Francisco Filho

That is to show in life you must never give up. Always have to persist, try harder, wish more

Francisco Filho

Known as the “Kyokushin Monster” by the Japanese, Brazilian Francisco Filho, was the first non-Japanese to win the Kyokushin World Championship. He was also one of the few people to complete the 100-man Kumite Challenge more than once.

Francisco Filho was born in Souto Soares, Bahia, Brazil on 10 January 1971.

Like most young Brazilian boys, Filho loved playing football. However, in 1982, aged 11, he started to learn Karate, encouraged by his older brother Helcio, who paid for his lessons. He trained at the Liberdade Dojo under Seiji Isobe.

Born in Japan, Isobe was a direct student of Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate. In 1972 Oyama sent Isobe to Brazil to establish Kyokushin Karate.

Filho originally thought he would be training in Kyokushin for a few years before switching styles or martial arts. However, he soon realised that Kyokushin Karate was the style for him. He also formed a close relationship with Isobe.

By 1985 Filho had been training for several years. Around this time he started competing in junior tournaments.

In 1987 age 16, Filho was promoted to 1st Dan. That same year he competed at the Brazilian Open, finishing in seventh place. The following year he improved to sixth place.

At the 5th South American Tournament, Filho won his first international title aged 18, in 1989. It was after this success that he dreamt of becoming world champion. He was very athletic and incredibly strong. He has been described as moving like a panther.

After his victory at the South American Tournament, Filho continued to have success. In 1990 he won his first Brazilian Open title.

Between 2-4 November 1991, Filho competed in the 5th World Open Tournament, his first world tournament. In an earlier round, he was involved in a controversial bout against Andy Hug of Switzerland. In their bout, he knocked out Hug with a fearsome roundhouse kick that landed after the bell, to end the round. However, the result was upheld, even though the Swiss team lodged an official protest. He eventually lost to Kenji Yamaki in the final 16 of the tournament. The match was tied, but Filho lost the match because he broke fewer boards in the tameshiwara (board breaking) round. Oyama presented him with the award for the best technique in the tournament.

Filho’s loss gave him a renewed drive to want to become a world champion. For the next four years, between world tournaments, he trained even harder with the sole aim of becoming a world champion.

Apart from training with the Brazilian National Team, Filho also had private lessons with Isobe. He has said this was what some of the toughest hardest training he ever did.

For the next few years, Filho pushed himself hard to win every tournament he entered. In 1991 he became Uruguayan Open champion. He won the Brazilian Open twice, winning in 1992 and 1993. He also became South American champion twice winning, winning the 6th and 7th South American Tournaments in 1992 and 1994.

On 26 April 1994, Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate died in Tokyo, Japan. Filho and his teacher, Isobe, were invited to attend the funeral.

While in Japan, Filho took his 3rd Dan grading at the International Karate Organisation (IKO) Hombu. As part of the test, he had to fight against thirty hand-picked opponents.

In 1995 Filho was invited to attend the 100-Man Kumite Challenge. In preparation, he trained around eight hours a day. He worked up to doing 100 rounds of pad work in a session. He would also condition his body by hitting it with a baseball bat, to simulate blows in a fight. He also did 50 to 80 fights a week.

A month before the challenge was due to take place in Japan, Filho successfully completed the challenge in Brazil. On 22 March 1995, he took the challenge at the IKO Hombu. He recalled feeling nervous before the challenge. He finally relaxed after the first thirty fights After the sixtieth fight, his nerves returned. His body had started to cramp up. After the eightieth fight, he found his body was slow to respond. With 76 wins; 24 draws; and 0 losses, he completed the challenge in a time of 3 hours 2 minutes.

Being one of the few people to complete the challenge twice, Filho did not need to be hospitalised after the challenge. He was one of the few challengers not needing hospital attention. However, many of his opponents needed hospital treatment. To celebrate his success, he visited Disneyland.

After the 100-Man Kumite Challenge, Filho toured Europe. He visited several dojos where he trained and learnt new techniques.

In 1995 Filho won another Brazilian Open title. Between 3-5 November the 6th World Open Tournament (IKO-1) took place. He was one of the favourites for the title. He reached the semi-final where he faced Hajimi Kazumi. Kazumi had defeated Filho’s teammate Glaube Feitoso, earlier. In an epic encounter, the fight went into three overtime extensions, with no clear winner. In the tameshiwara (board breaking) section Filho broke 22 boards, with Kazumi breaking 24 boards making him the winner. In the final Kazumi lost to Kenji Yamaki.

On his return to Brazil, Filho fell into a bout of depression. In his pursuit to become world champion, he felt he had sacrificed a lot, with nothing to show for it. His disappointment made him come close to quitting Karate. Physically, he had been in the best possible shape, however, his mind and body were out of sync.

Filho decided on a change of scenery. He moved to Germany, where he competed in kickboxing and Kyokushin. It took him some time to make the transition from Kyokushin to kickboxing, especially around distancing and strikes to the head. He also travelled to the United States to train. He also spent some time training in Japan.

In 1997 Filho competed in the 1st World Super Heavyweight Karate Tournament (IKO-1). He defeated fellow Brazilian and training partner, Glaube Feitoso to become champion.

In April 1997 Filho was invited to compete in K-1, one of the premier kickboxing promotions, after getting permission from Shokei Matsui, the head of the IKO-1. On 20 July he faced a familiar foe in Andy Hug. Filho won the fight by knockout.

The change in scenery helped Filho get back in shape. It also gave him a renewed drive in his pursuit to become a world champion. By 1999 he had returned to Brazil where he resumed his training with Isobe.

Between 5-7 November 1999, the 7th World Open Tournament (IKO-1) took place in Japan. Prior to the tournament, Filho had injured his ankle. However, this had not stopped him from training.

Filho made it all the way to the final where he faced his nemesis from the previous World Tournament, Hajime Kazumi. This time his body and mind we are in sync. In a close fight, the bout went into three overtime extensions, with no clear winner. In the tameshiwara section, Filho broke 21 boards and Hajime broke 19 boards.

Filho made history by becoming the first non-Japanese to become World Champion. He had achieved his dream. Many had thought that Andy Hug would be the first non-Japanese to win the title.

Although they had faced each other as competitors, Filho and Andy Hug became good friends. So like many people, Filho was shocked when Hug died on 24 August 2000. At a funeral attended by around 800 people, Filho was among the pallbearers.

For the next couple of years, Filho completed on the K-1 circuit. On 20 August 2000 and he became the K-1 Grand Prix Yokohama Champion. In the K-1 World Grand Prix 2000 Final Tournament, held at the Tokyo Dome, on 10 December, he lost to Ernesto Hoost in the semi-final. Hoost defeated Ray Sefo in the final.

The following year, Filho made it to the K-1 World Grand Prix 2001 Final Tournament. He lost to Mark Hunt in the final.

In 2004 Filho retired from competing at major tournaments. He finished with a record 16 wins (9 by KO); 7 losses; and 2 draws.

By 2006 Filho had opened his own dojo in the City of Braganca, Brazil. He was also a coach on the 2012 series of the Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.

26 April 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of Mas Oyama’s death. At the IKO-1 Hombu in Tokyo, Tariel Nikoleihvili of Russia attempted the 100-Man Kumite Challenge. Present were IKO-1 head, Shokei Matsui, Filho, and Artur Hovannisyan, who are all successfully completed the 100-Man Challenge. Nikoleihvili completed the challenge in 3 hours 21 minutes. He won 64 fights; drew 27 flights; and lost 9 fights.

Filho currently travels the world conducting seminars and training sessions in Kyokushin Karate and kickboxing. He is the South American President for the IKO-1. His place in Kyokushin history is assured, being one of the few men to complete the gruelling 100-Man Kumite Challenge twice; also as the first non-Japanese Kyokushin World Champion. His successes in kickboxing helped validate his and Kyokushin Karate’s reputation.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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