15 Best Judo Fighters/Judokas in UFC History

In one of our articles, you can see a detailed explanation of the functionality of Judo. We have yet to talk about its quality application in mixed martial arts that can be adapted for use in the cage. Judo is a practical and solid background that will provide physical strength, better balance, and tighter control of your opponent. The supreme fighters who practice it will best tell you about its quality. You’d be surprised to know that there are only so many purebred judokas in the UFC, but we’ve done our best to find the right ones for you.

*Aggregated scores refer to UFC only*

Ronda Rousey (12-2) 

We will give the first place to the only female person on this list who is also one of the most famous female faces in martial arts. Ronda Jean Rousey was born in 1987 in Riverside, California, U.S., and she is a 6th dan black belt in Judo.

Before her MMA career, this Judoka was crowned with several gold medals in Judo competitions, and she started competing at 11. Rowdy won the gold medal at the 2004 World Juniors Championships. At the Pan American Championships, she managed to win two gold medals.

She won a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games, and her brightest success was a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Ronda had one of the most effective applications of Judo in MMA, as her game plan consisted of judo throws and armbar submissions with a high percentage of success.

That’s exactly how she won her three amateur MMA matches and managed to carry over the same streak when she turned to professionals, where she defeated 9 out of 14 of her opponents in this way and thus ascended to the throne in the women’s division of the world’s most prestigious organization and became the first crowned woman.

Karo Parisyan (9-4-1NC)

Karapet “Karo” Parisyan was also a highly decorated Judoka. Parisyan was born in 1982 in Yerevan, Armenian SSR. After immigrating to America as a very young child with his parents, Karo had to find an outlet due to his excess energy, and that’s how he found Judo when he was ten years old.

Parisyan is a four-time gold winner at the International Judo Champion as a representative of Armenia, and, after immigrating and taking the American flag as his national team, he won the National Championship six times and one silver at the Pan American Judo Competition.

Karo is trained in the Hayastan Grappling System, which combines Judo, Sambo, and three different types of wrestling. This successful grappler is a black belt in Judo, Hayastan wrestling, and even Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where he was once a national champion.

Parisyan successfully transferred his practice to MMA, competing on high world stages and becoming the WEC welterweight champion. Specializing in throws and kimura submissions, Karo measured his strength at the UFC against sports giants like Nick Diaz, Diego Sanchez, Matt Serra, and even against the legendary GSP, with whom he went the distance but failed to reach the UFC belt.

Dong Hyun Kim (13-4-1NC)

It’s rare to see fighters in the UFC that come from Asia, and the ones that make it to that station, you know, are an actual talent. One of them is Dong Hyun Kim, born Kim Bong in 1981 in Suwon, South Korea. He started collecting his grappling experiences at the age of 14 when he started Judo.

Because of his love for striking, he also trained in taekwondo and hapkido simultaneously. Thanks to his commitment, he has a 4th dan black belt in Judo, 3rd dan black belt in taekwondo, 1st dan black belt in hapkido, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Notably, he was the bronze winner at the Judo Victorian Open Championships Melbourne in 1994 and 2013 ADCC Korea 1st place. In the dense UFC competition, he managed to defeat Nate Diaz, and it should be taken into account that regardless of the defeats, he went out against first-class welterweight fighters such as Carlos Condit, Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley, and Colby Covington.

Valentina Shevchenko (12-3)

One thing old and new UFC fans will agree on is that Valentina is a top-notch fighting force in all segments of the game. Valentina Anatolievna Shevchenko, known by the justified name “Bullet,” was born in 1988 in Frunze, Kirghiz SSR, Soviet Union.

It was quite expected that someone this successful would start practicing martial arts at 5 years of age. In addition to being highly ranked in four separate striking sports with the Master of Sports achievement, Valentina is also a black belt in Judo, which could be concluded from her phenomenal Judo takedowns.

In addition to her numerous gold medals and world championships in striking sports, Shevchenko was the 2002 Kyrgyzstan National Champion in Judo. When you enter the cage with Valentina, no one guarantees you whether you will be knocked out or submitted, and she had her fame even before competing in MMA.

After all her trophies, medals, and achievements, she came to the UFC, where she completely shined. The best of all is that after all the years of competition, she continues to shine at the top.

Hector Lombard (3-8-2NC)

“Lightning” is, for sure, one of the better judokas whose luck was not served in the UFC cage. Héctor Miguel Lombard Pedrosa was born in 1978 in Matanzas, Cuba and he is a 4th Dan Judo black belt. At the International Judo Federation competitions from 1998 to 2002, he won three gold, three silver, and two bronze medals.

As for the national competitions in Cuba, which he represented, from 1997 to 2001, he won four golds, one silver, and a bronze. He also won the 2005 Australian Open in two categories under the Australian flag.

It’s a real shame that such a prospect couldn’t win fights for his place in the world’s largest fighting organization, sharing the cage with names others can only dream of, such as Anthony Smith, Johny Hendricks, Dan Henderson, Niel Magny, and Jake Shields.

Regardless of the defeats, this martial arts veteran has much to be proud of and deserves respect from true fight fans and fellow fighters at the highest level. With all the successes, Hector is still an active warrior who has been through many big martial arts organizations.

Manny Gamburyan (6-8-1NC)

Award-winning Judoka and retired MMA fighter for 8 years, Manny Gamburyan was born in 1981 in Leninakan, Armenian SSR, Soviet Union, and is a relative of Karo Petrosyan. Like his cousin, he immigrated to the US, where he started practicing Judo and has a 2nd-day black belt.

Gamburyan won the judo national competition eight times as a junior and once at the Junior Olympics. Manny fought twice for third place in the national competition as a senior. “The Anvil” also specializes in the Hayastan Grappling System and is one of the main trainers of the Judoka mentioned above and former UFC champion Ronda, which gives us a clue as to why everyone at Gokor Chivichyan and Gene LeBell’s Hayastan MMA Academy has top-notch judo performance in the Octagon.

Growing up, Manny had wished to be the best in the world. Although he could not fulfill that dream, his many won competitions and over 25 MMA matches will remind him that he was not the best in the world but a great warrior.   

Yoshihiro Akiyama (2-5)

“Sexyama” was born in 1975 in Osaka, Japan, and is one of the most famous Japanese figures in the martial arts world. He is a complete fighter experienced in all aspects of martial arts, and Judoka since the age of three, where he has a 3rd dan black belt. In 2001, he won the Ulaanbaatar Asian Judo Championship.

2002, he won gold in the Asian Games, performing for Japan and South Korea. He also won the Japan and Paris International Judo Tournaments. Due to his appearance and self-confidence, he is a well-known personality on television. However, this “celebrity” is not only good-looking, as Akiyama is experienced in throws and submissions.

He is someone who has good enough hands to knock you out. Yoshihiro is another successful judoka in a row who failed to shine on the UFC scene. Still, in his defense, we will mention the fighters he faced: Chris Leben, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort, and Jake Shields.

However, he had his success before the UFC and after that in the One organization, where he still actively competes and continues to be the main face on the cover.   

Daniel Kelly (6-4)

Daniel Thomas Kelly is a former Australian MMA fighter and Judoka, born in 1977 in Melbourne, Australia. He dedicated himself to Judo when he was seven years old. At the age of 14, he began to compete actively and secured his place in the junior national team.

Dan, known as Dad Bod Cattera,l is a 4th Dan judo black belt. During judo competitions, he was extremely active. He was continental champion seven times, once continental as a junior, and won national tournaments 12 times. He also won the national championship twice as a junior and eight times as a senior.

In addition to these main achievements, Daniel has behind him a handful of silver and bronze medals from the same competitions, and he was also a Judo coach for the Olympics in Rio 2016. Considering his score, and especially the competition, Kelly wasn’t that bad in the UFC.

Still, the Ultimate Fighter participant couldn’t reach his full glory, so after his three last losses from the UFC, he transferred himself straight into retirement.

Jim Wallhead (0-2)

Jim Wallhead was born in 1984 in Leicestershire, England, and is also known by the nickname “Judo” because, you won’t believe it, he comes from a judo background where he holds a black belt. Jimmy was a successful judoka at a very young age and won the British Championship three times, twice as a junior and once as a cadet, and placed seventh at the European Youth Olympics.

He is a veteran of MMA with over 50 matches. He has fought in various organizations such as Bellator, KSW, M-1, Cage Warriors, and other lesser-known organizations. However, he could not prove himself in the UFC and stayed there for a very short time.

Given his grappling background, Wallhead had power in his hands that allowed him 13 knockouts and 10 submissions. We are talking about a man with a long career who has been through everything and anything.

Jimmy may not be crowned world champion, but he will have many stories to tell his children, grandchildren, and fans. Regardless of his age and with all his efforts so far, Wallhead continues to be an active MMA fighter.

Kazuhiro Nakamura (0-2)

In addition to Sexyama, we have another judoka from Japan with extensive experience in MMA, who was born in 1979 in Fukuyama, Hiroshima, Japan. King Kaz started his story as a judoka when he was ten years old, and he has a 3rd-dan black belt.

As a senior, he practiced Judo professionally, and won two bronze medals at the national championships and one silver and one gold medal at intercontinental-level competitions. After his judo career, Kazumiro devoted himself to MMA.

He found relatively good success in PRIDE FC, Sengoku, and Deep martial arts organizations, fighting worldwide and carrying the Japanese flag with him. Unfortunately, he could not show himself at the UFC. In his first fight, he was met by none other than the legendary Lyoto Machida.

Nakamura behind him has high-profile matches that he can boast of, with high-quality fighters such as Nogueira, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett, and Mauricio Rua. The brave Kazumiro never turned down a fight and said goodbye to the fighting sport in 2014 after 11 years of professional competition.

Christophe Leininger (0-2)

Christophe Leininger was born in 1959 in Scottsdale, Arizona, United States, in a family where his brother and father were also successful judokas. Leininger is a 4th Dan black belt in Judo who has two gold medals from the national championship as a senior, four silver, and even 11 bronze medals.

He was also the winner of the national tournament once, where he took silver twice and one bronze medal. Chris also participated in the continental championships, where he could not fight for first place. Still, he is the owner of silver and bronze medals.

Christophe is one of the oldest and primal participants in the UFC who made his professional debut in the third UFC event against the famous Ken Shamrock back in 1994, where he performed in his judogi. Although he specialized in submissions, where all his victories come from, Christophe returned to the UFC cage three years later.

Still, again, his opponent was better than him. His career in mixed martial arts was short, lasting from 1994 until his retirement in 2001, and no matter how hard he tried, Chris just couldn’t get the taste of the championship gold.

Remco Pardoel (3-2)

Remco Pardoel was born in 1969 in Oss, Netherlands, and is a black belt holder in Taekwondo, Jujutsu, 4th dan BJJ, and 1st dan in Judo who started training when he was four years old. In 1988, he won the junior national championship.

Also, as a junior, he won one silver medal from that championship and two silver medals as a senior. He once fought for third place in an international tournament. This highly decorated grappler competed in submission grappling as well.

Remco can be counted among the oldest participants in the UFC who performed at their second event in 1994 when they fought multiple times in one night. Remco managed to secure two wins and one loss that night. In 1995, he returned to the notorious Octagon, where he won one and lost one.

Grizzly managed to secure six submissions out of nine wins. In addition to participating in UFC competitions, he fought in as many as ten organizations, looking for his moment of glory. Finally, after the defeat in 2003, he retired from martial arts.

Rameau Sokoudjou (1-2)

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou Nkamhoua was born in 1984 in Hom’la, Cameroon and made sure that Africa also had its judoka. He had his first contact with martial arts at five years of age when he first tried Judo, from which he has a 2nd dan black belt.

He won the Cameroon Junior National Championship three times, from 1997 to 1999, after which he moved to the US to pursue his judo career. After moving, Rameau won the bronze medal at the international tournament US Open Las Vegas in 2003 and competed in numerous grappling competitions where he achieved satisfactory results.

Another judoka in a row who failed to see his light in the UFC, where he was welcomed by Lyoto Machida in his debut. Sokoudjou is an MMA veteran who, besides the UFC, has fought in many organizations such as Bellator, KSW, PRIDE, M-1, and other lesser-known organizations. What is most interesting about him is that this grappler was a decorated striker who knocked out 13 of his opponents out of 19 wins.

Abdul Razak Alhassan (6-5)

Abdul Razak Alhassan was born in 1985 in Accra, Ghana, and is currently an active fighter on the UFC roster. Known by the nickname Judo Thunder, he practiced Judo for 22 years before finally reaching his black belt and transitioning to MMA.

In international tournaments, he took the bronze medal twice. Still, this Judoka is someone who has enormous power in his hands. In his 12 wins, he has knocked out all of his opponents. Unlike the others on this list, he is still fighting for his place in the world’s biggest martial arts organization, where he has been fighting since 2016.

He was awarded three times for the night performance and fought with better-known UFC fighters, such as Joaquin Buckley, Alessio Di Chirico, and Niko Price. Despite his colorful fight score, he showed that a series of several defeats in a row cannot slow him down and that he is a dangerous opponent for anyone waiting for him on the other side of the Octagon.

In October 2023, he has a scheduled fight against Joseph Pyfer in Apex, Las Vegas, where he will probably try to knock out this opponent as well.

Michael Kuiper (1-3)

The last name on our list is Michael Jan Hugo Kuiper, born in 1989 in Riel, Netherlands. Michael is a black belt-ranked judoka who, as a junior, won third place at the European Cup and second place at the International Tournament.

He was also a silver medalist twice at the National Championships as a junior. He won a gold and a bronze medal at the same competition as a cadet. Michael arrived in the UFC with an enviable winning streak of 11 victories but still couldn’t find his success there.

Looking at his overall record of 15 wins and six losses, we can see that he did not have such a failed career. With 15 defeated opponents, Kuiper knocked out nine and finished five by submission, mostly in the first and second rounds.

It is important to note that besides the UFC, he also fought for TITAN FC, CFC, and other smaller organizations. He was an active competitor in MMA from 2009 until his retirement in 2018, when he left after a defeat.

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Gregori Povolotski

I have been practicing martial arts since 2007. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a huge passion for combat sports, especially Muay Thai and boxing. Helping people on their martial arts journey is what drives me to keep training and learn new things. Read More About Me

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