Kakutogi, Japanese for any hand-to-hand fighting sport, grew big in Japan throughout the 1990s and is now huge. Perhaps the most popular now is K1, a sport established in Japan in 1993 that combines various martial arts to get something that looks like a blend of boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling.
I got to see a K1 event on Tuesday, a national holiday for Autumnal Equinox Day, held in the Saitama Super Arena, connected to the JR Saitama Shintoshin Station on the JR Saikyo Line. A friend had got tickets to the "K1 Olympia Dream 6 Middle Weight Grand Prix 2008 Final Round" event from an old classmate of his who is big in the Japanese kakutogi scene.
We got there at 3pm, and the event got started at 4. The massive stadium was probably about three quarters full. There was a large TV broadcasting presence as it was to be broadcast nationally at 9pm that evening.
Unlike traditional sports, K1 is an over the top showbiz spectacle, all swirling spotlights, strobelights, elaborate computer graphics, pumping music, a totally manic announcer yodelling and trilling each entering contestant's name, grand entrances in silly costumes and exaggerated posturing, and even exploding tinsel showers around the ring on occasion.
What should have been a climax of the afternoon was a fizzer. Fight #11: the Heavy Weight One Match between the firm favorite, Mirko Crocop of Croatia, and a new boy, Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands, began very promisingly with the two massive men first trying to stare each other out before the bell rang, and then engaging in a very tough and bitter struggle.
It soon became apparent though that, strong as Mirko Crocop was, the gargantuanly built Alister Overeem was stronger. He opened a cut beside Crocop's eye which required a couple of breaks to mop up the blood, and soon after that it became clear that Crocop was in serious trouble. In spite of the crowd egging him on with words of encouragement, he basically collapsed to his hands and knees and another break was called.
It was obvious from Crocop's demeanor that his pride had been at least as badly wounded by the young Alistair Overeem as had anywhere on his body. There was a great palaver as people screened Crocop, still on his hands and knees and pulling the bitterest of faces, from view with sheets. After what seemed an age, with the impatient Overeem dancing on his feet in the corner, it was finally announced (to the very patient crowd!) that Crocop was "in no condition to continue". But whereas it was clear that Overeem had completely licked him, it was called a "No contest"!
Grossly unfair to Overeem, I thought, and completely shameless of Crocop and his team. Anyway, Overeem is the new boy on the block, seemed like a much nicer guy than Crocop, and is the man to watch.
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