For those of you who are unfamiliar with the K-1 events, they are one of the worlds premier professional fighting league. Many say it is home to some of the greatest strikers in the world – I tend to agree. The K stands for Karate, Kung-Fu and Kickboxing, the 1 for the one tournament that brings them together. Originally the K-1 Grand Prix was an invitation-only tournament that was held in Japan, until 1998 when the organisation added regional qualifying stages around the world. Fighters would compete for a place in a final eight-man knock-out tournament that has traditionally been held at the Tokyo Dome, Japan.
It was in 2002 that K-1 introduced the MAX competition, MAX standing for Middleweight Action eXtreme. The tournament is fought at 70kg (or 154lb if you’re that way inclined) and man, the action really is extreme. While the K-1 World Grand Prix sees fighters of all weights, the MAX is fought at a weight where the action is lightning quick and non-stop. It’s the K-1 MAX champions of each year that I want to introduce to you today.
In K-1, fighters can punch, kick and knee. The rounds are fought standing up with three 3-minute rounds and up to two extra rounds in the case of a draw on the judges’ score cards. Knocked-down fighters receive a full mandatory 8-count, the three knock-down rule applies, and a fighter can also lose by not recovering sufficiently by the full 10-count on any knock-down.
2002 Albert Kraus
The 2002 MAX was won by Dutch kickboxer, Albert “The Hurricane” Kraus. His road to victory started with a points-win over New Zealand’s Shane Chapman. Kraus then went on to beat Japan’s favourite, Masato. In this fight, Kraus scored an early knock-down which put him ahead and he won again with points. The final match placed Kraus against Thailand’s Kaolan Kaovichit. Kalon was a strong fighter but it took only one minute in the first round for a knock-out finish, making Albert Kraus the world’s first K-1 MAX champion.
Kraus has always been a very dangerous puncher; he is always hunting, always moving forwards like a true pressure fighter. He has also won four other world titles in Kickboxing and Muay Thai.
A new year and a new champion! Masato Kobayashi, more commonly known to his fans simply as “Masato”. His nickname is the Silver Wolf and he has always been popular with the fans, especially his home Japanese fans. Known for his blistering hand combinations, Masato can often overwhelm his opponent, putting them into a defensive mode while he looks to land his signature uppercuts.
When the final eight met for the 2003 finals, Masato began his tournament run with a split decision win against the Greek “Iron” Mike Zambidis. He stepped it up in the semi-final with an uppercut in the second round, knocking out Thailand’s Sakeddaw Kiatputon. Finally, Masato would get revenge when he again faced Albert Kraus. Kraus beat Masato in the 2002 MAX semi-finals, and fought him again to a draw later in 2002. This time Masato would have satisfaction – the fight lasted until the second round, where Masato won with a left hook knock-out, dropping the Dutch kickboxer and making Masato the 2003 world champion.
While he would ultimately be the runner up in the 2004 MAX, Masato was able to secure his place in the final eight when he fought Vince Phillips. If you want a look at that fight and the mean leg kicks that won it, check out this leg kick article I wrote a few weeks back.
This year brought us “The dog from Bangkok” – Buakaw “The White Lotus” Banchamek. At the time he was known as Buakaw Por Promuk, as he was fighting out of the Por Promuk gym. He started his fighting career at the relatively young age of eight (not uncommon in Thailand), and is why he is now approaching 300 professional fights.
Australia’s John Wayne Parr was the first to stand before Buakaw in 2004’s final eight. The bout would be hard fought initially to a draw, with an extra round sealing the deal with a points win for Buakaw. Moving into the semi-final, he would now face off against Takayuki Kohiruimaki – it was to be a demonstration of Buakaw’s brutal leg kicks and vicious knee strikes. Kohi was finished early in the second round by well-placed knees. The final fight was against Masato. Buakaw wasted no time and unleashed an unstoppable barrage of front kicks, knees, and heavy leg kicks. Masato was already damaged coming into this fight but somehow scored a draw after three rounds; the extra round proved to be too much and Buakaw went home as the new MAX champion.
2005 Andy Souwer
2005 brought us another Dutch MAX champion in Andy Souwer. Andy is very well accomplished kickboxer with many world titles to his name. In this years tournament his fellow countryman, the late great Rammon Dekkers, also fought. Dekkers wasn’t in the MAX tournament but fought Duanne Ludwig in a 70kg super fight.
Andy’s final eight started with a three round points win over Takayuki Kohiruimaki. Next, he moved on to face Yasuhiro Kazuya, who he defeated quickly in the first round. The final stage was not unlike last year’s, with contender versus reigning champion. Andy was up against Buakaw and they both had their work cut out. Buakaw seemed to be winning, but Andy’s fast counters and excellent boxing was also catching the judges’ eyes. After three rounds it was a draw – and still a draw after an extra round! The two men fought yet another extra round, with Andy Souwer clinching the final decision after a non-stop five-round war.
This year Buakaw was to make history by being the first man to win the MAX tournament twice. In doing so he was also able to get revenge for last year’s defeat, securing it with a knock-out victory in the second round of the final over Andy Souwer. On his way to the top this year, Buakaw knocked out Japanese Yoshihiro Sato in the quarter finals, and the exciting Armenian fighter Gago drago in the semi-final. Buakaw had trained his boxing extensively for this tournament and it really showed – he came back a new kind of animal.
Here’s another video of this legendary fighter. Buakaw still fights but is currently having some contractual issues, hopefully it wont be too long before we see him back in full force.
2007 Andy Souwer
Just a year prior, nobody thought that any one man could win the MAX more than once. Buakaw was the first, and just the very next year Andy Souwer became the second man to be twice-crowned K-1 MAX champion. This year Andy was faster and stronger than ever, his attacks were punishing and his counters without hesitation. He beat Gago Drago in the Quarter’s with a second round knock-out, a points victory over fellow Dutchman Albert Kraus in the semi’s, and lastly a TKO victory in the final over Masato. In the final Andy was set to kill from the first bell, clocking on that Masato’s legs were still weak after his earlier battles. Boxing combinations leading into hard leg kicks won the fight.
Taking the K-1 MAX crown twice means you are one bad man. Andy is a ferocious champion.
Masato had said that it was in his astrology to not fight after he was 30. This year he was 29 and it was to be his last run at claiming his own double MAX championship. The format was slightly different this year and the next, the fighters still having to qualify regionally, then as a final sixteen, then eight. The difference now was that the final four would fight on another day.
Masato qualified for the final four and started with an exciting fight against countryman Yoshihiro Sato; the fight went to an extra round decision in Masato’s favour. The final round was against Ukraine’s Artur Kyshenko, a young and powerful fighter. Again the fight would go to the extra round, with Masato emerging once again as K-1 MAX champion. He would have two more fights with K-1 before retiring.
From beginning to end, Masato was an extremely popular fighter. He stands out as one of my all time favourite kick-boxers too.
2009 & 2010 Giorgio Petrosyan
Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan was to become this year’s champion, exploding onto the scene and raising the bar when it comes to technical precision. Petrosyan is an Italian kickboxer, originally from Armenia.
Petrosyan knocked out his semi-final opponent in the first round – Japan’s Yuya Yamamoto was quickly dispatched with surgical accuracy, moving Petrosyan on to the final. It was here that the two-time K-1 MAX champion Andy Souwer was thrown to the ground, tripped and stunned; no mean feat, earning Petrosyan the K-1 MAX crown. I wrote a little about him already in my article “10 Counter Fighters with Excellent Defensive Skills“.
Petrosyan would also go on to win next year’s K-1 MAX tournament. In 2010 the tournament returned to the old format, having the final eight compete on one event. It is much harder but it proves that these men are the greatest strikers in the world. 2010’s MAX had Petrosyan face-off against Albert Kraus, Mike Zambidis and finally, Yoshihiro Sato. He would beat them all to a unanimous points decision, securing his legacy as the two consecutive years’ K-1 MAX champion.
2012 Murthel Groenhart
In 2011 there was to be no MAX tournament, the K-1 organisation was suffering financial problems and nothing seemed to go to plan. Fast forward to 2012, with the new chairman paying all fighters still owed an additional 50% bonus for their trouble, but most importantly – K-1 MAX was brought back.
In 2012, the victor would bring the crown back to Holland. Murthel “The Predator” Groenhart is a Dutch-Surinamese fighter who lives up to his fight name. He won the quarter-final match against Yasuhiro Kido with a first round knock-out. The semi-final wouldn’t go much longer against Mike Zambidis; a second round TKO moved Murthel to the final against Kyshenko. Having fought less than three rounds so far, Murthel was visibly the fresher fighter; by the third round he was able to wear down and finally knock out Kyshenko.
K-1 MAX Rules!
Here’s a video to celebrate many K-1 MAX fighters. If you are like me, this will get you pumped up to train!