October 28, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan
Yoyogi Gym II drawing 4,520
WE HAVE LONG KNOWN IT WOULD COME TO THIS AND YET NOW THAT IT IS UPON US IT FEELS AS THOUGH IT HAS HAPPENED OVERNIGHT that the shoot-style era is behind us and we are thrust at once fully and completely into the realm of kakutogi as this RISE 6th: WORLD MEGA-BATTLE OPEN TOURNAMENT KING OF KINGS begins but let us approach it not with trepidation but with the blithe spirit of Hiromitsu Kanehara who looks, perhaps unsurprisingly, like this about it:
Before we get into the "A" Block of this legitimately (or "shoot") totally intriguing thirty-two-man tournament we should take a moment to see about the results of a Korakuen Hall show that I don't think there is tape of but for which we certainly have results, and it is not the first time that has been the case with a small Korakuen show, is it:
Battle Genesis V
September 15, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan
Korakuen Hall drawing 2,000
Ryuki Ueyama drew Lloyd Berg (20:00).
Lee Hasdell drew Satoshi Honma (20:00).
Ricardo Fyeet KO Mick Cutagar (3:30).
Wataru Sakata beat Yasuhito Namekawa (5:33) via submission.
Yoshihisa Yamamoto TKO Valentijn Overeem (3:55).
Looks good! I wonder . . .
WHAT DAVE MELTZER MIGHT HAVE SAID (he never gets tape of it, which makes me more certain that it is okay that I don't have tape of it either):
September 30, 1999:
"9/15 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (RINGS - 2,000 sellout): Ryeuki Kamiyama d Lloyd Berg, Lee Hasdell d Satoshi Honma, Ricardo Fyeet b Cataja, Wataru Sakata b Yasuhito Namekawa, Yoshihisa Yamamoto b Valentijn Overeem. OTHER JAPAN NOTES: RINGS ran 9/15 at Korakuen Hall before a sellout 2,000 with what on paper looks like a mostly if not all shoot show. In the main event, Yoshihisa Yamamoto beat Valentijn Overeem in 3:35, and then after the match Yamamoto challenged Naoya Ogawa to a match [this is torture--ed.]. Akira Maeda announced the company would be running its annual Battle Dimension tournament after all, this year being a 32-man tournament and claiming lots of big names would be brought in due to the $376,000 in total prize money being offered. None were named and even though it starts in one month, most of the recruiting is now gong on. There will be 16 fighters brought in for the 10/28 Tokyo show which will have eight first round matches plus four second round matches. On 12/22 in Osaka will be a similar tournament with two rounds. The final eight will then have a UFC style one-night tournament in February in Tokyo. The purse money will be $3,000 to all first round losers, $5,000 to all second round losers, $8,000 for third round losers, $13,000 for the two fourth round losers, $33,000 for the loser of the championship match and $223,000 to the tournament winner. It will be interesting to see what the lure of a first prize like that will bring to the table, because even second place at $33,000 and having to win four fights and loss a final over just two nights to get that purse seems like an awfully hard way to make money. This announcement is said to be the biggest news in the martial arts world in Japan because the plan right now is for it to be a total shoot tournament. It will be an open weight class with all matches fought in two five minute rounds plus an overtime round if no decision is rendered, and then the judges decide who advances. Yellow cards for fouls during the tournament will result in a 10% of purse fine and a red card is an additional 20% fine."
We might as well keep going with this, and get all up to day, right? Before we get into the next show? Okay good:
"The incident where Enson Inoue punched the reporter, which resulted in him being suspended for life from Shooto and vacating their heavyweight title actually took place at the 8/19 RINGS show."
"There is talk that Akira Maeda will be coming to the UFC this week to recruit fighters for the RINGS tournament."
October 4, 1999:
As Frank Shamrock/Tito Ortiz is recapped and assessed:
"It was a performance that left nearly everyone in awe. Despite it being somewhat known that this was going to be Shamrock's final UFC appearance and if he won, he'd vacate the title, announcer Jeff Blatnick and promoter Bob Meyrowitz after the match praised Shamrock as the greatest competitor in the history of the UFC, and with five title wins, he's undisputedly the most decorated. In Shamrock's last ten matches, fighting under numerous different rules and against numerous different style fighters, most of which came with great reps and credentials, Shamrock has nine wins. His lone blemish was a draw in RINGS against Kiyoshi Tamura in April which, before this match, looked to be a strong candidate for match of the year."
"Also at the show included both Akira Maeda and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka of the RINGS organization, with Kohsaka serving as one of Shamrock's corner men."
And this doesn't have anything to do with RINGS, really, except that we have been talking about KING OF KINGS pay just a moment ago, weren't we:
"With the exception of the main event, most of the fighters on the card were getting $1,000 purses, which sounds low for being in a fight, and it is, but it's the reality of a decline in revenue due to the events not being shown on most PPV systems and why from a name value standpoint this was really a one match show."
October 11, 1999:
"Tokyo Sports wrote on 10/6 that Satake would wind up with either RINGS or Pride, and they'd built up to a match against Naoya Ogawa which would pit Japan's most famous kickboxer against its most famous judo star."
Also, from a New Japan report:
"1. Kensuke Sasaki & Kazuyuki Fujita beat Brian Johnston & Takashi Iizuka in 13:37. No heat. Johnston looked green on his high spots but his fighting (knees and kicks) looked great. He'd be perfect for RINGS style."
"Although nothing has been announced, there's talk that Jeremy Horn and Brad Kohler, who Akira Maeda would have seen at the UFC show, will be in the RINGS tournament."
"Satoru Sayama's Seikendo promotion apparently drew 6,500 fans (at least that was the announced figure) to the Ariake Coliseum on 10/2 for mainly boxing matches. His next tour, which consists of four shows from 11/2 to 11/16 with the major show 11/5 in Yokohama Bunka Gym, will have more of a pro wrestling emphasis using the guys from Battlarts like Ikuto Hidaka and Minoru Tanaka, plus Sayama, Mitsuya Nagai (formerly RINGS and K-1), Tatsuo Nakano (former UWFI) and Tiger Mask. He has negotiated with Victor Quinones about using WWF talent and Sayama claims he'll have several huge names on the tour."
October 18, 1999:
A reader writes, and Dave responds:
"WRESTLERS IN SHOOTS
The world between reality fighting and pro wrestling is becoming more and more blurred. What pro wrestlers do you think would stand a chance in the octagon? I came up with a short list of American wrestlers both past and present, Lou Thesz, Karl Gotch, Danny Hodge, Rick & Scott Steiner, Taz, Harley Race, and possibly Bruno Sammartino and Scott Norton based purely on power.
Also, in the modern era, what pro wrestling matches were shoot or semi-shoots? Two matches that come to mind are Dick the Bruiser vs. Alex Karras and Dory Funk Jr. vs. Lord Al Hayes. Hayes pinned Funk Jr. In your listing on the big stars of the different decades, in the 60s wouldn't Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, Johnny Valentine and Fritz Von Erich have been bigger stars than Ray Stevens?
"Tributes" was great reading. Some suggestions for future books, Promoters and Territories, Japan, Great Angles, Champions that never got the belts and why and Wrestlers who weren't given enough credit like Luis Martinez, Angelo Poffo and Lars Anderson.
St. Louis, Missouri
DM: Being in the octagon is like training for any sport. What pro wrestlers would do well in the NFL? The ones that have experience playing football. What pro wrestlers would do well in the NBA? The ones who were good college players (which is none of them, but you get the idea). The guys who have trained for it like Ken Shamrock, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Dan Severn would do well and have done well. Kurt Angle, being that he's an Olympic gold medal winning wrestler, if he trained for it, certainly has the basics in wrestling in that if he was open minded about learning new things and went for it, he'd probably do fairly well, although Olympic gold medalists have lost to submission fighters before. As for the names you mentioned, Lou Thesz and even more Karl Gotch certainly had reputations among the wrestlers as if they could do it but we've also learned untested reputations often get exposed in the octagon. Thesz did boxing training and knew his submissions and had amazing reflexes. Wrestling legend usually lists those two along with Billy Robinson as being some of the toughest, and Gotch supposedly did prove it in Europe before coming to the U.S. but again it was a different world. People who should know rate them very highly. Tim Woods used to take on all comers and was an NCAA champion and you'd have to be very tough to take on all comers (one guy bit his finger off in the process of one of those kind of fights). If Danny Hodge had trained for it, within his weight division because his competition wrestling weight was 175 pounds, my feeling is he'd have been just about unbeatable, although unbeatable also doesn't exist in the true shoot world because of the differences of styles but it's hard for me to imagine anyone of his size being able to compete with his absolutely freakish strength which would enable him to be able to use just normal moves and make them unorthodox submission moves, wrestling skill and boxing ability. The Steiners are really tough guys among pro wrestlers. There are also amateur wrestlers that would blow the Steiners out of the water that haven't done a thing in MMA. I don't know how much formal stand-up training or formal submission training they have. Their wrestling would probably be enough to beat some lower ranked people that have been in UFC, but against the top calibre people they'd have to be considered a question mark at this point. The Steiners might also be injury prone in that environment. Taz' ability as a top level shooter is a Paul Heyman creation. Again, I'm sure he's a tough guy compared to a guy on the street, but it isn't like he was ever an NCAA champion wrestler and he has very limited if any actual training in kickboxing. Harley Race was considered a tough street fighter, but he'd be out of his league in the octagon against a real fighter as he never trained in it. Anything I write about Bruno Sammartino is going to get his fans upset, but again, he was a very strong man, but strength along can't beat an elite fighter without the fighting skill. Sammartino did a little boxing and even more wrestling before getting into pro wrestling, but was never world class at either. Norton is exceedingly strong, actually scary strong. He had a street fighter reputation growing up in Minneapolis. While street fights aren't always fair, he was also knocked out in three punches by Tony Halme in Japan in a bar which depending on the situation that it happened in may or may not even be relevant to this discussion, and granted, Robinson has been beaten up in bars before as well and Peter Maivia pulled his eye out in a street fight and that isn't relevant to this either. But Halme only lasted one minute with Randy Couture in UFC, and Couture only lasted 90 seconds with Enson Inoue. As far as modern era matches that were shoots or semi-shoots, the ones I can come up with were Mildred Burke vs. Joyce Grable (shoot), Andre the Giant vs. Akira Maeda (almost a shoot), Maeda vs. Satoru Sayama (ended up as one), Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki (actual shoot), Rikidozan vs. Masahiko Kimura (Rikidozan in the middle of the match suddenly went at it for real and got the jump on Kimura and hurt him), Inoki vs. a guy from India or Pakistan, Shinya Hashimoto vs. Naoya Ogawa (semi-shoot) and there have been several womens shoots including one with Aja Kong vs. Madusa in a brutal kickboxing shoot and many womens Vale Tudo and kickboxing rule shoots. There have probably been others but not as high profile, and actually have been many shoots in RINGS and Kingdom, a few in UWF and later UWFI and the vast majority of matches in Pancrase including just about all of them the past year or two. I can't recall any true in-ring shoots in WWF or WCW in the modern era. I think Bearcat Wright in Los Angeles pulled a double-cross in a world title match against Fred Blassie on December 13, 1963. I don't know if it was a shoot per se, but Wright won a match he was supposed to lose, and I'd bet that sort of thing has happened numerous times over the years but it's not like it was a shoot match. Karras vs. Bruiser's famous pro wrestling match in Detroit was not a shoot. The incident a few nights earlier at the bar Karras owned was Bruiser trying to garner publicity for their match as an angle, but Bruiser apparently got out of control and Karras wasn't in on Bruiser's angle although he figured it out right away, but then Bruiser wouldn't publicly calm down. That turned into a real brawl with several arrests when it was over. Funk Jr. vs. Hayes was not a shoot. Stevens was probably about the same level of a national star as Bruiser, Sheik, Valentine and Von Erich. When he died, I was told as a money earner, he was probably ahead of everyone but the NWA and WWWF champion during his prime years. I had him mentioned not that he was a bigger star than others mentioned, but because he was considered by nearly everyone as the best worker in the business in that era."
"If ever there was a sign New Japan was in trouble, it’s when after all the hype beforehand, that the Shinya Hashimoto vs. Naoya Ogawa match failed to sellout the Tokyo Dome.
While on paper the crowd of 58,500 for the 10/11 show, which from live sources indicated looked like a real figure, sounds good, the show was heavily papered. When the show began at 3 p.m., with well over 15,000 empty seats in the building, people thought the show was going to be the lowest drawing New Japan Dome show in history. By about 40 minutes into the show, when the junior heavyweight title matches began, the building had come close to filling up. It was part of a three-day National Sports Day holiday weekend so being on a Monday afternoon shouldn’t have affected attendance, although there were a lot of competing sporting events and a lot of people did take vacations. Part of the problem besides coming on the heels of a terrible main event on the previous big show is the same problem with RINGS. The more this looks like sport to today’s audience, whether it be Japan or the U.S. as the audiences are still different, but not as different as they’ve been in the past, the less marketable it becomes as compared with outrageous entertainment."
Willie Williams on the FMW's 10th Anniversary Show!
"Dory & Terry Funk, who haven’t teamed together in Japan since 1987, the original foreign babyface tag team in Japan, face FMW prelim wrestlers Naohiko Yamazaki & Yoshinori Sasaki in a surprise, Willie Williams, a former American karate star of the 70s who made a second career as a gimmick karate fighter in pro wrestling stemming from a famous February 27, 1980 match with Antonio Inoki, which led to being a headliner years later with RINGS (I’m guessing he’s now in his early 50s) faces Hido. The remainder of the show has Kaori Nakayama & Emi Motokawa in a womens tag match, and an opener with Koji Nakagawa & Gedo & Jado vs. Ricky Fuji & Flying Kid Ichihara & Chocoball Mukai with female managers in each corner."
Royce Gracie on RINGS on Queen Latifah:
"OTHER JAPAN NOTES Brad Kohler and Jeremy Horn both have confirmed being part of the RINGS tournament appearing on 10/28. In something of a huge surprise, Royce Gracie was the guest on 10/8 on the Queen Latifah talk show and said that he would be involved in that tournament. It would not be in Gracie’s best interest to be involved in this, because of the short time limits and because there are no weight classes although the lack of closed fist striking to the face is to his advantage. Gracie was the original king of the UFC in 1993-94, and never lost, including winning three of the first four eight-man tournaments (he was injured in winning a first round match in the other one), although the fighting skill level overall was extremely primitive in those days compared with today. His final UFC match was in 1995 against Ken Shamrock which was a 36 minute draw, and something of a legendary match in martial arts annals, where he took a beating in the last five minutes and ended with a very nasty looking eye shiner. He’s only had one competitive match since that time, a submissions only match against Wallid Ismail in Rio de Janiero last year which he lost in about five minutes with a choke. None of this has been announced in Japan, where Gracie gained a lot of fame years ago for his initial UFC success and where he’s yet to fight in. The tournament consists of a first and second round in one bracket on 10/28 in Tokyo, a similar tournament on 12/22 in Osaka, and the final eight in a tournament similar to the K-1 Grand Prix finals on 2/25 at Tokyo Budokan Hall or Yokohama Arena. Matches are all two five minute rounds with judges to determine who advances in the case there is no finish or no points (scored by knockdowns and rope breaks on submissions) are scored, and the big money goes only to the tournament winner--some $223,000."
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka is overextending himself:
"The UFC Japan debut show on 11/14 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall will air on a five-day delay on PPV in the U.S. on 11/19. The top two matches on the show at this point look to be Kevin Randleman vs. Pete Williams for the vacant UFC heavyweight championship (Bas Rutten has vacated the title to challenge for the middleweight title instead) and Pedro Rizzo, an unbeaten MMA fighter, against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Kohsaka’s schedule looks to be difficult because he’s scheduled for the RINGS tournament on 10/28, in which, provided he won his first match, would have to fight two matches on the same night, then come back and face a tough Rizzo less than three weeks later. Kohsaka felt the two matches in one night wouldn’t be as difficult as things he’s done before because he once fought Frank Shamrock for 30 minutes straight, and these matches have ten minute time limits so it’s 20 minute maximum of fighting. Two matches that have been talked about as possibilities, but are not yet signed, are Keiichiro Yamamiya of Pancrase against Vitor Belfort, and Jason DeLucia of Pancrase vs. Dan Henderson, a former Olympic wrestler who won the toughest middleweight tournament the UFC ever put on."
"Pride, which “owes” Mark Coleman another fight since he did the job for Nobuhiko Takada, has offered him a match on the 11/21 show against Ricardo Morais, a 6-8, 275 pound Brazilian, who, if Coleman is able to overcome his stamina problems that have plagued him in losses to Maurice Smith, Pete Williams and Pedro Rizzo, Coleman should be able to ground. Morais’ only Vale Tudo loss was against Grom Zaza of RINGS, a Dan Severn-level amateur wrestler who took him down and kept him there."
I know Severn's plight is complex but Grom actually wrestled at the actual Olympics; let us speak these truths plainly.
"Dream Stage Entertainment, the group that does the shoot Pride shows in Japan, is scheduled to meet with WWF officials toward the end of the month about a proposed show next year at the Tokyo Dome. If a deal goes through, Pride will become a pro wrestling promotion as opposed to a Vale Tudo promotion with some main event worked shoots to protect the top Japanese stars for business reasons as it is today. Nobuhiko Takada will be coming in for the meeting. DSE is offering the WWF $1 million base plus various percentages when it comes to merchandise and give the WWF the rights to sell a certain percentage of the tickets to the show themselves which could amount to at least a $1.5 million deal. DSE sees an opening in the pro wrestling market by using the WWF wrestlers, who are gaining a cult following in Japan from added television exposure on satellite, with All Japan and New Japan both struggling at the box office. WWF is also negotiating with Seikendo, which is Satoru Sayama’s group, which uses name wrestlers from the Battlarts promotion and will be sending Kurt Angle to the 11/5 show at Yokohama Bunka Gym. Angle probably has more potential wrestling for RINGS (if they continue doing a lot of worked matches) than for American style."
October 25, 1999:
THE KING OF KINGS DRAWS NEAR:
"RINGS officially announced the bracketing for the 16 fighters that will be in the first of the two tournaments leading up to the final eight tournament in February. The first tournament, which presumably is going to be an all-shoot tournament, which would make it one of the few (like you can count them on two fingers) true shoot tournament in pro wrestling in modern times, takes place 10/28 at Tokyo Yoyogi Gym II with first and second round matches and bracketing in this order: Jeremy Horn (UFC fighter) vs. Hiromitsu Kanehara, Gogitdze Bakouri vs. Dan Henderson (former U.S. Olympic Greco-roman wrestler), Labaznov Arhmed (Russia) vs. Lee Hasdell (RINGS regular from England), Renato Babalu (Brazil) vs. Grom Zaza (RINGS regular who is a former Olympic wrestler), Yuri Cortchikan (Russia) vs. Gilbert Yvel (Holland), Antonio Noguiera (Brazil) vs. Valentijn Overeem (Holland), Justin McCully (UFO/Los Angeles) vs. Ilioukhine Mikhail and Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Brad Kohler (from the last UFC and a pro wrestler from Minnesota). Of those I'm familiar with, which is most but not all of them, they're all in the 200-220 pound weight category except Horn, who has fought at 199 this year but was 229 at his UFC fight last month Kohler, who was 234 on the same show, and Zaza, who is a 242 pound former Olympic games wrestler. From a business perspective and from a name value and drawing card standpoint, there's nothing there. Two RINGS regulars, Wataru Sakata and Hasdell, were winners on a caged fighting show in Milton, Kings, England on 10/3 which was probably promoted by Hasdell as a RINGS show."
"Sayama has been wanting to bring in Karelin, who drew RINGS' biggest house in history (a nearly $2.5 million live gate) and by far its most mainstream press coverage in history for his pro wrestling debut against Akira Maeda in February (and a brief mention in Sports Illustrated for some time. Karelin said after his RINGS match that he wasn't interested in doing anything but training in Greco-roman wrestling until after the 2000 Olympics when he goes for his record setting (for wrestling) fourth gold medal and 13th world championship. Seikendo ran a show in Monbetsu on 10/16 featuring five boxing matches and three pro wrestling matches headlined by Sayama over Ikuto Hidaka. Sayama had his own Vader work the show forming a tag team with former RINGS and K-1 competitor Mitsuya Nagai."
OKAY THEN WE ARE READY TO BEGIN IN EARNEST and let us perhaps reflect quietly to ourselves for a moment first about how the shoot-style 90s were too good and pure to last; we have spoken before of the extent to which shoot-style is, by its very nature, transitory: whenever and wherever strong style, though worthy, is deemed insufficiently strong, and yet no one wants to actually quite fight for real, shoot-style emerges, to be supplanted in time, perhaps inevitably so, by shooting proper. Shoot-style—a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but an ephemeron—cannot and perhaps must not last (Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, within whose burning bosom we devise our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly). Goodnight to the shoot-style era.
Joined by the not-yet-competing Kiyoshi Tamura (he is in "B" Block, I guess) and faithful colour commentator Hideyuki Kumakubo at the announce table is our dear friend Kenichi Takayanagi, who shows us about the gloves that are to be used throughout in all tournament matches and indeed, if I am not mistaken, in all RINGS matches going forward:
The position of gloves in the context of kakutogi is a strange one in that they are worn in the name of sportsmanlike civility, or at least its appearance, but in truth they render things even more revolting than they would otherwise be in that they encourage hitting (a savagery) by allowing people to do much more of it than they otherwise might and also to hit much harder without fear of breaking any of the teensy, wee, and frail bones in even the biggest, dumbest hands; also they plainly limit the efficacy of græppling, our greatest mitigator against the ruin of hitting. And yet at the same time they create the appearance of sport when set against the lawless brutality of bare-knuckle no-holds-barredism, and also these ones in particular make us think about Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung at the sikk start of Enter the Dragon so this is as serious a "paradox? or dialectic?" question as any of us are likely to face in our intellectual or moral lives, probably: