Winning three heavyweight kickboxing bouts in one night to claim the K-1 World Grand Prix Final title may be the most physically demanding endeavor in combat sports. As a four-time World Grand Prix champion, Semmy Schilt
knows that well.
The physical demands of the K-1 World Grand Prix are the reason that the 36-year-old Schilt is making a point of preserving himself this year. Schilt has stepped into the ring just once since winning the 2009 title on December 5, and he says he doesn't expect to fight again until it's time to begin the path toward defending his title in a Final 16 bout in September.
"The last time I fought was on the fourth of April, and now I am waiting on my next fight, in the Final 16 this year," Schilt told MMAFighting.com. "I don't have many injuries so its not necessary to preserve myself, but now I am training without pressure, and that feels good."
With his four World Grand Prix titles, Schilt is regarded as the world's top kickboxer, which is an incredibly prestigious title both in his native Holland and in Japan, where he usually fights. But in the United States, "world's top kickboxer" doesn't mean much more than "world's top cricket player" or "world's top rugby player": Americans can recognize that it's meaningful to be the best, but it's awfully hard to find an American who follows the sport.
Schilt, however, did once have a kickboxing match in the United States (in 2006 in Las Vegas), and he says he saw the potential for American fans to become drawn to his sport -- but only if an American kickboxer becomes successfulat the highest levels of competition.
"I think the American fans are a lot like the Dutch fans," Schilt said. "There is room for K-1 in America, as kickboxing is very different than boxing or MMA. America needs to have heroes, the same as Japan and every other country -- the people like to see a countryman fight."
As it stands right now, the American athletes who could be successful in kickboxing are instead fighting in mixed martial arts, a sport that Schilt knows a little something about as well. Schilt was actually a professional MMA fighter before he was a professional kickboxer, and he even fought twice in the UFC in 2001. And Schilt says he wouldn't rule out returning to the Octagon in the future.
"I consider myself a fighter, and the rules decide what kind of fight it will be," Schilt said of distinguishing kickboxing from MMA. "There is a chance I will fight again in the UFC. There is always a chance."
Schilt attended UFC 93 in 2009 and met with UFC President Dana White, and he said that while that meeting didn't result in a job offer, he was impressed by how far the sport had come in the eight years since he participated, especially in the striking department.
"My impression of UFC 93 was good, the style is changed a bit, with a lot more stand-up fighting," Schilt said.
It would be fascinating to see how Schilt would fare against the current stable of UFC heavyweights, but Schilt says he doesn't see that happening soon. Instead, he's thinking about what the K-1 World Grand Prix Final will hold for him this year, and he says he thinks his 2009 rival Badr Hari, as well as his friend and sometime training partner Alistair Overeem, will provide some of his toughest competition.
"At the moment I am not training with Alistair," Schilt said. "I think it is a strange year for him. He wanted to fight Fedor Emelianenko for such a long time that I think he cannot focus so much (on MMA after Fabricio Werdum beat Fedor), so I think he will go for the K-1 World Grand Prix title this year."
As for Hari, whose bad boy image often overshadows his kickboxing talents, Schilt says he expects Hari back in the K-1 ring in September.
"If the police don't catch him, he will fight," Schilt said.
If Schilt wins the K-1 World Grand Prix again this year, he'll become the first five-time champion. But he's not overly concerned with records, and he says that even in the year he'll turn 37, he doesn't view 2010 as his last chance.
"It's my goal to become Grand Prix champion again, that this will be a record is nice," Schilt said. "I'll fight as long as my body stays strong and my mind is right."