Best Matches Seen September 2017
JWP 3/17/95, Neo Street Fight Match: Mayumi Ozaki vs. Dynamite Kansai 22:30. Fantastic match that's everything a street fight should be. In fact, it's the best street fight I've ever seen. This match is a great example of wrestling not being what you do but rather how you do it. Essentially, you had two exceptional wrestlers using a bunch of unskilled & pedestrian garbage wrestling spots, but making all of that irrelevant by putting so much energy into their acting. In the end, every style of wrestling comes down to whether or not you believe it, and there's various forms of that depending upon the style. This style wants belief in terms of the grudge match, and everything they did scored a resounding yes. The action was fast, brutal, & aggressive, they relished the opportunity to injure their opponent even thought they'd likely get injured back with the same weapon. There were numerous great qualities about this match, but what really stuck out is just how inspired the two performers were. Some things work a little better than others, but it's never for lack of trying, they put their all into everything they do & create the perfect illusion. It's not what they do, it's how charged their performances are, and that's exactly what this style needs to succeed because a hardcore match without it feels like watching a wooden actor read lines, it feels like, well, he's using a weapon simply because that's the script. That may be good enough for some fans, but it's never going to create a transcendent match like this that is a must see even for people who aren't particularly fans of the genre. Ozaki/Kansai may be a bloody weapons brawl, but it's such a beautiful match. They just feel so free out there. All their creativity is being unleashed & they've proving that, while they may not be experienced in this style, they know some things & have some actual skills that can provide a far superior result. They destroyed each other with brawling and weapons, but never lost sight of it being a wrestling match, and always came back to wrestling when someone was trying to end it. Generally these brawls have a few big gimmick spots that really stand out, and mostly suck in between. One thing that was so exciting about this match is how opposite it was to that formula. That's not to say there aren't great spots, you have Kansai piledriving Ozaki through a table among others, but rather the high pace & nonstop action are among the aspects that made it stand apart. The early portion was really important because as essentially a new match for JWP (and with they way they wrestled it, pretty much for joshi in general as it doesn't follow the Dump Matsumoto & co variant at all) they had to successfully incorporate the gimmicks, create the atmosphere, and make it intense, all of which was accomplished from the get go with Ozaki sneaking up on Kansai as she was walking to the ring & choking her with the chain, which Kansai soon avenged. They were also able to establish how this would still work as a wrestling match, with Kansai winning the tug of war with the chain, pulling Ozaki into her deadly backdrop then choking her with the chain & clobbering her with it when she was down. Ozaki was just pure evil here, and there were a few great little touches, particularly biting Kansai's forehead to open the cut further then spitting out the blood. This was a great new opportunity for her, as she'd been a heel in the past, but she was opportunistic & crafty. She's still that, in fact she even gets the win countering Kansai's splash mountain into a flash pin, but she's also so much more than that, she's someone that can kick ass, someone to be feared. Although JWP foolishly never gave Ozaki their openweight title, or really did anything with it in general just letting Devil then Kansai sit on it forever then trying to force Fukuoka & Azumi (she was amazing but the booking leading up to her win did nothing to help her), this was the start of a great period in her career where she could shine as the queen of the street fight, beating the tall, the heavy, hell the good, the bad, & the ugly. And all these wins worked because, as always, she had more skill, heart & guile, but this was a better venue for her to get across how big & tough she could fight. Ozaki is the driving force in this match, but Kansai is awesome here as well. Really, there's almost not a wrong note in this match, which is amazing given JWP basically just threw them out as the semifinal & said, do a style that's totally different than what you've ever done before. ****3/4
JWP 7/9/95, DRESS UP WILD FIGHT: Mayumi Ozaki vs. Dynamite Kansai 36:41. Ozaki vs. Kansai was the best rivalry in the 31 year history of the JWP promotions. This was a really important match for Ozaki because she scored the upset over the JWP champion & ace in the first match, and Ozaki once again got the huge victory, establishing her as queen of the street fight or dress up wild fight as it has now been renamed, opening up big challenges both inside (Devil) & outside (Takako, Kudo) the promotion. This rematch of their greatest bout, and probably the best street fight of all time, isn't nearly as famous or good as 3/17/95 because it's too long & that saps the energy that made the first match so exceptional. They went at it nonstop on 3/17/95 with a charge to everything they did, but without that they weren't truly able to recapture the grudge match atmosphere this time, so even though down the stretch they managed to build upon their previous efforts to do all of their already great offense with an added prop, they never figured out how to fully emerse us in the match, how to make us really believe in it this time. Running the same stipulation match back less than 4 months later is surely too soon, but I watched this match having not seen 3/17/95 in several years because I wanted to be able to view it on its own merits & see how it held up without the giant shadow looming. It's a fine match in a vacuum, not a match of the year or anything, but certainly a fun novelty you don't want to skip. Having been disappointed, I rewatched the original, and that just made the feeling grow as I felt as though I've underrated the original, if anything, and the rematch really doesn't compare favorably to it in almost any way. As much as they got everything right the first time, they just didn't know how to use their time here. Normally adding 14 minutes would probably lead to improvement, they'd have to dig deeper & go further, there was some of that offensively, purely on number of killer spots this match wins though they don't carry the same weight, but the 22 minutes they went the 1st time is simply a much more reasonable length for this style, even that is probably a few minutes longer than ideal. It's not that they don't have 35+ minutes of great wrestling in them, it's that they were trying so hard to stick to the hardcore theme that they wound up filling most of those minutes with some kind of weapon spot, and that kind of match needs to be quicker & more aggressive like their first match rather than the slow burner we got here (or use far fewer gimmick spots but set them up as killer). It's not the amount of brawling that made this worse, the first match was brawling from the first minute to the last too, and that match really changed the landscape of what was possible in JWP, as although there were some random brawls before such as Devil/Bull 4/18/93, they were in the old AJW mode descending from the Dump Matsumoto era. Spending much of the first 20 minutes out of the ring wasn't a positive, but the real problem was that by slowing things down to accomidate a longer match, they weren't able to cover up the holes & limitations of the brawling style with their energy & acting as they did the first time, so things started to look as contrived as they normally do in a brawl, and generally fall flat. Rather than being riveting from start to finish as their 3/17 match was, it was really up & down, and failed to recapture that feeling of an all out grudge match where they were totally free & everything was possible. I absolutely loved how they played the opening where instead of coming to the ring, Ozaki stayed by one of the entrances that wrestlers like to do dives off so Kansai charged her, and Ozaki met her with a chain punch. This was the kind of intensity & set up I wanted to see, and the entire early showdown in the ring, with both holding an end of the chain until Kansai overpowered Ozaki, pulling her into her deadly backdrop was super. If they continued down this line, building anticipation & milking the rivalry rather than just delivering payoffs that didn't really feel like payoffs because they were rolled out & blown through, it would have been another classic. There was still a lot of fun stuff early, such as Ozaki doing a facebuster off the stage onto a pile of chairs which busted Kansai open, but there was too much meaningless time killing brawling & not enough setup or build to the bigger spots that were happening or were coming later on. They used the brawling to set up the wrestling better in the first match, and never seemed to lack purpose because they kept plowing forward decisively & aggressively. During the first half of this match, the bits of wrestling were simply a transition spot to the brawling, such as Ozaki coming back with the jumping neckbreaker drop then going right into a lengthy chain choke. Sure, there were some nice chain spots, I loved Ozaki handicapping Kansai by tying her hands together, but rendering an opponent helpless should end the match not be early fodder so Ozaki got a run of offense. Ozaki's diving knee drop with the chain, or any of the other spots that used a weapon for additional damage were cool, but one aspect that made the later LCO brawls great is they understood not to continuously use a particular weapon in a given match, but to instead move on & then maybe bring it back for a big effect later on. Here we had a chain that should be deadly, but once they commited to using it for such a large portion of the match all the chain spots become somewhat pedestrian. Ozaki & Kansai weren't lacking in creativity, but they took themselves so far outside of what they normally do they lost track of what makes their normal match abnormally excellent. All out aggression is what made the first fight wild, but given that's not plausible over 37 minutes, their biggest failing was doing dull brawling spots that didn't advance the match when they should instead have been setting up the big weapons spots or remembering to have an actual wrestling match. I want to say W*ING was a bigger influence here, with the regular weapon use & brawling all around the arena up to the Korakuen Hall balcony, which Ozaki did her best to throw Kansai off, but that's not really accurate, it's more that when they did W*ING brawling at a joshi pace in the first match it was fun and actually good, but once you slowed things down closer to the pace of Mitsuhiro Matsunaga & Leatherface & added more of their contrived moments & stalling, it felt more like a performance than a fight. I never understood why the ultra contrived dragging the opponent all over the building by the neck/hair was supposed to be interesting whether I was in attendance and couldn't see shit 90% of the time or watching on tape where it just comes off flat, either way it just feels silly when you are controlling an adult in a manner that only works when you have a 5 foot & 150 pound weight advantage on your bratty three year old cousin. Though it started great & certainly has moments here and there, if they weren't going to wrestle with intensity & put the effort into dragging us in, they would have been better off just scrapping a lot of this material instead of working at a full time draw pace to accomodate it. Their acting also wasn't near their normal standards, and I felt like not doing any near finishes in the first 20 minutes made them just kind of give up on any notion of selling the potential of a finish or a regular length match, but again, they didn't do any near finishes before the stretch run of the 1st match & they didn't need them because they made you feel their desire, intensity, & violence. Ozaki did seem more comfortable this time, really embracing her new role, but perhaps the nervous energy helped the first match? When they finally got back in the ring, they did an excellent second half consisting mostly of their usual top notch on it's own wrestling with props to accentuate the impact of their regular big moves. It now felt like a wrestling match, one that was nastier & more dangerous because they were using tables. In the first match the seconds undid the top rope for no logical reason when Kansai was beating Ozaki up on the floor, but thankfully they had the wrestlers do it themselves here. Ozaki used the big metal cylinder that covers the connecting wire between the turnbuckle & the ring post as her newest weapon, which is something I don't recall ever seeing outside of this match. Not to be outdone, Kansai got her own & taped it to her shin to make her kicks even more brutal (or actually much less since she was slowing them down tremendously & generally pulling them because the weapon made it too dangerous for her to even fake kick). One of these should have ended the match, but Ozaki took several including being high kicked over the middle rope to the floor. They did a better job out of getting mileage off the tables than the other weapons, all these spots were successful as it was simply their usual offense onto a harder surface. Ozaki was busted open after getting piledriven through. Down the stretch, they did their usual great counters where Kansai appears to be ready to break Ozaki in half, but Ozaki is too athletic, and manages to slip out just in time. Ozaki avoided getting splash mountained through a table & hit a nodowa otoshi off it. They finally found some urgency & desperation at the end, and that little extra effort they were using was really making a difference in how the offense was coming across. There was a great near finish where Ozaki landed on her feet to avoid a backdrop, caught a high kick, and countered with a Dragon screw into a kneebar that both put over for all it was worth. I loved Kansai booting the table out of the way in disgust after Ozaki kicked out of her piledriver through the table, exactly the sort of gem you expect from these two. Everyone expected Kansai to get her win back here, and she seemed to have taken over with these killer table spots, but Ozaki nearly scored another flash pin victory countering the splash mountain. Down the stretch, the length of the match finally started to have benefits as you began to believe the near finishes a little more because the match should have been over now. They continued kicking out & going back & forth without anyone really establishing dominance though. It took 3 tequilla sunrises, but rather than the predictable Kansai revenge win we instead got Ozaki cementing her status by going over decisively this time. The second half was their usual ****+ level, but the first half did next to nothing to set it up or, for the most part, add to the match, and that seems more of a problem at 36 minutes than in your typical 15 minute match where they kill the first 8 minutes on the mat. ***1/2
UFC Fight Night 117 9/23/17
Daichi Abe vs. Hyun Gyu Lim Decision 3R. Both fighters let their hands go from the start to finish. Abe is a strong counter puncher, and Lim is already known from his loss to Mike Perry for being below average at getting out of the danger zone after he's attacked. Abe was on targer when Lim lunged in for his punches, countering with nice hooks. When Lim actually used his 5.5" reach advantage & made Abe come to him, Lim was able to snipe him even with his hooks. The problems were Lim just wasn't being assertive enough & was allowing Abe to hold the center of the octagon and Lim also doesn't really use a jab & comes in too aggressively, really leaning in with his lead power punch. Lim often landed a good hook to start the exchange, but by the time he followed through there was just too much motion required to get back on balance & retreat out of the pocket, so he was constantly stuck on the inside where Abe could counter back. Abe won a competitive first round, but Lim had a good second round, nailing him with an overhand right 2 minutes in when Abe had to cover too much distance to get his jab in. Abe's cheekbone swelled up immediately & the mouse just continued to expand. Lim began fighting more intelligently after this, snapping the right hand to Abe's swollen cheek instead of lunging at it for the full power shot that left his head available to be countered. Lim rocked Abe late in the 2nd with another overhand right counter, this time to a left inside leg kick. At the very end of the round both threw lefts at the same time & Abe beat Lim to the follow up as he did all night, but although Lim went down, it was just a balance issue as Abe's right landed around the shoulder blades. Lim fought much more reasonably in the 2nd, and continued this in the third, coming over the top for the big right when it was there, but mostly staying on balance, using his feints, mixing in the left hook to keep Abe from focusing on the right hand, & landing his distance strikes. Lim owned the 2nd & 3rd rounds & was ready to pick up the decision when he gambled for the home run with the overhand right counter to Abe's jab, but it was a feint & Abe swayed his head out of the way & dropped an off balance Lim with his own big right. Lim's nose was broken & there was a big leaking gash down the bridge. Abe ended the kickboxing match with a takedown, stealing the decision 29-28 in the final 25 seconds. Really great finish, though a sad way for Lim to lose as he made the necessary adjustments & fought a disciplined 2nd & 3rd rounds, really reigning himself in after a wild first round. Good match.
Syuri Kondo vs. Chan-Mi Jeon 3R. Syuri kept an awesome pace here, just walking forward & throwing the entire fight. Jeon threw 252 strikes in her UFC debut against JJ Aldrich, & is more than happy to stand & trade with anyone, so stylistically this was a fun all action fight. However, Syuri's coming forward was a problem for Jeon because she has the muay thai strike with planted feet style & thus needs a little more space to operate, but lacks the muay thai middle kick to maintain range that makes the style so difficult to deal with (ie Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong) or really any offense when she's on the move to create distance. Speaking of middle kicks, it was kind of bewildering to see Syuri go 15 seconds much less the full 15 minutes without throwing a middle kick. Syuri did a nice job of just coming in with the jab, moving her head to avoid the counter, and coming over the top with the right hand. Kondo fought the fight on her terms, she was the aggressor & the stronger fighter. Jeon was active & competitive, but she was almost always stuck reacting to Syuri even though she's not naturally a counter fighter. Jeon still managed to land quite a few shots, but they didn't have the same power because she was always off the back foot. Syuri mixed in some low kicks & front kicks when Jeon run away to create space, but would be right back to coming in punching because it was all about taking that space from Jeon. Kondo didn't come close with her spinning backfist attempts, but landed a spinning heel kick in the final seconds. For me this was a pretty clear 30-27 win for Kondo, but one judge somehow had Jeon 29-28. Good match.
Jessica Andrade vs. Claudia Gadelha 3R. Gadelha didn't rush anything & did a great job early of punishing Andrade for coming forward. She had the faster hands, and put good combos on Andrade as she stalked in trying to get into range, cutting Andrade early with a series of right uppercuts while holding Andrade's head with her left hand. You figured since Andrade has been um sharing secrets with Cyborg & Gabi Garcia that she'd begin to slow down, and then the favorite Gadelha would get her ground game going. Gadelha tried to start wrestling after busting Andrade open, but Andrade's strength won the battle over Gadelha's technique time after time, and Andrade began to take over with a big slam & ground and pound after slipping out of Gadelha's guillotine. Andrade controlled for the rest of the round, landing some punishing shots & cutting Gadelha outside the left eye, but still this was a very good round that could have gone either way. Gadelha had a quick takedown to start the second, but Andrade was right back up & her strength in the clinch game was wearing Gadelha down quickly. The fight turned for good 90 seconds in when Andrade stuffed a takedown & took the top. Gadelha also escaped rather quickly, but was dragging in the standup, and without her speed advantage Andrade's huge left hooks began finding their mark. Gadelha landed here & there, but was no longer punishing Andrade coming in & wasn't able to keep Andrade from establishing an inside position where she could plant her feet & just bomb away at will with hook combos. Andrade was battering Gadelha against the cage all too often in the 2nd half of round 2, opening up the cut more so Gadelha could no longer see out of the eye. Still, if there was a little more time in the round, Claudia might have submitted Andrade with that same guillotine as she caught Andrade in it when Andrade was scooping her up sidewalk slam style. Round 1 was even, round 2 was a solid win for Andrade, but round 3 was a rout with Andrade slamming Claudia out of a single leg and working her over from side mount. Gadelha eventually got guard for a while before losing it again, but was getting hammered regardless. This was a clear 10-8 round for Andrade. I was really surprised by how fresh Andrade was down the stretch, as even though Gadelha's resistance had diminished by the minute in the 2nd half of the fight, that also led to Andrade consistently increasing her strike output. Andrade won a unanimous decision 30-25, 30-26, 30-27, seemingly setting her up for a title rematch with Joanna. Good match.
BML 9/11/05: Kazunari Murakami vs. Katsuyori Shibata 9:44. A fantastic performance by Shibata carrying Murakami to probably the best match of his career. I absolutely loved how hard these two went at it from start to finish. I don't even mean in terms of effort or stiffness, which was certainly there in abundance, but you rarely see wrestlers throwing with this sort of speed & energy. There was a genuine sense of urgency, & that's the key to making a shoot match work. They were throwing full effort blows that would really have done some damage if they didn't miss or connect on the spots they intended, but in the end, the specifics didn't even matter, it was the feel & atmosphere they created that dragged the audience right in & kept them lost in the moment. That they tossed in a few moves that "don't belong" such as Shibata's series of running dropkicks with Murakami down in the corner was irrelevant because you were focused on how hard Shibata was taking it to a prone Murakami rather than thinking a soccer ball kick would be the killer move here. Shibata fought with such zeal, really elevating Murakami by keeping him in fight for his life reacting mode so he didn't have time to get into his usual shtict. This wasn't the stalking around, cheating, & fighting with the ref Murakami that undermines his shooter gimmick by adding all the corny nonsense you don't get in MMA back into the pro wrestling version while still trying to tell us we're seeing something other than the usual hokem. Shibata was shot out of a cannon & just had Murakami reacting to his blitz, thrusting Murakami back into his Extreme Fighting days when he was forced to bring the best he could come up with so Bart Vale couldn't be bragging about beating him for the rest of his life rather than make some silly faces working up to getting DQ'd. To his credit, Murakami took the match seriously & was able to raise his level several notches to hang with Shibata. Murakami wasn't suddenly great, I still don't like the way he executes some of his offense & his general demeanor tends to accomplish the oppositite of what it's supposed to because it feels forced & fake, but again Murakami really didn't have time to be pro wrestling Murakami here. The finish was still rather unsatisfactory, but having a real finish in a Murakami match, even if it feels as though it came a little quickly, is an accomplishment. ****
UFC Fight Night 116 9/16/17
Urijah Hall vs. Krzysztof Jotko R2 2:35. Hall would rank highly among the fighters with the most talent who manage to get the least results from it. Granted, he was in the best division in the UFC before Bisping took over & avoided everyone withing a decade of their prime & Gegard Mousasi figured if he hadn't got a title shot in 6 years despite being champ in Strikeforce & Dream & beating guys who like Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, & Chris Weidman who received multiple title shots, it wasn't likely to happen in the not particularly merit based system the promotion was increasingly operating under. This looked like another fight where I felt Hall should win, but he was just watching & waiting rather than making something happen. Jotko was very patient early, he knew Hall wasn't going to be too aggressive so he just faked & feinted for a couple minutes, backing Hall into the cage but rarely actually throwing. When Jotko finally unleashed, he rocked Hall with a lead right uppercut & then just went to town on him. I thought Jotko could have got the stoppage if he stuck with standup even 15 seconds longer because Hall simply wasn't responding. Don't get me wrong, Jotko landed some bombs on the ground, but he wasn't flurrying, and unless you are able to bounce the opponents head off the canvas or something, the ref is going to allow the guy on the bottom to take a steady stream of shots as long as they've still moving a little & pretending to defend themselves. Jotko put too much effort into securing his positions on the ground, and Hall was able to stand with Jotko still holding a body lock. Jotko dragged him down, but Hall turned his back on the way down so Jotko couldn't quite choke him but was instead able to mount & pummel him some more until Hall took advantage of Jotko's sloppiness & literally just pushed him off with his left arm & stood. I mean, this was the kind of escape you'd just roll your eyes at if someone did it in pro wrestling, but somehow it actually worked. Hall just stood with his back on the cage, but he knew the lead uppercut was coming, and was able to defend that & land one big overhand left. The mauling surely earned Jotko a 10-8 first round, & Hall's left eye wasn't in good shape, which didn't bode well given Jotko was favoring right hand leads. Jotko wasn't using his feints as much in round 2, seemingly having tired himself out failing to finish. I don't know how much he did or didn't have left, but this was a big mistake because he had Hall out of his game in the 1st, but now Hall was able to hold his ground & have room to work rather than being backed into the cage where he couldn't use his length or movement. Hall began to press forward because Jotko wasn't active enough, and when he finally unloaded with a right hook over Jotko's lazy jab, he dropped him & flurried on the ground for the finish. Jotko will surely have a lot of regrets about not managing to finish Hall in the 1st, but man, this is the kind of win we've always been waiting for from Hall. It's a match he should by all rights have lost that he hung around long enough to land his one crushing blow to end the fight. Really great comeback! Good match.
Gregor Gillespie vs. Jason Gonzalez R2 2:11. A really fan friendly fight. Gonzalez's strategy was basically to just stay in the pocket & throw high kicks & uppercuts. He was overmatched on the ground, but succeeded to make it a fire fight whenever he was able to stay on his feet. Gillespie was just the far more well rounded fighter & was always a step ahead of Gonzalez, but the match was pretty close in standup because both just exchanged bombs until Gillsepie would find the opening to close the distance for the takedown. Gonzalez was either taken down or rocked on the break every time Gillespie tried to wrestle, but he did a good job of getting back up quickly in the 1st before he was pummeled by too much ground & pound. Gillespie had early success closing the distance when Gonzalez tried to follow with an uppercut, as although Gonzalez defended the takedown, Gillespie dropped him & bloodied his nose with a short elbow on the break then was able to take the top. Gonzalez hurt Gillespie late in the 1st with an uppercut, but they were so sweaty Gillespie slipped right through his attempt to follow with an anaconda choke (Gonzalez locking only the neck rather than securing an arm also didn't help). The first round was fantastic, but Gonzalez was taken down early in the 2nd after landing a big left hook, and this time Gillespie was able to lock Gonzalez down in his mount. Gonzalez fought off the arm triangle for a while, but Gullespie eventually opened it up with his punches. Good match.
Bellator 172 2/18/17: Veta Arteaga vs. Brooke Mayo R3 4:04. An entertaining fight both in standup & on the ground. Mayo made an excellent impression in her debut match. She had the length & was able to use her kicks to keep Arteaga from getting her boxing going. This was her best strategy, as Arteaga doesn't close the distance on her own, when she pushes forward it's generally to counter an attack that Mayo has already come in on. Mayo should have been able to pick her apart at distance all night, or at worst force Arteaga out of her comfort zone & make her take the chances rushing in when Mayo was ready for her. Mayo is more of a grappler though, and kept looking for that area she's most comfortable with. She was able to get takedowns in each round & threaten with submissions. Her best series was the takedown against the cage in the 1st round when Arteaga immediately turned her back for some reason, although she ultimately failed to choke her Veta & started getting beat up when her armbar (& then triangle) failed. This was sort of the story of the fight, Mayo would come forward because she wanted the takedown, and would take unnecessary damage because of that. Once Mayo got the takedown, she'd create opportunities to finish, but while she undoubtedly gets a lot of victories off her back in grappling or in the gym, it's a lot different when people are allowed to punch you in the face as hard as they can. The first round was close (I'd give it to Mayo but Jimmy gave it to Veta) with Mayo getting credit for her attempts to finish & general aggressiveness, but Arteaga had her moments, and her ground strikes were the most damaging aspect. The second round was more clearly Mayo's because Arteaga wasn't able to get much damage in when Mayo was on her back going for the triangle. Arteaga landed some good punches to Mayo's left eye in the 3rd. Late in the round, it started to swell really horribly above the eye. This had the look of an orbital injury so the doctor immediately stopped the fight despite there being less than a minute left & Mayo pleading with him & anyone who would listen "I can see" "I can see" about a hundred times. It was a awful way to lose a fight that I think she should have won (I'd say would, but a simple coin toss would favor the real winner about as often a generic blind mouse & about 50% more than clueless Cecil Peoples or corrupt Adalaide Byrd & given Mayo was probably going to lose round 3 there were certainly no guarantees). I don't think it was a bad stoppage because how many times has Josh Koscheck tried to fight since GSP injured his orbital, and every time it's obvious that it's still a major issue all these years later, but it does add insult to injury in cases such as this where it turns out to just be a really bad bruise. Good match.
Battlarts 2/25/07: Fujita "Jr" Hayato & Katsumi Usuda vs. Munenori Sawa & Yuta Yoshikawa 15:50. Hayato & Sawa got a chance to work out some of their ideas & escalate the tensions between them, setting up their tremendous singles match later in the year. The initial striking combo burst was nowhere near the level we'd see in their 7/21/07 match as they hadn't quite figured out how to both endlessly throw striking combos without the awkwardness of handling hitting each other at the same time. However, it was cool that Yoshikawa blitzed Usuda at the same time, repeatedly kicking him to & on the floor. Yoshikawa is an inexperienced Ishikawa trainee who, while not standout, worked his ass off in every match this year & performed well about the level of a 2nd year fighter, much less one who only managed a couple dozen matches because he didn't have a regularly running how promotion. As much as I enjoyed the few Battlarts shows that have surfaced from this year, it's truly a shame he's in such a small promotion because he's much too talented to just be a part timer with little upward mobility. You could see he was so eager to do everything that Hayato & Sawa were doing, and Hayato's opening sequence with him wound up being a variation of how he started with Sawa, with shorter & less effective striking but quick & heated mat exchanges. Yoshikawa was predictably the whipping boy, but made some nice counters & threw solid kicks. Outside of maybe Yoshikawa, this wasn't anyone's best effort or stiffest work, but Fujita can always be counted on to incite the opposition to pull a more spirited performance out of them, and here everyone was at least solid & there was no combo that wasn't outputting quality action both in standup & on the mat. Sawa was riling Hayato up here too, cheapshotting him with a kick to the back when he ran the ropes to attack Yoshikawa, and catching his revenge kick & turning it into a Dragon screw. Sawa is tremendously explosive & really a great athlete in general. He seems to generate really easy momentum & force just by being so fast & springy. There was a time when everyone & their mother was doing the shining wizard, but Sawa is still the only person who actually managed to make it look consistently impressive. He has such great body control that he seems to be flinging his whole body through the air in a reckless manner to get the kind of momentum you'd get from a flying knee in MMA even though the shining wizard is a vertical move, but he's really accurate with it & it has major impact (he does seem to go a little harder when he knows he's missing). Sawa did a great job of chaining his kicks & submissions, including a cool spot where he missed a high kick, but kept twisting & came back with an enzuigiri. He was really good in this match, and every other Battlarts match. He's not as good a wrestler as Hayato, but he's the best Battlarts has right now, & there are a lot of reasons he was in the best match on every show, particularly skill, drive, & athleticism. ***1/2
Battlarts 15th Anniversary Yuki 7/21/07
Kyosuke Sasaki vs. Yuta Yoshikawa 11:15. The more experienced Sasaki, a veteran of RINGS who followed Kiyoshi Tamura to U-STYLE & had a rather unsuccessful MMA career spanning DEEP, Pancrase, & even PRIDE, didn't wholy respect his young shooter wannabe upstart opponent. He patted Yoshikawa on the head when he broke on the ropes like he was a little boy, jawed with him, stuck his tongue out & laughed when he started winning the leg lock battle. Yoshikawa was going to force Sasaki to treat him as an equal, so this quickly degenerated into a match where two fighters who didn't like each other simply refused to ever back down from one another. The action was really intense as they just exchanged until one of them escalated then exchanged some more. They exchanged snapmares & kicks to the downed opponent, slaps, punches, really any kind of stiff strike. It was all really nasty, high impact stuff, & it was quickly getting to the point where you started to worry someone was going to take it too far & accidentally hurt the opponent as this match was notable & memorable for the punishment they were inflicting on one another. When one fighter was going, it was thrilling, but too often they were just standing around taking turns nailing each other. There was a great near finish where Yoshikawa finally countered one of Sasaki's punches, turning it into a flying armbar but Sasaki was too close to the ropes. Sasaki regained control stopping Yoshikawa's belly to belly suplex with a headbutt & scored knockdowns with high kicks leading to KO'ing him with a punch. ***1/2
Munenori Sawa vs. Fujita "Jr" Hayato 8:17. Absolutely fantastic short match! My general thought on a match under 10 minutes is "moving on...", it's just too little time to build the match & tell a story, but it makes sense in a shoot environment, & this is perhaps the best 8 minute match I've ever seen. Fujita was the pound for pound king of violence at this point, & BATTLARTS was the perfect venue for him, getting him out of the lucha & flying based junior matches & in with an opponent who was happy, or rather insane enough, to allow him to throw everything he had into every shot. They poured every ounce of energy & brutality into the time they had, and it was just electric while it lasted. That wasn't long, but the match was so ridiculously high impact it was mercyful for both when it ended. Even though they were faking it to some extent, I still think they probably did more damage to one another than a fighter would take in most striking based MMA matches where someone didn't suffer a serious injury. They started off as if shot out of a cannon with perhaps the greatest striking sequence I've ever seen in a pro wrestling match, both men simultaneously throwing 35 seconds of full speed, full power slap & kick combos until Fujita finally dropped Sawa with a high kick. I can't even put into words just how awesome it was to see neither fighter standing like a dolt waiting for the other to go all Pat Benatar on them. There was nowhere to go from there but down, but the match remained innovative & never disappointed, as it continued to employ the aggressive real fight mentality of attacking until your opponent answered rather than the should be outdated pro wrestling model of just taking turns watching & waiting. Instead of Fujita doing a single middle kick, he hit 5 before Sawa finally countered with his (or rather Muto's by way of Fujinami & Liger) Dragon screw. The mat work was also impressive, as they employed fairly realistic positions &, as with the standup, were flowing & chaining the attacks together. This eventually did devolve into one Kobashi/Kensuke battle of machismo exchange to supposedly prove who could withstand the most punishment, but they did mix up the shots & sometimes have someone get multiple shots in. Sawa's lip & perhaps nose were busted open hardway from Fujita's ruthless slaps, but unfortunately for Fujita, they aren't the proper defense for the figure 4, and Sawa was able to withstand yet another barrage long enough to get the submission. I loath the use of the figure 4 in more or less a shoot setting, and have never forgiven Muto for forcing Takada to cry uncle to that primitive fakery, but I have to admit the obsolete submission actually didn't take away any of the intensity. In fact, the scenes of Fujita confidently willing himself to sit up while in the leg lock to throw yet another series of hard as he could slaps until the pain was too much & he had to tap while he was down was actually one of the more intense finishes you'll ever see. This would have been an amazing effort for a Budokan main event, much less putting their bodies through all this for 100 people. I don't know if you can have a great pro wrestling match in 8 minutes, but if not, this is about as close as one can come. ****1/4
Yuki Ishikawa 15th Anniversary Match: Alexander Otsuka & Yuki Ishikawa vs. Daisuke Ikeda & Manabu Hara 19:32. Hara set the tone blasting Ishikawa with a high kick to start the match, and there was no letting up from anyone. While it was impossible to follow Sawa/Hayato, they delivered a very stiff contest with solid matwork that was more in the vein of PWFG (other than being a tag) than what was presented during the initial run of Battlarts. I really liked Hara here because he's a more energetic & explosive striker than the others, who are more in the heavyweight style of just relying on the brute force of a single shot. Otsuka would eat a flurry from Hara & then just maul him with one big blow or tackle. Though Ishikawa's anniversary was being celebrated, Hara & Otsuka were the featured performers. Ishikawa was paired with Ikeda, his top rival who he delivered the most memorable matches in the companies initial run against, but Ikeda has been somewhat disappointing this go around because while it's obvious the talent is still there, NOAH taught him not to go too hard or care too much. I'm also not a fan of Ikeda's insistence on exchanging punches with Ishikawa, while it's logical if you're supposed to be shooting & they look amazing compared to WWE whiffing, it really doesn't work when you aren't wearing gloves to keep from breaking your hands, and just winds up being the unimpressive part of a match that's otherwise mainly good because they are able to hit each other so hard with the rest of the strikes. Everyone was good, but Hara really felt like the best because he was dynamic & just had that spark to everything he did that the others don't possess. The match was consistently quality, but it just kind of was what it was throughout, without many highs or lows, rather than something that really built up or took off. ***1/4
UFC Fight Night 115 9/2/17: Alexander Volkov vs. Stefan Struve R3 3:30. At 6'7", Volkov obviously isn't used to being at a considerable height & reach advantage, but I was still surprised that Struve decided to just kickbox with Volkov. Struve isn't really a Semmy Schilt type of range/points fighter where the length matters, his big damage is closing the distance & connecting with the uppercut or knee, both on display in the 1st, but that also negates his reach & leaves him open for Volkov's counter. Volkov is the much cleaner, more accurate striker, and by far the harder hitter. You could see that Struve was having trouble when Volkov really connected, and there's no shame in that, Volkov has finished half his fights in the 1st round for a reason, but that's all the more reason you'd expect Struve, a guy who has won 17 of 28 via submission, to think harder about the ground. Nonetheless, Struve mixing it up with Volkov made for a more exciting fight. Struve kept a really high pace, & was putting a lot of pressure on Volkov with his volume as well as repeatedly gouging him with his Jones/Gustafsson range measuring shenanigans. Volkov didn't have much volume in the first, he was calm & patient, landing a few big shots, but generally waiting for Struve to make a mistake. Struve cut him with a jumping knee late in the 1st, but Volkov countered with a bodylock trip then flurried with punches until the bell. Struve had a good 2nd round, as he was able to maintain his pace & high output while Volkov was stuck breathing through his mouth because his nose was broken. Again, the round was close enough, & Volkov finished big, coming forward with the body punch then landing the big overhand rights as Struve tried to back out of the pocket. Volkov did a much better job of holding his ground or coming forward in the 3rd. He was just waiting too much early in this fight & allowing Struve to dictate. Volkov wasn't headhunting. He did a really good job of starting his combos with either a a left to the liver or a powerful low kick to set up coming high. Volkov never took over the fight per se & the finish wasn't one big shot. Mainly Struve just got caught against the cage, so when Volkov stunned him he couldn't use his typical tactic of leaning/backing away & another big uppercut was all it took. Good match.
KSW 14 9/18/10, KSW Lightweight Tournament Opening Round: Danny van Bergen vs. Artur Sowinski 3R. There's nothing more exciting than a fight where whenever you think one guy is winning, the other guy makes a great move to regain the advantage & potentially finish the fight. Fast-paced contests where both fighters are always trying to win the match no matter what position they find themselves in is what got me interested in "shoot" fighting back in the day. They are all too rare these days because almost everyone plays it safe & is content to lock things down & grind it out, but van Bergen vs. Sowinski never stagnated. It was instead mostly a great attacking submission grappling exhibition with the 2nd round, in particular, being so full of scrambles & submission attempts it was reminiscent of the height of the Kiyoshi Tamura & Volk Han era of worked RINGS. I loved the win as fast as you can mentality these lightweights brought to the tournament. Neither were successful, but the pace was the same as when they are only fighting once a night. Most importantly, they were gutsy & believed in themselves, which meant they took chances because they believe in their ability to achieve the reward rather than fearing what might happen if they didn't succeed. They were willing to give up position for the opportunity to finish because they weren't worried about being on their back. The action never stagnated because their back was an offensive position, and they could also create a scramble to try to get off it. Sowinski initially seemed to be the better kickboxer despite van Bergen being a product of Mike's Gym, using his length to try to keep van Bergen off him, but not being very successful as Van Bergen would take him down sooner rather than later. In the 3rd round, when Sowinski was a little slower, van Bergen really had a big edge in the standup to the point that Sowinski was fine with diving to his back, but regardless there was as much back & forth action on the ground as on their feet. Sowinski has a really strong submission game off his back, but van Bergen is seemingly a higher level ground fighter than most of the guys Sowinski taps in camp, and especially his tough ground & pound was making it difficult for Sowinski to succeed, particularly punishing Sowinski for his space making tactics to set up the submissions attempts. The first round was mostly van Bergen beating Sowinski up for his efforts to be offensive off his back, but Sowinski created a ton of chaos in the 2nd, and there were some super exciting exchanges & finishing attempts. Sowinski couldn't quite sweep van Bergen early in the 2nd, but was able to get an armbar attempt after the scramble. Van Bergan pulled his arm free, & was finally able to get side control in the scramble. Van Bergen mounted, but Sowinski used the overhook to immediately side swept him into guard. This time it was van Bergen trying the armbar off his back, but Sowinski sat back into an ankle lock. Van Bergen pulled his leg out & regained top control with a guard pass punch. Van Bergen mounted again, this time quickly transitioning into an armbar that he momentarily had under his armpit, but Sowinski got on his knees & kept angling until he took the top. Sowinski had visions of his own ground & pound, but van Bergen scissored the arm & turned into another armbar. Sowinski did just enough in the 2nd to send it to the 3:00 overtime. Sowinski was tiring late in the 2nd, and perhaps due to that, Van Bergen blitzed him to start the 3rd with big overhand rights. Sowinski retreated to his back, and again as soon as van Bergen mounted, Sowinski was able to sweep. Van Bergen tried to go right into an armbar, but Sowinski defended. Van Bergen was able to regain the top with a 2nd armbar attempt though. Van Bergen rocked Sowinski with a big right cross lead, but Sowinski was able to land a right straight just before his legs gave out. Sowinski no longer had the energy to buck van Bergen off him, so van Bergen was able to seal the decision finishing with a series of punches from mount. Great match.
Invicta 25 8/31/17: Livia Renata Souza vs. Janaisa Morandin 3R. The small Tachi Palace cage doesn't really allow fighters to use their movement very well, and just encourages takedowns & clinches because it's seemingly 2 steps from the center to the border octagon & then another 2 steps to the fence. I would have liked to have seen this fight inside the regular 30 square foot cage, as the standup was intriguing with Morandin being the better boxer, but Souza having much better footwork & kicks that she soon decided it wasn't worth trying to use even to set up her takedown. That being said, this was ultimately a very intriguing striker vs. grappler contest, with both looking good in their own areas, but Morandin also having enough defense on the ground to keep things moving. The pace was the most impressive aspect, just constant attacking whether they were on their feet or on the ground. Souza was constantly improving position on the mat & putting a beating on Morandin with her punches, while Morandin did a nice job of initiating scrambles & threating with submissions off her back to keep Souza from just beating on her. Souza was able to adjust better. I was particularly impressed with Souza sneaking behind Morandin after a failed koshi guruma & dragging her down with something of a jumping rear mount pull, switching to full mount as soon as they hit the canvas. After the 1st, Souza saw what was working & pretty much just looked for the takedown, withstanding Morandin's blitz & waiting until she was prone to duck into the takedown or at least in between combos to go after the legs. Morandin is a good striker, but she needs to work on getting out of the pocket so she can do her damage again & again rather than landing a couple nice combos then getting deposited on her back. Morandin had a pretty good 2nd round though, aided by a bogus almost immediate standup by Jason McCoy, as when Souza took Morandin down after that Morandin was able to throw up a triangle that wasn't threatening as a submission but allowed her to land a nice series of elbows. As Morandin was the aggressor in standup, backing Souza all round, and landing elbows when Souza was trying for a double leg as well as after she took her down, I'd say she evened the fight up. The third round was similar to the 1st, with Morandin starting strong in standup then getting controlled on the ground. Souza got it into her domain quicker though, so it was the easiest round to score. It would have been nice to see Souza fight for the title as was originally planned, but Morandin was a good replacement for Jodie Esquibel, looking good at her new weight class (she was actually the bigger despite moving up from atomweight, but that's because Souza doesn't cut weight). Souza won a unanimous decision 30-27, 29-28, 29-28. Good match.