By Boice Lydell
NBL RatingsSKIL RatingsStoriesCover StoryWorld ChampionNationalsRegionalsFormsWeaponsSD & BreakingSparringContinuosTeamsTournament Listings
photos by Brandon Bertsch

Date of birth: May 30, 1985
Age: 23
Place of birth: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Residence: Brentwood, California, USA
Marital status: Single
Ethnic origin: African-American
Style: American Freestyle
School: Plowden’s Championship Martial Arts & Natural Talent Martial Arts
Instructor: Richard Plowden
Year started in martial arts: 1990
Year received black belt: 1997
Team: 2006-2008 Bay Area’s Best, 2004-2008 Team Victory, 2002- 2004 Team GOP, 1999-2001 Team SES
Sport karate coach: Richard Plowden
Favorite technique: Jump back kick
First national win: 1996 Bluegrass Nationals
Sport karate titles:
2008 - Men’s overall point sparring world champion
2008 - Men’s lightweight point sparring world champion
2008 - Men’s team sparring world champion
2007 - Men’s lightweight point sparring world champion
2000 - 14-15 point sparring world champion
1999 - 12-13 point sparring world champion
Toughest fighting opponent: Everyone
Sport karate career highlight: Winning two world titles and men’s overall point fighting world title in 2008
Martial arts goal #1: To train world champions
Martial arts goal #2: To remain active in martial arts
Non-martial arts goal: To keep being blessed
Favorite tournament: Golden Gate Nationals
Favorite Super Grands: 2000 Savannah, Georgia, USA
Favorite sport karate players:
Past forms: Matt Mullins, Darrell Lewis
Present forms: Josh Durbin, Scott Wu
Past fighting: Jadi Tention, Richard Plowden
Present fighting: Regena Thompson
Most admired martial artist: Richard Plowden and the original SES Team members
Most admired person: His queen mother – Ann Hicks
Favorite food: Steak and shrimp alfredo
Favorite movie: The Perfect Holiday and Training Day
Favorite actor: Morris Chestnut and Denzel Washington
Favorite magazine: Sport Karate Magazine and The Source
Favorite book: The Bible
Favorite music: Hip Hop, R&B and Gospel
Favorite musician: Marvin Sapp
Favorite hobby: Fishing and football
Address: 188 Tanglewood Lane, Brentwood, CA 94513
Phone No: 313-454-9221

“I am blessed, not lucky”, so I was told by Willie Hicks during his interview when I teased him that he was lucky that he hadn’t been caught causing any major trouble during his teenage years. Honestly though, he never really has been a trouble maker on the circuit, but there is a definitely a hint of ego rebel listening to him talk and he certainly has a smart alec devilish smile. He could easily be Regena Thompson’s brother. He idolizes and he certainly emulates her style and mannerisms in his speech and thought. The single most rewarding attribute that I find about Willie Hicks is his honesty of competition. He calls it way the results show it. Throughout his NBL career he has been beaten by other worthy opponents and not once in our conversation did he claim unfair play nor did he put down his victorious opponent. I tried to cause a little animosity telling him Shane Baker would be gunning to get his title back at the Super Grands this year, but I couldn’t get him to break - he just keep telling me he was “blessed”.

Willie was practically born and breed in the NBL, attending his first Super Grands in 1998, the year after receiving his blackbelt. And with the exception of 1998 he’s made the Grand Finale stage for point sparring world title contention every year since then excepting a two year hiatus from the NBL in 2004-05. To say that his victories or losses were nail-bitters and exciting would be a gross understatement.

Excepting one year, he made stage every year after one loss from eliminations already and his scoring for the title every year since 2000 was within two points of his opponent (actually within one each year but once) excepting this year’s title division. But he made up for this year’s unusually large spread of a three point 7 to 4 divisional win with the victory in the overall grand by another single point practically on the buzzer. Needless to say, the match excitement and closeness in score brought the house down.

Here’s the Hicks’ history. After acclimating himself to NBL play in the 1998 Super Grands IX in Savannah, Georgia he returned in 1999 to win the 12-13 year old point sparring division beating Salvador Ochoa of Mexico after a loss to him in the eliminations. He returned in the 14-15 year old division in 2000, beating Bryan Smith of California. In 2001 as a reigning point sparring champion he took on Jack Felton who was the reigning champion of the younger age group. With an 8 to 7 victory Felton won. In 2002 Hicks moved up into the 16-17 year old division where NBL veteran Nate Windsor narrowly topped him 6 to 4. 2003 was yet another one point loss for Hicks as he entered his first year as adult in the light middleweight division and Justus Lawrence beat him 5 to 4. Hicks then went off to try to find himself in another league for a couple of years, but as Hicks put it, “that just wasn’t NBL”. So in 2006 he was back at NBL finding his new lightweight men’s point sparring division dominated by two year champion, Shane Baker. Baker was at the top of his game and that year he beat Hicks 4 to 3 and won his third world title in a row.

Returning in 2007 more determined than ever, Hicks defeated Baker leaving him in third and advanced to the Finale after a loss to the Guatemalan powerhouse, Andres Garcia. With both having a loss going to the Finale stage, a hair-splitting win 6 to 5 by Hicks gave him his first NBL world title since 2001 and his first adult title. He then convincingly fought his way through the newly reenacted overall fighting world grandchampionship to a highly anticipated match-up with Baker’s coach – Trevor Nash. It was close but Hicks succumbed 9 to 7 for a loss of the $2,000 prize money and the first overall grand since 1991.

But this year he rose to unprecedented heights, handily topping Andres in the eliminations and again by three points in the Finale to win the lightweight world title again this year. Without Nash in attendance and a slate of west coasters in the overall grand, Hicks took out Jason Holmes 6 to 1 and Mick Jower 10 to 2 before meeting Jamal Albini for the top honors. This overall world grand was anyone’s guess with Hicks now a seasoned veteran but the Albini name has become nearly iconic with winning recent Californian competitions. With seconds remaining and a tied match at 6 all, Hicks blitzed for a scoring reverse punch leaving virtually no time for an Albini comeback.

Whether “blessed” or not Hicks has had a lot of fortunate circumstances to lead him to becoming one of the world’s best point fighters.

His mom blessed him first by actually asking him if he wanted to take karate lessons at age five before he even asked for them. After being turned down at one school because he was too young he was tipped of by a neighbor about Plowden’s Martial Arts school nearby. He was certainly blessed with that discovery as Richard Plowden has not just a long history of victories himself but his students have become a who’s who of point fighting winners.

Blessing number three was his membership in his first sponsored team. Plowden sought a sponsorship from the SES company and assembled a model team for several years. Perhaps one of the most idolized teams of the age, Hicks grew up with the security and prestige of this team where he befriended teammate Regena Thompson, the NBL’s most feared women’s fighter. Note that he still wears his old SES uniform for most competition.

When SES unfortunately ended, Team GOP, under the guidance of Cindy Gallio, was his fourth blessing as they took on board both Thompson and himself until he was coaxed to exit the NBL for a couple of years.

With the generosity of long time team sponsor Mike Dobashi, Hicks was asked to represent the Bay Area’s Best Team upon his return in 2006 and Dobashi has continued to sponsor him to the present where Hicks and teammates Raymond Daniels and Deandre Walker won the NBL team sparring title in 2008. So blessing number five is certainly Dobashi’s generosity.

And to bring his blessings up to date, his last fortunate break was being able to move to California where he’s always dreamt of living. With the generosity of the Dobson family he’s training a handful of students under his own school name “Natural Talent” in Brentwood, California.

So what’s in his future. Well he’s far from giving up competition and has his goal set on future overall world titles. But he also intends to create more little Willies with the evolution of his school. Maybe they will be his blessing number seven.