Let's get ready to rumble!

News

Let's get ready to rumble!

by: Shoji Kudaka | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: March 23, 2016

When spring (or summer to be exact) comes to Okinawa, it means time again for festivals and parties. With many events coming up every weekend, you may have a hard time picking which ones to attend.

But if you are the kind of person who enjoys watching spandex-clad people beating up one another, has no problem doing play-by-play commentary on the submission holds of mixed martial arts fighters entangled in the octagon and likes live entertainment, junk food and cool music, then Fight Collection is for you.

On Sunday March 27, the Exhibition Hall at Okinawa Convention Center in downtown Ginowan City will blow your mind away with something that has never been done before: pro wrestling, MMA and kickboxing bouts going at the same time. And there are special discounted prices for the U.S. military community (see box).

Around 40 fighters will enter two rings and one octagon throughout the day to keep the show going at full throttle from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.!  Outside the rings and cage, acclaimed DJs from across the country will engage in a DJ battle and a “junk” food festival will be held around the venue where you can enjoy unique food that you can’t find anywhere else.

Athletes competing in the event include former Yokozuna (sumo grand champion) Akebono and Masakatsu Funaki, who used to be a rival to UFC stars like Frank Shamrock and Guy Mezger. Also on hand will be wrestlers from local organizations with funky names like Gurukun Mask, which means a “masked superhero who is an incarnation of local fish.” And don’t forget Ultra Soki, which means “ultra-man who loves Okinawan soba noodle topped with pork ribs.”

Top MMA fighters and kickboxing champions will also be a part of the show, as will female wrestlers from an organization known as “Visual Kei,” which means “a group of people with good looks.”

In short, the Fight Collection is a showcase of Japanese culture in the form of pro wrestling, MMA and kickboxing.  Although neither Triple H nor Ronda Rousey are on the roster, it will be a great opportunity to enjoy a one-of-a-kind entertainment, Japanese style.

Event: Fight Collection in Okinawa
Location: Exhibition Hall of Okinawa Convention Center
Date: March 27 (Sunday)
Time: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Show starts at 10:30 a.m.)

Admission Fee For military and SOFA Status personnel:

  • Special Ringside: 10,000 yen
  • Ringside: 5,000 yen
  • Standing Area: 2,500 yen

The other side of martial arts in Japan

If I told you that martial arts are part of Japanese culture, you probably would be thinking that I was talking about judo, karate and sumo wrestling.

But, that would make you narrow minded.

Believe it or not, pro wrestling, mixed martial arts and kick boxing should make the list as well, if you ask me. Although they don’t take place on a traditional tatami or dohyou (sumo ring), they have been a part of the Japanese mainstream and alternative cultures for decades.

Take pro wrestling for example. Japanese TV shows still play footage of people crowded around a TV passionately rooting for Rikidōzan, the first star pro wrestler in Japan, who beat one “evil” American wrestler after another with his karate chops in 1950s. (No offense to American people, it was only several years after the end of WWII). It may look naïve to kids these days that so many adults were excited over the supposed “staged” fight. But, it is undeniable that Rikidōzan was a national hero and pro wrestling was a national pastime.

Speaking of memorable moments from Japanese professional wrestling, a cross-over bout between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki is worth mentioning. Although I didn’t see the bout when it took place in 1976, I came to learn a lot about the unusual match, which is considered by many as one of the most disappointing of all time.

My parents, who watched it live on TV, still talk about their disappointment over the famous Japanese pro wrestler lying on the floor, not giving the boxing champion any chances to throw punches.  It is not hard to imagine how high the expectations were for the fight if you still hear people expressing their discontent. However, every time I see clips of Inoki on the ground trying to kick Ali, it reminds me of UFC fighters today trying to defend themselves.

Actually, if you interpret mixed martial arts literally as something that allows people from different backgrounds to fight one another, the fight between Ali and Inoki can be put in the context of MMA. From that battle point on, there have been many crossover bouts fought between Japanese pro wrestlers and other martial artists. Ishukakutougi, meaning “cross-over martial arts” in Japanese, is now a permanent part of Japanese cultural.    

Kickboxing is another example of martial arts known for its cross-over evolution in Japan. I remember the popularity of K-1 Grand Prix in the 1990s and 2000s, where kickboxers took on fighters from different genres such as karate, muay Thai (Thai’s kickboxing) and boxing.  But even before that, kickboxing built its status as popular entertainment by enlisting fighters from other genres.

Tadashi Sawamura became a huge star in the 1970s after leaving the world of karate for kickboxing.  He was so popular that they made a comic book and an animated TV show about him. (I still hear fans talk about his finishing move, “Shinku-tobihiza geri,” which means “vacuum jumping knee strike”.)  

In the sports and entertainment industries in Japan, popularity comes and goes very quickly. Organizations of pro wrestling, martial arts and kickboxing change alignment and realignment frequently. It is not easy to track how many organizations there are in Japan at this moment. Some major organizations are still around, while many small independent or local organizations are spawning across the country.

While we may no longer have a star like Rikidōzan, we see more variations in the styles and talents of athletes making their debuts.

kudaka.shoji@stripes.com