Fowler seeks kickboxing title

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:57 AM ET

When London's Brad Fowler steps into the ring tonight, he knows he's fighting a rearguard battle.

But not just against another 154-pound kickboxer named Chris Algieri in their Long Island scrap. Along with Algieri and everyone else in his game, he's in a losing fight for status.

There are more associations governing their sport than there are Elvis impersonators. The two will be contesting a World Kickboxing Association championship but there could well be another world title under somebody else's banner going on two counties away.

If you thought regular boxing had degenerated into an alphabet soup of governing bodies, you ought to see kickboxing and karate. Their alphabets cover a dozen languages beside English.

You've got IKF, ISKA, WKA, KICK, to name a few. Karate has a few more. Don't even bring up the other martial arts, such as taekwondo.

Complicating everything is a wide variety of rules.

"It's a problem," Fowler conceded before taking off for New York with former kickboxing star Leo Loucks, who'll be in his corner. "We've been told by the Canadian Olympic Committee to get everybody together and the (International Olympic Committee) people will take a closer look. Boxing has the same problem."

There's a difference. Despite conventional boxing's WBAs WBCs, WBFs and WBOs, the public, along with Ring Magazine, generally recognizes a single champion across each of the weight classes. Moreover, the world population of boxers is tiny compared to the martial arts.

Despite its excesses and the villains in it, boxing is a money-maker and a television staple. Kickboxing and karate are bound up in explaining convoluted organizations.

Mike Bernardo has lived with the problem years. He has 800 students in two London schools and another in Grand Bend, 10 per cent of whom compete in tournaments. "Things would change for kickboxing if they could get into the Olympics."

Bernardo said karate has no single organization wealthy enough to lead a charge to get it into the Olympics. The lack of uniformity through the sport is another drawback, he says.

Taekwondo got in when the South Korean government sponsored a push to expand the sport worldwide before the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he said.

"Everything was uniform; even their advertising was the same throughout the world," Bernardo said.

Variety is usually refreshing. In the martial arts, it's bewildering.

Recognition is the needle and the haystack is the profusion of governing bodies, associations, rules, belts, titles, championships, trophies and cups.

"Brad is an excellent fighter who has fought in different organizations," Bernardo said.

And he has won different championships, amateur and pro. Even Fowler has to think a while to get them all together in his head.

Kickboxing seemed to be on its way toward wider recognition 20 years ago, when Loucks was one of the top fighters in the world.

Essentially, it's boxing with kicks above the waist. But a splintering of associations diffused progress.

Still, Bernardo thinks it has the best chance of emerging from the confusion of man-to-man combat sports.

"It has the best chance of going to the Olympics because it's similar to boxing, except you can kick your opponent," he said.

As if the issue was not confusing enough, there is another growing form of combat to muddy the waters.

It's the so-called no-rules competition, in which combatants face off in a screened ring to go at each other with just about everything embodied in other forms of fighting.

Actually, there are rules, banning biting, eye-gouging and other vicious assaults, but elbows are a prime weapon.

It, too, has evolved with a half-dozen sets of rules that vary with association.

It is unlikely any of these sports will become mainstream. For guys such as Fowler and Bernardo, the discipline and competition have to be their own rewards.


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