Karate had quite the following among Black athletes during the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, the sports side of the martial art saw a number of Black champions and stars. One of them would be Willie Williams of the Kyokushin system. During the 1980s, he had a dojo in his native North Carolina.
Williams (also known as Kamau Okbar) took part in the Karate World Championships in 1979. The tournament will draw some 160 fighters to the open weight contest. He was able to make it to the semi-finals before losing. His performance resulted in him doing films and being brought into New Japan Pro-Wrestling by then owner and main event star Antonio Inoki.
A karateka himself, Inoki was adamant about bringing in foreign martial artists—particularly westerners–for the main event. There were multiple purposes for this booking method. First, he could build himself up even further as a major star and national hero defeating foreigners seen as heels (villains). Second, it bolstered his philosophy of strong style or “wrestling is the strongest style” by “defeating” opponents of different styles.
The bout took place in 1980 and was over the World Heavyweight Martial Arts Belt. The rule set for the match and the match and the concept of putting two contrasting styles against each other served as a blueprint for MMA in the future. Williams and Inoki’s working of the match proved to be a success and has been touted as an important match in Japanese pro wrestling for years.
Willie Williams had another strong showing at the tournament in 1984 making it into the last 32 fighters. Also during the 1980s, Willie Williams would train with Kyokushin founder Mas Oyama. Known for defeating bears and killing bulls with karate during his prime, Oyama’s feats allowed for Kyokushin to flourish at this time. In one demonstration, Williams wrestled a bear using and was given the nickname “The Bear Killer” in Japan.
While in Japan, Williams also trained in Shin Kakutou Jitsu which mixes kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, Kyokushin karate, and aikido. Once back in his own dojo in the U.S., he taught the style to others.
Williams would finish out his professional fight career in Akira Maeda’s Fighting Network RINGS organization. Debuting in 1992, he amassed a 9-4 record with seven wins coming by knockout and the other two by submission. The Bear Killer would retire in 1994 and return to pro wrestling in 2000 for the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling promotion.
Today, Willie Williams continues to train karate and hosts seminars.
-Interview with Willie Williams (Reel Perspectives, 1984): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79tcSodja6I
-2013 Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa1Lgcqm-0c
-vs. Antonio Inoki (New Japan, 1980): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7MHpMfv9Us&t=2s
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