Shooting Star: 2010 K1 Oceania GP

International Kickboxer Magazine, Vol. 18, No.4

The K1 World Grand Prix, the most prestigious international stand-up martial arts event, returned to the Oceania region on July 10 for the first time in seven years. Previously, the Oceania qualifier had been staged by Tarik Solak in Melbourne, Australia, and in Auckland, New Zealand, by Dixon McIver. Both promoters put their unique stamp on the event and set a high benchmark for every event to follow. K1 has codified kickboxing as an international sport, particularly amongst the European nations. It has also been the making of many of the Oceania region’s finest heavyweights. This year saw the return of Oceania’s last great champion, Paul Slowinski, who was himself an underdog when he took out the title in 2003. The National Convention Centre in Canberra was electric with expectation – would Slowinski’s international experience see him through to victory, or would he be usurped by the home town favourite, Ben Edwards?

Edwards was key to the tournament coming to the nation’s capital. His trainer, Nick Boutzos, was the promoter and the winner’s berth in the K1 Final 16 Elimination Tournament was the prize that Edwards sought. He has been clearing out the heavyweight division over the last few years, convincingly defeating Mick Seibert for the second time earlier this year. Stalwarts like Peter Graham, Paul Slowinski and rising star Thor Hoopman remain his only real opposition.

The undercard passed without much interest, except for the fight between Josh Tonna and Glen Purvis. Both were Thai stylists, Glen having twice as many fights as Josh. It was fast-paced and blow-for-blow, with Glen eventually taking the split decision.

The Final 8 were then introduced to the crowd. The draw had changed in the previous 24 hours; sadly, former K1 Las Vegas winner Doug Viney had pulled out, but his place had been filled by Thor Hoopman. This was an exciting development; Thor had fought – and beaten – Slowinski on a previous occasion. The first bout saw Tafa Misipati from New Zealand fighting Cedric NTG from Nugget’s gym in Queensland. It was a well-matched contest with both fighters being close in height and weight. Tafa was clearly the more  technical of the two, however; his combinations more often finding their mark. Both fighters were utterly exhausted by the time the final bell rang, and Tafa was given the judges’ nod to progress to the next round.

The crowd’s reception for their home-town hero was enormous when Ben Edwards took the stage. He was introduced as weighing in at 117 kilos, and from where this writer sat, he thought he could see the shadow of Ben’s abs. His opponent, Faisal ‘The Diamond Flyer’ Zachariah, laid claim to over 200 fights’ experience. Not many of the fight fans assembled had heard of him, however, so there was considerable curiosity as to how the fight would develop.

Both fighters rushed in from the bell, neither finding their mark. Their bodies clashed together and there was a lot of jostling, with ‘The Diamond Flyer’ trying to land a few knee strikes. The referee parted them and it became very clear that whether Canberra knew Faisal or not, he had certainly heard about Edwards’ hands. He tried to close the distance to a clinch, but to little avail. Edwards had soon knocked him down and Faisal was unwilling to continue.

Fight three saw Thor Hoopman facing Steve Bonner for a spot in the semi-finals. Bonner had recently become a world champion, which made for an interesting contest. He weighed in at more than 14 kilos heavier than Thor, and used it well to keep the very dangerous Hoopman at bay. Thor doggedly kicked at Bonner’s legs over the course of the fight and dropped him twice. When the fight went to decision, it was clearly Thor’s victory.

The final fight of the first round saw Paul Slowinski facing off against Sio Vitale from New Zealand. The Sting came flying out of his corner at a pace that Vitale was hard-pressed to match. He soon fell victim to one of The Sting’s well-timed head kicks and the semi-finals were set.

Charles August and Jarrod Botha met in the first super fight of the night. August is a fixture on the Australian kickboxing scene, well-known for his heavy hands. Botha didn’t seem intimidated, however, coming out of his corner looking like a young Peter Aerts. He used his height and reach advantage to punish August with solid body kicks. Both fighters mixed it up with genuine conviction but August’s hands found their mark more often. By the second round, he had driven Botha into a corner. Botha was soon introduced to the canvas and the fight had ended.  

The super-fight ensured that the contestants from the first leg of the draw got the opportunity to rest, and when the semi-finals commenced, a fresh Ben Edwards returned to the adulation of an appreciative crowd. Tafa Misipati had fought a very tough first fight and while showing plenty of warrior spirit, his war of attrition with Cedric had exacted its price. Edwards had dealt with his nerves with Zachariah and approached Tafa the way he should have; calm and controlled. Edwards is essentially a very large version of a short, stocky man and both fighters adopted a similar plan. Tafa caught Ben with a number of flush punches, but Edwards was relentless. The exhausted Misipati was quickly knocked down and Edwards, sailing through his side of the draw, had made it into the final.

The second semi final saw Paul Slowinski return to the squared circle. The only man in the draw who has beaten him, Thor Hoopman, had to pull out of the tournament. He won his fight against the much larger, heavier Bonnar, but at the cost of significant injury to his shin. Cedric NTG returned from his first round loss. Cedric, similarly exhausted to his first-round opponent Misipati, still managed to pull a few tricks out of his mongkon; he caught Paul with a combination of hooks that severely rattled the taller man and for a brief moment, it looked as if Cedric might pull off the international upset of the year. No such luck however; Paul ground Cedric into a corner and began to tee off. The referee stopped the contest because Cedric could no longer intelligently defend himself. The predictable combination had been set for the finals.   

The second super-fight was between Australian rising-star Steve ‘Stone Cold’ Moxon and the Japanese Masayuki Sagara. Sagara was much taller than Moxon and started strongly, opening up with some swift high round kicks. Most missed their mark, however, and Steve closed in to put his devastating hands to work. Sagara was saved by his height as much as anything else. Moxon resembled Jack trying to get to the top of the beanstalk where Sagara’s strange rooster haircut bobbed wildly. If nothing else, the fight was a lot of hard work for Moxon who was jubilant when the judges awarded him the decision at the final bell.

International K1 stardom was the prelude to the final fight of the night, with Ewerton Texiera having made the trip down under. He was fighting Alex Roberts, one of the only two men to ever defeat Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett. Although this scalp gives him a strong reputation, the contrast between he and Texeira couldn’t have been bolder. Texeira is training at one of the world’s best gyms, Ichigeki, and is fighting amongst the pinnacle of the world’s kickboxing talent. The holes in his style, most notably his hands because of his karate background, are slowly being closed. Roberts had no answer for Texeira and the fight ended very shortly after it had begun.

The final fight of the night had the crowd at the National Convention Centre on its feet. Edwards looked fresh. The duration (and standard) of his opposition could hardly be counted as a warm up. Slowinski prowled the ring during the announcer’s introduction of the home-town hero, looking resolute and determined. How fresh he was remained to be seen, but he did a professional job of concealing any injury.

When the bell rang, Edwards demonstrated that he had learned the lesson from his last rash defeat at the leg kicks of The Sting. He stood away and traded techniques. Once his first few punches found Paul’s chin, Slowinski went straight down. Evidently, Cedric had made more of an impact than it had initially appeared. Paul couldn’t regain his composure and Edwards knocked him down another two times quite easily. The referee waved off the fight and Edwards had booked his ticket to Final Elimination in Korea, where the draw will be heavily weighted against him.    

K1 has had many ups and downs since its inception seventeen years ago. The success of the various mixed martial arts codes have eclipsed it, both in financial terms and the mainstream popularity it has achieved. Given the legacies of people like Aerts, Hoost, Le Banner, Sefo and locally, Greco, Slowinski and Graham, K1 still generates a great deal of interest amongst the hard-core audience of people who appreciate highly skilled, high-risk fighting. While the international stage is fed with a strong rotation of fighters, especially from the Netherlands and an increasing number from Eastern Europe, the quality of local promotions will always be a step behind. However, fighters like Greco, Graham and Slowinski maintain a link between our place Down Under and occasionally, create a bridge for us to walk tall on the international stage. Ben Edwards is the latest of these and the hopes of Australian fight fans will be with him as he fights for his place amongst the best in the world.

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