Two fighters square off in the cage, and when they tie up, one employs a move chock full of skill and panache that sends the other sailing through the air and crashing to the canvas. In judo parlance, that kind of standing technique is called “tachiwaza”, and there’s something pretty damn exciting about watching such a thing pulled off flawlessly. On Saturday night, Bellator 43 will bring us this season’s welterweight tournament final, and the bout will see salty veteran Jay Hieron take on Rick Hawn, a 2004 judo Olympian. Thus far in the tournament, Hawn has pulled off only a couple of foot sweeps – impressive moves for sure, but not quite the spectacle we hope to see when we know a fighter is a master of the “Gentle Way”. However, Hawn’s definitely got it in him. After all, it was his stunning shoulder throw of Levon Maynard at Bellator 33 that both energized the crowd and earned him his slot in the tourney.
Who else in MMA has used their judo skills to great (i.e., freakin’ awesome) effect? Why, I’m glad you asked. Here’s a brief list of tried and true judoka who came into the sport with the ability to dump opponents on their heads, and did so in really cool fashion. And if on Saturday Hawn doesn’t manage to do the same to Hieron, well, c’est la vie. At least we have these badass tachiwaza guys to reminisce about!
Remco Pardoel – Pardoel stepped into the Octagon at UFC 2 a big, goofy Dutchman with a judo uniform and a meek expression, and in our collective ignorance, we thought his opponent (a ripped-to-shreds kickboxer named Orlando Weit) was going to kill him. Hey, guess what? Weit didn’t kill him. Instead, Pardoel easily threw him to the mat, pinned him there and elbowed him unconscious. Lesson learned.
Christophe Leininger – At UFC 3, American judo player Leininger got overpowered and eaten alive by Ken Shamrock. But Leininger redeemed himself somewhat, returning at UFC 13 to face Shamrock’s ward Guy Mezger. Though he ultimately lost the decision, Leininger did manage a couple nice throws, including a sweet sacrifice throw that landed him briefly in the mount (technically, sacrifice throws aren’t tachiwaza, but so what?).
Karo Parisyan – Once upon a time Parisyan was a fresh, young Armenian kid with all the potential in the world. Case in point: his Octagon debut at UFC 44, which saw him literally toss Dave Strasser around like a rag doll. Up until then, we’d never seen anything like the kind of judo mojo Parisyan was laying down, and in a sport dominated by freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers, it was a breath of fresh air.
Fedor Emelianenko – Sure, his resume says sambo, but there’s also a black belt in judo hanging in Emelianenko’s closet. How else do you think he was able to put Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on his back when they clashed in Pride FC?
Hidehiko Yoshida – Japanese Olympic gold medalist Yoshida was, for a time, huge in Pride FC, and his bout against Wanderlei Silva in the organization’s 2005 “Total Elimination” tournament was the epitome of insanity. Few gave Yoshida a chance when the match-up was announced (remember, Silva was absolutely killing dudes then), but the Japanese fighter really took it to the Brazilian, and at one point even picked Silva up and dumped him onto the canvas. Yoshida lost the split decision that night, but man was it a fun ride.
Dong Hyun Kim – As South Korean judo black belts go, the “Stun Gun” has carved a solid niche for himself in the UFC, and that’s due in no small part to his tachiwaza skills, which have enabled him to control the likes of Amir Sadollah and Nate Diaz on the feet and throw them to the ground.