K-1's eight-year history began with the revolutionary vision of Japan's Kazuyoshi Ishii. Following a rapid climb through the ranks as martial arts mentor, promoter, and official, Ishii thought it was time to organize a major martial arts event. Its concept was to decide the strongest martial artist in a night.
With karate moving closer to kick boxing in style, Ishii organized the first K-1 Grand Prix at the Yoyogi Dai-Ichi Stadium in Tokyo on April 30, 1993. The event was held in a regulation-size boxing ring under the K-1 rules, which permit punches to accommodate both karate and kick boxing fighters. A crowd of 10,000 were on hand to witness history in the making as a young Ernesto Hoost and Peter Aerts, before they won a combined total of seven WGPs between the two of them, first faced each other in one of the preliminary fights of the Grand Prix. The match was an instant classic as both men gave it there all but in the end it was Aerts' unfamiliarity with the three round style of K-1 (normal kickboxing fights usually have five rounds) that caused him to start out slow in the first round and did not have enough time to catch up with the very capable Hoost who was awarded the unanimous decision. Hoost would then go on to knock out former UFC champion and former American kickboxing champion Maurice Smith in the semi finals with a beautiful headkick assuring him a spot into the finals. In the end though it was to be Aerts' teammate Branko Cikati? who was to be the big winner of the WGP that night as he put on a dominant performance knocking out Changpuek Kiatsongrit, Japan's number one kickboxer at the time Masaaki Satake, and Ernesto Hoost in the finals.
Later in the same year, the K-2 Grand Prix was held, which was a tournament in the light heavyweight class. Ernesto Hoost knocked out Changpuek Kiatsongrit in the final.
Golden Age (1994-1999)
Popular fighters in the K-1 during the golden age included, Masaaki Satake, Branko Cikatic, Changpuek Kiatsongrit, Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Andy Hug, Stan Longinidis, Jerome Le Banner, Mike Bernardo, Musashi, Mirko Filipovi?, Francisco Filho, Sam Greco, Stefan Leko, Ray Sefo, Matt Skelton, Rick Roufus, Lloyd van Dams, and Xhavit Bajrami.
In 1994, K-1 held an event called K-1 Challenge which was headlined by a double main event. In the first main event, Japan's number one kickboxer Masaaki Satake took on Ernesto Hoost in a match that ended rather quickly from a Hoost high kick knockout to Satake's head in the second round. The second main event was an eagerly anticipated standoff between reigning WGP champion Branco Cikatic and famous karate champion Andy Hug. Hug was very well known in Japan as he won numerous karate tournaments all over the world and had a very popular fighting style. The match was an exciting five rounder with both men knocking the other down but neither showing true dominance. In the end the judges gave Hug the very close unanimous decision to the cheers of the grateful crowd.
In the second edition of the World Grand Prix the field of eight participants were stronger than last year. Along with defending champion Branco Cikatic, Peter "The Dutch Lumberjack" Aerts, Satake, Andy Hug made his anticipated WGP debut. Many believed Hug was a heavy favorite to win it all considering he already beat Cikatic a few months earlier but unfortunately that wasn't to be. In Hug's first fight he was upset by American kickboxer Patrick Smith in nineteen seconds after being knocked to the ground two quick times which stunned the Japanese crowd. After Hug's early elimination the WGP was anyone's to claim. Aerts, Satake and Cikatic all passed their first round fights with relative ease. In the semi-finals Smith wasn't able to upset Aerts as the "Dutch Lumberjack" took Smith out with a hard punch in the first round. In a rematch from last year's WGP Satake and Cikatic collided again but this time it was Satake who was given the win by unanimous decision. In the finals with a very hot crowd cheering them on, Aerts and Satake went a full three rounds before the judges crowned Peter Aerts the youngest and second ever K-1 World Grand Prix Champion at the age of 23, a record that as of 2008 is still intact.
Later in 1994 K-1 held their next event titled K-1 Revenge and was named because of the main event which showcased the rematch between Andy Hug and the man who upset his WGP chances earlier in the year, Patrick Smith. The crowd was very hot for this match and were purely behind Hug. In an amazing reversal of the outcome to their first match Hug was able to get his revenge by knocking out Smith with a knee to the face in less than a minute into the first round. The K-1 Revenge show also showcased a WKA title match between champion Dennis Lane and Masaaki Satake. The Japanese fans were of course behind Satake and to their enjoyment watched as his brutal leg kicks left Lane hobbling so badly that his corner threw in the towel in the second round giving Satake the title. Also on the card was the K-1 debut of another acclaimed kickboxing and karateka fighter, the Greek Stan Longinidis. Stan "the Man" debut against another champion, 1993 WGP champion Branco Cikatic. The match displayed both men's ability to dish out and take a beating but after five tough rounds Stan "the Man' was given the unanimous decision.
K-1 closed out 1994 with K-1 Legend a show that was headlined by Masaaki Satake against yet another debuting herald kickboxing champion, Australia born Sam Greco. In what many considered a dominating performance, Greco used his brute strength to pound Satake in the second round before he landed a hard solid right that put the Japanese fighter down for the count. In a rematch from the 1993 WGP finals, Branco Cikatic went against Ernesto Hoost. Hoost was looking for a chance to avenge his knock lost to the big Croatian but that wasn't meant to be as a mighty left hook put Hoost out cold on the mat in almost a repeat from their first fight.
In 1995 K-1 decided to have a preliminary elimination round for their WGP. To determine the final eight, sixteen men duked it out. Along with fan favorites Ernesto Hoost, defending WGP champion Peter Aerts, Sam Greco and Stan the Man, a few new faces debuted in the K-1 ranks. Young French kickboxer Jerome Le Banner made his K-1 debut with a decision win over Muay Thai champion Nokueed Devy. Another man to make his K-1 debut albeit in more impressive fashion was South African fighter Mike Bernardo who was set up against Andy Hug, in another attempt to make it to the WGP. Unfortunately for Hug, like last year he would be upset again by a vicious flurry of strikes in the third round that displayed Bernardo's brutal power. Lastly Japanese kickboxer Masaaki Satake got his win over infamous street fighter Kimo in a horrible match that showed Kimo's lack of fighting ability.
In the 1995 WGP, Jerome Le Banner upset Satake with a brutal punch to the face that crumbled him to the mat in the third round. Two heavy head kicks from Mike Bernardo got him past Stan the Man. While both Peter Aerts and Ernesto Hoost easily passed their first round opponents to make it to the semi finals. In a very brutal fight both Bernardo and Le Banner took the fight to each other but it was Le Banner's leg kicks that literally crippled Bernardo and stopped his streak to the WGP finals. In another classic clash Aerts and Hoost went to an extra fourth round after their first three rounds were considered a draw. In the fourth round Aerts looked to be a bit more aggressive and was given the chance to defend his WGP title in the finals against Le Banner. In the finals Aerts made quick work over the young "French Cyborg" by punching him in the gut and crowning himself the first two time WGP champion.
1995 marked the beginning of K-1's expansion. The first K-1 Fight Night outside of Japan took place in Switzerland with Andy Hug hosting. K-1 ended 95 with two big events. The first was the second K-1 Revenge. Like last year's edition K-1 Revenge II allowed Andy Hug the chance to gain revenge on a past lost, this time against Mike Bernardo. Unfortunately this time around Hug was not able to gain revenge and was knocked out in the second round by a mighty left hook. Also on the show defending WGP champion Peter Aerts fought against Kyokushin fighter Sam Greco in a very competitive five round battle. In the end Aerts was given the close decision. K-1 Revenge II was also significant for the debut of a young Seido Kaikan fighter, MUSASHI who end up becoming one of the most successful Japanese fighters in K-1. In MUSASHI's debut he was put against the man who defeated his idol, Andy Hug a year earlier, Patrick Smith. MUSASHI ended up defeating Smith in a dominating performance topped off with a 2nd round KO.
The last event of 1995 was K-1's Hercules event which was headlined by two big matches. The first was a five round battle between Andy Hug and Jerome Le Banner which ended in a decision win for Andy Hug. The main event was a big clash between defending WGP champion Peter Aerts and rising upstart Mike Bernardo, who was coming off two dominant wins over Andy Hug. The match wasn't long and ended in controversy when in the opening seconds Aerts gave Bernardo a flurry of punches one of which hit him right in the back of the head. Bernardo went down hard and wasn't moving for a few seconds which caused the ref to stop the fight. Immediately when the bell rang Bernardo got up and protested the decision but the ref wouldn't listen. This would mark the beginning of a very serious and personal feud between the two K-1 stars.
1996 began with a bang in the WGP qualifier. Eight of the best K-1 fighters fought to gain their place in the WGP. The usual suspects won their fights with ease including defending two time champion Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, MUSASHI, Sam Greco, Mike Bernardo, Stan the Man and Andy Hug. "French Cyborg" Jerome Le Banner was supposed to join his fellow K-1 fighters and had a relative newcomer standing in his way named Mirko "the Tiger" but people today know him as Mirko Filipovi?. Before "Crocop" became a MMA star in PRIDE and UFC he started as a kickboxer in K-1. In his debut fight he stunned many by going toe to toe with Le Banner and got awarded a slim decision victory and a chance to participate in the WGP finals.
The 1996 WGP is, to many, one of the best K-1 WGPs in the history of K-1, not only due to the quality of competitors but because of the emotional ending. In the first match Mike Bernardo beat Peter Aerts with a right hook in the third round to avenge his controversial lost to the "Dutch Lumberjack" last year and end the chances of Aerts becoming a three time WGP champion. In the second first round match two famous Japanese schools of Karate collided when Seido Kaikan fighter MUSASHI took on Kyokushin fighter Sam Greco. Unfortunately this exciting match ended after one round when Greco broke his toe and couldn't continue. Ernesto Hoost took care of the young Mirko Crocop after three rounds while Andy Hug made even shorter work Duane Van Der Merwe after a vicious KO ending the fight in 40 seconds. In the semis Bernardo got the unanimous decision over MUSASHI, while Hoost faced Andy Hug in one of the best K-1 fights up to this point which went into an extra round and saw Hug win by a slim margin. In the miracle final Andy Hug, the man that was destined to become a K-1 WGP champion but was stopped prematurely two times in a row finally made it to the finals. After two rounds Hug wore down the mighty Bernardo with leg kicks which crippled Beranrdo significantly. After another brutal kick Bernardo crumpled to the ground and was given a standing eight count, the Japanese crowd were on their feet cheering on Hug. Seconds later after a beautiful spinning leg sweep Hug took down Bernardo again and as the ref and the crowd counted Bernardo out Hug gave a triumphant cry of victory and FINALLY became a WGP champion!
The third K-1 Revenge event was a star studded affair. In this event reigning WGP champion Andy Hug added another title to his kickboxing career beating Stan the Man to win the World Muay Thai Championship after a brutal second round knockout. Of course the theme of the K-1 Revenge series is all about revenge and in the double header main event Sam Greco fought against MUSASHI to avenge his early lost to the Seido Kaikan fighter when he broke his toe. Unfortunately in this fight neither fighter would be able to claim victory as during a heated struggle MUSASHI fell out of the ring and hit his head hard on the concrete floor. Dazed but determined to fight MUSASHI tried to continue but the doctor at ringside wasn't having it and called the fight a NO contest. In the main event the Bernardo/Aerts feud escalated to a new level. Trying to avenge his early WGP lost, Aerts started the fight aggressive as ever but maybe a little too aggressive as one of his kicks hit Bernardo in the groin. Bernardo slowly crumbled to the ground but couldn't get up. The ref tried to give Bernardo time to recover but he wasn't moving and claimed he couldn't continue. For some reason though the ref decided to DQ Aerts for the low blow even though he never warned Aerts for the obvious accidentally attack. Again the Aerts/Bernardo feud keeps heating up.
To end the 1996 year K-1 held two final events. The first titled Star Wars was just that, a war between the top stars of K-1. "Mr. Perfect" Ernesto Hoost took on the young Jerome Le Banner in a very back and forth contest. During the second it looked like Hoost would take another win but out of nowhere he got tagged hard by Le Banner seconds later Le Banner knocked Hoost down hard. The ref gave Hoost a standing eight count even though it was obvious that Hoost was completely out of it, the ref still gave Hoost the chance to continue fighting. This proved futile as seconds later Le Banner knocked Hoost completely out for the stunning upset. In the next fight eternal rivals Mike Bernardo and Peter Aerts clashed again. Results of their last few fights were still fresh in these two fighters minds as they went all out for a good three rounds till out of nowhere Bernardo blasted Aerts with a knockout blow giving Bernardo a 3-1 lead in their rivalry. To continue a trend, Andy Hug added yet another title to his collection by gaining the World KickBoxing Associate championship after a five round slugfest with returning Japanese fighter Massaki Satake.
The final event of 1996 was the K-1 Hercules event. In this event for the first time two draws were given, the first between Mike Bernardo and Stan the Man and the second between Sam Greco and the "French Cyborg" Jerome Le Banner. The K-1 Hercules event is significant to K-1 fans due to it being the debut event of fan favorite New Zealand fighter Ray Sefo. Unfortunately for Sefo he had the daunting task of fighting against "Mr. Perfect" Ernesto Hoost. For the young Kiwi, Sefo gave it his all but after a series of brutal leg kicks Sefo was unable to get off the mat and Hoost was awarded the KO victory. In the main event the streaking Hug was able to defeat the young MUSASHI.
The 1997 K-1 Kings event was truly an affair fit for a king as reigning K-1 WGP champion Andy Hug took on two time K-1 champion Peter Aerts in the main event. The fight didn't last long as Aerts stopped the streaking Hug with a heavy assault of punches that knocked the "blue eye samurai" out in the first round. Also on the card Mike Bernardo destroyed Masaaki Satake in two rounds while the very first WGP Champion Branco Cikatic made his K-1 return by overpowering the young MUSASHI in four rounds.
The 1997 K-1 Braves event was significant for several things. One of them was the debut of Stefan Leko, a young kickboxing champion from Germany. Another significant event was the return of Ray Sefo to the K-1 ring where he knocked out the French cyborg Jerome Le Banner with a crushing right hook dubbed the "Boomerang Hook". Also on the card Sam Greco fought his second consecutive draw with Andy Hug while the hot Mike Bernardo was stopped cold by the technical kicks of "Mr. Perfect" Ernesto Hoost.
The 97 Fight Night was headined this year by Swiss Hero and reigning WGP champion Andy Hug facing the very hot Mike Bernardo. In a very hard hitting fight both men pushed each other to the limit but after three rounds the decision went to the hailing hero Hug.
The K-1 Dream event was aptly named that because of the "dream match" main event pitting Kyokushin Karate champion Franscisco Filho against reigning WGP and Seido Kaikan karate fighter Andy Hug. Karate purists were excited for this fight but were stunned by the results; in less than one round Filho knocked out Hug with an amazing right hook. This was truly the most amazing debut in K-1 history and put all other K-1 stars on notice that Filho was a contender not to take lightly. Also on the show Peter Aerts scored a huge knock out over the French Cyborg Jerome Le Banner by headkick. Ray Sefo gave a crushing beating over Jean Claude, while it only took Sam Greco two minutes to beat the first WGP champion Branco Cikotic into submission.
The 1997 WGP qualifier sent the best K-1 fighters to the WGP final, with newcomer Francisco Filiho, K-1 veterans Sam Greco, Jerome Le Banner, Ernesto Hoost, 2 time WGP Champion Peter Aerts, Masaaki Satake and defending WGP champion Andy Hug all made it past the qualifier. The first WGP champion, Branco Cikatic, made his K-1 return, but was defeated by Bernardo within seconds by an accidental headbutt which made a deep cut in his head causing the doctors to stop the fight and added Bernardo's name to the list of qualifiers. In the 1997 WGP, Filho continued his victorious first year in K-1 with an amazing 15 second knock out over Sam Greco in the first round. In a rematch from last year Ernesto Hoost was able to get revenge by knocking out Jerome Le Banner in an explosive furry in the first round. The never ending war between Peter Aerts and Mike Bernardo continued with their first round battle which saw Aerts walk away with the hard fought TKO win after a kick to Bernardo's face finally put the big South African down. In the last quarter final match, defending WGP champion Hug made short work of Japan's Satake in only 15 seconds! In the semi finals the streaking Filiho came to a halt when Hoost muscled out a hard fought three round decision and a seat in the finals. While on the other side of the bracket WGP winners Hug and Aerts clashed in an amazing three round battle. In the end it was Hug who got the win and a chance to defend his championship. The finals saw Hoost prevent Hug's bid for a second K-1 title after three hard-fought rounds to win his first K-1 WGP title.
The 98 K-1 season began with the K-1 Kings event which was headlined by newly crowned WGP champion Ernesto Hoost taking on two time champion Peter Aerts. In another hard fought battle between the two K-1 legends, Aerts was able to score the win after knocking Hoost down in the first round and getting the unanimous decision.
The K-1 Braves event was headlined by the two most recognizable Japanese K-1 fighters; the veteran Masaaki Satake and the newcomer MUSASHI. After five hard fought rounds none of the judges saw a clear victor and thus the battle between the two Japanese greats ended in a rare K-1 draw.
In the annual K-1 Fight Night held in Switzerland, hometown hero Andy Hug squared off against Peter Aerts in an entertaining five round brawl. This would be the third fight between the two K-1 greats with each one having a win a piece. In the end after five rounds, Hug was given the win. On the undercard of the event Stefan Leko won the K-1 Europe GP earning a spot in the 16 man WGP qualifier.
The K-1 Dream card was truly a dream for K-1 fans. Since its inception, the goal of K-1 was to see what style was the better one between traditional stand up Karate and kickboxing. Over the years many top Karate champions have joined the ranks of K-1 and fought with some of the best kickboxers in the world. Now in K-1 Dream, the theme was a seven on seven, Karate team vs Kickboxing team, to prove which style was superior. In the opening bout debuting Kyokushin Karateka Nicholas Pettas fought against the young Croatian/German Stefan Leko. Leko didn't go easy on Pettas and welcomed him to the K-1 with a second round TKO. Another debuting Kyokushin Karateka, Glaube Feitosa didn't fare any better as he was knocked out by Mike Bernardo, giving Team Kickboxing a commanding lead. British kickboxer Kirkwood Walker and Dutch karateka Xhavit Bajrami went to a draw. Japanese Karateka Masaaki Satake was crushed by another British kickboxer in Matt Skeleton, while fellow Japanese fighter MUSASHI was put down by Ernesto Hoost, giving Team Kickboxing the dominant win. During Sam Greco and Jerome Le Banner's fight, it looked like Team Karate would have a chance to at least gain one win when Greco knocked down LeBanner twice in the first round. BUt miraculously in the second, LeBanner threw a right cross that crumbled Greco to the canvas. In the main event the young Brazilian Francisco Filiho squared off with two time WGP champion Peter Aerts in what would have been a must see fight. Unfortunately during the first round Aerts hurt his leg and the fight had to be stopped awarding Filiho the tainted win, and at least prevent Team Karate from being shut out in the series.
1998 saw the first United States qualifier, which took place in Las Vegas. In K-1's debut show American Kickboxer, Rick Roufus won the US GP and earned a shot at the 16 man WGP qualifier. Headlining the show was a rematch from the very first WGP where Hoost took down Maurice Smith. This time Smith lasted the full three rounds but still lost the decision.
Back in Japan they were having their own GP qualifier that saw K-1 original Masaaki Satake win the GP and earn one last shot at a possible WGP victory.
In the 1998 WGP qualifier last year's final 8 (Francisco Filiho, Sam Greco, 2 time WGP champion Peter Aerts, Mike Bernardo, former WGP champion Andy Hug, Masaaki Satake and defending WGP champion Ernesto Hoost) minus Jerome Le Banner who unfortunately was injured, were set up against a brand new batch of would be K-1 fighters to see who would go onto the finals. All of last year's fighters made it past the qualifying round and were joined by New Zealian Ray Sefo who out muscled Stefan Leko in the qualifiers.
The 1998 WGP is the shortest WGP to date with only one of the fights going to a decision. In the quarterfinals heavy favorite to make the finals Francisco Filiho was shockingly manhandled by Mike Bernardo in the third round, while it took Peter Aerts only one round to take down the Japanese Satake. In his crusade to return to the WGP finals, Andy Hug made short work of Ray Sefo while an unfortunate cut forced this year's WGP defending champion Ernesto Hoost to quit sending opponent, Sam Greco to the semi finals. In the semis' the eternal rivary continued as Aerts and Bernardo met once again. This would be the sixth time these two K-1 stars have collided and Bernardo was ahead 2-3. This time Aerts was able to tie it up by knocking out the big South African with seconds left in the first round. On the other side of the Semi finals, it took Andy Hug all three rounds to out muscle Sam Greco. In the finals Aerts became the first three time WGP champion by KOing Hug with a quick kick to the head inside of one minute in the first round. Not only did Aerts become a 3 time champion he also won this WGP in the quickest time ever 6 minutes 43 seconds. A record that stood until it was broken recently in 2009 by Semmy Schilt.
In 1999, K-1 Revenge had some much eager rematches. The first was Japan's fading veteran Satake trying to avenge his brutal KO lost to Mike Bernardo. Satake did last a bit longer, all three rounds, but he still ended up losing the rematch. In the next Revenge match, New Zealander Ray Sefo was trying to avenge his lost to Andy Hug in the 1998 WGP Finals but an early kick to the groin plagued Sefo during the remainder of the match. Yet Sefo was all heart and every time he went down he kept coming back up to the cheers and support of the fans. Unfortuantley by the fourth round Sefo was spent and his corner threw in the towel. In the main event Francisco Filiho was trying to avenge one of his few losses in K-1 to Mr. Perfect Ernesto Hoost. In an amazing show of technical skill Filiho took down Hoost in less than 2 minutes from a barrage of hooks, earning his revenge.
K-1 held three preliminary tournaments to determine six competitors to face the final eight fighters from last year's tournament (K-1 chose two other fighters to fill the final spots). In the first tournament (held at the "K-1 Braves" event) both former WFCA kick boxing champion Lloyd van Dams and Xhavit Bajrami were sent to the Final Elimination round. The second tournament ("K-1 Dreams") saw K-1 veteran Stefan Leko and Samir Benazzouz go forward. The final preliminary tournament held at the K-1 Japan event saw Musashi receive a pass along with Nobu Hayashi. In the 1999 Final Elimination event, these six winners along with Mirko CroCop and IFKA Superheavyweight champion, Matt Skelton, were matched up with the previous year's eight finalists minus Brazilian Francisco Filiho (who was injured) and replaced by a returning fan favorite, Jerome Le Banner.
In the WGP Qualifier all of last year's finalist proved to be too tough for the new up and comers except for Mirko Cro Cop who made his triumphant K-1 return by taking down the very tough Mike Bernardo and MUSASHI who defeated Satake in a fight that many point as the passing of the torch from one Japanese star to another.
In the 99 WGP Mirko Cro Cop continued his impressive return to K-1 by pummeling MUSASHI while in the upset of the night the French Cyborg Jerome Le Banner took down defending WGP champion Peter Aerts. In the other quarter final matches Sam Greco out muscled Ray Sefo while in a rematch from the 97 WGP Ernesto Hoost avenged his lost to former WGP champion Andy Hug. In the explosive semifinals Mirko Cro Cop cemented his ticket to the finals with a knockout win over Sam Greco while Ernesto Hoost took down the hard punching Jerome Le Banner. In the finals Hoost took advanatge of what looked to be a rib injury to Mirko by attacking the body until Mirko could not continue, earning Hoost his second WGP title.
Turn of the century (2000-2001)
Along with many of the fighters from the golden age, the turn of the century also introduced many new fighters. Many of whom debuted in the K-1 in either 1998 or 1999 but started to gain popularity in 2000 and 2001. This would include, J