This Saturday, K-1 returns with the K-1 World MAX Grand Prix 2012, the first full GP the company has staged in two years. It's been a rough time for K-1, as they have lost many of their biggest stars. Yet with former MAX champion Andy Souwer joining the likes of Artur Kyshenko and Mike Zambidis, this is still a very good show worthy of the Grand Prix name.
As we get ready for Saturday's event and the crowning of a new champion, I decided to take a look back at one of my favorite K-1 MAX Grand Prix finals. Enjoy this GP battle between two of K-1 MAX's all time greats.
MASATO v. ALBERT KRAUS
K-1 MAX Grand Prix Finals 2003
July 5, 2003
In early 2002, K-1 officially launched their MAX division, spotlighting smaller, faster fighters instead of the heavyweights featured in the regular K-1 shows. From the first big MAX event, it was clear that the man to watch in MAX was Japanese superstar Masato. The talented, dynamic fighter won the first ever MAX tournament, and seemed primed to become the inaugural MAX GP champion in 2002.
But in that first ever MAX GP, Masato ran into a young unknown by the name of Albert Kraus. And, shockingly, he lost. Kraus took a decision victory over the star, claiming the GP crown. K-1 wasted no time setting up a rematch. The two had a second drawn out battle, this time going five full rounds, but again, Masato fell short, as the fight ended in a draw.
As 2003 began, this was clearly a series that was not yet settled. Masato started the year in style, winning his second straight Japan tournament. Kraus was not as successful, as he started the year with a KO loss to the heavy-handed Mike Zambidis. As the 2003 Grand Prix tournament began to fall into place it seemed that momentum now favored Masato, but could he overcome Kraus?
Once the brackets were set, it was unclear if the two would even meet again as they found themselves on opposite sides of the draw. If Kraus v. Masato III would happen here, it would have to be in the finals, and to get there Masato would have to defeat the rising Zambidis in the opening round as well as his semi-final opponent. Kraus too had a tough road, facing Andy Souwer in the quarter-finals.
Destined to settle things, the two men did indeed make their way into the finals. For the third time, Masato and Albert Kraus stood face to face in center ring, but for the first time, the winner would walk away MAX champion. The stakes had never been higher.
Watching this fight now, there's a lot to love. From a technical standpoint, both men show great boxing skills, using head and foot movement very effectively, especially in the early stages of round two. From an emotional standpoint, you just have to love the crowd reaction as the normally reserved K-1 fans are going crazy here, really providing that extra burst of energy to a fight already filled with a great story.
Ultimately, Masato gained his vindication, defeating Kraus in a fantastic final, and winning the K-1 crown. He would go on to win it again in 2008, and stand as one of the sport's true great all the way until his retirement in 2009. Today, Kraus still remains near the top, though in more of a high level gatekeeper role.
Saturday night, another man will take home this same MAX crown. Will it be Andy Souwer, taking home a record breaking 3rd MAX GP win? Or will it be a new name like Kyshenko, Ristie, or Groenhart added to the list of champions? Find out Saturday at the 2012 K-1 MAX Grand Prix, with live coverage here at Bloody Elbow.