With K-1 back in action, I wanted to continue my look back at some of K-1's all time great fights. And what better fight to feature than this one? Here, we have current UFC Heavyweight contender Mark Hunt vs. Xtreme Couture kickboxing trainer and Strikeforce veteran Ray Sefo in what many (myself included) consider one of the top 5 fights in K-1 history. If you only know Hunt from his MMA days, or Sefo as a cornerman, I hope you'll enjoy this look back to when they ruled the K-1 ring.
MARK HUNT v. RAY SEFO
October 8, 2001
K-1 Fukuoka Grand Prix
There are a lot of great fights out there in the history books of K-1. Often the very best of these fights are highly technical affairs, with both men showing superb defense, a variety of attacks, and well-executed strategy in order to best their opponent.
This is not one of those fights.
On October 8, 2001, eight fighters stepped into the ring in Fukuoka, Japan for their final shot at the 2001 Grand Prix finals. The Fukuoka event was highlighted by two 4-man mini-tournaments, with the winner of each tournament advancing to the GP finals. As a result, the stakes for this show were extremely high, with every man knowing this night could effectively end his 2001 season. The last semi-final of the draw pitted two New Zealand countrymen at very different stages of their K-1 careers against one another.
On one side of the ring stood "Sugarfoot" Ray Sefo. One of the unofficial spokesmen of K-1, Sefo had been a fixture of the company since 1996 and had faced all the big names from Hoost to Aerts to LeBanner to Hug. In 2001, Sefo was coming off his greatest year, making it to the finals of the 2000 Grand Prix, where he lost to the great Ernesto Hoost. A knockout machine with one of the highest KO ratios in K-1, Sefo was at the peak of his skills and highly regarded.
His opponent was a relative newcomer to the sport of kickboxing. Mark Hunt had made his professional debut just two years earlier, and entered K-1 as a severe underdog at the 2000 K-1 Oceania tournament. Hunt surprised fans in that tournament, coming out victorious and earning himself a shot on a main K-1 show. His K-1 debut came in July 2000, where he lost a decision to the man who would eventually become perhaps his greatest rival in Jerome Le Banner. After successfully defending his Oceania title in 2001, Hunt was now coming off back-to-back loses including a hard-fought decision loss to reigning champion Hoost (in one of those fight where the loser still walks away a winner), and to Peter Graham. Popular for his exciting style, but as of yet unable to find consistency, Hunt was something of a wildcard in this tournament.
The stage was set. Two exciting, hard-hitting fighters, one known for his knockout power, one known for his resilience to being knocked out. Fans knew this one could be good.
Video and more after the jump.
To me, the sequence near the end of round 2 is everything great about combat sports. Both men have been throwing it all at each other, and seem to realize that their opponent is tough enough to absorb all their best shots. So what do they do? Smile, and just start throwing again. This is the kind of fight Dana White thinks he sees every week on TUF, but the reality is both men continue to use good technique and keep up the pace throughout, showing what sets them apart from your barroom brawlers of the world.
Of particular note here is the aftermath. Although Sefo won this encounter, the injuries he sustained caused him to drop out of the final match of the evening. Hunt stepped in, defeating Adam Watt to win a spot in the GP Finals where he pulled off the greatest upset in Grand Prix history, becoming the 2001 K-1 Grand Prix champion. For Sefo, this was perhaps his best shot at the title, as he never made it back to the finals again. He will go down as one of the best K-1 fighters to never win a GP, while the man he defeated in this war will forever have his name among the elites as a Grand Prix champion.