The world of luxury knows no crisis
Claude Pouget organizes an historic event in the golden world of this Principality
by Ennio Falsoni
The first Full Contact Karate gala in the history of the Principality was held in 1979 when Prince Rainier, Prince Albert’s father, was reigning. It was hosted at Fontvieille at the edge of Cap d’Ail and the border of France where today stands the super modern Louis II multifunctional venue. The creator of that event was Judy Quine, the daughter of the President of Universal Studios, who had recently left movies for the world of full contact and had been forced into buying the PKA (Professional Karate Association) by Mike Anderson. She was also a friend of Grace Kelly who in the meantime had become Prince Rainier’s wife and was present with the Prince at ringside that night. The featured match had Bill “Superfoot” Wallace who, with a lateral kick to the stomach, KO’d Darryl Tyler, a very intriguing and talented Afro-American athlete. I was there too because among the undercard matches was Flavio Galessi, one of my fighters who some years later would be killed in a bandit’s ambush. I believed then that the Principality could truly become a solid reference point for our activities because it has a natural disposition for excellence and glamour, and because it is frequented largely by the very rich. Unfortunately, it took more than 30 years before big-time kickboxing would return. This was thanks to Claude Pouget, the vice president of Monaco’s fighting sports federation and a kickboxing and Krav Maga instructor at Louis II stadium of which he is also the police authority. His wife Charlene, a former South African swimmer, has a beauty parlor there of which Albert’s beautiful wife is a regular customer. Last year Claude had the idea of organizing a Gala featuring an intercontinental challenge between Dutchman Sergiano Cairo and Rumenian Bogdan Stoica. The title was won by Cairo on points and was such a success that Pouget decided to do it again, only more so. Instead of simply organizing another nice Gala with maybe two title matches, he wanted 8 titles contested! Following the example of the Tennis Masters which has seen Spaniard Rafael Nadal’s domination for 8 years in Monte Carlo, Claude conceived the “Kickboxing Fighting Masters” which hosted 8 matches, all for WAKO-Pro titles. “Monaco has a vocation for excellence which made me think of an extraordinary, unique and never before seen event,” said Claude Pouget during his press conference held in the mirrored and gilded stucco halls of the Casino. He kept his word. What Pouget put together, thanks also to help from me and Jean-Paul Maillet’s of Canal+, has succeeded in packaging an excellent, professional and perfectly detailed event, as I acknowledged to him in that same press conference. He succeeded even in the face of dire socio-economic times with catastrophic global crises, underlined by enormous social hardship and dramatic changes. He wisely secured the Principality’s support for his new creature which brought to Monaco some of the best fighters in kickboxing today. Kudos to him and all the people, such as Baroness Cecile De Massy, who cooperated in materializing this success, which we hope will continue precisely because of the perfect location. Monaco has a splendid geographic position along with privileged social and economic conditions, which combine to feed both tourism and sports. In a nutshell, Monaco can become a prominent kickboxing focal point like Las Vegas, New York, Dubai and Tokyo. The venue that held the gala was thoroughly prepared for the event. The bevy of attractive hostesses welcoming the public, eight stunning girls holding the WAKO-Pro world title belts at the center of the ring, and the throng of TV cameras and photographers around the ring immediately indicated the idea of the event’s significance. The numerous spectators – over 2000 among whom many VIPs in the €350,00 per seat parterre – were competent and actively enthusiastic during all the matches which began with a bang. We were sure that we should start big from the inception and send a clear signal that we meant serious business by showcasing some of the world’s best fighters. We kicked off with the under 75 Kg match under K-1 rules between Russian Aleksandr Zakharov (a 1.84 m tall, 21-year-old veteran of 114 matches) and the Belorussian star of the moment, Yury Bessmertny, 1.82 m tall with 32 victories out of 41 matches. I am convinced it was the best technical match with three even rounds, but ultimately it was the most spectacular due to the fighters’ magnificent technical repertoire, speed of execution, 100% determination and great tactical acumen. Bessmertny was usually very calm, striking with ease and generally attacking low, apparently his trademark, thus leading his rival to believe he can’t do better than that. On the contrary, in the fourth round his true class became evident when he landed a staggering roundhouse kick to the Russian’s face. It gave him the round and victory by a unanimous decision. A great show, absolutely! The crowd hadn’t yet finished applauding this beautiful match when two other giants stepped in the ring. Dutchman Horace “Boy Boy” Martin, a student of former champion Fred Royers, had some problems with his weight, which was one kilo over the official limit. Again under K-1 rules in the 85.1 Kg class, he was pitted against the 23-year-old Frenchman of North African origin, Yassine “Boom Boom” Ahaggan, the WKN world champion with 24 victories in 28 matches. Generally, when a fighter fails to be within the official weight limit at the first weigh-in it indicates poor professionalism and I seriously feared for Fred’s pupil. On the contrary, “Boy Boy” Martin was sure of himself and relentless. After an evenly balanced first round, he thrust his knee up and knocked his rival to the canvas. Yassine got to his feet after taking the count but the Dutchman attacked endlessly, leaving him no way out and he lost by K.O. The third match saw two old “friends-enemies” of WAKO European and World Championships, Serbia’s Nenad Pagonis and Russian Alexey Papin, who this time were fighting for the title in the under 94 Kg Low-Kick category. Both 25-year-olds and veterans of over 100 matches, and Papin even an ISKA world championship winner, they knew each other well but started out cautiously. I expected a more lively beginning, but Pagonis, who is usually quite active, was tense and seemed not to find the right measure. Surprisingly, Papin was the more active of the two and punched more heavily than Pagonis who, upon absorbing a solid hook, was counted in the second and fourth rounds. This happened in spite of some signs of awakening by Pagonis during these rounds when he landed some good kick and punch combinations. Just as I was thinking that Nenad was about to lose, he jumped out of his corner as if transformed for the fifth round and last round and his superb style finally surfaced. This time Papin was counted, appearing to be out of breath and on the verge of collapsing when the gong of the last round saved him. Frankly, it was not an easy decision and as expected the judges ruled a “split decision”, not unanimous. Two judges to one voted for Pagonis’ victory only because he had won big in the last round. However, he had risked too much and the Russians were not completely convinced by the verdict. Again in the 94 Kg category, but returning to K-1 rules, the next match was between Frenchman Zinedine Hameur-Lain and Holland’s Redouan Cairo, who had been in the main event at the previous edition in Monte Carlo. Very well built physically, Cairo started out defensively in the first round, but he pushed the accelerator in the second and began to attack with kicks to his opponent’s left thigh, forcing Hameur-Lain to change to a left-handed stance. But Cairo knew perfectly well what was going on in his opponent’s head and he wisely didn’t force the issue immediately. He mixed low kicks and knee attacks to the torso, some of them while jumping, to confuse the Frenchman who didn’t know what to defend against. Hameur-Lain was also courageous because he wanted to continue fighting anyway, even though his fate was basically not in doubt. In fact, in the third round Cairo continued to hammer his leg until he was forced to submit. The Frenchman was counted twice and lost by K.O. At the half-way point of this beautiful gala we had enjoyed four quality matches. After the high level of fighting came an intermission, according to French custom. The next match saw 22-year-old Russian Suleyman Magomedov, one of the more promising athletes in the Russian stable of Glory kickboxers, against France’s Halim Chibani, also 22 and with 17 wins and only one loss on his record, in the 88.6 Kg. category under K-1 rules. It was another spectacular match featuring excellent technique, with the Frenchman doing very well in an extremely close contest until the fifth round, which proved to be fatal for Halim. Indeed, in the last round a barrage of punches from Magomedov stunned Chibani who took a count. Chibani lost by a split decision, 2-1, indicating how even the fight had been right up to the end. There were 5 Russian fighters present and up to that point only Magomedov had won a world title belt. They tried again with young Ragim Aliev, 120 kilos and almost 2 meters tall, only 20 years old but with 94 matches behind him. His opponent in low-kick was France’s 27-year-old Abdelrhamane Coulibaly, 1.91 m tall and 97 Kg. At the press conference Coulibaly had declared himself to be “ready” for the match and he proved to be right. Despite his considerable size advantage, Aliev couldn’t deal with the low-kicks of Coulibaly, which already had him in difficulty in the first round. The match continued into the third round but everyone could see that the Russian had no chance. The match ended with a third round K.O. when Ragim called it quits. To this point no match had been monotonous or boring. The evening’s matches continued at a rapid pace, supported by good choreography and attractive girls who circled the ring with the number of the next round. However, disappointment came in the 7th match. The promoter wanted an American fighter on the card and asked me to find one who could stand up to our European and North African athletes. A Canadian friend told me about Jordan Mitchell, a 21 year old with 25 matches on his resume, including some success in MMA, or so I was told. The idea of having a Russian against an American in Monte Carlo could, in itself, be worth the price of admission to the Gala. Unfortunately, this Jordan Mitchell confirmed my fears that either kickboxing in the USA was finished and could no longer produce champions as in the past, or that the good ones have all moved on to the MMA where there is a lot more money than in kickboxing. How else can one explain how overmatched the American was against Russia’s Alexey Rybkin, a solid 25-year-old athlete, 1.86 cm tall and 88 kilos, with 175 matches behind him. It last a little over one round. Courageously coming forward despite his evident technical limits, Jordan was knocked out by a good right hook – a satisfactory ending for everyone involved. Thus we came to the last match which had particular importance for the Italians present. In the 81 kilo category Nicola Gallo of Catanzaro, a 29-year-old veteran of 25 bouts with inconsistent results, represented Italy’s colors. He was matched against none other than Sidney “The Machine” Mokgolo of South Africa, 1.85 mt tall and so muscular that, in comparison, he made the Italian look like a certain loser. However, Nicola surprised everyone, myself included, with his extraordinary determination from the outset, dominating the center of the ring and immediately showing superior technique over his opponent whose attack was primarily limited to punches. Gallo displayed continuity in his actions, always keeping his adversary under attack and was never in danger. Gallo won a decisive, unanimous decision on points, taking home a glorious belt for himself and Italy. Thus, the curtain fell on an evening that will long be remembered as an extraordinary event. The secret hope is that it won’t be an isolated case, that it will become a true “classic” of its genre with annual renewal. Monaco truly deserves it.