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Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.1 "Genesis"

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  • Member Since: 2020.07.24
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07.25.2020 | 2:43 AM ET

Archives of this series can be found at https://www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad

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

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 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

Responses Page 2

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07.27.2020 | 5:26 PM ET

I'm enjoying learning about how Japanese MMA came about.

* Edited at 07.27.2020, 5:29 PM ET *

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07.28.2020 | 12:08 AM ET

For those that may be interested: Some bonus content just went up within the hallowed halls of the Kakutogi Patreon. We cover some Shooto from 1990, which yields some interesting facts about Manabu Yamada, and tomorrow we will show why this guy right here, could have made a great MMA fighter, all the way back in 1990! 


  • Member Since: 2020.07.24
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  • Post Score: 214

08.01.2020 | 10:08 AM ET

*Archives of this series, and lots of bonus content can be found at https://www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad *

Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.15 "Heir Today...Gone Tomorrow"


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

Welcome back to the wonderful world of Kakutogi. Join us, as we continue to seek out this halcyon dreamscape, often heralded, but rarely understood, as we are unable to refuse its beck and call, yet again. 

We are now heading into the Shoot-Realms of the Union of Wrestling Force International’s (UWFI) 10-6-91 event, and right away we can see what we are up against, as we are immediately treated to a montage of perennially misused Kazuo Yamazaki, and golden boy Nobukiko Takada, gearing up for what appears to be tonight’s main event, as the powers that be are prepared to take us back to a familiar creative wellspring. 

At least it is a refreshing source, as these two have always had good chemistry with each other, and this should be no different. Of course, they need a hit tonight, as when we last witnessed this group, we had to endure the embarrassingly awful 2min squash match, where Bob Backlund was quickly dispatched by Takada, after faking an injury, in comically awful fashion. 

 Looking back at the trajectory of how we got here is interesting, as  surely everyone had high hopes for Yamazaki. Here was Sayama's esteemed  padawan, and his heir apparent, but his huge push to superstardom was  not to be, and this scribe can't help but speculate that this turn of  destiny may have been partly to blame due to Sayama leaving on bad terms  after the Maeda fiasco, and subsequently exposing the business with his  autobiography entitled, “Kayfabe.” 


We will have time later on, for more musing of this dysfunctional family duo, but first let’s see what is in store for us in the present moment… 

We are back in the cozy confines of the Korakuen Hall, and no matter how big or extravagant other arenas may be, nothing feels more appropriate for combat sports then this quaint 2,000 capacity venue. After a raucous crowd ovation for the usual preliminaries, we are greeted to our first match, a bout between resident footfighting master, Makato Ohe, this time facing an unknown Sakuchai Sakuwitaya. The last few opponents that they have fed Ohe, were decent in their own right, but inexperienced in the ways of international Kickboxing, so hopefully this will be different. 

Right away we can see two things, the first is that Sakuwitaya does appear to have some genuine kickboxing experience, but that he is not in Ohe’s league. He appears to be someone that has some rudimentary skills, but nowhere near the seasoning needed to face the experience of a former Shootboxing champion. 

The first moments show Sakuwitaya taking some stiff leg kicks, but he is managing to hang in there, while attempting to find his distance, when out of nowhere he attempts a flying jump kick (similar to the one that Machida took Couture out with, albeit with a different angle). A commendable attempt to be sure, but sadly does not land flush in the jaw, but rather hit the chest of Ohe, to which he responded by shoving Sakuwitaya down to the ground. 

That was about the only moment that he got anywhere to glory though, as for the short duration of this fight Ohe has been patient, and only throwing a kick or punch if there was some hurricane force power behind it, and as soon as Sakuwitaya got back up it was over. Ohe feinted with his lead leg, patiently waiting for an opening and landed a punch to Sakuwitaya’s chin with an impact that reverberated throughout the building. For a moment it seemed like he was going to be fine, but it was a delayed reaction, because after taking the blow, and dancing around for a moment, Sakuwitaya completely collapsed, and was out cold. Great showing from Ohe, but they seriously need to find him an opponent that is somewhere in his league. 


Going out in a blaze of glory…

ML:  ML: Ohe seemed to have all the advantages in this shoot that was almost  certainly designed to be an easy win. You could see that he was calm as  could be, not   fearing Sakuwitaya in the least. Ohe is the longer  fighter, and  just backed Sakuwitaya with some straights & a middle  kick. Even Ohe was probably surprised by the delayed KO where   Sakuwitaya  just gave out a second or two after a rather routine left  straight. This was pretty sad to be honest, I mean, if you can't  withstand a few standard  shots designed simply to control distance then  you really don't belong in the ring with any sort of professional  champion. 


Next up is a tag-match Kiyoshi Tamura/Yuko Miyato vs. Tatsuo Nakano/Tom Burton. I still have no idea what is hoped to be accomplished with these tag matches that the UWFI insists on putting together. It would be one thing if they had a giant roster, and ran the risk of putting on 3hr shows if they didn’t consolidate their talent, but they have barely been able to go over an hour with these events, and that’s with all the walkouts, ceremonial introduction, etc. The actual time of people wrestling is considerably less than that. To make matters more bizarre is that there are no belts, or really any stakes involved, just another mishmash of who they want to throw together this month. In this case it is the small/lithe gentleman vs the brazen monsters, so we will now experience size vs skill, speed vs raw power, and slick holds vs steroids. 

The contest itself was entertaining and fast paced, and somewhat surprisingly, everyone looked good here. Even Tom Burton was looking looser, and more fluid this time. Of course, Tamura is still the rock star, and is really bringing the new generation of tech to the shoot-game. Cartwheeling out of bad positions, rapid transitions, and creative grappling entries, show that he was really something special. To make it even more impressive is to think that he was a very high caliber contender in real shoots too, which isn’t something too many fighters can lay claim to, the ability to excel in both the real and worked ends of the spectrum. 

Tamura wins by finally figuring out the counter to the Boston crab, which is to apparently is to turn a quasi ankle-pick into a toehold. Well played, sir. 

 ML: It's hard for a Tamura match to overachieve, but given the tag match  format, I think it's fair to say this one did. Though  the  format may  be hokey, this is a great example of a doubles match  that worked,  keeping a higher pace than they could have in a singles match of this  length (18:48) without losing the intensity and keeping guys who don't  have amazing stamina or huge move sets effective by breaking their  portions up. The key to the match was Miyato, who gave his best  performance so far. Beyond being an entertaining and fiery presence who  pulled the fight out of the opponents, he also really upped his  technical game in all areas. 

Miyato was making an attempt to move more  like Tamura, turning and spinning out, even using the go behind. There  was a nice sequence where he hit a backdrop into a half crab then spun  into a facelock. Miyato set a good tone for the match, showing some good  use of distance & footwork in standup to get his low kicks in, and  doing a good job of taking advantage of the opponents inability to  actually do anything to control him once they got him to the mat, just  exploding rather than honoring the imaginary forcefield that normally  keeps UWF-I fighters other than Tamura down. 

This is really what I've  been wanting to see from him, things that make him relevant &  dangerous despite being undersized. The story of the fight was that the  larger team of Nakano & Burton would start out ahead on the mat,  getting the judo throw or takedown, but then their more skilled  opponents would start moving & countering before they got anywhere  with their submission holds. Miyato wasn't showing a path to victory so  much as wearing the bigger guys out by making them keep working at a  higher pace than they would like because he was feisty & annoying,  and if they didn't get him down again, he was just going to make it  harder by continuing to  beat up their legs. 

Tamura was able to get a  takedown on Nakano, and his counters were often into his own  submissions, rather than simply scrambling back to his feet &  forcing the opposition to start over. Tensions were escalating as Nakano  dropped into an Achilles' tendon hold, but Tamura countered with a heel  hook only to have Nakano keep kicking him in the face until he  released, which allowed Nakano to take his back. 

Miyato got back to his  feet enough that Burton began to slow down, and was caught off guard  when Miyato finally threw his hands, stunning Burton  and allowing  Miyato to get the spinning heel kick in for a knockdown. I was surprised  at how much ring time Miyato was logging, Tamura was really getting the  star treatment here, coming in for brief sequences where he looked  good, but letting Miyato carry the load. There was one crazy Tamura spot  where Burton had his back & started to go for a cravate, but Tamura  handspringed & took a front facelock. Nakano got a couple near  finishes on Tamura including a snap suplex into a high kick when Tamura  was getting back up, and as usual, Tamura was way down on points. I  liked the finish where Tamura losing the battle of pulling himself  halfway across the ring to get to the ropes before Burton could turn him  over into the Boston crab him allowed him to use Burton's momentum  against him (Burton was busy dragging him back), tripping him up into an  ankle lock for the win. I'm not saying much about Nakano or Burton  here, largely because they were instruments who were very well played by  maestros. ***3/4  


Next up is Yoji Anjo vs Billy Scott. The last time we saw Scott in a singles match was a surprisingly awesome affair with Kazuo Yamazaki, and out of all the imported Tennessee talent, he has showed the most promise, by far. Here he must face his sop****re test against everyone’s loveable zebra-warrior in Anjo, and they don’t waste any time.

Immediately after the bell, Anjo rushes in with a slap to try and set up an o-goshi throw, but Scott just shoves him off, and gives him a stiff kick in the back for his trouble. This causes our zebra to wisely rush back to the safety of his savannah, backing off to regroup before charging in again. He attempts another hip-toss, but Scott is wise to these judo shenanigans, and responds with a couple of ultra-low single-leg takedowns, a la Sakuraba, succeeding with his second attempt, which he converted into a slam. 

They both then proceeded to get into a slap fest until Anjo pulls out a sweet Kani Basami out of his bag of tricks, which shows that maybe there is something to be said for these judo parlor tricks, after all. What followed next was a barrage of strikes, takedowns, reversals, until Anjo scored the first rope escape against Scott, in what could be loosely interpreted as a kimura from an open guard. Anjo quickly followed this up with a head kick knockdown, furthering his score against Scott.

This upswing didn’t last long though, as shortly afterwards, Scott got a takedown and finished the match in what is one of the most bizarre submissions I’ve ever seen, which resembled something between a “twister” and a neck-crank.

  Bizarre finish aside, this was a great match, and although they could have let it breathe more in spots, the fast pace kept it highly entertaining. Scott is continuing to show that he has a bright future, as he adds a credible gravitas with his look, and athleticism. 

  The Twister/Neck-Crank Hybrid…

 ML: Scott took a big step forward here, partially because he's a tough  & proud guy who isn't going to allow Anjo to take advantage of him.  These guys really stepped up the level of defense & intensity, not  only refusing to go along with the opponent, but making each other pay  with a swift foot to the face. While this wasn't a shoot by any means,  of all the works we've seen so far, it's probably the match that felt  most like it both in terms of the fighters moving quickly &  desperately to avoid what the other fighter was trying & getting a  bit out of control and even nailing each other  when they had the  chance. They really put a lot of energy into the takedowns, throws, and  scrambles, and both fighters inserted their share of cheap shots. They  took some brief rests on the mat, where Scott isn't the most fluid to  begin with once he gets you there, but made up for it by seeming to  legitimately piss each other off in standup, leading to some strikes  that were arguably too mean & some scrambles where the loser  normally would have given up much easier. 11:29 was a good length for  this, as it started great, and maintained the intensity throughout, but  the holes were becoming more and more apparent the longer it continued. I  was  surprised that Scott got the upset here, although Anjo is one of  their better fighters, I wasn't opposed to it because Scott did a nice  job of standing up for himself & hanging with the veteran. With this  being Scott's 3rd match, it's hard to argue against this overachieving.  ***1/2  

 And now…. The main event, and a sad realization sweeps over me, as I am  now realizing that this is, and forever will be, Yamazaki's destiny. To  forever be confined as a 2nd banana to Takada. Maybe the writing was  always on the wall though, as this picture taken from the 1985 Shooting Bible ,  tells the entire story. Here we have Takada rolling around in his  brand-new fancy sports car, while Yamazaki is reduced to getting by  day-to-day in a beat-up Toyota Corolla. This snapshot perfectly sums up  how Yamazaki was treated throughout his career. Instead of a Clubber  Lang tale of one's meteoric rise to the top, climbing up out of the  poverty of your surroundings, and overcoming your circumstances, instead  it was a hard luck tale, that told us all that sometimes you will  always be kept down by the man born with a golden spoon in his mouth.  Though these two have fought countless times, especially as young lions  in New Japan where Takada was 11-0 in 1982 & 20-0 in 1983,  Yamazaki  only has 4 wins over Takada, 12/5/84  in the Original UWF in one of  Dave Meltzer's early 5-star rated matches, 1/6/86 in New Japan's UWF  League, and 8/13/88 & 5/4/89 in Newborn UWF. 


Politics aside, these two always had good chemistry with one another,  and while the booking here was lacking any build up, at least it's a  well-tested formula, so hopefully they put in another classic tonight.  After a bit of a feeling out process, we have Yamazaki nailing a back  suplex off a missed kick from Takada, and immediately Takada grabs the  ropes to garner an escape. There is some more jockeying for position  from the two of them, until Yamazaki is able to fight for, and finally  obtain, a heel hook, scoring more points against Takada. Takada tries to  initiate a tie-up, in which Yamazaki responds by feinting with his  hand, as if he was going to accept, only set that up as a way to kick  Takada in the gut. Herein lies the greatness of Yamazaki's craftmanship,  while someone like a Tamura was a lot of flash, speed, and soundnfury,  Yamazaki had a more calculated, methodical approach, that I wish more of  Pro Wrestling was patterned after. 

They battle both over position, and who was going to be able to  secure a kimura. This  led to an interesting grappling sequence, when  Yamazaki was unable to secure a kimura, he started grating his elbow,  and the blade of his forearm against Takada's face, causing him to shift  enough that he was able to slap on a side headlock. From there, we get a  sequence that wouldn't be unsimilar to watching two high-level white  belts roll at your local BJJ academy. Yamazaki stacks Takada, getting  out of a sloppy triangle attempt, and counters with a clever kneebar  entry, which sadly doesn't work. Things continue to unfold with Takada  scoring an ankle lock of his own, and Yamazaki scoring a knockdown with a  series of knees in the corner of the ring, and while I'm cheering for  Yamazaki, I get the sinking feeling that there couldn't possibly be any  way that they will allow him to win. After this wave of despair flows  through me, I comfort myself with thoughts, that perhaps, Yamazaki will  have the courage to do what Yuki Kondo did years later, and simply kick  Takada out of the ring and into the front row. 

Sadly, this did not happen…. What did happen, was Takada hulked up,  and got several knockdowns against Yamazaki before finally finishing  with a Dragon suplex followed by an armbar. This started off decent, but  was really hampered by Takada's laziness. In the original UWF days,  Takada was way more apt to put some real work into a match, where he now  seems content to just coast. This was basically a US Hulk Hogan main  event where the hero got beat up for the first three-quarters, only to  make a miraculous comeback in the end. Yamazaki did what he could with  it, but this was sorely lacking compared to some of their great matches  from times past. 


ML: If Yuko Miyato were a decent booker, UWF-I might still exist  today. The league has kind of been on autopilot for the first series of  small Korakuen Hall shows, with  the problem that  no one has been given  the opportunity to appear to be any threat to Takada. They had to bring  in a former WWF Heavyweight Champion who has been more or less out of  the sport since the new ringleader of the circus scoffs at things such  as the amateur backgrounds that the real legends of the sport such as  Thesz & Gagne had devoted so much effort to giving value to in their  peers & successors. After Takada dispatched of Mr. Bob in mere  moments, there was only one man known to be strong enough to give him a  run, Yamazaki. While Yamazaki was, at best, the #3 fighter in the UWF  incarnations, his win over Takada in their first meeting in the Newborn  UWF was really the thing that cemented his presence on the top of the  bill there. Granted, he always lost to Maeda & usually to Takada,  but was enough of a threat that people believed he could win, & took  the matches seriously, filling the buildings and responding rabidly to  the action, even if more were rooting against him. Yamazaki absolutely  needed to win this, he could then lose the next handful to Takada as  usual, but that bought you that handful, as well as  Tamura or Anjo's  ticket to the top going through Yamazaki. Yamazaki winning gave you  options, Takada winning gave your, well, more staleness &  embarrasment. 

One of the problems with Takada's matwork is even when he was gifted  an obvious counter, he just sat on it. For instance, Yamazaki hits a no  cooperation backdrop early on, and waits around with Takada holding a  Kimura setup, until he just gets bored of Takada not doing anything  & pivots to take away Takada's angle. Yamazaki keeps moving so  Takada can't do his usual pretend contemplation that's actually not  knowing what he could/should be doing, but when he's not doing things he  learned in the New Japan dojo, sometimes it's hard to tell what he  really thinks he's supposed to be accomplishing, he's really just  grabbing appendages sometimes and hoping that looks enough like some  sort of submission. Other times, it's easy to see that he has only   vague notions of what the actual submissions are supposed to look like,  hence his legs being reversed on his triangle attempt. To some extent,  the problem with the match is that Yamazaki keeps grabbing/catching the  leg & taking Takada down to avoid the thing Takada does well, kick,  but to his credit, Yamazaki does enough things well on the mat that the  match doesn't fall apart despite Takada mostly being forced to work on  the mat. Story wise, Yamazaki is trying to get a leg submission, or at  least debilitate the leg enough that Takada can't use it to knock him  out. Takada does come up with one a great combo when Yamazaki wants to  lock up, but Takada lands a right  inside leg kick and a right slap,  almost simultaneously, and Yamazaki is caught so off guard he basically  turns & covers, allowing Takada to kick around what guard Yamazaki  has until he drops him. Once Takada has this one opening, he just  steamrolls Yamazaki, getting him down to one point before adding insult  to injury by submitting him with his patented armbar. I think the later  stages of the match were actually supposed to show how tough Yamazaki  was in taking all this punishment that Backlund and the others weren't  up to, but one could certainly argue that it  made Yamazaki look worse  to just get blown out of the water once the first real advantage of the  match was gained. This was maybe passable, but it was shockingly never  really exciting. It's definitely nowhere near the level of probably any  of their previous  matches since they were basically rookies. 

Conclusion: Outside of a disappointing main event, this was an  entertaining, if uninspired event. There still seems to be no clear  direction to this outfit, other than to portray Takada as an unstoppable  hero, but at least they have been consistently entertaining, so there  must be credit given for that. It may be a bit frustrating, knowing that  they have the talent on their hands to do more than they are, but it  will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

ML: Kind of an odd show in that you had a squash, followed by two  overachieving really heated & competitive matches, followed by what  should have been the biggest match within the promotion that was somehow  transformed into another kind of a squash where this inexplicably  mightier version of Takada can now beat a guy who has at least had some  success against him in the past without ever being in any trouble. Scott  announcing  himself, and Miyato taking steps to make himself the  relevant in the more modern version of shooting are things to get  excited about, while the desperation of going right back to Takada vs.  Backlund, without even given Backlund a win to show he's viable, or hell  even credible in the 1990's, certainly is not. Again, UWF-I is the most  difficult promotion to know what to think of because two very good  matches on a four match show is better than the other promotions are  doing, but PWFG is more fulfilling in the sense that you have Suzuki,  Shamrock, & Funaki already in the main events, and only on the rise,  whereas UWF-I has shown itself to be Takada or bust, even though Takada  is a bust, and becoming more & more a laughable one as a guy such  as Scott, who is just some dude that wrestled in school, can come in and  already show  way more  understanding of both the technical aspects  & the compelling methods of fakery in just a few outings. 


*In Other News*

UWFI’s event on 9-26 was a sellout but faced serious problems when they almost caused a riot with the inanely short Takada/Backlund main event that only lasted to the 1:15 mark. The ending of the match caused the Sapporo crowd to become unruly, which led to Kazuo Yamazaki grabbing the mic and try and calm them down. After Yamazaki’s attempt at peacekeeping, Backlund grabbed the mic and admitted to being knocked out and would try to learn how to block kicks better, for their next confrontation. 

It was a hot night in Holland, as a molten kickboxing event took place on 10-20-91 in Amsterdam. Some highlights include a brutal headkick KO delivered to Nicco Anches by Peter Theijsse. We also got to see up and coming Dutch fighter, Ernesto Hoost face veteran Leo de Snoo, in a brutal 5-round war. Snoo’s composure and experience was tough to deal with, but at the end of the fight, Hoost’s sizeable reach advantage, quickness, and combinations were too much to overcome, as we was able to score a head kick knockdown that put him far enough over on the scorecards, so that he couldn’t be denied. If Hoost continues to stay healthy, then he is certainly going to be a champion for a long time to come.   

Leo de Snoo, Peter Smit, Ramon Dekkers, Rob Kaman, and Marcel Wille, from 1990. 

  • Member Since: 2020.07.24
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08.01.2020 | 10:08 AM ET

Footage of the events discussed in chapter 15 can be found at our Patreon. :-) Also, chapter 16 is up for early access. 

* Edited at 08.01.2020, 10:09 AM ET *

  • Member Since: 2020.07.24
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  • Post Score: 214

08.07.2020 | 2:35 AM ET

Archives of this series and lots of bonus content can be found at https://www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad

Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.16 "The Threshing Floor"

*Editors note: Mike Lorefice's comments will be prefaced by his initials.* 

Welcome back, to the wonderful world of Kakutogi. We have successfully returned from our jaunt to the proceedings of a year prior (when we looked into the inner-workings of Shooto circa 1990, available only within the hollowed confines of our Patreon) and now we must head back to the future, making a crash landing at the infamous Korakuen Hall. In this case, the date is 10-17-9, and the occasion is another event by the ever stalwart PWFG clan, who has perhaps made the most out of what they’ve had to work with at this stage of the game, compared to their contemporary rivals.


We are greeted to a brief montage of Minoru Suzuki training, and working on his heel-hook entries, contrasted by Bart Vale walking around, showing off his patriotic duds, and basically demonstrating to us that this won’t just be another case of man against man, but will rather be two rival nations colliding, in what must surely be an apex in the history of Japanese-American relations. 

The first match of the evening will be between Takaku ***e vs Jerry Flynn. When we last saw ***e he gave us a very solid performance against Wellington Wilkins Jr, and when we last witnessed Flynn he was in a rather pedestrian match against Bart Vale, through no fault of his own, but with ***e at the helm this bout should be an accurate gauge of how he will fare within this style. 

Right away Flynn fires off a nice kick to ***e’s thigh but is taken down by a beautiful single-leg entry before he could launch another one. There must have been something in the water over in those days, as ***e, Takahashi, and later Sakuraba, always had insanely proficient single-leg techniques in their arsenals. 

After the takedown they both jockey for position, and trade submission attempts, before having to restart on their feet, and once they do, Flynn unleashes a barrage of kicks and palm strikes, that are a lot quicker than you would expect from a man of his size. Flynn is looking very solid here so far, and while he didn’t look bad against Vale, he was limited on what he could do working with him, and by being paired up with someone a lot more fluid like ***e, he isn’t having to scale things back as much.

The rest of the match saw ***e really earning his pay for the evening, as he took plenty of stiff kicks and palm strikes from Flynn in most of their standing sequences, and the groundwork was nicely paced too. Whenever it hit the mat they kept things at a fast tempo, without ever getting hokey, and also added some nice touches like when Flynn would escape from an ankle lock attempt by kicking ***e in the head with his free leg, or at one point when ***e was working for an armbar, and decided to slap Flynn in the face several times to open his opponent up. 

This went to a 30min draw, and I must admit that I’m quite impressed with this. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is one of the best matches we’ve seen so far, as at no point over the entire 30mins did this ever drag, and it was able to really strike a balance between realism and entertainment value. ***e and Flynn were able to give us a long match with the stiffness and flow of a shoot, but with a faster, and more entertaining pace, without ever feeling corny or contrived. Where I would have assumed Flynn to have been a lumbering ox, he moved gracefully for a man of his size, and it never felt like ***e was having to really stretch to make him look good. 

While the idea of having a 30min draw for the opening match sounded odd to me on paper, it wound up being a great way to put Flynn over, and has really opened my eyes to ***e, as I always just saw him as a middling journeyman figure from Pancrase, I had no idea he was basically the PWFG’s answer to Yoji Anjo, as a cardio machine, that could be used in a variety of capacities within the card to good effect. 

ML: ***e has already done a shoot where he failed to take down the greasiest of Muay Thai competitors for longer than it took Lawi Napataya to just grab the ropes, and I was really impressed at how he took the distance & his strategy into consideration. This was probably the most realistic fight we've seen so far in terms of approaching the wrestler vs. grappler dynamic. Flynn had a big reach advantage, but ***e mostly stayed on the outside looking for a kick he could catch when he wasn't making his move to initiate the takedown. ***e generally did a good job of moving in and out, and would actually even move laterally then cut an angle to get in on Flynn's legs. In the meantime, ***e would try to check Flynn's low kicks, which really made me take them a lot more seriously.

While the length kept it from being the fastest paced or stiffest match, they did a great job of upping the urgency & stiffness when it mattered. If there was a potential submission for either, or a takedown attempt for ***e, they found an extra gear or two to fight, and hit, hard to answer it, then would relax somewhat when they were more or less out of danger. I really liked ***e blasting Flynn with palms to the face to fend off his leglock.

Anyway you slice it though, the length was still the problem, largely because Flynn basically just did his thing, and while ***e was credible & technically proficient, there were only so many scenarios he, or anyone, could think of to keep a realistically bent vanilla striker vs. grappler match going for half an hour. I don't want to downplay Flynn's contributions, he was the more well rounded of the two in that he could offer more to counter & answer ***e on the mat that ***e, who had little striking, could in standup. While these guys were green, this was nonetheless a huge step forward for both, and one of the signature bouts of 1991 in terms of moving the sport forward in a more believable direction. ***1/2

Next up is Ken Shamrock vs Wellington Wilkins Jr. When we last witnessed Shamrock, it was a very solid match where we defeated Minoru Suzuki, and with this booking we can get a glimpse as to what is going to a major hurdle in this style, and that’s the limited talent pool to work with. It makes sense to use  Wilkins as Shamrock’s next opponent, as they have never fought before, but it also feels like a holding pattern, as the only other two members of the promotion that are likely to really give him a worthy battle are Funaki, Suzuki, or possibly Koslowski, all of which he has already faced, and if the UWFI has proved anything, it’s difficult to just throw random American pro wrestlers into this style, and expect good results, so we are left with a situation where this small roster of talent in the PWFG is likely to have to be constantly mixed and matched in inconsequential ways, unless they manage to pull in some more talent. 

The bout starts, and Ken has a bored look on his face that would indicate that he would rather be anywhere else right now. Things start off with some light strikes back and forth from both contestants, until Ken clinched up with Wilkins, paused for a couple of seconds while seemingly whispering something into Wilkins ear, and then suplexed him. 

Things get a bit more interesting on the ground, as Wilkins starts to turtle up, and Ken does a creative semi-cartwheel, diving over Wilkins back, looking for a kneebar in the process. Wilkins gets a rope escape, and after the standup is able to get the fight back to the ground via a northern lights suplex, but is forced to escape yet again, when Shamrock sinks in a rear naked choke.  After the stand up, Ken starts to up the stiffness quotient, and puts a lot more velocity into his palm strikes, which causes Wilkins to respond with a headbutt and some knees, to which Ken answered with an especially stiff open handed slap to Wilkins’ face, causing a knockdown. 

A few more short exchanges went down, before Shamrock won via an armbar around the 6 ½ min mark, and one nice sequence within those, was when Wilkins was working his way out of a loosely applied guillotine, and was starting to slide out from under Shamrocks left arm/shoulder (while still wrapped around Shamrocks arm) Ken took the opportunity to completely torque his bodyweight into a palm strike using his free right hand, as soon as Wilkins escaped, and scored a knockdown off of it. 

Overall, these was a very awkward match, that never really found its rhythm, or a consistent tone. Wilkins was striking way too softly, while Shamrock would oscillate between soft/stiff, and seemed unsure of how to work against Wilkins. Shamrock’s prior five matches all ranged from good to great, but he was working with seasoned veterans in all of them, which is probably what is needed to really pull the best out of Ken at this stage. 

 ML: Shamrock had the wrong attitude here, just seeing an opponent that was beneath him & being unwilling to do anything to raise him up to the level of having a prayer. By being rather indifferent, and somewhat sloppy, either going easy or throwing wild hard shots that either blew Wilkins away or missed, the match never came off as anything beyond a dull enhancement match. This isn't a bad match per se, but there's also really no reason to watch it. 

Dee Snider wins via Armbar…


Now we have a battle between Masakatsu Funaki, and Kazuo Takahashi, that is sure to violate several building ordinances, as the amount of yellow neon sported between the two, is clearly a safety hazard. Takahashi doesn’t waste anytime firing off an excellent single leg, that would be the envy of any current MMA fighter, taking Funaki down, and quickly slaps his way out of Funaki’s guard, and is able to gain side-control. 

Takahashi quickly goes for an armbar, but Funaki is way too slick on the ground, and easily escapes the attempt, and is able to get back to his feet. Takahashi blasts him right back down to the mat again, and repeats his armbar attack, only this time Funaki rolls out, and opts to mount Takahashi this time instead of standing back up. 

It is a treat to see Funaki’s methodical nature, even at this early stage of his career. As he has the mount, he patiently rides Takahashi, and starts to grind his elbow across his face, forcing him to squirm a bit, and uses this technique to its fullest, looking to open up a submission. Takahashi remained composed, so Funaki dialed it up a notch and started firing some short, stiff, forearm strikes to Takahashi’s face. This still wasn’t enough to force Takahashi to make a mistake, so Funaki gets up, smacks Kazuo in the face, and soccer kicks him in the head as the ref calls for a break. While the ref is separating them for a restart, Kazuo runs right after Funaki, and gets a swift kick to the thigh for his trouble, but if there is one thing that Takahashi has that Funaki can’t seem to stop, is the speed of his single-leg, and he uses it to good effect, and is able to stop Funaki before he could fire off another kick. 

Funaki’s groundwork seems to consist of putting his hand over Takahashi’s mouth and punching him in the face, which doesn’t really yield any results. Takahashi eventually passes the guard but seems to get bored with the idea of maintaining a superior position, and quickly goes for another arm attack, that fails just as quickly as the first two. He loses his position to Funaki, who goes into side-control mode, and goes back to his tactic of using the blade of his forearm to annoy Takahashi.

After making Kazuo squirm a bit, Funaki starts to posture up, and shifts his body towards his opponents legs, which instantly set off Takahashi’s spider sense, and caused him to franticly grab the ropes for an escape. They stand back up, and this time Takahashi has no slick takedowns for his mentor. Instead he suffers the wrath of a stiff thigh kick, followed up with another kick to the face forcing a knockdown.

Kazuo gets up at the count of 9, and takes some more punishment, before Funaki misses a kick, and it’s back to the ground. Sadly, the only submission he cares to try is an armbar, and his 4th attempt fails as well. Kazuo winds up on the wrong end of a north-south situation, but tries to make the best of it, by going for a toehold against Funaki, but the master has all the answers, and simply gives a hard blow to Takahashi’s stomach, forcing his legs to dangle, and goes right for an ankle lock. The lock is in snug, and Kazuo taps out. 

Excellent match, that I would assess as a ¾ shoot. They weren’t cooperating, and everything (with the exception of the ending) felt authentic, even they weren’t quite going at each other with an absolute 100% intensity either. This was definitely a great blueprint on how much shoot you can put into a work.  

 ML: Unlike Shamrock, Funaki found the challege & crafted a competitive match against an opponent who was clearly well beneath him. While the match was a bit repetitive in that Takahashi's chance was getting a single leg then finding an armbar, at least that chance was made real, and thus the threat seemed genuine. Funaki going from one hip to another to back up enough to try to keep Takahashi inside his guard when Takahashi exploded trying to pass is the sort of thing we haven't seen anyone else care about (or probably understand) that made maintaining the defensive position seem to be of the utmost importance. Funaki has been the most realistic worker so far, and while that can often be to his detriment as his striking tends to be much more exciting than his grappling, which is his bread and butter, Funaki found a good mix tonight, largely because he needed to punish Takahashi before he took him down, and hopefully Takahashi would either get KO'd charging into a well timed blow, or some of these strikes would at least slow his shot down enough that Funaki could find an actual defense. Takahashi came close just before the finish, eating a few palms before ducking a high kick into a takedown & passing into an armbar attempt. Funaki rolled though, and then they did a pretty lame finish that, unlike most of what came before it, felt very contrived, where Takahashi tried to transition into a kneebar, but Funaki made Takahashi release with a body shot then went into an Achilles' tendon hold for the win. While it was the first submission locked, Funaki winning with a strike or guillotine to counter the takedown would have been a lot more fitting for the story they'd been telling than Funaki grabbing a leg out of nowhere & Takahashi offering no defense. I think they had to keep this short both because it was a big mismatch & because Takahashi is a one-trick pony, but at 10 minutes they might really have had something here. *** 


Thankfully, we just received a rush of adrenaline because we are going to need it, to face what will surely be our collective doom, as Fujiwara faces Mark Rush. We were all the better for Fujiwara’s absence last month, but surely it was too much to hope for that he would lose his way within the building a la Spinal Tap, so here we are. As this fight starts, I am beginning to realize, that I can’t recall Fujiwara ever looking young. Even in 1985 it looked like he was going on 80, but to his credit he is still going strong as a freelance wrestler, outlasting almost all of his contemporaries. 

The fight starts off with a brief tie up, before Rush shoots in and takes Fujiwara down, and then proceeds to execute the worlds slowest ankle lock entry. This leads the two to play footsie for a while, before Fujiwara reclaims superior position, and secures a keylock, which prompts a rope escape. After the standup Rush takes Fujiwara right back down, and fumbles for a toe-hold, when two things become readily apparent, the first is that Rush has some legit amateur wrestling experience, and the 2nd is that Fujiwara could easily smoking cigarettes in between submission attempts from Rush. 

The next 8 mins of the fight was really a battle of the takedowns, as Rush pitted his amateur wrestling against Fujiwara’s judo arsenal, and to Fujiwara’s credit, he seemed to taking this seriously and was on his best behavior, until just past the 10min mark, where he had to throw a couple of his awful comic headbutts, to which Rush did his best to sell. The rest of the match didn’t fare much better, and it finally ended just past the 17min mark with an ankle lock from Fujiwara. This would have been passable had it clocked in around 5-6 mins, and Fujiwara kept it straight. As it stands, this match only served to be a way for Fujiwara to try and show off his judo, and that could have been accomplished with a much quicker match. All this served to do was kill the momentum of the show, and make Rush look bad. 

 ML: Shamrock & Funaki each doing 6 minute matches left Fujiwara to eat a lot of time. Typically, he did it in the least intense fashion, getting outwrestled then making fun of Rush when he tried for a submission hold. In Fujiwara's defense, Rush only possessed the most rudimentary knowledge of submissions, and would just kind of make things up, twisting Fujiwara's ankle without isolating it or controlling Fujiwara's body in any way, which I suppose deserves Fujiwara putting his hand to his ear to hold his head up while he rested in this nonsense. The match was dated & lazy, with Rush generally doing little to actually control Fujiwara on the mat, but Fujiwara just laying there passively anyway. The finish was the only time either seemed threatened, but that was overdramatized with a lot of bluster from Rush while staying in the hold too long. This match was just a bunch of air, between being so long & so laid back, I'd rate this as one of the worst worked shoots of the year. 

Now it’s up for the clash between East and West to save us, so here’s hoping that Bart Vale said his prayers and took his vitamins before coming out here. Right away, Vale is moving faster than usual, and seems to be giving this his best effort, and he tries to cut the ring off from Suzuki, by working his side stance, and trying to box Minoru into the corner with some sidekicks. Suzuki gets wise, and shoots his way out of the corner, but is stopped by Vale’s sprawl. Vale wasn’t able to capitalize though, and spent his mat time hanging on for dear life against Suzuki, but did wind up warding off a bully choke, and an armbar. 

The rest of the match was rather surprising, as outside of a few strikes, Vale was given very little offense by Suzuki. The match was mostly Vale defending Suzuki’s offense, outside of getting a few strikes in, there wasn’t much that he was able to do. The match ended with a weird submission that was a cross between a half nelson, and a neck-crank. 


This wasn’t terrible but was by no means great either. To his credit, Vale gave forth an honest effort here, but as usual his problem is that he is just way too slow when put with small opponents. He works ok when put with other large/slow men, but it’s hard to carry him to a good match. He is getting better at this compared to his rookie days, though. (If anyone wants to see a terrible match, they need look no further than his match against Akira Maeda at the 2-27-89 Newborn UWF event). 

 ML: The move toward realism seemed to help Vale the most, as he did a better job of closing the distance aggressively and landing quicker, more plausible blows that would put Suzuki on the defensive without exposing himself horrible, thus making it more difficult for Suzuki to just grab him & get it to the ground. While Vale was able to back Suzuki with front kicks, and through his generally aggressive barrage, he didn't do a good job of then getting out of the pocket when his surge was finished, so he did wind up spending a lot of time on his back. Vale's ground game could still use a lot of work, and these limitations hampered Suzuki because Vale wasn't giving a ton of openings either trying to rest or survive, but I actually liked the first half of the match, and the last minute or so. The weak portion was almost all control with neither seeming to really be setting anything up, especially the lengthy front facelock by Vale. Overall though, this was way better than any of Vale's other matches, and the first time I mostly enjoyed his striking. 

Conclusion: ***e/Flynn and Funaki/Takahashi were worth the price of admission alone, but in the end, things was seriously hampered by the Fujiwara match. The Shamrock, Suzuki matches, while not great, were short enough that they didn’t drag things down too much, but 17min of Fujiwara/Rush was painful. 

 ML: What stands out about the show is the concerted attempt made by everyone to step up the realism. While some had more success at that than others, not surprisingly Funaki & ***e, who are among the most realistic to begin with, and surprisingly Vale, who needed a more urgent situation to get out of his safe movie striking shell, the cooperation was almost across the board much less obvious than in other leagues or on previous PWFG shows. This isn't my favorite PWFG show by any means, but given none of these matches were particularly competitive or compelling on paper, it's a great sign that they finally managed to have two good matches, and hard to argue against the show overacheiving considerably. 

*In other news* 

Akira Maeda has managed to snag a lucrative job, moonlighting as a sports reporter for the WOWWOW channel (similar to HBO in the states). He was even able to interview both Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield for Japanese television. 

The terrible match between Nobuhiko Takada and Bob Backlund on 9-26-91 is rumored to have been due to Backlunds unwillingness to lose to a submission (presumably seen as an affront to his reputation), and thus the idea for him to lose quickly to a kick (acting like it was a low-blow) was the solution. It’s safe to say that this idea backfired as it almost caused a riot, that Kazuo Yamazaki had to go out and quell. They are scheduled for a rematch on 11-7-91.

It would seem, that the UWF and the PWFG are in for some stiff competition from the rival FMW promotion. As they recently (10-14-91) almost packed 4,000 people into the ***ata Starlanes, which is considerably more than either of those groups usually do. 

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