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Top 10 Greatest Judo Players Of All Time 2024 Guide

Greatest Judo Players Of All Time

Introduction to Judo

Judo, originating from Japan in the late 19th century, is not just a martial art but a way of life. It emphasizes using an opponent’s strength against them, employing throws and grappling techniques to achieve victory. Over the years, Judo has gained global recognition, and its athletes have become icons in the sporting world.

Understanding Judo’s Impact

Judo’s impact extends far beyond the confines of the dojo. It promotes discipline, respect, and self-control, physically and mentally shaping individuals. Moreover, it serves as a platform for cultural exchange and camaraderie among nations.

Criteria for the Greatest Judo Players

In determining the greatest judo players of all time, several criteria come into play:

Technical Skill: Mastery of judo techniques, adaptability, and innovation on the mat.

Tournament Success: Achievements in prestigious competitions such as the Olympics, World Championships, and All Japan Judo Championships.

Influence on the Sport: Contributions to the development and popularization of Judo globally.

10. Hitoshi Saito

Hitoshi Saito Greatest Judo

Hitoshi Saito, a former Japanese judo athlete who won two gold medals in a row at the Olympics, is ranked tenth on our list of all-time greatest judo players.

He initially took home the gold in the open weight division at the 1983 World Judo Championships. The following year, he repeated as a gold medalist in the heavyweight event at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

At the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, Hitoshi successfully defended his title and won another gold medal. Soon after his retirement, he started teaching at Kokushikan University and the All-Japan Judo Federation.

In addition, he is the coach of the Japanese judo squad that competed in the Summer Olympics in 2004. Following his passing on January 20, 2015, the Japanese Emperor granted Hitoshi Saito the Order of the Rising Sun.

9. Wim Ruska

Wim Ruska

The first judo competitor in history to win two gold medals in the same Olympics is former Dutch competitor Willem “Wim” Ruska, who competed in the heavyweight and absolute divisions in the 1972 Games.

He is ranked ninth on our list of the top 10 greatest judo players of all time and is widely regarded as one of the most dominant judo players during his era.

During his active judo career, Ruska won two more European medals in the open category and five more in the 93 kg division. In 1967 and 1971, he also took home the Judo World Championship twice.

He gave up Judo after the 1972 Olympics and participated in the New Japan Pro Wrestling. 2013 Wim Ruska was admitted into the International Judo Federation Hall of Fame.

8. David Douillet

David Douillet Greatest Judo Players

In addition to being a retired French judo player, David Douillet is also a well-known political activist and ranks seventh on our list of all-time greatest judo players.

In the heavyweight class, he first won the gold medal in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and then successfully defended his title in Sydney in 2000.

David Douillet captured four world championship championships throughout his competitive judo career and earned a title.

He continues to be regarded as one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history. Following his retirement from competitive sports, Douillet was named to the François Fillon Cabinet on June 29, 2011, as the Secretary of State for French nationals living abroad.

7. Teddy Riner

Teddy Pierre-Marie Riner, a French judo practitioner, is the first male competitor to win seven gold medals at the World Championships. He is ranked eighth among the all-time best judo players.

During his active Judo career, he earned four gold medals at the European Championships and one gold medal in the Olympics. He plays for the Levallois Sporting Club in Levallois-Perret and is coached by Christian Chaumont and Benoit Campargue.

Teddy Riner earned his first senior championship in the European Judo Championships in Belgrade in 2007 after initially winning the World and European junior titles in 2006.

After winning the 2007 World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, he became the youngest world champion. In 2013, Riner was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur for his performance in Judo.

6. Ilias Iliadis

Ilias Iliadis Judo Players

Greek judo practitioner Ilias Iliadis, born in Georgia, is ranked sixth among the all-time great judo players and is the first athlete to march into Bird’s Nest Stadium at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

In his early years, he began representing Greece in international competitions, and in the half-middleweight class, he won the gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

In the 90kg division, Iliadis again won the title at the 2010 World Judo Championships in Tokyo.

He won the 2011 European Judo Championships in Istanbul in his weight class. That same year, he also won the World Judo Championships.

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5. Masato Uchishiba

Masato Uchishiba

Masato Uchishiba, a Japanese judo player, took home two gold medals at the Olympics. In addition, he is currently ranked number five on our ranking of all-time great judo players.

In the men’s under 66kg division, he first won the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, defeating Jozef Krná? of Slovakia. He then repeated the feat in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, defeating Benjamin Darbelet of France.

Uchishiba famously said, “I wanted this so badly I wouldn’t have cared if it was my last fight ever,” following his Olympic medal victory.

In April 2010, he began coaching the women’s judo team at Kumamoto Prefecture’s Kyushu University of Nursing and Social Welfare.

4. Anton Geesink

Anton Geesink

World Judo Champion twice, Dutchman Antonius Johannes “Anton” Geesink held a 10th-dan in Judo. In addition, he is currently ranked #4 on our ranking of the all-time greatest judo practitioners.

He won 21 European championship titles and the 1964 Olympic gold medal in his competitive athletic career. Geesink is still one of the few 10th Dan grade judo practitioners who has the IJF’s official recognition. And that achievement remains true even after his passing on August 27, 2010.

1951 saw him begin competing in the European Championships, and in 1952, he took home his first victory. Before his involvement in the competition in 1967, he went on to win twenty more European titles.

3. Tadahiro Nomura

Tadahiro Nomura

Judo enthusiasts regard Japanese athlete Tadahiro Nomura as one of the greatest judo performers ever. On our list of the ten best judo players of all time, he is also currently ranked third.

Being the first and only Judo player to win three gold medals in a row at the Olympics helped him establish his reputation. And he succeeded in the extra lightweight competition.

On July 26, 1996, in the Atlanta Summer Olympics, Nomura defeated Girolamo Giovinazzo to win his first Olympic gold. In April 1996, he went on to win the title of All-Japan Selected Judo Championships.

In 1997, he took home the title of the World Judo Championship and the All-Japan Selected Judo Championship. Ultimately, during the 2000 Summer Olympics, Tadahiro Nomura successfully defended his title in the Olympic event. Later, he defended it during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. His supporters still regard him as the top 60 kg judo player.

2. Yasuhiro Yamashita

Yasuhiro Yamashita

Yasuhiro Yamashita, a Japanese judo artist, teaches for several reputable organizations these days, including the International Judo Federation. In addition, he is employed by Tokai University and the All-Japan Judo Federation.

He has earned the right to be considered among the greatest judo competitors ever. In addition, he comes in second on our ranking of the all-time greatest judo players.

From October 1977 to his last match in April 1985, Yamashita had 203 close victories. And he didn’t lose in that time either. In 1977, he became the youngest-ever judo player to win the All-Japan Judo Championships.

And he accomplished that at the young age of 19. On October 9, 1984, Yasuhiro Yamashita, the 79th World Judo Champion, was awarded the Japanese National Prize of Honor.

1. Kanō Jigorō

Kanō Jigorō

Supporters believe that Kanō Jigorō, a Japanese martial artist, is the originator of Judo. Additionally, he was referred to as the trailblazer for introducing Judo as the first Japanese martial art to be widely known outside of Japan.

He introduced Judo’s black-and-white belt system. For all of these reasons, he deserves the title of best judo player of all time. His admirers have acknowledged him thus far for his outstanding contribution to the Judo sport.

His catchphrases, “Mutual Welfare and Benefit” and “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort,” are another reason his supporters respect him.

In the 1910s, he also significantly influenced the introduction of Judo and kendo into Japanese public school curricula. In addition, he was the first Asian appointed to the International Olympic Committee, a position he held from 1909 to 1938. From 1912 until 1936, Kanō Jigorō officially represented Japan in most Olympic Games.


In the rich tapestry of Judo’s history, certain individuals are the greatest of all time. From Jigoro Kano’s visionary leadership to Teddy Riner’s unparalleled success, these judo icons have shaped the sport and inspired generations.

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