Kron Gracie versus Enson Yamamoto
December 29 and December 31, 2015
Rizin Fighting Federation
a new organization in Japan whose objective is to resurrect the fighting arts as
a form of popular entertainment and source of income for fighters and promoters,
managers, and everyone else involved. In other words, all of the usual
reasons. If successful it will be welcome news for anyone who trains or teaches
any martial art in Japan, among other places, because these events are primarily
what drive enrollments and retention of students.
The inaugural events took place on
Tuesday December 29 and Thursday December 31 (Japan times) and were broadcast
free on channel 8. The scheduling was intended to allow fighters participating
in the tournament sub-event to recover from their elimination matches. The
finals were held on Thursday. Fights were presented so as to provide a little of
something for all tastes, including K-1 (Muay Thai without clinch and elbows),
shoot boxing, and MMA, known in Japan as 総合格闘技
[sougoukakutougi]. Some relatively new faces were introduced. Some
veterans were dusted off. Former super-stars came out of retirement, in some
cases successfully, in others disastrously. People who had no business going
anywhere near a ring were somehow induced to defy common sense and their own
physical well-being to do precisely that. Money perhaps? It's been known to
motivate people to do things that they shouldn't do, so why not? Several retired
sumo wrestlers made appearances and were among the surprises of the event.
A former Olympic judo champion found that judo without a 道着
and with punches is not easy. Two representatives of the legendary Brazilian
jiu-jitsu family, Rickson and Kron Gracie showed up, one to fight, one to lend
moral support, reminisce, be on display for the benefit of adoring fans, and
probably, to provide symbolic continuity between the glory days of Japanese kakutougi
and its (hopefully) bright shining rebirth.
So how did it go?
Results were mixed. Among the
highlights, low-points, educational examples, and object lessons were the
Satoshi Ishiii, 2008 Beijing Olympic
heavyweight gold medallist, was eliminated in the tournament by Jiri Prochazka.
Ishii, as his gold medal attests, is undoubtedly an excellent judoka. He has the
weight to contend. But he is short. In boxing, shortness can be compensated by
style. Ishii might have tried emulating short boxers like Rocky Marciano, Joe
Frazier, Mike Tyson, even David Tua. The key is to approach from oblique angles,
get inside and nullify the opponent's longer reach, and throw hooks (although
Rocky and Mike also had serviceable jabs). It's harder when kicks, knees, and
grappling are involved, but still doable. The bigger problem (apart from the
fact that Ishii's boxing skills are not at a high level) was the lack of gi.
Judo and wrestling are not that different, according to Gene
Lebell. The main point of departure is the cloth, or rather, the grips. It's
a small difference that however makes a big difference in the ring when punches
are added. Ishii was a better grappler than his
opponent but it didn't matter. His opponent didn't need to try to out-grapple
Ishii. He only needed to prevent Ishii from out-grappling him. Defense is easier
than offense. Ishii got knocked out. The Japanese fans did not seem
particularly upset. That's what happens when you get hit. Judo is judo, judo is
not sougoukakutougi. And everything is difficult in life, especially for
a man [男は辛いよ].
As Sakuraba Kazushi can confirm.
Sakuraba retired in 2011 at the age of 43 after losing to Yan Cabral. He then
returned to pro-wrestling (specifically, to 新日本プロレス）, where he had gotten his professional
start (in Giant Baba's
playing the role of hero against the heel, often played by former Pancrase
fighter Suzuki Minoru. Unfortunately real fighting is a young man's game and at
47, Sakuraba is not young. His knees are so shot that he can barely walk. His
opponent on Tuesday December 29 was former judoka Aoki Shinya. Aoki is also good
at both jiu-jitsu and no gi grappling. In his prime it would have been an easy
payday for Sak but that was then and this was now. Aoki got a quick take-down
and stayed on top throughout, pummeling Sak's face. Sak tried twice to turn over
and (possibly) snake, shrimp, or bridge out, but without functioning knees, it
was a fool's errand. He never should have signed that contract. The referee let
the beating go on. Sak refused to tap out (warriors go out on their shields).
Aoki chastised the referee for not stepping in sooner but part of the
responsibility for the debacle was Aoki's. He could have tried to make it more
of a grappling match, showcase his jiu-jitsu skills. Instead it was just ugly.
Ironically, it probably earned Sak even more fans. Japanese people love noble
losers and warriors who refuse to quit. If there is any bright side to this
fight it is that Sak will probably never again try to engage in a real fight.
Unfortunately, fighters who need money, and Sak is one, will continue to fight
as long as anyone will pay them. Hopefully no one will pay Sak to fight again.
Another former sumo wrestler, holding
the very respectable rank of ouzeki (the second rank after yokozuna), named
Baruto fought Peter Aerts, a former K-1 champion now well into middle age. GTR's
initial prediction was that Aerts, even at 45 and with a bad back, would easily
dispose of Baruto, if Baruto tried to exchange punches and kicks with Aerts. But
if Baruto was the beneficiary of wise coaching, he might try to rush Aerts and
drive him into the canvas, stay on top, and basically never get off. But there
was also another angle. Many foreign sumo wrestlers from Eastern Europe have
previous wrestling backgrounds. Baruto, from Estonia, did. He was also a judoka and used
his judo to put Aerts on the ground (the ring announcer called his technique an ashi-gaki).
He did exactly what Randy Couture did to Vitor Belfort in the first and third
fights, which was to immediately get underhooks and never give them up. Randy
liked double underhooks. Baruto liked one underhook with a collar tie. It was
highly effective. Aerts could have and should have avoided this tactic by using
lateral movement (Muhammad Ali), but sticking and moving was never Aerts' style
and he was too old to adapt. The upside is that Aerts will return to retirement
but Baruto, by virtue of his relative youth, good physical conditioning, and
exemplary performance, will undoubtedly receive future Rizin contracts. His size
and skills will serve him well.
Akebono (Chad Rowen), a retired yokozuna,
is the highest ranking sumo wrestler currently participating in MMA (and also
pro wrestling). He is also probably the worst, with a record of one win and 12
losses, including a KO loss to Bob Sapp. The December 31 match was a
rematch with Sapp. Akebono wanted to rehabilitate his wounded pride after his
previous ignominious defeat. Sapp is not a highly skilled fighter but he has had
the advantage of good boxing coaching, and after all, he did beat Ernesto Hoost
twice, something that not many fighters have accomplished.
It was expected that Akebono would
collapse after the first punch landed on his head. It was a surprise when that
didn't happen. Someone taught Akebono the most basic skill of boxing--keep your
hands up, in front of your face (whenever the opponent is close enough to
punch), along with another important rule--clinch when you start getting hit too
much. Akebono did both of these and as a result avoided a second humiliating KO
loss. He lost on decision, but he looked relatively good doing it--relative to
his previous performances. He made a sincere effort and didn't complain, and
Japanese fans appreciate fighters who make sincere efforts and don't complain.
Bob and Akebono are two more fighters who should never get into a ring again,
other than to wish someone good luck.
Mighty Mo (Muhammad Lawal) ended up as
winner of the tournament and looked impressive. A wrestler who can punch
straight will always be a formidable foe (as would a boxer who can sprawl). In
2011 Mighty Mo Knocked out Roger Gracie who unwisely chose to exchange punches.
Not the smart thing to do, as both Royce and Rickson Gracie said. Roger, it was
rumored, wanted to show off his boxing skills. So much for that. "The day
that I try to box with a boxer is the day that I will lose," Roger's uncle
Rickson once said. Whether he was right or wrong we'll never know, but it is a
fact that he said it (read it here). He
Jiu-jitsu representative Gabi Garcia,
from Brazil, beat Lei'D Tapa, who hails from the island nation of Tonga. Tongans are tough people, as
Lei'D Tapa showed when she flattened Gabi with the first punch of the fight. But
Brazilians are tough too and Gabi survived. After some ineffectual flailing and
stumbling around from both contenders, Gabi accidentally landed a weak backhand
to Lei'D's face, knocking her down (although "knock down" implies too
much) and somehow attained a mounted position from which she dropped
powderpuff punches on the clueless Lei'D. It was a fight devoid of athletic or artistic
merit and was the closest thing to a genuine real fight (in the
"street" sense) on offer that evening. Gabi is a good jiu-jitsu fighter, no doubt, but no
jiu-jitsu was in evidence in this fight. The positive point is that she won,
cashed a nice check, both of which will probably encourage more Brazilians to
train and fight, which is good.
Fedor Emelienenko retired on a three
fight winning streak in 2012. He reemerged to fight Singh Jaideep. Jaideep had a
kickboxing record of 40 wins and 10 losses so he was not just some guy off the
street, but his MMA experience was limited. He was out of his depth with a sambo
master like Fedor, who punches with bad intentions. The only surprise was that
Fedor was in excellent condition and that was a surprise only because so many
retired fighters unretire and climb into the ring without being in good
The high point of the two day affair was
the Kron Gracie versus Erson Yamamoto. Erson is a wrestler and the nephew of Kid
Yamamoto. Like Kid, Erson trained Muay Thai as well. It was not going to be
solely a grappling contest.
Both athletes appeared to be in superb
physical condition. Erson initiated the hostilities with a right uppercut. Kron
tried a punch of his own but, being the son of Rickson Gracie, it was not likely
that he was going to defy Ricksonian logic and try to box with a boxer, even
though Erson wasn't really a boxer. But Kron didn't know how accurately or how
hard Erson could punch (after all, Erson's uncle surprised the kickboxing world by
almost defeating Masato in a K-1 match). Anyone can get knocked out and the
Gracies in particular don't like getting punched in the face, according to
Kron's uncle Rorion. Kron probably knew that taking a good wrestler, which Erson
was, down would be hard. But by mixing punches in, it would be less hard,
although still risky.
Kron did the smart thing and jumped
guard, bringing Erson to the ground. Kron strategically placed his hand under Erson's knee and when they hit the mat, Kron turned
Erson on his back, with Erson's
arm under control. So at this point, early on, Kron had Erson's arm and knee
controlled and went for the famous "Gracie jiu-jitsu armlock." The
crowd erupted. It looked like it was all over. But Erson did what most wrestlers
would do (or try to), and precisely what Kid Yamamoto did when Bibiano Fernandes
had him in the same position. Namely, he executed a reverse bridge and walk-out
(or for lack of a better label, a "hitch hiker" escape). It worked, as
it often does, especially without the gi. Kron scrambled and took a cem
quilos, or side-control position. From there he went for the mounted
position, but a bit incautiously. Erson bridged and reversed. Kron applied a
triangle choke with Erson's right arm inside but not quite adequately positioned,
whereupon Erson pulled back and out.
They stood up. Kron took an upper-body
clinch and with a leg hook took Erson back to the floor, on top with side-control
again. Again Kron tried to mount and again Erson bridged and turned. This time
Kron partially took Erson's back but Erson managed to complete the turn and was
back in Kron's guard. Kron reapplied his triangle. Erson pulled back but not
enough to get out. Kron changed his guard briefly to a low guard but quickly
went back up high and seized Erson's left arm.
This time the triangle was on tight.
Erson attempted a last ditch escape that often works (it is illegal in judo and
BJJ competitions for that reason), which is to stand up (if possible) and slam
the man down hard, breaking the triangle apart. The announcers called
this a "basta" probably meaning "bate estaca" (a
slamming stack). Unfortunately for Erson but fortunately for everyone else, the
bate estaca didn't work because Kron broke the impact with his right arm and
maintained the pressure. Erson almost immediately tapped out and afterwards left
the ring in tears.
The reason it was fortunate was that now
there is a new Gracie in town and a new rival for the Japanese to try to beat,
but no one around capable of doing the beating. Therefore everyone is going to
need to get to the dojo or academy and start training seriously, all of which
means more interest, more excitement, more fans, more students, and more money
for everyone in the game and business.
2016 is off to a promising start. Stay
(C) 2016, Roberto Pedreira. All rights
September 26, 2016.
See Rizin 2, Kron
Gracie vs. Hideo Tokoro, and other match-ups here.
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