Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pancrase (pt.2)

Another MMA legend is Bas Rutten. Rutten was a former UFC Heavyweight Champion and was beloved as a play-by-play commentator for Pride Fighting Championship. He is truly one of the most revered and heralded figures in MMA of all-time. His total number of UFC fights: two. So, how was a guy who only had two fights in the top MMA promotion such a legend? Look no further than Pancrase. The wars with Frank Shamrock, and the use of his patented liver shots on Jason Delucia; Rutten built most of his legacy in Pancrase. And although Frank Shamrock is often considered the archetype for a "complete" MMA fighter, here's something interesting to note. Bas started his career training in stand-up arts such as Tae Kwon Do and Kyokushin Karate. Of his 25 wins that were finished, 12 of them were by KO/TKO, and 13 were by submission. Though perhaps Frank was able to handle wrestlers better, as evidence by him handling Tito Ortiz and Rutten's struggle with Kevin Randleman, Rutten should not be overlooked when talking about the first, real "mixed martial artist." Rutten was everything a fan of the sport could ask for: a colorful personality and fierce competitor who was able to adapt to the game. It's a shame his career was cut short, as he had all the tools to become an even bigger legend than he already is. American fans should be jealous that their Japanese counterparts got to witness the birth and rise of one of MMA's all-time greats.

Speaking of the archetype for modern MMA, Frank Shamrock was also a staple in the early days of Pancrase. There, he racked up many impressive wins over the likes of Suzuki and Funaki, and had many entertaining battles with Bas Rutten. Though he was never an undisputed King of Pancrase, Frank began to show skills and poise that would one day lead him to be called "The Legend." After two straight losses to end his Pancrase career, followed by a loss to John Lober under the Superbrawl banner, Frank decided to dedicate his time to mixed martial arts. The results showed. He went to the UFC and destroyed the competition during his reign as Light-Heavyweight (called Middleweight at that time) Champion. He submitted Jeremy Horn, avenged his loss to Lober in definitive fashion, and taught Tito Ortiz a lesson in cardio. Though he was a dominant UFC champion, it was his time in Pancrase that paved the way for him to become "The Legend."

Though the names have gone and the rules have changed, Pancrase still remains. Names like Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Chael Sonnen, and Josh Barnett have all stepped through the ropes and done battle in the Pancrase ring. Pancrase continues to showcase rising athletes of the sport, just as it did in the past. While Rutten, Ken Shamrock, and others no longer fight there, their names will forever be synonymous with the organization that had the Lucky Strike logo in the center of it's ring for so long. Who knows how much longer Pancrase will last, but it's memorable fighters and fights when the young sport was starting out will live on forever in the minds and hearts of fans.

Pancrase - The Overlooked Roots (pt.1)

When people think of MMA, it's hard to not have the UFC come to mind first and foremost. From the legends of old such as Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock to the rising new superstars such as Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez, the Octagon is where legends are born in this young sport. After all, it's where it all began...right? Not quite. The first UFC event was held on November 12, 1993. The first event held by Japanese organization Pancrase was held on September 21 of that same year. Though it hasn't reached the levels of popularity and success that the UFC has in recent years, Pancrase is still functioning today, and the its past contributions to the sport simply cannot be overlooked.

Pancrase stood out for a number of reasons. The first was the interesting rules set of the early days. No elbows to the head (standing or on the ground) were allowed, and no closed-fist strikes were allowed, which led to open-palm strikes. Fighters were given five "rope breaks" if they were able to grab onto the ropes during a submission attempt, and there was a 10-count similar to boxing in the event of a knockdown on the feet. But the rules are not only what separated Pancrase from the rest; the fighters were what truly made Pancrase shine in the early days.

The first fighter that comes to mind is UFC Hall-of-Famer Ken Shamrock. Admittedly, seeing Ken fight now is almost...sad. The game has passed him by and his old age is showing more and more with each fight. However, at one time he was well deserving of the title of "World's Most Dangerous Man." Who could ever forget his legacy in the early UFC: his legendary fights with Gracie, making Pat Smith flail around like a fish out of water after catching him in a heel hook, and his tenure as the first UFC Superfight Champion. However, one thing that must also not be forgotten was an interview Shamrock did after one of his early UFC matches. When the reporter asked Ken how the UFC compared to the tournaments in Japan (Pancrase), Shamrock replied: "Easier." When asked why, Shamrock went on to say, "Because these guys don't know any submissions." It is true that Shamrock may have been right in the difficulty of opponents in the different organizations. Bas Rutten has four losses in his career, and the only man he never beat once, and in fact lost to twice, was Ken Shamrock. The only people to best Shamrock before his infamous "Dance in Detroit" with Dan Severn were to Royce Gracie and fellow Pancrase legends Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki, all by submission. Shamrock may have had validity to his claims. Shamrock was the first King of Pancrase, a moniker to be held by many of MMA's top stars over the years. For all his contributions to the UFC, his contributions to Pancrase may have contributed more to his moniker of "World's Most Dangerous Man."