For the past 4 decades TopTen gear has developed as one of the most prestigious brands in amateur kickboxing, Olympic boxing, open tournament sport karate and ITF taekwondo. The brand started in 1976, but it took until 1983 before the protective equipment was officially launched for mass production. 40 years ago (1983) TopTen’s first line of safety equipment hit the shelves with a full line of protectors produced from Bayflex polyurethane made in Germany. Read the story behind TopTen’s first set of protective equipment.
When the best American and European fullcontact kickboxers squared off for an uneven matchup in Paris, France, in 1976 American fighters like Bill Wallace and Jeff Smith still remained unbeatable for the best Germans, Dutch and French competitors. They fought with Jhoon Rhee’s first Safe-T gear that was still relatively new. While the gear was great as long as new – it showed tear and wear after short durations of heavy usage and the headgear would slide off of fighter’s heads quickly when they were sweating and engaged in close range combat. German taekwondo and karate pioneer Georg F. Brückner, widely respected as the father of European kickboxing, wanted to improve the gear. He was the first European to import Rhee’s gear to Europe, but wasn’t able to convince Jhoon Rhee of any significant need for desired changes. Rhee simply wanted his protective gear to suit the needs of sparring inside the dojo while Brückner demanded kicks and punches suitable for professional fullcontact fights.
With the best intentions at heart to create a new, revolutionary equipment for protection while suiting highest demands, Brückner ensued to work on his plans, but found many challenges and roadblocks along the way. He quickly dismissed his idea of improving existing gear. Dipped-foam wasn’t able to withstand long lasting stress and peak impact forces. He had to embark on a search and research mission for a new, more robust material. He tried to work with rubber makers producing tires and finally wound up producing the first prototypes of gloves in 1978. This prototype was the first patent of a boxing style glove being fastened with a velcro strap instead of laces, an extremely practical innovation that changed the way boxing gloves and saftey gear was produced. Due to contraints with rubber production and issues in consistency it took Brückner until 1981 to find a good balance of materials and designs. His development included experimentation with 60 different blends of cushioning materials until he arrived at Bayer Leverkusen’s patented Bayfill foam. This foam was used in transport and car safety zones (i.e. dashboards) of Germany’s top luxury car brands to prevent passengers from suffering deadly injuries during highspeed crashes. It absorbed enourmous payloads of energy while remaining invulnarable to tear and wear. Neither time nor impact could cause deterioration of the material.
The best thing was the foam was a semi-rigid consisancy. It would adapt the shape of a mold during production and remain in identical shape for its entire lifespan. Climate control of molds would create an insulating closed surface with an open cell structure on the inside. Both, the fexible foam and the enclosed air would work in combination to absorb energy while being deformed when compressed. Since the air could not escape the structure the material would snap back instantly into its original shape without showing fatigue.
To further improve his gear Brückner used 2 years of extensive testing in training, competition and labs of the University of Berlin to fine-tune his gear for commercial use. During 1981 and 1982 he promoted continuous lighcontact kickboxing competition in Germany on a wide scale as well as fullcontact challenger cups with the best European WAKO fighters. Geert Lemmens, co-founder of WAKO kickboxing was tasked to write the first rules for continuous lightcontact kickboxing that would match the best German point and fullcontact fighters in a new “Bundesliga” sportsleague with TopTen prototype equipment. Later the official establishment of continuous lightcontact competition ensued on a global level in 1988. On European championship level worldclass fighters like Branko Cikatic, Ferdinand Mack, Jean-Marc Tonus and Peter Harbrecht worked with Bayflex gear. At the end the protectors were improved by smaller margins. Certain stressed portions of the parts were reinforced with inlays to avoid tearing. According to Geert Lemmens, the Bayflex gear was already mature enough for mass production at the start of the 2 year trials. But it was Georg Brückner who wanted to make it perfect.
Of course that process came at a high cost. Millions of Deutsche Mark were invested by the genius inventor. Some havoc among competitors was created as well. Distributors of other brands perceived Brückner as a threat to their livelyhood and put legal proceedings into motion to damage the inventor’s business and challenge his wide range of patents. One competitor in particular launched a heavy attack with 25 lawsuits within just one year. At the end Brückner retained all of his pentents, but lost financial resources and energy along the way.
In spring of 1983 mass production and commercial sales launched during a three-tournament-series for the German WAKO kickboxing championships in Landau, Kassel and Leverkusen. TopTen equipped WAKO tournaments on German and international level with its gear at no cost to promoters. It even supplied staff to supervise handling of its gear. Coaches and fghters received instructions on proper use to reap the full scope of protective benefits. It was a huge success. Until 1986 it remained the official WAKO equipment until it was replaced by leather covered boxing gloves and kicks at the 1987 championships in Munich’s Olympic Hall, which are still used in present competition.
The headguard still remains in use by thousands of fighters, today. According to Budoland distributor in Germany Bayflex Top Ten headguards are the most in demand products. They are still made in Germany.
Due to budget retraints the original Bayflex equipment was only sold in Europe and never marketed in America or Asia when it started in 1983. But many of the fighters who bought the original gear between 1983 and 1986 are still using the equipment. Today’s more modern Top Ten equipment is very popular in amateur kickboxing and point fighting. It is distributed by Fighters Incorporated in Florida. Apart from the iconic headguard, the Top Ten target is also produced from the original Bayflex material. It lasts for a lifetime and is maintenance free. Just wipe it clean after use and it remains in mint condition.
Georg F. Brückner died on December 30, 1992. A few months before his death Top Ten Boxing gloves and headguards were used for the 1992 Olympic Games’ boxing tournament in Barcelona, Spain. According to press reports and statements of the global boxing federation AIBA, TopTen made boxing a safer sport and ensured it remained part of the Olympic Games.