K-1 HERO*S 8 Review

K-1 HERO*S Olympia 2007

With Kazushi Sakuraba banged up, Yoshihiro Akiyama banned for oiling up his legs before a fight with Saku, Actor Ken Kaneko exposed as a non-fighter, and “KID” Yamamoto injured while competing in the freestyle wrestling nationals, it’s time for HERO*S to build up some new stars.

Several top fighters look to have been ‘booked to win’ at HERO*S 8, and as a result this was pretty much a card of mismatches. On the other hand, PRIDE 33 and UFC 68 proved that there’s no such thing as an MMA match-up where everyone can be sure of the outcome ahead of time. If Thierry Sokoudjou can knock Antonio Rogerio Nogueira out, and if Couture can come back and take the heavyweight title at 43… and if Diaz vs. Gomi and Edgar vs. Griffin are already contenders for 2007 MOTY… then who can say what surprises K-1 HERO*S 8 might hold?

The first surprise? Yoshihiro Takayama is on the commentary team! You might remember Takayama from his all-out brawl with Don Frye at PRIDE 21, or from the pro wrestling Match of the Year candidate he put on in 2004 with Kenta Kobashi in NOAH.

Masataka Chinushi came into this show with a 1-2 record, earned in the Osaka-based regional indie fight promotion Real Rhythm. Hiroki Ozaki came in 2-0 in international MMA competition. While both men were making their HERO*S debut, this fight looked like a set up to give Ozaki a quick submission victory. While the fight didn’t make air on the Japanese broadcast it went as expected, with Ozaki winning by arm bar at 1:17.

Tetsu “Haidairo” Suzuki is an experienced grappler who has mainly competed in Shooto, the shoot pro wrestling promotion established by the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama. Masanori Kanehara came in with a 1-1-1 record in the interesting indie fight promotion ZST, which doesn’t allow striking on the ground, plays music during bouts, and has a rule prohibiting closed guards. This fight also didn’t make air. Kanehara won by majority decision after two rounds.

Siala “Mighty Mo” Siliga is a California-based kickboxer of Samoan descent, making his MMA debut. His KO loss to Kaoklai Kaennorsing at the 2004 World Grand Prix Finals is probably my favorite K-1 fight of all time. It’s well worth going out of your way to see it. At the 2007 World Grand Prix, Mighty Mo handed Korean giant Hong-man Choi his first career KO loss. At HERO*S 8, he was booked to face another Korean fighter, Olympic judo silver medalist Kim Min-soo. Kim has lost to heavy strikers Don Frye, Semmy Schilt, Ray Sefo, and Bob Sapp in MMA competition, but he does hold a win over former WWE wrestler Sean O’Haire. Mighty Mo was an accomplished high school wrestler, but no-one is sure if he can stop an Olympian’s takedowns. That was never an issue in this fight, though. Kim came out in a southpaw stance, and waved with his right hand at Mo’s left fist. Mo seemed content to bide his time, circling. Finally, at the two minute mark, he just exploded into Kim with a wild flurry of looping blows. He kept pressing the action, and eventually a hard right hand hit its target. With his opponent stunned, Mo charged straight at him, throwing hook after hook, catching Kim with a right, a left, and finally a crushing overhand right to end it all with 2:33 remaining in the first round. Kickboxing champion Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo was among the first men into the ring to congratulate Mo on his successful debut.

Hiroyuki Takaya is a former Shooto competitor with an endearingly cocky street fighter persona, who had gone 3-2 in HERO*S coming into this fight, the two losses coming against top fighters JZ Calvan and Genki Sudo. He seems set to play a kind of gatekeeper role at this point in his young career. Andre Dida is hyped as the best young fighter currently training with the Chute Box camp. He’s had some success in the Brazilian indie promotion Storm Samurai, and this fight was his chance to show that he belongs in the big leagues. Dida immediately won me over by doing the Wanderlei wrist roll in the corner. Both men went staright to centre ring, where they traded rapid-fire combos. Dida caught Takaya on the nose with a right, and the fight was halted so that they could clean off the blood that started pouring down his face. Takaya returned the favor by stunning Dida with a right of his own fresh off the restart. They clinched on the ropes, and Dida took him down into full mount. Takaya gave up his back, but amazingly managed to escape the Brazilian’s attempted RNC. Back on their feet with just over two minutes left, both fighters swung for the fences. The fight was stopped a second time. Takaya’s nose looked broken, and the doctors decided to put a stop to what was turning into a very exciting fight.

Cage Rage World Lightweight Champion Vitor “Shoalin” Ribeiro, who has only lost once in eighteen pro fights, is a fighter with true star potential. Ryuki Ueyama, who has gone seven fights without tasting victory since 2002, was brought in to be the first step on Shaolin’s road to the top. Ueyama danced away from Shaolin for nearly a minute. With a smooth swiftness, the Brazilian caught his opponent’s leg, got him down, took his back, and trapped his arm. Ueyama struggled valiantly, but he had no chance of escaping. After this dominating performance, I can hardly wait to see Shaolin take on the 2006 Middleweight tournament winner, Gesius “JZ Calvan” Calvancanti.

Bernard Ackha is a TV personality from the Ivory Coast. Shin Hyung-Pyo is a square-jawed former Ssireum (Korean Sumo) champion. I’d expected this fight to be a real train wreck, but as it turns out Bernard Ackha is no Ken Kaneko. (That’s a good thing). Both men came out swinging. About 30 seconds into the fight, Ackha caught the Korean with a baseball bat shin kick to the side of his head. Hyung-Pyo had enough intestinal fortitude to keep fighting, but less than a minute later Acka caught him against the ropes and started unloading with one right after another into Hyung-Pyo’s Inoki-sized chin, leaving the ref no choice but to stop the bout.

Yoshihisa Yamamoto is a RINGS, PRIDE, and HERO*S veteran with a 6-15 record who came in on a four-fight losing streak. Katsuyori Shibata is an exciting young professional wrestler who has been training with Pancrase legend and WON Hall of Famer Masakatsu Funaki. The charismatic and handsome Shibata could end up being a real star for HERO*S. He came in with a loss in K-1 and a win in Jungle Fight on his shoot record. It only took him a few seconds and several hard punches to add another victory to his resume.

Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge is a well-travelled MMA veteran who’s been competing professionally for over a decade. He holds highlight reel KO victories over fighters like Paul Herrera, Oleg Taktarov, and Don Frye. He’s also lost to some of the best in the game, including Frye, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Fedor Emelianenko. He beat the overweight, hairy, 6’11” 310 lb. Jan “The Giant” Nortje by submission in just over a minute back in 2001. In 2007, Nortje seemed to be on the verge of getting revenge, as he backed Goodridge into the corner and hammered him with Daikojin punches and sick-looking knees. Big Daddy held on, however, took the giant down and pounded his way to yet another first round victory.

Cage Rage World Light Heavyweight Champion Melvin Manhoef is a massively built kickboxer from Holland. Coming into this fight, he had 14 KOs among his 15 MMA victories, most of them coming in the first round. He made it to the finals of the HERO*S Light Heavyweight Tournament last October, only to get trapped in a beautiful arm bar by Yoshihiro Akiyama. With Akiyama out of the picture, Manhoef is likely to be given every chance to add a second belt to his collection. Yoshiki Takahashi, who will be celebrating his 38th birthday the day after the fight, has been fighting with Pancrase since their very first show. A true MMA veteran, he brought a record of 28-20-3 into this bout, including three 1st round KO losses in the three PRIDE events he’s competed in since Final Countdown 2004. It was pretty apparent that Manhoef was being set up to regain his lost momentum by adding another first round KO to that total.
The Dutchman danced his way to the ring, accompanied by his trainer Mike Passenier, but the start of the fight was delayed when the HERO*S officials determined that there was a need to wipe Manhoef down with dry towels. I’d guess that there was some fear that he was too oiled up, and they wanted to avoid a repeat of the Akiyama situation. Even de-greased, Manhoef had no problem avoiding Takahashi’s takedown attempts and nailing him with hard knees. About 2:20 into the first, the Japanese fighter was dropped by a right kick followed by a hard right hook. Manhoef followed him to the ground and kept throwing until the ref called for the bell.

Kazushi Sakuraba is a living legend, and one of the greatest Mixed Martial Artists of all time. While he’s clearly on the down-side of his career, he is still a huge star and a top box-office draw in Japan. He was beaten by Yoshihiro Akiyama at K-1 Dynamite on New Years Eve, but it was later revealed that Akiyama had applied lotion to his legs, making it impossible for Sakuraba to secure a takedown. Akiyama has since been suspended, and HERO*S is now searching for a new young star to take the torch from Saku. Yurij “Playboy” Kyselov, who is either from the Ukraine or from Lithuania, has been knocked out in both of his pro MMA fights. He reportedly earned his nickname by posing nude for a magazine. Sakuraba earned his nickname, “The Gracie Hunter,” by beating great fighters in the PRIDE ring. You can hardly blame HERO*S for wanting to set Saku up with an easy victory. The Japanese legend absorbed a lot of punches, but he was otherwise untroubled in taking Kyselov down, getting side mount, and working for a submission. I took less than a minute and a half for him to get the tap out.

Kazuyuki Miyata is probably best known for being on the receiving end of a highlight reel knockout flying knee in the opening seconds of his loss to “KID” Yamamoto. He’s an Olympic wrestler, though, and he has a chance to win any fight that goes to the ground. Kultar “Black Mamba” Gill is coming off of a very entertaining loss to Rodrigo Damm on the Bodog Fight St. Petersburg TV show. My assumption was that Gill would probably need to keep the fight standing to have a chance. He almost proved me wrong, though, by catching Miyata’s arm after a takedown. Miyata power slammed his way out of trouble, however, fought his way into side control, then went for an Americana and took it from there into a very interesting variation of an anaconda choke. Mamba ended up tapping out for the third time in his last three fights.

Caol Uno made it to the finals of last year’s Middleweight Tournament, where he lost by decision to Gesias “JZ Calvan” Calvancanti. He’s generally one of the most exciting fighters to watch in all of MMA. Ali Ibrahim is an Egyptian judo champion, making his MMA debut. Ibraham started out very aggressively, striking Uno and taking him down. Uno weathered the storm for almost two minutes before he was able to catch the judoka’s arm. Unable to slam his way free, Ibrahim had no choice but to tap.

Former janitor Hideo Tokoro is a tough but inconsistent grappler whose profile has risen sharply in the past year due to victories over Royler Gracie and TV actor Ken Kaneko. Kazuya Yasuhiro is a karate champion who came into this match having been submitted in both of his pro MMA bouts, and left three for three. The two men circled cautiously for over two minutes before taking it to the ground. Yasuhiro almost managed a reversal, but got caught in an armbar with plenty of time left, ensuring that all of the fights that made air on this evening ended in the first round.

The Inside Pulse
There were no epic battles on this card, but there weren’t any boring fights, either. It was pretty odd to see so many matches end in the first round.

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