MMA and You

Joe Lewis: MMA’s Missing Link

According to Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 1960s Kung Fu superstar Bruce Lee is the “philosophical” father of mixed martial arts. Lee spearheaded the concept of mixing martial arts to create an individual fighting style. Lee’s method of Jeet Kune Do emphasized realistic training methods that focused on hard contact sparring. Certainly Lee could be considered the grandfather of the new sport of MMA except for one thing: Bruce Lee never competed. In fact Lee was totally opposed to competition. So how can we bridge the obvious gap between the street effective Jeet Kune Do and the sport focused MMA?

Among the best known and most successful students of Bruce Lee was Joe Lewis, the man voted by his peers as “The Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time”. By the late 1960s, Lewis had become fed up with point Karate tournaments. According to Lewis, “They called point tournaments fighting but how can you fight without contact? I’ve worked on my midsection all my life so I could take a punch or kick. Then I go to a tournament and my opponent might be 150 pounds but if he hits me in the midsection he gets a point for a killing blow. That’s nonsense.” In January 1970 Lewis put it all on the line in this country’s first no holds barred freestyle fighting exhibition.

After working with Bruce Lee for almost two years, Lewis had begun to totally adapt Lee’s philosophy of using no style. By the end of 1969, Lewis had created his own fighting method he called “Joe Lewis Self-Defense Systems (JLSDS)”.  Lewis bargained with promoters to set up JLSDS full contact tournaments but at the time promoters thought a fighter could die if hit full power by a Karate technique. When recruited to fight on a world championship point tournament team with Chuck Norris and Mike Stone, Lewis agreed only if the promoter would allow him to fight a full contact exhibition using his JLSDS method.

With plans for a contest in the works, Lewis still needed to find an opponent. But who would agree to fight the muscular ex-marine and current world heavyweight Karate champion in a no-holds-barred fight to the knockout?  One man stood ready for the challenge. His name was Greg Baines and he was the current California state heavyweight champion. The promoter informed Lewis that he needed to provide some type of padding for the hands. Lewis bought two pairs of boxing gloves. He had been a member of a local boxing club for a while and was familiar with the use of boxing equipment.
The night of the event Lewis and Baines suited up in their boxing gloves, sneakers and Karate pants. The rules included no groin strikes, no eye strikes and since they wore shoes for protection they agreed not to kick to the head. In the first UFC fight in the fall of 1993 the fighters used almost the identical rules. Although Lewis had intended to begin a new sport called Joe Lewis Self-Defense Systems, the ringside announcer saw that the fighters were bare-chested and wore boxing gloves and spontaneously announced that, this would be a kickboxing match between Joe Lewis and Greg Baines. The fight lasted just two rounds with Lewis winning by the knockout. Lewis is indeed the missing-link needed to bridge Bruce Lee and MMA.

Between 1970 and 1971, Joe Lewis defended his “kickboxing” heavyweight championship ten times. Each title defense ended in a knockout. When the sport of full-contact Karate was introduced in the fall of 1974, Lewis again became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. By the late 1970s, Lewis had starred in two full length feature films and appeared in a variety of television projects. Perhaps it was the 1980s in which Joe Lewis found his true calling. With close to 200 seminar appearances per year, Lewis became the undisputed king of seminar instruction. It was in 1983 that he was voted by his peers as “The Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time.”

Few could match the stellar career of Joe Lewis. He has been an inspiration to many generations of martial artists. He is just as popular in Europe and the Middle East as he is in America. As I write this, my longtime friend and mentor Joe Lewis is in the final rounds of the fight of his life. In July 2011 Joe underwent an operation for terminal brain cancer. He could use your prayers.
OCT. 04. 2011. TaeKwonDoTimes.