Still on the shoot-style kick. Went and ordered the PWFG set from Goodhelmet last night, and I'm probably gonna hit up Lynch about a RINGS bulk buy at some point soon.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Volk Han (RINGS, 9/25/96)
Man I am steamed these guys only wrestled three times, because this is one of my favourite match-ups in wrestling history and three matches just isn't enough. Luckily what we do get is one Hell of a trilogy. This is their first run around and is a perfect start to the series. Loss on PWO said this seemed to be a case of dominance vs surprise, and I think that's pretty close to nailing it. Tamura is a wiz on the mat and can hang with him most of the way, but Han is the aggressor and Tamura just doesn't have the same ability as Han when it comes to pulling submissions clean out of nowhere. Tamura has his moments, but there's a lot of times where he'll almost lock in something like a cross armbreaker and the crowd will react huge, then Han will just yank his arm away and go right back to controlling and working Tamura into positions for holds. Tamura can go dead weight all he likes, but Han wants that Kimura and he'll twist the arm and pick him up with it and that's that. Han is hurt most when he least expects to *be* hurt. Match has been fought entirely on the ground for the first 8 minutes, so when they're forced to stand up Han expects thing to be taken to the mat again. Tamura has other ideas and stuffs him in the chest with a front kick, and Han goes down for an 8 count. Han is really great at selling being winded, both when he gets up to beat the count and then when they eventually get back on the mat, kind of rolling up like an armadillo so he can get his wind back while Tamura rides his back looking for something to grab onto. Han firing back with a flurry of palm strikes and knees to score a knockdown of his own was an awesome receipt. You don't normally think of Han as a devastating striker; he's the guy that'll rip your limbs off on the mat. It didn't necessarily come across as him losing his cool, more like the foster father laying down the law on the son for shoving fireworks up the history teacher's exhaust. Han is your Red Foreman and Tamura is your Steven Hyde. Gotta love the finish, too. You can just see the wheels turning; it's like Tamura's managed to get his hand stuck in the cookie jar and then he's gone and stepped in a bear trap. He's got nowhere to go. And Han manipulated the whole thing. Them Russians, man.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Mikhail Ilioukhine (RINGS, 10/25/96)
This is the first time I've seen Ilioukhine; he looks sort of like Vladamir Kozlov if he ate the Dynamite Kid. Other than Han, though, he's the best of Tamura's European opponents to show up in RINGS so far (well, the best to show up on the Tamura set). This goes about 5 minutes longer than the Han match and isn't nearly as explosive, instead they work it more like the proverbial chess match. Where the Han match had numerous instances of them really bursting into grappling exchanges with super quick counters and escapes, this was slowed down and felt like two guys patiently looking for openings and trying to establish ground control. This isn't as boss as the Han match, but don't get it twisted -- this was the good shit, too.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS, 12/21/96)
These guys have a match a couple years later that might be my favourite shoot style match of all time. This doesn't reach the same lofty level of greatness, but it does have Yamamoto trying to slap Tamura's face six ways from Sunday, which seems to be a staple in a lot of his matches. He doesn't give a shit who Tamura is; he's in his way and he can go fuck himself if he thinks name value will make a difference. Tamura is of course Tamura and rifles them right back. Tamura's a guy that isn't always great at conveying a sense of being in real danger, but once he gets cut open you really get the sense he wants to end it quickly before taking any more damage. As soon as I saw the look on his face after the blood stoppage I knew he was wrapping things up sharpish.
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka v Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS, 4/4/97)
Really fantastic 30 minute fight. I need to watch the Tamura draw from '98 again, and probably a couple of the Han matches as well, but right now this feels like a good shout for the best Kohsaka in RINGS match. I guess you could call this a slow burner, but the stuff they're doing on the mat doesn't look like the kind of stuff that I'd watch not already knowing the outcome and think they were killing time to go 30. Thought it was paced somewhere between Tamura/Han and Tamura/Ilioukhine in that they have lots of little bursts on the mat in between longer stretches where they push and prod for advantages, and to break it up they have spells where they just start chucking palm strikes and knees at each other's face and solar plexus. By the time they hit the 25 minute mark both guys are spent, especially Kohsaka who looks absolutely shattered, and the final 5 minutes are fucking tremendous, both pretty much throwing caution to the wind and trying to score the KO -- it's your Pacquiao v Marquez in the 12th round. There's one knockdown on Kohsaka that looked particularly tremendous and Kohsaka's lying face down on the mat like a drooling car wreck victim while Yamamoto's milking the count like he's motherfucking Hogan in MSG. The last ditch attempts at grabbing hold of SOMETHING just to force a submission is the kind of desperate matwork you want to see in this style. Just an awesome, epic match.