K-1 World GP Nagoya 2004
By Monty DiPietro

K-1 World GP Nagoya 2004 [June 6, 2004] NAGOYA, June 6, 2004 — Musashi beat former Olympic Boxing Gold Medallist Ray “Merciless” Mercer of the United States in the main event as K-1 fighters turned aside their boxer opponents at the Aruze K-1 World GP 2004 in Nagoya.

The one-match event brought 16 fighters from 10 countries to Japan’s third-largest city, with winners receiving consideration for further World GP 2004 elimination tournaments. Several of the bouts paired boxers with established K-1 fighters.

Japanese Seidokaikan fighter Musashi surprised many when he beat Ray Sefo and Peter Aerts before losing by decision to Remy Bonjasky at last year’s K-1 World Grand Prix Tokyo Dome Final. Unquestionably Japan’s strongest K-1 fighter, Musashi faced a formidable boxer here in Mercer.

With a number of boxers making their K-1 debuts, there was something of a shoe issue in the days leading up to the event. Explained K-1’s Game Producer Nobuaki Kakuda: “Some of the boxers asked if they could wear their [laced, semi-rigid-soled] boxing shoes. At the rule meeting, we decided to allow them to do so if they did not throw any kicks.”

At the pre-event press conference, Mercer’s trainer Michael Glynn told reporters “Ray’s not going to wear shoes, he’s worked on a few things, and he’ll be kicking tomorrow!” But, after a last minute change of heart, Mercer walked into the ring in his familiar boxing shoes, and so was not to permitted to throw leg strikes, only absorb them. And absorb them he did, over and over and over again.

To be fair, of the boxers who have tested K-1 of late, Mercer exhibited a superior blocking technique. Although Musashi did score a down in the first when he got a left high kick up to the side of the American’s head, Mercer generally had his right arm in position to intercept what Musashi tossed up in that direction. Mercer often stepped in here, throwing one-two left jabs then looking for a place to plant his right. But defensively, Musashi was equal to the task. And when Mercer was able to close the distance, the two frequently ended up in the clinch.

Things got interesting in the second when Mercer followed up some approach jabs with a nice right uppercut, but by now Musashi’s low kicks were slowing Mercer down. Midway through the fight, after taking a hard low kick then a knee, a frustrated Mercer hoisted Musashi head over heels then tossed him to the canvas. This resulted in a break of several minutes, and Mercer was assessed a yellow card as Musashi recomposed.

The third was slower, and although Mercer was favoring his left leg in the late going, he did nonetheless continue moving forward, and taunted Musashi a couple of times, dropping his guard and inviting the Japanese fighter to mix it up. Musashi got a nice combination in here, a left straight punch and low kick, and rarely looked to be in any serious trouble. A tad showy at the clapper with a dozen quick high kicks, Musashi did earn his comfortable unanimous decision. Aside from his Tokyo Dome loss to Bonjasky, Musashi is now undefeated in 13 K-1 fights dating back to a December 2002 dance with Jerome LeBanner.

After accepting his trophy, Musashi addressed the fans from center ring: “I wanted a KO here but I couldn’t get it, sorry. But, tonight we had boxing and K-1 compete, and you can see the results. I hope Mike Tyson sees this as well. I’ve heard a lot of talk about Bob Sapp wanting to fight Tyson, but let’s not forget the Japanese fighters, because I am ready to meet him!”

The press room was surprised when, some 30 minutes later, Musashi limped into the post-bout interview space with his left foot iced and bandaged.

“I’m on my way to the hospital for X-Rays,” he said. “I hurt my the top of my foot during the first round and it may be broken. I couldn’t stop, of course, because when I kicked less, Ray came at me more. I think, like any boxer, he had a problem with kicks, but he did deal with the pain well, he really could take it.”

Obviously, so could Musashi.

In Mercer’s post-bout interview, a reporter asked him where it hurt: “Where does it hurt?” he joked, “Where doesn’t it hurt, that’s what you ought to ask! Seriously, though, it’s mostly the legs, and it’s a pain like I’ve never felt before in my life.”

The first bout on the Nagoya card featured Carter Williams, who had lost three of his last four and was looking to recapture the form that earned him the 2003 K-1 USA Championship. His opponent was kickboxer Petr Vondracek of the Czech Republic.

There was plenty of action here, Williams looking confident, always quick on the counters with his right punch, following up well with smart and creative combinations. Williams planted a right high kick on Vondracek’s head midway through the first that was the strike of the round.

But in the second, there was trouble for the young American: Williams grabbed Vondracek’s right leg at the knee and fired in a right punch to stun the Czech, then followed up with another right. Vondracek crumpled — but Williams, who thought he had a down, got a red card instead. K-1 Rules permit a fighter to throw only one strike while locking up an opponent’s leg, yet Williams had fired in two. After a delay of several minutes, Vondracek was cleared to continue. Soon afterward, Williams got a clean down, rattling Vondracek’s jaw with a right hook to send him to the mat. The Czech beat the count, but, Williams again went on the attack, and in a matter of seconds he had his opponent backed into the corner and was striking at will. The referee stepped in to stop the punishment, and Williams had the TKO win.

The second matchup saw defending K-1 USA Champion Michael McDonald of Canada take on 32 year-old Japanese Seidokaikan fighter Takeru. Whereas at 39 years of age most fighters are retired or close to it, the ageless McDonald looks to many to be in his prime, something he attributes to clean living, hard training and a carefully balanced diet.

From the start Takeru strived to use his 12cm height advantage to get inside and work the knees, but McDonald was repeatedly able to defeat the clinch by pounding in body blows. After doing just that midway through the first, McDonald snapped a right high kick to the retreating Takeru’s head, almost finishing the bout then and there.

The second was all McDonald, clearly he was in total control here. It was a dandy left hook that clocked Takeru on the jaw for the first down, then seconds later a right hook which scored the Canadian his second down. Takeru flashed an ‘I’m ok, really!’ smile to the delight of the crowd, but he was far from ok, for in no time at all McDonald had decked him again for the victory under K-1’s three-downs-in-a-round rule. It is noteworthy that where some fighters might have immediately pumped their arm- in the air and strutted out a victory dance, McDonald instead knelt down to check on his fallen opponent. A true Champion.

In his post-fight interview, when a reporter asked him who he’d like to face next in K-1, McDonald didn’t miss a beat: “Mike Tyson!” he smiled.

In the next bout, Sweden’s favorite son, the quick and technical Muay Thai fighter Martin Holm, stepped in against Swiss Karate fighter Xhavit Bajrami of Team Andy. Bajrami was here as a late substitute for Marvin Eastman after the 35 year-old American did not pass his pre-fight medical check.

Holm came out crouched and closed up, Bajrami more upright. Both fighters were light on their feet, trading kicks through the first. In the second, Holm tested with the jabs a bit, but Bajrami’s blocking was sound and but for a couple of missed kicks the fight remained a stand off. Holm took some initiative in the third with a punch combination and a knee attack and put Bajrami on the defensive. But the Swiss fighter got back with some point-scoring attacks of his own in the late going, and the strong finish gave him enough to squeak out a victory by a single point on each of the judges’ cards.

In the fourth fight it was American Tom Erikson, who had lost his last three K-1 bouts, in against the affable Jan “The Giant” Nortje of South Africa, who was coming off an impressive win over compatriot Mike Bernardo this March.

Quipped the Giant at the pre-event press conference: “It will be two big men trying to knock each other out, I’m looking forward to it!” Erikson then drew a round of laughter with his remarks: “Jan and I are friends but I will try to take his head off. After the fight I will give it back to him, he can put it back on and we will be friends again!”

From the bell, Erikson tucked his own head down low and bulldozed forward, arms pumping a gatling gun attack, firing anything and everything he had up at Nortje’s noggin. The Giant was caught off guard, got clocked good, and never had a chance to recover. It was a left to the nose that scored Erikson his first down as Norte slumped gracelessly to the canvas. Nortje battled back in the slugfest, but Erikson landed more and with a stunned Nortje in the corner eating punches, the ref assessed a standing count. Soon after that, with Erikson having the better of it, the ref really had no choice but to step in and end the bout. As the bell rang, Erikson leapt on the ropes, looking the happiest man in Japan. Poor Nortje, at that moment, didn’t look like he knew where Japan was.

Three-time K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Peter Aerts of the Netherlands met MMA fighter Gary Goodridge of Trinidad and Tobago in the next fight. Aerts is a superb tactician, one of the K-1 elite. Goodridge, who is coming off a string of wins, outlined his simple strategy at the pre-event press conference: “I am a head-hunter, I plan to finish it in the first two minutes!”

Goodridge came out wanting to do just that, but as his two minutes time limit elapsed, it was clear that he was totally outclassed here. Goodridge had heart, to be sure, but Aerts had smarts. And kicks, and punches, and knees. By late in the first, Goodridge was wincing every time his left shin was struck, and had to literally jump in on one leg to assail Aerts at the start of the second.

But, and this is what made for such an exciting fight — Goodridge did launch an attack — a desperate one, but a pretty good one at that. The haymakers forced Aerts to close up, and rattled him to no small degree. Midway through, when Aerts went to the clinch, Goodridge reached down, picked him up high and sent the Dutchman flying with a body slam. Aerts lay on the mat, surprised and in pain, as Goodridge was assessed a yellow card for his antics. After a break of several minutes the fight resumed, and again Goodridge threw the haymakers, but Aerts was able to stay out of harm’s way and get out of the round with the upper hand.

In the third, Goodridge positioned himself in the corner in an attempt to shelter his left leg, and to his credit, soldiered on to the end. For his part, Aerts dominated his wounded opponent, scoring a down and then another by firing low kicks in on the lame leg. Aerts looked like he wanted to dispatch Goodridge with a decisive knee or dramatic high kick, but saw the clock winding down and so settled for another low kick, which got him the third down in the round and the KO win.

An eagerly-anticipated bout saw Alexy “The Scorpion” return to K-1 Rules with a fight against former IBF Cruiserweight Champion “King” Arthur Williams of the USA. Williams, who at 39 is a full 14 years Ignashov’s senior, was woeful in his K-1 debut, while Ignashov, who has struggled in his recent MMA bouts, was overwhelming.

This fight was practically over as soon as Ignashov threw his first low kick, because from that point on, the limping Williams surely wished he was anywhere else in the world except in the ring with one of the hardest-kicking men on earth. Williams wanted to box, while Ignashov wanted to win — but even when Williams did connect with the rare punch, it scarcely effected Ignashov, who popped the hard low kicks in effortlessly. As he is wont to, Iggy appeared to want to win this one with a highlight reel maneuver, and had to be thinking high kick or knee. But when a low kick dropped Williams for a down, the Americans looked up at the Scorpion, and you could read defeat in his eyes. Likely having contemplated the punishment waiting to be visited on him, Williams wisely stayed down. An easy win for Ignashov, who didn’t even break a sweat.

Defending K-1 World GP Champion Bonjasky, whose his first loss in almost a year came in an uninspired effort against Francisco Filho last month, earned his redemption in the penultimate bout, where his opponent was the hard-hitting Francois “The White Buffalo” Botha of South Africa.

Bonjasky has been likened to a panther, and animal kingdom metaphors were appropriate here as the Dutch Muay Thai virtuoso used speed, agility and grace to counter the brute force of the “White Buffalo.” Botha marched forward with punches, while Bonjasky flew through the air with explosive kicking and knee attacks. Early in the first, when Bonjasky was caught out of position after a missed aerial, the referee had to bear hug Botha to thwart the South African’s attempts to move in and attack from behind. Soon afterward, Bonjasky got a knee up from the clinch to score a down.

Bonjasky weathered Botha’s solid body blows through the second to stay out of trouble for the most part, notwithstanding an exchange against the ropes where a Botha punch dislodged his mouthpiece. The third was slower, Botha throwing a few kicks here and Bonjasky seemingly resigned to a victory by decision — although he did try a flying knee at the clapper. The edge was three points on two cards and four on the other — a very comfortable unanimous decision for Bonjasky.

Said Bonjasky in his post-bout interview, “I thought I had Francois in the second round, but he is becoming a much better K-1 fighter, my low kicks were not hurting him, he just kept on coming. I would have liked the KO, but he held on, so I would only rate this fight a six on a scale of one to ten.”

A great fight night for the 9,639 fans in the Nagoya Rainbow Hall, the Aruze K-1 World GP 2004 in Nagoya was same-day broadcast across Japan on the Fuji TV Network. The Official results are here: www.so-net.ne.jp/feg/k-1gp/top601.htm.