Thirteen years ago, today, the kickboxing world lost one of it's greatest and most treasured fighters- Andreas "Andy" Hug.
There is perhaps no kickboxer, besides maybe Masato, that embodies the "Samurai Spirit" of K-1 more than Hug. Born in Switzerland to a widowed mother, Andy Hug became a star in Japan when the Kyokushin Karate blackbelt (and one of the most well respected non-Japanese karatekas of all-time) defeated the original K-1 Champion, Branko "The Croatian Tiger" Cikatic directly after his celebrated WGP win.
Hug became an instant international star, well known for wearing his Karate Gi and blackbelt into the ring, brutal Ax kicks, and the ever enduring "Hug Tornado,"- a lethal spinning kick aimed at the opponent's thigh. The technique required such precision and timing that Japanese fans believed no one else on Earth was capable of executing such a move in high level competition.
Today, some might see Karate as a novelty. In the age of MMA, Boxing, Muay Thai, and other brutal stand-up sports, time honored traditions like forms and board breaking may seem out of place among hard-nosed full combat action. Back in the early days of K-1 however, Karate was represented by a wealth of significant talent like Francisco Filho, Sam Greco, Nicholas Pettas, and Glaube Feitosa. Of them all, Andy reigned supreme.
Hug was one of the most popuar fighters in the world, not only for his humility and camera charm, but also because he represented the Japanese sport of Karate in the face of dangerous Muay Thai, Savate, and Boxing practioners. While not being Japanese himself, he was embraced by his adoptive country for rigorously dedicating himself to the tradition of Japan's most time-tested stand-up sport.
While Hug is often passed on the Greatest of All-Time list of kickboxers, few remember that the Swiss fighter holds one of the most impressive records in the sport, with wins over Ernesto Hoost, Mike Bernardo (x2), Peter Aerts (x2), Stefan Leko, Stan Longinidis, Sam Greco, Ray Sefo (x2), Cro Cop, Jerome Le Banner, and Musashi.
Another forgotten piece of trivia about Hug is that he was a natural middleweight. Even with his significant size disadvantage against fighters like Aerts, Le Banner, and Bernardo, Hug's movement, power, and ferocity was so high that he could break even the most talented K-1 star in their primes.
Despite all his other fantastic performance, there is perhaps, no greater moment in Hug's career than his defining K-1 WGP win in 1996.
Andy had been struggling with depression after losing by KO to South Africa's Mike Bernardo, and dropping a decision to "Mr. Perfect" Ernesto Hoost earlier in the year. He felt at odds with the sport, and questioned whether or not he had it in him to take home the WGP title. After a rejuvenating win against a younger Jerome Le Banner to qualify for the 1996 K-1 WGP, Hug put on three classic fights: A vicious first round KO against an outlcassed Bart Vale, a hard fought double extra round decision win over Ernesto Hoost, and one of the greatest knockouts in history against Hug's greatest rival, Mike Bernardo, to cinch the coveted K-1 crown, and the title of greatest kickboxer in the world.
You can watch Hug's WGP winning battles with LeBanner, Hoost, and Bernardo below.
Andy Hug won his last kickboxing match against Nobu Hayashi by KO in the very first round. A month later he was diagnosed with leukemia. Less than a day after the news was made public, Hug succumbed to the illness. His death was a national tragedy in both Switzerland and Japan, and the iconic Karateka was laid to rest in Kyoto's Hoshuin temple.
There will never be another fighter like Hug. While Kyokushin is still represented in kickboxing through budding superstars like Davit Kyria, the charisma, talent, and Bushido spirit Hug possessed was unparalleled, and has been etched into the annals of K-1 history forever.