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Saturday, Mar 02, 2013

Exclusive: Financial Turmoil Forces K-1 To Cancel Show at Arnold Sports Expo at Last Minute

The once-mighty K-1 promotion produced many memorable fights worldwide, including in the U.S. where kickboxing superstars like Stefan Leko (right) and Michael McDonald (left) battled for supremacy.

By Joshua Molina

For the past 25 years, the Arnold Sports Expo in Ohio has reigned as one of the biggest athletic events in the world.

Some of the greatest athletes from bodybuilding, weightlifting, boxing and dozens of other sports have shared the stage at the multi-day event, often attended by 200,000 people. The event was named after bodybuilding legend and former California governor and movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made his first American body building appearances in Ohio.

For much of the Expo’s history, combat sports such as K-1 style kickboxing or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), have also dazzled and entertained fans.  Strikeforce staged an event, headlined by a light heavyweight championship bout between “Feijao” Cavalcante and Dan Henderson, at Nationwide Arena during the weekend of the expo in 2011, and WEC held its 47th event there one year earlier.

But that tradition came to an abrupt end just last week, when K-1, under new ownership, pulled out from the expo at the last minute, stunning the Ohio Athletic Commission, the expo’s promoters and the combat sports community.

“K-1 is done, outta here, over in this country,” said Russ Trapani, a former employee of the original K-1 North America, and the hired promoter of record who was responsible for securing a date for a K-1 live event during the expo weekend this year. “They will never rear their head in this country again.”

K-1 pulled out of the show a little more than a week ago. It would have been impossible for expo promoters to scramble to get another live event into the expo at that late stage in the game. The bizarre end comes after Trapani said he had worked tirelessly for months to promote the event and build relationships between K-1, Expo promoters and the Ohio Athletic Commission.

Kickboxing legends Maurice Smith (left) and Peter Aerts (right) squared off in a K-1 North America fight in Las Vegas in 2001

K-1 CEO Andrew Oh would not answer specific questions from Full Contact Fighter, but provided this statement:

“The reasons for K-1 to cancel the event were that there were too many small details that K-1 has not had proper time to prepare for,” Oh said. “If we didn’t address the many challenges of the event, it would have been a disaster and done damage and reputation to the fighters. We take the fighters’ reputations very seriously.”

Bernie Profato, president of Ohio Athletic Commission, however, said K-1 pulled out because they didn’t have the money to follow through with the event.

“They pulled out because of finances,” Profato said. ” They didn’t have the finances set up from the K-1 backers. They got in here and realized they didn’t have the money to cover the expenses for the rooms and I guess the travel and stuff.”

Profato said Trapani did his part, but it was K-1 who pulled the plug at the last minute.

“The promoter did his due diligence,” Profato said. “Russ Trapani – he had the bonds, he had everything set to go. We had the bout sheet ready to go. Everything was a go and, all of a sudden, it fell through. It was the expenses that curtailed everything.”

Trapani was recruited by K-1’s new owner Michael Kim, a Hong Kong businessman, who Trapani says absolutely “doesn’t get the fight game.” He said Oh, whom he likes as an individual, doesn’t understand the fight game either.

K-1, launched in Japan in 1993 by Master Kazuyoshi Ishii, was once a major force in the world of martial arts fighting.

In the early part of the last decade, Trapani worked under former Strikeforce owner and then-head of K-1 North America Scott Coker, who had been hired in 1999 by Ishii and his team to build the K-1 brand in the U.S.  Between 2000 and 2007, Coker and his team produced over a dozen K-1 tournaments at Bellagio and Mirage in Las Vegas.

The Japanese company, however, fell on hard times and floundered in the last half-decade because of some questionable business decisions, resulting in an inability to pay fighters. K-1 was eventually revived by Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), but then sold after FEG filed bankruptcy. After a flurry of ownership changes, K-1 opened its doors again in 2012 under the Hong Kong company, K-1 Global Holdings, owned by  Kim.

The Arnold Sports Expo draws tens of thousands of visitors annually. K-1 had the opportunity to promote an event there this year, but pulled out from the commitment at the last minute.

Kim contacted Trapani last year to assist in putting on a K-1 event in North America. After much deliberation, Trapani, who said he understands the nuances of the fight game, accepted the offer and pushed for K-1 to put on an event at the Arnold Expo.

Trapani, a San Francisco Bay Area resident, flew to Ohio and made a presentation to sell the event to expo promoters. It was a hit he said, and the parties struck a deal.  Almost immediately after a deal was agreed upon to hold the K-1 event at the expo, though, the event began to unravel. Trapani described Kim as the consummate “micromanager,” who rebuked every detail from the color of the mat to the fight card.

Kim, Trapani alleged, had also attempted to shoehorn fighters from the Romanian SuperKombat league onto the show.

“They tried to get all their fighters on the card,” Trapani said.

The constant rejection strangled Trapani’s ability to follow through, Trapani said.   The more serious problems began to occur, however, when he said K-1 showed signs of being unable to deliver a deposit to the expo’s highly-respected promoter, Bob Lorimer.

Seven weeks after the group agreed to a deal in early January, though, K-1 was finally able to deliver a $20,000 deposit check to expo promoters and the event once again seemed to be a go. The fights were supposed to take place in the expo’s main hall, a site with high foot traffic.

Everything went sour from there, though, Trapani said. Kim nixed many of Trapani’s ideas and refused to make decisions on other production matters, such as sound and lighting.

“They have major funding problems,” Trapani said.

Trapani is upset that he tied his name to the new K-1 ownership, but he is happy to have the situation behind him.  He said he is currently working with former NBA star Chris Mullin and others to possibly bring basketball events to the Expo next year.

“(The old) K-1 organization was lucky to have the Strikeforce team behind it,” Trapani said. “The new K-1, under Kim and Andrew Oh, was riding the coattails of the original K-1.”

Contact reporter Joshua Molina at jmolina@fcfighter.com

posted by JoshuaM @ 3:55 pm
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