15 Judo Black Belts Who Have Done Well In MMA

MMA Judo Black Belts

Judo is probably not the first martial art that comes to mind when you think about MMA. That said, you might be surprised to find out how many great MMA fighters have a black belt in judo.

Some of these judokas have even been MMA world champions and are arguably some of the greatest fighters of all time.

Of course, many of these fighters also have backgrounds in many other martial arts as well. That said, I do believe that judo is an underestimated martial art in the world of MMA.

The fighters on this list have proven that judo can be very effective in MMA. So without further ado, let’s look at my list of 15 judo black belts that have done well in mixed martial arts.

#1 Ronda Rousey

The first person that we have to mention is none other than Ronda Rousey. Not only is she one of the biggest MMA stars of all time, but she was also a judo star before that.

Though everyone on this list is a judo black belt, Ronda relied heavily on her judo skills to defeat her opponents. She proved to the world that judo is a martial art that belongs in the octagon.

Ronda Rousey began training in judo at only 11 years of age. She quickly became one of the best judokas in the world winning a gold medal in the 2007 pan American games.

In 2008 she became the first American woman to win a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics. After the Olympics, Ronda retired from judo and set her eyes on MMA. She made her MMA debut by defeating Hayden Munoz by armbar only 23 seconds into the fight.

She would then go on to fight for the Strikeforce bantamweight championship against Meisha Tate. Ronda defeated Meisha via armbar in the first round.

She then became the first female fighter to sign a contract with the UFC. Ronda was the first-ever UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She would then go on a winning spree showcasing her judo skills until eventually losing her first fight to Holly Holms at UFC 193.

Ronda was instrumental in not only bringing light to judo in the UFC but also to women’s mixed martial arts. Without Ronda, I am not sure that women’s MMA would be as popular as it is today. Love her or hate her, you cannot deny her impact on MMA.

#2 Khabib Nurmagomedov

In my opinion, nobody utilizes thier grappling skills in MMA as well as Khabib Nurmagomedov. Because of this, he might be the greatest MMA fighter on my list. He retired as the UFC lightweight champion with a perfect record.

Khabib has a background in a few grappling arts including wrestling, sambo, and of course judo. Khabib found an interest in the grappling arts at a very young age. He was taught by his father who was also a wrestler and judoka.

His father was the senior coach for the combat sambo national team in the Republic of Dagestan. Sambo is a Soviet martial art that was founded by Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov. Vasili learned judo directly from the founder of judo Jigo Kano. So naturally, much of Russian sambo was adapted from judo.

As a teenager Khabibs father wanted him to compete in judo. So he began to train in judo at the age of 15 and is now a black belt. With his knowledge in wrestling, sambo, and judo, Khabib is certainly a very well-rounded grappler.

In 2008 Khabib made his professional debut in MMA. He quickly moved up in the ranks and later signed with the UFC. Though many of Khabibs takedowns are based on wrestling, you will often find him utilizing his judo skills in the octagon.

#3 Karo Parisian

Besides Ronda Rousey, the first judoka people often think about in MMA is Karo Parisian. Like Ronda, Kara would rely very heavily on his judo skills to win his fights in MMA. He and his family migrated to the United States from Armenia when he was 6 years old.

At 9 years old he began training in judo under the well-known Armenian American judoka Gokor Chivichyan. Just a year or so later he also began training under the famous Judo Gene LeBell. Karo’s dream was to compete in the Olympics.

He competed in the Olympic judo trials, during which he got a call from UFC and was invited to come and compete. In need of money, he accepted the invitation and began his MMA career. Karo had a great career defeating big names such as Nick Diaz and Matt Serra.

In addition, he even gave George St-Pierre a challenging fight but ultimately lost via decision. Karo has done about as much as anybody to prove that judo can be an effective martial art in MMA. Check out this video demonstrating Karo’s judo throws in MMA.

#4 Fedor Emelianenko

The only fighter on this list that might give Khabib a run for the greatest MMA fighter on my list is none other than Fedor Emelianenko. If you are a newer or younger fan of MMA you might not be as familiar with Fedor Emelianenko as some of us older MMA fans are.

That said, at one time Fedor Emelianenko was the best heavyweight MMA fighter in the world. Many would even consider him to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time.

He was a very unassuming person who often looked small compared to many of his much larger opponents. But his skills were on another level and he would somehow always come out on top.

Fedor is a black belt in judo as well as a master in sambo. If you watch Fedor’s fights you will see that he utilizes judo quite often in MMA.

In addition, Fedor was also a very successful judo competitor. He did well in many high-level judo tournaments in his home country of Russia.

#5 Fabrício Werdum

Fabricio Werdum is another awesome judo black belt who was a UFC champion. He was the one to finally put an end to Fedor’s nearly 10-year winning streak. In addition to being a judo black belt, Fabricio is also a very highly decorated BJJ black belt as well.

He is a four-time BJJ world champion and a former UFC heavyweight champion. That said, Fabricio is a well-rounded and skilled grappler and mixed martial artist.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention he is also a two-time ADCC submission wrestling gold medalist as well. With all of these accomplishments, I might have to consider Fabricio the best grappler on this list.

#6 Hector Lombard

Hector Lombard is a 4th-dan black belt in judo. He is without a doubt one of the best judokas on this list. He has won gold medals in national and international judo tournaments. After his successful judo career, Hector became a successful mixed martial artist.

Hector was the first-ever Bellator middleweight champion. He did very well in MMA defeating some big names including Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt.

He is a great example of a fighter who was able to utilize judo in MMA. Check out this video of Hector successfully using judo on Jake Shields who is himself a world-class grappler.

#7 Vitor Belfort

Another Judo black belt that makes the list is none other than Vitor Belfort. Vitor began his martial arts journey with judo at just 9 years old. In addition to judo, Vitor is also a black belt in BJJ under Carlson Gracie.

Vitor had a very successful MMA career winning the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament championship and also becoming the UFC light heavyweight champion. He has been fighting for so long that he fought in the UFC back in 1997 when it was still a multi-fight tournament.

#8 Yoshihiro Akiyama

Yoshihiro Akiyama is a judoka and mixed martial artist from Japan. He began training in judo at just three years old. He is a 3rd dan black belt in judo and has won many high-level judo competitions. In 2001 he won the Asian Judo championships as well as a gold medal in the 2002  Asian Games.

In addition, he was the 2003 All-Japan Judo Champion. He would then go on to have a very successful MMA career. He would successfully use judo both offensively and defensively to win his MMA fights.

#9 Don Frye

Now for my favorite fighter of all time, Don The Predator Frye. He was one of the most exciting fighters to ever step into the cage.

Don Frye was always there to put up a fight. If you don’t believe me check out his fight with Yoshihiro Takayama.

Don Frye is a 2nd dan judo black belt as well as an all-around great martial artist. Don Frye was one of the first MMA fighters who had a background in multiple martial arts. He was the UFC 8 tournament winner and is a UFC Hall Of Famer.

#10 Dan Severn

Dan Severn was the first world-class wrestler to fight in the UFC. He is also a 5th-degree black belt in judo. Dan Severn was also friends with Don Frye and perhaps even the one to convince him to grow an amazing mustache.

Dan Severn is also a UFC Hall of Famer as well as a trainer and mentor of some great MMA legends including Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson. Dan is an all-around great fighter and legendary grappler.

#11 Rick Hawn

Rick Hawn is another great judo black belt who has done well in MMA. He began training in judo at the age of 12. After he graduated high school Rick was invited to live at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs.

He would train there for another 8 years at which point he qualified for the 2004 Olympic games where he would finish 9th place. After failing to make the 2008 Olympic team he would set his eyes on the world of MMA.

He had a very successful MMA career fighting mostly in Bellator. He had notable wins over notable MMA fighters including fellow judoka Karo Parisian. Check out Rick Hawn executing some world-class judo in MMA.

#12 Dong Hyun Kim

Dong Hyun Kim is a 4th-dan black belt in judo. At 14 years old Dong Hyun Kim began training in judo in South Korea. He would then begin to cross-train in other martial arts as well including Hapkido and Taekwondo.

He then began to train in judo at the Yong In University. Don Hyun Kim would go on to have a very successful career in MMA. He had notable wins over some big names including Nate Diaz and Matt Brown.

#13 Kayla Harrison

Kayla Harrison is certainly the most decorated judoka on this list. She is the first American in history to win an Olympic Gold Medal in judo at the 2012 Olympics. She would even go on to win another Olympic Gold Medal in 2016.

She also has many other medals including a gold medal at the World Judo Championships. She is the most accomplished judoka on this list when it comes to her judo career. The only reason she is not higher on the list is that she is still relatively new to MMA.

That said, she is currently undefeated with seven fights under her belt. With some time I do believe that she will continue to excel in MMA.

#14 Daniel Thomas Kelly

Dan Kelly is a 4th dan black belt in judo and an accomplished mixed martial artist. He began competing in judo when he was only 7 years old. He would then go on to become the 9-time Australian Judo champion.

He is the only judoka to be selected to compete for Australia in four different Olympic games. His last Olympic competition was in the 2012 Olympics.  After this, he would then go on to become the Australian judo coach for the 2016 Olympic games.

Dan Kelly also had a very successful MMA career. In fact, after his first MMA fight, he took off six years to focus on his judo career. He would then return in 2012 and did very well in MMA defeating well-known opponents such as Rashad Evans.

#15 Antonio ( Bigfoot ) Silva

The last judo black belt on this list is none other than Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. At 6’4 and 285 pounds, Antonio is a force to be reckoned with. Antonio began training in martial arts at just 4 years old and would receive his black belt in karate at just 12 years old.

Antonio would then transition from karate to judo and BJJ when he was 17 years old. He holds black belts in both judo and BJJ.

Antonio would go on to do very well in MMA. Defeating notable opponents such as Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, and Travis Browne.

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