K-1 MMA Event Shaping Up

By Tim Leidecker Feb 10, 2008
For the past five years, K-1 promoter Fight Entertainment Group has tried to gain a foothold on the MMA market with mixed results.

On one hand, FEG still holds attendance records -- both in Japan and in North America -- for the co-promoted Dynamite shows in 2002 and 2007 respectively. On the other hand, FEG's regular event series for the past three years, HERO'S, has never managed to do more than two good shows per year.

The brainchild of former pro wrestling and RINGS promoter Akira Maeda (Pictures), HERO'S has featured many established stars like Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures), Bob Sapp (Pictures), Melvin Manhoef (Pictures), Caol Uno (Pictures), Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) and Vitor Ribeiro (Pictures) and has even created two new stars in Grand Prix champions Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures) and Gesias Calvancante (Pictures). However, the event has been often criticized for lacking focus and continuity.

Although nothing has been confirmed, the news all over Tokyo is that Maeda has been ousted from the company after three years in charge. The 49-year-old Maeda has already devoted his attention to a new event called "The Outsider," which is going to focus on amateur MMA.

FEG's Mirei Sugimoto has confirmed that the company's first MMA show of 2008 is going to take place on March 15. The promotion has not decided who will be in charge of the creative direction of the series, though.

On the possible continuation of the working relationship between FEG and members of former Pride promoters Dream Stage Entertainment, Sugimoto said, "Nothing [is] really confirmed on the matter of working with former DSE staff, [but] since we had a great success on the December 31 event working with them, we are looking forward to continuing this relationship."

What makes this convenience marriage problematic is that many former DSE employees -- including producer Daisuke Sato, narrator Fumihiko Tachiki and announcers Kei Grant and Lenne Hardt -- have aligned themselves with upstart promotion World Victory Road. WVR is a realistic threat to the throne K-1 has held in the Japanese MMA scene following the collapse of Pride.

Although some may argue that this quartet only provides the icing to a show and that FEG could still use the manpower of other former DSE members concerning ticketing, promotion and matchmaking, the production team really is the most valuable asset left of the former Pride empire. After all, they provide the unique feel of a show.

Consequently, it appears highly unlikely that FEG will have the team work their own shows and those of the competition.

Despite the creative direction still being up in the air -- there was a rumor that the event series may be renamed to give the audience the feeling of a fresh start -- FEG has already started booking fighters for the March 15 show.

Headlining the event will be Shooto 167-pound champion Shinya Aoki (Pictures) and two-time Hero's 155-pound Grand Prix winner Gesias Calvancante (Pictures). The duo was originally set to meet at the Yarennoka New Year's Eve show at Saitama Super Arena, but the lightweight fight had to be postponed due to a knee ligament injury that the Brazilian sustained in training.

"JZ Calvan," as the 24-year-old Calvancante is billed in Japan, will be joined by ATT teammates Denis Kang (Pictures) and Marcelo Garcia (Pictures) on the card. Also fighting will be former Shooto 154-pound champion Joachim Hansen (Pictures), talented Brazilian Muay Thai specialist Andre Amade (Pictures) and former UFC heavyweight contender Jeff Monson (Pictures). Each fighter has discussed his participation in the event with various sources.

While there are no fights officially confirmed besides Aoki versus Calvancante, the rumor that Monson will take on former Pride top heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov (Pictures) remains persistent.

Kharitonov, a member of Team Golden Glory in Holland, was scheduled to fight on New Year's Eve. However, his duel with kickboxer Siala Siliga (Pictures) was scrapped after "Mighty Mo" was injured in his K-1 World Grand Prix Final reserve match against Paul Slowinski three weeks earlier.

A fair share of Japanese fighters like Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures), Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures), Katsuyori Shibata (Pictures) and Caol Uno (Pictures) are expected to participate on the card as draws for the Japanese fans.
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