In yet another blow to the struggling sport, kickboxing has lost its brightest and most controversial young star as Badr Hari
, former K-1 heavyweight champion and two-time K-1 World GP finalist, has made the decision to retire from kickboxing after a final Jan. 28, 2012 bout against Gokhan Saki to go to the United States to pursue a boxing career.
The news, which comes via a release posted on the It's Showtime website
on Wednesday, also casts serious doubt over the 26-year-old's participation in the Dec. 10 K-1 World GP Final 16 and in fact, raises questions as to whether the 2011 K-1 World GP will even take place at all.
"If K-1 will host a World Grand Prix this year, Badr will also participate to that," the release from It's Showtime states. "The Grand Prix Final is scheduled for December 10 in China. If this World Grand Prix will take place, depends if K-1 will be able to pay its debts to IT'S SHOWTIME and others. If not, the fight on January 28 will be Badr's only remaining fight as a kickboxer."
When the K-1 World GP Final 16 was finally announced earlier this month, K-1 President Sadaharu Tanikawa specifically thanked It's Showtime CEO Simon Rutz for his support in co-promoting, but the statement above gives one the distinct impression that things may have soured on that deal. There have been rumors in Japan
that the K-1 World GP Final 16 may not actually take place and the statement from It's Showtime adds significant weight to that.
Due to declining popularity, lack of TV deals and lack of sponsorship, K-1 promoter FEG has been struggling badly financially for the past few years and now owe a large amount of money to many fighters and teams. Alistair Overeem
, Jerome Le Banner, Peter Aerts, Ray Sefo
, the Golden Glory team, It's Showtime and others have publicly stated that the K-1 owe them large sums of money - in many cases well into six figures and even seven figures.
The move from Badr Hari into the world of boxing comes as no real surprise given his recent discussion of the sport and the economic state of K-1. Hari has often expressed a desire to go into either Olympic or professional boxing and after a series of troubles - in and out of the ring - the timing seems right.
Hari's exceptional kickboxing career, though short, has been punctuated with knockouts and controversy. The Moroccan-Dutch heavyweight arrived on the kickboxing scene in 2005 with a brutal spinning back kick knockout of Stefan Leko
in a K-1 World GP reserve bout, but a 2006 brawl at a press conference with Peter Graham and his refusal to leave the ring and subsequent destruction of backstage dressing rooms following a loss to Ruslan Karaev saw Hari's public perception turn from "Golden Boy" into "Bad Boy".
After capturing the vacant K-1 heavyweight title, Hari made a run at the K-1 World GP in 2008, knocking out Peter Aerts and Errol Zimmerman
before getting disqualified in the final against Remy Bonjasky for kicking and stomping his opponent while he was down. The unsportsmanlike act caused a large amount of controversy in K-1 and Hari was stripped of his heavyweight title, not awarded any prize money and not awarded the title of GP runner-up.
Rebounding from a shocking knockout loss to Alistair Overeem at Dynamite, Hari again made it to the final of the K-1 World GP in 2009 after defeating Ruslan Karaev and Alistair Overeem in a rematch, but fell to the much bigger Semmy Schilt
Not learning from past mistakes Hari was again disqualified in 2010, this time while defending his It's Showtime heavyweight title against Hedsey Gerges. Like the Bonjasky fight, Hari again kicked a downed opponent and lost his title. Although he was initially unapologetic for his actions, Hari voluntarily took a one year break from the ring.
Hari has also had problems discipline outside of the ring, charged with assaulting a neighbor in 2006 and was wanted for questioning in 2010 in regards to a nightclub brawl that left a doorman with a fractured eye socket and broken nose.
Coincidentally Gokhan Saki, Hari's final opponent in the kickboxing ring and another top young stars in the sport, is also considering leaving kickboxing and has been publicly discussing a move to MMA
for some time.