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Tim Cooke

Intro to Japanese MMA for the Pro Wrestling Fan

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Introduction to Japanese MMA for the Japanese Professional Wrestling Fan


Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Carlos Newton (Pride 3)

I tell people all the time that this fight is the way I envision the perfect UWF match in a non-worked environment. The mat work is absolutely sublime with amazing transitions and fluidity on the mat.


Rumina Sato vs. Charles Taylor (1/15/99 – Shooto)

Rumina Sato vs. Caol Uno (5/29/99 – Shooto)

The first is one of the greatest submissions in MMA history, something that everyone has tried to replicate but no one has been able to do. The second is the best Japanese MMA fight of the 1990’s, with a complete back story in addition to being on the 10th Anniversary show as the main event.


Frank Shamrock vs. Allan Goes (5/13/95 – Pancrase)

For my money, the best Pancrase fight. Because of the rule differences (no closed fists to the head standing or on the ground) and the rope breaks, this is a good comparison to the Sakuraba vs. Newton fight as a “real UWF style match.”


Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera vs. Gary Goodridge (7/27/01 – Pride)

Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera vs. Mark Coleman (9/14/01 – Pride)

Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera vs. Heath Herring (11/3/01 – Pride)

I lump all three of these fights together because it gives some continuity and shows just how far and above Nog was from the rest of the heavyweight world in the early 2000’s. The first is Nog’s Pride debut, after winning the 2001 RINGS King of Kings tournament. The second is his second fight in Pride, against Pride World Gran Prix Champion Mark Coleman. And the third fight is for the Pride Heavyweight Title, with the winner becoming the first Heavyweight Champion. The first two matches are short and exciting, while the third is an extended squash as Nog dominates but Herring tries to pluck away as much as possible.


Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Renzo Gracie (8/28/00 – Pride)

I would strongly encourage anyone new to Japanese MMA to watch all of Sakuraba’s fights in order from Pride 2 through 12/31/2003. The Royce Gracie fight is the epic 6 round, 90 minute battle but it doesn’t work as a stand alone match. This is the best of the “stand alone” Gracie fights.


Caol Uno vs. Joachim Hansen (3/26/05 – K-1 Hero’s)

Maybe the best lightweight fight of the 2000’s in Japan, with a spectacular mix of ground work, standing, and throws to go with a highlight reel finish.


Fedor Emelianenko vs. Semmy Schilt (7/27/02 – Pride)

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Heath Herring (11/24/02 – Pride)

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera (3/16/03 – Pride)

Similar to the Noguiera trio of matches, this is Fedor’s first three Pride fights after winning the 2002 RINGS King of Kings. Fedor isn’t able to handle Schilt as well as you would think, but then lays a beat down on Herring, leading to the epic FOTYC against Nog at Pride 25.


Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera vs. Volk Han (2/24/01 – RINGS)

This isn’t on the list because it is a great fight. Don’t get me wrong, it is good in it’s own right, but it is more of a novelty of seeing Han, in his early 40’s, go toe to toe with the greatest heavyweight fighter of the early 2000’s. A lot of fun.

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Out of curiosity, what pro wrestling matches would you recommend to an MMA fan to bridge that gap? I would assume the recommendations would largely be from promotions with a more realistic/shoot style approach, but they don't necessarily need to be.

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Battlarts from the 90s would probably be a good start. Ikeda, Ishikawa, Otsuka and Ono are the guys to look for from that promotion. It's a mix of pro wrestling and MMA. Early 90s All Japan say 92/93-1996 (the Akiyama vs. Kawada stuff is gold, Taue vs. Misawa is fantastic, but most of 96 is at most average). But 92-95 were the years before the head dropping and adding length to matches just to add length came into play. Lots of realistic striking, good teasing of finishers early, great storytelling, and a very no-frills approach to things were the hallmarks of that for me. By 95 you start to se some of the invincible Misawa who people had to kill to even hope to compete, which is one downside.

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I really miss PRIDE and K-1, more specifically PRIDE. UFC just doesn't cut it. Pride's big stars came across as superstars to me and they all had an aura about them that I don't think anyone in the UFC has ever had, maybe minus Anderson. They just knew how to make big fights and knew how to make their guys come across as larger than life.


I haven't seen a ton of K-1, but they had a lot of fun with the freak show aspect of combat sports and they did have some really good fights. I really enjoyed the 3 x 3 minute rounds too.


I think you'd have to have Nog vs Sapp on there. That was as pro wrestling as it comes.

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Rutten/Funaki II should be on there since it's the closest I've seen a shoot fight come to pro wrestling, complete with Funaki drawing off the crowd heat to keep fighting. Also agreed on Nog/Sapp.

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