May 22, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan
Ariake Coliseum drawing 6,820
WE BEGIN WITH KIYOSHI TAMURA BATHED IN ANGELIC LIGHT AND WHY SHOULDN'T WE as he reflects upon the worked loss that cost him his RINGS Heavyweight Championship (a title I reject still and forever, tournament champions only please) forced upon him following his shoot loss to Valentijn Overeem, since avenged (in a work). This is all so weird, I love RINGS so much. "Title match" intones the remarkably soothing, Astral-Stepesque voice-over to ready us for Tamura's challenge to Tariel's now-really-pretty-long title reign (nearly a year). It seems a healthy crowd on hand for it, certainly, at 有明コロシアム Ariake Koroshiamu! Kenichi Takayanagi is joined at the commentators' table both by a colour commentator (whose name I do not know, perhaps that should be my next name-quest) and Wataru Sakata, who does not appear otherwise booked on this card. Does he appear amongst those listed in RINGS Official Ranking? Let's find out together: 10. Nijman (R.I.P.) 9. Kanehara 8. Vrij 7. Kasteel 6. Yamamoto 5. Han 4. Ilioukhine 3. Tamura 2. Kohsaka 1. Yvel (that's a change!) and our champion of course remains Bitsadze Tariel.
We begin with a match officiated by Ryogaku Wada (naturally) and contested between the ever-feisty Yasuhiro Namekawa and the seemingly slightly odd Sara Umer; I say this in praise, look:
Good for him, right? The feeling that I get from the earliest instants here is one of true shoot rather than the artful disingenuousness of shoot-style; they are really lighting into each other, and are briefly stopped for, I think, perhaps a finger in the eye? Of our new friend Mr. Umer? Namekawa wins this spirited bout by katame-waza (græppling technique) in 3:09 and they embrace as sportsmen at its conclusion; great job, fellows. I can report that, in his post-fight comments, Namekawa says "ne waza" one time.
HIROMITSU KANEHARA YESSSSSSS but alas he is to face Valentijn Overeem in what I must fear is probably going to be a shoot? This could be a bad scene, and I say that out of an excess of love for Kanehara, not a deficit of it.
The opening leg-kicks from both competitors seem pretty awesome, but Overeem also throws a kick to Kanehara's head and then a brutal knee to his very face that lead a crumpled heap of Hiromitsu, at least briefly until he finds his feet and smiles like the warmest toddler through referee Wada's parental concern for him. Overeem is hurt on a takedown though: a simple low kibisu-gaeshi heel-trip, nothing particularly aggressive or anything, but Overeem's knee buckled and seems to have caused him a good deal of pain for a minute or two there. The fight was paused but not stopped? "Referee, one more try?" Overeem asks Wada, who takes it up with Maeda, who takes it up, in turn, with the white-haired fellow whose jacket is no less red than Maeda's own. And they're back! Well sure, if they're both able, why not, I guess. Kanehara takes Overeem down in much the same way and takes his back briefly before Overeem stands back up (his knee seems fine, good). There is a great feeling to this one! Oh dear that's another head-kick, and Kanehara can smile all he wants (and please do, his merry aspect brightens the day) but those are horrific. Kanehara needs a couple of rope escapes, too, so he's down by six points about four minutes in. His kickpads do still say U.W.F., though. Noooooo there's another head-kick, and Kanehara tries so hard to get back to his feet but he just totally can't, which is a mercy, really. This was a very exciting fight but I don't like to see (as you may have heard about already) knockouts or even hitting at all. Kanehara is in characteristically good cheer about it all, and asks Overeem "Is the knee okay?" in the hallway afterwards. "I twisted it on the ground," is Overeem's reply as he lives the dream of tousling Kanehara's hair.
Volk Han vs. Masayuki Naruse! Are we still going through with the thing where we say Masayuki Naruse is the RINGS Light-Heavyweight Champion, a title that's an even worse idea than the RINGS Heavyweight Championship, and that I cannot remember whether it has been defended even at all? I think we've only so much as seen the belt once, maybe twice since it was awarded (it is a handsome belt, I am forced to concede). Volk Han's theme continues to be sikk. Are you familiar with it? It is from the great Jean-Michel Jarre's "Second Rendezvous":
Perhaps this is ground we covered long ago? As far back as November of last year? It seems likely enough but I am not at all sure we did. In any event, here we! Volk Han is like a foot taller than Masayuki Naruse (not really but it is a lot [also don't worry, this can't possibly be a shoot]). Han pulls Naruse to the mat with a lovely direct-entry in to juji-gatame; if we were being exceedingly liberal we might call it a 飛び十字固め tobi-juji-gatame (flying) but I think it is best to characterize it as a hikikomi-juji-gatame (pulling). Naruse is hanging with Han's pace very well so far, which seems strange to say about the much smaller and lighter fellow but Han's pace is amazingly quick (it is both said and known). Han does his impossibly gross standing gyaku-ude-garami that is seriously going to ruin someone's shoulder before we are finished with everyone and everything here, I am certain of it, how could it not, and this time it really is pretty much a throw, one that transitions beautifully into a juji-gatame attempt, but the technique or waza is not finished. Ah, there's a real 飛び十字固め tobi-juji-gatame flying armbar, great job Masayuki Naruse! This is a very good shoot-style match. Both græpplers have so far expressed significant interest in both gyaku-ude-garami, the reverse entanglement, and juji-gatame, and I support all such investigations, obviously. Knockdown, Naruse! Sometimes when Volk Han goes down from strikes it stinks, frankly, but this looked great! As did the juji-gatame Han finished with at 7:46! Naruse says both Shooto and Pancrase in the locker-room after and I don't know why but I would totally like to; he also says pururesu and judo, I think. He says お願いします onegaishimasu for sure, too, but pretty much everybody says that all the time so I have not been noting it whenever it occurs. And we have once again reached the limit of Japanese I can pick up.
Joop Kasteel remains as big as a house and sees action on this day against Mikhail Ilioukhine, who will absolute demolish him if this is a shoot. Ilioukhine is a champion of chin-to-the-eye era Russian no-holds-barred fighting and as such should terrify us all. Any of us who have græppled have probably been chinned to the eye at one time or another, but as a finishing technique? That's ghastly. As he enters, Kenichi Takayanagi notes his recent win over Randy Couture, which we covered in these pages in some detail because of how it was one of the weirdest and best finishes ever (I hope you agree; I know I still love it). Very, very fortunately for Joop, this appears to be shoot-style, and so he may yet leave intact (nothing is certain). It's a nice little match with some knockdowns and rope-escapes and all one might gladly expect and it ends in Ilioukhine's favour on a kata-ashi-hishigi Achilles lock at 9:40.
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto is next, and should be excellent, I think, and let me tell you something else I think (if you will first indulge and then forgive me): there is no way they would let Kohsaka just go in and shoot on Yamamoto, even given Yamamoto's forever-weird (at least since the Morais affair) position, because there is no reason to think it would be anything but a totally smothering drubbing that would seriously lessen Yamamoto even further, right? And if the reason you wouldn't let Kohsaka shoot on Yamamoto is that you don't want to hurt Yamamoto's credibility, why would you work a win over him, either, especially since Kohsaka is coming of a shoot doctor-stoppage loss to Gilbert Yvel? And so we can only conclude that this bout will be shoot-style and that Yamamoto shall be its victor. And now Kohsaka will knock Yamamoto out with a knee in thirty seconds to prove I am fool. Well here we are a minute in and it hasn't happened yet! So far this is a really nice shoot-style match although it must be said (it simply must) that Yamamoto's græppling is a little light, like just a little light, but against Kohsaka it stands out because TK's is extremely not that. But this is very good and I am enjoying it! Let's treasure matches like this while we can, because they will be gone before we know it as the King of Kings era is joined in earnest.
TK hits TK Scissors into a kata-ashi-hishigi Achilles hold but does not finish with it and instead gets punch pretty hard to the body while face-down on the mat. Yamamoto has certainly never been shy about laying in his strikes, has he. I just looked it up, by the way, and fourteen people have beatn Yoshihisa Yamamoto in less time than it took Rickson Gracie to defeat him at Vale Tudo Japan, and I am not counting RINGS matches that were works but which still show up in his record for whatever reason. Fourteen people! So weird. Kohsaka has just thrown with his rolling hikikomi-gaeshi that leads to a tate-shiho-gatame pin and also, sometimes, a mae-hadaka-jime front choke, and we were working on that very technique this very evening at the club although I had us working from a Georgian (sometimes called Russian, though that is rightly fading, as we grow more distant from the time when we called all Soviets "Russian" and people from various republics probably weren't thrilled about how we did it) and finished in mune-gatame (chest-hold) instead, in the mode of Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki as illustrated (literally, as in there are drawings!) in Attacking Judo, a slim but indispensable volume he co-authored with Hidetoshi Nakanishi. THIS MATCH IS VERY GOOD the crowd notes by their sounds in response to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka's escape from juji-gatame and entry into a kata-ashi-hishigi leg-lock, to say nothing at all of his slick omote-sankaku-jime front-triangle-choke or 飛び十字固め tobi-juji-gatame entry that was so deep it seemed like he was going to have to finish it "out the backdoor" but it did not quite get that far. Knocked out at 15:41! Kohsaka sells these stoppages so well (he is better at doing this than anyone ever). Yamamoto with the shoot-style victory! It is as we predicted! Such is the depth of our wisdom that we are able to accurately predict both the result and nature of RINGS bouts contested or performed some eighteen years ago.
Only one match to go and it is our main event of Kiyoshi Tamura challenging Bitsadze Tariel for the RINGS Heavyweight Championship (I see it listed at prowrestlinghistory.com as an Openweight Title, and I suppose that is probably right) that Tamura was weirdly compelled to lose to Tariel some time ago even though Tamura was never afterwards positioned as anything but RINGS' top star throughout so what was that about in the end? It's hard to say but I am sure Akira Maeda dealt with complexities well beyond my reckoning and I do not dare presume. Because this is a title match, formalities must be observed, such as the small man with white hair's address to all assembled, and the playing of the Japanese and Georgian national anthems whilst all stand respectfully.
They have a match that is not TK/Tamura 6/27/98 or anything but it did a lot right and by that I mean it had the great Kiyoshi Tamura attempt no small number of shime- (strangulation) and kansentsu- (bone-locking) waza (techniques) only for the enormous and also just super long Bitsadze Tariel grasp a rope to avoid them; also there were several karate kicks. I liked this one! In the end, Tamura secured the naked strangle of 裸絞 hadaka-jime at 9:19 to become, once more, RINGS Openweight (I should probably have been saying that all along, forgive me) Champion, with all due ceremony observed.
A really good show! This was excellent!
WHAT DID DAVE MELTZER SAY:
May 24, 1999:
"This week's Weekly Gong had a two-page spread on major shoot matches that are expected to take place over the next few months, listing Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto in RINGS, Yuki Kondo vs. Kiuma Kunioku in Pancrase and an interesting Gilbert Yvel vs. Semmy Schiltt match on a RINGS Free fight gala (which have been all-shoot shows) show in Amsterdam, Holland on 6/20 which is a rare Rings vs. Pancrase match on foreign soil. Both are great strikers although it's hard to beat Schiltt's height advantage being 6-11. Yvel is a really wild entertaining fighter who opened a lot of eyes beating Tsuyoshi Kohsaka on 4/23 in Osaka."
And in Battlarts news, but also in Sammy (Masami) Soranaka news, which is to say UWF news, and also Fire Pro news, in that Mr. Soranaka is the default referee for "stoic style" shoot or shoot-style matches in at least several installments of that august series, and also, in STOP THE MATSUNAGA news avant-la-lettre:
"There will be a Sammy Soranaka (Masami Soranaka) Memorial show on 6/9 at Korakuen Hall. Soranaka was one of the original bookers of the UWF promotion when it was really hot and was the son-in-law of Karl Gotch, who died seven years ago of cancer. It'll mainly be Battlarts wrestlers appearing plus Satoru Sayama
Speaking of Battlarts, its 5/14 show at Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center drew only about 1,000 fans for the Mitsuhiro Matsunaga vs. Yuki Ishikawa bed of nails death match main event. Ishikawa, a big Antonio Inoki fan, who actually patterns his big shows around symbolism from his own childhood watching New Japan in the late 70s (his Sumo Hall show was headlined by himself, using moves Inoki used, beating Inoki's old-rival Bob Backlund, using old-style Backlund moves plus bringing back the Road Warriors, which actually was a successful event). This show was based around a bed of nails match with Inoki vs. Umanosuke Ueda at Budokan Hall on February 8, 1978, where neither wrestler took the bump into the bed of nails (in later years, other promotions have done that gimmick and wrestlers like Matsunaga have taken the bump) but the finish was Inoki breaking Ueda's arm in storyline with an armbar and he was out of action for a long time so fans got storyline destruction so they were happy at the time that something extra was delivered. The finish was a throwing in the towel, so in this match, Matsunaga used all kinds of gimmicks including a fireball before Alexander Otsuka threw in the towel for Ishikawa. Daisuke Ikeda beat Backlund when the ref stopped the match as Backlund suffered an apparent broken nose. Otsuka & Mohammed Yone beat Hayabusa & Tetsuhiro Kuroda in 21:13 while Yuhi Sano of Takada's team captured the FMW jr. title from Minoru Tanaka. Sano, who had spent the last several years doing shoot style with UWFI and Kingdom, and then actual shoots with Pride and Pancrase (where he'd taken savage beatings as that just wasn't his thing), did pro wrestling moves like topes, power bombs and using a dragon suplex to win the match. After the match Sano talked about wanting to put his title up against Jushin Liger, since Liger vs. Sano matches from 1990 are now legendary. The other gimmick was Masao Orihara & Takeshi Ono coming out with Strong Machine masks. They originally were trying to get Ichimasa Wakamatsu, the former manager of the Strong Machines in New Japan, and who is now running for public office, was too busy campaigning and couldn't do the show. Orihara & Ono came out wearing the masks, then took them off and wrestled under their own names."
That was probably the best thing I have ever read.
Mitsuya Nagai update:
"K-1 is running three major events next month. 6/5 in Zurich, Switzerland has Andy Hug vs. Stefan Leko for Hug's WKA Muay Thai world title and Mike Bernardo vs. Andrew Tomson. 6/6 in Sapporo is basically a "B" quality show with Peter Aerts vs. Maurice Smith, Jim Mullen (who did UFC a few years back and looked really out of shape in his K-1 debut earlier this year against Aerts) vs. Masaaki Satake, Duncan James (who I just saw fight over the weekend in San Jose and he got hammered by Jerome Turcan) vs. Nobuaki Kakuta (the powerful K-1 ref), Tom Glanville (who did a few EFC shows) vs. Masaaki Miyamoto and two other matches, one of which features former RINGS wrestler Mitsuya Nagai. The 6/20 K-1 Braves in Fukuoka with Bernardo vs. Sam Greco as the main event in their first ever meeting plus Ernesto Hoost, Sefo and Matt Skelton will appear."
May 31, 1999:
"5/22 Tokyo Ariake Coliseum (RINGS - 6,820): Yasuhito Namekawa b ?, Valentijn Overeem b Hiromitsu Kanehara, Volk Han b Masayuki Naruse, Ilioukhine Mikhail b Joop Kasteel, Yoshihisa Yamamoto b Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, RINGS world hwt title: Kiyoshi Tamura b Bitzsade Tariel to win title. Kiyoshi Tamura won the RINGS world title from Bitzsade Tariel on 5/22 in Tokyo with a choke in 9:19 in what was almost surely a worked match. Also in what is almost surely, because of the angle that went down, a worked match, Yoshihisa Yamamoto beat Tsuyoshi Kohsaka via knockout in 15:41. Yamamoto was given the win because RINGS and UFO, both struggling to draw, are going to work together starting 8/19 in Yokohama where Naoya Ogawa will face Yamamoto as a probable build-up for matches against Kohsaka and Tamura. Ogawa against guys from RINGS should do some business [it would with me! but alas; alas --ed.]. Due to problems finishing up on getting the visa, Ogawa's NWA tour didn't start this past week but will start 5/28 in North Richland Hills, TX against Dan Severn."
June 7, 1999:
"There are a lot of negotiations ongoing between RINGS, Pride and UFO. At this point UFO is negotiating with both groups but nothing is going on with RINGS and Pride. Antonio Inoki and Akira Maeda were scheduled to have a meeting this week to finalize the deal for Naoya Ogawa vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto on a RINGS show. RINGS will also send Dick Vrij and Hanse Nyman to be foreign talent for the 6/29 UFO show in Osaka. It isn't known who Ogawa would face in the main event but Dan Severn vs. Kazunari Murakami looks like a likely match. Inoki is trying to put together a major show for later this year with both RINGS and Pride's cooperation. Gerard Gordeau will apparently promote a UFO show in The Netherlands."
"Willie Peeters of RINGS fame had one of the bloodiest fights in recent MMA history in Brazil last week against Antonio Bigu Ribiero. Peeters, who was covered in blood, wound up getting disqualified for biting and they had to be pulled apart after the match."
June 21, 1999:
"JAPANESE TELEVISION RUNDOWN
5/22 RINGS: 1. Yasuhito Namekawa beat Sara Umer in 3:09 of a shoot match. Umer was short and didn't have much of a physique as he weighed 189 with thin arms and legs and a nice sized belly. Talk about not telling the book from the cover and he was aggressive and gave Namekawa trouble standing with his aggressiveness. They were popping each other standing. Umer was cut under his left eye in the first minute. Umer was hitting Namekawa more than he liked so Namekawa shot and Umer blocked it at first. Finally Namekawa got him on the ground and got his back for the choke. A surprisingly real good match; 2. Valentijn Overeem beat Hiromitsu Kanehara in another shoot match. Overeem nailed Kanehara with kicks and knees and put him down in 39 seconds. He went for the kill but Kanehara managed to take him down and basically dislocate his knee but with Overeem on the ropes he got the break. Overeem screamed out and it looked like the match was over, but they managed to put it back in place, and after him squatting on it, begged to continue. I think the doctor had decided to stop the match and Overeem had to talk him out of it saying his knee was okay. Akira Maeda seemed to overrule the first stoppage and order the match to continue. The match was tremendous. Overeem nearly ended it with a high kick that barely missed. Overeem knocked the wind out of Kanehara with a body kick but Kanehara had enough presence to take him down but Overeem was so quick he got a front guillotine for another rope break. Overeem got a knee to the chin, but Kanehara took him down again and again got guillotined. By this point it was 6-0 with only 3:50 gone. Overeem then knocked Kanehara out with a high kick to the back of the head; 3. Volk Han beat Masayuki Naruse in a worked match in 7:46 by reversing a guillotine into an armbar for the tap out. Naruse was leading 4-2 at the time. Decent match with the finish real good. The highlight was Naruse knocking Han down with a hard slap which looked great live, although the replay clearly showed Han overselling it. **1/4; 4. Ilioukhine Mikhail beat Joop Kasteel with an ankle lock in 9:40. This was a worked match but because of the size difference, it looked pretty bad as Kasteel is probably 11 inches taller and 63 pounds heavier. Mikhail scored the first three pounds on rope breaks. Kasteel then got two knockdowns to go ahead 4-3. They were trading points before the finish. *1/4; 5. Yoshihisa Yamamoto beat Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in a worked match in 15:41. Yamamoto needed the win since they are building him up for the match in August against Naoya Ogawa [every time this comes up I get sad!--ed.] . Even though it was worked, Kohsaka looked off just a bit even though this ended up being the best match on the card. Kohsaka took real poundings in losing to Bas Rutten and Gilbert Yvel in his last two shoot matches. Really good matwork. Kohsaka scored the first point at 6:40 with an ankle lock but Yamamoto rolled to the ropes. Kohsaka legitimately tired out and when they had the great slugfest spot, you could see Kohsaka tiring so his offense didn't look as good as it should have. Toward the end Kohsaka got a flying armbar, and later Yamamoto got an armbar and Kohsaka did a great reversal into a choke. Finally Yamamoto knocked him out with a series of open hands. ***1/2; 6. Kiyoshi Tamura won the RINGS world heavyweight title from Bitzsade Tariel in a worked match. Tariel weighed 326 and Tamura weighed 193 so you can imagine how that looked. Still, it was a pretty good match. It wasn't as good as their first match in 1997 which was a classic, but was a ton better than their second match in 1998. They were trading points with the idea that bigger Tariel was killing him standing but Tamura was quicker once they got on the ground. Tariel scored a knockdown but Tamura came back with two chokes so they were tied 2-2 at 5:45. Tamura got another rope break after a takedown before finally getting the choke in the middle in 9:19. ***1/4"
Onwards! Let us see if we can conclude our efforts in this month of June! Or, failing that, quite early in July! My best to you and also my thanks! Let us speak of RINGS more as soon as tomorrow.