HONG KONG, August 5, 2007 — Yasuke Fujimoto took a circuitous route but arrived victorious tonight at the K-1 Asia World Grand Prix Tournament in Hong Kong. It was the second consecutive Asia GP title for the 32 year-old Japanese karate fighter.HONG KONG, August 5, 2007 — Yasuke Fujimoto took a circuitous route but arrived victorious tonight at the K-1 Asia World Grand Prix Tournament in Hong Kong. It was the second consecutive Asia GP title for the 32 year-old Japanese karate fighter.
Held at the new Asia-World Expo Arena, the event marked K-1’s first foray into Hong Kong. Featured alongside the eight-man elimination tournament were a trio of big-name Superfights.
One of Asia’s strongest K-1 competitors, the huge Hong-Man Choi of South Korea, met Trinidadian-Canadian slugger Gary Goodridge in the card’s top Superfight.
When the fighters met center ring for the referee’s pre-fight instructions, Choi towering over Goodridge, there were gasps of amazement from the crowd. Renown for overwhelming opponents in the early moments of a fight, here Goodridge struggled in vain to overcome a 28cm/11″ height disadvantage.
It wasn’t close and it didn’t last long. Goodridge circled and tossed a couple of low kicks while looking for a way in. But Choi was always in control, powering the big fists right through his opponent’s guard before putting Goodridge on the ropes and bringing up the knee to score the fight-ending down at just 1:34.
Said Choi afterwards: “This is my first time in Hong Kong and I wanted to get out there and show people that I could be aggressive from the start. What’s more, all of the other Korean fighters had lost today, so I felt I had to do something. I hope to be able to show everyone an even more improved fighting style [at the K-1 Final Elimination] in September.”
One of the most keenly-anticipated matchups on the card was a Superfight between Badr Hari of Morocco and Aussie Peter Graham. Hari’s trash talking of Graham at the press conference for last year’s K-1 WGP in Auckland escalated to punches — and when the pair met in the ring the following day Graham spun a heel hick round to shatter Hari’s jaw. Hari has since become the first fighter to win the new K-1 Heavyweight Belt, and prior to this rematch the one-time braggart sounded gracious, thanking Graham for making him “stronger, more motivated and better.” Graham, meanwhile, pledged to “help Badr to become even more mature!”
The fighters were tentative through the first round — Hari keeping his guard high and working the left jab, occasionally leading with the right, both men throwing kicks but unable to really put the hurt in. The second saw the speedy Hari stringing combinations together to effect, landing a high kick and a couple of straight punches. Graham worked low kicks and the right, but was increasingly forced to the defensive.
Hari’s long limbs were the difference in the third as he darted in all manner of strikes before downing Graham with a left straight punch to the midsection. The bout went the distance and the unanimous decision for Hari came as no surprise — more surprising was the hugs the two exchanged after the final bell. Clearly, some of the hatred had been replaced with respect.
“I didn’t have any hate for Peter, but I’m not his friend,” said Hari in his post-fight interview. “I’m a professional, I came here to fight, and I beat him. I know he talked a lot of tough things about me, like he’ll break my jaw again, but that is no problem. I just come to win and do my job. I don’t want to break somebody’s jaw. I just wanted to let him know that he was lucky last time, I was not the Badr that I am now. I just wanted to put that in his face!”
The card’s other Superfight saw Peter Aerts of Holland take on spirited Seidokaikan fighter Nicholas Pettas of Denmark. No one better personifies K-1 than Aerts, who has participated in every World GP Final since the sport’s inception in 1993 — and has won it all three times.
But Pettas has a fine skill set of his own, and made a good go of it here, taking the fight to Aerts through much of the first with body blows, kicks and combinations, and showing impressive footwork and evasions to stay out of harm’s way. In the second Aerts turned it all around, pumping in a right hook for a down that took much of the fire out of Pettas’ attacks. Soon afterward Aerts fired up a high kick that caught Pettas on the side of the head. The Dane went down and did not get up for a long while, and the spunky Aerts, looking nothing like a 37 year-old, had the convincing win.
“It was a while since I fought Nicholas,” said Aerts, “but he showed a good fight, he showed good heart. He really wanted to fight, and he fought like a man, not like Bob Sapp! I had a hard time finding my rhythm at the beginning of the fight, but I’m happy that I won, but I think I let him attack me too much. A win by points doesn’t matter, but I won by knockout, so I hope the fans like that.”
At the center of it all today was the K-1 Asia GP — an eight-man elimination tournament, with the winner advancing to this year’s K-1 Final Elimination.
First up in the quarterfinal bouts was Japan’s foremost K-1 veteran, Musashi; and South Korean tae kwon do fighter Yong Soo Park.
Park let the feet fly from the start, and Musashi had a tough time closing. A Park low kick hit Musashi hard below the belt and the Japanese fighter was given a minute to recover, while Park was issued a warning. Incredibly, almost immediately after resumption Musashi caught a second boot to the orchises and this time went down writhing. Ringside officials now gave a yellow card and one-point deduction to Park and a five-minutes of recovery time to Musashi. Alas, he could not recompose, so both men were sent to their dressing rooms and the fight was resumed after the fourth quarterfinal.
At resumption, the time remaining in the first round played out fairly uneventfully, both fighters testing with kicks. But things got weird at the start of the second — Musashi initially reluctant to oblige Park’s extended arm for the usual touching of gloves, then rocked with three quick middle kicks when he did. Now miffed, Musashi went on the offensive, and in no time had Park on the run.
A high kick put Park off balance, and Musashi followed with a left hook and then a right, both of which landed hard across Park’s jaw. The Korean’s legs went out and he crumbled gracelessly to the canvas. Maybe it was the glove-touching incident or perhaps a lingering pain in his loins, but for whatever reason Musashi was compelled to move in over his stuporous opponent and commence flailing and crowing before his cornermen pulled him away. The KO win advanced Musashi to the semifinals.
The second tournament matchup saw Wang Qiang of China make his K-1 debut against Randy Kim of South Korea.
Spurred on by the partisan crowd, Qiang worked the fists well, chasing Kim round the ring. Qiang kept the pressure on, and Kim looked fatigued by the end of the first. Qiang dominated again through the second, bringing low kicks and tight combinations to drop his opponent at 1:22. The battered and beaten Kim could not make the count, and so Qiang had a spot in the semifinals.
Yusuke Fujimoto took his first step on the road to victory in the third tournament quarterfinal, against Chinese sanda fighter Shi Hong Jian.
Jian did a good job of keeping Fujimoto outside through a first marred by clinching. Both fighters had their chances, but Jian’s 15cm/6″ height advantage, high floating guard and nimble leading leg served him well here. But Fujimoto seized an opportunity midway through the second, answering a Jian low kick with a right hook for a down. The Japanese fighter closed up some in the third, firing in the occasional low kicks and again answering Jian’s advances with the right to maintain his edge. A unanimous decision and trip to the semis for Fujimoto.
Sentoryu, a former sumo wrestler fighting for the United States, stepped in against K-1 veteran Taiei Kin of Japan in the last of the tournament quarterfinals.
This one came in at less than two minutes. Sentoryu rumbled forward sumo-style, his punches matching his steps, but Kin was easily able to read and arrest with low kicks. Halfway through the first, Kin threw a hard kick up to Sentoru’s head to get the KO win.
In the first semifinal it was Fujimoto and Kin. The two traded low kicks through the first round, both looking for openings but failing to put fist past guard. Things took a dramatic turn in the second when a seemingly innocuous Kin knee to the midsection sent Fujimoto to the mat. He beat the count but was shaky on his feet, and Kin exploited this by pumping up another knee to the jaw to send Fujimoto tumbling once again. A huge upset win for Kin, who, at this point, appeared to have secured a spot in the final.
The second semi, between Musashi and Qiang, was yet another controversial fight. Early on, Qiang put Musashi in the corner and brought up a couple of knees to trunks. Musashi fell in pain, and in a flash his corner threw the towel. But after lengthy ringside consultations, it was announced that because Qiang would be penalized for a low blow, the towel-throwing was voided. Musashi was given an extended period of time to recover, but could not. The crowd voiced boisterous disapproval at the next official announcement — Qiang had left the ring and so had forfeited, therefore Musashi was the winner.
After a 15 minute intermission, the K-1 Rules Committee announced that Musashi was unable to continue due his injury, and Kin likewise could not continue due an injury to his face. Officials set the final pairing as Fujimoto versus Qiang.
When Fujimoto and Qiang were introduced, the former was met with near-silence, the latter given a hearty reception. Qiang was the aggressor from the bell, grabbing and throwing his opponent — a maneuver that unfortunately is not permitted in K-1. There was a good deal of clinching and pushing here, Qiang’s chasing Fujimoto round the ring eliciting approval from the stands. To his credit the vastly more-experienced Fujimoto refused to be drawn into a wide-open scrap, and instead maintained a calculated distance, keeping his guard high and waiting for chances.
The strategy paid off, as the rash Qiang soon found himself out of position and on the wrong end of a devastating straight punch. Qiang went down and barely beat the count, but was now severely compromised. This was Fujimoto’s chance and he took it, closing rapidly with a front kick to knock the wobbly Qiang off balance, and when the guard was gone pounding in an overhand right then a left hook to finish him off.
It wasn’t exactly the result the crowd had hoped for, but they afforded Fujimoto a warm round of applause regardless, even as a distressed Qiang bowed humbly in apology for his loss.
With his tournament victory Fujimoto hoisted the Asia GP trophy for a second time and more importantly earned a spot in the K-1 Final Elimination, a 16-man, one-match tournament in Seoul on September 29 that will determine the WGP ’07 Final Eight.
“Well, a lot went down tonight, but in the end lady luck was in my corner,” said Fujimoto after his victory. “I do have to say that my fight with Taiei Kin was really tough. After my first fight I had run out of stamina, while my opponent had breezed through the first round. But for my last fight I put a good finish on it with that KO. I’ll take a couple of days off, and then start practicing again. Last year I got taken out in the Final Elimination, but I hope to make it a few steps farther this time!”
In the tournament reserve fight, Erhan Dennis of Turkey used speed and mobility to stay away from Dong Wook Kim’s fists before felling the rotund South Korea with low kicks early in the second for the win.
Three undercard contests pitted Hong Kong fighters Man Kit Wong, Hoi Kwan Tsang and Kam Ho Chak against Malaysians Charles Suresh Selauraj, Loong Shueng Lim and Chee Leong Lim, respectively. To the delight of the earlybirds in the stands, the local boys won all three matches — with Man Kit Wong’s lively and acrobatic style particularly impressive.
The K-1 World Grand Prix ’07 in Hong Kong drew a sellout crowd of 10,634 to the Asia-World Expo Arena. It was same-day broadcast in Japan on the Fuji TV network. Delayed broadcasts will bring the event to 135 countries — for scheduling information contact local providers. As always, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for complete coverage of this and all K-1 events.