Saturday, 21 January 2012

It’s Showtime 55 - Leeuwarden

At the end of this month I have the good fortune of attending the biggest kickboxing event since the demise of the Japanese promotion K1. The event is being held by the Dutch promotion ‘It’s Showtime’ who are undoubtedly looking to take other the helm as the premier organisation for the sport. The event is bizarrely taking place in the northern Dutch town of Leeuwarden due to political pressures inside the Netherlands as well as the promoters hoping to steer clear from the Dutch equivalent to the Hell’s Angels whom have links to many fighters in the sport.

The event features 7 of the top ten heavyweight in the sport as well as good selection of fighters at lighter weights. The most prominent name on the card is the always controversial Badr Hari, whose talent and knockout power is often overshadowed by moments of madness both in and outside the ring. Having been twice disqualified from fights for illegally kicking downed opponents, most notably in his fight against Remy Bonjasky in the 2008 K1 Grand Prix final. Hari has also spent time in Jail for assault and was once spotted wearing a t-shirt in support of a recently incarcerated drug lord. However, Badr Hari remains the most potent attacking talents in the sport with an extensive list of knockout wins over a who’s who of kickboxing (Peter Aerts, Ray Sefo, Alistair Overeem, Glaube Feitosa, Semmy Schilt, Stefan Leko, Errol Zimmerman, Ruslan Kareav…). Despite this Hari has announced the fight on the 28th of January will be his last as he will attempt to transfer is talents to the sport of boxing. The decision for Hari’s departure from Kickboxing is no doubt due to the collapse of K1 and lack of sizeable paydays in a sport that appears to be dying.

His opponent will be fellow top Heavyweight Gokhan Saki. While Saki possesses perhaps the most technical stand up in the division he seems to suffer from the lack of a proper crusierweight division in kickboxing. At 5’11 and 15 stone he is often a lot smaller than his opponents, despite this he still has garnered success in the division. Saki qualified for the 2010 K1 Grand Prix after knocking out Freddy Kemayo, and progressing to the semi-finals after a gruelling battle with Daniel Ghita. In the semi final Saki would take on the eventual winner Alistair Overeem, Saki went into the fight with a broken arm and gave a tremendous effort even knocking down Overeem with a spinning kick (which was wrongly not counted by the referee), before Alistair landed a kick to the broken arm of Saki which forced him to stop fighting.

Saki’s biggest strength are his lightening fast combinations which he usually punctuates with kicks, for these to be truly effective he will need to get on the inside of Hari’s long reach, which wont be easy. At 6 foot 6 Badr Hari uses his reach to fire devastating straights down the pipe, always getting the better of opponents who try to match him blow for blow. The fights which Hari has lost in recent years are were all against opponents who were patient enough to counter his aggresivness and land shots on his Achilles heel, his weak chin.

Despite his 63 knockout wins, Hari has been on the receiving end of 7 KO’s perhaps suffering due to his early start in the sport that saw him fight men much older than him while he was still a teenager. While kickboxing is generally a volatile sport where even the very best are prone to brutal knockout defeats (Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, Andy Hug…), Hari’s chin is far more susceptible to giving out on him due to the damage its already taken in his career, such as his 2006 loss to Australlian Peter Graham’s spectacular trademark kick ‘Rolling Thunder’. However given the disparity in reach and size I would expect Hari’s jaw to be mute issue as he remains one of the most destructive fighters on the planet and will probably be able to stop Saki within the first three rounds.

Ironically, Saki perhaps has the better boxing skills than Hari and would probably benefit more from a move to boxing provide he fought as a cruiserweight. The Golden Glory fighter will also be leaving the sport of Kickboxing to become a mixed martial artist, a career move that has the potential to go either way.

The co-main event of the evening is a rematch of Hesdy Gerges and Daniel Ghita for the ‘It’s Showtime’ Heavyweight title. The original fight took place in march 2011 and while it only lasted 9 minutes it was filled with exciting back and forth action, especially the second round where Ghita dropped his gloves and let Gerges fire countless punches to his exposed jaw. The fight was not without controversy as a low blow to Ghita was counted as a knockdown by the referee, and while Ghita came back in the third round the ruling definitely affected the judges decision.

Hesdy Gerges famously won the title by disqualification after getting illegally kicked in the face by Badr Hari in 2010. While it would be somewhat harsh to describe that as good fortune, Gerges needs a big win here to cement himself as one of the best in the world after failing to qualify for the 2010 K1 GP losing to Semmy Schilt and recently losing a shock upset loss to up and comer Rico Verhoeven in a close but controversial decision. Similarly, Ghita has alos lost some of the momentum he built on the back of his clinical knockout win over Errol Zimmerman in 2010 and his devastating barrage of leg kicks that stopped the tough Russian Sergei Kharitanov back in 2009.

Both men have similar styles and statures (Gerges 6’6, Ghita 6’5), with both being reliant on leg kicks. Their first fight showed Gerges to have the speed advantage in the earlier rounds, where as Ghita began to find success going to the body of the Egyptian. The rematch is now scheduled to go 5 rounds, probably an attempt to avoid the controversy a 3 round title fight can generate. The extra rounds should give the advantage to Ghita should he come on stronger in the later rounds given Gerges tendency to noticeably tire after the first round.

Another Important Heavyweight fight that takes place on the card is the resurgent Errol Zimmerman taking on 22 year old Dutch prospect Rico Verhoeven. After a devastating 2010 that saw him drop three out of four fights, including a brutal knockout defeat to Daniel Ghita, Zimmerman has rebounded with a 6 fight win streak culminating with the ‘SuperKombat’ tournament title (winning all three fights by KO). Now it remains to be seen just how well he does against a current top ten fighter, filling that role is Rico Verhoeven, having just snuck past Hesdy Gerges in a close fight.

Verhoeven is being billed by some as being the next Peter Aerts. While that might be hyperbole, Rico certainly has the physical qualities to excel in the world of kickboxing at 6’5 and 18 stone already. However the biggest criticism of Verhoeven’s game is his inability to finish (wikipedia claims he has 8 ko’s in 36 wins but only lists four of them). This might be a crucial flaw in his fight with Zimmerman, who has the power to end a contest at any moment.

Perhaps the most exciting fight of the night takes place on the undercard, which is bizarre as it features two of the biggest names on the bill, Tyrone Spong and Melvin Manhoef. It’s highly unlikely this fight goes to a decision given Manhoef’s wild concussive power and propensity for getting knocked out himself. Tyrone Spong is the more polished fighter of the two and should be able to find Manhoef’s jaw if he can avoid the powerful hooks of Melvin which will be fired at him in return. Spong put on a valiant showing in the 2010 K1 GP against Overeem, rocking the eventual champion early before losing a decision.

Spong is also looking to start a career in MMA and has been helping former UFC champion Rashad Evans in training his stand up in return for some lessons in wrestling and stopping takedowns. Manhoef has already had lengthy career in MMA and is known for his stints in Cage Rage, Dream and Strikeforce. Spong will no doubt be looking at this fight as a stepping stone towards launching his MMA career, in a favourable contest where he wont have to worry about being taken down.

However it would be a mistake to write off Manhoef’s chances in any fight as he still remains the only man to ever KO legendarily iron chinned Mark Hunt, a feat he managed in less than 19 seconds. This fight has the makings to be the most exciting on the card, although it may not last long.

Further strange scheduling means Yohan Lidon will defend his 73kg ‘It’s Showtime’ belt on the undercard against Moroccan l’houcine Ouzgni. While late replacement Chris Ngimbi will not be defending his 70kg title against Harut Grigorian on the maincard. It will still be good to see the high flying African fight as he provides a lot of excitement, with 2 wins by flying knee knockout in his last four fights. The card will also feature an appearance of the unfortunately named Brazilian striker Anderson Silva, whom has furthered the links between himself with the UFC Legend by recently helping Lyoto Machida train for his fight with Jon Jones. Also on the main card is a fight between Robin Van Roosmalen and Murat Direcki. Roosmalen will be looking to continue his success after winning the ‘It’s Showtime Fast and Furious 70MAX’ Grand Prix in September of 2011 which included a decision win over Chris Ngimbi.

While there are some questionable decisions made by ‘It’s Showtime’ in the organising of this event (such as location, decision to have certain fights on the maincard…), its good to see an event that puts top fighters against each other. For example the upcoming ‘Yokkao Extreme 2012’ being held in Italy features the two top 170 pound kickboxers on the planet, Giorgio Petrosyan and Buakaw Por. Pramuk, but has given them both easy opponents instead of delivering the much anticipated dream fight. Similar scenes could be seen in 2011’s ‘Its Showtime Lyon’ event which had Hari, Ghita and Spong easily defeat overmatched opponents instead of putting on fights that have relevancy to the heavyweight division. This is no doubt due to demise of K1’s brutal GP format which took the best 8 fighters from a weight class and made them fight an elimination tournament until one was crowned the best in the world. While this wreaked havoc on fighters records, with seven of the men guaranteed losses, it provided great entertainment which is what ‘It’s Showtime’ must start to do if they want to revive the sport of kickboxing.

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