MONDAY, December 9th, 2003, AT 4:30 PM, PT

Ernesto Hoost
Wins 2002 K-1 Grand Prix!

By Alex MacDonald, IKF Japan

The K-1 has crowned Ernesto Hoost for an unprecedented 4th time. Unfortunately, circumstances leading up to and happening during the event may overshadow his success and leave fans thinking that 10th anniversary Grand Prix on December 7th was the strangest of all.

Opening Round
Peter Aerts vs. Ray Sefo

These two fought once before in 2000. At that time, Aerts was the most feared heavyweight high kicker in the world. Against Sefo however, he didn't go head hunting but instead adopted an in-out strategy that primarily targeted the legs.
Now two years later, Sefo's career has skyrocketed while Aerts has been struggling against lower caliber fighters. This fight would tell us if the opposing directions their careers have taken were enough to give us a different outcome from the first fight.
The first round saw both fighters throwing hard low kicks and by the end of the round it looked like a sharper Aerts was starting to take control. In the second round, it was obvious that Aerts was targeting Sefo's legs and the New Zealander made a few rushes that impressed the crowd but not Aerts who stuck to his effective game plan. Most fans know when Sefo is hurting; he nods and smiles. In the third round, he even started cheering as Aerts landed clean punches and set up chopping leg kicks. Sefo's only response was a bit of showboating and the odd rush.
When the final bell sounded, spectators knew they had witnessed a Peter Aerts they hadn't seen since the last time he fought Sefo. Unfortunately for Peter, his winning performance didn't make it to the scorecards and his chance of winning the Grand Prix a 4th time eluded him once again. With this win, Ray Sefo evened his score with Aerts (1-1) and moved into the semi-finals. Sefo by split decision.

Ernesto Hoost vs. Bob Sapp
American Bob Sapp (200cm 170kg - 374 lbs) made his first appearance with a loss to Tsuyoshi Nakasako, then with a win over Cyril Abidi and finally in October with a win over Ernesto Hoost to qualify for the K-1 Grand Prix. He was originally matched up against Sem Schilt of the Netherlands who beat Michael McDonald. However, a rumor surfaced on the internet that Schilt was out and that Hoost was in. A few days after the posting of the rumor, Schilt fought Antonio Nogueria on a Pride (MMA) event and later that week the K-1 organization made a statement that Schilt had damaged his shoulder, an injury that would require at least three weeks to recover. The strings were apparently pulled and Hoost had a chance for revenge against Sapp and a shot at an unparalleled 4th K-1 Grand Prix title.
The first round opened with Sapp initiating his usual rush and Hoost responding with everything from leg kicks to body punches to head hunting. The most tender spot seemed to be the body of this 170kg giant and Mr. Perfect picked his shot and downed Sapp. Hoost continued to dominate in the second round but when going to the body he caught a 1-2 haymaker combination from the still game Sapp that sent him airborne. Whether it was the hit or the fall, Hoost had his bell rung and needed to shake it off. Sapp, although hurting everywhere, made a rush, pinned Hoost in the corner and threw everything he had until the referee could take no more. With the two knockdown rule in effect, this meant Sapp, now slumped over the top rope, was the third American to win a match in the Grand Prix (Maurice Smith and Patrick Smith were the other two) and would go to the semi-final. Versus Hoost, Sapp is now 2-0. Sapp by TKO in Round 2.

Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Leko
These two fighters are a gambler's nightmare. They both can enter the ring sizzling hot or icy cold. When hot, Hunt can beat LeBanner, Leko and Filho in one night. When cold, he got floored by high kicks from Nakasako, Filipovic and LeBanner. When hot, Leko can win a major tournament (2001 K-1 Las Vegas GP) or beat superstar Alexei Ignashov. When cold, he can get knocked out in one round by Hoost or Krut.
One might have been tempted to look at their previous fight as a predictor but it too fails to give a clear picture. Hunt scored two knockdowns to get a 4-point lead while Leko seized control of the last round and clearly out-hustled the New Zealander. For Hunt to repeat the deed, he would have to score his knockdowns without the help of Hoost who knocked Leko down twice in the previous match.
Hunt looked a little faster than he did in his other fights this year but his game plan appeared more reactionary than we would expect from a reigning champion. Leko, on the other hand, looked like a man on a mission. That mission was to bring the big man down with low kicks. Going into the third round, Leko's overall control was getting the better of Hunt until the ever dangerous power puncher dropped the German with a single counter punch. Leko did manage to get up but his legs buckled slightly and when he tried walk off the cobwebs, the referee was convinced that the fight was already over. Hunt was now 2-0 against Leko and moving into the semifinals. Hunt by KO in Round 3.

LeBanner vs. Musashi
LeBanner of France had a choice on the day of the draw, Sapp or Musashi. It must have been a tough choice to make. Sapp was an unskilled rookie who got a surprising amount of screen time and magazine ink. A win over him would mean a bigger piece of the spotlight. Musashi was the Japanese champion with an unusual dark cloud over his head. Everyone who has beaten him in this tournament has made it to the final and lost: Mike Bernardo, Mirko Filipovic and Ray Sefo. LeBanner hasn't been in the final of the Grand Prix since 1995 so it is not too surprising that he chose Musashi, jinx and all.
From the opening bell, we could see that the ambidextrous Musashi had decided to fight southpaw against the Frenchman. LeBanner who fights southpaw himself has had a lot of trouble against other southpaws such as Hug, Filipovic and IKF World Champion Rick Roufus. In this fight, the Japanese champion showed a lot of heart by standing his ground and stinging LeBanner on a few occasions. At the end of the round, LeBanner managed to score an ugly knockdown at the bell. Musashi barely made the count but had the rest of the break to recover. In the second round, Musashi continued to fight with spirit and caught LeBanner with a clean high kick. The Frenchman then scored another awkward knockdown and the towel soon followed. LeBanner by TKO in Round 2.

Semi Finals
Before the first semi final began, the referee stepped into the ring with the microphone in hand. Longtime fans knew what that meant; one of the two semi finalists was too injured to continue. We learned that it was Bob Sapp. He broke a bone in his right hand and the swelling prevented him from even closing his hand much less making a fist. The question now was "Who will advance?" K-1 USA and K-1 Las Vegas GP winner McDonald fought Martin Holm in a reserve match. Holm won but, never in the short history of the K-1 has the reserve match winner entered the tournament. The first in line is the injured fighter's defeated opponent. In 2001, Leko replaced Hoost and in 2000, Abidi replaced Aerts. Therefore, if Hoost, in spite of his TKO loss, could convince the doctor he was in fighting shape, the berth was his. He did just that. (See our article below "Past KO Takes Roldzak Off Mexico Event!" about how we feel about this decision by the K-1 Organization...)

Ernesto Hoost vs. Ray Sefo
This was the third meeting between these two. The first two were won by Hoost, the first by 4th round KO and the second by decision in 3 rounds. This fight was basically over before it really got started. Sefo threw a low kick that was skillfully checked by Hoost's knee and the New Zealander dropped to the canvas. This immediately brought images to mind of Nicholas Pettas breaking his leg earlier this year from a similar technique though the damage wasn't nearly as serious. The win meant Hoost was now 3-0 against Sefo and entering the final for a record 5th time. Hoost by KO in Round 1.

LeBanner vs. Hunt
These arch rivals are responsible for some of the most exciting fights since Aerts-Bernardo and Hoost-Hug. In last year's Grand Prix, Hunt scored a devastating 2nd round knockout over LeBanner. This year, LeBanner came into the tournament 7kg (15.4 lbs) lighter and noticeably faster. His plan was to pick up where Leko left off, attacking the legs. At end of the first round, Hunt limped back to his corner. In the second round, he continued to chop at Hunt's legs and scored a knockdown. The rest of the round was a one-sided beating that one wouldn't expect from these two. Hunt made it to the end of the round but anyone who doubted that he would back for a third round soon discovered that the reigning champion was not a quitter. The third round was once again a one-sided beating that, in the closing seconds, turned slightly with Hunt scoring a flash knockdown. LeBanner jumped back up and the final bell ended the fight. Using the half-point scoring system, the two knockdowns didn't cancel each other out and the unanimous decision was LeBanner's. His record against Hunt was now 3-1 and for the first time since 1995 he was back in the final of the Grand Prix. LeBanner by Decision in 3.

Writers Note...
The Fuji-TV cameras happened to catch some interesting footage between the first and second round. In LeBanner's corner, one of his cornermen used two towels. The large one was to wipe sweat and blood from his face. The smaller one was held in front of his face, sniffed once or twice, then removed. Now if the towel were soaked with French perfume, I would forgive the fighter for his eccentricity. However, if it were soaked with what I think it was, I would fear for his health.

IKF Note: Remember Jean Claude Leuyer of San Jose, CA, USA and his fight with Paul LaLonde of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada (March 9th, 2002, San Jose, CA, USA) where Leuyer was caught taking smelling salts (Ammonium Capsule) from his cornerman? LaLonde was clearly beating Leuyer after 3 rounds and while in his corner after round 3 his cornerman gave him a sniff of smelling salts which the California State Athletic Commission caught him doing. The smelling salts CLEARLY woke up a dazed Leuyer and brought him to win in the 4th round. The sanctioning body involved (not IKF) ruled the bout a no contest a week later. Back to K-1, the question here would be... "What did LeBanner get in his corner?"

Hoost vs. LeBanner

These two split their 4 previous fights with 2 wins each. The first round this night was relatively uneventful. The second round looked more like jousting than kickboxing. Both fighters would, launch themselves at each other and score what they could before the quick tie up. In the second half of the round, Hoost landed 3 sharp high kicks that were blocked by Jerome's left arm. LeBanner tried to shake off the pain but he was basically a one armed fighter trying to win the Grand Prix. The third round caught most by surprise. Hoost kicked LeBanner's left arm three more times and the three resulting knockdowns ended the fight. Against LeBanner, Hoost now had a record of 3-2 and more importantly this win earned him $500,000 and the Grand Prix Championship

Writers Note...
The cameras once again caught the two towels being used in Jerome's corner (one for wiping and one for sniffing).

It would be understandable for kickboxing fans to have mixed feelings about the results of this event.
On the one hand, we want to celebrate the sensational Ernesto Hoost.
His performance sets several notable records.

On the other hand, we have an overabundance of oddities.

Let's all hope that the world's largest kickboxing promotion will return to some form of normality over the next 10 years. This year was certainly the strangest of all.

All that aside, congratulations and deepest respect to Mr. Hoost. Amongst all the chaos, it is a relief to see some consistency from a fighter who keeps fighting until the very end.

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