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K-1 is a kickboxing combat sport that combines standup techniques from Muay Thai, Karate, Taekwondo, Kickboxing and traditional Boxing, among others. The name is a play off the abbreviation of Formula 1, which is F-1. The sport was first formed by Kazuyoshi Ishii, a former Kyokushin karate competition fighter who had formed his own organization, Seido-kaikan karate, in 1980. Seido-kaikan arranged several successful organization challenge events against other martial sport organizations, originally using rules based on the Kyokushin Knockdown karate rules, but gradually adapting and changing closer to kickboxing rules. In 1993 Mr. Ichii founded the K-1 organization exclusively as a kickboxing sport organizations, closely cooperating with, but independent from, Seido-kaikan.

There is currently a 70.5kg (155lb) weight division in K-1 called K-1 MAX ("Middleweight Artistic Xtreme").

The K-1 organization is currently headed and promoted by Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG) of Japan. FEG also promotes HERO's mixed martial arts events, with headliners such as Genki Sudo, Royce Gracie, Bob Sapp, Kazushi Sakuraba and Don Frye. Both promotions regularly cross-promote, and some of FEG's contracted fighters have fought in both circuits.

K-1 events can be viewed in the USA via pay-per-view on iN DEMAND, and in most parts of Europe on EuroSport


The principal object of K-1 is to win by either knockout or by decision. Fights occur inside a ring, as in boxing, and they are fought for three rounds of three minutes each. An extra round (also three minutes long) may be fought, if the judges score the fight a draw. Victories are usually achieved by hurting the opponent with kicks to the legs or the head, or using traditional boxing punches, such as the jab, cross or uppercut.

Classic defensive boxing stance is rather ineffective against leg kicks, and fighters are more or less forced to constantly move and counterattack, which is certainly one of the reasons why K-1 fights are seen by many as more dynamic and exciting than boxing fights.

No major K-1 tragedies have been reported; nonetheless, the risk of sustaining a serious injury still exists.


Main article: The history of K-1

K-1 Grand Prix

Main article: K-1 World Grand Prix

Throughout the year K-1 holds various 16-men, 8-match grand prix style tournaments to determine the top 16 fighters who will compete in the K-1 World GP. K-1 events most commonly take place in Japan, but they have hosted shows in the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, France, South Korea, Australia, Greece, Sweden, Russia, Croatia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Hungary, Spain, Brazil and the USA, etc.

Rules & fouls


Regular K-1 matches are contested under the following rules:

  • Each match is three or five rounds in duration, with each round lasting three minutes.
  • The match can end by Knockout, Technical Knockout, Decision, Disqualification, Draw or No Contest.
  • Both the referee and the ring doctor have full authority to stop the fight.
  • The fight is scored by three judges on a ten-point must system (The winner of each round receives ten points, and the loser receives nine or less. If the round is even, both competitors receive ten points).
  • If there is a draw after three rounds, the judges' scores are thrown out and one or two extra three-minute rounds are contested. The judges' decision will then come from the scoring of each extra round only. If, after the extra round(s), there is still a draw, the judges will decide a winner based on the flow of the entire match, considering even the slightest difference. A fight can only end in a draw if both fighters go down at the same time and cannot get up, or in the case of accidental injury in the late stages of the contest.
  • The three-knockdown rule is in effect (three knockdowns in a round results in a technical knockout).
  • The mandatory eight count is in effect (the referee must count to at least "eight" on all knockdowns).
  • The standing eight count is in effect (the referee has the right to declare a knockdown on a fighter who appears to be in a dangerous condition to continue in the match).
  • A fighter can be saved by the bell only in the last round.

In K-1 single elimination tournament matches:

  • Each match is three rounds in duration.
  • The three-knockdown rule becomes a two-knockdown rule for all matches except the final.
  • One or two reserve fights are held prior to the single elimination matches. If for any reason a fighter who wins and advances through the brackets is unable to continue, a reserve match competitor, or the fighter's opponent from the most recent match, takes his place. There are certain exceptions to this rule (i.e. a fighter who lost a match by knockout might not be eligible to replace another fighter).

Source: K-1 Website


The following actions in K-1 are considered fouls:

  • Using the head or elbow to deliver a blow
  • Attacking the opponent in the groin
  • Delivering wrestling or judo throwing or submission techniques
  • Thumbing, choking or biting the opponent
  • Punching the opponent in the throat
  • Attacking the opponent while he is down or in the process of getting up
  • Attacking the opponent after the referee calls a break
  • Holding the ropes
  • Using offensive language to the referee
  • Attacking the back of the head with a punch
  • Attempting to cause the opponent to fall out of the ring
  • Voluntarily exiting the ring during the course of a match
  • Attacking an opponent who turns around and shows his back (unless the opponent loses his will to fight)
  • Delivering a backspin blow in an unauthorized area
  • Charging inside the opponent's arms with the head held low (inducing a head-butt)
  • Fighting in a passive manner (without attacking), including continuous holding and clinching
  • Attacking more than once while holding the opponent's kicking leg, or while holding the opponent's neck with both hands

A fighter is penalized as follows:

  • Caution - verbal reprimand by the referee
  • Warning - fighter is shown a yellow card
  • Point Deduction - fighter is shown a red card

Two cautions result in one warning. Two warnings result in a point deduction, and three point deductions in one round can result in a disqualification.

A red card is shown automatically if a fighter commits a foul with malicious intent.

Source: K-1 Website

Qualification & matchup


The system of K-1 is changing from time to time as a response to the growing popularity in different parts of the world.

In the beginning of the K-1 series it was a single tournament in Japan with fighters participating by invitation. By today K-1 has branched out to all parts of the world and has been divided into Grand Prix-s, leagues and preliminaries. There are six regional GPs on all continents (except Africa, South America and Antarctica) and all of them has exclusively the right to send fighters (the winners) into the Final Elimination in Japan. Although the hosting countries of GPs has changed several times as popularity varies throughout regions. Preliminaries are organized in countries with minor attendance and consists of 7 tournament matches whereof the winner qualifies to the GPs. Until 2006 the main aim of K-1 was to gain popularity in the United States therefore three of the GPs were in the US, however only in some case did an American qualify for the Finals. These GPs were the "USA GP I." - Mayhem at the Mirage, "USA GP II." - Battle at the Bellagio and "Intercontinental GP" - Hawaii. This situation changed with 2006 and one of the American GPs has been relocated to Auckland, New Zealand, hometown of Ray Sefo under the name of "Oceania GP". The new place for the second GP is undecided yet. Also the "Paris GP" has lost its qualifying right in favor of the "Europe GP" in Amsterdam.

The Final Elimination is an event where the 16 participants compete for the eight place in the Finals. The line-up of the sixteen member is a sum up of the 6 new GP winners the eight finalists from the Final of previous year plus 2 fighters selected by the K-1 organization (from a total of seven best performed fighters during the year). In 2006 there have been some modifications made concerning the number of automatic qualifiers because of last year's exceptional final line-up in the Final. Peter Aerts was substituted by Glaube Feitosa who reached the final match therefore he has been included in the 2006 Final Elimination.


Usually combatants of the quarter-finals of an 16-men 8-match tournament are paired by drawing. In case of the Final in the Tokyo Dome it is widely different. The whole event is combined with a ceremony and a press conference. The process looks like a lottery show in the beginning with all the fighters pulling a ball from a glass bowl. The balls represent numbers 1 to 8, which determines the fighters' order in choosing a position from a giant tournament tree figure by standing in front a drawn bracket (from A to H) on the poster, which represents the fighter's corner-color and the line-number of the match. Next fighter do the same, but he can now choose between challenging the one on the stage or an "empty" section. This procedure goes on until one fighter remains who has no choice just to fill to one slot left next to the one lone fighter. This system gives a freedom of choice and tactics to the fighters with the help of a little luck.

Restructuring the system

In 2007 because of the monopole reign of Semmy Schilt and the downfall of Japanese local fighter Musashi the K-1 organizers introduced new single title belts as well as new weight categories and restructured the qualification system. Two titles have been added to the original tournament one. They can be acquired through single fights and one has to defend it each time he has been challenged (in a similar method to how the calculated the number one sportsman). One is created for the heavyweights, which means under 100 kg from now on. The heavier participants should enter the super-heavyweight class, which also has its own champion. Meanwhile the well-know 8-men system will keep working simultanously. The title matches will take place on the GPs (Road to Tokyo) that will also have the tournament system while in place of the super fights the title "elimination" matches will be held. It means first the new and first champions has to be decided so elit people from their category will face each other one-by-one to reduce the number of competitors to two who will have the first title match.

The new tournament qualification will go on as follows : the 8 finalists of last year, 4 preliminary event will be put forth on each continent and the winner will move forward to the finals, the two title-champions will be adopted automaticly (if they are different from the players with the free cards who already participates. If not then two other men will be chosen by K-1), while two others will be selected by the K-1 team and the votes of the fans (the two nominated combattants to this year are runner-up Peter Aerzt and Musashi). The organizers hope it will bring attention to the professionality instead of the size of the fighter.

Popularity and Criticisms

The sport is popular principally in Brazil, Japan, Europe, and also in the United States, although fightsports are banned in many states. Most K-1 contests in the United States take place in Las Vegas or Honolulu. The sports events are frequently shown on Tokyo Broadcasting System in Japan, and recently Fuji Network, Pay Per View television or ESPN 2 on "Friday Night Fights" in the United States and on Eurosport in Europe. K-1 events are broadcast in other countries by national and sports channels.

The competitions have been met with some fan and fighting pundit criticisms over the past few years since Bob Sapp became one of the fight co-ordinators due to their increased use of lower quality athletes that headline the events for no other reason than size or real-world status such as former Yokozuna Akebono, and comedian Bobby Ologun. Through this avenue, match quality is sacrificed for spectacality.

Judging and refereeing in K-1 (and also in Pride Fighting Championships) are sometimes questioned as to their objectivity. Some suggest favoritism shown by Japanese referees towards Japanese fighters. Recently such a controversy appeared at K-1 Heroes 6 in a match pitting Kazushi Sakuraba, the man that had been promoted as the face of the division and Lithuanian fighter Kæstutis Smirnovas. Smirnovas, recovering from a front kick, caught Sakuraba coming in and knocking him to the ground senseless. Smirnovas, over the course of two minutes, pummelled Sakuraba with over 20 unprotected and unanswered punches, but the referee did not stop the fight, only stepping in to reposition the fighters away from the edge of the ring (in an equally dominating position for Smirnovas). Many critics agree that the referee should have stopped the fight at this point to protect Sakuraba as he was nearly unconcious and not reasonably protecting himself. Smirnovas, after a few minutes of relentless punching, began to slow down giving Sakuraba chance to recover. With 5 minutes 20 seconds left in the round, Sakuraba began a largely unanswered flurry that sent Smirnovas covering up, turning his back, and eventually falling to the ground. Sakuraba then submit Smirnovas with a Kimura submission hold to which Smirnovas tapped. K-1 promoter, Akira Maeda called from ringside for the fight to be stopped during the time Smirnovas was striking Sakuraba. PRIDE fighter Hidehiko Yoshida, condemned the actions of the referee. While some see this fight as evidence for Japanese favoritism towards Japanese fighters, Sakuraba in particular, along with other highly marketable fighters, seem to continually be surrounded by controversy (posing the question whether Sakuraba's marketability as a 'legendary' fighter rather than his race may be more instrumental in the controversy surrounding him). Sakuraba's legitimacy as a world-class fighter was previously questioned when a referee stopped a fight between Sakuraba and Royler Gracie-- some saying prematurely due to race. However, controversy regarding race died down when Sakuraba subsequently beat Royce Gracie, and Renzo Gracie under special rules dictated by the Gracie camp. In the Renzo Gracie match, Sakuraba completely dislocated Renzo's arm as Renzo would not tap. The fact that the referee did not immediately stop the fight, and the fact that Kazushi Sakuraba had shown tremendous skill facing not just one, but multiple world-class grapplers, ended all controversies suggesting Sakuraba was only winning because of race-based favoritism. In the fight with Smirnovas, some point out that evidence for race-bias is lacking given that Smirnovas was also taking an unusually bad beating without referee stoppage, even turning his back a few times, covering up, and not throwing counter punches. Still others suggest that highly marketable fighters, such as Sakuraba, regardless of race are perhaps given more leeway in a fight as a loss would diminish the fighter's value to the organization. Whatever the case may be, bias towards race or towards marketable fighters in K-1, and whether or not such a bias exists, remain to be a hotly debated issues.

In another recent case of alleged race-bias controversy, on May 13, 2006, an all-Dutch judging panel decided in favor of Remy Bonjasky againstJerome Le Banner at the K-1 World Grand Prix event in Amsterdam. Many thought Jerome Le Banner had slimly won the contest. On June 30, 2006, K-1 officials reversed the result of that contest between Dutch fighter Remy Bonjasky and French fighter Jérôme Le Banner. The original result was a slim majority decision for Bonjasky (30-30, 29-28, 30-28). However, Le Banner filed a protest and K-1 officials from Japan and the United States reviewed the match based on current K-1 Grand Prix judging criteria. They made several conclusions, among which was the fact that the composition of the judges—all Dutch—were not impartial in their decision-making. The result was reversed, giving the win to Le Banner by a score of 30-29. The K-1 website was updated to reflect this decision. Source: K-1 Website is a dead link; use the Internet Archive link here instead

List of K-1 events

Main article: List of K-1 events

K-1 World Grand Prix Champions

1993 Branko Cikatiã
1994 Peter Aerts
1995 Peter Aerts
1996 Andy Hug
1997 Ernesto Hoost
1998 Peter Aerts
1999 Ernesto Hoost
2000 Ernesto Hoost
2001 Mark Hunt
2002 Ernesto Hoost
2003 Remy Bonjasky
2004 Remy Bonjasky
2005 Semmy Schilt
2006 Semmy Schilt

K-1 MAX World Grand Prix Champions

2002 Albert Kraus
2003 Masato
2004 Buakaw Por.Pramuk
2005 Andy Souwer
2006 Buakaw Por.Pramuk

Notable K-1 fighters

  • Peter Aerts
  • Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipoviã
  • Gary "Big Daddy" Goodridge Hawaii GP 2005 champion
  • Alexey Ignashov -
  • Ernesto "Mr. Perfect" Hoost
  • Jérôme Le Banner -
  • Stefan Leko - US GP. II. 2006 champion
  • Michael McDonald
  • Musashi
  • Rick Roufus -
  • Bob "The Beast" Sapp
  • Ray Sefo -
  • Choi Hong-man -Korea GP champion 2005
  • Ruslan Karaev - USA GP I. 2005 champion
  • Glaube Feitosa - USA GP II. 2005 champion, WGP 2005 runner-up
  • Kaoklai Kaennorsing - Korea GP 2004 champion
  • Francisco Filho -
  • Chalid "Die Faust" Arrab US GP 2006 champion
  • Björn Breggy Scandinavia GP 2005 champion, EU GP 2006 champion
  • Mike Bernardo K-1 World GP 2000 Fukuoka winner and in 2001 at Nagoya taking 3rd place. K-1 Grand Prix; 1995 3rd place, 1996 2nd place and 1998 3rd place.
  • Mike Zambidis

Traditional boxing stars at the K-1 tournament

Late in 2003, Bob Sapp challenged Mike Tyson, the former world Heavyweight boxing champion, to a K-1 fight. While Tyson did not accept the offer immediately, he signed with K-1 to be his official Japanese representation on August 23, 2003. A deal to actually fight in K-1 never materialized. In early 2006 another rumour of the re-schedule of this match in August 2006 has been released by the press and had been confirmed by Bob Sapp in an interview. For that reason he also turned down the role for the upcoming movie Bloodsport 2. . Later in August 2006, Mike Tyson appeared at a press conference held by rival organization Pride Fighting Championships, and Dream Stage Entertainment, Pride's parent company, has confirmed that Tyson has signed with Pride, though his status with the company remains unknown.

Others who have made the transition from traditional boxers to K-1 fighters include:

  • Francois Botha (former IBF World Heavyweight champion)
  • Shannon Briggs (former Heavyweight, who beat George Foreman and then lost to Lennox Lewis when given a shot at the WBC World Heavyweight championship).
  • Ray Mercer (former WBO World Heavyweight champion)
  • Vince "Cool" Phillips (former IBF world Light-Welterweight champion)
  • Eric Butterbean Esch (former IBA World super-heavyweight champion)
  • Mike Bernardo former W.B.F. World Heavyweight champion

Other fighters derived from various sports

  • Sean O'Haire (former WWE/WCW wrestler)
  • Bob Sapp (former NFL player) - Japan GP 2005 champion
  • Akebono Tarô (former Sumo wrestler)
  • Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay (former WWE/UPW/NWA Zero One wrestler)
  • Tom "Green Beret" Howard (former WWE/UPW/NWA Zero One wrestler)
  • Nobuaki Kakuda
  • Kazushi Sakuraba (Kingdom Pro Wrestling, UWFi, PRIDE Fighting Championships)
  • Brock Lesnar (former WWE wrestler) (first match will be in February 2007 in K-1 Heroes Las Vegas)
  • Sinbi Taewoong Muay Thai fighter

Fighters temporarily contracted to K-1

  • Bobby Ologun - unranked
  • Royce Gracie - unranked