BREAKDOWN: Petrosyan Douses ‘Iron’ Mike’s Fire
The early 2000s were a magical time for kickboxing. K-1 was still at its peak, having launched many a storied career and hosted some of the greatest fights we have ever seen in combat sports. At the time, K-1 was the proving grounds for all of the best strikers from every corner of the globe.
Among the many illustrious events that were held during K-1’s heyday were the World MAX tournaments. The World MAX tournaments were always the highest profile showcases for world-class talent, such as my personal favorite fighter of all time Giorgio Petrosyan. Petrosyan is known as “The Doctor” for his crisp, surgically precise technique and devastating accuracy, as well as for taking minimal damage while doing so.
On a cool November evening in Tokyo in 2010, Giorgio would claim his second World MAX tournament crown, but not before colliding with an iron-fisted foe in a highly cerebral clash in the K-1 ring.
Background: A Stacked Tournament
The stage for this event was as such: Giorgio had won the 2009 World MAX and returned as the defending world champion at 70 kg after his victory over Andy Souwer in the previous tournament. He would be entered into this contest with other greats such as:
- Dutch kickboxing legend Albert “The Hurricane” Kraus
- K-1 World MAX 2010 West Europe Champion, Mohammed Khamal
- Yoshihiro Sato, “The Infinite Sniper”
- Yuichiro “Jienotsu” Nagashima
- The wild and unpredictable Gago Drago
- …and decorated Polish kickboxer Michał Głogowski
Opposition: “Iron” Mike
Finally, let’s address the other half of this fight: Mike Zambidis. If you are a fan of ferocious knock outs, you know exactly who Mike Zambidis is. “Iron” Mike Zambidis is a 16-time World Champion striker with a long string of KOs to his name. He is no easy fight for any man alive.
This fight is a contrast of styles, which is why I’m taking a closer look at it. From a technical standpoint, this fight is a must-watch as it shows how to respond to and beat aggression with timing, tactical thinking, and counter attacks. It is not exactly a barn burner, but I personally learned a lesson or two from it.
Assessment: Styles Make Fights
Giorgio is an absolute clinician. His technique is almost surgical in its precision. Every strike he throws is accurate and thrown for maximum damage exerting minimal effort. His shadow boxing alone is a thing of beauty. I highly recommend taking a peek at his training here.
The Doctor has won his bouts by simply hitting his opponents cleaner and more effectively than they can hit him, eventually running away with a convincing decision. On the other hand, you have Mike Z. This guy is a destroyer. He is constantly looking for that homerun KO. Much like his boxing counterpart, Iron mike throws with bad intentions, especially with his hooks.
Putting it bluntly, you have a technical striker against a power puncher and finisher. This fight plays out like a true representation of speed, skill and technique triumphing over power and aggression.
Lead Up: Road to the Semis
The lead up to this match-up is also noteworthy as both faced elite competition before facing off against each other. Petrosyan had defeated Belorussian slugger Vitaly Gurkov to qualify, while Zambidis had taken Chahid Oulad El Hadj the distance.
Following that was the opening round of the World MAX tournament, where they would do battle with their elite peers. For his part, Petrosyan had his hands full with “The Hurricane” Kraus, a Dutch-style fighter with a wealth of experience at the highest level. He would, however, outclass the Dutchman.
The Greek destroyer would go on to crush Yuichiro Nagashima, the K-1 World MAX 2010 –70 kg Japan Tournament Champion. At the time, Nagashima was one of the premier Japanese talents and his loss to Zambidis was a brutal setback.
These two very different yet equal victories displayed the strengths of the victor and the aforementioned styles that they fight with.
The Fight: Round-By-Round Breakdown
The opening round is a game of cat and mouse. They both come out quietly, but in drastically different moods. The Armenian-Italian Petrosyan is calm and loose, while the Greek spark plug looks tense and tentative despite his intentions.
Mike Z is looking to set up that one-shot knockout, preferably via big power hooks. Giorgio is looking to use his superior striking and distance control to pick his opponent apart from the outside with kicks to body and shoulder, while also punishing him with counter shots such as powerful knees aimed at the head and body.
Giorgio masterfully uses his teeps and feints to set up his long range knee strike to capitalize on the openings left by Zambidis. He easily evades Zambidis’ wild haymakers and makes him pay for it every time. However, Iron Mike does land a glancing lunge hook that forces Petrosyan to circle out and reset his rhythm. The round ends with an exchanging of leg kicks and more high knees by Petrosyan.
Now I know what you’re thinking here: not much action for a first round Zambidis fight. Fair point, but this is Petrosyan’s game: control the pace of the fight with range and counters. A missed strike does not score, and Giorgio succeeded in limiting his opponent’s output and making him miss. He also outscored and controlled Zambidis.
The second stanza begins with Giorgio establishing his jab and working in his teeps again, playing matador to Zambidis’ bull, and sending him crashing into another high knee to the head.
Zambidis has his best moment of the fight so far when one of his vaunted, though up until this point ineffective lunging hooks connects with Petrosyan’s face. The Doctor stays cool and circles out to let his hands go a bit to back up the Greek with his cross. But Mike does connect once more with a knockdown of Petrosyan with the hook as he went for another knee sending him to the canvas but only for a second.
Zambidis smells blood but Giorgio plays it cool, keeping him in check with head kicks even if they are blocked quite easily. Despite his affinity for big power shots, Mike Zambidis does have a very strong frame and defensive shell, which he displays in this bout.
Mike Z connects with a powerful body shot to the hip of Petrosyan, which Giorgio follows up on by way of a superman punch that again forces the Italian-Armenian prodigy to reset and respond. Petrosyan stays on his bike and lands the established jab >teep >high knee that has been working for him all night. He does land a glancing cross to Mike Z towards the end of the round to again outscore the aggressor.
The third and final round of this contest begins with Giorgio Petrosyan picking up right where he left off with the one-two combo setup for his teeps and knees. He is looking to manage how close Mike Zambidis can get to him while also scoring points, seeking to connect with a few head kicks as he has throughout the fight.
It is noteworthy to mention that The Doctor does not needlessly throw strikes without intention; either the strike lands clean or it is blocked and he is using it as a setup or fake for a follow-up.
More of the same from Zambidis as he believes he is just one big punch (I mean, lunging hook) from putting Petrosyan’s lights out . He does manage to keep Giorgio on or around the ropes and in the corners and forcing a few brief clinches (as per K-1 rules, the clinch is not permitted unless it is used for a strike within seconds and then released immediately).
Giorgio continues to land either the jab > teep > high knee and the hook > cross > rear leg kick. He is circling the rushing Zambidis, making him miss and miss by a lot. A brief exchange has Zambidis landing a big punch that doesn’t seem to even faze the former kickboxing kingpin. The round ends with Iron Mike charging at Petrosyan, looking to finally put Giorgio away after chasing him for three rounds. Petrosyan keeps cool and shucks him off, knowing he has thrown the cleaner shots and controlled the action despite backing up and circling for the majority of the bout.
Giorgio Petrosyan outworked and outfought the overzealous Mike Zambidis, earning a unanimous decision win and advancing to the finals where he would take on Yoshihiro Sato. The final bout, too, would be another Petrosyan striking clinic and a unanimous decision over Sato to reaffirm his dominance of the kickboxing world for another year by outpointing and outmaneuvering the best the world had to offer at 70 kg and making it look damn easy.