Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol 1

DarthBader -

Anybody have all the old Pancrase fights? Or like a link to them? I would be super happy if that was the case. We should make a thread where we post all the japansese MMA shows we can find and make it a sticky thread.


Especially with all the time and effort you have put into this thread, fantastic reading.


Please mods!

The problem is copyright issues. I got a copyright strike for posting something as obscure as the 1997 Lumax Cup. (Apparently Samurai Tv looks out for their content pretty closely). I would imagine if I put up all the Pancrase fights, that I would get flagged for sure. I do post a lot of things on my youtube account, but I have to assess if it is something that won't get me in trouble.

What did Mike Lorefice (of www.quebrada.net fame!) have to say about this? ""Though UWF split into three different promotions, what you really ended up with is Maeda doing his own thing, Fujiwara maintaining his top proteges, and UWF just reopening under slightly different name with a style that was even friendlier to both pro wrestling fans and to top star Nobuhiko Takada. UWF-I obviously missed the name value of Maeda, who was the #1 player in the sport, as well as the promise of Funaki, who had quickly cracked into their top tier and had seemingly unlimited potential both as a fighter & as a draw, but there should never have been any real doubt that they would succeed, at least in the short term.

There was enough depth on the UWF-I roster with two of the UWF's three top fighters in Takada & Yamazaki, two of the most promising young fighters in Tamura & Kakihara, and you still had the solid, good working mainstays such as Anjo & Nakano that had made the UWF a promotion of hard workers that you watched from opening bout to final. That's not to say they didn't have issues though, as they were simply short a few wrestlers. While they could fill out the cards with random foreigners, these guys weren't even names in America much less Japan, and you couldn't just throw your every day stomper & eye gouger into this style, it was a paired down style, but that often made it tougher to do rather than easier. While the first year of PWFG was likely the best in the history of the promotion, the first year of UWF-I was rough because they neither did anything useful with their best worker, Yamazaki, nor built any other native into that #1B role he needed to fill if they wanted to actually promote big shows & keep fans showing up. Instead, they just had everyone toil in the midcard while Miyato rolled out Takada vs. some random foreigner on top, which was often really the worst situation for both Takada and the foreigner as the fans wouldn't take the opponent seriously & while Takada did flashy pro wrestling things extremely well, he wasn't the sort of highly adaptive opponent you wanted to be leading you through a "new" style.

Giving their brightest new lights the opportunity to usher in the new era of shootfighting was a great way to start the new promotion. Tamura and Kakihara did themselves and the promotion proud with a crisp and energetic contest. As is always the case with the early shoot style, the standup was a lot more credible than the mat because kickboxing and muay thai were well established sports, while judo and amateur wrestling had their place in the Olympics, but had never been deemed entertaining enough to be ticket selling sports, and thus the fighters were probably less encouraged to fully utilize what knowledge of them they had or really develop those styles. Instead, they just incorporated the spectacular end game of the throw rather than teaching the audience to be patient while they set one up. When all else failed, they could always get the bout to the canvas with a good old fashioned leg scissors, as Kakihara did here.

This was a good match but obviously nowhere near their best work. One has to keep in mind that Tamura was out from 10/25/89 when sloppy Maeda accidentally fractured his orbital with a knee until the final UWF show on 12/1/90. Then there were no shows for the next 6 months as everyone reorganized, so this was only the 7th match of Tamura's career, which still put him 2 ahead of Kakihara, who debuted on 8/13/90. What Kakihara had right from the outset was a very infective, wild passion. He may not have been cut out for real fighting, but if he were, he would have been one of those high risk all action fan favorite fighters who goes for bonuses and finishes, one way or the other, rather than just trying to win safe. Kakihara certainly had his routine, but he may have been the only wrestler that, no matter how many times you saw him engage in those rapid fire palm barrages or wild kicks, you still felt his match was legitimately getting a bit out of control. Tamura was a good compliment to him because he could ground him just enough that they could strike a balance between an out and out highlight real and a technical fight.

22 years before Scott Smith failed to become one half of MMA's first tag team champions in Gladiator Challenge, UWF-I debuted the doubles style. While tag team wrestling obviously differentiated them from their rival shoot leagues, it mainly just made the promotion seem that much more like the plethora of rival pro wrestling leagues, with the whole ring position & exchange game largely just being a credibility straining distraction. There's just an odd tension when the goal is sort of to get on top of your opponent, except since there's no real ground control you'll lose that position and be in danger of submitting almost as fast as you gain it, and then wish you were standing so you could make the tag. Kazuo Yamazaki & Tatsuo Nakano vs. Yoji Anjo & Yuko Miyato otherwise sounds good on paper, as none of these four are less than good workers, but while not dull, it never seemed like anyone's match or found its rhythm. Miyato was a much better wrestler than booker, and you already saw things going greatly awry as instead of Yamazaki being set up to finally getting his wins over Takada so they'd have two main stars and a lights out main event program, Yamazaki, who basically only lost to Maeda & Takada in UWF, was already jobbing to a perpetual midcarder in Anjo. Having an upset on the first show to shake up the old pecking order & establish new challengers is not a bad idea, but Anjo proceeded to lose to Nakano on the next show, and went on to post a whopping 1-5 record in singles that year.

Having grown up a dedicated daily viewer of GWF on ESPN despite it pretty much only being good for the Lightning Kid vs. Jerry Lynn or Chaz Taylor matches in the early stages of the promotion, I was shocked to learn that the "brother" of Mike "I'm Not Crazy" Davis headlined the first UWF-I show, and was considered a serious tough guy in Japan. Burton was an amateur wrestler who was trained professionally by 2-time Olympic wrestler Brad Rheingans. His background allowed him to just be thrust into a UWF-I match, but it's likely he was the only fighter on the show with legitimate training in the discipline, so it didn't really help him as much as newer fight fans who are used to wrestling being the prominant discipline in real fighting would suspect. This match was okay, definitely better on paper than in actuality as the strategy of Burton controlling by grounding Takada but Takada thrilling the crowd with a flashy flurry of kicks when he could get back to his feet was sound, but the work was just so loose and no one took Burton the least bit seriously. Takada gave Burton a lot of control time, but there isn't much drama when one guy is basically toying with the other and will win when they got bored."

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And me must also see what Dave Meltzer had to say about this as well...."The April issue of Kung Fu magazine has a story about former wrestling great Satoru Sayama's attempt to start his own sport called "Shooting." Sayama's sport, which according to those who have seen it, is legitimate in that the foes don't work with one another, combines punching, kicking, wrestling and judo throws and wrestling submission holds. The match can end with a knockout coming from a throw punch or kick or a submission coming from a wrestling hold. The concept is to employ all the martial arts into a competitive sport situation. There are now two martial arts schools in Southern California that teach Sayama's shooting as a competitive sport.

Nobuhiko Takada's UWFI had a press conference on Friday, {5-1-91} to announce the debut card in two weeks. Both Yoshiaki Fujiwara (PWF head man) and Seiji Sakaguchi (New Japan vice president) sent flowers to the press ceremony, which had several famous sumo wrestlers including a Grand Champion in attendance. Naoki Sano was also at the party and challenged Takada to a match in the future. This makes it appear that SWS is going to have a loose affiliation with Takada's group as well.

The next two weeks will be very interesting because all three versions of the formerly red-hot UWF promotion have cards. Nobuhiko Takada's UWFI debuts on Friday night in Korakuen Hall and all 2,000 tickets were sold out within 15 minutes of them going on sale weeks ago. Akira Maeda's "Rings" debuts the next night at the 17,000-seat Yokohama Arena. I've heard tickets are selling for this show, but as of a few days ago, there were still ringside tickets remaining so this isn't the "hot" ticket Maeda once was. In addition, the PWF (Pro Wrestling Fujiwara-group) runs Korakuen Hall on 5/16.

The big news this week was the debut of Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda's new promotions. Takada's group debuted before a sellout 2,300 fans at Korakuen Hall on 5/10, with all tickets sold out in something like 15 minutes the first day they went on sale. The group, called UWF International or UWFI for short, is the closest thing to the old UWF which had a two-year run as the hottest promotion in the world before fizzling out as shooting stars are wanton to do because of problems between Maeda and office boss Shinji Jin.

The show wasn't really very good, but what remains of the legion of UWF fans were there and felt good about being there. Takada grabbed the house mic before the show and said the group was the only one left "with the feeling of the UWF" which got a big pop. The card itself consisted of three matches, a prelim match between Masato Kakihara and Kiyoshi Tamura, won by Tamura. Then came a "doubles" match (tag team) with Shigeo Miyato & Yoji Anjyo beating Kazuo Yamazaki & Tatsuo Nakano with the surprise finish of Yamazaki doing the job when he was knocked out by a series of kicks from both guys in 23 minutes.

This was different from the old UWF, which didn't have any tag matches. The rule were that a guy couldn't tag out while in a submission hold unless he got to the ropes or was able to break the hold. It was different since Yamazaki is really the group's second biggest name and he did the job. The main event saw Takada beat Tom Burton (who worked as a Dirty White Boy in Memphis some months back) with a boston crab in 10:46. The match was disappointing to most because Burton really had no idea of the style and Takada was giving him lots of openings and trying to carry him for ten minutes but the fans saw it as Takada could unload on him and beat him at anytime.

At the 10 minute call, Takada seemingly proved them right because he got a quick win at that point. After the match in the press conference Takada apologized and said "my opponent was poor." They also confused fans by instituting new rules. On the scoreboard, each man starts the match with 15 points. You lose three points every time you go to the ropes to break a hold, and lose one point every time you get suplexed. The match can end with a pinfall (which almost will never happen), a submission (usual finish), knockout, five knockdowns or if a man's point total goes down to zero.

When the press asked Takada after the show what his goal a year from now was, he said honestly, "I'm only thinking about one card at a time." In the sense that they drew the full house so easily, the card was a financial success. But the truth is, it has been so long since there has been a "real" UWF show in Tokyo, which was the home base of the UWF, that the first house was easy. Whether this group, with only eight wrestlers and access to only no-name Americans can book shows that will draw over the long haul or be able to draw outside of Tokyo is another story. The next show is 6/6 at Korakuen Hall with Takada vs. J.T. Southern on top.

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Complete History of MMA Vol 3: "Welcome to the Astral World"



It's that time once again, as we pick up where we left off, lonely sojourners on a road less traveled. Yes, the Kakutogi highway is beckoning us once more, and we thus must answer the call. When we last convened, we had just witnessed a truly cataclysmic moment in the space time continuum, as the forces that kept the UWF together fractured into several directions and are each spiraling towards their own path to nobility.

Yes, we all witnessed the birth of the PWFG and the UWFI, and now we get to behold the beginning of what is in this humble scribe's opinion, the finest of the Pre/Quasi Shoot Leagues: Fighting Network Rings.

While Nobuhiko Takada's effect on the sport of MMA is undeniable (due to his shenanigans with Rickson Gracie being the impetus behind Pride FC) the total influence that Rings had on what is now MMA, is probably far deeper than most casual observers have initially perceived.

As we continue to go through this series, we will see events unfold, stars rise, and narratives form, from the most unlikely of sources. An outfit that seemingly would never be more than a pro wrestling farce, wound up evolving to be a home for many of the personalities that created an impact that's still felt to this day. For example, where would modern MMA be without Frank Shamrock meeting Maurice Smith, and Tsyoshi Kohsaka, thus starting one of the most bleeding edge teams of it's day and becoming the prototype of what a modern mixed martial artist should be? What would our current landscape look like today if Fedor Emelianenko (under the watchful tutelage of Volk Han and the rest of the Russian Top Team) didn't have a place to hone his brutal craft, in his formative years? How would current striking theory look like without all the various Dutch/European kickboxers that were closely connected to Rings, and had a training system/platform to hone their abilities, in-between local events, and K1 competitions?

Hopefully, all these, and many more questions will be answered, examined, and discussed as we continue along the Kakutogi Road.....

Date: 5-11-91

Location: Yokohama Japan (Yokohama Arena)

11,000 Estimated in attendance.

We are at first greeted to a plug from the WOWWOW network, while a hard drum machine beat (that wouldn't be out of place on an early Boogie Down Productions album), plays in the background. We are then introduced to a montage of the bouts to come. (FIRE, WATER, EARTH, and UNIVERSE respectfully). Thankfully Akira Maeda quickly shows up in a suit, otherwise I may have accidently thought I was relapsing into my old Captain Planet addiction (no I shouldn't have to apologize for wanting a green mullet, it's totally ok).

After some routine pleasantries we are greeted to prior footage of Judo Ace Chris Dolman giving an exhibition with Dick Virj (who as legend has it once gave 6x time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates a stiff beating for organizing a bodybuilding competition in the Netherlands without "permission.")

"Cold as Ice" by Foreigner blasts through the speakers during this display, and yes, it's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. After this, Maeda starts kicking some pads while a lowly (and surely underpaid) lackey holds them in fear and trepidation. Dolman beholds all of this in disgust, knowing that surely such an underling isn't worthy of Akira's ministrations.

Only Dolman was found worthy....

Fast forward to present: We are now moving to the opening ceremonies of this event, which has the entire ensemble coming to the ring to the Hip-Hop version of the Rings Theme. This manages to be the very quintessence of 90s positive rap spectrum, which makes me wonder if Maeda spent his free time proudly wearing Cross Colours t-shirts, while breaking out his vinyl copy of De La Soul's 3 feet high and rising.

After this tasteful foray, we are now ready for business, in this case: Herman Renting vs Pieter Smit. Renting was a Dutch heavyweight fighter, who is perhaps best known for losing to Akira Shoji via Armbar at Pride FC #11. (There is of course no shame in that, as last I heard Shoji is forever eligible for Grand Cordon status, due to his being considered a national treasure in Japan.)

Back to the action: Things are underway, and after both fighters give off some weak striking attempts, Renting get the first takedown with an awfully genteel throw (where he just sorts of lifts his opponent with no resistance) that immediately shows the worked nature of this bout. The fight is a very grappling heavy affair, with a lot of position changes, and leg lock attempts, but it's readily apparent that they really haven't figured out this yet. Compared to standard pro wrestling of the day, it's amazing, but coming to this after witnessing the debuts of PWFG and UWFI, we see that it may take some time for this outfit to really find it's tone, as the competitors so far seem too unsure of exactly how stiff they need to be when they strike, and change their positions way too often on the ground. This has the effect of neither having the dry realism of PWFG or the high-octane fun of UWFI, and kind of lands somewhere in the middle of the two. This match was mostly a meandering affair as the competitors spend most of the time playing footsie. The two redeeming takeaways are the tachi-waza of Peter Smit (he hit a couple of nice Harai-Goshi throws) and the finish. After a rather sloppy armbar attempt, Smit hits an Omoplata/straight armbar variation, which would probably make this the first appearance of such a submission in the shoot- spectrum.

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Next up is Willie Peeters vs Marcell Haarmans in the WATER BOUT

Willie Peeters, who in later years will be known for his cheating antics, and steroid assisted physique, is looking surprisingly fresh-faced and horsemeat free here. He faces off against Marcell Haarmans, who still remains a mystery to me. Th action starts off with a couple of stiff knees from Peeters, who immediately goes for a hip throw, only to fail, and get deflected into a very nasty looking Bully Choke (think of how Carlos Newton beautifully finished off Pat Miletech at UFC 31). This is already leagues better than the last match, and is making me wonder if this card is about to turn around from its lackluster first match. Peeters manages to explode and twist out of the chocke and answered with a very stiff elbow to his downed opponents' midsection. This is an odd sight, as Rings become notorious for not allowing any striking whatsoever on the ground, but apparently that rule hasn't gone into effect, as of yet.

Peeters kicks his downed opponent some more, before the ref intervenes and allows Harrmans to stand up. They engage in a clinch and trade some hard knees, before Petters executes a very explosive headlock takedown, which leads to Haarmans taking a rope escape, and both getting stood back up. Peeters then channels his inner Shane Douglas with a belly-to-belly suplex that sees its momentum quickly reversed by Haarmans and causes Peeters to fail like a fish which grants him a break from the ref (without having to use a rope escape). After some terse striking exchanges, Haarmans catches one of Peeters kicks, and makes him pay by taking him down and doing what any self-respecting wrestler would do...assault his opponent with a single-leg Boston Crab! This most fearsome of submissions costs Peeters his first rope escape, and perhaps his dignity. They exchange in more striking which continues to see Peeters land a lot of stiff shots, even while his opponent is on the ground. The back and forth continues until Peeters wins with what appears to be a very stiff high kick to his opponents head.

While this match is clearly a work, and the kick did seem to be the intended finish, it does seem like Peeters is prone to taking some liberties with how hard he has been hitting. I'm beginning to think the stiffness just stems from Petters being a jerk (which we will see much more of in his actual shoot career).

This was a fun match, perhaps due to Peeters unprofessional antics, but was still a nice change from the first bout.

Now he have the EARTH BOUT, which starts off with a rather dapper Dolman, saying that no American professional wrestler wants anything to do with Kazmaier, apparently to show us that only he has the requisite courage to face such a monstrosity of a man. Kazmaier was a best known for his achievements in Powerlifting and Strong Man competitions, but he tried his hand at pro wrestling in the late 80s/early 90s, his most notable success being a short stint in WCW in late 91, in which he chased Lex Lugar for the U.S. Heavyweight title.

This bout will be seven 3-minute rounds, as opposed to 1 30-minute match, perhaps owing to Kazmaier's cardiovascular limitations. Round one was fairly uneventful, outside of a nice hip throw from Dolmamn. Dolman's credentials were never in doubt as he was a multiple champion in both Sambo and Judo, but even at this early stage, he was well past his prime, and moves like molasses. Things picked up a bit in round 2, in which Kazmaier went into full Zangief mode, and started throwing some super-slow, super-heavy hands, and was able to force a knockdown after a gut shot to Dolman. The action proceeds a brisk pace....as brisk as these two can move, and the round ends with Kazmaier in the middle of trying to neck crank/choke Dolman into submission.

Nothing interesting happened in rounds 3&4, and all were thankful in round 5 when Dolman ended this tripe with an armbar. The finish was actually neat, as Kazmaier tried a modified powerbomb to get out of it, but Dolman held on before eventually securing the submission.

Ugh. Hopefully the UNIVERSE BOUT will cleanse our palate, and take us all into the shoot-stratosphere that we so long to abide in.

First, we get Dick Virj who looks like he would have been an excellent ending boss to a Double Dragon game, saying things in Dutch, that I do not comprehend. Maeda on the other hand goes out before the match, and finds another underpaid young man, and proceeds to kick him, which was always my preferred method of warming up. They come out to the ring, and if we learn nothing else today, at least we go away knowing that Maeda was OVER. The crowd is totally into this/him, and it probably shows us that Maeda was important to MMA history, if nothing else, then by his simply existing, as he was the de facto reason this promotion existed, and got any attention at all, let alone lucrative tv contracts.

The match is now underway, and this will be 1 round with a 45 min time limit. (Which is hysterical as neither man could probably put in half that time.) The match gets underway after an intense staredown, and we're off. Maeda feels out Virj with a few kicks before taking him down, and attempting an Armbar, which Virj escapes. They then proceed to slug it out, with Maeda actually taking some rather stiff kicks from Virj. It would appear that Maeda is really wanting to put this show over and is willing to take some punishment as a result.

The fight is well paced, with plenty of back and forth striking action, and when it did hit the ground, they didn't spend all day looking for a reverse toe hold but moved things at a fast clip. The match ends with Maeda catching a kick and doing the only thing that one would do in such a situation, breaking out the single-leg Boston Crab, and securing the win.

What's the takeaway here? This show (other than the surprisingly entertaining last match) was pretty weak sauce, as much as that pains me to say it. Maeda has definitely nailed the best presentation as in terms of presenting it as a legitimate sporting contest, with the international flavor, and using real martial artists, instead of random jobbers from the most obscure corners of American professional wrestling circles, but the actual execution is lacking. It's to be expected though, as they are in a position to be trailblazers, they will of course have some growing pains to try and figure out what they want to be. The most fascinating thing about all of this, is to know that they eventually morph into a full blown MMA promotion, and we are ever so fortunate to be able to take part in the journey.

Here is the event in its entirety:


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In other news....

On April 1st 1991, Koji Kitao was supposed to have a standard pro wrestling match with "Earthquake" John Tenta at an event for the Japanese SWS promotion. However, booker The Great Kabuki put Tenta up to provoking Kitao in hopes of getting Kitao expelled from the promotion, so from the outset Tenta didn't really cooperate with Kitao's attempts to engage, provoking him by making him look too slow & deliberate. Kitao threw a fit on the outside after Tenta took him down hard, and stopped cooperating with Tenta, who hadn't been cooperating with him in the first place, taking a two fingered posture and trying for an eye gouge when Tenta grabbed his arm. No one really connected with anything before Kitao got himself disqualified for kicking the ref, but Kitao made things public afterwards, grabbed the microphone on the outside and breaking kayfabe by telling the crowd that pro wrestling is fake, and that his opponent Tenta, also a decorated sumo who was undefeated in his brief career, is fake. Kitao and Kabuki were promptly fired after this incident.

We are excited to announce that Bart Vale is now offering his vast wealth of shootfighting knowledge via instructional tapes, and seminars, contact him today to increase your skills. 

Martial Artist and film star Steven Seagal lost a lawsuit over writing credit to the film Marked for Death. Seagal had recently gone before the arbitration board of the screen actors guild, along with the film's producers: Michael Grais, and Mark Victor. Seagal lost a decision, in which, he argued that he rewrote 93 percent of the script himself.


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Zayats was supposed to fight Valavicius, and Beltran was booked to clash with Lins.
Now they brought Wallace and some other guy.

Anyone knows what's up?
Why taking the most promising and known guys off the tourney?

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Renting vs. Smit was a poor match because most of the strikes barely connected, but helds some interest for the odd judo based takedowns where they almost twisted each other to the mat, as well as for Renting using low kicks to work kick combinations. The finish was just odd. It didn't strike me as an omoplata, but rather two guys who simply didn't understand that there's no finishing leverage on the armbar when the guy applying it is on his side and the guy receiving it shifts to his stomach. You felt like Smit needed to go belly down also, but there was really no way for that to even work because he was just scissoring his legs on Renting's bicep.

Peeters was the most interesting of the original roster in that he more or less really went at it, and his matches were extremely intense and sometimes baffling because of that. The match wasn't a straight up shoot, but they often didn't work with each other either, and Peeters always seemed to be at the center of this. Peeters might not have been actively trying to knock Haarmans out, but he wasn't really pulling his strikes either, which made for an odd constrast given Haarmans was, and I kept looking for Haarmans to complain about the way Peeters was laying into him. What's actually more interesting though, and makes the match look very much ahead of its time, is the lack of cooperation on the throws and various attempts to get each other down resulting in a style where both guys exploded and whatever happened, happened. Seemingly Peeters would sort of cooperate by not specifically resisting the lockup or immediately trying to get back to his feet in the grappling, allowing Haarmans to toy around with crabs, but he wouldn't necessarily cooperate with the throws and transitions. There was a lot of flash though, mostly from Peeters with spinning kicks and belly to belly suplexes since Haarmans was much more obliging, but they both made each other work for things & didn't sacrifice the essence of the fight for entertainment value.

Maeda's idea to broker talent from all corners of the world was a solid one, but one of the major problems of doing this in a worked league that pretended to be a shoot league is he was somewhat at the mercy of the leaders of these various gyms who were always going to be above their underlings despite current ability and marketability. In his prime, Dolman was likely the best real fighter on this show, and even in these days, the Gracies were still regularly ignoring his challenges. Unfortunately, he was pudgy 46-year-old when RINGS started and should just have focused on his role of running his gym & training the Netherlands stable for their actual real and worked fights rather than being Maeda's first big rival and winning the inaugural Mega Battle tournament. Given none of these guys were probably capable of having a good match with the fighter who would more aptly be dubbed Dullman, I suppose feeding him legendary strongman Kazmaier wasn't the worst idea. This match should have been 5 minutes or less though, but that's a tough go when you are running a major arena with a 4 match card. The real value of a guy like Yoji Anjo is he could give you an entertaining half hour, thus allowing time to be shaved matches that were never going to be MOTYC. The first half had some moments, but they were both blown up in the second half. Certainly, it was much better as a "shoot" than as a work, by that I mean it was fairly credible, it just wasn't slickly performed. I have no problem calling it more believable than anything on the PWFG or UWF-I debut shots, but graceful it was not. Kazmaier actually did a good job of striking as though it were a kickboxing match rather than his usual pro wrestling match, and generally came off as a real RINGS fighter even though this was a one off, but his muscles got in the way of his actual striking technique. Similarly, Dolman had the right footwork & movement, but his actual blows were performed with action figure flexibility.

RINGS was a lot more believable than UWF because the card was filled with martial artists rather than pro wrestlers who trained other pro wrestlers in a martial arts oriented pro wrestling style, but unfortunately Maeda himself hadn't evolved. Maeda vs. Vrij could have taken place on any UWF show, in fact it was probably less realistic than Vrij's three UWF matches. Vrij had a good intimidating look as the icy musclebound cyborg who was a lot more charismatic than that description suggests, and was capable of being an entertaining striker when someone built a match around that and pulled the match out of him, but he wasn't much of a worker on his own. Still, given what they had, he was a good option to be Maeda's initial rival, held back mainly by having failed previously in UWF (he beat Anjo in between loses to Fujiwara). Thematically, this was the expected match with the kickboxer Vrij winning the standup and the grappler Maeda winning the ground, but there wasn't much interplay, which was disappointing given Vrij had progressed a lot since his initial mixed match with Fujiwara where he wore gloves to being willing to challenge Anjo & Fujiwara in their domain in his '90 matches. Generally, you had Vrij standing there with his right arm tight and his left arm fully extended, fist clenched, landing strikes until Maeda got him down & mostly just held him in some loose positions that beared some resemblance to amateur wrestling except nothing was actually being done to keep Vrij in place. The primary reason the first Fujiwara vs. Vrij not only worked, but was so much more intense is anytime Fujiwara got a hold or Vrij or took him down, Vrij would immediately try to scramble back to his feet, with Fujiwara desperately grasping & clutching for dear life to keep Vrij from getting another opportunity to work him over on his feet. Against Maeda, Vrij did a decent job of mixing in low kicks and body blows to keep Maeda guessing, but Maeda was still really just standing totally relaxed in front of him, and Vrij wasn't hitting all that hard compared both to some of the stuff on the undercard and his own later bouts. Much of Vrij's illusion was shattered when Maeda inexplicably scored the first knockdown, though Vrij did a good job of playing heel within the rules to regain the intensity and generally seem pissed & out of control. Though it was easily the least credible bout on the card, the length was right, containing enough action and entertainment value to please Maeda's fans without becoming too unbelievable. Still, it's the kind of match that looks worse with each passing year, particularly due to the hokey finish that would surely make clown prince Angle proud where Vrij landed some kind of jumping movie kick then Maeda ate a high kick, but caught Vrij's leg on the recoil and somehow twisted and turned into an ankle lock then continued into a 1/2 crab for the victory.


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Looking forward to reading more on the transition of RINGS from works to shoots.




(Archives of this series can be found at https://www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad If you like what we are doing, please consider being a patron. With your help we can dive deeper into our history, procure interviews, hire translators, etc.)

The Complete History of MMA Vol 4: "Gotchism"

It is that time most hallowed, where we once again come together in the spirit of Kakutogi to observe the latest wanderings before us. This time we find ourselves back at the Korakuen Hall, ready for another chapter of the PWFG. So far, we have witnessed the birth of a nexus of Shoot- promotions that will eventually help solidify and define MMA in the years to come (with RINGS and the UWFI being the other two promotions).

It's 5-16-91, and we are greeted by a soothing synth beat, while infamous catch-wrestling legend Karl Gotch, puts the PWFG crew through their paces. One look at this, and we can see a glimpse as to why PWFG went on to produce some of the best fighters of the early MMA era, due to the watchful tutelage of Gotch.

In fact, Gotch may be an unsung hero in the annuls of MMA history, because if his influence hadn't saturated Japanese Pro Wrestling since the early 70s, and had he not been a forerunner in the formation of the original UWF promotion, there probably wouldn't have be a Shooto, Pancrase, Pride, or any Japanese MMA for that matter, and thereby many of the early stars of MMA would be noticeably absent. It's very possible that the UFC would have been regulated to a quick infomercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, if we didn't have people like Ken Shamrock, or Dan Severn (who both got their start in MMA by way of Japanese Shoot- wrestling) providing a stylistic foil, or counter narrative, in those early chapters of its history.

This event is kicked off with the PWFG roster honoring Gotch in the center of the ring, and allowing him to kick things off with a short speech which is as follows: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the road to success is made of luck, sweat, and tears. The first steps have been made, and a lot of work lays ahead of us. With the spirit of Fujiwara-Gumi we can face the future with confidence. I hope we can give wrestling back the honor it deserves. So, it can be done with the same respect as it is in boxing, which it once had. The time has come to give the public what it pays for, and not to take their money under false pretenses by impersonating a professional wrestler."

The speech is rather fascinating as it clearly shows the essence of what MMA has always wanted to be, which is REAL pro wrestling, and it offers a glimpse into what was surely the vision of people like Gotch, Lou Thez, Billy Robinson and other wrestlers from a bygone era, in which carnival wrestling had roots in effective martial art techniques, and its practitioners honed and perfected their techniques via a subculture that was happy to exchange its esoteric secrets with one another.

It may also reveal how insecure the powers that were in charge, may have been about actually providing real shoots. One must wonder, if somebody like Fujiwara, simply didn't think there was a paying public for real pro wrestling and had no choice to pull the wool over the eyes of its fanbase. In any event, Gotch's vision didn't really take formation until the founding of Pancrase in late 93, and we are given even more evidence that Pancrase is the culmination of what the PWFG should have been from the beginning.

After the formalities, we are treated to a very young, and very fresh faced, Minoru Suzuki, who these days looks like he may just be a tad under 800 years old. This saddening observation has made me ponder many of the deeper things in life, such as if the rigorous shooting career Suzuki had in the mid-late 90s added about 750 of those years to his body.

Here Suzuki must face Kazuo Takahashi, who in a short time later, became one of the first fighters to conquer a BJJ black belt (with a win over Wallid Ismail at UFC 12) thus garnering a reputation as a very tough opponent, regardless of whatever fighting skills he may have lacked.

Suzuki and his opponent start off in the clinch, and the first couple of mins look a lot like a Greco-Roman wrestling match, until Takahashi shoots in and aggressively goes for a double. Suzuki tries to ward this off with a sprawl, but after struggling for a couple of seconds, he defaults to a nasty knee to the midsection of Takahashi, with a couple of palm strikes thrown in for good measure. I'm really digging how Suzuki incorporated striking in his shoot- days. He seemed to use his strikes as tools to open up submission attempts, or as a way to break a stalemate when his normal grappling tools were being stalled out, and to me, this added a lot of nuance to his matches.

Takahashi continues his strategy of trying to blast through Suzuki with a power-double but can't seem to get the job done. He switches to a single-leg attempt, to which Suzuki briefly tried a guillotine counter, but couldn't get the requisite leverage with one of his legs in the air, so he let go of Takahashi and was able to side step into a slick Kimura (Double Wrist Lock) attempt. He quickly gives up on the Kimura and goes for an armbar, in which he sets up by squishing Takahashi's face with his forearm/palm, to which I wholly approve of.

Always make the Uke suffer!


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This was a great way to open the show and set the tone for the event. A realistic match, that was faced paced, and didn't have any real holes, or lulls in the action.

Next up is Yusuke Fuke vs Bart Vale:

They really tried to sell this as a lighting fast/undersized grappler vs a monstrosity striker, and it probably worked well for its era, but under a modern eye it isn't believable due to the oafish slowness of Vale. When Vale is throwing kicks his offense looks passable, but when he gets taken down to the ground, by someone as lithe as Fuke, he simply doesn't have the movement or the ability to make it seem like he would be any kind of credible threat, despite having a significant weight advantage. The match is entertaining, fast paced, and contains several great takedowns by Fuke, but the credibility is lacking.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Wellington Wilkins Jr:

Another well-paced, entertaining bout, that lacked credibility. In this case, it wasn't due to the matchup itself, as both Wilkins and Fujiwara complemented each other, and came across as equally skilled opponents, but rather it was because it was simply too flashy to be a good example of this new of wrestling. A lot of flashy suplexes and takedowns, mixed in with some stiff striking, and goofy antics from Fujiwara. Fun, but definitely the most rooted in the more common pro wrestling spectrum, compared to the other matches on the card.

Naoki Sano vs Ken Shamrock

Here we get to a true treat, and the highlight of this card. PWFG's lack of star power on the bottom tier of their roster definitely led to some unfortune excursions into the more obscure corners of the jobber universe, but in this case, their subcontracting out some talent led to a homerun. Sano started his carrer in the 80s as a jobber for NPJW before getting a chance to hone his craft in Mexico in 87 and he was able to parlay that experience into a successful run in the Jr. Division of NJPW, with some memorable matches against Jyushin Liger.

When SWS (Super World of Sports) started doling out the cash in the early 90s he jumped aboard the gravy train, and was plying his craft there, when PWFG worked out an agreement to have him loaned out for a couple of matches. His stay here was brief, as Kazuo Yamazaki, and Nobuhiko Takada lured him over to the UWFI shortly thereafter.

If Sano is known at all to a modern MMA fan, it is probably for his surprisingly good showing against Royler Gracie at Pride 2, in which he was able to nullify a lot of Royler's offensive tools, and could have possibly caused a major upset had he not been so tentative in that fight.

The fight starts and is already looking to be amazing, as Sano seems like a perfect opponent for Shamrock. Both were of a similar height, and both had impressive bodybuilder physiques, so this is looking like a clash between the unstoppable force vs the immovable object, straightaway.

Unstoppable Hair vs Immovable Mullet 

The first few mins start off with the fighters feeling each other out on the ground, with Ken ever looking for a leg attack entry. This is interesting to watch from a modern vantage point, as it was clearly by people that weren't in the BJJ mentality of "position over submission." Sano will attempt to place Ken in a bad position, and as soon as Ken is able to reposition himself, he instantly goes for the attack, which was the mindset of Catch Wrestling.

Both men jockey back and forth on the ground for a while, with both trading kimura, toe hold, and choke attempts. This goes on for a while, until Shamrock is able to secure a rear naked chock, thus forcing a rope escape from Sano.

They get stood back up and escalate the entire affair with some stiff palm strikes, and nasty knees from Sano. Everything is looking very snug and believable until a momentary show of flashiness takes place with a jumping DDT from Sano. This didn't really amount to a whole lot, as Shamrock quickly reversed his position by applying a hammerlock variant, into another rear naked choke attempt, and rope escape.

After trading a couple of kicks, Shamrock hits an explosive Northern Lights suplex into a Kimura, which is super impressive looking, but admittedly fake as all get out. This surprisingly didn't accomplish much as Sano was right back up with some more kicks and managed to score a knockdown against Shamrock. Shamrock gets back up and they continue to trade submission attempts, but one thing I'm starting to notice is that this has a great back and forth feel, without the sometimes-scripted feeling that a Rings match would give off. The limited rope-escape format of RINGS could add a lot of drama to a match, but oftentimes produced matches that felt very formulated. The PWFG approach of unlimited rope escapes allows for a much more organic match to take place, although can also lead to bouts of meandering if not done correctly.

The match continues to seesaw all the way until the 25:00 min mark, when everything culminates into an explosive crescendo, as both men give everything they have into knees/palm strikes towards one another. Sano gets behind Shamrock and hits a dragon suplex, followed by a straight armbar, for the win. While not perfect, this was a great match that really showcased the new and uncharted territory that this could deliver. It was fairly credible, outside of a few highspots and Shamrock's striking needing to be a bit stiffer. Still, this was a glimpse of some of the magic to come, and Sano proved to a perfect foil to the powerhouse that was Ken Shamrock.

Now, much like the Hindenburg, this show must come crashing down in similar fashion. We have Masakatsu Funaki vs Johnny Barrett, which if this had to exist at all, should have at least been towards the bottom of the card. Having someone as slow and out of shape as Barrett in a main event, is truly baffling. Funaki does what he can with him, and while it isn't completely horrible, it was a totally anti-climatic letdown, after the greatness of Shamrock/Sano.

Conclusion: While they haven't quite hit their stride, we are starting to see that the PWFG has the most potential of the three Shoot- leagues to really break into greatness. Although they weren't able to keep a consistent stylistic tone, all of the matches were entertaining, and if they can manage to broaden the shallow end of their talent pool, then they might be a dangerous force to reckon with. Here is the event in full:


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In Other News:

*Japan* Maurice Smith recently squared off against Peter Smit at an All Japan Kickboxing event on 5-21. There was a lot of trash talk and dirty looks from Smit and his crew leading up to the first round, and Smit continued to act arrogant after the round started. Surprisingly though, despite all of his bluster, Smit had absolutely nothing for Smith, and was never able to generate any significant offense. At one point during round 1, smith become irritated at Smit's antics and picked him up and slammed him to the ground. This caused a look of confusion and bewilderment from Smit, who seemed puzzled as to how Maurice could just have his way with him like that.

Smit regained his composure by round 2, but still wasn't able to effectively break through Smith's defenses. Round 3 is when things started to get interesting... Smit was finally hitting his stride and while he wasn't landing any bombs, he was able to stifle Smith, which seemed to frustrate him, and shortly before the 2min mark, Smith bodylocked Smit, took him down, and initiated some ground and pound. This caused several people in Smit's corner to jump onto the ring apron, and threaten Smith, while the referee panicked. The ref managed to break it up and declared Smit the winner. Smith then calmed down and apologized to Smit and asked him to come back into the ring and finish the fight. The ref seemed unwilling at first, but after cutting to a montage of the melee, apparently an agreement was worked out and everybody agreed to resume the bout.

They were both on their best behavior for round 4, but by the time Round 5 started it was clear that Smith had enough of the shenanigans, and proceeded to knock Smit out in just over a min. Things were surprisingly calm after the win, but one must wonder if Maurice had any trouble getting out of the building unscathed that night.

Full Event: (Maurice Smith fight starts around 36:30)


Rings has been getting a lot of attention in the Japanese media lately, as it is being reported that this promotion is, and will be, a complete shoot (although as we reported last time, this is not the case) and Maeda's decision to break away from Yamazaki and Takada was due to their not wanting to be in a full shoot organization.

*Chicago* Chuck Norris proved that he can do more than just act and roundhouse people, when he set a speedboat record of 12 hours 8 mins and 42 seconds for the 605 mile nautical trip between Chicago and Detroit. Michael Regan (son of President Ronald Regan) held the record before Norris, but Norris was able to beat him by about 26mins. Norris is an avid powerboat racer and was also able to beat the San Francisco to Los Angeles record last year, during his second attempt.

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What does Mighty Mike Lorefice have to say about all of this: "Not to take anything away from Karl Gotch, or especially Billy Robinson, who was the most gifted pro wrestler of his generation, but everyone involved in these "shoot leagues" was continuing to perpetuate the myth of reality by screaming really loudly about being different while actually only inching further from the long established norms of pro wrestling.

This, of course, is exactly what one would expect, people grouping with those who are seemingly most similar and continuing to do more or less exactly what they've always done, not attempting to enact legitimate change but making the easy & safe choices that simply shif things ever so slightly, mostly by excluding from their clique and directly or indirectly running down those who don't fit into their current needs, in this case the phony posers.

While Gotch, Robinson, Lou Thesz, Nick Bockwinkel, etc. were assets as trainers given the style the new generation was going to be working, certainly worlds more useful than doing 1000 squats in sync for Buddy Lee Parker, and in some cases such as Sakuraba & Tamura actually helped provide some tools that translated into legitimate fighting success, instead bringing in current or recently retired tournament or Olympic competitors in judo, amateur wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, karate, taekwondo, etc. to train would surely have led to a more unique style & pushed things toward legitimate fighting a little quicker, probably still not under Fujiwara though, as taking on guys half his age for real was obviously not going to be a recipe for success or longevity. Rorion Gracie's ulterior motive for starting UFC was to prove that Gracie BJJ was the essential martial arts discipline, but with all the established players in the shoot leagues being from the same rigged discipline, there was no advantage, especially for Fujiwara, to removing his own safeguards. That being said, I think we are already starting to see a very important change due to Gotch, who helped instill the much needed Greco-Roman wrestling discipline that was largely missing in the UWF.

The main evolution we were seeing in these shoot leagues in 1991 is that the splintering of the UWF resulted in leagues needing to find new fighters to fill out their cards. One of the most important of these fighters was Kazuo Takahashi, a high school state champion in amateur wrestling who also had some training in karate. While Takahash's wrestling in this match was still too upper body centric, his attempting double & single leg takedowns was still an important step forward from the hokey status quo that, bereft of any real wrestling knowledge, included Akira Maeda relying on the captured suplex to transition to the mat. While nowhere near as entertaining as Suzuki's match with Shamrock on the 1st show, you can clearly see that Suzuki was forced to up his game here, combating the then unusual wrestling style of Takahashi by timing & countering his explosions with strikes & submissions. The match was very brief with Takahashi not really doing anything but looking for the takedown, and while the finish was not that impressive, overall it showed Suzuki to really get it in terms of being able to adapt to his opponent and counteract them through good timing.

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Fuke debuted the prior August, going 1-1-1 against fellow rookie Masahito Kakihara before UWF closed. As with the previous match, the quality of amateur wrestling was much higher than it has been, with Fuke quickly hitting a single leg, which was also good strategy giving he was giving up a lot of weight to a kickboxer with a background in kenpo karate. Fuke showed a lot of potential, but Vale, while not awful, lacks any of the elements that make a fighter interesting such as speed, grace, & fluidity. He did some downright weird things, such as escape an armbar attempt by rolling to his left side & kicking Fuke in the head with his right leg, which drew a delayed chuckle from the Korakuen faithful. While I'll credit Vale with his willingness to allow Fuke to take him down & put him on the defensive rather than forcing a standup contest, Vale really didn't possess the skills necessary to put over his comebacks off his back.

After two examples of why PWFG was an improvement because you had new blood taking things in a more credible, martial arts based direction, Fujiwara comes out against a badly overmatched Wilkins, and because he doesn't take him the least bit seriously, does the PWFG version of a comedy match. Sure, this was credible by the standards of Hogan & Flair, but even if the work was arguably within the absolute loosest definition of shoot style, the desired reaction to their spots was giggling. They probably could have done a good match if they wanted to, but instead they did a cringeworthy exhibition that probably embarrassed some of the other performers because it was so obviously illegitimate in virtually every way.

Sano is something of a controversial figure, a guy who left NJPW at the height of his potential after a brilliant fued with Jushin Thunder Liger to compete in a promotion that supplied him with no legitimate rivals opponents, and spent the next several years paying for it when they failed. While Tenryu made Sano the flagbearer for the SWS light heavyweight division, a position he never would have held in NJ given Liger (as Tenryu never would have been tops in AJ given Jumbo Tsuruta), the overroided Model version of Rick Martel and a pre slapnuts J-E-FF J-A-RR-E-TT, were not the sort of opponents you were going to have futuristic matches with, as Sano had with Liger. Luckily, Sano found a home in the shoot style leagues, and while after leaving New Japan, perhaps only his program with Minoru Tanaka could be said to have approached the upper eschelons of junior heavyweight wrestling, he was a consistently good performer in the more realistic PWFG & UWF-I styles, with high quality matches against Minoru Suzuki & Kiyoshi Tamura. These highlights were somewhat overshadowed though by a bad run in MMA where he went 0-4 and just hanging on 12 years and counting beyond his expiration date (why didn't he retire with Liger, or instead of him...), making people forget that he was reasonably good during his first 5 or so years in NOAH by terrorizing audiences with his terrible perpetual tag contending duo with clutzy uncoordinated Takayama, a team he clearly needed to be totally carrying, except sadly he was very obviously far too broken to do so.

Suzuki's match with Shamrock on the previous show was considerably better because he has a lot more ability to both lead & react, and is by far the most creative of the three, but while Shamrock was forced to initiate a lot more here, he was able to maintain his patience & do a good job, with Sano bringing some good things to the match. Sano was the better standup fighter, landing some solid low kicks early (though he didn't really attempt to follow them up) and a lot of good openhand shots that helped force Shamrock into a more grappling centric performer. The basis of the match was ultimately Shamrock controlling with superior wrestling, forcing Sano to make things happen. It's unfair to compare a shoot debuting Sano to Suzuki in the style Suzuki has been training in for 2 years, but in any case Sano obviously wasn't totally ready to match is ability in junior heavyweight action yet. He was good in the striking exchanges and had some submissions in his arsenal, but most his transitions & counters would have taken the bout to a more puroresu place, and he was trying not to go there too often.

While the bout had the long match vibe too it throughout, emphasizing position changes on the mat over finishing opportunities, that was mostly okay because they kept the credibility a lot higher than it would have been, even if things thus meandered a bit more. I don't want to make it sound as if credibility was near the top of their priorities, Sano got a takedown with a jumping DDT and a knockdown with a jumping spinning heel kick that mostly missed and Shamrock did a few of his suplexes, but they built the match up well to these meaningful highlights, and didn't lose the plot when they failed to finish with them. Sano began to press in the standup, with Shamrock happy to get involved in a flurry because it would help him grab Sano & land his clinch knees, which tended to result in the bout hitting the mat one way or another. The finish didn't really work for me because by continuing to exchange the openhand strikes on the inside, Sano getting behind Shamrock when he missed one of these short shots without much hip turn was pretty clunky. Nonetheless, Sano did a released version of one of his wrestling favorites, the Dragon suplex, turning into the wakigatame for the finish. Definitely a good match, you could certainly argue very good, but my memory of it was better than it looks to me today.

Funaki almost had a match against himself tonight, and managed to look great anyways, with his slick execution and calm, in control demeanor. Barrett brought absolutely nothing to the table, pretty much just standing there and allowing Funaki to have his way with him because he was way too slow and unskilled for Funaki. While this was a passable exhibition where Funaki only broke a sweat because he felt like it, but exhibitions are supposed to start the card, not be the conclusion after a high quality, long, competitive bout like Shamrock/Sano.

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Thank you

de braco - 

Very interesting! Thanks, the contribution is appreciated

Good to see this guy in here.

You are usually providing items from the historical accounts.

Holy cow... best thing I have seen on this forum in literally years...

kudos to mbetz1981...

Can someone cross link this thread?

Schools in session....