Michael Schiavello's Top 10 K-1 Heavyweights of the Last 10 Years
1. Semmy Schilt
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 in Paris 2005
Key Wins This Decade: Ernesto Hoost 2005, Glaube Feitosa 2005, Peter Aerts 2006, Peter Aerts 2007, Ray Sefo 2007, Jerome LeBanner 2008, Badr Hari 2009
No fighter has dominated an era in K-1 history like four-time champion Semmy Schilt. The High Tower from Holland is, quite simply, the most powerful K-1 champion in history and a man who dominated the last ten years by breaking K-1's most time-honored records.
Schilt's four K-1 Grand Prix tournament victories is matched only by Ernesto Hoost, but the difference is that Schilt has two of the top three fastest Grand Prix victories of all time (first fastest and third fastest) and won four crowns in four Grand Prix appearances, a feat Hoost cannot match.
Schilt's 5:52 romp through the stacked 2009 Grand Prix tournament is a feat that will most likely never be bettered, smashing Peter Aerts's 1998 Grand Prix record winning time of 6:43. In winning his fourth Grand Prix title, Schilt also remains the only repeat champion in Grand Prix history to never lose a Grand Prix match (he is now 12-0 in the K-1 Grand Prix tournament). Indeed, if you include his win in the 2005 K-1 GP in Paris tournament, Schilt becomes the only fighter in K-1 history to hold a perfect tournament record.
In 2007 Schilt became the first ever K-1 World Super Heavyweight 100+ kilogram champion when he knocked out Ray Sefo (Schilt became the first fighter to KO Sefo cold in K-1 competition).
Between September 2006 and June 2008, Schilt set another record for the longest winning streak in K-1 history with 13 fights undefeated, eclipsing Peter Aerts's 12-fight winning streak set between 1993 and 1996.
Consider also the fact that Schilt has disposed of four K-1 Grand Prix champions, with stoppages of Mark Hunt, Ernesto Hoost, Remy Bonjasky and two decision wins over Peter Aerts.
2. Remy Bonjasky
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: 2003, 2004, 2008
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 in Las Vegas 2003
Key Wins This Decade: Musashi 2003, Musashi 2004, Hong Mann Choi 2005, Glaube Feitosa 2007, Badr Hari 2007, Jerome LeBanner 2008
Often over looked as an all-time great in favour of Hoost, Aerts and Schilt, Bonjasky has captured three K-1 Grand Prix crowns in six years making him the second most dominant K-1 fighter of the last decade. Even more impressive is the fact that since making his K-1 debut in 2001, Bonjasky has only lost eleven fights – an amazing win/loss ratio for a fighter constantly competing at the highest level.
Bonjasky's back-to-back wins in the 2003 and 2004 Grand Prix's are regarded as the weakest wins in the sport's history. However respect needs to be granted to Bonjasky who still had the fortitude to win back-to-back titles in two long and punishing tournaments (his 2004 title took a record 36 minutes to win). Four years later he would claim a third title in 2008 in a tremendously strong line up in which he spectacularly KO'd two opponents before being gifted a win in the final over Badr Hari – even then it should not be forgotten that Bonjasky did drop Hari during that fight. Bonjasky's three semi-final appearances in the Grand Prix (2005, 2007, 2009) are also testament to his being one of K-1's most consistent performers.
While Bonjasky has never come close to attaining a world record winning streak, his winning streaks have been impressive in the last nine years of K-1 competition and include an 8-fight win streak between 2003 and 2004; a seven-fight streak between 2004 and 2005 including two wins over former boxing world champions Frans Botha and Ray Mercer; a six-fight streak between 2006 and 2007; and an awesome nine-fight streak between 2008 and 2009 including wins over Melvin Maenhoff (twice), Jerome LeBanner, Gokhan Saki, Badr Hari and Alistair Overeem.
A consistent performer who knows how to win tournament fights as well as he does single matches, Bonjasky has only ever been stopped four times by three different men, being Errol Paris in 2002; Mirko Cro Cop in 2002; and Semmy Schilt in 2005 and 2009.
3. Ernesto Hoost
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 World GP in Melbourne 2001
Key Wins This Decade: Jerome LeBanner 2002, Mark Hunt 2001, Matt Skelton 2001, Ray Sefo 2000, Mirko Cro Cop 2000
Though there is good argument to be made for Ernesto Hoost as the greatest K-1 fighter of all time, this article is examining performances between 2000 and 2009 and as such Mr Perfect cannot feature at the top of the list.
Hoost kicked off the decade with a thrilling win of his third Grand Prix crown in 2000 over Ray Sefo in the final and captured his fourth title (with some luck after losing to Bob Sapp in the quarter final stage) in 2002 against Jerome LeBanner in the final. Also in this era of Hoost dominance, let's not forget his win in the K-1 World Grand Prix in Melbourne tournament in which he defeated Mark Hunt in the semi finals and Matt Skelton in the final.
Speculation can be made that had Hoost not been sidelined with illness during the Bonjasky reign of 2003/2004, he may have won more Grand Prix crowns. That is all speculation, however, and the fact remains that Hoost never went close to winning another Grand Prix after his 2002 victory, especially when K-1 entered the Schilt era, a man to whom Hoost lost twice and drew with once.
Between 2000 and 2002 Hoost went on a brilliant 11-fight winning streak including wins over Mirko Cro Cop, Francisco Filho and Musashi. It can also be speculated what may have been had he not broken his foot in his 2001 K-1 Grand Prix quarter final win over Stefan Leko and fought Mark Hunt again in the semi finals, after having beaten Hunt earlier that year. Hunt would of course go on to win the crown.
4. Mark Hunt
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: 2001
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 Oceania 2000, K-1 Oceania 2001, K-1 in Fukuoaka 2001
Key Wins This Decade: Hiromi Amada 2001, Adam Watt 2001, Jerome LeBanner 2001, Francisco Filho 2001, Mike Bernardo 2002
Mark Hunt wasn't in K-1 for a long time but no fighter has quite shaken up the K-1 world like the Super Samoan did between 2000 an 2003. Indeed in that short time Hunt accomplished more than almost any other K-1 fighter, winning three regional tournaments, placing runner up at another regional tournament and, of course, winning the K-1 Grand Prix on his first attempt as a virtual unknown.
What makes Hunt's story so compelling is that only a few years before he won the K-1 Grand Prix he was scrapping outside of bars in South Auckland. A bouncer saw Hunt deck a bloke on the street and offered him a kickboxing fight, which Hunt accepted. Having no pedigree in boxing, kickboxing or any martial arts, Hunt was just a big lug with a right hand fashioned from granite and a jaw to match. He would go on to become the most feared slugger in the K-1 world and produce a string of legendary matches, including his epic series against Jerome LeBanner and his war with Ray Sefo.
Hunt's 2001 Grand Prix win was the biggest Cinderella Story in K-1 history – indeed I rank it as one of the biggest Cinderella Stories in fight sports history! Nobody gave Hunt a chance of winning as he was seemingly there to make up the numbers. Problem was that someone forgot to show Hunt the script. His 17-punch combination knockout of a prime Jerome LeBanner was as awesome a spectacle as ever seen in the Grand Prix, and his two decision wins over Stefan Leko and Francisco Filho to win the crown showed Hunt's underrated technical skills.
One wonders what could have been had Hunt had the discipline to train hard and fully commit himself to K-1 fighting. He reached the semi finals of the 2002 Grand Prix and may very well have won several more GP titles, especially during the Bonjasky 2003/2004 period, which featured opposition tailor-made for Hunt's knockout prowess.
Hunt made an ill-fated comeback to K-1 in 2008 with a fight against Semmy Schilt in which he was knocked out in the first round by a turning back kick to the midsection.
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: None
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 Japan GP Champion 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003
Key Wins This Decade: Ray Sefo 2003, Peter Aerts 2003, Ray Mercer 2004, Frans Botha 2005, Bob Sapp 2005, Junichi Sawayashiki 2008,
Musashi doesn't get a lot of air-time in debates about all-time K-1 greats, but there is no doubt that for the better part of the last decade Musashi was a headache to all of K-1's elite and lower tier fighters and one of the sport's most accomplished tournament fighters.
The K-1 Japan GP tournament is traditionally devoid of marquee names but has always been one of the hardest tournaments to win. The fact that Musashi has won this event a record four times, including three wins at the start of the decade is testament to his incredible fighting spirit. He also twice found himself runner-up to Remy Bonjasky for the K-1 World Grand Prix crown in 2003 and more emphatically in 2004 where he pushed Bonjasky to two extra rounds. Sure there are the arguments that Musashi was often helped along by some very questionable judging, but you still cannot deny Japan's greatest K-1 heavyweight his place in the annals of history as a big-hearted warrior with tremendous passion and persistence.
6. Peter Aerts
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: 1994, 1995, 1998
K-1 Regional Wins: None
Key Wins This Decade: Ray Sefo 2000, Alexey Ignashov 2003, Mighty Mo 2005, Semmy Schilt 2006, Remy Bonjasky 2007, Semmy Schilt 2008
Had this list been compiled for achievements in the previous decade, Peter Aerts would most likely be number one. However over the last ten years, while Aerts was always a threat and among K-1's elite, he never repeated his successes of the 1990s.
Aerts makes his way onto this list by competing in every Grand Prix tournament from 2000 to 2008. He placed runner up twice in 2006 and 2007, both times to Semmy Schilt, and placed third in 2003. Aerts was also a finalist at the 2003 K-1 in Las Vegas tournament.
Another reason for Aerts being rated this highly, even though his most stunning achievements took place in the 1990s, was his incredible 2008 decision win over Semmy Schilt in the Final 16 in Seoul which kept Schilt out of the Grand Prix and unable to defend the title he had won in 2007. Indeed that emotional performance from Aerts showed two things: it taught every other K-1 fighter how to combat the strengths of Schilt and it signaled to the watching world that even in the twilight of his illustrious career Aerts is still a force to be reckoned with. He proved this again recently against Gokhan Saki in a Grand Prix reserve match in December 2009, coming up trumps by employing a sound gameplan and an aggressive nature against a far younger fighter.
7. Badr Hari
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: None
K-1 Regional Wins: None
Key Wins This Decade: Stefan Leko 2005, Yusuke Fujimoto 2007, Ruslan Karaev 2007, Peter Aerts 2008, Ray Sefo 2008, Glaube Feitosa 2008, Alistair Overeem 2009
Badr Hari ranks seventh on my list by way of becoming the first ever K-1 World Heavyweight –100kg champion in 2007 and a two-time K-1 World Grand Prix runner up in 2008 and 2009. He also has the honour of the longest knockout streak in K-1 history with his 10 wins between 2007 and 2009 all coming by way of KO or TKO, something even K-1's greatest hitters such as Ray Sefo, Mike Bernardo, Jerome LeBanner and Peter Aerts never achieved.
Though Hari's wins haven't translated into Grand Prix success, his accomplishments since exploding onto the K-1 scene in 2005 cannot be overlooked. In just four years he has become one of the sport's most popular commodities, competed in three Grand Prix tournaments, placed runner up twice and captured the heavyweight world title. If you include his non-K-1 wins (on It's Showtime) then he has knocked out two of history's seven K-1 Grand Prix champions (Aerts and Schilt) and has put together more first round knockout wins in a shorter time than just about any other K-1 fighter in history.
8. Jerome LeBanner
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: None
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 World GP in Nagoya 2000, K-1 World GP in Osaka 2000
Key Wins This Decade: Ernesto Hoost 2000, Mark Hunt 2002, Musashi 2002, Gary Goodridge 2002, Hong Mann Choi 2007
There is a lot to be said about Jerome LeBanner as arguably the best K-1 fighter to never win the K-1 Grand Prix. In his eleven attempts, LeBanner has placed runner-up twice, one of those being in the last decade when he was less than two minutes away from capturing the crown against Ernesto Hoost in 2002.
A Hoost roundkick shattered LeBanner's forearm in that gutsy final and LeBanner never looked the same since. Indeed the man renowned for his incredible knockout power never managed to find the short route to victories as easily this decade as he did back in the 1990s.
LeBanner finds himself on this list by way of that runner-up placing at the 2002 Grand Prix and two amazing regional tournament victories. In 2001 he set a record time in Osaka when he laid waste to Adam Watt, Pavel Mayer and Ebenezer Fontes Braga in just 4:10 – the fastest K-1 tournament victory in history! A year earlier in Nagoya he had dispatched of Mark Hunt, Nicholas Pettas and Ernesto Hoost in one night.
Had this been a list of all-time K-1 greats, LeBanner would have featured much higher. But in recent years, though still active on the K-1 circuit, he never managed to find the ferocious knockout power that once made him K-1's most feared fighter. Indeed LeBanner only has one knockout win in K-1 over the last four years, and even that was back in 2007 against the miserable Yong Soo Park.
9. Ray Sefo
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: None
K-1 Regional Wins: None
Key Wins This Decade: Musashi 2000, Cyril Abidi 2000, Mark Hunt 2001, Peter Aerts 2002, Bob Sapp 2004, Ruslan Karaev 2005, Melvin Maenhoff 2006
Like Jerome LeBanner, Ray Sefo's K-1 career never translated into success where it mattered most in the Grand Prix. However also like LeBanner, there was a time when Sefo created an aura of invincibility and put fear in the hearts of every opponent with his phenomenal knockout ability.
It is unfortunate that injury ruled Sefo out of the 2001 Grand Prix at the very time when his career was peaking and he most likely would have captured the crown after having placed runner-up to Ernesto Hoost the previous year. The injury occurred in the fight which forged Sefo's legacy, against Mark Hunt in Fukuoka in 2001 when the two went to war in a way never seen before and never seen since. Sefo defeated Hunt in a fight fans still rate as the greatest in K-1 history but could not continue in the tourney due to injury, handing Hunt a golden opportunity that lead him all the way to the Grand Prix crown.
Until his horror losing streak triggered by the devastating KO loss to Semmy Schilt in 2007, Sefo remained a long-time threat to K-1's elite and moreso to new blood entering the scene. Sefo was often used as a gatekeeper by K-1 Corporation when new fighters came on the scene: if they could get past Sefo, they had to be good. Fighters such as Ruslan Karaev and Melvin Maenhoff fell victim to Sefo's hellacious power, in particular Karaev who was KO'd in just 37 seconds in Hiroshima in 2005 and in 1:42 in Seoul in 2006. Maenhoff was KO'd in 40 seconds in 2007.
10. Alexey Ignashov
K-1 Grand Prix Wins: None
K-1 Regional Wins: K-1 GP in Paris 2001, K-1 GP in Nagoya 2001, K-1 GP in Belarus 2000
Key Wins This Decade: Nicholas Pettas 2001, Lloyd Van Dams 2001, Peter Aerts 2002, Cyril Abidi 2003, Mike Bernardo 2003, Alexander Ustinov 2003, Carter Williams 2004
The last spot up for grabs on this list is a difficult one to decide. While I award it to Alexey Ignashov (1 x GP semi finalist, 1 x GP quarter finalist, 3 x regional champion), there are four other superb athletes in my opinion who could all take tenth place. They are: Francisco Filho (GP runner up, 2 x K-1 regional champion); Stefan Leko (2 x regional champion, 1 x GP quarter finalist, 1 x GP semi finalist); Cyril Abidi (2 x GP semi finalist, 1 x regional champion) and Ruslan Karaev (4 x GP quarter finalist, 2 x regional champion).
Ignashov makes my list by way of being such a major player in the K-1 world at the start of the decade. Indeed before the emergence of Badr Hari on the K-1 scene in 2005, Ignashov was the man as I touted as being the most naturally gifted fighter I've seen. Had a wayward lifestyle not gotten the better of him, Ignashov is a man who could have ruled K-1 with an iron fist (and iron knees and iron legs for that matter) and perhaps been the only man to have stopped the Schilt Era (he knocked out Schilt in just one round with a knee in 2004 on an It's Showtime Event).
Ignashov exploded onto the K-1 scene in 2000 with a win in the K-1 GP in Belarus. A year later he won the K-1 GP in Nagoya and qualified for his first of two K-1 Grand Prix appearances. Here he produced one of the most devastating knockouts in Grand Prix history with a knee to the face of Nicholas Pettas that broke the Dane's nose.
To be a fan of Ignashov, as so many of us are, is to be frustrated in more ways that you can imagine. His is a career littered with false promise, for among the glimpses of in-ring genius that have shone in such wins as those over Peter Aerts in 2002, Cyril Abidi in 2003, Alexander Ustinov in 2003, Mike Bernardo in 2003 and Carter Williams in 2004, are losses that should never have happened against the likes of Kaoklai in 2004 and Peter Graham in 2005.
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