Very rarely does it seem like within the span of a week we get major kickboxing news like this, but when it rains it pours and 2012 seems to be the year where Kickboxing has been given the money and investors it needs to grow and truly be the global force that it is. Earlier in the week, we made an announcement about the Glory World Series in March, an event which will host Semmy Schilt, Mark Miller, Errol Zimmerman, Jerome Le Banner, Robin van Roosmalen and more, and now we can announce that Glory is planning on running three huge tournaments this year.
The tournaments will begin around May and will take place in three different weight classes; 70kg, 85kg and Heavyweight. The addition of 85kg is one to make a lot of fans happy, as K-1 has been known to ignore weight classes in between 70kg and Heavyweight, but there is a ton of talent worldwide between 70kg and 100kg that tend to go unrecognized due to the K-1 format. In 2012 we do not have to worry about this, as Glory will be running these three huge tournaments. On top of that, the prize money involved is $1 million USD all total, with the 70kg and 85kg tournaments receiving $300k each and Heavyweight for $400k.
To put this into perspective, compared to K-1 tournaments it is comprable pay, if not better in the cases of 70kg and 85kg, and a great opportunity for fighters around the world to prove their mettle in a new arena. Bas Boon is quoted in a press release as saying that he is sure that Peter Aerts, Giorgio Petrosyan, Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Jaideep Singh and Ewerton Teixeira will follow suit and sign agreements with TSA to participate in these Glory events.
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
The sport of kickboxing is one that has been around for a while under different rules, names and appearances, but has gone through periods of interest and disinterest alike. Without a doubt kickboxing was at its highest point in Japan from the mid-90’s through the late 2000’s under the K-1 banner. K-1 was an undeniable force in combat sports that wowed fans all over the world and kept up its level of mystique. K-1 was a monolith in the combat sports world, a Japanese organization that seemed to always have a small stable of fighters that it promoted while rarely swapping them out for newer, younger talents.
Throughout the years K-1 earned some scorn and derision from fans and insiders, claims of corruption, fight-fixing and organized crime ties behind the scenes would eventually tear the organization apart, yet fans still came out in droves right up until the final gong. Now here we sit, just shy of five years after FEG’s K-1 imploded and we are watching organizations like GLORY, K-1 Global, K-1 Japan, Enfusion and SuperKombat struggle to gain traction in their respective markets. To many, it is a mystery to mull over why brands like GLORY haven’t caught on with more fans, but it seems clear as day what the key differences were between K-1’s glory days and the current marketplace is; creativity.
If you go back and watch the first K-1 World Grand Prix that was won by Branko Cikatic you can see the roots of what would become the K-1 that we knew and loved, yet something was missing. Branko was a fine fighter, but he wasn’t the type of fighter that the Japanese audience would fall in love with or be featured on television like many future K-1 champions would be. Everything from the lighting to the stage setup and presentation was good but not quite there yet. Then professional wrestling god Akira Maeda helped K-1 founder Kazuyoshi Ishii to meld professional wrestling ideals into the sport and everything changed.
Looking back at K-1’s list of champions and fighters that endured the passage of time as icons you’ll always find something to latch onto about these fighters. A young Peter Aerts was called the Dutch Lumberjack, entering the ring wearing a flannel vest and hat. Ernesto Hoost was called Mr. Perfect because of his immaculate technique and lived up the gimmick whenever he was on camera as the perfect fighter. Andy Hug was the karateka with a profound love and admiration for the Japanese culture so he was always seen in his signature gi in promotional videos and so on.
What I’m trying to say is that K-1 had characters. These characters were of course real-life fighters and maybe just small exaggerations of the fighters’ personalities, but each fighter that K-1 sunk considerate amounts of time and energy into marketing had a larger-than-life personality that when placed on a large stage was able to enthrall fans. Many have written off such things as simply “Japanese” and that they wouldn’t work anywhere else, but a cursory look around the world at the legions of fans of K-1 and those fighters shows just how effective that was.
I’ve heard the arguments as to why this current crop of kickboxing stars can’t be presented in that way, everything from “well, they aren’t as charismatic” to “fans want real, not manufactured hype,” but the proof is in the pudding. Chi Lewis Parry has been one of the fighters that GLORY has been heavily marketing in part due to just how much he can talk. When Chi Lewis Parry opens his mouth people listen, which is part of the magic of Chi Lewis Parry. I’m not sure that he’s ready for Rico Verhoeven just yet, but he’s found himself an audience much like Chael Sonnen did years ago and how Conor McGregor has done in the UFC recently. Chi Lewis Parry’s talent hasn’t been nurtured or curated, though, just thrust at the screen once discovered without much thought put into it.
A large part of what made K-1 so successful has to be on the shoulders of Kazuyoshi Ishii, who had the vision and talent to find these personality traits in his fighters and to amplify them. Peter Aerts was nowhere near the level of a talker as a Chi Lewis Parry or a Conor McGregor, yet he made a ton of money for K-1 and became a world famous personality off of being the “Dutch Lumberjack” and later “Mr. K-1.” In fact, Aerts is rather soft-spoken and is one of the kindest guys that you’ll ever talk to who enjoys laughing and not taking himself too seriously, yet fans were always invested in Aerts.
That was the magic of K-1. You didn’t need to be Bob Sapp to become a star. In fact, while fighters like Bob Sapp who could talk and looked imposing did great business for K-1, they wouldn’t last because of the lack of talent. Where K-1 really shined was finding legitimately talented fighters and building them into something special. In fact, there was one great project near the end of K-1’s run that deserves special attention; Alistair Overeem.
Overeem was a moderately successful MMA fighter with an imposing physique, vicious knees and a great standing guillotine that never seemed to really catch on with fans. Yet, somehow, in 2008 after wins over Paul Buentello, Mark Hunt and a draw against Mirko Cro Cop he was brought into K-1 to fight their golden boy Badr Hari on New Year’s Eve. Badr Hari was coming off of a rather embarrassing display where he essentially imploded under the pressure during the K-1 World Grand Prix Finals against Remy Bonjasky and got himself disqualified, so K-1 thrust him into a New Year’s Eve freakshow fight to defend the honor of K-1 against the MMA world’s Overeem. The thing is, Overeem knocked Badr Hari out and all hell broke loose.
Alistair Overeem is a relatively quiet, soft-spoken guy. In fact, he’s a pretty nice dude for a guy who is as muscular and scary in the ring as he is. The cocky Badr Hari who had just earlier in the month lost the K-1 World Grand Prix via disqualification was there to get his win back, to get back on track and regain face after his in-ring meltdown, but instead a new star was born in Overeem. Overeem tried his hand against the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion of Remy Bonjasky a few months later and looked scary, but ultimately lacking experience against a tactician like Bonjasky and dropped a decision. That wasn’t the end of Overeem in K-1, oh no, not by a longshot.
The K-1 marketing machine quickly went to work with Overeem, producing perhaps one of the most amazing hype videos that I’ve ever seen for a fighter leading into the K-1 World Grand Prix Final 16. This video showed Overeem on the streets of Holland with his signature mallet that he used to bring to the ring with him smashing a bike into pieces. It encapsulated the fury that we saw in the ring from Overeem, the raw power and emotion that he brought into fights without him having to cut an eloquent interview. After smashing a bike and a camera tripod he pointed to the camera, took a few deep breaths and uttered “Everybody’s gonna die.”
It was beautiful. I remember seeing it at the time and just being awestruck by it. Alistair Overeem held a victory over Badr Hari and nearly defeated then-champion Remy Bonjasky and was going to fight the legend Peter Aerts in the K-1 World Grand Prix Final 16. Overeem was being billed as the outsider, the invader who was looking to usurp the throne that was always held by the best kickboxers in the world for his own. It was a simple, effective narrative that was only exacerbated when he defeated Peter Aerts in the Final 16, securing his spot in the K-1 World Grand Prix.
K-1 did a series of vignettes with Overeem leading up to his entry into the K-1 World Grand Prix, focusing on his raw strength and his crazy, unorthodox training in Holland. While all of that was good, perhaps what was the most effective was showing him eat. Sounds weird, right? But Alistair Overeem is a huge dude who needed a lot of protein and when they sent a camera crew to show him cooking his own food and talking about how he ate horsemeat for its protein value, well, everyone went nuts. Alistair Overeem filmed inside of a tiny Dutch kitchen that he could barely fit inside of cooking horse steaks to prepare for the K-1 World Grand Prix was an image that endures to this day as one of the defining moments in the career of “Ubereem.”
His first fight was to be against the Kyokushin fighter from Brazil that was popular in Japanese karate circuits in Ewerton Teixeira. Teixeira was always a skilled guy who wasn’t the most exciting fighter to watch, but he connected well enough with fans and filled an important role for the organization by representing Kyokushin. The video package that they created leading into that fight hammered home their narrative of Overeem being an “invader” from MMA, showing highlights from his fights with Badr, Remy and Aerts. The visual of Overeem literally bullying around the K-1 legend Peter Aerts and tossing around Remy Bonjasky was a powerful one, so was the interview footage of Badr Hari talking about his loss to Overeem. They also sowed the seeds of Overeem vs. Badr Hari meeting again in the tournament in a rematch for the ages, which played a big role in the 2009 K-1 World Grand Prix.
Overeem scored an absolutely brutal knockout on Ewerton Teixeira with a clinch knee, which helped to lead to the legend of the UBERKNEE and only made Overeem look that much stronger heading into the semifinals against Badr Hari. The rematch with Badr Hari was the story of the show, by far, which overshadowed what would become another Semmy Schilt victory. The real story of the show was that Alistair Overeem’s stock was on the rise and that it was part skill and talent and part marketing and narrative-building. This fight was the culmination of a lot of work and storytelling where a lot of credit should go to Michael Schiavello’s absolutely brilliant narrative-driven call throughout this event.
I’ve heard many a fan decry Schiavello, Sefo and Kogan’s call during that match, or their celebration on-camera after the fight as “cheesey” or “unprofessional,” but the reality was that they were genuinely excited and engaged in the narrative, as was the entire crowd. That finish still gives me chills to this day because of just how perfect of a moment it was. The thing is, I’ve heard a lot of people say that narratives in combat sports are “impossible” because of the unpredictable nature of people getting hit in the face, but the truth is that a deft storyteller will find a way to weave a complex narrative that can be altered along the way to be just as effective.
Due to Badr Hari once again losing his cool in the ring in 2010 he was on a bit of a sabbatical from the sport, leaving the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix wide open for new blood. The tournament saw a lot of top names involved, including newer names like Tyrone Spong and Gokhan Saki becoming dark horses to win the entire tournament and to bring new blood into the K-1 lineage. K-1 continued their push for Overeem, though, pushing the narrative of Overeem more focused than ever on K-1, but still slightly arrogant and the outsider heading into the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
They focused on his raw strength as one of his selling points. We know in combat sports that raw strength and physique aren’t what makes a fighter “good,” but by pushing this narrative they kept building up Overeem as a larger-than-life character, even having him talking about how he grew up watching Hulk Hogan in WWF.
Overeem, of course, would go on to win the K-1 World Grand Prix, becoming one of the most famous fighters in Japan. His stock also rose within the United States as well, with more and more fans calling for him to step back into the Strikeforce cage to defend the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship, maybe even go to the UFC and challenge Brock Lesnar in a dream match. In fact, Overeem now had an aura about him when he stepped into the ring. He was the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion and that not only meant something, it meant everything at the time.
Regardless of your opinion of Alistair Overeem, K-1 took a fighter that was talented and driven and helped to push him beyond the level that he was at the time. They helped to make him a star and a featured attraction that they were drawing money off of up until scandal struck and the company lost their television deal and ultimately disintegrated.
Alistair Overeem is simply the last example of starbuilding that K-1 did and how that work that they did on pushing Overeem’s larger-than-life character was able to carry over after his K-1 career and help to build him up to be a living legend in combat sports. Anything that happened after is immaterial, of course, but he was still elevated in part by K-1’s huge push that endeared him to fans across the world. If you were to ask me what is missing from modern kickboxing that K-1 was able to do the answer is simple; they built stars. They made fans care about their fighters while transforming them into characters and building narratives around their fights.
It didn’t matter if these characters won or lost, they were still verifiable draws for K-1 and vital parts of the K-1 ecosystem. Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Jerome Le Banner, Andy Hug, Ray Sefo and many other fighters won and lost in the K-1 ring but it never mattered because they’d come back and get another chance. They’d get another chance and K-1 would weave stories about these fighters and their upcoming fights that made fans genuinely interested in seeing what came next. These narratives didn’t need to be perfect, they just needed to exist.
That doesn’t exist today. Instead we get training footage, cut-and-dry interviews and a focus on who won and who lost, not the humanity behind who won or lost. Not the story. If you treat a fighter who lost like a human being and tell their story the chances of fans being interested in their next fight is only going to increase. This is why fighters like Aerts and Hoost could have thirty year long careers that included crushing losses but still attract fans to this day.
The sport of kickboxing drew on not just the physical aspect of the sport, but it drew and thrived off of the creativity of the sport. Kickboxing thrived not just by having a good, rock ‘em, sock ‘em product, but by molding fighters into larger-than-life characters that played off of their personalities. It thrived by created narratives for each and every fight to appeal to fans and didn’t rely on fighters to sell their own fights. Kickboxing helped to build these fighters into box office and television attractions and was never left with cards that delivered in action but drew no eyes.
So my answer to the question that is floating around right now as to “Why aren’t fans attracted to kickboxing?” Simple, nobody is doing anything to make fans care.
Over the weekend Peter Aerts and Ernesto Hoost met for the sixth time in the ring under the WKO (World Kumite Organization) banner. It was an interesting affair with a lot of old K-1 names in attendance, including Kazuyoshi Ishii himself, which should raise a few eyebrows. We've all been eagerly awaiting the footage from the fight, especially knowing that there were film crews there taping the fight, but none of that has surfaced just yet.
Instead, our friends at FightStadium went ahead and pieced together some of the footage that had been floating around online of the fight. It's not pretty, but you can at least see what went down. There has been talk of a potential rematch since Aerts claims that he only had three weeks to train, plus there was talk of a gentlemen's agreement to go easy on his legs since he requires knee surgery in the near future.
So without further ado, here it is, Peter Aerts vs. Ernesto Hoost.
Today in Dubai Badr Hari competed in the Global FC 3 Heavyweight Kickboxing tournament in a field that saw Hari, Leko, Oborotov and Graham, making for an interesting blend of old talent and new talent. The big news is that Badr Hari walked away from Global FC 3 with a new belt and some more money in his pocket after he was able to knock out both opponents in short order. First up was Stefan Leko, a guy who used to be one of the world's elite and is now competing beyond his means, to the extent where I almost refuse to watch him fight anymore.
Leko almost had nothing to offer Hari, almost being put down immediately in the first round. He fought back to his feet, though, only to be dropped again and for the referee to stop the bout. Badr Hari's second fight of the evening saw him meeting an old foe in Peter Graham. The two had traded wins over seven years ago, but time was not kind to Peter Graham who found himself knocked down twice in round one as well and Badr Hari having a relatively easy night.
On the other side of the spectrum, Peter Aerts tore his hamstring against Dewey Cooper and both men had a clinch-heavy fight that saw the judges render it a draw. Tough break for Peter Aerts, but it might be time for him to consider spending time with his family, his gym and wrestling more in Japan.
It has been a slow time of the year for news regarding K-1, at least in the way of positive K-1 news. Amidst all of the turmoil, it is still uncertain if we'll see a K-1 World Grand Prix this year. With that sort of uncertainty, I feel like it is time to take a look back at what made K-1 just so great and loved by many fans. The K-1 World Grand Prix began in 1993 and has stretched on, yearly, until 2010, and in those years we saw stars built and saw them live out the remainder of their careers in that tournament.
GLORY 13 might still be a ways off, but that doesn't mean that we can't want to know more about it, right? We already know that it will feature the GLORY Welterweight tournament, featuring Nieky Holzken, Joseph Valtellini, Marc DeBonte and Karapet Karapetyan, but still nothing about Super Fights just yet. There have been names flying around for a while now; Peter Aerts, Jerome Le Banner, you know, the ones that you'd expect for a show in Japan. It turns out that Peter Aerts will indeed be fighting on the GLORY 13 card, if this rumor turns out to be true.
What is that rumor? That Peter Aerts will be squaring off against newly-crowned GLORY 11 Heavyweight Champion Rico Verhoeven. That is a huge fight, as Aerts is reaching the twilight of his career and is looking to retire soon while Rico's career is on a serious uptick thanks to his victories over Saki and Ghita at GLORY 11.
FightstarTV is one of the few websites that brings fresh, unique video content from the world of Dutch kickboxing, and never to disappoint, they walked through the opening of Peter Aerts' new gym in the Netherlands where the Dutch Lumberjack has vowed to help other fighters train and learn proper technique.
Watch as Mr. K-1 gives a guide through his new gym including the upstairs with a juice bar and a balcony overlooking the gym floor. [source]
When it comes to Peter Aerts I fear that I'll always be biased, as he was the guy who really got me into Kickboxing. It was one of those memories that I'll never shake free of and never plan on forgetting, the 1994 K-1 World Grand Prix. So this talk of retirement is a bit harrowing, even if he is 43 years old and it might be time to hang 'em up for his own safety.
Put Peter Aerts in a fight and I'll always believe that he has a fighting chance of walking away victorious in that fight. Why? Because he is Peter Aerts. That's why.
The news from Japan today was that Peter Aerts was going to be retiring at GLORY 13, but you know, it is a translation and can be rough. We received confirmation from a GLORY official today that this will be Peter's retirement in Japan, much like his It's Showtime bout against Tyrone Spong was his BeNeLux retirement. This means that this isn't the final curtain call for the Dutch Lumberjack, but still be prepared for that.
Some of our sources are sticking to their guns that this will be Peter's full retirement, but for now, who knows? GLORY's Japanese PR people are also selling this event as a "Farewell to an Era" with Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky and Semmy Schilt. Their retirements could be a very real part of this show.
Earlier this month we announced that Ernesto Hoost would be Fighting Peter Aerts for the sixth time in Osaka, Japan on October 19th. Hoost has won 3 of the 5, so this gives Aerts the chance to tie it up for good, since i doubt they will be fighting for a seventh time, but then again I never expected to see this fight again.
The rest of the WKO: The Kumite Energy main fights have now been announced and we get to see more of the old K-1 names we grew to love. Both Stephan Leko and Chalid "Die Faust" Arrab will be fighting. Leko has been fighting quite frequently lately but having no success at all, he is on a 6 fight losing streak, with the last 5 losses all coming by KO or TKO. If he can't turn it around this fight, we would have to imagine he cannot keep this up much longer. Die Faust on the other hand, has not been very active, hasn't fought since 2010 but has lost his last 5 fights and his last win was in 2006.
Peter Aerts (Holland) Vs. Ernesto Hoost (Holland)
Stefan Leko (Germany) Vs. Tofan Pirani (Sweden)
Andre Meunier (Australia) Vs. Chalid "Die Faust" Arrab (Germany/Morocco)