Cory Schafer, president of the ISKA, one of the world’s largest and longest standing sanctioning and regulatory bodies for martial arts and combative sports, talks with Full Contact Fighter about the return of elite level kickboxing to the U.S.; the laws in New York State that allow a sanction body, rather than the state athletic commission, to regulate the sport of kickboxing; and “competing agendas” that have upheld the ban of professional MMA competition for so long.
By Hal Coleman
Full Contact Fighter: Tell us about your involvement with GLORY.
Cory Schafer: Well, GLORY had already hosted half-dozen world-class events throughout Europe and Asia when I was contacted about an American launch. I grew up in the sport of kickboxing. I’m a fan. ISKA sanctioned nearly a decade of kickboxing for ESPN, so I was really excited, particularly once I fully understood GLORY’s mission and level of commitment.
FCF: How did things get started in the US?
The first step was for GLORY to sponsor a tour of events designed to identify and develop young American talent. I was asked to write the rules for and help supervise what became “Road to GLORY”- an eight-man elimination tournament series. Our first event was in Tulsa, Oklahoma where we worked with American kickboxing legend, Dale “Apollo” Cook. A young fighter named Dustin Jacoby was brought in as a replacement the day before the event, and went on to beat the favorite in the quarterfinals, and win the entire tournament. It was incredibly exciting. A packed house at the Hard Rock went crazy. It was a good sign of things to come.
FCF: What were your first impressions of the GLORY operation?
CS: Well, in the beginning GLORY was just building an American based infrastructure. The thing that stood out to me the most was the level of commitment to developing American talent. Sponsorship of the Road to GLORY tour could not have been cheap and the only return GLORY could expect was to identify potential American talent. At first, the plan was to sign the winners of the tournaments, but that expanded because so many of the fighters showed really good potential.
FCF: Were there any unique challenges regarding the launch of GLORY in the US?
CS: Challenges? There’s always challenges – that’s what makes it worth doing. In this case, as the Road to GLORY tour continued and plans for a full GLORY event in America developed, ISKA was contracted to sanction the events and I was tasked with modifying the rules into a format that would be acceptable to state athletic commissions throughout the US.
FCF: Let’s back up for a second. How or why were you selected to do this?
CS: I was first contacted by Paul Hennessy from Great Britain, who was involved in the initial stages of GLORY’s Euro/Asian launch. ISKA has more than 25 years of regulatory experience. We have a pretty strong resume. I supervised the K-1 USA events, was the Commissioner for Chuck Norris’s World Combat League and the Rules Director for Strikeforce. So this project was right in my wheelhouse, so to speak.
FCF: Ok. So what type of preparation was required for the first full GLORY event? That was in New York, correct?
CS: Well, my involvement centered on developing the rules in a way that would be acceptable and consistent throughout the US. The GLORY rules used in Asia and Europe were originally written in Dutch, and then translated to English. Combat sports overseas are regulated by the promotion rather than by government agency, so every variable needed to be addressed and resolved particularly regarding the tournament format. To accomplish this, I got the opportunity to work with GLORY executive and (Dutch kickboxing legendary trainer) Cor Hemmers and European Rules Director Rafles LaRosa. It was a long process but very interesting. Cor and Rafles are absolutely great to work with.
FCF: Tell us about the event in New York City in June.
CS: Let me begin by saying that, in terms of production value, I’ve never seen a better live show. It was spectacular – the staging, the fireworks, the light show and the largest video screen that I’ve ever seen! And the fights lived up to the staging. GLORY spares no expense in arranging for the best possible kickboxing talent. Elite fighters from more than a dozen different countries stood in the center of the ring and traded shots all evening. It was really great – I mean a lot of fun. Of course, I did have a job to do. In New York, kickboxing is regulated by an approved sanction organization rather than the state athletic commission, so I worked directly with WKA USA President, Brian Crenshaw, which was great. I’ve known Brian for years. We’ve worked together before. Brian is a reasonable guy and a very good regulator.
FCF: Isn’t it odd that the state allows a sanction body to regulate kickboxing rather than the commission?
CS: It’s certainly unique. It all came about when the New York state government passed a law that made professional MMA illegal. The wording of the law accidentally made kickboxing illegal as well. The solution that the state granted was that kickboxing could continue if sanctioned by an organization that was on their approved list. Unfortunately, the list was ancient. None of the organizations were active in America and NY refused to amend the list. WKA still existed in England; Brian Crenshaw from Virginia was made president of WKA USA and has regulated kickboxing in NY ever since.
FCF: What do you think about the continued ban on MMA in NY?
CS: I think that I share the sentiments of everyone when I say that it is beyond absurd. There is no rational reason at this point. Certainly the public has spoken in this regard and I can’t see it lasting much longer.
FCF: Why do you think that the ban has lasted as long as it has?
CS: Well, I can only say that there are obviously competing agendas that have nothing to do with the normal regulatory issues of safety and fairness, nor do they address the best interests of the public. Let’s just leave it at that.
FCF: I saw recently that GLORY has announced some type of cooperative relationship with WKA?
CS: With WKA USA. Yes. (GLORY matchmaker) Eric Haycraft and Brian asked me to write a set of GLORY amateur kickboxing rules, so that WKA USA could contribute to the development of young talent in a grass-roots effort. One of the best things about a project the magnitude of GLORY is that it helps to create collaboration.
FCF: So what’s on the horizon for GLORY?
CS: Well GLORY 10 will be in Los Angeles on September 28th and GLORY 11 in Chicago on October 12th. Both events will be internationally televised featuring some of the world’s very best fighters.
FCF: Anything else you’d like to add?
CS: GLORY kickboxing is what I like to call FFF (Fan Friendly Fighting). Dynamic punches, kicks and knees; clinching only to strike; no holding and no stalling. This style reflects GLORY’s vision to provide our fans with the most exciting combat sports format in the industry; fast, furious and thrilling. I am excited for the future and very proud to be able to contribute and have ISKA support this project.