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Showing no signs of jet lag, LeBanner fought a smart first, darting in under Man Choi’s (Photo below on left) reach to deliver low kicks before rapidly retreating. The speedy sortie strategy was countered by Choi in the second with the distance-creating front kick, but a persistent Jerome LeBanner (photo above on right) snuck in regardless and valiantly mixed it up with his much larger adversary. Choi pulled the knee up in the third but LeBanner’s evasion saved him. The clashes here were spirited, Choi good with an uppercut, LeBanner deking well, reprising the hit-and-run kicking attacks, leaning in with body blows and smacking in a right hook. At the end of it LeBanner was up on one judge’s card. But there are three judges, and the other two scored a draw — so the bout went to a tiebreaker round. Again, a thrilling bit of combat, Choi in with a right straight punch but misfiring again with the knee, LeBanner circling, taunting even, good again with low kicks and a right straight punch. Judges scored it unanimously now in favor of the Frenchman. LeBanner was in a great mood post bout and — this may come as a relief to Monsieur Delon — had not a scratch on him. "Preparing for this fight was hard," he said, "because I couldn’t find a sparring partner that big in France. He is dangerous, his knees are already almost at the level of my head, he’s not human!" joked LeBanner. "But he’s a good guy and I like him, he’s very tough, maybe the str when I kicked him, it hurt my leg! I’m sure with more experience, in two years no one will be able to knock him out!" While nothing compares with the drama of the eight-men-in-one-man-out K-1 World GP Final, the annual Elimination event has an energy all its own. Here, fighters need not pace themselves for a long night or speculate about potential second and third contest opponents. With just a single bout involved, fighters can undertake differential preparation and focus all their energy on the one man that stands between them and a place at fightsports’ most prestigious event, the K-1 Tokyo Dome Final. The ’06 K-1 reegional tournament winners and exceptional fighters joined the finalists from the ’05 WGP and got down to business tonight at the Osaka Jo Hall. The evening comprised eight one-match bouts (fought under regular K-1 Rules, 3min x 3R), with the eight victors advancing to the Tokyo Dome. The 16 participants had excellence in common, otherwise they were diverse — a variety of styles, veterans and up-and-comers, finesse fighters and brawlers alike. K-1’s only four-time Champion, the 41 year-old Dutch kickboxer Ernesto "Mr. Perfect" Hoost, (in photo on right on left) came out of semi-retirement to fight here. "There is for me no other option," said Hoost beforehand, "than to take the chance, give 100%, and try to make a very good ending to a very good career." In his incredible drive for five WGP titles, Hoost’s first hurdle was this year’s Asia GP Champion, karate stylist Yusuke Fujimoto, (in photo above on right) of Japan Fujimoto did not appear intimidated by his storied opponent, and used his right effectively through the first. Hoost sent in the occasional low kick but otherwise looked tentative. In the second, again, Fujimoto was there with the fists, pumping in a series of unanswered body blows. Hoost started the third with some spark, firing three low kicks, and just missed with the follow-up punches. With both fighters off-balance, Hoost caught Fujimoto on the top of the leg with a low kick. The two men tumbled to the mat, and it was the wincing Fujimoto who did not get up. The Japanese fighter couldn’t beat the count, and finally limped out of the ring only as Hoost hoisted a trophy in celebration of his qualification for the Final. The K-1 World GP 06 Final Elimination attracted a crowd of 10,387 to the Osaka Jo Hall and was broadcast nationwide in Japan on the Fuji TV Network and on MBC & MBC-ESPN in Korea. It will be delay-broadcast in 116 countries, check with local networks for scheduling information. The event also featured an emotional retirement ceremony for LeBanner’s old nemesis Mike Bernardo. The South African boxer spent time at the K-1-supported booth of Save the Children — a non-governmental organization active in more than 100 countries and dedicated to improving health and education for needy children. Bernardo later appeared center ring to address his fans: "We have a lot of memories together," he said, speaking in Japanese, "memories that I will never forget. Thank you, and please, never forget me."