FRIDAY FIVE: 5 Most Influential Judoka in Modern MMA

Cage Nation Patch MMA.jpgBy: Albert Cameron – Thanks to the Gracie Family and Pay-Per-View in the 1990’s, we consider Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to be in the upper echelon of grappling arts, especially when it comes to real world practicality. It was no secret that the early UFC events were glorified infomercials for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but the unintended consequence was that we were given a crystal ball into how combat sports would evolve, change, and what kind of athletes would champion combat sports. At UFC 5, we’ve seen a wrestler capture the tournament championship (Dan Severn); with that victory, the evolution began. There had been enough exposure for the world to see for people to begin developing anti-BJJ techniques.

Long before Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the art of Judo. Before Royce Gracie won the UFC 1 tournament and Rickson Gracie was beating Nubohiko Takada, Masahiko Kimura (a Judoka) broke Helio Gracie’s arm with a technique that would later be named after him. Judo has a lot deeper roots in Mixed Martial Arts than we really give it credit for. To celebrate the martial art founded by Jigoro Kano, I’m counting down the five Judoka that I feel had the biggest impact on modern mixed martial arts.

  1. Rick Hawn (Bellator) – I have to believe that the Judo community is very proud of Rick Hawn. As a modern athlete, he has gone out to compete in the largest stages possible. He was an Olympic qualifier, placing 9th in the 2004 games. After his Olympic tryst, Hawn went on to the Bellator Fighting Championship. Rick Hawn has now retired and I think that Rick Hawn went out the way most prizefighters should: on top. Hawn has beaten the likes of Karo Parisyan, competed against Jay Heiron, and defeated Patrick Healy for a Bellator Championship.
  1. Hidehiko Yoshida (PRIDE) – Hidehiko may not be the first Olympian to ever try his hand at Mixed Martial Arts, but to my recollection, he is the first Judo Gold Medalist to do so. During Yoshida’s tenure as a mixed martial artist, he has submitted “The Predator” Don Frye, Mark Hunt, and Tank Abbott. PRIDE FC was known for a lot of mismatches and freak fights, but to me, one of the most interesting that PRIDE put on was Yoshida vs. Royce Gracie. It was supposed to be the fight that drew conclusions, was Judo more effective than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu …and the fight came to a draw. Much like how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know (for certain, anyways).
  1. Manny Gamburyan (UFC) – Manny Gamburyan came into the public consciousness as Karo Parisyan’s cousin, almost dismissive like one would associate a younger sibling in a backyard football game. Manny Gamburyan is included on this list because of his contributions to the UFC Lightweight Division. Gamburyan was a contestant on the fifth season of “the Ultimate Fighter,” and found himself on Team Pulver. Gamburyan wasn’t as successful in the Ultimate Fighter as he’d hoped, but at the time, he was doing extremely important work for the lightweights at the time. Prior to the fifth installment of the Ultimate Fighter, the UFC had four weight classes: Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, and Welterweight. The UFC was using the Ultimate Fighter as a vehicle to draw in fighters from around the globe to bolster their weight classes. That generation of Ultimate Fighter hopefuls and contenders on the UFC Fight Nights were instrumental in keeping the Lightweight division strong and opening opportunities for even lighter fighters.
  1. Karo “The Heat” Parisyan (UFC/Bellator) – I will admit that Karo Parisyan may not be as high on your list as it is on mine. We’re not so far removed from the dark days of the sport that we can afford to forget about them. While Karo “The Heat” Parisyan was unable to capture the highly coveted welterweight championship, he did eliminate a lot of ignorance about how practical Judo could be, especially in a no-gi environment like MMA. Karo has huge decision victories over Shonie Carter, Nick Diaz, Matt Serra, Josh Burkman, and Ryo Chonan; that list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. Karo Parisyan may never make it into the UFC Hall of Fame, and may have made some mistakes that he’s going to have a tough time to live down, but Karo Parisyan did remind us all that Judo is functional and does have a place in modern MMA.
  1. “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (UFC/Strikeforce)“Well Gee, Albert. Do you really think so?” Yeah, this one is a complete no-brainer. When Ronda Rousey takes off her gloves for the last time, her impact on the world of modern Mixed Martial Arts will be undeniable. For the art, Ronda has fashioned Judo into a deadly weapon, and has used it as such. Personally, you can see me asking Rob what a certain technique is called and the appropriate grammar for its description, because Ronda (and everyone else on the list) has commanded such a respect for Judo. I’m a big fan of figures and statistics, I’d be interested to see how much Judo enrollment has gone up since Ronda’s rise to prominence.

So that’s it for our very first “Friday Five.” I’d like to thank Rob and our other expert for the help on the appropriate terms for the techniques, so that I may show Judo its proper respect. Do you agree with this list? Leave a comment for us and let’s talk about it!

Honorable Mention:

Don “The Predator” Frye (UFC/PRIDE/King of the Cage) – Don “The Predator” Frye (who was an excellent interview for Cage Nation TV) often gets a lot of credit and merit based on his wrestling style. While studying at the University of Arizona, Frye encountered coach and mentor Dan “The Beast” Severn, even helping Severn prepare for UFC fights. Don Frye is on the ground floor of this countdown because Judo wasn’t his primary style or his success efforts weren’t attributed to his Judo background as much. What is clear is that Judo did help complete Don Frye’s ground game, made him a much more efficient mat tactician. Don Frye did go down in the record books as the UFC 8 tournament champion and Ultimate Ultimate 2 champion.