FUKUOKA, Japan -- Twenty-six-year-old kyokushin fighter
Held on the Japanese southern island of Kyushu, the event comprised the eight-man Japan Grand Prix 08 elimination tournament; a Superfight between veteran superstar
The Super Heavyweight title match featured Defending K-1 World GP and Super Heavyweight Champion Schilt. The 6-foot-11, 282-pound Dutch seidokaikan karate fighter stepped in against one of K-1's most respected veterans, LeBanner of France.
Fighting from a southpaw stance, LeBanner answered Schilt's early low kicks in kind, but Schilt soon tagged him with a right straight punch. With his 22cm/9" height advantage and long reach, Schilt made it look easy -- leaning forward to casually throw the right, closing and pulling his opponent's head downward to deliver the knee. A spunky LeBanner kept his guard relaxed, putting aggressiveness ahead of defense, ever flirting with danger. The Frenchman closed repeatedly, landing a left to come out of the first round ahead on one judge's card. In the second, Schilt went with low kicks and approached with the fists, scoring with both the right and left. LeBanner meanwhile struggled to get through, often leading with the left, but not finding his distance against the Tower of Power.
Schilt put in punches and the knee and spun around a back kick that just missed to start the third. LeBanner continued to press, leading again with the left, getting the crowd into it when he put a punch up on Schilt's collarbone. LeBanner's pesky low kicks were part of his in-and-out strategy here, but these did not appear to bother the Dutch behemoth, who gave back more than he got during the exchanges. As the clock timed out, Schilt simply stayed back and waited, hoisting the big knee when his opponent got close.
Schilt by majority decision. With the victory, Schilt both defended his belt and set a new K-1 record -- his 14 consecutive victories bettering the string of 13 wins Aerts put together in '93-'96.
"I want to thank all my fans," said Schilt from center ring, "and send a special thanks to my fans in Holland, because I know they're all watching. I also want to thank my wife and my son, because they give me great inspiration!"
"I've defended my belt three times now," said Schilt in his post-fight interview, "and I think people expect me to always win by KO. But that's difficult, I just concentrate to win the fight, that's my goal. I've heard that Badr Hari wants to fight me, if that's set up then I'm happy to meet him, but he should know that I won't give away my belt so easily!"
The K-1 Heavyweight title match presented a study in contrasts. Defending Champion Hari of Morocco is an explosive fighter whose long reach, aggressive style and singular bravado have made him a fan favorite. His opponent was one of the most technical K-1 fighters, soft-spoken kyokushin stylist Feitosa of Brazil.
Hari surprised Feitosa early with a couple of quick left straight punches, and continued to strike to effect, pounding in a punishing right to the midsection. Feitosa tested with the low kicks, but Hari stayed back to avoid these before approaching aggressively with the fists, a right high kick, a knee and then more fists to prompt a standing count. Feitosa was rattled, and after resumption Hari coolly laid in once again with punches, landing a terrific hook to finish the Brazilian. Nothing short of spectacular, this performance by the 23 year-old Moroccan, who immediately went to Feitosa's corner and bowed in respect.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls," said an elated Hari from center ring, "I want to thank my trainer, my sparring partner, my girlfriend and I want to thank all you fans who supported me. I'll keep doing my best, showing you great knockouts. This is the new generation of K-1, and there's more to come!"
"I said I would win by KO, and I did, so I'm very happy with that," said Hari in post-fight interview. "I think I've shown I'm the number one K-1 Heavyweight, and now my goal is to also win the Super Heavyweight belt. I'm ready, and I believe I can KO Semmy Schilt!"
In the evening's Superfight, it was a couple of veterans -- Aerts and Nortje.
They call Aerts "The Lumberjack," but now he also carries the honorific "Mr. K-1." Incredibly, the 38-year-old Dutch kickboxer has competed in every K-1 WGP Final since the sport's inception in 1993, winning it all three times. Victories last autumn over
Nortje, meanwhile, is a former South African Super Heavyweight kickboxing champion. At 6-foot-11, 311 pounds, "The Giant" is always a threat.
Aerts threw the jab, tossed in low kicks and launched a couple of high kicks in the first round. But Nortje's defense was sound and the Giant responded with a couple of hard low kicks of his own to stay close. In the second, Aerts came in again, pounding punches into his opponent's midsection. His guard low, Nortje met Aerts' approaches with the uppercut, and got through nicely with a left straight midway through.
In the third, Aerts connected with a couple of straight punches, opening a nasty cut over the Giant's left eye to prompt a check by the ringside doctor. Nortje was cleared to continue, but now Aerts moved in more aggressively with the fists, making good contact to prompt another doctor's check. After resumption, Nortje lumbered forward to engage his opponent, but again found himself on the receiving end of a barrage of punches. Aerts now fired a right high kick to the face and followed with several tight hooks and that was it -- the referee stepped in to stop the fight. An impressive victory for Aerts.
"Six months ago I hurt my knee at the World Grand Prix Final," said Aerts afterward. "So I started slow tonight, testing myself. But by the second round I'd found my rhythm. I feel great, I'm ready to fight in September, and I hope my opponent is Semmy Schilt!"
Schilt's dance card is filling up quickly.
Prominent on the card was the K-1 Japan Grand Prix 2008, one of four major regional tournaments in this year's K-1 World GP Series. This followed the classic K-1 eight-man elimination format -- four quarterfinal bouts advancing a quartet of winners to the semis, the victors there meeting in the final.
In the first of the quarterfinals it was a couple of Japanese -- veteran seidokaikan fighter
Although he has captured the Japan GP Crown a record four times, Musashi, 35, faces increasing challenges from emerging Japanese fighters. Maeda, undefeated in four K-1 bouts including a win this April over Samoan slugger
From the bell, Musashi held center ring while Maeda circled. The pair exchanged low kicks through the round, neither getting anything dangerous across, although Musashi just missed with a couple of high kicks. In the second, Musashi cut off the ring, closing with punches which Maeda answered in kind. Some spirited exchanges here, but neither fighter making full contact -- a quick Musashi high kick one of the better strikes of the round.
In the third the pace picked up -- Musashi, with a relaxed guard, taking the initiative with the fists and getting some good stuff through. Maeda, however, was great with his counters, landing a dandy right straight punch. Further, Maeda's hard inside low kicks were taking their toll on Musashi's leg. A close contest -- one judge saw a draw, but the other two gave it to Maeda by the narrowest of margins.
The second quarterfinal featured two young Japanese fighters with strong karate backgrounds --
Both fighters had their guards high to start, testing with kicks and straight punches, closing to work the body blows and uppercuts from the clinch. Noda made some noise in the latter part of the first round, getting the better of the punch exchanges and pumping up the knee, although Sato made estimable contact with a left straight punch. In the second the pair got close and mixed it up, Sato scoring with a large number of unanswered hooks. The third saw Noda put his opponent against the ropes and lay in, but Sato's defense was sound, he soon began to reply, rattling Noda with an uppercut. Both fighters were fatigued and battered as this war of attrition wound down.
Another close call, one judge calling it a draw, two favoring Sato to give him a semifinal date with Maeda.
First up in the second tournament bracket were Ewerton Teixeira and Japanese kickboxer
In the last of the quarterfinals, Japanese karate stylist
Ackah with a strong start -- leading with the right to put Nakasako on the ropes, then bringing up the knee. Nakasako weathered the attack, but aside from a couple of low kicks was less than belligerent as the round progressed. In the second, Nakasako had some success landing a high kick, Ackah responding again with the fists before things slowed down, both fighters unwilling to commit.
Ackah in quickly with the fists to start the third, following with a high kick that was ably blocked. Toe-to-toe now, punches were exchanged but most either missed or were blocked. Nakasako stung his opponent's leg with a low kick midway through the third, the remainder of the fight otherwise lackluster. Ackah was grimacing as he limped back to his corner after the bell, and the cards had it for Nakasako by unanimous decision.
In the first of the semifinals Maeda took on Sato. Both fighters tested the distance with low kicks in the early going before stepping in for an exchange of punches from which Maeda took an edge, sinking a right overhand and straight punch. In the second, the speedy Maeda peppered his opponent with punches, although Sato only just missed with an uppercut and a hook on counters. Sato tossed a lazy low kick to start the third, and once again Maeda darted in with the quick fists. Sato saw a chance when he planted a powerful left uppercut and a couple of rights, but Maeda showed a good chin and stamina to keep coming back. A thrilling contest, the win going to Maeda by unanimous decision.
In the second semifinal it was Teixeira and Nakasako.
Teixeira with kicks to start, Nakasako leaning in with straight punches but unable to find his distance. Tentative strikes and only occasional combinations through most of the first round. Teixeira sailed a spinning back kick short early in the second before scoring a down with a right low kick that stung Nakasako's left knee. With Nakasako in distress, Teixeira focused his attacks, planting low kicks one after the other on the left leg. Nakasako struggled to push forward with the punches, and paid the price when closing, but made it out of the round.
Teixeira varied his attacks in the third while continuing to give special attention to Nakasako's lead leg. To his credit, Nakasako crusaded through the pain, staying on his feet and in the fight right to the final bell. The unanimous decision, however, went to Teixeira.
And so it was Teixeira and Maeda in the Main Event.
After a cautious start, a Teixeira right straight punch on the counter knocked an off-balance Maeda back and into the ropes, but the Japanese fighter stayed on his feet. Ever circling, Maeda kept out of harm's way through the first, but offered little in the way of offense. In the second, Maeda opened with a low kick before resuming his circling tactic. Teixeira closed to a clinch as the action waned. The Brazilian then began to cut off the ring and launched punching attacks, making good contact with a right, although Maeda responded with a straight left to keep things close.
The third round started promisingly, the fighters exchanging punches, both making use of speed, both sound on defense. Teixeira went mostly with the left-right tight combinations, occasionally tossing in a low kick; while Maeda swung away with abandon. Teixeira clocked the Japanese fighter with a right hook, while Maeda managed only partial contact from inside.
Teixeira by unanimous decision. With his tournament win, Teixeira takes the Japan GP 2008 belt and advances to the K-1 World GP 2008 Final Elimination in Seoul on September 29.
"I want to thank kyokushin," said the beaming Brazilian afterward. "I'm happy to become the Japan Grand Prix Champion, but this is just the beginning. Now I have to train hard to become the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion!"
Asked if he was ready to take on Semmy Schilt, Teixeira smiled, "Schilt is an extremely strong fighter, I will have to practice long and hard if I'm going to compete with him!"
In the Tournament Reserve bout, Japanese fighter Taisei Ko KO'd compatriot
All bouts were fought under Official K-1 Rules, three rounds of three minutes each. The title matches, Superfight and tournament final had two possible tiebreaker rounds, the other bouts, one.
The K-1 World Grand Prix in Fukuoka attracted a crowd of 6,927 to the Fukuoka Marine Messe.