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Wrestling / Kiyoshi Tamura

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"He was a kinda reserved guy, but 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

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.

"The Aloof Tropes":

  • Aborted Arc: After having Tamura strongly pushed in worked matches, RINGS bookers 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 MMA fighter. He was considered by some as the next ace of UWF-i, and only bad booking decisions and his personal preferences made it impossible. Instead he ended in RINGS, where he was co-aces with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka after Maeda's retirement.
  • Aloof Ally: The UWF-i had a young promise and a small big draw in Tamura, but in exchange they had to endure his punk attitude, his obsession with realistic fighting, and his quickness for criticizing anything or anyone. When he refused to wrestle against NJPW, he gained a reputation of egotism that never fully abandoned him, bringing him the nickname of "The Aloof Genius."
  • Apologetic Attacker: During the rematch against Ikuhisa Minowa, whom Tamura considered a Worthy Opponent. After the bell rang among a rain of soccer kicks, Tamura promptly directed his rage towards the referee for stopping the bout too late and thus forcing him to kick Minowa more than necessary.
  • The Apprentice: To Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda. He also trained with Lou Thesz and Billy Robinson.
  • Arch-Enemy: In RINGS, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Volk Han and Dick Vrij.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: As said, he built an image of an aloof young fighter. Tamura used to be a jerk to people that he felt didn't belong in the ring with him, and didn't like to be held down when he was convinced otherwise.
  • Badass Teacher: In the U-FILE camp.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: He left UWF-i because he wanted to do real fighting and they would not let him. Thus, he moved RINGS, where he would have all the commodities to do it: constant chances, a relaxed schedule, and excellent fighters to train with. Then Tamura faced his first true opponent in a real fight, got completely humiliated, and suddenly it was not so cool anymore.
  • 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 also refrained from using his submission skills on adversaries he should have been perfectly able to submit.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Debuted at 19 years old and was 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 threw a promising pro wrestling career aside because he wanted to do MMA, but it seems that his true first taste of the latter at Valentijn Overeem's hands broke him mentally and left him with a very inconsistent attitude towards both fields. Even although he still became a top mixed martial artist, it was clear he was not burning for the sport anymore, as he looked wary and resigned in every fight and typically chose the easiest ones whenever he could choose. He also became prone to sacrifice MMA chances for small private pro wrestling endeavours and vice versa, which ultimately led him to lose success in both, even when he had a ton of opportunity to have fruitful careers in any. Due to all of this, it can be said Tamura was a predecessor to Katsuyori Shibata.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Despite being a rebellious apprentice, Tamura was loyal to Takada. This status only 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.
    • Apparently suffered a similar one with Maeda, as Tamura left RINGS feeling that Maeda was not acknowledging his efforts in MMA (which for Tamura were a big sacrifice) and only wanted to exploit him. It got fixed when Tamura worked with Maeda again in HERO'S.
  • Bullying a Dragon: While working a match with Tamura in RINGS, Dutch kickboxer Dick Vrij became uncomfortable with Tamura's choke, so he raked his eye to force him to release. 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: Downplayed. Kiyoshi debuted in RINGS in 1996 and had his first competitive shoot fight at the same year (his only previous experience in the sport were a couple easy fights against boxers and kickboxers), while the rest of the natives of the promotion had been doing at least some legit shoots against proper opponents since their starts and were already experienced in MMA. Although Tamura was more talented than most of them and actually ended up sharing the number one spot with their best guy, Kohsaka, 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.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: 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. On the other hand, Elvis Sinosic described his kicks as incredibly fast, but lacking power, though this might say more about Tamura’s seriousness in their fight rather than Tamura’s skills.
  • 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.
  • 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, which left them traumatized. 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 head and sleeper hold. Also the triangle choke in more technical matches.
  • Heroic BSoD: Seems prone to those, counting from the first against Alistair Overeem. He later suffered another after losing the RINGS Championship to Gilbert Yvel, which solidified his decision to leave the company, and 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 (this at least in worked matches), Ikuhisa Minowa, and almost Hidehiko Yoshida.
    • He also gave Renzo Gracie his first loss in MMA.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Is good friends with kickboxer Atsushi Tateshima.
  • 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.
    • He also has a fairly deep knowledge in regular puroresu, despite never using it himself.
  • 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 Wrestling: Was a part of Okayama University's sumo team. According to probably apocryphal 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 UWF-i.
  • I Work Alone: Started the custom to train alone when his fellow UWF-i guys gave him the shoulder after he refused to work matches against NJPW. He apparently took a liking for it, as even when he moved to RINGS, he preferred to train in sambo gyms instead of doing it at Maeda's dojo.
  • 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.
  • Leitmotif: "Flame Of Mind" by Koichi Uchida.
  • Manly Tears: Not so much as people like 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). Tamura also seemed to be working hard to contain tears after being ripped apart by Minotauro Nogueira in PRIDE.
    • 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 and some mental baggage, 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" ("The Aloof Genius"), "Akai Pants no Gankosha" ("The Stubborn Man in Red Pants"), "U no Idenshi o Tsugumono" ("The U-Spirit Sucessor"), "Kaiten Tai" ("Rotating Body", gained in RINGS for his high-speed matches) and "PRIDE Kara no Shikaku" ("PRIDE's Assassin", gained upon debuting in PRIDE in a hype that he never quite lived up to).
  • Red Is Heroic: Used to wear red tights, so red became his official color, as seen in one of his nicknames.
  • 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.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: For a time in his early UWFI days, after some personal training with Lou Thesz, he removed shin guards from his attire and only wore knee pads with shoes and long socks so he couldn’t use his kicks in order to focus on his grappling. Thankfully he started wearing shin guards again at the peak of his career.
  • Start My Own: Founded the pro wrestling promotion U-STYLE and the MMA team U-FILE CAMP. He later helped to create GLEAT, a promotion that has both shoot-style and regular puroresu bouts.
  • Technician Versus Performer: A picture perfect technician.
  • Throwing the Fight: His bout with Hidehiko Yoshida was labelled as a work by fans almost the same night 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 injured 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.
  • 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 anyone unconvinced of Bob Sapp's legit dangerousness, watching the latter defeat Tamura in matter of seconds cleared it.
    • He also lose rather quickly to Ricardo Liborio at the 2001 ADCC.
  • Worthy Rival: Ikuhisa Minowa, who Tamura always congratulated for his performances. Also Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.