Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting
Is this Nagai's debut, not just in RINGS but in all of the pretend fighting? It's certainly the earliest Nagai I've seen, as well as the least bald. This had more going on than Renting's last outing (also a show opener) and was pretty okay if largely unspectacular. Nagai's kicks look sharp enough, though none that landed were of much consequence. It's a departure from later career Nagai where he's crowbarring the living shit out of people and everything is landing eight thousand percent, often across Yuki Ishikawa's front teeth. Renting is another kickboxer but his shots were more probing than anything. There were some sparks of an alright ground struggle and at one point Nagai slickly escaped a choke attempt to gain side control, but otherwise this was fairly by the numbers.
Chris Dolman v Ton von Maurik
This was basically a shoot style hoss fight. It wasn't pretty, in fact it was ugly and ragged, but fuck if I didn't enjoy it a bunch. Von Maurik is...well I can't find any worthwhile info on him from a cursory google search but he's a tall Dutchman with a bitchin' perm. Dolman mentions in his pre-fight interview that he needs to be careful of Von Maurik as he's fast, in good condition and skilled in both boxing and sumo! He does not look like a sumo wrestler but who am I to argue? But yeah, right from the start Von Maurik charges Dolman and they're very soon taking pot shots at each other. Von Maurik's kicks come from a very flat stance and none of them land all that clean, but it looks like he's putting some meat behind them - at least to the extent he can with no real hip torque. Dolman has a really weird guard, forearms tight around his ears, face shielded by his elbow. Not much got past it, to be fair to him, but it did leave his midriff open to a punch combo that scored Von Maurik a knockdown. Dolman then started to flex the judo muscles and take Von Maurik down pretty much at will - once with an absolutely gorgeous harai goshi - at which point he would start headbutting him in the chest. This was evidently effective as it opened Von Maurik up to some submission attempts and Von Maurik clearly wanted no part of it, scrambling to the ropes as quickly as possible. It played into the finish as well, and I liked how Von Maurik tried to claw his way to safety while Dolman pulled him into the middle of the ring, like a big monster dragging some poor fellow into a pit. I said after his last fight that I'd like to see Dolman get a run out against someone who can actually go, and while I don't know if Von Maurik ticks that box he was an exponentially better match-up than Billy Kazmaier. And I thought this was just way fun.
Willy Wilhelm v Peter Smit
If you squint hard enough Wilhelm looks a bit like Calumet County district attorney Ken Kratz, or a Tesco brand Stan Hansen. He's a judoka who medalled in the '83 and '85 world judo championships and apparently had a match (presumably worked) with Maeda in '89 that drew 60,000 to the Tokyo Dome! He tells us he's beaten Smit a couple times in the past, back when Smit was much lighter. This time it'll be a bit more challenging, and while he knows he can't compete if it becomes a kickboxing contest he feels he'll be able to take Smit down and either put him in an arm lock or strangle him. Smit's interview is gibberish to me as my Dutch isn't for shit. Basically I wanted to transcribe the Wilhelm interview because that is pretty much exactly how the fight went from his perspective and I sort of love that he not only outright told you his strategy, but went and actually executed it. He had his gameplan, was confident enough in it to lay it out there, and followed through on it. Smit really wasn't very good at all. He would move into the clinch without ever actually trying to do anything, though there was one bit where he threw Wilhelm into the ropes and kicked him in the ribs which led to Wilhelm selling it like he'd popped a lung or something. I thought that was going to be the finish, but Wilhelm got up after 8 and came out, arms raised and roaring, like a big bear who's just happened upon a campsite. I figured a mauling was imminent. And well, he never quite mauled him but he sure did strangle him.
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij
Vrij is in a foul mood after taking the L - as the youths say - in their last fight and comes out immediately swingin' for the fences. He's just all knees to the body and high kicks in a flurry of neo-Nazi primary villain in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie rage and manages to score two early knockdowns. And it's obvious pretty quick that this fight has as clear a story as any pro-style match you'll see. Maeda has barely been in competition since the UWF closure. In fact I think this might only be his second bout in nearly two years; the first being his fight against Vrij on the previous show. Vrij is bigger, stronger, angrier and is literally trying to kick him senseless. He almost kicks him clean out the ring at one point (Maeda had to basically Terry Funk teeter-totter in order to stay in and it was great). The crowd get one million percent behind Maeda and when Vrij scores the fourth knockdown there's an audible "holy fuck he might actually lose this" reaction rippling throughout the whole arena. It turns to genuine panic when Vrij just keep coming forward, and not knowing the result myself I was thinking "nah, he's not getting TKO'd in ten minutes...is he?" His knee is also pretty heavily taped and when he gets up gingerly after taking another spill (not counted as a knockdown) you're thinking there might be no way back. He's injured and one knockdown off a stoppage and Vrij is absolutely all over him. It's inevitable. But it's still Maeda and this is his newly built house. He's been in worse situations, hasn't he? I was very much a fan of this, not just for the way they went about executing the match but also of the ballsiness of the booking. Best fight so far in our short history of Fighting Network RINGS.
This was one of the easiest hours of pro-wrestling I can recall seeing. It was a total breeze. The main event (and post-fight) was an awesome spectacle made even better by a crowd living and dying with their guy. Dolman/Von Maurik was quite the shoot style slobberknocker and absolutely exceeded my expectations. Wilhelm/Smit was like six minutes long and the opener, while not a blowaway fight or anything, was a fine enough debut for Nagai. More than the fights themselves, though, the overall production is generally outstanding. The pre-fight interviews (even with the guys I can't understand because my linguistic breadth is shamefully inadequate) and the short build up packages space out the card so that everything flows smoothly.
Complete & Accurate RINGS