Muay Thai Grand Prix made its way to Paris, France for 'IMPACT IN PARIS'.
A special event, as Takeru took two other prolific Japanese fighters to compete alongside him on the European circuit in an effort to bridge the gap between promotions and countries. The centerpiece was the former three-division K-1 champions' return to the ring after his loss to Tenshin Nasukawa one year ago. Aside from wrong graphics, spelling errors, and audio issues, problems you'd expect from a smaller-scale promotion, a much more impactful issue was the lack of communication between the referee and ringside officials. A circumstance that confused viewers, fighters, and commentary alike.
After the event, we spoke to veteran referee Paul Nicholls about what transpired behind the scenes, and what led to issues with the timekeeping.
"The French Federation, [the FFKMDA], are in control of all aspects of equipment, from scales at weigh-in to ringside equipment, on arrival I asked where the bell was, response, 'it's stuck in traffic'. Nothing to do with promotion [or] the sanctioning body. ISKA was putting up the belt for the main event, French Federation was completely responsible and have fully acknowledged this."
Due to the tight Japanese broadcasting schedule, the promotion couldn't wait any longer and had to start the fights without the bell. Fighters were "made aware" of the missing bell, and the experienced referee had to work with the bad hand he was dealt with for both the Taiju Shiratori against Alexis Sautron and for the Taiga against Paul Karpowicz fight.
On top of that, the production team didn't stop the on-screen clock for time stops called by the referee, adding to the confusion.
TAKERU VS. SUGDEN
Bailey Sugden came out strong, landing a multitude of flurries from awkward angles against Takeru. The Japanese fighter quickly adjusted, and started chipping away at the front leg of Sugden, while landing a consistent stream of step in knees. Slowly but surely Sugden got dragged into deep waters, with Takeru pilling on the pressure. The former K-1 champions' stellar conditioning shined through, as his volume and aggression started to increase as the fight went on. The 'British Bulldog' was hanging on, but the constant assault to his body was too much to handle. Several knockdowns later, it all became on-way-traffic. In the last round, Sugden came alive, firing back with sharp hooks in the pocket. Just as everyone thought Sugden would have peservered to a decision, a close range high kick put down the crafty British fighter for the last time.
Dean Sugden, Bailey's father and trainer aknowledged the new champions great performance, "Respect to Takeru and his team on his victory, no one has ever looked like stopping Bailey Sugden, never mind knocking him out." He also revealed, "ringside doctor insisted on Bailey getting taken to hospital as he believes he has a fractured collar bone", later confirming the injury.
SHIRATORI VS. SAUTRON
In the upset of the night, French fighter Alexis Sautron knocked out Taiju Shiratori. The WAKO and French national champion looked strong out of the gate, but it was Shiratori landing the more imposing shots and combinations early… until he didn't. Sautron landed a flush counter right hand in the midst of Shiratori's combination, sending him crashing to the canvas. The cut-open Shiratori now seemed much more urgent, upping his aggression level. While Shiratori was landing, nothing seemed to face the Frenchman and the difference in power became more apparent. As the round came to an end, and Shiratori left himself wide open after a kick, Sautron came in flying with a vicious hook, stopping Shiratori.
TAIGA VS. KARPOWICZ
In the first fight of the event, Taiga took on Paul Karpowicz. The English fighter came in on two-days notice after Fares Oumahamed dropped out due to injury. Taiga looked to be the more competent fighter, landing heavy shots after finding his rythm, one round in. While Taiga was landing heavy, he never seemed to eager to finish the fight, but rather taunt his opponent and put on a show. Several hammer fists and warnings later, the former K-1 champion had enough of his outmatched opponent, but ultimately came short of the finish.