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2012's Under the Radar Fighters in Kickboxing

2012 has been a year in kickboxing where new stars have emerged and established themselves as formidable fighters. Like always though, there are some fighters who had great years in 2012 but went under the radar, awaiting an opportunity on the biggest stages of the sport to potentially join the likes of breakout fighters like Murthel Groenhart, Davit Kiria and Sanny Dahlbeck. Much of kickboxing dwells in relative obscurity to many and there are a lot of good fighters that haven't gotten or are waiting on a big opportunity. The purpose of this post is to profile some fighters who had great years in 2012, but ultimately went under the radar.

Franci Grajs

Franci Grajs had a great year where he established himself as the #1 fighter in kickboxing at 85kg. The thing is, 85kg is not very well known by most fans, who are mostly familiar with 70kg and heavyweight. Grajs' performance at the Enfusion: Trial of the Gladiators final was his coming out party, and even though he beat fighters like Sahak Parparyan and Andrew Tate, he still hasn't gotten much recognition outside of this website. That's the nature of kickboxing when it come to divisions that aren't 70kg and heavyweight. 2013 will be a year where the likes of GLORY and K-1 have said they're going to bring in the 85kg division, and hopefully it will be when Grajs gets his big opportunity.

Vitaly Lisnyak

Vitaly Lisnyak has put together a very solid year, winning the W5 Fighter tournament at 60kg. He's gotten better with each fight, showing an increasing adaptation to kickboxing, as he comes from a Muay Thai background. His lone loss on the year came back in May to fellow up and comer Sofian Bougossa, but as aforementioned, Lisnyak has improved significantly since then. W5 did a great job of developing and building up fighters this year, and with 2013 possibly bringing a growth and expansion of W5, expect to see more of Lisnyak there. Despite not being a well known division, the weight range that Lisnyak fights in sees quite a bit of crossover with fighters from around the world, and there are plenty of match-ups out there for him.

Cheick Sidibe

Cheick Sidibe started the year off with a setback, a loss to Artem Levin in March. Of course there's no shame in losing to Levin though. After that, Sidibe has been on a tear, particularly in the last quarter of this year where he's racked up numerous wins over solid competition all over Europe. He's travelled to and won in England, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia this year. He also did fight on It's Showtime's smaller show in Belgium on May 12, where he particularly raised my eyebrows in defeating up and coming Dutch fighter Jason Wilnis, handing him the first loss of his career. That fight was also at 85kg, and similar to Franci Grajs, hopefully Sidibe can get an opportunity on the big stage at that weight next year. He usually fights around 81kg but he looked great in defeating a legitimate and solid 85kg fighter in Jason Wilnis, and has put on very strong performances in all of his other wins.

Vladimir Mineev

Vladimir Mineev is only 22 years old but I'd already consider him past the status of a prospect. He's one of the better 95kg fighters and put together a 6-0 record in 2012. His recent win over Ali Cenik showed that he still has a lot of room for improvement, but it also showed that he can overcome adversity and defeat a solid 95kg fighter. He faced a gradual rise in competition this year and I'd say we can expect more of the same in 2013. His last loss came all the way back at the end of 2010, to Igor Jurkovic, and he even beat Sergei Lascenko back in 2009. It will be interesting to see how Mineev handles a step up in competition and to evaluate his progession. Cenik was a tough fight, but ultimately he passed the test.



Japanese Scene Year in Review: Prospect of the Year

With 2012 winding down and no more Japanese events, outside of GLORY 4 TOKYO/DREAM.18, I have decided to do a 7-part series meant to recap the best of 2012. Starting today, and with a subsequent post each day, I will reveal the Prospect, Upset, Event, Promotion, Knockout, Fight and Fighter of the year for the Japanese kickboxing scene, as compiled by myself.

The title of prospect of the year was a 2-horse race between Hiroki Akimoto and Keisuke Miyamoto. Both captured an MA Kick title in their respective weight class and defeated the men considered the #2 fighters in their weight classes to claim WBC Japan titles. However, the final decision came down to one thing: consistency.

Winner: Hiroki Akimoto (2012 Record: 5-0-0, 3 KO) - Hiroki Akimoto was not the most surprising prospect of 2012, but he was the most impressive. Akimoto went 4-0-0 in 2011, stopping all of his opponents and looked as though he was going to continue that streak in 2012 as he finished his first 3 fights, including a TKO victory over Hiroki Fujisawa to win the MA Kick Featherweight title. That is when the former Koshien finalist took his biggest step up, facing Yosuke Morii, who had filled the void of #1 Featherweight in Japan after Genji Umeno's departure from the weight class, for the WBC Japan title. Akimoto got the toughest fight of his pro career, but won a unanimous decision, earning him the title and the top spot in the division. He followed up with the second biggest win of his career, a unanimous decision over top 5 Featherweight Shunta Ito. For the time being, Akimoto is the hottest prospect in Japan and looks to be unstoppable. He has his sights set on Lumpinee Stadium, but a fight I'm sure most would like to see first is a matchup with Genji Umeno.

Runners-up: Keisuke Miyamoto (2012 Record: 4-1-1, 2 KO) - Like Akimoto, Miyamoto picked up two quality wins and an MA Kick title, stopping Yu Hiramoto in his first fight of 2012 to win it. The quality wins came over NJKF champion Arato in April and then against Ryuya Kusakabe in September to win the WBC Japan title. Kusakabe had been considered the #2 in the division behind Krush champion Shota Takiya. The deciding factor between he and Akimoto was a draw to former Lumpinee Stadium champ Pinsiam Maki and a loss to end his year to Kantapon Sor Aooddanmuang.

SHIGERU (2012 Record: 4-0-0, 0 KO) - SHIGERU was definitely one of the two biggest surprises on this list. If you had asked me who he was about 6 months ago, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell you. He started 2012 with a win over Takahito Fujimaki, netting him the WPMF Japan Super Featherweight title and avenging the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record, a draw against Fujimaki to close out 2011. His next fight was a back and forth affair against Hiroto Yamaguchi which saw both men hit the canvas, but SHIGERU ultimately got the better of his fellow prospect and handed him his first loss. After a defense of his WPMF Japan title in October, he scored the biggest win of his career, defeating Yuji Takeuchi by majority decision. Despite 3 other solid wins, the Takeuchi win put SHIGERU on the map and has him set up for a (hopefully) prosperous 2013.

Nemo (2012 Record: 3-0-1, 0 KO) - Naming himself after the popular Disney/Pixar character was quite applicable, as it is very hard to find out anything about this quickly rising prospect, whose real name is Noriyuki Inoue. His year started with a win at Kick to the Future 1, but took off with a win over Shuichi Wentz in October, Shuichi's first fight since his brutal head kick KO of Romie Adanza in K-1. He followed that up with a win over former top 10 Flyweight Naoki Otsuki which put him in line to fight for the vacant NJKF Flyweight title. He faces the winner of Takashi Saenchaigym vs Shota, which already happened, but there haven't been any results for. From what I was able to find, I believe Takashi won the fight, setting up a rematch of a fight that ended in a draw earlier this year, the only blemish for Nemo in 2012.

Mizuki Inoue (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 1 KO) - The thing that makes Mizuki Inoue so impressive is that she is also a high-level MMA fighter and her 4 wins in MMA have come by submission. Throw in that she has a 4-0 grappling record under the Jewels banner and one might wonder why she's on this list. While only fighting 3 times in Shootboxing, Inoue won a 4 round and a 6 round fight against Shootboxing star Ai Takahashi, while beating MINA's face into a bloody mess in her other fight, winning the Shootboxing 53.5kg Girls S-Cup in the process. She introduced herself to fight fans with a big 2012 and can only go up from here.

Sho Ogawa (2012 Record: 3-1-0, 0 KO) - Ogawa is another of one of the many products of K-1 Koshien and likely its last winner, as he won the 2011 tournament, though it took place this year. He made himself known late last year, making it to the quarterfinals of the Krush Youth GP where he lost to Hiroya, but not without giving him a tough fight. After his Koshien tournament win, he rattled off 3 straight wins, including a win over Minoru Kimura. Unfortunately, he dropped a decision in REBELS to Tatsuya Inaishi in his most recent fight. Despite that, Ogawa seems to be another fighter we can expect to make waves in the Lightweight division in 2013.

Shiro (2012 Record: 2-0-1, 1 KO) - After suffering the first defeat of his career in 2011 to Rui Ebata, Shiro put together an undefeated 2012, beating Daihachi Furuoka in January and Jomrachan Tor Ragu in August, with the draw coming against Rui Ebata in a SNKA title fight. Shiro proved with the draw against Ebata that he is an elite Bantamweight and he has another chance to prove it against Fonphet Chuwattana in January, as Fonphet is the #2 ranked Bantamweight at Rajadamnern Stadium.


Roman Mailov replaces Houcine Bennoui, faces Yuta Kubo at Krush GP 2013

Krush.26 features an eight man, one night tournament in Krush's debuting 67kg division. Originally there were two foreign fighters, Houcine Bennoui and Abdallah Ezbiri, included in the tournament. As of now, there's been a change in one of the non-Japanese fighters participating in the tournament.

Roman Mailov, who just won on December 23 and signed to GLORY this month, will replace Houcine Bennoui and face the tall task of fighting Yuta Kubo at Krush.26 on January 14.

This of course is Mailov's toughest test to date, even though he is coming down in weight from 70kg. Mailov made the move to 70kg this year but judging from his physical appearance it looks like 67kg shouldn't be a problem. It also won't be Mailov's first venture internationally, as he travelled to Germany in September and beat Leo Zulic, just one week after fighting and winning in Russia.

The addition of Mailov reinforces how stacked the card is, as along with the 67kg tournament, there are also a number of other good fights. Full fight card here.


Mirko Cro Cop wants to fight Gokhan Saki in 2013

Mirko Cro Cop's career in combat sports keeps trucking on, with an MMA fight against Shinichi Suzukawa at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2012 on December 31 in Japan. Cro Cop will also fight kickboxing on March 15 in Zagreb, Croatia at another Final Fight event, like the one that took place in March this year. He took to his Facebook page once again where he gave some details about what's happening with his schedule and career.

While Cro Cop says he doesn't have an opponent yet, he stated that he wants to fight Gokhan Saki, saying that Saki is the best kickboxer today. He referenced Andy Hug fighting in Switzerland in the 1990s, fighting top quality fighters and drawing big crowds, something that he would like to do:

"The legendary Andy Hug had an annual event in his native Switzerland and brought only top quality fighters as opponents. Before the home crowd he fought against Bernardo, Aerts, Leko, my small world... So it works. It is my desire for Gokhan Saki to be an opponent because he is the best kickboxer today, but not sure that he will be available in March. I believe that by the end of this year, however, it will be achieved and it will be an excellent match."

Mirko Cro Cop has a potentially busy schedule for the first half of 2013, with the March 15 fight in Croatia, a May MMA fight against Pedro Rizzo at Royal FC in Brazil, and potentially even an MMA fight against Denis Stojnic in Bosnia on February 15, though negotiations are still ongoing. Of course, there's also the K-1 World Grand Prix Final which Cro Cop qualified for, but the last statement from Cro Cop and his manager on that matter was that they don't know what's happening with it or when it will be.


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