Jean-Claude Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, to Eliana and Eugène Van Varenberg, an accountant. “The Muscles from Brussels” started martial arts at the age of eleven. His father introduced him to martial arts when he saw his son was physically weak. 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. 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. In 1976 at the age of sixteen, Jean-Claude started his Martial Arts fight career.
Over the next 6-years, he competed in both full-contact and semi-contact matches. He debuted under his birth name of Jean Claude Van Varenberg. In his first match, 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 Antwerp, Belgium, Jean-Claude lost a decision to fellow team mate Patrick Teugels in a semi-contact match. At the 1978 Challenge De Espoirs Karate Tournament (1st Trials),Jean-Claude placed 2nd in the semi-contact division. He defeated twenty-five opponents during the week long tournament, but lost in the finals to Angelo Spataro from the Naha Club. Later in 1978, Jean-Claude lost a 3-round match for the Belgium Lightweight Championship (semi-contact) to his fellow team-mate to Patrick Teugels.
In 1979, Jean-Claude traveled to the United States of America, to Tampa, Florida. In his first and only match against a United States opponent, Van Damme faced ‘Sherman ‘Big Train’Bergman’, a kick-boxer from 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 in 56 seconds of the first round. Jean-Claude was a member of the Belgium team which competed on December 26, 1979 at the La Coupe Fancois Persoons Karate Tournament which was sanctioned by the Federation bruxelloise de Karate. Van Damme’s final match victory enabled his team to win the European Team Karate Championship. In Full-Contact karate, Jean-Claude knocked out England’s Micheal Heming in 46 seconds of the first round. In 1980, Van Damme knocked out France’s Georges Verlugels in 2 rounds of a match fought under kick-boxing rules. Jean-Claude wanted to defeat his rival Patrick Teugels. At the Forest Nationals in Brussels, on March 8, 1980, Jean-Claude knocked Teugels down and Teugels suffered a nose injury and was unable to continue. Jean-Claude was awarded a first round victory.
Jean-Claude retired from martial arts in 1982, following a knockout over Nedjad Gharbi in Brussels,Belgium. Jean-Claude posted a 18-1 (18 knockouts) Kickboxing record, and a Semi-Contact record of 41-4. He came to Hong Kong at the age of 19 for the first time and felt insured to do action movies in Hong Kong. In 1981 Van Damme moved to Los Angeles.
Midway Games had hoped to license martial artist and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme for a fighting game that was intended to be modeled after Van Damme’s 1988 film Bloodsport. The company created a short demo reel that consisted of film footage of Van Damme inserted into a digital background in order to convince the actor to join the project, an attempt that was unsuccessful. When the game later became Mortal Kombat, the Michael Grimm character was retained as a spoof of Van Damme and renamed Johnny Cage, with Van Damme’s split-legged groin punch from Bloodsport consequently included as one of Cage’s special moves.
Johnny Cage is a martial artist and actor who enters the Shaolin Tournament simply to prove that he does not rely on special effects in his films, and he is the only character in the game who does not share a past history with the other characters. He is tricked into entering the tournament by the sorcerer Shang Tsung, believing it would prove his skills are real and improve his marketability. Upon arriving at the tournament however, he learns the truth from the thunder god Raiden and aligns himself with the Earthrealm warriors. Cage disappears from the set of his latest film after following Mortal Kombat champion Liu Kang into the otherworldly dimension of Outworld, where he joins forces with other fighters in participating in a second tournament during their successful attempt at protecting Earthrealm against Outworld’s evil emperor, Shao Kahn.
He is killed by Shao Kahn’s forces during an invasion of Earth, but his path to the afterlife is blocked due to a merger of Earth and Outworld, which restores his soul and enables him to help his comrades defeat Shao Kahn, after which he ascends to the heavens. At Cage’s request, Raiden restores him to life so he can again fight alongside his friends, this time in an attempt to defeat the forces of the disgraced former deity Shinnok.
Cage shoots a movie based on his death and resurrection titled The Death of Johnny Cage, but he is displeased with his characterization and he promptly flees the production when Raiden transports him to a new mission in Outworld. However, he and his fellow Earthrealm warriors are killed in their attempt to stop the titular Deadly Alliance from resurrecting the Dragon King Onaga.
Cage returns along with the series’ then-entire playable roster in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006), participating in the final tournament that would decide mankind’s fate. He is one of only seventeen characters to receive an official game biography, in which he becomes the de facto leader of Earthrealm’s forces after he sees multiple visions of Shinnok and tracks him down to Shang Tsung’s island, where Shinnok plots to take over Shao Kahn’s rule of Outworld. Cage is killed a third time along with the other combatants in a battle royal at the Pyramid of Argus in the realm of Edenia in the game’s opening sequence.
Cage is described as “a descendant of an ancient Mediterranean cult who bred warriors for the gods” as an explanation for his special powers. His disembodied head is seen amidst the fighters’ corpses in the introduction sequence that depicts the grisly aftermath of the battle and the resulting onset of Armageddon. The storyline then travels back in time to the Shaolin Tournament, where cocky and talkative martial arts actor Johnny Cage enters the competition as a publicity stunt and repeatedly flirts with Special Forces lieutenant Sonya Blade. He initially considers the tournament a joke after defeating Outworld minions Reptile and Baraka, until Raiden informs him of the consequences should Outworld emerge victorious, which convinces Cage to fight alongside Raiden’s chosen heroes. However, he is later defeated in the competition by Earthrealm assassin Cyrax. During the second tournament, he is eliminated by Ermac, before Raiden saves him the centaur Motaro. After Shao Kahn launches an invasion of Earthrealm and his wife Queen Sindel slaughters the rest of their comrades, Cage and Sonya are left as the only survivors.
Cage inadvertently discovers his special powers while attempting to rescue Sonya from Shinnok, and assists Raiden in imprisoning Shinnok inside a magical amulet. He and Sonya later get married and have a daughter, Cassie, but they divorce due to Sonya’s commitment to her career. A further twenty-five years later, Cage becomes part of a secret Special Forces unit under Sonya’s command. With help from his followers, Shinnok escapes from his amulet, kidnaps Johnny, and corrupts the source of Earthrealm’s life force, but Cassie is able to defeat Shinnok, rescue her father, and reunite the Cage family.
Johnny and Cassie grieve over Sonya’s death during a Special Forces attack on the Netherrealm. After the keeper of time Kronika causes a time merger in an attempt to remove Raiden from history, past versions of Johnny and Sonya are brought to the present. Disgusted by his younger self’s arrogance and misconduct around his version of Sonya, the present Johnny works with him to improve his attitude. Though the older Johnny successfully defends the Special Forces base from the Black Dragon crime cartel and the cyber Lin Kuei warriors, he is injured in battle, while his and Sonya’s younger counterparts are kidnapped and forced to fight for the Black Dragon’s entertainment. Cassie leads a Special Forces unit to rescue them and the younger Johnny becomes inspired to be more like his future self. In the DLC story expansion Aftermath, the younger Johnny attempts to take part in a joint Earthrealm/Outworld assault on Kronika’s keep, only to be ambushed by Shao Kahn and Sindel, who take him and his family prisoner.
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