Now that 2018 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.
Upset of the Year – Ren Hiramoto Stops Kaew Weerasakreck
The year featured a number of upsets across every division, including a number of top-10 fighters and champions who faltered. From one of the world’s most popular fighters, Buakaw Banchamek, to multiple upsets in China, there were plenty of surprises in 2018.
GLORY title challenger Danyo Ilunga violated his GLORY contract to fight in Germany only to be knocked out in the third round by James McSweeney, who had only won once under kickboxing rules in over a decade. Unheralded Chinese prospect Feng Xingli advanced to the 2018 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram semifinals after knocking off Enfusion world champ Jonay Risco following the Spainard’s massive upset victory over Buakaw earlier in the year. Top pound-for-pound female kickboxer Anissa Meksen was unseated by Brazil’s Jady Menezes in her 100th professional fight after a horrific decision.
The upset that stood out above the rest featured one of the pound-for-pound best in the world. At the time, Kaew Weerasakreck was the top-ranked featherweight on the Combat Press Kickboxing Rankings, the former K-1 super lightweight champ, and possessed an impressive resume that featured wins over the likes of Masaaki Noiri, Hideaki Yamazaki (twice), Ilias Bulaid (twice), Yasuomi Soda (twice), Massaro Glunder, and many others. The former two-time Lumpinee stadium champion was victorious in 23 of his past 25 fights, with the only two defeats coming via controversial fashion against top-ranked opponents Noiri and Minoru Kimura. After picking up a stoppage win outside of the promotion against Liu Wei at Hero Legend, Kaew returned to K-1 for a chance to redeem himself against Noiri in a rubber-match for the title he relinquished. First, he would have to face 2014 K-1 Koshien champion Ren Hiramoto.
After narrowly losing in the finals of the Krush 63-kilogram tournament in 2016 and the K-1 World GP lightweight championship tournament in 2017, Hiramoto decided to move up to 65 kilograms. After picking up two victories in his new division, Hiramoto was given a chance at glory against one of the best kickboxers in the world.
Kaew was looking like himself in the first frame. Always presenting a threat with his kicks, knees and hands. Hiramoto was successful inside boxing range throughout the first round. There was a brief exchange towards the end of the round where Kaew threw caution to the wind and exchanged punches with his much younger opponent. Hiramoto was able to get the better of Kaew during the exchanges, which seemed to give him confidence heading into the second round.
Hiramoto was finding his home with his hands at times, but Kaew was controlling the distance well against the taller fighter throughout much of the round. Kaew continued to work in his left kicks and counter striking as the second round unfolded. He was the more elusive fighter throughout until Hiramoto backed Kaew against the ropes and the two started exchanging late in the second round.
During the middle of the wild exchange, Hiramoto changed his pattern of attack, directly leading to the first knockdown. Instead of continuing to throw alternating punches, he altered his rhythm by throwing a left hook to kick off his next combination. He went from throwing a two-three to throwing a three-two combination, which changed everything. The double left hook opened up the angle for Hiramoto’s right straight, which was followed by a left hook and right straight that caused the first knockdown of the fight. The adjustment happened while Kaew was already off balance, in the heat of battle, and looking to fire back. As the left hook found its home, Kaew was throwing his left straight counter, giving Hiramoto’s combination maximum impact.
Kaew would answer the count. However, it didn’t matter. When the referee restarted the bout, Hiramoto pressed forward with punches to earn the biggest victory of his career seconds later and the 2018 Combat Press Kickboxing “Upset of the Year.”
To put the loss into perspective, Kaew hadn’t been knocked out in over a decade of competition. Following the Hiramoto loss, Kaew also fell short against current top-ranked featherweight Qiu Jianliang at Glory of Heroes 31, but regained the K-1 super lightweight title with victories over Tetsuya Yamato, Yasuomi Soda and Daizo Sasaki in a one-night grand prix.
Could we possibly see a rematch at K’Festa.2 in 2019?
Other finalists: Harut Grigorian def. Murthel Groenhart (GLORY 51), Jady Menezes def. Anissa Meksen (GLORY 56), Jonay Risco def. Buakaw Banchamek (Enfusion 63), James McSweeney def. Danyo Ilunga (MFC 25), Zhu Mengjia def. Anissa Haddaoui (Kunlun Fight 76), Feng Xingli def. Jonay Risco (Kunlun Fight 77), Iraj Azizpour def. Roman Kryklia (Kunlun Fight 69), Hassan Toy def. Ilias Bulaid (Wu Lin Feng: Tianjin), Riki Matsuoka def. Tie Yinghua (Glory of Heroes 32)
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