clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Growth of Judo in Mixed Martial Arts

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

I've been hearing some newer fans to the sport talk about their affinity for judo. They exaggerate the applicability of the art in MMA, but there is something to the growth and development of judo players in the sport or even just typical throws being properly executed by typical fighters. But to what extent do the top judo players in the judo sport make their way successfully into MMA? Sergio Non explores:

Among the thousands of MMA competitors over the years, few have a high-level judo background. The site lists just 31 MMA fighters who have medaled in national or international judo competitions over the last two decades. Within that group, the number at MMA's elite level can be counted on two hands:

[Karo] Parisyan, winner of six belts at U.S. Judo's junior nationals before entering MMA. 

Pawel Nastula, who fought four times in Pride FC after a distinguished judo career that included two world championships, three European titles and a gold at the 1996 Olympics.

Hidehiko Yoshida, 1992 Olympic gold medalist and 1999 world before becoming a Pride favorite and now a headliner for World Victory Road.

Dong-Sik Yoon, Pride and Dream competitor, winner of the 2000 Asian Championships, bronze medalist at the 2001 worlds. 

Fedor Emelianenko, former Pride champion and a two-time bronze medalist in Russia's judo championships, although he's mainly known for his prowess in another grappling speciality, combat sambo.

Yoshihiro Akiyama, a K-1 superstar who now fights for Dream; he won the 2002 Asian Games and made the semifinals of the 2003 world championships, albeit with controversy over a slick uniform.

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Pride and UFC fighter, 2001 U.S. Open champion.

Kazuhiro Nakamura, veteran of Pride and UFC, and a bronze medalist at Japanese nationals.

Of that group, Emelianenko is the only one who has won a title belt from a major MMA organization. 

The fighters in the database have a combined MMA record of 175-83-4. Almost half of those wins come from five fighters: Emelianenko, Parisyan, Hector Lombard, Nakamura and Akiyama.

A few fighters have studied judo extensively, but lack wins at the sport's top level. They include Shinya Aoki, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Hayato Sakurai, Kazuo Misaki, Shonie Carter and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. 

Even though the number of judokas remains small, it's an improvement from MMA's first few years, which were dominated by BJJ practitioners, wrestlers, shootfighters and strikers. Now, even some fighters who aren't necessarily judo specialists have incorporated its moves into their repertoire.

All too true, but there are some problems with this analysis.

First, in the case of Yoshida, Yoon, Akiyama and Nakamura, all have fought with the gi in MMA matches in Japan. Granted, they've also all fought without the gi, but the lack of consistency there makes drawing some conclusions difficult. Second, despite the fact that there are hundreds of throws, only a handful of throws have been used successfully in MMA: harai ogoshi, uchi mata, osoto gari, tai otoshi and various forms of seo nage. No gi jiu-jitsu has limitations in some respects and is a different game than the gi game, but it does, overall, adapt far better to MMA than judo. And while high level judo players have great submissions, "newaza" isn't as highly emphasized in judo circles as it is in jiu-jitsu. Lastly, there are a lot of throws that even if properly executed end up giving the opposition the thrower's back. Parisyan usually finds a way out of this, but wrestlers with good guard passing are much more able to land in dominant positions and avoid some of the recklessness that comes from throws.

Still, though, the growth of judo on MMA and the infusion of top judo players is yet another example of the continued evolution of MMA.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow