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*Archives of this series can be found at https://www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad * Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.1 "Genesis" Welcome to the beginning of what may be a long and winding story, as we begin a quest to (almost) completely document the history of modern MMA. Over the course of many chapters I hope to expose myths, answer questions, raise new inquires, and shine some light on how the way of the fist intersected with the art of the armbar, and how we got to be here today. I intend to go through every mma event, (within what is available), in chronological order, from the early 90s-00s, and highlight the various highs and lows, that have led us to where we are today. Because modern MMA is such a relatively new phenomenon, such an undertaking, while potentially arduous, is possible. The main thing is really deciding on where to start. I debated starting at UFC 1, but the fact is, that so much of modern Mma has roots in Japanese pro wrestling, it seemed like I would be doing a disservice on just skipping over all of the Shoot leagues/events that gave us many of the stars and concepts that would wind up becoming important later on down the road. Although the main point of this project is to cover Vale Tudo/NHB/MMA, to not give a solid look at the events that proceeded it, is to really leave out giant pieces of its tapestry. Therefore, I have decided to start in 1991, right after the collapse of the UWF, in which several pro wrestling organizations sprouted up, in an effort to sell, "real fighting," to a thirsty audience that didn't know any better. So consider this a prologue of sorts, and thus we will begin in the realm of shoot- wrestling, (which as we will see had their share of actual shoots as well), and we'll also make some detours into K1/Kickboxing, Bjj, etc, since by this point in time the Mma world was so small and blurred that there is a lot of natural overlap within these separate undertakings. Also, I hope to include media, and interviews from the time period in question, to try and add some of the perspective that was current at the time. I also encourage all of you to add, whatever you know, be it anecdotes, media, interviews, etc, so perhaps we can get a clearer picture together. So, without further ado, let us look back into the depths of a "sport" with a murky past, and no clear future. A culmination of events that has one foot in the Budo spirit of Samurai long dead, and the other in the more recent shenanigans of carnival performers. Yes, let's take a journey through time and see what led us to where we are today, as we glimpse down the Kakutogi road, that is simultaneously, both one of the noblest of pursuits, and one of the most vainglorious, (in that it rewards ingenuity, creativity, sheer force of will, and sacrifice, but at the end of the day...is still an endeavor that reduces it's practitioners to a spectacle, fighting to prove oneself has led to many sorrows, as men vainly chase their identity and self-worth in something that can never provide such a thing. We find ourselves on 3-4-91 as the very first PWFG, (Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi), event is set to take place. Before this took place it's wise to note, (for those reading that might not be familiar with the history), the initial cataclysm that led to Japan's interest in mma, which was the birth of the original UWF. A pro wrestling promotion that started in 1984 as fairly straightforward Pro Wrestling fare, it later evolved into something never seen before, once several key members migrated to it from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Nobuhiko Takada, Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask) and Kazuo Yamazaki, found a home with this fledgling promotion, and this prompted the change the orientation of the UWF's wrestling to a more martial arts > They became the hottest ticket in Japan for a brief period, until infighting over the essence of the product, and a clash of egos between Sayama and Maeda led to it's demise. The contention between Sayama and Maeda arose partly due to philosophical disagreements over what the essence of the UWF should be, with Sayama wanting more of a kickboxing flair, (he had a background in kickboxing), and Maeda wanting it more rooted in submissions. They would eventually come to blows, when on 9-2-85 the two began what started out as a worked pro wrestling match, but quickly devolved from there. After starting somewhat benignly enough, they started to stop pulling their punches/kicks and were striking each other for real. Eventually they seemed to regain their composure and things went back to normal, when towards the end of the match, Maeda simply gave a super hard kick to Sayama's balls, and forced a disqualification from the ref. Maeda was fired for this, and Sayama quit pro wrestling in disgust. He would later go on to form Shooto, which was the first true Mma organization, and who's history we will be exploring in greater detail down the road. *Match starts at 7:51* https://youtu.be/r2-ED7ymKl0 The first Shooto event took place in 1989, and while I would love to start this project from there.... I simply have yet to get my hands on any Shooto pre 92. I own most of the Shooto from 94 onward, but if anyone can help provide Shooto materials from 89-93, for the sake of this project, then please get in touch with me. After the initial collapse of the UWF in 85, most of the roster went back to work for New Japan Pro Wrestling, for the next few years. This was until 1988 when Maeda, yet again, couldn't keep his temper under control and decided to deliver a shoot Muay Thai kick to Riki Chosu's face, supposedly due to jealously of his position within the company. This left NJPW in an awkward spot, as how do you punish someone for doing something that was "legal," within the world of pro wrestling? They opted to punish him by insisting that he be banished to a tour of Mexico for a period of time, but Maeda refused, and opted to restart the UWF, taking a chunk of the roster with him. They had initial success until an economic downturn in Japan, coupled with disagreements on inter-promotional booking with more traditional pro wrestling companies, led to yet another demise for this promotion. Only this time, several key players splintered off to start their own promotions/vanity projects, and thus the shoot boom was born, and as we continue this story, we will see how this led to forming much of what modern mma is today. Yoshiaki Fujiwara was a Judoka that transitioned into pro wrestling in the early 70s, and has the distinction of being the first graduate of the New Japan Dojo system. He continued to wrestle for New Japan until the first Uwf incarnation and tried to stay in their good graces after Maeda initially left to restart the promotion in 1988. However, in 1989 he felt the need to continue in the ways of Shoot only this time he brought young talents Masakatsu Funaki, and Minoru Suzuki with him. Perhaps this decision, more than any other, led to mma being around today as we know it, because if it wasn't for Funaki taking an interesting in shooting, (or at least fake shooting), and in turn training a young Ken Shamrock, the Ufc might not exist today. (More on this later). The beginning of a destiny So here we are at the Korakuen Hall in the early days of March circa 1991. The show starts of with the seemingly ancient tradition of having all the performers/combatants enter the ring with much music and fanfare, as a way to kick off the show. Only this has the legendary German wrestler extraordinaire, Karl Gotch, as a guest of honor. They give him a microphone and he said a few kind words about wishing success upon this promotion. Karl Gotch was a legend in Japan at this time, and also trained many of the Fujiwara crew, so having his blessing upon the promotion was surely seen as a badge of realism by the audience. The first man out to the ring is Wellington Wilkins Jr, better known perhaps as the former tag team partner of Chris Benoit that mysteriously died of a heart attack on the same day that Benoit was found dead after committing suicide. Wellington started his career in Canada at Stampede wrestling, but by the time the 90s rolled around was mainly an opening performer on the Japanese circuit, wrestling for various promotions. He hit a bit of a skid, when in the mid-90s he was busted with marijuana while working for Michinoku Pro Wrestling, and subsequently thrown in a Japanese jail, and deported. He worked a bit in the states after that, but never really took off. Here his opponent is Takaku Fuke, who wound up being a Pancrase mainstay in a few short years, amassing a rather abysmal 16-29-5 record, though to his credit was able to get victories over the great Manabu Yamada, Jason Delucia, and Vernon White. The first couple of mins set the overall tone of what was to come with this promotion. An emphasis on having realistic looking matches, but perhaps done at the expense of entertainment value, (certainly when compared to its rivals at the time.) These two worked well together and, there was a good flow between the two that saw them obtain and reverse positions on the mat several times, but it was a fairly dry affair that wasn't going to light any fires. It also was a bit odd that they chose the ever so realistic "leg-split," as a finish. The legendary Leg-Split Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Johnny Barrett. Fujiwara is up next, and has always had the unenviable ability to look like he was pushing 70, regardless of what decade he happened to be in. He was rather slow and unathletic, but he was someone that you had to have a certain amount of respect for, as he always patterned his after realism, (at least realistic by pro wrestling standards), and could sometimes turn sadistic and become way too stiff in the ring. His opponent here is Jonny Barrett, who I'm assuming only was able to find work here due to his connections to Dean Malenko, because his physique wasn't doing him any favors here. A huge guy that could have been a replacement for a Heel of the Month in the Wwf, his size was really the only thing about him that was of any note. Not much to say here... Fujiwara wisely kept most of this on the mat, as Barrett had no discernable skills on his feet, but that isn't really saying much. After a few uneventful mins of rolling around on the ground Fujiwara put us all out of our misery but ending the bout with an Achilles hold. The match was fairly believable, and thankfully brief, but really wasn't pushing the needle in any significant way. Now we get to the first glimpse of magic in this shoot- world. Ken, "Wayne" Shamrock vs Minoru Suzuki. Fujiwara should get a lot of credit here, as he was willing to put himself in the mid-card and allow some of the younger talent a chance to shine, which was something that eluded a lot of the young Japanese talent in those days. Here we find a very young Suzuki facing an incredible looking specimen in Shamrock, and it's rather amazing to see that right from the jump, Shamrock was an awesome performer that really shined in this kind of format. One has to wonder if he had jumped back into Japanese pro wrestling instead of the WWF in 1996 how his later career would have turned out, as all he really seemed to get out of his tenure there, (outside of a fat stack of cash), was a lot of injuries. This match opened us all up to a whole new world of possibilities that "shooting," could provide. While this match was not the smoothest and being a 30min draw it did have it's fair share of dead spaces, both fighters did an excellent job of parlaying intensity and frustration, throughout. They constantly looked for submissions, even in bad positions, and you could really see an example of a grappling mentality, before the positional thinking of a Bjj influence crept in. The match also had a nice progression to it, as it was mostly submission orientated in the beginning , saving the flashier stuff like a belly to belly suplex, and much nastier striking until later in the match, which gave it natural feel, as if the stakes were getting higher, and it was time to pull out all the stops. A little dry in spots, but a great start to this and a great insight into the fact that maybe...just maybe.. there was a future paying audience to be found in real fighting. Next up, is Masakatsu Funaki vs Bart Vale, and was unfortunately something that was never going to be able to cut it as a main event, let alone trying to surpass the great match that came before it. Vale was someone that was already a bit past his prime when PWFG came around, and while his striking was decent, and his overall work passable, it lacked crispness, and he wasn't someone that had the stamina to have a long high-intensity match. Also, his was best served by placing him with another striker, and it didn't do anyone any favors, by placing him with a grappling wizard such as Funaki. This match would have been fine had it been placed early in the card, but as it was, only served to be anti-climatic. As it's all said and done, we see a couple of things. Namely that this promotion had some great talents in the top end, (such as Funaki, Suzuki, and Shamrock), some passable ones with Fujiwara and Vale, but the mid to bottom tier of the roster looks like they all came from the Acme Jobber unemployment line. It makes perfect sense why they weren't able to make it once most of their serious shooters left to form Pancrase in 93, as there was really no point in the promotion any further. Pancrase was probably what this promotion should have tried to be from the get go, but perhaps that wasn't possible until this group, and others like it, paved the way, and opened a door for real Mma to prove viable. Miami’s favorite son Here is the event in full: https://youtu.be/HxNiRyXYtNY Now after reading all of this, you were probably wondering, "Yeah, this is all great, but what was Maurice Smith up to during this time?" Well I'm glad you asked. Here he was fighting Kees Bessems in Japan at an All Japan Kickboxing event during 3-30-91 *Mo's fight starts around the 30:00 min mark.* https://youtu.be/EK0XKiwBogY n other news: Don Wilson lost a breathtaking 12 round split-decision loss to Marek Piotrowski at Odem Arena before a sellout crowd of more than 5,000 people. Wilson's World Kickboxing Association crown was unaffected, however only the Professional Karate Council's and the Fight Factory Karate Association's 180-pound vacant titles were at stake. Piotrowski, who also recently defeated Rick Roufus, won by a half-point margin on the judges' cards after a thrilling seesaw bout. Wilson, who normally fights in the 175 pound class has extended an invitation to Piotrowski to fight him for his WKA title. In Modesto California two kickboxers and a passing pedestrian met in a dangerous way recently. The two martial artists, sparring at the North Bay Martial Arts Clubm got into a clinch, then rolled each other out of a third floor window, landing directly on an unfortunate passerby. The pedestrian was treated at a local hospital and released, while the two kickboxers were hospitalized with more serious injuries. Former Kickboxing champion Louis Neglia recently hosted the first of several pro-am kickboxing competitions, featuring three professional and seven amateur bouts. In the professional matches, Dennis Schuette knocked out Robert Shandrick in a cruiserweight fight, Roger Heidlebaugh, and Brad Morris fought to a draw in a middleweight bout, and Anthony Salerno scored a technical knockout of Peter Olanich in a super-welterweight battle. ******************************************************************************************************* The Mighty Mike Lorefice, (MMA, Kickboxing, and Puroresu scribe extraordinaire, who's work can be found at quebrada.net), has decided to weigh in, and offer his astute commentary before weighing in on the 9-2-85 match that we already covered. Here is what Mighty Mike has to say: 7/25/85 Tokyo Ota-ku Taiikukan: Akira Maeda vs. Super Tiger 16:01. While this has much more in common with their 1/7/85 match as a conventional worked pro wrestling match, and is actually far less interesting, I feel it pairs more with their 9/2/85 sort of shoot as the battle of wills between Sayama & Maeda was coming to a head outside the ring, even though they still kept it together inside the ring. Maeda exerted his will throughout this contest, making it very submission oriented match, and not a very good one, leading to Sayama getting his way in the standup oriented rematch. Sayama was largely on the defensive trying to stay on his feet & then get back up, though he obviously didn't try very hard at the latter because with Maeda doing nothing to actually control him on the ground, he could literally stand any time he wanted to. The problem with this match is Sayama needed to make the match interesting, but by just being the good soldier & telling the story of why he's losing as best he could, he wound up just going along with Maeda grounding him & putzing around with his feeble contortions. Maeda had a number of exciting matches during his career, but was never a particularly good or credible ground fighter even though that was the that he enjoyed, it was always the guys who actually knew what they were doing like Yamazaki & Han making the match, both pulling a few things out of him as well as putting him in the better role for the audience where he provided some fireworks with his strikes & suplexes rather than grinding things to a halt as he did when just left him to his devices. The match still started strong as Maeda's efforts to engage in a grappling match with Sayama were so much more fervent here than on 9/2, actually getting Sayama down early with his idea of (a very poorly executed) double leg takedown, after catching a kick, with his captured suplex after catching one of Sayama's clinch knees, etc. Sayama used more footwork in this one, in part because Maeda showed little interest in striking with him, but also didn't deliver on his early promise. Instead of playing the small man vs. big man game, he increasingly served himself up on a platter by fighting on the inside with Maeda so Maeda could get him down off a suplex. The bout hasn't aged that well because they just keep going for submissions while displaying no real knowledge of how to get them, focusing 99.9% on cranking a limb while just laying across the opponent not doing anything to control any other portion of their body or help them actually isolate their joint of choice.The match eventually ended in oh so credible fashion when Sayama missed an enzuigiri & Maeda clumsily secured that most credible of pro wrestling standbyes, the Boston crab! There was very little striking in this match, and consequently, even though these were the two biggest stars in the company, the crowd was pretty much dead throughout, which supports Sayama's tract that the kickboxing base was necessary to the success of the This was better than watching Hogan flex his muscles or Flair do another spot for spot performance of his one match, but it's close to the least interesting Sayama match of the 1980's. *Match starts around the 16min mark* https://youtu.be/laHJruNU5Ws Here is is take on 9-2-85: 9/2/85 Osaka Rinkai Sports Center: Akira Maeda vs. Super Tiger 18:57. A truly fascinating contest where the clashing alpha personalities of the two dominant forces in the promotion came to a head inside the ring as they probably battled with some vague notion of deciding the future direction of the company, and instead just decided that the company had no future. Though the U.W.F. had grown increasingly shoot oriented in the year and a half it existed, morphing from the humble origins of luchadors & WWF show wrestlers into something more & more hardcore & legitimate, Maeda & Sayama were two huge stars that always wanted to win, both in front of the audience & behind the scenes. It would surely be reductive to say it came down to a matter of tastes, styles, egos, or whatever, and that even kind of comes off in the bout they wound up having. Even though they had something of a shoot, the supposed rift between Sayama's kickboxing & Maeda's submission grappling still actually didn't play out, as they ultimately did a match that was essentially in Maeda's version of Sayama's style. By that I mean, Sayama wasn't using the footwork that elevated his worked shoots toward the realm of believability, nor was Maeda really doing his remedial matwork. It really looked like Maeda's usual style of striking, except that as they pretty much stood in front of each other & bombed away, they were much more violent & aggressive in putting their whole bodies into throwing faster & harder shots that they weren't pulling as usual. Actually, rather than the art of kickboxing that Sayama managed to bring even though the opponents stood around flatfooted, this fight still exemplified that main problem with pro wrestling striking, except they did try to avoid & defend themselves in a basic sort of way, not exiting the pocket, but at least reacting to the blow they saw coming & blocking it or maneuvering their body out of the primary damage range/zone if they could. It's possible Maeda was unhappy that they were doing Sayama's standup match this time instead of his submission match as we saw on 7/25/85, but the bout definitely didn't devolve into a shoot as someone got prickly, as had been the case in the past with Maeda, they clearly were wailing on each other from the outset. One could say this was one of the first Pancrase matches, as they were not pulling their strikes, but they not only didn't use closed fists, they were clearly cooperating to some extent at points even though they were putting each other in danger & trying to legitimately damage each other most of the time. I shouldn't make it sound like Sayama wasn't fighting with strategy, he was surely giving up at least 50 pounds and even though he had superior striking technique & more explosion, he couldn't just stand toe to toe with Maeda. He tried to land the middle kick and circle off to maintain some space, but he was going backwards too much & clearly didn't have the stamina to fight what Lyoto Machida would later establish as a karate style MMA fight, so instead of capitalizing on his speed and movement advantages, Sayama spent way too much time covering in the pocket while he withstood Maeda's onslaught & poised for his next offensive. The striking portions were legit, but neither had any kind of a wrestling base, so getting the fight to the ground was rather awkward, and that's really why fights could play out much easier & better in Sayama's style than in Maeda's, which normally required him to hit a suplex to get started. Sayama wasn't taking bumps for Maeda, but still conceeded to ground portions, which basically occured when the person in the disadvantageous position surrendered further rather than finally try/work to disengage. The mat wasn't really a threatening position for either though, as when you add no BJJ background to no wrestling background, they weren't doing much beyond playing footsies, and when you combine a sweltering building with the stress & overexertion of actually trying to make things work without the usual cooperation, I think Sayama was mostly just happy to get a break while Maeda muddled around, daring him to actually come up with something to make him regret that decision. Unlike the standup where there was a very obvious difference in how aggressive they were landing blows, they didn't appear to be be applying any more pressure than usual when they actually had something of a submission, and the audience was dead silent as they were throughout the 7/25 match. As they spent more and more time delivering comatose inducing matwork, you almost forgot that a few minutes ago they seemingly wanted to kill each other on their feet. One would actually have thought that they were getting along again until Maeda grabbed the rope to get the bout returned to their feet, and proceeded to knee Sayama low for no apparent reason, leading to the DQ. It's almost certain that Maeda was supposed to lose given he defeated Tiger in their previous match, so one can deduce that Maeda may just have been looking for an out, as he should have been growing calmer, if anything, given they'd gotten away from actually shooting on one another and there was nothing new to give him a reason to pull a stunt. However, one can't be certain from the camera angle if the knee clipped the groin or not, so it's perhaps as likely that someone finally did enough damage with a legitimate blow to make whatever the planned finish was irrelevant. Maeda has always been a shady character, but from what I can see, I'm leaning toward Sayama just claiming it was a low blow. Maeda was subsequently reprimanded & never worked for the promotion again. The workers, who were already resentful of Sayama for being the booker & primary creative force in the promotion didn't side with him though, and while he did step in a U.W.F. ring six more times as this was playing out, he quit the promotion and then pro wrestling entirely. U.W.F. never ran another show after Sayama's final appearance on 9/11/85, with Maeda & co. returning to New Japan for the next 2 1/2 years before taking the next step toward blending the barrier between fake and real fighting. Very good match. ******************************************************************************************************* And just in case you were wondering what Dave Meltzer had to say about any of this: "Yoshiaki Fujiwara's version of the new UWF opened on 3/4 in Tokyo's Korakuen Hall before a packed house of 2,306 fans. Karl Gotch made an appearance at the show and announced that he was staying in Japan for two months to train the young wrestlers for this group, which got the biggest pop of the night. Results of the show was Wellington Wilkins Jr. beat Yasuhiro Fuke in 12:00 with a leg split submission, Fujiwara made Jumbo Barretta submit to a toe hold in 7:12, Minoru Suzuki went to a 30 minute time limit draw with Wayne Shamrock (Vince Tirelli) and the main event saw Masaharu Funaki make Bart Vail sibmit in 17:36 to a chicken wing cross face.