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Welcome to the beginning of what may be a long and winding story, as we begin a quest to, (almost), completely document the history of modern MMA. Over the course of many chapters I hope to expose myths, answer questions, raise new inquires, and shine some light on how the way of the fist intersected with the art of the armbar, and how we got to be here today. I intend to go through every mma event, (within what is available), in chronological order, from the early 90s-00s, and highlight the various highs and lows, that have led us to where we are today.
Because modern MMA is such a relatively new phenomenon, such an undertaking, while potentially arduous, is possible. The main thing is really deciding on where to start. I debated starting at UFC 1, but the fact is, that so much of modern Mma has roots in Japanese pro wrestling, it seemed like I would be doing a disservice on just skipping over all of the Shoot leagues/events that gave us many of the stars and concepts that would wind up becoming important later on down the road. Although the main point of this project is to cover Vale Tudo/NHB/MMA, to not give a solid look at the events that proceeded it, is to really leave out giant pieces of its tapestry. Therefore, I have decided to start in 1991, right after the collapse of the UWF, in which several pro wrestling organizations sprouted up, in an effort to sell, "real fighting," to a thirsty audience that didn't know any better.
So consider this a prologue of sorts, and thus we will begin in the realm of shoot- wrestling, (which as we will see had their share of actual shoots as well), and we'll also make some detours into K1/Kickboxing, Bjj, etc, since by this point in time the Mma world was so small and blurred that there is a lot of natural overlap within these separate undertakings.
Also, I hope to include media, and interviews from the time period in question, to try and add some of the perspective that was current at the time. I also encourage all of you to add, whatever you know, be it anecdotes, media, interviews, etc, so perhaps we can get a clearer picture together.
So, without further ado, let us look back into the depths of a "sport" with a murky past, and no clear future. A culmination of events that has one foot in the Budo spirit of Samurai long dead, and the other in the more recent shenanigans of carnival performers.
Yes, let's take a journey through time and see what led us to where we are today, as we glimpse down the Kakutogi road, that is simultaneously, both one of the noblest of pursuits, and one of the most vainglorious, (in that it rewards ingenuity, creativity, sheer force of will, and sacrifice, but at the end of the day...is still an endeavor that reduces it's practitioners to a spectacle, fighting to prove oneself has led to many sorrows, as men vainly chase their identity and self-worth in something that can never provide such a thing.
We find ourselves on 3-4-91 as the very first PWFG, (Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi), event is set to take place. Before this took place it's wise to note, (for those reading that might not be familiar with the history), the initial cataclysm that led to Japan's interest in mma, which was the birth of the original UWF. A pro wrestling promotion that started in 1984 as fairly straightforward Pro Wrestling fare, it later evolved into something never seen before, once several key members migrated to it from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Nobuhiko Takada, Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask) and Kazuo Yamazaki, found a home with this fledging promotion, and this prompted the change the orientation of the UWF's wrestling to a more martial arts >
They became the hottest ticket in Japan for a brief period, until infighting over the essence of the product, and a clash of egos between Sayama and Maeda led to it's demise. The contention between Sayama and Maeda arose partly due to philosophical disagreements over what the essence of the UWF should be, with Sayama wanting more of a kickboxing flair, (he had a background in kickboxing), and Maeda wanting it more rooted in submissions.
They would eventually come to blows, when on 9-2-85 the two began what started out as a worked pro wrestling match, but quickly devolved from there. After starting somewhat benignly enough, they started to stop pulling their punches/kicks and were striking each other for real. Eventually they seemed to regain their composure and things went back to normal, when towards the end of the match, Maeda simply gave a super hard kick to Sayama's balls, and forced a disqualification from the ref. Maeda was fired for this, and Sayama quit pro wrestling in disgust. He would later go on to form Shooto, which was the first true Mma organization, and who's history we will be exploring in greater detail down the road.
*Match starts at 7:51*
*The first Shooto event took place in 1989, and while I would love to start this project from there.... I simply have yet to get my hands on any Shooto pre 92. I own most of the Shooto from 94 onward, but if anyone can help provide Shooto materials from 89-93, for the sake of this project, then please do so.*
After the initial collapse of the UWF in 85, most of the roster went back to work for New Japan Pro Wrestling, for the next few years. This was until 1988 when Maeda, yet again, couldn't keep his temper under control and decided to deliver a shoot Muay Thai kick to Riki Chosu's face, supposedly due to jealously of his position within the company. This left NJPW in an awkward spot, as how do you punish someone for doing something that was "legal," within the world of pro wrestling? They opted to punish him by insisting that he be banished to a tour of Mexico for a period of time, but Maeda refused, and opted to restart the UWF, taking a chunk of the roster with him.
They had initial success until an economic downturn in Japan, coupled with disagreements on inter-promotional booking with more traditional pro wrestling companies, led to yet another demise for this promotion. Only this time, several key players splintered off to start their own promotions/vanity projects, and thus the shoot boom was born, and as we continue this story, we will see how this led to forming much of what modern mma is today.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara was a Judoka that transitioned into pro wrestling in the early 70s, and has the distinction of being the first graduate of the New Japan Dojo system. He continued to wrestle for New Japan until the first Uwf incarnation and tried to stay in their good graces after Maeda initially left to restart the promotion in 1988. However, in 1989 he felt the need to continue in the ways of Shoot only this time he brought young talents Masakatsu Funaki, and Minoru Suzuki with him. Perhaps this decision, more than any other, led to mma being around today as we know it, because if it wasn't for Funaki taking an interesting in shooting, (or at least fake shooting), and in turn training a young Ken Shamrock, the Ufc might not exist today. (More on this later).