How a Gables Company is Scaling Up its Concept of Karate Matches
Mixed martial arts combat has become a global phenomenon, so why not offer full contact karate fights? And why not stage those bouts in a sloped pit and add in high quality graphics to look like videogames?
That’s the idea behind Karate Combat, a venture based in Coral Gables whose full contact karate matches now are available on TV channels in more than 40 countries and online.
A New York group led by entrepreneur and investor Robert Bryan came up with the concept in 2018, initially offering the matches in “exotic locations,” including one at the former Miami Herald building locale on Biscayne Bay, featuring palm trees lit in the purple and teal of Miami Vice fame.
The company relocated the following year to the Gables, with Bryan as CEO. Now, the team is preparing a third season of its professional league fights – with taping in Budapest, Hungary, in front of green screens, and then editing in wrap-around visual effects of “exotic” backgrounds such as Valhalla, Neo Tokyo and Angkor Wat, says Enrique Veloz, vice president of production.
“It’s more of a spectacle, rather than a traditional karate match on a square mat in a gym with the traditional point system,” says Veloz. In Karate Combat’s full contact fights, “karatekas” typically fight three rounds of three minutes each in the patented pit and earn a bonus for knockouts. Broadcasts include dramatic music with the high-tech visuals. “We’re trying to tap into a younger audience more tuned into the gaming world and the digital experience,” says Veloz. “Typically they would not be attracted to combat sports.”
TV network BeIN Sports this summer acquired the rights for the matches in 37 markets spanning five continents. The allure: “Karate Combat is the first sports league to blend real world fights with eye catching special effects,” says Antonio Briceño, managing director for BeIN Sports North America, based in Medley. The league “presents martial arts in a way never before seen.”
Karate Combat set up its Gables headquarters in the Pipeline coworking space because production manager Veloz was living in the area. “We love being in a walking community,” says Veloz. “And there’s a great balance of industry and culture in a four-block radius, including theater, art, bookstores and restaurants.”
The head office is lean, with just three top managers. Some employees work remotely from New York, and visual effects are handled largely through Falcon Creative Group of Orlando and ATK PLN of Dallas. Karate operations are run from Budapest by Hungary’s traditional karate champion Adam S. Kovacs, who helped develop the rules and recruited some 150 karate stars from 50 countries to start the full combat league.
Viewership for the fights is rising fast, with about 1 million clicks on recent episodes on Karate Combat’s own YouTube premiere channel and millions more watching other channels, including ESPN Deportes in North America, Gol TV in Spain, Match TV in Russia and Zhibo TV in China. The company now is seeking to grow its audience in Latin America and is also looking to stage live events closer to home, possibly in Las Vegas.