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Van Damme, Jean-Claude
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Jean-Claude Van Damme

When future movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme auditioned for his debut theatrical role in No Retreat, No Surrender, I was the casting director who recommended him and who supervised his martial arts audition. It was my first Hollywood gig. The Hong Kong producer of Jackie Chan’s breakout comedy kung-fu hit Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow had sought me out precisely because I ran the STAR ratings, because I had been editor of Inside Kung-Fu magazine, and because I knew all the top fighters and their martial arts masters.

 

But I am not how we found Van Damme.

 

We did not spot Van Damme’s talent; Van Damme’s talent spotted us. In response to our Hollywood trade ad for black belt actors, he mailed in a photo of himself performing Chinese splits while suspended in mid-air with an ankle on each of two chairs. When he subsequently walked into our Raleigh Studios office for his preliminary audition, he instantly commanded everyone’s attention. His English at the time was just passable, but his energy was electric: sculpted physique, spectacular jump kicks, classic martial arts form, and an irrepressible determination.

 

Jean-Claude told me he patterned himself after Bruce Lee for the martial arts, after Arnold Schwarzenegger for the body building, and after John Wayne for the characters he wanted to bring to the screen. He envisioned exactly what he fancied from Hollywood on that very first day and, against incredible odds, succeeded larger-than-life beyond anyone’s expectations for an actor in a low-budget genre picture. Single-mindedly, he built an extraordinary movie career in an undeniably difficult industry.

 

He deserves full credit for that achievement.

 

The following analysis of Jean-Claude’s days as an amateur martial arts competitor is not intended as a slam against Van Damme but, rather, a denunciation of the Hollywood hype machine. For years, publicists have portrayed him as a living embodiment of his characters from Bloodsport and Kickboxer because they thought it would reinforce the marketing for his movies. Regretfully, following the theatrical release of No Retreat, No Surrender in May 1986, nothing written about Van Damme as a kickboxer can be accepted on its face without credible firsthand source substantiation. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, when it comes to Hollywood hype, believe half of what you see and none of what you read.

WIKIPEDIA excerpt - Retrieved 27 May 2011

Karate and kickboxing career

In 1980, Jean-Claude Van Damme defeated former Great Britain karate champion Michael J. Heming. Next, Van Damme scored a knockout over France's Georges Verlugels in two rounds. After these victories, Jean-Clause caught the attention of the European martial arts community. Professional Karate Magazine publisher and editor Mike Anders, and multiple European champion Geet Lemmens tabbed Jean-Claude Van Damme as an upcoming prospect.

Right from the start, I knew Van Damme’s real name was Jean-Claude Van Varenberg. After all, I prepared his actor contract. Jean-Claude told me he chose Van Damme as his stage name because it was easier for Americans.

 

In 1984, STAR discussed Jean-Claude Van Varenberg with Mike Anderson (misreferenced in the above Wikipedia excerpt as “Mike Anders”). Anderson founded both the Professional Karate Association (PKA) and Professional Karate magazine, and he promoted the 1979 WAKO world championships at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. He remembered Jean-Claude as a flashy member of the Belgian semi-contact kickboxing team. For those not familiar with WAKO, “semi-contact kickboxing” is the same as point karate, called semi-contact karate in America. In Europe, for reasons of legal branding, WAKO lumped point karate together with full-contact kickboxing. WAKO wanted to become the Olympic governing body for amateur martial arts. Then as now, branding was part of their process.

 

Of course, WAKO’s conflated terminology can mislead novice researchers, worshiping fans and Hollywood publicists who desperately want to reconstruct this celebrity martial artist’s difficult-to-substantiate amateur record. And their confusing information remains ever muddled with the Wikipedia approach.

 

In 1984, STAR further asked prospective WKA Middleweight World Champion Fred “The Gladiator” Royers in Holland to check Van Varenberg’s history with the Nederlandse Kick Boxing Bond (cited in Wikipedia’s record for Van Damme as the “Netherlands Kickboxing Federation”). Royers reported back that Van Varenberg had no full-contact fights with the NKBB; they did not keep records for amateurs. Royers provided a few of the press clippings contained in our Van Damme competitive history. We also checked with Jeronimo Canabate, founder and president of the European Professional Karate Association (EPKA), in Geneva and with PKA President Don Quine in Beverly Hills. Neither remembered Van Varenberg.

 

                Van Varenberg v Teugels

WIKIPEDIA excerpt - Retrieved 27 May 2011
 Karate and kickboxing career

Van Damme ended his fight career at the Forest National in Brussels. He knocked Patrick Teugels down and scored a first round technical knockout victory. Teugels suffered a nose injury and was unable to continue.


The Karate magazine photo on the left comes from the above-mentioned match between Jean-Claude Van Varenberg and Patrick Teugels, the WAKO amateur semi-contact vice-champion of the world, at the Forest National Arena in Brussels, Belgium, on 8 March 1980. Notice that both competitors are sporting safety-punch equipment rather than the boxing gloves that were mandatory for full-contact competition. Also, Van Varenberg wears a gym shirt; Teugels a karate gi. They are not bare-chested like full-contact kickboxers. In ourVan Damme competitive history, I have included a pre-event announcement of the fight card which identifies this match as amateur light-contact at 69 kg (152 pounds). Also included are the post-fight results: The martial arts press again identifies this match as light-contact. Teugels withdrew owing to an inadvertent injury. Van Varenberg won by forfeit (l’abandon), not by TKO.

 

Wikipedia’s Karate and Kickboxing Record

WIKIPEDIA chart - Retrieved 18 May 2011
Because of the STAR investigation in 1984, we know that Wikipedia does not present Van Damme’s “Karate and kickboxing record” correctly. All matches should be categorized as amateur: The quality of competition, the number of rounds and the personal stakes are quite different from those in professional kickboxing. Semi-contact tournament competition should be segregated from amateur full-contact events. Also, semi-contact forfeits are not the same as technical knockouts. Sanction and title references are misplaced or outright wrong.


These distinctions matter. The wikipedians have referenced largely multiple reiterations of Hollywood hokum to construct their questionable history. Combining all matches as though Van Damme had a professional kickboxing record is both deceptive and demeaning of Van Damme’s actual competitive accomplishments.

 

Ironically, the truth about Jean-Claude Van Varenberg is nearly as compelling as the Hollywood embellishments. The STAR System confirmed that Van Varenberg had been a successful tournament karate and team competitor in Europe. He had no professional kickboxing bouts. STAR did not document amateur kickboxing and can neither confirm nor dismiss any such bout. However, as a member of the winning 1979 WAKO Belgian national team, Van Varenberg’s point karate accomplishments were substantial … much akin to an Olympic athlete. 

 

On this website, I am providing contemporaneous French-language published accounts and English translations of competitions in which Van Varenberg participated. The STAR System obtained these press clippings in 1984 and 1985 from reporters for France’s Karate magazine, from PKA founder turned WAKO promoter Mike Anderson, and from WKA European representatives. (See Van Damme competitive history)



Standardized Tournaments And Ratings System

AUTHENTICATED COMPETITIVE HISTORY

As of 8 March 1980

Updated: 23 April 2012



Though not inside a kickboxing ring, this 1982 photo is the only image located by the STAR System from Jean-Claude
Van Varenberg’s competitive period as an amateur martial artist in which he donned the boxing gloves required for full-contact kickboxing.


 

JEAN-CLAUDE VAN VARENBERG

aka

“Jean-Claude Van Damme”

 

Born: 18 October 1960

Citizenship: Belgium, United States

Birthplace: Brussels

Height: 5 foot 9½ inches (1.76 meters)

 

ORIGIN OF STAGE NAME

When Jean-Claude first met with prospective talent managers in Hollywood, they told him his name contained too many syllables to be easily remembered by Americans. He adopted the stage name Van Damme to honor deceased Belgian bodybuilder Paul Van Damme.

 

 

AMATEUR COMPETITIVE HISTORY

In 1984 and 1985, after Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast in New World Picture’s No Retreat, No Surrender, the STAR System ratings began an investigation of his competitive history. STAR confirmed that Jean-Claude Van Varenberg had been a successful tournament karate and team competitor in Europe. He had no professional kickboxing bouts. STAR did not document amateur kickboxing and could neither confirm nor dismiss any such bouts. However, as a member of the winning WAKO Belgian national team, Van Varenberg’s point karate accomplishments were substantial.  

 

 

PRESS CLIPPINGS

The STAR System obtained the following contemporaneous press clippings in 1984-1985 from reporters for France’s Karate magazine, from PKA founder turned WAKO promoter Mike Anderson, and from WKA European representatives.

 

1978

“Challege Des Espoirs” Karate Tournament (1st Trials)

·          Jean-Claude Van Varenberg finishes second place.

 

1978 & 1979

WAKO Amateur World Championships

in Semi-Contact and Full-Contact Kickboxing

 

1978 & 1979

WAKO Semi-Contact Kickboxing Results

  • Mike Anderson promoted the 1979 WAKO World Championships in Tampa, Florida
  • WAKO had a legal problem with the term “full-contact karate”
  • Patrick Teugels finished second place at 69 kg in semi-contact competition
  • Jean-Claude Van Varenberg did not place

 

1978 & 1979

WAKO Full-Contact Kickboxing Results

·          Neither Jean-Claude Van Varenberg nor Patrick Teugels placed in full-contact competition

 

1979 December 26

“La Coupe François Persoons” Karate Tournament

  • Both Jean-Claude Van Varenberg and Patrick Teugels are part of the victorious WAKO national semi-contact team
  • Tournament was sanctioned by the Federation bruxelloise de Karate (FBK)

 

1980 February

Pre-Event Announcement of Fight Card for

Macaruso-Valera PKA World Title Bout

·          Jean-Claude Van Varenberg is scheduled to fight Patrick Teugels at 69 kg in 2-round amateur light-contact match

 

1980 March 8

Post-Event Press Coverage: Macaruso KOs Valera at the Forest National Arena

  • Jean-Claude defeats Patrick Teugels by 1st round forfeit in a light-contact match
  • No title is at stake