I picked up every RINGS show from its first show in 1991 through mid-1994 or so towards the end of last year and I finally started going through all of them last week. My plan was to eventually watch everything in order until it turned to full MMA, but I may jump around some.
High end RINGS is maybe my favourite kind of wrestling and it's one of my favourite promotions ever during that '96-'99 run, but early doors RINGS doesn't seem to be talked about much outside of stuff featuring the likes of Han and Maeda. Hopefully we can uncover some random gems from obscure Dutch judokas or the Willie Peeters masterpieces we know he's capable of. I'll keep a running list of the stuff worth watching as well (perhaps in some instances for reasons beyond technically being GOOD).
Badass RINGS You Should be Watching (Baddest of the Badass in Italics):
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (5/11/91)
Chris Dolman v Ton von Maurik (8/1/91)
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (8/1/91)
Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting (9/14/91)
Dick Vrij v Willie Peeters (12/7/91)
Akira Maeda v Volk Han (12/7/91)
Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij (1/25/92)
Volk Han v Gennadi Gigant (3/5/92)
Akira Maeda v Ramazi Buzariashvili (3/5/92)
Akira Maeda v Volk Han (4/3/92)
Volk Han v Grom Zaza (5/16/92)
Dick Vrij v Mitsuya Nagai (5/16/92)
Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov (7/16/92)
Mitsuya Nagai v Cvetan Pavlov (8/21/92)
Volk Han v Dick Vrij (8/21/92)
Akira Maeda v Andrei Kopylov (8/21/92)
Herman Renting v Peter Smit (5/11/91)
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 (5/11/91)
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 (5/11/91)
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 (5/11/91)
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.
Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting (8/1/91)
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 (8/1/91)
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 (8/1/91)
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 (8/1/91)
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.