Best Matches Seen August 2017
DEEP 68 IMPACT 8/23/14, DEEP Flyweight Title Match: Tatsumitsu Wada vs. Yuki Motoya 4:15 R2. A rematch from DEEP 63 8/25/13 where Motoya lost the title via split decision. This was another really high level competitive fight between the two best fighters in the organization, pretty much split down the middle as Wada owned the standup (1st round) while Motoya owned the ground (2nd round). Both fighters are supposed to be 5'7", but Wada has a noticable height & reach advantage. Motoya is the better fighter all things being equal, but Wada is a really tough matchup for him because he's the one guy that's been able to keep Motoya out of striking range. Motoya normally has ability to just get in the pocket & win by being the harder hitter & better athlete, his big left hook will connect sooner or later & and his oppononents just don't have that kind of weapon, but today he was only standing up because Wada was defending his takedowns. Generally speaking, Wada won this fight at distance & Motoya, as always, won the fight in the pocket, but there were few instances of the later. Wada's problem was that he's not a true distance fighter. He likes to step forward on his strikes, which gave Motoya the opportunity to counter or lock him up, though Motoya isn't a true counter puncher or grappler & Wada did a good job at sliding back out of the pocket without getting hit with a bomb. Wada was able to stuff some good takedown attempts in the 1st despite Motoya getting in with a good clasp, and generally his fighting long was keeping Motoya from trying often. Wada was especially successful at keeping Motoya from coming forward early, being active with his range finders while being ready to counter when Motoya tried to close distance kept the fight under his control. The key spot of round 1 was early on when Wada caught Motoya coming in with a big uppercut because, sending the message that Motoya was going to have to carefully work his way in, and this more or less kept him at bay the rest of the round. Motoya landed a few solid right hooks to the body off missed left hooks, but couldn't land the left hook follow up either. Wada just outworked him in the first, and although Wada wasn't landing huge shots, it was pretty much one-way traffic when Wada was on the outside either using his reach or coming in momentarily on his own terms. Motoya changed things up in the 2nd, using an inside leg kick lead to try to set up his hook. He finally got a takedown early, & took the back as Wada was standing back up, trying for a rear naked choke then sliding off into heel hook & kneebar attempts. Motoya just relentlessly pressured Wada on the mat, pounding away when he wasn't trying for a submission. Motoya's pace was gassing both fighters, but Motoya wasn't going to stop until the fight was his. Finally, Wada gave his back as Motoya went for an arm triangle, and this time Motoya was able to get in deep on the rear naked choke & regain his title forcing Wada to tap. Good match.
NJ 4/4/94, IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Shinya Hashimoto vs. Tatsumi Fujinami 14:55. Simple, entertaining, and effective match where the more physically imposing Hashimoto dominates, but winds up losing nonetheless via flash pin. There's not a lot to it, but Hashimoto is so nasty with his kicks, and Fujinami should be commended for agreeing to take such a brutal beating. Fujinami starts off playing ball control, but gets sucked into a slugfest, exploding with slaps after Hashimoto double crosses his offer to lock up, instead blasting him with a series of leg kicks. Hashimoto avoids a dropkick though, and pretty much has his way with Fujinami the rest of the match after repeatedly punting Fujinami when he's down & throwing Tiger Hattori down twice so he could continue to put the boots to Fujinami when he's in the ropes. Hashimoto was just mauling poor Fujinami, but Fujinami hung on through countering & evading, taking over momentarily with his Dragon sleeper when Hashimoto missed a wheel kick in the corner. Hashimoto wasn't slowed & just continued to blast Fujinami with kicks whether or not they were legal until Hattori reestablished order after being tossed aside again, leaping on Hashimoto's back & pushing him away then kicking Hiroshi Hase off the apron. Hattori assured Fujinami had waaaaay too much time to recover from each knocked down for the rest of the match. It wasn't a particularly competitive or dramatic. It all seemed academic & just a matter of time until a contrived finish where Fujinami somehow turned a wheel kick into a ground cobra twist for the upset win. ***1/4
Super Junior Special Elimination Match: Dr. Wagner Jr. & El Samurai & Hayato Nanjyo & Jushin Thunder Liger & Kendo Kashin vs. Kaz Hayashi & Koji Kanemoto & Masakazu Fukuda & Shinjiro Otani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa 27:40. A wonderful celebration & summation of the 1998 Super Jr League won by Kanemoto on 6/3, putting 10 of the 12 competitors (no Felino or Yasuraoka) into a giant elimination match ceremonously started by the two finalists. Essentially it was the same high level junior tag we've seen all year as the style & pairings were identical with a few extra guys filling out the sides, but having a lot more time & everyone involved in the same match (rather than having a singles match & using the other four or six guys in a junior tag) allowed them to eliminate the early matwork & instead work a super fast pace early on because they could keep rotating in & constantly double, triple, quadruple, or quintuple team. Hayato & Fukuda were predictably the first men eliminated, but the other non-regular, Shiryu, who has all the experience in the legendary big Michinoku Pro tags, made his mark. I enjoyed the more purely lucha sequence he worked with Liger capped by a cool no touch dive where he rotated 180 degrees (rather than the usual flip). The match tended to follow the pattern of wrestler who scored a pin very quickly being the next one pinned, but after the initial eliminations, the match didn't exactly go as predicted in terms of order of elimination, with Otani being the 3rd one out & Liger the 5th (Kanemoto eliminating him to further set up his 7/15/98 challenge). There was focus on Kanemoto vs. Wagner as Wagner wanted to avenge his loss from 2 days ago. Wagner did a really good job again here, but given the quality of their final, I was shocked they didn't try to capitalize on the momentum & save this for last as a way of turning it into some kind of program going forward rather than having Wagner make Kanemoto the 6th man out & move on to well, nothing in particular. The problem with this match is it wasn't doing a whole lot to tell stories or generate drama. At some point the surprise eliminations were no longer surprising because you knew they were coming, nor were they cute because they were taking the best talent out, and in a match that was essentially just workrate, it was a major downer that Kashin/Takaiwa were the final 2 given they're the really distant 7th & 8th best performers involved by default of young Fukuda & not well trained Hayato filling out the lineup. To make things more anticlimactic, the eliminations were coming so quickly at this point it didn't much matter that it was Kashin/Takaiwa down the stretch as the final fall was 1:06 and the entire time between Wagner pinning Kanemoto for the 6th elimination & Kashin tapping Takaiwa for the match ending 9th elimination was a mere 3:04. Normally these big tags get better & better as the match progresses, but I felt this was the oppositite, starting off great but losing steam because they couldn't figure out how to make the audience care beyond oohs & aahs. ***1/2
IWGP Tag Title Tournament Final: Genichiro Tenryu & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Masa Chono & Hiroyoshi Tenzan 19:51. A shockingly great match where everyone brought their A game and had the fans going nuts. It was fantastic right off the bat as Tenzan had the guts to call out Tenryu, something you don't do if you want to return to the locker room with some skin on your chest that isn't beat red, disrespectfully waving Koshinaka off, but before they locked up Tenryu walked over to Chono in his corner, disrespecting Tenzan. Everyone was good & annoyed before the opening lockup, and and they just laid into each other from the outset. It's rare that you'll ever find AJ level stiffness in 90's NJ, but with weak style doing their annual invasion of Baba's home base, they stepped it up & had 2 matches in row that were all out wars. The one thing you have to love about Tenzan is he'll never back down from anyone. Tenryu did a whole series of his most brutal chops, & Tenzan just stuck his tongue out at him & begged for more. The one problem with this style is it essentially made the match Tenryu vs. Tenzan. Tenryu was great, one of his best performances outside of AJ, & this is the type of match Tenzan is made for. Koshinaka is by far the best of these 4 on a day in, day out basis, but he was far from his most effective in the early portion because you can't really decide to hit any harder when your hip is your main weapon. This was really Tenryu's show though, and he had everyone raising their levels to meet him. I mean, Chono even took a suplex to the floor, and this is really where the drama kicked in as Tenryu actually did an elbow off the apron that knocked Chono over the security rail and "KO'd" him. This left Tenzan to go it alone (again making the match seem more like AJ than NJ), and Tenryu & Koshinaka brought everything they had, double teaming him with their signature moves to seal the deal. However, Tenzan showed great fighting spirit, doing little more than surviving long enough for Chono to recover. Though Chono was effective enough early, the match was mostly Tenzan, so Chono gave his big burst here, going all out for a few minutes after saving Tenzan . The crowd was already excited by all the near finishes on Tenzan, but were thrilled to finally get the big Chono/Tenryu encounter the match had only had flashes of earlier. I loved how long the finishing sequence seemed to be. I mean, they effectively managed to transition the match from a slugfest to a big action match with Tenryu & Koshinaka's run on Tenzan, but from there the energy & urgency kept increasing as they went through pairing after pairing with no one able to get a finish despite constant attempts, often because their partner managed to save. The change in style also greatly increased the effectiveness of Koshinaka & Chono. You could never tell who was going to win the match, as they did a great job of making everyone down & out at one point or another, but finding a good reason for them to survive. Ultimately, Tenzan, the man who took by far the biggest beating, managed to finish Koshinaka. Chono was so excited they took the belts & proud of his protege that he gave him a winning kiss. Definitely one of the best NJ heavyweight matches of the decade. ****1/4
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Shinya Hashimoto 20:38. The Fujinami/Hashimoto series started off well with Fujinami's title victory on 4/4/94, but then their more famous follow up where Hashimoto recaptured the title before 53,000 fans at the Fukuoka Dome was a mere 6:04 domination. Luckily, this third title meeting was an updated & expanded version of the original match, and given ample time to lay out a suitable match, they delivered a high end brutal psychological war that played around with their initial ideas. Hashimoto is always the wrecking ball in this matchup, with Fujinami surviving on skill & guile. In the 1st match, Hashimoto mainly used high kicks that should have knocked Fujinami out but somehow never did. Here he mercylessly destroyed Fujinami's leg, kicking him until he was down & then going back to the 1st match, when he was down. Fujinami's mobility was hampered, so he was leery to attack & just kind of hoped Hashimoto, who was in raging violent mood, would rush into a mistake if Fujinami hung back long enough (which won him the 1st match), particularly that he'd telegraph a kick that Fujinami could counter with his Dragon screw. Fujinami soon got frustrated that when he was able to catch the leg, he still wasn't able to hit the counter he sought, and made the mistake of instead firing up & standing toe to toe with Hashimoto for an intense striking exchange, which only served to piss Hashimoto off & make him brutalize Fujinami that much more. It was once again quickly apparent that Fujinami was going to get incapacitated if he tried to match force with Hashimoto, who was leveling him with high kicks, but Fujinami remembered this too, and did a better job of staying disciplined & patient, returning to his strength, technical skill, & staying relevant with counters into hope spots. Finally hitting an ugly Dragon screw (probably botched but they called it a "new Dragon screw") followed by a clean one, Fujinami returned the favor injuring Hash's knee with a diving kneedrop to the knee. The match was top notch up until this point, but they just lost the plot from here as Fujinami still wasn't able to turn the tide despite a figure 4, and Hashimoto quickly came back looking full strength except even angrier, sticking it to Fujinami by taking the leg out once again with his suimengiri. I liked that this match had a much more shoot style bend than their previous ones, adapting well to the changes in the overall landscape since their '94 meetings. However, the problem with this mixing a shoot style approach with pro wrestling booking is you wind up with a match that the much younger, bigger, stronger, & tougher Hashimoto should dominate to the one-sided finish, but then you aren't letting him win, so you have to concoct something hopefully not nonsensical to explain a result that, dramatic as it might be (and as with the previous Fujinami win this really was more false thus anticlimactic), goes against all logic & reason. They effectively teased the logical possibilities for Fujinami winning, a flash finish like his 1st win or actually doing something with the knee injury this time, but they just abandoned the workable reasons & instead had Hashimoto unable to escape a chinlock & standing around taking repeated enzuigiris because it "was time" for Fujinami to make his run to the finish. Technically, the idea was Fujinami countered Hashimoto's vertical drop brainbuster into a sleeper & soon after jumped on Hashimoto's back for another. A similar spot worked in their 4/4/94 match because Fujinami pounced as Hashimoto was struggling to get up after injuring his knee missing a wheel kick in the corner & very quickly transitioned to the Dragon sleeper, but Fujinami doesn't do the sleeper in even the fake pro wrestling application, and there was just no reason for Hashimoto, who had once again been an indomitable monster up until this point, to just be trapped in a cheesy no body control or neck squeeze chinlock long enough for Fujinami to eventually turn it into his Dragon sleeper & later a rear naked choke for the win. At least Fujinami won with a legitimate finisher, but the whole finishing segment from Hashimoto's knee being okay after all was, in a match that was largely good because of its credibility, just not very believable. Fujinami being able to outgrapple an injured Hashimoto because he couldn't get up leading to the rear naked choke would have been a far more reasonable way to deliver the same finish. Overall, this was the best match of their series because there was more to it all around, but simple & effective is what's worked for them throughout, there was no need to get too cute with the finish. ***3/4
DEEP 67 IMPACT 6/22/14, Yuki Motoya vs. Yoshiro Maeda 4:59 R1. One of the things that makes Yuki Motoya special is choosing to engage in a firefight isn't merely an option to have an entertaining fight, it's also a strategy that will lead to victory. Though Maeda was on the decline at this point, he's still more than a formidable opponent who has held multiple titles in Japan & had a match of the year challenging Miguel Torres for the Bantamweight Title on WEC 34 6/1/08. Motoya just pressured Maeda, and as soon as he stunned him with a jumping knee he just kept throwing & throwing. This wasn't wild winging, Motoya was always almost as calm & clearheaded as he was aggressive. Maeda landed a few good shots, sure, but Motoya is simply the more powerful striker & he's got the reflexes to defend as well as the speed to land the vast majority of the shots in this wild flurry. Maeda had no choice but to take him down, and no choice was really the motif of this match, as Maeda was always on the defensive, boxed into minimal options which generally weren't ideal. Motoya is okay with taking a shot or giving up a takedown here and there because he knows that bombarding the opponent will make them do desparate things, and more often than not he'll anticipate their gambles & make them pay, and if not he'll probably counter them so it won't matter. Maeda, who was leaking blood from just 15 seconds of swinging with Motoya, was able to mount momentarily, but Motoya reguarded, swept, & pounded him from rear mount trying to open up his rear naked choke attempts. Motoya's ability to chain submissions & mix punches in with these attempts was really impressive. This was just constant pressure on all fronts. Maeda made a good move here & there, for instance turning out of a body triangle to eliminate the threat of the rear naked choke, but was almost always making these moves to survive. Motoya was simply a step or two ahead of Maeda all fight, and went right into a triangle armbar then shifted to a belly down armbar for the win. Just a great performance from Motoya & even if it was one-sided, so much fun seeing such a high paced match with constant flurrying & scrambling. Good match.
Battlarts 5/13/07: Yuki Ishikawa vs. Munenori Sawa 15:55. Ishikawa trained Sawa, but this was good for every reason the student/teacher match usually isn't. This wasn't a friendly, lovey dovey match, and it wasn't a match where the student is or might as well be out there bowing, as they obviously have no chance to beat the honored master. The match was really stiff, intense, & lively with no signs of friendship or respect, and though Sawa does wind up losing, with Ishikawa being none too quick to release the winning choke, he was in the match all the way. Even if it was probably 60/40 to Ishikawa, Ishikawa's advantage was not so much being the great teacher, but simply understanding more about Sawa's style than Sawa understands about his style, as well as simply being a much bigger, stronger man. Any description of Battlarts style is always contradictory at best, but Sawa, who also wrestles as Lingerie Muto, kept trying to do Keiji Muto's signature moves in what was otherwise a bizarre, updated melding of shoot style & old school technical wrestling. Some of these moves worked, but, for instance, Ishikawa knew Sawa was going to follow the space rolling elbow with the facecrusher, so he was able to counter into a wakigatame. Ishikawa also caught the leg on the 2nd shining wizard & went into a heel hook. If this sounds awkward in a match where they are otherwise brutalizing each other with credible moves & blows, perhaps the brilliance of the contest is that it's at once fun & completely serious. There's actually some excellent striking because Ishikawa wasn't falling into the usual pro wrestling routine of horrible flatfooted exchanging, he's just kept slugging away until he decided to move on to a submission or Sawa found an answer. There was a particularly impressive sequence where Ishikawa did about five nasty 1-2 open hand combos in a row (they were doing closed fists to the body & open fists to the head like the old Pancrase, which looked much more impressive than Ishikawa & Ikeda's constant punching in the 2/25/07 main) before finally dropping Sawa with a slap you could surely hear outside the building. These guys never stopped, they just kept struggling & making the necessary adjustments to gain/maintain control. Now 15 years into his career & having just turned 40, Ishikawa was working a part time schedule at this point wrestling once or twice a month, but he was rarely at this level in the heyday of Battlarts. This wasn't the Ishikawa that was out there worshipping Inoki, this guy had gone back to his PWFG roots & thought about how to update that style to kind of meld the best of what MMA & catch wrestling could be from a modern perspective rather than just finishing out his career clinging to '70's pro wrestling & pre MMA shooting. ****
Bellator 135 3/27/15: LC Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro 3R. If I were to make up a moniker that best exemplifies what I'd like to see from a fighter it would be "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always be entertaining". No fighter better exemplifies that theory than "Little Volk". Tokoro grew up hooked on the best & most exciting technical wrestling out there, idolizing perhaps the only pro wrestler who was great from his first worked match to his last, Volk Han. Han's matches weren't the most believable out there (though miles more credible than the most successful worked shooter, Nobuhiko Takada, as Han actually trained high level in a legitimate sport & took that understanding of what the real moves & positions were & how to properly apply them into the ring with him), but that was purposely secondary to his amazing ability to mesmerize the audience with what was essentially an endless scramble as he chained one submission after another, contorting his opponent in every way known to man & wolf. Han was a USSR sambo champion in his 20's, but when he transitioned to MMA at near 40 because worked shoots died out, he didn't just do the same nutso sequences he did in works because it would be too low percentage. Tokoro, though too young to be around in the worked days of RINGS (he debuted in the fighting network on 9/21/01), dedicated himself to making Han's style work in MMA, for better or worse, and it's always been better for the fans, though more toward 50/50 if your idea of worse is losing. When it comes to exciting mat fighting, he is peerless in the history of MMA, often delivering more scrambles in a single match than you'll see in a months worth of dedicated Fight Pass watching. He is also a dazzling standup fighter, as his amazing speed, reflexes, quickness & athleticism are only matched by his daring & creativity. When things are going well, he can knock you down with a single shot the opponent doesn't anticipate, and his unorthodox nature keeps the opponent off-balance & guessing, opening up his ability to get in on your legs. His chin is suspect though, and he'd been KO'd a dozen times coming into this fight, often getting nailed because his style is so risky & so recklessly offensive, and generally suffering because he has a poor chin up defensive posture that ultimately relies almost entirely on dodging shots. I'm not sure if this is his best match, there's so many good ones to choose from & I haven't seen them all, but I'm sure this is match of the year for 2015, topping even the great Justin Gaethje vs. Luis Palomino war from WSOF 19. Davis is the type of MMA fighter most Japanese lose to, especially when they come to America, the bigger, stronger wrestling based fighter, though his wrestling did him little good here because Tokoro's submission skills were so far ahead of anything Davis could offer on the ground & they don't have guys who can scramble like Tokoro on the college scene. Tokoro just kept him on the defensive, trying to finish the fight with constant attacks from any & all ground positions. One of the problems with Tokoro is his style is so based on making something happen that he stagnates when he's not doing something crazy. He started R1 charging with a flying middle kick, ducked into a takedown, dropped for a heel hook, etc., but Davis landed a few solid left straights when Tokoro wasn't creating chaos. Nonetheless, R1 was a clear win for Tokoro given he had a flash knockdown with a spinning back elbow followed by a flash knockdown with a right straight with 30 seconds left. Davis was a lot more active in standup in R2, & thus was outlanding Tokoro even though he mostly missed. Tokoro made his move trying something beyond description that I'll call a jump feint Superman punch, but got drilled with a right in midair. Davis took the top thinking he might finish, but Tokoro stood off a failed heel hook attempt. Davis worked Tokoro over against the cage though, using body shots to set up the head for his best damage of the fight. Tokoro dropped Davis with a short right hand to start the 3rd & quickly used his top control to swing into an armbar. Davis stood & yanked his arm out, but got nailed with an upkick as he tried to take the top that was incorrectly ruled illegal. Jason Herzog is one of the only refs I rarely have issue with, and I can't even fault him here as it was actually a bang/bang play that you can really only tell was a bad call on the super slow motion replay he doesn't have the benefit of, but it drives me crazy how all these fighters shamelessly sell every blow of questionable legality like it's a near death experience when 95% of the time it isn't 1/5th as bad as 25 other legal shots they already got hit with. Despite losing his momentum as Davis stalled as long as he could get away with because he was clearly the more fatigued fighter, Tokoro came back with a high kick just after the restart. Davis came down on top when Tokoro's Kimura attempt failed, but top position for Davis never mattered because Tokoro is one of the few guys that - despite MMA having punches to the face - can pretty much always either just attack another submission or create a scramble to get back to his feet like you'd see fighters do under the old Japanese no punching a downed opponent rules. Tokoro had a brilliant Kimura takedown into mount the last minute, rolling Davis to try for finishing leverage, but Davis escaped & finished the fight with a guillotine attempt. Bellator was already infamous for screwing over Japanese fighters, having robbed the best female fighter of her era, Megumi Fujii, of her perfect record. This should have been a standard 29-28 win for Tokoro having taking the 1st & 3rd, but instead was yet another terrible split decision screwjob that failed to reward the fighter who was coming close to winning the fight. Tokoro was the one who was constantly doing things to finish, winning every series on the ground by threatening to finish countless times & not taking any real damage or getting threatened back, as well as having knockdowns in 2 different rounds & breaking Davis' jaw. Davis had his moments to be certain, but Tokoro often takes way more punishment than this, here he immediately posed a greater threat almost any time Davis seemingly had gained momentum. This wasn't Tokoro's best ground fight, as he wasn't able to chain his submission attempts nearly as much as he would against a more willing grappler, but it was an all around super fight with a few highlight reels worth of knockdowns, submission attempts, & wild flashy techniques. I'm sure there is a fight or two that would look better upon multiple viewings because you just can't replicate the suspense of this fight when you know all the close calls are just that & it winds up being a decision. What made this fight so amazing live is you never knew what would happen, but you knew something crazy & awesome would soon enough, so there was just relentless suspense & anticipation. Sometimes the fight was almost better during the downtime because the anticipation grew & grew, but these guys had a high work rate, this wasn't like watching an Anderson Silva fight where you know he can win at any time with one shot but he just waits & waits for that opening, this was consistent action with Davis filling in all the lulls as Tokoro planned his next kamikaze attack. There's matches with more standup volume, more standup power, better technique, but outside of maybe a Cung Le or Lando Vanatta fight, they just don't give you that same feeling, that feeling that you're going to see something you may never have seen before & probably will never see again, and those guys can only do it on their feet, Tokoro brings endless possibilities no matter the position. Every Tokoro fight isn't this good, but once you know what a wild & crazy guy he is, that feeling is there every time he steps into the ring, and he may lose, but he rarely disappoints. Great match.
EFC 1 11/18/95, EFC Middleweight Tournament Final: Igor Vinoviev vs. Mario Sperry 11:39. This was the first great MMA fight I ever saw. It's the fight that made me see that MMA could actually be better than pro wrestling. The fight is certainly somewhat crude looking now, but it has an amazing story, and that's always going to endure. What's amazing about this fight is it was exactly pro wrestling, without being worked. I mean, the fight almost perfectly follows a pro wrestling script where one guy is a huge favorite who never loses a fight he's dominating, except the opponent doesn't care or believe history applies to him, and just keeps hanging in there, never giving up despite being thwarted every time he comes close to amazingly turning the tide. Then, in one fell swoop, because he maintained his head & gutted it out, he finally capitalizes on a bonehead move by the dominator & takes him out. This match was really one that hadn't been seen before despite MMA being 2 years old at this point. The early MMA, especially the initial UFC shows, were all about pitting disparate disciplines against each other. That was a nice novelty, but it was quickly apparent to anyone that actually watched that despite decades of the media bombarding us with nonsense about boxers being the toughest men alive while ignoring the existence of every other combat discipline, as soon as the boxer got taken down it was lights out for them. These early UFC shows established a heirarchy of combat sport disciplines, which was then blown away by guys like Maurice Smith & Frank Shamrock (who unfortunately ended Zinoviev's career breaking his collarbone with a nasty slam) who realized the importance of training with masters of other disciplines to develop an all around game, with Smith's UFC 14 win over Mark Coleman being the most important fight up until that point in time because no longer did wrestling simply trump kickboxing because no longer was Smith simply a kickboxer who would fold to the takedown. I'm digressing, but the point is Royce Gracie submitting a guy like Art Jimmerson who had probably never seen a submission in real life was kind of like taking candy from a baby with a giant gripless boxing glove, but EFC had more interesting fights in these days because they actually had weight classes & featured more grappling based fighters (though Zinoviev did walk over some shitty boxer in the first round) who could go back & forth & test each other. Sperry vs. Igor was one of the first fights in America where you had two guys who actually understood the submission game. Both had trained in judo, with Sperry shifting to BJJ & becoming one of Carlson Gracie's most decorated proteges, earning his black belt at the 1995 Mundial despite having won a Brazilian national black belt division the year before (Sperry's BJJ prime was actually after this fight with Igor), while Zinoviev had mastered sambo & honed his skills while working in special ops & law enforcement. Sperry was the bigger man & had good takedown skills for a BJJ fighter of the time period. Based on what MMA was at the time, when Sperry took Igor down quickly, twisting on a bodylock & tripping him up when Igor gambled to avoid Sperry taking his back, that should have been the fight right there. Sperry was supposedly 273-0, though the exact specifics of what this record actually encompassed may not have been thought up yet, and theoretically just had to work his top game. Soon he'd pass guard & tap his helpless opponent out, except Zinoviev was far from helpless & when Sperry made his move, Igor was able to stand back up. Sperry quickly tripped Igor up again, and now the chances of Igor having another escape in him were that much lower, especially once Sperry mounted & busted Igor open with left hands. It's hard to conceive of now, but I can't emphasize enough just how rare sweeps were at this point outside of worked shoots other than to say I don't know if I'd even heard of the term before seeing this match. Igor tried a side sweep then stood in ensuing scramble (earning the nickname "Houdini" from boxing announcer Dave Bontempo), but as he tried to get offensive landing a series of punches, Sperry drove forward & single legged him. However, Igor locked the guillotine, and with some ridiculous arm stamina, was able to keep hanging on long enough after Sperry mounted to create another scramble by bridging where he was able to momentarily get some leverage in the choke & regain guard, only to have Sperry regain mount while Igor was answering him starting to pull his head out. Sperry mounted again, only to have Igor hit a kesagatame sweep. The whole myth of BJJ world domination that Royce had built up in the US through choking out boxers & wrestles & in Japan by Rickson taking out an already blinded 150 pound Yuki Nakai was going up in smoke at this point. In these days, Zinoviev holding onto the cage to avoid a takedown was still a legal maneuver, and Sperry was just gassed & not thinking clearly, so he tried to leap onto Vinoviev's back for a choke, but Vinoviev ducked & apparently kneed Sperry to bust him open horrifically, though I can't honestly tell that the strike actually connects. It instead looked like Igor got a guillotine & Sperry tapped, but in watching it again, Sperry actually touched his forehead to check his cut, smeared the blood on the mat, then the ref stopped the fight so it seemed like a submission, but he was actually calling for the doctor, who stopped it. The match was just unreal. It seemed like a Hollywood script for an MMA version of Rocky. Part of that was we simply didn't know how good the debuting Igor actually was & assumed, led by John Peretti, that BJJ was the unstoppable martial art & a guy with a known world class pedigree in that sport would thus obviously win, but Zinoviev's only loss was when he sustained the career ending injury (though I think Frank also straight up KO'd him with the slam) so this was actually two of the best '90's MMA fighters going at it before we knew either were great. Great match.
AJ 12/2/74, 2/3 Falls NWA World Heavyweight Title Match: Jack Brisco vs. Giant Baba 20:46 [11:47, 5:39, 3:20]. I'm developing more of an appreciation for Giant Baba as I watch these fights from the late 60's-mid 70's when he's in his 30's. He's definitely not the smoothest or most fluid guy out there, but he gives a genuine effort in these big matches, is way ahead of his time at structuring matches by playing off (recent) past history (one of the most important aspects to any fan of peak AJ), and provides a lot of action (for his time). That being said, the thing I appreciate about him most is that he's an all around credible & respectable fighter who, although he'll butcher a spot here & there, never appears to be out there for himself & allows you to believe in the match as an athletic contest. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of his famous foreign opponents, who tend to be much more highly regarded despite actually being cornballs, the primary exception being Billy Robinson, who was a good decade or two ahead of his time & really in a class by himself. This match against Brisco had a ton of potential, and Baba more than lived up to his end. The opening was excellent because Brisco has the ability to be vastly different than the typical amateur wrestling champion. Rather than relying on power, which doesn't really come across given the opponent isn't resisting in the pros, he can be quick & nimble, as shown in the early portion when he's getting Baba to the canvas where the big man's size doesn't really matter, which comes across really well as he's beating Baba to holds on speed, superior reflexes, & through general athletcism. Baba went to great lengths to adapt to this style, being as quick, explosive, & responsive as he could be, and this was really some choice stuff before they settled in to a more traditional world title match. The 1st fall was cleanly wrestled sequences of struggle until Brisco took a cheap shot on the break at the end & began roughing Baba up. Baba almost immediately came back though, with Brisco taking absurdly overexaggerated bumps on a chop off the ropes & dropkick before losing to the Russian leg sweep. The match didn't exactly work because Baba was offensive guy, but every time he did anything Brisco insisted on selling it as though he were shot with a freaking bazooka! This obviously doesn't exactly jive with his gimmick of Mr. Serious pro wrestler who just relies upon his superior skill or his reputation as one of the supposed stallwarts of protecting the credibility of the business, but as my friend likes to describe this sort of "logic", "The best way to protect the business: act in a way no one would EVER act in a real fight." Anyway, Baba's high spots didn't wind up working great as a counterpoint to Brisco's focus on struggling for locks because Brisco doesn't know how to simply fall in a plausible manner that would allow the audience to focus on the moves Baba was using rather than what a jackass Brisco looked like putting them over with flailing, spasming, & contorting pratfalls that even the worst silent film star would be too ashamed to run with. Baba pushed hard to start the 2nd, but Brisco again took over with a cheapshot off the break. Brisco owned the match when it was on the mat, but there was no leg work at all in this fall, just a back suplex to get Baba down & the figure 4 to finish him, which I'm okay with since a submission hold that can't finish outright isn't a submission hold at all, it's an attrition hold. Brisco's choice made much more sense, as he instead worked the now injured leg to start the 3rd, leading to other figure 4 attempts that Baba defended. In turn, Brisco got his leg on the ropes to save himself from losing to the Russian leg sweep again. This fall was very action packed as well as now playing well on what history they had, but it's disappointing it was so short as it seemed they'd finally hit their stride, combining hot action with a good story, when Baba countered a charging Brisco with his neckbreaker drop to begin his 1st of 3 brief reigns with the top heavyweight belt in the sport. Baba really upped his game here, laying out a smart match, providing good action, and adapting well to Brisco's style while also making his own disparate style work as well has he could with it. Brisco is obviously the more gifted athlete, but I suppose his selling is actually even worse than Terry Funks because Funk is purposely hamming it up. There was enough to praise here from both men that the match could still be greatly enjoyed even though it was a serious match you couldn't take it seriously, but things really went into the toilet in their rematch when you combined Brisco's inability to plausibly sell anything with his inability to actually connect with a strike. ***1/2
AJ 10/9/73 Tokyo Kuramae Kokugikan, 2/3 Falls International Tag Title Match: Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk vs. Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta 34:32 of 61:00 [23:57 (8:10 shown), 17:24 (17:20 shown), 19:39 (9:02 shown)]. Looking at this match on the classics shows all these years later, it's easy to just see four Hall of Fame wrestlers & forget the actual context of the match, which is more toward two absolute legends, Baba & Dory (who recently had his 4 year reign as NWA Heavyweight Champ ended by Harley Race), Terry, who won regional titles wherever they traveled but was still very much in the shadow of his older brother, and Tsuruta who debuted a little more than 6 months ago & was still going by his given first name Tomomi. Tsuruta is an absolute phenom, having actually got a shot at Dory's NWA Heavyweight Title less than 2 months into his career (Dory's last successful defense, 2-1 in 52:00) & immediately became Baba's regular partner, not merely filling the void of his most recent championship partners Seiji Sakaguchi & Antonio Inoki, who were now in New Japan, but already blowing way past them as a worker. Dory & Baba appear to be the driving forces in the match, but both have their own direction, and throwing cartoonish Terry into the mix, the match, while clearly quite good, never feels particularly cohesive or unified in purpose. Dory embraces the struggle for each hold & counterhold, working a measured technical style where to some extent it doesn't matter what the hold actually is, while Baba is more concerned with just breaking free so he can get a few signature moves in. Terry & Jumbo seem to fall somewhere in between, but obviously are pulled more in the direction of their opponent than their partner, with Baba's offensive push giving Terry more reason to do his hammy overselling, which gets laughs that he embraces, though that doesn't seem to be the reaction you'd want in a serious match, and generally undermines what Dory is after. Jumbo, however, is already a top worker, doing a great job of following Dory in the struggle oriented technical wrestling as well as doing more action oriented sequences with Terry. He never looks out of place, and even his reliance on the headlock, while undoubtedly because he's still developing his offense, works really well in this type of match where whatever lock is simply asking the question, the match is about the opponent answering it. In fact, though I'd rate Dory as the best in the match given he's the one who is leading & the only one who seems to have even moment to moment direction, Jumbo seems to have already learned from him more than Terry ever would, and was right up there with Dory to the point I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't established Jumbo. The first fall appeared to have a lot of stalling early, but the finish was the hottest of the match, with Jumbo again getting the push, pinning Terry in a German suplex. The second fall seemed more consistent, they were working hard whether it was Dory & Jumbo struggling back & forth with a reverse double wrist lock countered into a test of strength or Jumbo setting up his bulldog but running Terry into the turnbuckle instead. However, the finish was rather unsatisfying with Terry getting his pin back by rolling Jumbo up out of nowhere. The third fall again was missing the early portion, and that is perhaps accentuating my feeling that these falls are just rather random with no real connection between them. The wrestling is generally really good here, but none of the falls really seem to work individually or add up as a whole, there's no real dramatic arch or carry over, and the pace, like everything else, just seems to alter based on who is in & what they feel like doing at the moment. As far as I can see, you literally could edit out the last 15 seconds of the 1st 2 falls & turn this into a one fall full time draw without it altering anything of note. 90% of what's shown is fun to watch, but they never manage to bridge all the good that's here into something that works as drama. ***1/2 range
NWA 2/5/75 San Antonio Municipal Auditorium, 2/3 Falls International Tag Title Match: Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk vs. Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta 28:37 of 33:28 [15:45 (11:03 shown), 6:30, 11:13 (11:04 shown)]. A much faster paced match than 10/9/73, which obviously isn't surprising given it was half the length. The higher pace was a good thing when they matched it with intensity, but that only seemed to happen when they were quickly going back & forth, whether exchanging holds/blows or struggling for a hold (which didn't happen nearly enough now that they were working faster). Luckily, this was the case in the strong 3rd fall, which for a while had the story of Jumbo pushing Terry, but had spirited contributions all around. When someone would get a stretch of offense, as we saw for much of the 2nd fall, the whole interplay would pretty much disappear, with the wrestler who was taking pretty much going through a stretch of doing nothing or, in Terry's case, being obnoxiously annoying hamming it up. The match would then become somewhat dull because they weren't telling a story or working the holds & their random naked offense doesn't hold up 4 decades later. Apart from the finish, Dory vs. Jumbo was again the strongest combo, but this time there were a lot more sequences and a lot less time spent struggling for a hold (sometimes both met, but they were mostly just countering each other rather than working up to the counter). Terry's offense was good, but his selling was terrible. The beginning was clipped, but he turned the match into a cartoon at first sight by repeatedly jumping as Jumbo moved him in his headlock, then going limp, then flapping his arms, then jumping some more. It wasn't putting the headlock over more, it was putting it (and everything else) over less by making the whole match preposterous. What we saw of the first fall had some good moments between Jumbo & Dory, but was ruined by Terry's shenanigans. The second fall had a few good exchanges involving Baba, but Baba was only good here in these moments of back & forth where he was engaged & reacting, he was just too awkward when he was on autopilot doing his thing or going along for the ride of the Funks offense. This fall had one of the most annoying finishes ever as Baba got worked over the entire time but survived since he wouldn't do the job, forcing Jumbo to come in totally fresh just to get pinned after a vertical suplex from each brother. The third fall got off to an excellent start as everyone wrestled with urgency. Terry was in good form, focused on the wrestling now that he was testing his skills against Jumbo. They started loosing momentum at the very end when Dory came back in, as Jumbo seemingly wasn't deemed good enough to push Dory, which would be fine if the result wasn't Jumbo pinning him anyway. Jumbo threatening to flash pin Terry was working, & his general gaining traction on him was the most exciting part of the match (partially because these few minutes were the only time they offered an actual story arch). As long as they were going for something fluky, they should have stayed with this idea whether Terry ultimately got pinned or just transposing it to Dory. Instead, Dory did a few things that caused dead time (throwing Jumbo to the floor, a double knockdown on the shoulderblock) then they went to the horribly contrived finish where Dory tried something weird that resulted in him vertical suplexing Jumbo onto the top turnbuckle, which supposedly caused Jumbo to bounce off & fall on top of Dory. The shock of this nonsense apparently rendered Dory unable to kick out, so Jumbo even got the winning pin in the match where he won his first title. As with their 1973 meeting, there was a lot of fun stuff in a vacuum, but the ideas & styles were never brought together into something with any unity or cohesion. ***1/4
GLORY 28 Paris 3/12/16, Glory Light Heavyweight Title Match: Saulo Cavalari vs. Artem Vakhitov 5R. Vakhitov's accuracy in this match was simply obscene. Where else can you find a title match in any combat sport that went to a decision where one fighter landed 65% of their strikes? Beyond the ridiculous accuracy, Vakhitov's conditioning advantage was another key. It wasn't just straight cardio, but also that placing his shots smartly & accurately to debilitate Cavalari, working the body with punches & destroying Cavalari's lead leg with kicks to the point Cavalari may not have been able to bend it. Cavalari pushed a ridiculous pace early in the fight. Even in the end, he threw almost twice as many strikes as Vakhitov, though he landed 35 less. I had Cavalari winning the first, as beyond his crazy output he was doing a nice job of mixing his low kicks, which were a key to winning their first fight at GLORY 20, with middle & high kicks. He had a nice front kick to the face as well, after Vakhitov had begun to turn the fight late in round 1 by working his body punches. Cavalari was much too willing to fight on the inside, which was the big reason Vakhitov was able to have so much success with his body shots (Vakhitov wasn't the one working his way in most of the time). It just seemed that time & time again Vakhitov would block Cavalari's combo then land another shot to the liver. Cavalari was kind of in a no win situation though, as if he backed out & fought on the outside as he usually does, his progressively debilitated lead leg would have gotten chewed up that much quicker, so he opted for taking the short punches even though it was harder for him to get his offense through at this range. It's a tough decision, but I think Cavalari would have been better off taking the chance on having the fight stopped because he couldn't walk given at distance he could at least get his own combos in & have a chance of landing the KO blow. On the inside, Cavalari was just completely overmatched by a fighter with much quicker hands who also has a lot better inside technique. Vakhitov also wasn't throwing the low kick enough, especially considering the point had been reached where Cavalari was no longer able to even avoid/check a few. Cavalari was more than gutting it out, even in the 4th round he still managed to outthrow Vakhitov 2-1, he just didn't have the footwork or movement to generate the kind of power he did at the outset. Vakhitov won a unanimous decision 49-46, 50-45, 50-45. Just a great performance by Vakhitov, especially when you consider this was avenging a close split decision loss at Glory 20. Good match.
UFC Fight Night 8/5/17, Alejandro Perez vs. Andre Soukhamthath 3R. Soukhamthath has very quick reflexes & is very precise & accurate with his hands. He is very patient, but when he finds the opening, he hits you, & it does a lot of damage. Soukhamthath dropped Perez 3 times in the fight, all with jabs, generally catching Perez coming in so Perez's momentum worked against him. When was the last time you saw a fighter dropped twice in the same round with a jab as Perez was in round 1 here? As usual, no one has any idea of what determines a 10-8 round. In boxing & kickboxing, it's easy, guy goes down once, that's a 10-8. Guy goes down twice, that's a 10-7. Here, Soukhamthath got 2 knockdowns, and the judges still gave it the same 10-9 that all those totally uneventful rounds in the Alvey/Evans fight got, but then they'll randomly give out a 10-8 for laying on someone for 3 minutes without actually doing anything that brought the supposedly dominant fighter any closer to actually finishing the fight. It makes no sense, but I digress. Soukhamthath, in a way, was his own worst enemy because he was so patient that Perez wound up throwing almost twice as many strikes, but patience was also part of his strategy because Perez was looking for the takedown & Soukhamthath was able to defend because he refused to overcommit or generally get reckless. If it's just a numbers game, then it's hard to argue with 97 landed for Perez to 44, but quality was all on Soukhamthath's side, and much of that quantity were machine gun short arm ground & pound which isn't remotely comparable to getting your weight & core strength behind a standing strike. Perez was scoring well with the low kick, but they ultimately didn't really slow Soukhamthath down, and throwing these naked kicks was one of the things that was getting him dropped stepping into Soukhamthath's jab. When Soukhamthath actually threw a combo, he did a really good job of finishing with a nice left hook, but too often he was content to just stick with single jabs to avoid the takedown, which obviously were working quite well on their own. Soukhamthath owned the 1st 3+ minutes of round 2, only getting one more knockdown, but generally landing a higher quality of strike, tagging Perez cleanly when he threw & letting him know about it. Perez took over landing an overhand right then Soukhamthath slipped trying to throw a clinch knee while Perez landed another overhand right. Perez took the top & was very active throwing left hands, mostly to the ribs for the next minute, but then as soon as he moved Soukhamthath over to the cage, Soukhamthath was able to stand right up, though Perez landed a sweet spinning back elbow on the break. This was the best round by far as both fighters had big moments, but Soukhamthath won 75% of the round & had the knockdown. Perez landed a lot of annoying blows from the top, but Soukhamthath's 5th best punch did more damage than the 30 rapid fire punches Perez landed on the ground. This should have been Soukhamthath's round as well. Round 3 was even until Perez took Soukhamthath down to his butt against the cage 3 minutes in. Perez just held Soukhamthath there for 40 seconds without throwing a single punch or attempting to get Soukhamthath out of the sitting position to the canvas where he could actually do something with him. Soukhamthath was able to stand at first attempt, basically his "downfall" was that he took a 40 second breather before bothering. Soukhamthath was finally more aggressive striking in the last minute, but he's better reacting than initiating & Perez saw them coming & avoided, as did Soukhamthath with Perez's takedown attempt. I narrowly gave Perez the 3rd, but neither had any real success in this round to the point it was pretty much a wash. This was a good fight to be certain, but the only statistic that matters is 3 knockdowns to 0. Soukhamthath had success doing what he was trying to do, Perez was no match for Soukhamthath on his feet & wasn't able to get him to the canvas & do anything apart from a brief stretch in the 2nd. Perez is Mexican though, and 2 of the blind mice pleased the locals by giving him the split decision 29-28. Good match.