Best Matches Seen July 2017
DEEP 66 IMPACT 4/29/14, DEEP Welterweight Title Decision Match: Yuta Watanabe vs. Taisuke Okuno R3 0:26. An interesting fight because Okuno was seemingly the far better standup fighter at the start of the fight, and he was able to keep the fight where he wanted it for the most part, but he wound up losing fairly decisively because he just did what he did without every doing anything to obstruct Watanabe. Okuno is quick, moves well, and has a big right hand that he's always trying to set up by mixing his left hand leads, using hooks to the body & head as well as the traditional jab. He basically only punches, but he's finished a lot of fights (10 of his 12 wins coming into this fight) with his fists, so he had reason to be confident, apart from the fact that Watanabe was so easily defending his attacks. Watanabe was extremely calm & very much about economy. He wasted no energy & no movement, and was very precise in his attempts. His takedowns didn't always succeed, but you had to defend them properly & well to make them fail, and that was the key to this fight because his big advantage was conditioning. Watanabe gave one of the most patient performances I've ever seen. He was just blocking strikes for the first few minutes letting Okuno wear himself out & while learning his patterns. Watanabe's plan certainly wasn't to slug it out, but his attempts to wrestle didn't produce anything beyond control, while on the other hand he cut Okuno easily around the eye when he finally started throwing his jab. Okuno must have thrown 10 times as many punches as Watanabe did in the first round, but was rarely connecting, while Watanabe only started throwing late, but landed almost everything & caused the damage. The key factor here was stamina, as everything Watanabe did or didn't do was designed to wear Okuno out, whether it be letting Okuno keep attacking him in standup or never letting his grasp go once he got hold of Okuno, making him fight back to a knee & then fight back to a knee again and then fight back up to his feet rather than just abandoning the takedown when Okuno first stood. Watanabe used his standup to set up the early takedown in the 2nd, and all the energy he made Okuno burn to get loose really changed the fight. Okuno just went all out once he finally broke the grasp, but his mouth was wide open & he was sucking wind. The fight really took off from this point & turned into a big time phone booth slugfest. Okuno was throwing good combinations, changing levels regularly & really concentrating on setting up the right hand, but he was so lost in his own offense that he never bothered to disrupt Watanabe's left jab, so Watanabe just kept tagging the bloody right eye. One of Okuno's problems is he was giving up too much height/reach, so he was stuck fighting inside, which actually negated a lot of his technical advantages, but mostly his simple refusal to defend Watanabe's jab allowed Watanabe to succeed with about as much effort as is required for a relaxing afternoon of quail "hunting". Watanabe didn't follow his jab that well, his right doesn't flow & is rather pushy, but when the jab always lands, and lands to an area that's already injured, the rest is really gravy. The more Okuno got battered & bloodied, the slower he got & the lower his hands dropped, so then Watanabe was able to land seemingly whatever combos he practices on the punching bag because Okuno wasn't making it any more difficult. Since every country needs a zombie, Okuno would certainly be a leading candidate for the Japanese Zombie moniker given he never wavered from what he does, and that's coming forward throwing punch combos. Okuno actually seemed somewhat refreshed to start the 3rd, but either his corner offers no changes or he's incapable of implementing them. In any case, Watanabe knew exactly what was coming & when by this point, and did a nice drop down to slip Okuno's right then came back up with a big left hook. Okuno's legs were gone, and as he wobbled around after taking the follow up right hand, his corner decided this wasn't going to be Day of the Dead & threw in the towel. Very good match.
M-1 79 6/1/17: Timerlan Sharipov vs. Danila Prikaza 3R. Prikaza's striking game flows really well, as he's so loose and relaxed out there. He hit a flying knee early, & Sharipov began urgently struggling to take him down by any means necessary, only to have Prikaza was machine-gun him with strikes as Sharipov held him & tried to leverage him to the canvas. From the 1st few minutes, I thought Sharipov was totally wrestling based, but then he started landing nice right hand counters & even a spinning heel kick, which ironically opened up the takedown by making Prikaza respect his striking. Both fighters landed some good body shots in round 2, but Sharipov again had a big advantage once the fight went to the ground. Sharipov switched to north/south at the very end of the round looking for the arm bar finish since a few more seconds of control didn't matter at that point. He was dropping punches down when that went nowhere, but with Sharipov no longer controlling him, Prikaza stood & Sharipov followed him up, charging right into a big right hand for the knockdown. Prikaza dropped a big guard pass punch then saw the ref jump in, so he began celebrating. Announcer Sean Wheelock, who I really miss on Bellator commentary for his actual knowledge of fighting & great chemistry with Jimmy Smith (especially if Mike Goldberg is around to once again prove he hasn't learned anything about MMA in all these years), also thought the fight might be over even though he knew the exact time situation as the building was erupting for the surprise potential ending. It was that close but Sharipov did wind up being saved by the bell. Sharipov came out cautious if not slow in the 3rd, but Prikaza was doing too much waiting & clowning, really wanting to avoid getting taken down again but being so cautious that Sharipov was eventually able to enter with a left hook & get in on the legs. Prikaza worked for a Kimura for a long time, but never made any real progress toward that, or getting off his back in any other manner. I thought they could have stood this up given Sharipov was really just locking Prikaza down, but no bailout came for Prikaza, so Sharipov was able to walk away with the majority decision. Good match.
UFC Fight Night 113 7/16/17: Danny Henry vs. Daniel Teymur 3R. This was that rarest of rare fights where one fighter was completely dominant for the 1st half the fight, then the other managed to come back & win not by getting a finish, but instead by being completely dominant for the 2nd half of the fight. It's hard to think of another fight where every round could rightfully have been scored 10-8, but both fighters won rounds. Daniel Teymur is the older brother of David Teymur, also a Swedish National Champion in muay thai & kickboxing. Since switching to MMA, he's blazed through his previous 6 opponents in less than a round, and seemed poised to do the same in his UFC debut. Despite giving up 7" in heigh, Teymur was the one scoring on the outside with low kicks, and had no problem closing the distance & landing spinning strikes or huge uppercuts out of the same posture. Teymur was swarming on Henry from the outset, and things just got worse for Henry when Teymur hurt him with an overhand right 40 seconds in. Teymur was rocking Henry from such a short range that Henry actually couldn't land any of his normal shots because he didn't have room to extend his arms. Teymur landed a nice spinning backfist late in the round, and although round 1 was 10-8 level one-sided, part of Henry's strategy was to drag Teymur into the uncharted waters of the 2nd round & start to turn it up when Teymur hopefully slowed down some, so it was a moral victory for Henry. Teymur rocked Henry with some big uppercuts early in the 2nd that looked like they were going to be more spinning backfists/elbows, and got his standing elbow game going as well. This was looking as one-sided as the Federer/Cilic Wimbledon final until Henry caught Teymur with a huge right hook while Teymur was trying to exit & completely turned the fight. Though he did nothing with the top position when Teymur's desperation shot failed, back on their feet, Teymur was wobbly & much slower, so his power shots were now easy to avoid. Henry dropped Teymur with body shots & nearly finished with mount punches, which caused Teymur to nearly get submitted in a rear naked choke after surrendering his back. Teymur was saved by the bell, but didn't recover much to start the 3rd, and this is where taking a fight on short notice & thus fighting at a higher weight class he's too short for really was taking its toll. Nonetheless, this wasn't Romero/Whittaker where Whittaker just had to survive until the point where Romero's body begins to betray him, much of the credit has to go to Henry for knocking the wind out of Teymur to put him in this compromised state. Henry hurt Teymur early in the 3rd with a left knee/right straight combo, and Teymur was just surviving on toughness, determination, & willpower. Teymur no longer had the energy to close the distance, so Henry was tagging him on the outside while Teymur was coming up short with muscle memory power punches. Henry dominated on the ground in the 2nd half of the round, beating Teymur up with punches, but again not getting the rear naked choke until there was too little time left to finish. Although Henry rightfully won the decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-26), I think Teymur will have a much better UFC career once he's fighting with real notice at a better weight, but in any case this was one of the best comebacks you'll ever see. What was perhaps even more amazing than the comeback itself was the way the fight played out, in that Henry had so much left in the tank to beat Teymur up at a high pace. If you just watched the 2nd half of the fight, you'd have no inkling that Henry was getting blown out of the water the entire 1st half, as he was going full speed the whole time (or rather, fighting as fast as he could without switching from thoughtful to reckless or impatient). Very good match.
Bellator 181 7/14/17: Derek Campos vs. Brandon Girtz 2R. This wild & crazy would be trilogy decider never had the look of a fight that would last long, as both combatants came out bombing & were almost entirely concerned with their own offense. Girtz trains with Justin Gaethje, and this was sort of the Bellator version of last week's Gaethje vs. Johnson, though more of a slobberknocker with both guys just throwing no setup haymakers. It was a good fight before Campos opened up a wicked gash on Girtz's forehead 3 minutes in with a knee down the pipe, but that put Girtz into desperation mode, so the fireworks got even wilder, & Girtz may have even stolen the round late, opening up a cut outside Campos' left eye that was actually bothering his vision as it also quickly moused up. Obviously it's not what anyone wants to see, but this fight should have been stopped right away because, well, guys aren't supposed to have a bloody vagina on their forehead. The blood was basically just dripping down the nose since the jagged gash was in the middle of the forehead, so Girtz's argument was his vision wasn't impaired, but this cut was so large, wide, & deep that the cuetip was just getting swallowed up by the clumps of sagging flesh as they tried to slow it down. Inexplicably, they really didn't look at it at the time & seemingly only in passing between the 1st & 2nd rounds, but luckily Girtz wasn't really getting hit in that particular area to make it worse, though he was getting hit consistently just about everywhere else. In general, Campos would land the first shot, with Girtz's "strategy" being to absorb one to set up firing back with the overhand right, which often connected since Campos also never moved his head, much less made defensive adjustments. Girtz hurt Campos with one of these overhand right counters & then a left hook 2 minutes into the 2nd, but as he pressed for the finish, he got clocked by a big right hook that almost knocked him down. No one was retreating, using their legs, or clinching to buy themselves time to recover, even when Girtz was leaning on the cage with his legs so wide he was ready for a nice forward bend, he was still throwing haymakers to try to keep Campos off him. Campos definitely won the 2nd round, finishing strongly, but as hard as it was to believe scoring might matter in this fight, both men seemed remarkably fresh going into the third. I don't know how these guys didn't get rocked worse than they did given the velocity of their blows & their indifference to absorbing them, but after two spectacular rounds of slugging with everyone geared up for an exceptional closing round, the doctor suddenly decided to notice how bad the cut actually was & go back on what he just said about 90 seconds earlier that it was fine as long as the cut didn't reach the eyebrow. Don't get me wrong, it was finally a good decision on his part, but when you wait a round & a half to make it, it suddenly seems like a bad decision given nothing had changed since he just agreed with John McCarthy that nothing had changed. This will have to join Pitbull/Straus as the second Bellator tetralogy once Girtz can get healthy again. Excellent match.
UFC 213 7/8/17, UFC Interim Middleweight Title Match: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 5R. Romero miraculously still has the same ungodly physique he had before getting caught with the magically tainted supplements *wink* *wink*, & the same lack of stamina that results from it. He's been able to go hard for 2+ rounds in the past, getting some wins early in the 3rd - although his corner needed to employ further cheating in order for that to happen against Tim Kennedy - but this was finally a 5 round fight. Let's be honest, the question here was whether Whittaker was going to be able to survive the first half onslaught so he could then take over in the 2nd half when Romero was in a Colemaneque state. I liked Whittaker's chances because he's such a great mover, but that movement was severly hampered almost at the outset of the fight when Romero damaged his knee with an oblique kick. Whittaker not only did his best to mask & completely ignore the injury, he did a masterful job of protecting it by either going on the offensive so Romero couldn't pick his shots or switching stances and backing while or just before Romero had a chance to kick the exposed lead leg. The tactic I liked best from Whittaker was using the front leg to maintain distance because obviously you wanted Romero to be out of shooting range & also to be expending as much energy as possible early on so he'd burn out faster. This was difficult though because of the leg injury, but Whittaker was gutting through his kicking offense rather than just using punches because it's not as stressful to plant & transfer the weight through. Romero won the 1st round outstriking Whittaker 14-7 & getting a takedown, but it was the 2nd round where things were looking at their bleakest for Whittaker, as Romero had him either locked up or down almost the entire round. Grinding away in the clinch & trying to get a bigger, stronger Olympic wrestler off you so you can get back to your feet are difficult enough tasks when you are healthy, much less when you're trying not to put odd angle pressure on an already "trashed" knee. Whittaker got his hands going in the 3rd, clipping Romero with a left that started a losing pattern for Romero of circling with his back against the cage rather than controlling the center of the octagon as he often had in the 1st two rounds. Even when Romero worked his way off the cage, he still wasn't throwing anything, essentially conceeding the round early to conserve energy. Despite the most fraudulent champion in UFC history, Michael Bisping, suddenly being injured when his latest plan to fight an old over the hill fighter rather than the (or any) top contender in what's arguably the most stacked division in the UFC fell through & should have forced him to finally stop ducking Romero, he was out there being classless & disrespectful, ripping up the Cuban flag in between rounds even though Romero was still theoretically up 2-1 (with Bisping around, the judges may have found a way to have him up 3-0, as he did about as much to earn the rounds tonight as he did in his decisions "wins" against Matt Hamill, Anderson Silva after getting KO'd, Dan Henderson, and so on). Whittaker did a great job of defending Romero's takedowns in the 4th, and Romero's willpower was just diminishing with each failed attempt, while Whittaker's was growing stronger & stronger. Whittaker finally hurt Romero again with a left uppercut near the end to take the 4th. Both fighters gave all they had left in the 5th knowing it was almost certainly 2-2, but Romero's lack of energy meant he was forcing things & thus very sloppy. Whittaker was tired too, but Romero looked like he needed to borrow Dennis Hopper's oxygen mask between each strike. Romero went down with a minute & a half left after missing a low kick, and Whittaker finished on top with some big elbows. Whittaker won a unanimous decision 48-47. In the end, Whittaker won on conditioning, heart, & willpower, as he was able to force himself to go all out to the best of his health for the full 25 minutes while Romero had 2 hard rounds & then intermittent slower bursts. Good match.
LyC 4/9/17: Daga & Rey Fenix vs. Sammy Guevara & Ultimo Ninja 16:26. All out aerial spectacle in the Japanese style of lucha (one fall, flashy offense from both sides rather than mostly cheating & brawling from the rudos, lots of near falls). After the first few minutes, the match was essentially a lengthy finishing segment, and an over the top crazy one at that, with even a double Canadian destroyer merely being one of many near falls. Guevara was backflipping here, there, and everywhere, whether it be instead of a leapfrog or for a no touch dive or reverse Frankensteiner or while holding the opponent on his Spanish fly. He did a great combo sequence where he powerslammed Fenix, forward rolled over him, had a moonsault & a standing moonsault avoided, but still kept coming & finally connected with a standing shooting star press. The main story was 4-year-veteran Guevara pushing 12-year-veteran Fenix, with Guevara elevating himself to the point you felt he could, if not should beat the more established star. Fenix did & especially took a lot of wild spots, but although Daga wasn't nearly the flyer the others were, he was actually the standout on his team in terms of facilitating the action, holding the match together, and timing the double teams & transitions. He also was actually a good striker, and by that, I mean, he sometimes punched & kicked in the manner someone that actually took some classes would, using combinations & feints rather than solely doing the horrid lazy flatfooted exchanging that always passes as striking. It's sad that I should have to point out that a should be basic spot such as switching to a low kick when his high kick feint brought Guevara's block up was a highlight of a sport where you are cooperating so you could always show your opponent how to react then follow up by instead nailing them in the open area. Ninja had some nice contributions as well, but just didn't seem as dynamic or charismatic as the others. Guevara is just so athletic that even though Ninja did a cornerstand into an Arabian press, an Orihara moonsault, and so on, it was just hard for his flying to really stand out, especially in a match that was about Guevara vs. Fenix. This isn't the best all around match you'll ever see by a long shot, but for great offense & effort it's outstanding, and the match does work dramatically. ****
UFC Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale 7/7/17: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson R2 4:48. Amazing standup war. These guys had an amazing workrate, just landing bombs until they were too tired, and then landing more bombs because that's what they do. Johnson was the quicker fighter, and when he had space to work, he would just pick Gaethje apart, but Gaethje rarely allows anyone to have that space. Gaethje was the bigger, thicker more powerful fighter (though Johnson had the reach for what it was worth), and just kept coming forward as always no matter how much damage he took. As long as Gaethje was in Johnson's face, he was forcing Johnson into the reckless firefight Johnson swore he'd finally be the one to avoid, and all the low kicks he was blasting were breaking Johnson down Gaethje even if he was getting beat up in return. Gaethje has never been a great defensive fighter, he basically just stands there covering when he's not striking, but most of the guys in WSOF couldn't take advantage of that. Johnson was well prepared for this liability, and at times landed thoughtful shots around the block or to the body because Gaethje fights very upright, but Gaethje put so much forward pressure on Johnson that Johnson would have long mindless periods of firing straights just trying to keep him at bay. Johnson hurt Gaethje within the 1st 10 seconds with two left hands, but to some extent this was an advantage to Gaethje, as the fight started out as a brawl and rarely deviated from that mode. Obviously it's nice to hurt the opponent quickly, don't get me wrong, but you wonder if the fight might have been different if Johnson was using his movement, greater hand speed, & more polished combos from the outset, and maybe gained some confidence that he could do his thing rather than just reacting to Gaethje's forward progress. Gaethje backed Johnson into the cage & quickly hurt him with a right uppercut/right hook/left knee combo. Johnson spent way too much of the round against the fence, punching to try to keep Gaethje at bay while Gaethje did lumberjack work on his lead leg. When Johnson was under pressure, he often threw straights, which is what Gaethje's blocking style leaves him best prepared to defend. Late in round 1, Johnson followed a left hook with a big right uppercut in between the block that buckled Gaethje's knees. Johnson's attempt to take Gaethje's back failed, but Gaethje was just eating leather against the cage for the last 20 seconds, and John McCarthy couldn't have been too far from stopping the fight, though Gaethje was still moving & attempting to block. Gaethje looked pretty bad at the start of the 2nd, as he hadn't recovered yet, but basically willed himself forward anyway. Johnson was happy to see slower, more flatfooted opponent, and started using his movement & imposing his style, with Gaethje seeming to recover although he was getting sniped for a little while. However, Johnson nearly dropped Gaethje for a second time with a right hook 1:15 into the 2nd. Johnson stayed in the clinch when he needed to disengage & get the fight back to the center, & Gaethje landed a big knee of his own. Gaethje's pressure was starting to cause Johnson to wear himself out, as although Johnson was the one who was winning by throwing & landing more, he was keeping up a workrate that was simply too high for him to sustain, and you could kind of see past the middle of the 2nd that it was no longer fun for him while Gaethje is just a psycho who loves this stuff even if he's taking his lumps. Gaethje landed a good short uppercut & Johnson seemed to also hurt his already weakened leg/knee taking a bad step on the wobbly exit. Now Gaethje was the one going to town against the cage trying to finish, but he was really too tired to make a big push, so Johnson was able to circle out. Johnson just didn't have it anymore mentally if not also physically, and was diving to the canvas begging Gaethje to try to finish him off on the mat because he was exhausted & also his legs were shot from the kicks. Gaethje was having none of it though, and his confidence was just rising as he saw his opponent was mentally defeated. Johnson just didn't have the willpower of Gaethje to find a way to push through, and McCarthy stopped it when he went down after taking a clinch knee against the cage. Gaethje was so exhausted he fell off the top of the cage trying to do his signature ceremonial backflip then slipped halfway up before finally succeeding on the 3rd attempt. Johnson was really the better fighter, but we've seen before where he gets to the point where he should win, and then just can't do it. Gaethje, on the other hand, was able to will the fight to be in his style, and once again he simply had more heart & determination than the opposition. Excellent match.
IWE 11/20/74, 2/3 Falls AWA World Heavyweight Title Match: Verne Gagne vs. Billy Robinson 35:44 [20:48, 5:21, 9:35]. Intense, riveting, first rate no frills title match from two of the best in the world. There's a different dynamic here than in Robinson's later Japan matches because it's much more Gagne's style, & Gagne is often leading & even the one who is inciting the opponent to build the tensions, starting early with petty torments such as putting his hand on Robinson's head. Robinson is still very obviously the better of the two, but it's the match Gagne has been working for two decades with some updates as time goes by rather than the futuristic match Robinson would become known for that had quicker counters & a lot more tumbling. It's a better worked technical match than Robinson vs. Inoki from a classic perspective, & certainly the difference between even an old Verne and a prime Inoki is night & day, but the Inoki match is a lot more modern & certainly more believable from a 21st century perspective because the technical style there is primitive wannabe MMA whereas this relies mainly on all those silly pro wrestling one point of control locks such as the headlock, bear hug, and no body control sleeper that never had any real world application. Robinson dominated the opening fall by getting off first, particularly when it came to immediately attacking the arm when they locked up, clubbing it with a punch or spinning into a hammerlock. Gagne grew increasingly testy, and tried to taunt Robinson into mixing it up through cheap shots while they are moving, little slaps, eye gouges, and paws until Robinson lost his cool enough to get caught off guard by a shoulderblock that briefly turned the tide. Gagne just wasn't hanging with Robinson in the slow technical exchanges though, and couldn't initiate more than the momentary running exchange, but nonetheless managed to win the 1st fall out of nowhere when he ducked behind & took Robinson out with his sleeper. Robinson hadn't come close to recovering when the 2nd fall started, and nearly got sleepered right off the bat, but dove for dear life to the safety of the ropes. Gagne's path to victory was even clearer than usual though, and he was always ready to pounce on the sleeper anytime Robinson left an opening, for instance when Robinson got up slowly after missing a dropkick. However, this was obvious to Robinson too, and in an excellent story finish, he was ready next time, turning the sleeper attempt into his backbreaker to take the 2nd fall. As is often the case with Robinson's 3 fall matches, the finish of a fall winds up defining at least the beginning of the next fall. Thus, Robinson was now in control focusing on the back he injured with the backbreaker, pushing to get a quick victory with the bear hug and hitting another backbreaker that would have finished Gagne if Verne wasn't so close to the ropes. Gagne continued to withstand back submissions, and even a backbreaker in the center of the ring that should have been the finish. You felt this was going to have an amazing climax, wondering whether Gagne was going to be really oportunistic or if Robinson would plug away on the back until it busted, but since it's the '70's you should know better, and instead they did a cheesy double KO off a shoulderblock. Ugh. What an unfitting climax to such a scintilating match. ****
NJ 10/9/75, NWF World Heavyweight Title Match: Antonio Inoki vs. Lou Thesz 17:40. It's amazing what a high level Thesz could still work at despite being almost 60-years-old, especially when you consider this isn't any kind of a nostalgia match, it's just as serious as the "shoot" matches he was doing in his 20's or 30's. Thesz does a great job of carrying Inoki to a memorable technical match in his less unrealistic style, and Inoki should also be praised for his ability to seamlessly follow the master. They based the early portion around the hammerlock, with Thesz consistently maintaining the advantage with primitive Kimura sweeps. Inoki failed to elbow his way out, but managed to drop into his own hammerlock in the scramble, which set up a sweet spot where Thesz tried to snapmare his way out, but Inoki maintained control of the lock on the way over. Thesz slowly inserted his heel tactics to rile Inoki up, always getting a cheap shot or two in such as a short punch to the midsection instead of breaking cleanly on the ropes. Inoki finally wised up and answered Thesz's elbow on what should be the break with one of his own, and maintained control slapping a headlock on. The match was excellent up until this point, but began to break down after this, as it felt like they just didn't know how to get to Inoki going over. I expected Inoki to eventually lose his temper & start brawling, but they didn't build anymore to a response that wasn't coming, instead going back to technical mode for a little while without advancing the match then going to the clunky finish. You knew Thesz wasn't going an hour at his age, but the bridge to the finish should have been better, or more acurately actually existant. Obviously Inoki wasn't just going to staight up knock the legend out or something, but the clash of heads when Thesz was backdropping Inoki into the ring was contrived at best & then Inoki finished a still dazed Thesz off with his own backdrop & a blown bridging fallaway slam that was so mangled Thesz ultimately didn't really take a bump on. Inoki getting the pin over Thesz, even a semi-retired old Thesz, was a momentous occasion in his career, I can't underscore how HUGE it was for his reputation in general and especially as a "shooter". In the end, it was an impressive if incomplete match that could have been a lot better given what a great start they got off to. ***3/4
NJ 12/11/75, 2/3 Falls NWF World Heavyweight Title Match: Antonio Inoki vs. Billy Robinson 60:00. A great, great performance by Robinson, carrying Inoki to one of his best matches, and really doing it in a multifaceted manner where he got more out of him by making him answer him but also by knowing how to play his emotions to rile him up & thus escalate the tension. Regardless of who had the advantage, Robinson kept making Inoki work. If Robinson had the advantage, Inoki was just going to stay trapped until he did something to counter, and if Inoki had the advantage, Robinson would keep putting out responses to force Inoki to either work the hold more to make him break/stop or change his position to end it. Inoki may look better physically, but you always got the sense that Robinson was 2 steps ahead of him & had 10 answers to whatever offense Inoki might try, when Inoki wasn't just busy trying to dig himself out of the latest hole. The big problem with this match, as with Thesz match, is Inoki isn't remotely in his opponent's class, but in this case both were in their 30's & primes, so there wasn't the semi-retired legend excuse to even things up. Beyond that, the hour draw wasn't really to their advantage, as it slowed Robinson down way too much. When you look at Robinson's matches against Jumbo or Baba, they're aggressive action oriented matches that take advantage of Robinson's ability to counter & develop sequences even if they're as long as this, and Robinson's opponents really add a lot to the match, even if in Baba's case it's more amazing effort & a willingness to throw everything he could think of at Robinson than than solid technique. This was a much more mat oriented match, for better & worse, and a very slow building one at that. They used a grappling base where they'd lock up, one would gain a quick advantage, & the other would spend the next few minutes working his way out from under this. The holds were worked for minutes at a time, but too often for my liking they'd eventually get to a break then basically just restart with something else rather than keeping things going countering & chaining the holds & playing off the past sequences. Rather than a unique technical classic, it felt more like a not fully developed World of Sport match. I liked the spot where Robinson tried to bodyslam his way out of the cravate, but Inoki maintained the hold. You got that kind of big moment here and there early on, with the highlight being an exchange of elbows with Robinson in the ropes because neither were breaking cleanly from the outset, leading to Robinson just losing it & belly to belly suplexing Inoki (and himself) over the top to the floor because he could! However, for the most part the match was just working an advantageous position for as long as you could. Things began to pick up when Robinson injured Inoki's back with his backbreaker 19 minutes in. I thought this would lead to the 1st fall finish, but Inoki withstood Robinson's Boston crab & subsequent back stretches & eventually recovered. Robinson has the real fight mindset of winning being the important thing & the manner just being the means to the end, so he isn't the type of fighter that always needs to beat you with the same move or series. He failed to take Inoki out with a back move, but he really didn't care, he's always just taking whatever is available, so he switched to the neck for a while, working the cravate again until he hit a big reverse neckbreaker. The match was very much like an MMA match in that regard, it's not a continuous pro wrestling story where they target a certain area or have a specific injury theme, but rather a series of advantages that are exploited until they no longer can be, at which point they happily move on to something else because it's not about the particulars, it's about being in control & using that control to ultimately get to a spot the opponent can't escape from. The match changed after Robinson finally scored the first fall with a flash backslide 43 minutes in, as Inoki shifted to desperation mode & really pushed to get the fall back. This final third is more standing whereas the 1st 2/3 were almost totally on the ground, and this works better for Inoki because they can just exchange some suplexes & dropkicks, which doesn't take much more than the opponent waiting for you to do your move. I felt Inoki's desperation added to the match, but there still wasn't much beyond the elbow exchange in the final minute that really reached the level of urgency & intensity that Robinson & Jumbo Tsuruta were at in their brilliant 3/11/77 draw when the G+ edit starts somewhere in the 1st fall, much less after they'd upped the level so many times throughout that masterpiece. For me, unlike Robinson's AJ matches, this wasn't particularly improved by the high spots so much as simply moving on to other things with an increasing level of urgency that I would have liked them to be able to show before this on the mat. I feel the main problem is that although Inoki can follow Robinson well enough that Robinson gets the most out of Inoki, Inoki just doesn't possess the creativity or spontaneity to challenge Robinson, much less drag next level moments out of him, so it winds up being a Han vs. Maeda great one man show that results in a really good battle of top stars rather than a Han vs. Tamura give & take that's just magic back & forth. Inoki really brings little to the match beyond his unwillingness to lose & the same old idea it's supposed to be real, and it's pretty clear he's the big reason it doesn't measure up to Robinson's AJ matches, with Baba giving 100 times the performance against Robinson simply on will, effort, and actually having a concept of how to get the most out of what he can bring to the match. Lou Thesz seemed to handle Inoki's limitations better than Robinson because Thesz has a more set routine he's guiding the opponent through whereas Robinson is really doing a primitive version of MMA where the opponent's reactions are necessary to change things up, otherwise there's no reason for him to not maintain the same hold/position/control. I didn't like that Inoki's big push to even the match up led to Robinson trying to stall out his 1-0 lead rather than push himself to regain the dominance he had over Inoki for the first 43 minutes & actually take the title home with him. Sure, it got heel heat & incited Inoki, but Robinson has better ways to do this, and I don't think you can actually win the title without 2 falls (unless NWF has different rules). Even if you could, it still just felt false for a cocky fighter such as Robinson to not be pushing forward. There was massive excitment when Inoki managed to finish Robinson with his manjigatame at 59:12 to even things up, a real classic wrestling dramatic finish without actually being a finish, and from Inoki's standpoint that late finish surely "proved" he would have won the match if time didn't expire (though the last minute was actually back to playing even), but even Inoki would have earned more if he managed to counter an overconfident Robinson than one who was running out the clock (technically he does lock it after ducking a big Robinson chop). In the end, the match earns high marks for managing to consistently work, and it's nice that it's totally different than anything Robinson would go on to do in All Japan, but his best All Japan matches are so much more energetic & interesting worked & structured. ****
DEEP 77 IMPACT 8/27/16: Isao Takahashi vs. Yoshinori Fukumoto 2R. Fukumoto made his debut in 2007, and has "consistently" fought every 3 or 4 years. Now, at age 52, he entered the squared circle sporting a 3-0 record with his longest fight lasting 1:11. Fukumoto is all offense to the point he gets beat up on his feet & reversed on the mat because he's too busy thinking about what he's going to do to consider what the opponent might try back. This isn't a fight to show your trainees, and I'm sure GSP would be constantly cringing because there's so many openings for actual fighting being presented, but this is a really fun fight if you like all action & a ton of heart. Fukumoto came out blasting the leg, trying to intimidate his winless opponent. Unfortunately for Fukumoto, Takahashi didn't back down, and instead fired back with his own leg kick then dropped Fukumoto with a short left. Fukumoto popped up, but Takahashi backed him with a flurry of punches & dropped him a 2nd time with a step knee to the chin. You figured Fukumoto wasn't going to withstand this barrage, but he just ate shots until he could lock a bodylock, and spun into a takedown despite Takahashi already having a guillotine mostly locked in. Fukumoto eventually popped his head out & momentarily went on the offensive before his lack of locking down positions bit him again. Takahashi had much better chances to finish with a leg Americana, but Fukumoto took his back the first time & time expired the second time. Takahashi hit a spinning backfist/left hook/knee combo early in the 2nd, but Fukumoto tied him up, took him down, and flurried from the mount until his indifference to what Takahashi was doing got him reversed again, though Fukumoto immediately went into a triangle. Both fighters were beyond gassed in the 2nd half of round 2, and you thought Fukumoto would finally wilt to either damage or fatigue, but he has 1000 days to recover before the next fight, so he somehow managed to hang in there. Sure, this was a sloppy fight, but it was so much fun. Fukumoto lost a unanimous decision, but I look forward to seeing him again in 2020! Good match.