Masa Funaki Interview (Part 2 of 2)

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William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
Proving Pro-Wrestlers Can Fight: The Masakatsu Funaki Interview

Part Two of Two: Behind the Scenes of Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling

By William Colosimo |

William Colosimo: Ken Shamrock told me that while he was in Pancrase, there were eight people in the office that had more of a say in the running of the organization than you or Suzuki. Were these the people backing the organization financially? Did you have much say in the direction of the company?

Masakatsu Funaki: Those eight people, who would they be? Maybe, those eight people, some people in the office? I am not sure. When I first made Pancrase, me, Suzuki and Fuke took out loans, going into debt to create the company. So, it wasn’t like we’d received external funding from someone else. So, those eight people, I am not sure who Shamrock was talking about. But it probably was the office workers we had in the office. He probably interpreted it in that way.

Mark Ruina: Who took the office as president or head of the organization?

Funaki: Mr. (Masami) Ozaki. Mr. Ozaki was the president.

Ruina: What authority did you have?

Funaki: I was the top among the athletes, so, for matchmaking and things like that, myself, president Ozaki and Suzuki, the three of us would decide. That didn’t change at all in the seven years I was there before I retired.

Ruina: So, you also had quite a voice in terms of the direction of the company.

Funaki: Yes, I did. Up until my retirement, I had that power. After I retired, the decisions were made by president Ozaki and Suzuki.

Ruina: So, matchmaking was made among the three of you until then.

Funaki: Right.

Colosimo: Pancrase featured six Japanese fighters when it debuted- yourself, Minoru Suzuki, Takaku “Yusuke” Fuke, Kazuo “Yoshiki” Takahashi, Ryushi Yanagisawa, and Katsuomi Inagaki. To build an organization like this in Japan at that time, did the culture dictate the core fighters must be Japanese? I was wondering why Ken Shamrock wouldn’t be involved in that original lineup- as at that point it seemed he had some seniority, skills, and was a draw.

Funaki: There wasn’t such a rule. At that point, we weren’t sure whether Shamrock would join us or not, so it ended up being like that. But I thought that we really needed Shamrock. So, when I decided to form Pancrase, I immediately contacted him and very soon after got him under contract. I went to America and talked with him, I was called to go to America for a press conference about the establishment of Pancrase and he was kind enough to attend.

Ruina: Did you get to know him through Mr. Soranaka’s introduction?

Funaki: No, we had done Fujiwara-Gumi together for two years, two years of matches where every time we had matches together, we would train together. Through that period, we became really close. And one time, for two weeks, for a month, for about a month, he came to stay in Japan and we trained together for that time.

Colosimo: When Pancrase first started, the roster was smaller and many fighters needed to develop their skills in Pancrase style fighting. Sometimes the higher level fighters such as yourself, Minoru Suzuki, and Ken Shamrock needed to fight some of the lower level fighters. In an effort to put on a good show for the fans and to build the newer fighters up, would you sometimes go easy on the lesser skilled fighters so the matches could be more exciting?

Funaki: As could be expected, at that time, MMA still didn’t exist, so we basically had a kickboxer or an amateur wrestler or a judo guy, kickboxing, amateur wrestling and judo, only those types of fighters were around then. So, of course, if we fought a kickboxer, there’d be a clinch and then they’d be on the ground and get tapped. There were really not a lot of fighters who could do that kind of fighting. The first six months or year were really hard for us. When it turned out that Shamrock would be competing in the UFC, after that, Shamrock talked to athletes that competed in the UFC for us. From that, we started being able to put on better fights. The start was difficult because of the lack of fighters.

Ruina: So, did you sometimes go easy on the lesser skilled fighters?

Funaki: No. When that happened, victory or defeat would be decided in a minute or two, within three minutes. Pancrase’s catch-phrase at that time was “Byousatsu,” that became our catch-phrase because winning or losing was decided quickly (Translator’s Note:“秒殺”: the first character means “seconds” as in minutes and seconds and the second character means “kill.” So, to win in seconds, something like that, as opposed to hours or minutes- as a one or two minute fight can easily be counted in seconds).So, we didn’t take it easy on anyone. And if you take it easy on a weaker opponent, you might end up losing to them, so we definitely didn’t want to do that.

Colosimo: What were your thoughts on Royce Gracie and Gracie jiu-jitsu during the first few years of the UFC, 1993 to 1995?

Funaki: When he first appeared on the scene, Shamrock who I was training with suffered a total defeat by him, and Shamrock was saying he made a mistake, but later when we watched it on video, I thought it wasn’t only a mistake. Technique, there were so many techniques that we didn’t know. I thought that in order for us to get stronger from then on, we needed to incorporate his techniques.

Ruina: I’ve heard that you paid a visit to the Machado brothers (Editor’s Note: The Machado brothers are Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors and relatives of the Gracie family).

Funaki: Yes, we went to their place, Shamrock and I went together.

Ruina: What was the training like?

Funaki: We wore a gi and they sparred with us. They were really good. There were so many techniques I didn’t know. Shamrock, before his rematch with Royce Gracie, he was thinking that it was essential to learn those techniques, so we went to see them. And we trained with all of them, there are three or maybe four brothers, and Shamrock and I sparred with all of them. And so, we got to experience their technique. And then Shamrock and Royce Gracie fought to a draw the next time. I think it was because we had the experience of visiting the Machado jiu-jitsu dojo that it ended in a draw.

Ruina: How was it training in the gi?

Funaki: As one would expect, it was my very first time, so I was tapped out many times. It was hell. I was choked over and over, so many times.

Ruina: With the gi?

Funaki: Right, with the gi.

Colosimo: What were your thoughts on Ken Shamrock going over to fight in the first UFC events? Was it dangerous to Pancrase’s reputation?

Funaki: I was in complete agreement about him going. Thinking about it, I wanted him to compete on the world stage as much as possible, and I had confidence in Shamrock at the time, as a representative of Pancrase, so when I could, I would go to coach and corner him and think out, plan strategy for him. I did that many times, I think three times. I cooperated with him 100%.

Ruina: Did you think about if he were to lose?

Funaki: If he were to lose, I thought he wasn’t going to lose, so that’s why I acted as coach and cornerman for him. I thought about the best strategies for him to use to win. Shamrock said, “If you come out there with me, I definitely won’t lose.”

Ruina: He definitely didn’t look like he was going to lose.

Funaki: We were a good team.

Colosimo: You had fought on every one of the first 26 Pancrase events, from September 1993 through March of 1996. Was it important you were showcased on every card to help build the organization? Who made that decision?

Funaki: That was to grow the organization. As for people with name value in the organization, there were only two- me and Suzuki. So, to get people to come and see an event, invariably one or both of us would have to have a bout in the event. And Pancrase wouldn’t generate income unless we had an event every month, so we had to basically hold an event every month.

Colosimo: To help save wear and tear on your body, were there instances where matches would be more of an exhibition rather than a fight?

Funaki: I wouldn’t know anything about that. If we were to do a match like that, we would end up just like every other organization. I thought we definitely couldn’t do matches like that. For me personally, I had to go out and fight at every event. Even when I got injured during training, I would get an anesthetic shot and go out and fight.

Colosimo: How would you describe your relationship with Minoru Suzuki during the two years you were both in the Fujiwara-Gumi organization?

Funaki: The Fujiwara-Gumi era, we generally trained together. As for matches, well, we didn’t even have one match together so I don’t know, things didn’t change between us during that time. Rather, it was those four years, U.W.F. and Fujiwara-Gumi, where we were very close to each other. But when it came to Pancrase, three years in, Suzuki got injured. So, while he was out of commission, needing to rest for a number of months, it became more and more that I had to do the matches and Suzuki wanted to do the matches but couldn’t, and because of that, space developed between us. From about three years with Pancrase, my feelings started to change.

Ruina: And how about now?

Funaki: Now, everything is back the way it was I think. We only talk when we occasionally meet at pro-wrestling events, but we went back to being normal acquaintances.

Colosimo: How much did you train together with Ken Shamrock?

Funaki: The first time we met during the U.W.F. era, I thought that he was the kind of person that could fight the Pancrase style, the idea I had when I was 17, to do a style that wasn’t fake. I thought he was the kind of athlete that could do it. So, I really took a liking to him from the start. We trained together one year in Fujiwara-Gumi, and I taught him a lot of my techniques. From there, we went to the UFC, we trained together, and together, he would go out and constantly win. For me he was, how can I say, the closest person for me among the American fighters. It was an amazing era for me. It was so much fun. He really helped Pancrase out a lot. He also found a lot of fighters for us. So, for Shamrock, I have nothing but gratitude.

Colosimo: Shamrock stated that after a short while- maybe early on in Fujiwara-Gumi in 1991- he mostly trained and sparred with Kazuo “Yoshiki” Takahashi. Does that sound accurate?

Funaki: Yeah, Takahashi was the best among the younger guys. Training with the best of the younger guys was the way to improve your ability.

Colosimo: The Pancrase organization was founded on a stable of six Japanese fighters. In 1995 and 1996, the second wave of Japanese fighters joined the organization. Many times when these younger fighters were matched up, we would see a large amount of hand strikes on the ground, something not seen in too many matches in those years. Why would the younger Japanese fighters sometimes fight in this way when they were paired up?

Funaki: It would have to be the UFC. I think the influence of the UFC was huge. Later, we held meetings about whether to go with palm strikes or punches. If we didn’t do punches, we couldn’t get guys from the UFC to come over. In the end, there were a lot of fighters that were not into it if you couldn’t punch. So, we tried to make a rule set as close to the UFC’s as possible, which we called Pankration rules and that allowed punches. The rules were 10-minutes to the finish, wearing gloves, leg guards, there was no biting, no eye pokes, no low blows, but other than those three, anything goes. That was Pankration rules. So, then we decided to put on matches using those rules and the regular Pancrase rules together. And because of that, many guys from the UFC came to fight for us. I also competed under Pankration rules, three times. Before I fought Rickson Gracie. I only did three Pankration rules matches.

Ruina: That wasn’t in preparation for the match with Rickson but only because you wanted to challenge yourself…

Funaki: Well, we wanted guys to come from the UFC, so that’s why we made those rules. About six months after we had made those rules, I had the match with Rickson. It was a possibility that Rickson would come and fight under Pankration rules.

Ruina: Thank you very much for your time.

Funaki: My pleasure. It was fun. I got to talk about a lot of things from the past.

Colosimo: Mr. Funaki, thank you very much for the opportunity for the interview. I’m very honored to speak with you.

Funaki: Thank you very much too.


Posting Machine
Sep 5, 2015
Awesome interview. It was notable that Funaki would not confirm that some fights were works. I find it hard to believe that some weren't.


First 100
Jan 16, 2015
Awesome interview. It was notable that Funaki would not confirm that some fights were works. I find it hard to believe that some weren't.
Yea I thought it was a given that some were. I diddnt watch any of this but just going by what I read over the years.

William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
Awesome interview. It was notable that Funaki would not confirm that some fights were works. I find it hard to believe that some weren't.
What I thought was much more notable was that he basically said that the Newborn U.W.F., Fujiwara-Gumi, and SWS were works. I've interviewed three American fighters who still generally won't admit to that. He's a major name who has opened up about it- which might make other fighters I interview feel more open to talk about that, now that Funaki has.
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