YOKOHAMA, March 28, 2009 -- Tournament reserve fighter Keijiro Maeda was supposed to be a footnote to the K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 in Yokohama.
YOKOHAMA, March 28, 2009 -- Tournament reserve fighter Keijiro Maeda was supposed to be a footnote to the K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 in Yokohama. Instead, the Japanese kickboxer caught a lucky break then scored a couple of major upsets bouts to emerge as the evening's hero -- and the new K-1 Heavyweight Champion.
The K-1 Heavyweight Title Tournament was a four-man elimination, fought in a 100kg/220lbs weight class, for the K-1 Heavyweight Belt. A pair of semifinals went up early on the Yokohama card, the two winners met in the final later in the evening.
The 22 year-old Maeda, whose green mohawk and rust starfish hairstyle suggests a Salvador Dali painting, was parachuted into the tournament when scheduled fighter Chalid De Faust could not make the trip to Japan.
Maeda took on Melvin Manhoef of Holland in the first semifinal. Given that Maeda was a late substitute who in the 48 hours preceding the bout had repeatedly told the press he was "scared of Manhoef" -- few afforded him much of a chance here.
But he did have a chance, and he made the most of it. Curiously, the heavily-favored Manhoef was so absorbed in hamstring stretching that he let the opening bell sound unheeded, and had to be called into the center of the ring by the referee. Hardly the explosive start expected from the Dutch dynamo. Cautious sparring in the early going, before Manhoef landed a left to put Maeda off balance. However, as will happen in K-1, everything then changed in the blink of an eye. With Manhoef closing, Maeda tossed a right. It was an innocent-looking punch, but it caught Manhoef going the wrong way, caught him on the chin, and caught him hard. And Manhoef went to the canvas. With the count on, the floundering fighter tried and tried again, but couldn't find his feet. A tremendous KO upset, putting Maeda into the finals.
The second semi of the K-1 Heavyweight Title Tournament saw Tyrone Spong of Suriname, making his K-1 debut, take on Gokhan Saki of Turkey.
Fast and technical action in the first, Spong balanced well, both fighters landing low kicks but blocking the more dangerous stuff to go to the second tied on all cards. Here punches were exchanged, Spong setting well and controlling the distance, closing with the knee; Saki circling and darting in with punches, Sprong countering well to keep all the scorecards even. The third saw Spong closing with the hook but Saki holding his ground and picking his spots nicely on counters, sailing a kick just high. No advantage after three and so the judges called for a tiebreaker.
Spong pounded in the body blows through the fourth to put up points. Saki meanwhile was patient, before finding the finish with a right hook on a counter. The punch came down hard on Spong's nose, sending him to the mat. Spong struggled to stand but was too wobbly for the ref's liking, and Saki had the KO win and a date with Maeda in the final.
Maeda and Saki took to the ring in a final matchup few would have predicted, but the boys made a great go of it. This was a technical bout, neither giving the other much to hit, but in the end a couple of mistakes by Saki proved the difference.
Through the first Maeda punched into his opponent's guard repeatedly, while Saki had the more balanced attacks, and made sound contact with a little deke and jab late in the round. Much of the same in the second, Saki positioning well and controlling the distance with front kicks, but not using his speed to get inside and hurt Maeda. The Japanese fighter meanwhile scored with a right straight and powered a kick in to the midsection.
Saki got his own middle kicks going in the third, and rattled Maeda with a left on a counter. Saki was planting himself solidly now, and had more behind his low kicks, but Maeda wisely kept his fists moving to catch a break when his opponent dropped the left to throw. In an instant, Maeda landed a right hook that was the strike of the fight. Judges had it even on all cards and the bout went to a tiebreaker round.
Maeda was the more aggressive fighter when it mattered, making contact again with the right. His evasions were now near-perfect, as Saki looked increasingly wild. The Japanese fighter's punches may not have caused much damage, but there were enough of them to sway the judges. A promising Saki rally at the clapped proved too little too late, as Maeda took the win by majority decision.
"I won!" spouted a loquacious Maeda in his post-event interview. "I went from fighting a reserve fight to being in the tournament. It was tough, but I won. Melvin was…scary! Really scary! I was worried. I was heavily attacked by several fighters in the past and didn’t want it to happen again. I fought more aggressively than usual and it paid off!"
"Until now I've been scared to let my hands go, but I went for it tonight. In tournaments I usually do little in the first round, but tonight I was thinking of the baseball player Ichiro, and I just went for it. I had to be careful all night with distancing and just countered when I was hit. In the second fight, Gokhan's punches didn’t really scare me, so I decided to fight a fight that I would be satisfied with!"
"I am the champion! But I don't think I can beat Badr Hari, that's impossible. This is me, remember, so I'd like to avoid that fight if I can! I just want to be on TV!. Also, I finally have some money, so I can afford to buy some juice tonight. I am still working part-time, three nights a week, for 1,000 yen an hour, but now I think I can cut it to twice a week! I a masochist type, so I want to slowly change to become a little more sadistic if I can!"
Tonight's 12-bout extravaganza opened K-1's 17th season. Aside from the K-1 Heavyweight one-day tournament, there were also five Superfights and three undercard bouts.
In the Main Event, three-time and defending World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky met Alistair Overeem -- the Dutch MMA fighter who shocked K-1 fans with a dramatic KO victory over Badr Hari last New Year's Eve. Bonjasky had been cast in the role of avenger here, with the reputation of K-1 fighters on the line. So gravely was the test regarded that K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa said a Bonjasky loss tonight could amount to "the end of K-1."
A study in contrasts -- Bonjasky the finesse fighter; Overeem the brawler. There was none of the customary glove-touching to start this showdown. Overeem barreled in from the bell with a flying knee attempt that made decent contact -- and how delightful the irony for Overeem had Bonjasky gone down on the wrong end of one of his signature moves. But that was not to happen. Bonjasky countered with low kicks, which Overeem grabbed as part of an apparent strategy to neutralize and manhandle his opponent. The fighters exchanged words in the clinch here, and one can guess they weren't cordial.
Overeem surprised Bonjasky with a front kick to the face early in the second. Bonjasky brought one-two combinations and some body blows but spent too much of the second with his guard high and close, apparently waiting for his opponent to close. A risky strategy as Overeem brought a mess of raw aggression to the clashes -- landing a right uppercut from close and throwing Bonjasky several times. Although he landed his hard low kicks, Bonjasky was taking more than he gave. Had the brutish Overeem clipped the Flying Gentleman's wings? Bonjasky was lucky to get out of the round even on all cards.
In the third again Overeem was nasty, seizing the kicking leg, delivering a face wash, and repeatedly kicking at Bonjasky's knee and throwing him to the mat. Although Bonjasky low kicks, Overeem did well inside with an uppercut. The fight was entering its final minute when Bonjasky finally saw the opening he wanted -- threading in a right straight punch on an out-of-position Overeem to send him down. To get back into it, Overeem needed to make some noise late, but could not, and Bonjasky took the victory by a comfortable unanimous decision.
In the aftermath, Bonjasky attempted return an "Oscar" that Overeem's team had presented him at the press conference a day earlier, "because we respect Remy's acting in the ring," but the statuette was swatted away by a humorless cornerman.
"My performance today was not my best," said Bonjasky afterward. "Honestly, on Thursday when I was asked by a fan for a photo while having dinner, and I stood up and twisted my knee. I wanted to cancel the fight, but after discussing it with K-1 and a doctor, we decided to continue. This is why I couldn’t do my usual flying knees and running around, so I apologize for that. It seems like I partially tore my meniscus, it was incredibly painful."
"To defend the name of K-1 was a lot of pressure, but it felt good to knock Alistair down. If I didn’t get the down it would have seemed like a draw. I wanted to finish him but my coach told me to not take any risks, and just take the win."
"He said that I'm an actor and that I didn’t deserve the belt, so I wanted to give him the 'Oscar' back. I wanted to show I was not an actor and that I'm a real fighter. I also wanted to say 'Hey, I told you so!' but I have respect for him. If you look at his MMA record, he has lost almost half of his fights, yet after beating Badr Hari he suddenly felt he could fly. You need to do more than win one fight before you can fly!"
Not surprisingly, Overeem had a different take on the events: "I think the fight went as planned. I was dominating the fight as planned, but regrettably I went down in the third. I thought I had the first two rounds, so it might go for an extra round, but it didn’t happen. Remy is a great fighter, but I have never been impressed with his technique, and I think that showed during the fight tonight."
The card's penultimate match featured another Dutchman, K-1 superstar Peter Aerts, fighting Errol Zimmerman, a 22 year-old kickboxer from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao.
This was a quintessential K-1 fight, awesome non-stop action from start to finish. Zimmerman set the pace early with aggressive right straight punches, Aerts blocking perfectly, weathering those that got through before countering with straight punches of his own. The tempo through the first and second was frenetic, Zimmerman, his guard high and close, powering in the punches; Aerts refusing to retreat, stepping up and picking his spots with combinations.
Zimmerman's power punches had him up on two cards coming into the third, where he lapsed some into defense, always however explosive with counters. Aerts showed excellent stamina, and landed a couple of smashing right straight punches in the final frame to tie it up. An extra round was prescribed, and here Aerts got through early with a punishing Right straight punch. Zimmerman stayed on his feet, but never fully recovered from the blow. Aerts continued pressing to the final bell -- at one point electing not to strike a vulnerable, doubled over Zimmerman, who could well have been assessed a standing count. In the final analysis, it was poise and precision that carried the 38 year-old Dutch Lumberjack to a well-earned unanimous decision. The fight of the night.
Said Aerts afterward: "I just spoke to my wife, and she's very happy. My kids are also saying 'My daddy is the best!' It's great; otherwise I couldn’t go home! I trained hard, I have a very good doctor and trainer, and I needed this to get ready for this fight because Errol has a big heart, he's a strong fighter and was in good condition. I also really want to wish Nobu Hayashi all the best. He has leukemia, I want to see him get better soon."
A three-time World GP Champ and reigning K-1 Super Heavyweight Champion, Semmy Schilt of Holland stepped in against 28 year-old Egyptian Hesdy Gerges in a Superfight.
Standing 200cm/6'7", Gerges is likely accustomed to facing shorter opponents. Schilt, however, tops the Egyptian by a full 12cm/4", and Gerges could not overcome the height disadvantage. Schilt just did what he does best -- putting the left jab out to control the distance, firing in the right when his opponent closed, and meeting any heroic incursions with the big knee. This stood the behemoth in good stead, and a down courtesy a right had Schilt well up on all cards going into the third. To his credit, Gerges fought on to the bitter end, but Schilt proven game plan made the win look easy.
"The fight was taken on very short notice, but I think I had a good fight," commented Schilt. "I think my opponent was a good fighter, and he took many punches. I think he also had a good fight. I have been focusing on MMA recently, though I have continued my stand up training too. I did have to re-focus on pure stand up just a few days ago though."
French slugger Jerome LeBanner represented old-school K-1 against explosive young kyokushin fighter Ewerton Teixeira of Brazil in another Superfight.
LeBanner the southpaw kept his right low and loose and stepped in with the left through the early going; while Teixeira brought long right kicks round to the midsection. In the second Teixeira threw the low and middle kicks with more gusto, prompting LeBanner to answer in kind. Teixeira took more of the ring as the fight progressed, and was speedy with his counters, landing a right hook midway through the second to bring a points lead into the third. Here, however, LeBanner showed good stamina, closing repeatedly with the punches, while Teixeira delivered a number of punishing kicks to the legs and midsection, tagging, as he had in the first, LeBanner's left arm with some of the blows. A draw on all cards prompting a tiebreaker round.
In the extra frame Teixeira again fired the right kicks, while LeBanner responded aggressively, scoring late with straight punches. The Frenchman thought he had the win, and did get the nod from one judge -- but the others called it a draw. In the fifth round, an indefatigable Teixeira again went with right kicks, while LeBanner fought past the blows to send fists to the face. Good effort from both fighter, a rare split decision going to Teixeira.
"My arm and ankle are a little sore, but no more than after any other fight," said Teixeira in the winner's circle. "I planned to move to my right and kick to the body as much as possible. If I aimed for his arm, then I could hurt his body at the same time. The fight went pretty much as I expected, though I didn't think it needed to go to an extra round. When LeBanner made a scene after the first extra round, it was the judges' decision that got him upset, it had nothing to do with me. LeBanner's punches are very strong, and they get no weaker as he tires. He's a dangerous fighter!"
Brazilian kyokushin star Glaube Feitosa met spirited Japanese kickboxer Junichi Sawayashiki in a thriller. The start was all speed and aggression, Sawayashiki in with the punches, Feitosa firing kicks galore. Wide-open action through the first frame, Feitosa's experience trumping the reckless Sawayashiki, as a left straight punch got through the guard to score a down. Sawayashiki beat the count but was shaken, and Feitosa soon scored a second down, this time with a right straight.
Sawayashiki was saved by the bell, but in the second the Japanese fighter's go-to style was his undoing against Feitosa's superior positioning and timing. It was a Feitosa left straight punch, a repeat of the first down, that proved the decisive blow. Sawayashiki went to the mat, and wanted to get up, but his corner wisely threw the towel. A dominating performance by Feitosa for the KO win.
"It was a great fight," said Feitosa in his post-bout interview. "At first it was tough to find my distance, but once I did the result was perfect. Sawayashiki is a young guy, but still has experience. I think he has a bright future if his team chooses his opponents. I want to say one more thing. I want to show my appreciation to my family, friends, kyokushin, Francisco Filho and my boxing gym for in Brazil for helping me come back successfully this year after losing twice and having a tough time last year. Thank you!"
In undercard action, Mitsugu Noda took a decision over Yang Rae Yoo; Takumi Sato thrice downed Hiraku Hori in the third for a victory; and big Yutaka Sakuma made short work of Takashi Tachikawa, winning by KO just 29 seconds into the first.
All bouts were conducted under K-1 Official Rules -- 3Min. x 3R; Ext.2R (Ext. 1R in the tournament semifinals).
The K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 in Yokohama attracted 10,328 fans to the Yokohama Arena. It was broadcast in Japan on the Fuji TV network. For international broadcast information, contact local providers. Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for comprehensive coverage and official results of this and all other FEG productions.