Kyokushin Karate blossomed in an isolated environment. Deep in the back-country of 1950's Japan, a select few, trained by the Bull Killer, Mas Oyama, (That handsome devil in the above picture) went on to establish knock-down rules Karate as one of the most hard-hitting, brutal, and intense forms of organized combat in the world.
Kazuyoshi Ishii, the founder of K-1 and mastermind behind the Seidokaikan offshoot of Kyokushin, brought kickboxing to the masses in 1993 to demonstrate the power of Karate to the stand-up striking community. Most people know the big dogs of Kyokushin from K-1: Andy Hug, Francisco Filho, Glaube Feitosa, and Sam Greco. But beneath the layer of kickboxers lies a rich tapestry of combat sports athletes whose names nor accomplishments often see the light of day.
For this reason I've put together my very subjective list of the "Top 20 Greatest Kyokushin Fighters of All-Time". There will definitely be some names that devout kickboxing fans will recognize on this list, but more than likely I'll be introducing the majority of you to some new faces (or at least, that's my hope). As I mentioned earlier, this list is purely subjective. I selected the fighters mainly on achievement, but also on quality of competition and technical skill. Ranking Kyokushin fighters is dificult because the weight of their accomplishments depends on what tournaments they participated in, how frequently they did so, and how far they advanced.
If you're a Karate die-hard and you feel I missed someone very near and dear to your heart, drop me a line at @SandersonSensei and I'll take a look, just for you. Aren't I great? (The answer is yes.) Or if my list sucks, feel free to make your own and wave it in my face. We're all friends here, after all.
A little information on the different types of tournaments before we begin: A World Tournament includes every weight class. There are no divisions and no upper weight limit. Any Weight Tournament splits fighters into one of three weights: Lightweight (Under 70 kg) Middleweight (70 kg to 80 kg) and Heavyweight (Over 90 kg). That's it. Pretty simple, right?
So without further ado, let's get started with Number 20 on our list....
#20: Gary O'Neill
6th World Tournament 1995- 4th, 1st World Weight Tournament 1997- 5th, 2nd World Weight Tournament 2001- 5th, 28th All Japan Tournament 1997- 2nd, 29th All Japan Tournament 1998- 2nd
While Sam Greco may be the most widely recognized Australian Kyokushin champion from his stint in K-1, Gary O'Neill is undoubtedly the man with the greatest accomplishments. A 75 kg fighter that competed and won against heavyweights, O'Neill was known as one of the most technical fighters of his day. While his World Tournament rankings may not look like much, you should probably keep in mind that in the 6th incarnation of the World Tournament (When O'Neill placed 4th) there were over 150 fighters competing from every weight class, including heavyweight .
Gary's biggest accomplishments were certainly his 4th place at the the 6th World Tournament, and his two back-to-back finalist positions at the All Japan Championships, both of which he dropped to one of the best Japanese fighters of all time- Hajime Kazumi. Nothing to be ashamed of. O'Neill was a pioneer for Australian combat sports, and one of the first people to show that a lighter weight foreigner could throw down with the big dogs.
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