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I picked up every RINGS show from its first show in 1991 through mid-1994 or so towards the end of last year and I finally started going through all of them last week. My plan was to eventually watch everything in order until it turned to full MMA, but I may jump around some.


High end RINGS is maybe my favourite kind of wrestling and it's one of my favourite promotions ever during that '96-'99 run, but early doors RINGS doesn't seem to be talked about much outside of stuff featuring the likes of Han and Maeda. Hopefully we can uncover some random gems from obscure Dutch judokas or the Willie Peeters masterpieces we know he's capable of. I'll keep a running list of the stuff worth watching as well (perhaps in some instances for reasons beyond technically being GOOD).



Badass RINGS You Should be Watching (Baddest of the Badass in Italics):



Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (5/11/91)

Chris Dolman v Ton von Maurik (8/1/91)

Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (8/1/91)

Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting (9/14/91)

Dick Vrij v Willie Peeters (12/7/91)

Akira Maeda v Volk Han (12/7/91)



Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (1/25/92)

Volk Han v Gennadi Gigant (3/5/92)

Akira Maeda v Ramazi Buzariashvili (3/5/92)

Akira Maeda v Volk Han (4/3/92)

Volk Han v Grom Zaza (5/16/92)
Dick Vrij v Mitsuya Nagai (5/16/92)
Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov (7/16/92)
Mitsuya Nagai v Cvetan Pavlov (8/21/92)
Volk Han v Dick Vrij (8/21/92)
Akira Maeda v Andrei Kopylov (8/21/92)
Akira Maeda v Volk Han (10/29/92)
Akira Maeda v Dimitri Petkov (11/13/92)
Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Nobuaki Kakuta (12/19/92)
Volk Han v Sotir Gotchev (12/19/92)



Sotir Gotchev v Todor Todorov (1/23/93)

Volk Han v Andrei Rumenezei (1/23/93)

Masayuki Naruse v Sergei Sousserov (2/28/93)

Sirra Fubicha v Kalil Valvitov (3/5/93)

Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov (3/5/93)



Mitsuya Nagai v Mikhail Ilioukhine (3/25/96)

Volk Han v Nikolai Zouev (4/26/96)

Tsuyoshi Kohsaka v Yoshihisa Yamamoto (4/26/96)




Herman Renting v Peter Smit (5/11/91)
This had some okay grappling on the ground and one or two decent takedowns (or maybe takedown attempts), but there wasn't a ton of urgency to any of it and it all mostly felt like two guys doing a demonstration. "This is how you go for an armbar..." Renting threw some okay kicks, but they were pretty light and again looked a bit like he was showing us all where you're SUPPOSED to kick someone. The winning armbar was cool, at least. Not terrible, but it won't knock your socks off.
Willie Peeters v Marcel Haarmans (5/11/91)
Man, Peeters was fun in this. He threw lots of nice kicks that made a smack when they landed, he wasn't afraid to lay into Haarmans with punches, and even if he wasn't much use on the mat he was certainly game to try for takedowns. Haarmans doesn't really seem to do...anything...very well. He's a big lumpy dude and he absorbed lots of body shots, but there was never much behind any of what he was doing. When it went to the mat it felt like he was fairly composed, but I don't know if he had much to offer there offensively. I've liked the limited amount of Peeters I've seen previously and he's one of the guys I'm interested in seeing more of in the early RINGS years.
Bill Kazmaier v Chris Dolman (5/11/91)
Jeez Louise this was rough. They work it within the rounds system so I briefly wondered if it somehow was a shoot, like Maeda was on the crystal meth one night and thought it might be fun to book that, but it didn't take long for the notion to be squashed. Kazmaier looks a bit like Arn Anderson here if Arn Anderson fell out a boat, drowned, and washed up on the shore. At times he moved like it, too. I've never seen Dolman before but he has a bit of young Glenn Jacobs about him, despite apparently being 46(!). He also has a legit judo and Sambo background so if he shows up again I guess I'd like to see what he can do with someone capable. Kazmaier threw some strangely amusing body shots and a big suplex, Dolman had one or two okay takedowns, but otherwise this was four and a half rounds of not a whole lot.
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (5/11/91)
This was almost certainly helped by coming after the listlessness of the previous fight, but on its own I thought it still managed to be pretty dang fun. Vrij is always good for a bit of banter, his taunting and horse-shitting it up usually fairly amusing. Maeda was cool as you like through all of this, never rising to Vrij's bait, content to let Vrij force the issue before he would try and capitalise. Most of Vrij's slaps were more insulting than anything, though he did catch Maeda with a few that made the crowd sit up. He threw a handful of high kicks, but again Maeda would wait, catch one, then try and go for the takedown or submission. A couple times it backfired and he found himself rocked, but in the end it paid off like he'd planned. This went like eleven minutes and I dug it just fine.
Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting (8/1/91)
Is this Nagai's debut, not just in RINGS but in all of the pretend fighting? It's certainly the earliest Nagai I've seen, as well as the least bald. This had more going on than Renting's last outing (also a show opener) and was pretty okay if largely unspectacular. Nagai's kicks look sharp enough, though none that landed were of much consequence. It's a departure from later career Nagai where he's crowbarring the living shit out of people and everything is landing eight thousand percent, often across Yuki Ishikawa's front teeth. Renting is another kickboxer but his shots were more probing than anything. There were some sparks of an alright ground struggle and at one point Nagai slickly escaped a choke attempt to gain side control, but otherwise this was fairly by the numbers.
Chris Dolman v Ton von Maurik (8/1/91)
This was basically a shoot style hoss fight. It wasn't pretty, in fact it was ugly and ragged, but fuck if I didn't enjoy it a bunch. Von Maurik is...well I can't find any worthwhile info on him from a cursory google search but he's a tall Dutchman with a bitchin' perm. Dolman mentions in his pre-fight interview that he needs to be careful of Von Maurik as he's fast, in good condition and skilled in both boxing and sumo! He does not look like a sumo wrestler but who am I to argue? But yeah, right from the start Von Maurik charges Dolman and they're very soon taking pot shots at each other. Von Maurik's kicks come from a very flat stance and none of them land all that clean, but it looks like he's putting some meat behind them - at least to the extent he can with no real hip torque. Dolman has a really weird guard, forearms tight around his ears, face shielded by his elbow. Not much got past it, to be fair to him, but it did leave his midriff open to a punch combo that scored Von Maurik a knockdown. Dolman then started to flex the judo muscles and take Von Maurik down pretty much at will - once with an absolutely gorgeous harai goshi - at which point he would start headbutting him in the chest. This was evidently effective as it opened Von Maurik up to some submission attempts and Von Maurik clearly wanted no part of it, scrambling to the ropes as quickly as possible. It played into the finish as well, and I liked how Von Maurik tried to claw his way to safety while Dolman pulled him into the middle of the ring, like a big monster dragging some poor fellow into a pit. I said after his last fight that I'd like to see Dolman get a run out against someone who can actually go, and while I don't know if Von Maurik ticks that box he was an exponentially better match-up than Billy Kazmaier. And I thought this was just way fun.
Willy Wilhelm v Peter Smit (8/1/91)
If you squint hard enough Wilhelm looks a bit like Calumet County district attorney Ken Kratz, or a Tesco brand Stan Hansen. He's a judoka who medalled in the '83 and '85 world judo championships and apparently had a match (presumably worked) with Maeda in '89 that drew 60,000 to the Tokyo Dome! He tells us he's beaten Smit a couple times in the past, back when Smit was much lighter. This time it'll be a bit more challenging, and while he knows he can't compete if it becomes a kickboxing contest he feels he'll be able to take Smit down and either put him in an arm lock or strangle him. Smit's interview is gibberish to me as my Dutch isn't for shit. Basically I wanted to transcribe the Wilhelm interview because that is pretty much exactly how the fight went from his perspective and I sort of love that he not only outright told you his strategy, but went and actually executed it. He had his gameplan, was confident enough in it to lay it out there, and followed through on it. Smit really wasn't very good at all. He would move into the clinch without ever actually trying to do anything, though there was one bit where he threw Wilhelm into the ropes and kicked him in the ribs which led to Wilhelm selling it like he'd popped a lung or something. I thought that was going to be the finish, but Wilhelm got up after 8 and came out, arms raised and roaring, like a big bear who's just happened upon a campsite. I figured a mauling was imminent. And well, he never quite mauled him but he sure did strangle him.
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (8/1/91)
Vrij is in a foul mood after taking the L - as the youths say - in their last fight and comes out immediately swingin' for the fences. He's just all knees to the body and high kicks in a flurry of neo-Nazi primary villain in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie rage and manages to score two early knockdowns. And it's obvious pretty quick that this fight has as clear a story as any pro-style match you'll see. Maeda has barely been in competition since the UWF closure. In fact I think this might only be his second bout in nearly two years; the first being his fight against Vrij on the previous show. Vrij is bigger, stronger, angrier and is literally trying to kick him senseless. He almost kicks him clean out the ring at one point (Maeda had to basically Terry Funk teeter-totter in order to stay in and it was great). The crowd get one million percent behind Maeda and when Vrij scores the fourth knockdown there's an audible "holy fuck he might actually lose this" reaction rippling throughout the whole arena. It turns to genuine panic when Vrij just keep coming forward, and not knowing the result myself I was thinking "nah, he's not getting TKO'd in ten minutes...is he?" His knee is also pretty heavily taped and when he gets up gingerly after taking another spill (not counted as a knockdown) you're thinking there might be no way back. He's injured and one knockdown off a stoppage and Vrij is absolutely all over him. It's inevitable. But it's still Maeda and this is his newly built house. He's been in worse situations, hasn't he? I was very much a fan of this, not just for the way they went about executing the match but also of the ballsiness of the booking. Best fight so far in our short history of Fighting Network RINGS.
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Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting (9/14/91)

One of the coolest things about a project like this, where you basically follow a promotion from its inception through to its closure with all the peaks and valleys in between (you know, hypothetically), is that you get to see the progression and growth of certain folk during the journey. Case in point: these two. In their first match they were fairly tentative, acclimatising themselves to this new and bizarre world of the shoot style, and it made for a fairly garden variety scrap between two young fellas finding their feet. Both are just far more assured this time out, their kicks thrown with a little extra whip, those kicks landing with a little extra leather. Combos are faster, the cooperation aspect more negligible, as if testing to see how well the other might react, pushing the boundaries of how much of the shoot-fightin' one can get away with in the fake-shootin'. Things started to get real chippy and Renting was taunting Nagai by brushing his shoulder off and asking if that was his best shot. Of course we see signs of reckless crowbar Nagai in response as he tries to full force Wanderlei punt Renting in the head as he's lying prostrate on the canvas and I'll be damned but at some point I had to stop and ask myself if this wasn't pretty fucking awesome. And you know what, I really think it might've been! I was practically in shock a few times at what they were doing. I mean it wasn't Tamura/Han matwork or world class striking, but it was so far above what they had done before (all of that one fight together that time) that I couldn't quite believe it. Renting was super persistent with his takedowns and Nagai was having to exert a ton of energy in not just preventing them, but in escaping if prevention failed. He got dumped on his neck for a knockdown and later Renting - I'm honestly not bullshitting you - hit one of the coolest German suplexes/throws I've seen. Often when they'd be stood up they'd waste no time at all in going back to the striking and Nagai even sprinted across the ring and tried a flying knee! He also drilled Renting with an unbelievable enziguri that legit had me off the couch. I had no idea Renting had this in him. Just a total blast.

Willie Peeters v Bert Kops Jr. (9/14/91)

Hot damn this was really fun as well. We're getting the niggliness on this show, brothers! Kops is unfamiliar to me and a google search doesn't turn up much of anything, but I'll go out on a limb and say he's a wrestler who's maybe dabbled in a wee bit of the kickboxing. He has some awesome throws, really torquing the hips and getting some angles on them as Peeters sails helplessly through the air. Unfortunately he can't really seem to do much once he gets to the ground and Peeters is usually able to wriggle free, so I'm left to question how much of the wrestling Bert really does (more than me, I'd wager). It leads to things being a little stop-start at points with the ref' standing them back up. Peeters continues to be a favourite of mine. He's a kickboxer who wants little to do with being on the mat. If he can avoid being there he will and his first plan of action is to stand and strike, though he is able to take Kops down a few times himself when pressed (he has the wrestling background and such). He also has a sort of Murakami-ness about him where it looks like he maybe never quite figured out how to pull his strikes and so he smacks Kops really hard with closed fists. I'm not sure he ever cared about that closed fist rule the whole time he was in RINGS. Same goes for the striking a downed opponent rule because he did that a bunch as well. There was one amazing bit where Kops took him over with a German suplex but Peeters immediately rolled back to his feet and cracked him with an uppercut. Post-fight Peeters is asked about his key to victory and he answers with, "I think the knee to the face. Thank you." How can you not love this guy?

Dick Vrij v Ton von Maurik (9/14/91)

Cagey start to to this one as Von Maurik - perhaps sensibly after Vrij's recent slaying of Maeda - appears to be reluctant to engage. Then again Vrij doesn't seem too eager, either. And so it goes for about two and a half rounds (this is seven three-minute rounds, btw) with the highlight being Vrij dickishly mussing Von Maurik's hair. Von Maurik isn't very good nor convincing and that's kind of the killer in this. Vrij is coasting in his own right but you at least get the sense he could break out and finish it whenever he wanted. That it went nearly six rounds and didn't even end with a brutal KO does not amuse Dana White. It actually started to pick up a bit as it went on and they followed suit with the first two fights by getting pretty chippy, at one point even spilling to the floor in the most obvious "accidental" fashion ever where Vrij threw a sly knee to the ribs, but there was a lot of fluff in between the good bits (which were few and far between, besides). Vrij's first knockdown of Von Maurik was an absolute corker, though. The slow motion replays of it are truly spectacular.

Akira Maeda v Willy Wilhelm (9/14/91)

This had a coupe iffy moments where the cooperation aspect was fairly obvious, but on the whole I thought this was pretty enjoyable. Wilhelm is a likeable sort of fellow, somewhat oafish looking yet wholly capable of chucking mere mortals around with relative ease, which he did several times. A couple of his harai goshis in this looked especially awesome. At one point it led to a half crab right in the middle of the ring and the crowd were in a rabid panic that Maeda might actually lose for the second show in a row. He also exposed his belly like a big gorilla and dared Maeda to kick him there, which Maeda did to little effect. Maeda going to the leg kicks seemed like a pretty sound strategy thereafter and it created openings to other things, such as the head kicks that almost KO'd Wilhelm twice. Finish had one of those moments of obvious cooperation, but it's whatever.

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Grom Zaza v Koichiro Kimura (12/7/91)

I guess Maeda's been on that tour of Russia then, because enter: tricked out Easter European grapplers. This was edited in parts because unless I fell asleep for a bit - and I'm certain I didn't - the post-fight graphic says it went ten minutes longer than was shown. Even the editing department in RINGS must be stellar then, because I did not notice any clipping whatsoever. This was good stuff for what we got. Zaza seemed to bring a bit of everything to this: his awesome wrestling, some judo, a solid submission game and even some passable striking. He clearly has a hell of an engine as well because he never relented for a second and he didn't seem to be sucking wind by the end (of a twenty three minute fight (apparently), of which he was largely the aggressor). Kimura looks a bit like Yoji Anjoh in the face but he's far less of an obnoxious wee shitbird. He has pretty quick hands, but I think he gassed about five minutes in because he spent most of the time either curling up like a turtle or trying to crawl to the ropes. Grom Zaza will do that to you, I suppose. The crowd weren't totally on board with it and started booing him after his fifth or six rope break (which for all I know may have been his fourteenth or fifteenth of the unedited fight -- the points system seems to have changed on this show and I haven't quite grasped it yet). Conversely they were all about Zaza and his awesome shoot style STF and sharpshooter. I don't know what the finish was exactly, but it looked like maybe a choke or some sort of keylock but I'm also wondering if Kimura never just said to fuck with this relentless Georgian man climbing all over me and tapped. Maybe we'll never know. I will take more Grom Zaza and be immediately pleased, thank you.

Herman Renting v Nobuaki Kakuta (12/7/91)

This was strange. Was it a shoot? I mean, it didn't always look like one, but it had a fevered sort of hesitancy to it and if it was a work then...strange. Maybe it's the rounds system. This was another one of those and there hasn't been a good one yet. The difference here, though, is the inexplicably molten crowd! Why is this place going so bananas for a Herman Renting fight? Kakuta is a short karateka who wants absolutely nothing to do with a clinch or the ground or anything that doesn't involve standing and engaging in the fighting arts of karate. For large spells they do nothing much at all besides throw a few probing kicks. It was all very tentative, though it sometimes looked like they were right on the verge of turning loose. In the end the caution to protect their own face overrode the desire to smack the opponent's. Other than a few semi-grazing kicks I think one shot landed clean the whole fight and that was a suspect/probably illegal closed fist. Renting would close at a few points and Kakuta would sort of fall into the ropes to force the break without actually using a rope escape. The ref' would then stand them up and on one of those occasions Renting refused to let go of a partial choke which set the crowd off big time. Later on he grabbed another choke, this time of the illegal hand around throat/throttling variety and they liked that even less. When he cracked Kakuda's jaw with the punch that was it, never again would Herman Renting be welcome in the Ariake Coliseum. This was kind of a waste after Renting's promising outing on the last show, but his heeling it up was amusing. And holy moly did the people get into it.

Chris Dolman v Tiger Levani (12/7/91)

I'd never heard of Tiger Levani before. Where does he come from? What's his discipline, his hobbies, his hopes and dreams? A google search yields answers to none of these questions. He's kitted out in the same red and blue gear as Zaza so maybe they're from the same camp? He certainly has some Grom Zaza-ish tendencies in that he'll pursue those takedowns doggedly, and he almost turned one of them into a slick wrist lock. When it did go to the ground they were both pretty determined to grab leg locks, like nearly every single time. This often led to stalemates so eventually Dolman changed tact to lots of clinching and knees to the body. One or two might've been a wee bit south of the belt, but in the end it opened the door for a front choke and Chris Dolman is now the proud holder of the best win record in all of the Fighting Network RINGS.

Dick Vrij v Willie Peeters (12/7/91)

What an awesome little scrap. This had a bit of everything, some great striking, big takedowns and throws, dramatic submission work, insane heat, a frantic pace, even a kick to the balls. Vrij has a real unique aura and he's already improved noticeably over his four appearances. He's not a wizard on the mat by any stretch, but it sure looked like he'd picked up a few tricks. He is of course a man of many head kicks and that remains his primary mode of attack, but it's the way he carries himself as the big dog now with the shredded physique and the buzz cut that added an extra layer to this. Peeters ruled again. He has tonnes of personality and the crowd adopted him as their underdog babyface, which is a role he turned out to be awesome in. He was always in danger of taking blows because of Vrij's length and reach, but he'd continually try and close and chip away with punches to the body. They started coming off and earned him a couple knockdowns, and the crowd were totally behind him doing the upset. He just refused to accept defeat and tried to take it to Vrij at every opportunity. This had an easily discernible story that came off as being organic, two guys that were great in their roles, and a crowd that bought all the way into it. I loved this.

Mitsuya Nagai v Gerard Gourdeau (12/7/91)

Another weird round system fight. Gourdeau is the guy who kicked Teila Tuli's teeth out in the very first official fight in UFC history and later in the night broke two of the only three rules of the tournament (no eye-gouging; no biting). A few years later he yolked out Yuki Nagai's eye (or at least gouged it unto a state of permanent blindness) and generally looks like the sort who pulls the legs off of spiders for a hobby. Those are not the eyes of a kind individual. Apparently he's a neo-Nazi as well so all around swell gent, is Gerard. He dominated this and Nagai never got much of a look in. I actually thought it might've been stopped before it was because there was a point where Nagai was clearly not right after a guillotine choke. Nagai looked thoroughly outmatched here and Gourdeu's striking was too much for him.

Hans Nyman v Masaaki Satake (12/7/91)

Alright, this was definitely a shoot. Probably. I think it was a straight karate contest as well. Satake was very much the aggressor in this and really didn’t stop through all five rounds; he was constantly active and striking. Nyman was almost entirely on the defensive for the last couple rounds, though in fairness he never looked too troubled. Nothing from either guy had the other in a ton of danger, but it wasn’t a difficult fight to watch.

Akira Maeda v Volk Han (12/7/91)

Has anybody ever looked as good straight out the gate as Han? It didn’t hurt that he was about as legit as any to ever do it, but I imagine shoot style would be one of the most difficult styles to do properly and Han took to it right away. I mean, this is his debut and he’s pretty much already the Volk Han we know. There didn’t appear to be many growing pains at all. This was pretty great, of course. We’ve seen a host Europeans pass through RINGS already, some of them good, some of them less so, but it’s immediately obvious that none have been quite like this unassuming Russian as he flies into a rolling armbar after about forty seconds. This is a very different kettle of fish and the closest thing to what most people would point to as ‘high end RINGS’ yet. It largely felt like kicker v grappler, with Maeda being the superior striker and Han taking him down almost at will, tying him up in heel hooks and armbars. Han wasn’t as freaky with the submissions as he’d eventually become, but some of what he was doing was ridiculous. You think you’ve managed to fend off an attempted heel hook and before you know it you’re in a kneebar, then you somehow wriggle out of that but now he’s got BOTH your legs and you have no choice but to cling to the ropes for a reprieve. Once or twice Han would catch a high kick and just throw Maeda to the mat, a sort of casualness to it. Then he started to tire and Maeda caught him with that big wheel kick he’d been aiming for. Finish didn’t feel like Han underestimating Maeda as such, but with how dominant he’d been on the mat until then you get the sense he maybe never expected Maeda to have that in his locker. A fitting way to draw the curtain on the first year of RINGS.

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Herman Renting v Shtorm Koba (1/25/92)

Koba looks like he’s another guy straight out of the Grom Zaza/Tiger Levani camp of wrestling. Unfortunately the google search turns up nada, so confirmation eludes us. He certainly fought like someone with a modicum of proficiency in throwing people around, though. Renting was also less about the striking in this fight and tried to match wrestling with wrestling. At one point a suplex attempt goes awry and the clash of heads gives Koba a gnarly cut above the eyebrow. Koba’s sell of a Renting knockdown was somewhat less than convincing and he left the ring at the end like a man who knew he was getting paid to show up and roll around for thirteen minutes before submitting to a toe hold. One must respect the hustle.

Mitsuya Nagai v Koichiro Kimura (1/25/92)

This started out in fairly drab fashion and not a whole lot happened for a while there. We got some takedowns and they struggled for position, but it was mostly a stalemate and a bit of a slog. Then we hit the last five minutes and things started to get interesting. Kimura came close a few times to locking in some nasty looking chokes and Nagai threw strikes with a little more venom. Last couple minutes were especially good as they were just wildly flinging palm thrusts at each other’s face and Kimura looked about ready to collapse, at one point quite literally almost falling out the ring. There was some clipping going on as I think we only got about half of the full 28 minutes (why is Kimura going so long on these shows?), but it built to a nice crescendo.

Willie Peeters v Bert Kops Jr (1/25/92)

Peeters may have been my favourite guy of the ’91 shows and this is a rematch of a pretty entertaining fight, so I was looking forward to it. I will look forward to most things Willie Peeters. I’m not really sure how good Kops is, but he’s scrappy and he’s always willing to keep things moving, so if nothing else he’s a perfectly fine shoot style Tommy Gilbert. Peeters did his usual Willie Peeters things and I think my favourite Willie Peeters thing is how it’s basically guaranteed that his temper will spill over at least once a fight and he’ll knee a guy who’s on the floor or outright jump on their kidneys. In actual fact he did both those things here, but better than that he somehow managed to his a fucking piledriver! As in a full on piledriver where he caught Kops shooting in for the double leg and planted him. He did it right in front of his corner and the best part of all came afterwards when he turned to his corner man (Vrij) and laughed like he couldn’t quite believe he’d hit an honest to goodness piledriver. I was a little surprised at the finish because Peeters is very much a guy the crowd have taken to and Kops is sort of whatever, but I guess it leaves the door open for the rubber match and who knows, perhaps Peeters will hit a Burning Hammer or whatever gets you a solid two count these days.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Rob Kaman (1/25/92)

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this was very much a shoot, the rules of which seemingly having changed from Kakuta's last fight. I base this on the last twenty seconds as they wound up on the mat and the ref' didn't immediately stand them back up. So I guess it's straight MMA this time? Kaman looked super accomplished here. I figured he was either a kickboxer or Muay Thai fighter. Turns out he was a world champion in both, used to play for Ajax (the football/soccer team) as a kid and was even in a few movies. I feel like I aught to have known this somehow. Anyway, this was what it was. Kaman looked great, Kakuta was spunky and persistent.

Willy Wilhelm v Igor Kolmykov (1/25/92)

I'll be honest, I'm not sure what Kolmykov does. You know, what his discipline is. Maybe freestyle wrestling? This was mostly Wilhelm as aggressor and he had a few nice takedowns, but neither are the most accomplished on the ground and not a whole lot happened when the fight got there. Crowd had themselves a chuckle at Kolmykov's wobbly karate but they weren't laughing at his cross armbreaker, no they were not.

Gerard Gourdeau v Masaaki Satake (1/25/92)

This was another rounds fight and I think it started off as a work, but then Gourdeau went off like a nutcase and punched Satake in the face a bunch for real and the fight got thrown out. Satake was bleeding from somewhere and Gourdeau raised his hand apologetically afterwards, but the whole thing was passable. I look forward to seeing Mahershala Ali hunt down the green-eared spaghetti monster's distant cousin Gourdeau in the upcoming third season of True Detective.

Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (1/25/92)

The rubber match. This was mostly fought on the feet and there was that unease lingering from the previous fight that suggested Maeda might not be smart to let things continue like that. Other than Maeda hitting one capture suplex through the first three quarters of the fight it wasn't hard to disagree. Maeda's leg is still heavily taped and it wasn't not long before Vrij paints a bullseye on it. I liked the way Maeda sold all the leg kicks, a slight limp here and there that the crowd picked up on, which of course only added to their unease. At times during this he felt like a man with little more than a prayer, half hobbled as he was with Vrij only growing in confidence. In comparison, Maeda's leg kicks had nothing behind them and Vrij let him know it, then Vrij overwhelmed him and it led to a third knockdown. And there was that sense that it was going to happen again. Vrij had Maeda's number and if it kept going the way it was then he'd only TKO him again. You could argue that the climax might've been telegraphed, but I thought it was a fitting enough way to cap off a fun series.

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Hans Nyman v Adam Watt (3/5/92)

Fairly dire and I'm pretty sure it was a shoot. Watt is a tall, rangy Australian of some pedigree in boxing and kickboxing, but he never really troubled Nyman for the most part. His corner spent the entire fight shouting "punch, kick, punch, punch, kick, face punch, face punch!" in increasingly exasperated, broken English at the distinct lack of face punching. He also had no ground game whatsoever and had he been in there with someone a little more capable this probably wouldn't have gone as long as it did. My goodness Nyman is the spitting image of a young Ronald Koeman. He mostly stood flat-footed and scowling until the last round and a half when he went from first all the way up to second gear.

Volk Han v Gennadi Gigant (3/5/92)

Super fun bout, almost a highlight reel of Volk Han grabbing a guy's arm and throwing him around the place with it. It kind of makes you wonder why people would so casually try to grab him, or languidly throw palm strikes around his head. Why would you do that? Why would you hand him a lever to your pain? To be fair to Gigant he got the message eventually, but it never outright stopped Han, it only made it more difficult for him. There was one bit in particular where Han's yanked him around with an arm wringer and then landed him on his back with a throw. It looked absolutely spectacular. Gigant is a tall, heavyset guy who I think is also a sambo practitioner. He handled himself fairly well and used his weight advantage to try and control the ground, but Han was always slipping out of his grasp, and on top of that there's the ever-present danger of being countered in some absurd way you never thought possible. The final armbar was a thing of beauty, particularly in how Han secured Gigant's legs so he couldn't reach the ropes.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Rudy Ewoldt (3/5/92)

Definitely my favourite thing Kakuta's been involved in thus far. He still can't do anything on the mat but that at least added some drama to the parts where Ewoldt was able to take him down, which he did with a couple big slams. These crowds are massively behind Kakuta every time out and they about lost it whenever he reeled off any halfway decent combo. His team coming in and throwing him in the air after the fight - as he wept tears of joy - was so carny and great, particularly as Ewoldt approached those last couple minutes like a man who'd had about enough of this and was ready to go collect his paycheck already.

Dick Vrij v Herman Renting (3/5/92)

They seem to be referring to Vrij as Dick Fly now. I will not be following suit, however. This was decent enough. There's a hook to most of these Vrij fights in that, by virtue of the fact he's so much larger than his opponents, he's pretty much always opposite an underdog. Even Maeda felt like an underdog and Renting is not Maeda. Things started out pretty okay for Renting and he was persistent in going for takedowns, even if he never made much headway thereafter. He wasn't finding himself in a ton of trouble despite Vrij's striking, at least. Then Vrij found his feet and you felt it was only a matter of time. First came the leg kicks, then came Renting anticipating them, then came Vrij going high when Renting expected him to go low. And fuck me what a finish.

Willy Williams v Peter Smit (3/5/92)

Kind of a lumbering mess, but it only lasted a couple minutes. Williams clearly has no idea what he's doing on the ground and can't really make his strikes look convincing, so Smit is eating knockdowns off of ropey knees as obvious job fodder. But hey, no downtime!

Masaaki Satake v Fred Oosterom (3/5/92)

This was another short one, and like the Kakuta fight Satake wants nothing to do with the ground. Also like the Kakuta fight, it was probably helped by the fact they've ditched the rounds system. I mean it wasn't great, or even good, but it was short. Oosterom seemed capable enough of taking Satake down and Satake threw some nice enough shots, but there wasn't much to this. There's something about Satake's face that makes me wants to see him lose one of these. Maybe stick him in there with Dick Vrij.

Akira Maeda v Ramazi Buzariashvili (3/5/92)

This felt a bit more mat based than Maeda's last few fights, or at least that it had more of Maeda working the mat...if that makes sense. He's still the superior striker, but I don't think we've really seen him stretch out with his grappling yet like we did here, even including the Han fight (which was largely dominated by Han whenever it went to the ground). Buzariashvili is the guy from the sambo demonstrations at the beginning of the show and he was really fun in this. Some of his throws looked excellent and there were a few moments where he treated Maeda's kicks to the midsection with disdain, raising his arms and waving to the crowd as he dared Maeda to do it some more. Maeda of course did it some more and Buzariashvili was left to regret his earlier insults as he ate a kick straight to the chin. As Maeda started to create openings with his kicks I liked how it was Buzariashvili's throws that created his own openings, at one point tossing Maeda like a bag of cement and leaping on his back with the attempted rear naked choke (you know the crowd buy Maeda being in real peril when they start the MA-E-DA chants). It looked like they messed up the finish a tiny bit, but other than that this was really nice stuff and I hope Buzariashvili shows up again in future.

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Tengiz Tedoradze v Koichiro Kimura (4/3/92)

Your mileage may vary on how much you get out of this. It's messy and they're pretty liberal with how much they let each other get away with. Tedoradze is game, but you can tell he hasn't quite gotten a full handle on how this works yet (it's his first rodeo so, you know, understandable) and gives his back up rather easily. If you can put up with that then there's a nifty little fight to be had here. There might be more pro-wrestling in these ten minutes than in the entirety of the previous six shows, but it gives it a unique sort of charm, which Kimura was probably in need of after two lengthy fights he wasn't a particularly compelling part of. We got a fisherman suplex, a full on Jumbo-style backdrop, nearly a Go 2 Sleep of all things! Tedoradze doesn't look like much -- he's almost Han-esque in his mild-mannered uncle-ness, but he's a proficient wrestler and chucked Kimura around with a strength that belied his modest physique. At a couple points he muscled Kimura impressively into throws, including a German suplex, and even hit an Olympic Slam from what was practically a deadlift position. You could pick at the finish and say he was close enough to the ropes that he didn't need to tap, but he's new to this, remember? Embrace the storytelling.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Ton von Maurik (4/3/92)

This was alright. There's a readymade story built into these Kakuta fights in that he's no use on the ground and instantly in danger when he's taken down, so crowds really buy into the drama when it looks like an opponent has him in some trouble. He still throws fast hands and feet, so you're at least likely to get a few decent combos for a pop as well. Von Maurik had a nice looking head kick even if none of his attempts fully connected, and he was always throwing knees to the body when Kakuta was on the floor rather than trying to grab a submission next to the ropes, so maybe that makes him the smartest Kakuta opponent yet. When he did go for that submission he made sure Kakuta would need to find a different mode of escape. Finish was cool, too.

Willie Peeters v Yoshinori Nishi (4/3/92)

There's an interesting contrast between early RINGS and early UWFi that becomes pretty apparent the more you watch of both. The UWFi natives like Takada, Yamazaki, Tamura, etc. were mostly accomplished grapplers while the foreigners they brought in, like Tom Burton, JT Southern and Billy Scott, couldn't really do...anything very well. Especially on the mat. The foreigners Maeda brought in were far more skilled in general, but almost all of them were capable-at-worst grapplers while the natives specialized more in the stand-up (Kakuta and Satake being the prime examples). Nishi is an older gent with a dignified sort of air about him. He's a striker who can handle himself on the floor better than Kakuta or Satake, but this was still Peeters' to lose when the fight went there. Felt like it might've been a shoot, but it didn't stop Peeters from flying off the handle once or twice. Nothing major or outwardly dickheaded, but that temper of his can be fierce. Nishi accepted it with equanimity and went about his business, then when he flung an accidental closed fist himself - and we believe it was accidental, for how could we not? - he was quick to apologise. A sound fella all around. This went the distance and as much as I like Peeters I can't say I was pumped about a six-rounder, but it wasn't the worst fight of its ilk.

Dick Vrij v Marcel Haarmans (4/3/92)

Haarmans is back to make his first appearance since the debut show where he offered nothing and got kicked in the face by Willie Peeters. He was a little more active here, but there was no point where I bought Vrij being in any danger whatsoever. Vrij even outright laughed at his piddly body shots and it felt like the big fella could've ended this pretty much whenever he wanted. That choke at the end didn't look the tightest, but I liked how Vrij maneuvered him into it.

Mitsuya Nagai v Willie Williams (4/3/92)

I'll be honest, I expected this to be a whole lot of nothing at best and possibly putrid at worst. But hey, it turned out to be perfectly fine! Nagai was certainly more game than Smit when it came to working with or around Williams and the crowd were way into it. Nagai also made it look like he was trying to actually hit Williams and he never sold half-arsed blows as near KOs. He made it look like a fight he was trying to win, basically. Short, fairly intense, a good crowd...yeah, this was okay.

Masaaki Satake v Herman Renting (4/3/92)

That fun Nagai match is looking more and more like an aberration for our dear Herman Renting as this was very ordinary and seven minutes of not much at all. I suppose it's kicker versus grappler again and Satake, despite having a face that annoys me for reasons I'm not yet aware of, throws some nice kicks. I mean, if you're gonna run a finish where someone's been kicked in the leg so often that they're unable to meet a ten count then you really need to make those leg kicks believable. And well, Satake had painful looking leg kicks.

Akira Maeda v Volk Han (4/3/92)

I know it's not the first thing you bring up when you're talking about Han, but man could he be a fun striker when he wanted to. It's kind of amusing seeing how much more convincing his strikes were than what some guys with legit kickboxing and/or karate backgrounds have thrown on these shows. He was throwing pump kicks and fucking spinning backfists and even incorporated the latter into a takdown attempt later on (faked the backfist before ducking low and shooting in for the double leg). Conversely, this might be the fight where it's established that a good shot to the gut is Han's kryptonite, as he takes a left uppercut and crumples in a heap for a near KO. There was also this awesome little theme throughout of Maeda being the more dangerous standing up, but dropping Han for a count would just light a fire under him. On at least two occasions he'd go down after taking a big shot - one being a huge wheel kick that looked spectacular - only to get up and jump straight into a hold that forced Maeda to scramble to the ropes. This wasn't a perfect fight and it was rough around some edges, but it was solid in every department I hoped it'd be and the finish was total Han. If you so desire you could probably even say it played off the finish to the first fight ("I've got him in a good spot oh no wait fuck I am in fact in a terrible spot"). Strong fight.

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Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse (5/16/92)

Nifty enough version of what I guess is a RINGS young lion bout. Yamamoto was never one to shy away from smashing someone in the face with the palm of his hand and this probably had more palm striking than any other fight so far in RINGS' short history. The stand up capped out at decent, but it was engaging enough and they had one or two neat moments on the mat as well. Yamamoto is a favourite of mine and he goes on to have some absolute corkers of fights, so it was cool to see him as a pimple-faced rookie in his first outing.

Volk Han v Grom Zaza (5/16/92)

You had a feeling this might be good and I'm happy to tell you that you weren't wrong. This was almost sambo v freestyle wrestling and straight away it made for an awesome little bout. As in, literally as soon as the fight starts Zaza is hoisting Han up on his shoulders in a fireman's carry and the crowd are going bonkers. A couple of Han's takedowns were pretty as all get out, with the step over armbar perhaps being the prettiest of all, and there were points where he would maneuver himself into a dangerous position by simply dropping a knee (right into a standing triangle choke) or shifting his hips (as a standing switch of sorts). This also had a couple themes from previous Han bouts emerging again, including that susceptibility to being gut shot as Zaza drops him with a front kick to the solar plexus. Han then responds with the awesome spinning back fist and I think that might be my favourite strike in all of the RINGS so far. Han again shows that you might be able to get the dupe on him once, but if you try it again he'll make you pay. This came about when Zaza initially grabbed a kneebar by reaching through his own legs as Han positioned himself for a German suplex, but then when he tried it again later Han immediately yanked Zaza's arms to flip him over and open him up for a cross armbreaker. Some of Zaza's striking was whatever and Han appeared to have a tendency early in his career to give up his back a little too easily, but otherwise this was pretty damn choice.

Adam Watt v Peter Aerts (5/16/92)

This was a straight kickboxing contest (presumably a shoot) and it looked okay, but I did some stuff for work while it was on and never paid it the fullest attention.

Dick Vrij v Mitsuya Nagai (5/16/92)

If you ever wondered about the point at which Nagai decided he was going to be a vicious crowbar bastard then this might be that point. He got fucking annihilated here and yet he would not stop coming back for more. This was like six minutes long and it was mean and hasty and fulla hate and featured a full on sixty yarder to the willy. It ruled. Vrij was just destroying him with kicks to the head, the body, the legs, everywhere. At one point he reeled off an ungodly combo ending with a low kick that looked like it about Theismann'd the fuck out of Nagai's leg. Post-fight Nagai tells us he has learned a valuable lesson today and at some point in the future he will pass that teaching onto someone else in equally hideous fashion. We assume.

Willie Williams v Bitsadze Ameran (5/16/92)

Well this was...something. I don't know if it was one of those so-bad-it's-good deals or just bad or maybe kinda somewhat good in a weird spectacle sense but it was indeed...something. It's basically two and a bit rounds of very tall guys doing clumsy, sometimes awkward karate, lots of sloppy body shots and one or two submission attempts that might've materialised purely by happenstance. Ameran tried a bunch of wild looking wheel kicks and rolling kicks and when he accidentally pulled off Williams' do-rag the crowd reacted like Williams was really going to let him have it now. Parts of it were like something from a drunken pub fight in Bristol that you maybe saw on the YouTubes. This is the longest a Williams fight has gone yet (by a fair margin), and you maybe question the wisdom in that as he's not very good, but you appreciate the effort because how could you not but ultimately decide never to watch this ever again.

Masaaki Satake v Bert Kops Jr (5/16/92)

This was very much a Masaaki Satake fight, which meant he threw nice kicks and his opponent gave him some trouble on the mat before succumbing to the inevitable (said kicks) after several minutes of meandering-to-average shoot style. I wonder if they're actually building Satake up for something, as opposed to doing the same fight on every show for the sake of it. Kops looked alright in the first round, but you knew beforehand that he was the Barry Horowitz to Satake's 1995 Shawn Michaels, or the Pat Rose to 1984 Magnum TA, or the so on and so forth.

Akira Maeda v Hank Numan (5/16/92)

Easily the weakest of the RINGS main events so far, as well as the weakest Maeda fight. This was five minutes of not a lot, even if Numan looked like he might've been sort of okay. It was hard to tell given the brevity. I dug how pro-wrestling his sell job for Maeda's leg kicks was, at least.

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Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse (6/25/92)

Much the same as their first fight, though both looked a little more comfortable here, a little more confident. They threw fast hands and it made for a few nice little strike exchanges, even earning Naruse his first bloody nose of his RINGS career. Nothing on the mat was spectacular, but it all felt like a struggle and when it was announced that the time limit was near I bought them going for that win. Fifteen minutes might've been beyond them at this stage, but I'd rather watch these two for fifteen minutes than Kakuta or Kimura for thirty.

Yoshinori Nishi v Peter Dijkman (6/25/92)

Perhaps I was hasty in my previous judgment of Nishi not having much of a ground game. Or perhaps Dijkman simply has no ground game whatsoever -- negative ground game, if you will. That judgment does not feel hasty. This was less than two minutes and Nishi's cross armbreaker was a picture.

Mitsuya Nagai v Nobuaki Kakuta (6/25/92)

This was pretty rough. A lot of these midcard five rounders feel like the RINGS equivalent of Watts giving Skip Young and Wendell Cooley thirty minutes on TV every other week. It's not the best comparison because I assume this was maybe, possibly, probably a shoot, but it lasted forever and nothing really happened until the fourth round. Kakuta is just not interesting at all. Nagai has his moments, but I don't really care about him in a shoot. I thought his show of respect for Kakuta at the end was cool, but as a fight it had about three minutes of good and every other minute of nothing.

Naoyuki Taira v Eric van der Hoeven (6/25/92)

Oh hey, it's Naoyuki Taira! As in the Naoyuki Taira who showed up in Battlarts in 2000 and had a cracking match with Alex Otsuka and then some other okay things with Carl Greco. I'd never even heard of him before last year and I'll be honest, I didn't know it was actually him in this very fight until I checked the match list afterwards, but it was definitely the Naoyuki Taira we (several of us) know and love. I'm almost positive this was a shoot, and a much better one than the previous bout. Taira's kicks are lightning and he busted out a swank flying leg lock after I'd spent the whole fight up until then thinking he had nothing to offer on the ground. Van der Hoeven was pretty nippy as well, but there were a few weird moments where he seemed to either strike Taira with a closed fist or whack him in the eye, and the ref' had to step in more than once. He also complained about Taira being too oily and straight headbutted the back of his head at one point. He never really endeared himself to the evening's crowd. That his sixth strike to the eye was deemed enough to warrant disqualification never did him any favours, either. I'd be fine with seeing more Taira.

Willie Williams v Bert Kops Jr (6/25/92)

I think I might be coming around to these Williams bouts. I mean they're not exactly good, but they're short and rough and there's an amusing carny aspect to them. Plus Williams looks like he's enjoying himself more with every fight. I liked how Kops sold that knee at the end as well, just going dead weight like it was a knockout in every sense.

Volk Han v Herman Renting (6/25/92)

Quite the mismatch on paper, like something you'd see on a PRIDE card next to some Manny Yarbrough circus show. Like, nobody believes Renting has a shot here. Han toppled Maeda and can submit any living thing. So you want to see how Renting tries to combat that. If he can get lucky once or twice, can he turn it into something meaningful? He almost managed to grab a choke at one point and Han used up a rope break just in case, but part of you knew that might've been the one and only chance Renting had. There was this great bit where Han was probing for a leg lock at the edge of the ring, rolling further into the centre to draw Renting away from the ropes, and with every rotation he seemed to have secured another part of leg (and by the end he'd secured both legs). Kind of low key compared to Han's recent fights, but you take what you can get.

Masaaki Satake v Willie Peeters (6/25/92)

Man, this was a slog as well. I don't know if it was another shoot, but it was nothing like any of Peeters' previous worked fights and it was mostly six rounds of tentative stand up. It got real chippy for a second there when Satake threw an illegal elbow and Peeters cussed everybody out ("fuck you all, you all heard it!"), but after threatening to spill over it soon settled back into whatever it had been before. My irrational annoyance at Satake continues to grow (though maybe it's not irrational -- he did take a dastardly cheapshot at Peeters, who we all know is above such comportment) and I kind of hope someone KO's him soon.

Akira Maeda v Hans Nyman (6/25/92)

This had the feel of Maeda milking something to add drama to what was basically a foregone conclusion, selling Nyman's kickboxing like it was super dangerous and taking a few downs to give Nyman an early lead. Nyman's kicks looked pretty and they had some nice snap, but none that landed did so with any real impact. Maeda then went full Hogan v Hercules or Cena v Barrett and decided it was time to go home. Nyman got some stuff in, Maeda looked vulnerable (I mean, I guess), but in the end there was only one conclusion.

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That Tamura bout was the first Peeters fight I saw and I instantly liked him (that was about seven years ago now). Honestly, the Peeters/Vrij fight is probably my favourite of everything I've watched so far. Vrij isn't a superworker or anything, but he's been consistently very fun and always seems to be improving with every fight. He has a cool aura and manages to come across as quite the badass. I haven't really looked ahead to future cards, but I'm hoping he matches up with Han at some point.

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Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse (7/16/92)

I guess these two have a young lions series going. This was my favourite of their three fights and if they haven't outright improved with each outing then they've at least looked more comfortable. They threw more kicks this time, but Yamamoto was stretching out with some more submission attempts and we saw hints of what he'd become in the near future.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Yukihiro Takenami (7/16/92)

Was this a GRUDGE match of some sort? They kind of intimated that they didn't particularly care for one another and it was better than the last Kaktua fight for sure. It was helped by not being very long and also not a shoot. Kakuta fairly laid it in with those leg kicks, though.

Mitsuya Nagai v Willie Peeters (7/16/92)

I don't want to say this was a total Peeters carry job, but other than a nice early knockdown and an impressive throw, Nagai never really offered much past the second round. He gassed hard and barely even made it out the corner for the final round. Peeters, on the other hand, looked in great shape and was the one forcing the issue for most of the fight. Nagai isn't a complete dummy on the mat, but he was lost there at points while Peeters was comfortable enough. There's something hugely likeable about the Dutchman as well. He throws a closed fist, probably out of habit more than anything else, and instantly apologises, then as the round comes to a close he accidentally heads to the wrong corner. The crowd get a laugh out of it and he plays along with a smile. He has his tempter and it'll flare now and then, but it's a fault he wears on his sleeve. His honesty is endearing and he'll also jump on a guy's liver and that more than anything is what makes us love him.

Dick Vrij v Hans Nyman (7/16/92)

Not great, but I guess interesting to see Vrij match up with someone the same size? Like in the Maeda fight Nyman had some quick feet and whipped off a few nice kicks, but he doesn't offer much on the ground. Vrij isn't great on the ground either, but his stand up looks much more dangerous. I did like how Vrij sold a couple kicks, though. They were kind of grazing but he reacted like they stung without going with the full knockdown. And when Vrij decides he wants to knock you out he knows how to make it look convincing.

Chris Dolman v Ramazi Buzariashvili (7/16/92)

Very fun five minute fight. This is Dolman's first appearance in months and I wondered how much he had left in the tank the closer he pushed towards 50. He doesn't engage a ton, content to let the fight come to him, but he'll still throw a guy around effortlessly, like when he caught a Buzariashvili kick and just tossed him to the mat. Buzariashvili was sort of derisory in this and it added an edge to the bout. The crowd picked up on it as well and popped for his strike combos, which were a touch ugly but at least they had energy. Dolman's last bit of work on the mat to set up the choke was pretty slick and this was an easy watch.

Masaaki Satake v Pieter Oele (7/16/92)

In a deviation from the norm this is fought with both men wearing boxing gloves. I actually thought it might've been a shoot at first, but I became less confident in that the longer it went. This was better than most of Satake's other fights, though that particular bar is scarcely a foot off the ground and it never stopped me from fiddling around on my phone once or twice which is never a good sign when watching the pro-wrestling, shoot style or otherwise. Our knockout blow did not look terribly convincing, but then I am not the one being punched in the face so who am I to question it? The best way I can describe how I feel about Satake at this point is X-Pac heat. He's just not interesting to me whatsoever and his fights are almost always the low point of these shows (I guess it's a toss up between his fights and Kakuta's).

Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov (7/16/92)

Excellent bout. It's no easy thing to come across as Han's equal in contorting other people's body parts into disgusting positions, but Kopylov about managed it and kept up with Han pretty much every step of the way. I was an especially big fan of them communicating this equality by ending up in a tangle of limbs so preposterous you couldn't tell where one guy ended and the other began. They managed to ensnare themselves so thoroughly they could barely separate, as if they'd fused together as one -- a twin-headed demon of Sambo sorcery. At times you maybe wonder if some of Han's throws or set-ups border on the carny, but I love them so much and he does them with such snap that it's hard not to get swept up in them. I mean, Kopylov visibly left himself open for Han's Aikido arm-wringer...thing, but it was truly badass and the crowd about lost their mind so how could you not do the same? His front choke/hammerlock combo was also disgusting and fuck me he was so, so good at this fake fighting malarky. Some of the stand up was also really good and every time Han drops a guy with a spinning back fist I get giddy. I've said it before, but for a guy everybody points to as a mat wizard (I mean, he is) he had some killer strikes. That Kopylov responded by front kicking him in the gut for a knockdown of his own was also awesome, and I love that those gut shots have been his Achilles' heel practically from day one. They probably could've shaved off a few minutes as it did have some downtime, but I thought this ruled and I would very much be down for a rematch in future.

Akira Maeda v Willie Williams (7/16/92)

Well damn, this was a hoot. They've done real nice job building up Williams as a guy with stopping power who wants to go for the KO early. He's messy as all get out and nothing he does looks clean, but Maeda takes his knees and body shots well and makes the knockdown look convincing enough. Williams will also get funky with his fighting stances and the crowd sure loves it when he goes full Bo' Rai Cho. Maeda worked pretty defensive in this, similar to how I'd imagine his old teacher would've, picking his spots and going for the takedown. Williams has no ground game, but he's BIG and hard to pin down. In the end it looked like Maeda wore him out more than anything, but I liked Williams' vocal selling of how dangerous the armbar was. Williams has gone from a guy I thought was a bomb scare to being actively fun and someone I want to see more of. In short doses, mind you, but still. Give me him over Satake any day.

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Masayuki Naruse v Koichiro Kimura (8/21/92)

This was a spirited little contest and better than I was expecting. Naruse has evidently graduated from his young lion series and gets to test his mettle against the slightly more experienced Kimura. Some of the stand up exchanges were pretty energetic. Kimura never really showed any of that in his previous fights and it was mostly Naruse forcing the issue, but he at least tried to smack a guy in the face. I wasn't expecting that finish, either. Naruse was never one of RINGS' main players, but he had some fun stuff and one great fight with Han, so I'm interested in seeing if he has any under the radar gems.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Yoshinori Nishi (8/21/92)

Hey, for a five round Kakuta fight this was alright! I kind of dread anything to do with Kakuta, but this had more energy than usual and they kept things moving along nicely. Kakuta never really comes across as the aggressor in his fights, probably because he's worried about what'll happen if he's grabbed and taken down (particularly if it's a shoot, for obvious reasons), but this time he came out his shell a little. Nishi was still the more dominant on the ground, but if nothing else Kakuta knew to milk that and the crowd were certainly on board. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see, but a decent enough bout.

Mitsuya Nagai v Cvetan Pavlov (8/21/92)

And here we have the shoot style storytellin'! This was one of those fights that might be a wee bit on the nose with what they're trying to do, but I'm a sucker for it and I thought it was fun as fuck. Pavlov looks like he's been sleeping in a bin as he and his soon-to-be ex-wife hash out the final deets of the divorce (she got the house), and I have no idea what his discipline is. Google turns me onto a bunch of LinkedIn profiles that I would very much assume have nothing to do with THIS Cvetan Pavlov so I guess we/I may never know. Nagai basically steamrolls him for five minutes. It's probably the most enjoyable Nagai performance to date, throwing some nice looking strikes and a few brutal jumping knees. He's all about finishing this early and before you know it Cvetan is down to his last point. One more knockdown or rope break and it's over. Nagai has been in no trouble whatsoever. As Cvetan gets back to his feet Nagai even points to his own corner like "one more," as if it's all but over. But of course he overreaches and pays dearly, as we all must, for underestimating a man currently eating discarded banana peels for breakfast. I liked this a bunch.

Grom Zaza v Shtorm Koba (8/21/92)

Man, this was really fun too. I feared for them a little when the early stand up elicited laughter from the crowd (even Han had a chuckle), but they won everybody over pretty quickly with the amateur wrestling. Some of the throws were meaty and messy and they were great, just super uncooperative. At one point Koba practically gorilla pressed Zaza and flung him all awkward-like into the ropes. Then as the fight went on they started finding their groove with the striking. It wasn't world class, but it made for a nice complement to the chucking. I was very much a fan of that finish as well. Might've been the best looking full nelson you ever did see.

Chris Dolman v Herman Renting (8/21/92)

This was pretty easy to follow. Dolman is big and imposing and can smother Renting if he can grab him. Renting knows it and wants to stay out of reach, yet not so far that he can't use his own kickboxing. At a couple points they get a bit chippy and I think Renting did something to piss Dolman off, judging by Dolman dickishly slapping him about the head as he had his back. I think there was a clip job somewhere despite it lasting a shade over five minutes, so maybe that tell you more than I could.

Masaaki Satake v Rob Kaman (8/21/92)

I'll assume this was a shoot, contested under kickboxing rules. It was fine, but I don't really have much to say about it. I don't really care about watching him, but Satake is clearly an extremely solid legit fighter.

Volk Han v Dick Vrij (8/21/92)

Fuuuuuck yes. This has honestly become a dream match after going through all of these shows, and I'm delighted to announce that it lived up to expectations. It's total kicker v grappler, between the guy who can knock you out from anywhere and the guy who can submit you from anywhere. Vrij will maul a guy with kicks and knees. Han will tie your limbs in knots. Which strategy wins out? On its own this ruled, but I think it's elevated to another level taken in context. Vrij has stopped everyone he's fought up to this point, including Maeda. Han has the loss to Kopylov on his record, but he's submitted everyone else, including Maeda. Neither are undefeated, but there's a clear hierarchy in RINGS. Maeda is the king, but these two are the next rung down. The beginning really set this up for how it would play out, with Han leaping right into a kneebar attempt as Vrij frantically tried to grab the ropes. It was an awesome struggle that had the crowd rabid straight away. Some of the little touches were super cool, like Han trying his spinning back fists but doing so with a recklessness we don't usually associate with him. Vrij was not to be fucked with and Han knew it. He wanted to finish things quickly, but he left himself open by fighting fire with fire and he never did it again. I also loved how Vrij hesitated in throwing knees when he had Han in the clinch. Against anybody else in that situation he's letting loose, but he knew Han could just as easily catch that knee, we SAW Han readying to catch that knee, and so Vrij had to be smarter about it. Vrij would only really engage when he was close enough to the ropes to reach out if he needed to, and there was a great bit where Han almost hooked a kneebar only for Vrij to grab the rope and wag his finger like he knew well in advance what was coming. After a knockdown Han, visibly rocked, just dropped to the mat and tried to goad Vrij into joining him, knowing full well that he needed to avoid going toe to toe. It never just told you their respective strengths needed to be feared -- it told you how aware of it they both were. Finish was great as well. Han's used up all his lifelines and Vrij is finding it easier to pick his spots. Han's taking a ton of punishment, one more big shot and he's down for the TKO...but he can still submit you from anywhere. It's just a question of whether he can do it before Vrij hits him with too much. Han was spectacular in this, but I thought Vrij more than held up his end and I really didn't think it was a carry job. You can say Han could have this kind of fight with any muscled-up striker and you'd probably be right, but Vrij has continually improved and his aura was as big a part of this feeling special as Han's. Awesome fight.

Akira Maeda v Andrei Kopylov (8/21/92)

This was what you wanted in a Maeda main event. It's fine seeing him fight guys like Hans Nyman and Willie Williams if for no reason other than to see how he'll approach them, but this was against a guy closer to his skill level and more like something you'd see from peak UWF Maeda. Fight itself felt more like a UWF fight than a RINGS fight, actually. The matwork was pretty deliberate, lots of shifting for position, not too many "highspots," and the parts where Maeda let loose with strikes were straight out of Maeda/Fujiwara when Fujiwara would get too dominant on the ground. Kopylov is for real. He doesn't quite have Han's ability to pull out a submission from the most unexpected of situations, but he's a dynamo and everything looked great. The crowd being completely bonkers did not hurt one bit. Really good stuff, possibly my favourite Maeda RINGS fight to date.

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  • 2 months later...
Dimitri Petkov v Vladimir Kravchuk (10/29/92)

This was alright. Certainly a different sort of opener to the young lion-ish series from the previous few shows. I'd never seen nor heard of either guy before and I didn't have sky high hopes based on the early stand-up, but it got decent enough once they took it to the mat. It was pretty ragged and a far cry from your top tier stuff, but it's interesting seeing how a guy who looks like Hodor will go about submitting someone. Petkov had a few big throws as well -- impressive considering Kravchuk is by no means a slight individual. Petkov is absolutely made up afterwards and high-fives with enough force to leave mere mortals limp-wristed.

Han Nyman v Georgi Keandelaki (10/29/92)

I've seen several different spelling variations for Keandelaki's name. I don't know which one is correct. This was another rounds contest, fought mostly standing up. Nyman is limited and has almost no ground game, but he has fast feet and some of those kicks are real pretty. Keandelaki threw some nice punch combos to the body but he had even less to offer on the ground than Nyman, to the point Nyman was actively trying to take it there to finish him. Nasty knockout finish, but otherwise this wasn't much of anything.

Willie Peeters v Herman Renting (10/29/92)

This was a little weird. It went twelve minutes and I guess it was spirited enough. They were active - Peeters especially - and there was no "downtime" in the shoot style sense of lying around in half crabs or the likes (the half crab being very much a staple of the RINGS, obviously). But not a lot of what they did felt like it was of consequence. None of the strikes landed with any real authority. Nobody seemed in danger of being submitted (until the finish when, you know, someone was submitted, though even then it happened so quickly you never had a chance to properly register the danger). Peeters was the aggressor and for large parts Renting absorbed body shots, but he's not very compelling. It's not like Fujiwara getting battered while trying to lure a guy into a mistake. It's just...guy getting popped in the gut while semi-successfully protecting himself. Peeters had a couple nice takedowns, at least. Still a treasure, Peeters. The music accompanying the post-fight highlight package is simply sublime, like something from the opening montage of a mid-90s JRPG.

Andrei Kopylov v Sotir Gotchev (10/29/92)

This is the kind of thing I started this project for. I haven't a clue who Gotchev is, but straight away he grabs Kopylov and chucks him and you're thinking the Bulgarian Christian Laettner might have something about himself. Then Kopylov forces a few rope breaks and scores a knockdown. It starts looking like a neat wee competitive squash, where Kopylov gets to stretch out a bit (always welcome) against a complete unknown who it turns out can handle himself. Then Gotchev gathers some steam and the score starts to even out a bit. It feels less competitive squash and more flat out competitive. Gotchev is clearly no scrub and the crowd were all in on them rolling around on the mat. It wasn't a lost classic or anything, but it was a really nice, low-key bout between two unassuming guys who could twist your arm off. Which is why we watch the RINGS.

Dick Vrij v Nobuaki Kakuta (10/29/92)

I think part of me has wanted this fight from the first time I saw Kakuta. I mean, nothing against the guy, but he's not terribly interesting and his other bouts haven't set the world on fire. They tend to follow a similar pattern and he tops out at "okay, he was better in that than I figured." The crowd love him, though, especially when he's up against it. Vrij is about a foot and a half taller than him so that constitutes up against it. It went about how you thought/hoped it would. Vrij's coming off the loss to Han so I guess the slaughtering of some wee fella was just what the doctor ordered. While Kakuta can't do anything on the ground his stand-up is at least competent, and that usually keeps him in his fights. Here he has no chance because Vrij annihilates him whenever he tries to get in close enough to actually connect. At one point Vrij appears to punch Kakuta with a closed fist, probably out of annoyance. The ref' admonishes him and Vrij responds with this "oh I'm sorry, I didn't know that wasn't allowed." He'd only been there for every single show, of course. Kakuta sort of takes Vrij down, or Vrij falls over as Kakuta happens to be clinging to his leg, and Vrij uses up a rope break almost entirely out of pity. He literally points to the rope and smiles like "see, I was in trouble there" *wink wink*. This was like six minutes of what we'd soon, one and all, come to love about PRIDE.

Grom Zaza v Chris Dolman (10/29/92)

I can't help but think this was kind of a waste of our magnificent Grom Zaza. Dolman has that lovable vet thing going and I find the old lug endearing, but he can't really do much as he inches ever closer to 50 (though, looking back, I apparently liked his last fight). Zaza was fun letting loose with combos, moving in and out, finding ways to take Dolman over. Dolman really just bided his time until he could grab a limb and twist. He's wily and been around the block a time or two. Fine enough for five minutes, but you want Zaza against someone with a bit more to offer.

Masaaki Satake v Mitsuya Nagai (10/29/92)

This went a minute and a half and I'm not really sure what the deal was. You maybe wonder if it's a shoot, but then you watch the finish where Nagai kind of stands there for a couple seconds before going down for the ten and it's like...well, that happened. What we got was actually okay and probably the only time I can say I'd have been fine with a Satake fight going longer. Mitsuya Nagai: Miracle Worker?

Akira Maeda v Volk Han (10/29/92)

The rubber match. It probably went too long and it wasn't without its lulls, but of their three bouts this one might've had the coolest individual threads running through it. A lot of elements that had been played up in previous fights came together in this, sometimes in ways we hadn't seen before. We got Han's spinning back fist, but this time he did it before the bell had even rung (which got the crowd on his case for doing it, and the referee's case for counting it as a knockdown). Maeda is still the superior striker and Han is STILL and FOREVER (apparently) susceptible to getting smashed in the gut for a nine count. You can tell guys are always wary of grappling with Han, especially on the ground. They'll roll towards the ropes even if they're the ones with the advantage, just because they know how quickly Han can flip that script. There was one bit where Han casually grabbed a wrist and before you knew it Maeda was on his back, then just as casually he let go of the wrist in favour of an ankle and Maeda was left scrambling for the ropes. Han did all this standing up. Hadn't gone to ground at any point. Eventually Maeda started absolutely drilling Han with leg kicks and any time he so much as grimaced the crowd were right on it. Forcing this mild-mannered Russian to show weakness is a victory unto itself. The longer it went the more visibly gassed Han became, then he'd start favouring the left leg (which had been kicked to smithereens), but then you wonder if it was all a ploy because Maeda would come in close and Han would just leap at him and do something preposterous. That happened like four times, where he'd literally leap into a rolling kneebar or cross armbreaker. At one point he managed to apply an STF and it was unbelievable. Finish was pretty great, too. You could've probably shaved ten minutes off this and it wouldn't have hurt, but at 24 minutes I didn't think it was a slog and would still call it one of the better RINGS fights so far.

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Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse (11/13/92)

This kind of went on forever. I love Yamamoto and I like Naruse fine, but 20+ minutes might've still been a bit beyond them at this point (felt way longer than Han/Maeda from the last show and that was the longer bout). Still, maybe it stood them in good stead going forward. Smooth waters never made for skilled sailors and all that. Neither were shy about smashing the other in the face at least, and it gave us some nice stand up exchanges where they were really swinging. Yamamoto was deliberate in going for the choke at the end and I liked how he eventually set it up. And Naruse snatching the desperation leglock was a really cool - and welcome, it must be said - finish. Naruse with three draws and a victory in his first four fights is a record Tony Pulis would be proud of.

Herman Renting v Nobuaki Kakuta (11/13/92)

I was about to question why this was a second round fight when only one of them actually won their first round fight (and Kakuta got beat so badly he probably dropped out of NEXT year's Mega Battle), but then I think it was actually a shoot and so...who knows? Renting looked decent at points and Kakuta was mostly outmatched again, especially on the ground. Once Renting went for the choke the first time I think he realised Kakuta couldn't defend against it, so it's no surprise he went back to it. This was largely nothing.

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Willie Williams v Yukihiro Takenami (11/13/92)

This was some spectacular carny horseshit and I loved it. The crowd is alllll about Williams and his hobo karate! Takenami is in the mood to fight! It lasted about three minutes and the heat was outrageous! I mean I can't explain why people were so thoroughly losing their mind for this but as a viewer I'm grateful that they were (because rabid crowds make the RINGS even better). Williams isn't good, but man he's fun in this type of short spectacle, with his sloppy palm thrusts and wheel kicks. I have absolutely no problem with him doing this every other show, which is not the stance I expected to take after seeing him for the first time however many shows back.

Dick Vrij v Hans Nyman (11/13/92)

Nyman is announced as "the one and only Hans Nyman," which is like that time back when I went to rent Devil May Cry from the Blockbuster and it was already taken but the guy behind the desk told me to rent Kabuki Warriors instead. This is a rematch from a previous show that I remember kind of sucking, This one was a wee bit better, but not really something you need to see for six rounds/hours. They at least had spurts of half decent stand-up and some of Nyman's strikes looked like they actually had some impact behind them, as opposed to just looking pretty. I don't know what the finish was all about. I don't think Nyman did either, though he was gracious about it despite being annoyed (with good reason!).

Andrei Kopylov v Chris Dolman (11/13/92)

Perhaps I was hasty in my assessment that Dolman, after his fight on the previous show, had little left to offer in the twilight of his career. Because this was way better. It probably helped being in there with a gamer like Kopylov. I liked how Dolman would try to control with his judo and use his size advantage on the mat. Kopylov is tricky and we've seen how he can submit guys in plenty of ways, but Dolman was patient and used the extra weight. Excellent finish, too. Pretty fun bout.

Akira Maeda v Dimitri Petkov (11/13/92)

I like how the booking of this was basically a rocket-fuelled version of Hulk Hogan v whatever member of the Heenan Family was up next for him to feud with. Petkov came in on the last show, looked good, picked up the win, and now he's onto the ace. That they did it as part of a tournament was smart, in that it wasn't completely obvious they were setting Petkov up as the next guy for Maeda to run through. As a standalone bout I also thought this was really good, so it gets thumbs up all around. Petkov was super fun as a sort of shoot style King Kong Bundy, shrugging off Maeda's strikes and telling him to bring it, being pretty damn solid on the ground and tossing Maeda around with some awesome slams. There was one cool bit where he just picked Maeda up like it was nothing and walked around the ring, Maeda helpless, Petkov soaking in the moment before slamming him. He also reeled off a killer headlock takedown that the crowd lost it for. I thought they were kind of obvious in setting up the finish at first, but they threw in a bit of a curve ball and overall I really dug this.

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Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Nobuaki Kakuta (12/19/92)

Well this was sort of a miracle. For starters, I think it might've been a shoot, and so far there haven't really been any of those that've been good. Secondly, it's Kakuta, and history tells us you don't really want to be watching Kakuta in a shoot for 20+ minutes (or an anything for 20+ minutes). And yet this actually kind of ruled! It's the earliest version of the Yamamoto we know and love (I assume we all love Yamamoto). Those bouts with Naruse offered glimpses of what he could do, but they were very much about the young guys finding their feet. This was him turned loose and just all over an opponent. He gave Kakuta no reprieve and thoroughly dominated him on the ground through the first three rounds. Then Kakuta started swinging with the leg kicks and body shots, managing to narrowly avoid being submitted, always being in with a striker's chance. Crowd were crazy into the last couple rounds and I found myself all the way behind Yamamoto pulling off the upset. Just as the final round was coming to a close we got some controversy, as Kakuta seemed to maybe catch Yamamoto low with a knee, and the ref' apparently called for the TKO as the time limit expired. Yamamoto was having none of it and eventually they - the judges at ringside, I guess? - decided it wasn't a knockdown and the fight would continue into a sixth round. It only lasted another fourteen seconds, but man were the people all in on those fourteen seconds. Best thing Kakuta's done by a pretty significant margin and our first real look at the Yamamoto we'd come to adore.

Mitsuya Nagai v Sergei Susserov (12/19/92)

This was pretty good stuff as well. Susserov looked like a machine at points with the way he'd toss Nagai around, plus he had some flashy stand-up and a couple neat moments on the mat (fitting, as Han is his cornerman/possible trainer). A few of those throws were awesome -- he'd really snap into them, all hips and torque. You look at him initially and wonder if he's maybe going to be another kickboxer, but he was much more along the lines of your Eastern European grappler. Nagai had his moments and looked pretty solid as well. He was never full blown manhandled or anything, and on the "if this was a real fight" scale it looked like he could've held his own okay. His final flurry of strikes certainly looked brutal enough that you could buy it as a stoppage. Susserov's name is familiar to me so I'm guessing he shows up again later down the road, and I'm more than okay with that.

Rudy Ewoldt v Georgi Keandelaki (12/19/92)

If I were to guess, based on Keandelaki LAYING IT IN with the body punches, I'd maybe venture that this was a shoot. It would be a ropey guess at best, however. This was a round and a half and they kept it moving along, no real pissing about, but after the scintillating five and a bit rounds of Nobuaki Kakuta that you never thought you'd ever live to see, this was always going to struggle to pop.

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  • 4 months later...
Volk Han v Sotir Gotchev (12/19/92)

I was pretty hyped for this and I'm happy to report it didn't disappoint. I don't know how many worked fights Gotchev had, but I'd assume this was only his second (after the Kopylov fight). That he can throw guys around with aplomb goes a ways to making you forget about the bits where he obviously looks inexperienced. Han was Han. All of his wrist manipulation stuff looked awesome; the nasty wrist lock thing, the crazy standing armbar, and best of all the way he used it to grab Gotchev in a sort of dragon sleeper before dropping him with an elbow to the chest that looked like a fucking Kill Bill execution blow. He did this thing later on where Gotchev was on all fours and Han grabbed the arm, drew it underneath Gotchev's leg, planted his foot to keep that leg in place, then pulled upwards like he was trying to hyper-extend the elbow under Gotchev's own thigh. Basically this had about four things to add to the running list of Volk Han submissions I'd never seen anyone do in a match before. It wasn't quite like Gotchev could slam Han at will, but Han was clearly having trouble with him, and when Han would try to roll upon landing Gotchev would just drop him super awkwardly on a shoulder or elbow. It actually led to Han using a decent amount of his rope breaks, but of course in the end he found a way to deal. I'm not entirely sure what it was - could've been a choke, could've been an armbar, could've been a bit of both - but it looked like it hurt and every bit the Volk Han way of submitting someone. Really good bout.

Dick Vrij v Herman Renting (12/19/92)

This didn't start out great, but it got better as it went and by the end it was about as lively as you could hope for between these two. Renting is never really aggressive in his fights and sometimes he'll outright stand in the corner as if he's waiting to be hit. I don't know if he's gassed or what, but you can imagine how compelling it is. He started this like he actually intended to do something, and you may not have bought him actually hanging with Vrij, but you maybe bought him being able to grab a submission if the stars aligned. Vrij was pretty much coasting for the first couple rounds, but they got a bit chippy with each other and some little cheapshots were thrown. Last couple rounds picked it up. Renting kept retreating to his safe haven (the corner), but Vrij is not the guy who'll let you rest on your laurels that way. In fact he probably kicked him harder.

Akira Maeda v Chris Dolman (12/19/92)

Pretty listless main event, at least until the last forty seconds. Lots of tepid stand-up. At one point they wound up clinched in the corner trading slow knees to the body, like they were doing assisted knee raises at a Body Combat class. Maeda's leg was taped up heavily again and they drew attention to it a few times. Crowd picked up on it when he'd back away clearly favouring it after Dolman's probing kicks. Set up to the finish was pretty telegraphed, but the finish itself was surprising.

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  • 3 months later...

Giving some life to this thread with 1993 RINGS. This is only the stuff worth watching (imo) but I recommend watching everything because RINGS is so much more than the matches/match quality. 

Mitsuya Nagai vs. Masayuki Naruse (RINGS, 1/23/93)

A pretty fun, extended squash, with Nagai controlling most of the match. He's throwing suplexes and attacking the leg with submissions, popping Naruse with kicks to the leg and the ribs. At one point, Naruse catches a kick and uses a cool waterwheel drop. But that’s about it. Nagai knees him in the face, kicks him in the head, and finally submits him with the armbar.

Sotir Gotchev vs. Todor Todorov (RINGS, 1/23/93)

A fun exhibition match for Todorov, who was really good at tying Gotchev up in interesting predicaments. He keeps trapping the arm, whipping him down, going for armbars. Gotchev is less of a finesse guy and more of a rough and tumble guy. He isn’t much of a striker but he’ll dump Todorov with a fireman’s carry, or his awesome bearhug suplexes, and when he’s got him on the mat, he keeps trying for a choke. Cool submission finish too.

Sergei Sousserov vs. Masayuki Naruse (RINGS, 2/28/93)

Kind of a mess but fun – Sergei’s almost filled the Willie Peeters role for 92-93 with his explosiveness but lack of actually connecting. He does have some cool suplex throws and slams, and when he’s on the ground, he’s grabbing arms, legs, chokes. Naruse is, more or less, trying to weather the storm of Sergei’s barrages and find a submission. He’ll throw a couple of knees here and there, but he’s mostly attacking the legs on the mat. This went a little long as they kind of struggle to get anything cinched in, with Sergei ultimately submitting him with a kneebar. Sergei is dope but his sweet spot is under 10 minutes.

Sirra Fubicha vs. Kalil Valvitov (RINGS, 3/5/93)

This is wrestled in rounds, which is probably a good thing considering the pace these two unknown European dudes were working at. Sirra Fubicha may be of Georgian-descent but don't quote me on that. The first three rounds were awesome. In the first round, Fubicha is all about suplexing and trying to grab a limb, while Valvitov keeps trying for a shoot STF. Fubicha opens the second round by hitting a low-angle Olympic Slam and a deadlift uranage on Valvitov, then gets him in an ankle lock. Valvitov throws a couple of suplexes but he’s trying to get the STF locked in. He's more of the bruiser in this match, clubbing Fubicha down at one point with forearms. Fubicha gets a little too fancy with his headscissors takedown but other than his takedowns and throws, he’s not much of a submission specialist. In the fourth round, he gets a little crazy with the open hand slaps but by the fifth, they’re both spent. They fire off a couple of deadlift Germans but it ends in a draw after the sixth.

Volk Han vs. Andrei Kopylov (RINGS, 3/5/93)

A much different match than their previous encounter. Kopilov is very aggressive early on, throwing Han around, kicking out his leg to try and tangle him up on the ground. Of course, Han calmly waits until he sees an opening to crank on some kind of hold. Love his stepover armbar takedown. Han throwing some pretty nice open hand slaps. Aside from the blitzkrieg opening, Kopilov is mostly on the defensive, reversing holds when he can, but Han wins in the end with the ankle hold.

Volk Han vs. Mitsuya Nagai (RINGS, 4/24/93)

One of my favorites from RINGS '93 because I love an underdog fired up and within the palms of the Japanese crowd, swinging for the fences with wild abandon. Nagai puts Han on the rocks, here and there, but he definitely puts him on the rocks. Han does his thing, taking him down to the mat to stretch him in ways only Volk Han can do -- at one point, choking him with his own arm. But Nagai keeps coming at him with kicks, catching him with a shot to the face before Han snags a foot and takes him back down. He's also upped his submission game against Han, using a rolling leglock, a cross armbar, a kneebar...but Han will find ways to slip out and turn the hold against him. I thought the finish was awesome, with Nagai knocking him into the ropes with the big wheel kick, briefly turning him over into the single leg (the crowd losing their shit) before Han forces the submission out of him.

Yuki Ishikawa vs. Masayuki Naruse (RINGS, 5/29/93)

A half hour of mat warfare. If that's your shit, welcome. There weren’t many knockdowns – this was mostly them scrambling around, trying to grab chokes, leglocks, armbars. Anything. Ishikawa keeps taking Naruse off his feet with double leg takedowns but at one point, he grabs Naruse's leg and Naruse pops him in the face with a nasty knee strike for a knockdown. Nothing blow away but a lot of fun to see Ishikawa in this environment.

Dick Vrij vs. Andrei Kopylov (RINGS, 5/29/93)

Vrij was uber-dominant and aggressive against Kopylov, not giving him an inch. He’s laying into him with big kicks, kicks him in the nuts at one point, and whenever Andrei gets him on the mat, Vrij is quick to grab the rope so Kopylov never really has an opportunity to keep him on the ground long enough for a submission. Kopylov finally catches him with some body blows and knees but that’s about it -- Vrij just keeps knocking him down with his mean flurries and finally pops him with a palm thrust for the KO.


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Nikolai Zouev vs. Todor Todorov (RINGS, 7/13/93)

A good exhibition for the debuting Zouev, who showed off what he can do with his swanky takedowns and reversals, stretching Todorov all over the mat, working in holds like the double chickenwing and full nelson hold. His kicks were decent and he had some neat throws. He keeps slipping out of Todorov’s submission attempts to turn the hold against him ala Volk Han. Todorov got in a throw here and there, and at one point, catches Zouev’s kick and hits a big knee to the ribs. But eventually Zouev rolls him up into a wacky split-legged hold for the submission win.

Volk Han vs. Dick Vrij (RINGS, 7/13/93)

My other favorite match of the first six months of 1993 RINGS, and hey, it's my favorite match-up of 1992 RINGS! Volk is much more strike-focused and aggressive in 1993 then he has been, and here, he immediately punches Vrij in the face, kicks him down, and goes after the arm, trying to pin him down with the submission attempt. Vrij is vulnerable on the mat but he doesn't struggle often and Han made him squirm. Han is willing to absorb Vrij's big kicks and knees in order to get close enough for a takedown, knowing full well that he's not going to outstrike Vrij...although he'll try with his spinning backhands. There were times in the match where Vrij looked legitimately frightened of Volk. Han also busts out a shoot Russian legsweeip into the submission, which ruled. But the dynamic between these two -- the cyborg striker vs. the cool submission specialist -- is awesome, and like their first match, it comes down to the final point after Vrij keeps knocking down Han with kicks and knees, and Han keeps sending Vrij to the ropes. In the end, Vrij unloads on him with some really nasty knees in the ropes and then delivers a combo of strikes that ends in a palm thrust for the TKO victory over Han. Terrific match.

Grom Zaza vs. Nikolai Zouev (RINGS, 8/21/93)

Both guys have a similar style, although Zouev is less about the throws and more in the same vein as Volk Han, using Sambo takedowns, headscissors, arm submissions, and often turning an opponent's hold against them. Zaza comes out more aggressive than usual, landing some big kicks and a sick spinning backhand to the face. But once they get on the mat, Zoeuv takes control of the situation. He uses a grounded full nelson and a sweet arm-and-shoulder takedown into the submission. Zaza mostly sticks to neat strikes and throws, and his over-exaggerated selling of the leglock was something else. Things get sluggish toward the end as they struggle to get something going on the mat but in the end, Zoeuv catches him a cool neck-crank for the submission.

Masayuki Naruse vs. Dieseul Berto (RINGS, 9/10/93)

Pretty fun match, with Berto working as the big strong dude who smothers Naruse on the mat with his weight and Naruse trying to find the submission. He isn't intimated by Berto's size and immediately pops him with a spinning backhand to start. Berto has some decent takedowns and big jumping kicks but can't do a whole lot on the mat. The match picks up toward the end as they're both trading open hands and Naruse gets busted open with a spinning backhand. Berto keeps trying for a calf hold of some sort but Naruse's able to grab him with a leglock for the tap out.

Volk Han vs. Masayuki Naruse (RINGS, 10/23/93)

What a great squash by the master Volk Han, who has to side slam the fire out of underdog Naruse, who comes out of the gate hot, trying to stun Han with open hands and knee strikes. Of course, Han uses some awesome takedowns and submission holds thoughout, including a split-legged kneebar and a standing armbar. Naruse's just trying to hang on at points, either onto Han with a sleeper attempt or onto the ropes. His selling of Han's holds is terrific for a shoot-style match and his hope spot punch to the ribs was a cool moment that lit the crowd up. Naruse ultimately falls victim to Han's stepover armbar but he gave a spirited effort and Han continues to showcase why he's one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Andrei Kopylev vs. Nikolai Zouev (RINGS, 10/23/93)

Two Russian submission specialists = lots of struggle and defense. This was a back-and-forth game of chess on the canvas, where Kopylov would manage a rolling armbar takedown but Zouev would block the submission, and vice versa, with Zouev utilizing some cool takedowns but Kopylov playing heavy D on the mat. When Kopylov finally gets him in a double leglock, Zouev tries to struggle out and Andrei smartly hooks the leg to prevent the escape. I thought Kopylov looked more aggressive here with his strikes, landing knees and open hand slaps, but Zouev fires back, knocking Kopylov down with a big high kick. As the match progresses, they obviously get more sluggish and desperate to get something cinched in. Zoeuv finally grabs a toe hold with Kopylov trapped in a full nelson using his legs -- a very cool submission and another nice win for Zouev.

Dimitri Petkov vs. Mitsuya Nagai (RINGS, 11/18/93)

Petkov looks like a big dumb baby in his neon green singlet but he's a lot of fun and unlike pretty much everyone else in RINGS. Paired with a fiery underdog in Nagai, you get Petkov at his best: suplex throws, an Anaconda vice attempt, sitting on leglocks and smothering Nagai with his weight. Nagai is trying to kick and grab a hold and when he finally gets a kneebar, forcing Petkov to the ropes, Petkov has to take a time out to cold spray his knee. This plays directly into the finish, as Nagai goes back to the kneebar and taps Petkov right in front of the ropes.

Volk Han vs. Nikolai Zouev (RINGS, 11/18/93)

This is, quite possibly, the best match in RINGS 1993. Zouev has been the man throughout the last half of the year and now he's up against THE man in Volk Han. I loved the opening – you have Zouev shooting in for a takedown, Han whipping him down by the arm and trying to lock in the submission, but Zouev is able to turn Volk’s attempt into the cross armbar and sends him to the ropes. For the first time, Han is truly put to the test on the mat. They start taking each other down with submissions, throwing strikes in between. Han uses a cool hammerlocked double wristlock, and Zouev comes back with a rolling cross kneebar, making Han lunge for the ropes . At one point, Zouev has him in a scarf hold and Han tries to whip him over in an escape but Zouev keeps the hold locked in, forcing Han to go the ropes yet again. As one might expect, the struggle was excellent as they fight over holds – tons of great takedowns and unique submissions. A couple slaps and kicks from Zouev but this was mostly submission warfare. The finish was awesome, as Han tries for something fancy and Zouev snags the Fujiwara armbar, trapping the legs to prevent Han’s escape and tapping him. Fantastic submission wrestling.

Todor Todorov vs. Masayuki Naruse (RINGS, 12/8/93)

This was a fun, evenly matched contest, with Naruse hanging with Todorov on the mat as they roll around, trying to counter counters and reverse holds. Todorov uses some cool takeovers and suplexes whereas Naruse is more focused on the striking, primarily knees and kicks. He also brings his submission game. working through a crossface hold, a triangle, and a kneerbar. Naruse continues to improve throughout 1993 and this was probably one of his better singles performances, although Todorov gets the better of him in the end and submits him with a nasty rear necklock.

Volk Han vs. Pavel Orlov (RINGS, 12/8/93)

Essentially a Volk Han squash match but it's still Volk doing his thing, which rules. Other than a judo throw into a cool arm-trap submission, Orlov doesn't do much else here but get dominated by Han on the mat. Han wrangles him in a cool side STF, lands a few slaps and knees, and of course, he's aware of his positioning at all times, scooting Orlov away from the ropes as he takes control of a leglock. Orlov can’t get much going and when he does manage a hold, he’s usually positioned too close to the ropes to be much of a threat. Volk tries to submit him with the single leg crab hold but finishes him off with the classic jujigatame.

Andrei Kopylov vs. Pavlev Orlov (RINGS, 12/25/93)

This was a Kopylov showcase match with Orlov but it wasn't quite as one-sided as the Han/Orlov match. Kopylov is explosive early on with some cool takedowns and throws, and then it settles into a prolonged struggle on the mat, where they work through holds, countering when they can, grabbing ropes when they need to. Orlov completely whiffing on whatever he was going for and then eating an enziguri kick from Kopylov was awesome. Also, Kopylov's crucifix rolling submission was super cool. Orlov is a good jobber for the Russian submission guys.

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Here is the first half of RINGS 1994. 

Volk Han vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS, 1/24/94)

Loved the opening with Yamamoto recklessly going in after Han with the spinning backhand, the takedown, and then Han coolly standing on one leg and yanking the other into his standing single leg crab, He stays in control with his submission work and keeps taking Yamamoto to the ropes until Yamamoto staggers him with a shot to the gut. That gives Yamamoto an opening to try a bunch of cool stuff out on the mat, like the crossface, the guillotine, the inverted STF. Yamamoto's trying to hang on but Han will get him in that split-legged hold or a legtrap heel hook. There are times when Yamamoto seems kind of lost in there but he’ll get some takedowns and try something. But Volk Han is Volk Han. There's a great part where he’s got Yamamoto in a leglock and he uses his opposite foot to push Yamamoto’s arm away to keep him from breaking it. Cool stuff. 

Grom Zaza vs. Todor Todorov (RINGS, 4/23/94)

Grom Zaza, looking real grizzled and lean, takes it to Todorov in a super aggressive showing. Grom's fluidity in this match (and in general) is one of his hallmarks. He's able to go straight into a hold off a missed strike attempt, or grab any exposed limb and just bend it into a submission. His striking is also really good here, between the kicks, knees, and slaps. After a nasty slam, Grom works his way into a scissored triangle hold.. He tries to break Todor in half with an STF and then he grabs a reverse armbar and tries to grab a choke with the opposite arm. The finish was great as Todorov is able to snag a kneelock and just when it seems like Grom is going to tap out, he sees an opening, grabs the arm and submits Todorov. One of Zaza's best performances. 

Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Sotir Gotchev (RINGS, 4/23/94)

Pretty good match that fizzles the longer it went. First couple of minutes were hot though, with Yamamoto busting out the dragon sleeper>elbow combo and Gotchev bearhug suplexing Yamamoto (despite Yamamoto palm thrusting him in the face). Gotchev looks dopey and his groundwork doesn't have much finesse but it seems effective enough. There is a lot of maneuvering around the mat before Gotchev hits a cool deadlift suplex, and in the end, Yamamoto rolls him up for the leglock submission.

Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs. Sergei Sousserov (RINGS, 5/17/94)

An excellent showcase for Yamamoto with a lot of opportunities to shine on the mat. He gets the initial takedown into a kneebar but Sergei fights out and plants him with a perfect uranage. Yamamoto goes back to the mat with some cool submissions like a backpack sleeper and a side STF. He's also adopted Volk Han's dragon sleeper>elbow strike combo. Whenever Sergei's got him in a submission, Yamamoto does a really good job of milking the ropebreaks for a little added drama. In a very cool counter, Yamamoto floats out of Sergei's armbar into a rear naked choke and then finally counters Sergei's leg submission with one of his own for the win. A very cool match. 

Volk Han vs. Mitsuya Nagai (RINGS, 5/17/94)

Not as good as their 1993 match but still pretty good. Nagai will snap off some kicks and try for something fancy on the mat but end up getting caught in a Volk submission. The match itself is much slower paced, with more struggle on the mat.  At one point, Han catches a foot and just barely blocks a nasty-looking spinning heel kick counter before he puts on his signature standing single leg. I love when Han gets fed up against strikers and just takes them out with slaps and knees of his own. The finish was great – Nagai goes in with kicks and slaps and Han grabs a choke and drags him down for the quick tapout.

Akira Maeda vs. Volk Han (RINGS, 6/18/94)

Kind of a tale of two matches because the half of this match before the stoppage was really good. You have Han kicking Maeda in the face to start, dominating with submission holds and Maeda's great in-the-moment selling to rally the fans. Maeda's able to down him with a high kick but Han slides in for his signature standing single leg. Maeda pisses off Han with repeat leg kicks and when Han lays into him with strikes, he ends up poking Maeda's eye and they stop the match. When they restart, there is a lot more stalling, Maeda's more hesitant, his takedowns look really weak like he's scared of getting hit again. Some of the groundwork is cool like Maeda's controlling of the choke sleeper and Han's cool arm-and-leg trap submission. They trade some shots toward the end, Maeda grabs the leglock for the submission, and wins. But he really shouldn't have. 

Masayuki Naruse vs. Yuri Bekichev (RINGS, 7/14/94)

This match was a total blast. Bekichev has a ton of fire and gets the crowd hyped about his big kicks. He lands this wild backspin kick to the back of Naruse’s head to open up. Sure, there are a couple of awkward moments that maybe stem from Bekichev having not worked a “worked match” but for the most part, he gets it. Loved Naruse's counter into the kneebar and of course the wheel kick catch into another kneebar toward the end of the match. Bekichev's nasty rolling solebutt to the face and Naruse bumping to perfection in the corner. There’s a part where Yuri challenges him and Naruse pops him in the face. In the end, Naruse takes him out with a big flurry of palm strikes and a knee to the face. Loved this.

Andrei Kopylov vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS, 7/14/94)

Really good match and the best Kopylov looks in the first half of '94. Lots of intense counterwork, with Kopylov being the dominant one on the mat, working leglocks and armbar -- really liked his nasty reverse armbar. They pepper the submission work with some stiff strikes, especially from Yamamoto with his palms, but Kopylov answers right back with big slaps. Kopylov's final submission is cool but I have no idea what is. Good stuff. 

Akira Maeda vs. Dick Vrij (RINGS, 07/14/94)

Wild and violent. Vrij keeps kicking out Maeda’s legs, which in turn, starts pissing off Maeda. Then Vrij really starts laying into him which causes Maeda to go after him in the corner and knock him down with a big barrage of strikes. There’s a little submission work here and there but it’s really just Vrij letting Maeda have it with nasty palm strikes to the face and knees to the head, busting his nose in the process. The finish was shit. Maeda grabs a leglock and Vrij taps before Maeda can even lock it in...but then he kicks Vrij afterward and that causes the Dutch mafia to get involved and it’s chaos. Terrific.

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I dropped the ball on this as is my wont, but whenever I get back in the mood to write something I want to pick this back up. It's been a while since I saw a lot of that '93 stuff, but I kind of loved that half hour Ishikawa/Naruse bout the first time. Be interesting to see if I still do on re-watch. 

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