November 1974: INTER-ART MELEE EARNS URQUIDEZ $5,000 PRIZE HONOLULU, Hawaii — An estimated 6,000 spectators turned out here for promoter Tommy Lee’s first World Series of the Martial Arts at the Honolulu International Center. The unusual event featured the first open competition in which boxers, wrestlers, street fighters and even sumo wrestlers could place their skills on the line in full-contact fighting. The two-day battle, which awarded $10,000 in total prize money, was also marked by two other distinct features: mainland fighters and an exorbitant number of injuries.
Los Angeles’ 3rd-rated world lightweight Benny Urquidez subdued all challengers, including 6-foot-1, 230-pound giant Dana Goodson, on his way to winning the $5,000 first-place prize. This was the highest amount ever awarded a single competitor in karate history. While the innovative event achieved several milestones, at the same time it was beset by so many injuries that most of the semifinalists were unable to continue further. The unique set of rules stipulated that a win could be recorded by a forfeit, a submission, a seven-count knockout, or a technical knockout. On the first night, competitors were paired with opponents from a reasonably similar discipline. In other words, a kick-boxer would face a karate fighter, a kung-fu practitioner would fight another soft stylist, and a judoka would face a wrestler. Practitioners had a choice of two areas of competition. They could participate in either the competitive category of full-contact fighting, or the “non-competitive” category, which was comprised exclusively of demonstrations. Each bout used one chief referee, four corner officials and a panel —called the adjucation board — that settled any conflicts or uncertainties. Each match consisted of three three-minute rounds with one-minute breaks after the first and second rounds. There were no specific weight divisions. Contestants were paired according to size up until the final match. A unique point system was also used to determine the winner of each round. Three points were allotted for a knockdown. Takedowns with a follow-through, such as a hold for five seconds or a simulated blow or series of blows, received three points. Two points were given for a takedown without a follow-through, such as tripping, flipping, sweeping, pushing, shoving and any other method imaginable that could have been used to put an opponent on the ground. Carrying an opponent out of the ring was worth two points, according to the rules, “to facilitate sumo wrestlers.” Any effective or outstanding punches, kick or combination to legal areas constituted one point. No blows, kicks or combinations were permitted after the knockdown while holding the opponent in a controlled or locked position. No points could be gained or lost through fouls. A round was decided by accumulative points. The high injury rate was attributed to a combination of the tournament rules and the lack of experience by most fighters with Jhoon Rhee’s Safe-T equipment. According to Bob Wall, the tournament’s emcee, the players hadn’t “worked with the equipment enough and didn’t have it adjusted properly.” Wall also said that the fighters were striking improperly, which resulted in sprains and fractures. In the highly competitive preliminaries, the field was narrowed down to 16 finalists who received $100 each and went on to meet in the second leg of the tournament, the semifinals. Six mainland fighters reached the semifinals along with Goodson, a former Los Angeles resident who is now training with Bob Wall in Hawaii. Fourth-ranked middleweight Ernest Russell of Los Angeles lost a decision to 32-year-old Tom Mossman to kick off the semifinal matches. Hawaii’s Robert Black was defeated by Richard Johnson, also of Hawaii. Los Angeles’ Blinky Rodriquez, Urquidez’ cousin, annihilated Hawaii’s Dennis Lyttle during their three-round slugfest. Next, Earl Paikai bested Hawaii’s Tony Combro, two rounds to one. Smiley Urquidez, Benny’s brother, lost a 2-1 decision to Hawaii’s Burnis White. The devastating Goodson then knocked out Hawaii’s 210-pound Jack Atkins in 32 seconds of the first round. Atkins was purported to be one of the most formidable kung-fu “masters” on the island. Dynamic Benny Urquidez then met Hawaii’s Bill Rosehill. It was rumored that Rosehill was undefeated in full-contact competition. However, Urquidez scored a technical knockout in the third round when the match was stopped because Rosehill was unable to continue without risking serious injury. The final bout of the semifinals featured 6-foot-7, 230-pound Bob Grey against Los Angeles’ Futi Sernanu, a student of Tino Tuiolosega. Semanu stands 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 235 pounds. While Grey was reportedly in much better physical condition, the tough Semanu won the battle of giants, two rounds to one. The big surprise came in the next round of elimination, the quarterfinals. Mossman, who had beaten Russell, couldn’t continue because of a fractured foot and a cut above his eye Johnson dropped out for undisclosed reasons, though an informant said later that Johnson was just out of shape. Paikai was unable to continue due to eye cuts, a swollen knee and a badly bruised hip. Semanu had sustained fractured hands and ribs and joined the ranks of his injured confederates. The dropouts caused an impromptu logistical problem for the tournament management, so the promoters asked if any of the preliminary losers were interested in replacing the injured fighters. Ernest Russell was the only man able to continue. The fighters then drew numbers from a hat to decide who would be paired in the quarterfinals. Urquidez received a bye. Goodson then fought Rodriquez in a very close match and won by two rounds over Rodriquez’ one. Russell narrowly lost to White, two rounds to one. In the finals, Urquidez bested White, 2-1, which set up his match with Goodson. Benny, at 148 pounds, was faced with a 72-pound disadvantage. In the beginning round, Goodson was the aggressor and was striking with much more authority than his outsized opponent. Urquidez combined footwork with his typical barrage of on-target kicks but lost the first-round. Benny decisively grabbed the second-round based on his ability to in-fight during a grappling situation. In this round, the 23-year-old carried the fight to Dana and often beat him to the punch. At one point, he even dumped his much heavier adversary to the floor and managed to hold him down for five seconds for a three-point takedown. Physical conditioning reportedly became the primary influence in the third round as Urquidez, who has been training with boxers for the past two years, once again came on strong. Urquidez finally was declared the victor in a 2-1 decision. Goodson won $1 100 overall. Rodriquez and White received $600 each. Prior to his event, Tommy Lee had discussed his ideas with many of America’s best known karate promoters. Though they were not in agreement with the format of his tourney, Lee, who is new to martial arts productions, went ahead with his innovative event. Afterward, he said he lost “$30,000.” Another source said he may have lost $15,000. Ironically, he has already booked the Honolulu International Center for a return event. Reportedly, Lee has also mode arrangements to produce another segment of his World Series of Martial Arts in Los Angeles this spring.
The World Series of Martial Arts Championships (WSMAC) was a fullcontact fighting promotion organized by American Tommy Lee. The first event took place in 1974 followed by the second promotion in 1975. Various more events in that series took place in Los Angeles and Hawaii. The 1974 event was fought in one weight division, only. Benny Urquidez won the final championship match over Dana Godson. From 1975 the tournament was divided into different weight classes with Eddy Everett winning the heavyweight division. Many WSMAC fighters later started to fight at WKA sanctioned events with international rules.