So a combination of getting Tabe's Kiyoshi Tamura comp in the mail on Monday and having the flu or some shit has led to me watching a decent amount of the shoot style pro-graps this week. Bat-Bat, RINGS, UWFi, FUTEN, etc. Most of it was stuff I hadn't seen before, but I wound up watching the Daisuke Ikeda/ Yuki Ishikawa August '99 BattlArts match again for the first time in years, and I was strangely apathetic towards it. "Apathetic" is probably the wrong word, but I definitely didn't dig it like I did the last time. Maybe it's because I hadn't watched any BattlArts in ages and it felt odd in amongst all the RINGS, U-Style, etc. that I'd been watching over the last few months. I figred the best thing to do was to watch some BattlArts to get back into the swing of it. Also gave the big FUTEN tag from '09 a look. I think I'm back in the groove.
Yoji Anjoh v Naoki Sano (UWFi, 8/13/93)
Man this was outstanding, probably the best UWFi match I've ever seen. I've been thinking for a while now that I really owe it to myself to watch more Yoji Anjoh, because everything I've seen him in has been at worst good. There's a bunch of Sano matches that I need to see as well, so I guess I could say the same for him, but he's a guy I came around to a long time ago and already knew how great he could be. Anjoh was someone I never payed much attention to in the first place, but there's no way I can ignore him anymore. He loses his tempter at a couple points here and it's awesome. They wind up in the ropes and the ref' calls for a break, but Anjoh's in the middle of sinking in a submission and isn't best pleased so he just stomps Sano in the gut. He takes Sano's back and Sano sort of clips him with a little elbow, so Anjoh calls over the ref' and points to his eyebrow like "Hey, fucker, look at that." Then he hauls off and starts elbowing Sano in the back of the head for his bullshit. This was worked mostly even the whole time and they were busting out some of the slickest takedowns and counters I've seen. I wish I could give some specific examples, but reading about it over the internet just doesn't do a lot of it justice. I could sit here and try and explain why Sano's chicken wing was spectacular, but I'd suck at it and it's something you're better off watching for yourself to appreciate. This whole match was fucking boss and feels like it's somewhere around the top 5 for the whole year.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Dick Vrij (RINGS, 6/29/96)
This is Tamura's RINGS debut and is a super fun sub-5 minute match. I haven't seen Vrij before but he seems like your kickboxer that wants to keep it on the feet because his ground game is non-existent. Well, his ground game *was* non-existent here, but he was pretty fun acting like a dick until Tamura took him down and locked in the choke.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Willie Peeters (RINGS, 7/16/96)
Peeters is another guy with a non-existent ground game and this is pretty much your striker v grappler match. Tamura seems happy enough to indulge him on the feet, but it's when he takes him down that you know Peeters is in real trouble. Peeters is another guy that's pretty fun when it comes to acting like a cocky douchebag, eating Tamura's kicks to the thigh and side with a smile on his face while telling him to keep on coming. Still, you get the sense the strikes, even when they're partially blocked, are landing with enough force that they're taking their toll. He'll accept the strikes and still laugh it off because anything is better than getting taken down in the middle of the ring. He'll stay close to the ropes because if he gets taken own there he at least has something to grab on to. In the middle, well that's a different story. If Tamura manages to do that you can tell it's all over but the shouting. Sure enough...
Yuki Ishikawa v Carl Greco (BattlArts, 6/1/08)
This is fought entirely on the mat, and is probably in my top 5 matches of 2008. Greco's another guy I feel like I should see tonnes more of because he's been king sized in everything I've seen him in (which isn't nearly enough), and he's exactly that here; never giving Ishikawa a moment's rest on the mat, constantly grabbing hold of a limb, and if there's no limb to grab he'll just wrap his legs around Ishikawa's waist or neck, twisting his own ankles into whatever position he needs to properly create the nastiest Boa constrictor possible. Ishikawa had a Hell of a year in '08, and between this, the July 6-man and the August tag, there's a STRONG case for him being the best in the world at the time. The fact he has a few other solid outings only bolsters that case, and now I feel like going back and watching all the Ishikawa I can find from that year. Love both guys voluntarily giving up their final rope break, which is a spot I had never seen before the first time I watched this and is still the only time I can remember seeing it 2 years and a shit ton of footage later. The drama in the last few minutes is kicked up a notch as a result and they do a great job making it feel like the next push or twist could lead to the finish. Great match.
Daisuke Ikeda, Super Tiger II & Katsumi Usuda v Yuki Ishikawa, Alexander Otsuka & Munenori Sawa (BattlArts, 7/16/08)
WELCOME TO BAT-BAT, MOTHERFUCKER! This is just a tremendous match, and probably my favourite to come out of this shoot style "sub-genre." First twenty minutes chug along nicely with guys pairing off for a bit, almost feeling their way into the match. I guess you could say the "main" match up of the opening fifteen minutes is Sawa/Usuda, while everybody else comes in for a spell and does their thing for brief spells. Ikeda mostly sticks to the apron, but you never forget he's there because he'll smack someone in the head if they get too close to his corner or he'll run along the apron just to take a swing at them. He's not in enough during the first half to be a focal point, but he's Ikeda and he's always menacing, and you just know at some point he'll let loose. Once Sawa gets dumped around the fifteen minute mark, Otsuka comes in and pretty soon gets the beatdown treatment. I thought Otsuka was really good whenever he was in, whether he was tossing guys around with gorgeous suplexes and busting out submissions from ridiculous positions, or eating a shit kicking from team Ikeda. At one point he winds up turning ST into a pretzel while he's lying on his own back, almost putting on a cross armbreaker by using Tiger's own legs for leverage. And then we hit the twenty minute mark and Usuda fires off a flurry of NASTY palm strikes right to Otsuka's fuckin' nose. At this point everybody stops and thinks "Hey we're in BattlArts so we should kill each other" and the needle just flies off the scale. For the next twenty minutes these guys just absolutely destroy each other. I've watched this 4 or 5 times in the last 3 years and there are still points where I go "Motherfucker, I cannot believe he just took that RIGHT in the fucking face!" Seriously, there is a laundry list of moments that defy the limitations of worked violence. Usuda punts Otsuka in the teeth so Otsuka suplexes him on his head. Ishikawa hooks an armbar on ST so Ikeda breaks it by booting him square in the eye. Partner saves in BatBat tag matches are some of the most violent partner saves in history, and have been for about 15 years now, but even those were ramped way up on the stiffness meter. Your final Ikeda/Ishikawa match-up is everything you want from something like this; two guys that have been beating the ever-loving shit out of each other for a decade and a half just beating the ever-loving shit out of each other – it's the marquee match-up and it doesn't disappoint. It never does. This is the fuggin' BattlArts right here son, and I can't think of any match from Japan that's managed to reach this level since.
Daisuke Ikeda & Takeshi Ono v Manabu Suruga & Takahiro Oba (FUTEN, 4/9/09)
I really wish there was more FUTEN available (thankfully the three 2010 shows should be in my mitts pretty soon). This was terrific and just what I needed to get me back into the swing of things with this kind of shoot style. Ikeda and Ono are flat out amazing as your heel team here, taking turns at just murdering Oba and Suruga for long stretches. There's a tremendous spot where Suruga is rifling off headbutts to a downed Ikeda in the corner, and Ikeda shoots him this contemptuous "So we're throwing those now?" sneer before cracking him with a couple disgusting headbutts of his own. Sounded like someone launched a watermelon off the side of a house. Oba has a bunch of goofy looking stuff and is about as close to a comedy wrestler in this environment that I can think of, but I didn't mind him here at all. He takes an absolute shit kicking from Ikeda and Ono so I can't really complain about him having strange offence. There's one point where he tries to break up an Ikeda submission and Ono just plasters him square in the face from nowhere with a right hook. The Ikeda/Suruga stretch at the end was fucking spectacular. Ikeda came across as The Man the whole way through this, but his selling was outstanding towards the end and really brought Suruga up to his level. Of course Suruga was hanging and banging every step of the way. They have this great punch exchange where they're almost dead on their feet, and just as Suruga looks to have actually won it Ikeda comes alive with this amazing spin kick to the temple. This feels like it's as good as anything wrestling produced in 2009 and I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to actually watch it.