Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (RINGS Fighting Integration IV 6/27/98)

Match Reviews

This review was commissioned by Tim Cooke over on my Ko-fi account.

There’s so much here that catches the eye. As someone that still considers themselves to have a major blind spot with shoot style wrestling, I take each new match I see from it as a learning experience first and foremost. My critical faculties in this genre are in fairly early stages of development with most of my experience coming from rookie year BattlArts, early 90s UWF and UWFi, and the various modern iterations that even I can tell never quite fully capture the spirit of the real deal.

Confronted with a match like Tamura/Kohsaka, I’m left to conclude that it’s the real fucking deal.

Just from a purely mechanical standpoint, it feels immaculate. Watching these two riff on the mat is constantly engaging and exciting. I must confess that I like the vocabulary to ever get into the real nitty gritty of the kind of grappling these two do, but the intricacy and precision of it would stun even a novice. Beyond any one cool trick of leverage or technique though, what I’m in awe with is how much both men are able to convey about themselves in the early mat working stages of the match.

Throughout the bout, one gets the impression that Tamura might just be the more explosive and dynamic wrestler of the two. He’s the one who always seems to be driving the forward motion, shifting and adjusting on the mat, searching for holds. Kohsaka, in the early stages at least, appears to take a more measured approach. It’s not really that he’s getting washed on the mat, moreso that he’s holding his own and patiently waiting for opportune moments to strike. He’s always there waiting to twist a joint the wrong way or perfectly get himself off the mat with the gorgeous TK Scissors technique.

RINGS, GIF-ed by Joseph Montecillo

In this way they keep things fairly competitive, trading rope breaks back and forth which are beautifully tracked with the RINGS health bar graphics in the lower third. It helps that I learned the rules from a previous match (each man gets five knockdowns maximum, two rope breaks is equivalent to one knockdown), but even then I can’t help but admire the elegant graphic touch there. Using yellow and red too really does give one that sense of each man accumulating damage until they’re completely spent.

Another thing the rules create for the match is this real sense of major progress when Tamura finally starts to break through. While they’d mostly been even the first act or so, a big Tamura knockdown and some gnarly submission attempts put him in a very narrow lead that seem to signal the shifting tides of the match. The work itself begins to support this idea as well with Kohsaka feeling slightly more rushed and desperate, increasingly allowing himself to go for more striking as well as charging in where earlier he might have allowed Tamura to come to him instead.

RINGS, GIF-ed by Joseph Montecillo

These ideas translate really well into the closing stretch as well. Most notably, Tamura’s clever enough to block Kohsaka’s attempts at the TK Scissors which allows them to go into a more direct struggle for submissions. There’s some real honest to god tension in those final holds, watching Tamura and Kohsaka both try to block and alleviate pressure, grabbing their own holds and counterholds. I remember howling when Tamura had the sleeper on and Kohsaka found enough wherewithal to tie up Tamura’s leg with his own legs.

There’s a quality in the best shoot style that really invites one to focus on it. Every turn is a potential game changer and when someone actually does grab a hold and has the chance to wrench back on it, it feels massive. One can hear it in the crowd too, these big pops when someone’s in danger of tapping out. A match like this rewards anyone for seeking out the finer details, and once the drama starts to hit, it feels like the most important thing in the world.

Rating: ****1/4

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