68kg King in the Ring 8-Man Tournament
On the evening of Friday the 15th of September, VIP tables in ASB Stadium began filling up with well-dressed patrons, the imminence of violence palpable. Eight men would fight in a one-night kickboxing tournament under K1 rules to determine the King in the Ring (KitR) inaugural 68kg champion.
In the first quarter-final, Alpha Muay Thai's "Razor" Ra Redden (23-7) faced his cousin: Hammerhead MMA's Nic "Ice Cream" Aratema (11-9). Both men were tentative in round one, perhaps out of mutual respect, perhaps the grim prospect of fighting three times in one night. The fight was a technical contest between two wily veterans, with both men possessing great defence which led to little damage being dealt by either. As it progressed, it was Redden who outpointed his adversary over three rounds to take the majority decision win.
The second quarter-final was between ETK HQ's Josh "Method Man" Marsters (10-6-2) and ETK North Shore's Zacc Forbes-Smith (5-4). While Forbes-Smith looked to establish range early, employing karate-style side kicks, Marsters was ferocious and looking for the kill from the outset, blasting Forbes-Smith with combination punches and dropping him early with a heavy right hand. Forbes-Smith sprang to his feet like a cat following the eight-count, but Marsters kept the pressure on, leaping forward with a superman punch, and following up with a fierce combination which crumpled Forbes-Smith to the canvas in a pile of limbs. The referee had seen enough, and called a stop to the contest.
The third quarter-final saw Sam "the Shank" Hill (29-13-2) face the winner of the South Island four-man qualifier tournament: Shem "Money" Murdoch (5-3). Hill looked carved from stone and ready to commit murder as he walked to the ring. Murdoch displayed skill and heart, giving as good as he got early in the fight, the offense of the veteran Hill crashing against his tight guard. As it progressed, though, the furious pressure of Hill began to take its toll, and he occupied the defense of Murdoch with vicious punches upstairs, to disguise brutal knees delivered with precision. The breakneck pace culminated in the third round, with Murdoch being dropped by a left body rip / knee combination. He fought on valiantly after the eight-count, but Hill kept the pressure on and sent him down again, earning the TKO victory.
The quarter-final bout between Strikeforce's "Insane" Kayne Conlan (20-8-1) and the Lion Pit's Nick Taylor (21-6-1) was a savage contest, both men having high-paced offensive output. Taylor a six-foot colossus at 68kg with barely enough body fat to fry an egg. Conlan showed a cool head under pressure and great conditioning, seemingly turning up the pace as the fight wore on, his relentless output and wicked speed eventually overwhelming Taylor. Conlan was masterful in his footwork, sliding just out of the way of attacks, then slipping back into range to land his own more damaging shots, bloodying Taylor on his way to an impressive unanimous decision victory.
In the first semi-final, Ra Redden walked back to the ring with MC Dro walking behind him, rapping over his walkout track, to face fellow quarter-final winner Josh Marsters. The fight began with Redden calm and calculated against the ruthless aggression of the more heavily-muscled Marsters. Later in round one, Redden's patience paid off and he found his opening, landing a blistering series of punches which dropped Marsters to the canvas. The latent violence of Marsters was only temporarily curbed by this, and in round three he found the chin of Redden with a crushing cross-jab-cross combination, dropping him in return. Redden took his rest after the knockdown, getting up at the very end of the eight-count, but not soon enough for the referee, who waved off the fight, awarding the TKO victory and tournament final spot to Marsters.
The second semi-final saw Sam Hill face the formidable Kane Conlan in a technical brawl. Both men were dangerous from the opening bell; Conlan intense and active with his jab, while Hill held the centre of the ring, countering with hard low kicks. Conlan's defence was almost flawless, but the iron shins of Hill were a blur, and crashed into the left leg, hobbling Conlan and forcing him to switch stances at the end of round one. From the opening bell of round two, Hill could smell blood, and used his lead hook to mask a brutal right low kick, bludgeoning the left leg of Conlan repeatedly. Distracted, Conlan let his guard slip, and Hill capitalised with a devastating right cross which sent him crashing to the canvas. Conlan attempted to regain his feet, but stumbled dazed to his knees, the referee stepping in to stop the contest.
The final fight, from which a champion would emerge, saw Josh Marsters face off with Sam Hill. Both men appeared calm before the fight, concealing the wounds they doubtless sustained in their previous bouts. Marsters took the offensive early, with leaping knee attempts glancing, and body rips setting up hooks upstairs. After a competitive first round, Hill began to take over, again hiding crippling knees to the body behind accurate punches. He launched a frenzied offence, finishing the second round with a pair of four-blow combinations. In the final round Hill barely slowed; only possible with incredible conditioning. The crowd roared as he landed a spinning back fist, and he waved the always-dangerous Marsters on in the last 10 seconds, keeping a frenetic pace to the end.
The judges made a unanimous decision in favour of the new 68kg King in the Ring champion: Sam "the Shank" Hill, now 32-13-2, and arguably the current best Kickboxer in New Zealand at that weight.