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K-1 Is Back: Who Wants to Prove They Have K-1 Level Kickboxing?

Matthew Roth@mattroth512Featured ColumnistJune 30, 2012

Photo by Susumu Nagao
Photo by Susumu Nagao

I doubt you'll get a "do you want to be a f*cking fighter?" speech out of new K-1 Global CEO Doug Kaplan.

When I had the opportunity to speak with the new fight promoter, I was left with the impression that Kaplan is a soft-spoken individual who would prefer to avoid public grandstanding while he attempts to rebuild the K-1 brand.

The K-1 brand. It always comes back to the K-1 brand.

K-1, as a promotion, has just as much history as the UFC; however, not all of the history is positive. The last incarnation was notoriously bad at paying fighters in a timely manner, if at all. There were rumors that many fighters from the 2010 K-1 Grand Prix were still waiting on payment for participating over a year later.

That on top of the various scandals that surrounded founder Kazuyoshi Ishii, who was jailed for tax evasion, left the brand dead to rights entering 2011.

Kaplan addressed the challenges of rebuilding a brand that was tarnished by the previous leadership. In his mind, the process is all about creating goodwill with fans and fellow promoters.

"We're not too worried about it because we have a stable of fighters, we have an incredible fan base that have been helping in telling us what they want and what the world needs." He added: "We're out to build a global K-1 federation, sport, league and grouping. It's all about the people that want to help."

Hypothetically it's a great plan, but in practice there will be a ton of challenges ahead.

However, it appears that Kaplan and company have a vision of how to reintroduce the brand. "The main thing is that we're trying to become much more global. The old K-1 was very focused on Japan and sprinkling of the rest. We're really about finding the best of the best from everywhere in the world," he said.

"We're starting that effort when we relaunched in Spain and had a bunch of Europeans to show what they can do. We also had a couple folks from Japan and China and Korea."

via http://www.dekoele.nl/K1/K1.html
via http://www.dekoele.nl/K1/K1.html

In my opinion, the reason kickboxing never really caught on in the United States was the lack of top American stars. The sport is huge in Europe and Asia, but North America just always fell by the wayside. The closest that K-1 ever got to building the brand was in the early 2000s with fights aired on ESPN 2 late at night.

Kaplan believes he's found a solution to this real problem, as K-1 is planning on holding open tryouts at Muscle Beach in Los Angeles on July 19. Said Kaplan:

The next real big step for us, and this is definitive in telling the world who we are, is the American tryouts for the youngsters or for the folks who have always dreamt about this but never had the wherewithal to fight for K-1 or tryout. So we're going to have our American tryouts for K-1 in LA on July 19.

That doesn't mean that K-1 Global is putting all their eggs in the proverbial basket. They've also been scouting fighters on their own to ensure that the best talent available will be signed to the promotion.

There's an optimism in Kaplan's voice when he speaks about these young American fighters. It's his belief that those names will be just as recognizable and just as feared as Badr Hari and Daniel Ghita. 

To continue to grow the American market, K-1 Global has also decided to hold three events in the United States this year.

They've chosen three of the largest media markets for these events, with the hope of cultivating those markets for the future. Los Angeles is tentatively scheduled for sometime in September. Miami will play host to the K-1 Grand Prix Final 16 in October. And the K-1 Grand Prix Final 8 will likely be held in New York City either in December or January.

via letstalkfighting.com
via letstalkfighting.com

However, just because there is a focus on the United States doesn't mean that they are ignoring other profitable markets.

K-1 has a major ace up its sleeve, as they will be the only combat sport that's allowed to hold events in mainland China. They have also been given permission by the Chinese government to show the fights on various television networks throughout the country.

There's also a little bit of exclusive news that came out during the discussion with Doug Kaplan. While the previous incarnation of K-1 focused on the heavyweights and 70kg MAX divisions, K-1 Global will also include a cruiserweight division for fighters who aren't quite big enough to fight at heavyweight.

This is great news for the Melvin Manhoefs and Mark Millers of the world, who aren't large enough to compete with the Semmy Schilt's of K-1.

While it's impossible to forecast how this new K-1 will do in an ever-changing kickboxing environment, they do have a plan for success. I believe Kaplan when he says the promotion will turn into a global brand.

The road ahead will be a bumpy one for Doug Kaplan as he prepares to compete with United Glory. I hope that he's ready to prove every naysayer wrong by saving the K-1 name. We'll see if he can with this year's Grand Prix.

Matthew Roth is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

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