The 5 Best Judo Fighters in UFC History to Rock the Octagon

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judo fighters in ufc

They’re powerful, they’re swift, and they’ve mastered the art of Judo.

Meet the Judo fighters who’ve made their mark in the UFC.

From Ronda Rousey’s deadly armbar to Karo Parisyan’s judo throw, these athletes aren’t just fighters, they’re artists in the ring.

They’ve proven that Judo isn’t just a martial art but can be part of a winning strategy.

So, get ready to delve into the world of Judo fighters in UFC.

What is Judo?

Judo originated in Japan in the late 19th century and is a martial art that focuses primarily on throws and takedowns to subdue opponents.

Created by Jigoro Kano, it emphasizes “maximum efficiency, minimum effort” and advocates values that include mutual welfare and respect.

In competition, the objective of Judo is to throw the opponent to the ground, immobilize or subdue them with a grappling maneuver. Or to force an opponent to submit through joint-locking or stranglehold techniques.

The sport is known for its moral code, which instills values such as respect, humility, and discipline.

Because it is a martial art that is grounded in grappling, its foundational principles have made it a popular base for many MMA fighters, enriching their combat skills with effective takedown and ground techniques.

Who Are The Best Judo Fighters in UFC History?

Here are some fighters with Judo backgrounds who have found some significant success inside the UFC octagon!

Ronda Rousey

Perhaps the biggest Judo fighters in UFC history also happens to be one of the most influential women fighters in combat sports history.

We are referring, of course, to Ronda Rousey.

Ronda Rousey started judo training at age 11 and, by 17, was qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

And while she did not win a medal in those Olympic games, that same year, she won gold at the 2004 World Judo Juniors Championships.

In 2006, she then won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships.

This was quickly followed by a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games and a silver at the World Judo Championships.

Rousey then made history as the first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo when she won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Following these successes, Rousey decided to transition to the MMA, proving that a judo background could be a unique advantage.

Ronda Rousey’s UFC career began in 2012 after already making a name for herself in Strikeforce, where she was the Women’s Bantamweight Champion.

In UFC, she continued to dominate, becoming the first woman to sign with the organization and, subsequently, the first Women’s Bantamweight Champion in UFC history.

Rousey defended her title six times, with most of her wins coming from armbar submission within the first round.

Her notable victories included wins against Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate, and Bethe Correia.

In 2015, Rousey suffered her first defeat at the hands of Holly Holm. She attempted a comeback the following year but was defeated again by Amanda Nunes.

Following this, Rousey took a hiatus from UFC and later transitioned to a career in professional wrestling with WWE.

Rousey is one of the biggest and most influential female fighters to ever compete in the UFC and, of course, one of the most famous Judo fighters in UFC history.

Karo Parisyan

Karo Parisyan is another UFC fighter who stands out for his judo expertise.

And he’s not just a fighter but also an author on the subject.

This Armenian-born martial artist started training in judo at the tender age of nine, later becoming a six-time junior national Champion in judo.

Parisyan’s judo skills aren’t limited to competitions; he also incorporated them into his MMA fighting style, demonstrating a unique blend of judo, Sambo, and wrestling techniques.

Parisyan made his UFC debut in 2003, leaving a significant mark on the sport.

He’s had victories over celebrated fighters like Nick Diaz and Matt Serra. Interestingly, his fight against Georges St-Pierre was a remarkable one, being the first time St-Pierre had to go the distance.

However, his career hasn’t been without controversies, having faced suspensions for testing positive for banned painkillers.

Parisyan has continued to fight in independent promotions and returned to Bellator for several bouts.

Parisyan’s contribution to MMA extends beyond the ring; he’s authored a book, ‘Judo for Mixed Martial Arts: Advanced Throws, Takedowns, and Ground Fighting Techniques,’ further cementing his status as an authority in the field of judo.

Yoshihiro Akiyama

Yoshihiro Akiyama, also known as Choo Sung-hoon, is another fighter who is considered one of the most successful judo fighters in UFC history.

Born into a family of Korean descent in Japan in 1975, Akiyama started training in judo at the age of three and was already a successful competitor by the time he had reached his teens and twenties.

He represented South Korea at the 2001 Asian Judo Championships and won the gold medal in the under 81 kg division.

The following year, he switched to Japan and won another gold medal at the 2002 Asian Games in the same weight class.

He then participated in the 2003 World Judo Championships.

Following these successes, Akiyama made his transition to mixed martial arts in 2004, quickly showing his versatility and talent.

He won the K-1 HERO’s Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament in 2006 with wins coming from both grappling as well as brutal strikes, showing his versatility beyond judo in the ring.

Akiyama then joined the UFC in 2009 and made his debut at UFC 100 against Alan Belcher, winning by split decision.

Akiyama then went on to earn three Fight of the Night bonuses for his bouts with Chris Leben, Michael Bisping, and Jake Shields.

While he earned fight of the night bonuses for these fights, it is worth mentioning that he also lost all of these fights by submission or decision.

He moved down to welterweight in 2012 and defeated Amir Sadollah by unanimous decision. His last UFC fight was in 2015, which he lost by split decision to Alberto Mina.

In 2019, Akiyama signed with ONE Championship making a professional comeback after four years of inactivity, showing that he still has power and skill in his mid 40’s.

Dong Hyun Kim

Dong Hyun Kim is another judoka who rocked the octagon with the noble art. Born in South Korean, Kim is known for having fought in the UFC’s welterweight division.

Born in South Korea in 1981, Kim started training in judo when he was 14 years old, eventually becoming a 4th dan black belt.

He also trained in taekwondo, hapkido, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and sambo. He competed in sambo tournaments in Japan before joining the UFC.

Kim made his UFC debut in at UFC 84 in 2007, becoming the first Korean to win in the octagon. He then captured a split decision over Matt Brown at UFC 88, despite not having a coach in his corner due to visa problems.

Kim’s third fight was against fellow Judoka Karo Parisyan at UFC 94, which he initially lost, but the decision was overturned after Parisyan tested positive for banned substances.

All told, he fought in MMA for almost a decade, amassing a record of 22 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw and 1 no contest.

Apart from his grappling skills, he garnered attention for his striking power and durability.

Kim retired from MMA in 2017 after suffering a knockout loss to Colby Covington.

He is now a regular cast member in various Korean TV shows and teaches self-defense classes to celebrities as well as to students at Tiger MMA and Muay Thai in Phuket.

Valentina Shevchenko

Valentina Shevchenko is truly a global citizen – born in Kyrgyzstani, of Russian ethnicity, and now a Peruvian citizen.

Born to a sport-loving family, she initially made her mark in martial arts in kickboxing and Muay Thai before venturing into the world of MMA fighting.

But while she known for her background in muay thai and kickboxing, Shevchenko has a black belt in Judo and has showcased her skills through take-downs, armbar submissions and rear-naked choke submission of top contenders in MMA.

Shevchenko made her UFC debut as a last-minute replacement against Sarah Kaufman and won the fight via split decision.

However, in her second fight against Amanda Nunes, she lost by unanimous decision despite a strong performance in the third round.

Shevchenko then faced Holly Holm and Julianna Peña, winning both matches, the latter earning her the Performance of the Night bonus.

A rematch against Nunes was scheduled in 2017, but was postponed due to Nunes falling ill. The rematch took place later that year, but Shevchenko lost in a split decision.

She then revealed plans to join the 125-pound flyweight division and won her first fight against Priscila Cachoeira.

In 2018, Shevchenko was announced to fight for the vacant Women’s Flyweight Championship. She faced Joanna Jędrzejczyk and won the title by unanimous decision.

Shevchenko then successfully defended her title against Jessica Eye, winning via a head kick knockout in the second round, earning her the Performance of the Night award.

Shevchenko continued to defend her title until 2023, losing to Alexa Grasso via a face crank in the fourth round. A rematch was scheduled later that year but ended in a controversial split draw, with Grasso retaining the title.

How Does Judo Help in Mixed Martial Arts?

While judo is considered a traditional martial art, it emphasizes key fundamentals that help fighters in mixed martial arts.

a judo practicioner.

These include:

  1. Throws and Takedowns: Judo is highly regarded for its effective throws and takedowns. These techniques are useful in mixed martial arts (MMA) as they allow a fighter to control where the fight takes place – standing or on the ground.
  2. Groundwork: Although Judo is known for its stand-up techniques, it also includes a range of groundwork methods, including pins, chokes, and joint locks. These can be very useful in MMA matches, particularly when fighters are on the ground.
  3. Balance and Control: Judo teaches principles of balance, leverage, and control, which can greatly improve overall fighting ability in MMA. A good judoka knows how to use an opponent’s strength and balance against them.
  4. Physical Conditioning: The rigorous training involved in Judo can significantly improve a fighter’s strength, stamina, agility, and coordination – all of which are critical in MMA.
  5. Defense: The defensive techniques taught in Judo, such as breakfalls, can help MMA fighters protect themselves from takedowns and throws.
  6. Clinch Work: Judo teaches fighters how to control opponents in the clinch, a common scenario in MMA. This includes understanding how to use underhooks, overhooks, and grip fighting to gain dominant position.

So it’s no surprise judokas have been able to excel in the UFC.

Concluding On Great Judo Fighters In The UFC

In conclusion, judo fighters have indeed made their mark in the UFC. Standouts like Ronda Rousey, Karo Parisyan, and Yoshihiro Akiyama have showcased their skills on the world stage.

Judo brings a distinct skill set and level of discipline that has elevated the competition.

The success of the fighters we’ve talked about not only highlights the importance of Judo in mixed martial arts.

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We're a team of fight fans and martial arts practitioners. Many of us have been involved in martial arts our entire lives.