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Wrestling / Kiyoshi Tamura

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"He was a kinda reserved guy. Among the opponents in my career, he was definitely top place, because he was a super, super skilled guy. I just think he came in the wrong time. When we moved into MMA he simply wasn't strong enough to compete with the bigger guys he was going against."
Frank Shamrock

"Tamura is one of those guys who are very dangerous. Sakuraba was knowledge-wise a lot better (heart was equal, condition was equal), but you never knew what Tamura would do. [...] The thing of Tamura was that on any given day, he could beat anybody."
Billy Robinson about his old apprentice.

Kiyoshi Tamura (b. 1969) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler and Mixed Martial Arts fighter, best known for his work in Union of Wrestling Forces International and Fighting Network RINGS. He started as a pro wrestler in the second UWF, debuting as a promising neophite, but his ascense was stopped after being injured in the face by star Akira Maeda. The UWF fell, and then Tamura found himself working in UWF-i, where he was appointed as Nobuhiko Takada's apprentice. A legitimate fighter, Tamura had his MMA debut submitting a boxing champion, and ascended fastly in the roster, learning grappling with Lou Thesz and competing in important tournaments. However, he became disillusioned with the UWF's lack of interest in more realism and real fighting, so he left for Fighting Network RINGS, Akira Maeda's company. He became his top student and wrestled memorable shoot-style and MMA bouts, frequently against foreign opponents very superior both in weight and preparation. However, Kiyoshi held important victories and became the second Japanese fighter in beating a Gracie after his old rival Kazushi Sakuraba. When he got tired of Maeda and the RINGS schedule, Kiyoshi joined PRIDE Fighting Championship and reconciled with Takada, and after beating fellow legends Sakuraba and Masakatsu Funaki, he unofficially retired from MMA altogether. Only recently he came back for some special events, mainly the pseudo-MMA Ganryujima promotion.

As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki.

"The Aloof Tropes":

  • Aborted Arc: After having Tamura strongly pushed in worked matches, RINGS bookers had expected him to win his debut in MMA against Valentijn Overeem (not his first real fight, but indeed his first high level opponent) in order to keep building him. However, in a horrifying upset, Overeem curbstomped Tamura and forced the bookers to change all the plans.
  • The Ace: He had all the elements needed for an ace: he was good-looking, had personality, could work excellent matches and was a significantly good fighter. He was considered by some as the next ace of UWF-i, but bad booking decisions and his personal preferences did not make it possible. Instead he ended in RINGS, where he was co-aces with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka after Maeda's retirement.
  • Aloof Ally: He is not called the Aloof Genius for nothing. The UWF-i had a young promise and a small big draw in Tamura, but in exchange they had to endure his bad manners, his refusal to wrestle against NJPW and ultimately his criticism of the company's theatricality.
  • The Apprentice: To Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda. He also trained with Lou Thesz and Billy Robinson.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • In real life, Kazushi Sakuraba. It's said that Tamura used to mistreat him back when Saku was his kohai in the UWF dojo, and anyway later in their lives they became aces for opposing companies. Sakuraba challenged him to a fight many times, but Tamura never conceded until 2007, when Kiyoshi defeated him in a technical decision.
    • In pro wrestling, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Volk Han.
  • Arrogant Shoot Wrestling Guy: As said, he built an image of an aloof, bitter young fighter. Tamura used to be a jerk to people in the ring that he felt didn't belong in there with him.
  • Badass Teacher: In the U-FILE camp.
  • Boring, but Practical: Deconstructed. Unlike pro wrestling, where he would indulge in beautiful technical combinations and chain wrestling, Tamura's fighting style in MMA was very defensive and cautious, almost to the extent to look timid. However, while this allowed him to work around the offensive of superior opponents, it also worked against himself, as he often refrained from using his submission skills on adversaries he would have been able to submit.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Debuted at 19 years old and already a fast and aggressive striker. He once refused shaking hands with Takada before a match and even slapped him, and Takada was not amused.
  • Broken Ace: Tamura downplayed a promising pro wrestling career because he wanted to do real fighting like Pancrase, but it seems that his true first taste of MMA to Valentijn Overeem's hands broke him mentally and left him with a very inconsistent attitude towards both afterwards. Even although he still became a top fighter, it was clear he was not burning for the sport anymore, as he looked wary and resigned in every fight and started choosing only easy ones whenever he could choose. Also, while he had kept the chance to return full time to professional wrestling, he instead indulged in sacrificing MMA chances for small private pro wrestling endeavours and vice versa, which ultimately led him to nothing. Due to all this, it can be said Tamura was a predecessor to Katsuyori Shibata.
  • Broken Pedestal: Despite being a rebellious apprentice, Tamura was loyal to Takada, but it started to change when Takada left UWF-i to make a career as a politician and then returned to the company when it failed. It took several years until they got the good terms back, in Takada's retirement fight in PRIDE.
  • Bullying a Dragon: While working a match with Tamura in RINGS, Dutch kickboxer Dick Vrij became uncomfortable with Tamura's choke and raked his eye. Kiyoshi got angry and started beating him, so Vrij had to skip to the ending and tap out to save his life.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: His response when asked about his great victory over Masakatsu Funaki at the second event of DREAM.
    "It was just like a memory from the old days right out of a videotape. Like condensing 20 years in less than a minute of punching. At the time I had mixed feelings towards it, but now it is just refreshing for me."
  • Can't Catch Up: Kiyoshi debuted in RINGS in 1996 and had his first (competitive) shoot fight at the same year, while the rest of the natives of the promotion had been doing legit shoots since their starts and were already experienced in MMA. Though Tamura was more talented than most of them and actually ended sharing the number one spot with the other best guy, he had to invest a year of training in order to catch up with them.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Red. He always wore dark red tights and boots.
  • Confusion Fu: As noted in the article quotes, although not in the usual fashion of the trope. Kiyoshi's impredictability came from his lack of a standard strategy for his matches - he usually would not compromise in any aspect of the fight, mostly resorting to grind down the opponent and defend up, but he sometimes would suddenly attempt to knock out or submit from nowhere.
  • Determinator: Wanderlei Silva himself noted that "he hit Tamura very hard, and still he didn't give up". Tamura also spent a match dodging impressively submission after submission by Minotauro Nogueira until he got hooked.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Inverted. He fought wearing boots, sneakers or wrestling shoes in all of his fights if he could legally do so.
  • The Drifter: Before founding his team U-FILE CAMP, Kiyoshi did not had his own dojo, so he had to teach in several sambo gyms in exchange for sparring when Maeda's gym was not available.
  • Expy:
    • Arguably of his trainer Nobuhiko Takada. They were both physically attractive wrestlers with hard kicks, great skill to build matches, and both suffered a first shocking defeat in their MMA careers to opponents who happened to be better grapplers than expected. In terms of in-ring performance, Tamura was probably what Takada would have been had he started in MMA at a young age.
    • Speaking about personality and/or character, he would be also an expy to Akira Maeda, his other master.
  • Finishing Move: Cross armbar, kneebar, kick to the kead and sleeper hold. Also the triangle choke in more technical matches.
  • Gradual Grinder: Part of his style, inherited from the classic shoot-style leg kicking approach to chop down his opponents. He destroyed Hidehiko Yoshida's leg with just some kicks, and Frank Shamrock said that Tamura's kicks were the hardest he had felt in his life, even better than those of Bas Rutten.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Suffered one after losing the RINGS Championship to Gilbert Yvel, which solidified his decision to leave the company. Years after, he had another after being defeated by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in their rematch in PRIDE.
  • Hero Killer: He has defeated near all of the native stars from his time: Kazushi Sakuraba, Masakatsu Funaki, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (at least in worked matches), Ikuhisa Minowa, and almost Hidehiko Yoshida.
    • He also gave Renzo Gracie his first loss in MMA.
  • Hidden Depths: Though always a pragmatist in the ring, Tamura did have a deep knowledge of scientific holds, and he demonstrated it by almost finishing Frank Shamrock with a scarf hold armlock, trapping Renzo Gracie of all people with a back crucifix and trying a figure four toehold on Renato Sobral.
  • Honor Before Reason: He refused to attack Akira Maeda's injured knees in their first match together in RINGS out of sportsmanship.
  • I Know Sumo: Was a part of Okayama University's sumo team. According to other sources, he also trained in Judo.
  • It's Personal: Enforced in his fight with Renzo Gracie where he came out to the UWF theme music to avenge Takada and the rest of UWFI.
  • Jack-of-All-Stats: A very well rounded fighter, capable of submissions and striking.
  • Jerkass: According to Sakuraba and other wrestlers, and anyway reflected on his nicknames (see Red Baron below).
  • Kick the Dog: His decision to leave UWF International was months before his contract expired, but when he had his final match against Sakuraba, Kiyoshi took off one of his own shinguards and threw it to the crowd in disrespect.
  • Manly Tears: Not in the line of Akira Shoji or Yoji Anjo, but Tamura was known as a rather emotional fighter.
    • He sobbed after getting his biggest match in UWF-i sabotaged by Gary Albright, who repeatedly shot on him and blew the spots of the match (Albright he had been already forced to lose to Masahito Kakihara and was not willing to job to another Japanese midcarder).
    • In more positive examples, Tamura was also teary after defeating Patrick Smith in a MMA bout, as he put the stipulation he would retire if he lost. He also shed tears after becoming overwhelmed with emotion at beating his mentor, Takada, in his retirement fight.
  • Martial Arts Headband: Wore a red bandanna upon his fight with Matthew Saad Muhammad.
  • Master of None: Never a scientific aggressor like Kazushi Sakuraba or a submission machinegun like Masakatsu Funaki, Tamura was good in all the areas of the game, but lacked the initiative in any of them to get his adversaries finished. His usual strategy was controlling his opposition and waiting for opportunities to inflict damage in order to win the decision.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Being a middleweight at the best with a grueling pro wrestling career behind him, Tamura typically suffered when facing world-level heavyweight fighters.
  • Passing the Torch: A failed example, as neither Tamura nor his rival Tsuyoshi Kohsaka could completely hold Akira Maeda's torch after his retirement.
  • Put on a Bus: Immdiately after debuting in UWF, Tamura had to be sidelined when Akira Maeda decided to shoot on him and break his eye socket with knee strikes.
  • Red Baron: "Koko no Tensai" ("Aloof Genius"), "Akai Pants no Gankosha" ("The Red Pants-Wearing Determinator"), "U no Idenshi o Tsugumono" ("The U-Spirit Sucessor").
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka's blue, as represented by his tights. Tamura was always a cocky, controversial wrestler next to the calm, monk-like Kohsaka.
  • Start My Own: Founded the pro wrestling promotion U-STYLE and the MMA team U-FILE CAMP.
  • Throwing the Fight: His bout with Hidehiko Yoshida was labelled as a work by fans almost the same nigth of the event, but the truth is still blurred about whether it was or not. Those who defend the authenticity of the match cite Tamura's brutal kicks to Yoshida's supposedly injuried knee, which would be dangerous in a worked match; on the other hand, those who maintain it was a work point out how Tamura did nothing to defend Yoshida's submission and tapped out instantly, despite it being a blood choke who would take some time to work and also despite Tamura being an expert grappler who did not have a history of tapping fast. We probably will never know the truth.
  • Technician vs. Performer: A technician.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: One of his signature counters was getting out from an armbar attempt by rolling onto his back. The technique itself is realizable in a grappling context, but also flashier than other ways to escape armbars.
  • Worked Shoot: Naturally to all of the RINGS wrestlers, sometimes it's difficult to tell apart shoots from works in his Sherdog MMA record. The web gives his record as 32-13-3, mistakenly counting many famous professional wrestling matches as legit bouts, while his most accurate record would be approximately 17-11-1.
  • The Worf Effect: If there was somebody not convinced of Bob Sapp's legit dangerousness, watching him defeat Tamura in matter of seconds cleared it.
  • Worthy Rival: Ikuhisa Minowa, who Tamura always congratulated for his performances after their series of fights. Also Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.