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Don Nakaya Nielsen

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Don Nakaya Nielsen
Nielsen in Thailand, 2016
BornDonald Eugene Nielsen
(1959-07-04)4 July 1959
Los Angeles, United States
Died(2017-08-16)16 August 2017 (aged 58)
Bangkok, Thailand
Other namesThunder
Height1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight84 kg (185 lb; 13 st 3 lb)
Light heavyweight
Muay Thai
Tang soo do
TrainerBenny Urquidez
Master Toddy
Mike Stone
RankBlack belt in Tang soo do
OccupationKickboxer, professional wrestler, actor, chiropractor

Donald Eugene “Nakaya” Nielsen (July 4, 1959 – August 16, 2017) was an American kickboxer, professional wrestler, actor, and chiropractor. Best known for his lengthy tenure in professional martial arts, Nielsen was an international competitor who held the WKA US Cruiserweight Championship for much of his career and fought in one of the earliest mixed martial arts-style matches of Japan. As an alternative medicine practitioner, Nielsen played an active role in legalizing chiropractic practice in Thailand.

Early life[edit]

Nielsen was born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1959 to Howard and Beth Nielsen.[1] He began his formal martial arts training at age 10, studying tang soo do under a cousin who operated a dojo owned by Chuck Norris.[2] Competition in karate soon followed.[3] He attended Whittier College on an athletic scholarship, playing football and majoring in pre-medicine.[4]



After winning a Golden Gloves title in amateur boxing,[1] Nielsen moved on to professional kickboxing. He established himself in the WKA, amassing an early record of 12-4 with all wins coming by way of knockout. The golden days of his career began with his winning the WKA US Cruiserweight Championship: holding the title for most of his fighting days, Nielsen made his name as an aggressive knockout artist who defeated his opponents within the early rounds. His willingness to compete internationally led him to fight and train in Japan, where he embraced his Japanese heritage en route to becoming one of the country's most popular sports stars. With Japanese fans accepting him as one of their countrymen, he represented Japan in international bouts and was one of the nation's only heavyweight kickboxers during his career.[2]

In May 1989, Nielsen entered world-class competition by challenging budding superstar Kevin Rosier for his WKA World Super Heavyweight Championship. With a record of 14-2, Rosier was half as experienced as Nielsen but was significantly taller and maintained a weight advantage of over 45 pounds (20.4 kilos). Frustration between the fighters rose as the number of committed fouls mounted and Nielsen slowed the match’s pace by repeatedly falling to the canvas. The fight ended in the sixth round when a visibly angered Rosier threw Nielsen onto the ring ropes and landed an unprotected blow to the face, leading to a technical knockout.[5]

Nielsen attempted to make up for this loss later in the year with a contest against Rob Kaman, a Dutch Muay Thai stylist attaining legendary status as an international champion. Nielsen sought to match his opponent’s signature low kicks but found himself repeatedly swept by Kaman’s legs before being knocked out by a surprise right hook.[6] The following year, Nielsen met future world champion Masaaki Satake in the latter’s debut match. Nielsen swarmed his less-experienced opponent early on but was unsettled by Satake’s repeated headbutts, eventually dropping his guard and being knocked out by a right hook.[7]

In the following three years, Nielsen continued to fight internationally, winning the WKA International Heavyweight Championship in 1992 but still falling short of world titles. His final match took place in September 1993 at the K-1 Illusion event, for the UKF World Heavyweight Championship, against returning opponent Masaaki Satake. More experienced at this time, Satake fought primarily with counter-strikes, rarely allowing even a single one of Nielsen’s blows to go unrequited. He knocked Nielsen down three times within the opening round, leading to a TKO loss as per K-1 rules.

Pro wrestling[edit]

Nielsen's kickboxing success allowed an easy expansion to professional wrestling, which he participated in alongside his fighting career. A participant of the shoot wrestling style, Nielsen's matches were designed to look as realistic as possible with Nielsen wearing boxing gloves to emphasize his kickboxing background. His list of opponents from 1986 to 1993 includes ring legends Akira Maeda, Keiichi Yamada, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. He wrestled primarily for New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

Mixed martial arts[edit]

Nielsen's most famous sporting endeavor was a one-time event in the budding field of mixed martial arts. On October 4, 1992, he met Ken Shamrock in a mixed rules bout - the first time in Japan that a pro wrestler had fought a kickboxer in televised no-holds-barred competition. Nielsen was quickly submitted by Shamrock, who took advantage of his opponent's limited grappling experience and the fact that Nielsen had opted to wear boxing gloves. The match elevated Japanese interest in MMA competition and helped lead to the formation of Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling.[8]


Nielsen made his acting debut in the 1984 film Fear City, playing an uncredited role as a boxer. He upgraded to larger roles in the 1990s, playing villains in the Dale Cook vehicles Blood Ring, Fist of Steel, and Blood Ring 2.


Nielsen earned a chiropractic doctorate from Cleveland University-Kansas City in 1986[4] and was nationally certified in 1988. He began treating patients immediately after graduation. Beginning in 1987, he traveled to Thailand to train at Muay Thai gyms, where he treated his fellow kickboxers and learned that chiropractic wasn't widely practiced in the country. He subsequently partnered with Paolo Memorial Hospital and participated in monthly charity tours – offering chiropractic treatment to far-flung and impoverished villages. Seeking to establish chiropractic as a legitimate business in Thailand, he opened Dr. Don's Center for Natural Health in March 1993.[4]

As chiropractic was not yet adopted by Thailand's Ministry of Public Health, Nielsen's enterprise brought him into conflict with authorities - at one point being arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license and running a clinic without a permit.[4][9] Though allowed to continue his business, he was required to do so under physical therapy and nursing licenses. Nielsen consequently became an activist, advocating that chiropractic be legally practiced without oversight by the Medical Council of Thailand.[4] In 2006, as the result of various efforts, chiropractic became a legal profession in the country[9] and Nielsen was able to practice freely.

During his career, Nielsen served within many organizations furthering chiropractic practice, including the Subcommittee of Chiropractic via the Ministry of Public Health; he served from 2005 to 2009.[4] He was the co-founder and vice president of the Thailand Chiropractic Association, secretary of the steering committee under the Asian Chiropractic Federation, president of the Thailand chapter of the Federation International du Chiropractique de Sportif (FICS), and founder and president of the Thailand International Chiropractic Organization (TICO). He was also the founder and first president of the Chiropractic Association of Thailand and the founder of the Bio Energy Asia clinic in Bangkok.[4]


On August 14, 2017, Nielsen underwent surgery in Bangkok to treat an infection on his legs that had caused sepsis and renal failure. During the procedure, he suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. More heart attacks followed, and Nielsen died within two days of his admission of the hospital. He was 58 years old.[10]

Nielsen's death was observed in Thailand and the United States. In Bangkok, funeral and cremation rites were performed at the Wat That Thong temple from August 22 to August 24. On September 16, a wake was held at the Rolling Hills Method Church in Los Angeles.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Nielsen was married to his wife Cheryl, and the couple had three sons: Corey, Casey, and Colby. He also had three brothers: Scott, Greg, and Jon.[1]

Nielsen was trilingual, being fluent in English, Japanese, and Thai.

Fighting style[edit]

An aggressive fighter characterized by his powerful striking ability, Nielsen synthesized his boxing and martial arts skills into a formidable offensive technique. He engaged his kickboxing opponents head-on, frequently forcing them into a corner or against the ropes and pummeling them with roundhouse kicks and punches. Nielsen was capable of a more intricate approach as well, utilizing lunging attacks with precision striking reminiscent of karate point fighting. He was a knockout-focused fighter, with 22 of his wins in late 1992 being the result of KO.[2]

Nielsen's primary weakness was his defense, which was exploited by world champion-level opponents. Future K-1 Grand Prix '94 runner-up Masaaki Satake was able to control his rematch against Nielsen with counter strikes, and multi-time world champion Rob Kaman knocked him down repeatedly during their bout with his signature low kicks.


World Kickboxing Association

  • WKA United States Cruiserweight Champion
  • WKA International Heavyweight Champion

Universal Kickboxing Federation

  • UKF International Heavyweight Champion

Kickboxing record (incomplete)[edit]

Date Result Opponent Event Method Round Time Location Record
September 4, 1993 Loss Japan Masaaki Satake K-1 Illusion TKO (3 knockdowns/Right hook) 1 2:30 Japan Osaka, Japan
Fight was for the vacant UKF World Heavyweight title.
May 22, 1993 Win Japan Yoshiteru Hiraoka AJKF Evolution Step-3 KO (Left high kick) 2 2:37 Japan Tokyo, Japan
November 14, 1992 Win United States Jean-Claude Leuyer AJKF in Las Vegas TKO (Referee stoppage/Punches) 1 0:26 United States Las Vegas, US
Wins the vacant WKA International Heavyweight Championship.
June 30, 1990 Loss Japan Masaaki Satake AJKF Inspiring Wars - Heat KO (Right hook) 1 2:07 Japan Tokyo, Japan
Nielsen's corner protested the outcome, claiming he lost due to an illegal headbutt.
September 5, 1989 Loss Netherlands Rob Kaman AJKF Super Bout KO (Right hook) 3 Japan Tokyo, Japan
May 14, 1989 Loss United States Kevin Rosier AJKF Knockout of the Century - Part 3 TKO (Referee stoppage/Right uppercut) 6 1:05 Japan Tokyo, Japan
Fight was for Rosier's WKA World Super Heavyweight title.
January 29, 1989 Win Mexico Victor Agre AJKF Clash of the Century I KO 1 0:19 Japan Japan
1989 Win United States Lavelle Robinson KO (Left hook) 1 United States Tulsa, US
March 27, 1987 Win United States Charlie Archie NJPW Inoki Toukon Live II KO (Left high kick) 3 0:30 Japan Osaka, Japan
April 13, 1985 Loss United States Jerry Rhome PKA The Battle of Atlanta TKO (Right cross) 4 1:19 United States Atlanta, US
Fight was for Rhome's PKA US Heavyweight title.[11]
November 10, 1984 Loss United States Curtis Crandall World Kickboxing Championships KO 1 United States Reno, US
Fight was for the vacant WKA World Super Light Heavyweight title.[12]
September 27, 1984 Loss United States Brad Hefton PKA Full Contact Karate KO (Left hook) 6 1:36 United States San Jose, US
January 20, 1984 Loss United States James Warring WKA Full Contact Karate KO (Front kick) 3 Mexico Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
Fight was for the vacant WKA World Cruiserweight title.
July 1983 Loss United States Tom Hall PKA Full Contact Karate TKO 2 United States Milwaukee, US
The match ended after Nielsen fell out of the ring.
1983 Loss United States Maurice Smith Decision 7 2:00 United States Las Vegas, US
- Win United States Craig Kringle WKA Full Contact Karate TKO (Referee stoppage) 1 1:09 United States Crystal Bay, US 12-4
Wins the WKA US Cruiserweight title.
March 29, 1980 Win United States Chavez WKA Full Contact Karate TKO (Referee stoppage/Left hook) 2 0:53 United States Las Vegas, US

Mixed martial arts record[edit]

Mixed rules[edit]

0 Wins, 1 Loss, 0 Draws
Date Result Opponent Event Method Round Time Location
October 4, 1992 Loss United States Ken Shamrock (as Wayne Shamrock) PWFG Stack of Arms Submission (Americana) 1 0:44 Japan Tokyo, Japan


Year Title Role Notes
1984 Fear City Kid Rio Uncredited
1991 Blood Ring Don Carlio
1992 Fist of Steel Wires Also known as Eternal Fist
1995 Bloodring 2 Caruko


  1. ^ a b c d "Don Nakaya Nielsen". Rafu Shimpo. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  2. ^ a b c "Don Nakaya Nielson". Business Review. 22: 23. 1993.
  3. ^ "Don Nakaya Nielsen Dies! (Japanese)". Citizen Journal. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Tribute to Our Founder". Bio Energy Asia. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  5. ^ "Kevin Rosier Vs. Don Nakaya Nielsen (14-5-89)". 2 March 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019 – via YouTube.
  6. ^ "ロブ・カーマン vs ドン中矢ニールセン 2/2". 29 April 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2019 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ "Don Nakaya Nielsen Vs. Masaaki Satake (30-6-90)". 4 March 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ Shamrock, Ken (2012). Beyond the Lion's Den: The Life, The Fights, The Techniques. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 9780804846592.
  9. ^ a b "Chiropractic Licensed in Thailand". ChiroWeb.com. Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  10. ^ "[Old news] Don Nakaya Nielsen, who fought Akira Maeda, died (Japanese)". eFight. 2017-08-18. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  11. ^ "Almost upstaged, Rhome wins in fourth-round TKO". The Atlanta Constitution. Atlanta. 14 April 1985. p. 70. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  12. ^ "'Cowboy,' 'Legs' win kickboxing titles". Reno Gazette-Journal. Reno. 12 November 1984. p. 14. Retrieved 4 May 2020.

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