Friday, May 26, 2017

RINGS 3/22/99: RISE 1st

Rise 1st
March 22, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan
NK Hall drawing 4,502

THE AKIRA MAEDA IN-RING EPOCH, GLORIOUS THOUGH IT SURELY WAS FOR SO MANY LONG YEARS, IS NOW BEHIND US AS WE TURN OUR FACES TOWARDS THE SUN OF WHAT HAS LONG SEEMED TO ME BEST THOUGHT OF AS THE KING-OF-KINGS ERA and just earlier today my Twitter friend Ample Vigor called it just that very same thing and he even said it first so let us all agree that that is what we have entered, King-of-Kings-era RINGS (RING of RINGS? no probably not). A thing one often hears or reads of RINGS is that once Maeda has truly retired for twice and for all, the shoot-style bouts are a thing of the past and it is all shooting all the time. I am not at all certain this is so, and suspect they linger, these shoot-style works, but that is an intrigue we will explore together soon enough, surely. A note on the RINGSbox itself: we are now up to disc one-hundred! Of one-hundred-twenty-eight! We all knew, I guess, that we were getting down to it, but we really really really are getting down to it. My hope is to have watched and shared with you the entire contents of the RINGSbox within the next month (if I am spared) and from there we will allow our attention to wander freely throughout and luxuriate within the realms of RINGS-adjacent shoots and shoot-styles and shoot-stylists, wherever we may find them. For now, though, we join our new era of kakutogi and, I posit, extremely convincing simulations thereof, for at least a little while longer. I am pretty excited about it!

We open with a stylish recap of Maeda vs. Karelin with quiet, sombre voice-over and then move, compellingly, to the faces and names of the RINGS Japan fighters we are asked to support all the more in Maeda's absence as soothing sea-side sounds and indeed loon calls sound behind them: Wataru Sakata, Masayuki Naruse in a touque, Yasuhito Namekawa, the ineffable (you cannot eff him even slightly) Hiromitsu Kanehara, Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Kiyoshi Tamura, and, riding his bicycle in Seattle, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.

I have never been to Seattle but feel kinship and fellowship with the people of all port cities, especially ones where flannel has been historically prominent. Also Sup Pop signed several Halifax bands (well one was from Moncton, and another St. John's) in the early-to-mid 1990s and so I thank the city of Seattle for Sub Pop's attention at that time. (This slightly strange subject was addressed on the most recent episode of The Sub Pop Podcast, spurred by a question from a guy I can vouch for; he has been known to me since the smallest of times, I assure you. [The answer to his question is that a lady from Sub Pop named Joyce came to a family reunion in Halifax and the bands she heard here at some shows then were good.]) 

The now-dated-but-charmingly-so RINGS theme that has been with us since 1991, but which has not contained the RINGS rap for many years, plays as our fighters parade before us. One cannot help but notice that Randy Couture numbers amongst them! Where exactly in his storied career was Randy Couture in the spring of 1999, let's see . . . okay he had won UFC fights against Tony Halme (rightly loathed during his time in RINGS), Steven Graham, Vitor Belfort, and Maurice Smith (loved in RINGS, loved by all) to hold and also then vacate the UFC Heavyweight Championship; his most recent bout as of 3/22/99 would have been his very quick (1:39) Vale Tudo Japan loss to Enson Inoue; I am not sure how many of his wives he had betrayed at this point, I think one for sure but maybe two, and definitely not yet three, but I don't have his autobiography at hand here. RINGS OFFICIAL RANKINGS: 10. Nikolai Zouev 9. Masayuki Naruse 8. Hans Nijman 7. Hiromitsu Kanehara 6. Dick Vrij 5. Joop Kasteel 4. Volk Han 3. Mikhail Ilioukhine 2. Kiyoshi Tamura 1. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (despite his time abroad), and our Champion remains Bitsadze Tariel. In our post-Maeda, King-of-Kings era, all of a sudden a bunch of those names feel almost vestigial, don't they?     

Christopher Haseman comes out to something by The Offspring but I do not know it by name (I receive this as mercy) and faces Yasuhito Namekawa who I remain very high on. BREAKING NEWS AND IT IS MAJOR: on Twitter I asked my friend David, who totally knows Japanese, if he could use his skills and abilities to help me with the name of the basically heroically good WOWOW commentator who has enriched every one of the nearly one hundred shows I have heard him on; I posted this picture:

And before David could even deploy his skills, the noble Jeff got after it and said he liked to look up kanji and came up with Kenichi Takayanagi which is definitely right because look what I got when I searched that name:

Kenichi Takayanagi who is a famous announcer of WOWOW boxing show "Excite Match"! Suki has not updated her fine Suki MMA blog in like eight years but I am grateful that she left everything up. Just the other day I decided to discontinue my Royal Rumble blog but have resolved to leave everything up in the spirit of Al Purdy's "Trees at the Arctic Circle": 

I have been stupid in a poem
I will not alter the poem
but let the stupidity remain permanent
as the trees are
in a poem
the dwarf trees of Baffin Island

(I do not mean to imply that there is anything stupid about Suki's work in the least; I definitely do mean to imply that there is something stupid about my Royal Rumble blog, namely that I did it for several years after not liking it.) 

Excite Match is venerable as can be, too. Here we are in 1999 and look:

So yeah KENICHI TAKAYANAGI calls the action, then, as Haseman and Namekawa exchange snappy kicks to open their bout. Soon they are down, these two, and Haseman has Namekawa's arm trapped under his own body, which is a brutal position to be in (I think in Fire Pro when you punch from an arm-trap they call it "cruel mounted punches" or something like that but I haven't spent much time in edit mode for a while so I could easily be mistaken), and Namekawa grasps a rope to escape its tyranny. This match is being contested under five-point RINGS rules, not vale tudo rules, but there is more punching on the ground (always to the body) than I think we are used to in RINGS matches, not by rule but by custom. A third lost-pointo comes as Namekawa secures the rope in the very arm held tight to his head and neck in the shoulder hold of 肩固 kata-gatame, both an osae-waza (pinning technique) and shime-waza (strangulation technique). The end comes at 7:42 as Haseman secures kata-gatame to the other side, this time, and Namekawa must yield. Remember that match Takanori Gomi lost in which his partner had spent like the whole match going for kata-gatame and it was like hey, Takanori Gomi, watch out for the kata-gatame, it looks like he's constantly going for kata-gatame, so you should probably look out for kata-gatame all the times he goes for kata-gatame, and then he lost by kata-gatame? Was it Luiz Azeredo who caught him? ("Caught him" makes it sound way more sudden than it was.) Ah, no, I am mistaken: Gomi defeated Azeredo twice, and it was in fact Marcus Aurélio who put Gomi all the way out with the hold at PRIDE Bushido 10 in April of 2006, of course of course, and I remember the fight itself pretty well because I watched it at a bar in Toronto that was actually showing PRIDE Bushido, how weird is that, and I went with a judopal whose name escapes me right now (this is so weird, I remember all kinds of stuff about him but his name is just not there ) but one time he invited my dear friend Stephen and me to meet both him and a very nice young lady (also of judo) at the Victory on Palmerston and when Stephen and I showed up it was very clear that this had all totally been a pretext for him to chat up this young lady (nothing came of it, for she was wise [not that Rob wasn't a good guy, I really liked him AHAHA YES HIS NAME WAS ROB YESSSS) and it was like oooooh ooooookay but I totally didn't figure that out beforehand and actually I think probably Stephen had to explain to me what had happened (I am an innocent). Anyway, it was a pleasant enough evening and it turned out this very nice young lady was from the same Prince Edward Island town of about a thousand people an aunt an uncle of mine have lived in forever (she knew my aunt, she said with appropriate gravity, and I think my uncle had been her music teacher in elementary school, we figured out) and there we were in Toronto doing judo together and I guess also grad school (different disciplines though [for, I say again, she was wise]). 

Another match has passed whilst I was lost in Proustian reverie spurred by kata-gatame but I can tell you that it consisted of largely low-key ne-waza until Boris Jeliazkov held Wataru Sakata tight in a match-ending kesa-gatame at 8:28, and when kesa-gatame ends a match I think most assume it must have been a kesa-gatame-kubi-hishigi or scarf-hold-neck-crush, but this is not that exactly, as Sakata grabs his side after tapping to this one:

In Sakata's wincing locker room comments afterwards, all I can make out is kesa-gatame (scarf hold) and sono mama (stop, freeze). He also goes hwooooo a lot, as you can see here:

Dave van der Veen, who they are calling "Popeye" plenty, is smothering Masayuki Naruse pretty well right now but I mean that metaphorically in that he is laying atop him and shutting him down, he is not actually literally smothering him. Is it weird that I find it super gross when fighters use their gloved hands to cover their partners' mouth and nose but I don't at all mind it when my judogi inadvertently does the same to my partners in ne waza? It's a shido (guidance [minor penalty]) to deliberately use your judogi (or theirs) in a smothering way, like drawing the jacket out of the belt and really going for it, but there are plenty of opportunities whilst pinning to turn just the wee-most this way and visit a face-full of unreasonably coarse, line-dried double weave upon your pal, and I do not hesitate to do it unless they are smaller than me (so almost never) or quite new (much likelier). In time, Naruse takes him over with a form of yoko-gaeshi (side-reversal) and finishes with kata-ashi-hishigi, the single-leg-crush, for a nice little win at 7:36.

YOSHIHISA YAMAMOTO VS. VALENTIJN OVEREEM will probably be a good test of whether or not we have gone all shoots immediately now that Maeda has hung up his sikk kickpads, because I feel that, in a shoot, Overeem would pretty much light Yamamoto up immediately (and yet Yamamoto lasted so long with Rickson; so strange to ponder). So let's see! Yamamoto comes out blazing but maybe it is shoot-style blazing? Overeem threw a big elbow that I think he may have meant to miss; had it been entirely sincere, and hit, it would have been a two-point red card and also the end of Yamamoto's days. Overeem takes Yamamoto's back and slips hadaka-jime, the naked strangle, past his semi-shabby defense; Yamamoto rolls to the ropes for an escape. I am convinced this is shoot-style rather than a shoot from just the energy of that last exchange, but it is really nicely done! I say that, but Yamamoto just won with a juji-gatame at 2:40 that seems to have legitimately hurt Overeem's arm. Ah, but this changes nothing: that the juji came on a little quickly and Overeem got hurt doesn't mean Overeem didn't give him the entry. I love the intrigue! Also I think Valentijn Overeem is definitely among the best shoot-stylists of any of the martial arts guys who only did like a handful of works. 

And now for one of the truly great kakutogi finishes of all time, Randy Couture vs. Mikhail Ilioukhine; but no, let's not get ahead of ourselves, let's wait for it. Couture comes out in a R.A.W. Real American Wrestling t-shirt for he was of that El Segundo gym. I don't remember how long this match is but I hope it is like only thirty seconds so we can see the finish right away, it is just so great. We're wearing little gloves so the rules here are not RINGS rules but are instead more permissive; I don't know if tudo is gonna vale but probably lots will. Ilioukhine does well enough in the the boxing (I am clearly no expert, I am only judging from whose head gets snapped back by punches) but seems nevertheless determined to take Couture down, which understandably proves difficult. Come on get to the finish let's go. Instead they are clinched in the corner, and usually I love stuff like that, but these are exceptional circumstances. OK OK OK I think we're getting close: Couture takes Ilioukhine down in the corner, but they are too near the ropes, so they are comically dragged by referee Ryogaku Wada and a little helper back to the centre of the ring. Ilioukhine, impressively, is able to turtle then stand, and attacks with the gyaku-ude-garami against a waistlock that makes us think of Sakuraba (and yet at this point it had yet to be applied in its most famous instance). They get all tangled in the ropes, this time standing, and so are separated and restarted. Damn it we were so close. Couture has Ilioukhine hard up against the corner but Ilioukhine's got an even better gyaku-ude-garami than last time as they start to go down, look:   

I AM SO EXCITED as they are repositioned in the middle of the ring and Ilioukhine grabs the same hold, because why wouldn't he? That's how he had him, right? Except this is crazy. Before they're even given the word to restart, Couture taps, because Ilioukhine's wrenching on it pretty well already. Ilioukhine relents just enough, I guess, for Wada to feel he can restart the match, but he doesn't even go back to his feet, he just kneels there ready to stop the fight the second he restarts it, because Ilioukhine is taking that arm. Couture either taps (what Wada sees, and the commentators too: taptaptaptap! one calls) or punches Ilioukhine in the thigh (what Couture protests), but either way it's over: a young boy hits the ring to aerosol spray Couture's elbow; Ilioukhine celebrates like Pavel Bure; I love this so much:

The replay provides an excellent angle of Randy Couture's well-known and totally plausible thigh-punch counter and escape from gyaku-ude-garami (who could dare doubt its battle-tested viability; and while we are daring things, I dare you to even imagine a better escape from this hold than punching a thigh):

He really makes quite a stink about it, but, like his notorious tap-denying teammate Matt Lindland (poor Murilo Bustamante), Randy Couture is here attempting to cheat this match as though it were a woman who bore him children and then loved and raised them. Ilioukhine looks pretty smug, and while smugness is not a good quality, this is a powerful image:

Dan Henderson and a guy with a belly complain to the-jacketed Akira Maeda about two things at once: first, that it was absurd to start them from a locked-in submission, which I cheerfully, gleefully grant, and second, that Couture didn't tap, which is a hard case to make, I think, and discredits their attempt to make the first argument. They are like, you can't start him with his arm back like that, it's "an automatic submission!" and then they are also like plus he didn't even tap. Sounds less than automatic to me, then! Congratulations, Team R.A.W.; you just played yourselves. This match totally lived up to my DVDVR-VHS-Shootcomp-memory of it and I would like to thank everyone involved at every level.    

An NK Hall main event of Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hiromitsu Kanehara, as though the world depicted in my GBA copy of Fire Pro from a decade not at all our present one had somehow broken through into primary experience: I didn't know these two ever headlined a RINGS show together outside of what I dared dream with the assistance of crudely yet charmingly rendered pixelgræpplers; and yet they would never have been available to me there had they not first been here; but I did not know they had existed in this precise configuration until now, and it is giving me weird thoughts. Also I need lunch so this is maybe all a blood-sugar thing. Tamura bows deeply as ever, this time in the direction of Akira Maeda (so poignant):

I have had lunch, and am ready. Could this be real? I could see it! Though I would not go so far as to say I expect it. Kanehara's kicks sound gnar as they snap into Tamura's lead leg but Tamura is unfazed. The palm-strikes are totally solid, too. I am quite sure we are watching high-level shoot-style, though, rather than shooting proper. For a pudgy little guy, Kanehara moves so well. And Tamura, as you know, moves well for a human of any pudginess, and in fact sometimes a little too well for shoot-credibility. I will not fault for an instant, though, the shoot-credibility of the yoko-gaeshi (side-counter) sweep just executed with the precision of a ne waza instructional book self-published by Koji Komuro and shipped to you from his home address in Tokyo; that was some of Tamura's best work (and the Komuro book is exquisite, a teaching resource of great merit). Kanehara, once he's back on top, punches Tamura several times in the stomach only to realize it's futile given ab-sikkness levels and he has to move on to other waza. The first point is not lost until we are nearly fourteen minutes in, when Kanehara does not care for either the hiza-juji knee-bar that Tamura begins with nor the ashi-dori-garami figure-four-toe-hold he transitions to. The second comes as we near sixteen minutes, and Tamura sets an Iatskevich-roll juji-gatame in motion but is not given anything even remotely resembling an opportunity to finish it; Kanehara is like roperoperope. So Kanehara is down two now in this I think thirty-minute time-limited bout. It has been really good! Please note that Kanehara's kickpads still say U. W. F. on them as he comes tantalizing close to sassori-gatame, the scorpion hold or indeed sharpshooter, before settling on a more conventional ashi-kansetsu (leg bone-lock). Kanehara loses yet another point on yet another ashi-dori-garami near the twenty-minute mark (he does not want his foot to be entangled, I get it). IATSKEVICH ROLL JUJI-GATAME KIYOSHI TAMURA 20:14 GREAT FINISH AND EVERYBODY IS FRIENDS:



March 22, 1999: 

"In the late 80s, when the UWF was all the rage in Japan, a magazine did a poll for the dream shoot match, and of course Akira Maeda won, but the magazine was surprised when the opponent picked, by almost an overwhelming margin, was Jumbo." 

and these two magnificent sentences, look:

"Monsoon said that nobody could have ever beaten him, which I guess is something that makes a good myth and we'll truly never know, and naturally the Maeda story which contradicts that didn't make the piece, although the Maeda deal was when he was 39 years old and terribly overweight and immobile, but after seeing Manny Yarbrough in so many MMA matches, and he was almost as tall, much bigger (nearly 700 pounds) and participated in combat sports like judo and wrestling as opposed to Andre who never did, get his clock cleaned by mid-level guys, I'd bet on a real fighter (if he's smart and plays his strategy well although if a young somewhat in shape athletic guy with some fighting heart who was the size of Andre was trained to be a fighter it would be an entirely different story) against a huge man no matter how fearsome the huge man looks on the surface. If you look at Andre's thickness and girth, he looks like he should have destroyed all powerlifting records, but he never trained with weights and wrestlers of that era when Andre was young noted his strength when it came to pushing was really only average as Andre couldn't press very small men overhead the way guys like Goldberg or Steiner do with big men routinely, although his pulling strength was said to be superhuman, but the life of Andre was basically built around fantasy anyway and this special certainly played to that part of it."

March 29, 1999:

"3/22 Tokyo Bay NK Hall (RINGS - 4,502): Christopher Hasemann b Yasuhito Namekawa, Boris Jeliaskov b Wataru Sakata, Masayuki Naruse b Dave Von Popi, Yoshihisa Yamamoto b Valentijn Overeem, Ilioukhine Mikhail b Randy Couture, Kiyoshi Tamura b Hiromitsu Kanehara. OTHER JAPAN NOTES: The last UFC heavyweight champion, Randy Couture, made his pro wrestling debut in what is believed to have been a shoot match [then it is not his pro wrestling debut, right?--ed], getting upset by Ilioukhine Mikhail with an armbar in 7:43 on the 3/22 RINGS show at Tokyo Bay NK Hall before 4,502 fans. It makes Couture's second straight loss in Japan, as he had lost on 10/24 in the Vale Tudo Open Japan to Enson Inoue in 90 seconds to an armbar. The main event on the show was almost surely a worked match with Kiyoshi Tamura beating Hiromitsu Kanehara in 20:44 with an armbar, since there was no way they'd risk Tamura in a shoot this close to the Frank Shamrock match on 4/23 in Osaka. Another interesting result on the show was Yoshihisa Yamamoto's win over Valentijn Overeem in 2:40."

April 5, 1999:

"OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Line-up announced for the RINGS show on 4/23 at Osaka Furitsu Gym is Frank Shamrock vs. Kiyoshi Tamura, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka vs. Gilbert Yvel, Joop Kasteel vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Masayuki Naruse vs. Chris Hasemann and Ryueki Kamiyama vs. Lee Hasdell. There is apparently a lot of controversy regarding the 3/22 Randy Couture loss to Ilioukhine Mikhail. The match aired on television this weekend so I haven't seen it, but the photos show Mikhail going for a shoulderlock as they rolled to the ropes. They maneuvered the guys back to the center keeping the position (that looks so goofy when it's done and again points out the superiority of an octagon as a fighting arena as compared to a pro wrestling ring [this is exactly wrong in my view--ed]) and Mikhail apparently made the move immediately and got the hold and the ref stopped it before Couture tapped. We'll have more to say about it when we see the tape."

April 12, 1999:

"When it comes to straight shoots, many of the most intriguing matches for this year will be taking place on three shows over the next month.

Even though it appears it will have a worked main event, and without Rickson Gracie, not the level of mainstream pub, there are a lot of insiders who think the Pride Five show on 4/29 in Nagoya could be the show of the year, and not for the Nobuhiko Takada vs. Mark Coleman match which is being counted on to sell the tickets.

It appears to be the best undercard for a shoot show in a long time. Probably the most intriguing match of all is Kazushi Sakuraba, the former UWFI pro wrestler who has been unbeaten under MMA rules including winning the single weirdest tournament in UFC history, since Kingdom folded and is very highly thought of by insiders as one of the best submission fighters in the world, facing Vitor Belfort, the Brazilian sensation with all the physical tools in the world but a suspect head. Belfort was all the rage while only 19-years-old, destroying four much larger men in less than 80 seconds each with his amazing punching speed and power, not to mention radar-like accuracy, until running into Randy Couture on October 17, 1997 and being turned into a mere mortal in taking a pounding in defeat. After a lackluster performance in what was certainly a suspect fight with Joe Charles on the UFC show in Japan on December 21, 1997, Belfort's stock took a tumble as he several times switched trainers, canceled bookings, and didn't seem all that interested in fighting, frustrating everyone involved who believed he not only had potential to be one of the best, but the charisma and marketability because of the rapid manner he dispatched his foes. In his only appearance last year, on October 16, 1998 on the first UFC in Brazil, Belfort was scheduled against Vanderlei Silva, who many thought would destroy the myth for good. Probably nobody was more concerned than Belfort, who pulled out of the fight several times in the days leading to the show, only to be talked back in because promoters realized how much he meant to the debut UFC show in Brazil. Although appearing under confident, the result hardly bore that out as Belfort, in his most impressive performance of his career, destroyed Silva in 44 seconds with a barrage of 17 punches in seven seconds. That performance seemed to turn a middleweight title match with Frank Shamrock into the UFC's first real potential marquee title match since the Ken Shamrock-Dan Severn era. But since that time, Belfort canceled out of a match with Guy Mezger (which wound up a blessing in disguise for UFC since it created Tito Ortiz as a new star) and hasn't fought since. The match is intriguing because Sakuraba can't hang with Belfort standing up. He is probably much better when it comes to submissions on the ground, although we've yet to see Belfort even tested on the ground yet. Can Sakuraba, at 185 pounds, take down Belfort, who rumor has it is closing in the 220 pound range again? And how will that added weight, if Belfort comes in like that, affect him, particularly if Sakuraba can survive the first onslaught of punches that nobody but Couture has survived to date? On paper, it seems to favor Belfort, but fights aren't fought on paper.

The other big match is Mark Kerr, considered "the man" in heavyweight circles with a 10-0 record and who has never even been physically tested, and coming off the tournament win in Abu Dhabai in the world submissions championship, facing Enson Inoue, the heavyweight champion from Shooto, whose last MMA match was a submission win over formerly unbeaten Couture. Where Inoue is dangerous is that in two fights against world class wrestlers (the other being Royce Alger at a UFC show in 1997), he submitted both with lightning like armbars in about 90 seconds. Kerr is a world class wrestler, but has studied submission avoidance and has never been close to being in trouble against many submission experts. Inoue has three losses, a loss early in his career against a basically unknown fighter that he avenged later, and two knockout losses to Igor Zinoviev and Frank Shamrock. Kerr is not the skilled striker that Zinoviev or Shamrock are, but is a much physically larger man. Inoue has never submitted in competition and Kerr is not a master at that. This seems to point to a long fight, and at that point stamina becomes the big issue. Although people who have seen both would say Kerr is a much larger man, the Kerr who was in Abu Dhabai may have been smaller than the Inoue in Abu Dhabai. Still, Kerr has freakish strength and even if he's the smaller man and I'd bet this time he won't be, he's not getting overpowered. One would think looking at the two that the new version of Kerr would have a decided edge in stamina. Probably the most important thing to realize is that this fight will not have judges, so no matter who dominates, if it goes the time limit, it's a draw, and that changes the nature of the fight.

This show comes six days after the Frank Shamrock vs. Kiyoshi Tamura match on the RINGS show in Osaka. This will be under RINGS rules, and every change in rules changes the fight. However, with Shamrock being well experienced from his years in Pancrase under similar rules and having gone 30:00 to a win over Tsuyoshi Kohsaka under these rules in 1997, he will hardly be a fish out of water against the RINGS specialist. Tamura is a hard one to judge because it's hard to know exactly what he is. He is, without question, one of the best pro wrestlers in the world and the single best working mat wrestler of all-time. That's all well and good in pro wrestling, but doesn't mean much in a shoot. It's very hard to judge strengths and weaknesses of someone in a shoot by what they do in matches designed to entertain the audience and put on a very realistic looking show, but a show nonetheless. Tamura, like Hiromitsu Kanehara, and probably Sakuraba as well, are so good at working that some of their worked matches look like shoots which makes judging them in shoots even harder. What we know about Tamura and shooting is that it is believed he did tap out Kohsaka in a shoot [I do not at all see how the first Tamura/Kohsaka match, which Dave has several times described as a shoot, can be read that way--ed], which would make him the only guy to do that in years, although we can't be sure of that (Kohsaka was legitimately injured from the finish which seems to indicate it was real, but not necessarily either), there was one spot that looked kind of funny and let's face it, these guys are real good. If the win over Kohsaka wasn't predetermined, that makes Tamura very real. Maurice Smith, who hasn't tapped out since in competition, claims Tamura tapped him out legit, when they had a match in 1996. Tamura is clearly respected by other fighters are being very real and a real threat and even Shamrock conceded they are fairly even on the ground. Tamura did lose a shoot last year to Valentijn Overeem, who was unheralded in submissions but did have him by 30 pounds (and when the two were rematched in February, RINGS made sure this time it was a work), and hooked Tamura a few times in quick order and really hurt his rep. Shamrock should be stronger standing and Tamura can be hit, but with head punches illegal (open hands are legal), that negates some of that edge.

The other match of intrigue will be the 5/7 UFC main event with Bas Rutten vs. Kevin Randleman to crown the vacant heavyweight title in a tournament which makes almost as much sense as some of the recent WCW tournaments. This is the classic intrigue because Rutten is a great striker. Randleman is an excellent wrestler and a far stronger man physically. Rutten was taken down several times by Kohsaka, whose takedown ability pales in comparison to Randleman. Randleman, from his win over Maurice Smith, has an amazing level of stamina that belies his freakish physique. Rutten is better at submissions once they are on the ground. Like the Kohsaka match, this may be a match where John McCarthy plays a major part. Many believe that had McCarthy not ordered a stand-up late in regulation, when Rutten nailed Kohsaka with a kick to the knee which ultimately led to his demise, that Kohsaka would have ruined the debut of the man SEG billed as the world's greatest martial arts fighter. Most likely this match is going to the ground pretty fast with Randleman on top. Rutten is going to have a very difficult time on his own getting out of that position. So the question becomes how effective Randleman can be from the top, and if or when McCarthy orders the stand-up, and then, if Rutten can get a telling blow in before he's taken down again."


"Got another report of the 3/23 RINGS show and the Ilioukhine Mikhail win over Randy Couture. We should have a tape by the end of the week but the match went as described last week. Apparently the announcers acknowledged the finish as controversial and that the Raw's team complaint about the finish was well taken. There are two controversies. One, which everyone apparently agrees with, is that as Mikhail was working for a move and they got to the corner and were put back in the center in the same position, that Mikhail "got the jump" on Couture in the re-start and got the finishing move. The other controversy is whether, when caught in the hold, that Couture was tapping out, or punching Mikhail in the leg, but the referee mistook that for a tap. Apparently the schedule of doing shoots and stiff works on a monthly basis is breaking a lot of the guys who do every show down, as you can imagine."


"MMA: We're going to make a minor change in groupings this week. Basically, from this point forward, Pancrase and USWF will both be listed here as opposed to "Other Japan Notes" and "Here and There" as they have been. The idea is this section will be for shoot promotions, whether they call themselves pro wrestling (USWF) or are covered as pro wrestling (Pancrase, Pride and UFC) in Japan. There is no 100% distinction because Pancrase, K-1 and Pride have done worked matches with predetermined finishes in the past and even USWF has had at least one in the past (and Pride surely will be doing it again in the future) and UFC has had suspicious matches but not finishes set up by the office. And we all know about people tanking matches in boxing (let alone whatever it was that Holyfield-Lewis fight really was as at least with pro wrestling you know what the game is going in) and tennis so to expect a one-on-one sport to be 100% shoot all the time is something that is a panacea more than a reality. RINGS will continue to be categorized as pro wrestling since a large percentage of their matches are worked (even though I'm a fan of RINGS, in many ways, their approach may be the most deceptive of all because you legitimately never know what you're getting when you buy your ticket until they go into the ring [that's true, RINGS *is* the greatest--ed) and UFO is pro wrestling, just a different style."

and a reader writes:

"I attend college at UNC-Chapel Hill. There is a 21-year-old Brazilian in my dorm who laughs at the fact that I enjoy pro wrestling. He makes fun of me and says that none of the fake wrestlers could hold a candle next to his famed national hero Rickson Gracie. I've watched tapes of Rickson Gracie, but have never heard you mention him. Rickson claims to be undefeated. Is he legit? Has he ever faced anyone with a rep?

Daniel Whitman

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

DM: We've written about Rickson Gracie regularly for the past five years since he's played a major role in the evolution of Japanese pro wrestling and shooting and headlined two major Tokyo Dome shows against Nobuhiko Takada. Gracie is undefeated and I'm sure in his prime with the knowledge he had would have been a very tough man to beat at that time. All "shootfighting legends" pre-1996 are largely myth anyway because there were no venues for the top guys to fight each other and the skills involved were largely secretive as compared with today. As far as ever facing anyone with a rep, he beat Hugo Duarte, although so did Tank Abbott, and Duarte did nothing but run away against Mark Kerr. He beat Takada twice, but Takada was talented at pro wrestler. The true shootfighters in Beverly Hills that were training him and trained alongside him had no respect for as being a real fighter. Gracie won two tournaments in Japan, but they were loaded with people who ever beat anybody since that time. He beat Yoshihisa Yamamoto in 21:00 in Yamamoto's first ever fight of that style, but Yamamoto is not even considered one of the top two shooters in his RINGS organization. He did tap out Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medal winning wrestler, twice a few years back, in a dojo match with no striking allowed, but Schultz had absolutely no experience in submissions going in so as great an athlete as he is, he was playing somebody else' game. Gracie also literally beat the hell out of Yoji Anjoh in what could basically be called an unsanctioned street fight. I don't believe Gracie could beat the top fighters today both because of the reality of his own advancing age and because of the advancement of the style, but we'll never know for sure because he's never going to risk his reputation and myth against anyone real. American pro wrestling is entertainment and shouldn't be confused or compared with real wrestling, shootfighting or MMA on the professional level anymore than the Harlem Globetrotters should be compared with last season's Chicago Bulls or Sylvester Stallone with Roy Jones Jr. in a boxing match. I'd suspect very few pro wrestlers of today would have the knowledge or experience to beat Gracie in a true shoot, but that isn't their game, and there are a few like Ken Shamrock or Tsuyoshi Kohsaka that would probably give Rickson Gracie a very tough night."

April 19, 1999:





3/22 RINGS: This was an interesting show, and whether it's in a good or bad, depends on your idea of what RINGS should be. It was the first show since the ending of the Akira Maeda era, with him at ringside in his now familiar red suit as commissioner. All of the matches could be taken for shoots and the ones that were worked were worked primarily to appear to be shoots as opposed worked to be exciting matches. The old UWF style of work, to do pro wrestling and make it look real but build to spots and finishes and use eye catching moves, was out the window and instead it was only what works in a shoot. 1. Christopher Hasemann beat Yasuhito Namekawa in 7:42 with an over-and-under choke [a new term to me--ed.]. Hasemann totally dominated the match and was ahead 3-0 before the submission on three rope break points. There was something about the third point that looked fishy so I'd guess it was a worked match although it wouldn't be easy to tell. Hasemann's worked matches are usually real good, but with the new style, nothing is going to be that good. *  [an utterly absurd, indefensible, and demonstrably false claim, an indictment of taste level so severe it will be hard to overlook going forward--ed]; 2. Borislav Jeliaskov beat Wataru Sakata in 8:28. This was a shoot match but it was all on the ground and there was no striking. The matwork was very good. Jeliaskov scored one point on a rope break. Sakata nearly got an armbar, but Jeliaskov in escaping got a neck crank and Sakata tapped out. It didn't appear to be a finish, but it did appear that Sakata tore his right pec and tapped immediately. For pure matwork in a shoot it was well done; 3. Masayuki Naruse beat Dave Van De Veen in 7:36 in another shoot. This was funny in that Van De Veen, with his big forearms and tatoos, is nicknamed Popeye, but I guess Popeye isn't famous in Japan so they thought Popeye was his middle name as he was billed as Dave Popeye De Veen [the commentator specifically said the English loan-word "nickname" when discussing him briefly during the parade of fighters, and then again when they called him Popeye a bunch in his match--ed]. Good stand up fighting. Van De Veen threw some very hard body blows while they were on the ground. Naruse ended up winning with an ankle lock; 4. Yoshihisa Yamamoto beat Valentijn Overeem in 2:40 with an armbar. This was good but too short. After a great standing exchange, Overeem got a choke but Yamamoto struggled and got a rope break. The struggle to the ropes was clearly pro wrestling although without that one spot, you'd be hard pressed to see through this match. Yamamoto got the armbar and Overeem slipped out, but sold his elbow big-time. The announcers even said mentioned a broken elbow capsule. Overeem was selling the injury big and a lot of the undercard wrestlers ran in the ring to sell it as well; 5. Ilioukhine Mikhail beat Randy Couture in a Vale Tudo rules match in 7:43. This was the controversial match. This match was more evidence that the traditional pro wrestling ring is a poor playing field for Vale Tudo matches. Couture was dominant with both his boxing, which isn't very good, but it's world's better than Mikhail's [that's interesting, because I thought Ilioukhine landed the best punch, but I freely admit to knowing nothing about boxing--ed.], and his wrestling. Couture kept the fight on the feet for four minutes before just manhandling Mikhail, who was outweighed 224 to 206, and throwing him down in the corner. Couture threw some more punches. A few times as they got into the ropes they were put back in the center standing. At another point Mikhail actually landed a lucky punch since Couture didn't have much defense [ah ok, this is the punch I mean--ed.], but was so stunned himself that he didn't follow up. The finish saw Couture take him down and Mikhail working from the bottom on a hammerlock as they got tangled in the ropes. Couture got up to move to the center and the ref said they had to go back to the original position. So they went in the center, Couture went on top and the ref put Couture's arm back in the hammerlock position and ordered a start. Mikhail made the move immediately and Couture tapped, as a reflex action, probably more as a motion to stop but that they hadn't started. The ref didn't stop the match and Mikhail kept the hold on and Couture appeared to tap again, although his team claims he was throwing short punches to the leg, and the match was stopped by the ref who may not have even seen whatever the second thing was, but thought the hold was dangerous. Couture looked furious and the RAW team management was protesting long and loud in the ring that he never tapped and that the hold wasn't at a strong enough angle to be dangerous and there may be credence to the latter point. The way I see it, with the contrived putting them back in and giving Mikhail the hold and he took the jump, the finish was totally screwed up and Couture absolutely was jobbed. But the RAW team loses some credibility claiming he didn't tap. Match was a better than average Vale Tudo match; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura beat Hiromitsu Kanehara in 20:14 with an armbar. This was ruined by the new style [what . . . on . . . earth--ed.]. There was some awesome matwork early but it was very slow most of the way and they were taking it very easy on the striking so as not to risk hurting Tamura before the shoot match with Frank Shamrock. Tamura was made to look strong as he was ahead 3-0 before the finish. Tamura showed flashes but the style killed the heat since they didn't do any spots or display any of Tamura's quick spectacular matwork which would give away that the match is a work, but also make it a fun match for the fans [it was never fun for me when he did that; am I not "the fans"--ed.]. Right after the 20:00 call, Tamura immediately went to the finish and it was so obvious he was waiting for the call to do it [gaaaaaahhhhh he was halfway into an Iatskevich roll when the call came, he was *literally already doing the move* *before* the call, Dave does not know enough technically to see even that and yet he claims this with such *arrogance* and lol I really do love Dave's work so much, stuff like this is weirdly the best--ed.]. The new style is better for the RINGS purist [that's true--ed.] that wants to believe every match is a shoot [well let's not go nuts--ed.] (the Japanese internet after this show was proclaiming this an all-shoot show) but you can't market a major league product only to purists [no but you can market it to meeeeee except I think buying things is gross so Dave is totally nailing this point actually--ed]. There is no way this new direction is good for the average fan who would find this main event boring even though the announcers were putting it over as a great match, which if it had been a shoot going 20:00 with some quick matwork and a few decent flurries standing, it probably would be considered that. * "


"3/29 UFO: This was the 3/14 Yokohama Arena show. UFO is just worked shoots that make for bad pro wrestling because they don't look like shoots and the fans that attend are pro wrestling fans and pop more for pro wrestling spots then shoot spots unlike RINGS fans. As Antonio Inoki has explained to many, he believes that New Japan has gone too far in copying American pro wrestling and has lost its legitimacy and he's trying to get it back. What a lot of old-timers haven't grasped it that legitimacy is the single least important thing to pro wrestling fans. They just want something to get them in their gut and then entertain them and they are willing to accept preposterous looking things and accept them if they are entertaining, but could care less about boring looking things, even if they appear to be closer to real. [and so we see the death of art--ed.]"


"Naoya Ogawa is going to tour the U.S. as NWA champion during May. There at one point was a plan for Ogawa to work the 5/22 show for RINGS at Ariake Coliseum." 

Alas that it would not prove to be so. Imagine it! Let the thought sustain you until next we meet! Until then I thank you as always for your time and for you attention to these matters, and specifically in this matter of RINGS: Rise 1st.

No comments:

Post a Comment