The origins of Full Contact Kickboxing can be found in Thailand in the 2,000 year old discipline of Muay Thai fighting. Thai boxing 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 Kickboxing developed through a combination of Muay Thai and other martial art influences.
It was aided in its rise, when Bruce Lee exploded onto the big screen. The first time anything resembling what we now know as Full Contact Kickboxing began in the United States in the early 1970's as 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 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 were the legendary Jeff Smith, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace & Isuena Duenas. From 1974 until 1985, the PKA was the most widely-recognised world-wide sanctioning group, even though it operated mainly in the USA.
Don & Judy Quine, along with Joe Corley, helped it on its 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 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 has developed into the leading amateur federation in kickboxing. WAKO was taken over by Italian Ennio Falson in the late 1970’s.
Under the guidance of Mike Anderson a professional branch - the PKO (PROFESSIONAL KICKBOXING ORGANIZATION) - soon emerged. It was short-lived however and when Anderson retired, in 1991, it was replaced by the IKL (INTERNATIONAL KICKBOXING LEAGUE), which itself lasted only a few 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 its 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 Ingram 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, five 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 were 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 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, Thai-boxing 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 until 1998 the ISKA was headed by Olivier Muller.
In two years he revitalised and added fresh impetus 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 world-wide kickboxing business.
ISKA to WKN. But as before, minor squabbles led to a split. The younger blood that led the European charge has become disillusioned with the incumbent American leaders and a fresh body (the WKN) evolved in late 1994 as a subsidiary of ISKA to capture another part of the market. Unfortunately the Americans saw the WKN as a threat and in late 1998 the organisations split.
The departure of Muller from the scene was imminent. A tight, young team runs the WKN, chaired by Frenchman Stephane Cabrerra, Billy Murray and Olivier Muller. Other big names in the world of Kickboxing have followed. Already the organisation has seen their fighters on several Don King under-cards with more to follow soon.