The Featherweight Slam tournament which formed the centerpiece of GLORY 8 TOKYO played out with all the upsets, drama and excitement that only a one-night tournament of the world’s elite can provide.
Young prodigy Masaaki Noiri came within touching distance of earning tournament victory and the $100,000 grand prize. During the Grand Final match against the excellent Yuta Kubo, Noiri took an accidental spinning back kick to the groin right as the bell sounded the end of the first round.
Collapsed in agony, the 19 year old Noiri could have been forgiven for declaring he could not continue. And as the judges scorecards had him as the winner of the first round, that would have been enough to declare him the tournament victor. All he had to do was quit.
But that would haven’t just been an unsatisfactory end for Noiri. It would also have spoiled the tournament for the fans in the Ariake Coliseum Arena and the millions watching around the world.
So Noiri took some time to recover, had a new groin guard installed - the previous one had been damaged beyond repair by the back kick - and got back into the fight.
Moral victory was his but sadly his fairytale run - which included winning an eight-man Road to Glory tournament just to earn this tournament spot - came to an end over the next two rounds.
Kubo, who already has one win over Noiri, proved too much for him again and gradually began to edge ahead. When he knocked Noiri down late in the third, it was clear only a KO could win the fight for the youngster.
That didn’t come, despite several efforts in the final 30 seconds, and when the final bell sounded on the last round Noiri walked to his corner and struck the post in frustration.
It was understandable, as in the course of the tournament he had stopped world-ranked #3 Liam Harrison with a knee in the quarter-finals and then outworked and out-struck world-ranked #1 Mosab Amrani, who was tired from his quarter-final match with aggressive Brazilian export Marcus Vinicius.
Kubo’s run saw him stop Chibin Lim, arguably the best kickboxer in South Korean history, with a second-round knee to the body in the evening‘s quarter-finals stage.
He then went into a semi-final match with Canadian standout Gabriel Varga, a two-time world champion who was a second-degree karate black belt aged 17 and who had beaten the five-time French champion Abdallah Ezbiri by decision to get to the semi-final stage.
The fight was a close one but Kubo’s quality shone through late in the second and a tired Varga was on the back foot for most of the third. Kubo won a unanimous decision to book his place in the Grand Final opposite the talented Noiri, who bears his nickname ‘The Amazing’ without a hint of false modesty.
Aside from the back-kick low blow the all-Japan final fight did not disappoint. It had all the elements of rich drama as Noiri, out for revenge and representing the new generation, went after a fighter who has ruled his weight class almost effortlessly in recent years. Noiri won the first round on the judge’s cards but lost the next two.
How much did the low-blow factor in? We will never know. After Kubo was declared the winner and took his $100,000 cheque amidst a rainfall of golden ribbons, Noiri was stoic. In the dressing room backstage, he refused to blame the first-round foul for his subsequent decision loss. He also made clear that quitting was never an option.
“Actually I was told that I had won the first round and that if said I could not continue, I would win the fight and win the tournament. But for me, this is not a way to win a fight or win a tournament like this. It was very important for me to continue and if I was going to win, I was going to win the right way,” he said.
“I don’t think it really affected my performance in the second and third rounds. I took some time to recover and then I returned to the fight and I was OK. I am just very disappointed that I lost - its not just the tournament. I also lost to Kubo once before. Now its two losses. I hope I can get a rematch soon.”
Tournament winner Kubo advances to the world #1 ranking spot as well as collecting the $100,000 grand prize. He was happy with his performance in the tournament but the win was tinged with a little sadness about the low-blow.
“I really want to apologize to Noiri for it ending this way. That wasn’t the intention of course and it is a shame that this had to happen. I threw the kick right when the bell sounded and it was just an unlucky accident. I am very sorry,” he said backstage, holding his new belt.
“He wants a rematch? Yes, that is not a problem. If we remain the same weight class and it happens in the near future then I am happy to do that and I look forward to it. But I am also planning to move up to 70kg later this year.
“When I do, I think Noiri will take over the 65kg division. He is a great fighter, really great, and I think he will be world champion in this weight for a long time after I am gone.”
Official Results from GLORY 8 TOKYO:
Date: Friday 3 May, 2013
Location: Ariake Colosseum
City: Tokyo, Japan
Grand Final SLAM Tournament -65kg
Yuta Kubo defeats Masaaki Noiri via decision (146-134)
Semi-Finals, SLAM Tournament -65 kg
Maasaki Noiri defeats Mosab Amrani via decision (144-141)
Yuta Kubo defeats Gabriel Varga via decision (145-140)
Quarter-Finals, SLAM Tournament -65 kg
Mosab Amrani defeats Marcus Vinicius via decision (150-135)
Masaaki Noiri defeats Liam Harrison TKO (due to cut) R2 at 1:06 min.
Gabriel Varga defeats Abdallah Ezbiri via decision (149-139)
Yuta Kubo defeats Chibin Lim via KO (knee to body), R2 at 2:58 min
Lightweight (70kgs, 3 x 3mins)
Yoshihiro Sato defeats Sunghyun Lee via decision (144-141)
Heavyweight (3 x 3mins)
Jerome Le Banner defeats Koichi via decision (150-135)
Lightweight (70kgs, 3 x 3mins)
Andy Ristie defeats Albert Kraus via KO (knee to head), R2 at 27 sec
Heavyweight (3 x 3mins)
Peter Aerts defeats Jamal Ben Saddik via KO (3 downs in 1 round) R2 at 2:27 min
Reserve Fights, SLAM Tournament -65 kg
Andrej Bruhl defeats Komiya Yukihiro via decision (143-142)
Chonlaek Superpro Samui defeats Fujita Zen via decision (146-139)