The big news that we broke on Monday was that K-1 has decided to move to a format that is more standard for combat sports; multiple divisions with champions in each division. For combat sports fans it is a format that we all know very well, as it is a staple in Boxing as well as MMA. For many fans, the idea of K-1 moving away from the tournament structure is blasphemous, as K-1 made its name as a company with its yearly World Grand Prix tournament which has helped to build up stars like Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky, Masato, Buakaw Por. Pramuk and many more.
Of course, K-1 isn’t going to abandon the tournaments altogether, as they plan to run them every few years as opposed to yearly, but for fans the sting is still the same. I’ve seen and heard it all in regards to this news now; K-1 is dead, GLORY rules, etc. The irony here is that even GLORY has moved away from the big tournament format. They ran one 16-man Heavyweight tournament and one 8-man Lightweight tournament before moving to a much more svelte one night 4-man format, which with a reserve fight only takes up four fights on one card.
The truth of the matter is this; the market has changed drastically in the last few years and it is no longer a viable business model to hold these big tournaments. The proof is in the pudding when GLORY held a giant 16-man Heavyweight tournament in Japan and the only way they could sell tickets to the show was to tack on a DREAM card to it and to place the DREAM card before the Kickboxing card to ensure that the arena wasn’t empty. Reports from inside of the stadium were of confusion, dread and boredom when it came to GLORY’s Heavyweight Grand Slam, regardless of the actual quality of the event and the big, recognizable names on the card.
The big tournament format for Kickboxing was forged in Japan in the early 90’s and for that place and time it was a hit. It was what the fans were hungry for and what they were willing to consume. K-1 is no longer a Japanese-centric organization anymore, in fact, their office is in China right now. This is all for good reason, too, as the Japanese fighting market is deader than dead right now. Smaller organizations still exist and draw decent crowds, but Japan has always been a fad-based culture and quite frankly, kakutougi is not in fashion right now.
I think that the occasional tournament will actually hold more weight than a yearly one at this point, especially with the market as fractured as it is right now. As much as fans are willing to immediately extol the benefits of GLORY, the creation of GLORY changed the Kickboxing market for good, fracturing up the fanbase and the talent pool. A good portion of the world’s recognizable Heavyweight talent is currently signed to GLORY’s roster, while the other weight classes are more of a tossup. I’m not sure if makes sense to hold a Heavyweight WGP this year with the talent that is available on the market. The K-1 World Grand Prix is a name that holds weight and is prestigious, I’m not sure that I want just any sixteen names tossed into a pool under the name K-1 World Grand Prix to play make believe like everything is as it was in 2001.
It’s not 2001 anymore, Japan isn’t the booming market that it was and Kickboxing has adapted to work outside of the Japanese market. Part of this adaptation has been showcasing talents from all over the world in different weight classes. There is less of a need for the “freakshow factor” of having huge Heavyweights and Super Heavyweights battling it out like titans while Japanese audiences oooh and ahh. The MAX/70kg division means a lot more right now than a division created to feature the talented and uber-pretty MASATO to draw in younger female crowds.
While we as fans may have appropriated K-1 to mean whatever it is that we feel it was, it doesn’t mean that it always has to be that. The Asian MMA market has reached a point of it being just comical due to the endless attempts to emulate the “feel” of PRIDE FC. PRIDE FC is dead and no low level emulation of PRIDE is going to bring back those memories, much in the same way that those old memories of K-1 World Grand Prixs of past years are just that, memories. There is no better point to hammer this home with than Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky and Semmy Schilt retiring.
The guys managing K-1 now are a new team that were brought in this year, given a mess of an organization and a limited budget and told “fix it.” If everyone really considers themselves such hardcore K-1 fans, you’ll recognize the hard work that has gone into reviving the brand and to do so in a way that promotes growth and restraint, not one that involves tossing millions of dollars away per show in a feeble attempt to pretend that they are healthy. It was precisely that type of promoting that led to the giant collapse of FEG’s K-1 in 2010 and left in its wake fighters who were promised big money contracts without any of that money and no answers. I’d much rather see thought being put into the future of K-1 than K-1 Global performing a blitzkrieg to keep the internet happy, only to implode within a few months and leave fighters unpaid, unhappy and harm the whole sport all over again.