Full contact kickboxing began in the USA in the early 1970s as full contact karate. Some karate competitors wanted to test their techniques without the rigid points fighting system, landing their strikes full contact. The first world championships of full contact karate were held in Los Angles in 1974. The first champions became legends: Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace and Jeff Smith.
The Professional Karate Association (PKA) was established in 1974 by Don and Judy Quine, along with Joe Corley. They took the burgeoning sport to a wider audience, signing a contract with American TV network ESPN. The PKA developed the first fighters’ ranking system: PKA Champions were the first high-profile martial artists, the stars of a new sport. They included Jean-Yves Theriault, Brad Hefton, Jerry Trimble and Steve Sheppard.
When legal problems caused the downfall of the PKA in 1985 and it ceased to operate as a sanctioning body, a group of major USA promoters and former PKA executives decided to create a new body. On 16 July 1986, the International Sport Karate Association was born. Its first directors were Mike Sawyer, Karyn Turner, Tony Thompson, John Worley and Scott Coker. Most of the major PKA promoters began sanctioning with ISKA and several joined its administration. Major title bouts featuring the sport’s finest athletes were broadcast on the ESPN television network and brought credibility and recognition to the new sanctioning body.
The European arm of ISKA was established on 9 October 1986 when Oliver Muller, Jerome Canabate and Mohamed Hosseini were appointed ISKA European Directors. ISKA spread rapidly across Europe and when the iron curtain was lifted it was the first to sanction events in Eastern Bloc countries. By 1991 ISKA was the largest sanctioning body in the world with representatives in over 60 countries. Major title fights were sanctioned in Australia, Japan and South Africa. New disciplines were sanctioned and ISKA developed rules for freestyle (low kick), oriental rules (modified Thaiboxing) and Muaythai (full Muaythai rules).
The big names during the 1990s fighting on ISKA events were Rick Roufus, Denis Alexio, Stan ‘The Man’ Longinidis, Rob Kaman, Ernesto Hoost, Dida Diafat and Peter ‘Sugarfoot’ Cunningham. ISKA events were being televised around the world by companies such as ESPN, Showtime, Cannel+, Fox TV, Network 7, Skysports and Eurosport. There is no doubt that ISKA is the most televised sanctioning body in the world.