K-1 Kicks off '05 World Grand Prix

From the desk of Monty DiPietro

SEOUL, March 18, 2005 -- The road to the K-1 World Grand Prix 2005 Final begins in Seoul tomorrow, where eight fighters will do battle in the K-1 Asian Grand Prix. The winner of the tournament will be the first fighter of the year to join last year's Final Eight in qualifying for the K-1 World GP Final Elimination tournament, set for Osaka this September.

(For an overview of the World GP 2005 format, see the K-1 Official Website: www.so-net.ne.jp/feg/k-1gp/stop.htm)

There were two days of press briefings at the COEX and Grand International Hotels in Seoul in advance of the Asia World GP -- the event has garnered unprecedented public interest in Korea, not least due the participation of Hong Mam Choi, the mammoth Korean Sireum wrestling champion who is making his K-1 debut here. Choi stands 218cm (7'2") and weighs 157kg (346lbs) -- and that, he informed the media, is his slimmed-down self, the result of a new diet of "vegetables I had never seen before," and a tough training regimen.

A big guy with a big smile, Choi is affectionately known in Korea as the "Techno-Goliath" for his spirited victory dances. Choi named Jerome LeBanner as his K-1 role model, and told the media he had worked extra hard on his boxing technique in preparation for his K-1 debut. He also went to Japan to develop his kicks with one of the best, K-1 Seidokaikan star Nicholas Pettas of the Spirit Gym. With Pettas, Choi says, the focus was on developing attacks which would use his height to his advantage.

"I don't want to say too much," said Choi when asked about his fight strategy, "but the punches and kicks will be flying everywhere!"

Choi's first-tier fight opponent will be a Japanese Sumo, 38 year-old Wakashoyo. The fighter who gets through here will meet the winner of a bout between another big guy, former Sumo Grand Champion Akebono, representing Japan, and Nobuaki Kakuda, a Seidokaikan master coming out of retirement for this fight.

Kakuda flexed his muscles for the media, and the guy looks great for a 43 year-old. Speaking in Korean to the delight of the crowd, Kakuda said that his training has prepared him for the fight and promised to do his best.

In the other bracket, Korean Muay Thai fighter Myeon Ju Lee will take on boxer Hiraku Hori of Japan. Lee is a former Korean Muay Thai Association Heavyweight Champion, but Hori will bring a 10cm (4") height and 10kg (25lb) weight advantage to this contest. Both of these fighters have struggled as of late, losing a combined five of their last six bouts.

The fourth quarterfinals will pit Zhang Qing Jun, who at just 18 years of age is the tournament's youngest participant, against Kaoklai Kaennorsing of Thailand. The inexperienced Chinese Wushu fighter will face a formidable opponent in Kaoklai, who won last year here in Seoul to take the first K-1 Asia GP. As the reigning Champion, Kaoklai has to be the favorite to repeat tomorrow. But with so many variables of age, size, and styles at play in the tournament, anything could happen.

There are also three Superfights on the card:

Defending K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Remy Bonjasky of the Netherlands will step in against former HBO Heavyweight Champion boxer Ray "Merciless" Mercer of the United States.

Asked about the surprisingly close fight he had with another boxer, Francois Botha, at last year's Tokyo Dome Final, a confident Bonjasky replied, "Yes, it was hard against Botha, but I had four rounds with Ernesto (Hoost) before Botha, and he had only one minute before Peter (Aerts) went out with an injury. So that was part of the reason, Botha was fresh and I was not. This time, I think I won't have a problem with Mercer, but he is a wonderful boxer and you can never underestimate your opponent."

At the second press conference, Bonjasky turned the rhetoric up a notch: "It was a bad decision for you to fight in K-1, Ray, the low kicks are going to kill you -- watch out for the low kicks!"

If Mercer was worried, he didn't show it -- during the photo op, he posed as if putting in a low kick of his own on Bonjasky. "This is my second K-1 fight," said Mercer, "and it seems like I'm jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire! I'm fighting the Champ, and I know he's going to do his best, so I am going to go out there and do my best as well!"

K-1 veteran and three-time World Grand prix champion Peter Aerts of the Netherlands will take on Carter Williams of the United States in another highly-anticipated Superfight. Aerts said he has recovered from the freak injury he suffered at the 2004 Final; while 2003 K-1 USA Champion Williams was confident that he can use the bout to get his K-1 career back on track after some recent setbacks. "I'm a next-generation fighter," said Williams," you will see, the American Hurricane is going to come through with fists of fury!"

In other action on the card, the third Superfight will see behemoths Semmy Schilt of the Netherlands and Montanha Silva of Brazil will do battle; while tough guy Tatsufumi Tomihira of Japan will take on Min Ki Kang of Korea in the tournament reserve fight.

Since K-1's first foray to last July, the sport's popularity has rocketed in Korea. The more than 200 Korean, Japanese and international journalists who attended the press conferences equaled or exceeded the number that appear for an event in Japan, Europe or America. Explained Jaehyung Kim, a broadcaster for YTN, Korea's largest 24 hour news channel: "I think there are two main reasons for the groundswell of interest in K-1 in Korea. First, Hong-Mam Choi is very popular here and he chose K-1. That was a shocking announcement and every Korean, from children to old people too, became aware of K-1 at that time. Also, K-1 is a fast-paced sport. In the 80s and 90s boxing was popular here, but these fights could drag on for 15 rounds. K-1 on the other hand is three fast-paced rounds and then you have a winner, so that is exciting, and another factor that matches the Korean fans' wants." As the hours count down to the Asian GP, man-in-the-street surveys indicate that Choi will have the crowd solidly behind him.

The K-1 Asian Grand Prix 2005 in Seoul is set for Saturday, March 19 at the Olympic Gymnasium in Seoul. The event will be broadcast in Korea on MBC ESPN; in Japan on the Fuji TV Network; in North America on inDemand, DirecTV, and TVN (beginning at 9 p.m. EST on Sunday March 20). For other regions, check with your local broadcasters for scheduling.

You can find the matchups here: www.so-net.ne.jp/feg/k-1gp/top645.htm. As always, check the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp) for complete coverage soon after the final bell.

I'm excited!


You guys do know that that excuse for an event is already finished, right? Are we allowed to post the results ehre? Or is it showing in America and we have to wait till it gets showns there?

This show just adds another nail to the comic coffin that K-1 is becoming. Sad to see how low they've gone after the late 90's glory years.

I believe it's showing in America so you have to wait.