When the Gracie family ditched a traditional ring for a Hollywood-style arena dubbed “The Octagon” in 1993, a revolution called K-1 occurred.

Kazuyoshi Ishii’s involvement in full-contact karate shifted from katas to killer instinct when he organized K-1’s first card for a sellout crowd of 10,000 in Japan in 1993. K-1 takes its name from kickboxing, “K,” representing a modern fi ght where traditional martial arts like karate, kung fu and tae kwon do could also apply. The number “1” signals the sport’s purpose: to unveil the world’s single best stand-up fighter. K-1 competition takes place in a traditional boxing ring with just as many rules.

But what separates K-1 is its no-clinching policy. A fighter can clinch only to deliver a single knee strike. More than that results in a foul, which differentiates it from traditional muay Thai fights and pushes low kicks into the forefront of a strategic and sinister weapon. Fighting 3-minute periods for three or five rounds forces the action.

The first whiff of upright violence came in a single invitation tournament when Croatian Branko Cikatic floored Holland’s Ernesto Hoost, who headlined the historic event. (The system eventually morphed into qualifying tournaments.) Stars like Switzerland’s Andy Hug and Peter “The Dutch Lumberjack” Aerts quickly emerged alongside Hoost.

Expansion followed Japanese success. Given that K-1’s stars were European, that market was a natural extension. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker was a major player in K-1 North America, promoting shows in Las Vegas. But Japan was its epicenter: K-1 was attracting more than half a million spectators, and its New Year’s Eve events were ratings lightning rods by 1997, the year that spawned premier MMA organization Pride Fighting Championships.

In 2002, K-1 revisited history in its own ring and ventured into another to make it. Ernesto Hoost erased the ugly memory of his inaugural loss, winning the millennium World Grand Prix Championship before becoming K-1’s first ever four-time winner in 2002. They also sent K-1 World GP runner-up Mirko “Crocop” Filipovic to fight top star Wanderlei Silva in a special rules match. As part of the talent exchange, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson entered K-1, besting Cyril Abidi twice. The K-1-PRIDE team reached its pinnacle with “Shockwave 2002” on New Year’s Eve.

K-1 star Bob Sapp battled Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in an MMA classic. Nogueira survived Sapp’s onslaught to win via armbar in front of 91,000 spectators and millions on television. K-1 revved up its roster by adding more than a heavyweight class. Semmy Schilt dominated the original division, becoming the first threetime consecutive World Grand Prix Champion from 2005 to 2007.

K-1 continues to promote fierce stand-up fi ghting and MMA, running a K-1 MMA card on New Year’s Eve 2008. K-1’s infl uence on MMA can be seen in major crossover stars like Maurice Smith, Cung Le, and Crocop. It has had no shortage of its own stars such as Alex Gong, Remy Bonjasky and Masato.

A K-1 veteran-turned-UFC heavyweight like Patrick Barry brings certain allure into the cage coming from such a high-level pedigree. A successful MMA striker such as UFC lightheavyweight king Lyoto Machida raises the question, “How would he do in K-1?” After a three-year absence from the American market, K-1 events from all around the world are set to appear on HDNet.

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