Zovko on K-1: ‘First I t hought Kim planned to pay the fighters but then I realized he was just buying time’
Orsat Zovko spent 20 years in fighting sports business and he accomplished almost everything. He was manager of prominent fighters like Mirko Cro Cop Filipović and Mike Bernardo, he was the first person in this part of Europe to organize a K-1 tournament in 2001, launched a successful fighting sports TV Fight Channel, he is owner and president of Final Fight Championship promotion with 30 professional events held all around the world, he participated in organization and production with biggest brands like Glory, UFC and K-1. He has seen it all, had many positive and negative experiences. His knowledge o fighting sports is unprecedented and his often bizarre stories could fill a couple of books. However, he never experienced lies and deceit as he did after K-1 WGO Finals in Zagreb, Croatia.
In the last couple of weeks, some of the world’s best kickboxers and Grand Prix semi-finalists in Zagreb, namely Pavel Zhuravlev, Ismael Londt and Dževad Poturak, decided to speak up. They shared their embarrassing story about the money they never got after they fought in Zagreb. We decided to speak about this topic with the event producer Orsat Zovko.
K-1 WGP Zagreb took place more than three years ago. Semi-finalists never got their money. How much do you know about that?
“All K-1 WGP Zagreb 2013 participants signed contracts directly with K-1, that is, with the company behind that brand. All contracts were personally signed by company’s owner Mike Kim. Right after the tournament Mike Kim talked to the fighters and asked them to be patient when it comes to their fighter purse but he promised them they will get their money within one month. It’s been more than three years since then and he never paid them.“
What did you do about this? At that time you were Cro Cop’s manager and he was the one to get the biggest piece of cake.
“For a year or more I honestly believe Mike Kim intended and planned to pay the fighters. I just thought he had some problems with cash and money flow due to some other projects. We were in contact back then and I believed he was trying to find a solution and that the money will come soon. However, some year and a half after the Finals, Mike Kim stopped answering my mails and calls and he cut me off. Then I realized he had something completely different on his mind and that he is trying to put everything that happened behind. Then I realized the game he was playing.“
Are you still in contact with K-1 owner Mike Kim?
“No. As I said, a year and a half after the Finals he completely cut me off. But I know he has been in contact with Mirko Cro Cop until recently promising him money. Then he cut him off too and it was clear that he was only buying time. As a businessman I understand some projects do not pay off and turn out to be failure in the end. If he bankrupted and closed the company after K-1 WGP Finals I would understand, but this is not the case.”
K-1 as brand organized more events in the meanwhile, didn’t they?
“That is correct. K-1 organized events this whole time and Mike Kim was in first plan. However, it boiled over when they announced K-1 WGP Euro tournament in Belgrade. It means they decided to come back to the crime scene like nothing ever happened and as if they do not own money to a lot of people here. I think what some people do by bringing K-1 back to this region because of some self-promotion is not good. They do not realize it’s pointless and that it’s just a matter of day when this promotion will close its doors once and for all.“
How did Fight Channel and FFC support finalists from Zagreb?
“Semi-finalists decided to talk to the media and reveal that K-1 still owes the money from K-1 WGP Zagreb. We decided to send an official statement to all the fighters, managers and coaches that plan to fight at FFC. In this statement we explained in detail all our motives and we asked all he fighters not to participate at K-1.“
Many decided to ignore this appeal and many fighters decided to fight at K-1 in Belgrade, Serbia, and Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“There is no excuse for that. I will say once again, anyone can have financial problems but it cannot be tolerated that such a prestigious company does not pay fighter purse to the fighters and then decides to come back like nothing happened. That’s unheard of. We’re not talking about 10 or 100.000 dollars. We’re talking about one to one and a half million dollars.”
In the meanwhile, some other famous fighters contacted Fight Site and revealed they never got their money from K-1 WGO MAX tournament in 2012. They also mentioned some big numbers.
“It’s obvious people are desperate. It does not matter Fight Channel had nothing to do with these tournaments. The whole thing started with semi-finalists from Zagreb and it obviously inspired other fighters who tried to point out they were deceived by K-1. The only thing they can do now is let everybody hear their stories.“
K-1 never made official statement about this topic but there are rumors that Nenad Kuruc is a new K-1 promoter and that this is not the old K-1. What do you know about that?
“In the world of business things do not work the way Nenad thinks. You can’t cheat people around the word using the same brand and same logo. I do not know which company is now behind K-1, I don’t know the details, but it does not matter anyway. It does not matter which company is now behind K-1, they still have same obligations towards fighters they have to settle.“
Do you think the fighters will ever get their money?
“It is really hard to say. It’s been more than three years now and from what I see, Mike Kim and K-1 do not intend to do so.“