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K-1 WGP Bucharest Preview

by Fraser Coffeen / HeadKickLegend.com

Earlier this week, we looked at the non-tournament portion of today's K-1 Bucharest card.  Now let's take a closer look at the main event of the card: the 8 man qualifying Grand Prix.  At stake is a coveted spot in the 2010 Final 16, and the chance to win the GP title.  For these men, the prize couldn't be bigger.  Let's see how each fighter came to this tournament, and how his chances look.

Will Bucharest mark the redemption of Alexey Ignashov, or the end of his K-1 career?

ALEXEY IGNASHOV: The biggest story in this tournament is unquestionably the last chance at K-1 glory for Alexey Ignashov.  Iggy's story here is everything you want out of a classic sports story.  At one time hailed as the Next Big Thing and the future of the sport, Iggy struggled with the demon of alcoholism, squandering his talent and spending his prime years away from the spotlight.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he reemerged on the K-1 scene earlier this year, now clean, sober, and ready for redemption.  After begging K-1 management for one final shot, Ignashov was granted his wish, but it was to be against the very tough Badr Hari, and Ignashov lost the decision.  Now, K-1 president Tanigawa has made it clear - if Ignashov doesn't win here, his time in K-1 is over.  If this were a movie, the obvious feel good ending is an Ignashov win, but life rarely works so smoothly, and this is going to be a tough task.  Against Hari, Iggy showed superb defense (especially in round 1) but an almost complete lack of effective offense.  To win here, he needs to make improvements to bring back the offensive power that earned him past KO victories over Hari, Schilt, Bernardo, and many more.  And while I will be pulling for him to do just that, I sadly don't see it happening, and fear the redemption story ends tonight.  Enjoy watching Ignashov here, because there's a good chance this will be the last time you see this man in a K-1 ring.

MIGHTY MO: Another K-1 veteran looking for one more shot at the Grand Prix, Mighty Mo is a heavy hitting, popular fighter with an impressive resume.  In 2004, Mo made a splash in K-1, immediately racking up a number of KO victories, and earning himself tremendous fan support along the way.  His trail of KOs reached a pinnacle in 2007 when the unthinkable happened: the 6'1" Mo knocked out the 7'+ Korean giant Hong Man Choi - an accomplishment that had eluded Le Banner, Schilt, and Bonjasky in their fights with the big man.  He used that momentum to win the 2007 K-1 Hawaii tournament, but soon after, his career hit a snag.  Since summer 2007, Mo has gone 1-7 in kickboxing action, and 1-2 in MMA.  His last fight was a very sluggish affair with Josh Barnett at DREAM.13, which did not inspire confidence in his current game.  He says he's refreshed and rededicated now, but with the Barnett fight only two months old it's hard to fully buy into that.  There's no doubt Mo will make his fights interesting, but I think time has passed him by.

SERGEI LASCENKO: On the other end of the spectrum from Mo and Ignashov sits Sergei Lascenko, the 22 year old potential future star.  Lascenko made his K-1 debut last year, competing in both the Europe and Tokyo qualifying GPs.  In both shows he made the finals, before falling to Zabit Samedov and Daniel Ghita respectively.  He's since scored another K-1 victory over Takumi Sato in a somewhat lackluster affair, however later reports indicated that he came into that fight injured and could barely train.  Of his three K-1 showings, we've really only seen Lascenko at full speed once, at the Tokyo show.  Injury slowed him down against Sato, while at last year's Europe GP he was coming in worn down from winning a Muay Thai tournament just the night before, then driving 12 hours straight to make the K-1 event.  If he can focus on his K-1 career, I think Lacenko has a lot of potential as he has the size and drive to make it far.  His shortcoming so far has been his stamina, though it's hard to say how much of those conditioning issues have been due to the injury and schedule.  If he has improved his conditioning, he's a favorite to win this.  If not, we may see him once again fade in the finals.

ROMAN KLEIBL: Roman Kleibl earned his spot here by winning last year's K-1 ColliZion tournament, defeating tonight's reserve fighter Mladen Brestovac in the finals.  Kleibl has been around for some time, coming up with a mixed record against many top European fighters.  Despite his loses, Kleibl has really started to come into his own in the past year, and I think is a dark horse candidate to win the whole tournament.

FREDDY KEMAYO: Another K-1 veteran, Kemayo found success on the K-1 regional level, but never on their main Japan shows.  The 2002 and 2003 French kickboxing champion has wins over UFC fighter Patrick Barry, Stefan Leko, and fellow tournament participants Ignashov and Kleibl, but has stumbled when stepping up in competition.  Kemayo is the kind of quiet workhorse who I can't envision making a serious K-1 run, but has the skills to spoil any fighter's night.

SEBASTIAN CIOBANU: The hands down local favorite, Ciobanu is a colorful fighter, who goes by the name Son of Dracula and has been known to wear a vampire cape to the ring.  On local shows he has a solid record, with wins over Kleibl, Petr Vandracek, and Doug Viney.  Last year, he made his K-1 debut, losing to Lascenko in the opening round of the Tokyo GP.  While the crowd will be firmly on his side, I've never been particularly struck by Ciobanu, and don't see him getting too far here.

DANIIL SAPLJOSHIN:  Winner of the Elimination tournament in Warsaw, Sapljoshin is largely unknown outside of the Eastern European fight scene.  A native of Estonia, he looked good in the Warsaw event, scoring two TKO victories to win the tournament crown.  But this is a tough field and represents a huge step up in competition.  Sapljoshin will really have to rise to the occasion if he hopes to advance here.

MINDAUGAS SAKALAUSKAS: Another elimination tournament winner, Sakalauskas comes in after winning the Vilnius tournament. Sakalauskas made his K-1 debut last year at this event, losing an extra round decision to eventual tournament winner Zabit Samedov.  He is a former Muay Thai champion, who has also competed locally in MMA, earning a 2-1-1 record.  Like Sapljoshin, he is facing a step up here, though he does have more experience against this caliber of opponent.  He's facing Ignashov in the first round, and his more deliberate style could prove difficult for the counterfighter Ignashov to handle.

The tournament breaks down like this:

Reserve Fight: Jan Soukup v. Mladen Brestovac

Ciobanu v. Sapljoshin
Mo v. Kleibl
Ignashov v. Sakalauskas
Lascenko v. Kemayo

Ciobanu/Sapljoshin Winner v. Mo/Kleibl Winner
Ignashov/Sakalauskas Winner v. Lascenko/Kemayo Winner


As I said above, if Lascenko has solid conditioning, I'll pick him to win the event.  I think he'll be looking at Roman Kleibl in the finals, and if Lascenko doesn't have the stamina, especially after two potentially grueling fights, Kleibl could pull off the upset win.

Check back later today for results.


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