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The origins of Full Contact Kick-boxing can be found in Thailand in the 2000 year old discipline of Muay Thai fighting. Thai boxing – like many other martial arts was devised, initially, for self-defence. It only developed into a sport when unarmed combat in warfare became less and less effective.
It remains the national sport of Thailand. Thai boxers are awarded the same superstar status in their home nation as premier league footballers in Europe or basketball players in the USA. Full Contact Kick-boxing developed through a combination of Muay Thai and other martial art influences. It was aided in its rise, as were all martial arts at the time, when Bruce Lee exploded onto the big screen. The first time anything resembling what we now know as, Full Contact Kick-boxing began in the United States in the early 1970′s as Full Contact Karate.
For some Karate wasn’t enough. Some fighters wanted to taste the buzz of a Full Contact bout but restrained because of the injury risk and the rigid rules. Full Contact Karate soon evolved. Before too long, this step towards a full-contact sport – with timed rounds – became Full Contact Karate. In September 1974, in Los Angeles, the first ever World Championships of Full Contact Karate were hosted. At that time Karate’s own sanctioning body, the PKA, provided the official nod that was required. The bouts took place on a standard karate surface (no ring). Some of the best traditional Karate fighters of North America Karate tried their hand at this fresh take on their ancient art. It wasn’t until the late 1970′s that the sport moved into a boxing ring. Initially, there were only weight 4 divisions. The first Full Contact World Champions where Jeff Smith, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace & Isuena Duenas. The first three names remain legends today.
From 1974 until 1985, the PKA was the most recognised world-wide sanctioning group, even though it operated mainly through the USA. Don & Judy Quine, along with Joe Corley, helped it on it’s way and were instrumental in establishing the first links with television. Their contract with the American TV network ESPN helped take the burgeoning sport to a wider audience. The PKA developed the first fighter’s ratings systems and presented their champions with a very real and very high profile. Jean-Yves Theriault, Brad Hefton, Jerry Trimble, Steve Shepard and others became the first stars of this new regulated sport.
The roots of the sport in Europe were planted in Germany. In 1975, an amateur organisation to rival the PKA appeared. The WAKO (WORLD ALL STYLE KARATE ORGANIZATION) was created by Georges Bruckner and was the only international amateur federation in Europe. Over the next decade a myriad of sanctioning bodies came and went – all claiming to represent the best interests of the fighters and the sport. WAKO today remains the leading amateur federation in kickboxing. WAKO was taken over by Ennio Falsoni, an Italian, a few years later. Under the guidance of Mike Anderson a professional branch – the PKO (PROFESSIONAL KICKBOXING ORGANIZATION) – soon emerged. It was shortlived, though, when Anderson retired in 1991 and the IKL (INTERNATIONAL KICKBOXING LEAGUE) became the professional division of the WAKO. The IKL only lasted several years.
The WORLD KICKBOXING ASSOCIATION (WKA) was created in 1976 by Howard Hanson, a Shorin Ryu Karate black belt and student of Mike Stone. It developed the field of low kicks thanks to some strong Asian connections and good promotions in Japan. The WKA also prospered in Europe. Champions like Rob Kaman, Fred Royers, Ivan Sprang and Ronnie Green emerged over a decade ago and remain planted in the memory. When Howard HANSON sold the WKA to Canadian Dale Floyd in 1991 it’s North American activity started to fade. Newly appointed European Directors Fred Royers from Holland and Jean-Paul Maillet from France left in January 1994 when Paul Ingrahm took over the prestigious federation and established its World headquarters in the UK. At the time, WKA was the second largest professional sanctioning organisation in the World.
When legal problems sent the PKA to the wall in 1985, 5 major USA based promoters and PKA executives decided to create a new body. On July 16th 1986, the International Sport Kickboxing Association was born. Mike Sawyer, Karyn Turner, Tony Thompson, John Worley and Scott Coker where the first ISKA Directors in the USA. Most of the major PKA promoters began sanctioning their events with the ISKA and several joined its administration. Major title bouts featuring the sport’s finest fighters were broadcast during 1986 on ESPN television network, and helped bring credibility and recognition to this new association. At the time, the intercontinental links where the weak part of those sanctioning bodies as WAKO was virtually non existent anywhere other than Europe and WKA was almost only active in Asia. A European arm of ISKA was going to prove vital. In October 1986 Olivier Muller, Jérome Canabate and Mohamed Hosseini were appointed ISKA European Directors. American Richard Mayor oversaw the establishment of this European wing as European President between 1986 and 1988. By 1991, the worldwide control of the ISKA was shared by two co-chairmen – SAWYER and MULLER. It was their work that secured international TV coverage, that began to unite separate organisations springing up world-wide and took responsibility for sanctioning and grading. During all these years, Thaiboxing remained the main fighting sport in Asia and is still controlled by the Thailand government. All sanctioning bodies sanction Muay-Thai titles but the WMTC remains the most credible organisation in Thai boxing.
From 1996 til 98 the ISKA was headed by Olivier Muller. In two years he revitalised and added fresh impetuous to a management heavy organisation – an organisation that in the early nineties had began to flag – and turned it into one that operated 60% of the world-wide kick-boxing business.
ISKA to WKN. But as before, minor squabbles and petty professional jealousies have led to a split. The younger blood that led the European charge has become disillusioned with the incumbent American leaders and a new fresh body (the WKN) evolved in late 1996 as a subsidiary of ISKA to capture another part of the market. Unfortunatley the Americans saw the WKN as a threat and in late 1998 the organisations split. The departure of Muller from the scene was iminent. A tight, young team runs the WKN. Other big names in the world of Kick-Boxing have followed. (See Contacts). Already the organisation has seen their fighters on one Don King under-card with more to follow soon. Rather than money from sanctioning fees being syphoned into a slush fund for a few big cats at the top, all monies will go into a central pot that is used to promote and boost smaller and little established fighters and events. Crucially, it will be non-profit making. It is sad that the split should have happened but confirms that a bright new dawn is guaranteed.
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