Sorry, Austin Powers fans, there is no such thing as a “judo chop.” Judo is a grappling sport, with throws, takedowns and submissions from chokes or armbars.
So it’s still a viable component of mixed martial arts, and a few athletes have made the leap from Olympic competition to the cage. Karo Parisyan is the long-standing prototype, but we’ve seen some more accomplished judo athletes such as Rick Hawn and Ronda Rousey make the jump more recently.
Whether the MMA boom sparks more spillover interest into judo, as it has in wrestling, is yet to be seen. Maybe it would help if Japan, the traditional home of judo and still its major power, didn’t have an MMA scene in decline.
As in boxing, we have two bronze medalists per event here, though it’s not quite a simple knockout tournament. If you lose to someone who advances far in the bracket, you’re eligible for a repechage bracket. Fight your way through that, and you can fight for one of two bronze medals. The new format in World Championships and 2012: Losing quarterfinalists square off to start the repechage, with winners facing losing semifinalists for bronze. Still doesn’t quite erase the luck of the draw, but it gives athletes a second chance of sorts.
Unlike a lot of sports, judo is truly global. When we say “Asia” is strong, we don’t just mean “China, Japan and the Koreas.” Mongolia and various countries ending in “-stan” are also strong. Europe also has a diverse group of world-class judokas. North Africa has a few contenders, and the Americas manage to break through every once in a while.
International competition isn’t quite as constant as it is in track and field or winter sports, but World Cup and Grand Prix events more than fill the time between annual World Championships. For the projections, we can draw upon the last two World Championships and the exquisitely detailed world rankings. The ranking list is very important for qualification. One important note: Only one athlete per country per weight class. Sorry about that, Japan.
60 kg: Uzbekistan’s Rishod Sobirov, bronze medalist in 2008, has the world title and top spot in the rankings. Japan’s Hiroaki Hiraoka has medaled in the last two World Championships and is ranked second, followed by 2009 champion and 2010 runner-up Georgii Zantaraia (Ukraine). The only athlete anywhere near the top three in the rankings is Russia’s Arsen Galstyan, who has competition within his home country.
2008: Choi Min-Ho (South Korea), Ludwig Paischer (Austria), Rishod Sobirov (Uzbekistan), Ruben Houkes (Netherlands)
Projection: Uzbekistan, Japan, Ukraine, Russia
Top Americans: Nicholas Kossor is ranked 42nd.
66 kg: Only typing this name once — Tsagaanbaatar Hashbaatar of Mongolia. He’s No. 1 in the world after winning the title in 2009 and taking bronze in 2010. Japan’s Junpei Morishita upset Hashbaatar in 2010, went on to win the title and is ranked third in the world. The man in the middle is Russia’s Alim Gadanov, fifth in the 2008 Games and seventh in 2010. Lower on the list due to sporadic activity is 2010 silver medalist Leandro Cunha of Brazil.
2008: Masato Uchishiba (Japan), Benjamin Darbelet (France), Yordanis Arencibia (Cuba), Pal Chol Min (North Korea)
Projection: Mongolia, Japan, Brazil, Russia
Top Americans: Brad Bolen is 24th.
73 kg: South Korea’s Wang Ki-Chun has three straight medals — 2008 silver, 2009 gold, 2010 bronze. He’s ranked first, ahead of 2010 world champion Hiroyuki Akimoto of Japan. Yashuhiro Awano gave Japan two 2010 medalists, and he’s ranked in the top five. Then we get a Western European contingent — Belgian Dirk van Tichelt medaled in 2009 and clings to third in the rankings, while Dutchman Dex Elmont took silver in 2010.
2008: Elnur Mammadli (Azerbaijan), Wang Ki-Chun (South Korea), Rasul Boqiev (Turkmenistan), Leandro Guilheiro (Brazil)
Projection: South Korea, Japan, Belgium, Netherlands
Top Americans: Two in the top 25 — Nick Delpopolo (19th) and Michael Eldred (23rd).
81 kg: Another weight class with a dominant South Korean — Kim Jae-Bum has gone silver, gold, bronze in the Olympics and last two Worlds. In the rankings, he’s far ahead of Brazil’s Leandro Guilheiro, who took bronze at 73 kg in 2008 and silver at 81 in 2010. Russia’s Ivan Nifontov, the 2010 world champion, is third, followed by a home-country hopeful — Euan Burton. The British judoko shared bronze in 2010 with Japan’s Masahiro Takamatsu.
2008: Ole Bischof (Germany), Kim Jae-Bum (South Korea), Tiago Camilo (Brazil), Roman Gontiuk (Ukraine)
Projection: South Korea, Brazil, Britain, Japan
Top Americans: Travis Stevens is a competitive 12th.
90 kg: A bit more open here, with Japan’s Takashi Ono holding a sizable lead in the rankings despite little success in the World Championships. Russia’s Kiril Denisov has been on the podium for the last two Worlds and ranks second. South Korea’s Lee Kyu-Won won the 2009 title but ranks only ninth. Greece’s Ilias Iliadis, who took gold at 81 kg in 2004, won the 2010 world title and ranks fifth in a jumbled ranking that includes a second Japanese judoka (2010 runner-up Daiki Nishiyama) and 2010 bronze medalist Eikhan Mammadov of Azerbaijan. We’ll spin the wheel and see what we get.
2008: Irakli Tsirekidze (Georgia), Amar Benikhlef (Algeria), Hesham Mesbah (Egypt), Sergei Aschwanden (Switzerland)
Projection: Japan, Russia, South Korea, Azerbaijan
Top Americans: Aaron Cohen is 44th, though the U.S. rankings list him second among four Class “A” judokas.
100 kg: World champion Takamasa Anai of Japan has a large lead in the rankings over consistent podium finisher Henk Grol of the Netherlands. 2009 world champion Maxim Rakov of Kazakhstan is third, just a few points ahead of Belgium’s Elco van der Geest and South Korea’s Hwang Hae-Tee and two Russians. Everyone ranked fourth through 11th faltered at the 2010 Worlds, failing to make the quarterfinals.
2008: Naidangiin Tüvshinbayar (Mongolia), Askhat Zhitkeyev (Kazakhstan), Movlud Miraliyev (Azerbaijan), Henk Grol (Netherlands)
Projection: Japan, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Russia
Top Americans: Kyle Vashkulat is 28th.
+100 kg: Olympic champion Satoski Ishii has moved into MMA, leaving France’s Teddy Riner to claim the last two world titles. He’s followed in the rankings by two 2010 medalists in reverse order — Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby and Germany’s Andreas Toelzer. Next up are two Japanese judokas kept off the 2010 podium by a second Frenchman, Matthieu Bataille. Can anyone make the weight cut to 100?
2008: Satoshi Ishii (Japan), Abdullo Tangriev (Uzbekistan), Oscar Braison (Cuba), Teddy Riner (France)
Projection: France, Egypt, Germany, Japan
Top Americans: Daniel McCormick is 44th. Anthony Turner has the U.S. ranking lead and is 55th in the world.
48 kg: Sometimes it pays to do projections by country rather than by individuals. Japan has three of the top five in the rankings, led by 2009 world champ/2010 runner-up Tomoko Fukumi and 2010 world champ Haruna Asami. Romania’s Alina Dumitru has remained competitive since winning gold in 2008, taking bronze in 2010 and ranking third. Brazil’s Sarah Menezes took the other 2010 bronze and ranks fourth. We’ll have to reach beyond the top five to get a fourth nationality on the board — South Korea’s Chang Jung-Yeon is sixth.
2008: Alina Dumitru (Romania), Yanet Bermoy (Cuba), Paula Pareto (Argentina), Ryoko Tani (Japan)
Projection: Japan, Romania, Brazil, South Korea
Top Americans: Ann Shiraishi is 43rd.
52 kg: A near-replay of the 48 kg class. Misato Nakamura, the 2008 bronze medalist, won the 2009 title and finished second in 2010 to fellow Japanese judoka Yuka Nishida. They’re a distant 1-2 in the rankings. Next up are the 2010 bronze medalists, Mongolia’s Bundmaa Munkhbaatar and Russia’s Natalia Kuzyutina. Germany’s Romy Tarangul has finished in the top six in two straight Worlds, but Spain claims the fifth and sixth spots in the rankings. If you need a rooting interest, consider Majlinda Kelmendi, who is competing under an IJF banner until her country of Kosovo gains international recognition.
2008: Xian Dongmei (China), Kum-Ae An (North Korea), Soraya Haddad (Algeria), Misato Nakamura (Japan)
Projection: Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Spain
Top Americans: Jeanette Rodriguez is 32nd internationally but second to Angelica Delgado (37th) domestically.
57 kg: Another Japanese judoka, Kaori Matsumoto, has the world title and top ranking, but other countries are in the mix here. France’s Morgane Ribout won the 2009 title and ranks eighth, two places behind another French judoka. Portugal’s Teima Monteiro is a clear No. 2 behind Matsumoto in the rankings. Austria’s Sabrina Filzmoser is a clear third.
2008: Giulia Quintavalle (Italy), Deborah Gravenstijn (Netherlands), Xu Yan (China), Ketleyn Quadros (Brazil)
Projection: Japan, Portugal, Austria, France
Top Americans: Veteran Marti Malloy ranks 19th and is capable of surprises.
63 kg: Japan’s Yoshie Ueno is a back-to-back world champion. France’s Gevrise Emane is a clear second despite World Championship frustration. Germany’s Claudia Malzahn is third, just ahead of 2008 and 2009 medalist Elizabeth Willeboordse of the Netherlands.
2008: Ayumi Tanimoto (Japan), Lucie Décosse (France), Elisabeth Willeboordse (Netherlands), Wom Ok-Im (North Korea)
Projection: Japan, France, Germany, Netherlands
Top Americans: Janine Nakao is 38th. Christal Ransom has a big lead over Nakao in the USA but is only 56th internationally.
70 kg: The Japanese rout may end here. France’s Lucie Décosse has moved up a weight class to win the 2010 world title and lead the rankings. Hungary’s Anett Meszaros has two straight runner-up performances. South Korea’s Hwang Ye-Sul is barely ahead of Dutch veteran Edith Bosch. The Japanese are still factors — fifth-ranked Yoriko Kunihara took bronze in 2010; seventh-ranked Mina Watanabe took bronze in 2009.
2008: Masae Ueno (Japan), Anaysi Hernández (Cuba), Ronda Rousey (USA), Edith Bosch (Netherlands)
Projection: France, Hungary, South Korea, Japan
Top Americans: Unless Rousey decides to put MMA on hold to take another run, the best is 22nd-ranked Kathleen Sell. Rousey still has enough points on the board to rank 96th.
78 kg: The 2008 gold medalist is still ranked first in the world — China’s Yang Xiuli leads fellow 2010 bronze medalist Akari Ogata of Japan. A close third is American Kayla Harrison, the 2010 world champion. A closer fourth is France’s Audrey Tcheumeo. Then it’s another French judoka, Celine Lebrun, and 2010 runner-up Mayra Aguiar of Brazil.
2008: Yang Xiuli (China), Yalennis Castillo (Cuba), Jeong Gyeong-Mi (South Korea), Stéphanie Possamaï (France)
Projection: China, Japan, USA, France
Top Americans: Harrison likely will be Team USA’s best hope in any class.
+78 kg: The silver and bronze medalists from 2008 are still active, though Maki Tsukada (sixth) is just one of three Japanese athletes in the top six of the rankings despite two more podium finishes in the next World Championships. Megumi Tachimoto and world champion Mika Sugimoto are 1-2, followed by Slovenian bronze medalist Lucija Polavder. China’s Qian Qin, the 2010 runner-up, is fourth in the rankings, followed by 2008/2009/2010 bronze medalist Idalys Ortiz of Cuba.
2008: Tong Wen (China), Maki Tsukada (Japan), Lucija Polavder (Slovenia), Idalys Ortiz (Cuba)
Projection: Japan, Slovenia, China, Cuba
Top Americans: Not in top 50 and no one ranked as Class “A” on the U.S. roster.