Zach Arnold over at FightOpinion.com has got a solid piece up on what appears to be the impending demise of K-1, the once-great Japanese promotion responsible for organizing some of the greatest striking-only tournaments in the world. The company behind the promotion, the Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), is struggling, and maybe there are buyers out there waiting to swoop in or maybe there aren’t. The bottom line is K-1 is in trouble. “K-what?” you may ask? Yeah, that’s the problem. In the U.S., K-1 never really got that big. But it was huge in Japan, and in other parts of the world where kickboxing is the equivalent of what Western boxing is here in terms of acceptance and popularity. “Okay, but what does K-1 have to do with the sport of mixed martial arts?” you may ask? Aside from the organization’s brief and sometimes comical forays into MMA (Royce Gracie versus sumo wrestler Akebono Taro, anyone?), K-1 has always been the stand-up fighting equivalent of the Abu Dhabi submission wrestling tournament, i.e., the place where the elite compete in an important facet of mixed martial arts. When someone steps into the Octagon and Joe Rogan says they’re an Abu Dhabi champ, you just know they’re a badass on the ground; conversely, if Rogan says they’re a K-1 champ, the general rule is DO NOT MESS WITH THEM ON THE FEET. Seriously, with fighters having to get through regional tournaments to even get a whiff of competing in the World Grand Prix, and the World Grand Prix featuring the absolute best of the best… well, let’s just say to excel you have to be really durable and really good. Still unconvinced of the link between K-1 and MMA, and why you should care that K-1 might go the way of the dinosaur? Then consider the following “links” between K-1 and the MMA world.
-Mirko “Crocop” Filipovic – What, did you think Crocop purchased those devastating high-kicks at Walmart? No! While the Croatian kickboxer never actually won a grand prix per se, he at various times smoked those who were considered the best guys (like Jerome Le Banner, Mike Bernardo and Peter Aerts), and when he lost, it was usually because he was nursing an injury sustained from destroying someone just prior. Such performances gained him entry into PRIDE and the MMA world, and with a pretty damn good knack for avoiding takedowns (or avoiding trouble on the ground), he soon became one of the most feared fighters on PRIDE’s roster and eventual champion.
-Alistair Overeem – A true renaissance man when it comes to combat sports, Overeem has seen success both in the realm of MMA and K-1, winning titles in both. And sure, maybe being bitten by a radioactive horse gave him superpowers, but you can’t take away from the fact that he has great technical skill – skill that’s enabled him to defeat the likes of Aerts and Tyrone Spong in K-1 and Todd Duffee and Kazuyuki Fujita in mixed martial arts.
-Semmy Schilt – Schilt only fought in the UFC twice, dropping Pete Williams with kicks from all the way across the cage and falling to Josh Barnett after that, but he was hella experienced when it came to the Japanese organization Pancrase, and he was always good for an entertaining ass-kicking in PRIDE (sometimes given, sometimes received). However, when it came to K-1, he was an absolute monster. Seriously, at about eleven-feet tall, he could land strikes from other zip codes. He’s won four K-1 grand prix tournaments, and Dutch mothers alternate between telling kids that he’s a hero that they should aspire to and a demon that will steal their souls if they’re bad.
-Maurice Smith – If your first exposure to the UFC was on SpikeTV, you’re going to have no idea who this guy is, so let me give you a history lesson, son. Once upon a time a human bulldozer named Mark Coleman ruled the Octagon, and the order of the day was that no kickboxer ever stood a chance against a wrestler, let alone a wrestler like Coleman. Then came Smith, who was one of the best Americans to ever compete in K-1 (he never won a grand prix, but he did well enough). Smith weathered Coleman’s storm on the ground, escaped back to the feet and picked him apart – establishing that, with the right training, a deadly striker could succeed at mixed martial arts.
-Bob Sapp – By virtue of being a gigantic human being and ex-NFL player, Sapp saw some success in his early K-1 career. Which was aggravating, because he was taking out K-1 superstars with relatively little training and skill. He’s gone winless since 2005, which is right about when everyone figured out he’s good for one bumrush before his lungs explode. But the dude who had a legendary fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in PRIDE deserves at least some recognition for his K-1 accomplishments.