Kunlun Fighting Championship returns on Saturday, April 23, to Zhoukou Stadium in Henan, China, for the promotion’s eighth event of the year. Kunlun Fight 43 will feature top pound-for-pound fighter Sittichai Sitsongpeenong making his return to the Kunlun Fight stage for the second time this year. The Combat Press 2015 Kickboxer of the Year will be joined by three top lightweights in pursuit of a chance to fight their way into the final 16 of the Clash of Titans 64-man 70-kilogram tournament in a one-night, four-man qualifying tournament. There won’t be just one qualifying tournament on Saturday. The fight card will feature two tourneys with many of the world’s up-and-coming prospects vying for supremacy in the most stacked division in all of kickboxing.
The promotion comes into this event with major momentum. Kunlun Fight recently signed a 10-year deal to build a stadium for the purposes of holding weekly shows in an attempt to cultivate the vast potential of the Chinese martial arts market. The stadium shows will act as a minor-league promotion of sorts, offering a place for young fighters to develop their skills under the “Road to Kunlun” banner. The winners could earn a chance to step into the Kunlun Fight ring against the top fighters in the world. The promotion will hold both mixed martial arts and kickboxing-rules bouts during the weekly shows in order to further grow the market.
The Combat Press 2015 Kickboxing Promotion of the Year also announced last month the plans for the construction of a Kunlun Fight Gym in Chengdu, China, just a three-hour flight from the planned stadium in the suburbs of Beijing. The gym will act as both a launching point for domestic talent and as a place for foreign fighters to hone their craft. The fighters making the move to the Kunlun Fight gym will be afforded the opportunity to fight in the “Road to Kunlun” events, giving fighters even more incentive to make the move to China. Kunlun Fight gym managing director Ali Elezzabi has already acquired a solid coaching staff featuring Rico Verhoeven’s coach Dennis Krauweel, former UFC fighter Alp Ozkilic and added affiliations with Superpro and Carlson Gracie, Jr.
The positive momentum doesn’t stop at the company’s newly inked contracts. The promotion has put on seven tremendous events in 2016, more than every other top promotion in kickboxing and MMA besides the world’s top combat-sports promotion, the UFC. The UFC has conquered almost every market it has invested time into, but it couldn’t crack into China despite a concerted effort to do so. In 2013, the UFC put forth an underwhelming reality show that was marred in controversy from day one. The promotion continued to hold live events in Macau and Singapore despite losing money in their pursuit to break into mainland China. The promotion closed its Chinese offices in April 2014. The bad news kept coming when executive vice president and UFC Asia managing director Mark Fischer left the company with other key members of the Singapore-based offices in August 2014. The reasons for the lack of success kept piling up despite the country’s growing desire for the newly supported combat sport. The UFC’s most recent event in China came in the same month as Fischer’s departure.
The UFC’s inability to work inside the cultural business model of the Chinese marketplace left the company on the outside looking in, while smaller foreign promotions like Road FC and ONE Championship have already established themselves through the help of major Chinese sponsors. That has been the path of Kunlun Fight’s parent company, Kunlunjue. Kunlun Fight was established in 2014, but the newly created organization has already become the top promotion in the country despite going head-to-head with 11-year-old kickboxing promotion Wu Lin Feng Championship. Kunlun Fight has combined innovative marketing and talented fighters to create the stars the Chinese fans have been waiting for. Kunlun Fight did what the UFC could not: it took the country’s reality-show contestants and made them into marketable fighters.
One of those stars is The Ultimate Fighter: China welterweight winner Zhang Lipeng. Lipeng signed with the promotion in September following a four-fight stretch in the UFC. He has put together an impressive five-fight winning streak with four submissions since making his Kunlun debut in October. Lipeng most recently won the Kunlun Fight 165-pound title following a decision win over Beibit Nazarov at Kunlun Fight 37. He puts his reputation on the line against Japanese veteran Takashi Noto in the main event of the evening at Kunlun Fight 43. Noto put together his own winning streak in his past two bouts, finishing both of his opponents by knockout. The Shooto veteran will be fighting against the crowd and a larger opponent in his promotional debut.
One of the best fights on this card features two of the world’s top welterweights. Kunlun Fight 80-kilogram champion Artur Kyshenko is out to avenge his 2012 K-1 MAX tournament final loss to top-ranked welterweight Murthel Groenhart. Kyshenko was the favorite heading into the eight-man tournament field, but Groenhart shocked his former training partner with a third-round knockout to win the tournament.
In the first fight, Groenhart was all over Kyshenko from the start. Kyshenko had to fight tough opponents Andy Souwer and Chris Ngimbi before squaring off in the finals. Groenhart came in the fresher man. Groenhart was a little too aggressive late in the first. Kyshenko timed a left hook just as Groenhart exposed himself to attack. Kyshenko put Groenhart down and dominated the rest of the round. The two men battled back and forth in the second frame before Groenhart took over late in the round. The damage was starting to wear on Kyshenko as the third round started. Groenhart continued to move forward while throwing a high volume of strikes. Groenhart snuck in a short uppercut that staggered Kyshenko. Groenhart threw his hands and knees for the finish, dropping Kyshenko with a flying knee against the ropes. Groenhart used a massive right hook to put away the Ukrainian.
Kyshenko has since put together one of the best runs of his career. He has won 10 fights in a row, and 15 of his last 16. Kyshenko picked up big wins over top-10 fighters Hicham El Gaoui and Bai Jinbin over the course of his year and a half long undefeated streak. He most recently dispatched of two men in one night to win the Kunlun Fight 80-kilogram championship. Kyshenko knocked out Dutch kickboxer Eyevan Danenberg in the semifinal before stopping Dmitry Valent in just 22 seconds in the final.
Groenhart has had a busy past few weeks. The 29-year-old dropped two straight fights. He lost a decision to Cedric Doumbe at GLORY 28 in March, but he got right back in the win column just a few weeks later at World Fighting League 3, where he defeated Marco Pique and Sem Braan to win the one-night 76-kilogram tournament. Groenhart will move up in weight again — this time another four kilograms — to meet Kyshenko at Kyshenko’s usual weight division. Groenhart’s consistency has become more of a question mark as his career has progressed. He recently put on one of his best performances against GLORY welterweight champion Nieky Holzken at GLORY 26.
Sittichai returns to the Clash of Titans tournament after winning last year’s iteration that featured many of the world’s top lightweights. The 24-year-old southpaw entered the 2015 tournament with massive victories over K-1 MAX champions Souwer and Groenhart in a one-night qualifying tournament. He went on to defeat Jonay Risco, Marat Grigorian, Superbon Banchamek and Enriko Gogokhia to win the tourney. During that stretch, Sittichai entered and won three more one-night tournaments. His most recent tournament entry led to decision victories over former GLORY champ Davit Kiria and current K-1 World GP champion Grigorian at GLORY 28. Sittichai has racked up an incredible record over the past four years. The Thai fighter has won 45 of his past 48 bouts, including 28 of his past 30.
Another of those one-night tournaments that Sittichai took home featured the man who will serve as his first-round match-up in this tournament. Sittichai defeated blue-chip prospect Walid Hamid when he opened a cut that forced the stoppage of their semifinal bout during the eight-man tournament at The Fight League. Hamid’s loss was just the second of his young career. Hamid is a 21-year-old Dutch fighter from Moroccan descent. He began his kickboxing training at the age of 10 and his fight career at age 13. Hamid holds wins inside the Enfusion ring over Dennis Kabbedijk and former 67-kilogram champ Mohammed Jaraya. He recently won a decision over Martin Hiffens at Sportmani Events VIII.
In the other leg of the ninth-group qualifying tournament, Dutch-Moroccan super prospect Aziz “AK-47” Kallah makes his Kunlun debut against Belgian “Bad Boy” Youssef Boulahtari. The tough veteran of 50 fights won’t roll over for the heavy-hitting Kallah. Boulahtari dropped his recent fight against Mohammed Jaraya at Enfusion 32. Kallah has kept busy in the Enfusion ring as well. Kallah has picked up wins over Crice Boussoukou, Fatih Ozkan and, most recently, Redouan Laarkoubi at Enfusion 38.
The other one-night, four-man tournament features three promotional veterans and an American making his debut across the pond.
That American is Josh Aragon, an undefeated Muay Thai prospect from California. Aragon takes on 22-year-old Kong Lingfeng in a clash of striking arts that will make for an exciting fight. After winning his qualifying tourney at Kunlun Fight 20, Lingfeng made it all the way to the final eight of the 2015 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram tournament with a win over budding Chinese kickboxing star Wu Xuesong. Lingfeng was bounced out of the eight-man field by 2014 tournament runner-up Victor Nagbe at Kunlun Fight 35. The Chinese kickboxer most recently lost to Muay Thai superstar Buakaw Banchamek at Kunlun Fight 39.
The other tournament semifinal is a rematch of a Kunlun Fight 33 scrap between South Korean Kim Minsoo and Chinese kickboxer Zhao Yan. The 22-year-old Yan has dropped his last three fights inside the promotion. He lost decisions to Vladimir Shuliak at Kunlun Fight 31 and K-1 MAX champion Albert Kraus at Kunlun Fight 28. Minsoo has traveled the opposite path since joining the promotion. The South Korean prospect beat Yan in his debut and added his second win with a decision over Chinese fighter Deng Li at Kunlun Fight 39.
Kunlun Fight and WLF champion Wang Kehan will return to the ring after dispatching of Marisa Pires by knockout at Kunlun Fight 37 earlier this year. “The KO Queen” added her 12th knockout victory with the second-round finish. She has gone undefeated inside of the promotion and holds victories over Michl Michaela at Kunlun Fight 32 and Irina Mazepa at Kunlun Fight 15.
Kehan will meet former Enfusion 67-kilogram title challenger Rachel Adamus. The 32-year-old Dutch kickboxer trains out of the Vos Gym. She has fought most of her career inside of her home country. Adamus lost her chance at Enfusion gold when she dropped a one-sided affair to Sheena Widdershoven at Enfusion 29.
The main card also features a battle of 21-year-old prospects. Hometown star Wei Ninghui has been actively pursuing martial arts since the early age of 10. He joined the Chinese national Muay Thai team and has competed inside one of Thailand’s most prestigious stadiums, Lumpinee, more than 10 times. He has put together seven wins, including four by knockout, inside the Kunlun ring. Ninghui has dropped decisions to Keijiro Miyakoshi and Lerdsila Phuket Top Team, but he has already avenged his loss to the Japanese WBC Muay Thai champion. He is currently riding a five-fight winning streak heading into his clash with Pascal “The Boy” Koster, a Dutch youngster who comes from a taekwondo and kickboxing background. Koster has established himself as a fighter to watch with his most recent win over Tolga Meurs in the main event of Kickboxing Talents 16.
WBC Muay Thai International lightweight champion Keijiro Miyakoshi makes his return to Kunlun Fight after losing in his promotional debut. The highly ranked muay farang has faced strong competition on his way to his title. He won the belt with a crushing right hook against Pau Illan in November. He is the highest ranked non-Thai fighter in the deep 135-pound WBC rankings. The Japanese youth takes on South Korean K-1 veteran Lee Chan-Hyung, who is coming off a decision win over Samuel Hadzima at Simply the Best 6.
Chinese national boxing champion Ashihati returns to the promotion following a no-contest at Kunlun Fight 40. Ashihati was hit with an illegal groin strike thrown by Steven “Panda” Banks in a rematch of their first wild fight at Kunlun Fight 30. Ashihati picked up wins over Yoo Yang Rae, Abbas and Jairo Kusunoki before dropping his first career bout to Jahfarr Wilnis in the 100-kilogram heavyweight tournament semifinals. Ashihati takes on former WBC Muay Thai International heavyweight champion Faisal Zakaria. The “Diamond Flyer” has competed across the globe in his nearly 20-year career. The 42-year-old Sudanese boxer trains out of New Zealand, but he has spent time honing his craft all over the world. Zakaria most recently defeated Steven Banks at a Super Muay Thai event in March.
Kunlun Fight 43 airs live on YY.com and JiangsuTV.
Fight Card Predictions
80-kg: Murthel Groenhart (58-20-3, 33 KO) vs. Artur Kyshenko (66-13-1, 36 KO)
Kyshenko by decision
Clash of Titans Group 9 tournament semifinal: Sittichai Sitsongpeenong (108-29-5, 29 KO) vs. Walid Hamid (33-2, 14 KO)
Sittichai by decision
Clash of Titans Group 9 tournament semifinal: Youssef Boulahtari (51-1-3, 10 KO) vs. Aziz “AK-47” Kallah (50-3, 30 KO)
Kallah by decision
Clash of Titans Group 9 projected tournament final: Sittichai vs Kallah
Sittichai by decision
Clash of Titans Group 10 tournament semifinal: Kong Lingfeng (13-4, 4 KO) vs. Josh Aragon (7-0-1)
Lingfeng by decision
Clash of Titans Group 10 tournament semifinal: Kim Minsoo (23-3) vs. Zhao Yan (30-9, 6 KO)
Minsoo by decision
Clash of Titans Group 10 projected tournament final: Lingfeng vs Minsoo
Lingfeng by decision
65-kg: Wang Kehan (26-1, 12 KO) vs. Rachel Adamus (16-5-2, 2 KO)
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