The first Pancrase show dropped like an atom bomb on Tokyo’s hardcore wrestling scene. Every other shoot style group, after years of calling out their traditional wrestling rivals and masquerading as the real deal, was suddenly exposed as little more than a collection of charlatans.
Funaki, Suzuki and the rest were tired of waiting their turn in line, pretending to be lesser men, doing business for the likes of Akira Maeda or Yoshiaki Fujiwara for the rest of their prime years. They took destiny into their own hands and turned the entire wrestling business upside down.
We can debate in retrospect whether they should have pushed harder and moved immediately into larger venues. Perhaps that wasn’t a possibility on such short notice and perhaps they didn’t anticipate such overwhelming interest.
Either way, despite the instant interest, the second Pancrase event was held in a more modest venue, the Tsuyuhashi Sports Center in Nagoya, Japan’s third largest metro area.
Beyond that, not much had changed. The same core talent was there and, once again, the action moved at a dizzying pace. The entire event, if you only count the time spent wrestling in the ring, was over in less than 23 minutes, just about the time a Maeda main event would be getting warmed up.
Match 1: Katsuomi Inagaki (0-1) vs. Joop van de Ven (Debut)
Jonathan Snowden: Joop looks vaguely like 80’s pro wrestling enhancement talent the Italian Stallion, or at least like my memory of said Stallion. He’s short and blocky, with a musculature built in a coal mine or something, not in any weight room where they ask you to wipe down the equipment because they are afraid of sweat.
Inagaki is slender and beautiful in a very Pancrase way, spectacular in his light blue speedos. Thankfully, Joop is more modestly attired, two stars tattooed on his pecs the only nod to a fashion sensibility of any kind.
Lee Casebolt: Hey, it’s another random Dutchman! I wonder if he, too, will be a ferocious destroyer of faces like Bas Rutten?
For a moment it appears so. Right off the bat he slaps Inagaki to the mat. It’s not the explosive, crushing blow Rutten delivers. More of a push. But it does the job. The difference between Rutten and van de Ven can be seen in how Inagaki returns to his feet with all of his facial parts in more or less their original location.
Jonathan Snowden: It’s interesting to see Joop stand over a fallen Inagaki and menace him aggressively. It appears, between that and the right hand, that he thinks this is an actual fight. It’s a welcome development after watching a lot of Pancrase fighters in the first event who leaned a bit heavily towards finesse and technique.
Just as I type this, Joop displays some technique of his own, a headlock takeover that almost lands both men outside the ring. The referee rescues them and returns the two men to their feet from whence they came. Any display of Van Den’s grappling would have to wait.
Lee Casebolt: As the two exchange blows, the Dutchman gets the advantage of his Japanese opponent in the open handed striking department. Some low kicks from Inagaki even the exchange, prompting our man Joop to counter with a right hand. A closed right hand to the face of Inagaki, which as we know from previous rules demonstrations is a violation of the norms of Pancrase.
Van de Ven is warned, and Inagaki given time to recover. (In this downtime it should be noted that van de Ven is ahead of the curve on terrible tattoos. In this he is an MMA pioneer.) They return to their slap-happy ways. Inagaki is much the inferior in open handed striking, and tries to make up the lack with heavy kicks. This, in turn, drives van de Ven to clinch and throw… but he has very little to offer on the mat aside from primitive rides and perfunctory choke-hunting which never seems to have Inagaki in any real danger.
Jonathan Snowden: And so, we see the van de Ven grappling style at last—and, considering it is 1993 and no one has even seen Gracie jiu jitsu yet, it’s not half bad! He even goes for a choke, which is kind of a surprise. Of course, he has no real idea how to secure it, which is not.
I notice for the first time that Inagaki has his name stitched into his boots. This is not a man who intends to sell insurance in 1994 or something. That’s an expense you undertake only if you have found your calling. This is Inagaki’s.
Lee Casebolt: This seems to embolden Inagaki, as he flurries with renewed fury with his wide open hands and the occasional kick, and even tries a takedown himself. The newly aggressive Inagaki finally drops van de Ven to the mat with a barrage of slapping hands, and van de Ven shows no significant interest in returning to the fight.
Jonathan Snowden: The official record (and Mr. Casebolt’s account) credit the palm strikes for Inagaki’s win. I think it was the leg kicks, which were thudding in there pretty good at the end, that actually made him quit.
Winner: Katsuomi Inagaki (TKO, 4:48)
Entertainment Value: B
Match 2: Bas Rutten (1-0) vs, Takaku Fuke (1-0)
Lee Casebolt: Fuke is fresh off his armbar victory over Vernon White, Rutten his attempted palm-icide of Ryushi Yanagisawa. One scary looking Rutten front kick is all the motivation Fuke needs to dive for the double leg, and Rutten is still a ways away from learning how to wrestle. In mere seconds, Fuke has Rutten on the mat.
Jonathan Snowden: Rutten attempts to control Fuke with a guillotine or front facelock. He’s told me that’s the only hold he knew at the time, so I suppose he’s actually lucky to have had it fall right in his lap like this. Somewhere, an ocean away, Joe Rogan finds himself screaming “it’s tight!” for no reason at all.
Fuke quickly passes to side control, pops his head right out of Rutten’s desperate grasp and finds his way to mount and the first rope escape in Pancrase history.
Lee Casebolt: Restart, and Fuke again goes for the takedown. Rutten wraps his arms around the head of Fuke. You can’t call it a guillotine with any honesty. It’s barely a headlock. Does look unpleasant, though.
Another armbar attempt follows, with Fuke plopping down hard on his butt. He made his move before managing to control his opponent, and it allows Rutten find his feet again.
Jonathan Snowden: Fuke attempts the rare double deja vu, trying to repeat the same takedown he’s just executed twice in a row a third time. This time Bas catches him with a knee to the head and then wrecks him with a knee to the liver that drops Fuke to the mat.
The trick, Rutten says, is timing the knee so it lands as your opponent is breathing in. That minimizes his defense and the result is what we see here—a tough man unable to handle the pain signals his body is sending him.
When Fuke goes to the doctor in 2029 and no one can quite figure out the abdominal pains he’s having—this will have been the cause.
Lee Casebolt: Fuke is no longer eligible to be an organ donor. Of anything. Rutten is off performing the Rutten Leap as he is contractually obliged to do while Fuke continues to roll around on the mat like a man with a kidney stone the size of a Volvo.
Jonathan Snowden: Rutten does his splits and some spinning kata and remains the baddest man on the planet ever to wear flared purple skorts. They spray some kind of topical anesthetic on poor Fuke, but I’m afraid only time can cure what ails him.
Winner: Bas Rutten (KO, 2:03)
Entertainment Value: A
Match 3: Masakatsu Funaki (0-1) vs. Ryushi Yanigasawa (0-1)
Jonathan Snowden: I’m not sure if his buddies were clowning him for the peach colored get up he wore for the debut show, but Funaki is the only fighter on this show sporting new gear for the second bout. This time it’s his more famous black speedos with the flag of Japan just to his left of the family jewels.
The whole point of Pancrase is that a man earns his place. Everyone considered Funaki the top fighter going in. But that means nothing, not here. He has to prove himself just like everyone else. And, so, the face of the promotion finds himself on the midcard with an awful lot resting on his broad shoulders.
In retrospect, this may not seem like a big fight. But, at the time, it must have felt very much like a must win.
Lee Casebolt: Poor Ryushi. First he gets facepalmed by Bas Rutten, and now he’s got the boss. There’s a Predators of the Wild commercial before this bout (just 1950 yen!), and Yanagisawa looks to be playing the role of wildebeest.
Sure enough, it takes Funaki mere seconds to knock his opponent to the ground. He lacks the sheer overwhelming force of Rutten, but is no less effective for it. Funaki kindly refrains from stomping Yanagisawa’s head in (though only with effort), and allows the man to return to his feet for further abuse.
Jonathan Snowden: Funaki is hitting Yanagisawa so hard that his hair is actually bouncing around with each impact. This level of opponent doesn’t require the tactical discipline he attempted in his first fight against Shamrock.
Here, looking to make a statement and forgetting fear, he is really able to let loose. He’s graceful, powerful and precise, an obvious master of martial arts. Watching him is a pleasure, as he lands a couple of knees in the clinch and then transitions to an easy takedown.
Lee Casebolt: Funaki is a joy to watch on the offensive. Open hands, kicks, knees, single leg… and then to the mat. Knee bar? No. How about a toe hold? Nah. Heel hook? Oh, look, there are the ropes, so Yanagisawa’s ligaments will all remain untorn for now.
Jonathan Snowden: That was the second rope escape in Pancrase history, this time the product of a dueling leglocks sequence. I find my heart filled with joy.
The heel hook is the most brutal move in grappling, bar none. It’s sole purpose is wrecking the knee and, often, by the time the victim notices pain, it’s too late to save himself. Here, even with a quick grab of the ropes, the hold has taken its toll.
Yanagisawa grimaces and gimps around as they return to their feet and Funaki takes that as a signal to attack his legs. He shoots a double and, when Ryushi miraculously fends him off, basically just manhandles him to the mat.
This time there is no escape from Funaki’s kneebar. Yanagisawa taps quickly, but the referee is a bit slow breaking the two men. If we’re being honest, Funaki could have probably let go an instant earlier too. Ryushi’s knee isn’t likely to forgive either any time soon.
Lee Casebolt: Post-fight, Funaki picks up his fallen foe and gives him… I don’t know. A pep talk? Coaching tips? Yanagisawa does a lot of nodding and bowing and presumably says “Hai!” at least once. We’ve all been there. When your knee has been wrecked and now the dude who did the wrecking is being nice to you? And you don’t really know what to do or say in this situation because it is super uncomfortable both socially and physically? Sure. We are all Ryushi Yanagisawa.
Winner: Masakatsu Funaki (Kneebar, 1:35)
Entertainment Value: B+
Match 4: Minoru Suzuki (1-0) vs. Vernon White (0-1)
Lee Casebolt: Poor Vernon White. I know when I’m coming off a submission loss, what I definitely want to see on the other side of the ring is the towel-shadowed face of Minoru Suzuki. Also, I can’t get over how skinny White looks. Though I guess we were all skinnier in 1993.
Jonathan Snowden: Suzuki is menacing even in 1993, gold lettering on his towel the only escape from the powerful monotony of all black. He’s not the crazed uncle, fresh from a massacre at a meth lab we all know and love from today’s New Japan Pro Wrestling—but he makes his bad intentions clear.
The stories I’ve heard, especially about the torture he put young boys through at the Pancrase dojo, is enough to give you shivers. Most of the foreign fighters spent time at that dojo. You can’t tell me they didn’t have just a little fear installed alongside all that knowledge.
Lee Casebolt: White is true to himself. After all, a tiger (is he Tiger yet?) cannot change his stripes. And so he hops around before initiating the Spinning Shit.
Minoru Suzuki is not impressed with your spinning shit.
Immediately after the spinning shit is thrown, so too is Vernon White, who is forced to grab a rope.
Jonathan Snowden: Suzuki is controlling White’s hips and keeping him planted on the mat. There is no discernible hold here. This rope escape is Vernon saying “fuck it” and hoping for a chance to do some more twirling and kicking.
He actually scores with a nice switch kick, then lands a hard spinning kick to the kneecap that echoes through the building. There’s something nice about watching White, his carefree bounce and darting quickness adding something different to the house style that’s a product of every major player having been taught by the same men.
Still, one spin too many was all it took for Suzuki to resume control. His speed in this era is other worldly, allowing him to close the distance on White in ways he likely never encountered in the training room.
Suzuki in 1993 is on a different level.
Lee Casebolt: Too much spinning returns Vernon White to the canvas and Suzuki works him over with a half nelson – clearly the intended prelude to a straight arm lock – and some crossfaces. White doesn’t appear to be in significant danger of being submitted, but he does look kind of helpless as he squirms to hook a foot over the ropes again for his second escape, and bangs the mat with both fists in profound frustration.
The tipping, the tapping, the gentle rapping of one foot against another is the sum total of the standing portion of the bout, until White rips off a beautiful spinning crescent kick… which Suzuki smothers as he takes White down for the third time.
One begins to detect a trend. Suzuki hunts for the straight arm lock, but White is able to defend it. Unfortunately for young Vernon, Suzuki uses that hold to set up another, and his crooked head scissors puts White’s neck at an angle at which necks should not be put.
Winner: Minoru Suzuki (Leg Scissors, 2:36)
Entertainment Value: A
Match 5: Ken Shamrock (1-0) v. Yoshiki Takahashi (1-0)
Lee Casebolt: Big test for Takahashi, who Jon assures me I have unfairly maligned as a not ready for prime time fighter, when in fact he is possessed of great potential. Can he stand up to Shamrock, who has already conquered Masakatsu Funaki?
Jonathan Snowden: Shamrock looks so mean. I understand this is prize fighting, but that just seems like an uncalled for level of mean. The camera lingers on Ken (called Wayne here for reasons he tells me he can’t recall) and the extent to which he is not fucking around in obvious.
Takahashi, however, is clearly not nearly as impressed as I am, as he goes right at Ken with a kick and all of the sudden they are going at each other and hot damn, isn’t this what fighting is supposed to be? Shamrock told me that Takahashi was one of his favorite guys to work with in the gym, because, to paraphrase, he was a big ole boy who didn’t give a fuck.
He stays not giving them here and the result is something distinct from the other fights we’ve seen to this point. This kind of aggression can’t easily be duplicated in a wrestling match, even one trying so hard to do so. This is what 3000 people have come to see and what will make Pancrase an early success—this is a by God shoot.
Lee Casebolt: Takahashi impresses right off the bat with a big single leg lift and slam of Shamrock out of the clinch. Takahashi is bigger and stronger than Funaki, more of a direct physical match for Shamrock. But the technical difference is stark, as Shamrock quickly reverses into a controlling position and rides Takahashi hard.
Jonathan Snowden: Since Lee is meeting the demand for more erotica, and I’m saving my best stories about this fight for my Shamrock book, I’ll go right back to play by play.
Ken is trying some interesting stuff here, wrapping Takahashi’s own arm around his throat and then folding him together in a modified wrestling cradle. It doesn’t appear to be doing much harm, but it’s something different!
Eventually there is a scramble that ends in Shamrock securing an arm triangle. The world has seen the great Funaki fall to that hold. Takahashi isn’t taking any chances and grabs the rope for an escape.
Lee Casebolt: Back to their feet, and Takahashi again slams Shamrock to the mat with a double leg takedown, after Ken telegraphs a big right hand. This time is able to retain some control on the mat. He tries a toe hold and some crossfaces, and even what looks like a wild rolling leglock out of the referee’s position, but no love.
All it gets him is standing up again, going toe to toe with Ken Shamrock.
Jonathan Snowden: Now bleeding his own blood, Shamrock lets loose for a big right hand that makes the crowd OOOOOH loudly. Japanese crowds are generally so quiet and contemplative, especially in a smaller building. that any exultation signals something special.
Takahashi has the physicality to compete with Ken Shamrock at his physical prime. Hair wild, but eyes calm, he’s making a fight of this thing. Like the crowd, I find this worth celebrating.
Lee Casebolt: Even here, Takahashi is making me look dumb for doubting him, putting together a nice one-two with the open hands, and finishing with the knee to the body, and generally holding his own slugging it out. On the clinch, Shamrock makes history with the first rolling leglock attempt in Pancrase history! I feel like the bout should have been stopped there for streamers or something.
Instead, they go back to exchanging blows, and Takahashi runs through Shamrock for his third takedown! He hunts for a choke, can’t get it, and dives for a toe hold attempt. Can’t get that either. Into Shamrock’s guard, where he gets caught with an arm triangle from underneath.
Shamrock rolls him over and Takahashi is out in seconds. There appears to be some confusion, and Shamrock is given a red card. Oh! I had to go back and review the footage myself – the perils of watching and typing at the same time – Takahashi managed to reach the ropes with one foot prior to going out, and Shamrock failed to break immediately when commanded by the referee. We return to action!
Jonathan Snowden: The ref showed a red card, then a yellow card. Who can say what it all means? Takahashi, however, was out, to the point the referee grabbed by the hair to try to bring him to his senses.
He seems little worse for wear as he resumes hard strikes, but then maybe his brain isn’t quite firing right as Shamrock uses a whizzer out of a clinch to get him down and take his back. An arm triangle follows almost immediately but the two are already in the ropes and Takahashi earns the escape—only to be almost immediately dropped by a shotei.
Lee Casebolt: Shamrock gets a quick knockdown off of a palm strike, and puts Takahashi down again with a knee. This latter is not ruled a knockdown, as far as I can tell, but does put Shamrock in position for yet another arm triangle attempt. Takahashi manfully fights out of this, and the followup arm lock attempt, and seeks a submission of his own with a toe hold attempt. This puts his own legs dangerously in reach of Shamrock, who returns the favor (of attempted crippling), though a stalemate is the ultimate result.
Jonathan Snowden: Back standing after my beloved double leglock spot, Takahashi looks exhausted and Ken looks like he’s just wiped the mat with Vernon White and is making Scott Bessac step into take his daily whooping. This version of Ken Shamrock seems to have an endless gas tank.
Ten minutes into the fight and he’s still exploding into strikes, popping Takahashi with a right hand on top of the head that is probably the hardest blow of the bout. Knees follow—and not dainty ones. These are meant to end the fight, but Takahashi isn’t the kind of man who yields easily.
Lee Casebolt: I apologize unreservedly to Yoshiki Takahashi, who has faced the best shootfighter in Japan for over ten minutes and given Ken Shamrock everything he wants. Sure, in the end a series of knees to the body lead to an ill-considered takedown attempt and a horrifying heel hook finish, but Takahashi looked marvelous from beginning to end.
I will never doubt you again, Yoshiki. Meanwhile, that finish goes on Shamrock’s World’s Most Dangerous Man highlight reel. Feet should not go that way. This bout is a gem. All the stars.
Jonathan Snowden: Fighters come in to untangle their legs and the seemingly evil Suzuki shows his soft side, comforting Takahashi who is clearly in agony. They cover Takahashi with a bottle of water, though the medicinal value here is unclear.Shamrock celebrates, but has the decency to do so in a muted fashion. Takahashi is clearly not well.
Funaki translates a brief conversation between the two and they shake hands. But Suzuki gives Shamrock a look—one that means everything. Takahashi is helped to the back, but Suzuki’s eyes tell us this isn’t an ending. It is a beginning. Pancrase’s first great fight.
Winner: Ken Shamrock (Heel hook, 12:23)
Entertainment Value: A+