History of K-1 - Return To Excellence - 2004


In 2004, Chad Rowan aka Akebono, the first non-Japanese sumo wrestler to win the top ranking as Yokozuna, made his debut in K-1. His much-anticipated first fight was against the "beast" Bob Sapp. However, Bob Sapp overpowered the slow Akebono in just three minutes. In the following K-1 event held in the Saitama Super Arena. Akebono faced a smaller, possibly more manageable, Musashi. The heads of K-1 assumed that Akebono's over 250 lb weight and 7 inch height advantage would make up for his lack of talent. However, although Akebono did not get knocked out he did lose by a unanimous decision.

There were three qualifying tournaments for the 2004 WGP and also one repecharge tournament in Las Vegas. The first LV GP crowned McDonald as the winner taking out former boxing champion Dewey Cooper. In the Japanese GP in Shizuoka, heavy favorite, Mike Bernardo was knocked out in the first round of his fight and "The Beast" Bob Sapp was decisively beaten by Ray Sefo in the second round. Hiromi Amada won the tournament. In Seoul, Korea, the first Asian GP was held and Akebono lost again in the first round by unanimous decision. The eventual winner was Kaoklai Kaennorsing, a former Muay Thai fighter, who was the smallest fighter in the tournament (5'9" and 176 lbs). In the repecharge tournament, Akebono lost again, this time to American kickboxer Rick Roufus. Newcomer Mighty Mo Siligia won the final slot into the WGP.

The new GP winners (McDonald, Amada, Kaoklai, Mighty Mo) along with last year's final eight (Abidi, Botha, Sefo, Musashi, Ignashov, Aerts, and defending WGP champion Bonjasky minus an injured Graham) entered the Final Elimination event in Tokyo. To fill in the final few slots the K-1 Directors selected four time WGP champion Ernesto Hoost, Glaube Feitosa, Gary Goodridge and the "French Cyborg" Jerome Le Banner to compete. In the first fight Mighty Mo beat Gary Goodridge in the first round. The second fight was between Alexey Ignashov and Kaoklai Kaennorsing. After three rounds, the judges called the match a draw forcing it to go one extra round where the young Kaennorsing won by the smallest of margins in a split decision. Both former WGP champions, Peter Aerts and Ernesto Hoost each won their matches in three rounds. K-1 veteran Ray Sefo beat Japan GP winner Hiromi Amada. In this year's elimination tournament the defending WGP champion was given a bye straight to the final eight but still had to fight a superfight match. For Remy Bonjasky the K-1 directors decided to match him up with Akebono who again lost. Musashi just won against Cyril Abidi, and Francois Botha beat Jerome Le Banner when after the match was called a draw, the Le Banner could not continue the fight for the fourth round and instead gave up.

The 2004 WGP was controversial: many K-1 fans and media members cited numerous matches in this WGP as suspicious of unfair/poor judging by the ringside judges. However, the first fight of the night had no controversy as the diminutive Kaoklai Kaennorsing took on the heaviest fighter of the night, Mighty Mo. Kaennorsing took him down with a swift kick to the head in the first round. The second fight was the first controversy of the event, as Japanese kickboxer Musashi took on favorite Ray Sefo. The judges decided to call the fight a draw and force an extra round, after which the judges awarded the victory to Musashi. After the fight Sefo criticized the judges harshly. In the third fight Peter Aerts took on Francois Botha which Botha won without throwing a punch: Aerts threw a series of kicks before turning away in serious pain. Doctors later diagnosed Aerts with a torn calf muscle. In the next fight defending champion Remy Bonjasky took on four time WGP champion Ernesto Hoost. The fight went into an extra round in which it appeared that Hoost had the better strategy, but in the end Bonjasky was given the win to the noticeable disgust of the usually composed Hoost.

In the first semi-final Musashi took on Kaennorsing. After three rounds the majority of the judges saw it as another draw, sending the fight into an extra round in which Musashi was judged victor. Bonjasky won the other match after landing a kick that knocked the Botha down. In the third round of the final, Bonjasky vs Musashi, a missed flying high kick sent Bonjasky crashing out of the ring into the announcers table. Time had to be stopped to check on the visibly shaken Bonjasky, but he wanted to continue the fight. After the first three rounds the judges saw the fight even and forced it into an extra round. In the fourth, the fight was called a draw again. In the fifth round both fighters were tired and sloppy, but the judges finally picked Bonjasky as the winner, after fighting a record 12 rounds in one night.

Read more about this topic:  History Of K-1, Return To Excellence

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