Martial Arts Legend Joe Lewis Dead at 68

The martial arts legend and kickboxing pioneer lost a long fight with brain cancer this morning in Virginia, he was surrounded by family and friends. Dubbed the “Muhammad Ali” of sport karate, Joe Lewis won more titles in his 17-year fighting career than any other tournament fighter.

Lewis was born on March 7, 1944, in North Carolina. He eventually joined the Marines and was stationed in Okinawa. It was while he was there that 18-year-old Lewis began studying shorin-ryu karate under Eizo Shimabukuro, Seiyu Oyata, Chinsaku Kinjo and John Korab. (Shimabukuro was also a student of Miyagi Chojun.) Lewis received his black belt in seven months, and 15 months later, he became the sport karate U.S. Nationals grand champion.

As a fighter, Lewis amassed other important firsts—first World Professional Karate Championships titleholder, first U.S. heavyweight kickboxing champion, and in 1974, the first Professional Karate Association heavyweight full-contact karate champion. The Black Belt Hall of Fame inducted Joe Lewis as the 1974 Karate Player of the Year. Yet to Lewis, his greatest accolade was being chosen in 1983 by his peers as the “Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time.”

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