Every year, there are events in combative sports that put grown men like ourselves into a "tizzy", or as I like to put it into more manlier terms -- give us that adrenaline rush of excitement. Like middle-aged women flocking to see Edward and Bella on the big screen in the New Moon, our demographic crashes into the living room to watch fights like Brown vs. Faber II, Lesnar vs. Mir, Penn vs. Florian, or Fedor Emelianenko.
We aren't limited to the global phenomenon of mixed martial arts solely. We still delve into our past love affairs with boxing with bouts such as Pacquiao vs. Hatton, Mayweather vs. De La Hoya, and the current Super Six tournament. For me, K-1 is one of the combative sports that puts me into that state of nervous excitement as huge events draw near, and K-1's World Grand Prix Final on Saturday morning should be an event that even newbies to the sport won't want to miss.
Airing LIVE on HDNet at 3 AM EST this Saturday morning from Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, the event will feature the final installment of the Grand Prix tournament bracket with four quarterfinal match-ups, two semi-final bouts, and the final to crown this year's K-1 champion. This year's field is completely stacked to the brim with top talent with Remy Bonjasky, Badr Hari, Semmy Schilt, and Alistair Overeem leading the charge.
In the first quarterfinals match-up, the rubber match between Ruslan "Russian Machine Gun" Karaev and K-1's bad boy Badr Hari will finally take place. Karaev beat a fairly young Hari back in the K-1 WGP Opening Round in 2006, but the rematch only six months later proved to be one of the most epic bouts in the history of K-1. Hari crushed Karaev with a right cross coming out of his corner after being flattened by an uppercut-left hook combination only seconds before the bout-ending blow. It was truly one of the most exciting finishes in K-1, and the rubber match could prove to provide fans with explosive results once again.
While the history is interesting to wade through in order to put some real hype behind this fight, Karaev's most recent bout at Ultimate Glory 11 in which he was dismantled by Hesdy Gerges was absolutely brutal to watch if you admire Karaev's abilities. Not only was he ineffective, he took substantial damage in the fight. Hari will likely test Karaev's legs quickly to see if he's recovered, and Hari's new strength and conditioning program looks to have bulked him up quite a bit. It could prove to be a punishing fight for Karaev to handle, but Karaev's knockout power is always lurking in the shadows. I'll take a Hari finish in the quarterfinals.
And be sure and check out our sister SBN site Head Kick Legend for daily updates on K1.
Former PRIDE fighter and Strikeforce Heavyweight champion Alistair "Megareem" Overeem will step foot into the ring against Brazilian Kyokushin Karate fighter Ewerton Teixeira in a quarterfinals match-up that many fans believe has upset written all over it. While Overeem's recent foray into K-1 produced a knockout win over Badr Hari and a close decision loss to champion Remy Bonjasky, some fans still believe Overeem's size can be overcome by a surgical offensive gameplan that Teixeira can produce.
Ewerton has claimed that his inexperience led to some mistakes in 2008's World Grand Prix Final, but he has stated that he believes he can stay away from what Overeem's gameplan will likely be and use his own style to score on Overeem. The problem for most K-1 fighters trying to take on such a large, mammoth beast like Overeem is that he closes distance quickly and can block attacks with his gigantic arms with ease. Teixeira's footwork will have to have the agility of a cheetah in order to keep Overeem from working him into a corner, but I anticipate Overeem finding a way to power through Teixeira and punish him. Teixeira's ability to last could be a godsend for Overeem's next opponent though as he might be able to do enough damage to hinder Overeem for the next match-up.
On the other side of the bracket, K-1 mainstay Jerome "The Bulldog of Normandy" LeBanner will try to power through the three-time K-1 champion Semmy Schilt. While LeBanner is the epitome of toughness and the warrior spirit, he's fallen off the wagon in the last few years likely due to his age, the amount of damage he's incurred over the course of his career, and the load of talent that has ascended to the upper ranks of K -1. He's also lost to Schilt on three separate encounters, but he's always good for trying to knockout his opponents in spectacular fashion.
Schilt should easily win this bout simply due to his reach and experience. LeBanner will likely try to mount some sort of initial onslaught of punching, but the taller Schilt will be tough to hit. If LeBanner have visions of becoming Badr Hari and crushing Semmy in the first round as Hari did at It's Showtime 2009 back in May, he'll need to connect as early as possible with his knockout power. Unfortunately, I highly doubt LeBanner will be able to reach Schilt in this tilt. Nagging injuries coupled with a slow down in speed have paid its toll on such a highly regarded fighter, and it'll show in this fight.
Errol "The Bonecrusher" Zimmerman will battle defending K-1 champion Remy Bonjasky in the final quarterfinal match-up of the evening. Bonjasky is currently riding an eight-fight win streak which includes wins over Melvin Manhoef, Badr Hari, and Alistair Overeem. Most fans believe this is a true squash match for Remy, and I'd have to agree as Zimmerman hasn't looked great in his last few performances. Specifically, his match-up with Wendall Roche at Ultimate Glory 11 was pitiful in comparison to his past bouts. It really makes you wonder what Team Golden Glory was doing in lead-up to that event.
Bonjasky should win this quite convincingly with the potential to knock Zimmerman out quickly. Zimmerman's defense hasn't been great in his past few fights, and his looping overhands leave the door open to spectacular counters that Bonjasky could capitalize on. The only real question is whether Remy will show up in his usual dominant form. His strange fight with Melvin Manhoef in the Final 16 nearly derailed his winning streak as Manhoef landed clean blows in the first round and nearly stole the second. Bonjasky woke up in the third with his trademark leg kicks and dominating style, but Manhoef's power obviously hurt him. He should steamroll Zimmerman on his way to a semi-final berth.
Let the Speculation Begin!
With those predictions laid out, the semi-finals should provide fans with two of the year's best match-ups in terms of quality. Remy Bonjasky would battle Semmy Schilt for the third time in his career after suffering two previous losses back in 2003 and 2005. Of course, four years can make a fighter much better in terms of skill, and Bonjasky has the chops to take a decision victory over Schilt in the semi-finals to land on the doorstep to greatness.
The most anticipated bout of the evening could very well be the rematch between Badr Hari and Alistair Overeem, and although both men have a tougher road in the quarterfinals than that of Schilt or Bonjasky -- Overeem and Hari can end a fight in a split second, silencing the talk that attrition might become a factor.
A lot of fans are looking at Overeem's dominance of Hari in the first bout as a sure sign that Overeem will simply beat Hari once again, but I'm a bit more perceptive to the things going on in Hari's camp and what happened back on New Year's Eve in 2008. Hari battled through the 2008 World Grand Prix into the finals only weeks before the bout, and it was obvious that he was visibly affected by the unexpected power that Overeem presented. From some of the information coming out of his training camp combined with video and photos of his training, it definitely looks like Hari has been bulking up and working new routines for another showdown with Overeem, and it could spell success for the Moroccan.
I'm going to limb my prediction with Badr Hari defeating Alistair Overeem in a much different battle than their first bout, but there is a good chance Overeem could punish Hari by bullying him around. Bonjasky should finally beat Schilt, setting up another showdown between Badr Hari and Remy Bonjasky in the final.
Finals Prediction: Badr Hari vs. Remy Bonjasky
Who wins?: Tough call without knowing what happens within the framework of the Grand Prix, but I imagine Hari's competition leading up to the final will be more strenuous on his body than what Bonjasky will have to deal with... unless Schilt truly gives Bonjasky a run for his money and Overeem gets dismantled by Hari.
Last year's final had Bonjasky up on the cards with Hari slowly creeping back into the fight in the second round until the illegal stomp. The previous year was an all-out leg kick-a-thon that still makes me cringe in pain when watching it. Hari eventually succumbed to the back-and-forth slapping of legs as he was visibly aching from the blows after multiple exchanges, but two years later and the anger of last year's disappointment have focused the fighter much more than previous encounters.
It all comes down to Hari's new strength and conditioning in a long Grand Prix format tournament. Will he have more power and the ability to withstand all that damage over the course of two previous bouts? It's tough to say, but I'm going to go with the upset and pick Badr Hari via decision to become 2009's K-1 Grand Prix champion. While my confidence in the pick is quite low, I'll be biased and pick my favorite.
Reserve Bouts and Super Fights
Daniel Ghita vs. Sergei Kharitonov: (Reserve Bout) Ghita is currently being groomed as being potentially one of the bigger stars for K-1 in the future as he has a skill-set that combines brutal leg kicking power with intelligent striking that stems from the damage he inflicts on his opponents from his kicks. While it isn't the recipe for huge success right now, he could be a huge star down the road if he improves his hands greatly so he wouldn't need to be heavily reliant on his kicks. It's really an unknown as to how Kharitonov will do in this fight, but he has the punching to give Ghita problems, but can he withstand the leg kicks? It should be interesting because Kharitonov's boxing background is legit. I'll take Ghita purely on K-1 experience.
Peter Aerts vs. Gokhan Saki: (Reserve Bout) This is one of the tougher fights to call as Saki hasn't exactly been stellar in his last couple of fights while Aerts continually battles father time. I'd go with Aerts in this match-up for the simple fact that he showed up in tremendous shape against Alistair Overeem, even though it was all for taking a brutal beating. His new physique and conditioning should come in handy against Saki, and his experience is always a factor.
Tyrone Spong vs. Keijiro Maeda: (Super Fight) Spong's record of 63-4 with 41 knockouts seems quite impressive, but he's mainly beat up on lesser competition outside of K-1 for years. He's finally beginning to make the jump into the better fights as he defeated Zabit Samedov and lost to Gokhan Saki back in March. While he hasn't continued his crushing liver punch knockouts at the higher level of competition, he does still possess that ability. Maeda also has some knockout power, and he impressively surprised fans by defeating Melvin Manhoef and Gokhan Saki. While I think Spong could win here, I'll go with the FEG favorite in Maeda via decision.
Video Goodness and Links
SBNation's own kickboxing blog, HeadKick Legend, has a ton of awesome coverage leading up to the event you will want to check out:
FEG Fighters and Staff Pick Hari to Win - Fraser Coffeen
It Ain't Easy Being Alistair Overeem: Overeem Predicts the Grand Prix - Dave Walsh
Mike's Gym Burns to the Ground - Fraser Coffeen
Thom Harinck: Aerts May Fight in Final 8 - Fraser Coffeen
A Mathematical Fan Breakdown of the K-1 World Grand Prix - Dave Walsh
The Voice Michael Schiavello's WGP First Round Picks - Dave Walsh
Recap of Fighter Picks for World Grand Prix Final - Fraser Coffeen
Countdown to the K-1 World Grand Prix: Jerome LeBanner vs. Semmy Schilt - Dave Walsh
Countdown to the K-1 World Grand Prix: Alistair Overeem vs. Ewerton Teixeira - Dave Walsh
Countdown to the K-1 World Grand Prix: Badr Hari vs. Ruslan Karaev - Dave Walsh
Masato picks the World Grand Prix Final
Hong Man Choi Picks WGP
MMA Fanhouse has K-1 commentator Michael Schiavello doing some great previews with all the K-1 participants, so check those out here for an overview of each fighter. Videos below:
Badr Hari Preview - K-1 World Grand Prix Final
Alistair Overeem Preview - K-1 World Grand Prix Final
Ewerton Teixeira Preview - K-1 World Grand Prix Final
Jerome LeBanner Preview - K-1 World Grand Prix Final
Semmy Schilt Preview - K-1 World Grand Prix Final
Odds to win entire 2009 K-1 World Heavyweight Grand Prix Championship Tournament --
Semmy Schilt +275
Alistair Overeem +300
Badar Hari +400
Remy Bonjasky +600
Jerome LeBanner +1100
Errol Zimmerman +1400
Ewerton Teixeira +1800
Ruslan Karaev +1800
Field (Any other fighter not listed) +600
Interestingly enough, Bonjasky and Hari are solid bets to win, especially Bonjasky at +600 to win the entire thing. He stands a good chance of winning. Individual quarterfinals odds can be viewed at Bodog's site.