Joe Lewis is an American kickboxer and point Karate fighter whose success in the ring in the 1960s and 1970s is still legendary. He has twice been voted the greatest fighter in karate history, and has attained the titles of “World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion,” “World Heavyweight Karate Champion,” and “United States National Black Belt Kata Champion.”
Joe Lewis was born on March 7, 1944 in Knightdale, NC. Joined the United States Marine Corps in 1962 and was stationed at Cherry Point. He studied Shorin-ryu Karate with Eizo Shimabukuro, John Korab, Chinsaku Kinjo and Seiyu Oyata in Okinawa while serving in the United States Marine Corps, earning his black belt in a mere seven months. He studied with the influential martial artist and Jeet Kune Do founder Bruce Lee.  Hong Kong cinema historian Bey Logan says Lewis was the original pick of Bruce Lee for the villain Colt in Way of the Dragon, but that Lee and Lewis had a falling out before the film and thus Chuck Norris was tabbed instead.
In 1966, with only 22-months of training, Lewis won the grand championship of the 1st tournament he entered, The U.S. Nationals promoted by Jhoon Rhee.Lewis defeated 7 opponents before defeating Tom Lupuppet by 2-0 decision.Lewis reigned as The U.S. Nationals grand champion from 1966-1969. At the 1967 Nationals in Washington, Lewis won the championship by beating Frank Hargrove 3-2 in the finals. Previously, Lewis defeated Hargrove in New York City at ‘Henry Cho’s Karate Tournament’.During that time he was defeated by Chuck Norris, a defeat he would soon avenge.
In 1966, at the Long Beach Internationals, Lewis lost an upset decision to Allen Steen. In 1967, Lewis defeated Weiland Norris (brother of Chuck Norris), Steve LaBounty,Frank Knoll, and Frank Hargrove (for the 3rd time).
In February, 1968, Lewis and five other top rated fighters (Bob Wall, Skipper Mullins, J. Pat Burleson, David Moon, and Fred Wren) fought in the 1st World Professional Karate Championships (WPKC) promoted by Jim Harrison. This was the first “professional” tournament in karate history and took place in Harrison’s dojo in Kansas City. The rules allowed “heavy contact.” Lewis won the tournament and was paid 1-dollar, thus officially making him the first professional champion in karate history(Reference: Martial Arts by John Corcoran & Emil Farkas, 1988, page 254.)
At the 1968 ‘Orient vs. U.S. Tournament’, promoted by Aaron Banks, Lewis lost a decision to Japanese-American N. Tanaka. In Dallas, Texas, at the ‘First Professional Karate Tournament’, Lewis won the championship trophy by decisioning Larry Whitner, Phil Ola, and Skipper Mullins.
In August, 1968, Lewis was defeated by Victor Moore at the 2nd professional karate tournament in history. The event was called the World’s Hemisphere Karate Championships and it took place in San Antonio, Texas; promoted by Robert Trias and Atlee Chittim. Both Moore and Lewis split the championship purse of 1-thousand dollars. That same year, Lewis defeated Louis Delgado (Delgado had beaten Chuck Norris the year before).
On November 24, 1968 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, Lewis won Aaron Banks’, World Professional Karate Championships by defeating Victor Moore to win the World Heavyweight Title. Lewis was paid $600 for his title winning effort.
In 1970, Lewis lost in yet another upset to John Natividad at the All-Star Team Championships in Long Beach, California. However, at the ‘Battle of Atlanta’ promoted by Joe Corley, Joe Lewis beat Mitchell Bobrow for the Heavyweight Championship, and Joe Haynes for the Grand Championship.
At Ed Parker’s 1972 ‘International Karate Championships’, Daniel Garcia scored an upset victory over Lewis.
Joe Lewis was voted by the top fighters and promoters as the greatest karate fighter of all time in 1983. Chuck Norris and Bill Wallace tied for second place. Gene Lebell has credited Joe as the person who “brought us full-contact karate.”
1974 was to be a busy year for Joe Lewis and it would mark his final year in tournament karate competition. In May, Lewis lost to Charles Curry in New York at the Hidy Ochiai National Karate Tournament. That same month, Lewis won the PAWAK tournament which lasted from May 11th-May 12th. Lewis scored victories over Frank Harvey, Smiley Urquidez, Benny Urquidez, and Cecil Peoples in the elimination matches. Joe won the championship with a 4-3 points decision over Steve Sanders. Finally, at Mike Anderson’s, ‘Top 10 National Professional Karate Tournament’, Lewis lost to Eddy “Monster Man” Everett in the finals.
Joe Lewis is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He has acted in films and on TV, and was briefly married to actress Barbara Leigh. Today he continues to give seminars and work in the entertainment industry.
Joe Lewis won the World Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship on January 17, 1970 with a second round knockout over Greg Baines. Previous to his title winning effort, Lewis won a 3 round decision over Chuck Lemmons (unclear if this was a kickboxing match or a karate match).Lewis defended his title with 10 straight knockouts in 1970.
On June 20, 1970 in Dallas, Texas, Lewis defended his title against “Big” Ed Daniels at the U.S.A. Professional Open Karate Championships promoted by Lee Faulkner. Lewis retained his title by knocking out Daniels in 2 rounds. In a rematch, Lewis KO’d Daniels in 3 rounds. On January 24, 1971, at the 2nd Annual United Nations Open Karate Championships promoted by Aaron Banks, Lewis knocked out Ronnie Bankoot at 1:25 of the first round. At another Banks promotion; World Championship Kickboxing Bouts, Lewis scored a 3rd round knockout over “Atlas” Jesse King.He is the only kickboxer to be featured on the cover of The Ring Boxing Magazine.
Lewis retired from kickboxing to become a movie actor. Lewis retired as undefeated champion in 1971, but cameback on September 14, 1974 on ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment to win the vacant title with a 2nd round knockout over Yugoslavia’s Frank Brodar in Los Angeles, California. After appearing on the cover of Playgirl magazine, Lewis retired once again.
In 1975 he launched an unsuccessful comeback. In July, he lost a 3-round decision to Teddy Limoz in a non-title match in Hawaii, and in September, he lost a 7-round decision to Ross Scott after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Lewis continued with his acting career and starred in Jaguar Lives in 1978 and Force Five in 1981.
At the age of 39, in 1983, Joe Lewis launched a comeback which saw him earn a top-10 world ranking. First he defeated Mel Cole and Curtis Crandall. Then on April 16th, Lewis lost to Tom Hall in an upset. On August 10th, Lewis suffered a 4th round technical knockout loss to Kerry Roop; due to an eye cut. On December 7, 1983, Lewis scored a 7 round victory over Charleton Young and announced his retirement. Joe Lewis’s career kickboxing record was 18-4 (16 knockouts).