As UFC & Boxing rule America in combat sports, many people do not realize how popular kickboxing was in Japan in the 90's to the late 2000 decade. Kickboxing is always considered a popular activity and sport, but in America, not many casual fans have a clue about history of kickboxing or the superstars which dominated the sport. There were always sections of kickboxing all over the world, however there was no profitable organization to promote the sport and its stars. There was no global network of the sport, just events here and there. Some organizations were semi-sucessful in the world of Martial Arts like the ISKA, but there was nothing that brought all the kickboxers together until 1993. In 1960 in Japan, Kickboxing orginated and became successful, followed in America in 1970. However Boxing dominated the combat sports scene in America, while Japan also had Boxing, but its Pro Wrestling roots were more mainstream and considered 'combat sport' to their culture. In 1993, Kazuyoshi Ishii, a Karate specialist, formed "K-1", which became the actual global network and mainstream success Kickboxing needed to thrive. "K" stood for the various stand up martial art forms such as Karate, Kickboxing, Kung Fu, Kempo and others (the website also states 'King') and the number "1" meaning the number one fighters of the world. Ishii put together a tournament in 1993, much similar to the UFC, only K-1 tournament was months before the UFC. There were 8 fighters, fighting in one night to determine who would win. Ishii called it the "World Grand Prix". Netherlands and other surrounding European countries were very much into practicing kickboxing. A lot of Dutch fighters went onto become famous within the K-1 promotion. K-1 also dominated the kickboxing scene and eventually expanding into 24 events all over the world including in the United States, where it was headed by future Strikeforce promoter - Scott Coker. On April 3rd, 1993 - the 1993 K-1 World Grand Prix winner was Croatia's Branco Citivac. There were seven K-1 events held in 1993 in Japan. The following year, in 1994 a K-1 event was held in Netherlands, home of a lot of Kickboxing champions. In 1995, K-1 went to France & Switzerland as well. Europe was very much interested in Kickboxing as was of course Japan, home of K-1. Each year, K-1 would hold it's World Grand Prix which would be looked at as the winner would be the best kickboxing fighter in the world! Each K-1 World Grand Prix winner would instantly become a superstar and a huge draw in Japan. The second World Grand Prix in 1994 as well as 1995 was won by Netherland's Peter Aerts. Switzerland's sensational Andy Hug won in 1996. Ernesto Hoost solitified himself as one of the greatest K-1 kickboxers of all time winning in 1997, 1999, 2000, & 2002. A former Pancrase and UFC vetern giant, Semmy Schilt entered in 2005 winning the Grand Prix as he used his height and reach to his advantage. He went onto win 2006, 2007, & 2009 as well making him a four time winner along with Ernesto Hoost. Remy Bonjasky, known for his flying knees and exciting style won in 2003, 2004 and a controversial win in 2008 where he won the finals by his opponent, explosive superstar Badr Hari getting disqualified by stomping Remy on the ground. K-1 became known to a lot of critics as a freakshow when they introduced large fighters who had little skill, but giant size into their organization. Former NFL player Bob Sapp, sumo legend 400 pound Akebono, pro wrestlers - anyone who would draw an audience was put in the ring, sometimes with K-1 Gp winners to make it interesting, yet hurting the credibility as it became more of a show or a spectacle rather than a sport. Ishii ran into tax problems and the ratings began to drop in late 2010.
2010 marked the last World Grand Prix under FEG (the company that owned K-1). There were reports of K-1 not paying its fighters and K-1 was eventually sold to a Japanese real estate firm, which sold to another company. K-1 put together a MMA organization called Romanex in 2004. That eventually led to K-1's MMA organization called Heroes. Eventually, after PrideFC was sold to the UFC, Heroes & former Pride employees merged to form 'Dream'. Some would argue that K-1 MAX was even more exciting than K-1 itself, which featured the lighter weights. Superstars such as Masato, Andy Souwer, Buakaw Por Pramuk, Giorgio Petrosyan were featured in K-1 MAX , which also held its own K-1 MAX world Grand Prix. After K-1 was sold, K-1, K-1 Max, Dream was also passed to the other company. Since K-1 was having trouble, a promotion that has been around for quite sometime called 'It's Showtime' was gaining more and more exposure and gaining former K-1 fighters to their organization. Semmy Schilt, Badr Hari, Melvin Manhoef, Gohkan Saki, and others fought in It's Showtime. Eventually, It's Showtime merged with United Glory organization and Golden Glory in Netherlands to form GLORY, the premiere kickboxing organization replacing K-1 as the number one kickboxing organization. K-1's new company did return in 2012 to form a new K-1 World Grand Prix tournament. It was quite interesting because Glory also held it's own version of a World Grand Prix. October of 2012 in Japan, K-1 held the world Grand Prix opening round featuring Mirko Cro Cop, Singh Jaideep, Ben Edwards, Hesdy Gerges, Samedov, & Paul Slowinski - which is a pretty impressive list of WGP participants, however GLORY signed the bigger former K-1 names for its own version of a WGP in December 31st, 2012 called "GLORY 4 - 2012 HW Grand Slam". Glory 4 event featured four time WGP winner Semmy Schilt, three time winner Remy Bonjasky, three time winner Peter Aerts, Errol Zimmerman, Daniel Ghita, Saki and even former PrideFC and Strikeforce fighter Sergei Kharitonov! Semmy Schilt won the tournament KO'ing Daniel Ghita in the finals. The Finals of the K-1 WGP 2012 was held in Croatia in March of 2013 and even added one of the most popular Kickboxers of the world - Badr Hari to the tournament. As K-1 legends grew old, Hari represented the new generation with his bad boy personality and his Mike Tyson-like personality in and out of the ring. Trouble with the law outside the ring and an explosive KO machine in the ring. In the end, Cro Cop, a living legend won the 2012 WGP in his home country. So today we have GLORY being the best Kickboxing organization in the world featuring all the big names to continue the sport.