Badr Hari vs Stefan Leko
With just days to go until the official return of K-1 we continue our preview of this week's show. Once again, I'm taking a look back at a classic K-1 fight featuring one of this weekend's fighters - in this case Badr Hari. The controversial fighter takes on Anderson "Braddock" Silva at the K-1 Rising show this Sunday. That fight will be Hari's first K-1 fight since April 2010. Since then, Badr has had a very rocky road. From being disqualified against Hesdy Gerges, to fleeing Amsterdam in order to escape suspicion in a nightclub assault, to officially retiring from kickboxing in order to become a pro boxer, things have not gone smoothly for Badr. But through it all, he remains one of the best Heavyweight kickboxers on the planet today, and (as long as he keeps his head on straight) we'll likely get to see that again this Sunday.
Here, we look back at one of Hari's all-time great moments, and one of the best KO's in K-1's rich history. Once again, this is an updated version of an article originally published at Head Kick Legend.
BADR HARI v. STEFAN "BLITZ" LEKO
K-1 World Grand Prix 2005
November 19, 2005
Seven years ago, the landscape of K-1 was vastly different. The old guard of K-1 was still at the top, though for some of these older fighters, it was clear that their time was starting to wind down. The company needed new names, but since the newer breed of fighters that have characterized K-1's recent history had not yet emerged, the company was in a tough position. They turned to the giants to save the day. In 2005, they were at the end of their much reviled "freak show" stage of development, a time marked by a heavy focus on the trio of Bob Sapp, Hong Man Choi, and Akebono as the leading figures. At the same time, another giant had effectively taken over K-1, as 2005 marked the rise of Semmy Schilt as a regular K-1 competitor, winning his first of three straight Grand Prix titles. Between a general dislike of Schilt and growing weariness with the freak show stigma, this period is generally considered a low point by many fans.
Enter Badr Hari.
Videos and more after the jump
At only 20 years old, the young Moroccan fighter was a relative unknown to casual fans, having competed solely in Europe for the past 5 years, making his debut at just 15. With a two year undefeated streak (including a victory over future UFC fighter Antoni Hardonk), Hari caught the eye of K-1, who brought him in for a regional show in 2005. Hari won there, earning him a spot on a main Japanese card. But before getting to his Japanese debut, Hari had one more stop to make.
Stefan "Blitz" Leko was a popular K-1 veteran who had been with the company since 1997. Well-loved for his aggressive style, Leko held wins over many of the sport's greats, including Peter Aerts, Mike Bernardo, and Francisco Filho. But contract negotiations pushed him out of K-1 in 2003. After an unsuccessful 0-3 MMA career in Pride, Leko returned to kickboxing in 2005, getting his feet wet in non-K-1 cards where he scored wins over Florian Ogunade and... Badr Hari.
The first fight between these two took place in It's Showtime on June 12, 2005. The fight was characterized by bad blood, with Hari (already known for his bad boy image) trash talking Leko prior to the fight. Inside the ring, the action was quick and intense:
With a highlight reel finish, Leko reestablished himself as a contender on the international kickboxing scene. For his part, Hari also earned another shot at K-1 with his showing here. Given the exciting nature of this fight, K-1 opted for an immediate rematch, signing Hari vs. Leko 2 for November 19, 2005 in a reserve fight for the Grand Prix.
As anyone who has followed Hari can tell you, he is a fighter with a lot of emotion, who does not take a loss like this lightly. There is no doubt that on November 19, Hari came dead-set on revenge. As the two men entered, you could feel that this was an important fight for both. Leko was out to permanently shut his opponent up and show that he was definitively back, while Hari was out to gain vengeance and show that he was the new K-1 prototype. From the opening bell, the fight is marked by strong action, with both men looking good in round 1. As for round 2...
At this point, it's probably best to watch the fight if you have never seen it before:
And with one brutal knockout, Badr Hari had arrived. It's been featured on highlight reels for quite some time, and earned much discussion after the Edson Barboza KO earlier this year (check out the Judo Chop comparing the two), and it still packs a punch.
Watching the fight as a whole, one of the things you notice is how well Hari sets up the KO blow. Just before, he throws a spinning back kick to the body (the exact same weapon used by Leko to win the first fight). This does not connect, but it serves two purposes. First, it gives Hari his range. Second, it gets Leko thinking about defending the body. Moments later, Hari throws a second spinning kick. Leko perfectly takes the bait, dropping his right arm to protect the body. But of course, the strike doesn't go to the body. It goes to the head. With the range set, and the head unprotected, the end result is one of the cleanest one shot knockouts in K-1 history.
It's easy in hindsight to look at this as a turning point in K-1 history, but that's exactly what it is. The man who would eventually become the poster child for the new generation of K-1 steps in and knocks one of the veterans out cold. And he does it with the kind of highlight reel KO that made stars of men like Peter Aerts and Mirko Cro Cop before him. For a fighter, it's the kind of performance that careers are made of, and for K-1, it was the birth of the new generation.