Chuck Norris recently offered his expert opinion on who is the greatest martial arts champion of all time. A great read, even though he chooses to offer no opinion.
The greatest martial arts champion ever is Chuck Norris, although anyone who ever saw Bill Wallace, Joe Louis or Matt Hughes fight might disagree. Times were different when Norris, Wallace, Louis, Gene LeBell and Benny Urquidez fought professionally, in their respective styles. The fights were more brutal and bloody and were more about survivability than showmanship. Norris' ten year fight career ended in 1974 when he retired as an undefeated Professional Full-Contact Middleweight Champion with a overall record of 65-5.
It's also hard to deny the skill and sheer balls of modern warriors like Hughes, Rich Franklin, Chuck Liddell and others. Some of the upstarts also show great promise: Michael Bisping, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, etc.
But I think that Chuck Norris, in his 10-year reign, could stand with any of them (he also has a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, remember). Norris is also an American hero and one of martial arts' true ambassadors: an exceptional teacher, spokesman, and all-around good guy who supports the NRA, the military, cops and prayer. You gotta love that.
But the greatest martial artist of all time? Wow, get ready for a fight!
Norris surely ranks up there, as does the exceptional Dan Inosanto (another good guy!); Ed Parker certainly did his share for Kenpo Karate in America; Wally Jay, the founder of Small Circle JuJitsu, is another favorite, as are the Gracies, who founded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a modern-day staple of martial artists the world over. I have my personal favorites, too, like Bernie Lau, of AikiJuJutsu fame, and Bev Corwin in Aikido, though I have limited training (unfortunately) with both.
Every style has its pioneers and disciples, and rightly so.
But for my money, Bruce Lee was the best. A consumate professional and teacher, he developed a fighting philosophy called Jeet Kune Do and set the martial arts world on fire when he demonstrated his famous one-inch punch at a Karate tournament in Long Beach, California, in 1964. He stressed philosophy, fitness, nutrition and training and his book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do is a must-read for every true martial artist. Although he lacked a professional fighting record, he is widely considered to be the father of modern day mixed martial arts and one of the most complete martial artists to have ever lived.
I'd like to avoid any argument of which style is best, since that's an individual preference, but feel free to comment and let me know your favorites.