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Wrestling / Masakatsu Funaki

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"He beat me up for [another] 30 minutes, armbarred me, everything."
Ken Shamrock, about his first sparring with Funaki

"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

Masakatsu Funaki (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 Mutoh's All Japan Pro Wrestling, later following him to the new WRESTLE-1.

"Yes, We Are Hybrid Tropes":

  • Achilles' Heel:
    • Being a fighter with a highly mobile submission style, grapplers with a strong top game capable to swamp him down could give him trouble, sometimes even overpowering him for good if he failed at escaping. This was seen in his losses to Ken Shamrock and Rickson Gracie.
    • Related to the previous, he was also vulnerable to ground and pound, having fought all his career and built his fighting style under a gentleman's agreement that banned strikes on the ground. This was now relevant in the fights against to Rutten, Ebenezer Fontes Braga and Rickson, which led Kazushi Sakuraba to avoid using it against Funaki in order to have a technical fight instead.
  • 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 less known 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 history who won a match by calf and biceps slicer.
  • Always Second Best: Although Funaki was famously the Always Someone Better to Suzuki, he felt this way himself towards Nobuhiko Takada, his superior in the UWF Newborn dojo, who by then was young, uninjured and motivated to train. Even when reminded of one of their last matches, in which Funaki accidentally knocked Takada out more than intended, Masa stated it didn't feel like a victory because he knew that it had been a fluke and that Takada could do much more to him.
  • Arch-Enemy: Akira Maeda, his former Big Brother Mentor, though they eventually reconciled.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: According to some, he was always motivated to prove himself as the best at any price and wasn't willing to listen to people say otherwise. These same voices cite this as one of the reasons of his downfall at the end of his MMA career.
  • The Artifact: He is one of the last U-system wrestlers to keep almost completely intact his wrestling style, with plenty of stiff strikes and submissions.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Was the head of Pancrase (along Minoru Suzuki) and considered the best native fighter of the promotion.
  • Badass Boast: He vowed to knock out Rickson Gracie in under three minutes.
  • Badass Teacher: Trained Ikuhisa Minowa, Yuki Kondo, Ken Shamrock and other big names.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Entered into the New Japan Dojo at 15-years-old (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 better than average striker. His only flaws were arguably psychological: he wanted to become to MMA what classic "aces" were to Japanese pro wrestling, so he pushed himself too hard, fighting through injuries and never backing up from a fight, and it broke him down before the culmen of his career.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • One of Funaki's earliest opponents in Pancrase, Cees Bezems, showed his disregard for the norms by throwing illegal closed-fisted punches and elbow strikes during their fight. Funaki retaliated by holding his americana a bit more after he tapped, and even tried to re-lock it after the tap out, having to be restrained by the the referee.
  • Captain Ersatz: Jumping over from professional 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.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Once he realized Jason DeLucia had just injured his leg against him, Funaki started targeting the leg with low kicks until dropping him.
  • Cool Teacher/Sadist Teacher: Zig-Zagged. On one hand, both Ken and Frank Shamrock describe Funaki as a very gentle and kind teacher, quite different from Suzuki or your typical Japanese wrestling trainer. On the other hand, Genki Sudo recalls Funaki as violent and abusive, and other Japanese wrestlers have described him as a gym bully as well. Who do you believe is your pick.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Invoked. The reason behind his fight with Kazushi Sakuraba is that Saku thought they could give an awesome fight and Masa agreed.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Downplayed, as Funaki was comparatively better rounded than some of his Pancrase colleagues, but while he excelled in grappling, his takedown game was lacking, and he often found himself having to pull guard and grapple from his back. Masakatsu worked to compensate this weakness (see Murderous Thighs below), but opponents able to outwork him from top remained his bane for most of his career.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Some of his fights, specially the first ones, were fast leglock wins.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Funaki was never a notable striker, and preferred to end his matches quickly, but was skilled with leg kicks whenever he needed to soft up his opponents.
  • Determinator:
    • During his second fight against Bas Rutten, Funaki endured such an amount of damage that 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 believed that he was going to die in the hold, and still he was absolutely not willing to tap out. Rickson himself admitted to be worried about this perspective.
  • Disappeared Dad: His father left when he was young, leaving him to be raised by his mother alone.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Had a bad experience with steroids during his wrestling expedition in Europe in 1988, which is why he became obsessed with developing his "hybrid body" training method.
  • Finishing Move: Cross armbar, heel hook, kick to the head and the Hybrid Blaster (a hammerlock belly to belly piledriver). He also used the triangle choke and the backdrop suplex for a time upon his return to wrestling in AJPW.
  • Fish out of Water: His performance suffered considerably when he was forced to adapt to full MMA from the relatively comfortable Pancrase rules in 1998, having to meet sweet things like closed-fisted punches and ground and pound. His diminishing draw against Ebenezer Fontes Braga, and especially his crushing defeat to Rickson Gracie, marked the point in which Funaki was not a top fighter anymore.
  • 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 followed by Rumina Sato with ten).
  • Glass Cannon: In all MMA fields. Excellent in catching joint locks and landing palms and kicks, but not so much in resisting strong grapplers or receiving any kind of strikes to the face. His takedown defense didn't live up either.
  • 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.
    • Another one with Jushin Thunder Liger, as they bonded as sparring partners in the New Japan Dojo and were rumored to have learned koppo together.
  • Hoist 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 the theory that 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 announcer table during the match, sounded puzzled about what was Funaki doing.
  • Hot-Blooded: His external behavior could not suggest it, but he was it indeed.
  • Hunk: Though not classically attractive like Maeda or especially Takada, Funaki had a significative female fanbase as well for his rough, manly visage.
  • I Know Karate: He is naturally known as a shoot wrestling specialist, but Funaki also learned Chin Woo kung fu later in his career because he was a childhood fan of martial arts films. Also, he might have trained in koppo (a martial art that allows kicks, grappling and more notably features hand strikes that doesn't use the fist) with Masashi Horibe when he was still part of the New Japan Dojo and took a few boxing lessons under Chiaki Kobayashi.
  • Just Toying with Them: Back in his Pancrase days, he used to toy with his opponents by allowing them submission attempts to make the fight more interesting, something called "carrying". This, as said above, backfired on occasion.
  • Kick the Dog: Quite literal. He incurred in illegal kicks to downed opponents during his fights with Takahashi and Rutten, despite the ruleset not allowing it.
  • The Legions of Hell: On AKIRA's 30th Anniversary Show, Funaki played the role of a demon sent by the King of Hell (played by Masahiro Chono) to bring down AKIRA.
  • Murderous Thighs: Late in his career, Funaki developed an active game from his guard, mixing triangles chokes with armlocks in a style similar to contemporaneous Rumina Sato. It may sound exotic to the style, as fighting from the back used to be strongly discouraged in catch wrestling, but certain historical wrestlers like Clarence Eklund were famous for preferring the bottom position as well, something they called "leg wrestling".
  • Passing the Torch: To Yuki Kondo, though Yuki never got the same level.
  • Perma-Stubble
  • Red Baron: "Yomigaetta Samurai" ("The Revived Samurai"), "The Hybrid Wrestler", "Pancrase no Shōchō" ("The Symbol of Pancrase"), "21 Seiki no Wakashishi" ("21st Century Young Lion").
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Minoru Suzuki's blue. It might be shocking because of Suzuki's famous jerk tendencies, but he was actually quite cold and collected, while Funaki was more passionate and fiery. Their fighting styles were also the opposite, as while Suzuki was a freestyle wrestler who favored top control, Funaki often disregarded position and preferred wild entries into submissions.
  • Signature Move: Particularly liked to use the Victor Roll (also called Koga Roll or rolling leglock, a sambo move that utilizes a somersault to catch the opponent's leg from standing) in his MMA matches.
  • Start My Own: Pancrase, along with Suzuki.
  • Technician Versus Performer: A technician, interestingly close to the trope article's description, especially when compared with somebody like Kazushi 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 erroneously claim that former WWE wrestler Shoichi Funaki (now known as FUNAKI) is Masakatsu's real life brother. Not only they aren't related at all, they had never worked together until a special match in 2015 (although they did train under the same master, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and were part of his PWFG promotion at different moments).
  • Ur-Example: According to some sources, he brought the ankle lock to NJPW after his tour in Europe. Who he learned it from, or why catch wrestlers like Karl Gotch who presumably knew it did not introduce it beforehand, are unknown matters.
  • Worf Had the Flu: Unlike the yogic and well conditioned Rickson, Funaki had endured years of career in a form of competition highly destructive to the body, and resented from leg injuries and general worn out. Some well timed up-kicks 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.
  • 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 that we are talking about, we will probably never know it.
    • The fight between Funaki and Suzuki in 1994 was a short but spectacular work, filled with flying kicks, light striking and lucha libre-esque grappling.
    • It is believed that his losses against Frank Shamrock and Yuki Kondo were fixed by Funaki to give them credibility as top wrestlers. In his autobiography, Frank absolutely refuses to believe that his win over Funaki was legit.
    • Conversely, his sole win against Ken Shamrock would've been destined to rebuild his image after Ken's defeat to Royce Gracie in UFC in relation to Funaki's his own loss to Ken at the first Pancrase event, and also to preserve Ken before his next UFC fight, which was some days after. Unlike Frank, however, Ken claimed in his podcast interview with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that all his three fights with Funaki were legit (while being super shady about the Suzuki fight, that said).