You may be familiar with K-1's format. They hold two World Grand Prix tournaments a year, a heavyweight one and a 70kg one (K-1 MAX). Recently they've started a -63kg tournament as well. With K-1 being the pinnacle of the sport in past years up until this year, every fighter had a goal to compete in K-1 and win a world grand prix. The problem? With only 2 weight classes and the -63kg tournament pretty much being all Japanese, where does everyone else in between fit in? Where do the fighters in between get exposure from? We'll go over just how K-1 has influenced fighters and how the recent lull in action from them has created a new outlook on weight classes.
With K-1's recent lull in action, many other promotions are stepping up to the plate and putting on big cards. Many fighters that fight in K-1 are appearing on these big cards. With K-1 not paying fighters and with no one having a clue if they'll do any heavyweight or -70kg MAX GP this year, fighters have to find a way to make money. The great thing about the rising promotions like It's Showtime and Ultimate Glory is that more weight classes are being utilized. K-1 only uses two 2 weight classes and everyone in between those two are a bit stuck.
We've seen many fighters fighting way above or way below their natural weight class because of K-1's format. Melvin Manhoef has been fighting Super Heavyweights when his optimal weight class is -85kg. Manhoef did fight in It's Showtime's 85MAX division and won the title. The thing is, the big money and most exposure was in K-1. Despite winning the 85MAX Title in It's Showtime, Manhoef never defended it and continued to fight in K-1. You have to wonder, if K-1 was not around or it used more weight classes, just how different would Melvin Manhoef's career be? For giving up so much weight, Manhoef was quite successful. It would be interesting if he would've had all his fights at 85MAX instead of fighting Super Heavyweights.
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Part of It's Showtime's emergence as a top dog in the kickboxing world has come in part due to K-1s current lull in action. What It's Showtime is trying to do is to bring attention to the other weight classes. Guys who aren't fighting in K-1 are often unheard of to a lot of kickboxing fans. A lot of casual fans seemed to have the mentality that if you ain't in K-1, you ain't shit. So all these weight classes between and below K-1's divisions have been pretty much unheard of to a lot of kickboxing fans for years. Fans who follow kickboxing closely likely know and like them, but when there's many people who think K-1 is synonymous with kickboxing, all these other great fighters are being left in obscurity.
If you've been following kickboxing lately, you've probably seen many great fights and fighters fighting outside of Heavyweight and -70kg. Who could forget Amir Zeyada vs. Sahak Parparyan at -85kg a week ago? Or Yohan Lidon vs. Marat Grigorian at -73kg 2 weeks ago? Khalid Bourdif vs. Murthel Groenhart? All 6 of these fighters are stuck in the middle of K-1's weight classes and they're all great fighters who deliver great fights. Many more fighters in these weight classes will start to get the recognition they deserve, we hope.
I think it's still likely that It's Showtime would've had a big year with or without K-1 being around and putting on shows. It's just the absence of K-1 really helps bring all these other great fighters some exposure. Now guys can fight where they feel comfortable instead of forcing themselves way up or way down to compete in K-1. Just yesterday we got to see Artur Kyshenko and Nieky Holzken fight at a much more comfortable weight class for both of them at United Glory. If the fight were in K-1, I think it's pretty likely that both guys would be pretty weight drained and we wouldn't have seen as great a fight as we did. Although not at a true weight class (They fought at a catchweight of 74kg.), it was a great weight for both.
If K-1 ever dies, doesn't start paying fighters or focuses only on Japanese talent, the kickboxing landscape could undergo drastic changes. K-1 no longer being the pinnacle of the sport would have a big impact on what weight fighters are fighting at. With the way It's Showtime is emerging as the #1 organization in kickboxing, and how kickboxing outside of K-1 is slowly getting recognition. We'd likely see a lot less guys like Melvin Manhoef and Gokhan Saki fighting Super Heavyweights and instead new stars emerging in the -85kg and -95kg divisions.
The process of other weight classes getting recognition won't happen all of a sudden, it'll take some time. If things are going the way they are right now, we can hope that gradually over time guys in weight classes like -73kg, -85kg, etc. can start being recognized as the true world class kickboxers that they really are. The current landscape of kickboxing is in a position where big changes can happen.
We have to wonder, if K-1 does stay around, can other weight classes still get recognition? I think the answer would be yes, but to a lesser degree. As I said before, It's Showtime is making a big charge and starting to get the kickboxing world outside of K-1 some recognition. They won't make their name synonymous with kickboxing but hopefully they can bring some light to the whole sport of kickboxing and make people realize that there's more than just K-1 and that there's more than just 3 weight classes that have world class fighters. This plays a big factor in the way the kickboxing world plays out in the future and can cause a shake up in the type of talent we see at Heavyweight/Super Heavyweight.
The bottom line is, more weight classes need to be showcased. More weight classes showcased equals more great fighters and fights being showcased. I'm not saying that we need as many weight classes as boxing to be showcased, but we need the basic 135-Super Heavyweight structure to get exposure. It's Showtime is going in the right direction with having -61kg, -65kg, -70kg, -73kg, -85kg, -95kg and 95kg+. In general the awareness of more weight classes can bring more overall awareness to the sport of kickboxing. Kickboxing doesn't need to be based on organizations like MMA is, it should be based on the overall worldwide landscape of fights. With K-1, to most the whole sport of kickboxing is based on K-1, much like to many the whole sport of MMA is based on the UFC. Now without much action from K-1, we're hearing of great events and great fighters from all over who we've never seen before. In the end, it's all positive for the sport.