Later this evening, K-1 hosts their first show of 2011 with the K-1 WORLD MAX 2011 -63kg Japan Tournament FINAL. The main feature of this event is a one night, 8 man tournament to crown the 2nd K-1 MAX 63kg Japan champion. As we mentioned last week, the show will be streamed live and for free all over the world, which is great news for kickboxing fans. The show begins at 3:30 pm on Saturday in Japan, so for US fans, that means a start time of 2:30 am EST this evening. You can watch the fights live on K-1's YouTube channel, Ustream, or PP Live. As you watch, join us here at Bloody Elbow, where we will be hosting a late night live discussion thread. And be sure to check out Head Kick Legend for more kickboxing coverage.
To get you ready for the event, we're breaking down the tournament with a brief look at each fighter, along with unofficial rankings on how the 8 tournament participants rank against each other.
Quarter Final #1: #3 Tetsuya Yamato vs. #8 HIROYA
Yamato is the defending champion, having won this event in a pretty impressive showing last year. At that event, he KO'd 3 of tonight's participants to win the crown - Yuki, Kizaemon Saiga, and Yuta Kubo. Despite that win, Yamato doesn't get much respect from fans, who point out the holes in his defense as a serious problem. It's true he has some flaws, but he's sometimes overlooked, and his toughness and resilience can take him far. Stylistically, his background is in Muay Thai, though he uses it in more of a K-1 style instead of full Muay Thai.
Hiroya is easily the lowest ranked competitor here. The one time golden boy of K-1's lighter divisions, Hiroya has been competing in K-1 since the age of 15. For some time, Hiroya dominated the Koshien, or youth, leagues at K-1, and based on that success, K-1 pushed him hard as the future superstar of the sport. But after a 2009 loss to Masaaki Noiri, Hiroya took time off to finish high school, returning late last year in a loss to Yuta Kubo. At just 19 years old, he now finds himself struggling to stay relevant in a division that has seemingly passed him by.
Quarter Final #2: #2 Koya Urabe vs. #7 Yuki
Urabe is another K-1 Koshien veteran, but he has made great strides in the past two years, greatly maturing as a fighter. Last year, he won in the qualifying round of the tournament, but was not invited to the final 8. In Japan's Krush organization, he ended 2010 by defeating Tetsuya Yamato, staking his claim as the uncrowned king of 63kg. He entered this year's Krush 63kg tournament the favorite, but was upset in the finals by Ryuji Kajiwara, a teammate of Urabe's at Team Dragon.
Yuki is an exciting, powerful fighter, who represents the "puncher's chance" element in this tournament. He is a former champion for the R.I.S.E. organization, and made it to the quarter finals last year, where he was KO'd by Yamato. He's the underdog here, but his heavy hands certainly have the potential to spoil some plans.
Quarter Final #3: #4 Yuta Kubo vs. #5 Kizaemon Saiga
A very close match here. Kubo has twice made it to the finals of similar tournaments, losing to Yamato at last year's event, and to Masahiro Yamamoto in the 2009 Krush tournament. He's an incredibly smart fighter, who does a masterful job finding his opponent's weaknesses and exploiting them - a skill he demonstrated in last year's semi-final round KO of Yoshimichi Matsumoto.
Kizaemon Saiga is the biggest personality of the group. The former Koshien fighter is arrogant and brash, but he backs up his talk with strong in-ring skills. Last year, he upset Naoki Ishikawa to make it to the semi-finals, and he also made it to this year's Krush tournament semi-finals, losing to Kajiwara. Saiga is a fun fighter, who likes to mix up his attacks with a lot of wild kicks.
Quarter Final #4: #1 Ryuji Kajiwara vs. #6 Masaaki Noiri
I'm not sure Kajiwara is actually the best fighter in this field, but with his recent wins over Koya Urabe and Kizaemon Saiga among others, he has to be considered #1. He's the reigning Krush 63kg champion, and an accomplished veteran. That championship win was a surprise upset - he'll want to prove it wasn't a fluke with a big win here.
Noiri is the 2009 K-1 Koshien champion, and has had great success transitioning out of the Koshien ranks. He holds a number of impressive wins in Krush, including a trip to the semi-finals of their recent 60kg tournament. Although he is a bit leaner than some of the other fighters, he also has a long reach, which he uses well.
My predictions: I see Yamato and Urabe having little trouble in the first round, setting up a rematch for semi-final #1. No reason to think that rematch goes any different than the first outing, sending Koya Urabe to the finals. The 2nd half of the bracket is much closer, and I honestly could see any of these four making it to the finals. I'll go with Kubo to outpoint Saiga, and Kajiwara over Noiri. In a Kubo vs. Kajiwara semi-final, I go with Kubo, setting up his third trip to the finals and, in my opinion, his third loss. I have Koya Urabe winning the crown that has so far eluded him.
Also on the card is a super fight between K-1 veterans Albert Kraus and Yoshihiro Sato. These two have met twice before, in 2006 and 2007, with Kraus winning both outings via decision. Finally, a pair of reserve fights round out the card in Shohei Asahara vs. Koji Yoshimoto, and Yuto Watanabe vs. Toshiki Taniyama.
Check the full entry for K-1's official promo videos.