Age. It's the unbeatable enemy of every athlete. Time cannot be stopped and one day, every athlete will succomb to it. The body gets to a point where it won't perform like it once did and even though the mind is willing, championships aren't won on mental strength alone.
K-1 fighters are no different and are probably more susceptible because of the physical toll that professional kickboxers must endure to reach the top and stay there for any amount of time. A fact that makes what Peter Aerts accomplished on December, 11th at the WGP Finals, all that more impressive. The Dutch Lumberjack, along with many of the top stars in K-1, are getting older. The aforementioned Aerts is 40. Jerome Le Banner is 38. Remy Bonjasky is 34 and on the brink of retirement due to an eye injury. Semmy Schilt is 37. I could go on but you see what I'm getting at - K-1 is growing old and in need of young stars to step up and fill the holes that will be left by all those giants of the sport when age has finally caught up with them. Who will that be? Let's look at some.
Ewerton Teixeira - 28: The multi-time Kyokushin Karate champion turned K-1 kickboxer, has had an up-and-down career. He began in 2008 by knocking out Yusuke Fujimoto and Tsutomu Takahagi. He later went on to defeat the veteran Musashi by decision. Things seemed to be going well for the Brazilian and then 2009 happened. Ewerton won two lackluster fights over Jerome Le Banner and Singh Heart Jaideep. I can vouch for the Jaideep fight being one of the most boring I've ever watched. Those two fights were a classic example of the win only meaning something on paper - nobody felt good about Ewerton going forward. Luckily, 2010 was much better for him as he defeated Alex Roberts by TKO in Canberra. He then went on to fight Peter Aerts at the Final 16 and pushed the fight all the way to an extension round before losing to the mighty Dutchman. Many are calling it fight of the year. Teixeira then capped off a resurgant 2010 by beating Errol Zimmerman in the reserve match of the World Grand Prix in Tokyo.
With continued performances like those we saw last year, Ewerton Teixeira will be a K-1 star for years to come.
Tyrone Spong - 25: After being born in the small South American country of Suriname, Tyrone Spong would later move to the Netherlands at age 7. It would prove to be a life-changing decision as Tyrone would go on to become a Muay Thai and kickboxing phenom. Tyrone trains under Mr. Perfect Ernesto Hoost and Lucien Carbin out of Team Fighting Factory Carbin. King of the Ring competed for years at lighter weight classes before moving to heavyweight. He's short for a heavyweight fighter but Tyrone is beginning to figure out how to use his size, speed and athleticism to his advantage against larger opponents. With a record of 65-6 and a trainer like Ernesto Hoost, the future is bright for Tyrone Spong.
Errol Zimmerman - 24: Look up unfulfilled potential and you're sure to see a picture of Errol Zimmerman. Being a Dutch Muay Thai champion and K-1 GP champion, you would think Bone Crusher would continue his rise to the top. Unfortunately, as we've seen with so many others, a taste of early success has managed to derail Zimmerman from his career and caused him to acclimate himself to the night club instead of the gym. And this isn't a shabby gym nobody has ever heard of. Golden Glory is one of the premier gyms for kickboxers. They have no shortage of talented sparring partners as Alistair Overeem and Gokhan Saki train there, among others. Errol has all of the potential and resources needed to become a great fighter. He must dedicate himself to training and focus on being an elite athlete that is capable of winning championships. I'm looking for improvement from Zimmerman in 2011 and hopefully establishing himself among the sports best.
Gokhan Saki - 27: You will not find a more tenacious fighter than Gokhan Saki. The Rebel throws three punch combinations capitalized by a vicious leg kick, quicker than most can throw two punches. Saki is an example of what can be accomplished when you take natural talent and combine it with hard work and good teammates. Look up his devastating TKO victory over Freddy Kemayo for evidence. I believe that had he not been injured going into his semi-final match at the WGP Final against Alistair Overeem, things would have been much different. Not saying that he would have beat Alistair, but he certainly had a good shot at it. Look at the damage he was doing with just his left hand! I believe we'll see these two rematch at some point down the road and it will be a war. If Saki sees success in the States fighting for Strikeforce MMA like he has talked about, it will only bolster his image as one of K-1's elite moving forward. I see great things ahead for this Turkish marauder.
Daniel Ghita - 29: The first Romanian to ever qualify for a World Grand Prix Final is one heck of a kickboxer. Ghita is known for his devastating leg kicks and lately, his hands have improved as well; evidenced by his highlight reel KO of Errol Zimmerman at the 2010 Final 16 in Seoul. He beat Peter Aerts record of 6:43 seconds to win a K-1 tournament, a record that stood for 10 years, by leg kicking his way through three opponents to become the Tokyo GP champion in just 5:15. A huge accomplishment by the Romanian and it made the K-1 world take notice. The standout fight of Ghita's career is certainly his 4 round war against Gokhan Saki. The fight began with a frenetic pace that didn't let up for the whole round. The punishment inflicted by both of these fighters upon each other was incredible. It's no wonder that Saki was so badly injured by Daniel's relentless attack, that Saki couldn't continue in his match against Alistair. That's what Ghita is capable of and I believe we'll see much more of that in the future from the mighty Romanian.
Badr Hari - 26: What might have been... I hope that's not how we reflect upon the career of Badr Hari when he's decided to call it quits. One of the most naturally gifted fighters to come on the scene in some time, Badr Hari seemed to have the K-1 world in his hands. That is, until he decided to stomp Remy Bonjasky in the face after a knockdown at the 2008 WGP Final to hand Remy the title and $400,000. It was a sign of things to come as the Golden Boy would go on to repeat nearly the same behavior against Hesdy Gerges at an IT'S SHOWTIME 2010 event in Amsterdam. This behavior caused the Dutch crowd to actually boo the Netherlands native. Combine this with his penchant for run-ins with the law and Badr has had more than his share of troubles. But he's also had more than his share of success. Badr is one of the sports most dangerous fighters. Just ask Stefan Leko who had his jaw broken by a spinning high kick from Hari. A highlight KO that led fans to name the kick, the "Leko Buster." Badr let his hands do the talking in fights against Ruslan Karaev and Errol Zimmerman, knocking them both out convincingly in two of the most entertaining fights I've had the pleasure to watch. For all the things that Badr does that make you scratch your head, he can do even more in the ring when he maintains his composure and focuses. I believe there's no question that Hari can win multiple titles in K-1 and he'll take a step towards that in 2011.
Alistair Overeem - 30: The oldest fighter on the list but the most accomplished, as well. Alistair Overeem is to the point in his career where you don't really have to give reasons for his inclusion on lists such as these. He holds the K-1 World Grand Prix title, the Strikeforce MMA heavyweight title, and the DREAM MMA interim heavyweight title. With credentials such as those, nuclear knees and precision striking, The Reem is a force to be reckoned with no matter who the opponent may be. I see Alistair continuing that dominance for years to come. He is totally committed to being the best fighter in the world and has enough years ahead of him to fully establish himself as one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up the gloves.
While the aging stars that we all know and cheer for are growing older, the future of K-1 is bright with talent.