Kickboxing is a relatively young sport with roots dating back as late as the 1970s. Since then, it has grown to be a prolific spectator sport with a massive fan base across the globe. Professional kickboxing organizations have cropped up in numbers. So have aspiring pro fighters everywhere.
The history of kickboxing is a complex one. Karate practitioners disagreed with “unrealistic” combat systems. They branched out to play by their own rules. So came full-contact karate, which brought together a mishmash of diverse fighting styles. The sanctioning body at the time unified these styles with a standard set of rules. This is how the Professional Karate Association brought the beginning of American Kickboxing.
Kickboxing is more than just the American style, though. There are several types of kickboxing. The most popular kickboxing styles are Muay Thai, American style and Dutch style. You can read about them in detail here.
There are many professional kickboxing organizations that sanction kickboxing events. Until recently, there had been no governing body that unified them. Some of these organizations cover multiple kickboxing rulesets. Others are exclusive to specific styles. This variety adds another layer of confusion to the structure of kickboxing.
That’s also why no one can make a definitive ranking of the best kickboxing organizations. Instead, we can only make a general judgment of the top organizations based on their reputation.
Want to go deep with your understanding of kickboxing? You can start by reading this article to learn about the different kickboxing styles. It’ll help you better understand the context of this article, where we go over some of the most popular professional kickboxing organizations in the world.
World Association of Kickboxing Organizations
Until recently, there was no governing body for kickboxing. It was only in July of 2021 that things changed. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) recognized the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, officially naming it the world governing body of the sport.
Today, it is the only professional kickboxing organization recognized by the IOC and the Global Association of Sports Federations. WAKO has 126 affiliated nations worldwide. In 95 of them, the affiliation is officially acknowledged by their respective sports councils. WAKO originated in Europe and currently covers seven kickboxing styles. Four of these are on tatami, and three are in the ring.
- Musical form
- K-1 style
World Karate and Kickboxing Association
The World Karate and Kickboxing Association is another of the most recognized names in Kickboxing. It sanctions amateur and professional matches alike since the 1970s. (This was when people were only beginning to recognize Kickboxing as a unique martial art.)
The WKA is one of the oldest and largest professional kickboxing organizations, reaching 107 countries. It covers multiple rulesets, namely:
- Low kick
- Full-contact karate
- Thai boxing
- Muay Thai
Some prominent names under the WKA are Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, and Brandon Vera.
World Boxing Council Muaythai
The World Boxing Council is one of the four major organizations that sanction professional boxing bouts. It is responsible for many historical high-profile matches. In 2005, it branched out to become a professional kickboxing organization. Thus, the WBC Muaythai came to life.
Today, the WBC Muaythai is one of the most prominent kickboxing organizations worldwide. It is active in over 75 countries, including Australia. In fact, TFC has had the pleasure of bringing home a WBC Muaythai belt to Australia. In 2018, TFC head coach Ben “The Blade” Johnston went against one of the biggest names in Muay Thai, Dan Edwards. The night ended with Ben becoming WBC Light Heavyweight World Champion.
International Sport Karate Association
The history of kickboxing began with the Professional Karate Association. Both came at a time when people sought changes in traditional Karate. The PKA ruled as an authority in the sport until it declined due to revenue and legal issues. ISKA came as a response to that decline.
Today, ISKA sanctions all kickboxing styles, MMA, and sports Karate in over 50 countries worldwide. The US Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships is one of the world’s biggest events. More than ten thousand spectators and four thousand competitors attended this yearly event. (Or at least, they did before the pandemic.) This event is the longest-running program on ESPN.
Traditional Thai Boxing Titles
With the sheer number of organizations dispensing their own championship belts, things can get a bit confusing. So which belts do fans really care about? Mainstream media know about prominent international organizations. True Muay Thai fans however, recognise a couple more belts. While the international stuff is phenomenal, the traditional stuff is what the hardcore fans get sentimental about.
The most prestigious belts in Muay Thai are those that come from its homeland: Thailand. Two title belts carry the most weight in Muay Thai: the Lumpinee and the Rajadamnern. Each is named after their respective stadiums and bring considerable historical significance.
These championships are sanctioned by professional kickboxing organizations in Thailand.
The Army Welfare Department of the Royal Thai Army runs Lumpinee. All income generated in events goes towards various departments of the army. It has become one of the symbols of modern Muay Thai, paralleled only by the Rajadamnern. The “Muay Thai Champion of Lumpinee” is the highest point of achievement any Muay Thai fighter could aspire to have.
The Lumpinee Boxing Stadium was erected more than a decade after the Rajadamnern Stadium. It also had its first event almost a decade after the Rajadamnern. Still, popularity polls recognize the Lumpinee belt to be the better option.
The Rajadamnern belt is one of the two main belts for modern Muay Thai. It is by the Chuwattana Muay Thai & Boxing Camp under the Rajadamnern Co, Ltd. The Rajadamnern Stadium lost money when the government ran it, so it later went to a private entity where it thrived.
The Rajadamnern belt lags behind Lumpinee in terms of international popularity. However, the public recognizes that it’s starting to put on bigger and better shows than its counterpart.
Does it really matter whether or not you know these organizations? The answer is: yes, for spectators and participants alike. Each organization has its own rules and regulations.
That said, it becomes obvious why fighters must at least be familiar with them. It’d be terrible if a K-1 specialist signed onto a match sanctioned by the WBC Muaythai. The skills and expertise just won’t match the demands of the specific style.
It’s not as critical when you’re a casual spectator. It’s pretty easy to see who’s doing better even when you know nothing about the sport. For true enthusiasts, however, it’s a bit different. Knowing these differences provides a reference point so they can fully understand what’s going on.