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The World's Greatest Martial Arts Promoters

The Black Belt List

The Black Belt List

The word "promoter" sometimes gets a bad rap when we think of such names like Barnum and Bailey, but in fact the promoter provides one of the most important elements in the landscape of martial arts. If the masters are the soul of martial arts, then the promoter is definitely the tireless body that does the work to amplify the art so all the world can see. 

Based upon commercial and historical  significance to the martial arts, this list includes the biggest promoters in the world and important promoters that literally change the history of the martial arts and the way that we watch and enjoy it today. 

Dana White, UFC 

Dana White
Dana White via UFC

Love him or hate him, you have to respect Dana White, who is without a doubt the world's greatest martial arts promoter. Although White did not invent the UFC, his brilliant strategies and execution helped grow the brand from a fringe sport, to become the multi-billion dollar powerhouse that is now as mainstream as the NFL, NBA, Premier League or other major league sports.

Black Belt Plus

Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Pride/Rizin

Nobuyuki Sakakibara
Nobuyuki Sakakibara via Rizin

Founder, CEO, and visionary behind such great brands of Pride and Rizin, Sakakibara's executive management strategy and vision help build and operate some of Japan's biggest and most successful martial arts organizations including Dream and K1. Today his brand Rizin is one of the most successful martial arts combat promotions in the world drawing over 40,000 fans in a single event, he is truly the promoter's promoter.

Martial Arts Drills

Scott Coker, K1/Strikeforce/Bellator 

Scott Coker

Since age 19, Scott Coker has been a force in martial arts promotion starting off with kickboxing co-founding the ISKA, led the K1 in the USA as president, and would eventually create the MMA organization Strikeforce, which pioneered the inclusion of women including the likes of Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano, and Cris Cyborg.  Coker would go on to sell Strikeforce to the UFC and eventually become the president of Bellator. 

Martin Lewandowski, KSW

Martin Lewandowski

If you are only focused on US-based MMA, then the KSW might be off your radar. But in Europe the KSW reigns king. Martin Lewandowski had been the manager of the Marriott in Warsaw when he met Maciej Kawulski in 2002. Kawulski was the organizer of one of the biggest sports expos in Poland at that time. As both businessmen come from martial arts backgrounds, they quickly found a common subject. Eighteen months later the first KSW show was born.

KSW adopted the strategy of having events that are less frequent but bigger, focusing on creating big shows with stacked cards and with great spectacle. In 2017, KWS 39 beat the record for the largest live attendance to an MMA event in Europe. It was the second-largest in history with 57,776 fans, only after the Pride Shockwave in 2002. Today the KSW ranks the 5th most attended MMA event in the world and still going and growing very strong!

Chatri Sityodtong, ONE Championship

Chatri Sityodtong

Chatri started as an investment analyst at Fidelity Investments covering a variety of industries. In 2011, he founded ONE Championship and currently serves as its chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, ONE was named Asia's largest global sports media property by Forbes while Nielsen ranks ONE amongst the world's top 10 biggest sports media properties in terms of viewership and engagement.

Black Belt Mag Shop

Terry Trebilcock, King of the Cage

Terry Trebilcock,

Founded by Terry Trebilcock in 1998, King of the Cage has proven to be a pioneer in Mixed Martial Arts with over 500 events since its inception. No other production has promoted more fights than King of the Cage and continues to promote shows globally, including the United States and foreign countries such as: England, Singapore, South Africa, Canada, Japan, Australia ,and Philippines.

MMA stars who have come up through the King of the Cage ranks including Ronda Rousey, Forrest Griffin, Quinton Rampage Jackson, Daniel Cormier, TJ Dillishaw, Demetrious Johnson, Robbie Lawler, Rory MacDonald, Rashad Evans, Krazy Horse, Keith Jardine, Mac Danzig, Urijah Faber, Joe Stevenson, and Diego Sanchez.

Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, UFC

Art Davie and Rorion Gracie
Art Davie and Rorion Gracie

In the early 1990s, a groundbreaking collaboration unfolded between Rorion Gracie and promoter Art Davie. Their vision led to the creation of an eight-man single-elimination tournament, designed to showcase the prowess of Gracie jiu-jitsu in comparison to other martial arts. This partnership would go on to revolutionize the landscape of full-contact fighting, giving birth to the iconic Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The tournament embraced a no-holds-barred combat format, reminiscent of Brazil's Vale Tudo, and was set to be televised with the ambitious goal of publicly determining the superior martial art. On November 12, 1993, Rorion's younger brother, Royce, stepped into the main event to represent the Gracie family's martial art. Despite being the smallest competitor, Royce displayed remarkable skill, securing victory in all three of his matches and earning the championship title.

Royce's success in subsequent UFC tournaments further captivated audiences. Winning two more early championships, he brought widespread attention to the effectiveness of the Gracie family's jiu-jitsu. This success resonated particularly in America, drawing numerous martial artists to embrace the art that had proven so dominant against the diverse range of styles showcased in the early UFC events.

Joe Corley, The PKA

Joe Corley

The foundation of the Professional Karate Association – originally the brainchild of Joe Lewis – was formed in 1974 by Mike Anderson in association with Don and Judy Quine. This evolved into championing full contact karate, which would later be called kickboxing.

In 1977, Corley would join the organization as executive vice president, and through his vision, strategy and execution grew the PKA into one of the biggest martial arts brands through the 1980s and 1990s, becoming  staple on a burgeoning Sports Network network we now know as ESPN. If you watch kickboxing or MMA on television, you can definitely credit Corley for being a pioneer of introducing the sport into our homes.

Like Dana White, Joe did not create the PKA but he definitely is responsible for building it into one of the most successful martial arts franchises of its time and launching the careers of such legends like Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, Jeff Smith, and Joe Lewis. 

Howard Hanson, WKA (World Karate Association)

Howard Hanson

The WKA was founded by Howard Hanson in 1976 and was originally named World Karate Association. The organization was the first non-profit governing body to use an independently controlled rating list, the first to establish a world championship division for women, and the first to include countries from Asia. The organization secured network broadcast in the US and Japan, and became a major sanctioning body for professional karate. Early stars of the WKA included Benny Urquidez, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Kevin Rosier, and Graciela Casillas.  According to martial arts author John Ritschel, "The WKA became successful by finding common ground between Western and Eastern full-contact fighting culture, thereby creating and defining a culture for the sport that improved the recognition of full-contact competitions.

Black Belt Wellness

Antonio Inoki, First MMA in Japan/NJPW/IGF/ISM

Antonio Inoki
Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali

Some say without Antonio Inoki there might not be MMA as we know it. Muhammad Hussain Inoki born Kanji Inoki was a Japanese professional wrestler, martial artist, politician, and promoter of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. He was best known by the ring name Antonio Inoki. Inoki was a twelve-time professional wrestling world champion.

He parlayed his wrestling career into becoming one of Japan's most recognizable athletes, a reputation bolstered by his 1976 fight against world champion boxer Muhammad Ali – a fight that served as a predecessor to modern day mixed martial arts. 

He founded multiple promotions including New Japan Pro-Wrestling, The Inoki Genome Federation (IGF), ISM, and was also a co-founder of the karate style Kansui-ryū along with Matsubayashi-ryū master Yukio Mizutani. In 1989, while still an active wrestler, Inoki entered politics as he was elected to the Japanese House of Councillors. In 1995, with Ric Flair, Inoki headlined two shows in North Korea that drew 165,000 and 190,000 spectators, the highest attendances in professional wrestling history.

Kazuyoshi Ishii, The K1

Kazuyoshi Ishii, The K1

Kazuyoshi Ishii is a Japanese master of karate and founder of the K1 fighting circuit, one of the most widely watched International Martial Arts competitions combining Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Taekwondo Kenpo, Boxing, and Karate.  Founded nearly 30 years ago the K1 spread its exciting brand across the world and made a showcase to such great Champions as Mirko Cro Cop, Alistair Overeem and Ernesto Hoost, and Branko Cikatic.

Don King, Thrilla in Manila 

Kareem Allah and Jeff Smith undercard
Kareem Allah and Jeff Smith undercard

Yes, the same Don King who is a boxing legend actually goes down in history as a martial arts promoter. As legend tells it, there was a time that Don King had a fascination with kickboxing. Remember, it was the 1970s and Bruce Lee's popularity had changed the world and how we viewed martial arts. Don King would pit his heavyweight fighter Kareem Allah against the current light heavyweight kickboxing champion Jeff Smith and include them on the undercard of the biggest fight of the century. The fight was seen by over fifty million viewers as a preview before Ali vs. Frazier World Boxing Title Fight, known as the “Thrilla in Manila.”

Henry Cho, All American 

Henry Cho

Henry Cho was the creator and promoter of the All American Open Taekwondo/Karate/Kung Fu Championship Tournament. The All American Open was held for 23 consecutive years at Madison Square Garden, and was attended by notable martial artists. At its time, it was the tournament to win and where stars in martial arts were made. It was at this event where Bruce Lee met Chuck Norris for the first time.

Aaron Banks, Oriental World of Self-Defense

aaron banks

If there was ever the Barnum & Bailey of martial arts it was definitely Aaron Banks. Banks was a martial artist born in Bronx, New York who brought international martial arts under one roof in Madison Square Garden. This show was known as the "Oriental World of Self-Defense," and it played for over 20 years at Madison Square Garden, on ABC Wild World of Sports, NBC Sports World, CBS Sports, and HBO. During his life, he promoted 352 karate tournaments, conducted more than 1,000 demonstrations, and organized over 250 martial arts shows. The show was known by some, for its crazy stunts including a man who caught a bullet in his teeth! It pioneered the original karate vs. Kung Fu match as well as a woman vs. a man match where Beth Bussey faced heavyweight Joe Hess. 

Ed Parker, The Internationals  

Ed Parker

First promoted in 1964 by Grandmaster Ed Parker, The Long Beach International Karate Championships is an international martial arts tournament held at the Long Beach Convention Center.  The tournament has become legendary in the martial arts community as it introduced the world to Bruce Lee, where he demonstrated his famous 1-in punch.  Over the years it became one of the most important martial arts competitions to win. The champions include legends like Mike Stone, Joe Lewis, Steve Sanders, Benny the Jet Urquidez and Enter the Dragon star Jim Kelly.  

Black Belt Wellness

Jacques Delcourt, European Karate

Jacques Delcourt

Jacques Delcourt was a prominent sports administrator who was instrumental in creating the European Karate Union which later became the European Karate Federation. This, in turn, inspired the creation of the World Union of Karate Organisations that became the World Karate Federation. He was highly decorated by the French Government, including the award of Officer of the Legion of Honour.

Mas Oyama, Kyokushin World Tournament 

Mas Oyama

Masutatsu Ōyama, more commonly known as Mas Oyama, is the South Korean karate master who founded the famed Kyokushin Karate. Considered the first and most influential style of full contact karate.  Kyokushin Kaikan is the martial arts organization founded in 1964 by Ōyama as officially the International Karate Organization. The style and tournaments has continued to spread to more than 120 countries, becoming one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world, and in Japan itself.

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