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TBT — Two Surprising MMA & Pro Wrestling Connections: Kimura & Sayama

TBT — Two Surprising MMA & Pro Wrestling Connections: Kimura & Sayama

Some said I was a little uncharitable in an article I posted earlier this week here at Caged Insider, where I described my irritation with what I called “pro wrestling antics” in MMA.

Pro wrestling may include some over-the-top theatrics that I’m not a fan of, but hey, it’s got a share of the audience. The two are obviously connected, even if at the heart they’re two very different forms of entertainment.

I think we all agree that if one looks too much like the other — a scripted match getting too real, or a legitimate competition having an agreed-upon finish — well, something has gone very wrong.

But, some disagree with my point, and actually lament have how the UFC is failing to “build” their stars in the way an entity like the WWE does. And hey, maybe they’re right, to a point. Sure, it’s easier when it’s all scripted, but maybe fighters can be matched more appropriately and delivered to the audience in a better way. Maybe the perceived over-abundance of shows (as many as three shows lasting as many as seven hours each, in one eight-day stretch) plays into this.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned in the MMA world from pro wrestling.

One thing’s for certain, the two have found themselves intertwined in some strange ways over the years, from the old school: ex-pro wrestler and all-time MMA great Kazushi Sakuraba, to the new: the more recent meteoric rise of Brock Lesnar.

Here’s a little tribute: two figures from the past, and their links to pro wrestling world — which may surprise you.

1) Masahiko Kimura (pictured above). You have probably heard of Masahiko Kimura’s famous 1951 match with Helio Gracie. It is recalled as one of Helio’s great triumphs just to take the mat with the legend who is sometimes dubbed as the greatest judo player of all time. Kimura would finish Gracie with the armlock, now so common in MMA, which bears his name.

But did you know that Kimura was in Brazil on a pro wrestling tour?

Kimura recalled in his autobiography, housed at JudoInfo.com:

After I returned from Hawaii, I went to Brazil by the invitation of Sao Paulo Shinbun (Note: local Japanese newspaper company in Sao Paulo). Sao Paulo Shinbun, which was in a slump, came up with an idea of doing pro wrestling to revive their business. The period of contract was 4 months. The participants were I, Yamaguchi, and Kato 5th dan. This enterprise was a big success. Wherever we went, the arena was super-packed. This made Pres. Mizuno of Sao Paulo Shinbun very happy. When we asked for a pay raise, he tripled our original pay on the spot. In addition to pro wrestling, we gave judo instruction wherever we went.

In Brazil, Helio Gracie would issue his famous challenge, and the rest, as they say, is history…

2) Satoru Sayama. Sayama isn’t a legend as a MMA trainer, promoter, or fighter. But he has a unique achievement to his credit: founding the longest-running active promotion in MMA history.

As his entry for the MMA Hall of Fame project reads:

Sayama was born in 1957 in Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan. After training in wrestling and judo as a youth he began a career as a pro wrestler, training and touring overseas with the likes of Karl Gotch and Tom Billington, and eventually finding fame as “Tiger Mask.” In the mid-1980s he began what has been described as a lifelong dream, to create what he called “a totally combative sport” incorporating striking and grappling.  Sayama’s martial arts gym in Saitama became known as Super Tiger Gym, where elements of wrestling, Muay Thai, and SAMBO instruction were taught. Here, pioneering Japanese MMA fighters such as Yuki Nakai and Noboru Asahi honed their craft.

Sayama’s first amateur event was held in 1986, and professional competition began in 1989. Shooto gyms began dotting the Japanese martial arts landscape, where they continue today. Shooto now approaches its 400th professional show and has expanded its amateur program into each Japanese prefecture. The organization also continues to hold shows in Brazil and Europe as well.

So, there you go.

Two important figures of the MMA world which have connections to pro wrestling that you may not have considered. Two stories that may remind us that when we lament the influence of pro wrestling, maybe — just maybe — we’re the ones who are being fake.

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