Now that 2016 is in the books, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best that the sport of kickboxing had to offer. Over the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the ring to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
The competition at the top of the sport of kickboxing continued to heat up in 2016. Kunlun Fight, the winner of the “Promotion of the Year” award in 2015, improved upon its tremendous year to hold more events, sign more marquee fights and put on an even bigger 70-kilogram tournament, the biggest tournament in combat sports. Another one of the world’s top promotions, GLORY, rebounded from a roller-coaster 2015 to make some major moves in the kickboxing landscape. GLORY continued to house the best talent above 70 kilograms, but the biggest change was a large investment from Yao Capital that could enhance the brand greatly as 2017 unfolds.
The promotion with the best events, most consistent product and the most talent in the lighter weight divisions stood out the most in 2016 despite holding only five events. K-1 is synonymous with kickboxing. The term is actually used to describe kickboxing all over the world. The most storied promotion in kickboxing history re-emerged in 2014 after a sale, re-distribution and collapse of the world’s top kickboxing product that looked to have nearly killed the once great organization. Since the promotion materialized in its new form, as the K-1 World GP in Japan, the company has continued to build upon a product that was dead in the water just four years ago.
The K-1 World GP in Japan group delivers top-notch production from the first fight to the final, confetti-riddled headliner. There is just something different about watching a K-1 event. The pageantry surrounding the show is only topped by the thrilling storylines and exciting fights featured on each and every event. Whether it is rivals battling for a first, second or even third time, or a pair of brothers competing for world titles at the highest level of the sport, the K-1 group consistently delivered A-plus events.
K-1 kicked off the year with the thrilling K-1 World GP 2016 65-kg Japan Tournament. The card featured unranked Japanese kickboxer Hideaki Yamazaki defeating three top-10 featherweights in the same night. Yamazaki knocked out Yasuomi Soda and Yuta Kubo before capping off his tremendous performance with a close decision win over the second-best featherweight in the world, Masaaki Noiri. The second event featured the best of the best from Japan at 60 kilograms. The K-1 World GP 2016 60-kg Japan Tournament featured the breakout of former 55-kilogram title challenger Taiga. The young kickboxing prospect delivered with beautiful knockouts of Masahiro Yamamoto and Toshi, before taking a decision over former 60-kilogram champion Koya Urabe.
The first world tournament featured the best fighters at 65 kilograms. The K-1 World GP 2016 65-kg World Tournament featured five of the world’s top 10 featherweights and an even higher level of fights. Kaew Weerasakreck once again proved he is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world with big victories over Hiroya, Masaaki Noiri and Ilias Bulaid. The K-1 World GP 2016 Super Featherweight World Tournament featured the return of top 60-kilogram kickboxers Koya Urabe and Taiga, as well as the return of champion Hirotaka Urabe to the tournament format. Taiga and Koya advanced to the final again. Taiga defeated Koya’s brother, Hirotaka, in the semifinal round. Koya got his revenge in the final when he put Taiga away with multiple knockdowns in the first round.
K-1 added three new weight divisions as the promotion looked to expand heading into 2017. The three weight classes added were 57.5, 62.5 and 67.5 kilograms. The first world tournament in one of the new weight classes featured top pound-for-pound great Takeru moving up in weight in an attempt to win a second world title. That’s just what he did during the inaugural tournament at the K-1 World GP 2016 Featherweight Championship Tournament. Takeru defeated Jamie Whelan, Yun Qi and rival Kaito Ozawa to win the K-1 featherweight title. With the tournament victory, Takeru became the first man in the modern iteration of K-1 to hold a world title in two different weight divisions.
The competition is heating up in kickboxing, and it will only get better as 2017 unfolds. The best promotion of the year in 2016, however, was the K-1 World GP in Japan.
Other finalists: GLORY, Kunlun Fight, Glory of Heroes, Enfusion, Superkombat and Krush
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 Kickboxing Award winners.