May 29, 1993 in Tokyo, Japan
Ariake Coliseum drawing 8,700
I cannot explain why what I am about to tell you is happening happens, but please believe my claim that it does: this RINGS tape (disc of a tape, as you know, but let us speak of the tape; indulge me in this way if in no other, I beg you) opens with the now well-known frenzy of fighter images flashing across the screen that is usually accompanied by relatively early Megadeth of some kind (I still have not tracked down which one and my intention remains to never do that), but this time instead of the pounding drums of Gar Samuelson (R.I.P.) or whoever (I mean no disrespect) it is the soft tones of Billie Holliday's "Trav'lin' Light," and I could not be more perplexed. We are shown the crowd gathering at Ariake Coliseum, and still it is Billie Holiday. The commentary team, which includes the still-unknee'd Akira Maeda, introduces itself at ringside, one assumes, as their lips are moving, but the only audio we hear remains Billie Holiday. As we move backstage, it is no longer Billie Holiday but instead the softest-ever rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (or perhaps "Baa Baa, Black Sheep," or "A-B-C-D" etc.), and then the colour goes out, then cuts back in, and then everything is normal. What happened here? There is no way it was like this in the original broadcast, is there? Did the original WOWOW tapist not get any sound on his VHS recording, and then decide to add something incongruous later for what we would come to know in time as "lolz"? Is this all some kind of project by an art student playing an incredibly long game that has only now been fully realized? I went to the "The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978" show at the AGNS, and have seen the weighty tome from which it was derived; I know how subtle these things can be. I don't think there is any way out of this right now other than looking at Volk Han:
And once we have sufficiently admired his lean wolfishness (for now), let us turn our attention to our opening bout in this BATTLE DIMENSION, Masayuki Naruse against Yuki Ishikawa (nom-de-Fire-Pro: Braveheart Toui Ishihara) whom all of us here now at this point cannot help but favour because of BATTLARTS; it is impossible to watch this innocent of and uncoloured by the knowledge of the BATTLARTS that are to come. But we must try to be fair. Naruse is wearing his hair up like up and with a really well-maintained fade to it; here is what Ishikawa looks like (ideal):
|Aoki is about my size so I really identify with this|
|GIVE UP? GIVE UP? GIVE UP THOUGH MB? GIVE UP?|
Naruse goes up by an escape (kata-ashi-hishigi, the single-leg-crush) and a knockdown (knocking down through hitting) in what I was about to call the early going but we must be ten or more minutes into this match that I am enjoying very much when Ishikawa takes the back and convinces me he is about to finish with hadaka-jime, the strangle that knows no vestment. Naruse, though, flails with a foot for his second escape, and needs another a little bit later. These guys are going long! I just like this so much, not just this, but all of the RINGS so far, just all of it. I have even neglected a whole NJPW tour, that is how into RINGS I have been lately, and even though it was the World Tag League tour that is often really hard for people to like, I think this is significant. If you think I will be missing the Korakuen Halls leading to Wrestle Kingdom 11 you've got another thing coming, though! (Because I will watch those.) (Just today I listened to Dave Meltzer say that while he was sure Wrestle Kingdom would be excellent, he just doesn't feel any excitement for it, and if I recall correctly the last time he said this about NJPW it was with regard to the G1, which ended up being better than last year's, which Dave called probably the second-best G1 ever, trailing only the year previous', which he declared the greatest professional wrestling tournament ever. So cheer up, Dave, it will probably be super!)
Naruse and Ishikawa are slowing down and yet growing ever-more intense as we approach our thirty-minute time-limit (I have not properly checked, but we must be). Ishikawa looks fired up and mean and he gets the crowd fired up and maybe also mean, I don't know, that would be dark but I could see it. The escapes have been few and far between, and there has only been the one knockdown, and I couldn't tell you exactly what the score is but it has to be close. Yeah okay this one ends as a thirty-minute draw, and everybody seems pretty happy about it, even mean old Ishikawa (who is not yet old). If you like thirty-minute time-limit draws, there is a very real chance RINGS is the perfect promotion for you and your oddly specific interests (I know it is the perfect promotion for my oddly specific interests).
Georgi Keandelaki, who we have seen before, is about to go five (or perhaps fewer) three-minute rounds against Mihail Simov, and both competitors wear boxing gloves, which, again, convinces me at once that their match is real. This is a blindspot of mine, I know, and I would work harder to overcome it if it mattered even slightly, but it does not. The rules here seem to permit them to take each other down, but to what end with those big dumb gloves? Remember earlier this year when Royce Gracie didn't even tape his hands under his gloves for the bout against Ken Shamrock in which he kneed him in the groin as part of the kuzushi (unbalancing) for tani-otoshi (valley-drop)? Royce Gracie spent the rest of the year disgracing himself way worse than that, I guess, so I don't want to belabour that point (or any, my prose must remain uncommonly brisk or it is nothing). All I mean to point out is that he knows you can't really grapple with junk on your hands, be that junk too-heavy tape, four-ounce fingerless gloves, or, least of all, these big clunkers. And so although there is an occasional striving after takedown here, it is pretty much straight kickboxing, and, within that, pretty much just boxing. This trend (hitting) continues into the third round, at which point Georgi Keandelaki knocks Mihail Simov out 1:34 into it. I claim no knowledge of work or shoot here and will say only that he seemed to punch Simov pretty hard in the head on the finish.
WILLIE PEETERS IS BACK and it is against Nobuaki Kakuta, who takes a great beating, so maybe he will take one here? Peeters, sadly, comes out in simple white-trimmed red boxing shorts, rather than the checkerboard tights of our previous encounters. He is also wearing his hair much shorter here, perhaps a number two guard. Both in his look and in his aspect here he seems less inclined towards theatrics (such theatrics as the strictures of this stoic RINGS style allow) and more tightly focused on the task of shooting. Peeters came out this way once before, and I didn't much like it then, and I don't much like it now. Gone is the high-amplitude grinning jackal we have loved; in his place we find an outside-tripping early mammal (only bigger). The last time this happened I thought the reason was maybe because it was real? And maybe this one is too? Would that account sufficiently for this change in aspect? Or is it instead evidence of a deep-work, in which Peeters has two persona, essentially, one in which he is a light-hearted worked-shooter, another where he is an intense shoot-shooter, but in truth both are works? I cannot rule any of this out and you will probably believe me when I tell you I have no desire too, not even the littlest one.
Peeters and Kakuta trade not only super-hard palm-blasts to the face and head but also knockdowns resulting from same. The crowd is strongly in, but turns slightly against Peeters when, whilst hanging on the ropes to prevent a takedown, he hits Kakuta very much in the breadbasket; I am not sure this is against the letter of RINGS-law but it is surely against its spirit, and so disapproval. The end comes soon thereafter (10:18) when Peeters throws with the low-key shoot (?) version of the worked-shoot kubi-nage headlock takeover we have come to know and love in him, and finishes with the sode-jime (sleeve choke) sometimes called sode-guruma-jime (sleeve-wheel-choke) sometimes called Ezekiel (after judo Olympian Ezequiel Paraguassu). Without a gi it is weird but you do it if you are mean enough about driving your forearm across a trachea, and Peeters here is so willing. Backstage, Kakuta is in (worked?) shoot (?) tears. Fascinating match.
Dick Vrij is how they are spelling it now, and he is about to see about Andrei Kopilov, who has been impressive every time so far. Vrij's build really has changed quite a bit in these two years, and while he is still a ginormous muscleman I think he also looks healthier and certainly more like a fighter so whether he did this for his own well-being or to further the vraisemblence of his performance I salute him. This should be awesome, let's see: Kopilov rides him down spinningly to the mat, and an instant later flips him over for a juji-gatame and an escape, and the crowd is of the view that HHWWWOOOOOAAAHHHHH already, and then Vrij knocks him down less than a minute later and they say it again. Kopilov looks well on his way to another knockdown but he clinches, throws, and juji-gatames with a slightly different roll for a second escape. This pace is wild. It slows somewhat on a kick to the groin (this is understandable), and the picture I want to show you of this is of Kopilov's immediate reaction to it:
|he got him in the dikkkk|
MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT '92 (it finished in '93) CHAMPION CHRIS DOLMAN is here and it is noble young Mitsuya Nagai who is to be his foe. When last we saw Nagai he was exhibiting real techniques + real emotion in a pitched battle against both Volk Han and our own human fallibility it was so sikk. My tape is dropping its colour periodically and I welcome and encourage it. This bout is being contested in three-minute rounds, presumably five of them, but if Mitsuya Nagai goes five full rounds with Chris Dolman, who has taken him down and is functionally a bear, I will be not just surprised but probably also alarmed. Nagai wisely uses a rope escape to get out of trouble, and a moment later wisely covers up as Dolman illegally knees him in the head in the corner (Dolman apologizes, Nagai accepts, they are sportsmen both). Nagai is spirited to begin round two, and we would of course expect nothing less, but soon enough Dolman squishes him to the mat with a mae-hadaka-jime front choke just kind of pushes on him for a while there before just standing up.
Two rounds in, this has been a lot of Chris Dolman just laying on Mitsuya Nagai, and if you think I utter that as complaint and not high praise I would take that as evidence of the poverty of my art and its failure to convey to you my true feelings, and I would ask your indulgence as I endeavour to make them clearer to you in the fullness of time (many more years of RINGS). Dolman jusssst about finishes with a short hadaka-jime, the kind that hurts, as round two expires. In round three, Dolman squishes Nagai with the kubi-hishigi neck dislocation some know as the can opener (do not confuse it with the rudimentary dive of the same name), and Nagai thinks maybe this is the right time to spin underneath for a juji-gatame arm-lock but no, he is only squished the more. A little bit of chicanery unfolds as Nagai's leg slips out over the bottom rope, and Dirk Vrij pushes it back in a couple times, apparently not thinking he was doing anything wrong, but the referee admonishes him and the crowd says hwaaaaiiiiii. Early in round four, Dolman kata-ashi-hishigi/single-leg-Boston-crabs a leg as though strangling it, and is awarded a nice little trophy for his efforts. This one was low key, but Nagai did a good job of keeping Dolman strong, as did Dolman, by being strong.
Wonderful man of karate Willie Williams vs. actual sambo wolf Volk Han is a match I never would have imagined could ever be, but here it is before us. From their entrances it is hard to say who is the better loved at Ariake Coliseum, but it is plain to see that while Volk Han is not at all a small man, Willie Williams remains a towering one. I have enjoyed everything Williams has done in RINGS, so please do not mistake me for even an instant when I say this is going to be a weird mix of styles and I wonder if it will be any good? We learn at once that the crowd is definitely going to do its part, as it goes wild for all of Han's early standing submission attempts. Do I even need to tell you that Willie Williams is wearing gi pants? Of course I do not. Williams goes down a rope escape early, and when he stands, he starts to do all kinds of, like, karate hand waving before dragging Han to the mat with a front choke. Han escapes, and has designs on Williams' incredibly long legs, but Williams is pretty poor on the ground (he is just super old, too) and none of it looks all that good. Han sells the literal heck out of a punch to the liver, though, and Williams in that instant seems the most dangerous man alive. His knees to the body look good too! Volk Han takes a gyaku-ude-garami arm-lock grip off of a Williams waist-lock (think Kazushi Sakuraba against Renzo Gracie at Pride 10, a Pride so good that when they used to sell box sets of the early shows, the first included Prides 1-5 and the second Prides 6-9 plus 11, and you had to buy 10 on its own, because they knew what they had) but instead of spinning around with the arm, Han drops low for a hiza-juji-gatame knee-bar, and it was tidy. Next, he comes close on an ude-hishigi-juji-gatame arm-lock, and indeed too close, as it kind of looked fake for Willie Williams of the dry old shoulders and elbows (I say this because I am also of those things) to be weathering a fully-extended armbar, but the way Han transitioned to a kata-ashi-hishigi Achilles hold from their redeemed it at least partially.
Williams really is at his best when he is punching, and so they go back to that: another hard shot to the liver gives us another knockdown. Williams has rope-escaped kind of a lot though so I am not sure where the actual score stands. Another knockdown! This time from knees! Han is so rattled that he missed his kani-basami flying crab scissors for the first time ever! And then Williams knocks him down again, that's four! There is real drama emerging! Aaaaaaand there is the kani-basami again, and this time it works, as does the kata-ashi-hishigi at 11:46, and everyone seems pretty into it, but man Williams hung out in that hold for like a million years, and then didn't do a very clear job of tapping to it but instead clapped his hands together then slapped the mat in the mode of ukemi (breakfall). Please remember that Willie Williams is extremely old and that we love him and hold none of this against him.
A pretty good show! It's clearly tough for them with Akira Maeda out (it is tough for us all) but Yuki Ishikawa is giving us an awful lot already, isn't he? Peeters gave us a lot to think about. And while this was clearly not the best Volk Han match, it is the best Volk Han match we could hope for against Willie Williams, with whom no one's problem could ever be, so why dwell on its imperfections. Let us instead look ahead to the upcoming RINGS-debut of "Dirty" Bob Schrijber, and wonder what depths he will plumb in his relentless pursuit of martial depravity. That's next time! Thanks!
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY:
June 8, 1993: "Ramon Lores of 79-26 153rd St., Flushing, NY 11367 is looking for New Japan, All Japan Women, JWP, LLPW, Japanese women singing, the Cutie Suzuki/Mayumi Ozaki video, posters of Debbie Malenko, Takako Inoue, Ozaki, Suzuki and Plum Mariko, Explosive barbed wire matches, Hong Kong martial arts tapes with Cynthia Rothrock and Akira Maeda tapes." No way to know this for sure but my assumption is these are listed in ascending erotic interest.
"Rings drew 8,700 to the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo (12,000 capacity) without Akira Maeda. Volk Han beat Willie Williams with an achilles tendon submission in the main event."
June 21, 1993: "Akira Maeda will be undergoing an elbow operation shortly and also is said to be traveling to Spain and the U.S. hoping to recruit new wrestlers. He'll be back for an exhibition on 8/21 since they've got the 17,000 seat Yokohama Arena booked and they can't run such a big building without him, although his official return is 10/23. Next major RINGS show is 7/13 headlined by Volk Han vs. Dirk Leon-Vrij."