I was talking to my brother the other night. We were talking about why our society chooses to remember certain people as opposed to others. This discussion came on the heels of the supposed revelation of the identity of Jack the Ripper via DNA evidence, which has been a story circulating through mass media the past few weeks. We agreed that it was somewhat odd that a psychotic who butchered women would not only be remembered, but even revered, more than a century later. Almost everyone knows Jack the Ripper. Almost no one knows the names of any of his victims, and there were many. All the suffering, violence, fear, absorbed into both pop culture nonsense as well as preoccupation with the famous, strange, and famously strange.

I have a degree in history. I found throughout my studies that historians often seek a narrative laced throughout history, as if finding the story will reveal the reason why everything happened as it did. I don’t think that searching for a narrative is necessarily the correct way of writing about history. Yes, a narrative might exist, a sort-of explanation for why Hitler came to power, or how the Seven Years War shaped the future of North America, or whatever. But I don’t think finding a narrative inside the intertwined mess of human lives necessarily portrays an accurate picture of human history.

No, I think the job of the historian is to chronicle. The historian is the person that reminds her contemporaries of what happened, not necessarily why it happened. I think of Jack the Ripper’s victims, and then I think of all the people throughout human history that are forgotten because someone failed to chronicle their existence. In that way, most of us are victims of Jack the Ripper. We are the forgotten, cast aside carelessly in favour of our more favoured and famous counterparts.

To write about the life and times of another human being in a way that does not tell but shows the importance of that person is no doubt complex. Yet, it is easy to write about someone famous. Chronicling Jack the Ripper is simple. He was colourful, enticing, his motivations bold, his story catching. Chronicling the lives of his victims is a little more complicated, with uncertain motivations, less colour, less enticement. But these people existed. They were real, same as you and I. They did real things and led real lives and died in a real way.

I think the job of an historian is to remind people of what was real. That is what is meant by chronicling history. He does not need to find a narrative, does not need to tell a story, but to say, yes, there were people who really lived before us, and this is who they were. It doesn’t matter if they were famous, or killers, or significant. It matters that they were people, and that their existence is in some small way connected to ours, just as ours will be connected to the people that come after us.

Masahiko Kimura was real, just like anyone else. He came before us and had profound influence on the things you and I call pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. That influence was real, and it deserves to be acknowledged.

I recall the victims of Jack the Ripper in relation to Kimura in that throughout history, like the Ripper victims, Kimura was always the other, the less famous counterpart to someone with more historical recognition. For Kimura, his Ripper was both Rikidozan and Helio Gracie, two names that are likely to be recalled by many fans, experts, students, and historians of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts before those same people recall Kimura’s name. That Rikidozan and Helio Gracie are remembered before Kimura may be apt, but that doesn’t denigrate Kimura’s influence on wrestling and martial arts. I propose that his influence on wrestling and martial arts is so profound that he deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Let me tell you why.

Kimura was the most famous judoka of his time, and perhaps the greatest judoka of all-time. He had one of the famous influential fights in vale tudo history when he defeated Helio Gracie in Brazil in 1951, it what was perhaps the most famous and historically important mixed martial arts fight worldwide until the Antonio Inoki-Muhammad Ali debacle in 1975. The kimura, previously known as the reverse ude-garami (the name “kimura” certainly sound more poetic), was named after him as it was the lock he used to defeat Gracie in 1949. Kimura was also a founding father of Japanese pro wrestling, establishing the sport on NTV in Japan by teaming with Rikidozan against The Sharpe Brothers in 1954, and then later that year unwittingly establishing Rikidozan as a legend by being on the receiving end of a doublecross when Rikidozan defeated him on Japanese TV to become the country’s first heavyweight champion.

He was born September 10th, 1917, in Kumamoto, the capital city of the Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in southwest Japan. His family was poor. One of his first jobs was as a child, where he would help his father collecting gravel from the bottom of a river. They would then sell the gravel off the back of a truck. He began training in judo around the age of nine or ten and became a prodigy. He was promoted to fourth dan around the age of fifteen or sixteen, while still a senior in high school. He defeated six opponents in a row to earn the title. In 1934, he competed in a high school judo championship, defeating three consecutive opponents to win the title for his school.

At the age of 18, in 1935, he became the youngest ever fifth degree black belt in the sport’s history by way of defeating eight consecutive opponents, and that year won his first title, the All-Japan Collegiate Championships. He won the Collegiate Championships again in 1937 (the Championships were held every two years), the second time by defeating six consecutive opponents.

He suffered his first loss in 1935 when, after defeating eight consecutive opponents, he lost to a student named Ryoji Miyajima from Meiji University. Kimura would go on to lose three more times that year, first in May against Kenichiro Osawa at the fifth dan division championships. In that bout, Kimura suffered a concussion. In Kimura’s second match at the fifth dan championships, he lose to Kenshiro Abe, who defeated Kimura and went on to win the championships. That fall, Kimura lost again, this time to Hideo Yamamoto, after Kimura defeated two opponent consecutively.

After his disasterous 1935, Kimura considered quitting judo. Instead he perserved, perfecting his favourite technique of osotogari by practing it against a tree while upping his training regiment to extreme levels.

“After I went home and ate I would take a bath and then do solo training. First, a thousand push-ups, then body-building – six-hundred bench presses with 80 kg [175 lbs] barbells,” Kimura said years later, describing his training regiment. “In those days, when I did osotogari at the [Tokyo] Police Department and the Kodokan, an average of ten people a day would get concussions, so I was told not to use it during training. When I heard that I worked it even harder, thinking that I didn’t want to be satisfied with just a concussion.”

Kimura’s sensei Wushijima once watched Kimura practice osotogari against a tree and asked him, “Are you still trying to kill that tree?” Kimura avenged three of his losses, first in a rematch with Osawa at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police dojo, defeating him. He then defeated Abe in a gym contest, and fought and defeated Yamamoto at the Mitsubishi Dojo in Tokyo.

He entered the All-Japan Judo Championships, the most prestigious judo competition of that era before judo became an Olympic sport in 1964, for the first time in October 1937 at age twenty. He was the first student ever allowed to compete in the Championships. He defeated Masayuki Nakajima, a fifth dan, in the finals to win the tournament. He won the Championships again the following year by defeating an opponent named Ogawa, who had also previously defeated Nakajima, in the finals.

He won the Championships a third year in a row in 1939, defeating a man named Tokizane (a fifth dan) in the finals. Legend has it that Kimura warned Tokizane before the bout that he would use the osoto-gari (a judo throw based on a foot technique) to defeat him, which he indeed did. Kimura was given a special award, a championship flag, in honour of winning the Championships for three years in a row, being the first competitor to do so. Later pro wrestlers that would win the All-Japan Judo Championships early in their careers include Seiji Sakaguchi (also on the Hall of Fame ballot), Satoshi Ishii, and Naoya Ogawa. Ogawa won the Championships seven times, including for five years in a row from 1989 to 1993.

Kimura remained undefeated in judo from his first All-Japan Judo Championships win in 1937 until his retirement from the sport in 1950. In 1940, a special tournament was held, called the Ten-Ran Shiai, which in attendance included Emperor Hirohito. In competition were fifty-two amateurs and thirty-two professionals. Kimura defeated Takahiko Ishikawa in only 42 seconds in the tournament finals. “Before the Emperor’s Games [Ten-Ran Shiai] in [1940], I didn’t even have time to sleep because I was practicing ten and a half hours every day,” recalled Kimura.

Due to the war, the All-Japan Judo Championships would only be held once between 1940 and 1947, in 1941. Kimura did not compete in the 1941 version. The 1941 Championships were won by Iwao Hirosei, who Kimura had defeated in the the semi-finals of the Ten-Ren Shiai the previous year. Kimura was promoted to seventh dan in 1947, at the age of thirty. It would be the highest rank he would achieve in judo, as the rank was permanently frozen over the controversy of Kimura later joining pro wrestling.

Kimura left judo and joined the Japanese army in January 1943. He also taught judo once a week at Asakura High School, where, supposedly after drinking up to three liters of sake before class, he was choked out by a white belt while demonstrating technique. Stories about Kimura being beaten in gym fights by smaller wrestlers while doing judo and pro wrestling in Hawaii years later also exist, although how much truth is contained in these stories is difficult to ascertain. Gym fights and real fights are also two very different things, but although Kimura was the most famed competitor in pre-war judo, after the war he was older and probably less superhuman in strength and skill.

During this period he also began training in Shotokan karate under Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, but switched to training in Goju-Ryu karate. Kimura returned to judo competition afer the war ended, in 1947. He won the 1947 West Japan Judo Championships, defeating Yasuichi Matsumoto by decision after a double-overtime in a round-robin tournament. Kimura apparently was not invited to the 1948 All-Japan Championships due to his refusal to return the championship flag he would won a decade earlier, but he won the All-Japan Judo Championships for a fourth and final time in 1949, at the age of thirty-two, He fought Takahiko Ishikawa, the man he beat in the finals of the Tean-Ran Shiai tournament in 1940, in the finals. After three overtimes with neither scoring, the referee called the fight and declared both of them champions. Ishikawa won the title in 1950.

In 1949, Kimura accepted a position as chief judo instuctor for the Tokyo Metropolitan police. During this period, Kimura had taken on a number of odd-jobs to support his family, including acting as a broker for coal sales and working as a bodyguard. He had friends that usually covered his travel costs when it came to competing in judo tournaments.

The job with the police was to start in April 1950, but in February 1950, Kimura’s sensei, Wushijima, contacted him with an offer to participate in professional judo, something that likely paid more than a position with the Tokyo police. Kimura joined a group of thirty-two judoka and became the promotion’s first champion by defeating a man named Yamaguchi.

“On April 16th, 1950, Pro Judo was started with twenty-one members. It was sponsored by a construction contractor named Mr. Takano,” recalled Kimura in his autobiography, “My Judo”. “At first, [Pro Judo] was very popular, but after four or five months, the popularity dropped suddenly. Moreover, Takano Construction, which was our sponsor, started to lose profit. Our pay started to decrease as Takano Construction started to fall. Eventually, we received no pay, which lasted about two months. In those days, my wife Tomiko was hospitalized for a lung disease. Because of the serious food shortage in those days, most poverty stricken people never survived the disease. I had no choice but leave pro judo to save her.”

The promotion failed, and Kimura, with two other judoka, embarked on a professional judo tour in Hawaii, where Kimura was able to buy medication for his wife after becoming a wrestler for promoter Al Karasik. Kimura’s wife recovered, and together they raised a son and daughter.

This, however, is when Kimura entered the odd world of pro wrestling and vale tudo. He had become a local star in Hawaii, drawing large crowds to arenas to see Kimura and other judoka from Japan compete in judo matches during an initial three-month tour. Kimura was also teaching judo in Hawaii. “Wherever we went, the arena was super-packed. Every town was talking about judo,” recalled Kimura. “It was no wonder since the Japanese who were completely defeated in the war tossed around and toyed with Americans. The business was a big success.”

Karasik approached Kimura and the other judoka at their hotel three days before they were set to leave the island. “[Karasik] asked us if we were interested in doing pro wrestling in the Civic Hall four times a month. The pay was about 4 million yen in today’s value,” recalled Kimura.

Kimura and the other judoka continued to draw well in pro wrestling on the island. A Japanese-language newspaper based on Sao Paulo, Brazil, called the Sao Paulo Shinbun covered Kimura’s success in Hawaii, and Kimura traveled to Brazil with two other judoka, Yukio Kato and Toshio Yamaguchi, taught judo and performed in pro wrestling, which became popular in Brazil. Apparently the tour was sponsored by the newspaper. “This enterprise was a big success. Wherever we went, the arena was super-packed,” says Kimura.

Helio Gracie, the progenitor of all things vale tudo and really the godfather of modern mixed martial arts, challenged the judoka to submission-only fights. Gracie had been a sensation in Rio doing vale tudo fights in the ’30s, but his popularity had tapered off after vale tudo was banned in Brazil. By the time of Kimura’s fight against Helio, though, the latter was still popular in Rio as one of the best jiu jitsu instructors in the city.

Helio, however, wasn’t initially matched up against Kimura. He fought twice against another judoka and pro wrestler Yukio Kato, a fifth dan in judo who weighed 154 pounds. The first bout took place September 6th, 1951, at Maracana Stadium, which was the largest stadium in Brazil at that time. Because vale tudo fights were still banned in Rio, the two fights against Kato and the bout against Kimura were submissions fights disallowing strikes to the head. They went to a three-round draw with Kato dominating the early part of the fight with Helio improving as the fight wore on.

A rematch took place twenty-three days later on September 29th at Ibirapuera Stadium in Sao Paulo. Kato was able to throw Helio early in the fight, but the mats that were used in Helio’s fights against Kato and Kimura were very soft, making the judo throws performed by the Japanese fighters less effective. Helio came back and choked Kato out in about thirty minutes in a match where Kato didn’t have adequate submissions knowledge on the ground to compete with Helio’s guard.

“Two days after this bout, I saw Helio’s students marching down a city street carrying a coffin. They were shouting, ‘Dead Japanese judoka Kato is in this coffin. He got killed by Helio. We ask your support for Judo Master Helio Gracie!’,” recalled Kimura.

Business for Kimura’s wrestling tour in Brazil began to decline. “The Japanese whom we encountered on the street murmured, ‘They must be phonies, losing in such a pathetic manner’,” recalled Kimura.

After defeating Kato the gatekeeper, Helio’s wanted another fight, this time with Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi, however, was reluctant, and Kimura instead accepted the fight. Kimura probably took the fight to help the fledgling pro wrestling business in Brazil. The fight between Kimura and Gracie took place at Maracana Stadium in Rio on October 23, 1951, drawing about 20,000 fans. It was attended by the President of Brazil, among other dignitaries.

“Until the day of the bout, we continued pro wrestling shows every other day,” recalled Kimura. “Three days before the bout, [a] local newspaper had a big headline, saying ‘Kimura is not a Japanese. He seems to be a Cambodian. Helio cannot fight a fake Japanese.’ I was surprised to see it. I rushed to the Embassy of Japan with my passport, and got a proof that I am a Japanese.”

Kimura was 34 years old, stood around 5’7″ and weighed 185 pounds. Gracie was 38 and probably stood at about 5’9″ weighed around 175. There is historical discrepancy about the size of both men at the time of the fight, though. The Gracies claim that Helio was 140 pounds and Kimura 220. The claim of the large weight deficit is largely to protect Helio’s legacy since he lost the fight, claiming that the reason he lost was not due to being beaten by someone more skilled, but simply being overpowered by someone larger, and that Helio was brave for taking a fight against a much larger opponent in the first place. Kimura claims he was 187 pounds and Helio was 176. The Gracies also later claimed that Kimura told Helio that if the latter could last more then three minutes, then Helio should consider it a victory. Kimura has never referenced such a claim in public, before or after the fight.

The fights between Helio and Kato had largely been a battle of nationalism rather than a competition of sports or of competing fighting styles, as there was a large contigent of Japanese living in Brazil at the time. Kato’s loss hurt the wrestling business in Brazil for Kimura and company, since it seemed to prove that wrestling was fake and beneath what the Brazilian Helio had been doing all along in his home city of Rio.

“When I entered the stadium, I found a coffin,” Kimura recalled. “I asked what it was. I was told, ‘This is for Kimura. Helio brought this in.’ It was so funny that I almost burst into laughter.”

The rules and the construction of Helio’s fights with Kimura and Kato heavily favoured Helio. Helio obviously had the hometown advantage, with the partisan crowd in his favour, whipping eggs at Helio’s opponents. And it wasn’t just the soft mat that basically neutralized hard judo throws and trips. The rules also favoured Helio. With a time-limit (something that the Gracies are normally opposed to, particularly when a no time-limit fight favours them), all Helio had to do was use his guard to survive on his back to win a draw, or wait for the judoka to make a mistake on the ground and then Helio could submit him. There weren’t many possible outcomes that favoured a judoka against Helio under those rules in that sort of venue.

Kimura was able to throw Gracie, but that didn’t matter so much because of the soft mats. Gracie admitted in an interview conducted in 1994 that Kimura actually choked Gracie unconscious early in the fight, but released the choke and moved on not realizing that Helio was out. Helio recovered and continued the bout.

“If Kimura had continued to choke me, I would have died for sure. But since I didn’t give up, Kimura let go of the choke and went into the next technique,” Gracie recalled in an interview with Kakutou Striking Spirit magazine decades later. “Being released from the choke and the pain from the next technique revived me and I continued to fight. Kimura went to his grave without ever knowing the fact that I was finished. If possible, I wish I could have talked about the fight with him and let him know about it.”

Around twelve minutes into the fight, Kimura locked on the reverse ude garami. “I thought he would surrender immediately. But Helio would not tap the mat. I had no choice but keep on twisting the arm. The stadium became quiet,” Kimura recalled. “The bone of his arm was coming close to the breaking point. Finally, the sound of bone breaking echoed throughout the stadium. Helio still did not surrender. His left arm was already powerless. Under this rule, I had no choice but twist the arm again. There was plenty of time left. I twisted the left arm again. Another bone was broken. Helio still did not tap. When I tried to twist the arm once more, a white towel was thrown in. I won by TKO.”

He broke Helio’s arm, and Carlos Gracie threw in the towel when Helio refused to tap. That move, of course, became known as the kimura based on the legacy of this fight. “My hand was raised high. Japanese Brazilians rushed into the ring and tossed me up in the air,” Kimura recalled. “On the other hand, Helio let his left arm hang and looked very sad withstanding the pain.”

Despite losing, Helio’s legacy also grew exponentially as a result of this fight, establishing him as a national sports legend in Brazil. It is a legacy that would carry over to the United States and then worldwide when the UFC debuted with Royce Gracie winning a one-night tournament in 1993.

Comparing the 20,000 person crowd that Helio and Kimura drew in 1951 in Rio, assuming that this figure is accurate, it would have been the largest crowd for a pro wrestling match that year. For an actual pro wrestling match, the largest crowd in 1951 was 17,796 at St. Lous Arena for Lou Thesz against Buddy Rogers.

Very few pro wrestling matches from that era drew crowds in excess of 20,000 people. In 1949, the largest crowd was 17,854 at MSG for Argentina Rocca against Gene Stanlee. Rocca and Stanlee drew the largest crowd again in 1950 at MSG with 16,979. In 1952, Lou Thesz vs Baron Michele Leone drew the first $100,000 gate in wrestling history at Gilmore Field in Los Angeles, drawing 25,256 paying $103,277.75. Matches with Blue Demon in Mexico from that era also drew around 20,000-25,000, as did matches with Santo.

The famous US wrestling attendance record was set in 1961 for Pat O’Connor against Buddy Rogers at Comiskey Park which drew 38,622 for a gate that was either $125,000 or $148,000 depending on the source. Other crowds in the late 50s drew in excess of 20,000 fans, for stars such as Rogers, Rocca, Thesz, Killer Kowalski, Gene Kiniski, Black Shadow, and Gorgeous George, among others. Santana against Carlson Gracie reportedly drew 40,000 people for their fight in Rio in 1956. Nevertheless, the drawing power of the Gracie-Kimura fight easily matches up to the drawing power of any pro wrestler worldwide at the time.

Kimura subsequently returned to Japan and became one of the founding fathers of modern Japanese wrestling. “In November 1951, I founded Kokusai Pro Wrestling Association,” claims Kimura. “After I came back from US doing pro wrestling matches, I did pro wrestling shows throughout Japan. In those days, Rikidozan also started a new organization called Japan Pro Wrestling Association.” Bobby Bruns, as booker, was running a wrestling tour in Japan using Kimura, Yamaguchi and Harold Sakata, a Hawaiian who won an Olympic silver medal in weightlifting in 1948.

“In 1951, after former boxing champion Joe Louis led a tour of boxers and wrestlers to the country, a number of athletes from sumo and judo decided to train for the new sport,” wrote Freddie Blassie in his autobiography. “The same year, Rikidozan had his first pro wrestling match, a ten-minute draw against American Bobby Bruns [October 28th, 1951]. In February 1954, Rikidozan and his partner Masahiko Kimura took part in a tag team tournament televised on two separate networks. Many Japanese could not afford televisions yet, so the matches were broadcast in Tokyo store windows. Thousands of people jammed the streets on the first and third days of the tournament, when Rikidozan and Kimura appeared.”

The pair wrestled on a broadcast that aired on both rival networks NTV and NHK on February 19th, 1954, the first time wrestling was seen on Japanese TV. Kimura and Rikidozan teamed against the NWA World Tag Team champions Mike and Ben Sharpe at a sold-out Sumo Hall, although the titles were not on the line. It was a best-of-three falls match, with Rikidozan pinning Ben for the first fall. Kimura was disqualified for the second fall. They went to the time limit for the third fall, ending the match in a draw. It remains one of the most famous wrestling matches in Japanese history, so culturally important that Japanese children learn about the match in history class.

On February 20th, Kimura wrestled in another night of television on Japanese network TV, going to a forty-five minute draw with Bobby Bruns. Also on that show, Mike Sharpe beat Toshio Yamaguchi in best two of three falls and Rikidozan beat Ben Sharpe in best two of three falls.

On February 21st, Ben and Mike Sharpe defended the tag titles against Kimura and Rikidozan. Ben bleed, and the match ended when Bruns ran in to stop it and the referee disqualified both teams. They also did rematches for the titles that aired on television weeks later, including a sixty-one minute draw in Osaka and a title match in Sumo Hall where the Sharpes retained the titles when Ben pinned Kimura in 33:03 to win a best-of-three falls bout that also went sixty-one minutes. Kimura was reportedly displeased at being the one booked to take the pin.

The first major Japanese vs Japanese match in history took place on December 22nd, 1954, on Japanese network television, between Rikidozan and Kimura. Rikidozan’s real name was Kim Sin-rak and he was born in South Korea, although that was kept secret during his career in Japan as his Korean nationality would have damaged his popularity in Japan. He was a former sumo who would go on to become the biggest wrestling legend in Japanese history. The match with Kimura established Rikidozan as a legend, and it wasn’t without controversy.

“Mass media started to talk about [a] Kimura vs Rikidozan match,” Kimura recalled in his autobiography. “I met with Rikidozan and asked his opinion. He said, “That is a good idea. We will be able to build a fortune. Let’s do it!” The first bout was going to be a draw. The winner of the second will be determined by the winner of a paper-scissors-stone. After the second match, we will repeat this process. We came to an agreement on this condition.”

Rikidozan famously double-crossed Kimura, destroying him with chops and kicks before knocking Kimura out. The match ended with the referee counting Kimura out at ten. “Rikidozan became taken by greed for big money and fame. He lost his mind and became a mad man,” Kimura recalled. “When I saw him raise his hand, I opened my arms to invite the chop. He delivered the chop, not to my chest, but to my neck with full force. I fell to the mat. He then kicked me. Neck arteries are so vulnerable that it did not need to be Rikidozan to cause a knock down. A junior high school kid could inflict a knock down this way.”

Rikidozan struck Kimura to the jaw with a right, and then backed him into a corner and dealt a series of open hand chops to the head. Kimura attempted to time him up and Rikidozan grabbed the ropes, causing the ref to break them. Rikidozan continued his assault, dropping Kimura to a knee with a slap to the head, and followed it up with a knee to the face, a kick to the face, adn a stomop to the base of the neck. Kimura again back into a corner, and Rikidozan knocked him out.

“I could not forgive his treachery,” said Kimura. “That night, I received a phone call informing me that several ten yakuza are on their way to Tokyo to kill Rikidozan.” Kimura ended up calling them off.

The outcome made Rikidozan as tremendous legend in Japan, as it was seen as the top pro wrestler soundly beating the top judoka. The highest rated pro wrestling match in the history of NTV took place October 6th, 1958, when Lou Thesz came to Japan for the first time as NWA World champipon and went to a sixty-one minute draw against Rikidozan with neither taking a fall in front of 27,000 people at Korakuen Baseball Stadium. The show drew an 87.0 rating. They had a rematch a week later in front of 30,000 fans at Osaka Ogi Pool with each man taking a fall on the way to another draw. Rikidozan was stabbed to death in a Tokyo night club on December 15th, 1963.

Kimura continued to do pro wrestling and martial arts, but outside of Japan. In March 1955, he went on a pro wrestling tour in Mexico. Later in 1955 he was teaching judo in France and England, spending a year in Europe. He then stayed in Spain for four months, teaching judo and doing pro wrestling matches. He returned to Paris briefly, before coming back to Japan in January 1958.

Kimura returned to Brazil to compete one last time in 1959, at the age of 41. He fought Waldemar Santana, 30, twice. Santana was trained in jiu jitsu and capoeria, and was around 6’0″ and 205 pounds. He had defeated Helio Gracie by way of knockout in 1955 in a fight that lasted 3 hours, 45 minutes and was based on a grudge developed between the two in Rio newspapers over Santana participating in pro wrestling in Brazil. This is believed to be the longest vale tudo match in history.

The first bout between Kimura and Santana took place under grappling rules. “On my way to the ring, someone raised his arm and waved at me. It was Helio Gracie, whom I had not seen for several years,” recalled Kimura. “Helio was at the radio broadcast seat. He was the commentator of the match.” Kimura submitted Santana with the kimura after being able to throw the larger and younger man.

The second bout was a total vale tudo fight, technically the only one Kimura ever fought, and took place in front of 10,000 fans. It went to a bloody forty-minute draw, with Kimura having difficulty dealing with the strikes from Santana.

Kimura tried to throw Santana, but they were both soaked in sweat, and the throw landed funny with Kimura falling to the mat. “It seemed like I could score a clean throw. However, it was a miscalculation,” recalled Kimura. “We were both heavily covered with sweat as if a large amount of water had been poured onto our heads. Moreover, he had no jacket on. There was no way such a technique could have worked under these conditions. His arm slipped through, and my body rotated in the air once forward, and landed on my back. “I screwed up!” I shouted in my mind, but it was too late.”

Kimura was able to bloody Santana with strikes from the ground, though. “My right fist accurately caught [Santana's] face by counter. It landed between his nose and eyes. Blood splattered. I had also already been heavily covered with blood. The blood interfered with my vision. ‘Kill him, kill him!’ the devil in my mind screamed.”

Both men were exhausted and they limped to a draw. “It was my first Vale Tudo experience. That night, my face was badly swollen. I had a number of cuts on my face,” recalled Kimura. “Every time I breathed, an excruciating pain ran through my belly, and I could not sleep.” During this time Kimura continued to do pro wrestling matches in Brazil.

In his autobiography, Kimura describes an amusing anecdote about training Gory Guerrero in judo around this time. “One day, after I finished a pro wrestling match, Gorry Guerrero came to see me. He said he fought many matches against judoka from Japan, but when he deposited his weight on the judoka as soon as the judoka tried to execute a throw, the judoka collapsed like a frog, and some of them got badly hurt in the lower back and got hospitalized.”

Gory wanted Kimura to teach him judo. Kimura continued describing their training, writing, “I let him attack and concentrated on defense. He must have thought he was gaining the ground. He came forward with a momentum. I measured the timing and initiated Ippon-seoi. His huge body was carried on my hip. He lost the center of gravity, rolled forward, and fell on his back. As he tried to get up, I threw him three more times in a row. He finally made a gesture of surrender, and said, ‘Thank you, real judo is wonderful, after all’ repeatedly.”

Kimura took up a job teaching judo at Tokushoku University in 1960. Many of his students went on to great success. They included Doug Rogers (silver medalist at 1964 Olympics), Masaki Nishimura (bronze medalist at 1972 Olympics), and Kaneo Iwatsuri (All-Japan Judo Champion in 1970).

In later years he would respond to fan mail, and would even include instructions on how to master the osoto-gari.

He died of lung cancer on April 18th, 1993, at the age of 75 in his home in Kawasaki. He had surgery sometime before he died, but shortly after surgery, he was already doing push-ups.

Does Kimura belong in the Hall of Fame? The three categories for consideration to the Hall are drawing power, in-ring ability, and historical influence. Let us look at these one at a time.

Drawing Power

Kimura drew 20,000 people to see him defeat Helio Gracie in Brazil, among the biggest crowds for pro wrestling of that era. I’m under the impression his fight with Santana in Brazil years later didn’t draw as well, but was still a popular event.

When Kimura teamed with Rikidozan against the Sharpe Brothers, not many people in Japan had televisions. There are tons of stories about people watching these matches in store windows and other public places, though. Without accurate figures, I still think it is safe to say that the matches featuring Kimura and Rikidozan against the Sharpes were massive draws in Japan. They were able to pack houses for these matches, too.

The match against Rikidozan was also so early in the history of both Japanese wrestling and Japanese television that statistics wouldn’t paint an accurate picture, as it would have been a tremendous draw at the time.

Less notably, but still somewhat important, were Kimura’s successes drawing packed houses for pro wrestling tours in such diverse places as Brazil, Hawaii, and Europe. Figures don’t exist, but most of these tours seemed to have been successfully, at least in Brazil and Hawaii.

In short, Kimura had tremendous drawing power in Japan, Brazil, and Hawaii, in an era where technology was changing pro wrestling with the invention of television. He drew live crowds and television audiences. He didn’t have longevity as a drawing card and was always the opponent of the star, rather then the star itself. But he drew money against opponents as diverse as Rikidozan and Helio Gracie in different parts of the world, and was one of the most famous opponents of both these fighters. Kimura drew money.

In-Ring Ability

In terms of workrate, it is difficult to categorize Kimura. He was certainly athletic, no question about that. In pro wrestling, he was able to do long matches, frequently wrestling to sixty-one minute draws. Some footage exists of his wrestling in Japan, particularly the Rikidozan match. That match, however, turned into a shoot, so it really isn’t good evidence of Kimura’s workrate. As a tag team with Rikidozan, he was frequently the face selling before making the hot tag. There isn’t much to say about this category other than to say that Kimura was probably a good enough worker to draw crowds and do what needed to be done in matches.


I don’t think his legacy can be overstated. He was the winner of the most famous vale tudo fight until the UFC debuted in 1993, a fight popular enough that the move he used to win is commonly known worldwide as the kimura. He was one of the early stars of Japanese wrestling, first as a tag team with Rikidozan and then as Rikidozan’s first famous opponent.

He helped make the legacy of Rikidozan and considering how important Rikidozan is historically, that is worth Hall of Fame consideration alone. Yes, he happened to be basically an innocent bystander that Rikidozan beat the snot out of in order to become a legend. But that win for Rikidozan would not have meant as much if Kimura was not respected as a famous judoka in Japan. He helped make Rikidozan’s name.

He also helped make Helio Gracie’s name, at least as a legend. Gracie was already a legend in Rio, but his loss against Kimura is probably remembered as his most famous bout. The myth of Kimura being so much larger than Helio perpetuated for so long that it made Helio into a legend simply for fighting someone perceived as being so much larger than him.

I think my own life would be different in a meaningful way if Kimura had not existed. He influenced mixed martial arts in a way that, if you remove Kimura from history, then that sport might be totally different today. He influenced pro wrestling in Japan in a way that, if you again remove Kimura from history, then pro wrestling in that country might be totally different today. I have committed so much of my own life to mixed martial arts and pro wrestling, almost irrationally, that if you removed Kimura a third time from history, then my own life might be irrevocably different today. Of course, the criteria for the Hall of Fame is not whether a nominee has influenced the voter’s life. Yet, if Kimura’s influence on wrestling is so powerful that he reaches through the decades and alters the life of a man writing a brief biography about him, then he is certainly worthy of consideration.

I think all the dead ask of us is to not be forgotten. I’ll be voting in the Hall of Fame and I will choose not to forget Kimura.

This is the first time I’ve watched NXT, so you’ll have to bear with me when it come to me being ignorant of the product.

The show opened with Titus O’Neil returning to NXT. He came to the ring and said that he was taking over this show because Neville, Zayn, and Breeze were on Raw. He said he could do anything he wants in the ring, including sleep. He told the audience to refer to the show as NXTitus.

Sami Zayn came to the ring. He said Titus never wins any matches and then said something about Titus being beaten up by bunnies. I guess this happened on Raw. I didn’t watch Raw.

Adrian Neville then came to the ring. The person to defend NXT against Titus is Neville because he’s the champ. Zayn disagreed. Zayn said that he thought what Neville did to return the NXT title at Takeover the previous week was immoral. Neville said this is why Zayn will never win the title.

Tyson Kidd came down the ramp, but didn’t enter the ring. He said Titus was right in calling both Neville and Zayn losers, which I don’t think Titus actually said. Tyson said he would have done the same thing as Neville to keep the title.

William Regal then came out to the stage and made a main event of Neville and Zayn against Kidd and O’Neill.

This opening segment was pretty lame. Titus isn’t much on the mic. But he is tall and muscular, so of course he is on the main roster. The other three have more charisma, but I hate WWE’s choreographed style of insult-pause-other guy insult-pause-insult again, and so on. But WWE is training these guys for that style of promo, of course. The small, hot crowd actually makes this stuff come off better than what it actually is. And Neville looked so short standing next to Titus.

Also, too much of the focus was on getting over the NXT brand, with the various NXT wrestlers defending the promotion and not themselves. But I guess these days the brand is more important than the stars in modern American wrestling.

Charlotte vs Emma for the Women’s title

Emma does a gimmick where she dances by pointing her arms out to her sides. It’s about a level above the Bushwhackers dance. Emma is really green and sloppy in the ring, has bad-looking offense, and doesn’t seem good at moving from spot to spot. Emma’s dancing gimmick got over during her entrance, but the crowd died after.

Charlotte is, of course, the daughter of Ric Flair, and comes out to a remixed version of Flair’s music. She’s tall and has athletic charisma and is a level above Emma, at least. One spot saw Charlotte try to flip Emma into the ring, but Emma’s boot kicked Charlotte in the face and then Emma followed up with a top-rope cross-body block for a two count. Finish came when Charlotte hit a neckbreaker and her finisher, the Natural Selection, which I guess is a kind of snap mare, diamond cutter combo.

Hideo Itami (Kenta) vs Justin Gabriel

Gabriel reminds me Poochie the Dog from The Simpsons in how soul less and corporate his “cool” gimmick is. The announcers said that Itami is one of the best in Japanese style. Which style is that? Renée Young said that the great Kobashi trained Itami, but she said it like Kenta Kobashi’s name was actually The Great Kobashi. Not much to this match. Finish came when Itami hit the double foot stomp from the top rope. Itami looked good, but didn’t do anything that would get him over as an incoming star. I think he will spend much of his time in NXT learning to work WWE style and learning English so he can cut their inane promos.

Kenta was laid out after the match by the Ascension to continue their feud that started when Itami debuted last week.

Baron Corbin vs CJ Parker

This was a rematch from Takeover. Corbin beat him in about forty seconds with the End of Days finisher.

Enzo and Colin were training at the gym when the hair chick from Takeover came in and demanded a job as a “fighter”. These guys do a lame Jersey Shore gimmick. This was awful, like WrestleCrap level awful, to the point where if NXT did regular segments like this, I wouldn’t bother watching the show.

Tyson Kidd & Titus O’Neil vs Adrian Neville & Sami Zayn

Neville and Zayn kept trying to one up the other while beating on Kidd. Zayn did a standing moonsault on Kidd. Neville tagged himself in and did a cool standing corkscrew to one-up Zayn. Titus isn’t on the same level as these other guys either on interviews or in the ring, despite that of these four he’s actually the one on the main roster. Well, he is big.

The story was the rivalry between Zayn and Neville, and O’Neil was the star from the main roster. Kidd was just kind of there. Finish came when Neville made the hot tag. He went to the top rope, but O’Neil shoved him off and Kidd pinned him when Zayn was accidentally distracting the ref. Probably the right finish, as it sets Kidd up as a title challenger within the next few weeks and continues the feud between Zayn and Neville.

They announced next week’s main event of Lucha Dragons defending the tag titles against former champions Ascension.

Overall, the show was okay. In-ring it is very good, even though these guys are only in developmental. The show’s production is better compared to indie shows of this size since WWE is using their money to produce it. Announcing is mediocre. Interview segments are terrible and I think a lot of NXT is to train these guys in how to read from WWE scripts.

Charlotte has great star potential. Neville, Kidd, and Itami are all fantastic workers, but probably won’t get far on the main roster for various reasons (size, look, ethnicity, etc). Because of their height and look, the two guys from the Ascension probably have the best chances for the main roster. I haven’t watched them wrestle yet, though, so I’m unfamiliar with their in-ring talent.

In my mind, the most enjoyable aspect of the Observer Hall of Fame is that it provides the opportunity to research and discuss wrestlers that I’m unfamiliar with. The international and historical scope of the Hall is predicated on quality research of nominees and, subsequently, consideration of the historical value of the findings from this research. When the WWE does their Hall of Fame, no one is researching the careers of nominees nor is anyone writing biographies or participating in discussions about why someone should (or should not) be in that Hall. This is mainly because the WWE Hall is about politics and marketing more than anything else. That isn’t to say that the Observer Hall is free from politics or marketing (how could it be?), and it has its own flaws, but its voting methodology is stronger compared to the WWE Hall, where there is only person whose vote counts.

To me, it doesn’t matter who gets voted into the Observer Hall. The point is that the Hall creates the opportunity for people to research and discuss wrestlers who would never get attention from most modern fans if not for the fact that they are listed on the ballot.

One of those names is Shirley Crabtree, better known as Big Daddy. Crabtree was a major star on British television throughout the late ’70s and into the ’80s. Last year I started doing research on Crabtree, through the newspaper archives of The Guardian and The Observer (Britain’s Observer, not wrestling’s Observer, but I’ve also been researching through the Wrestling Observer), and also through books and articles written by journalists, both in wrestling and in the mainstream.

Most of the stuff written about Crabtree is from British fans who grew up watching him in the ’80s. I am not British, nor did I grow up watching Crabtree, nor do I particularly enjoy watching videos of Crabtree on YouTube or elsewhere. If Big Shirley wasn’t on the Observer ballot, I probably wouldn’t be writing about him at all. My contribution to historical research on Crabtree is important, though, because I’m not influenced by nostalgia and can approach him from a dispassionate perspective. The disadvantage is that I’m trying to understand Crabtree as an outsider to British wrestling from his era, but then again, most historical writing is done from the perspective of an outsider.

Of the names in the European category of this year’s ballot, Crabtree is probably the strongest. Mick McManus was voted in last year. McManus was the top name in British wrestling for decades before Crabtree’s popularity blew up in the late ’70s, and was probably a deserving nominee for the Hall. In 2011, Kent Walton was voted in. Walton was the voice of British TV wrestling from the ’50s through the ’80s and anyone who grew up in that time and place would recognize his voice. Those two names are probably the only two elected into the Observer Hall based solely on their contributions to British wrestling.

If a third name got in based only on British wrestling, it would be Crabtree. In 2011, he received 44% of the vote. In 2012, he received only 23%. The drop might be because those who would have voted for him in 2012 voted for McManus instead, although that’s just speculation on my part. In some ways Crabtree is a more deserving candidate than McManus. He was probably a bigger draw on television, although that might be debated. He also seemed to have more mainstream cultural influence in Britain in comparison to McManus. McManus was almost definitely a better worker, as a Big Daddy match was usually nothing but a negative star affair unless he was placed in a tag match with better workers. McManus certainly had more longevity.

Crabtree was born November 4th, 1930, in Halifax, West Yorkshire, a member of the great unwashed in a small working class town in Northern England. The oldest of three brothers (the other two being Max and Brian), he had the misfortune of being named after his father. His grandmother was a fan of Charlotte Bronte’s novel from 1849, “Shirley”. Ironically, the Bronte novel is actually what made the name Shirley popular for girls, as it was a story about a a father who wanted a son named Shirley, but instead got a daughter, so named her Shirley anyway.

His father left home for another woman when Shirley Junior was young, leaving mother to raise the three boys alone. She worked twelve-hour shifts in the local mills and brickyards to support her family. The home had no running water and no indoor plumbing. Shirley remembers his mother carrying two bags of coal up three flights of stairs to the boys’ rooms. “My grandmother weighed 22 stone [about 300 pounds] and my mother could carry two sacks of coal upstairs on her back,” he later claimed.

He was teased about his name at school, the kids calling him Shirley Temple. His father had played rugby and wrestled, and Crabtree got into that, too. He played rugby in school, made second-team, and failed to make first team, allegedly due to misconduct. He quit school at 14 and worked at a spinning mill, replacing the bobbins on machines. At 16 he and his two brothers were also lifeguards at Blackpool beach, where Shirley would reside much later in life after retiring from wrestling.

All three brothers started as wrestlers and remained involved in the business to some degree. Brian eventually became a ref and a ring announcer. Max was a promoter and later was the booker for the ITV show that made Shirley a star in Britain. Shirley was trained by Sandy Orford, a future opponent of Lou Thesz. Crabtree made his wrestling debut on June 14th, 1952, at St. James’ Hall in Newcastle, losing to Orford.

Pro wrestling had existed in different forms in Britain since the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1952, Joint Promotions was launched. It was a cartel of promoters that carved Britain into territories the same way that the NWA had done in America. Also like the NWA, promotions traded talent, controlled title belts, and worked with one another to block outlaw competition. The most important promotion was the London group, run by Dale Martin, who had started promoting in the city in 1948.

Wrestling debuted on British TV on November 9th, 1955, on ABC and ATV, which were the forerunners to ITV. ITV would air the wrestling program that made Crabtree a star decades later. The show was popular and aired every Saturday afternoon during the winter and some Wednesday nights until 1964, when it joined the program World of Sports on ITV and ran year round Saturdays at 4 pm.

At the time, there were only two channels in Britain, ITV and the BBC. BBC launched its second channel in 1964 and Channel 4 started in 1982. But, in 1965, wrestling was one of Britain’s top twenty shows for fifteen weeks, with a peak 7.3 million viewers tuning in to watch Roy Bull Davies against Billy Howes and Ken Cadman against Johnny Eagles. Joint Promotions allegedly received 15,000 pounds per week in TV rights and television exposure brought more fans to shows, with Joint regularly drawing upwards of 5,000 people in the mid sixties.

Besides Joint and their weekly TV show, the most notable independent promoter at the time was Paul Lincoln. Crabtree started wrestling in the ’50s for Lincoln under the names Blond Adonis and Mr Universe. He would bounce back and forth between shows promoted by either Lincoln, his brother Max, or Joint Promotions. During that time he was less fat and more muscled than when he became a star decades later. He wasn’t much of a worker, and didn’t earn much money, leaving wrestling for stretches of time. His most notable achievements during this period seem to be winning a version of the European Heavyweight title twice, once in 1960 in Leicester and again in ’61. He also held a version of the British Heavyweight title around this time. These weren’t the major titles recognized by Joint Promotions, but instead were titles recognized by the British Wrestling Federation, an entity created by independent promoters.

Crabtree returned to Joint Promotions in 1962 (his brother Max wrestled at least twice on the Joint ITV show in 1962 under his real name). He continued to wrestle under his real name and other gimmicks with Joint until 1968, when he started wrestling in Blackpool solely for Max’s independent promotion once again.

He made another return to Joint Promotions in 1972, debuting on their ITV show under his real name on September 2nd, defeating Pete Curry. He wrestled twice more on ITV that year, with wins over Pete Roberts (September 30th) and Steve Haggetty (November 21st). In 1973 he had a brief feud with Kendo Nagasaki, losing via knockout on January 13th in a show taped January 10th. It would be one of the only major losses of Crabtree’s career that would ever air on TV.

In the 70s, boxing promoter Jarvis Astair bought out Dale Martin’s London promotion. Many of the original Joint Promotions promoters were retiring and selling their companies. Astair further bought out other Joint Promotions territories, along with Lincoln’s independent promotion. Astair was unsuccessful and sold his promotion to the bookmaking company William Hill. Aging Jackie Pallo, a star who had a hot feud with McManus in the ’60s, attempted to start his own promotion in 1975 with Max Crabtree was booker, but it didn’t take off as the new owners of Joint poached Max to be their head booker.

This is when Shirley Crabtree morphed into Big Daddy and this story really began. With brother Max as booker, Shirley was repackaged as Daddy. It was Max’s idea. Max had watched “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a movie that was released in 1958 starring Paul Newman as an alcoholic ex-football player reunited with his father ‘Big Daddy’, played by Burl Ives (Max watched either the film or live theatre version). Along with his Mr Universe and Blond Adonis gimmicks Shirley had also been wrestling as the Battling Guardsman, as years earlier he had been a member of the Coldstream Guards, the oldest regiment in Britain’s army.

“At this point Shirley was in the Guinness Book of Records as having the biggest chest in Great Britain. It was 64 inches,” claimed Max. “I said to him, ‘I think we’ll leave the Guardsman out and we’ll try Big Daddy,’ and it just clicked. He invested in the right clothes, the top hat and that, and people went mad.” Whether or not the story about having the Guinness record for Britain’s biggest chest is true, the Big Daddy gimmick was finally the one that made Shirley successful.

Crabtree would wrestle in spandex concoctions that bore the phrases ‘Big Daddy’ and “Sock it to Me’. He added a glittering top hat and a cape to complete his look. As ridiculous as his appearance sounds, Big Daddy would become a hero to children and little old ladies throughout Britain. Crabtree would walk to the ring accompanied by a train of small children. During his heyday, crowds at live events were sixty percent women, most them elderly. The simplicity of Crabtree as a hero who whipped villains caused perennial British television commentator Nancy Banks-Smith to remark, “It is no wonder that elderly ladies with a simple but strong sense of right and wrong are such faithful followers.”

Wrestling was actually heavily viewed by women in Britain mostly because their husbands would be attending Saturday afternoon soccer matches. In Britain, soccer has been banned since the ’60s by the leagues from airing on live TV on Saturdays to prevent reduction in live attendance. This bizarre practice actually continues today, although nowadays games can easily be watched in Britain on foreign cable channels. Soccer was banned between 2:45 pm and 5:15 pm on Saturdays. Wrestling aired on ITV from 4 to 4:45 pm, as at 4 pm ITV broadcast the half-time scores and at 4:45 it broadcast final scores. Football scores would also be updated during the wrestling show in the corner of the screen.

His first appearance on ITV under the Big Daddy moniker was on July 19th, 1975 in a show taped earlier that month in Southport. He teamed with future rival Giant Haystacks against Roy and Tony St Clair. Crabtree had appeared on the ITV show earlier in the month under his real name, wrestling John Cox.

By this point Shirley was middle-aged with a gut that hung embarrassingly towards the floor. But it didn’t matter. The Big Daddy gimmick took off anyway. Wrestling’s popularity had been in decline in Britain in the mid ’70s as McManus, the country’s biggest star, was far too old to be a major draw anymore. Crabtree rejuvenated it. But like many others in wrestling before and after, what he did to make wrestling popular was also what eventually killed it.

Crabtree was frequently booked in tag matches to disguise his limited ability in the ring. When he was placed in singles bouts, time was kept mercifully short. He wrestled Britain’s top heels, including Kendo Nagasaki, Mighty John Quinn (actually Canadian, and brother of NHL coach Pat Quinn) and Giant Haystacks, the latter of whom is remembered as Crabtree’s arch-rival. Crabtree’s popularity made him a mainstream figure in Britain. He was frequently written about in the newspaper and was a guest on many popular TV shows, including “This is Your Life” (which you can find on YouTube if you have an hour of your life to spare).

He lost to Kendo Nagasaki on the September 13th, 1975 show in what was billed as the semi-finals of a Super Heavyweight Knockout Competition. This continued feud between the two that had started in ’73 before Crabtree was billed as Daddy. Nagasaki, who is also on this year’s Observer Hall of Fame ballot, was then one of Britain’s most popular heels. Crabtree unmasked him on ITV on December 6th, 1975, although Nagasaki scored a quick pinfall win a moment later. This was two years before Nagasaki unmasked in an infamous ceremony that was one of the most popular wrestling angles in ITV history. They wrestled again later that month, as on December 27th Crabtree teamed with Haystacks against Nagasaki and Rex Strong.

Crabtree became so big that he attracted the attention of celebrities and politicians. Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary Bernard Ingham was a fan of Daddy and introduced him to the Prime Minister at a charity lunch. At home, Crabtree kept a photograph of himself with former Attorney-General Lord Havers. And years later, when he was on his deathbed, Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, sent him a get-well message.

Crabtree’s daughter later recalled, “His theme tune We Shall Not Be Moved would come over the tannoy and the crowd would start chanting ‘Easy! Easy! Easy!’ and I’d think ‘blimey, that’s my Dad’. It was almost overwhelming.”

The biggest wrestling show of the year in Britain was always the FA Cup Finals show. The FA Cup Finals show was, for decades, the only soccer show allowed to air on live TV on Saturday afternoons. It aired at 3pm (until 2012, when it was moved to 5pm). The FA Cup Final is the last match in the Football Association Challenge Cup in Britain. Wrestling would air before coverage of the Cup Finals began. The biggest matches of the year would thus air the day of the Cup Finals. The first wrestling show held on a Cup Final day was in 1961 at Wembley featuring Billy Two Rivers against Francis Sullivan. McManus and Pollo had their major Cup Final match in 1963 when McManus successfully defended his Welterweight title.

Daddy’s first appearance at a Cup Final event was in 1978, teaming with frequent partner Tony St Clair against Haystacks and Ian Muir. Including that first appearance, he wrestled on eight Cup Final shows, all of which took place during the month of May. In 1979 he teamed with Ringo Rigby against Quinn and Rollerball Mark Rocco (the latter of whom is also on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot). In 1981 he teamed with Alan Kilby against Haystacks and Wild Angus. In 1982 he teamed with Akira Maeda of all people (wrestling under the name Kwik-kik Lee) against Tony Walsh and Cruisher Brannigan. In ’83 his partner was Kid Chocolate and they faced the Masked Marauders. In ’84 he teamed with Drew McDonald against Giant Haystacks and Fit Finlay. In ’85 he teamed with Mick McMichael against Tommy Lorne and Pete LaPaque.

1986 was Crabtree’s last appearance wrestling on a Cup Final show. His partner was Danny Collins and they wrestled Fit Finlay and Scrubber Daly. Within a couple of years Joint Promotions wrestling on ITV was canceled and Cup Finals shows stopped airing.

Besides the Cup Finals shows, the three biggest matches of Daddy’s career took place at Wembley Arena. The first of which occurred on July 14th, 1979, against John Quinn with the stipulation that the match must end via knockout. Quinn had become a popular heel after cutting a promo claiming that the British were cowards during the Second World War. A sellout crowd of 10,000 paying double the regular ticket price saw Big Daddy down Quinn, who was accompanied by Haystacks, in 102 seconds. It set Britain’s wrestling indoor attendance record.

The feud between Daddy and Quinn continued. At the 1979 Cup Final show, Quinn defeated Wayne Bridges via blood stoppage to win Joint’s World Heavyweight title. Daddy attacked Quinn after the match, setting up a rematch between the two at Wembley on June 11th, 1980. The rematch ended up being a tag and for whatever reason went untelevised. Daddy teamed with Bridges against Quinn and Masa Fuji, with the faces going over. A single rematch between Daddy and Quinn never materialized when Quinn left with the Heavyweight title to join rival All-Star Wrestling.

The biggest match of Daddy’s career, though, took place at Wembley on June 18th, 1981 and aired two days later on ITV. Giant Haystacks was his opponent. Haystacks, real name Martin Ruane, was born in Camberwell Green, London, in 1946 to Irish parents. He grew up in Manchester and as an adult worked in highway construction and as a bouncer before someone suggested he try wrestling. He was billed at 6’11” and announced as the “40 stone monster”, and claimed he ate three pounds of bacon and a dozen eggs each morning. He would later wrestle as Loch Ness in WCW in 1995, and died of cancer in December 1988 at the age of 52.

Their feud had started in 1977. On September 3rd of that year, ITV wrestling held another heavyweight knockout tournament. Big Daddy beat Rex Strong and Giant Haystacks beat Tony St Clair in the semi-finals. In the finals, Daddy beat Haystacks by count out when the latter walked out of the ring, refusing to wrestle. On November 5th, 1977, they wrestled their first ITV match, which went to a no-contest. On the Christmas Eve show, Daddy teamed with Tony St Clair to defeat Haystacks and Baron Donovan.

In front of another sellout of 10,000, Big Daddy defeated Giant Haystacks in a knockout only match in 2:50. It was the last appearance of Joint Promotions at Wembley and probably the peak of British wrestling.

Singles bouts were actually a rarity for Daddy. When they did happen, they were short. “Eight minutes, in and out. You don’t want to see Shirley spend 15 minutes putting on a leglock,” said Max. Singles bouts were more frequent early in his career, but as the 1980s wore down, he would be featured almost exclusively in tag matches. The formula was that he would be paired with a smaller and better worker who would wrestle most of the match, before making the hot tag to Daddy. Many future stars spent the early part of their careers as Big Daddy’s little partner, including Tom Billington, who dislikes Crabtree something fierce, having nothing but negative things to say about him in his autobiography “Pure Dynamite”.

Other notable matches during Daddy’s career include an April 15th, 1978 ITV six-man tag teaming with Kung Fu and Kid Chocolate against Mick McManus, Tony Walsh, and Pete Kaye. Daddy’s team won in what seems likely to be the first meeting between Daddy and McManus, or at least the first that was televised. He wrestled McManus on ITV again in 1979, teaming with Young David to beat McManus and Steve Logan.

He also frequently faced Rollerball Mark Rocco in tag matches, with Rocco usually teaming with fatter partners such as Quinn and Haystacks. Daddy also teamed with future World Class star Chris Adams frequently throughout 1980. In 1981 he teamed with Sammy Lee, who was Satoru Sayama doing a racist martial arts gimmick. In 1983 he teamed with Johnny Smith, who years later would partner with Tom Billington as the British Bruisers after Billington left WWF. Also, in 1987 and 1988, late in the ITV run, he teamed with another Hall of Fame nominee in Marty Jones against a variety of different opponents.

In the mid-80s, Daddy’s popularity began to severely wane. In 1985, Daddy’s frequent opponent Tony Walsh was interviewed for a series of articles by The Sun, a British tabloid. Walsh was upset with the Crabtrees, allegedly feeling he was disrespected after the death of his sister in a car crash, and revealed to The Sun that wrestling was fixed. Although fans in Britain had to know wrestling was worked, the tabloid articles painted Daddy and the ITV show in a bad light.

British wrestling was struck another blow on August 24th, 1987 when Daddy’s longtime opponent Malcolm Kirk died of a heart attack during a match with Daddy at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth. Daddy splashed down on him, and then, realizing something was wrong, called medics to the ring. They attempted to resuscitate King to no avail. It took eight men to carry him to the ambulance. A post-mortem revealed Kirk had died of a heart attack.

Public interest in the incident was high enough that the Great Yarmouth Deputy Coroner held a public inquest. The inquest revealed that King had a serious heart condition that could have killed him at anytime, and that Kirk had suffered six small heart attacks that he was possibly unaware of in the four to right weeks before his death. There was subsequent debate on whether wrestlers over the age of fifty should be allowed in the ring.

Kirk left behind a wife and two kids. Daddy received more negative press when Ilona, Kirk’s wife, said that “Big Daddy is using my husband’s death for publicity stunts.” Daddy wrestled the night after the death, claiming that’s what Kirk would have wanted him to do. He also claimed that Kirk’s last words were, “Come on you bastard Daddy. Let’s see what you can do.”

The Daddy gimmick had also grown stale, as he had dominated the British wrestling scene, almost never losing since 1975. It was sort of like The Sheik in Detroit, except where The Sheik was a heel, Daddy was a face. But they both rarely lost over many years, and eventually they defeated all of their opponents so soundly and the promotion failed to make any new stars that there weren’t any feuds left that could draw money. Joint Promotions lost their exclusive contract for wrestling on ITV in ’86 and WWF wrestling started airing in Britain shortly thereafter.

Daddy’s final appearance on ITV was billed as his farewell match. It aired on November 11th, 1988, and he teamed with Tom Thumb and Kashmir Singh against Bulldog Brown, John Wilkie, and Sid Cooper. The final episode of Joint wrestling aired on ITV on December 17th, 1988.

“It is difficult to know which was the more significant happening in the world of television last week — the arrival of Sir William Rees-Mogg or the departure of Big Daddy,” wrote the Observer after it was announced that ITV had canceled Joint Promotions wrestling. In a situation that would mirror Jamie Kellner and WCW thirteen years later, a new executive named Greg Dyke took control of ITV and decided wrestling had the wrong image for the station. ITV scrapped wrestling in favour of airing old movies. Dyke would later go on to become the Director-General of the BBC.

“The scene had become stale long before Greg Dyke took it off,” said Nagasaki.

Crabtree wrestled his final match on December 29th, 1993, teaming with Tony Stewart against the Undertakers (not Mark Callaway and Brian Lee, just in case you were wondering, which you probably weren’t). He suffered a stroke and died December 2nd, 1997 in Blackpool. He had suffered a previous stroke in 1993 that caused minor paralysis and left Shirley with a limp, forcing him into retirement. The Guardian wrote, “He was an entertainer from another age, a hefty symbol of gaudy glamour and simple pleasures.”

But is he a Hall of Famer? In the September 11th, 2012, issue of the Wrestling Observer, Dave Meltzer wrote, “[The Hall of Fame is] supposed to be based on long-time drawing power, working ability and historical importance, everyone has their own idea of what those are, and own ideas of who should be in.”

Did Crabtree have long-term drawing power? He was a star in Britain from 1975 until 1988, with the peak years roughly being 75-81. He drew big money at Wembley, and apparently drew TV ratings ITV, although I haven’t seen anything about ITV television ratings to be sure of that. The best person to compare Daddy’s drawing power with would be Mick McManus. McManus was a draw for decades, much longer than Daddy. He also drew on TV and at Wembley. Daddy seems to be a bigger name in the mainstream now, if only because he was popular when today’s adults were growing up. But, in terms of national drawing power, Daddy had it for quite a few years. His drawing power in Britain is probably the strongest argument for him to be in the Hall.

His working ability is non-existent. I’ve watched a ton of his matches on YouTube. He was terrible, something else entirely. His best matches would likely be graded as DUDs. I have no idea if he was a better worker in the ’50s and ’60s before he was a star because I can’t find any of those matches, and they probably no longer exist on video. History says that he was less fat back then, so logically he should have been more athletic, but that doesn’t mean much. If Daddy gets into the Hall, he’ll be one of the worst workers ever voted in, if not the worst. Even if Mean Gene gets into the Hall this year, Gene might still be considered a better worker.

In terms of historical importance, he was incredibly important for British wrestling. Wrestling was dying in the mid-70s when the Crabtrees reinvigorated it with the Daddy gimmick. They killed it in 1988 when it was taken off of ITV, and it never recovered. If not for Daddy, British wrestling may have died out in the ’70s. Likewise, if not for Daddy, it may have survived the ’80s, although with the global expansion of the WWF, that probably wasn’t the case as British wrestling was essentially another territory, even if it was on the other side of the Atlantic, and died the same as any other territory.

The case of the Crabtrees killing British wrestling is similar to Eric Bischoff and WCW, in that Bischoff made WCW popular when it wasn’t, and then made it so unwatchable that it got canceled from television, killing it. That is more or less what happened with Big Daddy and Joint Promotions. Thus, Daddy had both a tremendous positive and negative effect on wrestling in Britain, and he has great historical importance in that country.

So, he drew money, is historically important, but was an awful worker. As far as I see it, you ought to vote for Daddy if you’re willing to overlook his workrate and feel that his contributions as a drawing card and historical figure in British wrestling are great enough to rival the drawing power and historical importance of wrestlers from countries like the US, Japan, and Mexico, among others. I know Dave believes one of the strengths of the Observer Hall is its international scope. The United Kingdom currently has a population of 63.18 million people and is one of the most important countries on the planet, historically and economically. It would be difficult to claim the Observer Hall is truly international if a major figure from such an important country doesn’t get the recognition from voters that he deserves. But that’s up to the voters.


There’s been a lot written about Daddy over the years. Here’s what I researched and where you can read more:

John Lister has a great web site at http://www.johnlisterwriting.com/itvwrestling/. Lister is a frequent contributor to the Observer. He also has articles at http://houseofdeception.com/British_Wrestling_History.html and http://www.fightingspiritmagazine.co.uk/art/features/20/greetings-grapple-fans-big-daddy that are worth reading.

Also, he has an ebook about British wrestling history titled “Greetings Grapple Fans” available at http://www.amazon.com/Greetings-Grapple-Fans-ebook/dp/B007HOQVUA. I haven’t read it, but it looks good.

Two other notable books on British wrestling are “Who’s the Daddy” by Ryan Danes (with help from Crabtree’s daughter), a biography of Big Daddy available at http://www.amazon.com/Whos-The-Daddy-Biography-Big/dp/1909178608. Also, “The Wrestling”, published in 1996 by Simon Garfield, available at http://www.amazon.ca/Wrestling-Simon-Garfield/dp/0571236766.

Steve Wareing has a bio of Big Daddy in the archives of the Observer site at http://www.f4wonline.com/component/content/article/80-features-and-tv-reviews/6948-steve-wareing-with-a-historical-look-at-big-daddy-shirley-crabtree-members-only. He has a follow-up to that article at http://www.f4wonline.com/component/content/article/7143/.

And finally, I have dozens of newspapers clippings about Daddy, McManus, Nagasaki, and British wrestling in general archived in a zip file available for download at http://www.mediafire.com/?04hoxi1j9jduupt.

Probably the most enjoyable aspect of the Observer Hall of Fame is the discussion created each year by the ballot. It’s also an excuse to go back and watch some old pro wrestling that I probably wouldn’t have much of a reason to watch otherwise. I mean, if not for the Hall of Fame, I definitely wouldn’t have spent this past Sunday watching old Volk Han matches. The Hall gives me the excuse to flesh out my knowledge of wrestling history and to watch enjoyable old wrestling, which are things I enjoy doing, but usually procrastinate on.

Volk Han, real name Magomedkhan Amanulayevich Gamzatkhanov (and yeah, that’s copypasta from Wikipedia), was the biggest foreign star for Akira Maeda’s Fighting Network Rings promotion (“RINGS”), a promotion he was basically exclusive to for his entire pro wrestling career. He is often referenced as the best worker in the history of shoot-style pro wrestling and became a cult favourite among Japanese fans of that style, even headlining as the promotion’s top star for a brief run when Maeda was out for knee surgery in ’93. He was Maeda’s most celebrated opponent, and was used as an opponent to build the names of Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, and Kiyoshi Tamura. After Maeda retired in 1999, RINGS essentially became an MMA promotion and Han, long past his athletic prime, put up a respectable legit MMA record, including going to a decision loss against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2001, back when Big Nog was the best heavyweight on the planet before Han’s protegé Fedor Emelianenko captured that place.

Born April 15th, 1961, in the former Soviet Union, Gamzatkhanov’s stage name of Volk Han was a rough translation of the term “Wolf Khan”, Khan being his nickname, a shortened version of his first name Magomedkhan. He was born in Tula, a town roughly a hundred miles south of Moscow. He began training in freestyle wrestling in 1979 and sambo in 1981. He was a three-time Russian National Sambo Champion in 1987, 1988, and 1989, after winning gold in openweight at the 1985 National USSR Sambo Championships. He wrestled both worked and shoot matches (mostly worked) for RINGS from 1991 to 2002, returning in 2012 for a retirement match against Masakatsu Funaki. He’s on the Observer Hall of Fame ballot, but with the newly introduced fifteen year rule (more on that later), he is in danger of being removed if he doesn’t receive at least fifty percent of the vote. Last year he received 42%, the same number he received in 2012. The new fifty-percent rule may indeed push him above fifty. Now is certainly the time to reevaluate his career.

Volk’s wrestling history is essentially the history of RINGS itself, and Maeda to a lesser extent. To understand RINGS, one needs to understand the career of Maeda and the Japanese wrestling scene in the early nineties. RINGS was one of a handful of shoot-style promotions with fleeting popularity in Japan during the nineties. Shoot-style was a type of stiff wrestling that, while still a work, featured only moves that people thought at the time would actually work in a real fight. Before the creation of Pancrase in 1993, shoot-style wrestling was what Japanese fans thought actual mixed fights would look like in a sport setting.

RINGS was created by Maeda, the promotion’s star, as a spin-off of the UWF. Briefly, UWF existed in two incarnations, the first being in 1984 when a group of wrestlers, including Maeda, left New Japan to form a new promotion headed by former NJ executive Hisashi Shinma. The company started as a traditional style wrestling promotion, before after a few months becoming the first to promote shoot-style wrestling. That promotion was popular in Tokyo, not very popular elsewhere, and didn’t last long. Maeda and company returned to New Japan to set up feuds with the wrestlers who didn’t leave. The biggest effect this had been to introduce complex submissions holds and faster, stiffer kicking into mainstream wrestling culture in Japan.

Maeda, who probably didn’t enjoy being back with New Japan, was all sorts of trouble. One famous incident was the match featuring Maeda with Andre the Giant that devolved into a shoot. It isn’t really worth getting into, but if you don’t already know about it, the YouTube video of the match is one of the first results that pops when you Google Maeda’s name. Maeda’s obvious big opponent would have been Antonio Inoki, but they had issues, and Maeda wasn’t willing to job. Maeda ended up being fired for kicking Riki Choshu (another guy Maeda had issues with) hard in the face in a tag match (another story not really worth getting into, and something you can also find on YouTube). He left New Japan, got financing and reopened UWF in 1988.

The 1988 version of UWF was more widely successful than the original incarnation, with Maeda and his long-time friend Nobuhiko Takada as stars. Maeda was probably the hottest commodity in Japanese wrestling at the time. The promotion’s popularity peaked with a Tokyo Dome show on November 29th, 1989, drawing 50,000 fans paying $2,900,000 to see Maeda beat former Olympic judo medalist Willie Willhelm by submission in the main event. The success was quick, though, and there were internal problems. The promotion folded after running its last show in December 1990.

UWF splintered into three groups. First was UWFI, which featured Nobuhiko Takada as its top star and became hot in the mid-nineties and had a great run that culminated with the promotion folding and Takada returning to New Japan for a series of Dome shows against NJ’s top stars. Second was Fujiwara-Gumi (also called PWFG) with former NJ jobber and legit shooter Yoshiaki Fujiwara as top star. Fujiwara was older and less popular than either Takada or Maeda, and Fujiwara-Gumi didn’t last long as a shoot-style promotion and its main legacy is to have Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, and Ken Wayne Shamrock leave and form Pancrase (which ironically was the first shoot-style promotion that actually featured shoots as a style, and ended up assisting in killing shoot-style). Third was Maeda’s RINGS.

RINGS ran its first major show on May 11th, 1991. The promotion featured almost all worked matches, although there were a few real shoots on the undercard, sometimes under a format of catch wrestling rules and sometimes as kickboxing fights (K-1 would spin out of RINGS, with K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii having worked in the RINGS’s front office and early K-1 star Masaaki Satake having competed in RINGS). But most of the matches were worked, and certainly all the main events were. At the time, the promotion being a work didn’t matter because fans in Japan didn’t know any better, and thought Maeda and his promotion was the real thing.

What helped foster the illusion of reality was that Maeda built his promotion using mostly guys with no pro wrestling experience whatsoever, bringing in kickboxers, karateka, and Soviet sambo and wrestling specialists. Some of these guys were familiar names with the Japanese audience; others were fresh. Volk Han was one of the freshest, debuting in RINGS in a losing effort against Maeda on December 7th, 1991, in the show’s headline at Ariake Coliseum.

It was a great match, with Maeda consistently coming from behind, needing to use rope escapes to break out of Volk’s creative leglocks and kneebars. Maeda ended up submitting Han with an ankle lock in 12:16, but the loss helped make Han a star. Even though Han had no pro wrestling experience, he displayed natural timing and athletic charisma. He had similar ring presence to Fedor Emelianenko, the kind-of no-nonsense ex-Soviet athlete whose early life probably sucked and now just really enjoys putting leglocks on Japanese people, if he really enjoys anything at all. Han returned to RINGS for a win over pudgy Gennadi Gigant on March 5th, 1992, before rematching with Maeda on April 3rd, 1992 in Hiroshima. Maeda, looking to create a new star and a frequent opponent, put Han over, tapping out to a kneebar in 17:28. It was one of Maeda’s few losses in RINGS, in that Maeda was like Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan, or Bruno Sammartino in that he rarely ever lost, let alone put someone over. Han’s career in RINGS was set.

He became the promotion’s top foreign star, and probably its number two star overall until Maeda retired and attempted to make Kiyoshi Tamura into the new main attraction. In the first couple of years that the promotion existed, it was the hottest new thing, at least until Pancrase came along in late 1993. WOWOW, a cable station like HBO in the United States, paid something like $200,000 per show to broadcast RINGS events. In late 1991, a group of five-hundred Japanese fans were asked to vote for the biggest match ever that would draw the largest possible crowd, and they chose Jumbo Tsuruta against Maeda. The promotion often sold out at Yokohama Arena, Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, and Furitsu Gym in Osaka, among other locations, with ringside tickets at $160 (expensive) and long souvenir lines peopled by many Japanese fans who weren’t watching the more traditional forms of pro wrestling promoted by New Japan and All Japan (which had their own fanbase, although the two fanbases obviously crossed over). During this time, a fan ballot in Weekly Pro Wrestling put Han as the third most popular gaijin wrestler in Japan behind Stan Hansen and Gary Albright.

After the return match with Maeda in April (the first of many the two would have), Han had a number of classic matches through 1992. He put Andrei Kopilov over on July 16th in Osaka. Kopilov was probably the second best foreign worker in RINGS during its glory period. He beat Dick-Leon Vrij, a Dutch fighter with a look and charisma similar to an early Mirko Cro Cop, on August 21st in front of 14,700 in Yokohama. He had his next match with Maeda on October 29th in Nagoya in the first round of the company’s first annual Mega Battle Tournament, which was their biggest event each year until Maeda retired. He lost to Maeda in front of 8,100 fans. In total through 1992, Han did eight matches, losing only two.

In some ways, 1993 was probably the peak of Han’s career and his popularity. Maeda underwent reconstructive surgery on a bad knee in March, which kept him out of the lineup for most of the year (the knee injury would also greatly shorten Maeda’s career). That put the company’s only native star on the sidelines for a long period. Han ended up headlining most of the shows where Maeda was missing. He headlined a sold-out Memorial Park Arena in Amagasaki on March 5th, 1993, beating Andrei Kopilov in front of 4,870, who in all fairness probably bought their tickets before it was public knowledge that Maeda wouldn’t be performing.

Han, however, continued to headline without Maeda, becoming a draw as interest in his creative wrestling style was peaking. He beat Mitsuya Nagai on April 24th, 1993, in front of a packed 4,760 at Bunka Gym in Yokohama, a smaller venue than the Yokohama Arena that RINGS would normally run in that city when Maeda was on the card. He didn’t sellout Ariake Coliseum, though, on May 29th, drawing only 8,700 to watch him defeat former karate star Willie Williams in an arena that held a 12,000-person capacity. But he returned on July 13th, packing Furitsu Gym in Osaka with 6,380 people to see him lose in an upset to Vrij. He then drew the biggest crowd in RINGS history for a card headlined by two non-Japanese fighters when he beat Chris Dolman on August 21st, 1993, in front of 11,500 people at Yokohama Arena. Maeda returned on October 23rd, selling out the Fukuoka International Center, with 7,526 people seeing him submit Sotir Gotchev in 6:16. Han beat Masayoshi Naruse in the undercard of that show, and rounded out 1993 with a loss to Nikolai Zouev (who was being groomed for a match with Maeda) and a win over Pauel Orlov. Han headlined five shows overall in 1993, and wrestled nine times that year, again losing only twice.

RINGS started to run into problems, though. First, was the creation of Pancrase, which debuted in September 1993. It was ironic that Maeda made his name in Japan and became one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of the country based on the idea that he was real, where the other stars from New Japan and All Japan were not, because it was a promotion that actually featured real fights that started the death knell for Maeda’s promotion. Pancrase revealed to the Japanese audience what real shoots actually looked like. Once they saw that, it was easy to see that RINGS was another version of fake pro wrestling. What drew the fans to RINGS was the perception that Maeda was the real thing. Once that illusion wore off, RINGS was no longer the hot new thing in Japan, and attendance declined.

The second issue was Maeda’s health, age, and the inability to create a new star to succeed Maeda when he eventually retired. When Takada’s UWFI folded and Takada did a series of big money matches with New Japan, there was talk of Maeda returning to headline what would be perceived as interpromotional Dome shows with New Japan, and although grandstand challenges were issued by both sides, nothing ever materialized. In later years, when it was clear Maeda was getting near the end of his career, he tried to make Kiyoshi Tamura RINGS’s new top star. Tamura didn’t have the aura of legitimacy that Maeda, ironic because Tamura actually fought in shoots both within RINGS and without, and was a competent fighter. Tamura, who is also on the Hall of Fame ballot, didn’t have Maeda’s natural charisma, either. The wrestler who turned out to be a great fighter and had scores of natural charisma and was the true successor of Maeda and Takada didn’t wrestle for RINGS. He was Kazushi Sakuraba, and he became a sensation years later in Pride, beating up on fighters with the last name Gracie, including a classic ninety-minute fight with Royce. Tamura wasn’t Sakuraba and Sakuraba wasn’t in RINGS, and that became a problem years later when Maeda retired and RINGS became a shoot promotion in competition with Pride.

These problems began in 1994. Han headlined twice more that year, against Maeda on June 18th in front of a low 9,130 at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo in a losing effort, and on October 22nd in front of 5,680 at the Fukuoka International Center in a loss against Kopilov. Han competed thirteen times that year for RINGS, losing three (the other loss was to Zouev in a rematch of their first bout, this time at Korakuen Hall). one of those matches was also RINGS’s first event outside of Japan, held in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in front of a sellout 7,000 fans. RINGS would later return for many successful shows in Russia, as well as elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe. In Japan, however, RINGS was unable to sellout Budokan Hall for the finals of the Mega Battle Tournament on January 18th, drawing only 11,036 fans, for a show headlined by Maeda winning the tournament by beating Bitarze Tariel of Georgia in the finals. Throughout the year, a somewhat desperate Maeda would issue grandstand challenges to UWFI and Pancrase, which were either ignored or brushed off. A March 19th show at Yokohama Arena headlined by Maeda versus Kopilov drew only 8,156 for a main event that two years earlier drew 14,700 in the same building. Even more desparately, on July 14th in Osaka, Maeda reenacted his famous shoot kick on Choshu by doing an angle with a similar kick against Leon-Vrij during a pull-apart between the two (reminiscent of all the times WWF or WCW would reenact the Montreal Screwjob when booking became desperate).

Han more or less continued as the number two guy in the promotion through 1995. He headlined twice that year, both matches against Akira Maeda. The first was on January 5th, for the finals of the Battle Dimension Tournament, with Han going over in font of 13,526 at a packed Budokan Hall, showing that RINGS was still able to draw great houses for certain events. The second time was a rematch on September 22nd in Sapporo at the Nakajima Sports Center in front of 6,480 with Maeda going over. In 1995, Han did ten fights, losing three (one to Maeda, one to Tariel, and one in a star making effort to Yoshihisa Yamamoto).

During this time, Pancrase had expanded in popularity, although they would soon taper off when all the Lion’s Den fighters left and the promotion failed to create new stars to replace the aging Funaki and Suzuki. Strangely, Satoru Sayama, who had been one of the wrestlers in the original UWF that formed way back in 1984, was back in the picture. He had promoted Shooto shows since the late eighties, which was actually the first more-or-less MMA promotion in Japan. But no one had paid it the slightest attention until in 1995 when he brought Rickson Gracie, considered the best of the Gracie fighters, to Japan for a UFC-style vale tudo tournament. Gracie won, in the process beating Yoshihisa Yamamoto in a fight that probably both made Yamamoto’s career as he was respect for hanging in the ring for more than nineteen minutes with the perceived best real fighter in the world, but also damaged it because Yamamoto was a guy who would often do shoot fights, but wouldn’t often win, failing to garner the legitimacy needed to be a top star at that time.

Han didn’t headline any RINGS shows in 1996, a first for the promotion. He did compete eleven times, though, winning nine, with losses to Hans Nyman on January 24th in Tokyo for the annual tournament and to Nikolai Zouev on April 26th in Osaka. Depsite the lack of main events for Han, he did have a series of three classic matches with future UFC star Tsuyoshi Kohsaka on July 16th in Osaka, August 24th in Tokyo, and November 22nd in Osaka. He also had a great match with Kiyoshi Tamura on September 25th in Sapporo. Han won these bouts, which are widely considered the best matches in the promotion’s history.

In 1997, things changed a bit. Han headlined twice, once against Yoshihisa Yamamoto on August 13th in Kagoshima and the other against Kiyoshi Tamura on September 26th in Sapporo. Han, however, lost both times, as it was clearly time to start creating new native stars. Han competed eight times that year, losing four, the other two losses being to Leon-Vrij and Han’s protege Mikhail Ilioukhine, who the promotion was trying to make into a new foreign star.

Han headlined twice in 1998, both times against Maeda. First was on January 21st for the annual tournament at Budokan Hall, drawing 9,200. Second was on April 16th, Han’s last main event for the promotion, in Osaka, drawing 7,600. Han lost the first bout, but won the second. It was the last time the two would meet. Han competed nine times that year, but only won five, putting over Maeda, Kohsaka, Tariel, and Joop Kasteel.

In 1999, Han only competed four times, losing only to Grom Zaza in June before missing the rest of the year. He returned in 2000 for six matches, half of those taking place in Eastern Europe. He won all six. In 2001, he competed five times, losing once to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria in a legit MMA fight, and going to a draw with Yoshiaki Fujiwara in a sort-of dream match between two legends of shoot-style who had never faced one another. The latter was, of course, a worked match. His last match was a worked bout in 2002, going over Andrei Kopilov. Han returned to Japan for a retirement match in December 2012, facing Masakatsu Funaki in another shoot-style dream match for Maeda’s current incarnation of RINGS. Aged, paunchy, and out of practice, the two had a sloppy match that went to a draw.

Many of Han’s matches late in his career were legit shoots, the most notable being the loss to Big Nog. Han was forty years old during the Nogueria fight, but was able to hold Nogueira back to winning only a decision when Nog submitted everyone else he fought in the King of Kings tournament en route to winning it. King of Kings was RINGS’s version of the Pride Grand Prix, and was held as a replacement for the Battle Series tournaments that the promotion held at the end of every year.

The real end for RINGS came with two shows in 1998 and 1999. By that point, Maeda was only a name, his body shot and his aura of legitimacy faded. He did a retirement match against Yoshihisa Yamamoto on July 20th, 1998, drawing what ended up being the biggest crowd in the history of the promotion at 17,800 in Yokohama Arena. It wasn’t Maeda’s last bout, though, as he returned for a dream match against the greatest Soviet foreign star in Alexander Karelin. Karelin had won gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympic, and won a silver medal after his match with Maeda at the 2000 Olympics. The match received widespread international coverage, and Karelin defeated Maeda by decision in front of 17,048 at Yokohama Arena for a gate of $2,479,000, which was probably by far the biggest gate in the promotion. It was a dream match and was Maeda cashing in his chips for a last big pay before retiring. RINGS and Maeda himself vanished from Japanese pop culture for the most part after the promotion folded in 2002, unable to compete with Pride and K-1 in drawing money promoting legit shoots. Maeda since, of course, has brought RINGS back in recent years, doing small shows in Japan featuring a mix of worked and shoot matches.

So, that was RINGS. But the question that we, of course, are interested in is whether Volk Han belongs in the Observer Hall of Fame.

To decide that, we need to look at the qualifications for entrance into the Hall: “The criteria for the Hall of Fame is a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in ones field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive way. A candidate should either have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so outstanding in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion.”

So, we’re looking at three possible aspects at most: drawing power, in-ring performance, and positive historical significance. In order to earn a vote, Han would thus need to be strong to some degree in all three, or exceptional in one or two of these categories. Let’s look at each one-by-one.

Drawing Power

Han drew money for RINGS, but not for a long period. He was the company’s number two star during its glory period, and was the top star in 1993 when Maeda was out of action for knee surgery. Han headlined three out of the ten largest RINGS crowds. But it wasn’t like RINGS was headlining the Tokyo Dome with Volk Han matches. The largest crowd Han ever draw in a headline match was 13,526 to Budokan Hall to see him wrestle Maeda in the finals of the Mega Battle Tournament on January 25th, 1994. That is a pretty small crowd compared to many other Hall of Famers.

I put forth that Han had some drawing power in a promotion that had a brief hot spell that lasted a couple of years, and was a steady main event attraction in that promotion for years after it cooled off. We shouldn’t totally dismiss his drawing power, but he certainly shouldn’t get a vote based on that alone. I think there are plenty of wrestlers who drew more money than Volk Han that will never get into the Hall of Fame, so Han needs something else in his favour.

Positive Historical Significance

I’m looking at this second because I want to talk about Han’s in-ring performance last. I’m not even sure if Han had any historical significance at all, let alone positive. Probably the most influential thing he did in wrestling was being an early associate of Fedor Emelianenko. It’s not like Han influenced a new generation of shoot-style performers who are now headlining major pay per views for a popular shoot-style promotion. The style is all but dead. His biggest influence actually in the ring would be as Maeda’s top opponent during a hot part of Maeda’s career, and Maeda is a Hall of Famer. Other than that, I don’t see wrestling history being all that different without Han. In fact, if Han never existed, the history of shooting in Japan would probably be the same.

In-Ring Performance

If Han is going to be voted in, it has to be based on his in-ring performance, because neither his drawing power nor his historical significance are strong enough to call for inclusion in the Hall. This is where arguments for or against Han get dicey. Han is probably the best worker in the history of shoot-style wrestling. He’s not the biggest draw, or the most charismatic, or the most historically significant performer in shoot-style history, but many aficionados of that style of wrestling peg him as the best performer.

The problem with being the best performer of a dead art is that it is a dead art because almost no one cares anymore. Should someone get into a music Hall of Fame for being the best at playing an obscure and unpopular musical instrument? And not even the most popular, just the best among people who understand that instrument.

Also, another flaw is that Han may not even be considered the best performer. He is widely considered the best, but it is a matter of taste and personal preference. Other foreigners that were good at working that style were Andrei Kopilov, Gary Albright, and Big Van Vader. Vader is in the Hall of Fame, but his work in UWFI is only a part of a long career. Neither Kopilov nor Albright are in consideration for the Hall. Was Han so much better as a performer than his counterparts in shoot-style that he deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame when many of those counterparts do not?

I think Han is a Hall of Famer if you feel that his in-ring performance in shoot-style was so magnificent compared to others who practiced that style (including others who practiced it very well) and that shoot-style’s lack of longevity as a style of wrestling is a non-factor in considering the quality of Han’s performance. Those two questions are what his inclusion boils down to. I think probably the most similar performers in the Hall of Fame are all the Japanese women’s wrestlers. They aren’t similar in style, but similar to Han in that they were the best in performing a style of wrestling that really no longer exists at a major level. But most of those women were bigger draws than Han, had longer careers, did more matches, and wrestled in a style that had way more longevity, and performed about equal in their respective style in comparison to Han.


I don’t think Han is a Hall of Famer. I think the only Hall of Famer that was a regular performer for RINGS is Maeda. Many proponents of Han in the Hall will argue that one needs to watch Han, and that if more people actually saw his matches, he would receive more votes. I disagree. I’ve seen his great matches. He was an outstanding performer, but for the reasons outlined above his workrate simply isn’t enough to earn a vote, in my humble opinion.

Han has the misfortune of timing. He might be a shoe-in candidate in a different era, either as a pro wrestler or mixed martial artist, although he might not have even been in pro wrestling or mixed martial arts in a different era.

Now, about the new fifty-percent rule, that changes things a bit. Without that rule, I wouldn’t vote for Han. With the new rule, Han has been so close the last couple of years to the fifty percent he needs this year to stay on that I would hate for him to be dropped from the ballot completely. It’s possible, however unlikely, that contemporary opinion about shoot-style will positively change, and Han’s contributions to the history of wrestling will become more favourable, even Hall of Fame worthy in a way we cannot foresee today. Anything is possible. The problem with the new rule is that I would like to vote for Han to keep him on the ballot because he deserves consideration. On the other hand, maybe he has had enough consideration. If he isn’t in the Hall by now, perhaps he shouldn’t be.

When I vote, I’m going to vote as if the fifty-percent rule does not exist. If my votes contribute to someone being dropped off the ballot because I did not vote for him, that’s fine, because if I didn’t vote for him then I didn’t think he should be in the Hall anyway, so being dropped off the ballot makes sense.

I won’t be voting for Volk Han, although his matches are certainly fascinating to watch, if you have a taste for them.

Jeremy Wall is the author of UFC’s Ultimate Warriors: The Top 10. He blogs about wrestling and MMA at awkwardsuplex.com. He can be contacted at jeremydalew at gmail dot com.

Note: I originally published this post on March 24th, 2014 as I planned on relaunching my web site as a blog focusing on MMA. I didn’t do much writing after that. Now that I have changed the blog and decided to focus on both MMA and pro wrestling (and sometimes) boxing, I figured I would update this post. It’s essentially my mission statement (or perhaps my creed) as a wrestling writer.

If you’ve visited this blog over the past few months, you’ll notice that the site has recently undergone another overhaul. I sat down at the computer tonight to attempt to write a heartfelt article explaining why I had decided to change formats for MMA Chronicle, converting it from a news site to a blog covering MMA and then subsequently to a blog covering pro wrestling with the new title Awkward Suplex, especially so soon after it relaunched in 2013. I realized that the format change is really about me personally and what my goals are in writing about mixed martial arts and pro wrestling.

I write about wrestling because I enjoy it. I enjoy watching it, but I might even enjoy analyzing it, dissecting it, writing about it even more. I had stopped writing about this stuff for a few years because it stopped being fun. In 2005, I published UFC’s Ultimate Warriors: The Top 10 through ECW Press of Canada, a publisher that frequently dabbles in books about pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. Up until mid 2006 I was covering MMA professionally for MaxFighting.com (which I guess is long dead now). That site was originally owned by Bruce Buffer, but he sold it to mma.tv. I left after they changed the site in ways that I thought sucked.

At that point I decided to quit writing MMA altogether. It stopped being fun. I was actually making money at it at that point and my book was moderately successful for what it was. I definitely had no problem getting paid to watch UFC or Pride or whatever, because I would have done it for free anyway. Well, up to a point. When it started to feel like work, I didn’t want anything to do with it and I quit in 2006, when the sport was probably at the height of its popularity. Probably not the best idea for my so-called MMA writing career, but at least I can never be accused of being a bandwagon jumper since I jumped off when everybody else was jumping on.

And then I jumped back on in 2013. I’m not sure why I started writing again. I always intended to at some point even if I was insisting I didn’t. It just had been so many years. I had thought about returning off and on for ages, although I had considered writing about pro wrestling exclusively, or doing a mix of wrestling and MMA, the latter of which I finally settled on after experimenting with a variety of site formats. To me, pro wrestling and mixed martial arts are the same thing. Yes, one is staged and the other is (mostly) real. But these guys wrestle for a living. They get paid to wrestle. They are pro wrestlers. To paraphrase the late, great George Carlin, let’s all use the language we’ve agreed upon here.

But I decided to write MMA again, and then I decided to write wrestling again, too. Best to stick to what you know, see. It’s weird, too, because I feel that after years of covering it, writing about it, studying it, developing a network of contacts in the sport and its industry, I had a lot to offer, even though I hadn’t bothered to offer anything in a long time. I know MMA’s history better than all but a handful of people, mainly because I’ve been so close to the sport during many of its crucial moments. And writing a book about the history of UFC fighters certainly helps with the history stuff. I know the business, because I was always interested in its industry. I know the sport because, well, I’m a fan. And I know pro wrestling because I’ve studied it closely since I was a small child.

I’m a student. I enjoy studying combat sports. When I used to write for Maxfighting, I would get hate email from people accusing me of just being some guy behind a computer and that I have no clue what I’m talking about and thus no one should pay attention to me. You know what the difference is, the real difference? A fan is someone who watches a few pay per views, if that, or scopes out UFC or Bellator fights on TV, or watches Raw maybe if The Rock shows up or something. They know the stars. They know the names of some of the submission holds. But they’re just fans. These fans would become fans of something else if UFC or WWE fell off the face of the Earth tomorrow. After all, what were all these MMA fans watching back when no one was watching UFC before The Ultimate Fighter debuted?

I’m a fan. And no shit, I am just a guy behind a computer. But I’m also a student, and that’s the difference. I’m interested in the business and feel that someone cannot possibly understand the decisions that promoters make without understanding how the business operates. And I study history. I believe that it is impossible to understand why something is happening if you don’t know what happened before. If you understand the history of a topic, you can make up your own mind about what is happening now. If you know the history of the combat sports and its industries, you can make up your own mind about what is going on now, be it TRT, or international expansion of UFC, or digital distribution of WWE, or whatever. George Orwell was right when he said who controls the past controls the future. But you can’t control the past if you don’t understand. And I’m not even interested in control; just knowledge.

I’m not an expert. I’m a student. There have been times where I’ve written something I thought was excellent and I knew for a fact that practically no one read it. It didn’t matter. I don’t write about this for you. I write about this for me. If I cared about money, or popularity, or ego, I would have sent my resume to all the millions of different MMA news web sites that suddenly popped up back in 2006. That’s almost nothing to me.

What I care about is my personal joy. I care about the satisfaction I get from studying something I like. Satisfying the reader doesn’t do a lot for me if it doesn’t satisfy me first, that is, unless, you want to paypal me some cash.

So, the site’s format change: I hate writing news and I want to write about both wrestling and MMA. There’s that awful veneer of journalism when it comes to news writing where I’m not quite saying what I want to say while I’m reporting on whatever topic. I’m even not quite saying what I want to say now, just hoping you’ll fill in the blanks and catch my meaning. But when it comes to simply reporting on the news, I rarely get a chance to break through the veneer and say what I’m truly thinking. Plus, there are like a hundred million MMA news sites; only about two or three of them are any good. I don’t need to throw another corpse into that pile of rubbish.

A blog is perfect. It’s a mouthpiece, a platform, a soapbox. I get to enjoy what I write and write what I enjoy. That is it. I hated writing a news site, but I love to write about MMA and I love to write about pro wrestling. My preference is, and always will be, to write in print, because I think my style of writing is easier to read on the printed page than on a computer screen. Maybe our culture is rapidly coming to the point where no one will read on paper at all. The trees will thank us, but there’s a certain quality of writing in print that doesn’t exist online. I don’t know if Orwell would have figured out who controls the past controls the future if he had published 1984 as an ebook. And could you imagine reading Tolstoy on a laptop? Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I hope you’re filling in the blanks and catching my meaning.

Anyway, this blog certainly isn’t Orwell or Tolstoy. It isn’t a news site or a print publication. It’s a blog. My blog. I’ve written about MMA and wrestling for many, many years. Not as long as some, but longer than most. My goal is to write about its industry and history, and whatever else I fancy. I have a firm grasp on what wrestling is and what it ought to be. If you’re interested in what that is, you’re interested in reading my site. And if not, exit through the gift shop.

Originally posted at http://www.f4wonline.com/more/more-top-stories/99-other-mma/38709-a-look-back-in-history-the-beginning-of-an-era-the-debut-of-k-1.

Going back and watching the first K-1 even in 1993 is like stepping into a time warp. K-1 was founded in 1993 by Kazuyoshi Ishii. Ishii began training in kyokushin karate as a teenager in the late sixties. He opened his own dojo in 1975 in Osaka and founded seidokaikan karate in 1980, a new variation on kyokushin karate. I have no idea of the specific differences between kyokushin and seidokaikan karate, particularly in the early eighties when Ishii founded the new discipline. He began promoting full-contact karate shows on television shortly thereafter.

He worked in the front office for RINGS during the early nineties, back when RINGS was promoting nearly all worked matches. Ishii combined his experience promoting televised kickboxing in the eighties with what he learned about storylines and building stars working in pro wrestling in the nineties to form K-1 in 1993, with the idea that it would be kickboxing based on colourful personalities and storylines like one would see in Japanese wrestling at the time. The name came from the combination of all the different martial arts with “k” names (karate, taekwondo, kickboxing, etc) into one set of rules.

For years, K-1 was the most popular combat sports promotion in Japan. They did massive numbers on television, peaking with the Bob Sapp-Akebono fight on New Year’s Eve 2003, which was watched by 54 million people (42.5 rating). Later K-1 fights also drew massive television ratings, for Masato Kobayashi vs Norifumi Yamamato in 2003 (31.6 rating), Bob Sapp vs Jerome LeBanner on New Year’s Eve 2004 (28.6 rating), Bobby Ologun (a popular comedian in Japan) vs Cyril Abidi in 2004 (28.1 rating), Bobby Ologun vs Akebono in 2005 (28.5 rating), Kazushi Sakuraba vs Yoshihiro Akiyama under MMA rules in 2006 (25.0 rating), and Norifumi Yamamoto vs Istavan Majoros in 2006 (25.0 rating).

After Bob Sapp exploded in popularity in 2003, K-1 drew its highest ratings for freak show matches involving Sapp, Akebono, and Ologun. They had moved away from the quality heavyweights of the nineties such as Andy Hug (who died of cancer), Peter Aerts (was fighting in Glory recently), and Ernesto Hoost (long retired). They over-saturated the market with freaks and celebrity non-fighters. A frequent story in pro wrestling, what made the promotion popular ended up killing it. Ishii’s public connection to the yakuza and his long prison sentence also didn’t help matters much, although K-1’s popularity peak came after Ishii was convicted. K-1 is still around today, but it’s under different ownership and runs mostly in Europe and parts of Asia outside of Japan, and can barely be called the same thing as what it was in its heyday.

The first K-1 event was light years away from the level of popularity that the promotion would later reach on Japanese television, though. Called Sanctuary, the first event took place March 30th, 1993, at the famed Korakuen Hall in Tokyo and had a double headline of Masaaki Satake fighting unknown Chris Brannel and Stan “The Man” Longinidis against Toshiyuki Atokawa.

The first show was a strange bag of goods, in some ways resembling early UFC and Pancrase shows, in some ways resembling RINGS worked shoot-style shows from that era, and in other ways its own distinct flavour of combat sports. Like early UFC shows, early K-1 featured a lot of fighters that probably should not have been there, being put into terrible mismatches with pros who knew what they were doing. K-1 was like UFC in that UFC combined all of the different martial arts into one, whereas K-1 combined all of the different stand-up martial arts into one. Of course, it turned out with both UFC and K-1 that certain martial arts were better than others when matched against one another under mixed rules, and that the talent level between fighters who practiced different disciplines varied wildly. This led to a very high knockout ratio during K-1’s formative years.

K-1 was also like early Pancrase in that it was a promotion venturing into unknown waters in Japan. Pancrase took the concept of using pro wrestling rules and promotional tactics and applying them to real fights. K-1 basically did the same thing, but featured only stand-up fighting. Like Pancrase, most of the K-1 matches were short, except when it came to the main events, where fighters who were stars and actually knew what they were doing were usually (but not always) matched up against one another. Like Pancrase, it was an experiment that probably should not have worked, let alone become as popular was it did. Unlike Pancrase, which never grew beyond cult popularity, K-1 became a huge sport for quite a few years in Japan. Logically, a promotion based around fights where the promoter doesn’t control the outcomes of matches or how the matches play out in general should not have become so popular. But it did.

The debut event at Korakuen Hall featured a mixing of different styles of fights. There were three fights featuring a kickboxer versus a karateka, a women’s kickboxing bout, two shoot-style pro wrestling matches, and two K-1 rules kickboxing bouts.

The big three stars on the show were Stan “The Man” Longinidis, Masaaki Satake, and Toshiyuki Atokawa. The mega stars of K-1 from later in the nineties such as Hug, Aerts, and Hoost were nowhere to be seen, although they were already stars elsewhere in the world of kickboxing. Longinidis, from Australia, held a variety of kickboxing titles fighting in Australia and the US. He had made his debut in Japan at a karate event in 1992. Satake and Atokawa were both students of Ishii’s seidokaikan karate. Satake had already headlined a number of karate events promoted by Ishii before this show and would have been a familiar star among this crowd.

I watched what I believe is the Japanese commercial video release of the event. The show opened with black and white footage of the three main stars backstage. They show some more backstage footage of some of the other fighters on the bout, including wrestler Nobuaki Kakuta, who is seen wearings a RINGS t-shirt.

Each fighter then comes down to the ring and is introduced to the crowd. A helpful graphic lists the height and weight of each fighter. Strangely, the two women are not included in the introduction. Watching the video, one can also see it is clearly 1993 based on the clothing all the guys are wearing during the introduction, except for Satake, who is wearing some kind of giant plastic, purple pancho. After the fighters are all introduced, Kazuyoshi Ishii comes to the ring and says some stuff in Japanese.

Looking at the crowd, it is full of middle-aged Japanese suit-wearing businessmen. There are a few families, but it is an older crowd, not a lot of teenagers. This is fairly different compared to the types of people K-1 would attract in Japan many years later.

They go over the rules with a graphic on the screen, but it is in Japanese, so it’s no help to me.

The first three bouts appear to be some sort of mixed rules kickboxing versus karate fighters. Be prepared, because they do not last long.

Yoshihisa Tagami (170cm, 70.4kg) vs Jyunji Kageishi (168cm, 64kg)

Tagami is in boxing trunks and Kageishi is in a gi. Everyone on the card except the guys doing pro wrestling bouts wore boxing gloves. The referee was kind of funny in that he was wearing a very nice purple dress shirt and dark slacks, like he was dressed to go to a job interview. They used the same ref for the legit kickboxing fights as they did for the worked wrestling matches.

Tagami drops Kageishi with a left high kick a few seconds in. Tagami unloads with knees and a spinning back kick and throws another knee and drops Tagami again for a standing eight count. Tagami then unloads with punches and knees and the ref stops the fight at 1:46.

Taiei Kin (179cm, 82.1 kg) vs Haruo Wada (181cm, 92.9kg)

Wada is in a gi and Kin in boxing trunks. This is another mixed rules bout. Wada has ten kilos on Kin, but this is back in the day when size meant very little because skill varied so wildly.

About twenty seconds in or so, Kin misses with a spinning back fist, but connects with a knee, knocking Wada down for an eight count. Kin then hits a spinning back kick and a high kick and knocks Wada out in 59 seconds.

Adam Watt (192cm, 86.8 kg) vs Shinjiro Aoki (183cm, 90.9kg)

This is the third fight featuring some sort of mixed rules that I don’t understand, because the rules are explained in Japanese and the fights don’t last long enough for the rules to really be applied.

Aoki is in the gi and Watt in the trunks. Watt unloads with a right high kick, and follows up with a big combo of punches that drop Aoki. Aoki was hit with a huge right uppercut and knocked out in forty seconds.

Another graphic written in Japanese appears after the last fight. I guess it is explaining the rules for the upcoming bouts, which are shoot-style pro wrestling matches.

Nobuaki Kakuda vs Yoshinori Ishi

They went to a twenty minute draw. I swear they included two worked pro wrestling bouts on the card just to pad things out, so fans got their money’s worth. Pancrase, on their first show, didn’t bother padding things out with worked matches, and that show had a total fight time of something like five minutes.

Kakuda is more famous as a referee for K-1, having worked for the promotion for years, refereeing many of their biggest fights, frequently in controversial fashion. I believe Ishi was an early trainer for future UFC fighter Caol Uno, although I might be wrong on that.

Of all the different sub-genres of pro wrestling that we’ve seen over the years, I think shoot-style wrestling has aged about the worst. After UFC came along and showed what a real mixed fight looks like, the shoot-style stuff from this era looks laughably fake. I think the stuff with major stars like Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda hold up well over time because they frequently had the big match aura, but matches featuring low level guys like Kakuda and Ishi are mainly awful.

Story of the match was that Ishi would keep taking Kakuda down with trips and try to get control his back. Slow match, but they did one sequence near the end where both were going for heel hooks at the same time that got a pop from the crowd. Kakuda made a comeback in the final minute, but time expired after fifteen minutes and it was ruled a draw.

Chizumi Yoshida vs Peko-Chan Yuri

This is the women’s kickboxing match. I don’t have the heights or weights of these two because they weren’t included in the video. I believe this was fought under K-1 rules, but they only went two rounds with no judges.

These chicks beat the fucking shit out of each other. Yoshida is the shorter of the two, but got the advantage as the fight wore on, landing lots of knees and punching combos. You can hear one of the cornermen for the women screaming instructions like crazy throughout the entire match. They went the two-round distance, and with no judges it was ruled a draw. Yoshida probably won the bout, but it doesn’t really matter. Nothing like watching two tiny Japanese women beat the snot out of each other on a twenty year old videotape.

Katsumi Usuda vs Naoyuki Taira

Usuda had a long career in RINGS and Battlarts. Taira did a bit of actual MMA in Japan and Brazil after this. This is the second shoot-style wrestling bout. It was a long match, which I think was included as filler to stretch the overall event time out, that ended at 14:30 when Usuda went for a double-leg takedown, but Taira got a choke and tapped him out.

I thought this was a little bit faster paced than the Kakuta-Ishi match from earlier, but that’s not saying much. The crowd was a bit more into it, but it is clear based on crowd reaction they were there to watch kickboxing, and not wrestling.

Stan “The Man” Longinidis (176 cm, 95kg) vs Toshiyuki Atokawa (175cm, 85kg)

The Japanese always referred to Longinidis only as “Stan the Man”, avoiding his last name. He’s even introduced as such. My guess it that the Japanese had a hard time getting their mouths around the word Longinidis. It’s also a pain in the ass to type, so I’m just referring to him as Stan.

Both guys get nice ring entrances, and Stan gets a crowd reaction as a star despite this only being his second fight in the country, even doing the splits when he comes into the ring. The crowd would react for Stan the entire fight, but every time Atokawa would land something even as small as a jab, the crowd would pop big for him. It should be noted that although both of these guys are decent fighters, Stan had a ten kilo weight advantage on Atokawa.

The fight went five rounds, with Stan knocking Atokawa out late in the fifth. Stan spent most of the fighting push forward with punching combinations, but ate a lot of blows from Atokawa, too.

The first four rounds were close. Judging in kickboxing tends to frequently be based on who landed the most amount of blows. Things weren’t so sophisticated back then that they had a running tally of strikes landed throughout the fight, so you really have to go by your eye if you are going to judge things that way. Stan probably would have won a decision if the fight had gone the distance, but it is one of those matches where the crowd is so supportive of the local favourite that if you are going to judge it fairly, you probably need to mute the volume.

The fight opened up in Stan’s favour in round five. He dropped Atokawa for an eight count with a right hand. A couple minutes later, he drops Atokawa with a big, looping left hook. It was slow as hell and Stan looked tired, but Atokawa was dazed from being dropped near the beginning of the round. Stan unloaded with combos on him and the ref stepped in and stopped it. Atokawa looked unhappy with the stoppage, but he was losing the fight.

Masaaki Satake (185cm, 94kg) vs Chris Brannel (185cm, 90kg)

I’ve seen many, many fights under a wide variety of rules over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fighter perform as cowardly as Brannel appeared here. There were some guys in the early UFC events that clearly had no business in professional fighting (ie. Joe Son, Andy Anderson, etc), but I can’t think of any examples of cowardice in the early UFC events to the level displayed by Brannel here.

I think Satake could have knocked this guy out at anytime, but stretched the fight out into the second round to give the audience a bit of a show. Brannel throw almost nothing, landed almost nothing, and had the most embarassing dodging tactics I’ve seen from a fighter. He would clinch with Satake, and hold his face away so Satake couldn’t punch him. He would even clinch with Satake in a way that looked like Brannel was going for a double-leg takedown, but was just clinching in that position so Satake couldn’t hit him in the face.

Probably the worst was when Brannel would bounce off the ropes and dodge underneath Satake’s arms to avoid being hit. He even flinched when Satake didn’t even attempt to throw a punch, dropping himself to the ground, garnering a laugh from the crowd. It was so bad that I would assume the guy was acting if not for the legit look of fear on his face.

Finally Satake ended the farce by knocking Brennel out with a straight right at 1:39 of round two. In the future they needed to find better tomato cans for Satake.

K-1 would return with their first Grand Prix tournament a month later at Yoyogi Gym in Tokyo. The first tournament was simply a one night event where the winner had to fight three times, similar to early UFC tournaments. Stan didn’t return for that show (he would return later), but Satake and Atokawa returned for the event, which featured the K-1 debuts of Maurice Smith, Peter Aerts, and Ernesto Hoost, along with eventual tournament winner Branko Cikatic, among others. The show also featured the debut of Andy Hug, K-1’s biggest star before Bob Sapp, in a non-tournament match.