began to sway, and like a tired old redwood, lumbered slowly to the ground and just lay there. A triumphant performance by Pettas that brought the crowd to their feet in delirium.

    Japanese seidokaikan fighter Musashi took on the card's second African-born Japanese television comedian when he meets Bernard Ackah of Cote d'Ivoire. Musashi chided Ackah at the pre-event press conference, "I love comedians and respect Ackah for what he is, but this is K-1…" The remark prompted Ackah to retort, "I'm also a fighter, don't worry, there will be no comedy in the ring when we meet."

    The Osaka-born Musashi did not come out particularly hard in front of his hometown crowd. Instead he found himself eating a lot of leather as Ackah put him on the ropes and unloaded a dozen quick punches. Musashi's guard stayed high and close, but a number of the blows, especially a couple of uppercuts, made good contact. The second round saw Musashi looking truer to form, pressing well and hurting Ackah with low kicks, pumping in the body blows and a good right hook. Ackah answered with straight punches but Musashi simply had more power on his stuff. In the third Musashi took total control, throwing middle kicks and hooks past his opponent's clumsy guard, pounding in a right then a left hook to drop Ackah and pick up the KO win.

    In an undercard bout, Japanese fighter Takashi Tachikawa withstood a determined early challenge before cutting down Yoshihisa Inoue with low kicks.

    Dynamite!! 2007 also featured a special K-1 Rules tournament for fighters aged 18 and under, with a 60kg/132lbs weight limit. Meant to develop the next generation of Japanese K-1 fighters, the K-1 U-18 Japan Tournament mirrored the classic K-1 elimination format, but with four fighters participating instead of eight.

    The preeminent Japanese K-1 prospect is undoubtedly kickboxer Hiroya, who will turn 16 next week and names Masato as his hero. Hiroya had prevailed in all three of his previous K-1 bouts. In his semifinal bout here, he faced karate stylist Kizaemon Saiga.

    Hiroya went with the hard low kicks from the start, while a flashy Saiga responded with flying and flip kicks before being stopped by a low blow. After resumption Saiga was again quick and creative with the legs, just missing with an ax and then making partial contact with a kyokushin kick. Hiroya stayed with the low kicks, and brought the knees up late in the round. Throughout, the boys showed very good balance and blocking. The second saw Hiroya using the front kick to control the distance while firing in more hard low kicks; Saiga mostly missing, albeit spectacularly, with his jazzy legwork. In the third Saiga landed a good right straight punch early, but Hiroya came across with the better stuff later, including a nice left hook, to wrap up the win with a unanimous decision.

    The second U-18 semifinal featured kickboxers Kenji Kubo and Yudai. Both youngsters mixed up the punches and kicks nicely and had their chances in the first. Yudai put a good high kick up in the second, and connected well with straight punches and an uppercut. Kubo was aggressive in the third, but Yudai's positioning was near-perfect, as the 16 year-old met his opponent's advances confidently and scored points with precisely-delivered counters. A unanimous decision, putting Yudai into the final against Hiroya.

    The U-18 Final between Hiroya, 15; and Yudai, 16, started with a tentative first round, the boys light on their feet, looking for openings, only testing with the jab and low kicks. Minimal fisticuffs again in the second, Hiroya landing a right straight, Yudai getting his licks in but neither sustaining pressure. After being admonished by K-1 legend and bout referee Nobuaki Kakuda, the boys took it up a notch in the third, Hiroya getting in with a right straight and a couple of body blows; Yudai planting a front kick on his opponent's face. It went to the scorecards, where one judge liked Yudai but the others saw a draw, prompting a tiebreaker round.

    Fast -paced action here, Hiroya good with a right straight punch but Yudai's positioning and evasions sparing him any other damage. Yudai was more assertive, threading through another high front kick and scoring with low kicks and combinations to earn the win by split decision and become the first fighter to win the K-1 U-18 belt.

    "Ever since I saw the belt, I knew that I wanted it," said Yudai in his post-tournament interview. "I was calm coming in, I was even less nervous than my amateur fights! I did what I wanted to do, I said that I would win and I did it! Next year, I want to get stronger and fight even stronger opponents!"

    In the U-18 Reserve Fight, Ryo Murakoshi used a knee to KO Arata Fujimoto.

    While all this was happening in Osaka, there was also an affiliated fightsport event taking place at the Saitama Super Arena just outside Tokyo. In the YARENNOKA! 2007 marquee fights, Russian MMA master Emelianenko Fedor took a few punches to the face before submitting South Korean fighter Hong-Man Choi by armbar in the first round; while Kazuo Misaki escaped from an early scare to score an upset KO win over Yoshihiro Akiyama in a battle of Japanese judoka.

    Dynamite!! 2007 attracted a sellout crowd of 47,918 to the Kyocera Dome Osaka and was broadcast live across Japan on the TBS Network. For scheduling information in other regions contact local broadcasters. For complete coverage of this and all HERO'S and K-1 events visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp).

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