Semmy Schilt and the Underappreciated K-1

By Jake Rossen Dec 29, 2009
Guys like Benny Urquidez and Joe Lewis tried, but kickboxing never drew much attention in the states. It was too weird, too foreign, and too much a departure from the kind of John Wayne hoo-rah Queensbury rule set. It had a chance in the ‘70s, when Bruce Lee had helped inject martial arts into mass culture, but there wasn’t much organization and no real standout personalities. It just withered.

The story took a far different turn in Japan, where K-1 continues to flourish and attendance remains consistent despite a hot/cold reaction in that country to mixed martial arts. K-1 is one of the few promotional systems that works on an elimination basis: qualifying rounds are held all year, culminating in an absolute eight-man tournament and one undisputed champion. Tournament fighting isn’t really fair, and the most talented guy doesn’t necessarily win, but you can get a fairly good idea of who was the most effectively violent in a given year.

For 2009 -- as well as 2005, 2006, and 2007 -- that guy was Semmy Schilt, the 6’11” Dutchman that K-1 broadcast announcer Michael Schiavello (via Fanhouse) recently named the top K-1 heavyweight of the decade. To win four titles in 10 years in a sport as merciless as tournament kickboxing is a pretty significant feat -- though I doubt anyone much cares.

MMA is really the fight elitist’s whole pie: they’re not too interested in individual ingredients. You’ll marvel at the wrestling ability of a Jon Jones or Georges St. Pierre, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever spend an afternoon watching a collegiate meet on public access television; Anderson Silva’s muay Thai is like ballet, but a card from Thailand isn’t going to keep you home on a Saturday.

The thrill is watching how these disparate elements conflict with one another. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the lack of interest in these isolated styles hides some fairly significant achievements. In a month preoccupied with top 10 lists, Schilt should be mentioned more often. Maybe it’s the residual disappointment from his loss to Jason Statham.
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