TAIPEI -- Russian kickboxer Ruslan Karaev, 25, captured the K-1 Asia GP 2008 Championship; while Remy Bonjasky KO'd Volk Atajev and Zabit Samedov upset Ray Sefo by split decision at Sunday's K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Taipei.
In the evening's Main Event, two-time K-1 World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland stepped in against Russian power-puncher Volk Atajev.
Bonjasky confessed before the match the he was largely unfamiliar with his opponent. "I've only seen 30 seconds of one of his fights on You Tube, and it's difficult to fight a guy you don't know," said the "Flying Gentleman." Atajev reckoned he could exploit this: "If Remy doesn't know me, but I know him and his techniques -- the flying knees and so on -- maybe that gives me an edge?" Maybe, and maybe not.
With his guard high and close, Atajev threw the low kicks to begin. The Russian landed a weak spinning back kick to Bonjasky's midsection, but seconds later launched a similar attack with greater gusto, this time grazing Bonjasky's head. Bonjasky launched high kicks, but the Russian blocked these and responded capably with body blows.
In the second Bonjasky tossed in some body blows of his own, then low kicks, and began to test with the knee. The fighters stood toe to toe, Atajev repeatedly going to the body, Bonjasky hoisting the knee then falling back to throw the low kicks.
Bonjasky continued constructing combinations with low kicks to start the third. Picking up the pace, he began slapping low kicks in from both sides and dashing forward with the fists, chasing his opponent across the ring. With Atajev in full retreat, Bonjasky fired up a left high kick and followed with a right flying knee that made full contact, sending Atajev down hard. A KO win capping a perfect performance by Bonjasky -- the technical start developing to third round crescendo and spectacular finish.
The Taiwanese fans showed Bonjasky a lot of love as he left the ring, and the fighter returned the feeling in his post-fight interview: "I love Taiwan, it is a great place and the people are very nice. I'm happy I won, it doesn't always work out that way, but luckily I was able to set up my flying knee!"
In another Superfight it was affable K-1 veteran Ray Sefo New Zealand and Zabit Samedov, a gritty Belorussian kickboxer. Sefo came to the ring riding the longest losing streak of his K-1 career -- four bouts dating back to March 2007. Samedov, meanwhile, had won six of his last eight. A longtime fan of Sefo, Samedov wasn't going to let admiration interfere with his goal: "I like Ray, but I also want to knock him out!"
Samedov started with the kicks, while Sefo closed with the jab then tucked in a couple of body blows. Too much clinching through the first round, although Samedov and Sefo both landed high kicks -- Sefo doing a better job of blocking when the foot came to his head. Sefo closed again in the second, getting a right uppercut in before Samedov was cautioned for clinching. Samedov took a page from Sefo's book midway through, dropping his guard and monkeying, then tagged Sefo when he did the same. A nice move by Samedov later in the round, ducking forward to throw the left than following with an overhand right that caught Sefo. Spirited action and good sportsmanship here -- the crowd loving it.
In the third both fighters let the fists fly -- Sefo good with the hooks, Samedov making contact with an acrobatic right straight and a high kick. More clinching followed, for which Samedov was shown the yellow card and docked one point. Samedov in with a right uppercut late in the round, Sefo chasing him down with a right at the bell.
One judge liked Sefo and two saw a draw, and so this one went to an extra round. An early exchange of low kicks to start, Samedov scoring with a left hook. Sefo's tight combinations were working, and he landed a right uppercut and more low kicks at the midway point. Samedov just missed with a high kick then planted a spinning back kick at the bell. The judges still couldn't make a call, the fighters now even on all cards, and so a second and final tiebreaker round was prescribed.
Samedov with an early right hook and Sefo with an uppercut, the blocking sound but the power diminishing as both men fought past their usual distance. Samedov landed another left and threw the quick low kicks to effect, while a fatigued Sefo struggled to match.
A split decision, the win going to Samedov by the narrowest of margins.
Sefo was less than pleased with the result: "I feel upset, and I feel ripped off. What more can I say? I feel like I won the first three rounds, and then he got the yellow card. And when we went into extension rounds he just ran and clinched when I got close. What is that about? But most of all I want to apologize to the fans."
Not surprisingly, Samedov had a different perspective: "He didn't hurt me and I was able to get away from most of his attacks, I feel just fine about the decision."
The third Superfight featured 23 year-old Japanese kickboxer Junichi Sawayashiki, who scored a shocking upset over K-1 veteran Jerome LeBanner last year; and Romania's rising star -- the meat-and-potatoes Catalin Morosanu, a 26 year-old former rugby player.
Due to delays in transit, Morosanu had arrived in Taipei just 24 hours before fight time. Nevertheless he dominated here, marching in from the opening bell with punching attacks while adeptly interjecting hard low kicks to control the distance. Sawayashiki attempted to get through on counters, and landed a knee -- but otherwise the Japanese fighter was simply outmuscled. Morosanu scored three downs in quick succession -- a left hook, a middle kick, and the decisive left hook to the temple to end it at just 2:04.
A superb power performance from a fellow who should have been hopelessly jet-lagged.
A spot at this year's K-1 World GP Final 16 Tournament was up for grabs in the K-1 Asia GP 2008. This was a classic K-1 elimination tournament -- eight fighters meeting in quarterfinal bouts, the winners advancing to a pair of semifinals, the victors there going head-to-head in the final. Thus, the man who would be this year's Asia GP Champion had to prevail in three bouts.
The first of the quarterfinals saw the always-dangerous Ruslan Karaev, whose technique, power and speed won him the World GP 2005 in Las Vegas; stepping in against the always-tough Japanese karate fighter Tatsufumi Tomihira, who brings a big heart and a never-say-die attitude to the ring.
Karaev closed with the jab through the first, following with the right cross, all the while showing good evasions and blocking. Tomihira connected with low kicks, but Karaev was better in the round with a spinning back kick and a left straight punch. Light on his feet, the speedy Russian sunk some solid punches early in the second, and now Tomihira began to seek refuge in the clinch.
Speed and stamina are a deadly combination, and Karaev had both working in the second. As Tomihira approached, Karaev repeatedly stopped him, scoring points with a high kick and a couple of right uppercuts. Karaev continued to control in the third, sending Tomihira stumbling backward with a left and pumping the uppercuts from the clinch. Hurt time for Tomihira, who went down for a count when a left straight caught him off-balance, then fell to punches again just seconds after resumption.
A KO win for Karaev and a trip to the semifinals.
The second quarterfinal was a "David versus Goliath" matchup, with YoungHyun Kim of South Korea taking on Saiseelek Nor-Seepun of Thailand. The bout marked the biggest-ever height differential in a K-1 fight -- at 216cm/7'1", Kim towers a full 42cm/16 inches over Nor-Seepun. (Not to mention the 73kg/161-pound weight difference.)
From the start Nor-Seepun wisely circled, but Kim did a decent job of cutting off the ring, pushing his opponent against the ropes and corralling him into the corner and laying in with the punches. The spunky Nor-Seepun meanwhile darted in the low kicks and taunted his opponent to the delight of the crowd. Kim swept with low kicks to send his opponent down, but these were ruled slips. In the second, Nor-Seepun again snuck in with low kicks, also connecting with a body blow and a right overhand that incredibly found its way up to Kim's chin. The cleanest strike of the round was a Kim right, but Nor-Seepun shook this off.
More inspired kicking attacks from Nor-Seepun in the third round, and another right overhand; Kim meanwhile ineffectual until a straight punch got in, Nor-Seepun going down but the referee ruling it a slip. A closer contest than might have been expected, the unanimous decision going to Kim.
Accomplished kyokushin karate fighter Aleksandr Pichkunov of Russia met Nobu Hayashi of Japan in the first of the second bracket bouts. Hayashi, a karate fighter who has trained extensively in Holland, had not competed in K-1 for three years.
The pair traded low kicks and tested with jabs through the first, both making contact but neither landing a bruising blow. Pichkunov picked it up in the second, delivering a front kick to the chops and sailing a spinning back kick just short. Hayashi threaded through a few solid punches, while Pichkunov replied with the left straight and deft leg strikes. Hayashi brought the guard up and barreled in with punching attacks in the third, while a defensive Pichkunov picked up some points with tight hooks and a high kick.
One judge called it for Pichkunov, but two saw a draw, and so the contest went to a tiebreaker round. Here Pichkunov landed a high kick and a couple of surgical lefts to claim victory.
Another karate fighter, Makoto Uehara of Japan, took on South Korean tae kwon do stylist Yong Soo Park in the last of the tournament bouts.
Park launched high kicks through the early going, while Uehara stepped in quickly with the right cross, both fighters making contact. Uehara responded to a spinning back kick with a front kick and Park fell -- Uehara protesting when the blow was ruled to be below the belt. The Japanese fighter took of a number of kicks in the first, going down after catching one in the midsection, but this was also ruled a slip. Park turned on the aggression here, although Uehara rallied somewhat with the fists late in the round. A spirited exchange of punches early in the third, Uehara getting some good stuff through, chasing his opponent into the corner, Park back with the kicks to keep it close.
A tie on all three cards, prompting a tiebreaker round. A Uehara right hook made contact early, before the referee cautioned both fighters for lack of attacks. Uehara heeded the warning -- seconds later, with Park raising the right leg to throw a kick, he hammered in a mighty left hook, clocking the Korean on the jaw and sending him to the mat in a mess.
A KO win for Uehara, and a chance to meet Pichkunov in the semifinals.
It was Ruslan Karaev versus Young Hyun Kim in the first semi. This one didn't take long at all -- Karaev stepped in and pounded the punches up to the Korean behemoth's face -- three lefts, a right and then another left. The look in his eyes said Kim didn't like this one bit. Another Karaev left, then a right uppercut, and that adage -- the bigger they are, the harder they fall -- well, it's true. Kim crashed like a redwood tree. He beat the count, but as the ringside doctor dabbed the blood trickling from his nose, it was decided Kim couldn't continue. Karaev to the final.
Before the second semi, it was announced that due to an injury sustained in his first bout, Makoto Uehara could not continue the tournament. Under K-1 rules, the winner of the reserve fight, Vaughn Anderson, was parachuted into the tournament to face Pichkunov.
A Taiwan-based Canadian multidisciplinary fighter, Vaughn "Blood" Anderson had looked good in the reserve fight, putting in one-two punch combinations to score a down then following with more of the same for a referee stop and first-round KO win over Japanese boxer Jun Ito.
Fighting from a southpaw stance, Anderson quickly slid in with punches, and Pichkunov, who might have regarded this fight as a walk in Gorky Park, realized he would have to work for the win. Pichkunov now took the initiative, bearing down on his opponent with the fists before firing up a high kick that kissed Anderson on the right cheek. The Russian followed with a flurry of punches to the head to put Anderson on the canvas. To his credit, Anderson got up and back into it, but as the clapper sounded, a punishing Pichkunov left hook ended the Canadian's Cinderella story.
The all-Russian Asia GP tournament final pitted Pichkunov against Karaev.
An aggressive start for Karaev, closing with the fists and spinning round a back kick that went just wide. Karaev kept the pressure up, putting his opponent into the corner and laying in with the fists and a high kick before catching a low blow on a counter. After a short recovery-time pause, Karaev came back angrier than ever. He led with the left and followed with a right, pushing Pichkunov first to the ropes then into the corner, ducking a straight punch before slamming in a right uppercut and a left hook. In a second, Pichkunov crumpled to the canvas, where he stayed, unable to beat the count.
With his victory Karaev takes the K-1 Asia GP 2008 Championship, and advances to this year's K-1 WGP Final 16, September 27 in Seoul.
"I didn't think I was going to win it," said Karaev afterward "I had a hard time finding my pace. I didn't feel warmed up enough going into the first fight, and wasn't able to throw the combinations that I wanted to. I guess there was also fatigue. But I won, so I'm very happy!"
Also on the card were a couple of fights featuring Taiwanese sanda stylists. A traditional Chinese martial arts form, sanda is the most popular fightsport in Taiwan, with rules not unlike shoot boxing.
Yang Tong Hsiung, the 1st Sanda Tournament and "King of Sanda" 2005 Champion,. battled Aussie kickboxer Matt Campbell in a thrilling contest. Unbridled aggression from Hsiung from the get-go, firing in one punch after another then literally running down his opponent. Campbell however showed a good chin, evasions and blocking, and when he got the chance, landed some fine kicks. But with the partisan crowd behind him, Hsiung was a human tsunami. Several times he landed the right hook. In the second, Hsiung worked the combinations, setting up with low kicks and again finding the opportunity to plant the right punch. Campbell threw the right himself in the third, and put a good knee up to the midsection. But Hsiung was the faster and hungrier fighter, and reaped the unanimous decision.
Another Taiwanese sanda fighter, Wang Chung Yaun, stepped in against 17-year-old kickboxer Mick Mittiga of Australia.
Yuan got his opponent in the corner early, but Mittiga weathered the punches and escaped unscathed. Just seconds later, however, Yuan once again got his opponent into the corner, and this time pounded three good punches in to get the down. Mittiga could not beat the count, and Yuan had the KO win.
Post-event, K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa addressed the media: "It was our first time here in Taiwan, and it was a great success. Without a doubt Remy Bonjasky was the MVP. He went against a guy like Atajev, that you'd never expect to fall down, and knocked him out with his flying knee. We had so much response from the media that it's been overwhelming, and the crowd was fantastic."
All bouts were fought under Official K-1 Rules, three rounds of three minutes each, with one possible tiebreaker round; two in the Superfights and tournament final.
The K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Taipei attracted an estimated 10,000 fans to the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center. It was broadcast live across Japan on Fuji TV and in South Korea on the CJ Media Network.