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IKSA's Cory Schafer Talks Controversial Refereeing, Judging and More

The sport of kickboxing is one that has waxed and waned with the times. Currently the sport is attempting to grow into new markets and find its niche and, accordingly, the rules and regulations that go into making kickboxing events happen have come under fire of late. Much like MMA, which has seen its share of controversy in the past few years, kickboxing has seen its share of controversial decisions and actions by referees that have been uniformly frowned upon by fans, fighters and many others within the sport.

We reached out to ISKA President Cory Schafer, who is in charge of overseeing most of the bigger events that have been happening worldwide, including GLORY events, for his thoughts on these controversies and applications of the rules.

The first thing that comes to mind is just how many controversies there have been of late, which Schafer seems sympathetic towards. “I fiercely defend every fan’s right to question, criticize or complain about the officiating.  That is a privilege that they earn with the ‘price of admission’ or their support of the televised broadcast,” he explained. “I am however realistic about the legitimacy of these questions and/or criticism.  Very few fans are adequately educated on the rules or the judges scoring criteria.  Fans and the media as well fail to realize that there is a world of difference between ‘watching a fight’ and ‘judging a fight.’  They are two completely different cognitive processes.  Of course when the bout result is obvious they will lead to the same result but when the contest is less obvious often they will not.  For the past two years I’ve been part of an event called MEDIA DAY in California where we allow members of the media to attend a judges training seminar and then actually sit next to the real judges during the event and cast (unofficial) ballots.  Interestingly enough at the last media day there was a ‘controversial’ decision.  Everyone on media row had FIGHTER A winning.  All of the judges however had FIGHTER B winning.  Interestingly enough the three media shadow judges who had attended the judges seminar all had FIGHTER B winning as well.  It was a great case study in the difference between ‘watching’ and ‘judging.’”

Schafer’s position is understandable; that he stands behind the rules and regulations that he oversees and that there is a difference between having to professional judge a fight and simply watching as a spectator. But, there has to be more, right? With so many people watching and so many disagreeing, where exactly is the line drawn? Exactly how accountable are referees and judges considering that their jobs are based on split-second decisions based on -- at times -- different rules depending on the event that they are working. 

“The first obligation of an official is to be worthy of the athletes and of the sport,” Schafer said of the officials that ISKA utilize. “ Considering the commitment that the fighters (and the promotion) make to their craft – our officials need to be dedicated and always on-point.  If they can’t handle the stress then they need to take a seat in the audience.  Every official is reviewed and held accountable.  At every event that I attend I hold a post event debrief where each aspect of the officiating (controversial or not) is reviewed.  Every event needs to provide a learning experience so that the officials can advance their skills.  If officials are not ‘getting better’ they are ‘getting worse.’”

When it comes to controversy it’s difficult not to bring up Levin vs. Marcus III, a fight that ended in a disqualification and saw Artem Levin storm out of the ring. There was actually a written agreement in place for this fight considering how volatile they expected it to be.

“The first time a fighter holds the referee will likely caution the fighters without stopping the action.  The second time it occurs in the same round, the referee may do the same or stop the action and issue an official warning. If it occurs again, the fighter will be penalized a point.  Further holding will not require additional cautions or warnings unless there is a great deal of time between infractions.  If two points have been taken away and the fighter continues to foul by holding then at the point when it would be appropriate to penalize the fighter a third time the fighter should be disqualified.   The referee retains full authority to caution, warn, penalize and disqualify according to his perception of the violations.”

“Wichger’s acted consistent with the interpretation above,” Schafer added. He was in agreement that the knockdown when Levin went through the ropes was perhaps up for contention, in part due to the angle caught by the television cameras not being clear enough at the time, although when viewing from an overhead shot a week later they were able to determine that Marcus did connect with a knee that contributed to Levin falling down, thus negating any further controversy. Schafer’s final take on that fight is one in which he held nothing back, either.

“In my final evaluation, Levin’s performance in both bouts against Marcus was nothing less than disgraceful,” he frankly stated. “He intentionally and constantly fouled and fought in a way that he knew was contrary to the spirit and intention of Glory rules.  I personally spent 30 minutes with his team and a Russian interpreter prior to the first bout in order to guarantee that there could be no misunderstanding.  The written document addressing the clinching vs. holding rules was sent to all fight teams in advance, handed out at the rules meeting, read aloud at the group rules meeting and reviewed by the referee at the one-on-one rules meeting.  Levin executed three different fouling techniques in the first 30 seconds of the first round.  He tried to bully his opponent and the referee and when it didn’t work he did what most bullys do – they quit.  In my opinion he should not have been paid because he failed to live up to the terms of his contract.”

As for consistent implementation of the rules, Schafer feels that the ISKA and its officials have been consistent and that the onus lies within the fighter and the trainers to understand and obey the rules. “It’s difficult to answer that question since I don’t really feel like the rules have been implemented inconsistently.  I place the responsibility on the fighters.  Those that fight according to the rules don’t have any issue with the officiating.”

It is an interesting concept, because for less clinch-heavy fighters there really aren’t many problems with officiating. There might be a controversial knockdown or decisions like the two van Roosmalen vs. Sitthichai fights that will always be up for discussion. Are officials getting too involved, though? So many of the fighters compete across MMA, muay thai, kickboxing and boxing that their reflexes may compel them to go to certain things in desperation (like a clinch), at what point is leniency proper or should rules be followed to the letter? 

“I don’t think that leniency is the proper construct.  I think that the referee has the power to caution, warn, penalize and disqualify and they are trained on how to use those tools (along with the pre-fight one on one rules meeting, the group rules meeting and the written documents provided to the fight teams in advance) in order to avoid having the take points away.  But when a fighter breaks the rules to the extent that it is damaging his opponent’s ability to be successful then the referee must take action in order to insure a fair contest.  I don’t see the fact that kickboxing is close to both Muay Thai and MMA as any kind of mitigating factor.  These are professional fight teams who accept a contract to participate in unique sport.  Their professional obligation is to be prepared to fight according to the rules that are provided.”

Modern kickboxing’s roots are from Japan, where K-1 was notorious for handing out the drawn rounds to push for extra rounds, yet that has become less-and-less prevalent in modern kickboxing outside of Japan. When asked if this is something that officials are aware of, or intentionally avoid Schafer was clear. “If you allow officials to score rounds even than the line at which they have to make a decision will continue to degrade.  They will begin using 10-10 too often and only award a round when a fighter dominates.  I know this as a fact from 30 years of experience.  The discussion also is kind of moot since that scoring procedure is determined by the SAC and they are very strict about this.”

As most of us have seen, when a fighter feels robbed or like something went wrong in a fight, they tend to turn to social media in an attempt to garner sympathy towards them. Being frustrating is understandable, but what kind of official channels are in place for fighters who feel wronged by the system? “Fight teams may submit a written protest addressing any misapplication of the rules or evidence of collusion.”

Schafer even went as far as to pen an article explaining the differences in how judges watch fights and how fans watch fights, which you can read here.

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VIDEO: Chingiz Allazov vs. Enriko Kehl From Monte Carlo

There was a lot of big kickboxing this past weekend, but perhaps one of the more overlooked fights was from Monte Carlo between Chingiz Allazov and Enriko Kehl. Both men are well-respected top lightweights and went to war in a bout that ultimately was won by Allazov via KO. Watch the fight below and weigh in on where either guy stands in the grand scheme of things right now.

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May 2016 LiverKick Rankings Update: Ch-ch-ch-changes Galore

There has been a lot going on this year for both Jay and I, so we waited for the rankings to really need an update. The thing is, now that we got to tackle them, they needed a lot of changes. After a rather uneventful early part of the year we are seeing major changes in quite a few divisions. While at times we've been able to let entire divisions stand as they are, this time around each division has at least one big change.

The LiverKick rankings date back to 2010 when Fraser Coffeen and myself began ranking fighters across multiple divisions, with the only way to move up the rankings (or being added to them) being defeating a ranked opponent. Therefore, these rankings are based upon who beats who, not talent, potential or anything else. They are also current, meaning that past wins or losses are not taken into account when ranking a fighter. 

Heavyweight saw some changes, some were good, others were questionable. Brian Douwes had a win over Jamal Ben Saddik to earn his spot, then had an incredible slide that bumped him out. Easy come, easy go. New additions are in WFL tournament winner Fabio Kwasi and GLORY newcomer Guto Inocente. Both had ranked wins that put them on the map here and have taken hold of the middle of the division. Their addition means that Badr Hari once again slides out of the rankings, mirroring his lack of activity against, well, anyone. 

Light Heavyweight saw a big departure in the way of Gokhan Saki. In a way, that was a long time coming. Saki hasn't competed at this weight in a very long time and his last fight was now well over a year ago now, meaning that he has finally been dropped. This makes Artem Vakhitov the undisputed #1 Light Heavyweight in the world. There are two additions to the rankings at this point, one being Mladen Kujundzic thanks to his recent win over Andrei Stoica and Luis Tavares. Middleweight only saw movement really at the top with Marcus and Levin swapping, Wilnis and Schilling swapping and the addition of Cedric Doumbe who is a rare case of a fighter ranked in two divisions.

Welterweight is another division that has seen some shake-ups. While Holzken is still unmoving, Artur Kyshenko is on an incredible run and Cedric Doumbe hasn't tasted defeat in a while now. Mustapha Haida has made some big strides and makes his debut. Lightweight has seen only a few changes, notably the slide of Davit Kiria. Enriko Gogokhia's win over him earns him a rather high spot on the list. Tayfun Ozcan has quietly been making his way into the top ten for a while now and once again, Davit Kiria is welcoming new names into the rankings.

Featherweight is, well, Featherweight. That'll probably change again soon after the next K-1 Japan event. 

LiverKick Rankings Updated on 5/26/2016

Heavyweight (Per 5/16)

1 Rico Verhoeven
2 Benjamin Adegbuyi
3 Ismael Londt
4 Jahfarr Wilnis
5 Fabio Kwasi
6 Guto Inocente
7 Jamal Ben Saddik
8 Anderson Silva
9 Andrei Gerasmichuk
10 Zabit Samedov

Light

Heavyweight (Per 5/16)

1 Artem Vakhitov
2 Saulo Cavalari
3 Mourad Bouzidi
4 Danyo Ilunga
5 Mladen Kujundzic
6 Jorge Loren
7 Andrei Stoica
8 Zack Mwekassa
9 Luis Tavares
10 Reduon Cairo
Middleweight (Per 5/16)

1 Simon Marcus
2 Artem Levin
3 Jason Wilnis
4 Joe Schilling
5 Filip Verlinden
6 Alex Pereira
7 Dustin Jacoby
8 Israel Adesanya
9 Cedric Doumbe
10 Fang Bian
Welterweight (Per 5/16)

1 Nieky Holzken
2 Artur Kyshenko
3 Cedric Doumbe
4 Murthel Groenhart
5 Hicham El Gaoui
6 Raymond Daniels
7 Yoann Kongolo
8 Mustapha Haida
9 Karim Ghajji
10 Bai Jinbin
Lightweight (Per 5/16)

1 Robin van Roosmalen
2 Sitthichai
3 Enriko Gogokhia
4 Giorgio Petrosyan
5 Yodsanklai Fairtex
6 Marat Grigorian
7 Wu Xuesong
8 Tayfun Ozcan
9 Dzhabar Askerov
10 Josh Jauncey
Featherweight (Per 5/16)

1 Kaew Fairtex
2 Hidaeki Yamazaki
3 Masaaki Noiri
4 Minoru Kimura
5 Massaro Glunder
6 Yasuomi Soda
7 Yuta Kubo
8 Serhiy Adamchuk
9 Gabriel Varga
10 Qui Jian Liang
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WATCH: Yohan Lidon Lands a Monster Head Kick KO

Yes, slow news day. That being said, this head kick KO from Yohan Lidon over Karapet Karapetyan from May 19th at Capital Fights in France is simply a thing of beauty. Does it match the Marat Grigorian one from the last GLORY show? Maybe, maybe not, but who cares? It's a beautiful head kick KO and that's the reason why we are here. 

Énorme KO de Lidon sur Karapetyan

Incroyable KO infligé par Yohan Lidon ! Rassurez-vous, son adversaire d'un soir s'est relevé quelques instants après. #boxe21

Posted by L'ÉQUIPE 21 on Thursday, May 19, 2016

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Steven 'The Warman' Wright's Women's Pound-for-Pound List: May 2016

In putting together this women's pound for pound lists I must first make it clear that there is no difficulty in finding talented women. The difficulty lives in how many talented women there are. I could make a list for several weight classes, but it gets so thin after number five, that I thought a better representation for female Muay Thai and kickboxing fighters is to do a p4p list. 

My criteria is simple; the total number of victories over solid opposition is number one. Another way to put it; who did you beat and how did you beat them. A win is good, a KO win is better. Championships mean little, because there is a world champion in 90 percent of the gyms in the world. It means more to travel or import top talent and test ones self in that way than it is to remain undefeated against familiar opposition. Volume of fights is huge. If you flirt with boxing and MMA from time to time and do not build your kickboxing and Muay Thai resumes, fighters can jump you. Also if you are predominately a stadium Muay Thai fighter this is not the list for you. The major stadiums do not have female fights as of right now so all the champs are from regional stadiums. Muay Thai contributor Sylvie Duuglas Ittu has a great list for those that want lighter weight stadium fighters. Without further a due, your Liverkick.com female pound for pound(p4p) rankings. 

Honorable mentions, (Marianna Kalergi, Ilona Wijmans, Miriam Nakamoto (not sure if she is returning, but she is elite) Julia Berezikova (would be in the top 15 if she didn't compete in MMA so much, still an elite fighter with a good resume) Lucia Krajcovic, Lucy Payne and Rachel Adamus.

15. Anissa Haddaoui HOLLAND/MOROCCO

Fresh off a tournament win over all action star Ilona Wijman's and Sheena Windershoven she enters the top 15. She will have to be more consistent to move up in the rankings.

14. Mio JAPAN

Mio is a KO artist that campaigns at 48kgs, the smallest weight class in competitive fighting. She will struggle to move up in the rankings due to lack of depth in the weight class. However she has been the girl to beat in Shootboxing's smallest division for some time now. Her KO over Yuuki is violent stuff

13. Samantha van Doorn HOLLAND

Samantha is on fire right now. Sure, she has been beaten by the top women on this list. But she has won three straight over Australia's Sam Brown, Ilona Wijmans(2015 Fight of the Year), and Patrizia Gibelli

12. Eva Naranjo SPAIN

Eva has a controversial win over Iman Barlow and a solid win over Sam Brown. However her boxing focus has taken away from her kickboxing resume of late so she can only be on the list at 12.

11. Anke van Gestel BELGIUM

Its hard to find a more active fighter than the 22yr old Anke van Gestal. She fights anyone, and despite some loses to the better women in the sport she has just beaten Rachida Bouhout and Aleide Lawant, Bouhout was a higher weight Enfusion champion. Anke has also beaten Lindsey Haycraft Sheer, veteran Claire Haigh, Sarah Debaieb, and Ilona Wijmans in an Awesome fight.

10. Antonina Shevchenko PERU

Sister of All time Great Muay Thai fighter Valentina Shevchenko, Antonina has built quite the resume herself. Fresh off a Enfusion reality show tournament win over Laetitia Bakissy and Shana Lammers. Antonina started the year off right and then signed with Lion Fight. If all goes well, she will get one fight to showcase her skill and then a title shot with Jorina Baars later in the year. Lack of opponents could mean the Jorina fight is next. 

9. Jemyma Betrian HOLLAND/SURINAME 

Activity is the only reason why Jemyma isn't higher. Outside of a draw to Tiffany van Soest, Betrian is unblemished. No loses in kickboxing and wins over Christi Brereton, E Meidie, and Wang Kehan in an epic fight. She hasn't fought kickboxing in two years, but also hasn't committed to MMA full so she makes the list. 

8. E Meidie CHINA

Though controversial, E Meidie has the biggest win on this list in an extra round decision victory over Anissa Mekson. She also beat Isis Verbeek and won six times in eleven months. She will need more total fights to move up, but she is in the elite women's weight class so opportunities will come.

7. Wang Kehan CHINA

Despite E Medie having the big win, the best fighter in China is Wang Kehan. She burst on the scene when she almost stopped Jemyma Betrian in the first round. Since that fight, she trains with Betrian and hasn't lost a fight sense. Irena Mazepa, Michaela Michl, and Masha Valent. Unlike Meidie, Wang has left the country and has had success without the favoring of hometown judges, winning in the US, Belarus, and the Philippines. She just stopped Rachel Adamus on Kunlun so she is adding to her resume every month. 

6. Tiffany van Soest USA

The American super star has been Lion Fight Champion pretty much since it has aired on TV. She has wins over Ashley Nichols, Bernise Aldis, Lucy Payne(twice) and Alexis Rufus. Tiffany had a tough 2014 losing to Muay Thai Legend Caley Reece and Denist Kielholtz. But she bounced back to regain her Lion Fight title and is now signed to Glory kickboxing. She is seen as the premiere signing in the women's division and now fighting between 52 and 54kgs she will have plenty of chances to move up in the rankings. 

5. Rena JAPAN

The Shootboxing queen hasn't lost since she was 19yrs old in 2011. Sense then she is beating and stopping opponents. Elli Maria Ekstrom, Christina Jurjevic(Twice), Ai Takahashi, and her most important victory, a 5rd decision over Erika Kamimura, who would be on this list had illness not end her career. Rena is a talent and her KOs of Za Za Sor Aree and Reinthong are brutal and beautiful.

4. Denise Keilholtz HOLLAND/SURINAME

She is the best 57kg fighter on the planet. Denise has wins over Ilona Wijmans(controversial), Lindsey Haycraft Sheer, Vicky Church, Lucy Payne, Lucia Krajcovic, Cindy Huyer, and a big win over Tiffany van Soest at a time when most felt they were one and two in the world. Denise is fresh off a win in Bellator's kickboxing league so more to come from the Dutch/Suriname fighter

3. Jorina Baars HOLLAND

Jorina Baars is amazing. She has the combination to low kick game down, uses her length well, and is getting victories in Muay Thai, which isn't even her best stand up sport(she is a better kickboxer). Victories over Martina Jindrova(twice), Chantel Ughi (twice), Anissa Haddaoui and the most important win in the history of women's Muay Thai, a dominate victory over the unbeatable MMA star Cyborg Santos. Outside of that there isn't much talent in the higher weight classes so her inevitable fight with new Lion Fight signee Antonina Shevchenko is an opportunity to move up. 

2. Iman Barlow ENGLAND

In truth, no one has a better resume than Iman Barlow. No female fighter on the planet, in boxing, MMA, or Muay Thai fights as much and win's as much as Iman. She has wins over, Samantha van Doorn(twice), Alexis Rufus, Maria Lobo, Adi Rotem, Mellony Geugjes, Johanna Ryberg, Ferial Ameeroedien, and Fani Peloumpi to name a few of many. The only reason she isn't number one is because of a stoppage loss to Anissa Meksen in the Enfusion reality show tournament. Outside of that, the girl who beat the boys Iman Barlow is a prodigy in the sport and has been fighting in Muay Thai since she was 3...that isn't a joke. She has more than 150 fights. 

1. Anissa Meksen FRANCE

French fighter Anissa Meksen is he number one p4p female fighter on the planet due to her resume and the way she won. She has victories over Isis Verbeek, Maria Lobo, and Ashley Nichols. But she has stoppage wins over Adi Rotem, Johanna Ryberg, Phet Yodying, and the win that makes her number 1, a stoppage victory over p4p number 2 Iman Barlow. A controversial loss to E Meidie is the only blemish to her otherwise stellar record. She should remain at the top spot, but the arrival of Glory's female division could mean a possible fight with Tiffany van Soest and a rematch with Iman Barlow. Yet as it stands, Anissa Meksen is the number one p4p female kickboxing/Muay Thai fighter on the planet.

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Kickboxing Roundtable April 14th - GLORY 29 and Bellator Kickboxing Preview

This weekend is a big one for kickboxing and combat sports as GLORY 29 comes at you live on Saturday afternoon and Bellator Kickboxing makes its debut on Saturday in Italy. The Bellator event won't be airing until next week on Spike TV, but the MMA portion will be airing on Saturday. That doesn't mean that we can't talk about it, right?

MMAMania.com's Michael Stets and myself have been talking about putting together some sort of podcast thing for a while now, usually trying to include BloodyElbow's Fraser Coffeen and John O'Regan, but trying to organize four busy schedules has led to it never happening. Last night Stets decided to set things up and I was around, so this meeting of the minds is setting up this weekend's events with a lot of talk and insight into what to expect from GLORY 29 and Bellator Kickboxing.

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Artem Levin Talks About the Fallout From GLORY 27, the Future and More

On Friday, February 27th Glory returned to Chicago and headlining the event was the third installment of the epic battle between Simon Marcus and Artem Levin. Glory 27 did not disappoint from the first bout to the last, fighters electrified the crowd with stunning knockouts and hard fought battles. The main event was not without drama. The night ended with reigning champion Artem Levin being disqualified after he failed to continue fighting. In a statement he later released to the public, Levin apologized to his fans for letting them down, however, he revealed that he felt self respect was far more important than winning or losing. In a follow-up conversation with Levin, he expressed his view point and gave an idea of what is to come.

Levin: The refereeing was strange from the very beginning. There were thoughts after the fight, perhaps, I overreacted and ended the fight early, but after another time I’ve watched the fight, I realized that I was right about everything. The referee was charged-up from the start, beginning with the fictitious knockdown. They’ve taken way the belt for the second time using this referee. The 4-man tournament in Los Angeles in 2013 involved the referee beginning the count after a punch to shoulder in the extra round. Also during this event the referee began the count in the first round and took points from me in the next rounds due to mutual clinching. This referee has done the same thing each time refereeing my fights. I decided in the third round to exit and to stop the absurdness and nonsense. Some say, that I should have continued and fight until the final bell, but the referee would have taken a point another time and I’d be disqualified by him. So I thought I should make a decision. I rely on me only, I decide my fate myself, thus I made the decision! Numerous Americans, Canadians, and websites around the world supported me. I am sure that I’ve done the right thing!

As far as his immediate plans, Levin continued: I’ve got many suggestions, but I’ve signed with GLORY at the current time. The future is interesting, time will show whether I will be perfoming. I’d like to leave it without comment. I will say that one of my main aim is to perform in Russia I've been fighting abroad through all my career in foreign promotions, with foreign supporters, with foreign referees. Now I’d like to fight for my native fans in my country with the best opponents!

As I footnote to Levin's comments, I asked Glory CEO, Jon Franklin to give some of his feedback on the incident.

Jon Franklin: ISKA held a special session during the rules meeting to triple check that the athletes understood clinching and holding rules. The rules are available to the athletes and it is the responsibility of the athletes to know and understand all rules of competition. If an athlete has a question about the referee or judging, there is a proper procedure in place for review after the bouts. One of the rules is that refusing to fight will result in a disqualification. That is what happened.

It remains to be seen whether Levin will in some way attempt to appeal the disqualification on some ground or if he will just prepare himself for Levin-Marcus IV.

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World Fighting League Promo Video

World Fighting League, promoted by Melvin Manhoef has a massive card coming up on April 3rd in Almere, Netherlands. It will include 3 tournaments and 7 super fights.

The Main event of the card will feature 2x K-1 Max Champion Andy Souwer against the very technical and dangerous Mohamed Khamal. The other fights have not been announced yet but names like Murthel Groenhart, Zakaria Zouggary, Chahid Oulad el Hadj, Ibrahim el Bouni, Fred Sikking, Luis Tavares, Redouan Cairo, Marco Pique and Ilona Wijmans will be included.

They recently released an amazing promo video for the event featuring many of the cards fighters plus a hooded Joop Ubeda wielding a flaming glove, if that isn't epic then I don't know what is. These type of videos really make me wish all promotions would put this kind of effort into their videos, Well done WFL.

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