Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg
Nickname: Muscles from Brussels
Height: 5′ 9″ (1.75 m)
When Jean-Claude Van Damme became an international film star, there was some debate as to his kick-boxing accomplishments. Former multiple World Kickboxing Champion Don “The Dragon” Wilson even offered Jean-Claude a “$100,000″ bounty match to get into the ring and fight him. Van Damme brushed off the “challenge” as a publicity stunt. But, the truth of the matter was that Jean-Claude Van Damme was a successful semi and full-contact fighter who competed in Europe from 1976-1980.
At the age of 12, Van Damme began his martial arts training at Centre National De Karate (National Center of Karate) under the guidance of Master Claude Goetz in Ixelles, Belgium. Van Damme trained for 4 years and earned a spot on the Belgium Karate Team.
Jean-Claude’s debut in 1976, at the age of 16, almost ended in failure. Competing under his birth name of Jean Claude Van Varenberg, Jean-Claude was staggered by a round-house kick thrown by fellow countryman, Toon Van Oostrum in Brussels, Belgium. Van Damme was badly stunned, but came back to knockout Van Oostrum moments later.
In 1977, at the WAKO Open International in Belgium, Jean-Claude lost a decision to fellow team mate Patrick Teugels. The experience left an impact on Claude Goetz and he felt that Jean-Claude needed more training before competing again.
After six months of intense training and sparring, Master Goetz decided to unleash his prized pupil on the European Full-Contact scene. Jean-Claude won his first tournament by scoring 3 knockout victories in one evening. However, in a 1978 match for the Belgium Lightweight Title, he again lost a decision to Patrick Teugels. A few months later at Iseghem, Belgium, Van Damme comeback and knocked out Emile Leibman in the first round.
In 1979, Jean-Claude was a member of the Belgium Karate Team when it won the European Team Championships. Next, in his first and only match against a United States opponent, Van Damme faced ‘Sherman ‘Big Train’ Bergman’, a kick-boxer from the Miami Beach, Florida. For the first and only time in his career, Jean-Claude was knocked to the canvas after absorbing a powerful left hook from Bergman. However, Jean-Claude climbed off the canvas and with a perfectly timed ax-kick, knocked Bergman out cold in 56 seconds of the first round. Jean-Claude ended the year with a stoppage of Spain’s Gilberto Dias by first round injury.
In 1980, Jean-Claude Van Damme established himself as one of the best 160-pound, full-contact fighters in Europe. After two tune-up victories, Van Damme knocked out Great Britian and European Middleweight Karate Champion Micheal Heming, and France’s Georges Verlugels in 2 rounds.
After these victories, Van Damme 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. However, Jean-Claude’s ambitions now focused in the direction of movie acting.
Before he retired from active competition, Jean-Claude wanted to knockout the only man to defeat him, Patrick Teugels (Teugels defeated Van Damme three times). In 1980, at the Forest Nationals in Brussels, Jean-Claude knocked Teugels down and scored a first round technical knockout victory. Teugels suffered a nose injury and was unable in continue.
Following the victory, Jean-Claude retired from martial arts competition, a year later he launched a comeback. In 1981, Jean-Claude knocked out Henk Besselman in one round, and in 1982, he knocked out Lenny Leikman in three rounds. Jean-Claude’s full-contact fight record was 20-2 (20 knockouts), and his semi-contact record was 16-1.
After Jean-Claude’s film career took off, controversy arose because none of his fights were found. Some experts blasted Van Damme as a fake, saying he only had one amateur fight which he lost. But research and the Internet have finally cleared things up. Jean-Claude Van Damme fought his entire fight career under his birth name of Van Varenberg; thus the mix-up.
In August, 2009, it was announced that Jean-Claude Van Damme would return to the ring after a 27 year retirement to fight Thailand’s Somrak Khamsing in a match promoted by Japan’s K-1. The comeback fight is scheduled for April 2011 in Russia.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Alain Bernard
Born on Oct 18 1960, Jean-Claude Van Damme is the son of Eugene Van Varenberg and Eliana Van Varenberg. “The Muscles from Brussels” originally known as Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, started martial arts at the age of 11. His father Eugene Van Varenberg introduced him to martial arts when he saw his son was physically weak. Jean-Claude started with Shotokan Karate and later studied Kickboxing, Taekwon-Do, and Muay Thai. He won the European professional karate association’s middleweight championship as a teenager, and also beat the 2nd best karate fighter in the world. His goal was to be number one but got sidetracked when he left his hometown of Brussels.
He came to Hong Kong at the age of 19 for the first time and felt insured to do action movies in Hong Kong. So in 1981 Van Damme left Hong Kong and moved to Los Angeles, where he was trying for 5 years. He took English classes while working as carpet layer, pizza delivery man, limo driver, and thanks to Chuck Norris he got a job as a bouncer at a club. Norris gave Van Damme a small role in the movie Missing in Action(1984), but it wasn’t good enough to get anybody’s attention. Then in 1984 he got a role as a villain named Ivan in the low-budget movie No Retreat, No Surrender (1986).
Then one day, while walking on the streets, Jean-Claude spotted a producer for Cannon Pictures, and showed some of his martial arts abilities which led to a role in Bloodsport (1988). But the movie, filmed in Hong Kong, was so bad when it was completed, it was shelved for almost two years. It might have never been released if Van Damme did not help them to recut the film and begged producers to release it. They finally released the film, first in Malaysia and France and then into the U.S. Shot on a meager 1.5 million dollar budget, it became a U.S box-office hit in the spring of 1988. It made about 30 million worldwide and audiences supported this film for its new sensational action star Jean-Claude Van Damme.
His martial arts assets, highlighted by his ability to deliver a kick to an opponent’s head during a leaping 360-degree turn, and his good looks led to starring roles in higher budgeted movies like Cyborg (1989), Lionheart (1990), Double Impact (1991) and Universal Soldier (1992). In 1994, he scored with his big breakthrough $100 million worldwide hit Timecop (1994). But in the meantime, his personal life was coming apart. A divorce, followed by a new marriage, followed by another divorce.
It began to show up in his career when his projects began to tank at the box office - The Quest (1996), which he directed; Maximum Risk (1996) and Double Team (1997). The three films made less than $50 million combined.
In 1999 he remarried his ex-wife Gladys Portugues and restarted his lost career to attain new goals. With help from his family he faced his problems and made movies like Replicant (2001), Derailed (2002), and In Hell (2003) which did averagely in box office terms, but he tried to give his fans the best, his acting in those movies got better, more emotional and each movie was basically in different action tones.