There can be only one GOAT – and that question was settled in the Karate Combat 37 main event when Rafael Aghayev, Olympic karate stylist, met Raymond Daniels, Sport Karate legend, in a full-contact showdown to determine which of them really is the best karate competitor of all time.
With a substantial height and reach advantage plus a string of showstopping knockouts to his name, Daniels – who was a title contender in GLORY Kickboxing and a standout performer in Bellator prior to crossing over to Karate Combat – was the heavy favorite, with bookmakers having him as much as -600 to win the bout.
Aghayev, an Olympic medalist but undersung in the western world due to his lack of English, is an icon to his legions of devoted fans around the world. They stayed true to their man, making for something of a karate civil war as Daniels’ fans argued with Aghayev’s fans about how the fight would play out.
Predictions of another highlight-reel Daniels knockout win could not have been further off the mark.
Aghayev displayed absolute mastery of space and distance as he denied Daniels room to set up his trademark shots, with the American soon finding himself going from frustrated to defensive as Aghayev took control of the fight.
Daniels’ best moment of the entire fight came in the dying seconds of the fifth and final round when a tired Aghayev left himself open for a flying knee. The shot landed well and it was astonishing Aghayev survived it. The Azeri welterweight was felled but dragged Daniels down with him and managed to wrestle his way to his feet and finish the round.
As far as showcases go, Aghayev could not have asked for better; the bout, against an acknowledged master of the sport, proved beyond doubt that Aghayev is one of the striking world’s all-time great fighters and the pound-for-pound best karate fighter in history.
The win also secured Aghayev the interim Karate Combat World Welterweight Championship, setting him up for a unified world title fight with champion Josh Quayhagen in the new year.
BANTAMWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: Eoghan Chelmiah (IRE) vs Jesus Lopez (PER)
Jesus Lopez had tears of emotion rolling down his face as the Karate Combat World Bantamweight Championship was wrapped round his waist at the end of his bout with defending champion Eoghan Chelmiah in the Karate Combat 37 co-headline bout.
Just hours later, those tears appeared in a whole new light: Lopez, briefly atop the sport’s bantamweight division, learned that his reign as champion came by way of a technical error by the ringside judges and would not even see the sunrise.
At the conclusion of five close-fought rounds, the judges – supplied by the Florida State Boxing Commission, which sanctions Karate Combat events in Florida – handed over their scores. At some point during the totaling, the fighter names were mixed up: Chelmiah’s scores were entered as Lopez’s and vice versa.
And so the split-decision victory which was announced for Lopez was actually a split-decision win for Chelmiah.
Ironically, most fans will feel that the erroneous decision was the correct one: fans following the fight on social media largely seemed to have Lopez as the winner and there was little controversy when he was announced (incorrectly) as the bout winner.
Pre-fight chatter mostly had Lopez written off, with predictions almost unanimously in favor of a dominant Chelmiah win. The veteran Peruvian brought a 3-3 Karate Combat record into The Pit and, although he has never been stopped, there was much talk of Chelmiah being able to score a KO finish here.
Lopez arrived in Orlando with other ideas though, and had not come merely to make up the numbers. He played a crafty game from the outset, taking advantage of Chelmiah’s fondness for throwing heavy leather while bulling forwards.
Frequently Lopez would score and evade, then score again as Chelmiah reactively surged after him looking for immediate revenge. With the Peruvian apparently ahead on the scorecards, it wasn’t a surprise when he was announced as having scored the upset and taken the title.
As of Sunday morning, both fighters were notified of the error and had agreed to an immediate rematch as early as practicable in 2023.
“This is an unprecedented situation for Karate Combat and obviously heartbreaking for Jesus Lopez, who put in a career-best performance and feels that he is the rightful new champion. Mistakes do happen but it’s extremely disappointing to have it happen in such an important high-profile fight,” said Karate Combat president Adam Kovacs.
“The judges are appointed by the state athletic commission and Karate Combat itself has no control over judging or any judging processes. Chelmiah thinks he won what he concedes was a close fight but Lopez does not accept the decision at all and has indicated that he may lodge an appeal with the Florida State Boxing Commission.
“In the meantime, I think as an organization the best thing we can do is to give them an immediate rematch. I’ve spoken to both fighters and their teams and all sides are agreed on a rematch as soon as possible.
Gabriel Varga (CAN) vs Tommy Azouz (FRA)
“It was a brave move, stepping up to face me on two weeks’ notice,” said Gabriel Varga with considerable understatement when asked for his thoughts on tonight’s fight with French lightweight Tommy Azouz.
Azouz had taken the bold step not only of coming in on short notice but also confidently predicting that he would retire the “aged’ Varga, 37, who he felt was not as sharp or as dangerous as he had been in his younger years.
That proved incorrect, with tonight’s version of Gabriel Varga being perhaps the most dangerous version of the last decade. Varga’s face wore his usual impassive look but his output was aggressive to the point of being vindictive and Azouz simply could not weather the storm, folding early and often under the onslaught.
When the end finally came, it was almost a mercy. Azouz was being hopelessly outclassed by the two-time GLORY Kickboxing, one-time Bellator Kickboxing world champion and was being looked at closely by the referee.
Downed once more by Varga, Azouz was finished off by a relentless barrage of ground and pound from the Vancouver Island man, prompting the referee to step in and wave the fight off.
“I still want some more time in there before I go for the title shot,” said Varga afterwards. “Maybe one more fight and then after that I’ll go for the belt.”
Samuel Ericsson (SWE) vs Tarek Khelifi (ALG)
It takes serious fighting to draw a reaction from bare-knuckle brawler ‘Platinum’ Mike Perry, so the spectacle of Perry next to The Pit and repeatedly losing his mind during Ericsson’s bout with Khelfi speaks for itself.
Ericsson and Perry struck up an unlikely friendship on one of Ericsson’s recent trips to the US, with the two even engaging in widely-watched bare-knuckle sparring session. Perry had in fact been due to corner Ericsson in this bout but couldn’t get his cornerman’s license processed in time by the Florida State Athletic Commission.
Still, Perry’s spirit was apparently channeled by Ericsson, who threw thunderous bombs with both hands in the first round and was rewarded with two big back-to-back knockdowns which made a finish seem imminent. Perry, mere feet away, was screaming himself hoarse urging Ericsson to finish Khelfi off.
The Algerian fighter gritted it out and made it to the second round though, the speed and extent of his recovery giving Ericsson pause for thought. Khelfi also came out with a much smarter plan for the second round, using his superior range and reach to score on Ericsson from a safe distance.
Going into the third and final round the two fighters had won a round apiece, albeit Ericsson was ahead on points because of the knockdowns he had scored. The judges would not be needed though, As Ericsson’s tactic of hammering kicks into Khalfi’s lead calf started to pay dividends.
Khelfi began visibly wincing every time Ericsson landed, until eventually it became clear that the leg was badly damaged and could not sustain more punishment. Two more kicks from Ericsson sent Khelfi to the canvas and though he tried to get up, his lower left leg could no longer support his weight, leading to a TKO win for an ecstatic Ericsson.
Rob Buxton (CAN) vs Sasha Palatnikov (HKG)
A stunning Palatnikov right cross was the beginning of the end for Buxton in the second round of this middleweight bout. UFC veteran Palatnikov, making his Karate Combat debut here, scored a TKO win by dropping Buxton with a clean right hand before finishing him on the floor.
The finish capped a showcase performance for Palatnikov in which he had impressed with excellent head movement and timing against the taller Canadian.
Both fighters scored in the first round but Palatnikov – who also had to overcome a bad eye-poke in the middle of the round – was ahead on all the judges cards by the time he finished the fight in the second frame.
Andres Madera (VEN) vs Maciej Tercjak (POL)
Andres Madera surprised some pundits with a third-round stoppage win over tough Polish opponent Maciej Tercjak over three rounds, highlighting his continued evolution from amateur-circuit standout to full-contact professional fighter.
Maximo Nunez (DOM) vs Gabriel Stankunas (BRA)
Months of back and forth on social media led to heated staredowns in fight week and finally a war in The Pit as bantamweight rivals Nunez and Stankunas set out to destroy each other and stake their claims to bantamweight prospect status.
The fast-paced fight had barely any lulls as Nunez and Stankunas threw continuous fire at one another. After three rounds, Stankunas’ cleaner scoring had him ahead on the judges’ scorecards and earned him the unanimous decision victory.
Samy Ennkhaili (ESP) vs. Gabriel Diaz (VEN)
The first fight of the evening set the tone for the whole event. Newcomers Samy Ennkhaili and Gabriel Diaz battled from the opening bell and had a spirited scrap which ended when Ennkhaili, who had been leading the scoring, suffered a separated shoulder after being thrown by Diaz.
The young Spaniard ended his night in an ambulance instead of the winner’s circle but made a good first impression regardless and will surely be invited back for a second outing, while Diaz scores a TKO win on his Karate Combat debut and will also surely return to The Pit in 2023.
Karate Combat 37: Full Results
Rafael Aghayev def. Raymond Daniels via Unanimous Decision
Karate Combat Interim Welterweight Championship Bout
Eoghan Chelmiah def. Jesus Lopez via Split Decision, R5
Karate Combat Bantamweight Championship Bout
Gabriel Varga def. Tommy Azouz via TKO (Punches) at 2:03 of Round 3
Samuel Ericsson def. Tarek Khelifi via TKO (Ankle Injury) at 1:25 of Round 3
Sasha Palatnikov def. Rob Buxton via TKO (Punches) at 2:39 of Round 1
Andres Madera def. Maciej Tercjak via TKO (Punches) at 1:30 of Round 3
Gabriel Stankunas def. Maximo Nunez via Unanimous Decision (R3)
Gabo Diaz def. Samy Ennkhaili via TKO (Shoulder Injury) at 1:22 of Round 3
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Founder, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.