Date of Birth:
Joe Lewis was born on March 7, 1944 in Knightdale, North Carolina.
Joe Lewis was the youngest of three children raised on a farm in Wilmington, North Carolina. His older brothers were reportedly quite rambunctious, getting into trouble a little too often. In part to escape being tied into the reputation of his siblings, he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1962. He was stationed at Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina. Eventually, he was stationed in Vietnam, where he met Rocky Marciano.
Martial Arts Beginnings:
While in the Marine Corps at the age of 18, Lewis found Shorin-ryu Karate
in Okinawa, studying with Eizo Shimabukuro, John Korab, Chinsaku Kinjo, and Seiyu Oyata (Shimabukuro was a student of Miyagi Chojun). He achieved black belt
status in an unheard of seven months. However, what was even more amazing is what he did in a tournament after only 22 months of training. In 1966, Lewis won the grand championship in The U.S. Nationals promoted by Jhoon Rhee. Rhee is widely considered to be "the father of American Taekwondo
". During the nationals- a point sparring competition- Lewis defeated seven adversaries, including Thomas Carroll in the finale.
More Sport Fighting:
Lewis continued to win the U.S. Nationals, reigning as their grand champion from 1966-1969. However, he also fought in New York City at Henry Cho's Karate Tournament, losing to another famous karate practitioner, Chuck Norris
. Later, Lewis would defeat Weiland Norris, Chuck's brother.
1st World Professional Karate Championships (WPKC):
In February of 1968, Lewis and five other highly ranked fighters (Bob Wall, Skipper Mullins, J. Pat Burleson, David Moon, and Fred Wren) competed in the 1st World Professional Karate Championships (WPKC) promoted by Jim Harrison. This was the first professional fighting tournament in karate history, taking place in Kansas City at Harrison's dojo. It was different in that it allowed for heavy contact. Lewis won the tournament and was paid $1 for his efforts, effectively making him the first professional karate champion in history.
Working with Bruce Lee and Sugar Ray Robinson:
From 1967-68, Lewis worked privately with Jeet Kune Do
founder Bruce Lee
. Lee was considered a revolutionary in martial arts, and their relationship combined with Lewis's status as a fighter allowed him to test his thoughts in real combat (via Lewis). Around that same time, Lewis also worked with boxers Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Orbillio in order to give him a further leg up.
Full Contact Karate and Kickboxing:
In late 1969, promoter Lee Faulkner contacted Lewis regarding his upcoming United States Karate Championships. Lewis was interested in full contact karate
fighting until someone was knocked out, and Faulkner delivered. On January 17, 1970, Lewis defeated Greg Baines by knockout in round two, making him the United States Kickboxing Association Heavyweight Champion (USKA). The fight is considered to be the first ever professional kickboxing
match in North America.
Eventually, interest in the sport waned and things came to a halt. Lewis's record as the undisputed United States heavyweight kickboxing champion was a perfect 10-0 with 10 KO's.
In 1974, Professional Karate Association (PKA) full contact karate bouts were started. Lewis came back and knocked out Frank Brodar by ridge hand in the second round to take home their first Heavyweight full contact karate title.
From there, Lewis went 5-4-1 to end his career, a far cry from the 11-0 he started it with. That said, no fighter can keep up the pace that he did. In his final match, which was really an exhibition, he fought to a draw with another legend of the game, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace.
Joe Lewis - The Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time:
In 1976, "Karate" Magazine voted Joe Lewis the greatest karate fighter of all-time (a Paris, France publication). But they weren't the only ones. Nope, a subsidiary of Black Belt Magazine called "Karate Illustrated" did a poll of all the top fighters and promoters. Lewis was voted by his peers as the greatest karate fighter of all time. And, according to an interview at FightingMaster.com, he was the only one included on everyone's ballot.
In July of 2011, Lewis was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He was told that he would have 6-8 weeks to live if he did nothing. Along with this, the tumor was removed that same month. On the morning of August 31, 2012, more than a year from the date of diagnosis, Lewis passed away.
Black Belt Magazine