Above: 2008 Olympic Judo bronze medalist and Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
This has been a very big month for Judo with the Olympics taking place in London and former Olympic bronze medalist judoka Ronda Rousey defending her Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title just 54 seconds into her match with former champion Sarah Kaufman. Rousey won by applying her signature Juji Gatame (Armbar) in just 54 seconds of her MMA title fight headlining a Zuffa-owned Strikeforce card on Showtime.
Rousey’s win came less than a week after the closing ceremony of an Olympic Games that featured the USA’s first ever Gold Medal champion in Judo. That would be none other than Rousey’s friend and former training partner Kayla Harrison. Harrison’s historic achievement was backed up by a bronze medal finish by her teammate Marti Malloy, who has trained at OTM co-founder Alan "Gumby" Marques’ jiu-jitsu academy Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose, CA, as well as an admirable showing by Travis Stevens in the men’s competition. Stevens has a brown belt in jiu-jitsu under Renzo Gracie to go along with his Judo black belt. Stevens is also a friend and training partner of UFC stars Joe Lauzon and Tom Lawlor and has stated his desire to eventually compete in MMA.
Due to the tremendous amount of success Judo has enjoyed this month, along with its clear crossover and effectiveness in MMA, OTM has decided to compile a list of Judoka that have competed at the Olympics in Judo and later represented the "Gentle Way" of Judo under the rules of MMA. Just a reminder, there are many high-level Judoka in MMA like Karo Parisyan, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Dong Hyun Kim, but this list is focusing only on the 10 Judoka who have been to the Olympics and have done MMA.
Above: 2004 Olympic Judoka and Bellator #1 lightweight contender Rick Hawn.
Ronda Rousey (2004 9th place & 2008 Bronze Medal at -70 kg): USA | Rousey is the current Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion and one of the most popular fighters in all of MMA. In July, she graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine. She is the first American woman to ever win a medal in the Olympics and she has submitted all 9 of her opponents in MMA in the 1st Round via Armbar (6 Pro Wins, 3 Amateur Wins).
Rick Hawn (2004 8th place at -81 kg): USA | Hawn boasts an impressive 14-1 record in MMA. He recently won the Bellator “Season 6” lightweight tournament and was also the runner-up in the Bellator “Season 4” welterweight tournament after losing a controversial Split Decision to Jay Hieron. Hawn is now scheduled to challenge Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler for the Bellator lightweight title later this fall.
Hector Lombard (2000 Round of 32 at -73 kg): Cuba | Lombard recently saw his 25-match winning streak in MMA come to a close, after dropping a close Split Decision to Tim Boetsch in his long-awaited UFC debut. Lombard was primed to challenge UFC champion Anderson Silva if he had won. Prior to signing with the UFC, Lombard dominated the Bellator middleweight division, since its inception in 2009.
Rhadi Ferguson (2004 Round of 16 at -100 kg): USA | Ferguson is a four-time U.S. national champion in Judo. Ferguson competed in Judo at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece in the men’s heavyweight division. He was previously an alternate in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Ferguson is also a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu under Ricardo Liborio and a longtime friend and training partner of Lloyd Irvin. In his brief foray into MMA (August 2010 to January 2011), Ferguson won 3 fights in less than 5 months. He won his first two bouts via first round TKO and his most recent bout to date via kneebar in his Strikeforce debut.
Ivo Dos Santos (2012 Round of 32 at -66 kg): Australia | Dos Santos did things slightly in reverse compared to the rest of the Judoka on this list. The Australian participated in his first professional MMA bout before making it to the Olympics in Judo. He won the bout in his native Australia in September 2010 via second round Rear Naked Choke. After getting his feet wet in MMA, he concentrated on his international Judo career, which led him to his first Olympic appearance. Dos Santos also wrote about his road to the 2012 Olympics on the worldwide MMA site Sherdog.
Satoshi Ishii (2008 Gold Medal at +100 kg): Japan | After winning an Olympic gold medal in his country of Japan’s native martial art of Judo at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Ishii quickly stated his desire to compete in MMA. He made his MMA debut at Dynamite!! 2009 on New Year’s Eve in 2009, where he would lose to fellow Japanese Olympic gold medalist judoka Hidehiko Yoshida. Ishii would win all 4 of his fights in 2010 and draw with former WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho in September 2011, before losing by KO to MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Hidehiko Yoshida (1992 Gold Medal at -78 kg): Japan | Yoshida was already hero in his home country of Japan a decade before becoming a star in the once great Japanese MMA promotion PRIDE. 10 years after winning an Olympic gold medal in his country’s native martial art of Judo, Yoshida would fight for PRIDE twelve times. During his 18-fight MMA career in Japan, he has faced MMA legends Wanderlei Silva (twice), Mark Hunt, Tank Abbott, and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. He’s fought three UFC champions in Royce Gracie, Josh Barnett, and Maurice Smith. He has also fought three fellow Olympic medalists in Rulon Gardner, Naoya Ogawa, and Satoshi Ishii.
Pawel Nastula (1996 Gold Medal at -95 kg): Poland | Nastula decided to try his luck in MMA nearly a decade after winning an Olympic gold medal in Judo. Welcomed to the sport by PRIDE, they referred to him as “the Rickson Gracie of Judo” due to his Olympic credentials and 312-match win streak he put together in Judo. Unfortunately, he got a very rude welcome to the sport of MMA. Nastula would face Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Alexander Emelianenko, and Josh Barnett in three of his first four MMA bouts in PRIDE. Nastula has recently re-emerged in the sport of MMA in his native country of Poland, where he has put together a 3-fight win streak.
Naoya Ogawa (1992 Silver Medal at -95 kg): Japan | Ogawa won the silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, but made his transition into MMA five years before his Judo rival and fellow 1992 Olympic judo medalist Hidehiko Yoshida did. Ogawa would win his first 7 fights in MMA over a span of nearly 7 years. He had notable wins over Gary Goodridge, K-1 kickboxing legened Stefan Leko, and the 7’2" inch, 385-pound Giant Silva. Ogawa ended his MMA career with armbar losses to MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko and his longtime rival Yoshida.
Min Soo Kim (1996 Silver Medal at -95 kg): South Korea | Kim had the most difficulty transitioning into MMA out of all the Olympic judoka on this list. Part of this was due to poor matchmaking. In his MMA debut in March 2005, he would face Bob Sapp back when Sapp was relevant in MMA. After losing that bout, he lost to K-1 kickboxing legend Ray Sefo four months later. After winning his next two bouts to bring his record back to .500, Kim would then face a murderer’s row of opponents in his next four outings: Semmy Schilt, Don Frye, Mighty Mo, and Brock Lesnar. After dropping those bouts, Kim would wrap up his career in MMA with a win over Minowaman and a loss to Sumo wrestler Sentoryū.