NEW YORK—Karate Combat, a professional full-contact karate league, hosted the third event of its inaugural season on Sept. 27. The spectacle, dubbed “Karate Combat: One World", took place inside the One World Observatory over 100 stories high within the One World Trade Center.
A couple hundred spectators clothed in black suits and dresses sipping champagne and wine gathered inside a dimly-lit room overlooking downtown Manhattan. Their attention fixated on a slope-sided pit which karateka entered to flashing stage lights and wavy, ominous music.
The display, which was a nine-card affair, was intriguing. Each fight garnered oohs and ahhs that intensified as the evening progressed. As one clash went on, an older gentleman turned to another observer and whispered, “This has a lot of potential. This feels like a hidden secret that no one’s realized is there yet.”
Karate Combat CEO Michael DePietro agrees. The jam-packed setting atop the iconic New York building was a way, he said, to put the sport on the map. It’s symbolic of the type of heights he hopes Karate Combat can ultimately ascend to. By Friday afternoon, DePietro said viewership was trending toward doubling that of the organization’s previous event.
“We basically packed it in as much as we possibly could,” DePietro told Sports Illustrated. “But I thought the atmosphere in the crowd was pretty awesome.”
The combatants were relatively unknown. There are over 100 fighters representing 30 countries rostered in Karate Combat. Eighteen karateka from 11 different countries participated in One World. But despite the obscurity, by the time the fights began, the environment became a mixture of excitement, anxiousness and nerves resembling that of a big-time melee.
“You started seeing some of the VIPs starting to root for these fighters they didn’t previously know,” DePietro said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
After the main event fight between the United States’ Abdalla Ibrahim and the Dominican Republic’s Dionico Gustavo, an observer shook his head and turned to two others standing by him. He chuckled. “This has potential to be big,” he said. “This is f---ing awesome.”
DePietro said Karate Combat has five more future events lined up and are in the process of building up an entire season.
The next step: setting up a once-a-month cycle, but the general goal is to host two events per month.
“[Part of the goal is to host] a four-carder at some exotic location,” DePietro said. “Then another like 10-fight card at the end of the month and work it in that way so all of our fighters are able to fight a decent amount of times during the year.”
Karate Combat is still in its early stages. But it appears there’s potential for its long-term success, even if it remains a hidden secret for now.