WORLD KARATE ASSOCIATION One of the major sanctioning bodies for professional karate. Conceived in Oct. 1976 by Howard Hanson and Arnold Urquidez, the World Karate Association (WKA) is a non-profit organization governing professional and amateur full-contact karate, with major events promoted throughout the world. The WKA is the first non-profit governing body for the sport, the first governing body to use an independently controlled rating list, the first to establish a world championship division for women, and the first to include countries from the Orient. The WKA has sanctioned events in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia, Mexico, South America, Europe, Canada, as well as throughout the U.S. The WKA uses the independent STAR system for ratings, and requires its world champions to defend their titles against the highest ranked world-class fighter available. Because most Oriental fighters refuse to compete in the professional karate ring without the use of thigh kicks, WKA rules permit roundhouse kicks to the outer thigh region above the knee and below the hip joint. Anti-joint techniques as well as knee and elbow strikes are strictly forbidden. The WKA seeks to elevate professional karate to a major international sport with recognizable stars and network television coverage of its events. To this end the WKA cooperates with the press, and requires that only top-caliber competition be shown to national media and television audiences. On Mar. 12, 1977, at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, the first WKA sanctioned event featured Benny Urquidez, the WKA Super Lightweight World Champion, against Narong Noi, the kick-boxing champion of Thailand. On the undercard Earnest Hart, Jr., soon to become a PKA world champion, was knocked out by Nate Saknarong, the international kick-boxing champion of Thailand; and Lilly Rodriguez TKOed Carlotta Lee. A riot broke out in the audience during the fierce Urquidez-Noi bout, however, and the California State Athletic Commission declared the outcome to be a no-contest. Later that same year, with the help of Ron Holmes, Hisashi Shima, and Antonio I noki (who once faced Muhammad Ali in a mix-match), the WKA made several promotional inroads into Japan. On Aug. 2, 1977 Benny Urquidez defended his title with a 6th-round knockout over the number 1 Japanese kick-boxing contender. Katsuyuki Suzuki, before a sold-out crowd at the Budokan in Tokyo. The bout was broadcast live on prime-time Japanese national television, and set a record for the largest monetary gate in sport karate history ($300,000). Then, on Nov. 14, 1977, the former judo and kick-boxing champion of Japan, Kunimatsu Okao, embarrassed by the defeat of his countryman at the hands and feet of an American, came out of retirement to challenge Urquidez for the WKA world title. Even with ringside seats at $200.00 apiece, the bout again sold out the Budokan, setting a new gate record in excess of $500.000. Again, the bout was broadcast live on prime time Japanese national television. Okao was KOed in the 4th round, two rounds earlier than Suzuki. Benny Urquidez immediately became a Japanese folk hero, complete with Benny “The Jet” comic books distributed throughout Japan. He was recognized there, and in the homeland of karate, Okinawa. as the first world champion in professional karate. Other champions soon followed. Kunimasa Nagae defeated Tony Lopez in Tokyo for the WKA lightweight world championship. Meanwhile, on May 2, 1979, Benny Urquidez returned to the U.S. to defend his title successfully against Rick Simerly at South Lake Tahoe. The event was telecast on NBC Sportsworld. Later that month, on May 26, Steve Sheperd defeated Chris Gallegos in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the WKA Middleweight World Championship. Then in Oct. 1979, Urquidez again defended his title in Tokyo against the kickboxing champion of Japan, Yoshimitsu Tamashiro. The bout was carried live on prime time Japanese national television. Soon afterwards, Hanson announced that women’s professional karate activity warranted the creation of two women’s world championship divisions. As with men’s divisions, the women’s divisions would be sanctioned and expanded to reflect the volume of activity. On Dec. 23, 1979. Graciela Casillas defeated Irene Garcia in Las Vegas for the WKA women’s bantamweight world championship. Casillas, who simultaneously held the Women’s World Boxing Association (WWBA) bantamweight title, was not only the first female world champion in the history of the sport, but also the first professional athlete to hold a world title in both karate and boxing. On Jan. 26, 1980, the WKA prepared for another network telecast, this time from the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. Howard Jackson defeated Yoshimitsu Tamashiro for the WKA Welterweight World Championship. Benny Urquidez successfully defended his title against number 1 Japanese kick-boxing contender Shinobu Onuki. And WKA U.S. Champion Refugio Flores knocked out PKA world champion Vernon Mason. The Jackson and Urquidez bouts aired on NBC-TV opposite the Winter Olympics on ABC-TV. Despite the strong competition, the telecast reportedly received the highest audience rating of any professional karate event since 1974. On July 15, 1980 WKA president Hanson replaced the WKA world rating list, which had been published monthly in Official Karate Magazine since mid-1979, with the independent STAR system full-contact karate ratings. At the time, the new rating system was the only rating that ranked professional fighters in accordance with their actual ring performances, independent of organizational affiliations. On Oct. 13, 1980, Don Wilson knocked out U.S Champion Andy White in Cocoa Beach, Fla., for the WKA Light Heavyweight World Championship. The Wilson championship set two precedents. First Don Wilson, being half Japanese, was the first world champion of Asian descent to win his title in the U.S. And second, Wilson was also the first kung-fu stylist to hold a world title in professional karate. The year of 1981 saw the WKA bring Hong Kong into professional karate. On April 9, 1981, a WKA World Team, headed by champions Benny Urquidez, Don Wilson, Tony Morelli, and Graciela Casillas, traveled to Hong Kong to defend their titles against its leading full-contact fighters. All of the WKA champions distinguished themselves with early-round knockouts over their challengers. Other team members were Dennis Crawford, Frank Holloway, Stewart Lauper, and Darlina Valdez.