With its 70kg/154lbs weight class, the K-1 World Max Series is one of the most popular fightsport championships anywhere. The World Max tournament format has been modified for 2008 -- with the introduction of a new, three-stage final. The winners of regional qualifying events held earlier this year in Japan, Holland, South Korea and Poland joined last year's best at the Hiroshima Final 16 one-match elimination in April. The eighth winners from Hiroshima will fight tomorrow in a one-match format, victors advancing to the October Max Final.
The K-1 World Max 2008 Final 8 events comprises four World Max Championship elimination bouts, along with four one-match World Max bouts; a trio of contests in a new 60kg/150lbs weight class, and a pair of K-1 Youth bouts.
First up in the elimination bouts is a contest between Japanese kickboxer Yasuhiro Kido, who won this year's World Max Japan tournament, and Ukrainian muay thai fighter Artur Kyshenko, who has just one loss in eight World Max fights since 2006.
Kido, who described his 21 year-old opponent as "cute," looked delighted just to be here. "I really am very happy I made it and I still can't believe it, I don't know how to explain, maybe if you were up here on the stage you would understand? Last year, I watched World Max on TV and now I'm here -- it's overwhelming! I don't know what to say except I'll just try my best!"
Replied the 21 year-old Kyshenko: "Yes, I'm young and I hope that's an asset. I don't know what to say about my opponent except that he talks more than any opponent I've ever had! I'm going to keep my mouth shut and make my statement in the ring!"
The second of the Final 8 matchups sees Defending World Max Champion Andy Souwer of the Netherlands taking on Warren Stevelmans of South Africa.
Said Souwer: "The road to the championship is very long, after Warren I will be halfway there. But right now, he's a big rock on my back and I will try my best to get through and to October. Best of luck to Warren."
Stevelmans, although undefeated in four World Max bouts, knows he has his work cut out for him tomorrow: "I'm looking forward to this, Souwer is a great fighter and a great champion and he's also my favorite Max fighter. He's explosive and I'm explosive so it's going to be an explosive fight. I also wish Souwer good luck!"
The third qualification bout has two-time World Max Japan Champion Yoshihiro Sato taking on two-time World Max Champion Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand. These two have already fought twice, Buakaw winning both times.
A terrific reception from the crowd when the pair stepped on the stage, Sato sporting a lime green necktie and his trademark emo eyeglasses; Buakaw, in a white suit, smiling.
Said a relaxed Sato: "I come from Aichi Prefecture, where we love spirit, and I think I have good luck on my side. When I was heading to Tokyo, I bumped into my mother-in-law, who treated me to lunch. I arrived in Tokyo and by chance met an old friend, so that was two free lunches! I've been having good luck for a few weeks now, and I hope tomorrow will be the height of my good luck. I'll need it, because Buakaw lives in Thailand, where it's very hot, and right now it's very hot in Tokyo, so the heat and humidity will be familiar and he'll be 100%. I practiced hard and I will also be 100%!"
Replied Buakaw: "I am delighted to see all these fans here, I've won the World Max Championship twice, and tomorrow I will show I can be the best again. This will be the third time I fight Sato, so we'll see what happens tomorrow."
The last of the Final 8 bouts features popular Japanese kickboxer Masato, who won the World Max Championship in 2003 and finished second last year, fighting Armenian muay thai stylist Drago.
With dark hair and a conservative charcoal gray suit and tie, Masato has departed from his earlier, flashy style. The technical Japanese fighter commented on the draw that determined the matchups for this tournament. "In Hiroshima, Drago had a choice, and he picked me, so for the last three months all my energy has been focused on this fight. But I know he's had two fights since then, and I believe he lost one? What effect will that have on him, I wonder?"
Drago dismissed the suggestion: "It's no problem for me that I've fought twice since Hiroshima -- of course, if I made a lot of money like Masato does, I would only fight two or three times a year! I chose Masato because I want to fight with the best fighters, it's an honor for me to do so. Tomorrow will be hard, but the decision from my last fight will not play a big role."
The four winners from these fights will square off October 1 at the Budokan, where semifinals and a final will crown the K-1 World Max 2008 Champion.
Other World Max bouts on tomorrow's card will see the inaugural World Max Champion, Albert Kraus of Holland, taking on Greek slugger Mike Zambidis; Andre Dida of Brazil against Remigijus Morkevicius of Lithuania; and Hiroyuki Owatari of Japan versus compatriot Masaki.
K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa took the stage to introduce a new 60 kg/132 lbs weight class, which he predicted would deliver action that is "even faster then World Max fights." Sixty kilograms is a common fight weight in Japan, and tomorrow, three Japanese will step in against Europeans in this weight class.
Daisuke Uematsu of Japan will host fellow kickboxer Eddy Juozapavicius of Lithuania; Japanese karate stylist Susumu Daiguji of Masato's Silver Wolf Gym will take on Ukrainian muay thai fighter Konstantin Trishin; and Haruaki Otsuki of Japan will meet David Douge of France.
K-1 Youth matches will give the ring to 19-year-olds Hirotaka Urabe of Japan and Belorussian Denis Telitsa; while 19 year-old Kizaemon Saiga of Japan will meet fledgling karate fighter Tyron Van Wyk, 16, of Australia.
In World Max undercard action, it will be Alviar Lima of Cape Verdi versus Mark Vogel of Germany.