SEOUL, Korea (Dec. 20, 2017) – From Abidjan to Tehran; from Beijing to Belgrade; from Manchester to Moscow; from Stuttgart to Seoul; taekwondo’s leading players are stoked.
The World Taekwondo Grand Slam Champions Series, set to kick off in Wuxi, China, from Dec. 30, 2017 is imminent. Invitees are those super-elite athletes who have won Olympic, World Championship and Grand Prix title, with numbers made up by victors in the qualification tournament in November and specially selected wild cards.
The Grand Slam showcases taekwondo in an optimally TV-friendly format with Hollywood-style production values. The series’ amended rules promote taekwondo’s most powerful, spectacular techniques, and favor forward-fighting, offensive players. And it offers the biggest prize money in taekwondo history: USD70,000.
Before battle commences, WT Communications spoke to the sport’s best-of-breed fighters. Here is what they had to say….
What do you think of the Grand Slam Concept?
“It’s gonna be a big show!” – Jaouad Acab (Belgium)
“It’s a great opportunity to show the sport to people who are not in contact with taekwondo – to make it more popular and famous and to get more attention. It is a chance to represent ourselves in front of a big crowd.” – Alex Bachman (Germany)
“They changed some rules and they put more points for spinning kicks so it will be very attractive to watch and good to develop our sport. I can’t wait to start – there will be some very good fights!” – Tijana Bogdanovic (Serbia)
“I think it is a great opportunity for the taekwondo world and the taekwondo family. We are building and progressing more and more every day, this is a fantastic opportunity for the athletes to be able to fight among the very best. And it is great to bring in fresh ideas – viewers will want to see more.” – Mahama “It’s Cho Time” Cho, (Great Britain)
“I want first place, but in terms of the concept, I want to be seen in public and I want the public to see what a great game taekwondo is. This is like McGregor versus Mayweather!” – Dae-hoon Lee (Korea)
“This is the crème-de-la-crème – the best in the world! Everyone is an Olympic, World or Grand Prix champion. My first motive is the title – my second motive is the money!” – Milica Mandic (Serbia)
“Taekwondo must become a brand. Competitions like the Grand Slam can contribute to taekwondo becoming a brand like other big sports” – Sajjad Mardani (Iran)
“It is a big opportunity! It should generate a lot of interest, there is a huge population in China, so it’s a big chance to promote the sport, to raise the standard.” – Hye-ri Oh (Korea)
“I really like the traditional style of taekwondo – the fast-paced, more dynamic game – so I am excited that the rules will bring that back” – Skylar Park (Canada)
Show Me The Money!
“I am a fighter – I fight to survive, I fight for a better life. If I win this money, I am not gonna buy a car, I will save this for what I need in life.” – Jaouad Achab (Belgium)
“Of course I want the money! But I don’t fight for the money. If I do, it always brings me bad luck – in Iran we have some money prizes and if I think about the money, I always lose! What I am trying to do in the Grand Slam is to do my best, and I am sure that I will be successful” – Farzan “The Tsunami” Ashourzadeh Fallah (Iran)
“I am the world champion and I don’t earn much; we don’t get big money in this sport. So, this is our chance to get something. I don’t want to speak about the money: If you just think money, money, money, if won’t happen! I will focus on training…but I’d like to buy a flat. Prices in my home town of Stuttgart are very expensive!” – Alex Bachmann (Germany)
“Taekwondo is a sport and it is not feeding its name: We do not win money like football! This money can make me truly independent. And this can help me to pay to take part in championships, and all the equipment we need in Africa.” – Cheick Sallah Cisse (Cote d’Ivoire)
“To do what you love and get money – that is the best thing you can have! If I say, ‘I don’t want money,’ I am lying! I love, taekwondo, it is my way of life. I like to do my best in the sport, and now I have an opportunity not to concentrate on money, but on how I would like to live.” – Anton Kotkov (Russia)
“This is the first time for such a big award. A lot of fighters have to pay to go to competitions on their own – USD70,000 is a big motive!” – Milica Mandic (Serbia)
“If I win, I would make a down payment on a home in Seoul and I would save money for the future. But I really wanna buy a car – a big SUV!” – Hye-ri Oh (Korea)
“I am there for the title, not really for the money – but the money is nice. My parents are in it for the money!” – Skylar Park (Canada)
“The money? I want it so much I can taste it!” – Nur Tatar, (Turkey)
“In anything in life, when there is money in it, it gets better. More sponsors will back taekwondo if is a big show. This is life-changing money for all of us.” – Bianca “Queen Bee” Walkden (Great Britain)
“Players who participate can get high prize money. Especially me – I hope I get it!” – Shuyin “The Beautiful Giraffe” Zheng (China)
Tell Me About the Opposition…
“Dae-hoon Lee (Korea) is the one! Every time I fight Dae-hoon, it is a fun fight, it is always close, and I always enjoy it.” – Jaouad Achab (Belgium)
“I have no rivals! I am looking to be number one. For now, the number one is Milad Beigi Harchegani (Azerbaijani). I will pass him and become No 1. We will see over the mats.” – Cheick Sallah Cisse, Olympic and Grand Prix Champion (Cote d’Ivoire)
“In my division, I think it is Turkish player, Nur Tatar. She is physical and she is smart and she has a lot of experience. But, Inshallah, I will win!” – Ruth Gbagbi (Cote d’Ivoire)
“Cheick Sallah Cisse (Cote d’Ivoire). Good fighter! He is the Olympic champion. I like the way he got to that position. Several years ago, he was not on top: He was just doing what he likes, step-by-step he got points. If you watched the final of the Olympics, and he had only one or two seconds to do everything he could do – and he did it! I think it was awesome.” – Anton Kotkov (Russia)
“One of them is Mahama Cho (Great Britain). He is getting stronger and we can’t help but notice this. He is getting better, faster, changing fast.” – Roman Kuznetsov (Russia)
We are in the most competitive category – it could be anyone’s! But the boys to beat are Abughaush (Jordan), Denisenko (Russia) and Zhao (China) – he is on home turf.” – Dae-hoon Lee (Korea)
“Each fighter is important for me, but my biggest opponent is myself” – Sajjad Mardani (Iran)
“The two to beat are Bianca Walden of GB and Shyuyin Zheng of China – the current world champion and the current Olympic champion. It is gonna be tough! It is a really tough division! Everyone has a chance to win it.” – Milica Mandic (Serbia)
“I can take on anyone. I am only thinking about the competition, not the prize money. I am only thinking about the fight!” – Hye-ri Oh (Korea)
“Everyone is like a friend to me, but I think China and Serbia and Korea are all up there, they are the ones to beat. They are great fighters – I have a lot of respect for them. I don’t doubt anyone.” – Bianca “Queen Bee” Walkden (Great Britain)
“I don’t like to mention names, but I am not scared of any opponent. On the contrary, they encourage me to fight bravely!” – Shuyin “The Beautiful Giraffe” Zheng (China)
What is Your Statement of Intent?
“It won’t be easy. Anybody can win it. But am I going into this to open a door to my future.” – Jaouad Achab (Belgium)
“I did not have a good year in 2017, but in 2018 the first competition will be the Grand Slam, so I want to start with a gold!” – Tijana Bogdanovic (Serbia)
“The ring is my kingdom and I do not go in to be second best!” – Mahama “It’s Cho Time!” Cho (Great Britain)
“I am not afraid of anyone – I am the man with no fear!” – Cheick Sallah Cisse (Cote d’Ivoire)
“I am going in to this to the end. To the finish!” – Ruth Gbagbi (Cote d’Ivoire)
“I don’t have any boundaries. Victory is the ultimate and I will go through all the stages to reach it.” – Anton Kotkov (Russia)
“Team Russia is young and really strong for the future. Every step we take, we are getting stronger and stronger.” – Roman Kuznetsov (Russia)
“I am in it to win it!” – Milica Mandic (Serbia)
“I never say I will win – but I am the favorite! That’s it!” – Nur Tatar (Turkey)
“I am hungry for some dollars!” – Bianca “Queen Bee” Walkden (Great Britain)
“I will have support: I am so lucky as a Chinese taekwondo player! I have the opportunity, I feel great fortunate and very lucky and – Yes! It is not easy for all of us, but I cherish this Grand Slam and this opportunity.” – Shuyin “The Beautiful Giraffe” Zheng (China)