Dimitri Petkov v Vladimir Kravchuk
This was alright. Certainly a different sort of opener to the young lion-ish series from the previous few shows. I'd never seen nor heard of either guy before and I didn't have sky high hopes based on the early stand-up, but it got decent enough once they took it to the mat. It was pretty ragged and a far cry from your top tier stuff, but it's interesting seeing how a guy who looks like Hodor will go about submitting someone. Petkov had a few big throws as well -- impressive considering Kravchuk is by no means a slight individual. Petkov is absolutely made up afterwards and high-fives with enough force to leave mere mortals limp-wristed.
Han Nyman v Georgi Keandelaki
I've seen several different spelling variations for Keandelaki's name. I don't know which one is correct. This was another rounds contest, fought mostly standing up. Nyman is limited and has almost no ground game, but he has fast feet and some of those kicks are real pretty. Keandelaki threw some nice punch combos to the body but he had even less to offer on the ground than Nyman, to the point Nyman was actively trying to take it there to finish him. Nasty knockout finish, but otherwise this wasn't much of anything.
Willie Peeters v Herman Renting
This was a little weird. It went twelve minutes and I guess it was spirited enough. They were active - Peeters especially - and there was no "downtime" in the shoot style sense of lying around in half crabs or the likes (the half crab being very much a staple of the RINGS, obviously). But not a lot of what they did felt like it was of consequence. None of the strikes landed with any real authority. Nobody seemed in danger of being submitted (until the finish when, you know, someone was submitted, though even then it happened so quickly you never had a chance to properly register the danger). Peeters was the aggressor and for large parts Renting absorbed body shots, but he's not very compelling. It's not like Fujiwara getting battered while trying to lure a guy into a mistake. It's just...guy getting popped in the gut while semi-successfully protecting himself. Peeters had a couple nice takedowns, at least. Still a treasure, Peeters. The music accompanying the post-fight highlight package is simply sublime, like something from the opening montage of a mid-90s JRPG.
Andrei Kopylov v Sotir Gotchev
This is the kind of thing I started this project for. I haven't a clue who Gotchev is, but straight away he grabs Kopylov and chucks him and you're thinking the Bulgarian Christian Laettner might have something about himself. Then Kopylov forces a few rope breaks and scores a knockdown. It starts looking like a neat wee competitive squash, where Kopylov gets to stretch out a bit (always welcome) against a complete unknown who it turns out can handle himself. Then Gotchev gathers some steam and the score starts to even out a bit. It feels less competitive squash and more flat out competitive. Gotchev is clearly no scrub and the crowd were all in on them rolling around on the mat. It wasn't a lost classic or anything, but it was a really nice, low-key bout between two unassuming guys who could twist your arm off. Which is why we watch the RINGS.
Dick Vrij v Nobuaki Kakuta
I think part of me has wanted this fight from the first time I saw Kakuta. I mean, nothing against the guy, but he's not terribly interesting and his other bouts haven't set the world on fire. They tend to follow a similar pattern and he tops out at "okay, he was better in that than I figured." The crowd love him, though, especially when he's up against it. Vrij is about a foot and a half taller than him so that constitutes up against it. It went about how you thought/hoped it would. Vrij's coming off the loss to Han so I guess the slaughtering of some wee fella was just what the doctor ordered. While Kakuta can't do anything on the ground his stand-up is at least competent, and that usually keeps him in his fights. Here he has no chance because Vrij annihilates him whenever he tries to get in close enough to actually connect. At one point Vrij appears to punch Kakuta with a closed fist, probably out of annoyance. The ref' admonishes him and Vrij responds with this "oh I'm sorry, I didn't know that wasn't allowed." He'd only been there for every single show, of course. Kakuta sort of takes Vrij down, or Vrij falls over as Kakuta happens to be clinging to his leg, and Vrij uses up a rope break almost entirely out of pity. He literally points to the rope and smiles like "see, I was in trouble there" *wink wink*. This was like six minutes of what we'd soon, one and all, come to love about PRIDE.
Grom Zaza v Chris Dolman
I can't help but think this was kind of a waste of our magnificent Grom Zaza. Dolman has that lovable vet thing going and I find the old lug endearing, but he can't really do much as he inches ever closer to 50 (though, looking back, I apparently liked his last fight). Zaza was fun letting loose with combos, moving in and out, finding ways to take Dolman over. Dolman really just bided his time until he could grab a limb and twist. He's wily and been around the block a time or two. Fine enough for five minutes, but you want Zaza against someone with a bit more to offer.
Masaaki Satake v Mitsuya Nagai
This went a minute and a half and I'm not really sure what the deal was. You maybe wonder if it's a shoot, but then you watch the finish where Nagai kind of stands there for a couple seconds before going down for the ten and it's like...well, that happened. What we got was actually okay and probably the only time I can say I'd have been fine with a Satake fight going longer. Mitsuya Nagai: Miracle Worker?
Akira Maeda v Volk Han
The rubber match. It probably went too long and it wasn't without its lulls, but of their three bouts this one might've had the coolest individual threads running through it. A lot of elements that had been played up in previous fights came together in this, sometimes in ways we hadn't seen before. We got Han's spinning back fist, but this time he did it before the bell had even rung (which got the crowd on his case for doing it, and the referee's case for counting it as a knockdown). Maeda is still the superior striker and Han is STILL and FOREVER (apparently) susceptible to getting smashed in the gut for a nine count. You can tell guys are always wary of grappling with Han, especially on the ground. They'll roll towards the ropes even if they're the ones with the advantage, just because they know how quickly Han can flip that script. There was one bit where Han casually grabbed a wrist and before you knew it Maeda was on his back, then just as casually he let go of the wrist in favour of an ankle and Maeda was left scrambling for the ropes. Han did all this standing up. Hadn't gone to ground at any point. Eventually Maeda started absolutely drilling Han with leg kicks and any time he so much as grimaced the crowd were right on it. Forcing this mild-mannered Russian to show weakness is a victory unto itself. The longer it went the more visibly gassed Han became, then he'd start favouring the left leg (which had been kicked to smithereens), but then you wonder if it was all a ploy because Maeda would come in close and Han would just leap at him and do something preposterous. That happened like four times, where he'd literally leap into a rolling kneebar or cross armbreaker. At one point he managed to apply an STF and it was unbelievable. Finish was pretty great, too. You could've probably shaved ten minutes off this and it wouldn't have hurt, but at 24 minutes I didn't think it was a slog and would still call it one of the better RINGS fights so far.
Complete & Accurate RINGS