By Nielson Amil

The First Jinsheng Cup World Free Sparring & Boxing Championships were held from the 26th to the 31st of May. China, known as the birthplace of the Martial Arts (this is open to debate whereas some scholars feel it originated in India) hosted this event to be fought under San Shou rules in the city of Shenzhen. Athletes from many parts of the world attended the event. Only two athletes from Canada attended (Chad Sawyer - 75 kg. and Trevor Smandych - 60 kg.). Five athletes from the USA attended including Maurice Travis - 80 kg. and Ricardo Kreszchuk - 90 kg. Fifteen divisions were contested over for men and 5 for women. China and New Zealand were the only countries to have a complete contingent of athletes for all of the weight divisions.

The influence of Thailand's recent push (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998) to have Muay Thai recognized as a worldwide sport and as an event in the Olympic's was definitely felt here in China. The opening speeches by the Chinese congregation all expressed the same intention and hope of having the Chinese Martial Art (San Shou) become a worldwide sport and accepted by the Olympic Committee. Unfortunately, this event left many a sour taste in the mouths of most of the participating countries (with the exception of the Chinese). Even Thailand's first attempt at the bat (so to speak) for Olympic acceptance was and is far more successful and better supported by athletes from around the world as a whole than this, China's first attempt. The first and foremost problem came down to rules. "I tried to get rules to the event for two months before we came to China. I finally only received 'some' of the rules the opening day of the event! How do you prepare for the event with only a few hours notice?," exclaimed Canadian coach Mike Miles. Rules were twisted and turned around while 'new' rules were introduced much to the surprise of the participating athletes during bouts. Confusion and lack of organization abounded during the event.

The day of the official weigh in (May 25th) was postponed for an additional day. No reason was given. The weigh in was to then to take place on the 26th at 9:00 am. Participating athletes starved and avoided water arriving at the correct time to be weighed in. During the proposed time, suddenly things changed and the Chinese officials informed the athletes that they were going to be weighed after the opening ceremonies (which of course included eating and drinking in the festivities). This resulted in many athletes threatening to pull out of the event and when the Chinese hosts realized they had a major problem, they reluctantly started weighing athletes. But this was not to be the end of the weigh in. 1/2 hour after athletes were weighed they were all called back to be "officially" weighed again. The only excuse was that "the appropriate Chinese official had not witnessed the weigh in." Many athletes were extremely angry after finally rehydrating to find themselves in this predicament. Coincidentally (but not so surprisingly), the Chinese rules stated for every kilo athletes were over their submitted weight for entering the tournament, they would be fined a $1000.00 US per kilo. Suddenly many athletes were trying to make sure they made their weight division again. Happily, all the athletes did make their weights but this was not the end of the Tom Foolery the event was to witness.

The bouts in the event was (supposed to be) fought using 2 minute fight rounds with a one minute rest period. The first male athlete to win 3 rounds out of a possible five (2 for the female athletes) would then be declared the winner and the match would end. Rules allowed punching, kicking, elbowing and kneeing. On top of this the use of throws was allowed but no groundwork. There would be no use of the 10 point must system but instead judges would count and score all points for the round and then total them up and hand them in at the end of each round to have the winner declared for each round. Successful strikes carried a scoring weight of one point. Throws (including an opponent slipping to the canvas while either on the attack or defense) carried the weight of two points. The athlete throwing would have to remain on his feet only for the throw to score whereas if any other part of his body hit the canvas there would be no points awarded. In the majority of the bouts, winners of the rounds would be awarded to those who threw their opponent's down. Only a few rounds were awarded to successful strikers compared to their successful throwing counterparts. Interestingly enough the winners of the first bout (and thus their weight division) would then be matched against winners of other weight divisions for their second bout.

The groupings were as follows: 52, 56 and 58 kg. / 60 and 62 kg. / 64, 66, 68 and 70 kg. / 80, 85 and 90 kg. / 95 and 100 kg. The winners of these divisions would then be put into the next tier challenge. The line up would then feature the winner of the 52, 56 and 58 kg. division against the winner of the 60 and 62 kg. division. The winner of the 64, 66, 68 and 70 kg. division would fight against the winner of the 75 kg. division. The winner of the 80, 85 and 90 kg. division would battle against the winner of the 95 and 100 kg. division. The event was tiered until the lightest weight winner could challenge the winner of the heaviest weight division. This event never completed the full tier system and on the final day of the event, most final bouts consisted of challenge matches.

These matches had athletes who felt they were robbed (many were) in the outcome of their earlier bouts wanting revenge, though only a couple did in fact exact revenge. A big problem with the event was the manipulation of the rules by the Chinese officials to favor many of the fighters (more specifically the Chinese athletes). Noted New Zealand World Champion and K-1 athlete Ray Sefo said, "If I was the coach of the New Zealand team, I would have pulled all of the New Zealand athletes out after the first night of the event." Sefo had great reason to be upset. Specifically, the length of the rounds would change from fight to fight. When a Chinese athlete was ahead on points, the rounds could vary from 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. This depended on whether or not the Chinese athlete was in trouble from a blow or looking tired. If a Chinese athlete was ahead on points and looked exhausted for the next round, the rest period could be extended as far as 5 minutes for the Chinese athlete to catch his wind. The New Zealand athletes were to find themselves in this predicament over and over during the course of the event, and thus their frustration.

Other rule infractions and (ridiculous) new rules were witnessed during the bouts as explained in the following analysis of several of the North American athletes and their bouts. Canada's Trevor Smandych matched up against Zhamsh Dias (Turkmenistan). This bout was action packed. Smandych had the Russian athlete constantly moving backwards from the pressure throughout the whole bout. However, Dias was an experienced Draka athlete and when he ran into trouble he would rush in and grab the Canadian and take him to the ground. The throwing aspect looked difficult for Smandych to deal with. However twice during the bout Smandych landed his trademark high round kick to the face of the Russian and hurt him. However, the experienced Russian would quickly grab hold and throw his opponent, even suplexing the Canadian once. Dias won the bout by decision through the virtue of his throwing techniques and advanced to win the whole division. The Russian won a total of 4 bouts during the event and defeated a challenge by a New Zealand athlete on the final night of the event. Canadian Chad Sawyer stepped into the ring with experienced New Zealand athlete Jason Nuemoa.

In the first round while advancing in, Sawyer was hit with a straight punch and he fell backwards onto the seat of his pants. Nuemoa looked good during the first and second rounds, winning both convincingly. However in the third Sawyer came alive and shook the Kiwi with a flurry of punches to win the third round. The Kiwi was in trouble but the Canadian never seemed able to capitalize on the situation. In the fourth round a good exchange of techniques was delivered by both athletes and the round was called a draw. In the fifth round Sawyer shook Nuemoa again with a good series of punches and dropped the Kiwi on his bottom at the end of the round. The round went to Sawyer. The bout was a draw with two rounds to Nuemoa, two rounds for Sawyer and one round being even. The Chinese officials then resorted to one of their surprising rules(?). The rule stated the athlete with the less weight (the weight of the day) would advance to the next level of the competition. Nuemoa weighed 1 kilo less (2.2 lbs.) than Sawyer and thus moved onto the next level. Sawyer received a draw but was not allowed to fight onto the next level. "The rules make me very angry," agreed New Zealand's Ray Sefo.

American Maurice Travis did a great job on his fight outsmarting Kurenbayer Aibol of Tadzhikistan. The Russian athlete was not prepared for the smart fight tactics the American used. A solid three round performance saw Travis easily win the bout. However, Travis then pulled out of the next tier of competition. Travis is preparing to fight fellow American Manson Gibson at the end of June and he did not want to risk any injury for the upcoming bout and thus pulled out of the event. Fellow American Ricardo Kreszchuk had 2 byes. He made it to the second final tier of the event and stepped into the ring with the top Chinese athlete who weighed 100 kg. Kreszchuk seemed to sleep in the first two rounds but really came alive in the third. The American delivered a strong spinning backfist but connected with the elbow and sliced the Chinese athletes forehead wide open. In what turned out to be a farce, the athlete was brought to the ringside physician as time was called. Hilariously (though not at the time) the attending ringside physician tried to close the cut with a band aid. It did not worked so the physician then wrapped gauze around the Chinese athletes head and which then allowed him to continue. Not only did this break the rules in regards to a fight being stopped on a cut, it gave the Chinese athlete almost 10 minutes to recuperate and finish the round.

After the hoopla, it was not surprising the Chinese athlete won the third round as well. Instead of stopping the bout for the cut on the Chinese athletes head, the Chinese athlete won the bout. The final bout of the evening was to win the overall Cup and the money awarded with it ($6000.00 US). The winner in the heaviest division (the Chinese athlete) was not challenged by any of the smaller athletes but accepted a challenge by a Russian athlete. The Russian athlete had just minutes earlier fought and won an extremely tough war with New Zealand athlete Ron Sefo. In what turned the bout into more of a farce, it was announced that the bout would be fought only over the duration of one round.

The Russian was anxious to win but his enthusiasm was taken advantage of by the Chinese who threw his foe to the ground several times to win the bout, the Cup and the $6000.00 US. In closing the Chinese promoters and officials have a very long way to go in terms of following the rules and being fair to all athletes for this event to gain any acceptance around the world. This definitely was not the event to win support from anyone. Overall, the stand out athletes (with the best skill) of the event included: Zhamsh Dias (Turkmenistan), Chad Sawyer (Canada), Jason Nuemoa (New Zealand), Maurice Travis (USA) and Shane Chapman (New Zealand).

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