K-1 is back after its June 55kg Grand Prix with its first trip outside of Tokyo this year. The leading Japanese kickboxing organization visits Osaka with a card headlined by local favorite Koji on Saturday. Without an 8 man Grand Prix and in the absence of superstar Takeru, the card is not a major one on the K-1 schedule, but there are still some interesting fights (and admittedly, some not so interesting ones) on the card.
So let’s dive in and see which of those match ups are worth your time...
As I mentioned above, Koji is a local favorite and his presence in the main event is more due to that and his trash-talking than him really being a top fighter. He is a solid mid tier talent with a running feud with Krest gym, holding a win over former K-1 champion Hirotaka Urabe that was later avenged by his teammate Takeru. He’ll be fighting another Krest alum in Tatsuya Oiwa. If neither is a top fighter, they’re both solid, fun fighters that should offer a decent fight that should put the winner in line for something bigger.
Kenta Hayashi (16-5-2, 11 KOs, 63kg Champion) vs Deniz Demirkapu (6-2, 5 KOs)
Kenta Hayashi is one the most exciting action fighters in the sport, fighting every bout with a kill-or-be-killed approach. This carried him to an unlikely Grand Prix win last December, which he followed with an upset of the year candidate over champion Koya Urabe at K’FESTA 2 in March. 19-year-old Deniz Demirkapu is one of the most promising prospects in Europe at the weight, and should be a great fit in K-1—as he is also an all action KO artist.
While Hayashi will provide a tough test, he is one of the most beloved champions in kickboxing to go up against for a young fighter like Demirkapu. The bout should be a war and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Belgian pull off the upset. Regardless of the result he should be a hit with Japanese audiences, and this is definitely the most likely candidate for fight of the night.
Masaaki Noiri (38-10, 18 KOs) vs Sami Lamiri (27-4-1, 4 KOs)
Noiri is the former 65kg champion, and just lost his de-facto #1 spot at 67.5kg against Jordann Pikeur at K’FESTA 2. He was supposed to fight Singsuriya Sakchaichot (ranked in the top 5 at both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadium) but Singsuriya had a fight in Thailand a couple of weeks ago—and K-1 Japan requires a 25 day period between fights.
Swiss fighter Sami Lamiri has been called as a late replacement. He trains out of Mejiro Gym in Amsterdam (the birthplace of Dutch kickboxing) and while there isn’t recent film available of him online, he looks like a competent fighter based on what there is. Noiri will be the rightful favorite but given his pedigree, Laimiri is a solid short notice replacement and might be a nice surprise.
Minoru Kimura (29-9-1, 22 KOs) vs Sho Oizumi (0-1)
A prime example of Japanese matchmaking, as the records show. Kimura is a middling fighter leaning on power and being huge for the division, but has a solid fanbase. Sho “Chocoboy” Oizumi is a former pro boxer (4-4-2) who recently transitioned to kickboxing, lost his kickboxing debut and looked bad doing it. So, yeah, it is what is. Kimura has a suspect chin, so there’s always a chance, but he’s getting a softball here.
Veteran Yasuhiro Kido is still trucking along and getting some decent results at 36. However, being past his best, he’s had to resort to tactics that have made for frustrating performances lately. Antonio Gomez is a Glory veteran, and was a bit unlucky to go 0-3 in the promotion. He lost a controversial decision against Hysni Beqiri, was stopped on cuts after a good performance against Josh Jauncey, and was knocked out by Marat Grigorian—who is now the champion. He is a good pressure fighter and, though Kido is still wily enough to be a thorn in the side of most, I expect the Spaniard to get past him.
Sina Karimian (9-0, 5 KOs, 90kg Champion) vs Ryo Aitaka (20-6, 8 KOs)
Karimian is the K-1 90kg champion (not one of their best weight divisions, it must be said), he is fighting Japan’s Aitaka (90kg is also not one of Japan’s best weights in general) who is coming off of a KO loss in his last fight. Karimian is a decent fighter if a bit sloppy (I’d have him hovering somewhere in the top 15 range at LHW) and should make short work of Aitaka—which should set him up for a more interesting rematch with Bellator veteran Hisaki Kato.
Hideaki Yamazaki (28-8-1, 14 KOs) vs Jin Hirayama (16-14-3, 9 KOs)
Yamazaki is the former #1 65kg fighter in Japan, but he’s not looked quite himself over the past year—after coming back from an injury. He lost in December to Rukiya who is now the champion after a controversial win over Kaew Fairtex. He’s getting journeyman Hirayama as a bounce back. Hirayama is the type of all-offense-zero-defense, that should make for a decent test of where Yamazaki is truly at. If he’s anywhere close to his top level, he should get past him without too much trouble and have an entertaining fight in the process.
Tetsuya Yamato (40-17-1, 30 KOs) vs Kensei Kondo (2-2-1, 1 KOs)
Kensei Kondo is the 2015 and 2016 champion of K-1’s youth tournament. He’s talented but his pro career hasn’t started smoothly, in part because Japan loves nothing more than throwing its prospects to the wolves as soon as possible. Speaking of which, he’ll be fighting Tetsuya Yamato. Yamato is a veteran of both the Japanese kickboxing scene (he was the 2010 K-1 63kg champion) and the international Muay Thai scene. He might have started to fade a bit at 32, but the huge gap in top level experience will likely be too much to bridge for Kondo in my opinion. Both have exciting styles though and it should be fun while it lasts.
21 year old Shinohara has established himself as one of the top talents in Japan, thanks to his excellent counter-punching. He scored a KO over tournament favorite Kongnapa in the quarter finals of the 63kg GP, before falling to eventual champion Kenta Hayashi in the semis. He’s since rebounded from the loss by beating Fumiya Osawa in March. Kawasaki seems pretty limited outside of a decent jab and left hook. This looks like a stay busy fight, and an occasion to shine for Shinohara, before potentially being back in bigger fights towards the end of the year.
With wins over fighters like Tie Yinghua and veteran journeyman Makihira Keita – but also having been smashed by Masaaki Noiri – Riki Matsuoka seems headed for a solid gatekeeper career. He should provide a good test of what hyped prospect Kaisei Kondo (who is looking to rebound after the first loss of his career) can do against a decent fighter who has gotten a taste of high level competition.
The hidden gem of the card. A clash of two top prospects battling for a spot in the top 10 of 55kg, Japan’s most talent-stacked weight class. A tall fighter for the division, Tatsuya has decent hands, but relies on his kicks to control fights and for his most effective offense. With a win over Haruma Saikyo and a 1-1 mark against Gunji Taito, he has more high level experience than his opponent. However, Aoshi’s skill set – a very good pocket boxer with a vicious left hook, particularly to the body – is one that Tsubakihara has struggled with in his losses to Masashi Kumura and Taito. This should be a very interesting stylistic match up of two fighters that could become mainstays at the top of the division.
Eventually, the card is a bit of a mixed bag with a lot of rebound and stay busy fights that should be entertaining for the most part, if not terribly important in the grand scheme of things. But among all that it has two truly excellent match ups worth every fight fan’s time in Hayashi vs Demirkapu and Tsubakihara vs Aoshi.
K-1 World Grand Prix in Osaka main card streams on Abema TV (Japanese IP required) on Saturday August 24th at 2:00am ET / 11:00pm PT. The prelims start at 12:30am ET / 9:30pm PT.
Koji (26-13, 9 KOs) vs Tatsuya Oiwa (17-5, 6 KOs), 60kg
Kenta Hayashi (16-5-2, 11 KOs, 63kg Champion) vs Deniz Demirkapu (6-2, 5 KOs), 62.5 kg
Masaaki Noiri (38-10, 18 KOs) vs Sami Lamiri (27-4-1, 4 KOs), 67.5kg
Minoru Kimura (29-9-1, 22 KOs) vs Sho Oizumi (0-1), 68kg
Yasuhiro Kido (47-23-1, 20 KOs) vs Antonio Gomez (50-9-2, 29 KOs), 70kg
Sina Karimian (9-0, 5 KOs, 90kg Champion) vs Ryo Aitaka (20-6, 8 KOs), 90kg
Hideaki Yamazaki (28-8-1, 14 KOs) vs Jin Hirayama (16-14-3, 9 KOs), 65kg
Tetsuya Yamato (40-17-1, 30 KOs) vs Kensei Kondo (2-2-1, 1 KOs), 65 kg
Yuto Shinohara (12-3, 6 KOs) vs Shinichiro Kawasaki (9-4, 6 KOs), 62.5kg
Riki Matsuoka (9-5-2, 4 KOs) vs Kaisei Kondo (2-1-1, 2 KOs), 67.5kg
Tatsuya Tsubakihara (7-2-1, 2 KOs) vs Aoshi (7-1-1, 3 KOs), 55kg
Kana (13-2, 6 KOs) vs Mahiro (4-1-2), 52kg
Takahito Niimi (6-1, 4 KOs) vs Toma (2-0, 1 KO), 57.5kg
Toma Kuroda (2-0, 1 KOs) vs Aoi Noda (2-0), 53kg
Seiya (7-2, 3 KOs) vs Yuta Suzuki (2-1, 1 KO), 62.5kg