Once regarded as one of the best all-around fighters in the world, Gerard Gordeau was a no-nonsense fighter. He had a calm demeanour during a fight, and was nicknamed the “Undertaker from Hell“. Today, most people remember him for being the first man to win a UFC bout. However, he was a martial artist who competed in Kickboxing, Savate, Seidokan, Mixed Martial Arts, and Professional Wrestling.
Gerard Gordeau was born on 30 March 1955, in The Hague, The Netherlands. He was the second of six boys.
When Gordeau was 11 years, his father died. This forced him to leave school to find work to help support his family.
Gordeau’s martial arts journey began in 1970 when he began practising Judo.
In 1972, when Gordeau was age 16, he was introduced to Kyokushin Karate by an Indonesian friend. He trained at Dojo Kokoro under Harry Couzjin, who was a Dutchman of Indonesian descent.
Gordeau’s brothers, Al, and Nico started training at the dojo. They had the opportunity to train with Mas Oyama whenever he visited The Netherlands to conduct training courses.
By 1974 Gordeau had grown in height and was working as a bouncer and bodyguard in The Hague.
Gordeau enjoyed the challenge of competing. In 1978, he became a Dutch Karate Champion. He retained the title until 1985.
In 1979 Gordeau was selected to represent the Dutch team at the World Open Tournament in Tokyo. He was also selected alongside his brother Nico to compete at the Karate Team Championships. The other members of the team with Danny Juffermans, Ruud Muller, Fred Muller, and Michael Wedel. The team won the title.
In 1981 Gordeau and his brothers Al and Nico opened their own dojo called Dojo Honbu Kamakura, where they taught Kyokushin. The dojo would eventually become world famous, teaching a mixture of Kyokushin Karate, Thai Boxing, Boxing, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jujitsu.
Two years later, Dojo Honbu Kamakura was moved by Gordeau and his brothers to its own building.
Gordeau had become a top European Kyokushin competitor. He competed at the 1983 and 1987 World Open Tournaments, although he didn’t place in the top positions.
Apart from competing in Kyokushin tournaments, by 1988, Gordeau had also started participating in Savate tournaments. In 1988, he became the European Savate Heavyweight Champion. He held the title until 1991.
On 27 April 1991, Gordeau became a European Savate champion, in an event held in Toulouse. A month later he became the World Heavyweight Savate champion in Paris on 25 May. He retained his title the following year.
By 1993 Gordeau had also started competing in Kickboxing. On 4 September 1993, he competed at the K1-Illusion, Tokyo event. A month later in October, he competed at the K1-Illusioin, Karate World Cup, held in Osaka.
On 12 November 1993, UFC1 took place at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. The winner of the tournament would win $50,000. Always looking to test himself, Gordeau had replied to an advert looking for fighters to take part in the competition, which was a no-holds tournament.
Gordeau had sent in a videotape showing some of his fights to the UFC organisers. They liked what they saw and invited him to compete in the tournament.
The IKO (International Karate Organisation) had not wanted Gordeau to compete at UFC1. They were worried about the image Kyokushin Karate would have, should he lose. So Gordeau was billed as a Savate fighter.
Gordeau’s match against 400lb sumo wrestler, Telia Tuli was the first fight of UFC1. It was also the first televised match in UFC history. The bout lasted 26 seconds after Gordeau landed a round kick to Tuli’s face. The kick knocked out several of Tuli’s teeth, with some becoming embedded in Gordeau’s foot. Gordeau proceeded to the next round with the teeth still embedded in his foot, and also with a broken hand.
Gordeau defeated Kevin, Rosier in the next round before facing Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner, Royce Gracie in the final. Unfortunately, for Gordeau he lost to Gracie in the final.
With his winnings from the tournament, Gordeau bought himself a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He also began learning Brazilian jujitsu
1993 also saw Gordeau become a Thai Boxing champion at an event held in Ramadajin, Thailand.
In 1994 Gordeau showed his talent for competing by becoming Seidokaikan Karate World Champion.
Gordeau was approached to take part in UFC2 in 1994. However, he declined to take part due to payment disagreements over UFC1. He did coach Remco Pardoel, who reached the semifinal of the event. Like Gordeau, he lost to Gracie.
On 20 April 1995, Gordeau competed at a Vale Tudo tournament in Japan. He had a controversial match against Yuki Nakai in which he committed several eye gouges. Although Nakai won the bout, he permanently lost sight in his right eye due to the eye gouges. This bout led to Gordeau being called the dirtiest fighter in MMA. The bout was Gordeau’s last MMA match.
In 2000, Gordeau worked as a consultant for the women’s MMA promotion ReMix. He also cornered women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen in the promotion.
In 2010, Gordeau who was aged 55 decided to retire from competing to focus on teaching and coaching. He finished with an MMA record of two wins and two losses. He also had a kickboxing record of 27 wins and six losses. His fighting and competitive career took him around the world. In Thailand, he competed in Thai Boxing and Kickboxing. In France, he competed in Savate. In Japan, he competed in Kyokushin and Seidokan.
Royce Gracie visited Dojo Honbu Kamakura in 2012 to train with Gordeau. This was the first time they had spoken to each other since UFC1.
Many people incorrectly think of Gerard Gordeau as a dirty fighter. He is a skilled martial artist, holding a 9th Dan in Kyokushin Karate; a 7th Dan in Seibudokai Karate; a 4th Dan in Oyama Karate; and a 3rd Savate Silver Glove.
Today Gordeau is the Chief Instructor of International Budokai. He frequently conducts seminars and training courses for his students.