November 20, 1997 in Osaka, Japan
Chuo Gym drawing 5,110
Our opening, non-tournament bout between Lev Barkala and Gilbert Yvel is certainly a shoot, and I don't like it at all, as it is just Yvel fleeing to the ropes in ludicrous (though understandable) fashion whenever Barkala wrestles up on him even slightly. Yvel has Chris Dolman in his corner, which is good, but has been disqualified over the course of his career a bunch of times for things like biting and eye-gouging, which is bad, but none of that had happened yet as of late 1997 here, which is . . . good? I don't know. I am a little horrified to see that he has fought as recently as November 19, 2016, against Ricco Rodriguez (oh no) at a show called "Akhmat Fight Show 31: Ushukov vs. Vagaev" held in literal Grozny. He won, but that seems incredibly irrelevant. He also wins here, in 1997, against Lev Barkala, stopping him with knees at 10:47. I don't feel good about any of this.
MUHAMMAD YONE? He doesn't have the awesome hair here (not that his hair here is ungood, it is just not the Afro with which we most closely associate him) but this is still verifiably Muhammad Yone, just look:
Here he will do battle(art) with Masayuki Naruse, and I am pretty intrigued! I think this one might be a shoot, too? Oh ok maybe not, but Masayuki Naruse's uchi mata 内股 "shoot" impressed me and I am "shoot" enjoying all of the ne waza (ground technique) that follows, so play on, dear fellows. And so they do, until such a time (5:35) as Naruse squeezes tight the naked strangle of hadaka-jime 裸絞. Good match! I don't think Masayuki Naruse's RINGS Light-Heavyweight title (which I resist still) was at stake here, as he didn't even have it with him. Maybe they have had second thoughts about the whole thing? I have just checked its title history at the vital prowrestlinghistory.com and it lists no other champion of that title, and says only that the title was dissolved, but does not specify when. Maybe immediately!
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka vs. Mikhail Ilioukhine is a match that interests me greatly whether it be shoot-style work or shooting proper as both men are high-level artists in either field of endeavour, and herein lies the enormous appeal and probably also the deep poetry of RINGS; I am so happy right now. I think it is a work? Yes. Let's see what they get up to! Kohsaka's crisp kicks make great sounds but one is caught and Kohsaka is grounded; from there he pursues, as the commentary notes, the leg-entanglement of ashi-garami. There are hiza-juji knee-bar and gyaku-ude-garami reverse-arm-entanglement attempts on each side before Ilioukhine grabs the rope for the bout's first escape about three-and-a-half minutes into it clapclapclapclapclapclap. Ilioukhine's pick-up, though a little light, is much less so than the recent ones that have so offended my shoot-style sensibilities and I mention it here to praise it as a step in the right direction. From there, Ilioukhine attacks with juji-gatame, but his loose knees allow Kohsaka to hop out and around and over the top for another hiza-juji knee-bar, and everyone loves it. Ilioukhine does a lot of his work from the gyaku-ude-garami/Kimura grip regardless of what exactly he is looking to apply, and I approve of this so hard, as it is just the best grip! Kohsaka goes up only like a third of the way on Ilioukhine's next pick-up and instead rolls him to the ground with a lovely sutemi-waza (sacrifice technique) and comes up top for the mae-hadaka-jime front choke, and that's rope break number two. Kani-basami! TK attacks with the crab-scissor only rarely but it is looks very good whenever he does so. More ashi-kansetsu (leg-bone-locking) and that is rope break number three. Is this supposed to be a little like TK's previous (shoot) match, in which he ran up the score on Boris Jeliazkov for thirty whole minutes but couldn't finish him? AHHHHH that was quite a head-kick he just put Ilioukhine down with, yiiiikes. I like it when people get tangled up in the ropes together and the referee yells "BREAK, NO ESCAPE" because his meaning is totally clear but it is still a pretty dark thing to say. Ilioukhine has lost five points thus far, Kohsaka two, in case I have missed anything in my report so far (surely I have). The striking is pretty intense for a moment or two before Ilioukhine drags Kohsaka down and comes seemingly very close with a mae-hadaka-jime front choke that Kohsaka eventually pops out of and everybody cheers. Sankaku-jime 三角絞, the triangle choke! This is TK's finishing move in Fire Pro A and also Fire Pro R however it does not finish here, and actually I can't think of a single match he ever won by it. Rolling knee-bar! By Iioukhine! But it kind of fell apart! And so he grabbed a heel holdo! And that's it at 14:16! I am surprised by the result but really liked the match all the same despite my clear and unwavering partisanship.
I do not think we live in a world (nor do I think such a world could exist) in which Mitsuya Nagai could ever be granted a shoot-style win over Akira Maeda, even once we have reached the point where this is literally Akira Maeda's body:
For a couple of months I thought Maeda had righted the ship and was making at least incremental improvements to his build but no; no; it's gone now. A major factor in this, I am sure, is Maeda's perpetually trashed knee, which Nagai works on here through steadily applied ashi-kansetsu (leg-bone-locking). Nagai is up by four points as we near the ten-minute mark! I don't know which is more surprising, that Nagai is doing so well, or that this match has gone ten minutes. You know, I think Akira Maeda has had a much better 1997 than 1996? It would be very easy to go back and check to be sure but it would be even easier to merely posit it. Nagai doesn't lose his second point (rope break) until we are like sixteen minutes in--who knows how long this one is going! Oh it is over at 17:00 exactly, Maeda, hadaka-jime, the naked strangle. This was quite good! After the match Maeda and Nagai stare at each other until Maeda slaps him, which I do not understand at all, but it seems rude.
Volk Han and Dick Vrij could be good! I haven't been keeping track but I bet Dick Vrij has one of the better RINGS records of anyone: they have kept him super strong ever since his début in the main event of the very first show all the way back in 1991 (an understandable loss to Akira Maeda). Vrij knocks Han down early, rolls his way ropewards to escape a couple of holds, then knocks Han down again. And again! Dick Vrij is so tall that he can grab the ropes from pretty much wherever he is in the ring when Volk Han (also tall) has him in any manner of kansetsu (bone-locking) or shime (strangulation) waza (technique). NOT NOW THOUGH as Vrij has tapped to a terribly applied choke as his leg came up just short in its bid to get its eensiest toes atop the bottom rope. This match was ok until the pretty poor finish (at 7:15) but in any event it is Volk Han who advances on this day.
Joop Kasteel was caught in the middle of a railroad track, and he knew there was no turning back; he'd been, as I have already intimated, thunderstruck. This is the song to which he enters to face Kyoshi Tamura, who wears at least the third different U-File shirt since that august camp's founding mere months ago. This one . . . has long sleeves. One assumes a shoot-style work as opposed the kind of straight shoot that left a winded Joop Kasteel unable to stand after a rope-escape against Petey "My Heart" Williams but who knows. I like Tamura's chances either way! This despite the massive size difference between them but I think Joop Kasteel has proven his big showy muscles to be not just gaudy but also fairly useless for shooting. Ah, the deep satisfaction of defeating a far musclier foe because of the truth and purity of waza! Gather such pleasures while ye may, would be my advice to everyone who likes stuff like that. The first rope escape is charged to Tamura but it is impossible to take seriously. Yes, see, Tamura wins by heel holdo at 6:30 and strides from the ring in the full measure of his glory.
I liked this show!
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY:
December 1, 1997:
"11/20 Osaka Chuo Gymnasium (RINGS - 5,110): Ivor b Bakula, Masayuki Naruse b Mohammad Yone, Illoukhine Mikhail b Tsuyoshi Kousaka, Akira Maeda b Mitsuya Nagai, Volk Han b Dick Vrij, Kiyoshi Tamura b Joop Kasteel The RINGS Battle Dimension tournament continued on 11/20 in Osaka at Chuo Gymnasium before 5,110 fans with the quarterfinals. In the lone upset, Illoukhine Mikhail beat Tsuyoshi Kousaka with a heel hook in 14:16, while Akira Maeda beat Mitsuya Nagai in 17:00 with a choke, Volk Han beat Dick Vrij in 7:15 with a choke and Kiyoshi Tamura beat Joop Kasteel in 6:30 with a heel hook. This sets up the semifinals on 12/23 in Fukuoka as Maeda vs. Tamura and Vrij vs. Mikhail. However, Maeda appeared to blow out his chronically bad left knee in the Nagai match and we don't have any word on what his situation will be in regards to 12/23. Han vs. Mikhail will be probably the first meeting between teacher and student. The winners meet on 1/21 at Budokan Hall in RINGS' traditional biggest show of the year. Maeda vs. Tamura is also interesting in that Maeda won their previous meeting and this may be Tamura's last chance to get a win from the soon-to-be-retiring Maeda. With Maeda retiring, he may give himself one last tourney victory similar to the exceedingly successful gimmick Riki Choshu did in 1996. The promotion has been putting Tamura in the main event slot on every show, even though Maeda is still the big drawing card, a trend that continued this past week even though Tamura's opponent was a guy who has largely been pushed as a large muscular prelim guy."
"Judging from magazine photos, it appears the result of the 11/3 Kingdom main event was Masahito Kakihara beating Patrick Smith and not the other way around as were the reports we received. Kingdom ran on 11/19 in Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center drawing an announced 2,612 with Hiromitsu Kanehara going over Smith in the main event. Kingdom's next shows are 12/2 in Hakata Star Lanes (Kanehara vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, Yuhi Sano vs. Smith), 12/8 in Kagoshima (Kanehara vs. Sakuraba and Smith vs. Kenichi Yamamoto) and 12/14 in Tokyo at Yoyogi Gym (Kanehara vs. Wallid Ismail and Sakuraba vs. Paul Herrera. Kanehara vs. Ismail will almost certainly be a shoot, while Sakuraba vs. Herrera (a former UFC fighter who is a member of Tank Abbott's gang) may be as well. The 12/14 show will actually be a PPV in Japan so hopefully we can detail it. DirecTV, which debuts in the Japanese market on 12/1, is using this event as a promotional tool as a PPV, but since the number of addressable homes is so few, it's not like there is any money to be made at this point. Kingdom's ring style can almost be described as worked UFC type matches. The style itself makes for more exciting matches (at least when the Japanese are involved, as some of the matches with Americans who don't understand the style and have never worked before look pretty bad) then RINGS or Pancrase, but the lack of interesting match-making and big marquee name fighters seems to have this promotion doomed to be a non-factor in the big picture."
"There was a tournament in Tel Aviv, Israel on 11/15 won by Russian Igor Vovchanchin, beating American amateur wrestler Nick Nutter in the finals. Vovchanchin upped his record to 19-1 with the win, with his only loss coming at the hands of RINGS wrestler Illoukhine Mikhail." CHIN TO THE EYE
December 8, 1997:
"Pro wrestling is whatever enough people are willing to buy. What works economically is what pro wrestling is. Pro wrestling is not limited to what the WWF, WCW or even New Japan and All Japan are doing. ECW, or FMW, or IWA, are all pro wrestling as long as they can survive economically. They cease to be pro wrestling when they can't survive, not when they stop working under standards set and associated with pro wrestling in times past or even times present elsewhere. On that account, ECW is a big success coming from nowhere and being a genuine player, albeit a secondary player, in the PPV industry. No, they aren't New Japan, or even WWF. Nor are they RINGS or Kingdom or for that matter Lucha Libre, nor are RINGS and Kingdom anything like WCW. But they are all pro wrestling, just as Country, Top 40, Rap and Classical music are all under the umbrella as music. At the same time, missed and blown spots are missed and blown spots and just because they're done by wrestlers who are over with the crowd and forgiven in an ECW ring as opposed to by wrestlers who are over with the mainstream in WCW and the fans don't groan because they are superstars doesn't make them any less blown in either setting."
"Ricardo Morais and Sean Alvares from Brazil will be doing what will probably be shoot matches on the 12/23 RINGS show in Fukuoka."
December 15, 1997:
"JAPANESE TELEVISION RUNDOWN
11/20 RINGS: 1. Gilbert Yvel beat Lev Barkala in 10:47. This was a shoot and it was the only one on the show. Yvel was a kickboxer from The Netherlands and Barkala was a wrestler from Russia. It was a sloppy match since Yvel was mostly scampering away whenever he got taken down although there were good exchanges on their feet as Barkala had no fear of Yvel. This once again showed that a stand-up fighter, even with punches to the face eliminated, is favored more under these rules than UFC rules for two reasons. The smaller ring enables them to get near the ropes easier and avoid take-downs using the ropes for balance, and secondly the rope breaks on submissions. RINGS favors strikers more than Pancrase because you get so many more rope breaks before the match ends, as Yvel was behind in points 7-2 at the finish. Yvel used both to stay alive until finally knocking Barkala out with a series of knees to the chin; 2. Masayuki Naruse beat Mohammad Yone in 5:35 with a choke. Yone is Battlarts fighter Satoshi Yoneyama using a new name. Naruse, who is far more experienced, was carrying Yone and it was obvious. Not a good match even though these are two Japanese wrestlers who should be experienced enough with worked shoots to do the style well; 3. Illoukhine Mikhail upset Tsuyoshi Kousaka in first quarterfinal match of the Battle Dimension '97 tournament in 14:11. This was a good RINGS style match, but not great. Kousaka looked good carrying things. Mikhail, who has done well in the past in UFC-type events, got a heel hook for a quick submission after being on the receiving end for the majority of the match; 4. Akira Maeda beat Mitsuya Nagai in 17:00. This was actually the best match on the card, all due to Nagai. Nagai, who is a competitive heavyweight kickboxer, dominated Maeda on their feet and really rocked him on several occasions before they'd go to the ground to allow Maeda to recover and control him. Maeda looked really bad, as in slow and out-of-shape, but in that way it made the match exciting because it looked like there would be an upset, and Maeda did allow himself to take a lot of punishment to get the match over. Of course Maeda blew up badly so the exciting spots on their feet weren't sustained and would be followed with resting on the mat. This was an angle match as well, as Nagai continually worked on Maeda's bad left knee, which is as a shoot angle situation, something inside fans know is an unwritten rule in RINGS to stay away. So after the match, the two argued in the ring and Maeda slapped Nagai in the face and they did a pull-apart; 5. Volk Han beat Dick Vrij in 7:15. Also a good match. Han got knocked down three times to make fans feel there might be an upset, the second straight match with the same storyline. The first two knockdowns really weren't much, but the third looked great as a Vrij kick caught Han in the nose and his nose swelled up big-time. Han immediately finished with a choke after suffering the injury; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Joop Kasteel in 6:30. Kasteel, who looks like a huge bodybuilder, outweighed Tamura by 77 pounds, 266 to 189. Even more than the Hanse Nyman and Bitzsade Tariel matches, the size difference looked huge because Kasteel is a bodybuilder while the other two are simply big fat guys fighting a very small but muscular foe. It looked believable in that Tamura couldn't score a take-down on such a larger foe, but Kasteel didn't want to fight on the ground. However, they did nothing on their feet. Since it was mainly on their feet, it was a bad match until Tamura finished him with an ankle lock. Easily Tamura's worst match since joining the company last year to cap off a disappointing show."
"Added to the RINGS show on 12/23 in Fukuoka will be what would be believed to be shoot matches with Ricardo Morais (7-0-1 in NHB) vs. Grom Zaza (a former Russian Olympic wrestler who has been working RINGS for a few years) and Sean Alvares (who beat Yoji Anjoh in NHB and lost to Oleg Taktarov) vs. Willie Peeters (a RINGS veteran with a 3-1 NHB record including winning a brutal tournament in Holland and losing a singles match in a matter of seconds to Tom Erikson at MARS last year)."
"RINGS on 12/23 in Fukuoka has the tournament semifinals with Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Akira Maeda and Volk Han vs. Illoukhine Mikhail, plus shoot matches with Ricardo Morais vs. Grom Zaza and Willie Peeters vs. Sean Alvares, plus Masayuki Naruse vs. Wataru Sakata and Chris Hazemann vs. Tsuyoshi Kousaka.
Tamura just came out with a book and in the book Maeda viciously ripped the Pancrase promotion and also blamed Minoru Suzuki, Masakatsu Funaki and Yoji Anjoh for an incident many years ago where a prospective wrestler died in the old UWF dojo.
Even though RINGS appears to be the most popular of the shoot style promotions right now, some think Pancrase has the better future because far more young wrestlers are training at their dojo. The younger guys who want to be shooters are training either for Pancrase or Shooto as I guess once they get to the point of wanting to be shooters, they figure out RINGS is largely not a shoot."
and finally, in Tadashi Tanaka news:
"Frequent Observer contributor Tadashi Tanaka's book largely covering K-1, Pancrase, RINGS, UFC, ECW and Michinoku wrestling along with talking about the year in U.S. wrestling was released in Japan on 12/5."
IT WOULD APPEAR DAVE DID NOT LIKE THIS SHOW nearly as much as I did but either way we are on to the semi-finals! I hope to see you then! Thank you, as always, for your time.