LAS VEGAS, August 13 — Unknown Russian banger Ruslan Karaev came out of nowhere to capture the K-1 “Mayhem at the Mirage” crown in spectacular fashion. Karaev, a virtual unknown before the event kicked off, overwhelmed his three successive opponents to bring home the coveted trophy.
The Russian wound up crushing Frenchman Freddy Kemayo with a spinning back kick to the ribs in the opening round, thrilled fans with a scintillating distance war with Switzerland's Azem Maksutaj and then slugged his way past Scott Lighty in the finals.
He entered the tournament with a shocking 159-8 professional fighting record, having scored a staggering 125 knockouts. His record proved not to be just smoke and mirrors as he stomped past his three opponents.
Karaev elicited numerous choruses of cheers as his electrifying style captured the amazement of all in attendance. Most were wondering who exactly this young kid from Russia was, but by the time the Grand Ballroom inside the Mirage Hotel and Casino began emptying, everybody was talking about him.
"I was confident coming into the tournament," Karaev said afterward through an interpreter. "My opponents were all very strong, but I knew coming in that I would win. Hopefully the fans enjoyed my fights."
It appeared as though the crowd simply loved him, even cheering for the Russian against the hometown favorite Lighty in the final round. Lighty, who struggled in the semifinals against the rugged Chalid Arrab, dominated the opening round of his fight against Karaev, but wound up gassing out as the rounds wore away.
Karaev was fatigued as well, but it seemed like Lighty's tank vaporized a bit too early. Karaev wound up capturing a unanimous decision via tallies of 29-28 on all three judges' scorecards.
"I felt really good out there, but I just couldn't land my shots at the end," Lighty remarked several minutes after the finals had concluded. "He was tough, man, and had a lot of energy. But it's OK. Hopefully I proved a lot of people wrong today by going into the finals. I'm still new to this sport and I think I showed that I belong here with everybody else."
Karaev's war with Maksutaj was arguably one of the most exciting fights in the history of K-1. For three rounds the warriors stood virtually toe-to-toe, never succumbing to fatigue or the endless barrages thrown by each fighter. Maksutaj was granted admission into the second round after he scored the night's lone upset by handing tournament favorite Michael McDonald (Pictures) his walking papers.
But the real story was Karaev, a man who entered the tourney as a whopping 17/2 underdog to win the whole ball of wax. Only two other men were ranked below him to win, but Karaev was undeterred by the pre-fight expectations.
The 23-year-old future superstar spent the last few years dominating local kickboxing tournaments throughout Russia and kept his steamrolling style throughout the K-1 USA bracket. Karaev has a style that will excite any fan of the sport and is looking forward to competing in final 16-man tournament in Japan later this year.
The eight-man tournament began with quarterfinal action: Maksutaj won a unanimous three round decision over McDonald; Karaev knocked out Kemayo in the first round. Arrab won a unanimous three-round decision over Hiraku Hori. Lighty knocked out Tatsufumi Tomihira in the first round.
In the evening's main super-bout, Samoan slugger Mighty Mo needed just over a minute to dispatch the out-gunned Francois Botha (Pictures).
Mo dropped Botha with a sinister counter right cross roughly five seconds into the contest, but that was just the start. Mo dropped Botha twice more with right hands, prompting a stoppage at 1:20 of the opening round.
Botha stood no chance once he was felled from the first punch of Mo, but the game “Buffalo” continued on, never retreating or cowering from the onslaught from his charging opponent. The fan-favorite Mo proved once again that his vaunted power is nothing to take lightly and he expects to carry it with him into Japan later this year. His next opponent in the World Grand Prix will be none other than three-time champion Peter Aerts (Pictures).
In the other super-bout, little-known Frenchman Remy Bonnel won a hard-fought but well-deserved unanimous decision over the popular Duane Ludwig (Pictures). The fight itself was a close affair with both men taking turns delivering thudding kicks and damaging punches.
But the night belonged to Bonnel, who was a bit quicker and more aggressive than Ludwig. Bonnel wound up winning via tallies of 30-26 (twice) and 29-27. Ludwig was dropped in the third round from a right high kick
, thus the wide margin of scoring.