When speaking of great modern martial artists, it would be impossible not to mention Andy Hug. Born in Switzerland as Andreas Hug, he would grow into one of the most famous karate fighters of all time. Hug would never know his father, who died overseas as a foreign legionnaire in Thailand, and would barely know his mother as Hug was raised by his grandparents.
At a very young age Andy showed amazing talent at sports. He started playing organized football at age six and in just a few years he was selected to Switzerland's 16-and-under national team. Due to the relatively low social standing of his family, Andy was bullied as a child. At age 11 he started training in karate despite the strong objections of his grandfather. Andy's grandmother saw the boy's passion for the art and eventually convinced the grandfather to relent.
So it was that Andy Hug began training in Kyokushin Karate. That style of karate should be familiar to Gods of War readers as the creator of that style, Masutatsu Oyama, has also been entered into our Pantheon of modern martial greatness. Kyokushin is a full contact, bare knuckle form of karate with a focus on intense sparring sessions.
At 15-years-old Hug entered in the Oyama Cup, a national Kyokushin competition. Full contact karate tournaments carried with them a minimum age of 20, so Andy presented a written note from his grandparents giving their permission to fight. Hug won the Oyama Cup and at age 17 he was selected for the National Kyokushin team. In the 1980's Hug cut his teeth in competitive karate, winning several European tournaments. In 1987 Hug entered in the Kyokushin Open Weight World Championships at the age of 23 and took silver. The next year Hug would not just fight for the Swiss national team, but he was also the lead trainer.
In 1991, Andy returned the World Championships and he faced off with talent Brazilian fighter Francisco Filho. The two engaged in a competitive bout, but at the end of a round Hug was struck with a kick after the bell and knocked out. The Swiss team protested and Mas Oyama declared that while the strike landed after the bell the kick started before the bell and thus had to be defended.
Hug then did a brief two year stint in Seidokaikan Karate, an off shoot of Kyokushin formed by Kazuyoshi Ishii. In 1993 Ishii would grow discontent with the competitive karate scene and he would start his own kickboxing promotion known as K-1. Hug would take part in the first K-1 event, a very small event in which he defeated Minoru Fujita in a Karate match.
The promotion then held their first Grand Prix and it featured a Seidokaikan Karate match which pitted Hug against Nobuaki Kakuda.
Andy Hug vs Nobuaki Kakuda - K-1 GP '93 (via K1)
In 1994, Hug was matched in a K-1 kickboxing match with Branko Cikatić, who was coming off winning the very first K-1 Grand Prix championship. Hug defeated Cikatic by decision and then was entered that year's Grand Prix. Andy faced Patrick Smith, who had fought in the first two UFC events just months before. Smith was a respected American kickboxer, but it was still a shock when he knocked Hug out in under a minute. Smith caught Hug clean twice with right hands and dropped him, but after the second knockdown, as the ref was stepping in, Hug attempts to stand and Smith strikes him again illegally. No action was taken against Smith however and Hug demanded a rematch, but Smith was advanced to the next round of the tournament.
This was Smith's biggest professional kickboxing win, but he was unable to build off it. Smith lost to Peter Aerts in the next round of the Grand Prix and Hug was given his rematch.
K-1 Classic - Andy Hug vs. Patrick Smith - K-1 REVENGE '94 (via K1)
Hug finished off 1994 by defeating Jeff "Duke" Roufus with a positively brutal body kick and then knocking out Rob Van Esdonk in epic fashion. At the start of 1995 Andy entered into the K-1 Grand Prix and there he met Mike Bernardo, one of K-1's greatest kickboxers. The South African striker enjoyed a size and strength advantage, in addition to being strategic and very technical. Bernardo was able to slow things down at range and then close the distance to the clinch to make maximum use of his size. Bernardo wore Hug down and then in the third round forced the ref to stop the fight. Hug got a rematch with Bernardo later in 1995, and this time the South African engaged at range. Bernardo fought a slow and tactical match and eventually caught a big counter right hand that finished Hug for a second time.
Hug bounced back with a win and qualified for the 1996 Grand Prix, and won his first round match over Bart Vale with a knockout. In the second round Hug was faced with the much larger Duane Van Der Merwe, and landed a nasty left hook to win the match. Now in the semi-finals Andy defeated K-1 veteran Ernesto Hoost via overtime split decision and advanced to the finals. There he would meet Bernardo for the third time and this time it would be Hug who emerged victorious with one of the most memorable finishes in kickboxing history.
Andy Hug vs Mike Bernardo - K-1 GP '96 FINAL (via K1)
Shortly after finally defeating Bernardo, Hug took a K-1 fight in Switzerland against Sadau Kiatsongrit and won via TKO. Hug won three more times to finish 1996 at 8-0 with a K-1 Grand Prix Championship and three separate Heavyweight Kickboxing championship belts. This was the height of his professional kickboxing career
In his first fight of 1997 Hug was paired with young K-1 star Peter Aerts, a Dutch muay thai kickboxer. Aerts caught Hug with a hard straight right hand in the opening moments of the first round and it spiraled downward from there for the Swiss fighter. Hug was eventually finished with knee and lost by referee stoppage.
Hug would defeat Bernardo for a second time after this loss and then enter into the 1997 K-1 Grand Prix. Hug won in the opening round and quarterfinal round with brutal KOs. In the semi-finals Hug would get a second change against Aerts and he would not waste it.
In a clash of K-1 greats, Hug was able to navigate through the reach advantage of Aerts and earn the decision win. Hug would lose the final match against Ernesto Hoost. Hug would return to the final of the K-1 Grand Prix the next year and again lose, this time against Aerts.
In the next two years Hug would notch wins against fighters familiar to MMA fans in Maurice Smith, Ray Sefo, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović. In July of 2000 Hug would defeat Nobu Hayashi by KO in his last professional fight. In August of 2000, Andy Hug was diagnosed with leukemia and just days later he slipped into a coma and died at the age of 35. His wife and son cremated his body and scattered the ashes at the Hoshuin Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
Andy Hug was taken from the world far too soon, but his extraordinary career inspired a generation of karate fighters and kickboxers. His legend and his warrior spirt will live forever, kept alive by anyone who saw him fight.