FUKUOKA, Monday, April 20, 2009 — With possibly the best card in World Max history, tomorrow’s K-1 World Max 2009 World Championship Tournament -Final-16 has garnered tremendous media attention both in Japan and internationally.

And so it was standing room only at the Sea Hawk Hotel today, as the 26 participating fighters met the media in advance of the fightsport extravaganza.


In the midst of it all, cool as always, was reigning World Max Champion Masato, the Japanese superstar making his first public appearance since announcing retirement three weeks ago. You wouldn’t know it judging by the media scrum, but Masato’s involvement tomorrow is limited to a three-minute ‘exhibition’ bout with 17 year-old Hiroya, the 2008 K-1 Koshien (high school) Champion.


This will be the first of three farewell bouts for Masato, who is slated to exit the ring for good this New Year’s Eve. To be sure, tomorrow’s is A fun matchup — Hiroya an emerging Japanese fighter, meeting his hero. Although the fight is an exhibition — basically three minutes of sparring — anticipation is running high.

The two fighters were in good spirits today, Hiroya referring to the bout as is “graduation,” and promising to give Masato a challenge that he will remember “for a long time.”

Masato told the assembled “I know that young Japanese fighters have good skills. I first met Hiroya two years ago, and he had great potential then, and he’s great now, so I’m looking forward to this fight. It’s an exhibition, and I’m preparing for a fight in July (against a still undetermined opponent), so I’m not in great shape now,” quipped Masato. “But I take Hiroya seriously as an opponent!”

While the Masato – Hiroya exhibition provides a novel subplot, the focus tomorrow is the World Max Final-16 Tournament — a one-match elimination that will halve the field fighting for this year’s World Max Championship. The world’s strongest 70kg/154kg fighters are here, well aware that a victory sets them on the road to glory, while a loss deposits them in the ditch. There’ll be no fancy strategies floating around — for these warriors, tomorrow is simply do or die.

In the Main Event, respected Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Sato will meet Armenian muay thai dynamo Drago. Setting off a gray pinstripe suit with a pink tie and thin-rimmed glasses, Sato played heir apparent to Masato. “I know Drago is fierce,” said the lanky kickboxer, “but I’m in 100% condition, and I’ll show my ability 100%. The other fighters are great, but this year I will be the best of the best, and I’ll win!” Drago kept his cards close to the chest. “Fukuoka is nice city, it will be a nice fight tomorrow, don’t miss it!”


The explosive Nieky “The Natural” Holzken fights out of the prestigious Dutch Golden Glory gym, which has produced many top K-1 fighters. Tomorrow Holzken steps in against another newcomer — 20-year-old Chahid, a Moroccan Muay thai fighter. The confident Holzken boasted he would “win like last time,” and wished “success to everybody.” Countered Chalid, “I came to fight, not make friends. I just want to kick him.”


A two-time World Max champion, Dutch shoot boxer Andy Souwer will take on compatriot Leroy Kaestner, a protégé of K-1 legend Peter Aerts. Souwer, who showed up sharp in sharkskin, will also have a sharp guy in his corner — super trainer Andre Mannaart. Pegged by many to win last year’s World Max, Souwer today spoke of new beginnings. “Last year I was on the road, but almost at the end, I lost. Now I’m back on the road to reclaim my title, and you can expect a lot from me tomorrow!” Speaking in Japanese from prepared notes, Kaestner said, “I came all away from Holland, and I’m a big fan of Japan so I want to come back, so I have to do my best to beat Andy!”


Another two-time World Max champ, the hard-kicking Buakaw Por Pramuk of Thailand, will step in against Brazilian MMA fighter Andre Dida. Said Buakaw: “There are lots of wonderful fighters here this year, I will do my best!” Replied Dida: “I will do a fast and furious fight against this elite fighter, and I’m dedicating this to my family!”


In the K-1 World Max inaugural year of 2002, Dutch boxer Albert Kraus punched his way to the crown. Kraus has been on a hot streak of late, and hopes to ride the momentum past his opponent tomorrow, who is a Japanese schoolgirl. Well, appearances can be deceiving. Actually, Yuichiro “Jienotsu” Nagashima is a “cosplayer” — a Japanese neologism for a nerd subculture bent on obsessive personal reification of anime characters. Anyway, tomorrow, Kraus and Nagashima will try to beat each other up.

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“I’m in great shape, I’ll fight hard and do my best,” said Kraus in his steadily-improving Japanese. Nagashima, meanwhile, vowed “revenge” for a stunt in which Kraus tore up a photograph of one of his beloved anime characters.

Asked by reporters to comment on his opponent’s schoolgirl outfit (complete with racy garters), Kraus let a barb through his otherwise unflappable Dutch open-mindedness: “It’s a very nice costume, but I think a real champion doesn’t wear this costume…”

Japanese fighter Yuya Yamamoto, a late substitute for injured Taishin Kohiruimaki, will meet Chi Bin Lim of the Republic of Korea. Asked the soft-spoken Yamamoto, “Can you please support me? I want to make a great fight!” Lim, standing bolt upright, pledged: “This is a big fight for me, I trained hard, will I will show everyone a fresh style.”


Rising World Max fighter Artur Kyshenko of the Ukraine will take on Alviar Lima of Cape Verdi. Said Kyshenko: “Hello all, being in this top 16 is exciting. Some will win, some will lose, I will do my best!” Countered Lima: “I’m not here to do my best, I’m here to make a war, tomorrow it will be a big war!”


And finally, Italian hotshot Giorgo Petrosyan will step in against Dzhabar “Chengiskhan” Askerov of the United Arab Emirates. Portended Petrosyan: “I didn’t come to Japan as a tourist — my nickname is ‘the doctor,’ and my opponent is a virus, so I’ll destroy him tomorrow!” Really? Askerov seemed benign enough: “I’m happy to show Japan my skills, and will do my best!”


Tomorrow’s winners will advance to the K-1 World Max Final-8, set for July at the Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo.


In other fights — the Final-16 reserve bout pits Yasuhiro Kido of Japan against Su Hwan Lee of the Republic of Korea. In undercard action featuring Japanese fighters, the mononymic Tatsuji and Ryuji will clash; while Masahiro Yamamoto meets Yuki; and Kazuki Hamasaki takes on Hareruya.


Bouts will be contested under K-1 Rules, three rounds of three minutes each, with a possible tiebreaker round possible in all but the opening fights.


The K-1 World Max 2009 World Championship Tournament Final-16 kicks off at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 21, at the Marine Messe in Fukuoka. It will be broadcast live in Japan on the TBS network. Delay-broadcasts will bring the action to a total of 135 countries — for scheduling information contact local providers. Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for official results and comprehensive coverage of this and all K-1 events.


Monty DiPietro

K-1 International Publicist

credit pics “Courtesy FEG