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It's Showtime and K-1 Go to War: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

  • Written by Dave Walsh

There is no doubt that there are two big kickboxing organizations in the world today; K-1 and It’s Showtime. One of them has existed for almost 20 years while the other for around 12 years. One of them started off with a bang and continued to grow without restraint while the other took a slower approach to growth. K-1 started off strong, creating the mold for those to follow when it comes to promoting championship kickboxing, with glitz, glamour, international fighters and creating a set of rules that would be used worldwide.

Much like UFC has become synonymous with MMA, K-1 is with kickboxing. You don’t fight kickboxing, you fight K-1, just like you don’t fight MMA, you fight UFC. The problem is that there were no checks and balances for K-1, just growth. The first real problem that could have derailed the train came with founder Kazuyoshi Ishii’s legal problems; tax evasion, money laundering and so forth. This led up to 2006 where the company almost completely went bankrupt, but was able to divert attention away from the problems and founded FEG, an umbrella company to handle their finances and be the new faces of K-1.

It was in 2010 when things really started to fall apart, as K-1 was being publicly called out for late payments to fighters, shows were simply not happening according to schedule and everything felt last minute, rushed and like there were some major, major problems. There were talks of shows being canceled possibly and FEG might go out of business, then there were talks of a Chinese investment bank, PUJI, assisting FEG in restructuring and solving some debt issues. It is almost June now and K-1 has yet to run their first show of the year, nor have they completed their restructuring.

It’s Showtime began as a show running MMA and Kickboxing fights before taking a sharper focus on just kickboxing. Seeing as though there is a wealth of talent in the Netherlands, with some of the best trainers and legends of the sport residing there, it made a lot of sense for kickboxing to become a focus for the Dutch company. Their growth in popularity eventually led for a partnership with K-1 for K-1’s European shows, with both companies working together rather seamlessly.

It’s Showtime also has a management branch that handles a lot of top fighters, with many of them also fighting for K-1. As I said, both companies had always worked together and had a beneficial relationship. Then things got ugly, when certain It’s Showtime fighters were publicly discussing not being paid by K-1, something that comes as a shock to the Japanese company who generally keeps their dealings very, very quiet. The final straw for It’s Showtime was when K-1 stopped returning their calls in regards to the It’s Showtime Amsterdam ArenA show in May, a show which was to be co-promoted between the two.

This comes after a rather public argument about Sem Schilt taping up a cut on his leg against Hesdy Gerges in 2010, with It’s Showtime and Simon Rutz calling for the decision to be overturned and for Gerges to take Sem’s place in the K-1 World Grand Prix. Gerges was given a gift of a bout by K-1 to showcase himself at the Finals, but still wasn’t physically in the tournament.

There is no doubt that It’s Showtime is expanding at a rapid-rate, as they’ll put on over eleven shows before all is said in done in 2011, with four shows to date in the books as K-1 is finally gearing up to put on one smaller show. It came as no surprise that It’s Showtime had given up hope on working with K-1, but that they still saw an opening in the Japanese market, which is one of the strongest markets for kickboxing in the world. When It’s Showtime announced a few days ago that working in conjunction with REBELS and a few governing bodies in Japan that they would start It’s Showtime Japan, alarms went off in my head.

As much as I love the idea of It’s Showtime expanding, moving into K-1’s turf while they are down is a move that will clearly create even more friction between the two. Simon Rutz’s public outcry for his fighter’s not getting paid led to Tanikawa a few months ago proclaiming that “Simon Rutz killed K-1,” so It’s Showtime promoting fights in Japan would without a doubt send K-1 over the edge. Right on schedule, K-1 fired back at It’s Showtime calling for a rushed press conference to announce their first show. While this is only a guess, it is an educated one, the press conference was most likely planned for the future but moved up to respond to It’s Showtime’s Japan announcement.

More after the break.

Another shock came when Tanikawa claimed that fighters who opted to fight for It’s Showtime Japan would no longer be welcome in a K-1 ring. We’ve seen people interpret this quote as they wish, and that is part of the problem with a vague statement like that, people are going to make of it what they wish. It’s Showtime saw this as a clear act of war. There were some clarifications that Tanikawa meant K-1 fighters needed to ask permission, and they would be granted permission and would be “cheered one,” but that still isn’t clear.

K-1’s fighter contracts are not exclusive and K-1 only has one 63kgs tournament show scheduled so far, so for a fighter like HINATA who fights regularly for outside promotions, would he need “permission” from K-1 to fight for It’s Showtime but not for REBELS or anyone else? Does Yuya Yamamoto ask for permission before fighting for KRUSH? With K-1 not able to pay their fighters in a timely manner or even schedule shows more than a few weeks out, it is a tough gamble in an already difficult international kickboxing scene. Of course this kind of behavior is not new, as we remember what happened with Cosmo Alexandre when he booked another fight outside of It’s Showtime close to an It’s Showtime title fight without “permission,” then got upset about his fight contract.

Both companies hold a deal of leverage over each other; K-1, when they are up and running, promoting big shows and able to pay their fighters, have the name value and put on shows that are still unmatched by anyone, anywhere. Their shows have an air of legitimacy that come with association of the K-1 brand and all that it stands for. It’s Showtime, while newer, holds a few aces with the international talent that they hold leverage over. With leverage for fighters like Badr Hari, Hesdy Gerges, Giorgio Petrosyan, Chahid, Tryone Spong and many others, K-1 alienating It’s Showtime also alienates that air of legitimacy that comes with their tournaments as a lack of top name foreigners takes the “global” scale of the World Grand Prix tournaments and severely downgrades them. Basically, It’s Showtime has the power to cripple K-1 while they are weak right now, as without It’s Showtime’s support putting on a Heavyweight World Grand Prix or a MAX Grand Prix would mean having to exclude some of the biggest name foreigners that they’ve spent years selling as the best in the world.

Having all of this in mind, this morning It’s Showtime issued a press release claiming that they have decided to hire a lawyer and take legal action against K-1 after they heard about Tanikawa looking to cause problems for them entering Japan. The claims are that K-1 owes $400,000 to It’s Showtime fighters still, yet is organizing events with this money still outstanding. On top of that, the rumors are that Tanikawa has spoken to fighters who are still owed money and told them if they fight for It’s Showtime they will not receive the money owed to them on top of not fight for them again.

All of this has created an uneasy atmosphere in the kickboxing world, as we’ve seen one superpower begin to weaken while another one rises, standing over the fallen former ally with a sword in hand looking to finish them off. The truth is, both companies working together is best for fans and fighters. K-1 needs to get their financial situation worked out and pay their fighters back, while It’s Showtime’s roster of impressive fighters fighting the best in a global tournament in K-1 adds to their air of legitimacy. In the four shows It’s Showtime has promoted, the only truly big name fight they have put on is Hesdy Gerges vs. Daniel Ghita, and while they have had big names involved in fights, they have generally been against lesser talents (ie: Badr Hari vs. Gregory Tony) and haven’t helped the brand as much as big fights could.

It’s Showtime needed the financial backing and support from K-1 to make their big Amsterdam ArenA show happen, and while I don’t doubt for a minute that they could pull off the show on their own, It’s Showtime likes to co-promote with partners for their shows, and a bigger show like that would require a partner to help with bigger expenses.

Business in Japan is volatile for foreigners, so It’s Showtime making partners in Japan is good, but the powers-that-be behind FEG have a lot of pull within the country, and with the right phone call they could make doing business in Japan next to impossible for It’s Showtime. I feel like right now both companies have a gun pointed at each other, and my main concern is that if one shoots the other, the one going down will make sure to squeeze the trigger on the way down and ensure they don’t go down alone. As much as I love Mexican standoffs, as a fan I'd rather not be included in this one.

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