Report "The Battle of Champions" - Alexei Kononenko24 Sep. 2015

The Battle of Champions

A Kudo one-match fight was included into the program of the “Battle of Champions” event organized in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 4. This time the cards were represented by -240 division fighters, current world champion Gegam Manavazyan from Russia and young Japanese challenger Kunieda Atsushi from Japan. Grand Master Azuma, branch-chief Iimura Kenichi, as a coach, branch-chiefs Osada Kenichi and Takahashi Hideaki, as referees, and myself as an interpreter, accompanied Japanese fighter on his journey to Vladivostok.

This event was organized by the organization of Martial Arts Union of Russia. In Russia all officially recognized sports must be included into the Register of sports managed by the Ministry of Sports of Russia. All sports are divided into Olympic and non-Olympic sports categories. A number of Martial Arts organizations are registered there under the one umbrella name of Oriental Martial Arts. Kudo is one of them. Martial Arts Union of Russia unites officially registered and not-registered organizations and serves as a representative organ in relations with Russian officials.

MAUR has already organized 7 similar format events until now. Kudo was already represented there by Hiratsuka Yojiro in -260 division, Bykova Irina in female division, the World Champion in -250 division Kerimov Shamhal. There are 2 formats for the event: first includes the bouts between champions in different Arts, and the second comprise fights between Russian and foreign champions in the same Art.

This time the event was adjusted to the schedule of the Eastern Economic Forum and included into its cultural program. The concept of the event implied world leaders and decision makers attending the event after discussing the matters global economic crisis and enjoying international competition between team Russia and team World. It is a known fact that there are many Martial Arts fans among Russian government. For instance, former Minister of Environment and current direct representative of the president in Far Eastern region Mr. Trutnev has 5th dan in Kyokushin Karate, and former prime-minister and current minister of nuclear energy Mr. Kirienko has 4th dan in Aikido. It is obvious that two of them attended the event. There was a rumor that the President of Russia himself, Mr. Putin will come, however, though he gave his speech at the forum, his duties demanded him to fly to Moscow straight after that.

The battle was planed as 8 fights in 8 different combat sports. The invited sports included Jyu-jutsu, Kudo, Commando Sambo, Sanda, Kyokusin Karate, MMA, Muai Thai, and Kickboxing. There are about 70 organizations in MAUR but only 8 has received invitations for participation and the fact that Kudo was among them means how strong and respected our sport is in Russia.

The Battle of Champions was planed for the night of September 4, but we were requested to come on September 2 so to make a promotion video for Japanese fighter. Because of that Kunieda, Iimura, and myself flew to Vladivostok on September 2. This time of the year is called a “Golden Autumn” and Vladivostok met us with blue skies and warm weather.

Straight after arrival we were taken to the studio for the shooting. In Russia Martial Arts events usually are organized in a very fancy manner. So, this time when we came a crew of professional cameraman, director, and producer were already waiting for us. They gave many instructions for the postures to make the shot they wanted. They were definitely professionals in their field but for us, the professionals in our sport, some of the instructions like “give me a flying kick!”, “jump higher!”, “punch towards camera but don’t move your body and shoulders!” sounded weird. There was one funny episode, when cameramen wanted a shot of Kunieda in full gear performing his attack on the opponent in full power. One of the local Kudo students volunteered to assist and we proceeded. To us Kunieda’s punches and kicks looked pretty hard, but cameraman was like “no!no! Punch harder! You are wearing a mask, aren’t you? There is no pain in that!” Hearing that our young assistant fired back at cameraman “ok, then why don't you try the mask on yourself! ”. Nevertheless, sooner or later, we managed to complete the whole filming thing.

On the next day Grand Master Azuma and 2 referees arrived to Vladivostok in the evening. Since the 3 of us had spare time in the morning guys from Vladivostok branch took us to the dojo to give a Kudo master class to the children. In fact, I came across Kudo for the first time 25 years ago in this dojo. I was overwhelmed with feelings. They still keep my trophies, including my first All Japan title trophy in 1996.

About 50 kids participated in the master class. Iimura and Kunieda introduced some of their techniques and answered many questions. Kunieda has demonstrated few elbow and knee drills and watching the kids doing them my impression was that though generally they are good boxers they do not pay enough attention to other different aspects.

On the day of the fight our fighter, his coach, and referees left for the venue after lunch to do rehearsals. Grand Master Azuma spent some time discussing various issues with the Director of the Russian Kudo Federation Roman Anashikin and Far East branch-chief Alexander Yasin.

The venue of the event was the same that we used for the Asian Cup last year, the Fetisov Arena. Is was supposed to begin at 19:30, but as the president Putin was expected, it started later, though after all Mr. Putin was not able to come. There were about 7000 seats in Arena and almost no empty one. Russian government officials and various important and famous people occupied VIP seats. Somehow, American movie star Steven Seagal also found himself in this company.

Kudo fight was the second to come. It was decided to have it by finals rules with automatic extension. It was served by international referee team with Takahashi as a main referee, Osada as sub-main referee, Ukraine branch-chief Samohin and 2 Russian referees as sub referees.

Kunieda has started the fight very aggressively. He tried to press on the opponent with his elbows, knees, front kicks and middle kicks. However, this opponent is a world champ, who is not an easy opponent to press. Manavazyan used his strong punching techniques to repel Kunieda and landed few clear punches on Kunieda’s mask. One of them took Kunieda off the balance and earned Manavazyan a “Yuko” point. They were very strong but a bit “pushy” punches and when I asked Kunieda after, if the punch knocked him down, he said “No”. As there were no other points in the main time the fight automatically extended into extension time. In extension Kunieda kept aggressively pushing. He tried to get his opponent with elbows and knees, which he is good at, but ended up grabbing each other into a clinch. Manavazyan used a lot of his physical power to take Kunieda down from the clinch, but not in a very technical way. On the ground he was controlling Kunieda by mount punching and was awarded another “Koka” point. The fight ended up with Manavazyan having a points lead over Kunieda and winning, but in the second half he looked obviously out of stamina and Kunieda’s attacks started to find their target. My impression was, if the fight continued longer into the second extension Kunieda had probably a chance, as he was physically more fitted for the longer fight.

The whole score of team Russia vs Team World was 7 to 1. Though other athletes were champions in respected sports I had never heard any names before. The event in general was received very well by the public, but, personally, I would not mind to see more interesting fights with big names on them.

Our fighter Kunieda has lost his fight, but he showed true spirit and fought well. He did not get any injuries and on the next day safely returned to Japan. I would like to thank Russian Kudo Federation and Vladivostok branch for inviting us to the Battle of Champions and taking care of us during our stay in Vladivostok. The participation in such events with now doubts increases the popularity of Kudo and prompts its growth. Finally, I would like to thank Grand Master Azuma for inviting me to accompany him and branch-chiefs Takahashi, Osada, Iimura, and Kunieda for a good company.

Tohoku Honbu
Alexei Kononenko

PHOTO GALLERY(Japanese page)

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