May 11th, 2002
There was a buzz of excitement tonight at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, as a crowd of over 8,000 eagerly awaited the finals of the first ever K-1 World Max Tournament. In the nine years since its inception the promotion has been focused primarily on heavyweights but switched focus to the 154lbs division for this Grand Prix.
There was an electric atmosphere as the tournament got underway, with the first quarter final final fight featuring the home favourite, Masato. He qualified by winning the K-1 Japan Max tournament in February.
Masato faced American mixed martial artist and kickboxer Duane Ludwig. Just like his opponent, he qualified to enter by winning the K-1 World Max tournament in his home town of Denver back in March.
Masato started the fight looking confident and attacking Ludwig with some heavy body kicks while the American fighter looked to move around and fight off the back foot more, attacking Masato with fast punches and low kicks.
Masato came out even harder at the start of the second round and started to attack Ludwig with some heavy punches. The only real shot of note from Ludwig came midway through the round when he landed with a heavy right, but Masato, although briefly stunned came back well and was soon back in control.
The final round was barely underway when Masato landed with a perfect left hook to drop Ludwig for an eight count. Masato used up a bit of energy after, as he went looking to finish the fight early, but Ludwig did well to survive and Masato advanced to the semi-finals.
Next up saw Shane ‘Chopper’ Chapman face Albert Kraus. The New Zealander earned his place in the tournament after winning the K-1 Oceana Tournament in Australia last November 2001 while Kraus was invited to participate without needing to qualify.
Chapman, a two-time Muay Thai world champion, looked to use the ring from the beginning and fight off the back foot, whereas Kraus started to come in with some explosive punch combinations early into the fight, attacking both the head and body.
Chapman showed some sharp kicks and good movement, but Kraus was always more aggressive and explosive and his workmate saw him take the decision win at the bell and move into the semi-final.
It was time for the second Japanese contender next Yakayuki Kohiruimaki, the runner up in the K-1 Japan Max2002 tournament. Kohiruimaki faced Swiss fighter Marino Deflorin, a Muay Thai world champion with several titles
Kohiruimaki had the edge in height and looked to use it to pick off Deflorin with sharp long knees and kicks. Deflorin, looked to try and get through Kohiruimaki’s guard with some heavy, swinging punches.
Deflorin went close a few times with some looping right hands, but Kohiruimaki’s knees were looking sharper and sharper as the fight progressed.
In round two Deflorin went for another big right, but Kohiruimaki fired in a perfectly timed knee that had the Swiss fighter turning away in pain, before a follow in kick from Kohiruimaki sent Deflorin down for the count.
The last quarter final saw Chinese Sanda fighter Zhang Jiapo, face Thailand’s Kaolan Kaowichit, a multiple Lumpinee stadium champion and the 1998 Sportswriters of Thailand boxer of the year winner. Zhang started fast, attacking Kaolan with some heavy punches and side kicks.
Kaolan looked totally unfazed though and soon got into his stride, attacking Zhang with fast, hard kicks and controlling him in the clinch and landing with hard knees.
By the second round it was one way traffic, with Kaolan rag dolling Zhang around in the clinch and scoring with heavy knees and dominating the outside exchanges with strong kicks and crisp punches. At the end of three rounds Kaolan left the ring a clear winner, ready to face Kohiruimaki in the semi-finals.
The first semi-final saw the hone favourite Masato face Kraus in what turned into a grueling war. The opening round started slowly, with the Japanese fighter looking cagey and using the ring to stay away from the Dutchman’s fierce punch attacks.
The round was almost over when Kraus landed with a heavy left hook that dropped Masato down to the canvas for an eight count. The man from the Netherlands came out hard in the second round, but the hometown hero looked to fight fire with fire and traded back with some heavy punches of his own.
Another big left hook seemed to stun Masato briefly, midway through the round, but Kraus started to slow a little, the intensity of his fight possibly catching up on him. Both kept landing hard shots though right up to the bell.
In the final round both were looking marked up, with Masato sporting a swelling under his right eye and Kraus with swelling under both his eyes. The intensity never let up though as Kraus came in with some vicious body shots and Masato opened up with sharp punches and low kicks throughout.
Masato put on a late charge in the final 30 seconds of the round, opening up with heavy shots, hoping for at least a knockdown of his own. It never came though and the knockdown in the opening round went against him when the scorecards where tallied up and Kraus moved through to the final.
Kohiruimaki went into the second semi-final with the hopes of the nation on his shoulder. Kaolan looked very comfortable though in the opening round, as he soaked up Kohiruimaki’s attacks and again looked very strong in the clinch.
In the second round Kaolan upped the intensity and was soon stalking Kohiruimaki around the ring. Kohiruimaki was soon on the canvas in agony after taking a hard knee as both fell to the canvas from the clinch. The referee gave Kohiruimaki time to recover, but Kaolan was soon back on top and chasing Kohiruimaki around the ring and hammering him with hard knees and punches.
Another hard knee sent Kohiruimaki down again, this time receiving an 8 count. Kohiruimaki beat the count and tried to fight on, but was soon caught by another hard knee and this time was counted out.
Kaolan looked by far the fresher of the two at the start of the final, after a relatively easy route there and Kraus came into the ring showing the scars of war after his grueling semi-final against Masato. Kaolan looked confident at the opening bell and started to attack Kraus with solid kicks.
His demeanour rapidly changed though just 60 seconds into the round as Kraus started to open up with some heavy body shots and hard punches to the head.
Kaolan looked to fire in more kicks, but a couple of hard hooks to the body seemed to wind him and Kraus switched his attacks to the head, dropping Kaolan with a barrage of hard shots.
Kaolan tried to get up, but was counted out inside the opening minute of the fight and Kraus was crowned the inaugural K-1 World Max tournament champion.
This is part of our retrospective series looking at some classic shows and fights.