October 25, 1997 in Tokyo, Japan
NK Hall drawing 6,620
EMBOLDENED BY THE LATENESS OF THE HOUR and driven by an Oedipal desire for knowledge (but not for the other stuff) despite Creon's wise caution that we should crave not mastery in all (for the mastery that raised thee was thy bane and wrought thy fall, he said one time) I asked last night through the bird-song of Twitter, "Dave, any idea why Tamura vs Yamamoto was a shoot when every other match in the RINGS Mega Battle 96 tournament was a work?" To which, I added, "at the time you wrote 'the result of the match was a shoot although the match itself wouldn't be a pure shoot' & the mystery of it haunts me." When I awoke the reply awaited: "In that era they did both, but mostly works." This had been "liked" (they are still faves to me, in all honesty) by like nine people. "thanks Dave" I wrote, to conclude our interaction. My initial thought was that while this response was in no way illuminating, it was factually true, and I could go as high as **3/4 on it. Andrew, whose position was supported by both Jonathan and TOM, felt that this answer was in fact properly a DUD, in that it was not an answer, in that I had essentially asked "dave why did x happen?" and Dave answered "x happened." And that's true! It is a DUD. I think maybe I was at first just relieved he wasn't mean, like he can be on Twitter sometimes? (He has never been that way to me on Twitter but I have seen it and it is dark.) Why not say "I don't know" or "I don't remember" or "Could have been any number of reasons, not sure" or "Ask Tadashi Tanaka, who is wise in such lore"? I really can't say. But here ends my quest (it has not been as long as some other quests have been, either historically or in the Imagination) to find out from Dave what he meant when he wrote so intriguingly of that exquisite contest's true nature.
LET US TURN OUR ATTENTION INSTEAD towards the mystery of the actual and present (in this case the past, but the RINGSblog present) as we approach WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997 and specifically WORLD MEGA-BATTLE TOURNAMENT 1997: FIRST ROUND. As you can see from the (World Mega-Battle) Tournament (1997) bracket posted above, it is quite a field! Notable in his absence from it is of course Yoshihisa Yamamoto, who it would seem is injured and unable to compete, given the little video shown and the concerned commentary that occurred over-top it. There are many first-round matches to get through and no time to waste, lest we find ourselves at day's-end standing around still waiting for our division to be posted only to find that men's -73kg blue-through-black-belt was inexplicably going last and there is no way we would be out of there before 7:30 pm (at least we were a three-hour drive through bad weather from home). Such a fate awaits neither Lee Hasdell nor Joop Kasteel, because here they are now, going totally first. Kasteel, you will perhaps recall, lost in his previous bout, a "shoot" against Petey "My Heart" Williams, through sheer exhaustion and inability to stand up from that. Here he has better luck, in that he defeats Hasdell by kubi-hishigi neck-crank from kesa-gatame scarf hold at 8:55 of a plainly worked bout that flew right by.
The pace is brisk as we move on to Mikhail Ilioukhine vs. Masayuki Naruse who has been entered in this WORLD MEGA-BATTLE despite his standing as RINGS Light-Heavyweight Champion (I still resist this) so one can only assume this is as open-weight affair, much like the upcoming All-Japan Judo Championships to be contested this April 29th (and indeed every April 29th)? There, -73kg Olympic Champion Shohei Ono will compete against the most enormous fellows available, as Olympic and World Championship gold medalists of any weight category are able to bypass the qualification rounds (held by prefecture!) and compete in the final brackets directly. Perhaps this is sort of Masayuki Naruse's position! He and Ilioukhine did great, by the way, as Ilioukhine was totally up against it in terms of points lost both to rope escapes and being clobbered to the mat before he secured an ashi-kansetsu (leg bone-lock) in the middle of the ring to move on at 12:28. That's two straight losses for Naruse since winning his title, though, the first in a shoot against Willie Peeters (you will recall perhaps Naruse's totally messed up nose), and now this.
As is customary, Mitsuya Nagai's match follows Masayuki Naruse's; it is really is remarkable how often that happens. Here he encounters Christopher Haseman in what appears to be a shoot-style bout. A fine kani basami 蟹挟 crab scissor by Haseman! And a reasonable hiza-juji knee-bar! And a juji-gatame after which Nagai most seek the succor of the holt-eves/ropes! I like the start of this match very much. Nagai falls in a weirdly delayed way to a Haseman head-kick but it was so weird that it seemed weirdly real, rather than weirdly unreal, and I salute his artistry in this and in so much of what he does. Nagai! HEEL HOLDO! He has held it to completion! What a pleasant 9:19 that was.
Bitsadze Tariel wastes no time in kneeing the hekk out of Dick Vrij in the corner but don't worry this a mere shoot-style kneeing. So many knockdowns! Everybody is being knocked down! This is crazy with knockdowns! Tariel does not quite connect with a spinning heel-kick and Vrij shrugs it off and chokes him with hadaka-jime at 6:01! That was a fairly wild sprint!
And now it is time for . . .
. . . against Boris Jeliazkov, who I understand to have been a Bulgarian junior-national wrestling champion but I am unfamiliar with the relevant wrestling results databases to confirm this or render it more precise (if this were judo it would already be done). Waaaaaaait a minute, is this a shoot? Did they give everybody else in the first round of this tournament a worked match except for TK? What did he do to anger the gods (Maeda)? This Bulgarian is really hard to take down! Kohsaka comes close to finishing with two heel holdos that get rope-escaped but the second one made Jeliazkov yelp pretty good (I do not deride him for this) and then walk funny (nor this). There's another! Jeliazkov would be a real threat if his submissions were sharper but I am sure wrestlers often feel submission guys would be a real threat if their takedowns were sharper so I try to be broadminded about these things. His submission defense seems pretty good, especially in the RINGS context in which rope-grabbing ability is part of your submission defense. In terms of position, TK has been in spots that should be bad but kind of aren't because of asymmetries of information. Ooooooh jeeeeeez Jeliazkov slapped (punched?) Kohsaka so hard in the face when Kohsaka was down, that is a RINGS-don't (Yuji Shimada flashes the yellow card, Jeliazkov understands, and regrets his error). I really like RINGS rules a lot better than other kakutogi rules. How on earth are we seventeen minutes in! This is very good, and it is flying by! Kohsaka is up by a lot of points, I think, but he is also being attended to because of a good sized cut. I think he cuts pretty easily, his brow and forehead probably pretty scarred up from his fairly brawling style of judo (use your forehead for grip fighting! try it! it totally works until you bleed all over everybody for a year or so until you get it fixed!). That TK "TK scissors" his way out of trouble puts a smile on my face as ever, as always. Kohsaka is up by a lot but is still clearly seeking ippon; it is not going to come easy against this Jeliazkov, though, who brings really great pressure to everything he does. But we're at eight points to none, also. I think Jeliazkov has had only one catch worthy of the name, an early mae-hadaka-jime front choke whilst on top (he has been on top a lot) in tate-shiho-gatame, but that must have been twenty minutes ago. Kohsaka's black trunks say "Rings" in cursive, one of his boots says "J A P A N," and I think the other says "K O H S A K A," by the way. There's another catch for Jeliazkov from the exact same situation, mae-hadaka-jime from tate-shiho-gatame, but no matter how spiritedly Yuji Shimada asks GIVE UP? it is really not a threat. The bell sounds not too long after, and Kohsaka wins by like a thousand points, but Jeliazkov really did very well! But why did they make TK shoot? This seems unjust! And yet he has never failed.
Maybe it will turn out to be shoots for the rest of the card, like for example between Akira Maeda and Nikola Zouev ahahahahahaha of course that will not be the case between Akira Maeda and Nikokai Zouev. Zouev throws early with an osoto-garai that borders on a SPACE TORNADO OGAWA but old Maeda is still slippery on the ground, isn't he. Of late he has been less so, certainly, but here he looks good! Zouev, as I am sure we have discussed many times already, is capable of really very high-level shoot-style. His throws here are excellent (a lovely makikomi or winding takedown a moment ago), and his many juji-gatame attacks are pleasing to me. Maeda is getting after it, though, with a gyaku-kata-gatame arm-triangle against the turtle, a solid ude-garami arm-entanglement, and then a weird little hadaka-jime choke for the win at 5:17. Best Maeda match since Tamura! The crowd looooves it, like they are in full-on MA-E-DA MA-E-DA and lose it when he motions for a microphone. I don't know what he says, forgive me, but the crowd is immediately convinced of the merits of Akira Maeda's argument. Maeda seemed ten years younger out there, it was great.
Vok Han vs. Andrei Kopilov could also prove to be great! Hey Andrei Kopilov you weigh a thousand pounds so maybe don't go so light for Volk Han's pick-up but I feel confident this will be the only flaw in this otherwise glorious bout. Kopilov scores the first real advantage with a juji-gatame that Han must escape by the ropes and oh no what happens next is that Han goes up super light for Kopilov; again, I stress this again, the crowd didn't make a peep not a peep for either of these too-light lifts, whereas real throws get the biggest reactions outside of finishes or like when Tamura or Maeda are in real or perceived danger. This must stop. But the ne-waza is exquisite, only a fool would deny the art in this. Like for instance, Andrei Kopilov just hit what Kazushi Sakuraba calls yurikomome (seagull), which you can see demonstrated here (his videos are uniformly the best):
Sakuraba did a drawing of it, and you can get it on a t-shirt:
Kopilov has lost five points and Han six as we approach the ten-minute mark of this totally good match. Oh I see: Han finishes with a Huizinga roll (a reverse omoplata, I think, in BJJ?) and binds tight the legs for the ashi-sankaku-garami (leg-triangle-entanglement). It is a worthy finish to an excellent ne-waza contest:
This leaves only Tamura and Nijman left on this day. There is a difference of 27kg between them, so that's nearly sixty pounds, but I don't worry too hard that this match might be for real (that would as crazy as putting Yoshihisa Yamamoto in a shoot against Ricardo Morais!). The story of the contest is very sensibly that Hans Nijman is terrifying because of his size, striking, and status as a memento mori (R.I.P. Hans Nijman), and so Tamura must rely on his superior quickness, but with Nijman briefly on his back, Tamura runs through one of those way-too-fast sequences where he is everywhere and nowhere in a huge blur that is not the way anyone has ever really græppled for real nor will they ever; I totally get that for some people this is part of what they love about Tamura but for me this is the one thing I do not love about Tamura. Whe he grabs kesa-garami scarf-entanglement arm-lock to finish at 10:34, it feels earned and real and a solid end to a very good opening round.
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY well lots and lots and lots and lots:
"10/25 Tokyo Bay NK Hall (RINGS - 6,620 sellout): Battle Dimension tournament first round: Joop Kasteel b Leo Hasdell, Illoukhine Mikhail b Masayuki Naruse, Mitsuya Nagai b Christopher Hazemann, Dick Vrij b Bitsaze Tariel, Tsuyoshi Kousaka b Jerry Askoff, Akira Maeda b Nikolai Zouev, Volk Han b Andrei Kopilov, Kiyoshi Tamura b Hanse Nyman
RINGS opened its Battle Dimension tournament on 10/25 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall before a sellout 6,620 fans with the eight first-round matches. In the top bouts, Dick Vrij used a choke sleeper on Bitsaze Tariel in 6:07 in what would be considered an upset, Tsuyoshi Kousaka beat Jerry Askoff of Bulgaria via decision after the two went the 30:00 time limit, Akira Maeda beat Nikolai Zouev with a facelock submission in 5:17, Volk Han beat Andrei Kopilov with a leg and arm submission in 10:52 and the main event saw Kiyoshi Tamura avenge a loss a few months back beating Hanse Nyman with the cross armbreaker or armbar in 10:34. Yoshihisa Yamamoto, one of the pre-tournament favorites who has gone to the finals in the past but never won, is still out of action due to an injury and was replaced by Mitsuya Nagai. This sets up the second round matches on 11/20 in Osaka as Maeda vs. Nagai, Tamura vs. Joop Kasteel, Illoukhine Mikhail vs. Kousaka and Han vs. Vrij, and pretty obvious semifinals on 12/23 in Fukuoka of Han vs. Kousaka (Kousaka has never beaten Han) and Tamura vs. Maeda (Tamura has never beaten Maeda).
Maeda made the cover of several magazines with his comments in the wake of the Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada match. Maeda said that his final match would be in August of September and would be the biggest show in the history of the company and that he wanted to fight Gracie. He said that he wouldn't fight for KRS (the company that promoted Gracie vs. Takada) and wanted WOWOW (the station that broadcasts RINGS) to kick in more money for the big match to meet Gracie's price. Gracie vs. Maeda, as mentioned before, would be a really sad match if it actually were to happen. In response to the challenge made by Yoshiki Takahashi from Pancrase, Maeda said that he wasn't interested in fighting Takahashi, and then challenged Minoru Suzuki. From what we gather, this RINGS/Pancrase deal is not an interpromotional angle but legitimate heat between the two companies stemming from all the things mentioned here in the past and the obvious natural heat of RINGS being more popular than Pancrase but Pancrase being the one that is largely shooting while RINGS has some shooting matches, but the main events and its major tournament now going on are all worked."
Hatred stems for jealous thoughts, Pancrase.
TADASHI TANAKA returns:
"I hate to read your comments about Pancrase as it compares with IWF. Although I understand you, I really felt your final writing really misleads your readers. Even for smart fans, I strongly believe that's not the correct way to write about Pancrase to American fans. I think Pancrase has kept a thin line so far in the last three years, although that line itself may already fall into the territory for some kind of working without high spots discussion for a pure martial arts fan. However, if you classify K-1 as a shoot sport, I suggest you consider Pancrase as well as a legitimate sport within the professional fights standard.
Besides, hasn't Pancrase already proven many things. Ken Shamrock was chosen as the first King of Pancrase, but he later proved to be the king of the Octagon as well. Yoshiki Takahashi proved he can beat a top level Jiu Jitsu expert even though he was never highly ranked in Pancrase.
It was good to read your review of RINGS. Grom Zaza was supposed to have a shoot match against Jerry Bohlander and we heard he trained very hard for that match. As it turned out, he had his best worked match to date due to Tsuyoshi Kousaka. I agree it was a very exciting UWF style card. The word Masayuki Naruse said on television was "Gachinko-shoot.
Later I was again very surprised to see the same kayfabe word printed in the Weekly Pro Wrestling report on the show. Weren't you impressed by Keiichiro Yamamiya and Kunioku's super challenge within the shooting context on the 6/20 Pancrase?
Since most of your readers don't know anything about K-1, it is wise to introduce it.
3,300,000 fans attended combat sports events in Japan in 1996, of which, traditional pro wrestling is the most popular. K-1 is the first serious challenge to the world of pro wrestling since it is holding three Dome shows in 1997 while New Japan, the industry leader, plans five Dome shows. Between the eight Dome shows, more than 400,000 fans are expected to attend.
K-1 is a shoot while pro wrestling is essentially a work. People pay to see the fantasy that is pro wrestling but K-1 is also selling martial arts fantasy so both are very much the same in nature. We should not look down at pro wrestling only because they aren't presenting real fights. The top level of pro wrestlers are nothing less than great athletes. The fact is that UFC stars like Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Yoshiki Takahashi and Maurice Smith were all experienced traditional pro wrestlers at one time in their careers and made their names in Japan before any of them were known in the United States.
From a business standpoint, the Japanese fighting world has two leaders, New Japan and K-1. Pro boxing isn't as big as in the U.S. and many recognized Japanese boxers have expressed interest in participating in K-1 since it's much bigger. Although UFC is played up big in Japanese magazines, it is only shown on video available two or three months late and the videos haven't been selling well recently. This is the reason why all insiders were skeptical of the UFC being able to successfully promote a PPV show in Japan. However, many fans do want to see Royce Gracie since Japanese fans feel some kind of empathy for the small guy fighting with a gi and beating monsters.
One of the biggest criticisms of K-1 is that there are only 10 to 20 heavyweight kick boxers in the world and all claim some kind of world championship, especially weak American kick boxers and those inside laugh at the titles. In the case of Muay Thai fighting, the featherweight and bantamweight classes have more than 300-400 fighters at each weight so the two national stadium championships mean being the best out of several hundred athletes and Muay Thai has a 500-year sporting history.
The most significant difference between Muay Thai, K-1 and Kick boxing is that Muay Thai exists for public gambling. Because of that, the most popular class in Muay Thai are the welterweights. Heavyweights aren't as suitable for gambling due to the existence of the "lucky punch" finish. Many people misunderstand why the heavyweights don't exist in Muay Thai. It's not because there aren't a lot of big men in Thailand, although that is true, but because the gambling experts know it's easy to predict the outcome in big man fights so it's hard to win money on them, even though there are occasional upsets from a lucky punch which doubles the problems for an insider expert gambling. K-1 is also easy to predict, like boxing, but since sports gambling is only permitted in Horse Racing in Japan, people buy tickets for K-1 to see one big man knocked out by another.
The K-1 title is the true King of World champions but it is only possible to achieve that true title among the heavyweights. K-1 has more than a 70 percent knockout finish rate which is its best selling point to the general public. This is all possible because heavyweight kickboxing is a totally new thing masterminded by K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii.
The three different major shoot groups were all established in 1993. K-1 debuted on April 30, 1993 promoted by Seido Kaikan, an Osaka-based Karate dojo. Actually the name K-1 was first used on March 30, 1993 for a show at Korakuen Hall, but it was the impact of the show in April that put the promotion on the map.
The first Pancrase show was September 21, 1993 in which all the matches were shoots. It was promoted within pro wrestling with three big name pro wrestlers, Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki and Wayne (Ken) Shamrock as the top stars. I'm not going to say that all the matches during the first two years were shoots but you can say that Pancrase started as a shoot sport and it became more evident when they realized that enough people paid to see real fights so that by the time 1995 started, it became almost a pure shoot event.
UFC started on November 12, 1993 promoted by a newly created venture of Semaphore Entertainment Group with Rorion Gracie. It was essentially an American version of the Brazilian sport of Vale Tudo, a sport originally created in Japan but later banned in Japan due to a high death rate. Only Judo remained in Japan and it became an Olympic sport while Jiu-Jitsu survived and was popularized in the streets of Rio de Janiero where self-defense martial arts were needed for the legitimate safety of rich business executives.
Because of these three groups, I decided to write a book and you decided to start an NHB section in the Observer. It has created significant changes in Fighting Sports Journalism as well. It all used to be fantasy writing designed to promote events regardless of being shoot or worked, however the emergence of true shooting makes it easier to write articles in a real journalistic manner.
The sport of kickboxing was created in 1966. Tadashi Sawamura was the first star of the sport and was a national hero in Japan. His television show achieved a 30 rating in 1973. We insiders now know that Sawamura's fights were largely nothing more than pro wrestling with worked finishes using the flying knee to the chain, similar to Jumbo Tsuruta's jumping knee pat. Since the general public began to understand that, the popularity of kickboxing hit the skids and no serious sports magazines covered it.
When K-1 started, they claimed to not be kickboxing due to the negative image of kickboxing being a worked professional sport. There are five different kickboxing promotions in Japan, all recognizing their own titles. I believe all the groups promote only shoot matches nowadays, but all the top stars are either featherweights or bantamweights. K-1 made the difference focusing all on big men.
All the kickboxing insiders were initially skeptical of K-1 since there were less than 10 pro heavyweight fighters in the world. Its initial success was largely due to the only Japanese star, Masaaki Satake, who was a legitimate karate champion and a true heavyweight. He's from Osaka and talks with a heavy Osaka accent and was liked by everyone. He's very good on comedy shows and his exposure on variety and game shows made K-1 first recognition among the general public.
Seido Kaikan was established in 1981. In 1991, they decided to start a pro fighters division and participated in RINGS undercards. Because of that, K-1 was considered as part of the UWF pro wrestling movement. These days not many people say K-1 is another UWF style promotion since it became bigger than the UWF ever was. But it is true that Ishii learned how to put together professional shows, create hype and run angles from the way RINGS does business.
RINGS is a semi-shoot promotion and in 1991 the undercards were basically shoots. However, I can't say the matches with Seido Kaikan fighters were all shoots. I know of two questionable matches involving Satake. The business relationship with RINGS didn't last long became Ishii wanted to produce his own cards.
In 1993 when K-1 started, the myth of Maurice Smith as a kickboxer was destroyed when he was knocked out by Ernesto Hoost. Even their biggest star, Satake, was knocked out also. It actually turned out to help K-1 get established since insiders believed matches were shoots when unknown Branko Cikatec became the first champion. Ishii promoted Vale Tudo rules matches with Kimo vs. Patrick Smith and Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Smith which made big money for K-1 but all the kickboxers including Satake were upset about it and against the idea to include those matches on the cards.
New York, New York"
November 10, 1997:
Ctrl + F "RINGS" brings us:
"Semaphore Entertainment Group held a press conference in Tokyo on 10/30 to officially announce in Japan its PPV card coming from the 17,100-seat Yokohama Arena on 12/21.
At the press conference representing SEG were company CEO Bob Meyrowitz, David Isaacs, who heads the promotion of the UFC, and Tank Abbott. What was officially announced at the show was a heavyweight title match with Maurice Smith defending, although no opponent was named. Negotiations for Royce Gracie to be that opponent were said to be serious, but the rumor mill has it that Gracie is leaning more toward doing a match on the Pride Two show on 1/18 in the same building against a Japanese opponent. The monkey wrench in getting Gracie vs. Smith could be SEG's offer of wanting Gracie to sign a two-fight deal to guarantee at least one title defense if he were to beat Smith, and that the Gracies probably wouldn't be as amenable to a title defense against a wrestler the calibre of Randy Couture or Mark Kerr. A two-fight contract wouldn't guarantee Gracie ever having to come back to defend the title if he were to beat Smith, but if he signed it and decided not to come back to UFC, he wouldn't be able to fight for another organization until fulfilling that second date, which would put his fighting career on ice. Another name mentioned as a possible opponent once again is Marco Ruas. As mentioned last week, the Japanese promoters aren't hot on the idea of Couture, who earned the title shot with a win over Vitor Belfort, who has no name in Japan, being in a drawing position in the main event. They also announced a match to create the first middleweight (under-200 pounds) champion with Kevin Jackson, the 1992 Olympic gold medal winning freestyle wrestler who is 3-0 in NHB competition, facing the winner of a match on 11/29 in Tokyo on a Shooto promotion Vale Tudo event between the Shooto world heavyweight champion, Ensen Inoue vs. Frank Shamrock. This would give the winner of the Inoue-Shamrock match, which could be a long and fairly brutal bout, three weeks to recover for a match with Jackson. Also announced is that there would be a four-man heavyweight tournament, and likely two or possibly three additional superfights. Rumors coming out of Japan from the press conference included talk of a match with Ruas vs. Mark Kerr, although we're told that there is almost zero percent chance of that match happening, and a first round tournament match with Abbott vs. Nobuhiko Takada plus a superfight involving Belfort, likely against a Japanese opponent. As strange as the Takada-Abbott match sounds, that match was very much being seriously talked about for a number of reasons, among them the belief there is still some drawing power left in Takada, that he personally needs redemption and that this show needs a pro wrestler for mainstream coverage and drawing power in Japan, and also the belief that under UFC rules that Abbott would beat him it would give Abbott a win that UFC wants him to have since they believe for marketing purposes he still has value to the company, which has always been a different controversial issue.
However, Takada was interviewed backstage at the 11/3 Kingdom show at Korakuen Hall and claimed he broke a rib from a kick and suffered a broken arm from the finishing armbar in the match with Rickson Gracie and that he hasn't been able to train since and wouldn't be able to return to competition until January. There was some hope his first match back would be on the Pride Two show on 1/18, although he may not be ready by then. Takada also claimed he went into the Gracie match with a neck injury and wasn't nearly at 100 percent.
The belief in Japan is that the only way this event will sell a lot of tickets is that if a big name Japanese pro wrestler is involved. There doesn't appear to be any way Masakatsu Funaki, who would be the best bet of all from a combination of both credibility and marketability, would do it because he's shown no interest and also due to the proximity of this show with his own Pancrase title challenge to Yuki Kondo, so they are left with a top name from RINGS (Kiyoshi Tamura, Yoshihisa Yamamoto and Tsuyoshi Kousaka being the best bets because there is no way Akira Maeda would do it, although this taking place in the middle of the Battle Dimension tournament makes any of those names exceedingly unlikely) or a joke like Koji Kitao, who has done UFC before (losing in less than one minute on a fluke punch to Mark Hall) and at this point probably wouldn't mean much when it comes to drawing anyway. The other problem is, if a Japanese pro wrestler is involved, there is a chance outside forces will pressure for it to be a work at the last minute to protect them (ie, Severn vs. Matsunaga) both in reputation and from injury and an obvious work at this point would be devastating to UFC's credibility. The problem is also justifying including a Japanese pro wrestler to the American PPV audience unless it's someone who is a legitimate proven shooter. Most reports indicate that the "shoot" match that at this point would be the most marketable in Japan would be Rickson Gracie vs. Maeda, which Maeda would likely never agree to unless it was his absolute final hurrah even though there is already a lot of hype building to that as Maeda's retirement match late next year.
UFC was also the subject in a huge front page story in the 11/1 Los Angeles Times entitled "Gory Sport Fights for its Life." The story, better researched than most on the subject, focused on the history of UFC, its beginnings, promoters Meyrowitz and Isaacs and all its subsequent legal, political and cable problems. It said that by 1994 (when the PPVs buy rates peaked with the second Gracie vs. Shamrock and first Shamrock vs. Severn matches) UFC brought in "a flow of cash like a Texas gusher." The story was very pro-Gracie, with Rorion and his concept of no rules fighting being portrayed as the purist who had to get out when Meyrowitz tampered with the pure form by instituting time limits and judges decisions, and more recently, the other various rule changes in an attempt to get the shows back on a cable industry that hasn't budged from its stance. The story called the Gracie family "perhaps the most remarkable family in the history of sports." It talked about the Gracie-Severn match and said how all the television went blank in the middle of the show (actually it was only about one-third of the homes) which caused UFC to have to implement time limits, which Rorion Gracie said would kill the show, ignoring the realities that if time limits hadn't have been imposed, Royce and Ken Shamrock may still be lying on the mat in Charlotte today waiting for the other to make a mistake. It portrayed the beginning of the fall when rival promoter Donald Zuckerman (EFC) booked a show in New York City which ended up undoing all the work UFC had done in getting a bill passed to allow UFC rules matches in the state. Actually the real set of dominos that have crippled UFC were largely three things--lobbying by Arizona Senator John McCain, a staunch boxing proponent; the appointment of Leo Hindery, a stanch UFC opponent from the start (who was quoted in the story as saying the first two things he did on the first day when he got his new job as the head of TCI was to find where the bathroom was in the building, and to cancel showing UFC), as the man to lead TCI Cable out of its own financial nightmare; and the series of articles in the New York Times which made UFC a national news story and caused all the politicians in the state legislature to do an about-face on the subject after voting on what the media portrayed as the wrong side of an open-and-shut brutality issue.
While the story did mention Rorion Gracie's belief that his vision of the sport would have blown boxing in the U.S. away in time and of McCain's own boxing background, it never tied in the point of much of the political infrastructure working against UFC (Hindery being an exception) had political and/or financial ties to the boxing industry.
In a somewhat related note, the 11/3 issue of Sports Illustrated ran a long feature on the World freestyle wrestling championships held in September. The superheavyweight on the U.S. team was Tom Erikson, who has done NHB (both in Brazil and with the now-defunct MARS and WFF in the U.S.), IWF and was negotiating at one point to do Pancrase as well. The story, which talked about Erikson, who is an Assistant wrestling coach at Purdue University, and his financial situation claimed that he sometimes competes in Tough Man contests (he had actually never done that) to stay solvent."
It also brings us match reviews from NJPW:
"10/18 NEW JAPAN: 1. Don Frye beat Kazuyuki Fujita in 6:02 with the choke and body scissors combination. This was interesting because they broke pro wrestling down to its simplest level, working a believable RINGS-type style in which simply not breaking clean on the ropes drew tremendous heat. Frye wouldn't break clean twice and got booed like crazy. Then when Fujita wouldn't break, the face pop was huge. These two work well together given the confines that the style would allow, especially if you consider that both are rookies and that this was only Frye's third major league pro match. **1/4; 2. Ogawa beat Brian Johnston in 11:14 with the STO (a quick judo takedown) and choke finish. Johnston had a good presence in the ring and pretty much controlled the early portion of the match which was decent. Johnston was good considering this was his first pro match, but Ogawa really isn't of any help and looked bad. Johnston was out there too long, seemed to blow up and the match fell apart in the last few minutes. Ogawa sold twice that Johnston had knocked him down which got the fans into the match and put Johnston over. Frye and Ogawa had a pull-apart stare down after the match. 1/4*; 3. Shinya Hashimoto beat Zane Frazier in 1:05 of the third round with a cross armbreaker submission. It was basically Hashimoto selling early to get the newcomer over. Frazier did a worked boxing gimmick but worked boxing looks pretty bad. In comparison to a RINGS match, which is what this should look like, it was bad. Frazier only took one hard kick, in the second round, and the pro wrestlers that Hashimoto "works" with take flurries. Finish was decent. 1/4*"
November 17, 1997:
"At press time, it is now back to Randy Couture as the most likely opponent for Maurice Smith on the Ultimate Japan PPV show on 12/21. While nothing is definite, it now appears Royce Gracie is likely to have his first match in two-and-a-half years on the 1/18 Pride Two show at the same Yokohama Arena.
What is penciled in at the moment is Smith vs. Couture for the title along with three other singles matches and a four-man heavyweight tournament. The single matches look to be Mark Kerr vs. Gary Goodridge, Kevin Jackson vs. the winner of the 11/29 Frank Shamrock vs. Enson Inoue match, and Vitor Belfort vs. an opponent to be announced. The heavyweight tournament looks to include Tank Abbott and Marcus Conan Silviera along with two other spots to be filled. Kimo is off the show, presumably having signed to instead appear on the Pride Two card for a higher guarantee. The promotion wants to use Japanese talent, but with Pancrase having a major show the night before (and in the same city, although at a smaller building) and RINGS in the middle of its Battle Dimension tournament, none of their talent, which would be the best name talent, would be available. Tickets for the show are scaled at $425, $250, $85, $42 and $25.
There has been a lot of talk that Kerr would face Gracie in the main event of the Pride Two show in a match with no time limit. Semaphore Entertainment Group has publicly stated that it has an exclusive world wide contract with Kerr and wouldn't allow him to work the Pride Two date, but others close to Kerr are claiming they have found a loophole in the contract which would allow him to work both shows.|
Big changes to WON Awards voting:
"Last year we nearly restructured the awards due to the major changes going on in the wrestling industry keeping with our tradition, as most of these categories date back 15 years or more. But the business has changed and these categories have to fit within those changes. Best Babyface and Best Heel are now history, being replaced with Best Box Office draw, which is what those two categories were supposed to be about in the first place although some people still confused decibels in ring entrances with putting asses in seats. We're keeping most improved, because it's a good category but again remember that it is not for a wrestler who is getting a push for the first time as much as someone whose ring performance has shown improvement. We're dumping most unimproved, because there are enough categories already to rank on Hogan and Luger (most overrated fits the bill). We are also dumping manager of the year, because, well, nobody comes close to deserving it. Maybe some day it'll be back. We are also adding two new awards due to the changing landscape of the business, both in Category B. Combat wrestler of the year which is for wrestlers in a professional venue but to be judged on their ability and performance in reality combat events such as NHB or Pancrase. Technically some fighters for RINGS would be eligible but should only be considered in regard to their ability in legitimate matches. Combat wrestling match of the year, in which all forms of legitimate NHB and pro wrestling matches are eligible as again, some RINGS matches would be eligible and most wouldn't. While it is hard to make fair comparisons between different styles of working, as how to you fairly compare American theatrical style with Japanese strong style or Mexican Lucha Libre style or shoot style, but at least in all of those styles the primary goal is to entertain the audience so they're all comparable when it comes to the ultimate goal, even if they go about achieving it differently. However, in a true shoot, the primary goal is to win and entertainment, which still should be a factor because you are talking about professional fighting, becomes secondary so it's not fair to compare it with a worked match. The other change is we've moved the Best Wrestling card of the year award from Category B to Category A since the business now more than ever revolves around major shows."
November 24, 1997:
JAPANESE TELEVISION RUNDOWN
"10/25 RINGS: This was the first round of the Battle Dimension tournament. 1. Joop Kasteel beat Lee Hasdell in 8:55 with a necklock submission. This was mainly a slapfest with some kicks. It kind of fell apart after 3:00 as both got tired. Neither showed much on the ground; 2. Illoukhine Mikhail upset Masayuki Naruse in 12:28 with a heel hold. It went back-and-forth with some submissions and rope breaks and a few knockdowns. Naruse's standing offense was good, but they were so loose in their holds on the ground that it didn't even look believable in a shoot context although the crowd got into some of the near submissions. Even though these matches are mostly works, they should at least look believable; 3. Mitsuya Nagai beat Christopher Hazemann in 9:18 with a heel hook. Hazemann has turned into a really good undercard worker for this style although he has no real headliner credibility with the fans. Nagai has been doing this for so long that he knows how to have good matches so this was the best worked match on the show; 4. Dick Vrij beat Bitzsade Tariel in 6:07 with a choke. Tariel trimmed down to 297 and actually looked better than usual, but that isn't much praise. Most of the match had Tariel destroy Vrij, who sold it really well, like he was about to be put down for the count and was exhausted. Vrij did get a few great kicks in for knockdowns along the way before it went to the ground and Vrij immediately choked him out. A lot better than you'd think considering who was involved; 5. Tsuyoshi Kousaka beat Boris Jeliazokov after the 30:00 time limit expired via a 7-0 score. This was a surprise in that it was clearly a shoot, and a good one at that, in the midst of a worked tournament. Since Kousaka is one of the bigger stars and theoretically would need to win for future marketable matches in the tournament, you'd think they would protect him in the first round. Apparently the belief was he'd be able to handle the first-timer without much in the way of risk, and to that degree Jeliazokov surprised everyone. While he didn't have the submission experience to beat Kousaka and as the score indicates, it wasn't a close match, there was a dangerous situation because Kousaka's eye was busted open. Jeliazokov, a junior national champion wrestler from Bulgaria, showed a lot of promise because he was able to avoid a lot of submissions while using his wrestling to maintain the top position. Kousaka could never get the dominant position but was continually working for submissions from the bottom, but the few good ones he came close to getting were near the ropes. It got dangerous when Kousaka, who has a lot of scar tissue above the eye from previous matches, had his cut opened and was bleeding really bad from the eye and they almost had to stop the match and probably in another situation (where a tournament that is basically booked to need a certain result would be screwed up) would have stopped a match. This was a rare case where a shoot match was actually better than the worked matches on the show; 6. Akira Maeda beat Nikolai Zouev in 5:17 with a choke. It was virtually all matwork and was decent. Maeda still got a pretty big pop for winning. After the match he challenged Rickson Gracie to a match under RINGS rules which to the mainstream was the biggest thing coming out of the card. It also in another sense kills the Pancrase grandstand angle of Yoshiki Takahashi challenging Maeda. Now that Maeda has brought up the subject publicly of wanting a match with Gracie, nobody really cares about a challenge from Takahashi and he doesn't even have to publicly address the situation; 7. Volk Han beat Andrei Kopilov in 10:52 with one of those Han type moves where he ties the guy up like a pretzel and grabs a shoulderlock somewhat in there. This was below par for a Han match. Kopilov was out of shape and it actually made Han look bad to sell so much and give him so many near submissions when he was noticeably blown up to try and make the match exciting. In that sense, they didn't do a credible match because it didn't come across as believable nor was Han able to make it exciting; 8. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Hanse Nyman in 10:34 with a headlock submission. This also wasn't at Tamura's usual level since Nyman really isn't much on the ground, and that's where Tamura excels. It wasn't even as good as their previous meet a few months back that Nyman won. As with the first match, it was hard to credibly do a standing fight with the 59-pound weight differential although it was a lot better in that regard than it should have been, and Tamura ate several good kicks to get the match over. They didn't do a lot on the mat and that's Tamura's forte. Actually this helped Tamura more based on positioning, as it was his match, and not Maeda or Han's match, when none of the three had traditional main eventers as their opponents, that was put in the main event. "
ROUND TWO COMING SOON, thank you as always for your time!