Kickboxing World Championships (WAKO, 1987)

Mike Anderson

Americans Troy Dorsey, Keith Hirabayashi and Tommy Williams win double medals to lead the powerful 16-member U.S. team to a clean sweep of three World Team Cups for amateur fullcontact, semicontact and forms. In an event full of surprises, America’s Steve “Nasty” Anderson lost only his nickname. Canadian Jean Frenette stole the world spotlight as European fans screamed for an encore — that’s right, an encore — of his impeccable kata performance.

Troy Dorsey
U.S “Foot Soldier” and double-medal winner Troy Dorsey of Dallas (top left) was the outstanding star of the 5th WAKO World Championships.
Troy Dorsey
When the letters “U” and “A” fell off Dorsey’s USA shirt (right), some bright artist framed the remaining “S” with a Superman emblem, and Dorsey lived up to the “Man of Steel” logo.

It’s become a perennial truth that domination of each WAKO World Championship comes down to a clash between the two reigning world superpowers of full- and semicontact karate/kickboxing — the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, a.k.a. West Germany) — and the fifth stanza of this gala biannual event, held at the prestigious Olympic Hall in Munich, West Germany, proved no different. Of the 290 competitors from 28 countries that participated, the U.S. boasted perhaps its greatest team yet assembled for international competition. Of the 16-member American team, eight of them held, or hold, world championships in pro and amateur martial sports. They once again proved their superiority by winning more gold medals than anyone and thus returning home with all three World Team Cups, one each for semicontact, fullcontact and forms. Of 24 total gold medals in Munich, the Americans grabbed 10 of them, as well as 4 silver and 2 bronze (see the final results in the News section of this issue). The World Team Cups are awarded for most gold medals won in each competition category: The U.S. took 5 golds in semicontact, 3 in fullcontact, and 2 in forms. The formidable West Germans, at least in this outing, were not as close as usual, taking altogether 6 gold, 5 silvers, and 6 bronze.

The Heroes
The approximately 11,000 very vocal spectators during the two-day event watched three Americans pace the U.S. effort by winning double medals. “Terrific Troy” Dorsey, 24, of Dallas, Texas won the gold in the fullcontact bantamweight division (-54 kg.), and a silver in the semi-contact flyweight class (-57 kg.). Tommy Williams, 36, of Marietta, Oklahoma took a silver in the fullcontact light welterweight category (-63.5 kg.) and a bronze in the semicontact super lightweight class (-63 kg.). Keith Hirabayashi of Gardena, California was the only participant in Munich to win double gold medals — and only the second to do so in WAKO cornpetition history — one each for softstyle forms and weapons. No one, The Fighter believes, was more impressive than Troy Dorsey, the newest kickboxing star to emerge from Texas and one of the greatest athletes in the history of his sport. Consider this: In 1985, in London, while fighting with an injured hand, Dorsey won an unprecedented two gold medals, one each in full- and semicontact, at the 4th WAKO World Championships. On August 8, 1987, he broke the nearly eight-year reign of, and avenged an earlier defeat by, veteran Felipe Garcia. By so doing, Dorsey won his first pro world title, the ISKA world bantamweight championship. In Munich, Dorsey proceeded to give an incomparable display of athletic prowess.

Jerry Rhome
Atlanta’s Jerry Rhome (left), the man who crumbled “Bad” Brad Hefton, had little trouble with European full-contact fighters. Rhome hits so hard his punches should require an impact statement from the Environmental Protection Agency.


Tommy Williams - Klemens Willner
Oklahoma’s valiant Tommy Williams (left) was another double-medal winner. At 36, an age when many fighters would be retired, Williams scored his 18th KO with his patented spinning back kick.

The WAKO event typically ran semi-and full-contact eliminations simultaneously in three different rings. Dorsey would dominate one opponent in the fullcontact ring, then run to the ropeless center tatami, change equipment, and engage in a semicontact bout, where he would, much to our amazement, dust another opponent — and many times with uncanny ease, as if he were not fighting in two different types of martial sports. During one of these extraordinary performances, this reporter joked that the WAKO should have included a “tough man” contest as well. Then, “Terrific Troy” could have changed equipment, jumped in the third ring, and eliminated everyone and anyone in the building. Indeed, it was said in jest, but none of us laughed. Notably, Dorsey took only a silver medal in semicontact because he was disqualified for excessive contact.) Texan Troy Dorsey, hands down, has everything it takes to become a star. Like Bill Wallace before him, Dorsey has talent, ability, personality and charisma. He’s far more than just another world champion Dorsey will , in the not too distant future, break through to superstardom in his sport. Then there’s Tommy Williams, 36 and king of spinning back kicks. At an age when most fighters would have already retired, Williams, incredibly, scored his 18th knockout in Munich with his patented spinning back kick, the world’s record for this type of technique. Tommy, a double-medal winner in the 1985 WAKO World Championships, was favored to win double golds here. Then he encountered Canada’s Peter Gilpin, who ultimately won the semicontact gold, but in the future should be forced to enter track-and-field contests. Gilpin ran so much and so far in his bout with Williams that we thought Tommy must have threatened to kill him, or something equally sinister. During one of his galloping acts, Gilpin fell squarely off the stage, with head and limbs helterskelter. His pride — and his head — were saved by some conveniently placed mats. He might as well have stayed down, though, because his demonstration of so-called “fighting” was roundly rebuked by the disapproving European audience. This was, after all, a world championship. What compensated for Canada’s loss of face in Gilpin’s spectacle was the sensational performance by Quebec’s Jean Frenette, who stole the show and the world spotlight. Picture this scenario: Typically, European open tournaments do not feature forms competition, and moreover, most of the 11,000 spectators, including many of the martial artists gathered there, had not witnessed “creative” forms accompanied by music. Hardstyle kata competitors were called out first and a few warmed up the audience, among them New York’s John Chung, for years America’s number-one-ranked national form champion. Then out strutted Frenette with all the confidence of Nadia Comeneche of gymnastics fame. So superlative was Frenette’s form it blew away everyone in the arena, fighters included. I mean, he literally brought the house to its collective feet in a raving standing ovation. And here’s the stunner: when he finished, the audience screamed and stomped their feet for an encore, refusing to stop until promoter George Bruckner call Frenette back to center stage. Not one of us there, Americans included, had ever heard of an audience demanding an encore for kata. But Europeans do have a centuries-old artistic appreciation and Frenette gave them a second equally effective dose in his encore, and again drew a raving, rollicking reaction. His was clearly the biggest ovation, the most outstanding performance, and the most crowd-pleasing of the entire world championship. But still there was Keith Hirabayashi, America’s quietest champion, to consider. Keith, seemingly oblivious to the favored Frenette, got down to business with fanfare. By the time he was done, Hirabayashi had won two gold medals, the only competitor in Munich to do so. Together, Frenette, Hirabayashi and Chung have left a lasting legacy in Europe. Due to their collective presentations, Europeans will now include forms competition in their open tournaments.

Jean Frenette
Despite great performances by kickboxers and semi-contact fighters from 30 countries, it was Canada’s Jean Frenette (bottom left) who drew the longest and loudest ovation for his spectacular kata.

The Villains
Every story has its hero and villain. If there was a villain in Munich, it was the Italian team, who proved to be the sorest losers in international competition. In one semicontact bout, Australian referee Les Anyos had to physically restrain an angry Italian and shortly thereafter disqualify him. But that spectacle paled compared to the eruption at the end of the light-middleweight fullcontact elimination bout between American Carl Whitaker of Texas and Italy’s Paolo Liberati. Whitaker won what was probably an unfair decision over Liberati; the Italian should have won the bout. But instead of instituting a formal protest, the Italian coach, accompanied by an entourage of his fighters, jumped in the ring and launched an abusive verbal attack against the referee. To make matters worse, the referee, in WAKO competition, does not score each fight; only the ringside officials do. The onslaught against the innocent ref provoked Holland’s Jan Stoker to jump into the ring to quell the squabble. Stoker, a former Mas Oyama student who introduced the rugged kyokushinkai style in his country, is so big he should be given his own zip code. The foolish (and much smaller) Italian coach made the mistake of grabbing the big Dutchman as if, through some miracle, to do him harm. Stoker shook the Italian around like a dust mop, planting a few knees to his face for good measure. All hell broke loose as more people stormed into the ring to stop the public brawl. Worse, a television camera was taping it all at ringside. Using intimidation tactics and resorting to mass brawls would mark this Italian Team as the world’sworst sportsmen. Unfortunately, a lot of this attitude might stem from their leadership. Italian Ennio Falsoni, voted the WAKO European President, is not above using his political clout to unfairly further his country’s interests and his own.

“Nasty” Loses His Nickname
In Munich, overall, the positives outweighed the negatives and for the victorious Americans the scales were tipped even further. Take, for example, the “new” Steve Anderson, formerly known as “Nasty.” Anderson has been America’s number-one-ranked semicontact champion seemingly since the days of Gichin Funakoshi. He was defending world heavyweight champ in Munich, but fought his way up through all the eliminations. In the title match, he lopsidedly trounced Germany’s Peter Hainke 16-2. But where the new Anderson emerged was in his moving post-victory displays of emotion and sportsmanship. First. Anderson took the microphone to thank the promoter and the audience. Then he returned to his teammates and began weeping openly in a mixture of joy, fulfillment and pride. But even these displays were perhaps overshadowed when he took his first-place position on the winner’s platform. As the American anthem began playing over the loudspeakers. Anderson lifted the 2nd- and 3rd-place finalists onto the 1st-place step with him and wept through the entire anthem. This was a great moment in martial sports. This new demonstration of maturity for the old veteran can probably be attributed to his status as an Atlantic World Team member. The generous sponsorship by the Atlantic Marketing and Refining Corp. has given Anderson and 17 other North American karate competitors the opportunity to make an excellent living exclusively from training and competing. The “Nasty” of old used to resort to loud Muhammad Ali tactics to get attention. The new “Nasty,” secure with himself and his station in life, stands tall as a dignified champion and sportsman, more mannerly and less vocal. Now he’s heard louder than ever. An undeniable asset to the American team was its three-member coaching squad.

Steve Anderson
Actions speak louder than words: A tearful Steve Anderson was “Nasty” no more. During the national anthem, Virginia’s Anderson (middle) won over the crowd by lifting the runners-up onto the 1st-place platform with him. 2nd Place: Peter Hainke (GER). 3rd: Barnabas Katona (HU) and Emanuel Bettencourt (CV).

Hardworking Jeff Smith of Alexandria, Virginia, the original world light heavyweight kickboxing champ, was visible morning to night at every ring for every American’s fight and was joined by Los Angeles’ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace later in the day. Having these two great champions as coaches gave the Americans the direction and inspiration needed to sweep all three World Team Cups. Kudos must also go to veteran coach and former top-10-ranked kata champion Chuck Merriman of Waterford, Connecticut, who came to Munich specifically to coach his Atlantic-sponsored team composed of five members. When his players competed, Merriman shared the corner quietly and cooperatively with Smith and Wallace. No ego clashes here as the coaches worked in harmony to bring out the best performance in the American players. Outstanding, too, was the women’s team; of four of them, three won gold medals in semi-contact: Texas’ Linda Denley (+60 kg.), Virginia’s Helen Chung (-60 kg.), and Kentucky’s Lori Lantrip (-50 kg.). In an early controversy with a surprising turnaround, “Demolition” Denley massacred a German opponent in her first bout, first hitting the girl in the throat then almost knocking her out with a punch. She was disqualified for malicious contact, but when the German couldn’t continue due to being shook up, the German coaches intervened on Denley’s behalf and she was reinstated in the competition. Denley’s crushing blows led one observer to comment, “Her’s is not excessive contact; she hits that hard normally.” Predictably, the Americans were in ultra-high spirits at the post-event party, where the three World Team Cups were awarded to them. In appreciation, the team awarded each cup to a responsible person. The Semi-Contact World Team Cup was given to coach Jeff Smith. Mike Anderson, WAKO’s world president who had organized the American team, got the Overall Best Team Cup, a 50-pound marble-and-metal monolith donated by the German martial arts magazine, Karate Budo Journal. The cup for fullcontact was presented to Texan Ray McCallum, who has been competing and winning in WAKO events since 1981. Although McCallum didn’t win or place in Munich, he showed championship caliber later on in the party as the official beer pourer from the Overall Best Team Cup. The Fighter magazine did its part by buying enough beer to fill the awesome cup twice, and it took someone with the strength of McCallum to lift it to everyone’s lips. Consequently, a second Octoberfest celebration was created in Munich that night, and the Germans got in the last shot when the Americans, full of potent German beer and decidedly good cheer, staggered to their rooms sometime before dawn unprepared for the biggest collective hangover in Europe the next afternoon.

Linda Denley
Linda Denley wins Gold.



The WAKO Format

The WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organization) is the official international amateur organization for full- and semicontact competition. It was founded in 1977 in West Germany and conducted its first world championship in 1978. At the 1981 WAKO World Championships in Milan, Italy, free-style forms competition was added to the WAKO program. In 1983, in London, England, four weight divisions of women’s competition were added as well. The WAKO is not a private sanctioning body, but an international, government-recognized organization with charters in 32 countries. To become the WAKO world champion, a fighter must first win his country’s national title by process of elimination. This leaves no doubt as to who is number one. Only the national champions in each weight class can participate in the world championships. The world title is decided in the same manner, by process of elimination. The last man standing is the world champion. This asks a lot from a
fighter who may meet four or five different opponents in the same day. It is, however, the only fair way to decide who is absolutely number one. In WAKO World Championships, the fighters in both full- and semicontact are required to fight two two-minute rounds against each opponent in the preliminaries and three two-minute rounds in the finals. The semicontact rules are basically the same as in U.S. open tournaments, except the groin is not a legal target in WAKO international competition. In fullcontact kickboxing, WAKO rules allow a fighter more freedom since there is no minimum kick requirement. The WAKO maintains that a fight is not a fight when a fighter is required to execute a specific number of kicks, because he is being forced to alter his strategy and ability to accommodate an unrealistic rule. Unlike competition in the WKA (World Karate Association) or the ISKA (International Sport Karate Association), WAKO kickboxing permits hip throws and full sweeps. Throwing sometimes eliminates undue clinching and adds perhaps one of the most exciting dimensions to the sport. The WAKO rules are thus a combination of kickboxing, karate, boxing, tae kwon do and judo. Although the WAKO is a non-profit amateur organization, to say that its athletes are strictly amateurs is questionable. Everyone is well aware of the hypocrisy surrounding Olympic amateur athletes today. All the world’s best amateurs are paid in one form or another, usually through government or private sponsorship, and Europe’s amateur kickboxers, although not yet Olympic athletes, are no different. Conversely, six of the U.S. team members who participated in Munich currently hold, or have held, world professional titles. Yet, most of them do not earn a living exclusively from kickboxing competition and are forced to make money from a second source or another profession. It is one of the cruel ironies of the sports world.

The Good – The Bad – The Ugly
(Comments by John Corcoran)

Schwraze Scheriffs München
The alarming demonstration by the “Black Sheriffs,” an unofficial police force in Munich. These martial artists, dressed in black and wearing armbands, at one point drew guns and fired in unison at the audience. It was so akin to the Nazi movement of the 1930s and ’40s that the German spectators whis-tled continuously until they left the stage (whistling in Europe is akin to booing in America; it connotates distaste).

THE GOOD (!!!)
13 of the 16 American team members won medals. (Interestingly, 7 of those 13 winners, or 53%, stem from the Jhoon Rhee/ Allen Steen systems, and 5 winners from the U.S. and Canada were Atlantic World Karate Team members.) – “Terrific Troy” Dorsey, the outstanding fighter of the event. – The new “Nasty” Anderson, the quintessential professional.  Canada’s Jean Frenette, whose kata performance stole the show from the fighters. Together with America’s Keith Hirabayashi and John Chung, Frenette leaves a kata legacy to Europe. – The strong German fullcontact team, especially Mario Dimitroff, Germany’s newest kickboxing sensation. – The incorporation of hip throws, unique to WAKO kickboxing rules, a very crowd-pleasing element. – Alfie Lewis, the Steve Anderson of Great Britain, and his teammates. Their level of streamlined semicontact fighting was comparable to that of the Americans. – The Hungarians, collectively singing their national anthem aloud with tears in their eyes as their only gold medal winner, heavyweight Norbert Novengi, stood on the winner’s platform. – The large numbers of competitors, some very good, from the Eastern bloc nations. The socialist countries add a truly worldclass touch to WAKO championships. – The South African team whose members included a number of black fighters; no apartheid here. – The always mannerly and ever potent Jerry Rhome of the U.S. team. When he KOed his last opponent to win the gold, Jim Lantrip commented: “He hit him so hard the guy’s knees locked and he couldn’t fall down.” Colleague Jay Bell said of Rhome’s speed: “He kicked the guy three times, walked back to his corner, and watched them land!” – Promoter Georg Bruckner, who undertook the huge expense of renting the massive and prestigious Olympic Hall. Bruckner also provided a private room with free drinks and sandwiches throughout the event for officials, administrators, and the press.

THE BAD (ZZzzzz)
– The need for Europeans to upgrade their level of contact in semicontact to match that of the Americans and British fighters. – The West German semicontact fighters who have recently adopted the Hollywood tactics usually associated with poor-quality American fighters. That is, falling to the ground and rolling around in mock agony when they are hit solidly. This was never true of the former, and great, German champions: Ludger Dietze, Hans Hinz, and Klaus Friedhaber, who now coaches the German team. – The demos — too many and each too long, just like in America. Stagehogs don’t seem to know when to quit. Some were even scheduled after the last fight of the evening. – The slow pace of the Munich event. A national anthem and award presenta-tion was conducted after each final match. Thus, only three fights could be presented in one hour at the Munich finals. – The long-winded and highly unnecessary speech by WAKO European President Ennio Falsoni of Italy during the opening ceremonies on the second night. The audience could have done without Falsoni’s references to his not having always seen eye to eye with Georg Bruckner in WAKO politics. Who cares? Cut the speech and get on with the damn show; that’s what spectators pay for.

Marek Piotrowski
Marek Piotrowski becomes the first Polish fighter to win a world title in fullcontact. After turning professional he moves to the US where he fights and scores wins over fighting legends Rick Roufus and Don Wilson. Referee: Flavio Brivio.

THE UGLY (c$#%!)
– The Italians, who proved to be the worst sportsmen in WAKO inter-national competition. – The disorganization of the event, particuarly in its first day. While coordinators blamed promoter Georg Bruck-ner for the delays, because he tried to do everything himself, he blamed the coordinators from various countries for being lazy and undisciplined. Neither complaint helped speed up the proceedings. – The terrible level of judging in many cases for semicontact fighting. Com-paratively, not much different from the quality — or lack of it — in U.S. tournaments. Please, God, have someone invent a new high-tech method of judging point fights with electronics, instead of human shortcomings. – When promoter Georg Bruckner realized he would lose a substantial amount of money on the event, he retracted his earlier agreement to pay a part of the hotel expenses for all fighters and WAKO officials. It created a great degree of animosity. Many people did not bring enough money to pay the entire cost of hotel rooms and heated arguments at the hotel’s front desk were habitual and very ugly. – The unnamed American team mem-bers who threatened the hotel clerks with bodily harm when they demanded that the rooms be paid for in full.

Chuck Norris
This article was published inside the May 1988 issue of The Fighter International. It was authored by John Corcoran. Photos: Copyright by Michael Deubner. The featured image shows American super-kicker Mike Anderson during his first elimination fight enroute to winning gold in fullcontact, -60kg.


Video coverage:

Promoter Georg F. Brückner produced a television quality video of the final fights and some of the elimination matches. They can be observed on Youtube:

Best Fights Part 1:
Best Fights Part 2:

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