K-1 fighting event wows Okinawa servicemembers
By MARK RANKIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 18, 2004
GINOWAN, Okinawa — Hundreds of U.S. troops packed Okinawa’s Convention Center on Sunday to watch K-1 Burning 2004 — a professional fighting event where martial artists of different styles battle.
Sunday’s fights pitted Japanese fighters, led by former sumo champion and recent K-1 contender Akebono, against a team of foreigners led by K-1 king Bob Sapp.
Sapp, a former NFL player and one of the biggest U.S. celebrities in Japan, stepped onto a stage to open the event.
“Today is a perfect day for a fight,” he bellowed.
Sapp’s fighters won four of the seven matches, giving them the tournament title.
Joe Ponte, a Marine who attended the fights with a group of friends from Camp Foster, said he saw the hard-hitting punches he was expecting.
“We don’t see this often,” Ponte said. “This is exciting!”
It’s one thing to watch the fights on television, but having seats at a live K-1 event is a whole different thing, said Staff Sgt. Tony Eclavea from Kadena’s 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.
As several of the fighters were leaving the area, they stopped to pose for photos with Eclavea and his girlfriend.
“Now I have the pictures,” said Eclavea.
“I enjoyed the fights. I’ll never forget what I saw and did today.”
Sapp told Stripes that he’s grateful for the servicemembers’ support since he arrived in Japan.
“It’s nothing for me to sign an autograph for them,” he said.
“If they look like a servicemember, I’ll try to make my way over to talk to them.”