Psych 101: Inoki Shooto Edition

Since the inception of professional wrestling, it could be argued that the culture of Japanese wrestling, or puroresu, has existed on a forefront of society that American wrestling could never quite achieve. In America, professional wrestling has always been viewed as a side-act or as a carnival show. In Japan, puroresu events are often covered as legitimate sporting events and the wrestlers themselves are regarded as competent athletes and competitors. This translates to an entirely different projected image on the shows themselves. Puroresu shows often push and promote the most gifted wrestlers based on their in-ring performance first and their character or charisma second. The major American promotions will often book their shows based on the opposite premise of glitz and glamour over the practical application of solid in-ring ability.

These philosophies of booking led to differences in the concept of cross-promoting as well. From the 1980s on through to today, Vince McMahon’s dream was to involve celebrities in matches to help draw for his major events, most specifically for WrestleMania. Celebrities like Mr. T and former pro athletes like Lawrence Taylor were featured in matches with WWE Superstars for the spectacle of the event.

In New Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1970s, however, promoter and wrestler Antonio Inoki envisioned cross-promoting on the purely competitive level. With pro wrestling in Japan being considered more of an actual sport, entertainment celebrities were rarely in the discussion for use in actual matches. On top of which, Inoki was a man with a great amount of training in shooting, hooking, and catch wrestling. In turn, his fascination with all forms of competitive combat led to an idea to combine as many of these avenues as possible with the promotion of both himself and of NJPW. Inoki sought out notable practitioners of boxing, karate, judo and kung fu to hold matches with, as well as any relatable “strong men.” The culmination of this was arguably the first mainstream MMA contest that pitted the wrestler and grappler Antonio Inoki against famed boxer Muhammad Ali in 1976.
(The match was highly controversial and will be featured in a future installment of Psych 101)

In the following year, Inoki would compete against a unique individual that crossed over from the world of strongmen competitions: Croatian Great Antonio.

Great Antonio was quite the character. He was a strongman, but to the untrained eye appeared as nothing more than a large, overweight man that could be promoted as a “monster” in a professional wrestling ring. He claimed that he was able to uproot trees by pulling it with a cable tied around his neck, as well as claimed numerous other hyperbolic feats. He’d arrive in New Japan for a match with Inoki in 1977, with his only notable previous stint being in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, where he was allegedly inciting riots for how unpopular he was. Perhaps against better judgment, Inoki booked the man against himself in a match that now lives in infamy thanks to the advent of the internet and youtube. This edition of Psych 101 shall examine how one of the greatest workers of all time attempts to salvage a match with a green, unathletic, and entirely uncoordinated novice.

After the typical pleasantries at the start of the match (including Great Antonio having to lean against the ropes to allow the ref to check his boots because he cannot balance himself) Inoki begins after the bell with a dramatic roll and then quick run off the rope. It’s clear Inoki is setting up the only logical story for this match: The smaller, quicker wrestler versus the big, lumbering power fighter. Inoki then circles the ring and evades Antonio while the big man haphazardly stumbles and tries to aimlessly grab at Inoki’s head with only one arm. It’s a very awkward motion that is really puzzling in terms of figuring out whether or not Antonio is trying to lock up or not, with Inoki’s body movement seemingly asking the same question.

Inoki’s attempt to cover up this strange motion is to finally clasp hands with Great Antonio and perform a “test of strength” spot, but in an arm-wrestling position. After a few seconds Antonio throws Inoki away, with Inoki making the effort to fall stumbling across the ring to put over the power of the big man. As Inoki circles towards Antonio again, Antonio swats with his one arm in the same manner as before. This time, however, Inoki clearly just slaps his hand away as he’s not about to uselessly perform the same spot again. Both men move to the corner where Great Antonio applies a headlock with the non-traditional right arm. In traditional training, most holds and submissions are performed using the left hand or left side. It’s possible that Great Antonio was taught in a different, right-handed style, however it would make more sense that he just had no idea what he was doing… The ref considers this a choke and breaks it up at a 4 count.

Following the headlock there is then a series of non sequential spots performed by Inoki, including a dropkick which Great Antonio makes no effort to sell, as well as a running shoulder block by Inoki that Antonio again decides not to sell. It’s very possible these were meant to lead to Great Antonio finally bumping. However, with that not being the case, Inoki just appears weak and foolish. The frustration of working with Great Antonio begins to show as Inoki whips him off the ropes and then simply walks away from Antonio as he waddles back. From this point forward, Inoki is clearly fed up with how difficult Great Antonio is being and begins to simply walk around the big man with his hands on his waist, casually looks to engage with the man.

The ending sequence begins with Inoki throwing a palm strike at Antonio, which is again not sold in the least. Both men casually move over to the ropes where Great Antonio proceeds to give Inoki some very stiff forearms to the back, including one that dangerously grazes the back of Inoki’s head. Inoki, now not even bothering with keeping things structured in any way, immediately pops back up and blasts Great Antonio in the face with a couple clean, hard palm strikes. Great Antonio, still being oblivious to what he’s into, continues to try to not sell the blows even though he’s quite visibly been hurt by the strikes. Inoki then performs a go behind and single leg trip and proceeds to kick Antonio in the face until the man lays face down and flat on the mat. From there Inoki grabs the ropes for balance and begins to stomp, heel-first, on the side of Antonio’s head. The traditional style of “stomp” in a worked match is for the foot to be slightly angled so as to break up any direct line of force that may be created, and to hit the other worker with the balls of your feet as opposed to your heel. Hitting with the balls of the feet, again, will destroy any kinetic flow that many be generated from the hip to the foot while performing a stomping motion. Inoki is no longer concerned with “working” Great Antonio.

The Croatian Strongman is clearly dazed and has seemingly been cut open across the face “hard way” by Inoki’s stomps. The ref immediately calls for the match to end and awards Inoki the victor due to Antonio being unable to continue. It’s clear Inoki was likely to go over in the bout anyhow, but it’s also clear that shoot stomping Antonio into next thursday was likely not the planned finish. Inoki had made several attempts to perform some very basic spots with Great Antonio. These spots even involved no real effort on Antonio’s part, aside from perhaps wobbling to fall over or even grimace to sell a shot from Inoki (neither of which occured). Many wrestlers argue that the line that separates a great worker from an average one is the ability for that worker to seamlessly cover up mistakes or think on their feet and fix a match when everything is falling apart. It’s apparent Inoki made his best efforts to keep things moving with Great Antonio, but it seemed Antonio has no clue from step one of what he was actually doing.

The debate then becomes whether Inoki was justified in his actions or if he was taking things too far and taking too many liberties with a man who was not properly trained. Was the mentality of the business during that time period such that it made the beat down by Inoki an appropriate response? Is a shoot like that appropriate at all regardless of time period? Furthermore, do these actions change the opinion of how complete a worker Antonio Inoki was? We’ll explore these topics in Part Two of “Psych 101: Inoki Shooto Edition,” as well as have a feature on Great Antonio in the near future.

– Nick
@DBBNick
donnybrookboys@gmail.com

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UFC 133 Snapshot: Tito Ortiz Comeback Tour Continues

July 2nd, 2011 was meant to be a passing of the torch in the Light Heavyweight Division of the UFC. While many may not have said it outright during the promotion of UFC 132, the writing was clearly on the wall. Tito Ortiz, the 36-year-old former Light Heavyweight Champion of the UFC, hadn’t earned a victory in the octagon in his last five fights. After four and a half years of defeat, and various conflicts with Dana White along the way, Ortiz was set to fight Ryan Bader, the 12-1 budding prospect of the division. At eight years Bader’s senior, Ortiz entered the octagon poised to be cut from the UFC if he met defeat.

1:56 later, Bader was tapping to a guillotine choke, and Ortiz couldn’t hold back the tears. The ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ is back, at least for the time being.

As it conincided, Light Heavyweight Champion and phenom Jon Jones was supposed to defend the title against the quick hands of former champion and Ultimate Fighter winner, Rashad Evans. Unfortunately for Evans, Jones suffered a broken hand in training and was replaced by wrestling upstart Phil Davis. Davis, however, would suffer a knee injury shortly thereafter and be forced to pull out of the fight. The revolving door of opponents then went around from Ortiz, to Machida, and back to Ortiz again. After an emotional and triumphant return just one month ago, Ortiz will try to carry that momentum into a second encounter with Evans.

It’s very difficult in this situation to have any confidence in Ortiz pulling out a victory over Evans. With the fight against Bader, Ortiz had a solid 9 months to train and prepare and was also facing a fighter who showed weakness to getting caught in guillotines. At 36, Ortiz is taking this fight on less than a month’s notice, where age and recovery play a giant factor. Jon Jones was able to defeat Bader under similiar circumstances and then defeat Shogun Rua a month later to win the Light Heavyweight Title, but Jon Jones was only 23-years-old at the time and proving to be an unstoppable force.

The advantage to an Ortiz victory would be the intriguing storyline to associate with it. Jones is already slated to defend his title against “Rampage” Jackson in September, but if Ortiz were to defy the odds yet again and overcome Evans then a potential title fight could be made down the line. Not unlike the heavyweight encounter of Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar in 2008, the legend of Tito Ortiz could go to war with the remarkable talents of the prodigy. This would have potential as a huge draw for the UFC. However, other than the dream match up, Tito doesn’t serve much purpose to remain in the division. A loss may send him packing again, or a victory could keep the tour rolling. With a couple flat tires, a shakey starter and a busted fender, tonight we’ll see how far the bus can keep rolling.

We here at DBB endorse Rashad Evans for victory.

Vitor Belfort v. Yoshihiro Akiyama

The Middleweight Division that Anderson Silva has torn apart remains a graveyard for former title contenders and a purgatory for those that dare rise to title contention. Belfort looks to bounce back from a first round KO at the hands of Silva, whereas Akiyama looks to turns things around after experiencing the first losing streak of his career. A win might boost “Sexyama” into that snowball’s chance in hell against Silva, but Belfort still remains a serious threat with his strikes.

We here at DBB endorse Vitor Belfort for victory.

Mike Brown v. Nam Phan

Mike Brown was considered one of the bigger names to come into the UFC following the merger with WEC. The former WEC Featherweight Champion handed Urijah Faber almost half of his loss total (2 of Faber’s 5) and reigned over the division until Jose Aldo took the belt from Brown in 2009. Since the merge, however, Brown has gone 0-2 in UFC bouts and is in need of a victory to keep himself from drowning. Nam Phan, the popular TUF contestant, returns after a controversial split decision loss to Leonard Garcia and the TUF Finale back in December. A win over Brown would prove a great starting point for Phan’s UFC career.

We Here at DBB endorse Mike Brown for victory.

– Nick
@DBBNick
donnybrookboys@gmail.com


Go Home, Punk

The seemingly impossible has happened and CM Punk, after making himself the hottest commodity in wrestling, did it.

Months ago, it was learned that World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar CM Punk’s contract was expiring later this year. Capitalizing on this, WWE integrated it into their storylines, with Punk confessing to the fans that his contract was almost up and swearing to win the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank on what would be perceived as his last night in the company, July 17th. And then, to subsequently walk out with the belt. The following weeks this was driven home by some absolutely brilliant mic work by Punk and both casual WWE fans and the diehards were caught up in wondering where this could lead. But recently Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reported that Punk’s contract was not actually up until September of this year.

So now Punk has won the title on his “last night” just as he vowed to do, and after a thoroughly entertaining story, a new era could be on the horizon both for CM Punk and for WWE.

The last time WWE tried to signal a paradigm shift for the company was over a year ago with the formation of Nexus, with the former NXT contestants’ surprising attack on John Cena, the perrenial face of the company, as well as everyone at ringside. This caught many people off guard and there was a significant buzz about it leading into the next week, but the momentum was quickly lost on the ensuing programs as the group slowly became less of an unpredictable outside threat and fell into the typical booking rhythms as all other WWE programs, especially as they ran up against John Cena, whom the WWE has consistently refused to make look weak or disadvantaged for too long.

And now it comes back to the current situation, and John Cena is in the middle of another hot angle for the WWE that has fans truly guessing (with the exception of spoilers for a week) what the next twist or turn might be. Another opportunity to capitalize on the genuine curiosity from all areas of the fan spectrum. Cena and WWE have “lost” the championship title for one of their programs in an era where there have been double top-tier world champions for both Raw and Smackdown. Normal booking ideas would be to set up a tournament to crown the new champion, or set up a single match for the vacant belt. But this is a chance for WWE to do something different. A radical departure would be to settle for having one major world championship for both shows, but no rumblings to that end have appeared on any news sites and so I can’t see them going in that direction. If Punk’s contract is correctly reported as expiring two months from now, this could conceivably set up a chase to physically get the belt back in some fashion through vignettes or video appearances from home, as WWE is fond of trying to throw in that sort of entertainment aspect that was common during the Attitude era. But both of those things are pure speculation, and that’s the best part of it, right? We’re all still guessing, and in a time where overanalyzation and assured prediction are so common with wrestling fans, it’s a great feeling.

As for the direction of the man central to all of this, there’s no end to the conjecture about Punk’s immediate future. “Shoot” comments made during his infamous promos have mentioned destinations such as his previous home, Ring of Honor. However, given ROH’s rising profile with a new owner and distribution across a network of television stations, I can’t see this as any more of a wink and a nod toward Punk’s fans, no matter how much wishful thinking there is. The surest thing seems to be for him to take a sabbatical from wrestling, just like former WWE wrestler Chris Jericho has done before and is in the midst of again as we speak. Punk has just given an interview to men’s magazine GQ, and has made reference to a movie role he turned down according to another recent co-interview with his friend Colt Cabana. With press and options like this and the possibility of a free schedule ahead of him, Punk has myriad directions he could go in with his life.

All in all, the following Monday night after July 17th’s proves to be one of the most intriguing in a while, for CM Punk, for WWE, and for the fans. It’s been a great ride throughout this storyline, and if it’s the end of it, it still as the potential promise of another awesome beginning. But for now? After 5 years of being the one of the best in the ring, one of the best on the mic, and the oft-coveted title of being one of the Best in the World…go home, Punk, and rest on your laurels. You deserve it.

— Jack
donnybrookboys@gmail.com


Lashley to Fight on 7/29 Card

Wrestling Observer:

HDNet announced last night that Bobby Lashley will face former UFC fighter Eddie Sanchez in the main event of a 7/29 live show from Kansas City’s Memorial Hall.

Bobby Lashley looks to build off the momentum from his last fight and re-assert himself as a heavyweight contender. Lashley had been making his transition from the world of professional wrestling to the world of mixed martial arts look easy with pummeling first round victories over MMA mainstays like Wes Sims and Bob Sapp. However, a TKO loss to Chad Griggs last August brought into question Lashley’s conditioning, as well as his progression as an overall fighter. The 250-pound wrestler failed to display any comfort or knowledge in a submission game despite having several chances to possibly finish Griggs in that manner. Lashley bounced back with a decision victory over John Ott back in March, but exhibited the same factors of fatigue and questionable commitment. It should be noted that Ott was also a Middleweight fighter who struggled to put weight on to be in the same ballpark of size as the mammoth Lashley.

Lashley’s opponent, the 12-5 Eddie Sanchez, will prove a more legitimate heavyweight competitor for the former WWE superstar. Sanchez fought with the UFC from 2006 to 2008, but only amounted a 3-3 record during his time there. After coming up on the losing end in his last two fights, a victory over the brand name of Lashley could be the boost Sanchez is looking for to put him back on track.


UFC Snapshot: Jones Title Shot, Faber Makes UFC Debut

Jon Jones is arguably the fastest rising and improving star that the UFC has under its banner. After beginning his UFC career with decision victories over Andre Gusmao and Ultimate Fighter I alum Stephan Bonnar, “Bones” would go on a tear through the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. Jake O’Brien would fall to Jones in two rounds at UFC 100, followed by a hiccup of a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, which remains the only tarnish on his record. The Hamill fight wasn’t even a loss in the true sense of the word, as Jones was dominating the accomplished wrestler before throwing a “12-6” elbow to the head which had been recently dubbed illegal. Hamill was unable to continue after the blow and thus the fight was called. Jones, however, as respectful and humble as he is skilled, took the loss in stride and promised to work harder for his next fight.

The next contest for Jones was UFC vet Brandon Vera on the UFC debut on the Versus network. All the experience in the world, however, wouldn’t stop Vera’s obrital bone from crushing under the force of a Jones elbow. Bones only let the man last half a round. A short four-and-a-half months later, Jones would make similiar work of Vladimir Matyushenko: Round one, elbows. Jones was drawing quick comparisons to the domination of Anderson Silva in the Middleweight Division with fans speculating that he should earn a title shot to match his rising status. Dana White understood this quite well and chose to refrain from injecting Jones into the title picture too quickly. Instead, White made a point to mention that he would hold off on Jones for another year and see where his progression was then.

Perhaps regarded as the first “true” test of his career, Jones was pitted against the undefeated Ultimate Fighter winner, Ryan Bader, at UFC 126 back in February. Bader had recently defeated the former PRIDE fighter Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by using his superior wrestling techniques and improved striking. Where Bader had dominated with his strength and size in the past, he met his match with an equally strong and incredibly elusive Jon Jones. Jones used Bader’s own game plan against him, controlling Bader’s body and eventually submitting him in the 2nd round.

Dana White at the moment was facing a light heavyweight dilemma. The champion, Shogun Rua, was set to defend the belt against perennial contender and former champion Rashad Evans. Evans, however, was forced to withdraw due to an injury in training. Having seen Jones dominate another title contender, White jumped at the oppurtunity in the post-fight interview and asked Jones if he would take the title shot in March against Shogun. Jones excitedly accepted.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s entrance into the UFC wasn’t quite as regarded as that of Jones. A highly toutued acquisition from the purchase of Pride: Fighting Championships, Rua was a top performer than many UFC fans were excited to see finally compete in the States. With victories in Pride over such fighters as “Rampage” Jackson, Alistair Overeem and the aforementioned Nogueira, many fans were expecting a light heavyweight title shot rather quickly. Instead, Shogun was given a fight with Ultimate Fighter I winner Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. Meant to be a “test” fight, Rua went from title contention to stepping stone as Griffin shocked the MMA world and submitted Rua late in the 3rd round.

As Griffin went on to defeat Rampage Jackson and become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Rua found himself removed from the title picture and having to claw his way back up. It would be a little over a year before he would get an oppurtunity to prove himself worthy of the title. To achieve his high status once again, Shogun had to fight his way through two UFC veterans and hall of famers, and he did so in impressive fashion.

Fans would be privileged to see Rua defeat Mark Coleman by TKO at UFC 93. He would make even quicker work of former Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell, TKO’ing the Iceman in round one of UFC 97. Now back to form, Rua was awarded a title shot against Champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. It was a long 25 months since the defeat at the hands of Forrest Griffin. The two waged war for five full rounds, each round closer than the previous. When the dust cleared and the score cards were turned in, a chorus of boos flooded the arena as Lyoto Machida was declared the winner and still champion.

All the work Rua put in would not be lost, though. Dana White realized the severity of the situation and the potential draw of another Machida-Rua contest and decided to book a rematch for the title. Much like his first three UFC fights, Rua’s two against Machida would move in the same progression. Fight one – Go the distance, reach defeat. Fight two – One round, one winner. At UFC 133 on May 8, 2010, Mauricio Rua finally achieved the title that could’ve been his two years prior as he defeated Lyoto Machida by KO midway through the first round.

To perhaps put the Light Heavyweight Title fight tonight in a tag line, you could say it’s “Adversity vs. Domination.” The borderline unstoppable Jon Jones seems heir apparent to the throne. He’s made short work of every fighter he has come across, and done so in absolutely dominating fashion. The most impressive thing to note in Jones’ fights are that he doesn’t simply strike his way to victory, he dominates his opponents physically, imposes his will, and then strikes the death blows while in a superior position. Jones has incredible striking ability, but he wins his fights by using overwhelming ground and pound and forcing his opponents into a defensive position that they can’t escape. He’s quick, powerful, smart, and getting better with each passing day, a hard combination to overcome for any fighter.

Rua’s biggest advantage could be that he is both very experienced and legitimately the toughest opponent yet for Jones. As noted, he’s struggled through his UFC career, having both moments of sheer domination, and moments of catastrophy. What it may boil down to for Rua’s camp is which Shogun comes to fight tonight. While absolutely deserving of the title he currently holds, his wins over aging stars like Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell seem more foregone conclusion rather than absolute assertion that he is capable of handling a young buck like Jones.

We here at DBB endorse victory of Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.

Urijah Faber Makes UFC Debut

Another draw for the card is the official UFC debut of “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. Faber had been a dominate fighter at 135, and a poster boy for the WEC. Up until the purchase of WEC by Zuffa, it seemed unfortunate that a fighter like Faber wouldn’t have a big league outlet like UFC to compete in. He’s always had all the elements of being a major star to promote: Dominate fighter, great hair, great look – he’s made to be a central figure to promote around. Now, with the absorbing of the WEC promotion, Faber will compete on his first UFC card against Eddie Wineland. The California Kid is carrying some momentum, coming off a first round submission victory over Takeya Mizugaki from back in November. Wineland, by contrast, is barreling through with a freight train, riding a four match winning streak, with most recently a first round knockout via body slam. Faber’s recent losses have only been to the like of elite talent such as Mike Brown and Jose Aldo, so one would assume he could outclass the rising Wineland to victory.

Fights To Watch

Nate Marquardt is still wandering around in the Middleweight title picture. After his 21 second knockout of Damien Maia in 2009, Marquardt was lobbying pretty hard for Anderson Silva’s head, claiming himself the proverbial giant killer. His ability didn’t quite match his hype as Chael Sonnen defeated him by decision to swipe the title shot away from him. Since then, Nate earned a questionable TKO victory over Rousimar Palhares back in September, followed by a coma-inducing split decision loss to Yushin Okami in November. Tonight he faces the 13-4 Dan Miller, who is riding a two-fight win streak. Miller is on the rise, but Marquardt needs to pick up a victory here to even dream of getting back into the Middleweight title picture.

Mirko CroCop takes on Brendan Schaub in a heavyweight bout. Since the Pride merger years ago, CroCop never lived up to the reputation his built himself over in Japan. His last fight was an excurciating romp with Frank Mir, where Mir chose to find a way to out-strike the KO legend to prove a point, rather than possibly finish him quickly on the ground. It’s hard to say whether it’s CroCop’s age that’s slowing him down or his motivation to continue to fight, but either way Brendan Schaub seems a perfect fit as an opponent. The Ultimate Fighter runner-up will either be made a spectacle of, in hopes that the old Mirko will come out to shine, or will pull out a win over the former PRIDE Champion and give himself a small space to stand amongst the heavyweight title contenders.

View the remaining card here: Sherdog.com

We will be live tweeting during the event, so be sure to check us out on twitter @donnybrookboys

– Nick
donnybrookboys@gmail.com