Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Nobuaki Kakuta
Well this was sort of a miracle. For starters, I think it might've been a shoot, and so far there haven't really been any of those that've been good. Secondly, it's Kakuta, and history tells us you don't really want to be watching Kakuta in a shoot for 20+ minutes (or an anything for 20+ minutes). And yet this actually kind of ruled! It's the earliest version of the Yamamoto we know and love (I assume we all love Yamamoto). Those bouts with Naruse offered glimpses of what he could do, but they were very much about the young guys finding their feet. This was him turned loose and just all over an opponent. He gave Kakuta no reprieve and thoroughly dominated him on the ground through the first three rounds. Then Kakuta started swinging with the leg kicks and body shots, managing to narrowly avoid being submitted, always being in with a striker's chance. Crowd were crazy into the last couple rounds and I found myself all the way behind Yamamoto pulling off the upset. Just as the final round was coming to a close we got some controversy, as Kakuta seemed to maybe catch Yamamoto low with a knee, and the ref' apparently called for the TKO as the time limit expired. Yamamoto was having none of it and eventually they - the judges at ringside, I guess? - decided it wasn't a knockdown and the fight would continue into a sixth round. It only lasted another fourteen seconds, but man were the people all in on those fourteen seconds. Best thing Kakuta's done by a pretty significant margin and our first real look at the Yamamoto we'd come to adore.
Mitsuya Nagai v Sergei Sousserov
This was pretty good stuff as well. Sousserov looked like a machine at points with the way he'd toss Nagai around, plus he had some flashy stand-up and a couple neat moments on the mat (fitting, as Han is his cornerman/possible trainer). A few of those throws were awesome -- he'd really snap into them, all hips and torque. You look at him initially and wonder if he's maybe going to be another kickboxer, but he was much more along the lines of your Eastern European grappler. Nagai had his moments and looked pretty solid as well. He was never full blown manhandled or anything, and on the "if this was a real fight" scale it looked like he could've held his own okay. His final flurry of strikes certainly looked brutal enough that you could buy it as a stoppage. Sousserov's name is familiar to me so I'm guessing he shows up again later down the road, and I'm more than okay with that.
Rudy Ewoldt v Georgi Keandelaki
If I were to guess, based on Keandelaki LAYING IT IN with the body punches, I'd maybe venture that this was a shoot. It would be a ropey guess at best, however. This was a round and a half and they kept it moving along, no real pissing about, but after the scintillating five and a bit rounds of Nobuaki Kakuta that you never thought you'd ever live to see, this was always going to struggle to pop.
Volk Han v Sotir Gotchev
I was pretty hyped for this and I'm happy to report it didn't disappoint. I don't know how many worked fights Gotchev had, but I'd assume this was only his second (after the Kopylov fight). That he can throw guys around with aplomb goes a ways to making you forget about the bits where he obviously looks inexperienced. Han was Han. All of his wrist manipulation stuff looked awesome; the nasty wrist lock thing, the crazy standing armbar, and best of all the way he used it to grab Gotchev in a sort of dragon sleeper before dropping him with an elbow to the chest that looked like a fucking Kill Bill execution blow. He did this thing later on where Gotchev was on all fours and Han grabbed the arm, drew it underneath Gotchev's leg, planted his foot to keep that leg in place, then pulled upwards like he was trying to hyper-extend the elbow under Gotchev's own thigh. Basically this had about four things to add to the running list of Volk Han submissions I'd never seen anyone do in a match before. It wasn't quite like Gotchev could slam Han at will, but Han was clearly having trouble with him, and when Han would try to roll upon landing Gotchev would just drop him super awkwardly on a shoulder or elbow. It actually led to Han using a decent amount of his rope breaks, but of course in the end he found a way to deal. I'm not entirely sure what it was - could've been a choke, could've been an armbar, could've been a bit of both - but it looked like it hurt and every bit the Volk Han way of submitting someone. Really good bout.
Dick Vrij v Herman Renting
This didn't start out great, but it got better as it went and by the end it was about as lively as you could hope for between these two. Renting is never really aggressive in his fights and sometimes he'll outright stand in the corner as if he's waiting to be hit. I don't know if he's gassed or what, but you can imagine how compelling it is. He started this like he actually intended to do something, and you may not have bought him actually hanging with Vrij, but you maybe bought him being able to grab a submission if the stars aligned. Vrij was pretty much coasting for the first couple rounds, but they got a bit chippy with each other and some little cheapshots were thrown. Last couple rounds picked it up. Renting kept retreating to his safe haven (the corner), but Vrij is not the guy who'll let you rest on your laurels that way. In fact he probably kicked him harder.
Akira Maeda v Chris Dolman
Pretty listless main event, at least until the last forty seconds. Lots of tepid stand-up. At one point they wound up clinched in the corner trading slow knees to the body, like they were doing assisted knee raises at a Body Combat class. Maeda's leg was taped up heavily again and they drew attention to it a few times. Crowd picked up on it when he'd back away clearly favouring it after Dolman's probing kicks. Set up to the finish was pretty telegraphed, but the finish itself was surprising.
Complete & Accurate RINGS