Karate Combat is carving out its own path in the crowded space of combat sports

  • Tom Ward
Georges St-Pierre Bas Rutten

Karate Combat is quickly carving out its own niche in the crowded space of combat sports. 

“We always say it’s like real fighting in an unreal world,” Karate Combat’s Adam Kovacs explains. “If you ever get a chance to visit ‘The Pit’, it’s basically like a movie set.”

The Hungarian karateka is one of the youngest promoters in mixed martial arts today and the kingpin behind Karate Combat. The wisecracking company president is the key man putting on the events and fights behind closed doors who has been instrumental in keeping Karate Combat afloat despite the recent uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kovacs recently sat down with GIVEMESPORT for an exclusive interview to discuss all things Karate Combat, including a ground-breaking media rights deal with CBS Sports, cornering a gap in the market, fighter updates, free agency, and more. 

“We always say if this season doesn’t get us there, then we don’t know what else to pull out of the hat,” Kovacs said with a laugh. “But you know, all jokes aside, what else can you do? 

“I mean, when you’re a karate company, we’ve got the likes of Bas Rutten and Georges St-Pierre onboard, Lyoto Machida, you name it, we’ve also got crazy fights over the course of the entire season.

“We’ve just signed a record-breaking deal with CBS, which is massive for us, particularly in North America. So if people don’t love this season, then I should probably go and find another job and go and do something else.”

Adam Kovacs Lyoto Machida Bas Rutten

Backed by MedSec founder Robert Bryan, Karate Combat has already begun to seize control of the market, snapping up world-class talents like Machida, Rutten and St-Pierre to serve as Season Sensei’s who will also act as mentors to its roster of elite fighters including the likes of Josh Quayhagen and Eoghan Chelmiah. 

“We’re still a really young organisation, but what we’ve heard from partners and sponsors is that, we don’t have many big names yet,” said Kovacs, who won a gold medal at the World Games in 2009. “But how can you have big names in a league which basically just started, right?

“So we had a few options. First of all, we could just do what everyone else does, like bareknuckle boxing, Bellator, you name it, who reach out to retired MMA fighters, and pay them a lot of money simply to promote the brand and talk s— about the UFC.

“But we didn’t want to do that, we want to build our fighters from scratch, although we’re not actually building them up from scratch because many of them are world champions in karate, right? But for sure, when it comes to entertainment, they aren’t household names yet.  

“So for us, it was a no brainer to work with guys like Bas, GSP and Lyoto. We could have signed hundreds of big names but we specifically wanted to work with these guys whose values are similar to ours as a company.

“One of the main reasons they became such big stars in the first place was not only because of their work ethic, their dedication, their principles, and their values, but all of these things come from their roots in karate. So that’s why that’s why we chose them. We are super excited to have them working with us.” 

Adam Kovacs Lyoto Machida

He does acknowledge, however, that this wasn’t his initial plan, as he revealed that he had originally planned to pit them against each other in ‘The Pit’ before they encountered an unexpected problem. 

“To be perfectly honest with you, my original idea was, Georges is retired, basically, Lyoto only has one or two more fights left on his contract,” he added. “So why don’t we just figure out who’s the best karateka of all time, and have them fight each other, right? So that was the original idea.

“But then of course you come to the lawyers and those contracts and all those obligations, and then we figured out that at this point, you saw what happened with GSP, Oscar De La Hoya, you know, the UFC didn’t really like that idea. Lyoto also has one or two fights left on his Bellator contract. 

“But we were able to find a solution where we were able to integrate them into the entire narrative of the whole show. They haven’t fought yet but who knows what the future will bring?” 

Adam Kovacs Karate Combat

Kovacs also credits popular television series Cobra Kai – a spinoff to the original The Karate Kid films – with helping to keep karate relevant in the mainstream spotlight, although he also insists that there isn’t any genuine competition as he feels that they have created something completely unique. 

“There are only two players in the game right now,” said the 40-year-old. “One is Cobra Kai. The other one is Karate Combat. And the good thing is we don’t really have to compete with Cobra Kai.

“We got a little bit lucky with our timing and being the first ones to understand that there is a gap in the market in terms of the fact that nobody has ever really leveraged karate as a brand or indeed as a combat sport. 

“This is something that karate itself has been kind of crying out for in a way, because anyone with a background in karate beforehand would have only had the option to switch to mixed martial arts, whereas now if they want to fight full contact they can put their years of training to the test at the highest level.

“We think we are not only doing a favour to karate but also to the entire martial arts community who have grown tired of the copycats because pretty much every single one of these other promotions are trying to copy what the UFC is doing. 

“Here we are, four years in, and we have created a niche sport, a niche martial art where we aren’t copying anyone else. Of course, we do take some inspiration from some things, but we have created something almost entirely new.”  

Karate Combat Season 3 airs every Thursday on EurosportFor more information, visit the Karate Combat website at www.karate.com

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