We should kick this off by making it clear that shoot style and MMA are not my expertise. I can appreciate both in the right context, but ultimately, I know nothing about them, so any dip into that realm is coming purely from a pro-wrestling perspective. All of which means you must be desperate to hear what I think about Tamura vs Kohsaka, a RINGS match from 1998.
Before we get into it, it feels like this one needs some context. For those unaware, RINGS was one of the many promotions in the history of Japanese combat sports that has blurred the line between puroresu and MMA. Formed in 1991 by Akira Maeda, it danced between the two and, as far as I understand, occasionally dabbled with them simultaneously. This fight? I think it’s a wrestling match, it certainly feels like one, but it’s in a period where from what I’ve read, RINGS was focused on MMA, so who the fuck knows. I’m going to treat it like one, though.
And even if this wasn’t a wrestling match, it bloody well works as one because it is incredible. I’m honestly unsure what to compare it with, but I was gripped from the first bell right through until it was declared a draw at the thirty-minute mark. Over that period, Tamura and Kohsaka craft something breathtaking in that ring, laced with the timing and story-telling of pro-wrestling but delivered with the hardness of MMA.
What makes my reaction even more surprising is that this is grappling heavy. RINGS works on a system where each rope break is noted down as a point (you also get two if you’re knocked down) and if you hit ten points, you lose, which adds an extra spice to their work on the floor. You can escape these holds, but in doing so, you give your opponent the edge. Even without that, though, I reckon I’d have been hooked. These two are masters, dancing around each other’s bodies, transitioning between limbs in a way that looks both real and intricate. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe the things they’re doing, but I am in awe of it.
It’s nae bad when they stand-up either, as suddenly the blows come thick and fast. Each strike looks like it has the potential to knock the other out and Tamura (having used a couple of rope breaks), gets back into the fight with a devastating flurry that sends Kohsaka to the mat. Again, it’s got a crunch to it that makes it feel like a proper fight, but there is a controlled element. It has the pacing of something put together by pros, building to those moments where the crowd rise up, sensing a submission or a knock-out.
The final seconds are thrilling, the scores level as they grapple, both men aware that using a rope break will lose them the fight, but a leg or arm being bent towards agony will do the exact same thing. All they can do is pray they’re the one doing the bending or that they have the will power to grit their teeth and make it through if they’re not. It had me, someone with no stake in this fight, on the edge of my seat, suddenly wrapped up in the battle between these men as their time trickled away.
As I’ve made abundantly clear, I’m not a shoot-style of MMA aficionado. If I were kind to myself, I’d say I know fuck all about this. If I were harsh, I’d point out that I have no place reviewing this match. However, that’s probably what makes this all the more impressive. They managed to take me, someone with no knowledge of the intricacies of grappling or the promotion they are working in, and they made me care. I’ve always felt that stuff like RINGS wasn’t for me, now I’m not so sure.