At the start of 2006 K-1 decided to instill a major rule change and that was to discourage the usage of a clinch. For those not familiar with kickboxing, Muay Thai or even boxing, the clinch is a technique where one fighter grabs the other fighter to immobilize them. Sometimes its used to set up a knee strike (mostly used in Muay Thai and kickboxing) other times the clinch is used when a fighter is tired, or stunned from a punch and they clinch with their opponent so that fighter cannot strike them again. Not only is it a technique but it can be VERY important strategy wise. Anyway at the beginning of the year the K-1 heads decided to discourage the usage of the clinch in order to create more exciting fights as it seemed to many tired fighters were using the clinch way to often resulting in slowing down the pace of fights. This move upset many of the K-1 fighters as it would force them to change the way they fought, as well as upset many of the K-1 purists who do not like change. The “no clinch” rule would affect many important fights throughout the year, and none more important than the first major fight of the year between defending K-1 WGP champion Semmy Schilt and three time WGP champion Peter Aerts.
The setting was the first K-1 WGP qualifier event in Auckland, New Zealand. During the fight the smaller Aerts took the fight to the mighty Schilt and looked to actually cause the defending champion some problems. Yet what gave Schilts a bigger problem was the “no clinch” rule as he was warned numerous times about clinching with Aerts and ultimately lost two points. The catch was that during the fight Schilt was not clinching nearly as much as his opponent Aerts, yet it seemed the referee would ignore Aerts violation of the rule and continuously cite Schilts. In the end the fight went to a decision and it came to a majority ruling in favor of Peter Aerts (with one of the judges ruling it a draw and two of the judges giving Aerts a slight advantage of 29-28). In the end those two points that Schilt’s lost would have made a BIG difference in the outcome, possible even giving Schilts the win. This would not be the first controversial ruling of the year but definitely one of the big ones.
During the Melbourne GP Polish Muay Thai practitioner Paul Slowinski knocked his way to the WGP by knocking out Rony Sefo, brother of K-1 vet Ray Sefo, K-1 fan favorite Peter Graham and Jason Suttie in the finals. The main event of the Melbourne GP show was a superfight between New Zealander Ray Sefo and former boxing champion Francois Botha. The fight went to a decision with all three judges ruling in favor of Sefo. The next qualifier was an exciting event in Las Vegas. K-1 and PRIDE veteran Gary Goodridge took less than two minutes to dispose of his first two opponents and make it to the finals making him an instant favorite to take the whole tourney. Yet when the dust was cleared it was actually surprising darkhorse Chalid ‘Die’ Faust who qualified for the WGP after knocking out Goodridge in the third round. Ironic enough Faust lost in the semi finals of the Vegas GP to K-1 veteran Carter Williams but after the fight Williams could not continue due to injury. This allowed Faust to enter the finals and make it to the WGP.
Also on the Vegas card were a few great superfights. K-1 wunderkid Ruslan Karaev defeated K-1 veteran Stefan Leko by decision in an amazing match of pure action. Former pro wrestler Slyvester “Predator” Terkay gave Korean giant Hong-Man Choi his toughest challenge to date and even though the fight went to a decision win for Choi many fans that attended the show believed Terkay was the real winner. The last superfight was between defending WGP champion Semmy Schilt and Japan’s favorite son, MUSASHI. In the fight it was obvious to everyone that Schilt was too much for MUSASHI but to the Japanese fighter’s credit he would not stay down and made the fight go to a decision. The result was a unanimous win for Schilt.
The Amsterdam GP qualifier will go down as the most controversial event of 2006, maybe even in K-1 history. The night began with a super fight between K-1 veteran Jerome Le Banner and two time WGP champion Remy Bonjasky. During this fight it appeared pretty obvious to everyone that the usually light footed Bonjasky was very sluggish which the power puncher Le Banner took advantage of. After three rounds it looked to be that LeBanner was going to walk away with a victory but instead it was a unanimous decision for Bonjasky. Le Banner was shocked and even the crowd started booing the decision. After the event Le Banner filed an appeal threatening to never fight in K-1 again unless the decision was over turned. In the end the K-1 organization agreed to overturn the decision. The night of controversy continued and had a bigger impact on the actual card itself.
One of the marquee matches of the night was to be the "retirement" match for 4 time WGP champion Ernesto Hoost, who hand picked his final opponent to be the "Beast" Bob Sapp. Many K-1 fans were eager for the fight and very familiar to the bad blood between these two fighters. Hours before the show even began Bob Sapp arrived to the arena very upset. Apparently for the last few months Sapp was under negotiation to renew his contract with K-1. According to Sapp K-1 organizers agreed to a new contract but kept delaying Sapp from looking at it and signing it. Sapp told them he was not going to fight until he saw and signed the contract. The K-1 heads reassured Sapp that his new contract will be at the Amsterdam show and ready to be signed before the event started. Sapp arrived to the arena but no contract was produced. He started telling K-1 heads that he would not fight until he saw the contract which the K-1 heads told him they could not do. Sapp then threatened within hours of the show starting that he would NOT fight until he saw a contract. The show began and many fans at the show confirmed seeing Sapp leave the arena in disgust, no contract was ever produced and Sapp ended his relationship with K-1.
Scrambling for a new main event the K-1 heads looked to "Mr. K-1" Peter Aerts, who was to do guest commentating during the Hoost/Sapp fight, to fill in for Sapp. Aerts, being the champion that he was, took up the fight with no preparation and even had to borrow Semmy Schilt's shorts to fight in the ring. What went down was a classic albeit slow match between the two greatest men to enter the K-1 ring. Hoost was given the three round decision but to everyone at the show both fighters gave Ernesto Hoost the perfect sendoff to the man they called "Mr. Perfect".
The Amsterdam GP event was finished off of course with a GP tournament which was won by the 6' 8" Bjorn Bregy. Also participating in the tournament was a returning Alexey Ignashov but he faltered in the semi finals against K-1 rookie, Gokhan Saki and never regained the prominence he once held in the K-1 ranks.
The 2006 Asia GP was one of the saddest GPs in a while. Most of the eight competitors did not look like they belonged in the K-1 ring. The only mentionable matchup was between Japanese fighter Tsuyoshi Nakasako and the short Thai fighter Kaoklai Kaennorsing. In the end the GP was won by former boxer turned K-1 fighter Yusuke Fujimoto. In the superfights K-1 vets Peter Aerts and Ray Sefo took out their young opponents Hiraku Hori and Ruslan Karaev, respectively by Knock outs. In the main event the battle of giants took place between Hong Man Choi and reigning WGP champion Semmy Schilt. The fight was not spectacular but Schilt's far superior kickboxing talent was able to award him a unanimous decision.
Instead of the usual Japan GP in 2006 they instead decided to bring back the "Revenge" match concept that was very popular in the early K-1 days, matches that allowed a fighter to avenge a lost he suffered earlier. In the first revenge fight former WGP champion Peter Aerts took on sometime friend Gary Goodridge who was looking for revenge from their 2005 showdown where the "Lumberjack" Aerts chopped down Goodridge with some wicked leg kicks. This time around Goodridge fared better but still ended up losing a unanimous decision. Former WGP champion Remy Bonjasksy was looking for revenge against Mighty Mo who upset the young upstart in their hotly contested fight in Las Vegas. This time around the "Flying Gentleman" was able to use his quick kicks and movements to get the judges nod for the win and avenged his prior lost. The next revenge match was a rematch between the giants of K-1, Korean fighter Hong Man Choi and former Yokozuna Akebono. This would actually be the THIRD match between these two giants with Akebono losing both to Choi in the first round. This time around the Japanese superstar survived the first round but only lasted less than a minute in the second round before being knocked out. In the main event a very much demanded rematch took place between Japanese's favorite son MUSASHI and Brazilian fighter Glaube Feitosa who unceremoniously knocked MUSASHI out in the 2005 WGP Final. This time around MUSASHI fared better but still lost a unanimous decision to the Brazilian Kyokushinka.
The last stop before the 2006 WGP was the repecharge tourney in Las Vegas. For the eight fighters who participated in the tourney it was their last chance for a trip to Japan and the WGP. For one fighter in particular Alexey Ignashov, this was his last chance to redeem himself and try to achieve the success that many always thought he would achieve in the K-1. In the tournament, Ignashov was paired up with American kickboxer Imani Lee. During the fight Ignashov looked sluggish and not in shape, luckily though he was able to pull out a decision from the judges. For the "Red Scorpion" Ignashov could not continue into the second round and thus his WGP dreams were dashed again. Another fighter who was looking for a second chance was Stefan Leko. For a long time Leko was always a fan favorite yet could never get past the top echelon of K-1. With his last shot at the WGP, Leko tore through the competition with KOs over Scotty Lighty and former US GP champion Carter Williams. In the finals Leko got his chance to go to Japan with another KO win over another former US GP champion Michael McDonald.
As usual in the Final Elimination tournament for the WGP last year's eight finalist and the winners of the various GPs were paired up to select the final eight fighters who will participate in the WGP. Rounding out the final 16 fighters were last year's finalist Glaube Feitosa who started as a reserve fighter, "Mr. Perfect" Ernesto Hoost and "The Golden Boy" Badr Hari. Originally Peter Aerts was supposed to take part in the Final Elimination in a dream match against Remy Bonjasky but he fell with an illness. Replacing him was long time K-1 fan favorite Gary Goodridge. In the first match of the Eliminations, the future of K-1 collided in the form of Ruslan Karaev and Badr Hari. Many were eagerly anticipating this fight as it represented the true battle between opposites; the squeaky clean Karaev and the loud mouth Hari. The fight ended quickly and in controversy as Karaev knocked Hari down quickly and then accidentally kneed him in the face with what looked like a "illegal" knee. Hari refused to get up to meet the count and was thus given the lost. Hari screamed about the decision and even stated "he would never fight in K-1 again". In the next fight former K-1 WGP champion Remy Bonjasky took on Gary Goodridge in a competitive fight. Many were thinking Bonjasky would get by Goodridge easily but this fight went to the third round with Bonjasky looking a bit rusty. Finally Bonjasky caught Goodridge with a good kick to the gut and knocked him out. It took a decision for Glaube Feitosa to beat the tall Paul Slowinski while defending WGP champion Semmy Schilt easily overpowered Bjorn Bregy. In possibly the fight of the night, two long time K-1 favorites Ray Sefo and Stefan Leko went toe to toe in a brawl that went the extra round. In the end Leko barely squeaked by purely on conditioning and was given the ticket to the WGP finals. Ernesto Hoost easily took out Japan GP winner Yusuke Fujimoto with a few kicks to his leg while Chalid "Die Faust" took out MUSASHI showing that the Japanese favorite may soon be losing his touch. In the main event Jerome Le Banner started his quest to finally win a WGP by taking out the "Korean Giant" Hong Man Choi. It took everything that Le Banner had to get the win but he finally was able to walk away with the decision after an extra round.
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