Pancrase is one of the longest-running MMA promotions on the planet and not many newer fans of the sport realize that their history actually predates the UFC. It might seem hard to believe considering the fact that the UFC has become virtually synonymous with MMA and UFC 1 is often cited as the birth of the sport. While that was undeniably the first major event to bring the sport to an audience in the United States, Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1 actually beat it globally by almost two months. Both of those events look remarkably different to what we know as MMA today, but the foundations of the sport are clearly there.
How Pancrase Started Something Incredible
While the UFC took it’s inspiration from classic Vale Tudo fights and ended up with a lawless precursor to MMA, Pancrase took it’s inspiration from professional wrestling and came out with a remarkably well-thought out sport. There were similarities between the two, as they both started out without gloves or rounds, but far more differences. Pancrase only allowed open-handed strikes to the head, didn’t allow elbows, and allowed for a number rope-breaks that would free a fighter from a submission. They also used the ten-count system from boxing and a unique decision criteria that took into account knockdowns and rope-breaks. The UFC gave combat sports fans gritty realism, but Pancrase gave them a glimpse into the future of MMA as a structured sport.
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Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1
Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1 took place on September 21st, 1993 and the benefit of hindsight allows us today to truly appreciate how special that event was. All of the fighters competing at the event were either unknown quantities or reasonably popular professional wrestlers in Japan, and nobody could have predicted what they would go on to do in the sport. In fact, nobody could have predicted how huge the sport would grow at all. Although Shooto actually predated Pancrase by a few years, there was something special about this particular event that signaled the future of MMA.
Minori Suzuki v Katsuomi Inigaki
The first fight in Pancrase history featured Japanese MMA legend Minori Suzuki in his second fight, after he made his debut at a previous UWF event. He rushed in on Katsuomi Inigaki immediately and got in on a single-leg, transitioning to a high crotch and slamming him down to the canvas. He stood up in closed guard and started trying to pass, but was swept soon after. Both men went for really rudimentary leglocks and Suzuki took advantage of his opponent turning to escape by trying to take his back. Inigaki got back to a standing position and landed a hard knee in the clinch, but he slipped shortly after and Suzuki tried to take his back once again. They hit the ropes and were reset, with both men happy to strike this time around. Another slick single-leg landed from Suzuki and he took the front headlock as Inigaki tried to stand up, snapping him back down and transitioning to the back. He got his hooks in this time and secured the rear-naked choke, putting Inigaki to sleep and winning the fight.
Minori Suzuki defeated Katsuomi Inigaki via Submission – Rear-naked Choke (3:25)
Bas Rutten v Ryushi Yanagisawa
The first Pancrase even was also the stage for the debut of MMA legend Bas Rutten, who was facing Ryushi Yanagisawa. Although he wasn’t a well-rounded fighter at the time, Rutten was still a fantastic striker. He immediately got to work and landed a hard palm-strike that sent Yanagisawa to the canvas. He got back up but Rutten was clearly in control as he landed another hard palm-strike to the face and a big knee to the body that floored Yanigasawa once again. He couldn’t answer the ten-count and Rutten was declared the winner.
Bas Rutten defeated Ryushi Yanagisawa via Knockout – Palm strike and Knee (0:43)
Takaku Fuke v Vernon White
Future UFC veteran and King of the Cage champion Vernon White was also making his professional MMA debut against Takaku Fuke. White showed good movement on the feet and landed a few strikes at first, but Fuke took him down with a double-leg pretty quickly. Fuke passed to side control with ease and switched to scarfhold, locking his arm into an americana with his legs and immediately cranking hard. White somehow survived and even freed his arm from the position, but Fuke kept control and switched to an armbar instead. White tried to keep his arm safe but Fuke broke the grip and bridged in to force the tap.
Takaku Fuke defeated Vernon White via Submission – Armbar (1:19)
Kazuo Takahashi v George Weingeroff
Another UFC veteran and future PRIDE fighter, Kazuo Takahashi ,also made his MMA debut at Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1. His opponent, George Weingeroff, attempted a double-leg takedown early but was punished with several shots to the body when it failed. Takahashi stayed standing and eventually disengaged, picking his shots every time Weingeroff rushed in and sent him to the canvas with a head kick shortly after. He got back up quickly but another big head kick sent him back down after a brief exchange. He wasn’t unconscious but he didn’t stand back up to answer the count and Takahashi won his MMA debut in convincing fashion.
Kazuo Takahashi defeated George Weingeroff via Knockout – Head kick (1:23)
Ken Shamrock v Masakatsu Funaki
This was the main event of Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1 and it featured two men that would go on to become MMA legends in the years to come. Both Ken Shamrock and Masakatsu Funaki started their MMA careers with this fight, before going on to register over a hundred professional fights between the two of them over the next 23 years. Both men were well-rounded enough to land some good shots on the feet and battle in the clinch over the first minute or so, before Shamrock hit a well-timed shot that allowed him to secure a Funaki’s back from standing. He got Funaki to the ground and eventually secured both hooks, flattening him out on his stomach. Funaki turned to escape but found himself caught underneath Shamrock in mount, a place he ended being stuck for a little while after.
Funaki managed to escape mount but exposed his back again in the process, although Shamrock couldn’t get his hooks in this time. He got his back to the mat and started trying to work from open guard but Shamrock dived into a kneebar attempt instead of trying to pass. He switched to a straight ankle-lock as Funaki escaped but without any real control the pair ended up in a stalemate, and the referee stood them back up. Funaki went for a double-leg after a little more striking but Shamrock reversed the position and finished in mount. Shamrock started grinding his elbow into Funaki’s jaw to force him to turn, allowing him to lock up an arm-triangle choke. It took a little while for him to get the amount of pressure he needed but eventually Shamrock was able to force Funaki to tap and he won his first professional MMA fight.
Ken Shamrock defeated Masakatsu Funaki via Submission – Arm-triangle Choke (6:15)
The full replay of the Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1 MMA event was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of A History Of Organized Violence: