Towards the end of last year I did what I said I was gonna do for ages and finally bought a stack of RINGS shows. I don't even know where I've put them all now but I think I grabbed every show from the first (well, the first proper show -- they ran an exhibition type gig before that) through the end of 1994. Or maybe it was the middle of '94, it doesn't matter. Either way my plan was to watch them all and write about them. Then of course I got distracted by something else and barely watched anything for like half a year, killing my idea dead. But then the other night I flung in the first disc and got to watching.
Herman Renting v Peter Smit
This had some okay grappling on the ground and one or two decent takedowns (or maybe takedown attempts), but there wasn't a ton of urgency to any of it and it all mostly felt like two guys doing a demonstration. "This is how you go for an armbar..." Renting threw some okay kicks, but they were pretty light and again looked a bit like he was showing us all where you're SUPPOSED to kick someone. The winning armbar was cool, at least. Not terrible, but it won't knock your socks off.
Willie Peeters v Marcel Haarmans
Man, Peeters was fun in this. He threw lots of nice kicks that made a smack when they landed, he wasn't afraid to lay into Haarmans with punches, and even if he wasn't much use on the mat he was certainly game to try for takedowns. Haarmans doesn't really seem to do...anything...very well. He's a big lumpy dude and he absorbed lots of body shots, but there was never much behind any of what he was doing. When it went to the mat it felt like he was fairly composed, but I don't know if he had much to offer there offensively. I've liked the limited amount of Peeters I've seen previously and he's one of the guys I'm interested in seeing more of in the early RINGS years.
Bill Kazmaier v Chris Dolman
Jeez Louise this was rough. They work it within the rounds system so I briefly wondered if it somehow was a shoot, like Maeda was on the crystal meth one night and thought it might be fun to book that, but it didn't take long for the notion to be squashed. Kazmaier looks a bit like Arn Anderson here if Arn Anderson fell out a boat, drowned, and washed up on the shore. At times he moved like it, too. I've never seen Dolman before but he has a bit of young Glenn Jacobs about him, despite apparently being 46(!). He also has a legit judo and Sambo background so if he shows up again I guess I'd like to see what he can do with someone capable. Kazmaier threw some strangely amusing body shots and a big suplex, Dolman had one or two okay takedowns, but otherwise this was four and a half rounds of not a whole lot.
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij
This was almost certainly helped by coming after the listlessness of the previous fight, but on its own I thought it still managed to be pretty dang fun. Vrij is always good for a bit of banter, his taunting and horse-shitting it up usually fairly amusing. Maeda was cool as you like through all of this, never rising to Vrij's bait, content to let Vrij force the issue before he would try and capitalise. Most of Vrij's slaps were more insulting than anything, though he did catch Maeda with a few that made the crowd sit up. He threw a handful of high kicks, but again Maeda would wait, catch one, then try and go for the takedown or submission. A couple times it backfired and he found himself rocked, but in the end it paid off like he'd planned. This went like eleven minutes and I dug it just fine.
I've said before on this here blog, probably several times as I journeyed through a handful of early UWFi shows last year, that I find it much easier to sit through mediocre/middling shoot style at this point in my wrestling fandom than pretty much any other kind of style (or similarly mediocre/middling instances of it, anyway). Whatever the reasons for that may be (there are a few, I'm sure), I know I'd rather watch a bang average RINGS show from 1991 than a bang average WWE PPV from the here and now. And this show was pretty consistent in its bang-averageness and I do not regret watching it whatsoever. The main event was fun and I look forward to seeing the rematch on the next show. Willie Peeters impressed both the crowd and this boozehound before you in his debut and we all as a collective look forward to seeing him some more. The Kazmaier fight was not good in the slightest and I'll never be in a hurry to re-watch it, but its sluggish weirdness sort of made of it a spectacle that you feel you need to see through to the end before - inevitably - vowing never to do so again.
When it comes to RINGS I know most people - myself included - think first and foremost of the Tamuras and Hans and Kohsakas and maybe the Yamamotos and probably the Maedas, but early RINGS seems to be a blind spot that nobody really talks about outside a handful of matches. I'm not expecting to come away thinking guys like Herman Renting or Ton von Maurik are unheralded superworkers, but I want to see how the promotion grew from basically being Akira Maeda and a bunch of Dutch judokas and kickboxers into one of my favourite promotions ever from '96-'98.
Complete & Accurate RINGS