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Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA

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*Vol.3 Continued*

In other news....

On April 1st 1991, Koji Kitao was supposed  to have a standard pro wrestling match with "Earthquake" John Tenta at  an event for the Japanese SWS promotion. However, booker The Great  Kabuki put Tenta up to provoking Kitao in hopes of getting Kitao  expelled from the promotion, so from the outset Tenta didn't really  cooperate with Kitao's attempts to engage, provoking him by making him  look too slow & deliberate. Kitao threw a fit on the outside after  Tenta took him down hard, and stopped cooperating with Tenta, who hadn't  been cooperating with him in the first place, taking a two fingered  posture and trying for an eye gouge when Tenta grabbed his arm. No one  really connected with anything before Kitao got himself disqualified for  kicking the ref, but Kitao made things public afterwards, grabbed the  microphone on the outside and breaking kayfabe by telling the crowd that  pro wrestling is fake, and that his opponent Tenta, also a decorated  sumo who was undefeated in his brief career, is fake. Kitao and Kabuki  were promptly fired after this incident.

We are excited to  announce that Bart Vale is now offering his vast wealth of shootfighting  knowledge via instructional tapes, and seminars, contact him today to  increase your skills.

Martial Artist and film star Steven Seagal lost a lawsuit over  writing credit to the film Marked for Death. Seagal had recently gone  before the arbitration board of the screen actors guild, along with the  film's producers: Michael Grais, and Mark Victor. Seagal lost a  decision, in which, he argued that he rewrote 93 percent of the script  himself.


Let's check in with Scribe Par Excellence, Mike Lorefice, and see what he has to say about all this:

"Renting  vs. Smit was a poor match because most of the strikes barely connected,  but helds some interest for the odd judo based takedowns where they  almost twisted each other to the mat, as well as for Renting using low  kicks to work kick combinations. The finish was just odd. It didn't  strike me as an omoplata, but rather two guys who simply didn't  understand that there's no finishing leverage on the armbar when the guy  applying it is on his side and the guy receiving it shifts to his  stomach. You felt like Smit needed to go belly down also, but there was  really no way for that to even work because he was just scissoring his  legs on Renting's bicep.

Peeters was the most interesting of  the original roster in that he more or less really went at it, and his  matches were extremely intense and sometimes baffling because of that.  The match wasn't a straight up shoot, but they often didn't work with  each other either, and Peeters always seemed to be at the center of  this. Peeters might not have been actively trying to knock Haarmans out,  but he wasn't really pulling his strikes either, which made for an odd  constrast given Haarmans was, and I kept looking for Haarmans to  complain about the way Peeters was laying into him. What's actually more  interesting though, and makes the match look very much ahead of its  time, is the lack of cooperation on the throws and various attempts to  get each other down resulting in a style where both guys exploded and  whatever happened, happened.

Seemingly Peeters would sort of cooperate  by not specifically resisting the lockup or immediately trying to get  back to his feet in the grappling, allowing Haarmans to toy around with  crabs, but he wouldn't necessarily cooperate with the throws and  transitions. There was a lot of flash though, mostly from Peeters with  spinning kicks and belly to belly suplexes since Haarmans was much more  obliging, but they both made each other work for things & didn't  sacrifice the essence of the fight for entertainment value.

Maeda's  idea to broker talent from all corners of the world was a solid one,  but one of the major problems of doing this in a worked league that  pretended to be a shoot league is he was somewhat at the mercy of the  leaders of these various gyms who were always going to be above their  underlings despite current ability and marketability. In his prime,  Dolman was likely the best real fighter on this show, and even in these  days, the Gracies were still regularly ignoring his challenges.

 Unfortunately, he was pudgy 46-year-old when RINGS started and should  just have focused on his role of running his gym & training the  Netherlands stable for their actual real and worked fights rather than  being Maeda's first big rival and winning the inaugural Mega Battle  tournament. Given none of these guys were probably capable of having a  good match with the fighter who would more aptly be dubbed Dullman, I  suppose feeding him legendary strongman Kazmaier wasn't the worst idea.  This match should have been 5 minutes or less though, but that's a tough  go when you are running a major arena with a 4 match card. The real  value of a guy like Yoji Anjo is he could give you an entertaining half  hour, thus allowing time to be shaved matches that were never going to  be MOTYC.

The first half had some moments, but they were both blown up  in the second half. Certainly, it was much better as a "shoot" than as a  work, by that I mean it was fairly credible, it just wasn't slickly  performed. I have no problem calling it more believable than anything on  the PWFG or UWF-I debut shots, but graceful it was not. Kazmaier  actually did a good job of striking as though it were a kickboxing match  rather than his usual pro wrestling match, and generally came off as a  real RINGS fighter even though this was a one off, but his muscles got  in the way of his actual striking technique. Similarly, Dolman had the  right footwork & movement, but his actual blows were performed with  action figure flexibility.

RINGS was a lot more believable  than UWF because the card was filled with martial artists rather than  pro wrestlers who trained other pro wrestlers in a martial arts oriented  pro wrestling style, but unfortunately Maeda himself hadn't evolved.  Maeda vs. Vrij could have taken place on any UWF show, in fact it was  probably less realistic than Vrij's three UWF matches. Vrij had a good  intimidating look as the icy musclebound cyborg who was a lot more  charismatic than that description suggests, and was capable of being an  entertaining striker when someone built a match around that and pulled  the match out of him, but he wasn't much of a worker on his own. Still,  given what they had, he was a good option to be Maeda's initial rival,  held back mainly by having failed previously in UWF (he beat Anjo in  between loses to Fujiwara).

Thematically, this was the expected match  with the kickboxer Vrij winning the standup and the grappler Maeda  winning the ground, but there wasn't much interplay, which was  disappointing given Vrij had progressed a lot since his initial mixed  match with Fujiwara where he wore gloves to being willing to challenge  Anjo & Fujiwara in their domain in his '90 matches. Generally, you  had Vrij standing there with his right arm tight and his left arm fully  extended, fist clenched, landing strikes until Maeda got him down &  mostly just held him in some loose positions that beared some  resemblance to amateur wrestling except nothing was actually being done  to keep Vrij in place.

The primary reason the first Fujiwara vs. Vrij  not only worked, but was so much more intense is anytime Fujiwara got a  hold or Vrij or took him down, Vrij would immediately try to scramble  back to his feet, with Fujiwara desperately grasping & clutching for  dear life to keep Vrij from getting another opportunity to work him  over on his feet. Against Maeda, Vrij did a decent job of mixing in low  kicks and body blows to keep Maeda guessing, but Maeda was still really  just standing totally relaxed in front of him, and Vrij wasn't hitting  all that hard compared both to some of the stuff on the undercard and  his own later bouts. Much of Vrij's illusion was shattered when Maeda  inexplicably scored the first knockdown, though Vrij did a good job of  playing heel within the rules to regain the intensity and generally seem  pissed & out of control.

 Though it was easily the least credible  bout on the card, the length was right, containing enough action and  entertainment value to please Maeda's fans without becoming too  unbelievable. Still, it's the kind of match that looks worse with each  passing year, particularly due to the hokey finish that would surely  make clown prince Angle proud where Vrij landed some kind of jumping  movie kick then Maeda ate a high kick, but caught Vrij's leg on the  recoil and somehow twisted and turned into an ankle lock then continued  into a 1/2 crab for the victory.

*Archives of this series can be found at *

Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.4

Greetings and salutations!

It is that time most hallowed, where we once again come together in the spirit of Kakutogi to observe the latest wanderings before us. This time we find ourselves back at the Korakuen Hall, ready for another chapter of the PWFG. So far, we have witnessed the birth of a nexus of Shoot-Style promotions that will eventually help solidify and define MMA in the years to come (with RINGS and the UWFI being the other two promotions).

It’s 5-16-91, and we are greeted by a soothing synth beat, while infamous catch-wrestling legend Karl Gotch, puts the PWFG crew through their paces. One look at this, and we can see a glimpse as to why PWFG went on to produce some of the best fighters of the early MMA era, due to the watchful tutelage of Gotch.

In fact, Gotch may be an unsung hero in the annuls of MMA history, because if his influence hadn’t saturated Japanese Pro Wrestling since the early 70s, and had he not been a forerunner in the formation of the original UWF promotion, there probably wouldn’t have be a Shooto, Pancrase, Pride, or any Japanese MMA for that matter, and thereby many of the early stars of MMA would be noticeably absent. It’s very possible that the UFC would have been regulated to a quick infomercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, if we didn’t have people like Ken Shamrock, or Dan Severn (who both got their start in MMA by way of Japanese Shoot-Style wrestling) providing a stylistic foil, or counter narrative, in those early chapters of its history.

This event is kicked off with the PWFG roster honoring Gotch in the center of the ring, and allowing him to kick things off with a short speech which is as follows: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the road to success is made of luck, sweat, and tears. The first steps have been made, and a lot of work lays ahead of us. With the spirit of Fujiwara-Gumi we can face the future with confidence. I hope we can give wrestling back the honor it deserves. So, it can be done with the same respect as it is in boxing, which it once had. The time has come to give the public what it pays for, and not to take their money under false pretenses by impersonating a professional wrestler.”

The speech is rather fascinating as it clearly shows the essence of what MMA has always wanted to be, which is REAL pro wrestling, and it offers a glimpse into what was surely the vision of people like Gotch, Lou Thez, Billy Robinson and other wrestlers from a bygone era, in which carnival wrestling had roots in effective martial art techniques, and its practitioners honed and perfected their techniques via a subculture that was happy to exchange its esoteric secrets with one another.

It may also reveal how insecure the powers that were in charge, may have been about actually providing real shoots. One must wonder, if somebody like Fujiwara, simply didn’t think there was a paying public for real pro wrestling and had no choice to pull the wool over the eyes of its fanbase. In any event, Gotch’s vision didn’t really take formation until the founding of Pancrase in late 93, and we are given even more evidence that Pancrase is the culmination of what the PWFG should have been from the beginning.

After the formalities, we are treated to a very young, and very fresh faced, Minoru Suzuki, who these days looks like he may just be a tad under 800 years old. This saddening observation has made me ponder many of the deeper things in life, such as if the rigorous shooting career Suzuki had in the mid-late 90s added about 750 of those years to his body.

Here Suzuki must face Kazuo Takahashi, who in a short time later, became one of the first fighters to conquer a BJJ black belt (with a win over Wallid Ismail at UFC 12) thus garnering a reputation as a very tough opponent, regardless of whatever fighting skills he may have lacked.

Suzuki and his opponent start off in the clinch, and the first couple of mins look a lot like a Greco-Roman wrestling match, until Takahashi shoots in and aggressively goes for a double. Suzuki tries to ward this off with a sprawl, but after struggling for a couple of seconds, he defaults to a nasty knee to the midsection of Takahashi, with a couple of palm strikes thrown in for good measure. I’m really digging how Suzuki incorporated striking in his shoot-style days. He seemed to use his strikes as tools to open up submission attempts, or as a way to break a stalemate when his normal grappling tools were being stalled out, and to me, this added a lot of nuance to his matches.

Takahashi continues his strategy of trying to blast through Suzuki with a power-double but can’t seem to get the job done. He switches to a single-leg attempt, to which Suzuki briefly tried a guillotine counter, but couldn’t get the requisite leverage with one of his legs in the air, so he let go of Takahashi and was able to side step into a slick Kimura (Double Wrist Lock) attempt. He quickly gives up on the Kimura and goes for an armbar, in which he sets up by squishing Takahashi’s face with his forearm/palm, to which I wholly approve of.

Always make the Uke Suffer!

his was a great way to open the show and set the tone for the event. A realistic match, that was faced paced, and didn’t have any real holes, or lulls in the action.

Next up is Yusuke Fuke vs Bart Vale:

They really tried to sell this as a lighting fast/undersized grappler vs a monstrosity striker, and it probably worked well for its era, but under a modern eye it isn’t believable due to the oafish slowness of Vale. When Vale is throwing kicks his offense looks passable, but when he gets taken down to the ground, by someone as lithe as Fuke, he simply doesn’t have the movement or the ability to make it seem like he would be any kind of credible threat, despite having a significant weight advantage. The match is entertaining, fast paced, and contains several great takedowns by Fuke, but the credibility is lacking.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Wellington Wilkins Jr:

Another well-paced, entertaining bout, that lacked credibility. In this case, it wasn’t due to the matchup itself, as both Wilkins and Fujiwara complemented each other, and came across as equally skilled opponents, but rather it was because it was simply too flashy to be a good example of this new style of wrestling. A lot of flashy suplexes and takedowns, mixed in with some stiff striking, and goofy antics from Fujiwara. Fun, but definitely the most rooted in the more common pro wrestling spectrum, compared to the other matches on the card.

Naoki Sano vs Ken Shamrock

Here we get to a true treat, and the highlight of this card. PWFG’s lack of star power on the bottom tier of their roster definitely led to some unfortune excursions into the more obscure corners of the jobber universe, but in this case, their subcontracting out some talent led to a homerun. Sano started his carrer in the 80s as a jobber for NPJW before getting a chance to hone his craft in Mexico in 87 and he was able to parlay that experience into a successful run in the Jr. Division of NJPW, with some memorable matches against Jyushin Liger.

When SWS (Super World of Sports) started doling out the cash in the early 90s he jumped aboard the gravy train, and was plying his craft there, when PWFG worked out an agreement to have him loaned out for a couple of matches. His stay here was brief, as Kazuo Yamazaki, and Nobuhiko Takada lured him over to the UWFI shortly thereafter.

If Sano is known at all to a modern MMA fan, it is probably for his surprisingly good showing against Royler Gracie at Pride 2, in which he was able to nullify a lot of Royler’s offensive tools, and could have possibly caused a major upset had he not been so tentative in that fight.

The fight starts and is already looking to be amazing, as Sano seems like a perfect opponent for Shamrock. Both were of a similar height, and both had impressive bodybuilder physiques, so this is looking like a clash between the unstoppable force vs the immovable object, straightaway.

Unstoppable Hair vs Immovable Mullet

The first few mins start off with the fighters feeling each other out on the ground, with Ken ever looking for a leg attack entry. This is interesting to watch from a modern vantage point, as it was clearly by people that weren’t in the BJJ mentality of “position over submission.” Sano will attempt to place Ken in a bad position, and as soon as Ken is able to reposition himself, he instantly goes for the attack, which was the mindset of Catch Wrestling.

Both men jockey back and forth on the ground for a while, with both trading kimura, toe hold, and choke attempts. This goes on for a while, until Shamrock is able to secure a rear naked chock, thus forcing a rope escape from Sano.

They get stood back up and escalate the entire affair with some stiff palm strikes, and nasty knees from Sano. Everything is looking very snug and believable until a momentary show of flashiness takes place with a jumping DDT from Sano. This didn’t really amount to a whole lot, as Shamrock quickly reversed his position by applying a hammerlock variant, into another rear naked choke attempt, and rope escape.

After trading a couple of kicks, Shamrock hits an explosive Northern Lights suplex into a Kimura, which is super impressive looking, but admittedly fake as all get out. This surprisingly didn’t accomplish much as Sano was right back up with some more kicks and managed to score a knockdown against Shamrock. Shamrock gets back up and they continue to trade submission attempts, but one thing I’m starting to notice is that this has a great back and forth feel, without the sometimes-scripted feeling that a Rings match would give off. The limited rope-escape format of RINGS could add a lot of drama to a match, but oftentimes produced matches that felt very formulated. The PWFG approach of unlimited rope escapes allows for a much more organic match to take place, although can also lead to bouts of meandering if not done correctly.

The match continues to seesaw all the way until the 25:00 min mark, when everything culminates into an explosive crescendo, as both men give everything they have into knees/palm strikes towards one another. Sano gets behind Shamrock and hits a dragon suplex, followed by a straight armbar, for the win. While not perfect, this was a great match that really showcased the new and uncharted territory that this style could deliver. It was fairly credible, outside of a few highspots and Shamrock’s striking needing to be a bit stiffer. Still, this was a glimpse of some of the magic to come, and Sano proved to a perfect foil to the powerhouse that was Ken Shamrock.

Now, much like the Hindenburg, this show must come crashing down in similar fashion. We have Masakatsu Funaki vs Johnny Barrett, which if this had to exist at all, should have at least been towards the bottom of the card. Having someone as slow and out of shape as Barrett in a main event, is truly baffling. Funaki does what he can with him, and while it isn’t completely horrible, it was a totally anti-climatic letdown, after the greatness of Shamrock/Sano.

Conclusion: While they haven’t quite hit their stride, we are starting to see that the PWFG has the most potential of the three Shoot-Style leagues to really break into greatness. Although they weren’t able to keep a consistent stylistic tone, all of the matches were entertaining, and if they can manage to broaden the shallow end of their talent pool, then they might be a dangerous force to reckon with.

Here is the event in full:

*Vol.4 Continued*

In Other News:

*Japan* Maurice Smith recently squared off against Peter Smit at an All Japan Kickboxing event on 5-21. There was a lot of trash talk and dirty looks from Smit and his crew leading up to the first round, and Smit continued to act arrogant after the round started. Surprisingly though, despite all of his bluster, Smit had absolutely nothing for Smith, and was never able to generate any significant offense. At one point during round 1, smith become irritated at Smit’s antics and picked him up and slammed him to the ground. This caused a look of confusion and bewilderment from Smit, who seemed puzzled as to how Maurice could just have his way with him like that.

Smit regained his composure by round 2, but still wasn’t able to effectively break through Smith’s defenses. Round 3 is when things started to get interesting… Smit was finally hitting his stride and while he wasn’t landing any bombs, he was able to stifle Smith, which seemed to frustrate him, and shortly before the 2min mark, Smith bodylocked Smit, took him down, and initiated some ground and pound. This caused several people in Smit’s corner to jump onto the ring apron, and threaten Smith, while the referee panicked. The ref managed to break it up and declared Smit the winner. Smith then calmed down and apologized to Smit and asked him to come back into the ring and finish the fight. The ref seemed unwilling at first, but after cutting to a montage of the melee, apparently an agreement was worked out and everybody agreed to resume the bout.

Smith don't play around......

They were both on their best behavior for round 4, but by the time Round 5 started it was clear that Smith had enough of the shenanigans, and proceeded to knock Smit out in just over a min. Things were surprisingly calm after the win, but one must wonder if Maurice had any trouble getting out of the building unscathed that night.

Full Event: (Maurice Smith fight starts around 36:30) :

Rings has been getting a lot of attention in the Japanese media lately, as it is being reported that this promotion is, and will be, a complete shoot (although as we reported last time, this is not the case) and Maeda’s decision to break away from Yamazaki and Takada was due to their not wanting to be in a full shoot organization.

*Chicago* Chuck Norris proved that he can do more than just act and roundhouse people, when he set a speedboat record of 12 hours 8 mins and 42 seconds for the 605 mile nautical trip between Chicago and Detroit. Michael Regan (son of President Ronald Regan) held the record before Norris, but Norris was able to beat him by about 26mins. Norris is an avid powerboat racer and was also able to beat the San Francisco to Los Angeles record last year, during his second attempt.

Did Dave Meltzer have anything interesting to say? Let's see: MAY 20, 1991 "The big news this week was the debut of Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda's new promotions. Takada's group debuted before a sellout 2,300 fans at Korakuen Hall on 5/10, with all tickets sold out in something like 15 minutes the first day they went on sale. The group, called UWF International or UWFI for short, is the closest thing to the old UWF which had a two-year run as the hottest promotion in the world before fizzling out as shooting stars are wanton to do because of problems between Maeda and office boss Shinji Jin. The show wasn't really very good, but what remains of the legion of UWF fans were there and felt good about being there. Takada grabbed the house mic before the show and said the group was the only one left 'with the feeling of the UWF' which got a big pop. The card itself consisted of three matches, a prelim match between Masato Kakihara and Kiyoshi Tamura, won by Tamura. Then came a 'doubles' match (tag team) with Shigeo Miyato & Yoji Anjyo beating Kazuo Yamazaki & Tatsuo Nakano with the surprise finish of Yamazaki doing the job when he was knocked out by a series of kicks from both guys in 23 minutes. This was different from the old UWF, which didn't have any tag matches. The rule were that a guy couldn't tag out while in a submission hold unless he got to the ropes or was able to break the hold. It was different since Yamazaki is really the group's second biggest name and he did the job. The main event saw Takada beat Tom Burton (who worked as a Dirty White Boy in Memphis some months back) with a boston crab in 10:46. The match was disappointing to most because Burton really had no idea of the style and Takada was giving him lots of openings and trying to carry him for ten minutes but the fans saw it as Takada could unload on him and beat him at anytime. At the 10 minute call, Takada seemingly proved them right because he got a quick win at that point. After the match in the press conference Takada apologized and said 'my opponent was poor.' They also confused fans by instituting new rules. On the scoreboard, each man starts the match with 15 points. You lose three points every time you go to the ropes to break a hold, and lose one point every time you get suplexed. The match can end with a pinfall (which almost will never happen), a submission (usual finish), knockout, five knockdowns or if a man's point total goes down to zero. When the press asked Takada after the show what his goal a year from now was, he said honestly, "I'm only thinking about one card at a time." In the sense that they drew the full house so easily, the card was a financial success. But the truth is, it has been so long since there has been a "real" UWF show in Tokyo, which was the home base of the UWF, that the first house was easy. Whether this group, with only eight wrestlers and access to only no-name Americans can book shows that will draw over the long haul or be able to draw outside of Tokyo is another story. The next show is 6/6 at Korakuen Hall with Takada vs. J.T. Southern on top.

Two interesting notes were that Koji Kitao sent flowers to Takada's opening show, which gets an interesting rumor going, although he'd certainly be out of place. Even more interesting was the front page news in one of the newspapers this past week that this group is trying to put together a Takada vs. George Foreman match for the Tokyo Dome in January, but you can imagine how astronomical the odds would be of being able to pull that one off.

Speaking of Kitao, I got a chance to see the 4/1 'Wrestle Dream in Kobe' SWS-WWF show so I saw the match with Earthquake John Tenta. Anyway, aside from it being just about the worst match of the year (negative four stars), it did appear that it was Tenta who "started it." The first genuine shoot move was Tenta going behind Kitao and taking him down hard amateur style (Tenta was the teenage world superheavyweight champion back in the early 80s), but almost like a football lineman just throwing down a back. Tenta was riding Kitao, who got to the ropes. Kitao then got out of the ring and kicked over the press table and got a real po'd look in his eyes.

When they got back in the ring, it seemed the communication was gone but Kitao put his hands up as to do a test of strength as if they were working. When they locked up, Kitao quickly tried to move for the Fujiwara armbar but Tenta just got out of the way. Don't know if Kitao was doing the move for shoot or not, but Tenta clearly wasn't going to try and find out. At that point, the match was over as both guys just glared at each other. Neither guy would make a move. It seemed as if, since every fan knew the match had gotten out of control, neither guy could back down but both were very happy that the other wasn't quick to make a move.

They just stood there and glared for like four minutes and neither guy had a way out of it other than get in a real fight which neither seemed to really want to do even though they had to give the impression to the other that they did, so finally Kitao kicked the ref real hard for the DQ. The TV version of the match cut immediately, but at that point Kitao grabbed the house mic and made his comments about Tenta being fake and wrestling being fake. I was told it was funny to see how fast people stormed the ring and tried to get the mic away from him. Anyway, apparently Kitao's version that Tenta came after him first under the provocation from Kabuki has some substance. . .

That was a really sad show, by the way. With the exception of Bret Hart vs. George Takano **3/4, nothing was better than **1/4. The real disappointment was Tenryu-Savage. Savage looked bad but Tenryu looked a lot worse. I don't know if it was a bad night or if a lot of us didn't realize just how valuable Sherri Martel has been to Savage over the past year because he didn't look like a good wrestler. Savage also tried to break the bump on the power bomb (since he probably had never taken one before) finisher and the crowd erupted in laughter. It was said Tenryu's performance was so bad because of all the problems underneath, but Tenryu has really looked bad of late a lot of nights. Hogan-Yatsu was interesting if only because Hogan tried to wrestle the entire match on the mat and did one take-down and ride on Yatsu after another. The match was dull since Hogan's mat wrestling isn't entertaining, but it was different and unlike the other Americans that worked SWS shows, Hogan at least tried to change his style. It seemed to hurt his feelings that the crowd took the match as comedy even though Hogan tried to wrestle seriously. Hogan didn't take any bumps except for one powerslam from Yatsu and basically took the entire match and made it one-sided.

Maeda's 'Rings' promotion debuted 5/11 at the Yokohama Arena before 11,000 fans. The crowd was impressive because there were very few freebies (by Maeda's own decision) and it was really Maeda alone as the drawing card. Maeda's main event against kick boxer/bodybuilder Dick Leon-Fry from the Netherlands turned out to be Maeda's best match in a long time. The matches were all worked, although the crowd seemed to be convinced otherwise and popped big when Maeda pulled out the win after giving Fry a lot of the match. The other matches involved Dutch guys trained by Chris Dolman (sambo) and Wilhelm Ruska (judo); however, the fans weaned on the UWF noticed the guys did judo and sambo submissions and not the Karl Gotch-UWF style submissions that the fans were used to. Dolman worked against many time world champion powerlifter Bill Kazmaeir, in a match said to be awful. Dolman won by submission in the fifth round. Maeda is also plagued by a front office that includes nobody that has ever worked previously within the pro wrestling business."

*Vol.4 Continued*

What does Mighty Mike Lorefice have to say about all of this: "Not to take anything away from Karl Gotch, or especially Billy Robinson, who was the most gifted pro wrestler of his generation, but everyone involved in these "shoot leagues" was continuing to perpetuate the myth of reality by screaming really loudly about being different while actually only inching further from the long established norms of pro wrestling.

This, of course, is exactly what one would expect, people grouping with those who are seemingly most similar and continuing to do more or less exactly what they've always done, not attempting to enact legitimate change but making the easy & safe choices that simply shif things ever so slightly, mostly by excluding from their clique and directly or indirectly running down those who don't fit into their current needs, in this case the phony posers.

While Gotch, Robinson, Lou Thesz, Nick Bockwinkel, etc. were assets as trainers given the style the new generation was going to be working, certainly worlds more useful than doing 1000 squats in sync for Buddy Lee Parker, and in some cases such as Sakuraba & Tamura actually helped provide some tools that translated into legitimate fighting success, instead bringing in current or recently retired tournament or Olympic competitors in judo, amateur wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, karate, taekwondo, etc. to train would surely have led to a more unique style & pushed things toward legitimate fighting a little quicker, probably still not under Fujiwara though, as taking on guys half his age for real was obviously not going to be a recipe for success or longevity. Rorion Gracie's ulterior motive for starting UFC was to prove that Gracie BJJ was the essential martial arts discipline, but with all the established players in the shoot leagues being from the same rigged discipline, there was no advantage, especially for Fujiwara, to removing his own safeguards. That being said, I think we are already starting to see a very important change due to Gotch, who helped instill the much needed Greco-Roman wrestling discipline that was largely missing in the UWF.

The main evolution we were seeing in these shoot leagues in 1991 is that the splintering of the UWF resulted in leagues needing to find new fighters to fill out their cards. One of the most important of these fighters was Kazuo Takahashi, a high school state champion in amateur wrestling who also had some training in karate. While Takahash's wrestling in this match was still too upper body centric, his attempting double & single leg takedowns was still an important step forward from the hokey status quo that, bereft of any real wrestling knowledge, included Akira Maeda relying on the captured suplex to transition to the mat. While nowhere near as entertaining as Suzuki's match with Shamrock on the 1st show, you can clearly see that Suzuki was forced to up his game here, combating the then unusual wrestling style of Takahashi by timing & countering his explosions with strikes & submissions. The match was very brief with Takahashi not really doing anything but looking for the takedown, and while the finish was not that impressive, overall it showed Suzuki to really get it in terms of being able to adapt to his opponent and counteract them through good timing.

Fuke debuted the prior August, going 1-1-1 against fellow rookie Masahito Kakihara before UWF closed. As with the previous match, the quality of amateur wrestling was much higher than it has been, with Fuke quickly hitting a single leg, which was also good strategy giving he was giving up a lot of weight to a kickboxer with a background in kenpo karate. Fuke showed a lot of potential, but Vale, while not awful, lacks any of the elements that make a fighter interesting such as speed, grace, & fluidity. He did some downright weird things, such as escape an armbar attempt by rolling to his left side & kicking Fuke in the head with his right leg, which drew a delayed chuckle from the Korakuen faithful. While I'll credit Vale with his willingness to allow Fuke to take him down & put him on the defensive rather than forcing a standup contest, Vale really didn't possess the skills necessary to put over his comebacks off his back.

After two examples of why PWFG was an improvement because you had new blood taking things in a more credible, martial arts based direction, Fujiwara comes out against a badly overmatched Wilkins, and because he doesn't take him the least bit seriously, does the PWFG version of a comedy match. Sure, this was credible by the standards of Hogan & Flair, but even if the work was arguably within the absolute loosest definition of shoot style, the desired reaction to their spots was giggling. They probably could have done a good match if they wanted to, but instead they did a cringeworthy exhibition that probably embarrassed some of the other performers because it was so obviously illegitimate in virtually every way.

Sano is something of a controversial figure, a guy who left NJPW at the height of his potential after a brilliant fued with Jushin Thunder Liger to compete in a promotion that supplied him with no legitimate rivals opponents, and spent the next several years paying for it when they failed. While Tenryu made Sano the flagbearer for the SWS light heavyweight division, a position he never would have held in NJ given Liger (as Tenryu never would have been tops in AJ given Jumbo Tsuruta), the overroided Model version of Rick Martel and a pre slapnuts J-E-FF J-A-RR-E-TT, were not the sort of opponents you were going to have futuristic matches with, as Sano had with Liger. Luckily, Sano found a home in the shoot style leagues, and while after leaving New Japan, perhaps only his program with Minoru Tanaka could be said to have approached the upper eschelons of junior heavyweight wrestling, he was a consistently good performer in the more realistic PWFG & UWF-I styles, with high quality matches against Minoru Suzuki & Kiyoshi Tamura. These highlights were somewhat overshadowed though by a bad run in MMA where he went 0-4 and just hanging on 12 years and counting beyond his expiration date (why didn't he retire with Liger, or instead of him...), making people forget that he was reasonably good during his first 5 or so years in NOAH by terrorizing audiences with his terrible perpetual tag contending duo with clutzy uncoordinated Takayama, a team he clearly needed to be totally carrying, except sadly he was very obviously far too broken to do so.

Suzuki's match with Shamrock on the previous show was considerably better because he has a lot more ability to both lead & react, and is by far the most creative of the three, but while Shamrock was forced to initiate a lot more here, he was able to maintain his patience & do a good job, with Sano bringing some good things to the match. Sano was the better standup fighter, landing some solid low kicks early (though he didn't really attempt to follow them up) and a lot of good openhand shots that helped force Shamrock into a more grappling centric performer. The basis of the match was ultimately Shamrock controlling with superior wrestling, forcing Sano to make things happen. It's unfair to compare a shoot debuting Sano to Suzuki in the style Suzuki has been training in for 2 years, but in any case Sano obviously wasn't totally ready to match is ability in junior heavyweight action yet. He was good in the striking exchanges and had some submissions in his arsenal, but most his transitions & counters would have taken the bout to a more puroresu place, and he was trying not to go there too often.

While the bout had the long match vibe too it throughout, emphasizing position changes on the mat over finishing opportunities, that was mostly okay because they kept the credibility a lot higher than it would have been, even if things thus meandered a bit more. I don't want to make it sound as if credibility was near the top of their priorities, Sano got a takedown with a jumping DDT and a knockdown with a jumping spinning heel kick that mostly missed and Shamrock did a few of his suplexes, but they built the match up well to these meaningful highlights, and didn't lose the plot when they failed to finish with them. Sano began to press in the standup, with Shamrock happy to get involved in a flurry because it would help him grab Sano & land his clinch knees, which tended to result in the bout hitting the mat one way or another. The finish didn't really work for me because by continuing to exchange the openhand strikes on the inside, Sano getting behind Shamrock when he missed one of these short shots without much hip turn was pretty clunky. Nonetheless, Sano did a released version of one of his wrestling favorites, the Dragon suplex, turning into the wakigatame for the finish. Definitely a good match, you could certainly argue very good, but my memory of it was better than it looks to me today.

Funaki almost had a match against himself tonight, and managed to look great anyways, with his slick execution and calm, in control demeanor. Barrett brought absolutely nothing to the table, pretty much just standing there and allowing Funaki to have his way with him because he was way too slow and unskilled for Funaki. While this was a passable exhibition where Funaki only broke a sweat because he felt like it, but exhibitions are supposed to start the card, not be the conclusion after a high quality, long, competitive bout like Shamrock/Sano.

*Archives of this series can be found at *

Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.5 "Enter the Wild West"

*Editors note: Mike Lorefice's comments will be integrated in the main body, and be designated by his initials, ML.*

Welcome back one and all, for the next breathless wonderment, in our ongoing journey to fully document the early years of free fighting history. We no longer find ourselves at the epicenter of all things combat related in Japan (why the Korakuen hall of course) instead opting for the more extravagant settings of the Tokyo NK Hall. The NK Hall was a 7000-capacity sports venue that operated within Disney Tokyo, from 88 to 05, and makes perfect sense here, as nothing speaks to the Mickey Mouse aesthetic more than Shoot-Fighting. We are greeted to the usual training montage, and opening interview segments, which I'm sure I would get much more fulfillment out of, if I simply understood more Japanese.

Suzuki....seemingly aging backwards

Kazuo Takahashi vs Mark Rush: No longer content with just dredging up obscure American Pro Wrestlers that actually had a bit of job resume, (however scant) it would now seem that Fujiwara has taken to scouring local Tokyo bars, searching for gaijins with amateur wrestling experience, and thus is the story with Mark Hunt. PWFG is the only promotion that Hunt worked for, and I have so far been unable to find any more information about him, but here he is, ready to scrap with the scrappiest of them all, Takahashi.

After refusing to shake Hunt’s hand before the match we are underway with a beautiful single leg takedown by Takahashi, in which he showed excellent technique by “turning the corner,” in splendid fashion. This match was almost all faced paced mat-work, with Takahashi in constant pursuit of the armbar. The match lasted 11:45 with Hunt, strangely enough, going over Takahashi with a nasty looking neck crank/choke. I thought this was a great way to start the event. This was a realistic (outside of a few tasteful slams, there wasn’t anything to really betray that this was a worked bout) match, that was paced just long enough to not wear out its welcome. Granted it wasn’t flashy and didn’t really have any striking outside of a couple of knees, and a brief flurry of palm strikes by Rush, but it did set a serious tone, and was a good representation of this style.

ML: Takahashi vs. Rush exemplifies all the problems of having two amateur wrestlers with no BJJ knowledge going at it. This wasn't a bad match per se because they were active on the mat, but even though they changed positions often, it was basically 12 minutes of fiddling with each others arms. Rush gets a tip of the cap for being the first fighter in our series to try the arm triangle. As incredibly loose as they were, it would have been much better if he won with that or the Americana than this "facelock" where Rush basically put his forearm on Takahashi's chin, clasping both hands near the center rather than one hand on his upper forearm/elbow, but tried to make up for that by resting the side of his head on the opposite side of Takahashi's cheek to help close the gaping hole a little bit.

Vale IS America...

Bart Vale vs Lato Kiraware: Lato seems like the dude that you would call, if you totally had to have an awesome block party in three days and had to find a quick replacement for your father-in-law to man the bratwurst station. He is not however Pro Wrestling material. This match basically went as you would expect, with Vale using Lato as a kicking pad, which garnered lots of puzzled expressions from Lato. This was a total squash match for Vale, and while it did nothing in terms of helping with the PWFG’s credibility, it was bizarrely entertaining, so it gets a pass.

ML: Realizing that Vale appeared to be in slow motion against any spry opponent, Fujiwara came up with a perfect opponent in Lato, an inflated Oliver Hardy shaped wrestler. In this setting, Vale's combos almost looked slick, and at least he didn't have to lean left to throw the right roundhouse kick as Lato did. Though it was something of a precursor to the dreaded PRIDE freakshow matches, and nothing much happened, at least at 5:49 they didn't overstay their welcome too much.

Wayne Shamrock vs Duane Koslowski: Here is a match I’m looking forward to. Koslowski was perhaps best known as a competitor in the 1988 Olympics, as a Greco-Roman wrestler. His pro debut was in 1989 at the UWF Cosmos event, and he wrestled another 8 times for PWFG, before calling it quits in 93. The match gets underway with Koslowski attempting to get the clinch, and Shamrock delivering some stiff kicks, and palm strikes as a response. After a couple of mins, Duane is finally able to clinch and take Shamrock to the mat and attempt a keylock to no avail. Shamrock escaped the keylock, to attempt a rear naked choke which led to a creative sequence, where Koslowski kept bridging to alleviate pressure from the choke, and then managed to press off with his legs and escape flip out of the hold. Not the most realistic scenario, but interesting, nonetheless.

The match continued in the same pattern for a while, as it would seem that clinch/takedown/keylock is the only thing that Koslowski knows how to do at this point, but in his defense he looks believable, and moves/acts just like you would expect a Greco expert to do so, one that doesn’t know anything about submission or BJJ, that is. The match ends soon afterword’s with a Northern Lights suplex, followed by a straight ankle lock from Shamrock, which was a rather jarring, considering they had kept things at a realistic tone before this. All in all, I enjoyed this match, as Shamrock’s striking is getting better, he was stiffer, and looks to be more confidant, and while one could argue that Koslowski was a bit dull, he had an air of credibility to him, and came off fine. The most interesting side note to this, is that in Shamrock’s autobiography he claimed that Koslowski did not want to Job to Shamrock, as he thought that he would get tons of grief from the Greco-Roman community, so Fujiwara decided to have them both shoot in a private, behind-the-scenes affair, that saw Shamrock as victorious, and afterwards Koslowski agreed to job to Ken.

ML: Shamrock vs. Koslowski was a big step up from the previous matches. Though Koslowski was in just his second match and didn't have a vast array of techniques, he could get away with it because he's such a high level athlete. Koslowski's wrestling technique is so good that his belly to belly suplexes were believable, but he just generally looked like a guy who knew how to fight. Though Shamrock was the better striker in a pro wrestling sense, Koslowski looked to have the best standing self defense training so far on the show, fighting out of a boxing stance and showing some footwork. I enjoyed this match, and while it probably didn't need to go any longer in terms of Koslowski having more to show, the finish was rather abrupt & too seated in pro wrestling.

No escape...from the Northern Lights


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