Rukiya Anpo, the former K-1 Lightweight champion and the 2021 K-1 Super Lightweight Grand Prix runner-up, announced his departure from the promotion yesterday. With 261 thousand followers across various social media and half a million subscribers on his YouTube channel, he brought a massive following to his fights. Anpo's profile was raised through his appearances on television, magazines and other forms of media as well.
Although K-1 would've been able to bounce back from losing such a massive star, what is even more concerning for them is that Anpo is only the latest in a slew of well-known fighters which have departed in the past few years. This year alone, K-1 has lost Ryusei Ashizawa, Yasuhiro Kido, Minoru Kimura, and their most popular fighter in the past decade – Takeru Segawa.
This continues a trend that has been going on for the past few years. For example, former K-1 Featherweight champion Taiga Kawabe left the organization in 2018 following contract disputes and joined a rival promotion; former K-1 Super Bantamweight champion Yoshiki Takei left K-1 in 2019 to pursue boxing and former Welterweight champion Yuta Kubo left them in 2020 to pursue mixed martial arts.
RISE, their main domestic rival in the sport of kickboxing, has been thriving on the other hand. Not only have they been able to gain similar or better broadcast and sponsorship deals, RISE has also been able to retain their own stars. Even though Tenshin Nasukawa left them in June in order to compete in boxing, RISE have had no trouble retaining the likes of Kento Haraguchi and Taiju Shiratori. They've also cross-promoted with other organizations such as Shootboxing and GLORY, have invested in building up, acquiring and retaining new talent and have even made their broadcasts more easily available and understandable to foreigners.
While K-1 have other young fighters which might blossom into bigger stars, such as Akihiro Kaneko and Taito Gunji, they're still restrictive in their contracts and unwilling to cross-promote with the majority of domestic and foreign promotions. Whether they can grow or maintain their past prestige with such an approach remains to be seen.