The past two years in K-1 MAX have been transformation years for the K-1 MAX division. In 2009 an Italian fighter by the name of Giorgio Petrosyan looked poised to take the whole tournament, Japanese ace Masato decided not to participate in the World MAX tournament and instead announced he would retire by the end of the year. Yuya Yamamoto seemed poised and energized to take that "Masato spot" in K-1 MAX until Giorgio Petrosyan beat the ambition out of him. Andy Souwer and Buakaw Por. Pramuk met again in the semi-finals, with Souwer moving on to the finals where Petrosyan took him to task and handily took his first title.
Then 2010 was a strange year for the K-1 MAX division. There was no Masato, there would be scheduling issues galore, with the traditional line-up of shows not happening. A few of the Final 16 bouts happened on the -63kgs show, then a few in Europe way later in the year. Yuya Yamamoto fell, and hard, while Yuichiro Nagashima looked like a man-on-fire, determined to take MAX by storm. The one thing Nagashima didn't account for was "Iron" Mike Zambidis having a career revival, putting on a FOTY with Chahid Oulad El Hadj and then KO'ing Nagashima in the 3rd round. Something felt missing for fans, as there was no Masato and Buakaw Por. Pramuk had apparently not been invited back into the MAX tournament, nor had Andy Souwer, the man who made the finals the year before and was in Masato's retirement bout. Zambo's run at the top was stopped by Petrosyan and Yoshihiro Sato's run to the finals was met with stiff competition from Petrosyan, who easily captured his second crown.
This leaves us in an existential quandary over 2011. Here is what is clear; Giorgio Petrosyan will rip through the competition as long as injuries don't hold him back. Yoshihiro Sato will be back and looking to finally take his place as the Japanese ace, but will he choke in the big matches again? Yuya Yamamoto might want to prove that his run in 2009 wasn't a fluke, but the chances of him succeeding are not high. Yuichiro Nagashima ended 2010 by destroying Shinya Aoki at Dynamite!! during the MMA rules portion of their fight, and his cosplaying fans have apparently been giving poor Aoki a tough time and haunting him everywhere he goes, to the degree that his Twitter is gone and he is basically in hiding. Let's not kid around, Nagashima had a breakout year in 2010 and might be able to do better in 2011.
Of course, the man that derailed him last year was ZAMBO, "Iron" Mike Zambidis. Nobody expected Zambo to come to war and make it as far as he did, but he did. That fire that was lit under him will most likely not disappear, expect him to be a force again this year. Artur Kyshenko was upset by Mohammed Khamal in the Final 16, but Kyshenko will be back with a vengeance, and expect the young blood of Khamal to once again come to fight. Then, of course, there is Gago Drago. Drago is one of the most exciting and frustrating fighters in the world, with his recent string of losses and inconsistent performances and the rise of much more exciting and consistent fighters in Europe it is hard to argue he still has a spot in MAX. Mosab Amrani went to war with Mootje on December 18th and would make for an awesome inclusion in the MAX playing field. Artem Levin has been fighting at 75kgs, and if he can drop 5kgs more he could be an absolute beast in the MAX division, especially after taking home the gold at the Sport Accord World Combat games last year at 75kgs. I also fully expect Albert Kraus to be back and ready to fight.
Of course, with all of these favorites, the real question is, can anyone stop Giorgio Petrosyan?