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Return of the Dragons: Three Kickboxing Legends Step Back Into the Ring

Return of the Dragons Bill Wallace
Black Belt Plus
Spoiler alert! Kickboxing legends Jean-Yves Theriault, Wally Slocki and Bill Wallace recently returned to the ring in Ottawa, Canada. Motivated not by money or belts, the former champs did it for charity — and for the benefit of fans everywhere. While raising money for a good cause, these legends proved that the martial arts can be a pursuit for practitioners of any age.

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “Three guys walk into a bar. ...” In this story, however, it’s three legendary kickboxing champs — men nicknamed “Iceman,” “Viking” and “Superfoot” — who walked into a ring. And in an instant, fans of the combat sports were trans- ported back to the glory days when everyone was talking about “the kick of the ’80s.”

The return of this iconic trio to the squared circle was part of a spectacular evening of fights promoted by Canada’s Jean-Yves “Iceman” Theriault, who ascended to Bill Wallace’s middleweight throne in 1980. In addition to a slew of amateur kickboxing bouts showcasing Team Canada versus Team USA, the evening featured three of the most celebrated warriors of the past half century. The goal was to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The bouts were part of Capital Conquest, a three-day martial arts festival that takes place annually in Gatineau, Canada. Organized by former PKA Promoter of the Year John Therien, the weekend also featured seminars with a plethora of instructors from around the world.

Jean-Yves “Iceman” Theriault

In addition to raising funds for charity, the headline bouts offered an opportunity for Theriault to showcase the value of practicing martial arts into one’s senior years. For those who are approaching the age at which concerns about retirement funds and grandchildren outweigh worries over physical activity, Theriault summarized the life-enhancing benefits of training:

“People look at me strangely and are surprised when they [learn] I will be fighting again. They look at me like, ‘Is that a joke?’ Listen, I’ve been training since I was 18, and we’re not ready for the coffin. Everybody can do some kind of martial art — whether it’s kickboxing, karate, kung fu or tai chi. There’s a martial art for every- body, and it can be practiced at any age.”

Promoting an evening of action while ensuring the athletes are well taken care of can be stressful — as Theriault discovered. “The most restful part of the event,” he confessed, “will be when I am in the ring.” 

The preliminary matches showcased Canadian and American amateurs who ranged from their teens to their 50s. Sitting ringside were special guests, including Carlos Newton, Canada’s first UFC champion, and Murray Wilson of the Montreal Canadiens, four-time winner of the NHL Stanley Cup.

A touching part of the evening came when an award was presented to Steve “Nasty” Anderson, Black Belt’s 1982 Competitor of the Year. The former world champion, who wreaked havoc in tournament karate in the 1980s and who’s made Canada’s capital his home for the past few decades, is battling Parkinson’s disease. Unwilling to be put on the canvas by the ailment, Anderson moved the crowd from tears to cheers when he shoved his walker aside and strode up the steps and into the ring to receive his award. 

Superfoot vs. Viking

The first dust-up involving the former fighters pitted Bill “Superfoot” Wallace against Wally Slocki, the Canadian karate phenom who came within a hair of becoming a kickboxing world champion. The last time these two martial artists faced off, Richard Nixon was the new resident of the White House and the prime minister of Canada was named Trudeau — not the current Justin Trudeau but his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In case you haven’t figured it out, that match took place in 1969. It was part of the USKA Grand Nationals in Kansas City, Missouri.

So how does one begin to describe a man dubbed Superfoot? Perhaps by stating that he’s a karate fighter who once had his kick clocked at more than 60 miles an hour. Perhaps by noting that now, despite having enough replacement parts in his body to set off a metal detector — two hips and one knee — he can still deliver age- and gravity-defying foot techniques.

Wallace’s entry into karate was literally by accident. While representing the U.S. Air Force judo team in 1966, the former high-school wrestler blew out his right knee. The accident caused him to switch from judo to karate. His one good kicking leg wound up being the greatest kicking leg ever, and it took him to the podium at every major point-fighting competition in America.

In 1974 Wallace made the leap into full contact and won a title at the first PKA World Championship, held in Los Angeles. He went on to defeat 22 more opponents over his six-year career in kickboxing, retiring undefeated in 1980. Then the entertainment industry came calling, and that led to, among other things, karate lessons for Elvis Presley and John Belushi courtesy of Superfoot.

Return of the Dragons

Now 74, Wallace said his motivation for accepting the bout with Slocki was threefold: Proceeds would go to charity, the experience promised to be fun and his participation would demonstrate that the martial arts can be practiced at any age. In a comment typical of his tongue-in-cheek approach to life — which continues to delight attendees at the 50 seminars he teaches annually — Superfoot deadpanned, “I’ll kill him!” just before the action began.

Wally Slocki, aka “The Viking,” began studying with Mas Tsuruoka, known as the father of Canadian karate, in 1965. By the time he was in his 20s, Slocki had become a multiple-time Canadian national karate champion. During the same period, he was setting the North Ameri- can tournament scene on fire — and signing autographs for wide-eyed 10-year-olds like this writer.

Slocki competed at the same 1974 PKA World Championships that Wallace did. Slocki faced Jeff Smith, a prominent Jhoon Rhee student, for the light-heavyweight crown. Each of the martial artists won a round, but Slocki lost the third because he had a point deducted for a rules violation. Undaunted, he fought Smith again in 1976 but failed to capture the title.

Tall, blond and still blessed with his movie-star good looks, Slocki, now in his 70s, disputed the use of the term “blood and guts” to describe tournament karate in the 1960s and ’70s. Fighting in that era demonstrated a wealth of good techniques thrown with control, he said. “It might have been rough and tough, but [that] was the martial arts. Everyone has their own interpretation of what was a hard punch or kick.”

These days, Slocki has an insightful, somewhat humor- ous approach to fighting. “We can’t kick and punch like we used to, [but] we still have the mechanics,” he said. “The mind says, ‘Go, go, go,’ but the body says, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’”

The exception to his comment is Bill Wallace, who “still kicks and punches as hard as he used to,” Slocki said.

When they shook hands before their bout, the two leg- ends drew a standing ovation. Wallace jokingly asked the referee to repeat the pre-fight instructions in French so he could understand. Joe Corley, former PKA head hon- cho and founder of the Battle of Atlanta, provided playful kick-by-kick commentary to the delight of the audience.

Wallace wowed the crowd by performing a full split before the bell rang. When the battle started, both fight- ers displayed the same hand and foot combinations that made them champions so long ago, and their demonstrated mastery of the martial arts enthralled everyone. Corley joked that Wallace’s kicks are now timed at a mere 55 miles an hour.

Between rounds, the irascible Wallace walked over to taunt Slocki’s corner before getting back to business in the center of the ring. And they did mean business. Seated ringside, this writer can attest to the sound each kick and punch made when it landed. Clearly, these karate veterans never got the memo that they might be past their prime. Afterward, Wallace quipped that it was “just another day at the office.” 

The exhibition ended with hugs exchanged and belts presented to both men. When Corley asked Wallace if he was really trying to hit Slocki, Wallace quipped, “Who, me?”

Slocki noted that while Wallace is famous for his kicks, he’s the owner of “the best hands in the busi- ness.” Then Slocki jokingly told this writer to make sure Black Belt readers know that “Wallace was trying to kill me.”

Iceman vs. Big Ben

Before the nickname “Iceman” was claimed by former UFC champion Chuck Liddell, kickboxing champ Jean- Yves Theriault was brandishing the moniker and his trademark icy glare while knocking down opponents like bowling pins.

Over the course of his 15-year reign as a full-contact world champion, Theriault amassed a record of 23 title defenses and 61 knockouts. Amazingly, those KOs were delivered with both his hands and both his feet — a feat (sorry) unmatched by any other combat athlete before or since.

Theriault’s time in the ring saw him take on the best of the best in kickboxing, including Ernesto Hoost, Rob Kaman, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Rick Roufus and Bob “Thunder” Thurman.

While he still possesses the speed and ring savvy he owned in his younger years, Theriault admitted before the bout, “I don’t have that knockdown KO power any- more.” For anyone standing across the ring from him, that likely would be interpreted as a blessing in disguise.

The Iceman’s opponent for the main event was Ben Ladouceur, who put together a record of 24 wins and two losses when he competed. He was a three-time Cana- dian kickboxing champion, a two-time North American kickboxing champion and the 2017 World IKF amateur light-heavyweight kickboxing champion. Ladouceur currently runs two jiu-jitsu and kickboxing schools, where he administers to nearly 1,000 students.

A student of Theriault’s since he was 5, Ladouceur has spent hundreds of hours sparring with him. During all those rounds, Theriault broke Ladouceur’s nose twice, and once he even bent a protective face shield while that nose was recovering. So he knew what to expect going into this match — even if it was just a demonstration.

Return of the Dragons

When Theriault originally approached him with the idea, Ladouceur said he couldn’t refuse. He confessed that he’d be honored to share the ring with his mentor and, as the father of two healthy children, said he’d be happy to do it for such a worthy cause.

With his trademark walkout music from 2001: A Space Odyssey blaring and fireworks exploding, Theriault made his way to the ring. His two daughters were ringside, where they worked the crowd into a frenzy, shouting, “Just like old times, Dad!”

Traditionally a slow starter, Theriault let the younger Ladouceur do his thing while he searched for openings. The audience, knowing that Theriault usually KO’d people in the later rounds, began echoing the rhythmic chant of “Jean-Yves, Jean-Yves” that reverberated inside stadiums across North America and Europe during his heyday.

 Bill Wallace

The bout yielded three rounds of technical kickboxing, with each fighter at times pushing the pace. While you can “play” football or hockey, it’s hard to play at fighting. There was no doubt that these two martial artists were throwing real shots because the sounds of contact could be heard clearly at ringside. They seemingly took turns launching kicks to the head and punches to the body, often from the clinch. 

When the exhibition ended, spectators rose to their feet. Theriault thanked everyone for supporting him over the past 40 years. He also praised the locals for helping the charity event raise almost $25,000. This spirit of giving was exemplified by Lorraine Pollock, wife of Greg Pollock, the strength and conditioning guru for many NHL players. She won a $2,000 prize that night and immediately donated the money back to the organizers so it could go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Theriault, in summing up why he put it all on the line for charity just a month before his 65th birthday, said, “I’m doing something because I can. I was given a platform to do something for others than [ just] myself. An athletic career is never over. If famous guys don’t do anything after [their time in the spotlight is over], I think they are missing the boat. My mom always said, ‘If you can help, you do help.’” 

The event thrilled those in attendance and earned more than expected for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. In the eyes of many, this commitment by Jean-Yves Theriault to give back to his community illustrated why they consider “The Iceman” to have been transformed into “The Niceman.”

Perry William Kelly has a sixth-degree black belt in jiu- jitsu and is an instructor in four other martial arts. He’s the former national coordinator for use of force for the Correctional Service of Canada. In 2017 he was a karate gold medalist at the World Police and Fire Games, and in 2018 he received the Joe Lewis Eternal Warrior Award. His website is

This article originally appeared in a 2020 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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