Fraser Coffeen and Dave Walsh from Head Kick Legend run through a preview of the upcoming K-1 World MAX 2009 Finals with a discussion of each bout, from the Superfights to predictions for the Tournament itself.
DREAM is in the books, which means it is time for the K-1 World MAX Finals for this year, where we are down to four men; Giorgio Petrosyan, Yuya Yamamoto, Andy Souwer and Buakaw Por. Pramuk. Three of those four names are expected, with Yamamoto the pleasant surprise. Who will take the tournament this year, and what about all of those superfights? Fraser Coffeen and myself break down this huge event in painstaking detail.
#1 - Yuichiro Nagashima v. Xu Yan
FC: After a good run in the Japan GP early this year, Nagashima saw his stock on a fast rise, only to be stopped cold by a quick KO loss to Kraus. More talk focuses on his cosplay antics than his actual fighting, but since that loss he’s quietly be training at Masato’s Silver Wolf gym. Yan is a name largely unknown to K-1 fans, but he is well traveled, having competed around the world in Muay Thai and Sanda events, including facing Shootboxing’s Kenichi Ogata in 2007. He’s also extremely tall and lanky, which could pose some problems for Nagashima. I’ll go with the upset here and pick Yan by decision.
DW: Nagashima is a guy who has had a lot of pressure put on him over the last few years, because K-1 is always looking for the next Japanese star to carry the promotion. Masato has been that star, but they knew his time would come, which it happens to be Dynamite!! of this year. So be it, that being said he is not that guy. He has a really fun personality that fans seem to enjoy, especially girls and strange Japanese boys, but as a fighter he has a lot of work to do to catch up with the rest of the MAX division. Xu Yan is an unknown for a lot of fans, with only one MAX appearance, this year, and that being a loss. This fight is set up for Nagashima to get a win, and you know how those fights usually go. Xu Yan has the reach advantage and the power advantage, while Nagashima has probably better technique. If Xu Yan can take him offguard Nagashima is done.
#2 - Yuya Yamamoto v. Giorgio Petrosyan
FC: On paper this is a huge mismatch, and I think when all is said and done Petrosyan will get the much expected win. But anyone who thinks he's going to steamroll Yamamoto may be in for a surprise, as Yuya is an exceptionally durable fighter. In some ways, this reminds me of Wanderlei Silva v. Yoshida from back in the Pride GP, where the "easier" semi-final may not be as easy as you think. Yamamoto will have the crowd on his side, and you know will be fighting his heart out. I'm picking Petrosyan to win this, but Yamamoto will rough him up, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Petrosyan come in to the final weakened or even be forced to drop out. I should also say - best fight of the night?
DW: Petrosyan, plain and simple. He was the "dark horse" for a lot of people, but there is no reason for him to even be that, Giorgio Petrosyan is one of the best there is out there, and while he does not have a lot of KO's to his credit since moving up to elite level competition, that does not mean he isn't a beast. He is. Yuya Yamamoto hasn't had the same sort of bright career as Giorgio has, but has been facing top competition for a little bit longer. He is coming off an impressive win over DRAGO, that being said, he can't stop Petrosyan.
#3 - Buakaw Por. Pramuk v. Andy Souwer
FC: There's two schools of thought on Buakaw. One says he's the greatest. The other says he has lost a step. I fall into the latter category. It's been a rough few years for him, with a KO loss to Sato, a near KO loss to Dida, some very close decisions to Kraus and Parr - watching his old fights with Souwer I see an intensity that I just don't see in Buakaw today. Souwer meanwhile is a guy I think is perpetually taken for granted. He's the kind of guy that doesn't have one trademark weapon or style, and so you kind of forget how skilled he is. But he has put it together time and again to become one of the most decorated fighters out there. I was surprised at how well he handled Kyshenko, and think he does it again here, controlling Buakaw to take a suprisingly one-sided decision.
DW: I've been waiting for this fight for almost 3 years now, and I'm really stoked for it. People have been down on Buakaw over the past year or so, but I think he has more been trying to find himself again and modify his style. He needs to be aggressive against Souwer and while he can't work the clinch or hold Souwer's leg and hack away, he can work his teep and has what I believe to be an unrivaled hook. Souwer is a guy that has always been there, has always been good, but doesn't always get the level of credit he deserves. This is going to be a war, I predict, and I see Buakaw edging out a decision and capturing our hearts yet again.
The rest after the break.
#4 - Yoshihiro Sato v. Yasuhiro Kido - Reserve Bout
FC: With Masato retiring, this fight at one point would have been viewed as determining the next Japanese face of MAX. But after some bumpy performances from both men this year, and Yuya Yamamoto's surprising rise to the top, Sato and Kido now each find themselves with something to prove. A year ago Sato looked like the obvious heir apparent, with a stunning KO victory over Buakaw and a close decision loss to Masato. But these career-making outings were followed by an upset loss to Drago and a too close for comfort victory over Joerie Mes. For Kido, last year was the Cinderella story, with a win in the MAX Japan tournament and making it to the Final 8 with a highlight reel KO of Chi Bin Lim. But again, this career high was followed by lows - 4 straight loses including 2 in one night at the 2009 Japan GP. Since then he has bounced back with good performances and wins against Su Hwan Lee and Leroy Kaestner. All this backstory makes this one of the most fascinating fights of the night. Both men know that they can be at the top, and know that they have slipped. Both men have felt the adoration and the backlash of the Japanese fans. Both men know a big win here is all that is needed to get their career firmly on track, and both men know that with Masato leaving, they have a huge opportunity. Which means both me are going to come it at the top of their game, ready to give it everything they have. Given that, I have to go with Sato here. Kido has been more on track lately, but Sato is simply a better all-around fighter with strong Muay Thai skills, and big fight experience. Look for him to come out ready, get the KO, and hopefully, win back the fans.
DW: This fight is confusing at this point, because as much as I loved Kido a while back, he has fallen off the horse. Sato has as well, having mixed results against the truly elite of the division, but always looking strong. I feel like Kido has had some gimme fights of late while Sato keeps getting thrown to the wolves. Sato is the better fighter and look for him to knock Kido out and possibly end up in the finals if somebody gets injured. I'd love to see the odds on Sato taking the tourney, I'd put 5 bucks on him.
#5 - Kazuhisa Watanabe v. Jae Hee Cheon
FC: I mentioned this earlier this week, but I think Cheon continues to be overlooked. Why you would overlook a guy that KO’d Kid Yamamoto is beyond me, but there you go. Cheon looked great against Kid, and even better at the Seoul GP against Tae Han Kim. If K-1 pulls the trigger on a lighter weight class, he’s one of the guys that will be at the very top. As for Watanabe, he is in danger of taking the same path as Nagashima and focusing more on his personality than his fighting. It’s a strategy that will get him fights, but doesn’t always translate to success in the ring. But Cheon is too good to goof around with, and I see him taking the decision here.
DW: Watanabe is a fun fighter, and after Cheon beat KID up, Watanabe beat Atsushi Yamamoto up. That being said, Watanabe has never shown the polish or drive that he should. Cheon should take this and be considered more of a threat, hopefully getting a crack at next year's World MAX tournament.
#6 - Kozo Takeda v. Albert Kraus
FC: The end of the road for Takeda here, as this is his retirement match, and going out against a veteran like Kraus just feels right. While never a huge star in K-1, Takeda has been a presence since the earliest days of the MAX division. Largely inactive in recent years, he hasn't had a fight since being brutally KO'd by Tatsuya Kawajiri at Dynamite, and hasn't won in K-1 since 2005. Truly, he doesn't have a shot here, but that's OK - this is not a fight about who wins, it's about sending off a dedicated veteran. Easy stoppage victory for Kraus here, followed by a nice, low-key farewell.
DW: It is sad to see how far Kozo has fallen. His loss to Masato in 2003 sort of set off a chain reaction and left Kozo Takeda in the realm of a fun guy to watch, with devastating leg kicks that fans love to chant along with that could never pull all of the pieces together and make a career for himself. Kraus is Kraus, he has some hiccups at times, but is a great fighter. Look for him to respectfully murder Takeda into retirement.
#7 - Taishin Kohiruimaki v. DRAGO
FC: I actually have kind of a tough time picking this one as both guys are wildly inconsistent. Kohi had a great run in the Japan MAX GP to start this year, but injury kept him out of the Final 16 and the rest of the year. Prior to that event, Kohi has been a study in missed expectations, never living up to the large burden once put on him as "the next Masato". As for Drago, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career earlier this year, defeating Sato in the Final 16, before losing to Yamamoto. But he started the year off to a bad start, getting destroyed by Murat Direkci. He's coming off a win over Barnabus Szucs, but honestly he didn't look great there. That said, I think the time off will be the difference, and look for Drago to get the decision.
DW: This is probably one of my favorite fights on this card. Drago hasn't had the best 2009 or 2008, but he is absolutely unpredictable in the ring at times. This has been both his highlight and his downfall. Kohi is the exact opposite, he is a reserved fighter, called at a time the most boring K-1 MAX fighter. Kohi is the only Japanese fighter I can think of that won a MAX tournament and was booed out of the arena. Think about that. All of this being said, I see Kohi pulling off the win over Drago after coming back from an injury.
#8 - Artur Kyshenko v. Toofan Salafzoon
FC: Really, there’s not a lot to be said here. Kyshenko is in the upper echelon of MAX fighters. I have no doubt he will one day be a MAX champion, and suspect that will come sooner than later. Toofan does have experience, and the size to negate Kyshenko’s normal advantage in that area, but I still think this is something of a gimme fight. For that matter, I think Kyshenko comes in with something to prove here and will use that aggression to earn the KO.
DW: Toofan is a good fighter, but he isn't as good as Kyshenko. Kyshenko by annihilation, ok?
#9 - HINATA v. Mike Zambidis
FC: Hinata is a fighter I find to be unfairly overlooked. He scored an exciting win over Kido at the first MAX event of the year, but injuries in that fight forced him to drop out of the tournament. He returned to face Dzhabar Askerov, where he lost a very close decision (personally, I scored the fight for Hinata), and now is making his 3rd K-1 appearance. The former RISE 70 kg champion, Hinata is a fast-paced fighter with great chopping strikes that he used perfectly against Kido. Not yet in his prime, Hinata has the potential to be one of the future names of K-1. Zambidis is a longtime MAX veteran, though he hasn't fought in MAX in over a year. Iron Mike is the kind of fighter who can give absolutely anyone problems, but has trouble defeating the top echelon of fighters. He definitely provides a very stiff test for Hinata and, despite my positive thoughts about Hinata's future, I think Zambidis's tenacity will pay off here and earn him the decision win.
DW: Zambidis has one real weakness, and that is he doesn't like to check low kicks for some reason. Nobody knows why, but he just doesn't. Zambidis is a guy who goes all out and some times it pays off, other times it doesn't. Any time I bet against Zambidis he wins. HINATA is awesome, he is young and I see him becoming a fixture in the MAX scene for years to come. The question is, does he come to the simple conclusion to chop away at Zambidis while surviving the onslaught? Can he? I think he will surprise a lot of people here and take this.
#10 - Finals
FC - Souwer vs. Petrosyan: This is my final, but as I said, I'm not positive Petrosyan will make it there, even with a win in the semis. No matter the opponent, I'm going with Souwer here. He's got the big fight experience, he knows how to win a tournament, I think he will escape the Buakaw fight with minimal damage, and I think he is determined to avenge his loses to Buakaw and Petrosyan. Andy Souwer, first ever 3 time MAX champion.
DW - Buakaw vs. Petrosyan: I want this fight, more than any other. I still haven't been able to get a hold of their last meeting but apparently both guys went toe to toe for five rounds and it was scored a draw. Think about that. This was in 2007 while Buakaw was without a doubt considered "the man" by everybody. I'd love to see Buakaw take the title home to Thailand again, but I see Petrosyan as the 2009 World MAX Champion in an all-out war.