On Saturday December 5th, 2009 at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, one of the pivotal matches in K-1 history occured. A match that will be talked about and referenced for many years to come. Normally, a fight of this magnitude involves long-standing legends of the sport. Fighters such as Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Mike Bernardo or the late great Andy Hug. But not this one. This battle would be between a young gun by the name of Badr Hari and an outsider. A fighter known in other areas of the combat sports world that sought to add a K-1 title to his resume. While this fight could have been just another in the long history of kickboxing, it quickly became so much more.
2010 was a rough year for K-1 MAX. Three of the division's very top stars fought their (for now) last MAX fights in 2009, including Masato, the man MAX had been built around from the start. Shows were planned, then canceled. Only two qualifying Grand Prixs were held, and one of those 2 never aired. Half of the Final 16 fights were shoved onto the 63kg GP finals almost as an afterthought, and at one time, there were rumors that the 2010 MAX Grand Prix might not even happen. Fans of MAX were looking at the year as somewhat of a disaster.
That changed on October 3. Amidst all this chaos and confusion, the MAX Final 16 event in Seoul was a grand slam of an event - an all around fantastic card with every fight delivering. The next day, no one was talking about how K-1 MAX was struggling. Instead, they were talking about what a show it was. And they were talking about one fight.
That fight is your 2010 LiverKick.com Fans' Fight of the Year - "Iron" Mike Zambidis vs. Chahid Oulad El Hadj.
Coming into the event, this was a fight that on paper looked like it could be a good one. Both Zambidis and Chahid are exciting fighters who like to push the pace and have turned in plenty of fun bouts. But they are also two men whose presence in the Final 16 was questionable, as neither had claimed a significant K-1 win in some time. From the moment the two men meet in center ring for the staredown, any concerns about them not belonging flew out the window. Because right from the opening, you can tell this is going to be something special. Both men looked hungry, out for redemption, and just plain pissed off. They looked ready to tear into each other. And that's exactly what they did.
For four epic rounds, Zambidis and Chahid engaged in an all out war. By the end of the 3rd, the announcers are all on their feet waiting for the judges' decision. By the end of the 4th, fans are already writing their friends telling them what they just saw. And by the next morning, all the focus was on this classic.
Watching it now, I'm reminded of another all-time K-1 great contest - Ray Sefo vs. Mark Hunt (and if you've never seen that, watch it, seriously, now). Like Sefo vs. Hunt, this is a fight that doesn't need any backstory. It's a moment that stands on its own, where even if you've never heard of either man, the combination of heart, determination, technique, and aggression they show is enough to grab you. At a time in combat sports where the UFC is the clear top dog, and where Dana White's love of wild stand-up brawling has come to define how many fans view stand-up action, this fight is a definitive example of what stand-up can be. Yes it's a brawl, but it's also two supremely skilled fighters never losing track of the technique needed to fight at this level. It's a fight every fan of Griffin vs. Bonnar, Garcia vs. The Korean Zombie, or countless other recent fights really owes it to themselves to watch.
Chances are good you've already seen this fight, probably more than once. But as we say our final good-byes to 2010, do yourself a favor and watch it once more. You'll thank yourself later.
A big thanks to all our fans who voted in this poll. In the end, Zambidis vs. Chahid was the clear winner, drawing 34% of the vote. #2 and #3 were only separated by a handful of votes, with the sentimental favorite Peter Aerts vs. Semmy Schilt at #2, and the battle of the new guard in Gokhan Saki vs. Daniel Ghita at #3. For full results, click here, and don't forget to vote on our new polls every week here at LiverKick.com.
Manhoef and Saki are monsters in the ring. They both bring a unique brand of intensity to their contests and whoever thought of matching these two against each other was responsible for an act of minor genius. Who wouldn't want to see two knockout artists, both capable of powerful, flowing, knockout combinations, go to work on each other?
At the time, Manhoef was a slightly more established name than Saki, though the latter's name was on the rise. Manhoef was known in kickboxing circles for his trilogy with Remy Bonjasky, and was also responsible for one of the most violent knockouts in K-1 history in his 2007 match with Ruslan Karaev. Rather frighteningly, every one of his kickboxing victories is a knockout or stoppage of some sort. His record speaks to spotty defense, however, and most of his losses have also come by stoppages, making a Manhoef match an unpredictable affair.
Gokhan Saki's first win over a major name in K-1 was against Alexei Ignashov in 2006. Since then, he's really come into his own as a smaller fighter in the super heavyweight division. He's beaten Paul Slowinski, Ruslan Karaev, Ray Sefo, and Tyrone Spong since then. 2010 saw him put on his best performances yet, with a swift destruction of Freddy Kemayo and a four round war against Daniel Ghita.
Were the two to rematch now, Saki would be a heavy favorite, but at the time of this match, it was a much closer contest, especially since they were fully capable of KOing each other. Saki wears the blue gloves in the bout, Manhoef the red. Note that, even though Saki is already small for a K-1 super heavy, he still carries about 20 lb over Manhoef and stands 3 inches taller.
By the 2005 K-1 MAX Final, referees were more consistent in enforcing the one-strike per clinch rule by breaking clinches and issuing warnings and yellow cards. Fighters found inventive ways to circumvent the rules, however, or ignore them altogether, choosing to hazard a warning. After this World Grand Prix, clinch rules became more restrictive.
This was Alistair Overeem's debut K-1 WGP Final, and he was something of an unknown factor in K-1. He had obvious potential, but really was riding on the fame of his first performance against Badr Hari.
Ewerton Teixeira, too, was rather new in K-1. Like Overeem, most of his combat sports experience lay outside K-1, though he came from Kyokushin Karate circuits, while Overeem competed in MMA. Watch for the ways in which their styles contrast, especially in how they respond to being in clinch range. Overeem wears the red gloves, Teixeira the blue.