• • • and then there were four!
When the TV cameras had turned off their lights and 10,000 karate fans had returned to their respective corners of the globe four men – Duenas, Wallace, Smith and Lewis – stood alone as champions of the world
By BOB MacLAUGHLIN
FOR SEVERAL HOURS ON SATURDAY NIGHT, September 14, the Los Angeles Sports Arena was a giant melting pot. All kinds of people from all kinds of places came to see what would happen at the innovative World Professional Karate Championships. The 14 fighters who would do battle in full-contact competition for $20,000 in prize money came from such cities as Seoul, Hakata, Mexico City, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Belgrade, Santa Domingo and Memphis. They included a gambling casino owner, a cop and a law student. The officials and performers came from Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami, New York, Washington, D.C., Tokyo and, of course, Los Angeles. The media people came from Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, Universal Television and ABC, which taped the event for an hour-and-a-half special on Wide World of Entertainment Dec. 27, 1974. The celebrity guests, coming from exotic landmarks like the Ponderosa and the Shaolin Temple, included Lorne Greene, David Carradine, Ryan O’Neal, George Peppard, Peter Graves, Peter Fonda, Richard Roundtree, Jim Kelly, Christopher George, Linda Lee and the tournament’s TV host, Telly Savalas, star of “KOJAK”. The rest of the 10,000 spectators, 9,540 of whom paid from $4 to $50 to watch the crowning of four world champions, seemed to come from everywhere else. In addition to the truly international representation and the network television exposure, the World Professional ,Karate Championships, sanctioned by the Professional Karate Association, provided the realism of actual sports combat. Wearing the Safe-T brand hand-and-foot pads developed by Jhoon Rhee, and further protected by elaborate medical supervision and strict safety rules, the fighters took full measure of each others’ skills. There were three knockouts, two technical knockouts and numerous knockdowns during the 10 bouts. But, even though Budimir Vejnovic of Yugoslavia remained on his back for three minutes following a Jeff Smith ridge hand, every contestant walked away from the ring on his own legs. There were absolutely no injuries. Competition in the lightweight (152 pounds and under), middleweight (165 and under) and lightheavyweight (182 and under) divisions included two preliminary bouts and a title playoff between the prelim winners. The heavyweight division (183 and over) included only one bout, a championship match between Hollywood’s Joe Lewis and Yugoslavia’s Franc Brodar. Each of the prelims consisted of three two-minute rounds, and each world title bout consisted of three three-minute rounds. The rules stipulated that a round would automatically end following a knockdown and the fighter executing the knockdown would win that round. If a fallen fighter was unable to regain his feet before the count of five, he was declared knocked out. A round also ended if a player executed a takedown and “controlled” follow-up punch or kick. Penalty points were assessed for rule violations, such as stepping out of bounds or executing more than three consecutive punches without a kick, and two penalty points in a round automatically ended that round in favor of the opponent. Rounds not ending in a knockdown, completed takedown or double infraction were decided by a vote of the referee and six judges prior to the start of the subsequent round. The voting officials did not award points for each successfully executed technique, as in traditional non-contact or semi-contact tournaments, but instead voted on the basis of which fighter won a given round. A fighter winning a bout by decision had to win a minimum of two rounds.
The head referees, who took turns working the matches, were Takayiki Mikami of Louisiana and Jim Harrison of Kansas. The six voting judges were Roger Carpenter of Kansas, Jun Chong of Korea and Los Angeles, John Natividad of Torrance, California, Steve LaBounty of San Francisco, Joe Corley of Atlanta, and Chuck Norris of Los Angeles. Non-voting corner judges, who assisted the referee in watching for rule violations, were Glenn Keeney and Parker Shelton of Indiana, Pat Johnson of Los Angeles, and Paul Anselmo of Flordia. Also serving in an official ringside capacity were Roger Thill, M.D., David Molina, M.D., Arnold “Buck” Hill and Dale Roberts. Dr. Thill is one of three Southern California physicians licensed by the State Athletic Commision to work professional boxing matches, and Dr. Molina is a specialist in traumatic injury. Hill and Roberts are licensed fire-department paramedics. This special team brought a full complement of emergency medical equipment. One physician and one paramedic were positioned in each fighter’s corner throughout the competition, and a fully equipped mobile unit furnished by Schaeffer Ambulance Service was parked inside the building.
THE BIG UPSET
When the whole thing was over, four men accepted world titles and checks for $3000 each: lightweight Isaias (eee-sigh-ee-awss) Duenas of Mexico, middleweight Bill Wallace of Tennessee, lightheavyweight Smith and heavyweight Lewis. The biggest surprise of the compeition was not so much the American victories as it was the one American defeat. Howard Jackson, currently rated the number-one karate fighter in the U.S., was heavily favored to become the world lightweight champion. But Jackson, recuperating from a knee injury that prevented him from fighting in the International Karate Championships in August, suffered a stunning upset in the first bout of the evening. Following opening ceremonies, Jackson entered the ring wearing the Professional Brand red-white-and-blue gi especially designed for the American fighters by Canada’s Gilles Galipeault, who made the uniforms worn by all 14 WPKC contestants. Accompanied by television lights and cameras, Jackson ascended the ring steps amidst a thundering welcome by the huge crowd. As always, his muscular 145 pounds appeared trim and fit. Entering the other side of the ring was slender, sharp-featured Ramon Smith of the Dominican Republic. At 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, he was two inches taller than Jackson but five pounds lighter. He received the customary greeting for unknown foreign fighters — a sprinkling of partisan boos and polite applause. Joey Orbillo, the former heavyweight boxing contender who served as cornerman for each of the four Americans, and Jose Reyes, Smith’s instructor in Santo Domingo, taped the Safe-T Chop pads to their charges. Jackson wore red, Smith white, the colors corresponding to the scorecards of the voting judges. For benefit of the TV cameras, all of the night’s contestants removed their gi tops after bowing in to the crowd. Smith quickly served notice that he was not intimidated by his opponent’s reputation. With a strikingly intent expression on his face, the unheralded Dominican stood his ground and traded punches with the powerful Jackson. Both fighters seemed to employ kicking techniques simply as token gestures in deference to the rules. Jackson, though his ailing left leg appeared solid beneath him, showed none of the dazzling footwork that characterizes his normal style. He explained later that the leg didn’t pain him but that he was afraid to snap off a hard kick. “No it didn’t really hurt,” he said dejectedly, “but I haven’t been able to train like I should. I just wasn’t ready.” Jackson landed enough reverse punches and lunge punches to win the first round by a 4-3 vote of the judges, but the advantage quickly dissipated. He attempted an unseccessful takedown early in the second round, and Smith, no longer fearing Jackson’s feet, attacked aggressively with effective kicks and punches. A counterpunch following the takedown attempt stunned the Californian momentarily. By the end of the round, Smith had gained the favor of the crowd, and there was a loud roar when the referee pointed toward the Dominican to indicate his vote and all six judges held up white cards. Tied at a round apiece, the fighters opened the third and final stanza with a series of clashes. Jackson landed a round kick and followed immediately with a punch to the face that staggered his opponent, but Smith recovered before Howard could take full advantage. Again trying takedowns to compensate for his restricted arsenal of kicks, Jackson then attempted to drop Smith to the floor. The Dominican was firmly balanced, however, and countered with a takedown of his own, following with a punch to the head. There was no immediate ruling on the technique, and while referee Mikami conferred with the judges, shouts from the crowd offered conflicting opinions. Mikami then returned to center ring and waved his left hand toward Smith, automatically awarding him the third round and the fight. The realization that the upset was in the books brought a mixed reaction of boos and cheers.
THE RISE OF LATIN AMERICA
Jose Reyes – was to say a day later that the triumph was a tremendous thrill for his 22-year-old fighter, an impoverished fix-it man whose monthly earnings average $65. “The Dominicans are a poor people,” said Reyes in fluent English. “For Ramon to win a thousand dollars (second-place prize money) is more than a dream.” Actually, Smith was not originally scheduled to compete in the World Professional Karate Championships. But as the result of a late change in the card, he replaced Jose Luis Olivares of Mexico. “He had only two weeks to train,” Reyes said of the Dominican champion, “but he was very determined, and we had films of Jackson. He knew every move Jackson had.” Suddenly, the unknown substitute had earned a moment of glory in affluent America and stood three rounds away from a world title. His next opponent would be either Isaias Duenas or Germany’s Frank Knittel. Duenas, a senior at the National Law University of Mexico, is a broad-shouldered tae kwon do stylist who apparently looks bigger than he is. Some of the other players and coaches registered surprise that the 23-year-old Mexican was fighting as a lightweight, but according to his instructor, David Moon, he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 149 pounds. There was no official weigh-in at the tournament. Currently the Mexican National Karate Champion based on his triumph in the most recent national individual championships held in 1973, Duenas is also captain of the moo duk kwan quintet that won the national team title in August, 1974. In fact, he captained the Mexican team that finished third at the World Tae Kwon Do Championships in Seoul last year. In contrast to his muscular opponent, the blond and boyish Knittel appeared slight though fit at 5-foot-10. Expected to weigh more than 150 pounds, the winner of May’s All-European Open Professional Championships actually seemed several pounds lighter. When Knittel’s coach, George Brueckner, first laid eyes on Duenas during a workout at the Chuck Norris Karate Studio, he, too, was skeptical about, the Mexican’s weight. But, after patting the curly haired law student on the shoulders for an impromptu appraisal of his physique, Brueckner was satisfied. If the two fighters appeared mismatched before their encounter at center stage in the Sports Arena, the contrast was nothing compared to what was coming. From the very beginning of their preliminary bout, Duenas was in command, unleashing a furious but methodical attack of reverse punches, lunge punches, hooks, side kicks, round kicks, back kicks and spinning heel kicks. Knittel attempted to fend off the barrage of cleanly executed techniques, but his own punches and kicks had little effect. The German was staggered repeatedly and, with about 30 seconds left in the first round, dropped to the canvas, Although it appeared that the fall was a direct result of a round kick and follow-up punch, the referee ruled that Knittel had slipped. When the action continued, Knittel struggled to stay on his feet, but with less than 10 seconds remaining, the unrelenting Duenas landed a solid right reverse punch. Knittel, clearly dazed, went down again. The referee began counting, but the gutsy German managed to rise before he reached five. The round automatically ended in favor of the Mexican. During the rest period, Dr. David Molina was called up on the ring platform to examine Knittel. He did and determined that the fighter could continue without undue risk of injury. Knittel, with the aid of smelling salts applied by Brueckner, was considerably stronger at the start of Round 2 than he had been at the end of Round 1. Although Duenas never let up, Knittel managed to stay relatively trouble-free for the next minute or so. But then, a few seconds after Duenas had slipped and fallen out of bounds during a clash, the powerful Mexican pulverized his opponent with a right reverse punch. Knittel was stunned, the crowd roared, and Duenas capitalized immediately with follow-up punches: left, right, left. The German went down with less than half a minute left in the round. As bedlam shook the rafters of the Arena, referee Mikami counted inaudibly to five, motioning clearly with his arm. Frank Knittel, an affable Berliner who made a lot of friends in Los Angeles with just a few words of English, was declared knocked out. Duenas would meet Ramon Smith for the lightweight title following the middleweight and lightweight prelims.
THE TRIAL OF FAST BILLY
Bill Wallace was rated the top karate fighter in the U.S. for three consecutive years (1971-73) before suffering a leg injury late last year. Two questions waited for answers as the 28-year-old veteran marched down the fighter’s aisle for the first WPKC middleweight bout: 1) Had he recaptured his incredible speed and uncanny kicking ability that characterized the peak of his career? 2) Could a fighter who had been known as a “runner” in non-contact competition make it in full-contact competition? Wallace, a broad grin showing on his face as he bowed in to the cheering crowd, was confident that he already knew the answers. When the American team toured Europe in May, Fast Billy won all his bouts by overwhelming margins and was the toast of the continent. Since then, he trained diligently in Memphis, Tennessee where he runs a karate school owned by Elvis Presley. At a trim 5-11, 165 pounds, he was ready to prove himself once and for all. Carrying the German banner into the middleweight prelim was 23-year-old Berlin policeman Bernd Grothe (Grow-ta). Grothe had earned his trip to the States via a convincing win over Wolfgang Holtkemper of Duesseldorf in the All-European Open Championships, which served as the European trials for the WPKC. Though the German fighter was greeted warmly by the crowd, the sentiment was clearly in favor of Wallace, and the former numero uno played it to his advantage. With his hands on his knees, Wallace began the fight by stalking his opponent and grinning at him with a come-and-get-it look. After about 10 seconds, he opened up and drove Grothe out of the ring and onto the press table with a wheel kick. Then, using his famous leg like Muhammad Ali uses a jab, Wallace began chasing his man all over the ring with kick after kick. Grothe landed an occasional punch, but the round ended unanimously in favor of the American. Round 2 seemed to prove that full-contact karate is the showcase rather than the downfall of the true artist. A sweep attempt by Grothe was countered neatly by a spinning back kick to the solar plods, and Wallace followed a few second later with a sweep of his own. The subsequent technique was not executed cleanly, however, and the round continued. Suddenly, with less than a minute left, Wallace spun again and caught Grothe flush in the face with a lightning back kick. The German went down and barely managed to rise at the count of four to avert a knockout. The round ended automatically. Knowing that he simply had to keep from getting knocked out himself, Wallace toyed with his opponent the rest of the way. He mixed his kicks with reverse punches and back knuckles. Halfway through the round, he tried to throw Grothe unsuccessfully. Then, still grinning, he tried another throw and dumped the German onto his back. The follow-up punch was clean and controlled, and Wallace won the bout, three rounds to zero.
CANADA’S RICHER AND BYONG YU, II
The reluctance of traditional karate organizations in the Orient to participate in an event like the World Professional Karate Championships hindered the attempt to find representative fighters from Korea and Japan. Finally, Byong Yong Yu, a transplanted Korean who was a top-rated competitor on the American circuit before retiring last year to make movies, went home to get his brother, Byong Hong Yu. The only member of the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association to accept the WPKC challenge, 24-year-old Byong Hong flew to California. Facing Yu in the second middleweight prelim was Daniel Richer, (Ree-shay) a lithe six-footer whose flashy arsenal of kicks made him the 1974 Canadian Karate Champion. Trained by Montreal’s Chong Lee, Richer fights frequently in the Eastern U.S. and has an avid following of American fans. Although both fighters showed an impressive array of kicks in the first round, Richer landed more frequently with punches and had the Korean reeling several times. A takedown and stomp to the chest by Yu was not verified by he judges, and Richer held on to win the first two minutes by a 6-1 vote. Yu attempted several more takedowns in the final two rounds, but Richer’s effective punches and round kicks took their toll. The Canadian won the second round by split decision, then held off the tired Korean in the third stanza to gain another split vote and win the bout. It would be Richer and Wallace for the middleweight title. SLOCKI VS. KENJI: A MISMATCH Twenty-six-year-old Canadian Wally Slocki is one of several fighters who have come out of retirement since the birth of the professional karate movement. Though he dropped out of action last year after reigning as his country’s top competitor since 1968, the outspoken, hard-hitting lightheavyweight from Toronto showed up in Los Angeles in peak condition. He complained of a cold during the week preceding the event, but skeptical American fighters who have tasted the fury of Slocki’s thunder before said, “Just wait. Wally will be in there to the very end.” In fact, he had spent several weeks in Spain training for his shot at the WPKC title. Slocki’s opponent, billed as the “Open Professional Champion of Japan”, was Ryu Kenji. A practitioner of the rugged Japanese kempo system of karate, Kenji was recruited for the WPKC by New York’s Hidy Ochiai, one of the most popular demo performers in American tournaments. After attempts to arrange for representatives through the traditional karate organizations had failed, Ochiai flew to Hakata to get the 20-year-old Kenji. From the beginning, the bigger, more experienced Slocki had the upper hand. Kenji had been expected to weigh 166 pounds the night of the fight, but he flew into Los Angeles the night before at a disappointing 144 pounds. The error was due to a communication snag with Kenji’s representatives in Japan. All circumstances considered, it was much too late to have Kenji replaced and he couldn’t compete in any weight division other than the prearranged lightheavyweight category. Besides, the young Japanese was determined to fight. Slocki, immediately shifting his own 175 pounds into full gear, started with a spinning back kick that just missed its mark, then came back with a stinging front kick that staggered Kenji. The blond-haired Canadian followed with a sweep, but the subsequent punch was ignored by the judges. Repeatedly landing with punches and kicks from all angles and positions, Slocki continued to apply constant pressure until the bell sounded and was awarded the round by unanimous decision. The final two rounds weren’t as close. As Kenji tried desperately to stem the tide with a conventional assortment of kicks and punches, Wild Wally continued to wade in. Several time, Kenji was rocked by round kicks to the face. Both the second and third round ended automatically when Kenji dropped to his hands and knees. He got up before the count, but it mattered little. At the end, Kenji was battered and exhausted while Slocki, who had breathed from an oxygen bottle between rounds, was still fresh and strong.
SMITH MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
Minor problems in coordinating the television production of the event with the live production caused the evening to start about 40 minutes late. But the second lightheavyweight prelim would recapture some of the lost time. Jeff Smith, a Jhoon Rhee product from Washington, D.C., entered the ring as the hottest fighter in America. Though rated second by a nose to Howard Jackson, Smith had won everything in sight during the previous two months: grand titles at the Internationals and the Mid-Canadian Professionals, and weight-division crowns at the Houston Karate Olympics, the U.S. Pro/Am and the National Karate Classic. His bank account already bulging, Smith was looking to add $3,000 more. The first obstacle in Smith’s way was Yugoslavian Budimir Vejnovic (Ven-o-vich), a casino owner and the All-European lightheavyweight champion. When he won the right to compete in the WPKC by defeating Harald Schrader in May, Vejnovic was still recuperating from a serious injury; he had been stabbed several weeks earlier when mistaken for somebody else. Obviously tough, the tall and lanky Yugoslav was the hero of many spicy tales told by the European team during the week of the World Championships. But looks and stories can be somewhat deceiving, and Vejnovic, whose nickname is “Bobbin,” proved to be one of the friendliest fighters in the tournament. Though he speaks no English, Vejnovic carried on a running conversation with his driver (who speaks only English) on one trip from the hotel to Norris’ dojo to work out. In fact, he pulled out an eight-millimeter movie camera and recorded his new friend for posterity. So, Smith and Vejnovic — two nice guys from different parts of the planet — squared off for battle in the Sports Arena. Both stood 6-foot-1, but the Yugoslav, who was seven pounds lighter at 175, looked the taller. At first, Vejnovic’s unorthodox style, replete with lunge punches, seemed to puzzle the smooth, versatile American. Smith threw fewer kicks than usual during the opening moments, though he did make contact with several side kicks and roind kicks, and at one point both men were warned for delivering too many punches in a row. Vejnovic seemed very much in the bout until suddenly, with 12 seconds remaining in the first round, Smith exploded with a left ridge hand to the left side of the Yugoslav’s head. Big Bobbin went down heavily, catching a kick on the way, and rolled onto his back. There was no need to count. Dr. Thill came into the ring to check the fallen fighter, and more than three minutes went by before Vejnovic rose to thunderous applause. Later in the dressing room, he sat dejectedly in a folding chair trying to manage a polite smile for well-wishers. There was a tiny cut under his left eye. His Yugoslavian interpreter said Vejnovic was okay, just disappointed he had not done better. Meanwhile, in an adjacent dressing room, Jeff Smith was getting a lecture from Joey Orbillo on how to side-step and counter roundhouse punches. In a few minutes, Smith would take on Slocki for the lightheavyweight title.
LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP ENDS IN TKO
The first of the championship bouts, between lightweights Isaias Duenas and Ramon Smith, was a natural for Los Angeles fans. There is a large Mexican-American population in Southern California, and the many boxers who come from south of the border to fight in the Arena or the Olympic Auditorium often receive a hero’s welcome. Karate is also popular in L.A., home of the fighting Urquidez brothers. Several days before the World Championships, KMEX-TV (Channel 34, a local Spanish-speaking television station), broadcast an exclusive interview with Duenas, and he was clearly a popular man Saturday night in the Sports Arena. But so was Ramon Smith, who earned a loud chorus of cheers with his surprising upset of Jackson. When the two Spanish-speaking fighters were introduced by ring announcer Bob Wall (Ohara of Enter the Dragon), there was a loud roar of anticipation. Both fighters were wearing red gloves, and there was a brief delay while David Moon flipped a coin to see which man would change to white. Duenas lost the toss and was quickly refitted with the new equipment. There was an air of impatience in the ring, the combatants anxious to get underway. After a brief calm before the storm that featured little more than stalking and staring, Smith opened with a side kick. A clash of punches followed almost immediately, and Duenas dropped to the floor. Referee Harrison ruled that Duenas had slipped, and the bout continued with a furious exchange of punches and kicks, most of them surprisingly sharp and smooth. Both men were warned at one point for too many punches, Duenas staggering the Dominican with several haymakers. Then an exchange of side kicks and round kicks, then more punches, then … As the crowd went beserk, Harrison suddenly waved the fighters to their respective corners. Smith had stepped out of bounds and was assessed a second penalty point, automatically ending the round. There were some boos from the dark reaches of the stands. After another cautious start, the second round suddenly erupted into a furious exchange, and Smith went down, apparently as the result of a kick to the face. No knockdown was ruled, however, and soon Duenas was penalized for coming back with more than three consecutive punches. Both men landed heavily with feet, then hands, then combinations of both. Duenas began bleeding from the nose with less than a minute remaining, and the torri d pace continued. The bell rang to end Round 2, but either the fighters didn’t hear it or didn’t want to hear it, and Harrison was forced to step in and break it up. Three white cards were raised for Smith, three red for Duenas, and the referee cast the deciding vote in favor of the budding lawyer from Mexico. The 10,000 onlookers registered a mixed reaction. Duenas was now ahead, two rounds to zero, but he was bleeding freely and there was no question the fight was close. The Mexican opened the final three-minute round with a left lunge punch that brought a roar from the stands but did not hurt Smith. A clash followed, and each man took some lumps. Duenas then threw a front kick that was blocked and held briefly, prompting yet another trading of punches. Smith caught one of those blows flush on the button and stood dazed and bleeding as the referee separated the fighters. Staggering toward the side of the ring where Jose Reyes came in to assist him, the Dominican bent’ over and struggled to stay upright. Referee Harrison conferred with Reyes and Smith, then signaled to Wall, who announced the bout was over. The crowd roared again, and World Professional Lightweight Karate Champion Isaias Duenas leapt into his instructor’s arms. When the pandemonium subsided slightly, Harrison took the P.A. mike to explain that the fight had ended in a technical knockout because Ramon Smith did not know where he was. Reyes, however, said later that his fighter was not badly hurt but simply exhausted and out of breath. Either way, there is now a shiny trophy sitting in the David Moon Karate School in Mexico City.
MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: RETURN OF ZORRO
Although Bill Wallace had beaten Daniel Richer in semi-contact competition earlier in the year, he had not won overwhelmingly — or at least the traditional point system made it seem that way. The fans in the Sports Arena expected a match of fast, flashy kicking, and they got one. Wallace, still grinning and outwardly confident, quickly went to work in showing that high, fancy kicks can be just as effective in contact fighting as in traditional tournaments; it all depends upon how fast you throw them. Like Picasso with a paint brush, or Zorro with a sword, he repeatedly flashed his left leg at Richer, stroking out side kicks, round kicks, hook kicks and remarkably swift spinning wheel kicks. The Canadian also threw a variety of kicks, a few of which landed, but the American seemed to be striking more quickly and with greater impact. After an ill-fated takedown attempt, Wallace stirred the crowd with a zinging double side kick that first caught Richer solidly in the midsection, then hit him in the head. About halfway through the round, the American struck with a double kick again, stunning Richer, then landed a punch, executed a takedown sweep and followed with a stomp kick to the stomach. Round 1 to Wallace. The second round began with more of the same. After the two fighters clashed hips, Wallace quickly landed a round kick to the head and a back kick to the belly. “This is what it’s all about,” one delighted ringsider said. With less than a minute to go, the grinning Tennessean lashed out with another spinning wheel kick and followed with a takedown and punch to take a two-round lead. Some observers said Wallace could have ended the bout early if he had only followed up when he had his opponent dazed. The fact that he didn’t was attributed to the traditional tournament habit of backing off after each point is scored. Indeed, Wallace did seem to back off and wait each time he stung Richer, giving the Canadian time to recover. But it did give the spectators more opportunity to watch the fastest legs in karate spin their magic. Although a knockout was Richer’s only chance to salvage a win, he seemed tired and launched little in the way of offense in the third round. There were several punching clashes and locked hips, but the cagey Wallace stayed out of danger. Richer, who stepped out of bounds early in the round, attempted to grab off a kick at one point and execute a sweep but was unseccessful. Wallace tried the same tactic, dumping the Canadian on his back, but the follow-up was judged a glancing technique. Finally, Richer stepped out of bounds for the second time in the round, and the fight automatically ended in an anticlimax. Bill Wallace, putting a brilliant finishing touch on his 1974 comeback. walked back to the dressing room as the Middleweight Professional Karate Champion of the World. He had never stopped grinning.
LIGHTHEAVYWEIGHTS BATTLE TO THE FINISH
The match that was predicted to be the fight of the night brought Jeff Smith and Wally Slocki back into the ring. Slocki, cast as the villain, entered first amidst a loud chorus of boos. But the smiling veteran from Toronto said it all when he graciously bowed to the crowd, then signaled crisply with his right hand toward the stands at the West side of the building. Instantly, a delegation of nearly two thousand Canadians jumped to their feet and roared approval. A villain to some, perhaps, but a hero to others. After Smith acknowledged a rousing reception from the partisans, the fight began and the always colorful, sometimes unpredictable Slocki came in with his hands held high at the sides of his head. The high-kicking Smith appeared neither distracted nor discouraged, however, and quickly brought the hands down with a combination left punch and right round kick to the head followed by a thumping side kick to the stomach. But Slocki was not visibly affected, and he initiated a series of subsequent clashes, getting in his own licks. At one point, he moved in for a takedown, but it was Slocki and not Smith who fell to the floor. Smith immediately capitalized, landing a controlled kick to the head, but the technique did not count because the Canadian had gone down by himself. Slocki was assessed a penalty point for too many punches, and a few moments later, Smith brought the crowd alive when he hammered home a left punch to the face and knocked his opponent out of the ring with a round kick. Though Slocki had the makings of a spectacular shiner, his head was still intact and he came right back for more, dumping Smith with a takedown and punch after an abortive spinning wheel kick as the Canadian fans went nuts. But the referee called the punch a glancing technique, and the round was saved for Smith. The bell sounded in the midst of a furious clash and could barely be heard above the din of the crowd. Seven votes went to the American, but the tide turned in Round 2. Refreshed by his oxygen bottle, Slocki came out loaded for bear and immediately launched a side kick that impressed the crowd but did no damage. Then, as Smith came around on a spinning wheel kick, the Canadian grabbed his leg and executed a takedown and punch. Glancing technique. Slocki landed effectively throughout the round, hitting Smith with a right punch on a sweep attempt and taking much of the aggressiveness out of his attack. This time it was Slocki who received the unanimous vote. With all the marbles on the line, the two lightheavyweights opened the final three minutes with a series of rapid exchanges, mostly punches. Early in the round, Slocki called upon his famed secret weapon, a unique leg-scissors takedown. Jumping up, he hit Smith high in the chest but bounced off to the floor and barely managed to thwart the American’s attempted follow-up. Moments later, Slocki went to the leg scissors again. Both he and Smith landed on their backs, foot-to-foot, and tried to kick each other. The kicks were blocked, according to Harrison’s ruling, and he called the fighters back to the center of the ring. But when Harrison walked toward the TV corner to explain his ruling to Mike Anderson and Telly Savalas, Slocki turned and started for the fighter’s corner. “Wally!” Harrison shouted, but Slocki kept going. Harrison then motioned his arm toward Smith to signify him as the winner, and Slocki did an immediate about-face, returning to the center of the ring. The referee finished his explanation, approached Slocki, angrily spit out several inaudible sentences, and then said clearly as he pointed his finger at the Canadian, “One penalty point!” The penalty was assessed for unsportsmanlike conduct. Boos rang out from the west stands. Smith and Slocki kept on battling furiously for the rest of the final round, the American concentrating mainly on planting punches and the Canadian occasionally going high with kicks. When the bell finally rang, bedlam broke out. And when all seven votes went to Smith, it exploded. Slocki said later that he had some doubts about the time-keeping. He said two friends with stop watches clocked the second round at four minutes. Whether or not they stopped their watches with each break in the action, as did the official time-keeper, is not clear. At any rate, Jeff Smith now holds the world title. Considering the large number of Canadian fans who came all the way to Los Angeles by plane, bus and car, it is tempting to think of Smith’s first title defense taking place in Toronto.
RETURN OF THE GOLDEN BOY
When Joe Lewis retired from tournament karate two years ago to pursue an acting career, he was the most celebrated and perhaps the most controversial figure in the history of the sport. When he unretired last May at the National Karate Classic in New York, the situation hadn’t changed. He was still the king, unofficial though it may have been. There was one difference, Many of the same people who once paid to see Joe Lewis lo se , now come to see him win. He was the sentimental favorite trying to make good on a come-back, something his famous namesake in boxing was unable to do. When the 30-year-old veteran walked into the Sports Arena with his close friend Joe Orbillo at his side, he was greeted with cheers — loud cheers. And when he acknowledged the warm response, he was cheered again. He’s an actor now, soon to be plastered on the cover of Playgirl Magazine, but no one had forgotten his mastery of ring strategy. Franc Brodar of Yugoslavia earned his spot in the World Championships by defeating Holland’s Ivan Oliviari for the heavyweight title at the All European Professional Championships. He was scheduled to meet Lewis for an exhibition match in May, when the United States team toured Europe, but an injured hand kept him on the sidelines. Five years younger than his American opponent, the 5-foot-11 Brodar came to Los Angeles weighing 195 pounds. Lewis, six feet tall, weighed 196. When the dark-haired, stoop-shouldered Yugoslavian climbed the steps into the ring, he drew a striking contrast to the blond, muscular Playgirl cover boy. Brodar’s three European teammates had all been beaten convincingly, and the crowd seemed to sense what was coming. Lewis quickly advanced on his opponent with the same strong, fluid moves that have long distinguished him from the average karate fighter. Brodar, thousands of miles from home, moved haltingly as he searched for some method of keeping the American at a distance. Two quick side kicks slapped against the Yugoslav’s torso and drove him out of bounds. Lewis continued to press, combining round kicks, side kicks and an occasional spinning wheel kick with back knuckles and solid punches. In defense, Brodar tried to land punches to the face and was called for too many in a row. With a little more than one minute left in the opening round, Lewis slammed a left hand directly into the Yugoslav’s nose and B rodar dropped to the floor. The fallen fighter was back on his feet before the count of five. The round was over.
Observers at ringside sat back, looked at their watches, and speculated as to when Lewis would choose to end the whole thing. “Depends on how much video tape is left in the camera,” someone said. The American eased up a bit at the start of Round 2, landing effectively with combinations but not following up. Brodar managed a round kick to the stomach, some punches and a spinning back kick that missed its mark. Finally, with about a minute remaining in Round 2, Lewis stepped up the pace. A right reverse punch rocked Brodar’s head, then a left, then an uppercut and a round kick. His knees buckled as he tried to stay up and keep his hands in front of his face. But Lewis immediately followed with the finishing touch, a left ridge hand and the European crumbled slowly to his knees. As Brodar bent forward, his head awkwardly touched the canvas, Lewis raised his hands high over his head. Immediately, there was talk of staging his first title defense in Madison Square Garden against the Michigan Monster Man, Everett Eddy; that is, if Joe doesn’t retire again. Lewis was “pleased and honored” by the crowd’s warm acceptance of him, a striking contrast to the booing he received at the ’72 Internationals shortly before his retirement. He and Orbillo even backed up against the wall at the top of the fighters’ aisle in order to make the trip to the ring longer and take full ad-vantage of the cheering and the TV footage. “Walking in with Joey, like two brothers; that really turned me on,” said Lewis. Contact karate is obviously made to order for Lewis, who in 14 kick-boxing bouts knocked out all of his opponents before the end of the second round. “For the first time in the history of karate,” the heavyweight champion said after his win over Brodar, “a karate man was allowed to use his power, his assets. I felt more comfortable than I’ve ever felt. When I fight contact, I don’t think about judges; I don’t need judges.” His only regret about his Sports Arena performance, Lewis said, was the lack of a stiff challenge from his opponent: “I felt uncomfortable when I accepted the trophy.”
A FEW AWKWARD MOMENTS
Although the World Professional Karate Championships kept the 10,000 spectators in their seats until the very end, and although it enjoyed its own hour and a half of network television time, there were still some problems. The television taping, which was directed by Andy Sidaris of Wide World of Sports fame, added a complex dimension to tournament karate. Coordination was a far more critical factor than usual, and various minor difficulties caused several delays in the live event. Public address announcer Bob Wall, for example, had to wait until the TV announcers, Telly Savalas and promoter Mike Anderson, were finished introducing each fighter before he could do the same. Thus, the competitors were already in the ring facing each other before Wall could identify them for the Arena crowd. The fire department got in on the act, too, and insisted a row of seats be removed because of the extra space taken up by television cameras and cables. And, of course, there were lighting problems. A roving camera equipped with its own floodlight at one point focused in on the ring and immediately brought some vigorous protests from a section of stands located high up on the opposite side of the ring. The powerful light interfered with the spectators’ vision. The fights themselves also revealed the need for future adjustments and modifications, and confusion over the new rules accounted for several awkward moments in the ring. One weakness in the rules was realized later and fortunately had no effect on the competition. Because takedowns and knockdowns end a round automatically, a fighter who is ahead going into the final round could allow himself to be taken down or knocked down — he would lose the round but win the fight. The rules will be altered to eliminate this possibility in the future. Arranging for the transportation and housing of fighters, coaches and performers dramatized the complexities of coordinating an international event. Plane fares alone cost the promoter more than $15,000 and required frequent hurried trips to various ticket counters and passenger gates at Los Angeles International Airport. There was a sigh of relief when a head-count on the day of the event revealed that everyone was there. Of course, there was still the task of making sure they got home afterwards. The performers who staged the between-fight demonstrations also found more to cope with at the World Championships than at other tournaments. Because of the television, they had to arrive in Los Angeles early in the week and rehearse several times before Saturday night. Each movement and position had to be carefully mapped out so that the cameras wouldn’t miss anything. The opening demo, the “Meeting of the Samurai,” featured Southern Californians Fumio Demura, Minobu Miki and Kiyoshi Yamazaki. Byong Yong Yu of Berkeley and Lee Chong of Los Angeles exhibited tae kwon do, and Yu also did several breaking demonstrations. Kung-fu was represented by Al and Malia Dacascos of Colorado, Eric Lee of Los Angeles (formerly of Oakland) and seven-year-old Valerie Vasquez, a student of Malia in Denver. Demura also demonstrated shito-ryu karate and the nunchaku, and New York’s Hidy Ochiai performed his well-known breathing and bed-of-nails demos. But the overall success of the World Professional Karate Championships can best be judged by the results. More than 10,000 people paid as much as $50 apiece to see 14 international, professional karate fighters despite competition from a motocross event in the Coliseum next door, a crucial baseball game at Dodger Stadium, a concert at the Forum, and the Western States Karate Championships in nearby Orange County. And very few people left early to avoid the traffic. In addition, and most significantly, Universal Television was impressed with the ABC special enough to make plans to produce a series of future pro karate events. No matter how you slice it, professional karate is here to stay.