The One-Minute Rivalry

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The One-Minute Rivalry
Susumo Nagao

A fight is always greater than the sum of its components.

On the surface, it is just two (or occasionally more) men in a ring, swinging at each other. In truth, though, it is the months of preparation that both men have made, the sacrifices in each man's personal life, diet and enjoyment. It is not just the fighters' endeavour and sacrifice; it is also the time and effort of their coaches and their training partners.

No sparring partner wants to take a pasting in camp, then watch the man who handled him lose the big fight. No trainer wants to see someone he feels responsible for the safety and success of take a loss when they have worked so diligently together through the camp.

The fight is the culmination of weeks of monastic discipline, and there's still a fifty percent chance that all that sacrifice will come to naught. In fact in any fight you watch, one man is going to go home feeling like he has wasted months of his life and failed to give a fair account of himself.

These are the stakes of the fight game. Heartbreak and jubilation built from months of active preparation can turn on a single punch.

The story I want to share today is of a two-fight rivalry that shook Japan and the kickboxing scene. Yet the total time of both bouts amounted to just 75 seconds.

Andy Hug was a Japanese superstar.

The Swiss-born karateka had won numerous high-profile knockdown karate competitions, including the World Seidokaikan Cup. He had been the first foreigner to reach the finals of the Kyokushin World Open, where he lost a decision to the great Shokei Matsui. His almost religious passion for karate and for Japan, combined with his eccentric style of fighting, had already gained Hug a huge following in Japan, and after an appearance in a karate match at a K-1 event, he transitioned into kickboxing under the K-1 banner in 1993.

K-1 actually named the event "K-1: Andy's Glove," which gives you some idea of how important Hug was to the Japanese martial arts culture already.

Smashing through his first two opponents with impressive knockouts, Hug took on Branko Cikatic in just his third professional fight.

The first, and at this point only, K-1 Grand Prix champion, Cikatic was coming off of a knockout over kickboxing legend Ernesto Hoost, and Hug cemented his status as a legitimate kickboxer by winning the decision over Cikatic in front of 15,000 people, the largest crowd in K-1 history to that point.

Perhaps it makes sense that the fighter to derail Hug's incredible momentum would be something of a wild man.

Hug was a small heavyweight, just 5'11" and a trim 215 pounds. His style had a great deal to do with his success. Where the kickboxing game was traditionally one of punching combinations into low kicks, Hug was throwing axe kicks and spinning back kicks to the thigh (or the Hug Tornado as it is now known). He was an offensive whirlwind who would eat his opponents up at kicking range.

Patrick Smith had allegedly amassed a record of sixty-odd wins in kickboxing by this time, though records are obviously hard to find outside of the K-1 organization.

Smith entered the 1994 K-1 Grand Prix and was matched in the first round with Andy Hug.

For many, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Hug would mop the floor with Smith. Hug had just beaten the previous Grand Prix champion after all and he seemed to be getting stronger with every fight. 

When the bell came for the opening round, however, Smith shocked the small portion of the world that then cared for K-1.

He rushed across to meet Hug, pushed him with a light teep kick, then swung up an axe kick. The kakato-geri, or otoshi-geri, is a kick that is almost unused in kickboxing outside of Andy Hug's bouts. It is a punishing downward kick with the heel onto the top of the head or the shoulder.

The axe kick is not only difficult to execute (requiring flexibility to get it up there, but also good leg strength so as not to injure the knee joint when resistance is met), but often seems unrewarding.

Few knockouts can be attributed to the axe kick itself, but its threat from an entirely undefended angle will make opponents react in strange ways.

K-1

Smith's axe kick seemed to take place just as Hug was attempting his own.

Consequently, as Smith's kicking leg landed and he was ready to punch, Hug was still on one leg. A right straight put Hug to the canvas. He rose and met a flurry from Smith, fell again, and immediately rose to get dropped a third time before the ref could intervene to even call the second knockdown.

In his fourth fight in K-1, Hug had been defeated resoundingly by a newcomer.

This was made all the worse by Peter Aerts starching Smith moments into the fight in the next round of the grand prix.

Yet Aerts struggled with Smith all the same in the opening moments. Smith came out behind his push kick, axe kicks, flurries and spinning backfists. It was Aerts' good sense to clinch or to cover and let Smith wear himself out in these wild, bull-rushing tactics that allowed Aerts to catch Smith wide open.

At K-1: Revenge, just a few months later, it was clear that Hug had to put on a show.

The show's title referred, obviously, to Hug's opportunity to avenge his loss. But equally, Patrick Smith was given the chance to show he had not simply gotten lucky against Hug.

And the truth is that he didn't. Hug was an offensive fighter, as was Smith. Hug had met a wild, unpredictable offensive kickboxer, who was significantly bigger and stronger than Hug.

In order to win, it was necessary for Hug to do exactly what Aerts had done: weather the storm. 

As the opening bell rang, Patrick Smith ran across the ring and attempted to get his axe kick in on Hug first.

Hug met him with the Hug Tornado, taking out Smith's supporting leg. This was a remarkable counter that Hug attempted from time to time, most notably injuring Mike Bernardo's knee with the technique and throwing Masaaki Satake into the air with it.

K-1

The bout was short.

But in it, Hug weathered Smith's assault in clinches, throwing up high kicks any time he saw an opening. This instance in the corner shows a nice lead high kick straight from the floor. Not a powerful kick, but enough to get Smith thinking. 

After a few bum rushes and a few kicks coming awfully close to his temple, Patrick Smith was out in the open and in a proper kickboxing match against a better technician.

This was where Smith was done for. When he had been on top of Hug, and even Aerts, it didn't matter where his guard was—he was too busy throwing a storm of strikes. Out in the open, his shortcomings were obvious.

K-1

Carrying his hands high because of the threat of Hug's high kicks and axe kicks, Smith ate a crisp kick to the liver. Hug followed up with his left straight and a left knee, which sent Smith down as if he had been shot.

Andy Hug worked for years to achieve the respect he garnered in beating the first K-1 Grand Prix champion. Years of work in dojos and gyms, months in training specifically for opponents. And in 19 seconds, Patrick Smith destroyed it.

Five months later. Five months of arduous training by both men. Five months of both trying to prove that they were not a flash in the pan, and that their successes had not been a fluke. Five months later they met again, and in 56 seconds, one began his path back to the top, and the other proved to be just that: a flash in the pan.

Andy Hug had 42 more fights after avenging his embarrassing defeat to Patrick Smith. Smith went on to have just five more kickboxing bouts, all of which he lost.

Hug took on the best names in kickboxing and had his ups and downs.

He won a K-1 Grand Prix and is remembered as one of the best kickboxers to have ever competed in K-1 after his untimely death from leukemia in August of 2000. Smith appeared as one of the first names on the MMA scene by entering the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. Smith put together a total MMA record of 20-15, his last fight taking place in 2009.

Their achievements are in no way comparable, yet on one occasion it took only 19 seconds for their positions to reverse and only a further 56 seconds to restore the original order. Yet those seconds had more invested in them by Hug, Smith, their teams and the K-1 organization than any of us will ever know.

 Pick up Jack's eBooks from his blog, Fights Gone ByJack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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