Now that 2015 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.
Even with so many great fights happening all around the world in 2015, it’s hard to imagine a night in which almost every fight brings something special. However, that’s exactly what happened in K-1’s final event of the year, K-1 World GP 2015 The Championship, on Nov 21.
The event featured three title bouts, battles between top-10 fighters and promising prospects living up to their name. The evening was scheduled to have all four K-1 World GP champions competing, but a late illness to challenger Sanny Dahlbeck kept Marat Grigorian from defending his 70-kilogram title for the first time.
As the event began, the champions and challengers were introduced in front of the crowd at the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. The six hungry fighters stood in the ring awaiting their chance to either defend their title or hold the belt for the first time. The fighters headed back to the locker room before their championship bouts, giving way to the first of 10 exciting bouts of the evening.
The battle between 17-year-old Haruma Saikyo and 16-year-old K-1 Challenge winner (K-1’s amatuer tournament) Tatsuya Tsubakihara was for the K-1 Koshien 55-kilogram tournament title. The elder fighter was the aggressor, using powerful kicks and punching combinations to stave off Tsubakihara in his professional debut. Saikyo fended off a late push by the younger fighter and took a split decision in his fourth career win.
In another K-1 youth match-up, 17-year-old New Japan Kickboxing Federation Japan Muay Thai champion Yuto Shinohara earned yet another title when he knocked out 16-year-old Kensei Kondo to win the K-1 Koshien 65-kilogram tournament title.
2014 K-1 Koshien tournament champion Ren Hiramoto fought his toughest opponent to date when he tangled with top-10 65-kilogram fighter Massaro Glunder. The 17-year-old Japanese fighter had it tough early against the fighter who’s goal is to win titles in multiple weight classes with multiple organizations. Glunder landed his right hand early in the first two frames. Hiramoto wasn’t outclassed in any area of the fight, but he was losing most of the early going in each and every round. Glunder used his kicking and knees to get a slight advantage on the judges’ scorecards, despite one judge scoring the bout a draw. The win put the 21-year-old Glunder back on track after back-to-back losses a week apart in October to Cedric Manhoef (yes, Melvin Manhoef’s nephew) and Pakorn PKSaenchaimuaythaigym.
The next two bouts featured exciting, dramatic sequences in the 60-kilogram division.
First, 24-year-old Fumiya Osawa earned his 15th career win after he traded blows with the heavy-hitting 23-year-old Kotaro Shimano. Osawa took the fight over with his diverse and very frequent kicking offense. Osawa earned all three scorecards, winning at least two of the three competitive, but decisive rounds on all three cards.
Japanese kickboxer Taiga has been a heralded prospect since he won the KRUSH Youth Grand Prix in 2013. The 19-year-old prospect won the KRUSH 55-kilogram title and entered the K-1 World GP 55-kilogram tournament in April. Taiga defeated two men in one night to move on to the finals of the grand prix. Taiga met Takeru in what Combat Press deemed to be “Fight of the Year.” Taiga lost to Takeru for the second time, making his upset at the hands of the 23-year-old Leonas Petts that much more devastating. The fight that could keep Taiga out of the title picture for quite some time was actually a fight in which he did very well in, at least to start. Taiga used great footwork, confident head movement and his speed to attack while keep his defense impenetrable. That all changed when Taiga decided to drop the strategy in the second round, instead looking to trade punches with the gritty Pettas. Pettas landed a huge right hand that put Taiga down, but it wasn’t ruled a knockdown. The shot gave Pettas confidence. He moved in for the kill, slamming hooks into both side of the head and body of his opponent. Taiga was a desperate fighter surviving against the ropes until the final bell. Pettas took the majority decision with his late work, earning two 29-28 scorecards for the biggest win of his career.
Former KRUSH 70-kilogram champion Hiroaki Nakajima earned his 22nd career victory with a controlling performance for much of the fight against Russian Dmitry Grafov. The 27-year-old Nakajima landed good knees and punches throughout the three-round contest. Grafov landed some athletic kicks with increasing volume as the fight closed, but Nakajima’s effective combinations and flying knees earned the unanimous decision.
The seventh fight of the evening was a showcase fight for one of Japan’s most decorated young kickboxers. Masaaki Noiri, 22, faced another top-10 opponent when he fought former RISE super lightweight champion Yasuomi Soda. Noiri has been a champion since he stepped into the ring for the first time. The technically sound prospect won youth titles in K-1 and KRUSH, an WBC Muay Thai All-Japan title, and a KRUSH world title in a weight class above his own. Noiri showcased the skills that won him all those titles. His speed and movement were always a step ahead of his skillful foe. Noiri was diverse in his attack, using his great movement and quickness to attack with speedy combinations from his hands to his feet. He threw in some knees in the second and third rounds, damaging Soda while catching very few clean punches in return. Noiri finished the third round strong, throwing spinning kicks to the body and showing he had the superior gas tank as well as the superior skill set. The decision nod marked Noiri’s 26th career win.
The next fight on the card was the first of three title bouts. As is custom with K-1 and most Japanese promotions, the belt was brought to the center of the ring and shown off to the audience.
The K-1 World GP 55-kilogram title was up for grabs when budding Japanese superstar Takeru took on undefeated Frenchman Charles Bongiovanni. The 29-year-old Bongiovanni destroyed Daniel Williams with an uppercut in the first round of his K-1 debut just two months earlier. KRUSH 55-kilogram champ Takeru won 21 of his prior 22 bouts, earning the K-1 World GP 55-kilogram title with three wins in one night earlier in 2015. The fight was being hyped as one that could be both entertaining and end in just one punch, it was both.
The power punching was apparent when the fighters collided as predicted in the center of the ring. The skilled fighters hatefully traded heavy kicks on the inside and outside, high and low. When Bongiovanni landed a heavy strike, Takeru pushed back. Takeru would get aggressive and Bongiovanni would capitalize. Bongiovanni landed a series of strikes and walked into a powerful counter. The cycle continued back and forth in a thrilling first round. Charles threw a heavy front kick to the face of Takeru in the middle of the action. Takeru got aggressive and opened the opportunities for Bongiovanni to land his left hand and surprising volume of attack.
Takeru smiled ear to ear. He was in a battle. Bongiovanni surprised many when he closed distance with a two-punch, left high kick combination that just missed on the final strike of the sequence. Bongiovanni may have missed, but he was inside of his unsuspecting target’s range. The undefeated fighter threw a left punch that floored the favorite. Takeru hopped right back to his feet with a smile, though. This was the type of fight the champion thrives in.
The fighters brawled their way to the finish in the final 60 seconds. Bongiovanni was landing strike after strike, but Takeru was firing back hard. Takeru hurt the Frenchman to the body before pressing his usual relentless pace until the round came to an end.
Takeru was just getting fired up. The second round began. Takeru quickly took over with his difficult-to-match aggression. He landed to the head and body at will, changing up his targets with each alternating shot. Takeru put Bongiovanni through an endless stream of devastation that would have toppled any normal man over 30 seconds before. Takeru was landing heavy, heavy shots at will. One after another hit the temple, ear and chin of the challenger. Takeru forced the referee to call an eight count after a flush left hook couldn’t put Bongiovanni all the way down. Takeru continued the onslaught, but he couldn’t put Bongiovanni down. The referee stepped in as Takeru landed a short left hook that stiffened his battered opponent against the ropes. Bongiovanni grabbed the ropes with his right hand to bring himself back to his feet.
The challenger was in serious danger of getting stopped. He needed a hail mary comeback win. Takeru let Bongiovanni think he was safe with his head movement against the ropes, but the technically proficient Takeru was merely waiting for his opening. Takeru uncoiled his left hook and put his previously unbeaten opponent in the loss column in absolutely devastating fashion. Takeru had his hand raised for the fifth time in 2015. He would add another win at the RIZIN IZA Festival event on Dec. 31.
The co-main event of the evening was a battle of family members. The two fighters about to compete against each other for the K-1 World GP 60-kilogram championship were very familiar with one another. They were brothers and two of Japan’s top 60-kilogram fighters who had collided once before in the finals of the K-1 World GP 60-kilogram tournament earlier in the year. Hirotaka Urabe, 25, had succumbed to 24-year-old Koya Urabe, the current belt holder, in the first match-up. Hirotaka earned the title rematch after he won the KRUSH 60-kilogram title with a dramatic third-round knockout.
The brothers clashed just like in the first fight. Hirotaka gave a better performance in the early goings, but Koya’s superior boxing and left hand from the southpaw stance kept finding a home. Koya landed sharp low kicks in between quick punching combinations. Hirotaka fought back valiantly in the first, keeping the fight in reach until the very end of the round.
Koya came out fast in the second and landed a stunning left that put Hirotaka in trouble and wobbling back in the ring. Koya’s confidence continued to grow with each landing shot. The dominant round for the champion led everyone to believe this was going to be another win for the younger brother. Hirotaka had other plans. Hirotaka jumped out from the ashes of defeat and lit the crowd ablaze with a flying knee that put the champion down. The fight was a wild exchange in the final 40 seconds. Hirotaka fought his way back into the fight with one strike.
Koya came out strong in the third round. The fight was high paced and continuing to heat up heading into the final minute of the championship bout. With the fight up for grabs, Hirotaka fought through his opponent’s effective offense and landed one more devastating high knee to the chin. Koya dropped to the floor. Hirotaka had earned his redemption. The title-capturing knockout was Hirotaka’s 17th finish and 33rd career win. The fight was an incredible spectacle that could have won “Fight of the Year.”
In the evening’s main event, adopted Japanese star Philip “Minoru” Kimura attempted to win the 65-kilogram title against a fighter he had already beaten earlier in 2015, albeit in controversial fashion. The WBC, WPMF and multiple-time Lumpinee stadium champion Kaew Fairtex contested his decision loss to Minoru earlier this year. He had a chance to prove it against a devastating striker with a 75 percent knockout ratio.
Kimura was the aggressor against the southpaw early in the bout. He was hoping to find a home for his right hand, but Kaew showed his kicks and own punching combinations. Kaew landed a left hook that just connected with the head of Kimura, who responded by rubbing his chin and watching a left head kick just fly by mere seconds later. The two men smiled during the exchange.
Kaew’s experience and skill level showed quickly in the bout. He threw another middle kick to the body and briefly trapped Kimura against the ropes. Kaew cut off Kimura’s escape route to the left and put him in the corner. Kaew expected Kimura to continue his slide right, letting him move just enough to corner himself, so Kaew could cut off his footwork to the right. Kaew executed the maneuver and opened the window for attack. The highly skilled striker threw a three-strike combination that left Kimura face down. Kaew threw his left middle kick to close the distance and immediately followed the strike with a left hand that cracked the chin of the young Brazilian. Kaew quickly grabbed the back of Kimura’s head while he was in a daze, expertly pulling Kimura’s head directly into his left knee for the final, devastating strike that kept the title in the hands of the champion. The knockout capped off the best night of kickboxing in 2015.
Other finalists: GLORY 26, KRUSH.56, K-1 World GP 2015 70-kg Tournament, Enfusion Live 27, Kunlun Fight 30/Topking World Series: TK5 and GLORY 19
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2015 Kickboxing Award winners.