Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Breakdown: Hidehiko Yoshida and Karo Parisyan

By Ron A. Mohan

There are several different bases that fighters have used in becoming successful mixed martial artists. There have been UFC and Pride champions who were practitioners of wrestling, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, combat sambo, muay thai and even ninjitsu. One background that has had only moderate success is Judo. Judo does not allow extensive ground fighting and that has curtailed it from being one of the staple bases like jiujitsu and Muay thai. Two top-level judokas that have been able to make a successful transition are Karo "the heat" Parisyan and Hidehiko Yoshida.

Karo moved to America from Armenia at a young age. When he arrived in the states, he trained under the famous "Judo" Gene LeBell. He had great success as a junior Judoka, winning multiple national junior championships. He was ranked nationally in America and competed in the 2004 Olympic qualifiers. In mixed martial arts, Karo has become one of the top welterweights in the world. He utilizes his trademark hip throws to bring the fights to the ground and work for a submission. Karo’s obvious weakness is his striking. Karo holds no knockout wins, and only one due to ground and pound strikes. However, Karo’s skill in judo usually allows him to get the fight to the ground quickly enough that his opponents have rarely been able to exploit his weakness. Karo had enough success at welterweight to earn a title shot but he was injured in training and the quality of the top fighters in the welterweight division, (Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, and BJ Penn) has prevented him from receiving a second offer.

Hidehiko Yoshida has had even more success in Judo than Karo. Yoshida has won multiple Japanese judo championships and competed in and won world titles. Hidehiko has competed in the Olympics twice and in 1992, Yoshida won the gold medal in the 78 kg division. Yoshida then transitioned to mixed martial arts and Pride. He is one of the if not the most popular fighter there. As a mixed martial artist, Yoshida has had decent success. His style is very similar to Karo’s. He uses his judo skills to get the fight to the ground and then works for a submission. Yoshida is also known for his strong chin. He has fought tough strikers and has yet to be knocked out. He gave Wanderlei Silva some of his toughest tests (until recently) and made it to the semifinal of the 2003 middleweight grand prix. Yoshida has recently made the transition from middleweight to heavyweight and has had mixed results.

Although Yoshida was more successful in Judo, Parisyan has the more impressive record in mixed martial arts so far. Karo holds a 16-4 record with victories over Dave Strasser, Shonie Carter, Nick Diaz and both The Ultimate Fighter season four welterweight finalists, Matt Serra and Chris Lytle. Karo’s only losses have come to top fighters. He lost to current lightweight champion Sean Sherk, current welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and, in one of the most exciting grappling matches, to Diego Sanchez. Karo has the skills to work his way back to title contention and wear the belt at some point.

Yoshida on the other hand sports a 7-5-1 record. He started strong by submitting Don Frye and Kiyoshi Tamura but then began suffering setbacks. At the time many suspected those fights of being worked but most have now accepted them as legitimate. As mentioned before, Yoshida gave Wanderlei Silva two of his toughest tests but he did lose both these fights. After a mistake by the referee in their first fight, Yoshida turtled up and lost to Royce Gracie in their second, although the fight was ruled a draw due to a no decision clause. Although Yoshida was able to submit a green Mark Hunt and Naoye Ogawa, losses to Rulon Gardner and James Thompson makes one question his ability to compete as a heavyweight. Yoshida must not be taken lightly however. He may not be championship quality but one must take anyone with his kind of skills as a threat in any match. One lingering question about Yoshida is his commitment to becoming a top MMA fighter. His skills never seem to improve and, while formidable, are not championship level.

It always seems like judokas should have more success in mixed martial arts than they do. It has close ties to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and combat sambo, which have both been very successful bases, but even high level judokas like Pawel Natsula and Yoshida have had limited success. Perhaps fighters like Karo and Hidehiko Akiyama will be able to show the correct way to blend judo into mixed martial arts.


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