Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA

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Jul 27, 2020
Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.18 "Pistols at Dawn"

At one point in Dostoevsky’s excellent short story, White Nights, the nameless narrator muses, “But how can you live and have no story to tell?” This question is deceptive in its simplicity, as we the more we ponder how we got to where we are today, the more we realize that we must continue to mine the past in a quest to find our shared history. So, we return to the embryonic stages of modern MMA, seeking answers, hoping to one day alleviate our existential quandaries. In this case, we have arrived at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, an indoor sporting area that goes back to the year 1952, and is perhaps best known for their annual sumo tournaments, though they do hold numerous pro wrestling events, and even hosted Rizin as recently as 2019.

It is 11-7-91 and the UWFI is flirting with disaster once more, as they insist on giving Bob Backlund a chance towards redemption, putting him the in main event with Nobuhiko Takada. It wasn’t quite two months back that we saw one of the most brazenly awful matches thus far, when Takada/Backlund didn’t even last a full two minutes before Backlund collapsed in agony, feigning an injury to one of Takada’s kicks. This was such a disappointment, that they somehow managed to inspire the usually reserved Japanese audience to the point of a near-riot with its ineptitude. Thankfully, this debacle set the bar so low that anything they do this time around is bound to be a stark improvement.

We are greeted to an opening montage of Takada solemnly preparing for his bout with Backlund, as a song that I can best describe as what would happen if Vangelis had collaborated with Kraftwerk, for the Chariots of Fire soundtrack. This effort may have been effective had they not completely squandered any good will, or possible heat, that a matchup like this could have generated with their farce of a previous outing. After a 14min, strobe-light laden introduction, we are ready to begin our first bout, between the seemingly unstoppable Makato Ohe, vs David Cummings. This is shaping up to be a possible treat, as Cummings is the first opponent that Ohe will face in the UWFI that is already an established veteran of the sport, having started his career around 1984, and over the course of 22 years, won titles in 8 different organizations, including the ISKA, WKA, and KICK. His 7 years of professional experience is sure to be helpful here, but I’m still concerned about his chances, as most of that experience is presumably in the shiny-pants American style, where kicks below the waist are forbidden, and must only be spoken of in hushed tones.

Multiple Time Kickboxing Champion: David “Thunder” Cummings

Cummings doesn’t waste any time going right at Ohe, and is predictably met with some low kicks, but they don’t seem to phase him. Cummings backs up a bit from his initial assault, and tries a low kick of his own, but it is easily checked by Ohe, who is sure to have much more experience in such matters. We are seeing a good contrast in styles as Cummings is showing some good boxing combinations, and fast footwork, whereas Ohe is employing the traditional Thai Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robot approach. Cummings is doing a good job dancing around Ohe while getting some punches in from a distance but can’t seem to stop any of Ohe’s kicks. This goes on for a few more moments, when out of nowhere Cummings hits a beautiful jumping/spinning back kick that floors Ohe and knocks him out completely. Cummings obtains victory over the so-far undefeated Ohe, in only 1:25 into round 1.

Score this as a great win for American kickboxing. This took place in a brief era before the rise of K1 (89-93) where we were just starting to see more of the American Karate styled kickboxers fight under Japanese/Thai rules, and most of the time it would consist of the American fighters’ style looking superior, until they were just demolished by the inability to deal with low thigh-kicks. Here Cummings seemed to face the same problem, but it didn’t matter, as he still had Ohe’s number, and pulled off a great victory. Good (albeit short) fight.

ML: Cummings isn't the usual greenhorn UWF-I feeds to Ohe, he began training in karate & boxing at age 4 and wrestling at age 5, wrestling in college even though it was secondary to his striking ambitions. Despite being an American fighter in the dark kicks above the waist era who has an extensive background in the limited art of boxing (almost 90 amateur fights), he specialized in muay thai, where he relied heavily on knees and elbows. He wound up winning something like 13 "world" titles and being inducted into the WKA Hall of Fame. To me, this whole fight was just him setting Ohe up. He knew Ohe was going to be focusing on his own offense, and trying to work him over with low kicks, so Cummings focused on using his speed and footwork to create distance then score from the outside while forcing Ohe to chase him, thus pulling him into his strikes. The first time Cummings landed the jump spinning heel kick, Ohe was stationary, but because Ohe was so concerned with closing the distance and getting his own shots in, Cummings was soon able to time Ohe coming in, and the added momentum on the jump spinning heel kick put his lights out. Cummings was really impressive here. I mean, Miyato doesn't land 2 of these kicks from a standing position in a minute and a half, and that's with the opponent just letting him do it.

The Kick That Ended Everything…

So, despite my many lamentations and wailings throughout the night, the UWFI continues to be a harsh mistress and insists on giving us more tag-team matches, if for no other reason then to give their roster something to do. In this case it’s Kiyoshi Tamura/Yuko Miyato vs Tom Burton and Yoji Anjo, but at least this is off to a fast clip as Anjo and Miyato immediately go at each other with a sense of urgency, with Anjo giving Miyato plenty of kicks, and even a nice Ippon-seoi-nage (or one arm shoulder throw, if you prefer).

Not long afterwards, Tamura was tagged in, and we got to see further evidence why he was a once in a lifetime kind of talent. Shortly after getting in the ring, Tamura wasted no time in engaging Anjo, and in one breathtaking display, shot a beautiful low single-leg takedown (the kind that Sakuraba later became famous for) and was able to convert that attempt into almost taking Anjo’s back with a rear naked choke, with such a grace and fluidity, that has to be seen to be believed. The rest of this match was simply off the charts in terms of entertainment value. Everyone did a great job, and even thought I’m tempted to complain that there still isn’t much of a point to a tag match (within a promotion that doesn’t so much as have any titles to vie for) such objections would ring hallow, as all the performers here gave a 100% intensity, that was riveting from start to finish, and I suspect that this will be the match of the night.

ML: Tamura is sometimes criticized in his younger years for being too showy, but I'd counter that his flashy aspects are actually some of the most realistic moments in his matches because the scrambles are so fast and explosive that both fighters wind up mostly just reacting to one another. Take, for instance, the amazing opening sequence Tamura does with Anjo where Tamura tries to take Anjo down in stages, first getting the clinch but with overhooks, so he has to switch to an underhook, but that high bodylock takedown would now be too predictable, so he drops down after the leg instead. Meanwhile, Anjo keeps pivoting and scrambling, and tries to counter with a knee to the face, but Tamura avoids by dropping down to the right, and continuing to scramble until he gets behind Anjo and sweeps his leg with his arm. Other than that amazing sequence, the match has a lot of feeling out and thwarting one another early, establishing the strategies that Anjo & Miyato want to strike, while Tamura & Burton want to grapple. The action picks up during Tamura & Anjo's 2nd encounter, when Anjo gets a knockdown with a high kick and Tamura gets trapped in the corner because he's still not recovered when the ref restarts, with Anjo, who already kicked him in the balls, getting a somewhat dishonorable knockdown with a knee in the corner rather than respecting the ropes. A fired up Tamura answers with this neat hybrid between a swinging neckbreaker and a snap suplex and starts stomping Anjo's face then soccer kicks him until Anjo escapes to the floor. Even though the tag match format negates some of the intensity, urgency, and believability, Anjo's shenanigans and Tamura's fire help negate that, and this wound up being quite the heated affair. One problem with the UWF-I is in these matches where they try to start off showing it's difficult to make things work, they tend to then go too far in the other direction trying to be super entertaining in the later stages to make up for it, and certainly by shoot style standards they were kind of spamming throws in the 2nd half. Tamura vs. Anjo was great, and the other stuff was fine to good, with the interrupted flow of the tag format being more of a liability than the other guys not being Tamura. Burton doesn't have the speed or body control to work the sort of match these guys were really trying to do, but he stepped up his game as much as he was capable of. His peak level is still nowhere near that of the others, but I prefer to credit him for probably reaching it here, whereas Miyato is actually the one who could have delivered a little more than he did. The finish was pretty lame with Anjo countering Tamura's rear naked choke attempt into a sort of reverse wakigatame where Tamura was lying on his back. This might put a little pressure on the wrist or elbow, I guess, but is even that much less likely than the regular cornball version to either be a maintainable position or actually put enough pressure on an improperly isolated joint while one has the catch to force a submission. Nonetheless, while no one is going to confuse this with Ozaki & Kansai vs. Yamada & Toyota 11/26/92 or Kawada & Taue vs. Misawa & Akiyama 12/6/96, this was by far the best shoot style tag we've seen in their brief history. ***1/2

Next up, it’s Tatsuyo Nakano’s turn to be thrown into the giant woodchipper that is Gary Albright. Before the match starts there is a lot of mean mugging and posturing from both men, but I’m sure that even Nakano, as big as he is, fears that he could be devoured much like the citizens of Arborville California were in 1988, when a mysterious blob ran amok, killing a confirmed 36 people. The fight starts and Nakano is able to provide one of the first moments of successful offense against Albright as he was able to secure a takedown from one of Albright’s kicks, but it was for naught, as Albright quickly gained side mount, and proceeded to lay on Nakano while looking for a pitiful hammerlock attempt.

The inactivity continues, until Nakano is at last able to break free from the weight of the behemoth but is quickly punished for this by a mighty slam where Albright simply chucks him over his head. As impressive as this looked, it didn’t seem to phase Nakano too much, as he simply got right back up, only to have Albright take him right back down again. A funny sequence happens next, when Albright starts palm striking Nakano in the back of the neck, and a voice from his corner (manager perhaps?) starts yelling, “Hit him a couple more times! Hit him a couple in the face Gary!” and then a little later he even offered a “Do a piledriver!” Apparently, no one notified Albright’s entourage that this was a work. At the 5min mark Nakano decides he has to go after this monstrosity with some gusto, but for all his rage, he was met with a suplex from hell, and was put out of his misery only a min or so later.

I won’t lie, I enjoyed this way more than I probably should have. Yes, it was all pro wrestling theatrics, but so far it’s working very well, as at a tad under 7mins this was the right length to be entertaining without wearing out its welcome, and they have given Albright a good gimmick with strong booking to make it work. I don’t know how long this act will stay fresh, but for now it gets a thumbs up from me.

ML: Well, this was as lifeless and uninspired as an Arthur Penn flick. They laid on the mat, barely moving and not seeming to put any actual energy or exertion into holding an arm or the neck for the majority of the match. Albright threw one suplex 5+ minutes in, but basically nothing happened until the final seconds where he landed an elbow and a belly to belly suplex to set up an improperly applied rear naked choke win. The only positive is Albright was less into his pro wrestling snarls today.

The Suplex From Hell….

Speaking of stories to tell, we would be remiss if we didn’t take some time out for a moment of silence for Kazuo Yamazaki, as his story would surely be in the vein of a Shakespearean tragedy if made into a major motion picture, as his last chance of being a preeminent player in the wrestling world came to an end at the prior UWFI event, due to a having to job to Takada in what was a glorified squash match, due to the bizarre insistence that Takada must be shown as an unstoppable force. Yes, he will surely be around for a few more years to come, but any real chance for him to rise to the top where his talent should have surely taken him, is now forever in the rearview mirror. Thankfully, we at Kakutogi HQ will continue to document his greatness for future generations to witness, and if their prior match is any indication, we are sure to have a treat on our hands here, as a rematch between him and Billy Scott is about to take place.

Things start off slow as both feel each other out with low single leg attempts, and some cautions circling, until Yamazaki draws first blood with a nice low kick to Scott’s thigh. Scott was then able to secure some nice takedowns, including a low single leg, and a fireman’s carry, but Yamazaki was simply too crafty to be kept on the ground for long. Shortly after this, Yamazaki scores two knockdowns on Scott in rapid succession, with some beautifully timed kicks, one high, and one to the midsection. The next few mins show us that Scott is very solid with his takedowns, but is lacking some finesse in the submission department, as the only ones he seems to know are variations of an ankle lock or Boston crab. There is one amazing sequence where Yamazaki counters a belly-to-back suplex by grabbing Scott’s right leg, while Scott was about to execute the throw, and turned it into a kneebar attempt. The match continues to be hard-fought by both men, until Yamazaki wins at the 20:17 min mark via kneebar.

I would rate this a solid 3 out of 4 stars, as Scott is excellent for a rookie, but needs more depth in his submission and striking games before he can really be a threat to someone as skilled and versatile as Yamazaki. Due to the skill disparity Yamazaki had to carry Scott for a lot of this match, which starts to become more obvious in a 20min format, but Scott has only upwards to go, and is one of the best gaijins that we have covered so far, which is all the more remarkable considering this is only his 4th match.

ML: I wanted to like this more than I did. While Scott is a great rookie, going 20 minutes already is a tough ask. Their first match was better largely because 12:39 is a more reasonable length for a wrestler who is learning. This was good when they stuck to the obvious story of Yamazaki's kicks vs. Scott's wrestling, but mostly they defaulted to a battle of leg locks, seemingly because Scott was still learning the submission game. The finishing sequence was tremendous with Scott trying to grab Yamazaki to stop his kicks, but Yamazaki doing a go behind into a German suplex attempt. Scott resisted on the way up, so Yamazaki let him down into a schoolboy then dropped into the motif Achilles' tendon hold, but Scott stood right out and tried to go into a half crab. Yamazaki tripped him up though, and finally got the knee bar in solid for the win. The rest of the matwork was kind of kind of slow, with Scott not being at his best and Yamazaki not being at his most motivated coming off the crushing debacle last show.

Now, the finale. A rematch that absolutely no one was asking for, as the last one was such a fiasco that Sapporo almost had a riot on their hands, but that isn’t going to stop Takada and Co. from trying again. The referee spends what feels like ten mins going over the rules with Backlund, who somehow managed to run the gauntlet of human facial expressions in that span of time, and we are off. Backlund’s goofy mannerisms aside, this is already better than the last outing (though that’s not saying much) as they spend some time feeling each other out, and Takada shows some impressive sprawling technique as he stuffs one of Backlund’s double leg attempts by putting his right arm around Backlund’s neck, while putting his right knee on the ground and the same time, and was really shifting his bodyweight into Backlund’s neck, preventing his ability to torque, and effectively nullified the takedown.

The rest of the match was mostly both men jockeying for a toehold or ankle lock with a decent crescendo towards the last couple of mins. This match was mostly free from strikes, until the end, which was a positive, as this allowed a format for Backlund to come off credibly, if a bit outdated. Backlund’s strikes towards the end looked hokey, but he did hit an excellent double underhook suplex that sent Takada flying across the ring. The match ended with Backlund hitting a German suplex, that Takada shrugged off, and responded with an keylock for the win.

This was ok and had this been the original match between the two, I don’t think too many would have complained. Backlund has the amateur wrestling chops to look decent in the grappling portions, but there is only so much you can do with him, as his lack of submission, and striking knowledge, plus age, prevents him from being much more than an occasional special attraction. Still, taking away their first match out of the equation, this was a fine, if forgettable main event.

ML: Backlund is one of those guys I really want to like because his skills are based in realism, but can't because his mannerisms are based in Doinkism, which totally negates that. When you are just acting like a WWE clown, you are also wrestling like one whether you are doing a perfect double leg or just poking the opponent in the eyes Three Stooges style. The first Takada/Backlund from 12/22/88 was the first worked shoot I saw, it was one of those matches hyped as so great it must be seen to be believed, that I ended up with because someone tossed it at the end of kind of an Ultimo Dragon tape. It didn't really capture my imagination at the time, still just feeling more like spectacle, and in that case I'd rather see more of Ultimo doing backflips. I've liked it more and less at times since then, but nonetheless, it's by far their most famous match. It's definitely the best for the crowd, which I could care less about, but it's an electric atmosphere partially because the outcome is in doubt with Takada having lost to Maeda & Yamazaki earlier that year before coming back & beating Maeda on the previous show to finally get a big win in UWF. Though the first half had a lot of dead spots, there's some things to enjoy in the match as they did a lot in the 2nd half to make up for it, with Backlund's bloody nose & Takada's bruised face giving it some extra aura. I just never believed in the match for a moment, as it was the same old crap with Backlund just standing there letting Takada do his bag kicking routine on him. I'm going to take the unpopular opinion and say that this third meeting is actually their best match because they shockingly made an effort to avoid what the opponent was trying to do. One of the biggest problems with Takada is it never feels like he works for anything, but that's not the case here, there's movement, there's countering, there's even some craftiness. While there are less kicks, they are more exciting and feel more earned. There are still a lot of issues here, but comparatively speaking, there's a lot more effort put into making an attack good here, which allows the match to rise to the level of being interesting even though it's a bit slow and dry compared to Takada's most famous flashy firework showcases. The usual lazy Takada lockup instead sees Takada utilizing it to land fast body punches that open up the backdrop that he'd normally just go into naked. This is the first match we've reviewed that Takada actually seemed motivated for, and Backlund was also easier to take, as he toned down the goofiness quite a bit. The finish was even pretty good with Backlund hitting his famous doublearm suplex then barely getting Takada over for the resisted UWF style German suplex only to have Takada swing into the chickenwing armlock upon impact for the submission. ***

Overall, this was a very solid event, and to my surprise the tag-match was the blockbuster of the evening. In an MMA sense, the only thing that really advanced here, was Billy Scott gaining some more valuable experience, but they continue to provide the goods from an entertainment standpoint.

ML: This felt like a big show, with even Takada actually, finally showing up. Only Albright's match was a waste of time, but then it was really designed that way. Scott, though obviously losing again, showed enough to earn a martial arts match against the current IBF Cruiserweight boxing champion James Warring on the next show. Meanwhile, Mr. Bob showed enough that he was soon Repo'd to go back to annoying the hell out of me with his silly mannerisms in the circus, taking on the Repo Man who gives Alex Cox & all of pro wrestling a bad name.

This event can be found in full over at www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad

*In other news*

Lou Negila recently hosted a kickboxing event at the Christopher’s Supper Club in Brooklyn NY. This night had a capacity crowd as they featured several amateur bouts, and three professional fights under the KICK (Karate International Council of Kickboxing) banner. KICK champion Dennis Schuette lost his title to challenger Henry Nieves, who was able to win by decision after a strong early lead. This now places Nieves record to 15-2-2 and drops Schuette’s record to 13-3. Also, Jimmy Fusaro was able to defeat Mike Sexton and Dimitry Andreyev knocked out Al Jordan in the first round.

Jimmy Fusaro (right) Vs Mike Sexton

We are happy to report that after days of scouring the black markets of Moldova, we were finally able to hit paydirt in one of Chișinău’s back alleys and were able to procure some rare Shooto artifacts. One of them was an original VHS master copy of the 3-17-90 event, and we are excited to be able to report its contents to our readership.

We popped in the cassette to be greeted by this wonderfully soothing graphics title that was probably created with Abacus Software’s wonderful program: Screen Graphics 64, available at fine Commodore retailers everywhere.

The event took place in the Korakuen Hall, and we are greeted to Satoru Sayama coming into the ring to give a demonstration while they suit up one of his subjects in an apocalyptic space mask and bullet proof vest. After several minutes of giving a general breakdown of this new sport of shooting, our first official match begins between Manabu Yamada and Takashi Tojo, and this will be the debut for both men. If you haven't already, you should go check out our coverage of the 7-7-90 Shooto event elsewhere on this Patreon where we go into a lot more detail about Yamada's career.

Right away we can see that Yamada appears to be in fantastic shape, although he doesn't seem to be as carrying as much muscle mass as he would in later years. Yamada starts the fight by throwing some kick kicks, but is too aggressive and presses himself right into a beautiful o-goshi hip toss. They both get back up, and Yamada hits Tojo with a stiff jab, and follows up with a tasty koshi-guruma (hip-wheel) of his own. Tojo tries to get back up, when Yamada puts him in a fireman's carry (or kata-guruma in judo parlance) but instead of throwing him, he jumps backwords and slams his Tojo from this position. It looked great, but only served to make Yamada lose his position and would have probably been a major setback for Yamada if the refs in these days weren't so quick to call for a restart after ne waza exchanges.

After eating a harsh spinning backfist from Yamada, Tojo gets the fight back to the ground, and secures an armbar, but Yamada was able to lift him up and spike him on his head to counter out of it. Round 2 shows both fighters landing some nice shots against each other, and at one point Tojo almost locked in a crucifix submission which was very impressive. Round 3 saw Yamada unload some nasty strikes to Tojo, but would always be taken down to the ground and neutralized before he could finish the job. This fight was awarded a draw by the judges, and that is perhaps the fairest decision that could be rendered here. Yamada got more strikes in, but he was never able to get more then a few going before being threatened by a submission from Tojo. Great debut from both fighters, and Yamada is showing, even at this early stage, that he is a powerful and dangerous striker.

ML: We can quickly see the difference here between the wrestling & BJJ based MMA that would dominate the mid 90's, and this prototype version that was based more around judo & karate, in other words the combat disciplines that were prevalent in Japan at the time. This style was fairly entertaining because they would strike their way in then try to throw each other off the lock up, and if that worked, dive after submissions on the ground because they didn't understand/care about controlling. Yamada gave up the reach here, and had even less wrestling, so while he landed a big shot now and then, what tended to happen is he'd miss a big shot to get inside, and then if one of them didn't hit a throw, Tojo would weigh down on Yamada, especially if Yamada tried a double leg, and wind up coming down on top, with Yamada on his knees. This didn't stall the fight out though because, like I said, neither cared about control. I would have given Tojo the decision based on the way we look at things now, but these early Shooto matches tended to be ruled draws if it wasn't decisive, which this wasn't. Overall, an entertaining match with some nice throws.

Next up is Noboru Asahi vs Tomoyuki Saito. The fight starts with Asahi briefly looking like a proto-Imanari as he goes right to his back looking for a leglock, but is quickly stood back up by the ref. He then shoots in with a sloppy single-leg and finds himself in Saito's guard, and you could see Saito briefly go for a Kimura from the guard before changing his mind and deciding to attack the leg of Asahi. Now more than ever, I'm convinced that this totally blows the modern narrative out of the water that states that only in recent times has MMA been in a well-rounded advanced stage. This is 1990, several years before the first UFC, and before Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was known in Japan, and we see well-rounded fighters with proper conditioning utilizing active aggressive guards, sharp submissions, and strong judo. The only thing lacking is the positional mentality of a BJJ player, but arguably your average guy in Shooto at this stage was way more well rounded then your average BJJ blackbelt, even though that may not have translated into a win between the two necessarily.

Most of round 1 saw Asahi being a one-trick pony, as he would constantly shoot in with a low single leg, and then try and go for a leg attack off of it. He finally mixed it up, and after another low single, he baited Saito with a leglock, but quickly transitioned to an armbar, and caught Saito completely unaware. Slick tactic from Asahi.

ML: Asahi has a much higher level of amateur wrestling than we've been seeing from the Japanese fighters in the worked shoot leagues. What's exciting about him though is he isn't sticking to the textbook. There's a great sequence early where Saito defends his initial single leg, so instead of adjusting for the 2nd, 3rd, etc. takedown attempt as you'd see now from fighters whose goal is simply to blanket the opponent, he instead gets creative and gets off to the side, isolating an arm and trying to step essentially backwards over Saito's head to take him down into an armbar. This fails, but as soon as Asahi hits the canvas, he switches to a leg lock. This fight was one-sided, but Asahi's persistence and perhaps innovation in setting up the arm & leg submissions was impressive.

Now we have Kenichi Tanaka vs. Tetsuo Yokoyama. This will be Yokoyama's third bout as he lost to Kazuhiro Sakamoto at the 5-18-89 event and drew with Tomoyuki Saito on 7-29-89. Yokoyama threw a kick and was quickly taken down by Tanaka who immediately pulled off a nice reverse Achilles hold for the win.

Next is Kazuhiro Kusayanagi vs. Kaoru Todori. Sadly, Kusayanagi is probably best known, if known at all, for his losing effort at Vale Tudo Japan 94' to kickboxer David Levicki. This would be his third match in Shooto, and he is coming in to this with a 1-1-0 record. Kusayanagi quickly took Todori down and although he fought the attempt valiantly, he eventually succumbed to an armbar, and was never seen in an MMA fight ever again.

Lastly, we have Kenji Kawaguchi vs. Yasuto Sekishima. It's mind boggling to think that this will be Kawaguchi's 5th professional MMA fight, and its only March of 1990. Kawaguchi had a long career, mostly spanning from 89-99, and was undefeated for the first 5 years of competition. It's also interesting to note that in 1990 Shooto had a similar setup to modern MMA in that normal fights were 3 rounds and main event, or championship fights were 5 rounds (although I believe these were 3 minute rounds vs the current standard of 5 minutes).

Strangely this fight was a somewhat muted affair. Both fighters played it very cautious throughout, and while Sekishima was able to get several throws off of a clinch, he could never really capitalize on them, and they usually only served as a way for Kawaguchi to lay on him, for a few moments waiting for the ref to restart them. One of the few early Shooto fights to be a bit of a dud. The fight resulted in a 5 round draw.

ML: I thought this fight was pretty good. The level here was so much higher that it was less purely exciting, but it's more interesting when the fighters really have to work to get things off, use their fakes and time things well. If there was a downfall of the match it's that Kawaguchi was the better striker, but Sekishima didn't seem to have many options in the takedown department. Sekishima knew he had to rush Kawaguchi and try to make something happen to avoid getting picked apart by low kicks that would make it that much harder for him to charging in, but that put him in the position of repeatedly trying for a belly to belly suplex. Granted, this was a lot more exciting than a single or double leg, but mostly just backfired on Sekishima, especially once Kawaguchi knew it was coming, causing Kawaguchi to come down on top. Kawaguchi wasn't really looking to exploit the position because he wanted to beat up Sekishima's lead leg some more, so the fight would quickly be restarted. Generally it was Sekishima trying to make things happen because he respected the danger of Kawaguchi's standup, but even with Sekishima doing his best to avoid exchanging, Kawaguchi had a knockdown in the 3rd. I would have given every round to Kawaguchi, but Sekishima had a lot of heart & determination.

While this won't be confused as a legendary event anytime soon, it did give us a legitimately good fight with Manabu Yamada, and it also served as a fascinating look at early MMA. It's incredible to see how much, and yet, how very little it has really changed over the last 31 years. If anything, Shooto was always on a higher plane of existence for roughly the first decade of MMA's existence, while the rest of the world played catch up, but because most of their great fighters were from lighter weight classes, and not having anyone with direct ties to professional wrestling outside of Sayama, these factors surely hurt its ability to really stand out and be given the credit it deserved.

ML: The important takeaway from this show is that it was light years ahead of UFC 1, and hell probably UFC 10, despite taking place more than 3 years earlier. There were a couple quick fights, but I still think it's fair to conclude that everyone had trained a good amount both in standing and on the ground. We saw striking, throws, takedowns, submissions, maybe not from everyone, but I firmly believe that's because there was varying skill level not so much varying skill comprehension. I didn't see one fighter here who was a Neanderthal completely out of shape barroom brawler like Tank Abbott. There was no one who was just a boxer like One Glove Jimmerson, just a sumo wrestler like Teila Tuli, just a cheater like Gerard Gordeau... These guys all came from gyms that understood training their entire concept of the game, and yes, that really didn't include BJJ, but they had their own offensive oriented system of ground fighting that, while less consistent and reliable in a real fight, was at least far more entertaining to watch.

Still better than Reebok gear…

This very, very, very, rare piece of MMA history can only be seen at www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad Become part of the elite, today!


Jul 27, 2020
Greetings, fellow MMAmen! Prepare yourselves both mentally and physically, for in but a mere few days we at Kakutogi HQ will bring forth the next hallowed treasure, which will be an almost completely unseen video treasure, in the form of the 11-28-90 SHOOTO event. Stay Tuned!


Jul 27, 2020
Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol. 19 "Ashes and Stardust"

*Note: Mike Lorefice's comments will be preceded by his intials.*
In our last correspondence we at Kakutogi HQ briefly talked about our harrowing journey, where we were dodging Interpol agents around the back alleys of Moldova, all while searching for ancient tomes full of passion and wisdom, fearful that at any moment our quest would be cut short by a one-way trip to an unlit cell in Stockholm. Thankfully, not only did we avoid the international authorities, but we were able to make it back with not one, but two VHS masters, of early Shooto. We covered the 3-17-90 event in chapter 18, so we will now take the time to offer a glimpse inside this unreal scroll and reveal the contents therein.

Right away this glorious cassette tape is delivering the goods, as we are greeted to a wonderful montage while Passion from Andrew Blythe plays in the background, and this is a truly exquisite experience, as this would be the perfect track for a late 80s martial arts revenge flick, in which the reluctant protagonist decides to get revenge from the evil horde of ninjas that killed his brother, because he knew too much about their network of illicit cocaine distribution. The introduction ends with a wonderful screen display that says SUPER FREE FIGHTING over a red backdrop. It would appear that the producers have moved on from the Commodore 64, and are now taking advantage of Broderbund’s legendary Dazzle Draw, which is a raster graphics editor that can take advantage of the full 16 color spectrum that enhanced Apple IIe computers can provide.

Even 1 ½ years after the first professional Shooto event, Satoru Sayama is still starting these shows by giving an introduction with his students, but what is most remarkable, is that instead of just keeping this demonstration limited to the basic rules, he is also going in depth on technique, proper fighting stances, etc, and is basically conducting a mini training seminar. As I’m watching this I’m reminded of an interview with Bret Hart, where he said that his fathers biggest joy and passion was teaching real shoot holds to anyone that would listen, and I believe that I’m seeing a kindred spirit here with Sayama. Surely, most of the crowd has a general grasp on what’s going on by now, so having an introduction to every event is probably unnecessary, but you can see a certain joy when Sayama explains techniques to the crowd, and there is no doubt that starting this new sport had to be a labor of love, as he left behind a life of endorsements, tv commercials, and basically being the Japanese equivalent of Hulk Hogan, to do something as crazy as start a promotion based around real comprehensive fighting, and if that wasn’t enough, he had no real precedent to base this endeavor off of outside of what existed in the world of pro wrestling. He wound up paying a hefty price for following his passions, as after leaving the UWF, and writing his autobiography, entitled, Kayfabe (where he supposedly exposed the secrets of puroresu) he wound up largely being persona non grata to the Japanese pro wrestling world, and wound up having to return to work in pro wrestling events in the mid to late 90s, past his physical prime, and lacking in finances, as he was ousted from Shooto in 1996 due to disagreements with the board of directors.

First up, we are greeted with a graphics title letting us know that we will be having a match between Kenji Kawaguchi vs. Yuji Ito, and what I find particularly interesting about this is that they list the respective gyms of both participants, in a way that became popular in the late 90s/early 00’s with promotions like King of the Cage, Gladiator Challenge, Extreme Challenge, etc. This is amazing that as far back as 1990 there were effectively different MMA gyms in Japan, trying to compete with each other within the Shooto system. The match starts off with both fighters trading unchecked thigh kicks, but with Kawaguchi seemingly having the power advantage, between the two. Ito is fast enough to sneak in some stiff jabs, but there is a considerable gap between the athleticism of both men, and he is having trouble dealing his opponents explosiveness.

One negative to this early Shooto, is the complete lack of time on the ground that is allowed. Whereas the Shooto I’ve witnessed from 94-96, the refs were much more liberal about allowing time for the fights to play out on the ground (though they wouldn’t be afraid to stand things up for a lack of action) and starting around 97 or so, they moved to more of a PRIDE FC format of not standing up fighters at all, and moving the opponents back to the center of the ring if they got too close to the ropes. This kind of rhythm feels a lot like a judo match, in that you had better sink in a submission right away once you hit the ground, or you are just going to get stood right back up.

Round 2 goes right into a total slugfest as both fighters just start letting the swings fly, but again, while Ito is landing just as much, if not more strikes, his punches don’t seem to contain the same power that Kawaguchi has. Still, Ito’s barrage may be working, as after one such exchange, Kawaguchi fell to a knee, and then seemed to go for a lazy kneebar attempt, to try and buy some time. Just when I think that Ito has a chance in this fight, Kawaguchi floors him with a nasty left hook, that scores a knockdown. Ito barely manages to get back up, and is knocked right back down, but is able to stand back up right before the bell rang.
Round 3 sees Ito go out on his shield, as he wastes no time going after Kawaguchi, but his power simply isn’t there, and is quickly knockout with a counteroffensive. Fun match.

ML: Ito has an awkward striking style where he wants to fight on the inside so he can throw a short right punch or a right elbow, which kind of looks the same because he's throwing both with a bent elbow, to the point I'm not sure if he's got great disguise or is just following through with the right arm until some part of it connects. The first round was pretty even, but Kawaguchi made adjustments in the 2nd, deciding that if Ito was going to keep coming in to try for the phone booth fight that he'd either counter by dropping down into the takedown or by timing him coming in, dropping Ito with a left hook. At the end of the round, Kawaguchi had another knockdown with a right hook for a middle kick. Kawaguchi tried to take it to Ito in the 3rd, but Ito hurt him countering with the bent arm right. However, as both kept swinging wildly, Kawaguchi wound up knocking Ito out with a left hook a few seconds later. Not the best technical match you'll ever see, but an entertaining match that I think you could consider a good match via initial MMA standards.

Next we have a delightful title card informing us that the upcoming bout will be for the inaugural welterweight title, and is featuring Kazuhiro Kusayanagi of the Super Tiger Gym Saginuma (with a background in judo and wrestling) vs Tomonori Ohara of the Kiguchi Shooting Gym (with a background in boxing.) Round 1 is almost underway, and we can see that the most fearsome weapon seen today will surely be Ohara’s Joe Dirt styled mullet. This round was mostly a kickboxing affair with Kusayanagi moving in and out, effectively using his jab to measure distance, and pelt his opponent with low kicks and punches. Ohara’s footwork was in place, but he seemed tentative, and while he would unload a nice shot to his opponent’s body, he simply spent most of the round taking kicks to his leg. The end of the round saw Kusayanagi change his pattern and sink an armbar onto his opponent after a beautifully timed double leg, but the bell rang before Ohara had to tap.

Round 2 saw Ohara starting to loosen up a little bit and starting to counter Kusayanagi’s forward charges with some stiff jabs to the face and body. This pattern went on for a while, until Kusayanagi opted to take the fight to the ground and was able to get an interesting submission attempt going, which was a combination of a leg-scissors and a triangle choke. It seemed that he had finally got the choke secured, in addition to trapping the elbow joint, but again Ohara is saved by the bell, just as the submission was getting too tight to fight out of.

Round 3 was much better for Ohara as he completely dominated by stuffing multiple takedown attempts from Kusayanagi, and landed shots at will throughout the round. Someone must have had a pep talk with Ohara right before round 4 started, as he came out very aggressively and kept the pressure on Kusayanagi until he dropped him with a powerful right. This was a remarkably interesting match, where we got to see a fighter get better and more confidant throughout the rounds, to win a fight in a dominant fashion. I would not have given the fighter that I saw in round 1 any chance of winning this fight, but once he found his confidence, that was all it took to make Kusayanagi leave the building on a stretcher.

ML: Hesistant was the name of the game here. Ohara wanted to strike, but Kusayanagi was just waiting for him to commit to something to drop into a double leg, and the fear of the takedown pretty much negated the action. Ohara would land a decent strike now and then, but definitely didn't get the better of the 1st two rounds, probably getting saved by the bell from Kusayanagi's armbar in the 1st, and getting controlled a lot longer in the 2nd while Kusayanagi tried to invent some sort of odd Americana variation that likely doesn't exist for a reason. Kusayanagi was trying to be more aggressive in the 3rd in that he was willing to shoot, but he was doing so from too far away so as to not engage in any striking he didn't need to. Ohara wound up hurting him kind of on a fluke as Ohara threw a wild long right at the same time as Kusayanagi threw a right kick, and somehow Ohara recovered quickly enough to get a left in while Ohara was still resetting himself. Ohara opened up after this, suddenly throwing lead power straights, and although Kusayanagi survived the round fine, Ohara stayed aggressive and was rewarded with a knockout landing a long right straight at the same time Kusayanagi tried to throw a right kick. While the 1st half of the match was bad, at least Ohara was eventually willing to bring it, and was thus rewarded.

Now it is time for the final battle of the evening, as we are to see the Shooto Middleweight Title on the line, as defending champion Yasuto Sekishima must face off agaisnt number one ranked challenger Naoki Sakurada. Sakurada appears to be a rather short fighter in the vein of a Henry Cejudo, and is probably the kind of fighter where it is a nightmare to try to shoot in deep enough to overcome an insanely low center of gravity. Surprisingly, Sekishima was able to take down Sakurada several times this round, but it was more a matter of him leaning on him and falling down, as opposed to any actual refined takedown techniques. This round was very even, with both fighters aggressively going at one another, without a clear-cut winner.

The rest of the match saw both fighters aggressively pursuing what was essentially a boxing match, with a few kicks and takedown attempts sprinkled in. Sakurada was a powerful bundle of compact energy, where Sekishima was long and used his range well. The deciding factor may be Sekishima’s takedown defense, as his opponent has the physical stature to make blasting a double a seemingly easy proposition, every time he tried, he got instantly stuffed, and put into a bad position. The fight went to a draw, and I’m not sure if Shooto has judges at this point or not, but I felt that this was a fair decision. While this would have been ruled a win for Sekishima under modern rules, due to his getting several takedowns in the 5th round (none of which accomplished much) but neither fighter was able close to finishing the other, or do any significant damage. Good fight with lots of effort on both fighters’ parts, despite the lack of a finish.

ML: Sakurada was the better boxer, but was definitely giving up some reach. Sekishima had better kicks and knees, but had a hard time really utilizing the knees, as Sakurada kept him from getting the clinch, and would drop down into a double leg. The match was competitive and wasn't dull, but at the same time didn't have many big moments. Sakurada started to get going in the 4th when he brought the jab down to the body then would follow with the right to the head. Sekishima didn't like this new Sakurada combo, and became a takedown machine in the 5th, dropping really low for the double leg as soon as Sakurada made a move forward.

Overall, I felt this was probably the best Shooto event we have covered so far, in terms of total top-to-bottom quality. I’m excited to try and locate the rest of the missing gaps in our archives, and hopefully -we will be able to chronicle them all. If not, we will return to check in on Sayama and crew for the 11-7-92 event.

ML: These fighters aren't technically perfect, but again, everyone is in shape & more or less well rounded. I think if you asked someone who just watched American MMA to guess what year this show was from, they could easily place it in 1997 or 1998.

*So you want to see some Shooto, eh? Well hop on over to www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad and you can witness what very few have, when you see this ultra rare event.

*In Other News

ML: While we're in flashback mode, I wanted to take a look at the first two UWF matches of Minoru Suzuki, against opponents we've liked in 1991 who he can no longer wrestle due to the splintering into 3 promotions. Though Suzuki has improved considerably in 2 years, he was quite the sensation in '89, injecting a lot of life and quality into the promotion despite barely winning a match.
4/14/89 Tokyo Korakuen Hall: Yoji Anjo vs. Minoru Suzuki 19:39. Suzuki made a really impressive UWF debut here after working about 70 matches in NJ over the past year, already outworking Anjo, who was one of the more reliable performers in the company, having come over from New Japan when UWF started a year ago. Anjo was a great opponent to break Suzuki in because both enjoyed using little antics to rile the opponent up, and were generally entertainers as much as they could get away with being. While this wasn't the most realistic match, they liked finding a spot to work in suplexes and Suzuki's dropkick, both men certainly had a lot of flair as well as talent, and I don't think the odes to pro wrestling detracted. In some ways they even added, as this was even a pretty good story match, with several spots built around the Achilles' tendon hold. Suzuki goaded Anjo with a series of slaps from mount, and although Anjo soon got him in the chest with an up kick when Suzuki got a single leg & was dropping into an Achilles' tendon hold, this second segment was obviously still a win for Suzuki. Anjo began to gain ground in the mind games when Suzuki tried the tendon hold again, but Anjo waited until it was locked in to start blasting Suzuki with kicks in the face, with Suzuki rolling to his stomach and trying to cover, but soon having to release, which allowed Anjo to go into a 1/2 crab. Suzuki refused to give up on the Achilles' tendon hold though, so when he slammed Anjo and set up the hold standing, he stepped on Anjo's left leg with this right leg then dropped down, thus preventing Anjo from kicking with it. Anjo rolled to his back, but before he could think about kicking, Suzuki had locked the leg up sort of like a figure 4, with his right leg on top, now trapping Anjo's off leg inside a leg scissors. Suzuki wasn't going to win his debut, but he made a strong impression putting Anjo on the defensive for the majority of the match. Anjo finally came back when he slipped out of a koshi guruma and hit a fast side suplex drop. Suzuki caught a knee to break up Anjo's run from the clinch, but Anjo countered with a spinning kick to the head. Suzuki tried to regroup with a takedown, but his shot was slow and Anjo stiff armed him to get the distance to land a high kick. Anjo then hit a stomach breaker and finished Suzuki off with a rear naked choke. ***1/4

5/4/89 Osaka Baseball Stadium: Shigeo Miyato vs. Minoru Suzuki 21:31. Right off the bat, this was a much more intense and believable speed oriented contest than Suzuki's debut last month against Anjo. These two were giving each other a lot less, which meant they had to be quicker and more precise with their techniques, even though it was still obviously a work. Miyato wanted to give the rookie his initiation, slapping him while Suzuki had mount and soccer ball kicking him when Suzuki was getting up. While Miyato had the edge in experience, speed was clearly on the side of Suzuki, and he began getting in and slapping Miyato before he could answer, while Miyato's standup was too predictable and thus easily avoid by his better moving foe. Being the wily veteran, Miyato began grabbing hold of Suzuki any way he could, so Suzuki couldn't just backpedal away from his strikes. There was a great spot where Miyato disengaged to get room for a high kick, but Suzuki ducked it into a dangerous looking single leg that took out Miyato's plant leg then swung into a kneebar. Miyato began to scattering some kicks in, but his right boot nearly fell apart in the process, and he had to essentially call time out after landing a middle kick because his heel came out the back of his boot where it had ripped. I really liked the match up until this point, but then it shifted more toward a traditional work where both men had things to do. Though Suzuki's speed was killing Miyato, his goal almost inexplicably (he is the better grappler while Miyato is dangerous standing though not really on the mat) became trying to catch a kick so he could trip Miyato up. Suzuki thus keyed on the middle kick and did his best to check the low kicks, though Miyato's hands were almost all getting through, with Suzuki's only answer being to slap him back. Miyato's striking percentage shot through the roof with Suzuki's change of gameplan resulting in being content to stand in front of him, but Suzuki got some few takedowns off the catch and was able to do run Miyato into the corner to stun him for a dropkick. After an exceptionally overlong grasp at drama with Suzuki inching his way from the center to the ropes to escape the deadly half crab, Suzuki caught another kick, but this time answered with a dropkick. This was pretty clever, but also kind of accentuated what I'd been thinking the past few minutes in that, what was making the match so strong early was that it was realistic, but now that they insisted on making it go so long, they were increasingly undermining that realism both by simply exposing themselves and by building the match up through highspots ala pro wrestling. Still, they were incorporated well, with Miyato getting his spinning heel kick in when Suzuki broke his clinch and thought he was starting another slap exchange. Miyato was happy to slap once Suzuki got up, but with Suzuki now broken down, he finally got a big middle kick through to the softened up liver to finish him off. Again, Suzuki got the better of the match only to lose, but this finish felt more realistic, with Miyato sneaking in his big kick then finishing him off with a shot Suzuki had been able to defend when he was less beat up. While Suzuki isn't purely a rookie, these were very impressive performances for anyone, much less a guy who only had a year experience, much less one who was starting a new style. Again, Suzuki was clearly the better performer here despite Miyato being a known good worker who dates back to the very end of the original UWF. ***3/4

*Want more Minoru? We have some bonus-Suzuki over at our Patreon, that isn't included here. www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad



Jul 27, 2020
Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol. 20 "K1 to the Rescue!"

*Mike Lorefice's comments will be prefaced by his intials.*

It has been about three months since we last witnessed RINGS with their threadbare group of hired mercenaries, and many unanswered questions have been left to us. Will Akira Maeda recover from his knee injury? Will his budding career as a prestigious interviewer/commentator take him away from the shoot-realms, for good? And perhaps the most pressing question of all, will Kazuyoshi Ishii and his ensemble cast of Sediokaikan Karate stars be able to save the day, and give purpose to this worthy endeavor? The moment for these truths to be revealed is upon us, as the 1991 RINGS ASTRAL STEP FINAL BLAZE UP is about to start, and we will either witness a fiery crescendo taking us into greater realms of unobtained glory, or we will merely witness dying embers, where a mighty structure once stood.

It is 12-7-91 and the action is set to take place within the Tokyo Ariake Coliseum, in what is sure to be an electrifying evening. The Ariake Coliseum is a large 10,000 indoor arena, most famous for being a preeminent tennis venue (slated to host the 2020 tennis Olympic games) and is one of the only tennis venues to boast a retractable roof. Things open off with a wonderful montage that introduces the various matches that will be seen later, and as I’m watching this, the tawdry graphics make me momentarily forget where I am, and I’m getting that sense of impending doom that I will soon be whisked away to the Mega-Man level selection screen, where I will once again have to do battle with my old nemesis Cut-Man.

After I snap back to reality, I begin to realize that this will surely be a make-or-break evening for this outfit, as out of the three shoot-style promotions that we have been covering so far, Maeda has had the most grandiose concept out of the three, but we have consistently seen the execution fall short of his vision. Using established martial artists in worked shoots was an innovative idea, and having them hail from different countries and fighting backgrounds solidified the illusion of credibility and sport-like atmosphere more so than his contemporaries, but so far this reliance on rookie foreign talent (who had no experience working matches up to this point) and only one native star in Mitsuya Nagai (who had a background in Shootboxing, before moving to pro wrestling) has put this entire operation in a state of peril, where the promotion is completely dependent on the drawing power of its founder, Akira Maeda.

ML: The difference between RINGS and the other two U.W.F. off shoots is Maeda has followed the format of the big U.W.F. shows using foreign martial artists who are good to exceptional in their real fighting discipline but have little to no training working matches while PWFG & UWF-I have followed the format of the small U.W.F. shows, trying to run a monthly promotion that mostly relies upon solid bouts between the natives, with a couple foreign regulars sprinkled in. RINGS, right now, is not capable of running even small shows without Maeda, which PWFG has done without Fujiwara and UWF-I could do without Takada, because these promotions have a number of other more useful natives, but those promotions don't seem to have the guts Maeda does to promote something major. Though in retrospect the case could be made that Volk Han is the greatest shoot style worker of all-time, sambo isn't a sport that has a worldwide following, or is really even practiced in Japan, so no matter how great a champion Han was in that discipline, he's still some dude that literally no one in the arena has seen fight in any style, meaning Maeda is literally responsible for selling lets say 95% of the tickets on his own.

The ring announcers spend several minutes talking about sambo before segueing to a pre-recorded interview between Akira Maeda and Mike Tyson. For those that have been faithfully following this column, you will know that we have reported that for the last few months Akira Maeda has become a bit of a celebrity interviewer and analyst for the Japanese WOWWOW network (similar to HBO in the United States) and if this wrestling thing winds up not working out, at least Maeda seems to have a comfortable career parachute waiting for him in the broadcast world. Surprisingly, Maeda seems to have excellent English when he thanks Mike Tyson, but still asks questions to him in Japanese, while they have an interpreter repeat it back to Tyson. A question (presumably about his recent loss to Buster Douglas) is presented to Tyson from Maeda, and Tyson offers up a somewhat poignant response about how he isn't mad that he lost, but is having trouble dealing with that fact that he didn't prepare properly or give his best. Who knew that Tyson, in his own simple way, would be tapping into the ancient Greek philosophical concept of akrasia , which loosely translated, means a weakness of will, or lack of self-control?

Kakutogi Makes for Strange Bedfellows...

After this we are next taken to another interview, this time between Maeda and Evander Holyfield. We only get the Japanese form of the question, but it appears that Maeda asked Holyfield about his thoughts on Karate, to which he responds that he was in tune with Bruce Lee and karate when he was younger, and currently his kids are showing an interest in Karate, due to the Ninja Turtles. Then if that wasn't enough, we get an absolutely hilarious clip of George Foreman saying that when he got into shape, he was going to add Ahh-kee-dah Mah-eee-dah to his training style, and this simply has to be seen to be believed.

ML: The Foreman interview was more '80's pro wrestling than almost anything you've ever seen in pro wrestling, though the funniest part was contemplating Foreman actually getting into shape some century.

No time is wasted after the Forman clip, and we are taken straightaway to our first fight, which will be a THUNDER BOUT between Koichiro Kimura and Grom Zaza. This will be the RINGS debut for Zaza, and the first recorded Rings match for Kimura, who previously had a untelevised dark match at the inaugural Rings show against Hideki Hosaka. Before Rings, Kimura was working for the FMW and W*ING promotions before coming to RINGS and had even competed for the FMW light heavyweight title. To a modern MMA fan he is known (if at all) for his segments in the 1999 documentary Choke, where he gave an emotional interview after his loss to Rickson Gracie at VTJ 95, where he said that he was now convinced in the power of BJJ, and before this particular loss he simply thought it was a mixture of judo and wrestling, but now came to understand that it was more than that. When he is occasionally mentioned on MMA forums, it’s usually by people trying to downplay Rickson Gracie’s MMA career, where they will list him as an example of an inferior opponent, but truthfully he was a man of greater credentials then what he is commonly given credit for. He was a former S.A.W. champion going into VTJ 95 (S.A.W. being an acronym for Submission Arts Wrestling, which is form of no-gi submission grappling started in the 80s by Hidetaka Aso, who was a student of Karl Gotch) and he was also a pioneer in women’s combat sports, as he started both the Japanese WMMA promotions AX and G-Shooto.

ML: I'm all for downplaying the paper career of the sandbagger Rickson, who beat a small assortment of pro wrestling based newcomers, hasbeens, and never weres, none of whom really won any matches afterwards, with his crowning achievement being taking out a fighter who had already been rendered half blind. Sure, someone had to win those VTJ matches, but they already knew what worked for Royce Gracie in the UFC, and still stacked the deck even more massively in his brother's favor, to say the least. After that, he only took a couple fights that both paid huge and were even more obvious wins given Takada was arguably the worst MMA fighter in history & Funaki was totally broken to the point he promptly retired after his bad knee gave out during the fight, leading to the finish, though Rickson still had to get as many different strikes as he could get away with rendered illegal, just in case Funaki might still be healthy enough to get lucky.

On the other hand, Zaza "Grom" Tkeshelashvili is a Georgian freestyle wrestler that was good enough to be included in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, and wound up holding shoot wins over Ricardo Morias, Travis Fulton, and possibly Volk Han (from a late 1999 match, who’s shootiness I can’t confirm or deny at this time). This match will take place about 8months into Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union, so it is fascinating to see this early example of eastern European integration into international sporting endeavors, outside of an Olympic context. The match starts off with a young, and very lithe looking Kimura quickly moving around, while rocking his S.A.W. attire. Right away, we see Kimura moving well and getting a takedown off of some very weak pitter-patter kicks from Zaza, who got much better as his career went on, but here is still probably unsure on how hard his strikes are supposed to be. Right away we see an interesting technique from Kimura, who attempted a Kani-Basami (scissors-throw) off a single-leg attempt from Zaza, and having failed that, he instantly shifted it into an inventive kneebar entry. Zaza keeps a fast pace with many throws and takedowns, but only seems to have a tenuous grasp of submissions. Kimura on the other hand looked good throughout, and I’m left with the impression that had he chose to continue to continue his career in the shoot-style world, then he could have been known as one of its major players, but he only stuck around Rings until the end of 1993. He spent the rest of his career afterwards, mainly working in less realistic leagues, most notably as Super Uchu Power in the DDT promotion. The match ends at the 24:46 mark, and this was way too long a match time for two rookies, especially Zaza, who kept a fast pace, but never allowed the match to breathe, or really allow Kimura to get much offense in, as he kept spamming takedowns/throws. Still, not a bad showing for two novices.

ML: Worked shoots aren't really meant to go 25 minutes, and while the very best guys can pull them off, even their intensity and speed are somewhat diminished. These are rookies, and Maeda should know better that even in traditional pro wrestling, which is much more conducive to padding, rookies are going 5 or 10 minutes. There were some good moments here such as Kimura countering the takedown by dropping down into a scissor and elevating Zaza over into a kneebar, but how many times did we need to see Zaza punching his way inside then dropping into a single leg? We also saw what I believe is our first and second STF's before Zaza won with a shoulder lock. I don't want to make this sound bad, these guys did quite well, especially given the booking they were strapped with, but the match would have been better if it was even slightly competitive and much shorter, especially because the former didn't play well with the later. Kimura was crafty, but he was almost always on the defensive, trying to counter the shot with some sort of leg scissors.

Next, we have an AQUA BOUT with Nobuaki Kakuda vs. Herman Renting, and this will be contested as five 2-min rounds, as opposed to one 30min round. Kakuda is a welcome addition here, as he is coming into this as a sediokaikan karate champion, that has a reputation as fan-favorite, and always gives 100% in every one of his fights. It remains to be seen how he will fare here in this kind of environment, but this is the kind of talent infusion that has the potential to add some welcome verve to the proceedings. This will be Renting’s 4th Rings bout, and he has been getting a little better with each outing. Both fighters merely circled each other in the first round feeling each other out, with hardly any strikes being thrown from either fighter. Renting is the first to engage halfway through round 2, when he barges over to Kakuda and puts him in a variant of a guillotine choke, but quickly finds himself entangled in the ropes. The ref calls for a break, and Renting refuses at first, but eventually lets the hold go. I couldn’t tell if he was penalized for this, as it appeared that the ref was saying something to the judges table, and he did look like he was searching for a penalty card, but didn’t actually pull one out, so I’m not sure what to make of it.

Not much happened in round 3, and round 4 saw the first rope escape when Renting attempted another Guillotine off of a single-leg attempt from Kakuda, where they wound up immediately falling to the ground, and Kakuda twisted away from the choke, into the ropes. Shortly afterwards, Renting came charging in again, this time with a simple rape choke against Kakuda’s throat, which saw him get reprimanded by the referee, but again, it doesn’t seem like he is actually getting any real penalty for this. In round 5, Kakuda starts to offensively press Renting for a brief moment, but quickly goes back to a more tentative approach, throwing a kick, and then quickly backing off. In one such exchange, Kakuda threw a kick, took a couple of steps back, and wound up taking a palm-strike from Renting that looked like it hit way harder than Renting probably intended. The ref does not call for a knockdown, seemingly knowing that something was wrong about this, and allows Kakuda to recover in his corner. The fight is over shortly afterwards and is ruled a draw. This was quite disappointing, as I had high hopes for Kakuda. This match would have had great potential for a shoot, in the sense of a classic grappler vs striker setup, but even if you insisted on working this fight, five 2-min rounds was not the way to do it. In every round, just when it seemed like something was about to happen, the round ended, so we actually got very little here, in what should have been an entertaining showing. Also, these two guys were in good enough shape that having a standard Rings match shouldn’t have exposed any cardio limitations, so this didn’t wind up making a lot of sense.

ML: This was one of those fascinating, technically excellent fights we would eventually get from karate fighters such as Lyoto Machida in MMA. They fought this very very realistically, with both fighters using a lot of fakes and feints and paying close attention to their footwork and balance, which really surprised me because while that's Kakuda's style as a karate champion, Renting managed to be almost equally disciplined even though his strategy was to merely avoid getting his legs chewed up & find openings to rush Kakuda so he could wrestle him. It was the sort of hard gym sparring we'd later get from Pancrase, really close to being a shoot even though they didn't have much impact on their strikes. The way they moved, defended, and attacked with aggression and urgency though, there was nothing you could say was outwardly or obviously fake here. Some people will hate this match, but I would say that it's one of the best I've seen when it comes to footwork and maintaining a realistic and intense striking environment. If you're looking for actual action, the match was certainly rather lacking. While I enjoyed this bout, the problem was they never actually lit the wick. The first three rounds could have stayed the same, but Kakuda needed to bait Renting into a mistake and lay him out with a high kick or step knee at some point. Instead, the only big spot was an illegal punch to the face by Renting in the 5th, RINGS rules only allowing for open hand strikes to the head at this point. As it stands, while it was incredibly promising and really light years ahead of what was going on in UWF-I & PWFG at this point (outside of Ohe's kickboxing shoots), it also never actually delivered on its promise, which was odd given that Kakuda was both a big enough name in Japan within his circle and obviously an actual native who could have been a draw on his own or opposing Maeda. It seems like Maeda wasn't willing to commit at all to these Seidokaikan guys, at least not yet, because he didn't control them.

The aqua sources that we just ingested were akin to the renowned springs flowing out of Flint, MI, so hopefully this heaping dose of Earth will settle our stomachs. We now have renowned judo ace, Chris Dolman facing Tiger Levani. As of press time, I have been unable to find out much about Levani other than he is apparently of Greek descent, and it does not seem like he did much outside of three Rings matches. The match starts off with some laughably weak strikes, possibly the lightest that we have witnessed so far, which makes me wonder if Tiger was possibly a student or acquaintance of Dolman and did not want to risk actually hitting him. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the grappling started as Tiger attempted an ippon-seoinage (one arm shoulder throw) and Dolman executed a beautiful counter where he simply attempted a rear naked choke from the standing position, and makes me wonder if we should be seeing more variations of this, as a way to negate throws in a modern MMA context? Tiger fell to the ground after this, and Dolman wasn’t able to finish the hold, and Tiger seemed to be extra careful not to hurt Dolman (strikes are still legal on the ground) as he transitioned around him to attempt an armbar on a turtled Dolman. The inevitable dueling leg-lock battle soon followed with both men failing to destroy the footsies of the other. The rest of the match followed in the same pattern with one of them gaining a takedown, preceded by some truly awful punches/kicks, and then usually a leg attack. It finally ended with Dolman taking Levani repeatedly to a corner and kneeing him until he left himself open to a sloppy guillotine choke, for the victory.

I find this putting me in a situation where it is hard to assess the ability of Levani. He clearly shares the same Sambo/Judo style as Dolman, and moves like he has a repository of knowledge and experience, but his refusal to put anything behind his strikes (even by pro wrestling standards) really ruined any chance for him to shine. From what I can tell, he has two other matches in Rings, with one against Masayuki Naruse, and the other against Chris Haseman, so he never had the opportunity to learn and grow. From what I saw however, I would imagine him being more useful than a Tariel Bitsadze, who was the living embodiment of molasses, and still was heavily used by Maeda in the years to come. Dolman did not help matters here either, with his unusually soft strikes also, but that may have had to do with respecting Levani’s comfort level. This could have been a decent match had they attempted to put some more realism into it.
ML: The striking in this match was so soft if was farcical. It was so bad that it felt like you were watching a spoof that was designed to finally, once and for all, prove pro wrestling was indeed fake. The only saving grace is they didn't do that nonsensical Kurt Angle bobblehead selling. Dolman getting a knockdown in the corner with a 2 inch low kick to Tiger's kick pad was definitely the most shameful moment of the night. Dolman is almost certainly the worst shoot wrestler working in '91. In his prime, he theoretically might have been one of the best in an actual shoot, but at this point he moves like an 80-year-old who had both knees replaced a few times. The grappling in this match was passable, and luckily there was more of that than the striking, but Dolman just moves so slow that it's just painful to watch.

Now it is time for an AIR BOUT with everyone’s favorite cheatyface, Willie Peeters, and Dick Vrij. Peeters has been one of the most interesting Rings characters so far, for his willingness to really go hard against an opponent, even when it was arguably inappropriate to do so. This trait may have been uncouth, but at least you felt like you were in a fight when watching Peeters work, so this match against Vrij should be entertaining. Peeters digs deep into the tae kwon do well, when he opens things up with a flying reverse turning kick, which fails to connect, and causes Vrij to respond by tossing Peeters like a collegiate weight discus. Not long after, Peeters lands another spinning kick to Vrij’s ribs, and after a moment of wincing the human cyborg kicks Peeters up high, near the head, which scores a knockdown. About eight more minutes of zaniness ensued, and despite not being the least bit realistic, this may be the most entertaining Rings match that we have witnessed so far. Peeters was all over the place, almost resembling a Warner Bros cartoon at times. His strikes would oscillate from not connecting at all, to possibly being too stiff, and the evil henchman cyborg vibe that Vrij gives off really played into the theatrical value of it all. There was one funny moment where Peeters had Vrij on the ground and after a liver kick, he followed up with a downwards punch, that missed by a mile, but the Japanese audience thought it connected and started going crazy over it. The match ended with a loss of points for Peeters, who suffered one too many knockdowns.

ML: Peeters was really psyched up here, and had the place rocking. This wasn't one of his better performances though, as he backed down from the stiffness against the more powerful opponent the way bullies tend to do, and was really lacking discipline and just all over the place. I liked that he was trying to pounce on any opportunity to catch Vrij prone to the point he had to stop himself in the midst of several blows that would have been illegal, but whereas previously it could have been argued that he hit too hard, today he was barely connecting too often. The big problem was that they were doing really overexaggerated pro wrestling selling, with Peeters even jumping when Vrij kicked him so it would supposedly look like he was blown off his feet. Vrij just did his thing, as limited workers tend to do. He was more on his game than Peeters, but there's really nothing to his game. At least Peeters, goofy as he was, was interesting because, for better and worse, he was making things happen, while Vrij was just doing his shadowboxing against a live opponent.

Ric Flair used to call himself the dirtiest player in the game, but that is surely because he never knew about Gerard Gordeau. Truly one of the most reprehensible characters (at least inside the ring) in the history of MMA, due to his various scummy antics (most notably eye gouging one of Yuki Nakai’s eyes at VTJ 95, thus causing permeant blindness) this will be our first time covering him, though Gordeau himself was quite experienced at this point, having been the 1991 World Savate Champion, a highly experienced Kyokushin karate practitioner, and a fixture within the Dutch kickboxing/martial arts scene. He even had at least one professional MMA fight in 1989 (which we will cover later) where his ability to cheat was so profound, that he somehow managed to get disqualified in a “No Rules Fight.” Here he will be facing Mitsuya Nagai in a UNIVERSE BOUT which will consist of seven 3min rounds, which on paper sounds like a good matchup due to Nagai’s background in Shootboxing.

ML: Ric Flair thought the G1 Climax was the G-Eye Climax even while he was competing in it, so his credibility is as suspect as the believability of his matches where he did that corny faceplant every time, yet the useless ref never stopped it. While we are on the topic of Rickson Gracie's easy tournament wins, I guess we should point out that it was Gordeau's antics in handicapping Nakai that ultimately cemented Gracie's reputation. While, in fairness, Gracie would likely have defeated Nakai anyway, WCW's top shooter, the dreadful Sgt. Craig Pittman, who on top of everything else had 100 pounds on Nakai, still managed to fall prey to an armbar.

The fight starts off with Gordeau throwing a very crisp kick to Nagai’s midsection, but is quickly taken down, and scrambles to the ropes as if his life depended on it. They get back up and feel each other out, when Gordeau engages again, and at one point in the midst of the barrage, Nagai starts to complain to the ref about getting a close fist punch to the face, but Gordeau simply took this time that Nagai was spending to attack him some more. The ref wound up breaking it up, but way after the fact, and did not penalize Gordeau for this either. Round 1 ended shortly afterwards, and while I am still keenly using my shoot detector to try and assess this fight, nothing in round one so far has looked fake to me.

Round 2 sees Gordeau slowly try and back Nagai into a corner, and after eventually succeeding starts briefly unloading on Nagai which opens up an opportunity for him to sink in, what appears to be a deep guillotine choke, but for some reason the ref calls for a break, which serves to confuse both Gordeau, and myself, as I can’t tell what could have been illegal about this. Nagai took a walloping for the rest of the round. He was able to take Gordeau down a couple of times, but it only led to restarts from the ref for getting entangled in the ropes in one instance, and Gordeau just opting for a quick rope break on the 2nd. This is continuing to look like a shoot, but I am reserving judgment until this is over.

Round 3 was more of a beating to Nagai. At this point his only defense seems to Gordeau’s striking seems to be the takedown, but he can’t manage to accomplish anything useful once the fight hits the ground. A very lopsided round against Nagai.

Round 4 sees Gordeau win at the 34 second mark, by countering a weak takedown attempt from Nagai with a guillotine choke. The ref once again broke the guillotine for an unknown reason, but this one seemed to be completely sunk in. After the break Nagai just crumpled to the ground afterwards with a nosebleed, looking completely exhausted, and the ref called the fight. I am now completely convinced that this is the first shoot that we have witnessed from Rings, and I admit that I am surprised. I had a suspicion that this would be a good fight on paper, but was fearful that it would be another hokey work, but this turned out to be an interesting early example of MMA, although I would have guessed that Nagai would have been a tougher opponent than he was. Not the best fight in the world, from a modern perspective, but in the context of its time, entertaining, and historically interesting.

ML: Gordeau is definitely shooting on Nagai. Nagai seems to be in the mode we saw from Kakuda & Renting of approaching things as a real fight, but at the same time not really putting much on his kicks. Nagai quickly sees that Gordeau has a big power advantage, in addition to obviously having more technical skill on his feet, and becomes increasingly tentative to commit to his strikes, which could account for his wimpy leg kicks, settling for just going for takedowns. The fight is all one-way traffic for Gordeau, as Nagai can't keep him down for more than seconds. Nagai still seems to be doing some pro wrestling selling, and just gives up early in the 4th, refusing to get up even though the ref again breaks Gordeau's guillotine choke, as apparently they are illegal for some reason.

Now, we get to learn that fire is somehow of a greater nobility than the universe in the great pantheon of Rings dimensions, but the esoteric secrets don’t stop there, as we are also able to glean from the preceding picture that Hans Nyman could have been one of the zombie extras in Return of the Living Dead. This will be Nyman’s debut in Rings, and we should all enjoy his work while we are able, as he was to meet a very saddening end in 2014 when his life was cut short by automatic fire, while sitting in a car parked outside of his gym, in what was presumed by local Dutch authorities to be gang hit. His opponent will be Masaaki Satake, a Seidokaikan Karate powerhouse that went on to be one of K1’s huge stars in its early years, and is here now, thankfully on loan to us from the mighty Kazuyoshi Ishii. Round 1 saw Satake attack Nyman (or Nijman as his spelling is now more commonly known) from a variety of angles, where Nyman only seemed to have a strong push kick as a response. This was still a feeling out round for both men, but Satake is looking sharp, but it remains to be seen how his ne-waza skills will fare.

Round 2 saw Satake fight a textbook Sediokaikan style, by entering into phone booth range, and just wailing away with body shots. Nyman was able to hit an occasional push kick, or punch to the body, but he simply doesn’t have the tools to be competitive with Satake in the stand-up arena, which puzzles me, as to why he hasn’t really tried to take this fight to the ground.

Round 3 starts, and I am starting to realize that I’m not watching a match with normal Rings rules, but rather a straight up karate match. This is basically playing out like any Sediokaikan match, but instead of splitting the rounds up into Gi, non gi, etc, it is simply a straightforward karate bout, sans the gi. Needless to say, Nyman spends the rest of this round getting beat up, as he isn’t in the same league as Satake. The rest of the fight was no different but was strangely ruled a draw. I was excited when I was under the pretense that this would be a standard Rings bout, but am now disappointed, as this really only served to be an exhibition, where a shoot, or even a worked-shoot from someone like Satake during this stage of his career, would have been welcome, and interesting. This wasn’t bad as much as it was pointless.

ML: This was probably the most ass Satake has ever kicked, or at least I hope so. He kept a high pace here against his slow, not particularly athletic opponent, mostly landing kicks that I'm not sure whether I should call middle or low given they connected to to the upper thighs or glutes, in other words the places you would never target that happen to have the most padding. Satake had a surprisingly high output, but nothing either fighter was throwing had any real impact, not even to just mix things up and make it seem like something actually scored big. Or I guess I should say that nothing Satake was throwing, because while Hans was able to hold off Satake briefly with his front kick, once Satake got inside he had such an advantage in handspeed, despite never being a heavyweight who was known for quickness, that Nyman basically gave up even trying to get any strikes off, and would instead try to either upend Satake or push him back but without throwing the front kick or anything that would maintain distance behind it, so Satake would just walk back in and continue to plug away at him. While way better than Dullman's match, this was pretty bad.

Now, for the moment that will forever change the course of Rings, and have an incalculable affect on all things in the shoot-realms for many ages to come, yes we are about to witness the professional debut of Volk Han (real name: Magomedkhan Amanulayevich Gamzatkhanov) who wound up being one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, by helping to cement the shoot-style’s status as being the very apex of what professional wrestling could achieve as an art form. Han had a background in collegiate wrestling before joining the Russian military, which is where he began learning sambo, and was even a three-time Russian sambo champion in the 80s. At some point in 1991, Akira Maeda discovered him, and in what was surely one of his shrewdest moves, he convinced him to come over and compete in his promotion. I have to wonder how that initial scouting session went down, as Han is right away thrust into a main event spot, despite this being only his first match, so surely Maeda saw something special in him, right from the get-go. An encyclopedia size volume of books could surely be written about him, so we will let it suffice to say that we will continue to talk more and more about him in the days to come.

Han’s arrival couldn’t have happened a moment too soon, either, as Maeda has been hurting for not only some depth in his roster, but other legitimate stars outside of himself, and while no one could have known to the extent that Han would be a great asset to this company in the years to come, looking back we can see that Rings may not have made it to its best years of 96-99 had he not shown up when he did. Here he is set to face Akira Maeda, who’s knee condition is still an open question, so this may have an effect on his performance. Han starts to come out to the Ring, and we can see that he was being groomed for greatness right away, as they gave him one of the best theme entrances of the era, with a grandiose synthesizer intro, that sounds like what would happen if you were to mix the Phantom of the Opera with something from Brad Fiedel’s work on The Terminator soundtrack. Maeda comes out next, and the crowd is absolutely in total rapture. Maeda could be wrestling a mongoose tonight, and I don’t think it would affect how over he is with the crowd at the moment.

The fight has started, and the first minute is quiet, with some feeling out between the two men, before Han hits a tobi-juji-gatame (flying armbar) well before it become the cool thing for Carlson Gracie students to do. This breathtaking maneuver may not be the best opener for the purposes of realism, but it is done with such verve, that we must allow its indulgences. This leads to an instant rope break, and the fight is back on the feet. Maeda then throws some high kicks, forcing Han to distance himself a bit, before stalking his way up to Maeda and hitting the 2nd kani-basami of the evening, which is now banned from judo competitions for its perceived riskiness, and whenever I think of this, I can’t help but remember how Joey Styles would incessantly lie to the ECW audience everytime Taz would show up, and say that the kata-ha-jime (Tazmission) was “Banned in judo, but legal in ECW!!!!!” Han attempts a heel-hook off of this, but Maeda was successful in rolling into the ropes, prompting a restart.

The next several mins sees Han attempt just about very leg attack one could think of (and perhaps many that no one has thought of) and also marked the debut of his infamous rolling kneebar, that we have all come to cherish. Maeda winds up pulling a win out of nowhere by securing a toe-hold while tangled up in a human leg-pretzel with Han, and serves to remind me why I gave up my Twister addiction a long time ago.

ML: I remember reading an old movie review where Roger Ebert talked about asking the all-time great actress Isabelle Huppert how she got into cinema, and she simply stated "I walked up to the studio door in Paris, knocked, and said, 'I am here.' " You didn't know whether to believe her, which made the comment all the more intriguing, but it spoke to her innate self confidence that the world would be forever improved because she would always find ways to do atypical and special things. It made me think of Han, this exotic, Spock-like Russian coming out to the ominous, spine tingling pipes of Jean-Michel Jarre's Second Rendez-vous, and rather than singing the Cara Mia and getting pelted with boos if not objects as Russian wrestlers were theoretically supposed to do, carrying one of the handful of top stars in Japanese wrestling to his best match in quite some time in his own debut. Han's debut may have been the best pro wrestling debut ever up until that point in time, and arguably has only been surpassed by Megumi Fujii's debut against Mariko Yoshida on 5/24/03, which is one of the greatest quasi shoot style matches ever, again just a super special talent who did things her way rather than the way they were supposed to be done.

In one match, Han already proved himself to be one of the couple best performers in the genre, and he was just getting started. What made Han special is he somehow seemed to understand how all the styles of actual MMA worked despite there being little to no actual MMA yet, but he also brought a really flashy and innovative version of sambo, a style almost no one other than practicioners had seen outside of Russia, rather than trying to assimilate to the accepted chicanery that passed for shoot wrestling. Han was super exciting, with a vast array of submission holds that relied on large and/or small joint manipulation. He was either going to move you himself, for example his rolling leglocks, or twerk on your wrist or ankle until you were forced to move into an obvious position to alleviate the pressure, which he was ready for, and could thus adjust quickly or switch off to another submission. The whole chaining of submissions is something that would eventually form the basis of the Japanese shoot style in the no ground punching era, but we hadn't really seen it yet in pro wrestling, where they preferred to do a lot of corny struggling under the false notion that people couldn't recognize the danger of a submission unless the fighter in trouble was bawling like a 5 year old.

Though Han's background was in submission, we immediately see him putting his energy toward employing actual, legitimate kickboxing footwork and feints that are maybe not quite up to the level we saw earlier from karate legend Kakuda, but otherwise set him apart from the pack, even though this isn't what he's been doing all his life. While Maeda is theoretically the better standup fighter, he can at least knock you out if you are expecting him to be working with you rather than taking a cheap shot, the artist formerly known as Kwick-Kick Lee can't manage to touch the nimble Han, who is able to back away from his kicks with ease, as well as get in & out of range quickly enough to incite him with slaps to the face and his own low kicks without taking counterfire. Of course, Han's real plan is to grapple, and while it's true that hitting a flying armbar as the first move of a match may not be the most realistic, it certainly speaks to the self confidence, guts, and out of the box thinking of Han to go out there and do this not only as the start of the match, but of his career. I had never seen a flying armbar before this, it was a jaw dropping what is this, and more importantly who is this kind of moment.

While it's important to focus on what Han is doing, what's actually more telling is how that is forcing Maeda to step up his game in so many ways. Maeda is forced to use more footwork himself, to be quicker with his attacks, and to try to chain them together because Han isn't just going to stand there for him like a doofus. Sure, the match is a work, but there's really varying levels of what the opponent is going to allow you to get away with, and Maeda not only sees that Han's standard is high, but just being a proud athlete who wants to win because he's better not because he's running the company, he is pushing himself to earn some and get some over on Han. Suddenly, we see a great sequence from Maeda where he isn't merely content to land a snap suplex, but is up like lightning trying to grab an appendage and drop into a submission, in this case an armbar, before Han can stabilize. This was the first time all year that Maeda looked good.

Han's matches are built around the high spots, which are plentiful, but he is able to get away with that more than others because he doesn't half-ass the basics of fighting, the positions, or the execution of the moves. In addition to understanding spacing on his feet, he's already using the mount and the guard on the ground, and chaining his submissions to try to catch the opponent off guard or just beat their defenses by being proactive and reacting quicker. Han may be selling because he still reacts quickly when Maeda does something, but used to 5 minute sambo contests, he appears to have completely out of gas down the stretch, holding his hands on his knees the way Mark Coleman would go on to make famous in his historic loss to Maurice Smith at UFC 14. This does allow Maeda to get a spinning wheel kick in for a knockdown. Han is able to answer with a suplex to set up one of his rolling cradle sort of leg locks, but Maeda is able to stop the roll and use his left leg to block Han's lock, thus getting the better position on the mat to crank on the ankle, with a desperate Han realizing he's left with nothing but to tap in disgust then cover his face with his hands in embarassment and shame. ***1/2

Conclusion: While this wasn’t anywhere close to Han’s best match, it was a remarkable debut for a rookie, and also served to show that Rings had a new major player on the scene, and gives us hope that there are a myriad of new possibilities, for this promotion leading into 1992. Taking this match and viewing it in isolation, it wasn’t as good as the top flight stuff we have been seeing in the PWFG and UWFI, due to it being overly flashy, and possibly with Maeda only being able to do so much. But in the context of its time, this was a much needed breathe of fresh air, and is possibly the best match Rings has put out so far, if you are ok with its over the top sensibilities. As for the rest of the card….it was a mixed bag. It was the best Rings card we have seen so far, with a fun match between Peeters and Vrij, and with a full shoot between Gordeau, and Nagai, also added an interesting, and historically important element to it, but really squandered the debuts of Satake, and Kakuda, along with the poor match that was Dolman/Levani. Still, this was a major step up, and shows us, that despite the flaws, and despite the fact that they aren’t close to the overall output of their rivals, they still feel like they have the most potential, and that is saying something.

ML: Han vs. Maeda was actually quite a bit better than I remembered. I would rank it as easily the best RINGS match of the year, and more or less above anything that doesn't involve Tamura or Suzuki. That's really secondary though to the arrival of Han giving people a much needed reason to watch RINGS, which, had it continued along the lines of their 1st two shows or what we saw on the undercard, would have remained mostly, if not completely skippable for anyone beyond completists such as ourselves.

*So you want to be a hero, eh? Well, you can! By simply going over to www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad where you can not only see this entire event in full, but also recieve a warm fuzzy feeling that you are helping two combat-sports enthusiasts document a sport, that was in dire need of attention.*

*Kakutogi Rewind*

We mentioned the MMA fight that Gerard Gordeau had in 1989, and now we will dig through our vaults and give this rare gem, some much needed coverage. There had actually been a smattering of NHB/MMA fights throught the 80s in Holland, all of which were connected to Chris Dolman and his gym, and some of them wound up on the early Panther Productions: Ring Wars series. In fact, there is supposed to be a Pankration tournament that Chris Dolman held in 1981, that was a NHB tournament won by one of the bodyguards of Klaas Bruinsma, a famous Dutch drug lord. Supposedly this event made its way to the Panther catalog, which hopefully we at Kakutogi HQ will be able to track down one day. To make matters more intriguing, some of these old Dutch events would have the words “NO FAKES” flashing on the screen when a legit match was going on, which probably had something to do with weird laws enacted by Holland, that wanted something like that clearly labeled.

In any case, here we are with Gordeau, and his opponent Dick Veldhuis who is represented by the infamous Chakuriki gym out of holland, whereas Gordeau will be cornered by the Vos gym, who was also home to Ernesto Hoost, for several years. I am still trying to dig up more information about Veldhuis, but the only information that I’ve been able to learn is that he had a fearsome reputation in the village that he grew up in. Veldhuis certainly looks like he means business with an imposing physique, and a wrestling singlet, which is considered to be a universal symbol of badassery.

Gordeau tries to start the fight by shaking hands but is quickly pelted in by a low kick from Veldhuis in response. For any chess nerds out there, this could easily be a new opening, simply known as “Sportsmanship Gambit: Declined.” The rest of the fight sees Veldhuis wisely rush Gordeau into a corner, which served to smother him, and prevent him from doing much. Then the fight ended, in what may be one of the most bizarre finishes that I’ve ever seen in over 25 years of watching combat sports, in which Veldhuis charged Gordeau into the corner again, and got Gordeau to turn his back from some knees, and it looked like he was going to attempt a rear naked choke, when the ref called for a break. As Veldhuis was breaking, Gordeau hit him in the side of a head with a quick elbow when caused an instant knockout, and Gordeau was disqualified. In full speed it simply looks like a phantom punch, and would make one think that this might be Veldhuis taking a dive, but upon watching the replay a good 235 times, one can see that Gordeau did land a clean elbow into the Veldhuis’s temple. It’s bizarre that the ref would call for a break in the first place, especially in a “no rules” match, and when Veldhuis was winning, and possibly about to end the fight with a choke, but perhaps the ref was going to call for a break whenever it got close to the ropes. I can only assume that Gordeau was disqualified due to striking his opponent during the break, but I am not certain. What I am sure of though is that Gordeau was a cheater from day one, and this video helps dispel any current Zuffa narratives that MMA magically started to exist once the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC 2001

ML: This had a real pro wrestling grudge match feel, and was never really under control, which would have been great had they managed to manufacture this in a work, but isn't exactly what you are looking for when you are promoting one of the first shoots. It mostly just seemed like a couple punks having a street fight with a ref, who was either out of his depth and/or trying to enforce rules that didn't actually exist. Shockingly, the fighter who was being a dick from the outset was Veldhuis, who denied a surprising gesture of sportsmanship from Gordeau, and worked him over in the ropes after something of an accidental low blow then headbutted Gordeau when the ref was trying to break. Veldhuis caught a front kick on the restart, and slammed Gordeau then kicked him when he was down. Gordeau could do some things with his feet when he actually had space, but Veldhuis was much bigger and stronger, and just wanted to smother Gordeau by mauling him in the ropes. When the ref went to break them up again after Gordeau had surrended his back, this time it was Gordeau who took the cheap shot, knocking Veldhuis out with a back elbow as the ref was yanking Veldhuis off by the arm. Presumably, since the break had already been called, the knockout was nullified and Gordeau was DQ'd given Veldhuis obviously couldn't continue. Perhaps only a fighter as dubious as Gordeau could manage to get DQ'd even in a match that claimed to have no rules.

*Again...this entire event, and the chance to see Gerard Gordeau in a MMA fight back in 1989 can be seen over at www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad *

*In other news*

The upcoming match between Nobuhiko Takada and Trevor Berbick is currently getting major news coverage in Japanese media. The UWFI has even gone as far as to spin this to their native media outlets that this is a major topic of interest in the United States as well, and various networks are fighting over who will have the rights to cover this event, which of course, isn’t true. The UWFI recently held a press conference in New York on 10-29-91 to announce this event, and also included Billy Scott, and his scheduled opponent Ernest Simmons, who will be a replacement for James Warring, who couldn’t come to terms with the UWFI on a contract. Berbick is possibly best known, as the last man to fight Muhammad Ali, whom he defeated in 1981, and effectively ended his career. The UWFI has declined to have any live coverage of this event, as they are calculating that the profits of home video sales will exceed what they can get in television rights.

Business for the UFWI has been heating up. They were able to sell out in the first 15mins for their 10-6-91 card at the Korakuen Hall, and they almost sold out their 11-7-91 event with an estimated 6,200 people.