It is really hard in 2012 to be a K-1 apologist. I'm not sure that I can even consider myself one at this point, as I've said my piece against K-1 for quite a while now. They were doing what could quite simply be called terrible business. It was bad for the fans, it was bad for the fighters, it was bad for the managers, it was bad for the trainers and it was bad for the sport. What was worse is that if you knew how messed up K-1 was behind the scenes, it was coming from twenty miles away like an out of control train waiting to derail.
If you want to know when things started to go downhill for K-1, look no further than its founder, Kazuyoshi Ishii. In 2002 he was charged with tax evasion, as he subtracted well over 100 million yen from K-1's taxable income to save K-1 from millions in taxes. The charges were for tax evasion in the late 90's, which during all of this meant that Ishii had to step down and something had to happen with the K-1 name. Around this time, Fighting Entertainment Group (FEG) was founded, and former professional wrestling writer Saduaru Tanikawa was placed in charge. It is important to note at this point, that K-1 at this point is wholly owned and operated by FEG and is no long its own operation. Sure enough, Ishii is then found to of concealed another 530 million yen and was arrested in 2003, and in 2004 is sentenced to a paltry twenty two months in prison.
FEG kept things business as usual, for the most part, with many simply seeing Tanikawa as an extension of Ishii and simply doing his will. As Ishii's legal troubles continued on, outside of the realm of K-1 for this part, FEG was having its own financial woes, with 2006 almost being the year of critical mass. There is talk of loans and other deals that would lead to serious problems down the line to keep K-1 alive at the time, with most of it being completely obscured from the public eye. K-1 chugged on, eventually gaining a partnership with HDnet in the United States to air their programming and were even looking to enlist HDnet to assist in booking suitable arenas within the US.
Finally, in 2010 the company began to crumble. Reports began surfacing of fighters who had yet to be paid by FEG and the projected show schedule was quite simply not happening. About mid-year things began to look bleak as I was hearing reports that FEG was broke, bankrupt, kaput. The reports of unpaid fighters and canceled shows were increasing at a fever pace and then-head of FEG's USA offices Mike Kogan quite simply had no answers other than he was concerned where his next pay check was going to come from. FEG stumbled through 2010 after some misfires with Chinese investment bank PUJI claiming to be helping them find investors. Lots of reports were coming out that PUJI and investors were asking for the FEG offices to either be completely disassembled or at least restructured.
2011 saw a lot of posturing from a lot of people and K-1 putting on a few smaller shows, mainly featuring local, lower-weight class talent. Most of K-1's "roster" for 2011 was simply on loan from smaller kickboxing promotion KRUSH. During this amount of time, It's Showtime's Simon Rutz was being very vocal about where K-1 was headed, with Tanikawa firing back that "Simon Rutz is trying to destroy K-1." At the same time, Bas Boon and Frederico Lapenda were attempting to secure the rights to K-1 for Golden Glory. Also during this time period, what seemed like out of nowhere, the rights to the K-1 brands were transferred to a real estate investment firm, Barbizon. FEG had no problems putting on their shows with K-1's rights on loan from Barbizon it seemed, but that was short-lived. The fever pitch rose yet again as talks of who was buying K-1 were intensifying. Then, to cloud matters even more, Kazuyoshi Ishii announced FIKA, the Federation International K-1 Association. It was to be his grand "world cup of K-1" idea finally realized, the rebirth of K-1. At the press conference we even saw Bas Boon of Golden Glory alongside the Hightower Semmy Schilt standing arm-in-arm with Ishii. At that point, it seemed that Bas Boon had gotten into bed with Ishii to form a superpower and take K-1 to the next level.
So we thought.
While Bas Boon was sleeping, the mysterious "Mr. Kim" that had his name floating around in the race for K-1 swooped in and purchased the rights to the K-1 name, likeness and brands. It turns out that Mr. Kim is the chair of a corporation, EMCOM Entertainment and that K-1 Global was a subsidiary of EMCOM. What was odd is that we didn't hear this from EMCOM, we heard it from Simon Rutz of It's Showtime. The rumor had long been that Rutz and Mr. Kim were working together to attain the rights to K-1, and it does go hand-in-hand with the comments made by Tanikawa that Rutz was trying to "kill" whatever Tanikawa had. We heard from numerous It's Showtime fighters and their trainers that they were being offered 50% of the money owed to them by FEG by K-1 Global's Mr. Kim as an act of good faith.
Now, I've heard a lot of speculation about this, and what it comes down to is the following; if FEG is involved, offering fighters 50% of the money that they are owed for a contract to fight is essentially blackmail. If K-1 Global is what I believe it to be and has no relation to FEG, it is an act of good faith and should be applauded. It can also be noted that Total Sports Asia who is working with Golden Glory has paid Glory fighters who signed with them 100% of what they were owed, but Glory is an entirely different promotion and the number of fighters owed substantial sums is less than what It's Showtime and K-1 Global are dealing with.
K-1 Global is an entirely different company than what FEG's K-1 was. The name is still K-1 and there will be a lot of the same fighters, but it is not the same company. K-1 the company that we knew ceased to exist a while ago. I was reading Zach Arnold's take on the situation earlier, and while I understand what he is saying, I disagree with the premise at this point. There are a lot of "if's" in this situation, but going by the facts available right now, if we take them at face value, K-1 Global is a different company than FEG's K-1 and is not based out of Japan. So the idea that no television in Japan will be a death blow or that Ishii is still involved seem to not be the case this time around. There is a very good chance that I'm wrong, but for the time being, it does not seem that way.
This "new" K-1 should be given a chance as long as they steer clear of the problems that plagued K-1 in the past. As long as they are looking to keep Japanese mafia, Kazuyoshi Ishii and FEG away from what they are doing now, fans should remain optimistic for the future, or at least give them a chance. This iteration of K-1 is looking to focus on China, Europe and the United States as opposed to simply focusing on a Japanese-centric audience. All involved understand the situation of Japanese martial arts and that the risk of promoting there as a home base is simply not a viable solution.
Dave Walsh has been covering MMA and Kickboxing since 2007 before changing his focus solely to Kickboxing in 2009, launching what was the only English-language site dedicated to giving Kickboxing similar coverage to what MMA receives. He was the co-founder of HeadKickLegend and now LiverKick. He resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he works as a writer of all trades.
His second novel, Terminus Cycle, launches on March 24th.