• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • The Best of the Best: The Top 10 Judokas of All Time

Who were the ten greatest Judokas of all time? I have created a list of the best of the best in my humble opinion.

These exceptional athletes have risen to the pinnacle of Judo by winning the most prestigious international competitions. Only the best can compete in competitions like the Olympics and World Championships. Are you ready to dive in? Let's begin!

The Ten Greatest Judokas of All Time: Celebrating the Masters of the Art

Kosei Inoue

First up is Kosei Inoue, a Japanese Judoka hailed as one of the all-time greats. He remained an unbeaten heavyweight from 1999-2003, amassing three World titles and an Olympic gold medal. Inoue's first international success came in 1999 at the Birmingham World Championship. It was here that he bested all opponents and captured the gold medal. His spectacular performance continued a year later. He won every match at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Inoue added more gold medals to his collection at the following two World Championships and secured three consecutive titles in the open weight category at the All Japan Championships.

Kosei Inoue Video

Masato Uchishiba

Next is Masato Uchishiba, another Japanese Judoka who boasts two Olympic gold medals. He first claimed victory at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics in the 66-kilogram category, defeating Joseph Krunek of Slovakia. Four years later, Uchishiba achieved the same success at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, besting Benjamin Darbelet of France.

Masato Uchishiba Video

Hitoshi Saito

The next Judoka on this list is Hitoshi Saito, a Japanese athlete with two consecutive Olympic gold medals. Saito burst onto the international scene by winning the 1983 World Judo Championship in the open weight category and added another gold the following year. He successfully defended his title at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics in the heavyweight division and secured another gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Following his retirement, Saito became an instructor for the All Japan Judo Federation and Kokushikan University and coached the Japanese Judo team at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Hitoshi Saito Video

Wim Ruska

Willem Ruska, a legendary Dutch Judoka, holds the unique distinction of winning two gold medals at the same Olympics. He achieved this feat in the super heavyweight and absolute weight categories at the 1972 Olympics. Ruska is definitely in the top 10 Judokas of all time and is remembered as one of the strongest competitors in his prime.

Wim Ruska

Ilias Iliadis

Next is Ilias Iliadis, a Georgian-born Greek Judoka who had the honor of being the first athlete to march through the Bird's Nest Stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He made history by winning the gold medal in the 81-kilogram category at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics at just 17 years old, becoming the youngest Olympic Judo champion ever.

Ilias Iliadis

David Douillet

David Douillet, a legendary French Judoka, first won Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and successfully defended his title at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In addition to his Olympic success, Douillet claimed four World titles and a European championship. After retiring from competition, he served as Secretary of State for French Nationals in 2011 and was later appointed Minister of Sport of France.

David Douillet Video

Anton Geesink

Anton Geesink, a Dutch Judoka, Olympic champion, and double World Judo Champion, is widely regarded as one of the greatest Judokas ever. He won the 1964 Olympic gold medal, ending Japan's domination of the sport. Geesink also won 21 European titles during his career and remains one of the few Judokas officially recognized by the Judo Federation. He began competing in the European Championships in 1951, winning his first title in 1952, and went on to secure 20 more European titles through 1967.

Anton Geesink Video

Teddy Riner

Teddy Riner, a French Judoka, is among the most successful athletes in the sport's history. He has earned an astounding 11 gold medals at World Championships, five gold medals at European Championships, and two Olympic golds. Riner first won the World and European Junior Championships in 2006 and captured his first adult title at the 2007 European Judo Championships in Belgrade. He became the youngest world champion after triumphing at the 2007 World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro. From September 2010 to February 2020, Riner enjoyed an unbeaten streak, winning 150 consecutive bouts.

Teddy Riner Video

Yasuhiro Yamashita

The title of the greatest competitor of all time belongs to Yasuhiro Yamashita, a legendary Japanese Judoka and one of history's most successful athletes. Yamashita boasts a record of 203 consecutive victories from October 1977 to his last match in April 1985, remaining undefeated throughout this period. At just 19 years old, he became the youngest Judoka to win the 1977 All Japan Judo Championship title. Over his competitive career, Yasuhira Yamashita secured 179 major Judo championships.

Yasuhiro Yamashita Video

Kyuzo Mifune

Kyuzo Mifune, a legendary Japanese Judoka who transformed the world of Judo. Immerse yourself in the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary martial artist.

Born in 1883, Mifune started practicing Judo at the age of 13. Through his unwavering dedication and hard work, he earned his black belt in just four years. Continue on this path of discipline, and you too may achieve great success in your chosen pursuit.

Mifune became known for his exceptional skill and mastery of Judo techniques. His precise movements and fluidity earned him the nickname "God of Judo." As you study his techniques, let the grace and agility of Mifune inspire you to refine your own skills.

Throughout his career, Mifune contributed immensely to the development of Judo. He authored several books, including the seminal work "Canon of Judo," which remains an essential resource for Judokas worldwide. Delve into his writings and absorb the wisdom and teachings of this Judo master.

Mifune also devoted his life to teaching others, serving as an instructor at the Kodokan, the premier Judo institution in Japan. As you learn from the teachings of Mifune, remember to share your knowledge with others and contribute to the growth of the Judo community.

In 1945, Mifune reached the highest rank in Judo, the 10th Dan, an honor held by only a select few. This extraordinary achievement demonstrates the level of mastery and commitment Mifune brought to the sport. Strive to cultivate the same dedication in your own practice, and you may one day reach the pinnacle of your chosen field.

The legacy of Kyuzo Mifune endures, as his teachings and techniques continue to influence Judokas around the world. As you embark on your own Judo journey, let the spirit of Mifune guide you to achieve greatness, both on and off the mat.

Kyuzo Mifune Video

In conclusion, the ten greatest Judokas of all time have made immense contributions to the art, its recognition, and popularity worldwide. Today, as Judo is a widely practiced martial art for self-defense and sporting achievements, it is these top Judokas who deserve our gratitude. They exemplify mastery and inspire millions of Judokas globally to strive for greatness. Through their dedication, skill, and perseverance, these Judokas have set a high standard for future generations to follow. As a Judoka yourself, draw inspiration from these legendary athletes and aspire to reach similar heights in your own Judo journey.

Honorable Mentions

Yasuyuki Muneta

Yasuyuki Muneta was a Japanese judoka who won two gold medals and one silver medal at the World Judo Championships. He competed in the heavyweight division. Despite being only 1.70 meters tall, Muneta was well known for defeating much larger opponents.

He would use his superior technical and tactical abilities to win at the highest levels. Muneta was a master of Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi, Ko Soto Gari, Ippon Seoi Nage, and Uchi Mata.

Many people believe that Muneta’s lower center of gravity and exceptional coordination made him an ideal judoka. His movements were fantastic, embodying the spirit of judo with beautiful techniques.

Muneta's incredible speed and balance are truly exceptional.

Yasuyuki Muneta Video

Sasaki Takeshi

Sasaki Takeshi is known for his unique appearance and impressive musculature. His training regimen, although largely undisclosed, emphasizes both power and explosive exercises.

Beyond his physical prowess, Takeshi boasts the highest level of technique, making him a formidable opponent. 

Takeshi returned triumphantly at the 2022 Paris Grand Slam. He showcased his physical strength, and technical mastery. 

Sasaki Takeshi Video