It's been a rocky year for K-1, but it looks like at last there is concrete positive news for fans of the long-standing kickboxing organization. Earlier this week, K-1 announced that they would in fact be holding their yearly World Grand Prix in 2011. The Final 16 will take place on October 29 in Nanjing, China, with the finals to take place later this year either in China again, or elsewhere in Asia. This will be the first K-1 Heavyweight event since last year's finals.
The first 11 official Grand Prix participants are:
Badr Hari (77-11) - 2008 & 2009 K-1 GP runner-up
Hesdy Gerges (39-9-1) - Current It's Showtime Heavyweight champion
Tyrone Spong (67-6-1-1) - 2010 Final 8
Ruslan Karaev (13-9) - 2008 K-1 Taipei champion; 2005 K-1 Las Vegas champion
Daniel Ghita (39-7) - 2010 Final 8; 2009 K-1 Tokyo GP champion
Ben Edwards - 2010 K-1 Oceania GP champion
Melvin Manhoef (37-9) - 2009 Final 16
Dzevad Poturak (47-16-1-1) - K-1 Grand Prix debut
Sergei Lascenko (27-9) - 2011 SuperKombat GP champion; 2009 K-1 Tokyo GP runner-up
Rico Verhoeven (35-5-1) - K-1 Grand Prix debut
Anderson "Braddock" Silva (29-5-1) - K-1 Grand Prix debut
Also, while not yet confirmed, Hesdy Gerges stated on twitter that he would face Errol Zimmerman in the Final 16.
This is a fun line-up with a lot of interesting possibilities and fresh names. However, it's also a bit shallow, and is undeniably missing something. We knew 2010 champion Alistair Overeem was unlikely to be included due to his recent UFC signing, but the lack of K-1 veterans here is unfortunate. No Peter Aerts, no Ray Sefo, no Jerome Le Banner, no Semmy Schilt. In fact, for the first time in the almost 20 year history of the Grand Prix, this year features not a single former GP champion.
Right now, Badr Hari has to be considered the heavy favorite to finally win the crown that has eluded him for the past 5 years. Gerges, Spong, and Ghita are also possible contenders that could once again spoil Badr's ascent. Any combination of those 4 men will create a blockbuster fight.
This announcement tells us a lot, but also leaves many questions yet to be answered: Why is It's Showtime co-promoting this event? What happened to the K-1 buy out earlier this year? Why aren't Golden Glory fighters involved? And who will fill out the remaining slots? Next week, we'll try to unpack some of those questions, but for now, kickboxing fans, let's allow ourselves to sit back and enjoy the fact that, once again, Grand Prix season is upon us.