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K-1 Champion Loses Battle Against Leukemia

October 18, 2000
Mourners gather at Andy Hug's funeral. (AFP/Jiji)

The sudden death of an iron man caused shock and sadness throughout Japan. Former K-1* champion Andy Hug died of acute leukemia in a Tokyo hospital on August 24, 2000 at age 35. Many people in Japan expressed their sorrow at his untimely passing, and President Adolph Oghi of Switzerland, Hug's homeland, who also serves as the country's sports chief, paid tribute to Hug by saying, "He was a great ambassador for Switzerland."

After failing to recover from a fever that had been ailing him for several days, Hug, who arrived in Japan on August 15 for an October K-1 tournament, went to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with leukemia four days later. On August 22 Hug gave this message to his fans: "This disease is the strongest opponent I have faced so far, but I'll win. I definitely plan on seeing you all again one day." However, the disease overwhelmed Hug, who died just five days later.

European Samurai
Hug grew up in Zurich, Switzerland. He began karate at age 10 and, at age 15, joined the Kyokushin Kaikan karate organization. In 1987, he was runner-up at the fourth Kyokushin Karate World Championship. In 1992, he joined Seido Kaikan and made Japan his primary battleground. He made his K-1 debut in 1994, and in 1996, at the fourth K-1 Grand Prix, he fulfilled a long-cherished dream by defeating rival Mike Bernardo to claim his first championship. Hug, whose signature move was a high, swooping kick onto the top of his opponent's head, embodied the principle of the "samurai spirit" and continued to maintain his popularity and reign as a K-1 ace.

Beyond the Squared Circle
Hug's activities were not limited to the K-1 arena. He appeared in TV commercials and made guest appearances on variety shows to become a popular media figure even outside of K-1. Even many people with no interest in K-1 were familiar with Hug. He threw the first pitch at a pro baseball game not long before his death. A popular all-around personality, he was loved by many Japanese people.

Thousands Mourn Hug's Passing
Hug's funeral on August 27, 2000 was attended by more than 12,000 people, including 800 colleagues and friends and many famous media personalities, further proof of his far-reaching influence. Even many weekly woman's magazines that do not usually cover fighting sports included special coverage of the event. Prime Minister Mori sent a telegram of condolence, and sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Musashimaru, who attended the funeral, said, "Before I became a yokozuna, he encouraged me, 'You can also be a champion.' I'm very sad." A line of 12,000 fans stretching 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) cried, "Andy!" as his coffin was placed in a vehicle and driven away. The funeral was a further reminder of both the popularity of K-1 and the achievements of Hug.

*K-1 is a sport in which competitors utilize standing techniques from such kakutogi (hand-to-hand combat) sports as karate, kick-boxing, kung fu, kempo, and tae kwon do to determine the world's strongest martial artist. "K" stands for the first letter of these martial arts and kakutogi itself, and "1" represents both the event's single, open weight class and "number one." The rules and fighting formula were conceived by Japan's Seido Kaikan. The sport's popularity grew in Japan, Europe, and the United States in the mid-1990s. Several tournaments are held each year.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.