Bill Wallace and Joe Lewis met in 1968 when both were competing at the World Professional Karate Championships. So began a close and loyal friendship that lasted until Lewis’ death in 2012. Over the years the two champions became like brothers, traveling the world competing, teaching, and conducting seminars. That bond endures through the Superfoot-Joe Lewis Martial Arts Systems.
Bill “Superfoot” Wallace
Bill Wallace retired as the undefeated Professional Karate Association (PKA) Middleweight Champion after defeating Robert Biggs in a 12-round bout in June 1980. The victory, his 23rd straight, signaled an end to an illustrious fifteen-year career in tournament and full contact fighting. Known to the karate world as Superfoot, symbolic of his awesome left leg, which was once clocked in excess of 60 mph, Superfoot left a string of battered and bruised bodies along the martial arts fighting trail. He used his foot as others would use their hands, faking opponents with two or three rapid kicks and following with one solid knockout technique. His power, speed, and precision were astounding. Superfoot, a 5’10”, a native of Portland, Indiana began studying karate in February 1967 after suffering a right leg injury in a judo accident. The injury left him without the use of his leg in karate competition. Some observers said that Superfoot was committing martial arts suicide. However, Wallace had other ideas. For the next several years, Superfoot dominated the point-tournament circuit.
As a national champion point fighter three years in a row, Superfoot captured virtually every major event on the tournament circuit. The more prestigious victories included: the U.S. Championships (three times), and the Top Ten Nationals (two times). Bill Wallace was such a dominant figure in the world of martial arts that Black Belt Magazine, the bible of industry publications, named him to its Hall of Fame three times in seven years—twice as “Competitor of the Year” and once as “Man of the Year”. Bill Wallace has additionally received numerous Hall of Fame honors from around the globe. Century Martial Arts has bestowed upon him a Lifetime Achievement Award along with taping a video series, simply entitled “Legends.” It has been noted that Superfoot is undeniably one of the ten most deadly men in the world.
In 1973, Superfoot, whose education includes a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Ball State University and a master’s degree (1976) in kinesiology from Memphis State University, suffered what many considered to be a career-ending injury. However, one of his friends, the late Elvis Presley, moved Superfoot into Graceland and called upon a renowned acupuncturist from Los Angeles to treat his friend. The result was simply amazing.
A year later, Bill Wallace, turned professional and captured the PKA middleweight karate championship with a second-round knockout (hook kick) of West German Bernd Grothe in Los Angeles. He relinquished the crown in 1980, undefeated and respected around the world.
Despite his retirement, Bill Wallace continues to be one of the martial arts most popular figures. He is the author of three books: Karate: Basic Concepts & Skills, Dynamic Kicking and Stretching, and The Ultimate Kick. He additionally has a series of videos which continue to be very much in demand. All are considered staples for the serious martial artist.
A former member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Bill Wallace, has also been active in the film industry. His credits include A Force of One with Chuck Norris; Kill Point, with Cameron Mitchell; Continental Divide and Neighbors with John Belushi; The Protector with Jackie Chan; A Prayer for the Dying with Mickey Rourke; Ninja Turf; and A Sword of Heaven, among others. Mr. Wallace has close to twenty films under his “black belt” and continues to be involved in the entertainment industry.
In 1966, with only 22 months of training, Lewis won the grand championship of the 1st tournament he entered, the U.S. Nationals promoted Jhoon Rhee. Lewis reigned as the U.S. Nationals grand champion from 1966–1969.
Joe Lewis’ seemingly dominating characteristic as a fighter was his phenomenal strength. Lewis was an intimidating adversary and would use his relentless power to see him through. He was considered a very intimidating presence in the Karate tournament scene. However, he was also very fast, which allowed him to score his thunderous signature side kick on his opponents. As a Karate point fighter, Lewis was famous for his lead side kick, he also developed a fast back fist punch, and failing that, he would grab his opponent’s gi and use the reverse punch until the fight was stopped.
In February, 1968, Lewis and five other top rated fighters fought in the 1st World Professional Karate Championships (WPKC) promoted by Jim Harrison. The rules allowed “heavy contact.” Lewis won the tournament and was paid one dollar, thus officially making him the first professional champion in karate history.
In late 1969 promoter Lee Faulkner contacted Joe Lewis to fight in his upcoming United States Karate Championships. Lewis had retired from point fighting at the time but agreed to fight if Faulkner would promote a full-contact karate bout with Lewis and an opponent who would fight to the knockout. Faulkner agreed. As Lewis and Greg Baines entered the ring wearing boxing gloves the announcer identified the fighters as “kickboxers”. That night Joe Lewis won the first-ever kickboxing bout in North America on January 17, 1970, with a second-round knockout over Greg Baines.
By the end of 1971, interest in kickboxing had hit an all-time low, with promoters unable to attract a crowd to a kickboxing event. Lewis retired as undefeated United States Heavyweight Kickboxing champion in 1971. His record as the undisputed United States heavyweight kickboxing champion was a perfect 10–0 with 10 KO’s.
September 14, 1974 on ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment, promoter Mike Anderson introduced PKA ‘full-contact’ karate. In the bouts, competitors wore foam hand and foot protection and fought to the knockout (Kickboxing rules allowed for leg kicks: full-contact karate rules did not permit kicks to the legs). Lewis, the retired US Heavyweight Kickboxing champion was accustomed to full contact fighting. In 1974 he beat his only opponent in the new sport of full contact karate with a 2nd round ridge hand knockout over Yugoslavia’s Frank Brodar in Los Angeles, California to win the Professional Karate Association (PKA) Heavyweight full-contact karate title.
The original 1974 PKA world champions, including Joe Lewis (heavyweight), Jeff Smith (light heavyweight) and Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace (middleweight) received so much fanfare from the PKA title wins and resultant publicity in popular martial arts magazines that their status as “legends of the karate world” was guaranteed. In 1975 Joe Lewis was inducted into the Black Belt magazine Hall of Fame as the 1974 full contact karate “fighter of the year”. In 1983, Joe Lewis was voted by the top fighters and promoters as the greatest karate fighter of all time.
In 1990 Lewis (198 lbs) fought one last exhibition kickboxing/karate match with friend Bill Wallace (166 lbs) on pay per view. Both Lewis and Wallace were refused a boxing license because of their age. Though it was only an exhibition, many people believed it was the main event of the night due to the publicity it attracted. The fight was billed “Speed vs Power”.
Joe Lewis was a veteran of the Vietnam War where he served in the communications field. He acted in films (Jaguar Lives in 1978 and Force: Five in 1981) and on TV. Throughout his life, he continued to give seminars and work in the entertainment industry.
Joe Lewis died of brain cancer on August 31, 2012 at Coatesville Veterans Administration Medical Center. Lewis was 68 years old.