May 25, 1996 in Ekaterinburg, Russia
Sports Palace drawing 6,570
WHEN RUSSIAN TANKS ROLL WESTWARD WHAT DEFENCE FOR YOU AND ME? AKIRA MAEDA'S FOOT-LOCKS? THE HIGH-KICKS OF DIRK LEON-VRIJ? Now that I have improved upon the verse of Philip Larkin immeasurably it is time to embark upon this RUSSIAN BATTLE MISSION as we open on RINGS competitors græppling in a shabby training hall occupied only moments before by children following along with the kung-fu of a shirtlessly-vested Russian practitioner of that art. It was moderately uncomfortable to watch him. After some light wrestling about, the men of RINGS are shown becoming members, I think, of an extremely fancy club of some kind, and someone seems pretty proud of his little card, and quite happy!
Volk Han does sleight-of-hand magic once again because he knows that everybody loves sleight-of-hand magic and it seems as though a pleasant time was enjoyed by all at this very fancy Russian club. I am glad that RINGS Official Rankings are now a regular pre-fight feature of each show because we learn things through them like for example in this instance we learn that it goes 10 KOHSAKA 9 VRIJ 8 ILIOUKHINE 7 NAGAI 6 KOPILOV 5 TARIEL 4 HAN 3 ZOUEV 2 NIJMAN 1 YAMAMOTO. Akira Maeda has made the trip, and a man holds a WOWOW-identified microphone in front of him for a time.
I do not say this with anything but love in my heart but there is a mistake at the excellent-- and, if you are me writing this whole thing, nearly indispensable--prowrestlinghistory.com (it uses frames!) that indicates Mikhail Ilioukhine faces Wataru Sakata in the opening bout when in truth it is Kooooohsakaaaa Tsuuuuyooooshiiiiiiiiiiiii who is the RINGS Japan representative in this contest, just listen to the high-level ring announcer if you choose not to believe your eyes or my words. Seconds in, our feelings tell us this is to be shoot-style rather than shooting proper, and that suits me well as I am of the uncontroversial view that both of these guys are super good at that. Ilioukhine does get a little too theatrical with his pickups, it's true, but I freely and openly acknowledge that I am harder on that than most (though, I would argue, no harder than is warranted). The Ekaterinberg crowd is a lively one! Five minutes in, we have both fighters tied at two points lost to rope-breaks each until Kohsaka gets knocked down just as I say that, so that's two more points, but then TK immediately throws Ilioukhine with a lovely arching ura-nage (rear throw; in this instance essentially a German Suplex if that is the nomenclature to which you are best accustomed) so everybody's doing great! In a nifty bit of græppling, Ilioukhine over-commits to gyaku-ude-garami and Koshaka spins around into juji-gatame, just like we see Kimura doing here (I probably post this every time this happens don't I):
Rope-break, though. A knockown later (TK has lost eight points! eight!) they are on the ground and Ilioukhine attacks the same way again, but this time is able to sweep Kohsaka over whilst maintaining the grip and that is now nine points lost HOWEVER at 11:24 TK takes the back in a little scramble and finishes with hadaka-jime (the announcer says the words with great enthusiasm, which is also how I type them), the naked strangle. Nifty little match!
I am sorry my mind wandered and the results are coming in fast(ly) and furious(ly) as first Yuri Korchikin defeats the enboxinggloved Emil Krastev by juji-gatame in a mere 0:46, rightly stopped by the referee as the arm was getting all gross in a probable shoot; next, Mitsuya Nagai did Yuri Bekichev the good turn of lying down for a count of ten after a leaping spinning karate kick of some sort hit him in the shoulder (5:25); and just now Dick Vrij has been felled by no less staged a knee (3:53). The locals need their wins, and if they are not very good at making those wins look very good I suppose that is their burden to carry and not mine so I turn from it without second thought.
Volk Han vs. Hans Nijman are next in a match that surely will have implications for the RINGS Official Rankings list that we have come to enjoy so at the start of these! Han is attired shamefully and by that I mean he is wearing loose-fitting boxer(ing) shorts as opposed to the baby-blue tights we have come to expect/need him to wear for this to mean to us what we want it to mean to us. Nijman drives Han to the corner in the opening moments of this (definitely shoot-style) bout; Han, through his wiles, catches a leg and sends Nijman to the ropes fleeing the leg-lock. The same thing happens less than a minute later and that is a second escape. But then a head-kick knockdown ties things up! This so far feels like they are totally going through the motions, but maybe it will get way better, I don't know! There's Han's always-upsetting (to me) standing gyaku-ude-garami/double-wrist lock; this time he steps over and drives Nijman to the mat to attempt juji-gatame but, alas, too near the ropes. Is Volk Han's dropping to the mat from slaps getting worse? I feel like it is getting worse maybe? If his is getting worse, though, Nijman's just is way worse, as he shows next. Volk is going to give him a run for his money though, because leaning back after that knee grazed him was terrible! Then he grabs his face after Nijman clobbers him on the back! This is not a good match at all! As though to somehow seek atonement for this bout's failings, Han holds onto the match-ending hiza-hishigi knee-bar too long and Dick Vrij flies in and kicks him as the ring fills with dudes, thrown garbage (like the strikes in this match! that's right!), and the whistling jeers of a crowd of Russians who right now do not like this. So that's Volk Han your winner at 4:39 in probably his worst match ever? There was one a while ago I remember thinking "I don't know what the worst Volk Han match is but this is probably it" and while I do not remember the specifics of that particular match to be perfectly honest with you (I owe you this much), I would be quite surprised if it was worse than this. This was pretty awful! The replays aren't making any of the work look any better, either. YIKES!
Andrei Kopilov attacks with juji-gatame as often as any man who has ever lived, probably, so I greet his (shoot-style) match against Bart Vale with enthusiasm. He is just crazy about juji-gatame! Me too man me too. He is attacking with it right now! I don't know how Bart Vale gets out of this one, either, as they are far from the ropes and it looks pretty good! Ah ok he kicks Kopilov in the face, which is a penalty. He receives guidance (shido) on this point from the referee and everyone continues on as friends. Kopilov attacks with the crab scissors of kani-basami (蟹挟) as I am forced to reflect that to my shame I don't think I have ever played Fire Pro as him despite his clear presence in Fire Pro A which is the one I have played most by a factor of like a zillion. He finishes Vale with some unconventional but seemingly good upper-body holding and squeezing at 4:41.
Again, not in a spirit of even the faintest complaint I will note that the extremely excellent Pro Wrestling History site has the next match as Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Bitsadze Tariel and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter has it as Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs Bitsadze Ramaji whereas it would seem that the match itself is Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Buzoriashivili Ramaji but in fairness who among us has not made that exact mistake? One assumes that the mere presence of Yoshihisa Yamamoto in this bout (all accounts agree on that much) assures a shoot-style rather than shoot encounter. Yamamoto is dumped quite heinously mere seconds in and contents himself to play off his back until Ramaji grabs a hold of an ankle, which Yamamoto does not enjoy. It is an ashi-kansetsu (leg-bone-lock) of Yamamoto's own, however, that sees the match's first rope break, and then another; such is the mystery of the græppz. Ramaji throws with pretty much a vertical suplex and it will not surprise you, perhaps, to hear that I don't know, man. A certain amount of sheer hucking, like say how Ramaji just slammed his way out gyaku-ude-garami/Kimura, can be exactly right, but there are limits. Four rope-escapes for Ramaji as he is harassed by Yamamoto's katame-waza (græppling techniques) at every moment when he is not throwing wildly. A slight kerfuffle in the corner as the referee's instructions are not heeded on a break; there also seems to be something odd afoot in the crowd? Who can say. Soon after the restart, Yamamoto hops on Ramaji's back and rides out a big slam to finish with hadaka-jime at 8:19 even though Ramaji's legs are pretty much under the ropes and man that was a sloppy finish, that needed to happen closer to the middle of the ring or else it should have been a rope break I think.
WILLIE WILLIAMS is still at it! He is like a thousand! And here he sees action against the able græppler Nikolai Zouev in a contest between two large men. Zouev clinches and pursues Williams along the ropes in hopes of the major-inner-reap of ouchi gari 大内刈 but a rope break robs him and indeed us all of a slick takedown. They kind of slump to the mat together soon thereafter and then just kind of stay there for a while; this is not a great start. And once they're back up, Zouev falls very lamely from a shabby Williams knee. This RUSSIAN BATTLE MISSION has been pretty ragged! I am enormously fond of Willie Williams and I think Nikolai Zouev is excellent but this is not coming together and I would request that it end . . . and just as I do so it does in Zouev's favour by way of juji-gatame at 7:55 and there are shots of several Russians leaping for joy in the crowd so hey the people demand it I guess.
WELL THAT DIDN'T REALLY WORK OUT VERY WELL DID IT. Kohsaka/Ilioukhine was really good at least! And Kopilov/Vale hit the spot. But man. The whole show just felt slightly off by pretty much the same exact amount that Akira Maeda's hair was when it was all over:
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY: Well in fact this time I would first like to draw your attention not to what Dave Meltzer said so much as what others chose to say in letters to him.
April 29, 1996 [the very date Naoya Ogawa won his seventh and final openweight All-Japan Judo Championship!]:
"THE READERS PAGES
Here are a few things about Pancrase to think about.
1. Why are the fighters allowed to kick each other with shoes? You can't do that in the UFC. The shin pads didn't cover the hardest part of the shoe, the bottom. Front and side kicks, which use the bottom of the shoe, were thrown.
2. Why are punches not allowed and brutal leg kicks rarely used? Could it be because punches are impossible to fake convincingly and leg kicks, while not as difficult to fake as punches, are hard to make look full power and the fighters tend to overact when hit by them (like in UWFI)? I don't think you'll see too many people outside of shootfighting get knocked out cold by a palm heel slap.
3. Why do none of the fighters seem terribly worried when they are obviously in a position to be choked out and the fighter in the position to do the choking rarely tries very hard to do so? You rarely see anybody who knows chokes in the UFC not take advantage of the opportunity.
4. With points scored so infrequently, doesn't it seem silly that Ken Shamrock would have said that one fighter, in a dominant position, would just let his opponent up when the opponent would lose a point if he locked on a submission hold because of a rope break, would decide against working for the submission because he didn't want to give away any of his submissions. Doesn't he know at least a few?
5. I've never heard of a boxing, kick boxing or judo organization that only consists of about 20 fighters, most of whom are trained by the same people, who just rotate fighting one another. The UFC is actually fairly easy to get into and anyone can compete. From what I understand, Pancrase is a very exclusive organization and difficult to get into. I wonder why? Also, why are the fighters paid salary like pro wrestlers instead of given purses for each match based on the result?
6. Finally, doesn't it seem strange that even SEG won't come out and state officially that Pancrase is 100% real?
Pro wrestling is great, but in no way should it be confused with something real like UFC. I loved the Rocky movies, but Sylvester Stallone was never the legitimate heavyweight boxing championship of the world. Let's not blur fantasy and reality. Pancrase may occasionally have some legitimate shoots but so did the UWFI. It is not terribly hard to tell the difference between real matches and not-so-real matches. Pancrase is simply a better worked, though less entertaining, version of UWFI. As much as I like and respect Ken Shamrock, I have to say that if he wants to claim any glory from his victories in Pancrase, he is also going to have to acknowledge his losses in pro wrestling matches, such as his loss to Bart Vale, which was an obvious work. You can't have it both ways.
You mean guy-who-would-be-UFC-matchmaker-for-like-twenty-years Joe Silva? Indeed, yes.
May 6, 1996: A reader responds:
"PANCRASE VS. UFC
In response to Joe Silva's letter in the 4/29 Observer, the difference in how Pancrase looks as compared to UFC is because Pancrase is a sport with extensive rules while UFC is bare knuckled combat fighting. Many fans still mix them up. The small rule differences in what makes the match look so diverse. Because they look different, people then begin to suspect faking.
Rules are made to make things a trade off between wrestling and kick boxing. Since Pancrase is a wrestling based total fight, they choose to wear shoes but because of that there are many restrictions applied. The Pancrase rule book is several pages long and very meticulously detailed. The PPV show failed to explain the rules in depth, one of which is kicking with the toe being illegal.
An interesting note about knockdowns with slaps. Tokyo University conducted a scientific study about the effectiveness of blows such as punches, kicks, slaps, etc. for national television. The results were surprising. Open hand blows have equal power as punches and can knock out an opponent about as frequently. Many martial artists don't realize that.
The Japanese martial arts community and journalists generally believe the following:
Pancrase should be classified as a shoot group since only a few matches are suspicious of being worked. While Pancrase doesn't fix the finishes as to who wins or loses, every match has a theme as a professional bout and the matchmakers have given instructions to the fighters in regard to that theme. If you say that means it's a work, then I would say Pancrase is a pro wrestling organization. An example of a theme match. On the 1/28/96 show, Ken Shamrock vs. Yoshiki Takahashi did a standing only match with no ground work. It may have been a wide decision not to air that match on the first U.S. PPV since a UFC fan would expect to see Shamrock dominate using ground techniques. The match was a shoot, but not a complete match under Pancrase rules.
UWFI is strong style pro wrestling and proud of being such. Only a few of the 300 plus matches were true shoots. Even the famous Nobuhiko Takada vs. Koji Kitao match on 10/23/92 was a work, however Takada's intentional high kick knockout finish was a shoot.
RINGS is somewhere in the middle. At least one undercard match every card is a total shoot. Akira Maeda and the top foreign fighters matches are all works. From 3/25/96, when Yoshihisa Yamamoto took over for Maeda as the top star with Maeda out of action with a knee operation, the style was changed to be closer to Pancrase. More than half the matches on that show including Yamamoto's main event match were shoots. A new chapter in Rings has begun.
Unlike UFC undercard fighters, all Pancrase fighters are master of defensive techniques. Besides the rule differences, such as no punching to the head from the mount position and from behind, makes Pancrase as a sport very different from UFC. It requires different strategy and in Pancrase, it is far easier to avoid being choked out.
Like Pancrase, K-1 kick boxing also consists of about 20 kick boxers and karate champions who rotate fighting one another. Every new sport starts with a small exclusive group of competitors. Pancrase has a very open policy, however the skill level of even the preliminary wrestlers are much higher than even UFC. There are very few fighters who can even pass the entrance exam and the training is grueling to make it. Remember that one fighter died in the UWF dojo as well as in the New Japan dojo because they train so hard.
The Pancrase salary system is one of the reasons they call themselves professional wrestlers.
The definition of what exactly constitutes 100% real may vary by the person, and Pancrase itself acknowledges it is not a squash shoot. But for those who followed the UWF movement in Japan since the mid-80s, Pancrase is the final chapter in the book from working to legitimate pro wrestling. A clear line can be drawn between UWFI, Rings and Pancrase. Winning and losing have never been predetermined in Pancrase, although some entertaining and showboating maneuvers certainly exist within the body of the match.
I believe Pancrase is a more sophisticated and more civilized format of combat sport than UFC and is the future of this type of sport. The Japanese government and police would never allow a UFC event in Japan. Even Japanese Vale Tudo fights have more than ten types of attacks banned and the fighters wear gloves.
UFC will become closer and closer to Pancrase every time out in terms of unadvertised and unwritten rules and format, such as eventually creating a decision system and in time management.
The Bart Vale vs. Ken Shamrock match was in Ken's Fujiwara-Gumi days before Pancrase. I'm personally a big fan of Nobuhiko Takada and UWFI and also of Rings. Both are definitely more entertaining then Pancrase.
One of the reasons why New Japan banned Weekly Pro Wrestling is because of its extensive coverage of Pancrase, which has broken kayfabe by not fixing the results of its matches. Booker Riki Choshu hates the concept of Pancrase.
New York, New York"
A fine letter in its own right, no doubt, but I include it at least in part because Tadashi Tanaka, in like three or four years, writes maybe the all-time greatest letter to the Observer ever, and we will get there soon!
May 13, 1996: "The 6/30 Rikidozan tribute show will have New Japan, WAR, UWFI, Michinoku Pro, FMW, IWA, Big Japan, LLPW and JWP represented and they're negotiating with Rings, Pancrase, Kitao Dojo, Sayama's Shooting and even All Japan to appear as well."
May 27, 1996: "Some notes on recent videos I've seen. Saw the 4/26 Rings show and none of the matches were shoots, but the main event with Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Tsuyoshi Kousaka was a great shoot style match [that's true--ed.] and probably the best Rings match so far this year [also true!--ed.]. With Akira Maeda on the shelf after knee surgery, crowds are down with Yamamoto in the main event slot as Maeda is still a draw even though he's washed up [wtf Dave--ed.]."
June 3, 1996: "The next RINGS show is 6/29 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall with Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Maurice Smith and Mitsuya Nagai vs. Volk Han as the double headliner. RINGS ran a show on 5/25 in Russia but we don't have any details about it. Interesting that a second RINGS fighter captured a UFC style tournament when prelim wrestler Willie Peeters from Holland captured a Holland version of UFC called "Cage fight" on 4/21 beating Allen Harris of the U.S., Hubert Numrich (a large German kick Boxer) and Eduardo Rocha (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Illokhine Mikhail of Russian won a Russian UFC tournament a few months ago as well." IN FACT RINGS IS STRONG.
June 10, 1996: "RINGS ran a show on 5/25 in Ekaterinburg, Russia before 6,570 fans with Russia's Nikolai Zouev beating Willie Williams from the U.S. in the main event and Yoshihisa Yamamoto over Bitsade Ramaji. Bart Vale worked the show putting over Andrei Kopilov of Russia."
"5/25 Ekaterinburg, Russia (RINGS - 6,570): Wataru Sakata b Illokhine Mikhail, Kochiken b Krastev, Gregori Beckchev b Mitsuya Nagai, Vladimir Kuramenchev b Dick Vrij, Volk Han b Hans Nyman, Andrei Kopilov b Bart Vale, Yoshihisa Yamamoto b Bitzade Ramaji, Nikolai Zouev b Willie Williams"
OK then, back to Tokyo for MALESTROM 4th soon! Thanks for your attention and your time!