We're midway through the work week, and that can only bring on a little excitement for what the weekend could bring in terms of MMA action. Unfortunately for a lot of fans, this weekend is more of a cooling off period before the onslaught of UFN 18, Bellator FC, DREAM.8, WEC 40, and the premiere of the next season of the Ultimate Fighter.
There is one event on my radar, and I encourage any fans willing to wake up in the wee hours of Saturday morning to tune in for the K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 from Yokohama, Japan. It will be airing LIVE on HDNet at 4:00 AM EST. I'm sure Chris Nelson will also be live blogging the event as well.
Interestingly enough, I've been able to sucker a lot of my casual watching MMA friends into becoming complete K-1 fanatics over the years. With the addition of the K-1 MAX tournaments to the mix, K-1 has been able to get a lot of fans excited for non-MMA events that have become instant classics over the years.
Let's take a look at some of the fantastic matchups that K-1 will be offering on Saturday.
K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix:
A: Melvin Manhoef vs. Chalid "Die Faust"
B: Tyrone Spong vs. Gokhan Saki
Reserve: Keijiro Maeda vs. Singh Heart Jaideep
Winner A vs. Winner B
The event will feature a Heavyweight Grand Prix bracket in which the winner will move on to the Final 16 event scheduled later in the year. Since I'm heavily biased here due to my mancrush Melvin Manhoef participating in the tournament, I'll try to be as objective as possible in the analysis.
Melvin Manhoef vs. Chalid "Die Faust": Chalid isn't your prototypical K-1 fighter. He doesn't present a huge knockout threat, isn't unbelievably technical in his standup, and just hasn't had many impressive performances in his career. He's also riding a 4 fight loss streak along with not being immensely active in the last few years. His last bout was back in September in a losing effort against Ruslan Karaev via a 2nd round KO.
Melvin Manhoef is an absolute nightmare of a fighter. While many people criticize his MMA ground game when he fights in promotions like DREAM, he's still one of the most dangerous strikers anyone has ever seen step into the K-1 or MMA ring. His footwork is amazing (Smoogy, post it), his knockout power is something that fans everywhere yearn to see, and he's one of the most exciting fighters you will ever see grace the K-1 ring. He's also willing to fight anyone (as evident in taking on Mark Hunt with one day's notice and KOing him), and he's likely going to be the favorite in this tournament.
Chalid probably won't stand much of a chance against Manhoef's speed and aggressiveness. Range and powerful counters are the best way to beat Manhoef as evident by Bonjasky's bouts with Manhoef in the past. It also helps to be bigger, lengthier, and rangier than him as well. Chalid doesn't have those attributes. This should produce anotherr highlight reel for Manhoef.
Tyrone Spong vs. Gokhan Saki: This is a matchup that a lot of fans have been looking forward to seeing. Spong is a relative newcomer to the circuit with only one win in the K-1 ring over Azem Maksutaj back in April as part of a Super Fight in the Amsterdamn leg of the Grand Prix tournament.
Spong has a plethora of experience outside of K-1 though. He's 82-3 in his kickboxing career (53 by T/KO) that was mostly in promotions like It's SHOWTIME and other various regional events in the Netherlands. He's going to be a heavy threat in this tournament to anyone, and his knockout power will be on showcase as well. Interestingly enough, he will be taking on Saki in this tournament, and then fighting him against in two months at It's Showtime 2009.
Saki is currently 9-2 in the K-1 circuit with notable wins over Ray Sefo and Ruslan Karaev in some of his more recent outings. He lost to Remy Bonjasky in last year's World Grand Prix Final, but a lot of fans are clamoring that Saki could legitimately be a future contender for a title farther down the road. I'm more inclined to hold my optimism until after these couple of fights with a knockout artist like Spong.
Keijiro Maeda vs. Singh Heart Jaideep: In reserve bout action in case anyone gets hurt in their opening round matchups, Keijiro Maeda will take on Indian newcomer Singh Heart Jaideep. Maeda is on the up right now in the K-1 circuit with a respectable 7-1 record, only losing to Teixeira Ewerton in the Final of the Japan leg of the World GP tournament.
There isn't a whole lot known about Singh Heart Jaideep. K-1 lists his official record as 31-11-1 with only 3 knockouts. He is the J-Network Heavyweight champion, and he'll have some length on Maeda. It should be a good matchup to check out a newcomer and get a handle on what Maeda has to offer.
Wishful thinking: I'm hoping we get to see a Spong vs. Manhoef final as both guys have crazy knockout power. Of course, I'm rooting for Manhoef, but Spong is such a bright prospect in the K-1 circuit, it could go either way and I'd be happy with the outcome. It should be an explosive tournament.
Remy Bonjasky vs. Alistair Overeem: For MMA fans, this should be a matchup that you won't want to miss. 2008 World Grand Prix Champion Remy Bonjasky will be taking on heavyweight MMA veteran Alistair Overeem in a K-1 Rules matchup.
While many fans still remember the Overeem of old with his less than stellar conditioning and average boxing skills, the newest version of Alistair has finally made the decision to bulk up to Heavyweight. His physique is massive, his power has increased dramatically, and his technical striking skills have become a formidable attribute inside the ring. He was able to knockout K-1 badboy Badr Hari in the first round of their matchup at K-1 Dynamite 2008, surprising enough fans to warrant Overeem's continuation in K-1.
Bonjasky won't be as easy of an opponent as Hari in this bout. Hari stood in front of Alistair for most of the fight, and Overeem was able to close the distance and use his size to punch Hari relentlessly in the corners. Bonjasky could be considered a completely different animal in regards to that gameplan. Bonjasky has the unique skills in his striking game to crush opponents at very close distances with flying kicks and knees. His range is a huge concern as well for Overeem as he constantly circles while using his range to kick and punch at opponents. It should be a fantastic matchup in terms of seeing if Overeem can actually knock off the K-1 champion with little K-1 experience under his belt.
Peter Aerts vs. Errol Zimmerman: Another marquee matchup between K-1 veterans, Peter Aerts and Errol Zimmerman are both coming off losses to Badr Hari in the 2008 GP Final. Aerts was the victim of Hari's speed and tenacity as he was nearly knocked out from a spinning back kick by Hari back in December. It was all downhill from that point, but Aerts did defeat K-1 legend Semmy Schilt in September at the 2008 World GP Final 16 event in Seoul, South Korea.
Zimmerman is coming off a loss in one of the most talked about K-1 bouts of the 2008 season. The epic slugfest with Badr Hari that nearly saw Hari lose at the hands of the "Bonecrusher" might have been considered one of the best K-1 bouts of 2008 for many fans. Hari came back from an early knockdown to throw a devastating one-two combination that downed Zimmerman and led to Hari moving on to the final.
Aerts has been criticized by many fans recently for losing a lot of speed in his step, and likely moving well past his prime in terms of age (38 years old). Aerts, however, still holds some huge wins over veterans like Bonjasky and Schilt in some of his more recent bouts.
Zimmerman is only 23 years of age, and he is already making waves in the K-1 world. His technical striking still needs some work as he does leave himself open to counters, but this should be a classic matchup between an older veteran vs. the new younger breed.
Jerome Le Banner vs. Ewerton Teixeira: Jerome Le Banner is one of the more beloved K-1 fighters among fans. He's shown unbelievable toughness in a number of his recent bouts, and while it's admirable that Le Banner would still try to compete with injuries, it's becoming increasingly tough for Le Banner to move through tournaments without getting hurt.
Le Banner is as tough as they come, comes from a heavy boxing background, and has unbelievable knockout power. He will surely be a huge test for impressive newcomer Ewerton Teixeira.
Teixeira's background is Karate, and he's proven to be a very accomplished Karate practitioner in many Kyokushin World tournaments, either winning those tournaments or placing within the top three. At 5-1, he's been brought along in the K-1 circuit, eventually winning his regional leg of the Grand Prix back in June of last year. Unfortunately, Teixeira ran into another young prospect in Errol Zimmerman in the December GP Final.
Although Teixeira lost to Zimmerman, he showed some highly technical kicks and potential to become a legitimate threat within the K-1 ranks. Le Banner is a strong, powerful veteran in the circuit, so this should prove to be a challenge for Teixeira. With his heavy kicks, Teixeira could be a suprise here if he can manage to hurt Le Banner early, but I would be more inclined to see Le Banner's experience and toughness persevere.
Junichi Sawayashiki vs. Glaube Feitosa: This looks to be a bout that is trying to give the younger Sawayashiki some more experience against a highly experienced K-1 veteran in Glaube Feitosa. Feitosa has been fighting in the circuit since 2000 with some notable wins along the way throughout his career, but he has mostly fallen short of breaking into the top stable of fighters, but has done enough to beat talent to maintain a standing in the middle of the pack.
Sawayashiki is currently at 5-4 with a notable win over Jerome Le Banner in only his second K-1 bout. When he made it to the 2007 Grand Prix Final, he ran into much stiffer competition in Peter Aerts and was subsequentally knocked out in the first round. Since that bout, he hasn't been able to get back into his winning ways with 3 straight losses, one coming in a rematch with Jerome Le Banner.
This should be a matchup to get one of these fighters back on the right track, although Feitosa is well past his prime while Sawayashiki could have a future in the sport.
Tune in on Saturday morning at 4:00 AM EST on HDNet for live coverage of the event. It should be a very good event in terms of producing some highlight reel knockouts and providing some interesting matchups for fans to get excited about.
K-1 Heavyweight Title tournament match: Keijiro Maeda vs. Melvin Manhoef
Chalid has been scratched from the card, the reason given was that he has influenza, but as stated in the comments, he may have had visa issues.