Souwer Reclaims K-1 MAX Crown

By Jason Nowe and Stephen Martinez Oct 3, 2007
TOKYO, Oct. 3 -- After a night of feverish fisticuffs and knockouts at the Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo, kickboxing's "Elite Eight" field of 155-pound fighters from around the world was whittled down to just two: Dutch Shootboxing veteran Andy Souwer (Pictures) and K-1 MAX Japanese golden boy Masato.

Neither fighter was a stranger to the finals or to each other. In 2003, Masato defeated Albert Krauss to take the championship, and in 2005 Souwer defeated Thai wrecking machine Buakaw Por.Pramuk to take the crown.

This year's championship bout was in fact a rematch of the 2006 K-1 MAX semifinals, in which Souwer defeated Masato before being knocked out by the eventual king, Por.Pramuk.

Masato came out furiously off the opening bell and maintained the aggression throughout. Souwer, traditionally a slow starter, hung back and mostly covered during the first half of the round, scoring vicious low kick counters after Masato's big hand combinations.

Typically in Souwer's bouts, the Dutch ace comes to life in the second round, unleashing pinpoint punching, big combinations and brutal leg kick counters.

Indeed this was the case tonight. After defending a barrage of punches just off the second round's opening bell, Souwer countered with some well-placed fists of his own that had Masato reeling back.

Souwer continued to score with jabs and well-timed counterpunching, eventually scoring three unanswered low kicks to Masato's left leg. At that point the chink in the fiery Japanese kickboxer's armor began to show, as his knee began to buckle upon each subsequent impact.

Sensing that the end was near, Souwer turned up the heat and continued to pound on Masato's left leg. In the closing seconds of the round, Masato was in real trouble, limping from the damage that he sustained and just making it to the bell. If there had been another 10 seconds in the round, a knockout or referee stoppage would have been very likely.

Masato's cornermen sat their fighter down facing the ring post and examined his leg while Souwer stood in his corner. As the referee signaled for the start of the round, Masato remained seated with his back to the ring, talking with his corners. A few seconds later, the Japanese fighter's corner threw in the towel, thus making Andy Souwer (Pictures) the K-1 MAX 2007 Champion.

With this repeat of his 2005 K-1 MAX title, Souwer placed himself alongside fellow two-time champion Buakaw Por.Pramuk as the most dominate 155-pound fighter in K-1.

Souwer's first challenge on his way to the finals was tough Armenian fighter Drago.

As per his usual style, the Dutch fighter started out slow. He circled the ring, mostly covering up and countering his hard-punching opponent.

In the second, Souwer really turned up the heat, knocking his opponent's head back with pinpoint-accurate punching. After some more jousting, a strange sense of deja vu filled the arena as Souwer ended the fight in the exact same way he ended his bout with Danish fighter Ole Laursen (Pictures) in June.

Just as Drago was stepping in for a punch, Souwer connected with a perfectly timed right hook that sent his opponent unconscious to the canvas at the 1:43 mark of the round.

After clearing Drago, "The Battle Of Holland" ensued, as Souwer faced off against 2002 K-1 MAX Champion, fellow Dutchman Albert Krauss.

Krauss, who dispatched Yoshihisa Sato in the quarterfinals, continued to show his boxing prowess in the bout by linking together excellent combinations, especially off his right-hand uppercut on the inside.

This bout was definitely for the boxing fans, with both fighters piling on the leather. Souwer scored the better counters, especially with his low kicks, but Krauss almost never stopped punching, particularly in the third round.

The match was very, very close after three rounds, but Lady Luck was on Souwer's side, and the Dutch fighter took the majority decision to advance to the finals.

On the other side of the bracket, popular Japanese fighter Masato faced off against Buakaw Por.Pramuk in a quarterfinal bout. This was a huge test for the K-1 golden boy against the tough Thai fighter who had thoroughly beaten him in the 2004 K-1 MAX finals.

In that bout three years ago, Por.Pramuk manhandled Masato for all three rounds. However, extremely biased K-1 judges called for an extra round, a move that caused an uproar over K-1 "hometown" judging practices and lead to a subsequent investigation by the company's management. Masato hung on in the extra round, but he still lost the decision.

Masato had three years to think about the loss and now had a chance for revenge.

Despite what some may think about Masato's look outside the ring, nobody can deny his skills. The moment that he stepped into the ring with Por.Pramuk, and all the time thereafter, the K-1 poster boy was absolutely on fire.

Masato came out blazing, connecting furious jabs and hooks to the two-time champion's head. He kept the charge going until he had dropped Por.Pramuk with a big right hand, forcing his opponent to take a standing-eight count. On the restart, Masato continued to punch away, putting the Thai fighter in a place he's almost never seen in the K-1 ring -- trouble -- for the closing seconds of the round.

The second and third rounds saw Masato use his vicious in-close uppercuts, followed by hooks to the head and body, to chip away at a seemingly indomitable Por.Pramuk. The hand speed of the Japanese fighter was awe-inspiring, allowing him to tag his opponent before Por.Pramuk could react.

By the final bell, it was obvious to the fans, the judges and even to Por.Pramuk that Masato had earned a unanimous victory and revenge.

The second hurdle in Masato's road to the finals was Ukrainian kickboxer Artur Kyshenko.

Kyshenko, a relatively new import to the promotion, had scored four wins in four fights since joining the ranks of K-1 MAX. In his quarterfinal match-up against Mike Zambidis, the Eastern European fighter used his considerable reach to keep the hard-hitting Greek at bay. The strategy nullified Zambidis' vicious body shots and allowed Kyshenko to score a decision victory after an extra round.

In the first round of his semifinal bout with Masato, Kyshenko looked very good, again using his reach to upset his opponent's offense and land clean shots.

In the second however, Masato showed why he's a top-tier contender, very quickly turning the tables on his 21-year-old opponent with pinpoint punching off the bell that sent Kyshenko to the mat. The Ukrainian fighter couldn't beat the count, giving Masato the victory and a ticket to the finals.

In the night's reserve bout, IBF middleweight boxing champion turned kickboxer Virgil Kalakoda gave Takayuki Kohiruimaki a boxing lesson. Kalakoda closed the distance and unleashed with tight hooks to the head and body, effectively disabling the somewhat one-dimensional Japanese fighter from using his best weapon, his kicks. In the third round Kalakoda kept up the barrage until he eventually scored the KO victory with a punch combination.

In non-tournament bouts, Korean Su Hwan Lee won a decision over Seido Kaikan fighter Kazuya Yasuhiro (Pictures).

HIROYA also defeated Kwon Eol Zang by unanimous decision.
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