MMA and Pro Wrestling – A Short History Lesson

Recently on Twitter an ‘MMA journalist’ responded to a lot of mma sites reporting on the latest Ronda Rousey WWE stuff by saying that MMA and Pro Wrestling should be kept far away from each other, or something like that, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they have been intertwined from the very beginning.

I’ll recap a little bit of the history without going into too much detail.

The Gracie Family and the UFC

In the early 1900s a Judoka named Mitsuyo Maeda began to travel the world spreading the word of Jigoru Kano’s Judo. In 1914 his travels brought him to Brazil. Before he arrived in Brazil he was involved in Pro Wrestling in Europe and in Mexico.

Mitsuyo Maeda.

In 1826 George Gracie emigrated to Brazil from Scotland. George had a son called Pedro. Pedro had a son called Gastao and Gastao had sons named Carlos and Helio among others.

In 1917 Maeda was doing a demonstration in Belem, Brazil. Carlos Gracie saw this and decided he wanted to learn Judo and because of how helpful Gastao had been to Maeda, young Carlos was accepted as a student. Carlos would go on to teach his brothers and the art was later refined by Helio Gracie to what is more familiar as Gracie Jiu Jitsu today.

Helio Gracie acted as the family champion fighting several times in challenge matches, not always successfully despite Gracie propaganda. In 1951 Helio challenge a travelling Japanese Judoka named Masahiko Kimura. Its worth remembering that Gracie was retired at this point and was older and much smaller than Kimura. Anyway the younger Kimura won the fight, breaking Helio’s arm with an arm lock that the Brazilians would name the ‘Kimura’ from this point on. After this Masahiko Kimura would regularly perform as a Pro Wrestler, even setting up his own wrestling company.

Gracie vs Kimura

After this the Gracie’s continued to refine, teach and spread Brazilian Jiu Jitsu across the world. Rorion Gracie moved to California in the late 1980 and in 1993 was instrumental in creating The Ultimate Fighting Championship.

MMA in Japan

In the 80s in Japan a group of Pro Wrestlers who idolised Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson wanted to make their matches look more real. Then later other students were curious as to how they would fare against real competition.

The most influencial of these were –

Satoru Sayama, the original Tiger Mask. He created Shooto in the late 80s but it was still basically worked shoots until the mid 90s when they created the Japan Vale Tudo tournaments and brought Rickson Gracie to fight in Japan for the first time.

Satoru Sayama

Akira Maeda, a student of Karl Gotch and Fujiwara. He created Fighting Network RINGS in the early 90s but didn’t switch to full MMA rules till 1999. RINGS was most famous for the King of Kings tournaments in 1999 and 2000-2001 which featured Fedor Emelianenko, Rodrigo Nogueira and Dan Henderson.

Akira Maeda

Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki were also Pro Wrestlers and students of Fujiwara and Gotch. They left Fujiwara’s company and set up Pancrase in 1993, pre dating the UFC. In the beginning Pancrase was not strictly MMA, it was submission grappling with only open palm strikes to the head and rope escapes. In 1999 the used Pride rules minus the knees and in 2014 they adopted the unified rules of MMA. Of the original Japanese promotions, Pancrase is the only one that continued all the way through. A lot of MMA fighters began their careers in Pancrase, notably Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten and dozens more.

Shamrock, Funaki and Suzuki

Nobuhiko Takada was known to be the most famous Pro Wrestler in Japan, the Japanese equivalent of Hulk Hogan they say. He also wanted to test his skills in real fights, he couldn’t fight for shit but he didn’t know it at the time. Takada is also responsible for the creation of Pride Fighting Championships.

Nobuhiko Takada

Pride Fighting Championships

So after Rickson Gracie’s success in the Japan Vale Tudo and his rising fame in Japan, Nobuhiko Takada challenged him to fight but Rickson refused and said it would not be good for his reputation to be involved with Pro Wrestlers. Takada and others would insult him in the press, trying to goad him into a fight but Rickson wouldn’t go for it. There was talk of Takada going to America to challenge Rickson face to face but a fellow Pro Wrestler named Yoji Anjo popped up and said “there is no need for Mr Takada to go, I shall go to America and beat Rickson” and the crazy bastard actually went.

So Anjo rolls up at Rickson’s school with Japanese TV crew but Rickson is not there. One of the students phones Rickson and he jumps in his car and heads back. Anjo challenges Rickson in front of the cameras and Rickson says OK let’s do it and he gets Anjo to sign a liability waiver, you know ‘in case of injury or death…..’ and they make the TV crew wait outside and they cover the windows and then Rickson beats the fuck out of Anjo. At one point Rickson is mounted on Anjo, punching his face and Anjo taps but Rickson is like ‘fuck no’ he later said if we are fighting for money I will stop when you tap but if we are fighting for honor I will stop when I want. So anyway Rickson beats him up and chokes him unconscious then they let the TV cameras in. The pictures were shown in Japan and the legend grew.

The demand for Rickson to fight Takada grew and I guess they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse so he agreed, then they put together an event to host the fight and Pride Fighting Championships was born.

Other Notable Pro Wrestlers in MMA

Kazushi Sakuraba – Early UFC tournament winner, Pride title contender, Icon.

Josh Barnet – Former UFC heavyweight Champion, disciple of the Catch Wrestling of Gotch and Robinson.

Bobby Lashley – Heavyweight fighter

Brock Lesnar – Former UFC heavyweight champion.

Mark Coleman – UFC tournament winner, first Pride Grand Prix winner, first UFC heavyweight champion.

Kevin Randleman – Former UFC heavyweight champion.

Dan Severn – UFC tournament winner.

Ken Shamrock – Former UFC superfight champion.

Ronda Rousey – First UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

Don Frye – UFC tournament winner, Pride star.

Bob Sapp – Bum, but he beat Ernesto Hoost twice so…..

That’s of the top of my head, there are literally hundreds more. People should learn a bit of history, it’s fascinating.

And I went this whole article without using the word ‘Shootfighting’.

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