Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse
I guess these two have a young lions series going. This was my favourite of their three fights and if they haven't outright improved with each outing then they've at least looked more comfortable. They threw more kicks this time, but Yamamoto was stretching out with some more submission attempts and we saw hints of what he'd become in the near future.
Nobuaki Kakuta v Yukihiro Takenami
Was this a GRUDGE match of some sort? They kind of intimated that they didn't particularly care for one another and it was better than the last Kaktua fight for sure. It was helped by not being very long and also not a shoot. Kakuta fairly laid it in with those leg kicks, though.
Mitsuya Nagai v Willie Peeters
I don't want to say this was a total Peeters carry job, but other than a nice early knockdown and an impressive throw, Nagai never really offered much past the second round. He gassed hard and barely even made it out the corner for the final round. Peeters, on the other hand, looked in great shape and was the one forcing the issue for most of the fight. Nagai isn't a complete dummy on the mat, but he was lost there at points while Peeters was comfortable enough. There's something hugely likeable about the Dutchman as well. He throws a closed fist, probably out of habit more than anything else, and instantly apologises, then as the round comes to a close he accidentally heads to the wrong corner. The crowd get a laugh out of it and he plays along with a smile. He has his tempter and it'll flare now and then, but it's a fault he wears on his sleeve. His honesty is endearing and he'll also jump on a guy's liver and that more than anything is what makes us love him.
Dick Vrij v Hans Nyman
Not great, but I guess interesting to see Vrij match up with someone the same size? Like in the Maeda fight Nyman had some quick feet and whipped off a few nice kicks, but he doesn't offer much on the ground. Vrij isn't great on the ground either, but his stand up looks much more dangerous. I did like how Vrij sold a couple kicks, though. They were kind of grazing but he reacted like they stung without going with the full knockdown. And when Vrij decides he wants to knock you out he knows how to make it look convincing.
Chris Dolman v Ramazi Buzariashvili
Very fun five minute fight. This is Dolman's first appearance in months and I wondered how much he had left in the tank the closer he pushed towards 50. He doesn't engage a ton, content to let the fight come to him, but he'll still throw a guy around effortlessly, like when he caught a Buzariashvili kick and just tossed him to the mat. Buzariashvili was sort of derisory in this and it added an edge to the bout. The crowd picked up on it as well and popped for his strike combos, which were a touch ugly but at least they had energy. Dolman's last bit of work on the mat to set up the choke was pretty slick and this was an easy watch.
Masaaki Satake v Pieter Oele
In a deviation from the norm this is fought with both men wearing boxing gloves. I actually thought it might've been a shoot at first, but I became less confident in that the longer it went. This was better than most of Satake's other fights, though that particular bar is scarcely a foot off the ground and it never stopped me from fiddling around on my phone once or twice which is never a good sign when watching the pro-wrestling, shoot style or otherwise. Our knockout blow did not look terribly convincing, but then I am not the one being punched in the face so who am I to question it? The best way I can describe how I feel about Satake at this point is X-Pac heat. He's just not interesting to me whatsoever and his fights are almost always the low point of these shows (I guess it's a toss up between his fights and Kakuta's).
Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov
Excellent bout. It's no easy thing to come across as Han's equal in contorting other people's body parts into disgusting positions, but Kopylov about managed it and kept up with Han pretty much every step of the way. I was an especially big fan of them communicating this equality by ending up in a tangle of limbs so preposterous you couldn't tell where one guy ended and the other began. They managed to ensnare themselves so thoroughly they could barely separate, as if they'd fused together as one -- a twin-headed demon of Sambo sorcery. At times you maybe wonder if some of Han's throws or set-ups border on the carny, but I love them so much and he does them with such snap that it's hard not to get swept up in them. I mean, Kopylov visibly left himself open for Han's Aikido arm-wringer...thing, but it was truly badass and the crowd about lost their mind so how could you not do the same? His front choke/hammerlock combo was also disgusting and fuck me he was so, so good at this fake fighting malarky. Some of the stand up was also really good and every time Han drops a guy with a spinning back fist I get giddy. I've said it before, but for a guy everybody points to as a mat wizard (I mean, he is) he had some killer strikes. That Kopylov responded by front kicking him in the gut for a knockdown of his own was also awesome, and I love that those gut shots have been his Achilles' heel practically from day one. They probably could've shaved off a few minutes as it did have some downtime, but I thought this ruled and I would very much be down for a rematch in future.
Akira Maeda v Willie Williams
Well damn, this was a hoot. They've done real nice job building up Williams as a guy with stopping power who wants to go for the KO early. He's messy as all get out and nothing he does looks clean, but Maeda takes his knees and body shots well and makes the knockdown look convincing enough. Williams will also get funky with his fighting stances and the crowd sure loves it when he goes full Bo' Rai Cho. Maeda worked pretty defensive in this, similar to how I'd imagine his old teacher would've, picking his spots and going for the takedown. Williams has no ground game, but he's BIG and hard to pin down. In the end it looked like Maeda wore him out more than anything, but I liked Williams' vocal selling of how dangerous the armbar was. Williams has gone from a guy I thought was a bomb scare to being actively fun and someone I want to see more of. In short doses, mind you, but still. Give me him over Satake any day.
This was a super fun show that got better as it went on. Han/Kopylov was great - I'd put it in the top three RINGS fights so far - and with some tinkering could've been a classic (they might still have one in them if they match up again). I guess you grade the Williams fights on a curve, but the main event was enjoyable and a neat payoff to him running through folk on previous shows.
Complete & Accurate RINGS