Man, the intros to these RINGS shows are the greatest. This one has an English voice over laying out the card with similar graphics to those the WWF would use for early Survivor Series PPVs where McMahon would yell out the teams. "Joining the Warlord are Power and Glory, and captained by Rick Martel, IT'S THE VISIONARIES!" Those PPV intros were a substantial part of my childhood. I was a peculiar six year old.
Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting
One of the coolest things about a project like this, where you basically follow a promotion from its inception through to its closure with all the peaks and valleys in between (you know, hypothetically), is that you get to see the progression and growth of certain folk during the journey. Case in point: these two. In their first match they were fairly tentative, acclimatising themselves to this new and bizarre world of the shoot style, and it made for a fairly garden variety scrap between two young fellas finding their feet. Both are just far more assured this time out, their kicks thrown with a little extra whip, those kicks landing with a little extra leather. Combos are faster, the cooperation aspect more negligible, as if testing to see how well the other might react, pushing the boundaries of how much of the shoot-fightin' one can get away with in the fake-shootin'. Things started to get real chippy and Renting was taunting Nagai by brushing his shoulder off and asking if that was his best shot. Of course we see signs of reckless crowbar Nagai in response as he tries to full force Wanderlei punt Renting in the head as he's lying prostrate on the canvas and I'll be damned but at some point I had to stop and ask myself if this wasn't pretty fucking awesome. And you know what, I really think it might've been! I was practically in shock a few times at what they were doing. I mean it wasn't Tamura/Han matwork or world class striking, but it was so far above what they had done before (all of that one fight together that time) that I couldn't quite believe it. Renting was super persistent with his takedowns and Nagai was having to exert a ton of energy in not just preventing them, but in escaping if prevention failed. He got dumped on his neck for a knockdown and later Renting - I'm honestly not bullshitting you - hit one of the coolest German suplexes/throws I've seen. Often when they'd be stood up they'd waste no time at all in going back to the striking and Nagai even sprinted across the ring and tried a flying knee! He also drilled Renting with an unbelievable enziguri that legit had me off the couch. I had no idea Renting had this in him. Just a total blast.
Willie Peeters v Bert Kops Jr.
Hot damn this was really fun as well. We're getting the niggliness on this show, brothers! Kops is unfamiliar to me and a google search doesn't turn up much of anything, but I'll go out on a limb and say he's a wrestler who's maybe dabbled in a wee bit of the kickboxing. He has some awesome throws, really torquing the hips and getting some angles on them as Peeters sails helplessly through the air. Unfortunately he can't really seem to do much once he gets to the ground and Peeters is usually able to wriggle free, so I'm left to question how much of the wrestling Bert really does (more than me, I'd wager). It leads to things being a little stop-start at points with the ref' standing them back up. Peeters continues to be a favourite of mine. He's a kickboxer who wants little to do with being on the mat. If he can avoid being there he will and his first plan of action is to stand and strike, though he is able to take Kops down a few times himself when pressed (he has the wrestling background and such). He also has a sort of Murakami-ness about him where it looks like he maybe never quite figured out how to pull his strikes and so he smacks Kops really hard with closed fists. I'm not sure he ever cared about that closed fist rule the whole time he was in RINGS. Same goes for the striking a downed opponent rule because he did that a bunch as well. There was one amazing bit where Kops took him over with a German suplex but Peeters immediately rolled back to his feet and cracked him with an uppercut. Post-fight Peeters is asked about his key to victory and he answers with, "I think the knee to the face. Thank you." How can you not love this guy?
Dick Vrij v Ton von Maurik
Cagey start to to this one as Von Maurik - perhaps sensibly after Vrij's recent slaying of Maeda - appears to be reluctant to engage. Then again Vrij doesn't seem too eager, either. And so it goes for about two and a half rounds (this is seven three-minute rounds, btw) with the highlight being Vrij dickishly mussing Von Maurik's hair. Von Maurik isn't very good nor convincing and that's kind of the killer in this. Vrij is coasting in his own right but you at least get the sense he could break out and finish it whenever he wanted. That it went nearly six rounds and didn't even end with a brutal KO does not amuse Dana White. It actually started to pick up a bit as it went on and they followed suit with the first two fights by getting pretty chippy, at one point even spilling to the floor in the most obvious "accidental" fashion ever where Vrij threw a sly knee to the ribs, but there was a lot of fluff in between the good bits (which were few and far between, besides). Vrij's first knockdown of Von Maurik was an absolute corker, though. The slow motion replays of it are truly spectacular.
Akira Maeda v Willy Wilhelm
This had a coupe iffy moments where the cooperation aspect was fairly obvious, but on the whole I thought this was pretty enjoyable. Wilhelm is a likeable sort of fellow, somewhat oafish looking yet wholly capable of chucking mere mortals around with relative ease, which he did several times. A couple of his harai goshis in this looked especially awesome. At one point it led to a half crab right in the middle of the ring and the crowd were in a rabid panic that Maeda might actually lose for the second show in a row. He also exposed his belly like a big gorilla and dared Maeda to kick him there, which Maeda did to little effect. Maeda going to the leg kicks seemed like a pretty sound strategy thereafter and it created openings to other things, such as the head kicks that almost KO'd Wilhelm twice. Finish had one of those moments of obvious cooperation, but it's whatever.
Best show yet, I'd say. Vrij/Von Maurik wasn't up to much but it was better than the last RINGS fight that employed the rounds system. The first two matches were super fun contests that I had no real expectations for whatsoever, and I look forward to seeing more of all four guys now that they seem to be settling into the style. Main event was another enjoyable Maeda bout. He hasn't fought any world beaters yet, but the crowd are always rocking and it certainly adds to the spectacle. Plus a certain Russian wizard is about to show up...
The overall production continues to be excellent as well. Those post-fight action replays are a thing of beauty.
Complete & Accurate RINGS