Monday, February 27, 2017


'94 Fighting Network RINGS Tournament: Finals
January 25, 1995 in Toyko, Japan
Budokan Hall drawing 13,526

VOLK HAN WITH LONGER HAIR IS HOW I IMAGINE GRENDEL'S MOTHER HELLO EVERYONE AND WELCOME TO 1995 what a year I am sure it will prove to be but before we can truly enter into its offerings we must first bring to a close those matters of 1994 that linger still and foremost amongst those matters surely is the question of the '94 FIGHTING NETWORK RINGS TOURNAMENT and who shall be named its champion. Can there be any doubt that the place where we are assembled is the Nippon Budokan (日本武道館 Nippon Budōkan), constructed for the express purpose of making as sikk as possible the judo of the 1964 Olympic games (and it totally worked)? I think we would be fools to question it.  

Our tournament finalists are the two true finalists of these first RINGS years, Akira Maeda and Volk Han, our third-place bout a contest between young Yoshihisa Yamamoto, bested twice in recent weeks by Maeda, and the always-somewhat-frightening Hans Nijman (R.I.P. I will never so much as get in a VW Golf out of respect). I would say with no slight intended towards any of the esteeemed competitors already mentioned that my interest in our opening match perhaps exceeds my anticipation for any of these tournament bouts proper and that is because it sees the workmanlike Kyokushin (極真 Ultimate Truth) karate fighter Wataru Sakata, trained to græppz by no less a man than Animal Hamaguchi, enter the Budokan ring to face Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, our favourite and the best. Before any of that can happen, though, a true parade of fighters the likes of which we have not been shown in full for seemingly quite some time must unfold before us; formalities must be observed. There is much to draw the eye here, perhaps nothing more so than the involvement of 1992 Olympic judo gold medalist/1996 Olympic judo guy who went to the wrong place for the weigh-ins David Khakhaleishvili (დავით ხახალეიშვილი) who kind of surprisingly has not yet been beaten by Akira Maeda (this seems inevitable, but at the same time we must remember that Maeda loses strategically and well, so you can never really be sure). A moment of silence is held in tribute to the thousands of victims of the Great Hanshin earthquake (阪神・淡路大震災 Hanshin Awaji daishinsai) eight days before, Akira Maeda supplicated in prayer. And so we begin on a solemn and sombre note.  

As the rules are explained to the Budokan crowd I discern the word hansoku-make, defeat by grave infringement or accumulated light penalties or guidances, and I reflect for a moment on how I don't think I was myself ever struck down by hansoku-make, though I have won by its ways on no less than two occasions (once because a perfectly nice and later completely contrite guy forgot himself for a moment and attempted a kubi-hishigi neck crank of the can-opener variety to remove himself from do-osae and I tapped immediately because my neck, in those days, was of shit; the other time was for reasons I will not revisit here, but he knows what he did). No time for that now though as Tsuyoshi Kohsaka has arrived, and he has his shoot-style face on (it's just his regular face . . . or is it):

Kohsaka's trunks and gear remain orchid, Sakata's a vibrant yellow AND HERE WE GO it is a strong clinching kosoto-gake (minor outer hook) for Kohsaka to begin the night's waza and oh my goodness a lovely uchi-mata (inner thigh) follows not long thereafter and this is already superb as Kohsaka settles heavily into the chest-hold of mune-gatame and I notice that whilst his trunks and shoes and knee-pads are orchid, the kick-pad portion of his gear is already the black we will in time come to expect of him. A rope break returns us to tachi-wazi (standing technique) . . . but for how long? Not long, it seems, as Sakata's back is taken after an exchange of strikes and so it is to ne-waza we return. Tate-shiho-gatame, the top-four-corner-hold! Kata-gatame, the shoulder hold! It is a feast of gatame in this the early going and I for one suspect it will persist. Rope breaks work their work but so too does Kohsaka and so it is with juji-gatame that he proceeds (until another rope break). When Kohsaka hit his uchi-mata a few moments ago, the first thing that occurred to me was but he is a harai-goshi guy but what TK has just demonstrated is that we should not let these categories bind our thoughts for is it all not in the waza? The only thing saving Wataru Sakata from yet more judo right now is a cut over Kohsaka's left eye to which the doctor briefly attends (R.I.P. Left Eye). Sakata has a way of coming in for things where TK just flattens him right out and works the back, pressuring the back and hips before forcing in a hook. HOOKS HOOKS everyone at judo tournament has yelled at everyone else at judo tournaments during the transition (so crucial, so fleeting) to ne waza and I yell it in my heart now. A lot of modern attacks against the turtle (kame) do not rely on hooks, but instead quicker controls of the hip performed by pinching with the knees! I may never grow accustomed to them! Neil Adams showed them at a seminar here that I did not attend but my foremost græpplepal did and he has done much to impress these techniques upon me in the years since but it is a struggle, I have to admit. Mais où sont les corkscrew-hook-entries d'antan? In truth they have gone nowhere and this is not a fair question.

TK has been struck to the mat in the corner but I don't take it very seriously, nor do I think you should, because by the time I am telling you he is already on top again, just grinding Sakata out. Kohsaka is big and heavy, 100kg for sure (the [genre leading] ring announcer probably said how many kilogramuuuuuuu earlier but I missed it, forgive me), and he just leans in (having read the book of that title). THERE's that harai-goshi (sweeping hip), I knew it was in there somewhere. Interestingly (I hope you will agree), as cleanly as Kohsaka hits harai-goshi in the worked-era of RINGS, I don't think there is a single instance of it as clean as the one he hits against Randy Couture in what I suppose we might as well call the King of Kings (shoot) era of RINGS. This seems counter-intuitive, but at the same time rings (RINGS) true, in that a truly clean throw in competition is often cleaner than the same throw in uchi-komi (practice, let's say) because you catch it with uke (your partner)'s weight coming into you with an earnestness that is difficult to match without the impetus of the true shoot behind his actions. This is a complex field of inquiry but I think we are getting somewhere and should revisit this again in the future. 

Standing, Kohsaka has begun to fire in low kicks that the Budokan crowd is fairly into. Sakata has a bad habit of turning his back after coming in firing and then I guess just kind of missing a clinch, and TK unloads a leg kick as Sakata spins through in this odd way one time, and the crowd seemed to like that one extra. We are again in the chest-hold of mune-gatame (the Kodokan does not recognize it as distinct from the side-four-corner-hold of yoko-shiho-gatame but the position became very much its own thing when Anton Geesink began pinning the hekk out of people with it in the 1960s if not before). As TK moves between positions and to the back and to his hook and to his hadaka-jime (naked strangle) attempt too-near the ropes, the people are applauding at every move, like, "my goodness this ne-waza," and if that is how they are, imagined, if you will, how I am. Did you know that Kano argued that whilst Kodokan Judo should remain for all time principally a throwing art, it should nevertheless always maintain within it room for the ne-waza specialist to make known his/her métier? What a good idea! How timely then that Kohsaka has just now finished with a mae-hadaka-jime bordering on a kubi-hishig (which is to pretty much say a guillotine, but from that gross, charging Isao Okano okuri/loop-choke position; see that here, read more in Okano's Vital Judo: Grappling Techniques here, see how jacked he is standing next to Willem Ruska here). TK TRIUMPHANT (when he wins shoots he never celebrates to the extent he celebrates when he wins a work; please consider this):

The match went 21:56 but I wished it would last a whole day so it felt short. Daisuke Ikeda, amongst others, enters the ring to console and attend to the fallen.

Next we have even more judo if you can believe it and I mean that in terms of sheer mass if nothing else because it is time for David Khakhaleishvili (დავით ხახალეიშვილი)! Longtime readers will perhaps recall that I have never really cared for the work of Herman Renting, so let us prepare to not like it together. Khakhaleishvili is looking big and strong and Georgian and Volk Han is leaning on the top rope in his corner like the coolest of customers and it's quite a scene:  

He is welcomed warmly, as is Herman Renting, who we have not seen in kind of a while, I think. My hope for this contest is sudden judo devastation befitting the oeuvre of John Wick or even, dare I utter this dream aloud, John Wick: Chapter 2. The opening minute gives us a big fat yoko-otoshi (side drop, or lateral drop, if that is helpful) and oooooh noooooo Khakhaleishvili has been convincingly kicked in the head! He is down! He's back up before the referee's count of ten but that looked tremendous, and as much as we should credit Khakhaleishvili for falling over in a true dead-tree drop (kuchiki taoshi, 朽木倒), even the hardest-hearted amongst us in this regard (me) must credit Renting with a completely ideally placed kick that looked like a murder but plainly was not; that may actually have been the best single kick thrown in RINGS so far. One must give the devil his due! 

Don't worry, though, Khakhaleishvili flattens him out, attacks with a yoko-sankaku roll (the judo-wise crowd admires this, and I number myself amongst them) and finishes with a mae-hadaka-jime in the north/south-choke fashion of anarcho-communist mental-health-professional/family counselor/græppler Jeff Monson (interesting guy). 

The gloves are being tied on for a kickboxing bout between "Dirty" Bob Schrijber and Aldinov Roussimov (relation to André yet to be determined), whom we have previously seen against Pieter Oele; I don't know that it was great. I don't know that this is, either! Dirty Bob has a skull or a squid or something in the dikk area of his trunks, so that's good. He has shoot head-butted buddy in the head and I am pretty sure that is not allowed (it is not, there's the yellow card). This Dirty Bob is irrepressible! Also he wins by knockout at 2:46 of the second round. I don't think this was for real but I have been wrong about tonnes of stuff.

Masayuki Naurse versus Sotir Gotchev is a promising match to me! Gotchev has a nice green jacket but Naruse comes out in a sleeveless hoodie like Kazuo Misaki (more on GRABAKA soon; next time, let us say) that says RINGS on the front and STRONG'S NARUSE on the back and Daisuke Ikeda is with him so the choice here is in my view not that hard.  

This is a RINGS FINALS so vast that it cannot be contained on a single disc but is instead split over two of them; I change them now, and reflect on how this recording no doubt began on a VHS set to a lower quality than it might otherwise have been (barring grievous error, I recorded literally everything on SLP because, while my mother would always get me a new tape at the Sobey's when one ran out, I wasn't going to push at that too hard). These guys, these Sotir Gotchev and Masayuki Naruse guys, are doing so great. Naruse, thrown and mune-gatame'd (chest-held), has been compelled ropeward by Gotchev's ude-garami (arm entanglement); at present, it is the arm-crushing-crossmark-hold of ude-hisigi-juji-gatame 腕挫十字固 that most threatens. Naruse's go-to choke is a kind hadaka-jime (naked strangle) that most closely resembles the "Bulldog choke" of the noble and true Carlos Newton vs. Pat Miletich (Carlos Newton, venerable Newmarket Ontarian of græppling, was, I am told, a fixture at the local and regional judo tournaments of the 90s but my time in Ontario came later so I do not know this but I believe and respect it; also I read a thing once where Newton argued that to his mind and in his experience judo is the ideal self-defense martial art [this is possible, but I am a man of peace and would not know]). How many juji-gatames have been rope-broken so far in this fine contest that now sees Sotir Gotchev throw with a rolling hikikomi-gaeshi of the kind that they give most shootists in Fire Pro A for your little Gameboy that looks like an old Nintendo? I cannot rightly say, but each one has brought me pleasure. SHOOT(style) STEPOVER-TOE-HOLD-FACELOCK Sotir Gotchev is your winner at 14:59 of another good one!

A Naruse match now behind us, it can only be time for Mitsuya Nagai. His foe this day shall be Mark Ashford aka Mark Starr, an English guy who was not a martial artist of any kind but instead a straight-ahead professional wrestler and so it will not surprise you to learn that he died of a heart attack in Brandon, Florida at the age of fifty (R.I.P. Mark Ashford). It is wild how much better the haircuts of Japanese wrestlers were compared to wrestlers working in the United States in the mid-90s; there is a slightly floppy timelessness to many of the Japanese cuts (others wear it very close, also fine) whereas American wrestlers (Ashford was functionally one) seem mired still in utterly debased versions of Jaromir Jagr's near-ideal vision. To Mark Ashford's credit he attempts a dogi-less sode-guruma-jime (the Ezequiel choke of Ezequiel Paraguassu) but Mitsuya Nagai, a man of wiles, evades that danger, and, now standing, kicks Ashford super hard. The best moment yet in this fine little match comes when Nagai attacks with the ude-garami arm-entanglement from the scarf hold of kesa-gatame whose name some (understandably) shorten to . . . kesa-garami (scarf-entanglement, like in that Ondaatje novel where a lady's scarf got caught in the wheel of her convertible and she was strangled? or did it maybe turn out to be a snake around her neck? it was something [don't tell me I will figure it out]). Nagai has kicked Mark Ashford a number of times about the chest but Ashford pro-wrestling sells them like blows to the head (it looks astonishingly fake on the replays, I wonder if this guy will be back) and Mitsuya Nagai wins the day at 8:11. 

A battle of döødz of enormity now beckons as Dick Vrij, loved still by the RINGS faithful, faces Tony Halme (R.I.P.) whose work thus far has been, let us speak openly, quite shitty. This match is in truth no exception but it there is some comfort to be found in its brevity (a mere 2:55) and in the extent to which Dick Vrij emerges the victor (this extent is total). 

TO THE '94 FIGHTING NETWORK RINGS TOURNAMENT BOUTS THEMSELVES THEN and it is notable I think that that is the title that this tournament seems to have chosen for itself and yet Meltzer calls it "Battle Dimension '94" and the esteemed and vital site "Mega Battle Tournament '94"; I don't get it. NEVERTHELESS we have in this our third-place bout Yoshihisa Yamamoto and Hans Nijman as it occurs to me that three dead guys on one card is surely a RINGS record. In the fullness of time of course, these shows will be filled with dead guys, but such is the way of things. Yamamoto has added a lovely headband to his ensemble, look:

Yamamoto is a sensible man and so he attempts takedowns at once against the far hittier Hans Nijman but oh no he has been clobbered to the mat already. And it is in fact Nijman who throws with the headlock-takeover of kubi-nage (neck throw)! I did not see that coming! Yamamoto gets the best of the slick ne waza exchange the follows, coming close to finishing, seemingly, with juji-gatame. After a rope break and a restandening, Nijman kicks Yamamoto to the head and, ultimately, the mat; it does not look too good for Yamamoto here at all despite me liking him more. And there's another one, that's three knockdowns already and we are only a couple of minutes in aaaaaand here come the leg kicks and knockdown number four. FINAL DOOOOWN we are told and Yamamoto who has a little something called heart is filled with righteous fire and puts Nijman down with strikes and then also with takedowns but with a worried crowd shrieking behind him Yamamoto falls to a hail of punches and of course slaps giving Nijman third place at 6:49 but it offers him little warmth against the cold of the grave. That was a sprint! 

AND NOW FOR FINALS and what more could we ask of them than Akira Maeda vs. Volk Han as the Budokan crowd chants MA-E-DA MA-E-DA even more lustily than we are used to hearing crowds do. As this is the august final of an august tournament it is meet and right that a red-sports-coated dignitary whose name I do not know say a few words before it, and it is no less fitting that the national anthems of both competitors be played as though this were an international hockey game of fighting (perhaps it is). (This utterly insignificant mention of hockey reminds of a recent Bryan & Vinny Show in which Bret Hart pulling a guy's shirt up over his head and then punching him on an old Nitro was described by Alvarez as "shoot-style hockey fighting" if I am remembering that right and it seemed to me enormously true when he said it [or words to its effect {and affect}].) THE BELL RINGS and the slap fighting is vicious before Maeda attempts uchi-mata (good for him) and both men fall to the mat, their legs in a hideous tangle as Han attempts first his reverse-STF/Double Agony in Man and then a rolling hiza-hishigi calf slicer and after a bunch of things like this Maeda flees to the holt-eves of the rope. Han is driven to the mat by Maeda's ancestrally-Kyokushin strikes but seizes upon a standing gyaku-ude-garami/reverse-arm- entanglement/double-wrist-lock/Kimura when next he stands; Maeda attempts ouchi-gari (major inner reap) before succeeding with the flying crab-scissors of kani-basami and much like me the commentator yells KANI-BASAMIIIIIIIII when he sees it. KATA-ASHI-HISHIGI THOUGH which is to say a single-leg Boston crab though and Maeda is in trouble! At least until he turns about and hooks a heel, so things look up for the instant before Han sinks his own double-heel-hook (everybody stop, no good can come of any of this). Only recently I heard about a foot-lock that can break bones in the foot en route to pressuring the knee (I do not remember the name of this hold, forgive me) and when my pal told me about it I was like well why doesn't everyone just grab a knife out of their bag and start stabbing and he really didn't agree with me at all about that (it's ok). Ah we soon learn that it is not only Akira Maeda but also Volk Han who is capable of kani-basami (we knew this already) and also that Volk Han's juji-gatame is a fearsome juji-gatame (also known); Maeda makes the ropes with the merest toe but his arm hangs weirdly as he stands (man Maeda is good at this, in which "this" is convincing people, often Japanese ones, of how hurt he is from pretend fighting that seems more like real fighting than other kinds of pretend fighting). Volk Han attacking the turtle (kame) position really couldn't look any different from Kohsaka earlier, an air of leggy lightness surrounds his every (sikk) movement. The kansetsu (bone-locking) attempts are coming fast and furious now! Juji-gatame from Maeda! A baffling hiza-hishigi from Han! An even weirder hiza-juji knee-bar from Maeda as the crowd shrieks! He turns it into a kata-ashi-hishigi but Han hooks the hiza-hishigi slicer again AND THAT IS IT VOLK HAN IS YOUR CHAMPION WHOM KHAKHALEISVILI HOISTS HEAVENWARD:

WHAT A GREAT SHOW! For real it may have been the best one yet! 


February 6, 1995: "Other Japan Notes: Biggest show of the past week was 1/25 at Budokan Hall where Rings completed its "Battle Dimension '94" tournament which Volk Han beating Akira Maeda in the finals in 14:19 with a kneelock before 13,526 fans. We had several reports from the show saying the card was great and the main event was excellent (within the Rings limitations of everything having to be believable).[WHAT THE FVKK -- ed.] The turnout was a great boost to Rings which had seemed to lack fire and interest over the past year with Maeda's popularity going down but this showed in the right situation he still has major drawing power. I believe it was the largest crowd for a Rings show in more than two years. In the third place match, Hans Nyman defeated Yoshihisa Yamamoto. Two American pro wrestlers were on the show, Tony Halme (WWF's Ludvig Borga) lost to Dick Leon-Vrij via knockout in 8:11 and even got a bloody nose in the process to set up what will probably be a feud between the two foreign "boxers" and WCW prelim wrestler Mark Starr worked as Mark Ashford, losing to Mitsuya Nagai.

Pancrase ran 1/26 in Nagoya drawing a sellout 3,679 for a triple feature as Wayne Shamrock beat Leon Dyke with an achilles tendon submission, Bas Rutten defeated No. 1 contender Manabu Yamada in 1:05 and Masakatsu Funaki reversed an earlier loss beating Jason DiLucia in 9:08 with the achilles heel submission. Next show is 3/10 in Yokohama with Shamrock defending their version of the world heavyweight title against Rutten. Renco Pardoel returns on that show. Pancrase prelim wrestler Vernon "Tiger" White entered the Japan Open karate tournament on 1/22 but lost all three of his matches.

UWFI announced its complete card for 2/18 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall with Nobuhiko Takada vs. Kazuo Yamazaki, Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Masahito Kakihara, Naoki Sano vs. Jean Lydick, Yuko Miyato vs. Billy Scott as the top bouts. They're leaving both Vader (because of this date's proximity to the Baltimore PPV) and Gary Albright off the show because they are running a 7,000 seat arena. The 4/9 show originally scheduled for Kobe was moved to Nagoya Rainbow Hall and they'll need a loaded line-up because Nagoya has always been the weakest of the major cities for this style."

"Results: 1/25 Tokyo Budokan Hall (RINGS - 13,526): Tsuyoshi Kosaka b Wataru Sakata, David Hahareshivili b Herman Renting, Bob Schreiber b Aruzini Lusinoff, Sotir Gotchev b Masayoshi Naruse, Mitsuya Nagai b Mark Ashford (Mark Starr), Dick Leon-Vrij b Tony Halme, Hans Nyman b Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Battle Dimension '94 tournament final: Volk Han b Akira Maeda"     


"The biggest promotional feud in Japan right now doesn't appear to be among the various different offices but among the country's two largest wrestling magazines, Weekly Pro Wrestling and Weekly Gong. Weekly Pro is working on a 4/2 Tokyo Dome show (reportedly as of the weekend they had already sold 15,000 tickets priced from $30 to $300 with no matches announced) which is slated to include approximately 11 different promotions. This past week, WAR pulled out of the Dome show and with help from Gong, is planning on going head-to-head with them that same day at Korakuen Hall, which is next door to the Dome for what they are billing as a Fan Appreciation Night. They are looking to bring in major U.S. independent wrestlers but the pickings are slim since WWF has Wrestlemania and if WCW or ECW is involved, it no doubt would be for the Dome. Expect a war of words in the mags to heat up over the next few weeks over the competing shows.

At present, it has been announced that Rings, UWFI, Pancrase, PWFG, All Japan women, JWP, LLPW, Michinoku Pro, FMW, New Japan and IWA will be part of the Dome show. It is largely believed that All Japan will be part of the show as well although that isn't official and in doing so would break All Japan's isolationist policy. It is believed All Japan is willing to do the show if it's match is the main event, but New Japan also wants that status. Both WCW and ECW have been contacted about sending wrestlers to the show but negotiations weren't finalized as of press time. I strongly suspect ECW will be part of the show in either one or two matches. There were ideas of doing a Randy Savage vs. Sabu or Terry Funk vs. Sabu interpromotional match although politics would probably make the former impossible and the latter very difficult. Since each group is supposed to come up with its own match, it's going to be interesting because each group is going to want to have the best match on the show. It's believed that the top All Japan draws like Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi and New Japan draws like Shinya Hashimoto and Keiji Muto won't be on the show, but that Atsushi Onita and Akira Maeda would be the big names as drawing cards."

February 13, 1995: "Rings, which already did a monster house last year in Russia, does its second international show on 2/19 in Amsterdam, Holland with Akira Maeda vs. Chris Dolman, Dick Leon-Vrij vs. Mitsuya Nagai and Hans Nyman vs. Andrei Kopilov."

February 20, 1995: "The latest on the Weekly Pro Wrestling show on 4/2 at the Tokyo Dome is that they've abandoned the idea of having foreign promotions as part of the show. Originally both ECW and WCW were contacted, but the promoters decided after getting 13 different Japanese promotions to agree to participate that anything else would be added unnecessary expense that won't sell any additional tickets and from a time frame would be overkill. Because all the promotions are going to want to be the one to steal the spotlight, it is believed most matches will be 15-20 minutes in length and with ceremonies, intermissions and other festivities, they don't want the thing to turn into a marathon like the All Japan women's show in November.

Approximately 18,000 tickets have been sold for the show even though none of the matches have been announced. Although not announced, both Atsushi Onita (in an electrified barbed wire match) and Akira Maeda will do singles matches that are expected to be the top drawing matches on the show. Groups involved are New Japan, All Japan (not 100% confirmed at press time but expected), Rings (Maeda singles match), UWFI, Pancrase, PWFG, All Japan women (a tag match involving its top four workers), JWP, LLPW, FMW (Onita gimmick match), Michinoku Pro (typical six-man Lucha Libre main event with Great Sasuke, Super Delfin, etc.), Go Gundan and IWA (six-man tag match featuring Terry Funk)."

OKAY THAT IS IT FROM THIS PARTICULARLY GREAT SHOW OF RINGS and I thank you once more for your attention and your time.

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