Wrestling: Masakatsu Funaki
"He beat me up for [another] 30 minutes, armbarred me, everything." "Funaki was like a mad scientist. He took the idea of submissions to an even higher level than the rest of the Japanese contingent. He had this insatiable desire to learn more and push his body harder. And as an entertainer he understood the need to entertain."
—Frank Shamrock, about Funaki's nature
(b. 1969 as Masaharu Funaki
) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler
and Mixed Martial Arts
fighter, founder of the proto-MMA company Pancrase. He debuted in 1985 for New Japan Pro Wrestling
, being a Yoshiaki Fujiwara
trainee along with Minoru Suzuki
. When Fujiwara left for the shoot-style promotion UWF Newborn
, Funaki and Suzuki got a permission to follow him, and they became part of the UWF roster. The promotion fell afterwards and his faction, led by Fujiwara, formed Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, but it was short-lived as well. Funaki and his colleagues realized that Japanese crowds really would pay for see "real" matches with non-worked outcomes and launched Pancrase, the second MMA promotion in history. Using the catch wrestling roots they had learned from Fujiwara, which they called "hybrid wrestling", Funaki and Suzuki became the aces of Pancrase and had legendary fights with names like Ken Shamrock
, Bas Rutten and Guy Mezger, with Masakatsu gaining the King of Pancrase title twice. During this time, Funaki was worshiped as one of the three shoot-style aces, along with former mentors Akira Maeda
and Nobuhiko Takada
. Towards the end of his career, severe injuries took his toll on his body and he was forced to retire after a defeat to Rickson Gracie, passing the torch to his trainee Yuki Kondo. He then returned to professional wrestling for Keiji Muto's All Japan Pro Wrestling
, later following him to the new WRESTLE-1.
As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki
"Yes, We Are Hybrid Tropes":
- Achilles' Heel: Funaki's chin was less than impressive, so striking to the face (especially ground and pound) used to be his personal kryptonite.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Though his role as the Pancrase ace typically drew comparisons to UWF-i's Nobuhiko Takada or RINGS's Akira Maeda, Funaki himself was often compared in technical terms to the relatively unknown Shooto fighter Rumina Sato. They both were awesome grapplers with a similar catch wrestling style, were plagued by the same irregular performances in the ring and, interestingly enough, were the two first fighters in winning a match by calf and biceps slicer.
- Ambiguously Brown: Had a more tanned skin in comparison with fellow Japanese natives.
- Arch-Enemy: Arguably Bas Rutten, though he also had a little enmity with Akira Maeda.
- Arrogant Shoot Wrestling Guy: According to some, he was one in real life, always motivated to prove himself as the best at any price. These same voices cite this as one of the reasons of his downfall at the end of his MMA career.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Was the head of Pancrase (along Minoru Suzuki) and considered as the strongest hybrid wrestler.
- Badass Boast: He vowed to knock out Rickson Gracie in under three minutes.
- Badass Teacher: Trained Ikuhisa Minowa, Yuki Kondo, Ken Shamrock and other names.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Entered in the New Japan Dojo at 15. In Japanese pro wrestling history, only Katsuhiko Nakajima started his career at a younger age. Only three years later, he was suspended for punching a cab driver.
- Broken Ace: He was athletic, charismatic, a great grappler and a significantly good striker. His only flaws was arguably psychologic. He wanted to become to MMA what classic "aces" were to puroresu and pushed himself too hard during his career, fighting through injuries and never backing up from a fight, and it made him sometimes waver in his self-confidence.
- Bullying a Dragon: One of Funakiís earliest opponents in Pancrase, Cees Bezems, showed his disregard for the norms by throwing illegal closed-fisted and elbow strikes to Masa during their fight. Funaki retaliated by holding his americana a bit more after he tapped, and even tried to relock it after the tap out and had to be restrained by the the referee.
- Captain Ersatz: Jumping over from pro wrestling to mixed martial arts didn't stop Fire Pro Wrestling from including as close to his likeness as it could.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Green. He always wore lime green tight and boots, only changing them to black on occasion.
- Cool vs. Awesome: The reason behind his fight with Kazushi Sakuraba is that Saku thought they could give an awesome fight.
- Curbstomp Battle: Some of his fights, specially the first ones, were fast leglock wins.
- During his second fight against Bas Rutten, Funaki endured an impressive amount of damage. Rutten himself was astonished for Funaki getting up after every strike regardless how hard they were. Even after eating a hard knee to the face which ended the fight, Masa could be seen talking to the referee as if nothing, showing he was still conscious and trying to keep the fight going.
- He refused to tap out in Rickson Gracie's rear naked choke, which rendered him unconscious. He actually prefered to die rather giving up.
- Finishing Move: Cross armbar, heel hook, kick to the head and the Hybrid Blaster. He also used the triangle choke and the backdrop suplex as finishers for a time upon his return to wrestling.
- Fish out of Water: His lack of success in non-Pancrase competition, including a diminishing draw against Ebenezer Fontes Braga and a crushing defeat to Rickson Gracie, was caused by his original adaptation to the ruleset of Pancrase: no closed fist punches, no ground and pound, rope escapes, and more entertaining than pragmatism in the ring. Naturally, he faced a challenge when he had to adapt to punches to the face and limited activity on the mat.
- Five Moves of Doom: Inverted - he has the second highest count of different submission finishes in Japanese MMA, having twelve of them on his record (he is only beaten by Shinya Aoki with fifteen and just followed by Rumina Sato with ten).
- Glass Cannon: His grappling was high level, his palms and kicks were strong and he was good in finding ways to win. However, his takedown defense was weak, his striking was amateurish and he had no chin. These reasons obligued him to be a very offensive-oriented fighter.
- Gradual Grinder: Funaki prefered to end his matches fastly, but he was skilled with damaging leg kicks and really knew how to soften his opponents up to submit them more easily.
- Heroic BSOD: Had one after being defeated by Rickson, and according to him, had one during the fight which contributed to the loss.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners:
- With Minoru Suzuki. According to Suzuki, however, their friendship is somewhat distant nowadays.
- Also with Masahito Kakihara, who he met in UWF Newborn. In fact, after the promotion folded and the two went to different companies, Funaki and him still sparred together in a park near Masahito's house, as they could not use their respective company dojos.
- Hoisted By His Own Petard:
- During his first match with Jason Delucia, Funaki allowed him to perform a leglock on him to build drama for the match, planning to spend a rope escape to break the hold and then continue the match for real and beat Jason. However, when he was in the hold, Funaki realized that he had positioned himself too away from the ropes, and he had to tap out to save his leg.
- There is a theory about how his loss against Rickson Gracie was another backfired carrying. While having a standing guillotine choke secured in the corner, you can clearly see Funaki looking at his cornermen and nodding before releasing the hold and allowing Rickson going to the ground. Many a Japanese insider noted that it looked fishy, and even Hidehiko Yoshida, who was in the commentarist table during the match, sounded puzzled and wondering what was Funaki doing.
- Hot-Blooded: His external behavior could not suggest it, but he was it indeed.
- I Know Kung-Fu: Was a fan of martial arts films, and learned kung fu later on his life.
- Kavorka Man: Though not classically attractive, Funaki had a significative female fanbase.
- Just Toying with Them: Back in his Pancrase days, he used to toy with his opponents by allowing them submission attemps to make the fight more interesting, someting called "carrying". This, as said above, backfired on occassion.
- Mad Artist: Described as such in the art of grappling.
- Passing the Torch: To Yuki Kondo, though Yuki never got the same level.
- Perma Stubble
- Red Baron: "Yomigaetta Samurai" ("The Revived Samurai").
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Funai may look like the blue to Minoru Suzuki's red, but reality is another - despite his cooler persona, Funaki was much more passionate and wild than him.
- Signature Move: Particularly liked to use the Victor Roll or forward somersault into a leglock in his MMA matches.
- Start My Own: Pancrase, along with Suzuki.
- Technician vs. Performer: A technician, interestingly close to the trope article's description, especially when compared with Sakuraba.
- Unnecessary Combat Roll: He used to do a backflip from the turnbuckle before or after his fights.
- Unrelated Brothers: A non-tag team example. Some sites (even official ones) erroneously claim that ex-WWE wrestler Shoichi Funaki is Masakatsu's real life brother. Actually not only they are not related at all, they have never worked together despite both being PWFG trainees.
- Worf Had the Flu: Unlike the well conditioned Rickson, Funaki had endured years of career in a competition highly destructive to the body, and resented from leg injuries and general wornout. Some well timed upkicks to his most injured knee were enough to make him fall and render him unable to fend the Gracie off.
- Moreover, an interview with Funaki had him stating that he was actually scared going into his fight with Rickson, and that he believed his lack of confidence was a big factor in his loss.
- On the other hand, his fights against Sakuraba and Tamura subvert this, as they were so battle worn as him or even more.
- Worked Shoot: For entertaining and the company profit's sake, popular knowledge is that Funaki has done predetermined fights, or at least are inside suspects of such things. As it's Pancrase what we are talking about, we will probably never know it.
- The fight between Funaki and Suzuki in 1994, which saw flying kicks, light striking and lucha libre-esque, absurdely fluid grappling. Given that the finish was a theatrical crossface, it really looked more like pro wrestling.
- A similar case was Manabu Yamada, Pancrase's third top native. The match was short and surprising, and Funaki's lack of defense or reactions during the finishing leglock (aside from the fact it seems that he "fed" his leg to Yamada before the hold) made many people think it was a work.
- It's also believed that his losses against Frank Shamrock and Yuki Kondo were fixed by Funaki's part to elevate them as stars.
- Conversely, his win against Ken Shamrock would have been destined to rebuild his image after Ken's defeat to Royce Gracie in UFC and his own defeat to Ken at the first Pancrase event. Considering that the fight was days before Ken went to fight his desired rematch with Royce, a work would have been safer for him.