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K-1 Fighting Wows Fans with the "Real Thing"

September 28, 1998

Fighters kick and punch their way to victory in the K-1 ring. (K-1 Corporation)

One of the latest booms on the sporting scene is K-1, a made-in-Japan potpourri of fighting sports to determine who is really the strongest of them all. The "K" comes from the first letter of the various sports that make up K-1, such as karate, kung-fu, and kick boxing, as well as the first letter of the Japanese generic term for such fighting sports--kakutogi. The "1" means that there is only one weight class, and also that the champion is truly "number one."

Deciding the Strongest Man in the World
K-1 was launched in April 1993, following a proposal by Shodo Kaikan, a Japanese karate organization. The idea was to bring together fighters from such differing sports as karate, kung-fu, and kick boxing, and let them battle under common rules to decide who is really the strongest. One contest lasts for three or five rounds of three minutes each. The fighters wear gloves, there is no weight ranking, and matches are decided by knockout or by points.

Contests take place several times a year, and attract many participants from around the world, including the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, the United States, and of course Japan. The sparks are sure to fly when giants as tall as 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) and weighing 100 kilograms (220 pounds) or more enter the ring and start pounding each other with punches and kicks.

And the fans love it. The tickets for 1997's grand prix tournament sold out in just one hour after going on sale. The 1998 tournament, to be held in December in Tokyo, is expected to be just as popular. Televised K-1 matches, meanwhile, earn audience shares right up with those for professional baseball and soccer.

Fans Want the Real Thing
Pro wrestling has long been more popular in Japan than such martial arts as karate and judo. In the latter half of the 1980s, however, fans began to grow tired of wrestling--seeing it as a form of entertainment--and to demand a real fighting sport. In response, young wrestlers began to split off and set up their own organizations, proclaiming their own brand of battle to be the "real thing." As a result, professional wrestling split into various groups, each putting forth their own champion, and nobody was able to give a clear answer to the essential question of fighting sports: Who is the strongest?

Hence the idea of K-1--a sport without schools and with one set of rules--to determine the strongest man in the world. The idea has proved extremely popular. As well as pro wrestling fans, K-1 also attracts young female spectators, who previously showed little interest in fighting sports. The number of K-1 fans is increasing blow by blow.

The staging of K-1 contests is good news for the fighters, too. In Europe, the sporting environment has not been such that even first-class fighters could make a go of it as professionals. But the many potential fans in Japan and elsewhere who long for "real fights" have provided the base for K-1 to be a profitable way for fighters to make a living. What is more, if a fighter wins a tournament, he can expect fame and lucrative television and commercial appearances. And, of course, he can reign as the "strongest man in the world."

This year, after Europe, K-1 hit the United States--the world's biggest sports market--and thrilled a crowd of 6,000 spectators in a Las Vegas arena. Clearly, K-1's popularity looks like it will go the distance.

Learn all about K-1 at K-1 U.S.A.

Also visit the K-1 Official Homepage

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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