Hiromi Amada Wins K-1 Japan GP
By Monty DiPietro

Hiromi Amada Wins K-1 Japan GP [June 26, 2004] SHIZUOKA, JAPAN, June 26, 2004 — Thirty-two year-old boxer and K-1 veteran Hiromi Amada squeaked out the narrowest of majority decisions in his first fight, KO’d his semifinal opponent, then took a comfortable unanimous decision in the main event to win the K-1 Japan Grand Prix 2004 in Shizuoka.

Shizuoka was the home of Ieyasu (1542-1616), the first Tokugawa Shogun. The central Japan Prefecture is also where you’ll find majestic Mt. Fuji, historic Kakegawa Castle, and the Ecopa Arena, part of the sports complex that hosted 2002 FIFA World Cup matches. On this day, the Ecopa hosted the hottest ticket in town, as the K-1 Beast 2004 in Shizuoka featured the eight-man Japan GP Final as well as a couple of big-name Superfights.

In the first tournament quarterfinal, Hiraku Hori met Seidokaikan fighter Shingo Koyasu. Hori had lost against superior K-1 fighters in his last three bouts (Musashi, Mighty Mo, Cyril Abidi), but the high level of competition seemed to have bumped his skills up a notch.

Some 28cm taller and eight years younger than Koyasu, Hori used jabs and front kicks to keep his aggressive opponent outside in the early going. In the second, Hori was able to back Koyasu into the corner and launch punch attacks, but Koyasu was quick and creative with his counters. The best strike of the round was a Hori uppercut, and the fighters were just about even on the cards going into the third.

As Koyasu began to come in with his head down, Hori was smart picking his spots, and answered a Koyasu low kick with a left punch to score the down that made the difference. It wasn’t a particularly exciting or dominating performance by Hori, but it was sufficient to put him through with a unanimous decision.

After losing five in a row, Karate fighter Tsuyoshi Nakasako found his form against German-American fighter Mavrick this March, scoring a convincing first round KO victory against the tattooed tough guy. In the second quarterfinal here, Nakasako stepped in against Nobu Hayashi, who has been training at the respected Chakuriki Gym in Amsterdam for years now. Hayashi had dropped four of his last five, and so had to be looking to turn things around here.

Both fighters were tentative in the first, although Hayashi probably had the better stuff with some smart combinations. In the second we had more of the same, the two trading blows but neither able or willing to step up and take control. There was also a relative lack of kicks in the first two rounds.

In the third, Hayashi worked the low kicks more, and toward the end of the round found an opening and got in with a couple of right hooks that rattled Nakasako. In the absence of Seidokaikan fighter Musashi (who has a bye to the Final Elimination), Nakasako was one of the favorites to win the Japan GP. It had to be disappointing for the 30 year-old fighter when the narrow but unanimous decision went Hayashi’s way. Again, not exactly action-packed, but a good technical bout, with Hayashi simply a little better.

Continuing the tradition of inviting a foreign fighter to the Japan GP Final, K-1 put South African boxer Mike Bernardo up against tough customer Tatsufumi Tomihira in the next pairing. Bernardo is a K-1 veteran, while Tomihira is a hot young scrapper (nicknamed “Mr. Yellow Card) with a lot of heart. Tomihira lost a close (some say controversial) decision against Kelly Leo in Las Vegas this April.

Here, Tomihira came out swinging, and quickly put Bernardo on the retreat. The Japanese fighter took to the clinch to work the knees, but Bernardo lurched forward and the two went careening across the ring. There was accidental head to head contact during the exchange, and this opened a cut over Bernardo’s right eye.

After a doctor check, Bernardo was cleared to continue, and quickly delivered a right hook that set Tomihira to stumbling. The two muscled in close, and for a spell this looked more like horizontal wrestling than K-1 fighting. After another time stop to check on Bernardo’s eye, Tomihira got the knees working as he wanted, connecting twice from the clinch. With Bernardo momentarily stunned, Tomihira seized the opportunity to throw a high left kick that dropped the South African for good. The blitzkrieg start stood him in good stead, earning a tremendous upset for the scrappy Tomihira.

Hiromi Amada is always a tough customer, and something of an old-school showman as well. He beat Kimo and Butterbean in his most recent outings, and went up against MA Japan Heavyweight Champion Noboru Uchida in the last of the tournament quarterfinals.

It was close, but in the final analysis Amada just outworked Uchida here — focused, aggressive, and relentless. Uchida deked, and danced the fancy, but Amada was better with his no-nonsense punch combinations. In the third Uchida came out with high kicks, but Amada refused to be intimidated and stayed on his game, charging forward with haymakers and hooks. This made for a wild round with plenty of shifts in momentum. One judge saw the fight as a draw, but Amada was up by a single point on the other two cards to take the majority decision.

In the first of the quarterfinals, Hiraku Hori got into trouble early against Nobu Hayashi. After head-to-head contact left Hayashi with a cut over the eye, Hori was assessed a red card, which cost him a point. Shortly thereafter, Hayashi got a straight punch in for a down and Hori was trailing by another point.

Keen to get back in the fight, Hori threw caution to the wind and launched a desperate punching attack, but Hayashi was more than capable with his defense and counters. Throughout, Hori the southpaw had trouble when Hayashi stepped in and threw the right straight — by the end of the second Hori already looked utterly lost. Hayashi scored two downs in the third, the first with a low kick and the second with a right straight, to take the win by KO and advance to the final.

Hiromi Amada and Tatsufumi Tomihira had a raucous start to their semifinal bout, both charging in from the bell to a brutal clinch. Midway through the first, Amada’s right hook counter dropped Tomihira, and it took a gutsy effort for the fighter to get to his feet and (barely) beat the count. Throughout this bout, Amada appeared unbothered by Tomihira’s kicks, and, as he had in his first outing, stuck with his punch combinations to effect. Amada corralled his opponent into the corner in the second and threw several unanswered punches, but Tomihira absorbed these valiantly. Finally, in the third, Amada’s onslaught took its toll when another right hook counter put Tomihira down. A minute later, a left to the head caught Tomihira coming in and ended the bout.

For all the determination in his first two fights, Hiromi Amada started uncharacteristically cautious with Nobu Hayashi in the final, and the first round was close. Both fighters did, however, score with good punches, and there was more of this is in the second, Hayashi working the jab and Amada good with his right. Hayashi threw more low kicks, but Amada repeatedly put his hooks over Hayashi’s guard to make his counters better. Hayashi got a solid right punch through in the second, and remained smart with his combinations, but as the fight wore on it looked like Amada simply wanted it more.

The third began with Hayashi taking the initiative, but Amada was again seemingly immune to low kicks, and soon he took control, stepping in with the punches. The two mixed it up here, Amada always a little better in the exchange. If there was any doubt in the judges’ minds Amada erased it with the strike of the bout, a right hook that caught Hayashi’s jaw at the clapper. By the end of this one, Hayashi’s face looked mighty rough. As for Amada’s mug — it always looks rough.

A well-deserved unanimous decision and Japan GP Championship for Amada, whose wife and one year-old twins joined him as he pronounced an emotional thank-you from the winner’s circle

Amada collects 5 million yen for the tournament win and a 300,000 yen bonus for his semifinal KO. Equally importantly, the victory earns him a trip to the World GP Final Elimination, the one-match tournament this autumn which will determine the 2004 World GP Tokyo Dome Final Eight.

Said Amada in his post-tournament interview: “I trained very hard for this tournament, with weights and running and boxing, but another difference from previous years is that I used to be nervous or excited before a big tournament, but this time I was more relaxed. That helped me, that and the fact that my punches are very hard!”

There were two Superfights on the card. The first pitted Montanha Silva of Brazil against Butterbean of the United States.

Silva got the big punches working his last time out, scoring a third round KO against Yusuke Fujimoto for his first K-1 win in four starts. Coincidentally, Butterbean also recorded his lone K-1 victory against Fujimoto. Here, both fighters wanted very much to put a second notch in their belts.

Silva stands at 225cm, which afforded him a 45cm edge over Butterbean, who lugged a 30kg weight advantage into the ring, for what that was worth. This was a curious fight, to say the least, both men struggling not only against their opponent but also with their own preternatural physical configurations — Silva’s gargantuan limbs do not permit him to strike quickly, whilst Butterbean’s corpulence reduces the reach of his relatively undersized arms. The crowd gasped and giggled during the center-ring stare down, and applauded anytime either of the fighters did anything halfway good — each low kick Butterbean managed, for example, drew an appreciative response, and similarly when Silva hoisted a big leg up for a high kick, well, it seemed to defy physics, which is always interesting, so that tended to also elicit an ‘Ooh!’

Somewhat surprisingly, this dance went the distance. Butterbean, a constant source of amusement, tried his best, but the stoic Silva had the harder low kicks and initiated most of the exchanges, and so he got the unanimous decision.

The second Superfight saw Bob “The Beast” Sapp take on K-1 veteran Ray Sefo of New Zealand.

There had been many rumors swirling around Japan in the wake of Sapp’s recent ROMANEX Rules loss to Kazuyuki Fujita — some stories had The Beast giving up the fight game altogether! Few of the tittle-tattlers bothered to mention the fact that Sapp had won an impressive seven of his previous nine K-1 Rules bouts (with the only losses coming against elite fighters Mirko CroCop and Remy Bonjasky). Sapp’s matchup here with Sefo was, therefore, a chance for the American fighter to show his mettle.

As usual, at the bell, Sapp charged, head down, NFL-style toward his opponent. Within seconds he had bowled Sefo over, this ruled a slip not a down. When Sapp reverted to his bad boy antics and came in with punches on his seated opponent, he was disciplined with the yellow card. The fight resumed with Sapp once again bulldozing Sefo, this time into the corner, where he laid in with a left-right punching and piledriving attack. Sefo wobbled as he absorbed almost two dozen blows and a knee before somehow rallying with his own fists. But with Sapp leaned far forward, the Kiwi had nowhere to put his punches but the side and back of Sapp’s head, so referee Kakuda called for a break.

Again, Sapp barreled forward when the fight resumed, but this time he was met by a knee to the groin, and fell to the canvas in pain. Sefo was cautioned and a two minute time stop called to permit the wincing Sapp to recompose.

When things started again, Sapp first threw a kick (remarkably, not his only legwork, Sapp threw a number of hard kicks and knees here), then again chased his opponent down with haymakers. There ensued a real slugfest, but Sefo was able to get the upper hand and put Sapp in the corner. Sefo rained perhaps a dozen punches down on Sapp, stopping only when time ran out on the round.

Sapp kept on coming in the second, but less than a minute in Sefo brought a punishing right hook in to stun The Beast, then followed up with a another to drop him like a tranquilizer dart. Sapp struggled to beat the count, but could not, and so Sefo had the victory.

As Sapp left the ring, a reporter asked him how he felt. “I’m a little bit tired,” he replied, softly, “and I’m a little bit injured.”

“Sugarfoot” Sefo the consummate sportsman had words of praise for The Beast: “I took this fight on five days notice, and I am happy to have the win. But tonight Bob showed he has balls, he is a true competitor.”

In other bouts, K-1 fledgling Vitor Vitinho of Brazil got off to a promising start, beating Great Kusatsu by unanimous decision in the tournament reserve fight; and Ryo Takigawa beat Tsutomu Takahagi by unanimous decision in an undercard matchup.

The K-1 Japan Series Beast 2004 in Shizuoka attracted 5,500 fans to the Shizuoka Ecopa Arena and was same-day broadcast across Japan on the Nippon TV network. See the official results here.