WAKO Worldchampionships Belgrade

WAKO Belgrade France's Johanne Lemair (gold) with American David Bybee (Bronze).

2001: Belgrade, Yugoslavia- Despite the effects of the 911 tragedy, this bombed-out capitol of Serbia, strafed for 74 consecutive days by NATO aircraft and cruise missiles, finally began its nation’s comeback as a respected member of the world community. This Balkan nation hosted its first international event since the cessation of the NATO war against Serbia (Yugoslavia) — the WAKO World Kickboxing Championships.
DIGNITARIES: The WAKO delegation was received at the capitol by Yugoslav President Vojisslav Kostunica, personally. The winners were presented their awards by none other than the Prime Minister and the Minister of Sports, followed by the playing of the Gold Medal winner’s national anthem by a large band. The promoter, WAKO-Yugoslavia President and active kickboxing practitioner, Borislav Pelevic, is also a senior member of the Yugoslavian Parliament. Pelevic, must be given, not WAKO, full credit for this very extravagant promotion. He, alone, was responsible for the success and magnitude of the promotion of the live event. Another prominent person in attendance was Dr. Thomas Ajan of the GAISF/Olympic Committee. He was impressed by this very extravagant event and has seriously taken the WAKO’s bid for the kickboxing sport’s participation in the World Games seriously. In October, a meeting was held between the Presidents of the WAKO, IAKSA and WKA and Dr. Ajan to determine the kickboxing sport’s chances of being included in the World Games. A follow-up meeting will be held this January.

Opening ceremony with fighters from 47 countries.

The World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), by far, the world’s largest organization for both the full contact kickboxing and light contact karate/kickboxing sports, hosts two World Championships every two years. One for their full contact sports, such as full contact kickboxing, kickboxing with low kicks and Thai boxing and the other for its non-contact disciplines: Point karate, continuous karate/kickboxing and creative forms competition. The WAKO World Championships is not an open tournament. Only one fighter per weight division per country may enter. This, in most cases, is determined by a country’s national championships. Only the best from each country, regardless of pro and or amateur status, may compete at the WAKO Worlds. The same is true with IAKSA . IAKSA is not to be confused with ISKA. IAKSA and WAKO are bona fide “world” organizations who are recognized by the Olympic-sanctioned, government sport associations in many counties. Neither have really been organized or promoted seriously in the U.S. The WKA, on the other hand, is a privately controlled organization whose world championships are conducted like an open tournament where just about anyone who shows up may compete. WAKO, IAKSA and WKA all have small point karate tournaments in the U.S. every year to determine who qualifies to compete in their world championships. None have anything going in the United States in the full contact sports. (Note: The term “karate” is not used internationally as the term for the sport known in North America as “point” or “sport” karate. It is called “kickboxing”. About 20 years ago, when the WAKO first began its quest for Olympic recognition for the all-style karate and kickboxing sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) informed M.A.D.’s Publisher and Editor, Mike Anderson, who was the creator of these worts and founder of the WAKO, that the term “karate” was already reserved by the WU KO; today called the World Karate Federation (WKF), predominantly a Japanese style traditional karate organization. So Anderson, and his partner, Georg Brueckner of Berlin, Germany, reluctantly agreed to call the sports light contact and full contact “kickboxing”, instead of “karate.”)

Boris Pelevic

Never before in the history of the martial arts has a single event received so much media attention and support. The bouts, which were conducted in 4 boxing rings simultaneously, were televised live on the major national network all over the Balkans. The event was on TV all day long from 10 o’clock in the morning until 7:30 at night for 5 straight days. Even more impressive was the fact that the daily results were carried on the front page of every major newspaper.

The WAKO Full Contact World Championships was, for the most part, sponsored by the government of Yugoslavia. As Yugoslavia recently had a bitter war against the predominately Islamic country of Bosnia, as well as against their own province of Kosovo, the WAKO organization expected the government to refuse issuance of entry visas to teams from Islamic nations. To everyone’s surprise, however, Islamic nations were admitted, as teams from Iraq, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tajikistan, Kazakstan, and the Islamic Republic of Iran attended with teams. The main reason, however, that WAKO officials were surprised that visas were issued to teams from Islamic countries was because of what had happened in Slovenia. WAKO’s point Karate, continuous Karate and creative forms championships, held in Maribor, Slovenia and sponsored, in part, by the Slovenian government, suffered deeply from the effects of the 911 tragedy. The Slovenian government refused to issue visas to fighters from Islamic countries. This greatly reduced participation. Competition was further hampered as many countries decided to forego traveling during such a dangerous and uncertain period in our history. Even Team USA, always a favorite at the WAKO Light Contact Worlds, decided to cancel their reservations. WAKO-USA Team representative, Don Rodrigues, coach of Team Paul Mitchell, cancelled all 62 reservations. Said Rodrigues, “I just couldn’t take the chance of putting the lives of these kids at risk.”

The United States Kickboxing Team was led by WAKO founder, Mike Anderson, who could only muster a 3-man team. Said Anderson, “Due to 911, it was difficult to find fighters unafraid of international travel; especially to a country we recently bombed for 74 straight days. Short notice made it impossible to muster more than 3 fighters truly representative of their country” America’s three fighters were David Bybee of Florida, Peyton Russell of Minnesota and Mike Nevitt of Illinois, all holders of various world and national kickboxing titles. Only Bybee won a medal, taking the bronze in the 86 kg class in Full Contact. The Jim Graden protege was defeated in the semifinals by France’s Yohann Lemaire, who eventually won the gold. Recently, in Paris, France, Bybee defeated Lemaire decisively to win the cruiserweight title at the French Open. “In all fairness to the American fighters” said Anderson, “I must mention that the U.S. Team was at a tremendous disadvantage. They all had just a few days notice and had no time to acclimatize. Their matches were scheduled at 5 am., U.S. time. Their legs simply weren’t working up to par, at that early hour, immediately after such a long trip and change of environment and temperature. When we left Florida, it was 85 degrees. It was freezing and snowing in Yugoslavia the next day”. Kickboxing legend Ferdinand Mack of Germany, a 5-time World Champion, much to the delight of the U.S. team, worked the American corner.”Ferdie was the only one I trusted to work our corner,” remarked Anderson, “I would have probably put someone’s eye out trying to put in their mouthpiece. Fighters need truly qualified corners ” Team Canada, which also had only three fighters present, was led by Marcellin Cantin. None of the Canadians won medals as their fighters had far less experience than the other countries that competed in this event. It’s not unusual for fighters from some of the Eastern European countries to have over 200 fights under their belts. The USA did win the Silver Medal in the booing event, though. When the American team made its entry into the arena during the very extravagant opening ceremony, they were booed loudly by the Yugoslav public. This was to be expected as the United States put an economic embargo on Yugoslavia for about io years, followed by a thorough bombing. The city still bore the remains of many buildings hit by bombs and cruise missiles. Croatia took the booing Gold Medal and Great Britain and Bosnia are still arguing as to whom took the “Boo Bronze”. PARTICIPATING COUNTRIES: This year’s WAKO World Championships hosted teams from only 47 countries. The norm is closer to 100 countries. Said WAKO President, Dr. Ennio Falsoni of Italy, “Not only did 911 contribute to an adverse effect on this year’s turnout, but the bad world economy also played a role in our decrease in attendance. For example, many African and other third world countries were noticeably absent.” WAKO Presidents from about 90 countries, however, did attend the WAKO World Congress, which also convenes during this event.

The quality of competition in the WAKO Full Contact World Championships, as usual, was second to none. About i,000 of the best kickboxers on the planet competed. One could take the body fat off of all thousand competitors and you couldn’t fill a tea cup with it. The women were particularly impressive, especially the Russians. They are so strong, that they have been accused of using steroids in the past, but all finalists underwent doping controls and not one of them failed the test.

The little country of Belarus, about the size of Colorado, dominated the Thai Boxing competition. Coached by Evgeni Kotelnikov, the Belarus (Bylo-Russia) team won 9 of the 12 gold medals awarded in the Thai Boxing competition. What made this domination even more impressive was the fact that most of these Belarus fighters, compared to the other Muay Thai fighters who were much older and tougher looking, were really just kids. If Evgeni Kotelnikov isn’t elected `WAKO Coach of the Year’, then fairness is forgotten in this world organization. We hope to do a story on Kotelnikov and “The Bad Boys of Belarus” in a future issue.

SPECTATORS: This event had 4 rings going at the same time all day for 5 straight days. The daytime preliminaries averaged around 5,000 spectators each and every day with over 8,000, a full house, attending the finals. The crowd, composed of about 90% civilians, was extremely loud throughout. As the bouts were televised live, one could take a coffee break in the press room and watch the matches live on a giant TV screen. THE OFFICIATING: The officials looked impressive in their black suits and WAKO design bow ties, but, as usual, the officiating stunk. After one official was hit by one of the objects thrown by rude spectators who were irate due to an unfavorable decision, the judges were obviously intimidated by the extremely loud partisan crowd; hence, the over abundance of Yugoslavian winners. Croatian, American, British and Bosnian fighters didn’t stand a chance. They were booed loudly. Many Yugoslav coaches and officials apologized for the behavior of the audience. They said that this was primarily a basketball crowd who acts that way all the time. The Yugoslavs are a very friendly and hospitable people…except for their basketball fans, apparently. The decisions in the first two matches of the finals, one featuring Monika Florek of Poland in the women’s 60 kg class and the other Morocco’s El Mostafa Boughnim in the men’s 65.5 kg category, showed blatant partiality toward their Yugoslav opponents. The Yugoslavs obviously lost but were still given the decisions. SAFETY PRECAUTIONS There were enough doctors, medics and ambulances present to administer to a small war. All fighters were examined before they were allowed to participate and finalists all underwent stringent doping controls. Checking the physical well-being of the fighters prior to the competition is, of course, the ethical and logical thing to do, as it is in every contact sport. Unfortunately, in the USA, this practice is rare. Apparently, the only criterion for tournament participation in most U.S. tournaments is having enough money for the entry fee. Several competitors in point and Tae Kwon Do competition have died in U.S. tournaments in the past, as they had maladies that should have prevented them from participating in the first place.

The American Team: Mike Anderson, Ferdinand Mack (borrowed from Germany), David Bybee, Mike Nevitt, Peyton Russell.

Every country representative was given: A nice suit, a hand-carved wall clock, a quality Swiss watch with the tournament logo on the face, lavish food and entertainment every night, all kinds of posters, certificates, pins and T-shirts, and a great farewell dinner and party for all 1,000 plus participants. The medals and trophies were a little skimpy, but having the nation’s Prime Minister put a medal around the winners’ necks, followed by their national anthems, more than made up for the less-than-spectacular medals and trophies. THE TOP TEN TEAMS: The Russian Federation took team honors by accumulating 54 team points. Tied for second were Yugoslavia and the Ukraine with 35 points apiece and Belarus took fourth overall with 27 points. Rounding out the top ten were Morocco, Poland, France, Kyrgystan, Italy and Croatia.

THE OVERALL PROMOTION: WAKO-Yugoslavia President Borislav Pelevic and his staff (which must have numbered over 100) must be congratulated for a superb promotion. Just transporting over 1,000 participants to and from the hotels, venues and parties must have cost a small fortune, not to mention the logistics involved. The city was filled with billboards advertising the event and the media support was an all time high. Congratulations to Borislav Pelevic for the promotion of this very memorable and extravagant event. MAD

martial arts digest
This account was published inside Martial Arts Digest edition January/February 2003.