THURSDAY, December 11th, 2003, AT 11:00 AM, PT
Wins 2003 K-1 World GP
Written by Monty DiPietro, K-1
TOKYO, December 6, 2003: He is cool, sleek and quick, and he flies through the air with the greatest of ease. He is known as "The Panther," and he strikes with his legs, and he strikes with his knees. He is a twenty-seven year-old Muay Thai fighter from the Netherlands, and on this day, at the Tokyo Dome, he turned aside all challengers to capture the world's most prestigious martial arts title. Meet the King of Kings, the K-1 World Grand Prix 2003 Champion, Remy Bonjasky (Right)
An ex-banker and ex-model, Bonjasky earlier this year (August) won the K-1 Battle at the Bellagio in Las Vegas to advance to the K-1 Osaka Elimination tournament, where he beat Bob Sapp to earn a place here in the Final. On this night full of surprises, Bonjasky was just unstoppable, winning three fights to emerge victorious in the tough eight-man elimination tournament -- but we are getting ahead of ourselves, let's start at the beginning.
The first quarterfinal fight on the night pitted French kickboxer Cyril Abidi against South African boxer Francois "The White Buffalo" Botha. Abidi's last bout was coincidentally also against Botha, at the Osaka Elimination tournament. That fight was an inglorious affair -- it timed out at a mere 19 seconds. After Abidi had slipped to the canvas, Botha clocked the prone Frenchman in the mug. The disqualification put Abidi into the Final and left the Buffalo out in the cold -- or so everyone thought. But a couple of weeks ago, failed contract negotiations with Abidi's scheduled opponent Stefan Leko led to the announcement that Botha would get another shot at Abidi at the Final.
Botha accused Abidi of cowardice after he did not get up to continue the Osaka bout: "He stayed down because he was scared. I say, if you are scare of being hurt, then why be a fighter? You should do something else, like go play golf!" And so Botha was very much looking forward to this rematch: "I'm very confident I'll take Abidi out like I did the first time, except this time I'm going to do it legal."
From the bell, Botha charged forward, Sapp-style. Abidi answered with a low kick that tripped Botha up, the fall ruled a slip. Seconds later it was Abidi who slipped, and when Botha looked like he might be moving in, Abidi exploded from the canvas with a Matrix-style maneuver, rocketing both feet up to Botha's big chest to propel him backward. The rest of the fight followed roughly the same script: Botha coming in, Abidi throwing low kicks when in range, Botha planting punches from in closer, Abidi looking for the knee as the distance decreased, the two combatants ending up clinching. Botha seemed to tire as the rounds wore on, and Abidi showed that despite his new trainer Didier Leborgne, he still had his old bad habit of clumsily turning away from attacks.
A good solid strike was finally recorded late in the second, a Botha haymaker which caught Abidi solidly on the side of the jaw. This was a close fight, Botha solid on his feet despite Abidi's low kicks, Abidi moving and defending well against Botha's fists. Botha had a slight edge on two cards after two rounds -- but then with just seconds left in the third, he dropped his left arm, and leaned in to throw a right punch. Before he could, Abidi seized the opportunity to fire a fast right high kick, which hit the White Buffalo in the side of the head with the effect of a tranquilizer dart. A dazed Botha slumped slowly to the canvas, and the down was all it took for judges to give Abidi a narrow but unanimous decision and a trip to the semifinals. "I still think I'm better than him," said Botha post-bout, "but I couldn't put it together tonight, I was not relaxed in the ring, I'm still learning."
Fighting in the second quarterfinal, Australian karate fighter Peter Graham was not unaware that he was a little out of his league. Dead last in online fan polls on both the K-1 USA and the K-1 Official Website polls. Graham had this to say at the press conference: "I know lots of people think I'm a little lucky to be here, and I know my opponent Remy Bonjasky is a good fighter, but I came here to win." Meanwhile, in his interviews, Bonjasky was already looking ahead to fights number two and three. Wasn't the Dutch fighter being a little overconfident? Well, as it turns out: No, he wasn't.
When the nothing-to-lose Graham came at him with a more-than-capable attack comprised of quick punch combinations and front kicks designed to keep those flying knees at bay, Bonjasky kept his cool. Graham surprised the audience with a spinning back kick that just missed, and was definitely holding his own in the early going. But then Bonjasky made his move. Late in the first, it was a knee from in close that caught Graham squarely on the chest and scored Bonjasky's first down. A valiant Graham barely beat the count, but need not have bothered, as seconds later Bonjasky put the knee up again, connecting with the jaw this time to score another down and win by KO. The relative lack of emotion on Bonjasky's face afterward showed that, indeed, he was a man looking ever forward, intent on winning this tournament.
The next quarterfinal put Ray Sefo against Seidokaikan fighter Musashi. A terrific fan favorite, Sefo revealed in his pre-event press conference: "I am probably the worst shape I've ever been in before a tournament. But I can say that when the bell goes, as long as I am still standing, then someone is in trouble." Turns out a nagging flu had kept the New Zealand fighter out of the training gym for three weeks prior top the Final. His opponent tonight, Five-time World GP participant and Four-time Japan GP Champion Musashi, was thus presented with his best chance ever to advance past the Tokyo Dome quarterfinals. Sefo stepped into the ring with a shinguard on his left leg, and the southpaw Musashi quickly exploited this apparent weakness, launching numerous low kicks at the shin. These were clearly bothering Sefo a great deal, and he did everything he could to draw Musashi into a boxing contest.
Really, he did everything. For example, in the second, Sefo
scarcely used a guard at all, preferring to bobble about, taunting Musashi.
When the blue-haired Japanese fighter was careless enough to move in with his
fists, he was met with an explosion of hard tight hooks. But this was a tactic
of desperation for Sefo, and Musashi saw through it.
In the second and again in the third, stung by Musashi's low kicks, Sefo himself reverted to a southpaw stance, the better to protect his tender left leg. Sefo threw no kicks, but again and again he taunted Musashi, finally installing himself in the corner, back against the post, arms down, beckoning: 'C'mon, come on in here and try to hit me!' Alas, Musashi wanted a win more than a fight, and stuck to his game plan, tossing in kicks and the odd straight punch, keeping it technical. One judge scored the fight a draw, the other two put Musashi up by a single point to give him the win by the narrowest of margins.
Next up was Alexey "The Scorpion"
Ignashov and Peter Aerts. At the many concession stands surrounding
the Tokyo Dome, Ignashov posters, action figures and t-shirts were
outselling those of any other fighter. A fan poll on the K-1 Official Website
had Ignashov the clear favorite to win it all today, and his
quarterfinal matchup with Three-time World GP Champion Peter Aerts of
the Netherlands was perhaps the most anticipated K-1 bout of the year.
The first round was even, both fighters feeling each other out, Ignashov's guard high as usual, Aerts a little more open. Ignashov threw some left straight punches, Aerts the classic one-two punch then low kick combinations. Ignashov got a good left straight through late in the round, and another in the second. But Aerts kept scoring points with his meat-and-potatoes approach.
In the third, Ignashov was not moving laterally as he usually does, and looked uncharacteristically sluggish. Aerts hurt Ignashov with a left hook placed after Ignashov had thrown and missed with a right, and at the end of three Aerts was up on one card, while the other two judges saw the fight as even. Under K-1 rules, a tie-breaking round was set, and here Aerts kept up the pressure, while Ignashov was unable to put anything good together.
It is not that Aerts was hurting Ignashov much, it was more that his relentless peppering stymied the Belorussian, prevented him from finding his chance to strike. Aerts unanimous win in the round and the fight was due in no small part his superior body positioning and timing. And that is spelled "experience".
During a short intermission in the tournament, K-1 played a videotaped message from Mike Tyson: "I wish I could be there," said Tyson, wearing a black K-1 T-shirt, "but your Prime Minister won't let me in due to my past. I hope to come to Japan in the future. No K-1 fighter can handle my power. Oh, and Sapp, I'm still waiting, sign the contract!" Bob Sapp then entered the ring to thunderous applause to announce: "The contract has been signed, and Mike and I will fight next year."
In the first of the semis, Remy Bonjasky and Cyril
Abidi took the crowd on a wild ride of a fight. Abidi was his
frenetic self, and Bonjasky answered in kind. It was clear from the bell
that this one could not go on long, and it did not. But what excitement! Abidi
rattled Bonjasky with a punch in the early going, and the two mixed it
up nonstop with great zeal.
But after eating a devastating left Bonjasky kick, Abidi turned and stumbled to the ropes, either unwilling or unable to continue the fight. Bonjasky, however, chased his retreating opponent, punching as he went, and Abidi was assessed a standing count. Soon afterward, Bonjasky got the knee in, and Abidi again stumbled away in a daze, defeated, turning to the ropes, where he hung on for dear life. The second standing count, at 1:46, gave the victory to Bonjasky.
Abidi, simply, never knew what hit him. The fight was more a testimony to Bonjasky's ability than Abidi's weakness, and to his credit, Abidi did not peddle any excuses afterward: "Remy," he simply said, "was better than me." Again, the victorious Bonjasky left the ring without a hint of emotion on his face -- he was, as they say in America , "In the Zone."
Musashi's recent training partner, former WBA Supermiddleweight Champion Frankie Lyles, had put out the word that Musashi was going to surprise a lot of people on this night, and he was right. Although Musashi's first-fight victory was at least in part attributable to Sefo's poor condition, his performance in the semifinal was one of the biggest upsets of the year in the in the K-1 World GP. Musashi was supremely composed against Aerts, and this was a great technical bout. Musashi recorded a nice left kick to Aerts' head in the first, was generally leaning in more than usual, and looked very effective on the punch counters he and Lyles had worked on. Musashi's head made contact with Aerts' nose midway through the first, and although it was ruled unintentional, the blow seemed to bother the Dutchman for the remainder of the fight.
Aerts came out faster in the second, connected with a right kick to Musashi's body, but the Japan GP Champion, again, was very effective with his counters. As Lyles had promised, we were seeing a much more confident and balanced fighter. In the third Musashi threw punches from inside, a technique he was not known for in the past, and was able to follow up with second and third punches. When his victory was announced, Musashi exploded with delight, shouting and jumping in the air. It was a rapturous moment and the crowd in the Tokyo Dome went wild.
As the orchestra accompanied an American gospel singer in a crowd-rousing version of "We Are The Champions," who would have predicted that the man marching into the blue corner for the last fight of the night would be Musashi? But there was another angle to this improbable matchup -- Musashi had sweated out six full rounds against two of K-1's toughest veterans to get to the final, while Bonjasky had logged less than four minutes fighting time to get there. Surprisingly, this fight went the distance. The relatively fresh Bonjasky was the far more aggressive fighter here, fleet of foot, throwing flying knees, front kicks and punches in the early going, which Musashi answered mostly with low kicks. Musashi did get in with some body blows, but really he was lucky to come out of the first round even on all three cards.
In the second, Bonjasky dominated, there was less
razzle dazzle now, as he simply outboxed Musashi, throwing only the
occasional high kick. Musashi was looking increasingly fatigued, and
although he tried to rally in the third, connecting to the body with a nice
spinning kick, he was simply outclassed by the seemingly tireless Bonjasky,
who never once lost focus.
The decision was unanimous -- Bonjasky had won the fight and was the K-1 World Grand Prix 2003 Champion. But this was a win-win final, as Musashi got further than any Japanese fighter ever had in the World GP.
"I was not able to apply everything I learned from Frankie (Lyles)," said a crestfallen Musashi afterwards, "I need to train harder. But I hope I proved that Japanese fighters can seriously compete at this level."
Bonjasky agreed: "No disrespect intended, but I really did not expect Musashi to do so well. He has improved a lot."
So how does the new Champion feel? "Well, I married earlier this year, my wife Melissa and I are expecting a baby in February, and now I have won the K-1 World Grand Prix," replied a beaming Bonjasky. "I would have to say that this is the happiest time in my life!"
With his victory, Bonjasky becomes the third Dutchman to win the K-1 World Grand Prix (the Dutch have taken the title an impressive eight out of eleven times!), and pockets a check for US $400,000.00 which should buy a whole lot of diapers and set up a nice college fund for the new addition to the Bonjasky household. Congratulations, Remy -- it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!
In other fights on the
Twenty-three year-old K-1 USA Champion Carter Williams (Left at Right) lost amid controversy to Ray Sefo at the Osaka World GP Final Elimination in October. Tonight the American wunderkind got a second chance in Japan when he took on Bjorn Bregy (Right at Right) in the reserve fight. Bregy, who won the Andy Hug Memorial in his native Switzerland last May, is towering presence in the ring -- at 202cm. he stands a full 13cm taller than Williams.
Bregy used his height in the early going, going for the clinch and bringing the knee up, connecting with a left knee midway through the first. But by the second round, Williams turned the clinching to his advantage, landing a good tight right hook on Bregy's jaw from the clinch to score a down. Williams continued to brutalize Bregy in the clinch, throwing hooks, at one point lifting his opponent's leg and executing a body slam. As the round progressed, Williams took control. Seconds after the doctor had tended to a gash over Bregy's right eye, Williams got inside with three punishing hooks to drop the big Swiss fighter for the second time, and take a well-earned KO victory.
Said Williams after the bout: "I'm very happy to have won, it would have been good to get into the tournament but that was out of my control. I did what I set out to do, and I know I'll do well when I do get into a tournament."
A Superfight on the night saw Swede Martin Holm take on Jan "The Giant" Nortje of South Africa. Nortje is a jolly good fellow, and packs a mighty hard punch. In the early going, he used his size to close down the ring, giving the speedy Holm no room to work his finesse. But Holm kept his head down, and took a pretty good beating before he found The Giant going the wrong way, and brought a brutal knee in on his ribs. Nortje stood there for a second before collapsing to the canvas in a heap of pain. Scarcely a minute had passed when Holm's arm was raised in victory. A good sport, the Muay Thai fighter quickly went over to check on his felled opponent, but Nortje was able to get to his feet moments later.
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