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Fletch Blog: A Few Exclusives and Whatnot

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So, I've been sat spinning tales around the campfire for a while now, and I've got a couple of recent ones from the interviews that I've been fortunate enough to conduct in the past week or two. From the Slamma at BAMMA to chatting to Mike Passenier and Paul Daley, to James McSweeney and last night down at Bad Company gym in Leeds, me and my trusty iPod emerged from our dingy basement and got out in the world to ask questions. So, here's a couple of the nuggets of info I retrieved:

 

*James McSweeney (the now 4-7 win/loss BAMMA Heavyweight) was offered a shot at the It's Showtime 95MAX (Cruiserweight, 95kg) world title.

The belt was vacated after Tyrone Spong failed to defend it within two years, and was contested for on Sunday by Wendell Roche and Danyo Ilunga. It makes me wonder what the deal is - McSweeney had a degree of success in Muay Thai, winning British and European titles and even a 'world' title, but surely there were more deserving candidates for a shot at what is - in the absence of Light-Heavy/Cruiserweight divisions in K-1 - perhaps the most prestigious and important 'world' title in kickboxing between 90-95kg? For the Americans, that is roughly 198-210lbs.

 

*Stefan "Blitz" Leko is retired ~ Mike Passenier.

What can I say? Ever the professional, I blurted out "no!" and audibly groaned when Mike let slip during our interview that my joint-favourite thai-boxer (with Manhoef) had finally called it a day. If so, I mourn the loss of a man who seemed destined to achieve K-1 greatness at the level of Aerts (who he beat twice), Bonjasky (who he beat), Hoost (who he took the distance) and teammate Semmy Schilt, only to seemingly miss his big window of opportunity when - as the-then #1 ranked K-1 heavyweight on a hot streak - he was axed from K-1 just prior to the 2003 World Grand Prix Final, which he was being widely tipped to win.

Still, the resume that includes being K-1 European Grand Prix champion, K-1 Dream tournament champion, two-time K-1 World Grand Prix USA winner, two-time World Heavyweight Thai-boxing champion and three-time World Super-Heavyweight kickboxing champion, is a C.V that 99% of all fighters would die to retire with, not to mention holding wins over Peter Aerts (x2), Alexey Ignashov (x2), Badr Hari, Remy Bonjasky and many more. Leko retires after a glorious career. Legend, yes or no? He is to me.

 

*Melvin Manhoef has not defended his It's Showtime 85MAX (Light-Heavyweight) world title, because there are no fighters at 85kg willing to face him for the belt.

It is likely he will end up being stripped, as Tyrone Spong was. Manhoef won the belt against relative unknown Denes Racz, on an It's Showtime card in August 2009 that took place in Hungary. Racz is Hungarian. A low key title win, and then no defences in nearly two years. Such a shame, as to me, Melvin in near unbeatable at his own weight class in stand-up fighting, and it is hard to envision anyone upwards of 77MAX and even up to the best at 95MAX being able to beat him. As my next point will highlight, Melvin wont be competing for the title at 95kg anytime soon, but even in that division he looks pretty strong, in the absence of Saki and Spong. So, in terms of 85kg... what could have been the most dominant, destructive, brutal kickboxing world championship reigns of all time will be cut short after two years of non-activity, due to lack of opposition. As a Manhoef fan, it's sad.

 

*Nenad Pagonis of Mike's Gym is in line to face Danyo Ilunga for the It's Showtime 95MAX title.

Mike Passenier told me a week prior to the vacant belt being fought for by Wendell Roche and Germany's Ilunga, that "Pagonis will fight the winner". He added that for this reason, Manhoef would not be competing for the 95MAX world title in the near future, as Pagonis and he are teammates.

 

*Liam Harrison of Leeds will get a rematch with Saenchai Sor Kingstar.

The p4p God of Thailand gave a recent interview in which he stated Harrison was "his favourite opponent. Everything I do to him, he imitates and does back to me. It is fun." Richard Smith of Bad Company says that Liam "is a different fighter now" to what he was when he faced Saenchai the first time around. That could spell trouble for the flashy Thai, as while he is a prodigious, mercurial talent, with 40losses on his record he is not infallible to losing to top competition. (I should point out that nearly all the losses occurred above his natural weight, as no one his size will fight him). The rematch is scheduled for April 9th.

 

*Jordan Watson, also of Bad Company gym in Leeds, was offered a shot at p4p kickboxing king Giorgio Petrosyan, according to Richard Smith, who is head and founder of the camp.

Watson, 22 from Leeds, rose to world prominence last year when he faced off with 2x K-1 World MAX champion Buakaw Por.Pramuk, whom he took to a close decision over 5rds, and then Watson topped off a great year by winning the ISKA World title at welterweight (70kg). While Smith said he witheld the youngster from the Petrosyan fight for now, the name 'Watson' certainly appears destined to rank alongside those of the other power names at 70kg, such as Petrosyan, Buakaw (who he already almost beat) Souwer, Kraus, Zambidis and Kyshenko.

 

Check LiverKick in the coming days for my video interviews of Richard Smith, Liam Harrison and hopefully Jordan Watson too.

Fletch

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Weekly Poll Results

Results from last week's poll: Who will defeat Giorgio Petrosyan?

42% - Buakaw Por. Pramuk

22% - No one for awhile

8% - Mike Zambidis

8% - Yoshihiro Sato

6% - Andy Souwer

5% - Cosmo Alexandre

4% - Other

2% - Albert Kraus

2% - Pajonsuk

1% - Gago Drago

This week: UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva showed some amazing striking this weekend with his front kick KO of Vitor Belfort.  There's no doubt he is one of the greatest strikers in MMA history, but how would those skills translate to K-1?

How do you think Anderson Silva would do if he started competing in K-1?

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2010 LiverKick.com Fans' Kickboxer of the Year: Alistair Overeem

If you'll remember way back, way back to a few weeks ago, we ran a poll on LiverKick.com to determine who you, the fans believed to be the kickboxer of the year in 2010. There really was not much of a gamble involved in this, as it was going to come down to one of the two K-1 World Grand Prix Champions, either heavyweight or MAX. Even then, it seemed like a no-brainer as to who the fans were going to vote for, due to his popularity in Mixed Martial Arts and now holding three combat sports world championships, affording him a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records.

That's right, Alistair Overeem.

Alistair Overeem ended 2008 by knocking out Badr Hari, which many conceived to be insanity at the time. Overeem was a MMA fighter with a losing kickboxing record from when he was just a kid. We all knew that Alistair Overeem was a good, not great MMA fighter and was best known for making Cro Cop's testicles hurt, a lot. For the rest of 2009 he had dedicated himself to a K-1 career, which incited Western fans who just wanted the absurdity that was the Strikeforce title situation to come to an end. Alistair Overeem was living out a dream in 2009, which was competing with the best kickboxers in the world and holding his own, while fighting MMA fights to keep himself active in between. If anything, people should have taken a step back and looked at the sheer brilliance of what his manager, Bas Boon was doing. Bas Boon was creating the next big international breakout star, something the world of fighting had not seen since the days of PRIDE.

Of course Overeem's dedication to his training, his diet and keeping a sound mind are things he himself has to accomplish, but Bas Boon's role in the whole thing is that of a mastermind. Fans cried out that Overeem was ducking fighters, but Bas Boon was signing the contracts and negotiating for different fights. In a way, it follows the old professional wrestling rules where you build a monster up through public slaughterings of lesser opponents while still placing him in real competition. The real competition in 2009 for Overeem was the K-1 World Grand Prix.  He did better than anyone really expected of him and built up a big enough name for himself to where 2010 he had another shot at K-1 glory.

2010 was the year of "the Reem." 2009 ended with a strategic slaughtering of Kazuyuki Fujita, which Western fans once again complained was not elite competition, but was a solid name who was once a very competitive gatekeeper in the heavyweight division. The Yokohama GP show in April was meant to be sort of a "Feature" show for certain fighters going into the Final 16, and Overeem was one of them, being given an opponent of a tough, but outmatched Dzevad Poturak. Contrary to popular belief, this was very real competition and Overeem proved a lot in a dominant victory. Overeem defended his Strikeforce title, while was enough to calm some of the rabid Western fans (not all, you can never please them all), and then finished out 2010 with a flawless K-1 record, ripping Ben Edwards to shreds at the Final 16, scoring a tough decision over Tyrone Spong in the quarterfinals, stopping an injured Gokhan Saki in the semis and putting an exhausted and injured Peter Aerts down like Old Yeller in the finals.

All throughout this, Overeem's name was kept fresh in everyone's minds. How? Brilliance and marketing. Overeem was in attendance when Fedor Emelianenko was submitted by Fabricio Werdum to challenge the winner, and express his disappointment with Fedor's loss but loved the idea of avenging a previous loss to Werdum later on. Then throughout the year, the viral documentary that followed Alistair Overeem's career, "The Reem" was a hit, making headlines on every website the day a new episode was launched. Marketing, as well as top performances against tough competition made Alistair Overeem a superstar.

In 2011 he looks to defend his K-1 World Grand Prix Championship, his DREAM Heavyweight Championship and enter the Strikeforce Heavyweight GP to defend his title three times in MMA competition. At this point, the line between kickboxer and MMA fighter is blurred, as Alistair Overeem is just The Reem.

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Will Kawajiri throw a wrench in Strikeforce's plans?

On December 6th, MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani broke the story about the Tatsuya Kawajiri/Josh Thomson lightweight match-up that is set to take place just days away at DREAM's DYNAMITE! 2010 show.

Both men have fought and held for numerous championships and have faced some of the best fighters on the planet in their careers. The fight between the two has been talked about since Strikeforce CEO, Scott Coker, announced a working deal with DREAM last summer. Nearly sixteen months later, MMA fans get to see the two top 10 lightweights go head to head. In that time, both men have had nearly polar opposite careers.

At DYNAMITE! last year, Kawajiri won a dominating decision over the tough, Kazunori Yokota. In the first half of 2010 he nursed several injuries and waited for an opportunity to fight Shinya Aoki for the DREAM lightweight title. He was unsuccessful in his July bid when Aoki forced Kawajiri to submit with an Achilles lock barely two minutes into the fight. Thomson also spent the beginning of the year recovering from past ailments. When he returned to the Strikeforce cage in June, Josh Thomson submitted Pat Healy in the third frame in a tougher than expected bout. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion continued his winning ways when he earned a very narrow (and controversial) decision over Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante. With that win, "The Punk" looked like he had positioned himself for a title shot and a rubber match with Gilbert Melendez. So that brings up the question, is the reward of a potential lightweight classic worth risking one of the biggest fights Strikeforce could make in 2011?

I'm sure most fans would say it is. The stylistic match-up between Thomson and Kawajiri almost guarantees fireworks and it's rare to get two top 10 opponents face one another outside the UFC. It's also one of the most compelling and competitive fights on DREAM's New Year's Eve card. However, Melendez vs. Thomson is a proven formula for a fight of the year candidate. Both of their first two fights had MMA fans praising both men's performance and yearning for the next installment. I would personally say that Tatsuya Kawajiri has a very good chance of throwing a wrench in Strikeforce's marquee lightweight championship affair. He has a very similar style to Gilbert Melendez (as evidence by the Melendez/Kawajiri fight in 2006) and Thomson has exactly looked stellar in his past two outings. Kawajiri probably will have some ring rust, but I think he's got a very good chance of going into DYNAMITE! and winning a close decision.

Scott Coker and company don't gain much from a Josh Thomson win. He's already got two solid wins under his belt, and with the nature of his rivalry with Gilbert Melendez, another win really isn't necessary to set up that trilogy fight. If you had to make a list of the biggest fights Strikeforce could make, I'd be comfortable in predicting that Melendez/Thomson III probably cracks the top 5 to 10. There aren't many fights that can be so easily as that one. Melendez/Kawajiri II takes a lot more marketing firepower.

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