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Fighter Profiles > World Champions > Michael Swain


DOB - 21 December 1960

Favourite Techniques


Best Results


Olympic Games

Seoul, 1988, Bronze

World Championships

Seoul, 1985, Silver
Essen, 1987, Gold
Belgrade, 1989, Silver


There is a long tradition of Judo in the USA and Americans have always provided strong competition in main International events ever since Jim Bregman won bronze in the Tokyo Olympics. But Michael swain was the first American man to win a world title, when he beat Marc Alexandre of France to take gold in the World Championships in Essen, Germany.

It was an exceptional achievement, for the Lightweight category at the time was one of the strongest, and he had to overcome one champion after another. In the quarter final he met Toshihiko Koga, one of the most naturally talented and innovative fighters the world has ever seen.  In previous meetings, Koga had demolished swain with his Ippon seoi nage. It was a tribute to the American’s character that he never doubted his ability to win, even against Koga.  During the fight Koga launched Swain into the air for what looked like being an inevitable ippon, but Swain managed to twist out. He then recovered his composure superbly to produce a lightning fast Ouchi gari for koka which proved to be the winning score in a dramatic match.

Swain continued to fight on top form to contain Chang-Su Lee of North Korean in the semi-final, and then sweep past Alexandre in the final. With two additional World Silvers, in 1985 and 1989, as well as a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, swain was undoubtedly  one of the most talented fighters o f his era.

This was due, in large part, to his versatility. Swain started judo at the age of 11. An early hero of his was Alan Coage, Olympic Bronze medallist in 1976, whose favourite techniques were Tai-otoshi and Ouchi-gari. These became the Tokui-waza of Swain also.  

He first went to Japan when he was just 17, demonstrating both his love of judo and his courage! He arrived on his own, started at the Kodokan and eventually joined Nihon University. ‘It was like a boot camp,’ he remembers, ‘but I was on a mission, so I persisted’.

Through the long sessions at Nichidai (Nihon), swain developed his style, building on the classical training he had received in America. Later, training in Europe and elsewhere, he learned to mix and match with the more physical Europeans. It was this ability to cope with all styles of opposition that made him such an effective competitor.

He was USA national champion four times in his long fighting career, and won many other medals on the international circuit. He represented the USA at four Olympics, from 1980 to 1992. Following his retirement, he turned to business, involving himself in martial art sales and competition promotion.