The K-1 World Grand Prix is the most prestigious martial arts tournament on the planet. A time-honored tradition since 1993, only seven men have shared the honor of being crowned the K-1 Grand Prix champion. Who will be crowned the 2010 King of Kings?
Check out my analysis of the quarterfinalists below.
QUARTERFINAL No. 1 1 Peter Aerts vs Mighty Mo
Peter Aerts "Mr K-1" / "The Dutch Lumberjack" | Country: The Netherlands
Age: 40 | Height: 192cm / 6ʼ 3" | Weight: 108kg / 240lb
K-1 GP Best: 3 x Champion 1994, 1995, 1998
Best Weapon: Leg Kicks / Experience | Weak Point: Age / Wear and Tear
Fast Fact: Between 1998 and 2009 held K-1 World GP fastest winning time record of 6:43
Leg Kicks: 5 | Head Kicks: 4 | Punching: 3 | Knees: 5 | Durability: 4 | Speed: 2 | Stamina: 3
Finishing Ability: 4 | Tournament Experience: 5 Total: 35/45
Thereʼs no denying Peter Aertsʼ place as a K-1 great. At 40 years old, the three-time GP champion and first ever back-to-back winner competes in his 17th GP having only missed the tournament once (2009) since its inception in 1993. Though no longer at the peak of the powers that once made him the most feared kickboxer on the planet, Aerts remains a durable veteran capable of causing headaches and upsetting anyone in this lineup. Aertsʼ recent inconsistency, having gone 6-4 in his last 10, should not mar the fact that "Mr K-1" continues to perform at the highest level time and time again, having faced seven top-10 ranked opponents in those last 10 outings. His Final 16 qualifying match against Ewerton Texeira was in this commentatorʼs opinion the Fight of the Night (in a night of amazing fights).
The Texeira fight, in which Aerts scored his 100th career victory (his professional career began in 1988), saw the Dutchman pushed an extension round in a toe-to-toe war of attrition against an opponent 12 years his junior. That Aerts out-kicked the Kyokushin world champion and wore all the power Texeiraʼs venomous right hand could muster for 12 minutes should signal to the other seven competitors in this yearʼs K-1 Grand Prix that "Mr K-1" is not done yet -- by a long shot. Adding to the Aerts threat in 2010 is the return of legendary trainer Thom Harinck. It was under Harinckʼs guidance that Aerts first won the crown in 1994 and repeated in 1995. Indeed it was this incarnation of the "Dutch Lumberjack" who was so feared in the kickboxing world when the Aerts head-kick was the equivalent to the modern-day Overeem knee. Aertsʼ reunion with Harinck, 15 years after they last won the title together (the two parted ways in 1997. Aerts won his third title in 1998 under Andre Manaart), his commitment to new training methods and diet (forget his K-1 pressured, ill-fated attempt to win the 100kg title) and the recruiting of Jerome LeBanner as a Chakuriki stablemate (Aerts actually KOʼd LeBanner to win the 1995 GP title) is a clear sign of Aertsʼ intent to join Ernesto Hoost and Semmy Schilt as a four-time GP champion. Check him out here:
Watch Aerts vs Texeira, 2010 Final 16
Siala-Mou Siliga "Mighty Mo" | Country: USA
Age: 40 | Height: 185cm / 6ʼ 1 |Weight: 118kg / 260lb
K-1 GP Best: Quarter Finalist 2004
Best Weapon: Overhand right | Weak Point: Slowness / Lack of options
Fast Fact: Mo was knocked out in the K-1 GP 2004 quarter finals in the first round by an opponent who weighed only 180lb!
Leg Kicks: 2 | Head Kicks: 0 | Punching: 5 | Knees: 1 | Durability: 5 | Speed: 2 | Stamina: 1 | Finishing Ability: 3 | Tournament Experience: 5 | Total: 24/45
Itʼs a worn-out cliche to say a fighter has a "puncherʼs chance" but with sole US representative Mighty Mo, itʼs the solid truth. The only man to have knocked out seven-foot Hong Mann Choi (with an overhand right in March 2007), Mo has no offense other than his hands to trouble this very skilled GP line-up... but thatʼs all he really needs, right? While you know what to expect every time Mighty Mo fights, you never quite know which Mo is going to turn up in the ring. His declaration to fans in Korea that he would train hard for the Grand Prix and enter the tournament with a six-pack conflicts with reports this commentator has heard as to just how diligent Moʼs preparation has been. The trouble with a "puncherʼs chance" fighter with a one of those famed Polynesian chins is that he can easily become too reliant on those attributes. The K-1 Grand Prix has never been won by a fighter with only a tough chin and a big punch in his arsenal. And before you jump and down pointing the finger at Mark Huntʼs amazing 2001 GP victory, take a close look at the Super Samoanʼs three fights that night (two of which went the distance against two of K-1ʼs most technical fighters, Leko and Filho) and you will see the beautiful subtleties in Huntʼs game that truly won him the title. (Look for Huntʼs inside leg kick almost thrown as a fake followed by his right cross. Also look for Huntʼs quick step-through counter right hands off opponentsʼ leg kicks and jabs.) For his famed punching power, Mo has only knocked out one opponent in the last two years -- Roman Kleibel in Bucharest in May. The last time he scored a victory over a top-10 opponent was his shock 2005 decision win in Las Vegas over Remy Bonjasky. To become the K-1 Grand Prix champion and etch oneʼs name into the annals of history alongside Hug, Cikatic, Aerts, Bonjasky, Hoost, Hunt and Schilt requires more than just a hard punch and a granite chin. Strategy, conditioning, strength of mind and body plus a little luck has proved the winning formula for past champions. While Mo is capable of producing upsets and inflicting damage -- as any fighter with a puncherʼs chance is -- the chances of him running the gauntlet and winning the title are slim. Check him out here:
Watch Mighty Mo vs Raul Catinas, 2010 Final 16
QUARTERFINAL No. 2 Semmy Schilt vs Kyotaro
SEMMY SCHILT "High Tower" | Country: The Netherlands
Age: 37 | Height: 212cm / 6ʼ 11" | Weight: 130kg / 290lb
K-1 GP Best: 4 x champion 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Best Weapon: Front kick | Weak Point: None of great note
Fast Fact: Holds the K-1 World GP time record with a total winning time of 5:52 in 2009
Leg Kicks: 5 | Head Kicks: 4 | Punching: 4 | Knees: 5 | Durability: 5 | Speed: 4 | Stamina: 5 | Finishing Ability: 5 | Tournament Experience: 5 | Total: 42/45
The most dominant heavyweight fighter of any combative code in the last 10 years, Semmy Schilt is an exceptional athlete with seemingly no chinks in his armor. Riding a seven-fight winning streak, Schilt has only lost three times in his K-1 career, two of which were debatable decisions to Hong Mann Choi in Seoul in 2006 and to Peter Aerts in Auckland also in 2006. Schiltʼs amazing tournament record is the stuff of legend. He has never entered a tournament he hasnʼt won, be it a regional tournament such as the 2005 K-1 WGP Paris or four times fighting in the K-1 World Grand Prix finals. What is it that makes Schilt such a devastating fighter? Ignorant viewers attribute Schiltʼs outstanding success solely to his size. However size alone is no guarantee of K-1 success (otherwise Hong Mann Choi would have won the title, so too Bob Sapp and Montanha Silva). A tall fighter needs to know how to fight tall, which is something Schilt has mastered. A tall fighter is naturally blessed with length of jabs and front kicks. The ability to fully utilize these attributes, however, does not come naturally. A successful tall fighter like Schilt, who does not shrink himself or fight "short", as we say, spends years carefully honing his ability to make the most of his God-given assets. The fact that Schilt does this better than any fighter on the planet, coupled with his tremendous output (he has the work rate of a middleweight!) and his freakish strength off both sides of his body (remember how he knocked out Ray Sefo with a jab?) has garnered him the most impressive record in K-1 history. Schiltʼs qualifying performance against Thom Harinck-trained leg-smasher Hesdy Gerges in the Final 16 was not one of the championʼs better performances. Schiltʼs failure to check Gergesʼ leg kicks had the "High Tower" limping out of the ring, and if the fight had been awarded an extension round (which many believed it should), Schilt may very well have been in trouble. Addressing this issue would have been the first point of business for coach Dave Jonkers upon returning to Zuidlaren and itʼs doubtful we will see Semmy act as complacently against leg attacks ever again. To name anyone but Schilt as the favourite in this yearʼs GP is ludicrous. The Dutchman goes in as a man who knows exactly what it takes to win an eight-man tournament (an art form in itself), how to pace himself and how to finish opponents (he did it in world record time last year). Add to this the fact that Semmy has the chance to become the sportʼs first ever five-time champion, and you just know that come December 11 Schilt will once again be the man to beat.
Watch Semmy Schilt vs Hesdy Gerges, Final 16 2010
KYOTARO | Country: Japan
Age: 24 | Height: 183cm / 6ʼ 0" | Weight: 99.5kg / 219lb
K-1 GP Best: Debut
Best Weapon: Counter right cross | Weak Point: Size, inexperience
Fast Fact: The first Japanese fighter to ever hold a K-1 world title
Leg Kicks: 4 | Head Kicks: 3 | Punching: 5 | Knees: 2 | Durability: 5 | Speed: 5 | Stamina: 5 | Finishing Ability: 3 | Tournament Experience: 1 | Total: 33/45
The tremendously underrated K-1 world heavyweight champion is a big-occasion fighter who never fails to perform. His edging out of Jerome LeBanner at the Final 16 in Seoul was a calculated and ultra-impressive performance that added LeBannerʼs scalp to those of Melvin Manhoef, Tyrone Spong, Mighty Mo, Ghokan Saki and Peter Aerts who have all fallen victim to the man once known as Keijiro Maeda. The K-1 heavyweight championʼs hit-and-run style is yet to put him over with most fans. However this commentator regards the Osaka native as an outstanding talent and a highly gifted cerebral fighter with the ability to upset most anyone on the right day. December 11 will be Kyotaroʼs K-1 Grand Prix debut. With this massive achievement comes a new attitude. Gone is the ratʼs tail and garish colors. The new version of Kyotaro is a serious, focused force to be reckoned with and possessor of one of K-1ʼs most potent weapons -- a truly vicious right cross counter. Kyotaro has been tested against a range of opponents and has continually come up trumps. He matched speed with Saki; matched power with Manhoef; obliterated Aerts for all of The Lumberjackʼs experience; out-worked Spong; danced circles around Mo and went toe-to-toe against LeBanner. It is a source of consternation that Kyotaro is not more readily embraced by the Japanese public. In a sport crying out for a Japanese star, Kyotaro is the embodiment of a smart, savvy fighter with power and high skill level but seems less regarded than the more flash- in-the-pan Junichi Sawayahsiki once was. While most will select Kyotaro as the fighter least likely to win the Grand Prix -- and who would argue given he faces Semmy Schilt in the quarter finals -- I donʼt think the heavyweight champion should be written off so quickly. In a battle between the K-1 super heavyweight and heavyweight champion, the deck is stacked in Schiltʼs favor. But Kyotaro is a fighter capable of the extraordinary. The game plan will be to run run and run some more, bridging the gap off of angles to quickly land leg kicks and body shots on Schilt, then get out of range. Itʼs a difficult route to take but the only one available to a man of Kyotaroʼs stature. Will it work? Perhaps not enough in itself to defeat Schilt on points, but it will frustrate the GP champion to no end, which where Kyotaro will look to capitalize. Check him out here:
Watch Kyotaro vs Jerome LeBanner 2010 Final 16
QUARTERFINAL # 3 ALISTAIR OVEREEM vs TYRONE SPONG
ALISTAIR OVEREEM "The Reem" | Country: The Netherlands
Age: 30 | Height: 195cm / 6ʼ 5" | Weight: 115kg / 253lb
K-1 GP Best: 3rd place 2009
Best Weapon: Knees | Weak Point: Untested jawline
Fast Fact: Looking to become first fighter to simultaneously hold the K-1 World GP title AND a major MMA heavyweight world title
Leg Kicks: 4 | Head Kicks: 1 |Punching: 5 | Knees: 5 | Durability: 4 | Speed: 5 | Stamina: 5 | Finishing Ability: 5 | Tournament Experience: 3 | Total: 38/45
No fighter in the world has garnered as much attention as Alistair Overeem in the last 18 months. If his qualification for the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2009 at the expense of Peter Aerts was seen as an anomaly, his qualification this year is viewed as an exciting prospect as the man who could stop Semmy Schilt. Like Schilt, ignorant viewers have attributed Overeemʼs K-1 success thus far solely to his size. Take a careful look at Overeemʼs evolution as a K-1 fighter, from his win over Badr Hari at Dynamite 2008 to his obliteration of Ben Edwards at the Final 16 and you will see just how far this incredible athlete has come in a short time. Overeemʼs win over Edwards was nothing short of brilliant. Though largely unknown to European and American audiences, Edwards is an ISKA world champion and professional boxer and on paper his go-for-the-jaw style and ability to absorb punishment should have caused problems for Overeem. The fact that the Dutchman so brutally and elegantly disposed of the Australian with three, clean, fast and powerful punches for three knockdowns is testament to what a scary K-1 fighter he has become. What impressed most about Overeemʼs victory over Edwards was his ability to build a water-tight defense against Edwardsʼ infamous punching power; his patience in riding out Edwardsʼ attack; finished off by his ability to pick the right moment and deliver put-away shots with speed, power and precision. There were no wild, swinging haymakers from Overeem; his was not a splatter gun approach but rather that of a skilled marksman who fired three beautifully timed punches to finish his opponent cleanly and easily. There is a lot of hype on Alistair Overeem these days and this commentator believes it is justified. Overeem boasts size and strength but also technique, an intelligent fighterʼs brain and impressive cardio for a man of his build. His punching power is enormous and his precision and efficiency of strikes impressive. Add to these his trademark uber-knees to the body and head off single-handed clinches or no clinch at all, and his underrated leg kicks, and you see what an gifted all-rounder Overeem has become. Some zealous fans will nominate Overeem as the tournament favorite. He is not. That title belongs solely to Semmy Schilt. But Overeem is surely the favorite on Side B of the draw and a second favorite overall in the tournament. With previous nemeses Badr Hari and Remy Bonjasky not competing, the time is ripe for Overeem to capitalize and claim his place in history.
Watch Alistair Overeem vs Ben Edwards, 2010 Final 16
TYRONE SPONG "King of the Ring" | Country: The Netherlands
Age: 25 | Height: 188cm / 6ʼ 2" | Weight: 95kg / 210lb
K-1 GP Best: Debut
Best Weapon: Combinations / left hook | Weak Point: Jaw / lack of size
Fast Fact: Has held world titles from middleweight to cruiserweight
Leg Kicks: 5 | Head Kicks: 4 | Punching: 5 | Knees: 3 | Durability: 2 | Speed: 4 | Stamina: 4 | Finishing Ability: 1 | Tournament Experience: 3 | Total: 31/45
If you ask any Dutch Muay Thai fan of the last six years who is the most talented Dutch fighter in the world, their answer will most likely not be Remy Bonjasky, Badr Hari, Andy Souwer or Albert Kraus. It will be Tyrone Spong -- and they wouldnʼt be wrong. One of the most decorated kick fighters in history, Spong held titles from middleweight to heavyweight under both full Thai and modified Thai rules, losing only one fight in twenty- nine between 2004 and 2009. Along the way he captured the world light heavyweight title against Yodchai; the world cruiserweight title against Aureliene Duarte, and the a world heavyweight title against Zabit Samedov. As a middleweight to light heavyweight there was nothing the amazingly talented ʻKing of the Ringʼ could not do inside the squared circle and watching him light up opponents with succulent combinations and brutal power shots was one of the most thrilling sights in the striking world. As a K-1 fighter, life has not been as kind to Spong, going 3 and 2 in his five fight K-1 career. His most impressive win was a decision over Ray Sefo in the Final 16, and his two losses came via a knockout to Gokhan Saki and a decision to Jerome LeBanner (after he broke his hand in the first round). However it is the Sefo victory we most need to examine leading up to December 11 as it qualified Spong for his first ever tilt at the GP crown. The win over Sefo proved two things about Spong: he can take the shots of a genuine super heavyweight hitter and he can hang and bang with a fast-handed veteran. What it also showed us was a new repertoire of combination work the likes of which Spong had never displayed above 95kg, thanks in no small part to his new trainer, Ernesto Hoost. The precision leg kicks to the lead thigh, the whipping high kicks and the superb dipping liver rips made Spong look like a smaller version of the insanely skilled Hoost who dominated the golden era of K-1 from the late 1990s to early millennium. Spong is as naturally gifted a kick fighter that has ever laced up gloves but the question begs: in a land of such physical giants as Schilt, Overeem, Ghita and Aerts, is Spong just too small to compete at this level, with this sort of impact? The answer is no. Smaller fighters such as Andy Hug (5ʼ 11", 220lb) have found success in K-1 not through size but through athleticism, ring smarts, speed and technique, each of which Spong has in abundance. Though the rational mind still boggles at just what sort of technique he will use, how much speed he will need, and the kind of athleticism it will take to survive nine minutes in the ring with a fresh Alistair Overeem, who outweighs him by 43 pounds.
Watch Tyrone Spong vs Ray Sefo, 2010 Final 16
QUARTERFINAL No. 4 Daniel Ghita vs Gokhan Saki
DANIEL GHITA | Country: Romania
Age: 29 | Height: 195cm / 6ʼ 5" | Weight: 110kg / 240lb
K-1 GP Best: Debut
Best Weapon: Leg Kicks | Weak Point: Takes punishment for being flat footed
Fast Fact: The first Romanian to ever qualify for the K-1 World GP
Leg Kicks: 5 | Head Kicks: 4 | Punching: 4 | Knees: 3 | Durability: 5 | Speed: 4 | Stamina: 4 | Finishing Ability: 5 | Tournament Experience: 3 | Total: 36/45
If you could flag one debutante fighter in the K-1 Grand Prix as a future champion, Daniel Ghita is the one. The Romanian has the size, technique, speed and killer instinct to one day claim the most prestigious of titles. At 6ʼ5" and 240lb Ghita has the size to compete with the giants such as Schilt, he also boasts a tremendous skill set laden with power, none more so than his chomping leg kicks, which he used to devastate the competition in his explosive 2009 K-1 debut, winning an eight-man tournament in near world record time (he burnt through John Love, Yuki and Sergei Lascenko in just 5:15). However what truly impresses about Ghita is his continued evolution as a K-1 fighter. Many fighters who burst onto the K-1 scene in spectacular fashion (as did Ghita on August 11, 2009) get so carried away with the hype that they forget to keep honing their skills and soon get carried out to sea and drowned (Junichi Sawayashiki was a perfect example. Zimmerman perhaps another). Ghita smartly realises that devastating leg kicks alone are no recipe for long-term K-1 success and as such has focussed more on bringing his hands up to speed with his legs. The result of this work was showcased in his Final 16 demolition of Errol Zimmerman, where he annihilated Zimmermanʼs legs with kicks and finished him with hands -- the perfect game plan. Another aspect of his game Ghita has worked on is speed. Not only speed of footwork, which can sometimes be a problem for traditionally flat-footed Muay Thai stylists, but speed of technique. His natural power combined with improved hands and greater speed now make Ghita a true darkhorse in his first ever crack at the K-1 GP title. Ghita is the whole package and it is fighterʼs like the amicable Romanian that K-1 needs to invest in for the future. A well-spoken, mild-mannered individual, he also knows how to turn it on for the media and has a genuine sense of humour usually unseen in Central/Eastern Europeans. If Ghita continues to improve -- and he will -- and learns how to effectively cut off the ring and finish opponents as he did Zimmerman in the Final 16, he will become one of the men-to-beat for the GP title in years to come... heʼs not far off that status right now, in fact.
Watch Daniel Ghita vs Errol Zimmerman, 2010 Final 16
GOKHAN SAKI "The Rebel" | Country: The Netherlands / Turkey
Age: 27 | Height: 182cm / 5ʼ 11" | Weight: 97kg / 210lb
K-1 GP Best: 3rd place 2008
Best Weapon: Speed / Liver Shot | Weak Point: Small build gets hit hard
Fast Fact: Comes in undefeated in 2010
Leg Kicks: 5 | Head Kicks: 4 | Punching: 5 | Knees: 2 | Durability: 4 | Speed: 5 | Stamina: 5 | Finishing Ability: 4 | Tournament Experience: 4 | Total: 38/45
After finishing 2009 with a groin injury and three consecutive losses to Kyotaro, Pavel Zuravliev and Peter Aerts, it appears as if the stars are aligned for Gokhan Saki to be the genuine dark horse threat for the 2010 K-1 GP title. Riding a six-fight win streak for the first time in two years, Sakiʼs most impressive performance came with a 2:14 obliteration of Freddy Kemayo in the Final 16. It was a performance of such speed, ferocity and brutality the likes of which we have never seen from Saki -- and thatʼs saying something for a fighter who is always fast, ferocious and brutal! What so impressed about Sakiʼs dispatching of Kemayo was the overwhelming amount of technique he threw at the Frenchman in such a short period of time. Instead of sitting back and playing a counter-attacking game, which would have allowed the flashy Kemayo to find his kicking range, Saki adopted a shock-and-awe approach of overwhelming the K-1 European GP champion with wave after wave of technique, speed and power all aimed to kill. Anyone who watched the fight live and did not feel compelled to jump out of their seat and start screaming -- as this commentator did with the cry of "faster Saki! Kill! Kill!" -- does not have a pulse. Matched with Ghita in what is undoubtedly the GPʼs blockbuster quarter final pairing, Saki needs to re-employ the Kemayo-destroying strategy but with even greater intensity. If he sits back and allows the bigger and stronger Ghita to find range, particularly with leg kicks, the size difference and Ghitaʼs high workrate as the rounds progress could prove just too much for Saki to handle. To win the GP Saki will have to have to survive three giants if we assume heʼll meet Overeem in the semi-final and Schilt in the final. It is not beyond "The Rebelʼs" skill set and mental capacity to defeat these bigger, stronger opponents. With his confidence peaking and sparring best-friend and stablemates Errol Zimmerman on a daily basis, Saki will be conditioning himself for punishment and strategising a means to absorb, get inside and unleash a whirlwind of fury Tasmanian Devil-style come Dec. 11.