Kakutogi Road: The Complete History of MMA Vol.29 "Punishment by Design"
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01.12.2021 | 11:59 AM ET
E=MC2. A formula that is almost as famous as the man who authored it. The heart of this equation is the implication that a small amount of resting mass corresponds to an enormous amount of energy, and in a way that is where we are at today. Any new shift in the cultural zeitgeist is simply waiting for an impetus to propel it into motion, and the players within this shoot-style sphere are just the ones to be that catalyst that will forever change the martial arts landscape. Yes, as unwitting as they may be, Nobuhiko Takada and others in his sphere are in the process of converting the spirit of modern MMA (which has been mostly inert heretofore) into an energy that will eventually take hold and change the dynamic of not only combat sports, but the face of pop culture as well.
The date is 3-17-92, and we will be joining the UWF-I clan at the esteemed Nagoya Tsuyuhashi Sport Center, an all-purpose athletic/recreation center, generally catering to judo, archery, tennis, and other sports related activities. The first match will be the 5th conflict between two of the greatest rookies in pro wrestling history, Hiromitsu Kanehara and Masukazu Maeda. We at Kakutogi HQ are now in full support of this opening pairing from now until the cessation of all things, but sadly this will be the 2nd to last time we get see other Maeda, so we should savor this while we can.
Neither man wastes any time unloading kicks into one another, and just when I think that Kanehara has dispensed with any grappling formalities, he quickly shifts gears and gets a takedown off an errant kick from Maeda, and immediately goes for a near naked choke. In the short amount of time that these two have been going at it (around 3 months now) Maeda has been getting smoother in his transitions, and that is evident here, as he manages to not only slither out of Kanehara’s vice grip but is able to convert that into an armbar attempt. This leads to a nice sequence where Kanehara stacks Maeda to escape the armbar and falls back for a straight ankle lock once Maeda’s foot became available. Maeda then countered with an ankle lock of his own, but Kanehara wisely kept slapping Maeda in the face while shifting his body position so that he could rotate into his own armbar attack. This worked, forcing a rope escape from Maeda, and it is nice to see the local Nagoya audience appreciate this fine waza display as much as I am.
The greatness did not stop there however, and as soon as Maeda got up, he went ballistic on Kanehara’s face, landing several hard strikes and kicks, until Kanehara was forced to dive in with a desperation single-leg attempt. It worked, but Maeda is getting to be way too wily on the ground, and simply will not stay still long enough for Kanehara to do anything. Eventually, Maeda stands back up and starts soccer kicking Kanehara when he does the same, and if that was not enough, he went into full E-Honda mode by unloading dozens of lightning fast palm strikes. I thought this would be the end of Kanehara, but he managed to respond to this assault with a plethora of his own fast hand combinations�The rest of this bout was…. who am I kidding? I am simply running out of adjectives to describe how good these two have been, and this was their best outing yet! Not only will this be a contender for best match of '92, but in its own way it is also one of the best pro wrestling matches that I have ever seen. It did not have the flashy innovation of a Volk Han, the slick transitions of a Tamura, or the subtle psychology of a Yamazaki, but the amount of abuse these two put each other through is simply unreal. That, and it had just the right amount of pro wrestling theatricality to push the entertainment value over the top while not detracting from the realism of their constant barrage of stiff striking. This was 18minute of pure cataclysmic fire before Maeda eventually succumbed to a crossface neck-crank, and for that I hereby award this my very first *****. Excellent!
ML: This match is simply outstanding, the best we've seen so far! If these two just fought every show for an entire year, there is no doubt that these would be the 2 best rookie years ever in pro wrestling! Unfortunately, Maeda won't be around much longer, but it's going to be hard to dethrone Kanehara from that lofty pedistal, unless Miyato just starts feeding him to Albright & Takada. What separates Kanehara & Maeda is they represent a new school of MMA rather than pro wrestling based training that's focused on fighting all out for the positions, particularly in the grappling, and thus looks wholly different then what the old pro wrestlers are doing, with constant pressure and movement, and a very palpable sense of urgency to win by being first. The number of adjustments these guys make in 3 seconds is more then Takada makes in 3 matches. There's no one in wrestling who's putting in the amount of nonstop effort that these two are. There's simply no downtime in their matches because it's not simply about the highspots, but rather the constant barrage of movement and aggression that actually allows for them. Maeda is getting better at being able to keep pushing forward with his onslaught of strikes without getting as sloppy trying to maintain the all out assault. These matches are crazy challenges for their cardio to be certain. Though they would probably be more amazing if Maeda ever so slightly backed off from his Diaz level of volume, and focused slightly more on connecting solidly with each shot, it feels like nitpicking, especially when we remember he's not even 4 months into his career. Also, the whole give 200% effort at all times philosophy is the main thing that's making these matches so realistic as fights even though the precision isn't always there. Kanehara won again, but it's the more obvious massive improvements of Maeda in confidence and execution that is allowing their matches to reach new heights. These matches are more quantity than quality, in the sense that there aren't amazing individual sequences and counters, but rather just an endless, all out push to seize better positions and overwhelm the opponent by beating them to the next strike or submission.****3/4
Although I am a believer in saving the best for last, I am thankful that we got that masterpiece out of the way, as no matter what happens from here on out this will be a memorable evening. Next, we have Masahito Kakihara vs Mark Silver. Kakihara will likely need thousands of dollars in therapy with his resident sports psychologist for the shameful and absurd treatment that was bestowed upon him at the last UWF-I event, in which he had to be squashed out by the gargantuan Gary Albright, who did not even permit Kakihara to have a full minute of offense before smothering him into oblivion. Here they are continuing to put Silver through his paces, as last month he got some invaluable experience going against Kiyoshi Tamura, and now he gets to advance in his training gauntlet by going against aggression ace Kakihara.
The great thing about Kakihara is that no matter who you are, when you are getting slapped a hundred times at a hundred mph, you are going to give some honest reactions no matter how entrenched you are in your old way of doing things. After getting blitzkrieged by an onslaught of naked aggression, Silver starts to slap back and is moving a lot faster than we have seen prior. He clinches up with Kakihara, and gives some knees that would definitely go into the “weak sauce” category, but otherwise he's looking lively, so far. This wound up being a rather strange booking choice in that it went to a full 30 minute draw, which is really too long for someone as green as Silver. Despite the long length, they both managed to be active the entire time and wound up being a lot more entertaining than I would have expected given the circumstances. Also, the 30 minute length did have some interesting side effects as we got to see that Kakihara is more than just a one-trick pony with his relentless striking skills, but that he has a solid submission/grappling game to go with it, and he nicely balanced his ground attacks with opportunities for Silver to fight back. The last ten minutes of this match were on fire, as Silver got his nose busted open with a really stiff palm-strike uppercut, and despite the blood and the pain neither he, nor Kakihara, would show any quit.
This was particularly good, minus some moments of greenness from Silver. His main problem isn’t his instincts, which are good, but rather he is inconsistent with his striking. Sometimes it looks good, but often he is too tentative, which causes some of what he is doing to look too soft and fake. He is getting better though, and if he starts to attack/move with more confidence, in addition to scaling back his output into 8-12 minute matches, then I have no doubt that he can be a good fit here. Still, this was a lot better than anyone could have guessed and managed to hold my interest for the entire 30 minutes. ***¾
ML: I was really surprised by the decision to make this a 30 minute draw given Kakihara has only fought about 36 minutes thus far in his UWF-I career, and Silver is in just his third match. I'm thankful Kakihara was finally given the opportunity to be more than pulsating palms, and this was definitely his most impressive performance so far, as he showed some legitimate ability on the mat. Silver did a better job both with his stand up, and in continuing to work on the ground. I thought this would be more of a striker versus grappler match, but Kakihara was actually initiating the ground game, and doing quite well against the wrestler, putting him on the defensive on the mat. I expected Kakihara to simply overwhelmed Silver with a barrage of stiff palms sooner or later, but this never felt like a draw in the sense that Kakihara mostly had Silver on the defensive, he just never found that one big shot or center of the ring submission to finally finish him. Silver certainly had his moments as well, but Kakihara did a much better job of taking the offensive out of the transition game. I liked the spot where Kakihara ducked a high kick, and clipped Silver's plant leg for the takedown. Though they certainly worked hard for the first 20 minutes, they somehow found the energy to make a big push in the standup down the stretch to really take this to the next level. It always felt like these two were trying for the win, rather than coasting towards the draw. Silver's nose was really a leaking blood, and Kakihara's stomach was being painted red when he tried for the triangle. ***1/2
Next up is Tatsuyo Nakano vs Tom Burton, and I would be lying if I said that I am looking forward to this, but to be fair Burton has been looking a lot better recently, though I am not sure if Nakano is going to be someone that can pull a good match out of him. The first 10 minutes of the match was mostly a lot of yawn inducing remedial matwork, and while the intensity picked up a bit for the following 16 minutes, it was not enough to save this from being mediocre. The problem really lies in bad booking, as both of these men (less so with Nakano, but still) are someone that needs a better/faster opponent to draw the best out of them. To further compound matters they had this go for almost 30 minute when it would have been much better served had it been stripped down to about 7-9. While not as bad as the recent Pez Whatley or JT Southern matches, this is one of the worst at overstaying its welcome in some time.
ML: At this point, it seems Miyato just got sick of people complaining about the short shows, and decided to throw everyone out there for half an hour. I mean, the point of having the actual workers go long should be to get away with having the mediocre workers who can't carry a match just give us 5 minutes of hopefully passable wrestling so we can move on to something of actual interest. The first two matches were largely good because they kept flowing on the mat, but this was mostly stagnant. This wasn't bad, but at the same time it never really captured my attention in any way.
Now it’s time for a tag match between Mark Fleming/Yoji Anjo and Yuko Miyato/Kiyoshi Tamura. Right now, I’m both excited for this match, and ready to slap booker Miyato in the face, as they could have an all-star event tonight if they had shortened the Nakano/Burton match to ten minutes and split these 4 up into two separate singles matches, which would have surely led to a much better result. Still, I can’t complain too much, as these 4 are surely a recipe for goodness. Mark Fleming and Yuko Miyato are going to start things off, and we are underway with Fleming stalking his much faster prey around the ring. Miyato is able to fire off some rapid kicks, before eventually being caught and slammed down on the mat like a rag doll. They are back on their feet, and while he clearly doesn’t have much experience with striking, Fleming has much faster double-leg takedown abilities than a man of his size would indicate. He is able to blast down Miyato easily, and succeeds in a rudimentary standing anklelock, prompting a rope escape, and a tag in for Tamura. They quickly get into a footsie war, which Fleming had no chance of winning, but didn’t wind up losing either, and is eventually able to tag Anjo in. Now things get turned up to 11, as they are both going full blast towards each other, and Tamura’s scrambling is so fast it has to be seen to be believed. When they are back on their feet, Tamura proves that he is more than just a machine gun, as he slows down and pulls a page out of the Yamazaki playbook by slowly feinting takedown attempts, which serves to take Anjo off guard and is immediately followed up with a quick slam/ankle lock attack. This did not yield fruit however, and Anjo was able to break free and counter with a Kimura from something sort of resembling an open guard.
The hyperactive and intense energy was able to stay over the course of this 20 minute match. It seemed like Miyato, Tamura, and Anjo would feed off each other which in turn would amp up the crowd, ratcheting this entire affair into one flaming crescendo. Fleming was also an asset, as while he doesn’t have much in the way of an offensive submission arsenal yet, his wrestling skills are top notch, and he brings a welcome amount of realism with him. The finish was great too, when Tamura tried to hit a rolling kneebar on Anjo, who saw it coming and immediately countered with a lighting quick armbar of his own. While I still maintain that I would have rather seen these 4 in singles competition, I can’t deny the palpable energy on display here. Great! **** ¼
ML: Tamura and Miyato are basically sparring with Fleming, but not only does he have years more wrestling training, he has at least 75 pounds on them. Whenever Miyato makes an adjustment, Fleming just weighs down on him more, usually putting in as bad as, if not a worse position. Tamura is so quick that it's hard for Fleming to get the lead on him or keep him in one place, but he's still able to neutralize him one way or the other. Fleming was apparently taught the STF by Lou Thesz as well, but Tamura manages to get the ropes before he can fully secure it. The match is much more interesting with Anjo in, as he's leaving openings, and thus there is a lot of speedy countering back and forth. The work is definitely a lot looser with Anjo in, but the rapid pace makes up for it, and is what makes the match exciting. I don't have anything against the segments with Fleming beyond them being rather one sided, but they're not in step with the style the others enjoy displaying. As the match progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that they're working interactive segments at warp speed when Anjo is in, then struggling to fend off the control of Fleming. Anjo does his best work of the year here. This is the first time it really feels like he's able to keep up with Tamura, and that's important because his counter of the kneebar role into an armbar for the finish feels believable because Tamura hasn't been a step ahead of him all night the way he usually is. This is basically half a great match, and half Tamura and Miyato getting schooled in Wrestling 101. ***3/4
Now it is time for the debut of Steve Day, who may be best known for being the amateur wrestling coach of future AEW superstar, and grandson of a plumber, Cody Rhodes. Day also comes into this event having been a P.E. teacher out of Murrieta, Georgia, but did not wind up having a very long career, only having 6 matches here in the UWF-I before calling it quits. He seems to be the newest cannon fodder for his opponent Nobuhiko Takada, presumably because they need to keep Takada busy until his inevitable showdown with the Albright juggernaut. I am pleasantly surprised by their match. Day clearly has a strong wrestling acumen (especially in the Greco-Roman dept.), and while not his main forte, you can also tell that he has a decent understanding of submissions like the heel-hook and armbar. The first few minutes were all realistic takedowns and mat wrestling, with Day getting the first point by putting Takada in a heel-hook. Day continued to mostly dominate the match with more great wrestling, until putting Takada in what I presume was a wrist lock (it was hard to tell from the camera angle) and scoring another rope escape.
Eventually, Takada gets a heel-hook of his own around the 10 ½ minute mark in the center of the ring, thus winning the match. I am shocked to hear myself saying this, but this was good, and my favorite Takada match since the UWF-I started. I do not know if it was a simple case of serendipity or what, but this flowed well, felt realistic the entire time, and Day’s serious approach caused Takada to look less like a cartoon character and more like a credible martial artist. Also, while Day does not possess any charisma, or striking abilities for that matter, he is clearly the most skilled pure wrestler that we have seen in this promotion so far and is one of the few raw rookies to have more than just a rudimentary grasp on submissions. I’m flabbergasted while giving this *** ¼
ML: Before Day had the misfortune of teaching the grandson of a... who does one, or if we're really lucky two interesting things amidst a dull, formulaic match he invariably wins since he's the one guy in AEW that never put anyone over, Day seemed poised to have a good run in the UWF-I. Day put Takada on the defensive, but this wasn't nearly as realistic as Fleming's work in the previous match. Day left a lot of openings for Takada, and allowed him to do whatever sort of counter he could muster, including this ridiculous Kurt Angle level nonsense where he rolled backwards onto his stomach to break up an armbar and go into 1/2 crab. Even though Takada was forcing submissions he didn't have the position or leverage for because he didn't know the legitimate counters, at least he was doing something. This is the first match we've seen where he looked like he was actually willing to move beyond 1988. Day was in a really tough spot because not only couldn't he simply school the promotions top dog, which would have been childs play, he couldn even rely on leaving the obvious openings because Takada is so lost he doesn't know what to do with them. Day thus had to keep adjusting, and trying to make the best of things because Takada wouldn't/couldn't just do the expected. Day gave a good performance, but the match was still mostly a mess. It just wasn't the usual Takada mess, it was actually an honest, if still feeble attempt at a legitimate martial arts match, rather than a showy kick filled spectacle.
Now for an exercise in delaying the inevitable, a main event with Gary Albright vs Kazuo Yamazaki. We all already know the outcome of this. It’s just a matter of how long, and how much face can Yamazaki possibly save, as he must be the next to job out to the freight train that is Gary Albright. I am seriously at a loss as to who may have got more of a raw deal in these shoot-style wars then Yamazaki, as his raw talent never correlated with the treatment he was given outside of his run in the Original UWF, when his sensei, Satoru Sayama, had some pull. Anyways, we are treated to another excellent understated interview from the suplex monster, where he puts over the skills of Yamazaki, but also speaks to his confidence in his size and strength, before starting this match.
Albright immediately gets Yamazaki to the mat and starts wailing away on his ribs, while Yamazaki defends from an open guard. Yamazaki did not stay long however, and was able to stand back up and obtain a rope break. It was only a brief respite as Albright threw Yamazaki right back down and started choking him with his forearm, which was quickly broken up by the ref, as they apparently are not legal for some reason. This seemed to anger Yamazaki who tried to retaliate, only to find himself on the receiving end of a monster suplex. The next several minutes saw Yamazaki as the main aggressor, getting some nice offense in, and even scoring a submission on Albright, but we all knew that it was only a matter of time before Yamazaki had to be the latest passenger on Air-Albright, suffering a KO loss to a double suplex whammy. So far, this was Albright’s best match IMO, as Yamazaki was allowed some offense, and did a good job making Gary look good. The ending was no surprise whatsoever, but it was entertaining and that is all you can hope for under these circumstances.
ML: This was the best Albright match so far in the sense that it was the only one that wasn't merely a Saturday morning special, but he was sloppy, and had no stamina. They would do 10 second explosions on their feet, then the matwork was really there for Albright to rest up for the next suplex. Yamazaki would gamble on a wild kick then spent a lot of time on his back with the Albright theoretically punching his ribs, though I'm not sure if a single one actually connected, or manipulating his appendages. There was a cool spot where Yamazaki landed a knee to the midsection of the lock up to open up a German suplex, by Yamazaki's highlights were few and far between. Yamazaki wasn't completely embarrassed, but there was never a moment where his odds swelled beyond -2000.
Conclusion: Another great UWF-I event, despite not having a nice standing bout to warm things up. Yes, Nakano/Burton was an overlong and boring affair, but otherwise this came out on top due to Kakihara carrying Silver to good match, a super exciting tag match, and Takada not messing things up to boot. Also, we got what was in my estimation our first 5-star classic with a rookie team, the likes that will probably never be duplicated in pro wrestling ever again. This promotion should be on a runaway course for total greatness, but its biggest obstacle is itself, or more specifically, the booking. With this event they seemed to try and address one of their main problems which was the short length of their cards but wound up doing this in the most lunkheaded way possible. Giving us two nearly 30 minute matches back-to-back, with a rookie, and the two slowest fighters on the roster, is not a great way to go about this, especially when they have plenty of other options. Still, they are the clear front runner as the entertainment value is simply too strong for anyone else to mess with, at least for the moment.
ML: If UWF-I wasn't dead set on the promoting more or less the two worst workers in the promotion at the expense of all else, they could have been one the greatest leagues ever. Luckily, in these days, people actually tried on the undercard, and this was another tremendous show until the featured matches. One has to be optimistic about the talent they are bringing in, as Fleming, Silver, and Day all showed a ton of potential, with Kanehara and Maeda somehow proving to be even more amazing with each match. As weakly as this finished, this was probably the best show we seen so far because of how fantastic the opener was.
*This entire event, along with many other priceless treasures, can be found over at www.patreon.com/KakutogiRoad *
*In other news *
Rumors are swirling that a Roberto Duran vs Masakatsu Funaki match will be announced at a press conference in Miami on 3-19-92, a day before they are set to have an event take place there.
RINGS announced new rules in that pinfalls no longer count for a victory. The only way to win is either knockout or submission. This seems like a bizarre announcement as no one has even tried to win via pinfall, thus far.
Speaking of Rings… A rematch between Volk Han and Akira Maeda has been scheduled for 4-3-92.
The World Kickboxing Championships took place recently in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Thomas & Mack Center. This event featured bouts between Kathy Long vs Kyoko Kamikaze, and Dennis Alexio vs. Branko Cikatic. Long went into this event with a bit of controversy behind here, as she was recently featured in the February issue of Black Belt Magazine in an interview where she expressed opinions that weren’t exactly flattering to either Graciela Casillas or Lucia Rijker. Let’s check in with Mike Lorefice who will break down the action for us
WMAC Women's Feathweight Title: Kathy Long vs. Kyoko Kamikaze 5R. Very tough matchup for 21-year-old Kamikaze as Long has the experience, but also the speed & reach, and she happens to be a great fighter to boot. Typical high paced women's bout with a lot of action, but much better than average technique. It was pretty much one-way traffic though with Long winning every round, including dropping Kamikaze twice in the 5th, but failing to get the finish mostly because Kamikaze was tough & refused to surrender. I need to get a hold of more matches of Long, she is fantastic.