TAIPEI, July 12, 2008 -- East of the Chinese coast, south of Japan's Okinawan islands and north of the Philippines, Taiwan will play host tomorrow to a major international fightsport competition. Twenty fighters from 11 countries are here for the K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 in Taipei. The first-ever K-1 event in Taiwan features the K-1 Asia Grand Prix 2008 Tournament, along with a trio of Superfights.
On the eve of the action, fighters appeared in a press conference at the Taiwan Sheraton Hotel.
In Sunday's Main Event, two-time K-1 World GP Champion Remy Bonjasky of Holland will take on Russian power puncher Volk Atajev.
Bonjasky confessed he was largely unfamiliar with his opponent: "I've only seen 30 seconds of one of his fights on You Tube, that's all I know about him, and it's difficult to fight a guy you don't know -- what are his strengths and weaknesses? The main thing is to win, but of course you want to make a good fight for the fans as well. So I'll try some new techniques if the opportunity is there, because of course I'd like to win by KO!"
Replied Atajev: "I love fightsports and I watch them all the time. I've seen Bonjasky -- sure he's good, he was the champion twice, so it won't be easy. It's my first time in K-1 and Bonjasky said doesn't know me, but I know all about him and his techniques -- the flying knees and so on -- maybe that gives me an edge. Anyway I just want to give everything I've got, and we'll see what happens tomorrow."
In another Superfight, it will be affable K-1 veteran Ray Sefo New Zealand and Zabit Samedov, a gritty Belorussian kickboxer.
Said Sefo: "Last year was difficult for me, both personally and professionally, but I think that made me even tougher. It's K-1's first time in Taiwan, and mine as well, and I think it's important for the experienced fighters -- Remy and me -- to put on an A+ level show, as we are sort of the seniors of K-1. Samedov is a very good fighter and he's capable of upsets. I don't underestimate him, he's going to be just as tough as anyone else -- that's how I look at fights. But when the bell rings I don't care who it is -- I've been training hard and I'm looking for my first win this year, so win or lose it's going to be a battle!"
Samedov, who professed admiration for his opponent, nonetheless felt he was up to the task: "Sefo is a K-1 star, a great showman and a great fighter. I've been a fan of his punching and his exciting style for a long time. This fight means a lot to me, it's an important step in my career. I trained hard and will approach it seriously, I want to get a good start and make a fight that the fans will enjoy. I like Ray, but I also want to knock him out!"
The other Superfight will feature 23 year-old Japanese kickboxer Junichi Sawayashiki, who scored a shocking upset over K-1 veteran Jerome LeBanner last year; and Rumania's rising star, the meat-and-potatoes Catalin Morosanu, a 26 year-old former rugby player.
Sawayashiki told the press he was intent on making a "great, spirited fight." Morosanu was still en route to Taipei at the time of the press conference.
A spot at this year's K-1 World GP Final 16 Tournament is up for grabs in the K-1 Asia GP 2008. This is 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 will have to prevail in three bouts tomorrow.
The first of the quarterfinals will see the always-dangerous Russian kickboxer 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.
Said Karaev: "I trained hard on my defense and punching. The one-day elimination tournament is challenging, but I'm confident I'll make it to the final. We'll have to see how the brackets play out, but in any case, I want to show exciting fights."
Tomihira told the media he had trained hard for the tournament and was determined to "put on a great performance for all the fans in Taiwan."
The second quarterfinal is a veritable David versus Goliath matchup with Young Hyun Kim of South Korea taking on Saiseelek Nor-Seepun of Thailand. The bout will mark the biggest-ever height differential in a K-1 fight -- at 216cm/7'1", Kim towers a full 42cm/16" over Nor-Seepun. As they stood toe-to-toe for photographers, the Thai eyes were well below the Korean chest.
Tall fighters frequently use knees against shorter opponents. Asked if this is how he hoped to dispatch his opponent, Kim replied, "I don't know what attacking techniques Nor-Seepun will try, I'll see how he comes at me and deal with that the best way I can."
For his part, Nor-Seepun did not appear intimidated: "Although this will be the tallest opponent I've ever faced, I'd say that without speed or technique, a big body is not an asset."
Kyokushin karate fighter Aleksandr Pichkunov of Russia will meet Nobu Hayashi of Japan in the first of the second bracket's bouts. Hayashi, a karate fighter who has trained extensively in Holland, has not competed in K-1 for three years.
Word was going around that Pitchkounov had focused recently on weight training to improve his power. If that was true, he was holding his cards close to the chest: "I've trained in all variety of ways," smiled Pitchkounov, who was equally secretive regarding his strategy. "Regarding how I intend to fight Hayashi and my ideas for the tournament, I won't say much more than I want to win!"
Said a relaxed Hayashi: "Yes, it's true that it's been quite a while since I fought in K-1, but this tournament is a great opportunity for me to come back, and I'm ready to do the best I can."
Another karate fighter, Makoto Uehara of Japan, will take on South Korean tae kwon do stylist Yong Soo Park in the last of the tournament bouts.
Not a lot of bravado from these boys, Park simply promising to give the "maximum effort"; Uehara remarking that he would "try for a KO" in the first fight, then take it from there.
In the tournament reserve fight it will be Jun Ito of Japan and Canadian Vaughn 'Blood" Anderson.
A boxer, Ito told reporters he'd been "working on low kicks" and would "make an aggressive fight, with lots of punching attacks for the KO."
Anderson, who took this bout on short notice, is a Taiwan-based Canadian multidisciplinary fighter. "Power, technique and speed are all important," he said, "but I'd also like to show fans my exciting fighting style."
Also on the card are a couple of Taiwanese sanda fighters. A traditional Chinese martial arts form, Sanda is the most popular fightsport in Taiwan. The rules are not unlike shoot boxing. Although sanda's throws are not permitted under K-1 rules, the close-fighting style may help sanda fighters work or avoid knees.
Wang Chung Yaun Taiwan will meet 17 year-old Mick Mittiga of Australia
Said Yuan: "Although it's true that K-1 and sanda are different, I'm confident I can adjust and put on a great fight in my own style."
Mittiga, whose idol is Buakaw Por Pramuk, said fighting in K-1 is a dream come true. "I don't have one specific fighting skill," he explained, "I have a variety of skills -- watch and see!"
Meanwhile, Yang Tong Hsiung will tango with another Aussie, Matt Campbell.
Hsiung promised to "make a strong effort"; while Campbell said his strategy was "throwing the left kick, it's my strongest attack and I hope it will win the fight for me!"
K-1 Event Producer Sadaharu Tanikawa said he has high hopes for the event. "We have good fighters for K-1's debut in Taiwan -- Remy Bonjasky and Ray Sefo are among the world's strongest. Also the Asia GP will decide the strongest fighter in Asia, plus we have local fighters on the card. I hope the Taiwanese people will enjoy a thrilling K-1 event."
All bouts will be 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 kicks off at 4:30 pm. on Sunday July 14 at the TWTC Nangang Exhibition Hall. It will be broadcast live across Japan on Fuji TV and in South Korea on the CJ Media Network. Time-delay broadcasts will bring the event to some 135 countries -- for scheduling information, contact local providers. Check with the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp
) for official results and comprehensive coverage of this and all K-1 events.