The 20 Greatest Kyokushin Karate Fighters of All Time was first published by Liver Kick in 2013, with #20-17. It has taken us some time to get around to completing that list, but finally we have done it!
As mentioned in the first installment, Kyokushin Karate was founded by Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, and considered to be the first and most influential style of full contact karate, and one of the most hard-hitting, brutal, and intense forms of organized combat in the world. A style that has spawn fighters the likes of Andy Hug and Georges St. Pierre, to name just a couple. But aside from the big name kickboxers and mma stars there lays an array of combat sports athletes whose neither names nor accomplishments often see the light of day. This is the reason the "Top 20 Greatest Kyokushin Fighters of All-Time" was first started.
As stated before, this is by no means the definitive list, and I am sure there are names missing, but I have done my best to complete the list with fighters based mainly on impact, achievement, quality of competition and technical skill. The list is in no particular order, as it’s next to impossible to select one fighter over another, and further, it is something that no one would agree on. But I am sure we can all agree that the names on this list deserve recognition.
A little information on the different types of tournaments before we begin: A World Tournament includes every weight class. There are no divisions and no upper weight limit. Any Weight Tournament splits fighters into one of three weights: Lightweight (Under 70 kg) Middleweight (70 kg to 80 kg) and Heavyweight (Over 90 kg). That's it. Pretty simple, right?
So without further ado, here are #16 - 13 on our list....
#16: Makoto Nakamura
- 3rd World Tournament – 1st place 1984
- 2nd World Tournament – 1st place 1979
- 13th All Japan Tournament – 2nd place 1981
- 12th All Japan Tournament – 2nd place 1980
- 11th All Japan Tournament – 1st place 1979
- 10th All Japan Tournament – 3rd place 1978
- 9th All Japan Tournament – 3rd place 1977
Makoto Nakamura is the only winner of two Kyokushin World Open tournaments and was known for his power style of karate. He is the epitome of “power karate” and truly represented the old guard of Kyokushin. At 110 kg (245 lbs) he was large man be any accounts, let alone against usually much smaller Japanese. He used his size and power to full advantage.
After competing, winning or always placing in the top 3 in the All Japan Tournaments, Nakamura was selected to be on the Japanese team for the 2nd World Tournament in 1979, where he would win first place, but not without controversy.
In that 2nd World Tournament he would face 18-year-old Dolph Lundgren from Sweden. Then only a green belt, Lundgren had to borrow a brown belt (one level higher) to be able to fight. As he recounts, "Full-contact-karate was something new at the time. Nobody really knew a lot about it, and neither did I." Held at the Japan Metropolitan Gymnasium, Nakamura was the favourite to win. When he faced Lundgren, who weighed 93 kg (205 lbs) Nakamura (a 2nd degree black belt at the time) attacked immediately and Lundgren caught him with a mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) to the head. It is reported the crowd gasped and Nakamura probably thought he had more on his hands then he had bargained for. The fight went the distance; plus two extensions and Nakamura was awarded a controversial decision. This proved to be the eventual world champions hardest fight.
Nakamura would go on to compete in the 3rd World Tournament 1984 and win 1st place as well.
#15: Sam Greco
- K-1 World Grand Prix 3rd Place1999
- W.A.K.O. Pro World Muay Thai Super Heavyweight Champion1999
- The Best of the Best Tournament Champion1995
- W.K.A. World Muay Thai Super Heavyweight Champion1994
- Karate World Cup Champion1994
- Commonwealth Karate Champion 1989-1991
- 6 time Australia Full Contact Karate Champion
Sam "Slam 'em" Greco trained in Kyokushin Karate from a young age and started competing in full contact karate tournaments at age of 21. He is a retired super heavyweight fighter, who fought in Kyokushin Karate, Professional Kickboxing, K-1 tournaments and MMA. To put it simply, Sam Greco is a legend. He was an aggressive fighter who epitomized raw physical power and technical precision. Greco was an absolute dream to watch in the ring, as he would bring punishment forward and raining down.
After winning the Australian Full-Contact Karate title six times Greco would meet the founder of Kyokusin, Mas Oyama and eventually the founder of Seidokaikan Karate, Kazuyoshi Ishii. Ishii himself was a student of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin under Hideyuki Ashihara.
Greco would go on to have an impressive career, 147 fights overall, and holds notable victories over many of the greats of kickboxing, like Branko Cikatic, Ernesto Hoost, Mike Bernardo, Stefan Leko, and Ray Sefo.
Greco is quoted as saying "My biggest achievement to date was taking on all the best fighters in the K1 world. Fighters that I would only read about and thought one day I will get to fight them. I never took a back step on anyone."
#14: Takashi Azuma
- 1st place at the 9th All Japan Tournament 1977
- 3rd place at the 8th All Japan Tournament1976
- 6th place at the 1st World Tournament1974
- 2nd place at the 6th All Japan Tournament1974
Azuma Takashi was born in 1949, began martial arts through the practice of Judo and in 1971 discovered Kyokushin Karate. He became a student of the founder, Mas Oyama. Azuma was a fiercely dominant fighter in the early days of Kyokushin and stood out among other fighters not only because of his physical strength, but also his strength of spirit, which never accepted defeat. A true warrior in every sense of the word, who encompassed Budo, or the Japanese Martial Way.
Azuma Takashi is the founder of the martial art Daido Juku, also known as "Kudo", and the President of the Kudo International Federation. Daido Juku is a martial art group practicing Kudo, a strike-based Mixed Martial Art/Budo. Noticeable by the use of a helmet that sort of looks like a space helmet, which allows fighters to strike to the head and not impede vision. Daido Juku introduced "Kakuto Karate (Combat Karate)" a safe, practical and popular form of tournament karate using the face protector and allowing attacks to the head level attack, throws, grabs, joint locks and chokes. Essentially, it’s like Japanese Budo MMA.
Photo courtesy of WKO Shinkyokushinkai
#13 Norichika Tsukamoto
- All Japan Weight Division Tournament: The 11th all Japan weight division heavy weight 4th place, The 15th all Japan weight division heavy weight 1st place, The 21st all Japan weight division heavy weight 1st place, The 25th all Japan weight division heavy weight 3rd place
- All Japan Tournament: The 28th all Japan 1st place, The 29th all Japan 1st place, The 34th all Japan 3rd place, The 36th all Japan 6th place, The 38th all Japan 1st place/Mas Oyama Award, The 41st all Japan 1st place, The 42nd all Japan 1st place
- Karate World Cup: The 1st karate world cup heavy weight 1st place, The 3rd karate world cup heavy weight 4th place, The 4th karate world cup heavy weight 2nd place
- World Tournament: The 6th world championship 1st place, The 7th world championship Japan national member, The 8th world championship 7th place, The 9th world championship 7th place, The 10th world championship 1st place/technique award
- Tsukamoto was part of the new breed of Kyokushin fighters, known for his innovative and progressive fighting style.
In the earlier days of Kyokushin, fighters were recognized for their “stand and bang” style of fighting. Pitting strength and brawn against one another. As the sport evolved you began to see fighters becoming more intelligent in their training practices and fighting. Fighters probably began to realize the old style of training and fighting would not have much longevity on the body. So, as fighters became smarter with their conditioning, the styles of fighting became smarter as well. Tsukamoto was one of the first in Full Contact Karate that began to apply new ways of thinking and new performing techniques, and we began to others changing and adapting. Marius Ilas is another one of this new breed of fighters.
Tsukamoto has proven that his unconventional way of fighting works, based on the many championships he has won, and the way fighters have a hard time dealing with and defending his approach. From unorthodox kicking methods to his use of hiza geri jodan (knee kick to the head) to KO opponents, Tsukamoto has influenced a whole new generation of Kyokushin fighters.
Tsukamoto is now part of the World Karate Organization - Shinkyokushinkai, the Kyokushin offshoot led by former world champion, Kenji Midori. We’ll be visiting him on the list shortly!
Click here for #20-17 and tune in soon for fighters #12-09.