The K-1 World Grand Prix '06 Final is just two days away, and already the spotlight is focused on the tournament's first bout between Defending WGP Champion Semmy Schilt of Holland and French kickboxer Jerome LeBanner.
The man who be this year's Grand Champion must of course dispatch three consecutive opponents on Saturday, but more than a few observers regard the winner of the LeBanner/Schilt fight as the favorite to go on and win it all.
With about 100 Japanese and international media representatives in attendance at the New Takanawa Prince hotel, LeBanner sat down today to share his thoughts in advance of the most talked-about K-1 matchup of the year.
A few questions dealt with LeBanner' new acting career -- he is in the new action film "Scorpion," coming to theaters in early 2007; and recently finished work on the French production "Asterix aux Jeux Olympiques," which boasts an all-star cast including Alain Delon, Gerard Depardieu and Zinedine Zidane.
"The movies went very well," said the tanned and trim LeBanner, "and I stayed in shape by doing personal training every day. When I finished, about the first week of November, I went out and found a tall muay thai fighter, Brice Guidon, to spar with. Since then we've trained about three or four hours every day, but for me it's not quantity, it's quality that matters when training."
Guidon, who is almost Schilt's height, wouldn't divulge exactly what techniques or strategies the pair worked on, but did say the exchanges were spirited.
Also accompanying LeBanner to Tokyo this time is the new love in his life, a ravishing 25 year old banker named Feriel Chebana.
"The best thing I can give Feriel for Christmas is of course my love," smiled the uncharacteristically romantic LeBanner, "but I think it would also be nice to bring home the World Grand Prix championship."
Asked what attacks he would be on guard for in his bout with Schilt, LeBanner said simply "the knees." A reporter asked LeBanner if he could envision how he might put Schilt down, LeBanner replying that he couldn't exactly. Gently pushing the point, the same reporter inquired as to whether this might indicate a lack of confidence on LeBanner's part. Without missing a beat, the Frenchman showed his middle finger to the journalist, eliciting laughs all around.
"I will say that I think Schilt is the toughest fighter in the tournament," said LeBanner. "At the draw, I had a choice about who I would fight, and I picked Schilt because he is the best, because he is the defending champion. For me it is important to beat the best, I think that's the bushido spirit. Of course, if I'm going to win the tournament, it's important for me to perform well not only against Schilt, but also against the other fighters I face afterward. That's what I'm thinking, and in my mind, there is no question about it -- I will win!"