Friday, November 25, 2016


Mega Battle Special: Ishizue
August 21, 1992 in Yokohama, Japan
Yokohama Arena drawing 14,700

With the potentially career-ending challenge of noble karateman Willie Williams now behind him, Akira Maeda turns his steely gaze towards MEGA BATTLE SPECIAL: ISHIZUE (礎, cornerstone; foundation stone; foundation; fundament; base; foot; groundwork; substructure; understructure; plinth) and I join him with my demonstrably less steely gaze than his, a gaze so ineffectual in fact that I have to ask other people what time is displayed on the massively oversized digital clock at the gym because I can't even read that without my glasses on but I must remove them to græpple because who am I, Takehiko Ishikawa? I could never pull off Takehiko Ishikawa (the All-Japans, the look, any of it): 

the legends say he kept his glasses on for randori
It is my sad duty to confirm what we had all feared to be true and that is that the era of giving bouts names based on elements or ethereal things or ways is now well and truly behind us, as this is the second consecutive MEGA BATTLE that makes no gestures toward that whimsy. That is regrettable, obviously, but I don't know that I feel any less enthused for the Masayuki Naruse vs. Kouichiro Kimura match that awaits me now than I would were it instead like GHOST BOUT which is actually a poor example because they actually should have done one called GHOST BOUT. We are in Yokohama Arena (Yokohama Arena (横浜アリーナ, Yokohama Arīna) by the way so this show is kind of a big deal! RINGS has been there before, of course, and, what's more, acts like it. Kimura is again wearing tights that keep SUBMISSION ARTS WRESTLING firmly top of mind, whereas Naruse comes out with taped fists, so each carries the weight of their respective modes of fight in their very garb (tape is garb). After several minutes with little to choose between these able young(ish) lions, Kimura takes Naruse over with a supple, arching ura nage and so the choice here is clear. Naruse is not shy with the slaps, nor is Kimura with his knees from the clinch, and this opener is opening well! I should note, since I make such a production about it when it's not there, that there is in fact commentary on this show, and I should note further that the reason I go on pretty endlessly about how extra high-level these shows are when there isn't commentary isn't because the commentary, when it's there, is a problem; on the contrary, the rhythm of it is great, I can make out the names of techniques and body parts intermittently, and everyone is clearly very polite, so I like this way, too. WHAT Naruse with an ashi-dori-garami toe-hold out of seemingly nowhere! The taped-fists were a swerve! 

Nobuaki Kakuta, whose weird pre-fight energy I have not previously enjoyed, is in next with Yoshinori Nishi and I do not know why exactly but the crowd is way way into Yoshinori Nishi (I am not suggesting they shouldn't be, but it is striking how much they are). They apparently have no problem with Nobuaki Kakuta, either, and I begin to suspect that this is in fact a "hot crowd" all around and just extremely into the idea of pretending to fight as realistically as possible and so realistically at times that it is in fact real or is it. We are in the realm of the three-minute round here and I like that less than the straight-time fifteen or thirty-minute bouts that one associates most closely with RINGS but it's not a terrible problem and in truth maybe not even a problem at all? Kakuta just whips those kicks in there, coiling and unfurling his weird stocky little muscle-body that is truly only at peace whilst wearing a gym-shirt with an extra wide neck and a waist that is probably twice what it should be were it to fit conventionally (it does not). He wears no such or indeed any shirt here, mind you; I speak of the shirt of the soul. A standing count is administered to Nishi after some unseemly strikes from Kakuta in the corner. Having had entirely enough of that, he elects to throw with koshi-waza (hip-techniques) amongst other waza and has the crowd nearing Meada-levels of intensity with a hiza-hishigi slicer attack that Kakuta barely withstands as round two ends. I cannot really account for how into this Kakuta/Nishi match Yokohama Arena is right now, like, they are both doing compelling things, but if this second match on the card were a main event receiving the same response, you would have to be like, boy, the crowd got into the main event, didn't they! This is not, I would argue, usually the way of things.

We are in the final minute of the fourth round, and I am enjoying (i) the way the on-screen clock in the bottom-right of the imperfectly-trackinged NHS screen says WOWOW just above it, and (ii) also this spirited contest! When Nishi drags Kakuta to the mat with kosoto-gake (minor outer hook) and looks first for hadaka-jime (the naked strangle) then juji-gatame (cross-mark hold but we all just see it and think armbar, don't we) it looks like the beginning of the end for odd little (and yet big) Kakuta, but his resolve is true. The final bell sounds just as Nishi whips Kakuta through yet another juji-gatame attack and it is clear that he has carried that latter stages of this contest and what's this his hand is being raised as we are shown a graphic I believe meant to indicate with mathematical precision the nature of his victory? If so it is beyond me. Nishi seems quietly comfortable with his win backstage, Kakuta business-like regarding his loss, and ready to move forward. 
I'm sorry I still don't get it

Mitsuya Nagai has been in several of these so far but his new friend Cvetan Pavlov, who is about to rob a truck during a 1930s warehouse delivery, has not:

is place
When you look at that picture passingly it is easy to think Pavlov is wearing a shirt but no, that is the way hairs grow atop the body he has been both blessed and cursed with (who among us; who). He is quite lovable, I think, but Nagai comes out kicking the shit out of him with his lime-green kickpads to such an extent that we have a knockdown less a minute in. Pavlov responds by accidentally whacking Nagai in the groin (total accident, he had no idea he kept a groin there) which slows things down for a moment but not for long. Pavlov, about whom I have found nothing and know less, seems to be a sambist of the takedown and leg-lock variety and that is fine by my and, I am sure, with us all. It is Nagai, however, who secures the kata-ashi-hishigi straight ankle lock first, forcing Pavlov into a rope escape, and as soon as they're back up, he Ong Baks poor Pavlov at once for another knockdown. This is pretty one-sided! Yikes, there's another knockdown! Poor Pavlov! At least he has some nice suplexes to do. And a pretty clean rolling juji-gatame attack too. Oh wow he won with it, and the crowd is absolutely losing it! Pavlov wins at 5:45 and this crowd is so happy for him! This man is a star and the people are lovely! 

Grom Zaza vs. Shtorm Koba is next and while I am by no means anti-Shtorm I cannot help but be emphatically pro-Zaza given what we, together, have thus far seen of him. Zaza's flying front-crucifix takedown in the early going convinces me immediately that I am right to feel as I do. The crowd is so unreal tonight that they are even going WWWWOOOOHHHAAAAHH over waist-lock escapes, so imagine what they are doing for seoi-nage shoulder throws and juji-gatame armlocks that unfold from unusual grips (the same sounds but louder). Shtorm is holding his own here but in my view needs to take it easy with the big lifts so as not to undermine the vraisemblance so crucial to the edifice here constructed. No, a man in the crowd is not badly hurt, he is instead a Japanese screaming ZAAAZAAAAAA but for a moment at first it is hard to tell. Zaza throws with the major-inner reaping of ouchi-gari, Shtorm with an ura-nage; there is much, much to admire here. Koba is down an escape, I believe, in this really very close contest, but draws even when Zaza understandably wants no part of a hadaka-jime naked strangle of the kind where tori gives up on the neck and elect to choke through the face, no thanks at all. The end comes soon thereafter (at 11:06, it would seem), when Zaza's te-guruma (hand-wheel) or sukui-nage (scooping-throw) flows like a river to the sea of a truly gross full-nelson kubi-hishigi (neck dislocation) with both hooks in, look, it's gross:

look his "kubi" is not going to "hishigi" itself
Chris Dolman continues to be back! Herman Renting, who has been on pretty much all of these (hasn't he) is on this one as well (isn't he). Dolman is dominating this match physically but because of his loose-fitting shorts worn atop a singlet the margin of his æsthetic victory is slim. For a time, at least, Renting lies on his back, inviting Dolman to enter into ne-waza atop him and I can't figure out even a little why Renting would want that, nor can I understand why Dolman wouldn't just go for it, but instead he stands and kicks and kicks and kicks as though he were Sakuraba and Renting the merest Royler. Then at 5:51 he just chokes him. It gives me no pleasure to say it but this was a terrible showing all around from Herman Renting.   

I think there is a pretty good chance this next one between Rob Kaman and Masaaki Satake will be a real fight, and if that makes me a fool then I can do nothing but announce again my folly. Satake is in gi pants and his no doubt hard-won black belt; Kaman's shorts, stance, and entire aspect suggest the beltless but indomitable ranks of the Thai. Boxing gloves, no kickpads, I will also say, because you have almost certainly wondered. I have suggested previously that tonight's crowd is the firemost we have yet encountered in RINGS, and you can be sure that they have not chosen to relent in that regard when Masaaki Satake begins to kick Rob Kaman. And is himself kicked! Look, I just think this is real. Round two causes me to doubt this not a whit: Kaman's Street Fighteresque foot-sweep is a thing of beauty, and, I am arguing here, also real. Satake kicks pretty hard, it seems, but Kaman is very plainly carved out of wood. Satake puts him down as they both connect with kicks in the third, but it is really more of a slip. The fourth is no less competitive and I notice only now that a rainbow adorns the front of Kaman's shorts as emblem of God's covenant with humanity and all the earth and the implicit threat that next time it will fire (for now, enjoy your rainbow).

I am not scoring rounds between fighters here so much as scoring which rounds I think are probably real, and so far it is totally all of them. The fifth round looks good too! Rob Kaman's kicks to the body look so heavy that even the ones Satake is blocking (which is many of them) have to be murder. With a minute to go I think this one has been pretty even! Also I have no idea if there is judging for this one or anything. There have certainly been no rope escapes or knockdowns, our usual lodestar(s). There is actually a lot of booing as a draw is announced and I am not entirely sure why they would boo so hard? Kaman says in the locker room that had they been in the same weight division, he would have knocked Satake out no problem, but because he is bigger, he can take more punishment than people Kaman's own size. This seems reasonable. A competing explanation of what all has happened here might be that this was a worked match but I reject it. 

Dick Fly appears in one of the black White Sox hats that were everywhere in 1992 (quite rightly, they seemed excellent then) and he is set to get tremendously græppled by Volk Han, over whose likely exclusion once again this year from the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame I am already pre-working myself up (into a shoot?) over. Dick Fly has enjoyed the great enthusiasm of the RINGS faithful since his earliest appearances as Dirk Vrij, and Volk Han's genius has been apparent since his very first moment, so the crowd, already the best we have seen, is into camera-shaking territory when Han opens the match with his flying kani-basami crab-scissors attack and transitions into a series of leg-lock attacks that Fly frantically kicks out of with palpable worry. Fly seems to knock Han down with a rush of strikes against the ropes but Han pops up immediately as though to suggest it was all but the merest slip and the referee is I think convinced? He makes an "X" symbol to the corner either to indicate it is the "X" of a knockdown or to indicate no do not count that as a knockdown please and as your guide I should be able to discern which of these is happening right now but I am not, forgive me. Han hounds Vrij with leglock attempts and forces no fewer than two rope escapes from them before setting into a juji-gatame that looks like the final waza until Vrij's great length allows him to hook the rope with a toe in the barest fashion and the crowd buzzes still with the fury of bees.

I think we are up to four rope escapes at the moment when Vrij just creams Han with knees to either the extremely upper body or lowermost face, the camera does not tell. Another knockdown follows, and Han is wise to want no part of this but mistaken, æsthetically, to sit down and engage in shameful scooting behaviour; the crowd's WOOOOHHHH of surprise quickly turns to disapproval at his act, and rightly so. This is acceptable from the drunken kung fu guy in the Virtua Fighter sequel that had not yet been released (quite understandably as the first entry in the series did not yet exist according to research just now conducted) but it is unseemly outside of that (virtua) reality in my view.  The story of this bout could not be clearer: Dick Fly is a terrifying monster of strikes, Volk Han the sambist most feared in secret, and each is wary of the other to the point of frantic scurrying. We are quickly running out of knockdowns and rope escapes when YES OK YES when Han catches a Fly high kick, wraps the leg and drives it to the ground into a hiza-hishigi slicer for the win. This lacked the technical other-realmedness of the previous two Volk Han matches we have enjoyed together but this had a great energy to it!   

Our main event sees Andrei Kopilov treated respectfully by the crowd as he sets himself the tall task of Akira Maeda, for whom this crowd is ready. The pace of this match is much, much slower than the oft-wild sprint (though it lasted 10:35) of Han/Fly. Leg attacks remains very much the focus here (straight ashi-gatame from Meada, the dread, twisting heel hook from Kopilov) though neither man seems married to a particular technique but instead to their wives (unless they are unwed; it isn't for me to say). I like that Kopilov attempts an ude-gatame straight armlock and a gyaku-ude-garami (reverse-arm-entanglement/double-wrist-lock/Kimura) from the bottom, and also that he forces the match's first rope escape with a straight kata-ashi-hishigi Achilles-hold soon thereafter. Maeda, now salty, slaps Kopilov before dropping him pretty much right on his head with a poorly-arched yoko-otoshi/lateral drop (you've got to watch those, careful on every rep, everybody) but it is Kopilov who forces the rope break again, this time with a te-gatame armlock with Maeda's face driven coarsely into the canvas.  

This is a good match and the crowd is super into it, for example when Maeda grabs a kata-ashi-hishigi in the mode of the Boston crab only for Kopilov to rollingly counter with a leglock of his own. They are no less thrilled when Maeda finally opens up striking, scoring a quick knockdown with a flurry of his really pretty big knees (I mean physically large). Maeda looks to be pulling ahead, but once they return to the ground, Kopilov comes as close as he has yet been with a juji-gatame that forces Maeda to scramble to the ropes so feverishly people seem to think, for a moment at least, that he had tapped! (He hadn't.) Kopilov is all kinds of trouble on the mat though! Here's another juji-gatame already! Meada wisely turns in hard to draw his elbow back from the fulcrum of Kopilov's hips but Kopilov cannily swims his arms through for a leglock and Meada is in deep waters it looks like, to stick with swimming I guess, but just as I say that he takes the back and grabs a hadaka-jime strangle that sends Kopilov to the ropes! Back and forth græppling action: is what we are all here for.

Even though I should definitely know better, I thought it was totally the end when Kopilov had Maeda's leg squarely in the middle of the ring (Maeda was still attached to it, but tenuously), but Maeda is a long guy and he managed to haul himself to the ropes as people chanted MA-E-DA MA-E-DA with all the love and reverence he is due and probably some that was extra. That would totally have been a good finish, but the actual finish is so incredibly better than that earlier finish would have been for a finish that I am a little ashamed to have just now suggested the first finish would have been in any way ok: with Maeda secured positionally within Kopilov's ude-hishighi-juji-gatame arm-crushing-cross-mark-hold, but the arm unextended, Kopilov attempted a grip break by rolling not towards uke (the waza's receiver)'s head, where uke's strength is much reduced, but instead towards his hips (I have heard Bas Rutten advocate breaking in this direction, but literally no one else ever; I would never suggest Bas was incorrect [about this, about anything] but I will note he is, so far as I can discern, alone in this view, or, failing that, firmly in the minority, we can say with certainty). The threat here is not merely that of an unfinished juji-gatame (though that is an exquisite agony), but, as we see, juji-gatame itself, executed as a kaeshi-waza or counter technique using the very thigh of uke (the receiver)-- who until this very moment thought himself tori (the taker) -- as the fulcrum for the armlock. 

That was an exceedingly sikk finish to a good match! To end a good show! Before a great crowd! Whose emotions and cheers made everything better! And would you believe that the august Dave Meltzer himself constituted 1/14700th of that crowd? Seriously I mean it for real look look:


September 1, 1992: "JAPAN TRIP V

Schedule: 8/10 - Tokyo Sumo Palace (New Japan/NWA tournament); 8/11 - Tokyo Sumo Palace (New Japan/NWA tournament); 8/12 - Tokyo Sumo Palace (New Japan/NWA tournament); 8/13 - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (WAR); 8/14 - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (WING); 8/15 (noon show) - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan Women); 8/15 (evening show) - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Universal); 8/16 - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Universal); 8/17 (live network television special from 1:30 to 5 a.m.) - Tokyo TV-Asahi studios (JWP); 8/20 - Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan); 8/21 - Yokohama Arena (RINGS); 8/22 - Tokyo Budokan Hall (All Japan); 8/23 - Higashiyamato (All Japan Women)."

[RINGS Bloggist's note: What a whirlwind!]

"Best card (overall production) - Rings on 8/21 at Yokohama Arena. Of all the cards I saw, the two that will stick in my memory the longest are this show and the 8/17 JWP show (more on that below). Whatever one might think of things Akira Maeda has done in the past or said in the past, he has to be given credit for the fact he is one of the great self-promoters and wrestling promoters in general that this business has ever seen. He largely has taken a group of people who aren't even wrestlers and put them in something that he doesn't even want to be associated with pro wrestling, and has turned it into a high class version of something that most definitely is pro wrestling. No, this would not work in this country. At least not without the same five year education process that Japan went through in the mid-1980s largely due to Maeda's self-promotional abilities. But many of the concepts used as part of the show would give those in this country so many new ideas on things that can be done to make pro wrestling seem more of a higher class activity and more respectable. The souvenir lines were incredible. The beginning of the show with the laser light show, opening ceremony and promotional pre-show video showing everyone in dramatic form prior to the card (the pre-show video, for some reason, is done in English rather than Japanese to give it an international flavor showing men training in Bulgaria, Graziya (formerly Soviet Union), Japan, Holland, etc. as "the toughest gladiators from around the world being brought together to form RINGS" gave it an aura that probably couldn't be understood by anyone who didn't see it live. Another plus is that Yokohama Arena, which, unlike most arenas in Japan, is a state-of-the-art complex reminiscent of Madison Square Garden. Maeda didn't sell his summer spectacular out like he would have routinely during the peak of his drawing power with the UWF, but drawing 14,700 paid with ringside at $160 and elevated ringside at $120 with a troupe that consists of almost nobody who had ever wrestled professionally before (which actually works to his advantage because they are all fresh and "untainted" so to speak) except himself says more for his ability as a promoter than anything. As for the matches, well, if you're in the building and feeling the atmosphere, they're okay. Some were actually embarrassing judged by pro wrestling standards, but it really doesn't matter because it's a different product and not supposed to look in the ring like pro wrestling. And it doesn't. Are the matches shoots like they've got their audience believing they are? How many times in boxing does somebody get knocked down four times and then immediately come back to win? In Rings, that's the classic match story that gets the biggest pop for the finish. The martial arts guy knocks down the submission wrestler four times (five knockdowns is an automatic knockout and ends the match) and then the submission guy gets his big hold on in the middle and gets the submission. In many ways, Maeda's Rings is both the farthest thing and the closest thing to the WWF."

[RINGS Bloggist's note: that is a provocative final thought to that part! I will also include, below, in its entirety, his assessment of interesting new talent, because I think it is neat to see who else he had his eye on besides Volk Han, who is appropriately praised. Also thank you for your time and your attention!]

"People that you may not have heard of but probably should remember: (Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Yamamoto, the Headhunters, Great Sasuke, Lightning Kid and Jerry Lyn, Gran Hamada) And last, a Soviet wrestler named Volk Han, who works for RINGS and according to fan balloting in Weekly Pro Wrestling, is currently the third most popular foreign wrestler in Japan (trailing only Stan Hansen and Gary Allbright). Han, a legitimate champion in Soviet commando sambo wrestling (real submission style wrestling), was put over Akira Maeda two months back and will surely draw a huge house for his return match with him down the road. Han has no chest, rather thin arms, and in fact, no physique at all, maybe 6-3, 220, and obviously has almost no working experience, yet he is so convincing with his submissions and has an uncanny sense of drama and timing that seem impossible for someone with just four or five matches under their belt to have." 

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