K-1 is still on hiatus, with a possible update from K-1 this coming week, but that doesn't mean that K-1 fighters aren't still making waves in Japan. Jerome Le Banner headed to Japan this week and was a part of Antonio Inoki's pro wrestling show, Inoki Genome Federation. Le Banner wrestled under "Special K-1 Rules" against Shinnichi Suzukawa, an ex-sumo who has had some interesting bouts in IGF over the past few months. There was a well-publicized bout with Mark Coleman where Suzukawa legitimately brutalized Coleman and then a match with Bob Sapp that was by-the-books pro wrestling. Le Banner came into this wearing his K-1 gloves and did a number on Suzukawa, KO'ing him in 5:39 with a hard punch. There is also some rough video available, so decide for yourself, real or fake punch. [source]
This is where things are for Kickboxers who want to compete in Japan and get paid by their sponsors with K-1 still not 100% up and running, in a professional wrestling ring. On August 27th there was an unprecedented number of K-1 fighters participating in professional wrestling in Antonio Inoki's IGF promotion. Yuichiro "Jienotsu" Nagashima, Ray Sefo, Jerome Le Banner and yes, Mr. K-1, Peter Aerts. Le Banner is currently the big star of IGF, serving as Antonio Inoki's Champion, he was originally slated to defend his title against Josh Barnett, but Barnett was forced to pull out due to scheduling difficulties with his fight in Strikeforce, so Kazuyoshi Fujita stepped in for him. Peter Aerts 'fought' former sumo wrestler Shinnichi Suzukawa and brutalized him until the referee stopped the match. [source]
There are not many men who epitomize an entire sport or way of life quite like Peter Aerts does for K-1. In the world of Kickboxing, Aerts is a legend with a whopping three K-1 World Grand Prix victories under his belt and out of all of the years of the WGP happening, only missing one year. It is safe to say that Peter Aerts is cut from a different cloth than everyone else is, and that he was born to be a fighter. To say that Aerts does not like to give interviews is an understatement, especially when it comes to interviews to international media, so when we got the green light from Peter’s wife, Esther, it came almost as a shock to us.
We caught up with Peter Aerts after he landed in Japan last week, in preparation for last week’s Inoki Genome Federation professional wrestling event. We were lucky enough to discuss some current events with him, on a wide range of topics from his retirement, the state of kickboxing all the way to pro wrestling. Peter’s whole career has been full of hefty challenges, and in his final fight it will be no different, as he challenges the young and dangerous Tyrone Spong. The question was burning in my mind, why would Peter Aerts take such a tough opponent for his last fight, although he made the answer sound so simple.
The internet is a marvelous place where international borders mean little like they used to. If something happened in Japan ten years ago, eagerly reading the results online and waiting for a few weeks before you could have someone send you a DVD (or even -- GASP -- VHS tape) of the event to check out for yourself was commonplace. Now there are ways to stream events live as they happen, and if they aren't available to be streamed, they are shared around the internet at the blink of an eye. That is magic, folks. As someone who has been ordering K-1 and Japanese MMA tapes since the mid-90's, it is mind-boggling how much better we have it now and how easy it is to follow your favorite athletes.
All of this is a lead-in to this; Inoki Genome Federation is Antonio Inoki's pro wrestling promotion in Japan. The catch is, Inoki has a good relationship with many professional fighters and he fancies himself one of the true pioneers of Mixed Martial Arts. This means his brand of pro wrestling is a lot different from when he promoted New Japan Pro Wrestling and more resembles the style that he attempted to introduce to New Japan that nearly ran the company into the ground; Shoot Style. It is the kind of action that blurs reality from fiction and is entertaining. Sit back and watch as your favorite K-1 and MMA fighters go toe-to-toe in pre-scripted drama that is pro wrestling. Also note that wow, Nagashima is big, one source has claimed he is as high as 90kg. That is 198 pounds. [source]
Yuichiro "Jienotsu" Nagashima vs. Bob Sapp
Atsushi Sawada vs. Minowaman
Peter Aerts/Bobby Lashley vs. Kazuyuki Fujita/Kendo KaShin
In a ridiculously awkward turn of events, Mirk Cro Cop's recent retirement from MMA has made his name pop up more and more in the news than it ever did in his UFC run on an international level. What we know so far is that Mirko plans on returning to the Kickboxing world and it seems that March is his projected return date against a fearsome opponent in Errol Zimmerman. There is also negotiations ongoing with Dzevad Poturak for a bout in June. Both of these fights are incredibly tough fights for an aging Mirko who has been competing in MMA for years without competing in Kickboxing. He also has been away from training for Kickboxing, which can be a giant problem for a fighter coming from Mixed Martial Arts.
Then there is this piece of news, where Jerome Le Banner is set to be in action. His proposed opponent? Mirko Cro Cop. This would be a spiritual successor to their 1996 K-1 bout where Cro Cop walked away victorious, the only difference is that this would most likely be a professional wrestling bout contested under the IGF banner. According to Nikkan Sports Antonio Inoki has offered Cro Cop a spot on New Year's Eve against Le Banner, the current IGF Champion. IGF will also most likely have pro wrestling contests featuring Naoya Ogawa and Tadao Yasuda, both former professional wrestlers and MMA fighters. [source]
The IGF is a pro wrestling promotion ran out of Japan by former New Japan Pro Wrestling head and MMA pioneer Antonio Inoki. It features his "brand" of pro wrestling, which is a hybrid of real fighting and the theatrics and "booking" (read: scripted nature) of pro wrestling. In the end what it yields is the high drama of pro wrestling with the grit, violence and impact of a real fight. That style goes far back to catch-as-catch-can wrestling and Japan was king of the "shoot-style" with the early UWF, early Pancrase, RINGS, UWF-i and U-Style. Inoki's last show was an eclectic mix, featuring Jerome Le Banner against Kazuyoshi Fujita, Yuichiro "Jienotsu" Nagashima against pro wrestling legend Masahiro Chono and Peter Aerts against fallen sumo Shinichi Suzukawa.
New Year's Eve in Japan has been a tradition in combat sports for years now. Sadly, after the fall of FEG we've seen very little in the way of what we used to get with the huge Dynamite!! events in Japan. The days of Kakutougi being king in Japan have come and gone, but that doesn't mean that people don't try.
There were a handful of events in Japan today, with the bigger ones being run by DEEP and Inoki Genome Federation. IGF featured the bigger names like Cro Cop, Satoshi Ishii, Shinya Aoki, Josh Barnett (pro wrestling, not MMA) and even hosting Fedor Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva as special guests. The story coming away from the event is that Mirko Cro Cop finished Satoshi Ishii with a left head kick to knock him off balance then following up with a flurry of punches to put him down and out.
This means that Mirko Cro Cop begins 2015 by holding onto the IGF World Championship.