It was a night of upsets at the Bellagio as long shot reserve fighter Doug Viney boxed his way to the 2007 World Grand Prix in Las Vegas championship. In a veritable jackpot for the book makers, one after another favored fighters went down in defeat, and at the end of the night it was the man that hadn't even had odds posted that went home with the trophy.
Fawzy vs. Viney
Like the gaming floor of casino, the ballroom at the Bellagio had an air thick with hope and anticipation. Tonight, the fighters met for a last chance to battle for a spot in the sixteen-man Final Elimination at Seoul this September. But the real tournament would begin before the lights, trumpets and pyrotechnics of the opening ceremony. The real tournament began in a sparsely populated ballroom during the reserve match between Mahmoud "Mo" Fawzy (19-1-1 (12 KO's)) and Ray Sefo protégé, Doug Viney (15-5 (9 KO's)).
It was a quick match where Viney demonstrated a knockout power in his arms characteristic of his mentor Ray Sefo. Viney's accuracy and force with his hands found Fawzy unable to respond or cover up, knocking Fawzy to the mat twice in rapid succession. With a right hand followed by an uppercut, Viney finished the match at 2:08 in the 1st in accordance with the WGP‘s two knockdown rule. With a humble bow and a hand raised by Ray Sefo, Viney had made his introduction to the fans of K-1 and preview of what was to come.
Pitchkunov vs. Nakasako
The first of the quarter final matchups saw Kyokushin karate stylist and this year's WGP in Hawaii finalist, Aleksandr Pitchkunov (6-1-1 (3 KO's)) pitted against the tournaments only Japanese fighter, Tsuyoshi Nakasako (18-24-1 (5 KO's)).
Having already made it to the finals this year in Hawaii, Pitchkunov entered the tournament heavily favored to win. With the book makers giving Pitchkunov 2/1 odds compared to Nakasako's 25/1, the match had the dubious distinction of being the tournament's most lopsided match possible.
The fight began with a cautious first round drawing to a close with a restive audience, each fighter exchanging leg kicks and sizing each other up. The second round began with each fighter throwing and audibly connecting with more force. Nakasako came out the aggressor early on, but Pitchkunov was able to escape any serious injury and subsequently took the initiative, opening his arsenal of kicks and connecting with sickening force. Nakasako was subsequently taken to the mat for an eight-count with an uppercut to the chin and quickly thereafter taken down again with a straight jab. Like a gift to the Japanese in attendance his second time on the mat was ruled a trip, allowing Nakasako to finish the round.
Nakasako again opened the third round the aggressor, but quickly found himself unable to deal any damage and while taking heavy blows from Pitchkunov. Nakasako finished the round bloodied and covering up from a relatively cautious and decision-minded Pitchkunov. The bell rang, and it was Pitchkunov's hand raised with a 30-26 unanimous decsion.
Cheek vs. Lee
The second quarter final matchup saw K-1 freshman Rick "Savage" Cheek (19-0 (17 KO's)) touch gloves with Imani Lee (1-2).
The fight was Cheek's return to K-1 after an impressive debut against Mike Sheppard at the 2005 WGP in Las Vegas. The undefeated Cheek started the tournament favored only slightly below Pitchkunov at 5/2 odds. The fight matched the tournament's two largest fighters, Cheek at 276 lbs and Lee a gargantuan 310 lbs, meaning the winner would have at least a 40 lbs advantage moving on into the semifinals.
Round one saw both fighters seemed to be trying out their repetorie of strikes, Imani attempting a spinning back kick (with surprising ease for a man of his size), and Cheek attempting a spinning back hand. Cheek repeatedly danced backwards to avoid Imani's heavy strikes and able to connect with several straight jabs.
Round two saw each fighter throwing with more force and beginning to connect. Cheek landed a spinning back hand and Imani was able to connect a solid kick to Cheek's ribs that resounded through the ballroom. The third round saw Lee determined to finish the fight, charging at Cheek and forcing him against the ropes. Cheek circled to avoid being cornered, obviously preferring to not stand still in front of a charging bull.
Half way through the third round Cheek delivered a belly shot to Lee, which momentarily had Lee doubled over in pain. Seeing blood Cheek followed with a flying knee which connected with the back of Lee's neck as Lee toppled over in pain from the belly blow. With Lee turning away from Lee the referee stopped the fight and gave the victory to Cheek. The audience roared its disapproval with Lee appealing that it had been an illegal groin shot which had doubled him over.
Barry vs. Nordstrand
The evening's third quarter final matchup had the charismatic Ernesto Hoost protégé, Patrick Barry (14-3-1 (8 KO's)), fighting the Swedish professional hockey player and Muay Thai stylist, Rickard Nordstrand (22-16-6 (3 KO‘s)).
From the first bell Barry came out swinging, almost immediately connecting with an overhand right. He proceeded to unleash a deluge of high kicks to Norstrand‘s head, with dreams of a highlight reel KO glimmering in his eyes. Nordstrand managed to escape most of the damage, but was finally taken down for an eight-count by a left high kick. Despite two inadvertent groin shots from Nordstrand, Barry finished out the round pursuing Nordstrand around the ring.
Round two saw Barry quickly able to stagger Nordstrand with solid right kicks to the ribs. Nordstrand delivered another groin strike, and after Barry's had recovered Nordstrand charged across the ring for an attempt at a flying knee. A visably irrated Barry proceeded to punish Norstrand with a staggering right hook and a groin strike of his own. This time, with Nordstrand emerging from recovery, it was Barry who was first to the draw, delivering a solid right leg kick which toppled Nordstrand. Like a tree felled by an axe, Nordstrand was unable to rise again, leaving the referee to raise Barry's hand in victory. KO via leg kick.
Samedov vs. Esh'Chadar
The fourth and final quarter final matchup placed the Belarussian Zabit Samedov (50-5 (26 KO's)) against "...America's best kept secret..." Esh'Chadar "The Dispossesor" Brown Ton (6-1 (3 KO‘s)). Earlier this year Samedov's tenacity in the ring had charmed Dutch fans while advancing to the semifinals in the WGP in Amsterdam. This time would be no different.
The fight started messy when an accidental head but in a clinch bloodied Brown Ton's face. Samedov then proceeded to unleash a litany of spinning back kicks, super-man punches and hooks. Brown Ton was driven around the ring until he finally dropped to one knee, seeking a brief refuge from Samedov's fury while trapped against the ropes. Brown Ton regained his feet only to hear the bell announce the end of the round.
Between rounds Brown Ton sat in his corner bloodied and visably shaken, while across the ring Samedov's eyes sparkled with energy and the faintest of grins.
Round two saw Brown Ton's face wiped clean of blood, but with defeat in his eyes. Samedov circled, stalking his prey, finally dropping Brown Ton to his knees with a spinning heel kick to the ribs. When Brown Ton was unable to rise to his feet the referee stopped the fight, Samedov jumping to the ropes with his hand raised in victory to the roaring crowd.
Viney vs. Pitchkunov
Prior to the semifinal matchups it was announced that Rick "Savage" Creek would be unable to continue due to injuries sustained in the Imani Lee fight, leaving Doug Viney to take his place in the semifinals against Alexsandre Pitchkunov.
The first round saw Viney further enveliing his boxing prowess, taking Pitchkunov into the corner with a flurry of punches. Pitchkunov managed to emerge from the corner on solid feet, but was bloodied from the exchange and remained hesitant throughout the round.
Round two saw a restless audience and little action, with Viney content to counterpunch and Pitchkunov unable to connect. Round three had both fighters reenergized, both exchanging flurries. But a visably fatigued Pitchkunov unable to muster enough force to even phase Viney, despite connecting with a solid left high kick followed by an axe kick to the head. The round ended, with a unanimous decision going to Doug Viney.
Barry vs. Samedow
The second semifinal matchup between Patrick Barry and Zabit Samedov had the audience cheering, most expecting the winner of this match to be victorious in the finals.
Round one began in a dizzying barrage of strikes, as each fighter pushed a frantic pace from the starting bell. Barry left a clinch again reporting a groin strike, with Samedov shaking his head in denial and the audience booing. The action resumed with the smaller Samedov pushing the action, seemingly trying to fatigue the larger Barry. Samedov delivered a series of leg kicks, peppering Barry with welts. Barry connected with left high kick, but only found an unimpressed Samedov dancing and begging him for more.
The second round saw Barry attempting to return Samedov's leg kicks, but with little effect. Samedov took a more cautious tone, pushing Barry back with front kicks, and finally able to take out Barry's feet with a leg kick.
Round three had Barry pushing Samedov againt the ropes and again delivery high kicks with little affect. The two continued to exchange blows, Samedov continuing to ape Barry as the audience roared in excitement. The fight went to the judges, a split decision bringing boos from the audience as it was announced that Samedov had been victorious.
Samedow vs. Viney
For the tournament's final match it was to be Zabit Samedov against the reserve fighter Doug Viney. Going into the fight Viney would be lacking his corner man, Ray Sefo, who had just prior finished his own Superfight matchup with Bjorn Bregy.
The final match began in rapid fashion, with Samedov throwing several high kicks and Viney favoring his hands. Samedov took the worse of the exchange; unable to connect for any great affect while taking uppercuts and straight lefts from Viney.
Round two opened with Viney landing solid right high kick to Samedov's head. Samedov responded in turn with a solid hitting right-left combination. The back and forth continued as they finished out the round, with Samedov characteristically aping Viney and playing to the crowd.
The third and final round of the 2007 World Grand Prix in Las Vegas began with Samedov trying to close in and connect with Viney. Viney continued slip through Samedov's guard, jabbing with impunity. Samedov continued to try high kicks, but with his legs so sapped of strength from his prior bouts he dealt little damage. Viney continued to out box Samedov, at one point staggering Samedov before falling into a clinch.
The bell rang with both fighters raising their hands to victory. But when the score cards were collected it was announced that it would be reserve fighter, Doug Viney, victorious by a unanimous 29-28 decision. Viney celebrated, while a clearly disappointed Samedov turned to the crowd in appeal.
Vondracek vs. Mastov
In the first of the superfights, it was Petr Vondracek (44-19 (23 KO's)) squaring off against Ariel Mastov (10-1 (7 KO‘s)). The bout, arranged during a last minute superfight-shuffle after Chalid "Die Faust" Arrab was unable to obtain a visa into the US, was no less exciting for its short-planned origins.
The fight was an explosive back and fourth, which began in the first round with Mastov taking Vondracek to the mat with an axe kick. Vondracek received an eight count, his eyes rolling in his head as he slumped against the corner. With the return to action karate stylist Mastov opened his full armamentarium of karate techniques, a dazzling display of flying high kicks and spinning back kicks. Vondracek ultimately rallied to corner Mastov, trying to use brut strength in the clinch after technique had failed.
In a reversal of fortune, the action continued in the second round with Vondracek delivering in kind. Mastov was taken down for an eight count with a series of solid rights to the head. Mastov returned to action visably dazed, throwing awkward kicks, failing to connect, and tripping himself to the mat. Vondracek began to punch at will, Mastov only able to cover up against the ropes. Timing Vondracek's leg strikes, Mastov then began catching Vondracek's right leg kicks and pushing Vondracek to the mat. The round ended with one round having gone to each fighter, but Mastov clearly looking the weaker of the two.
The third round began with Mastov delivering punches from inside the clinch and continuing to catch Vondracek's leg kicks to push him to the mat. Vondracek began to persistenly walk forward to press the action. Mastov, seeing a trend in Vondracek's paces, subsequently delivered a spinning heel kick to the midsection of Vondracek, toppling Vondracek to his knees. As the referee began an eight count Vondracek waived off the fight, unable to continue the fight and giving the superfight victory to Mastov.
Mighty Mo vs. Leko
The second superfight matchup saw the heavy hitting 2007 WGP in Hawaii champion, Mighty "Mo" Siligia, against two-time WGP in Las Vegas champion, Stefan "Blitz" Leko (71-54-15-1 (32 KO's) (1 No Contest)). With each fighter having already earned their golden ticket to Seoul this September, the fight offered a preview of the competition to come at this year's Final Elimination.
Fighters entered with Mo the clear hometown favorite, with Leko appearing unphased by the huge weight difference. The first round saw Leko delivering a series of spinning heel kicks, leg kicks, and spinning back hands, while Mo seemed content to bide his time and wait for an opening.
The second round saw Leko landing shots to Mo‘s generous midsection with little effect. Mo tried his trademark overhand right but missed with Leko tripping backwards in avoidance. Mo would attempt the overhand right once more, but only for a glancing blow with little effect.
The third round found Mo obviously fatigued and unable to land any strong shots. Leko persisted with his collection of kicks, though no landing any major blows. The fight ended with the decision going to the judges, who gave a unanimous decision 30-27 in favor of Stephan "Blitz" Leko. The crowd roared in disapproval and left many questioning Mo's conditioning going into Seoul this September.
Sefo vs. Bregy
The third superfight saw K-1 legend Ray Sefo (61-15-1 (49 KO‘s)), looking across the ring at this year's WGP in Amsterdam finalist, the Swiss colossus, Bjorn Bregy (14-7 (8 KO's)). With neither fighter having earned a spot at this year's Final Elimination in Seoul, the bout was the last chance for each to make enough of an impression to earn a "wild card" spot for September.
The fighters entered the ring with Las Vegas resident Sefo clearly the home town favorite. Showcasing Bregy‘s massive size, the fighters touched gloves with Bregy a full head above Sefo. The fight was ultimately a slow plodding match, that saw Sefo unable to break through Bregy's reach and Bregy content to cover up and drop jabs through Sefo's guard.
Round one began cautiously with the crowd eager for action. Bjorn began with his straight jabs easily slipping through, with Sefo repeatedly egging Bregy on with dubious efficacy and scant results. Sefo was able to land some solid leg kicks, but overall it was an actionless first round that left fans restless.
Round two saw little escalation in the action, Bregy continuing with his jabs and Sefo unable to land any good shots. Sefo became visably frustrated as Bregy persistently moved backwards as Sefo tried to close the distance, virtually begging Bregy to stand and fight. Those few times Sefo was able to close the distance, Bregy drew Sefo into the clinch and beared down hard on Sefo's neck.
Round three ended the fight with more of the same. The decision went to the judges, ending in a split decision for Bregy with the crowd booing the loss of both their favorites.
Russel vs. Daniels
In the undercard, fighting at 185 lbs, were Peyton "The Artist" Russel (4-2 (1 KO)) and Raymond "Rio de Janero" Daniels (1-1). It was a brutal opening bout that showcased the fury of the lighter weight classes, which saw Daniels able to deliver a seemingly endless array of spinning back kicks, high kicks, axe kicks, and flying knees. Daniels was able to deliver his blows without fear and seemingly with impunity, in a fashion that could only be described as acrobatic. Bout finally finished in the 3rd via TKO, with Russel taken to the mat three times, once being fully knocked from the ropes.
Hernandez vs. Van Do
In the final undercard matchup, fighting at 115 lbs, were reality television star Ardra "The Mexican Machine Gun" Hernandez (12-1) fighting with Cung Le protégé Van Do (7-3). The three rounds saw neither fighter afraid to exchange blows and with each fighter using punches and leg kicks almost exclusively. Hernandez took the center of the ring during the 1st round, with Do circling the outside. But the last two rounds saw Do taking the initiative, chasing Hernandez towards the outside and delivering combinations. The final bell saw Do's hand raised for a unanimous decision victory.