MONDAY, December 10th, 2001, AT 9:50 AM, PT

Mark Hunt
Crowned 2001 K-1 Grand Prix Champion

By Alex MacDonald - IKF Japan

When opportunity knocks, Mark Hunt knocks back, knocks down and knocks out. Hunt won the K-1 Oceania with three knock outs then got eliminated in the Melbourne GP by Ernesto Hoost. He didn't even qualify for the Fukuoka Repechage tournament, but when Filipovic withdrew he got a chance. There he lost to Ray Sefo who was unable to continue and opportunity knocked for the last time. He clobbered Adam Watt to qualify for the Grand Prix and hasn't looked back since. Grand Prix wins over Jerome LeBanner, Stefan Leko and Francisco Filho mean that Mark Hunt is not only a K-1 superstar but also the first new champion since 1997. He joins Branko Cikatic (1993), Peter Aerts (1994, 1995, 1998), Andy Hug (1996) and Ernesto Hoost (1997, 1999, 2000) to become the fifth kickboxer to win the K-1 Grand Prix Tournament. Here's the bout by bout recap;

Ernesto Hoost vs. Stefan Leko
(The Finesse Fight)

Hoost and Leko are two of the best all round heavyweight kickboxers in the world. They put 'boxing' in the word 'kickboxing'. The contrast that made the fight dramatic was the fact that Hoost, in the twilight of his career, was trying to build on his already impressive legacy while Leko, in the dawn of his, was trying to overcome years of bad luck.

This classic young lion-old lion battle ended with the old lion making no errors defensively and shutting out the young lion. To make matters worse for Leko, he was hit while throwing a high kick and lost his footing. The referee originally called it a slip then changed his mind and called it a down. As quick a Leko was, he just couldn't solve the puzzle in time or make up for the spread in points. Hoost by decision.

Jerome LeBanner vs. Mark Hunt
(The Impact Match)

Lots of fighters have knockouts on their records. These two however send doctors scrambling into the ring. Ask anyone from whom they would least like to receive a free punch and they'll invariably say LeBanner or Hunt.

Last year, as the winner of the 2000 Oceania tournament, Hunt got his first trip to Japan. In his first match, he met K-1 superstar Jerome LeBanner and by his own account was star struck in more ways than one. This year the repeat Oceania champion surprised everyone by choosing to meet LeBanner again when others were available.

Jerome LeBanner was the favorite to win not only this match but the whole tournament. He even modeled for the official K-1 poster rather than reigning K-1 champion Ernesto Hoost. Jerome is 13-0 (1 no contest) in the last two years thanks to his punching power. It was therefore interesting to see him throw 14 kicks in the first round. His obvious game plan was to beat Hunt on points and it was working. Hunt however got through with one solid punch in the second round and followed up with a barrage until the French giant collapsed. Hunt by KO-2.

Alexei Ignashov vs. Nicholas Pettas
(The Styles Clash )

Ignashov has faced some high quality competition in his short career. His claim to fame is beating Lloyd Van Dams twice, the first time by knockout. Knowing this put a tremendous amount of pressure on Pettas as it would anyone who depends primarily on low kicks. The pressure on Alexei himself was that, as a classic muay thai style fighter, he claims karateka are unpredictable. There was some evidence of Pettas doing the unexpected; he threw low kicks in pairs with Ignashov checking the first and taking the second. The fight was decided when the Red Scorpion using his hold-and-sting strategy broke Pettas' nose with a knee, thereby stopping the fight. Ignashov by TKO-2.

Peter Aerts vs. Francisco Filho
(The Rebirth Bout)

Both Peter Aerts (three time K-1 Grand Prix champion) and Francisco Filho (Kyokushin Karate Champion) entered this tournament mid-slump. For Aerts, it goes back to the 1999 Grand Prix when a revamped LeBanner knocked the reigning champion out in one round. After that, losses to Cyril Abidi, Mirko Filipovic and Stefan Leko coupled with unimpressive wins over Nobu Hayashi, Noboru Uchida, and Maurice Smith, created the need for Aerts to prove he is still a top contender. For Filho, it was more a case of hot and cold. He was knocked cold by LeBanner, fought hot in the 2000 Block B tournament, then showed up cold in the 2000 Grand Prix. This year he was frigid in the Las Vegas GP and lukewarm in the Fukuoka Repechage tournament. He too had something to prove.

Filho threw 13 low kicks in the first round and 14 in the second, the kind that you can hear anywhere in Tokyo Dome. With 40 seconds remaining in the first round Aerts' left foot started to swell and by the end of the second, even he had to accept that heart alone wasn't enough to win. Unfortunately, Aerts will have to endure one more L on his record. Filho by TKO-2.

Hoost receives a doctor stop.
Suffering an injury nearly identical to fellow Dutchman Aerts, Hoost was forced to withdraw. With Aerts and LeBanner also out, this meant that not only a new champion would be crowned but that both finalists would be first timers. Stefan Leko was then set to test his speed against Mark Hunt.

Semi Finals
Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Leko

Hunt is not undefeated. He has lost fights before. The formula is simple; don't get greedy, hit and run, and win on points. Power punchers also have ways to win on points though. As Hunt demonstrated, scoring two knockdowns in a three round fight creates a point spread that is impossible to recover. The second was another case of being tagged while kicking and Leko was livid at the referee's call... with reason but without avail. Hunt by decision.

Francisco Filho vs. Alexei Ignashov
Ignashov undoubtedly felt very confident entering the ring for this fight. He'd beaten Lloyd Van Dams twice and just stopped Pettas. All he had to do was stick to the usual game plan. Filho, however, suffered the indignity of twice fighting poorly against Sergei Ivanovich, Ignashov's stablemate. This time he was better prepared. The Brazilian scored his low kicks, landed his overhand rights and held off the knees. By the third round, the Belarussian was warned for stalling and the final decision meant that he would never match Aerts' record of winning the Grand Prix at 23 years of age. Filho by decision.

Mark Hunt vs. Francisco Filho

Each came with their own game plans. Filho would keep his hands up and throw low kicks in spite of the fact that they had lost some of their snap in the two previous fights. Hunt, it surprisingly turns out, had no intention of headhunting; he was going to work the body. In the first round, Filho threw 10 low kicks to Hunt's 6 body blows. In the second round, Filho picked the pace up to 15 low kicks and Hunt responded with 9 body blows. In the third, Filho was warned for inactivity and the low kicks dropped to 9 while the New Zealander's body strikes increased to 11. The judges then called the fight a draw and in the overtime round, Filho was warned again for inactivity as he only produced a paltry 4 low kicks. Hunt, on the other hand, attacked the body 15 times en route to a $400,000 payday. The judges reached an easy unanimous decision, Mark Hunt of New Zealand, 2001 K-1 Grand Prix Tournament Champion.

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