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Wrestling / Tsuyoshi Kohsaka

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"I am working on this very interesting guy, who just came in from Judo. In three years or so, no one will be able to beat him."

Tsuyoshi "TK" Kohsaka (born March 6, 1970) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler and Mixed Martial Arts fighter. He started as a high level Judoka, but a knee injury forced him to retire, and he became a trainee for professional wrestling promotion Fighting Network RINGS. His judo training and natural ability for legit shoots allowed him to climb up the scale by winning the MMA Lumax Cup representing RINGS, but he also showed a brilliant skill for worked matches, engaging in awesome shoot-style battles with guys like Volk Han and Kiyoshi Tamura. In a time in which wrestlers were either great workers or great shooters, Kohsaka was the rare example who could excel more or less equally in both, and he and his perennial rival Tamura were candidates to torchbearer of RINGS after the retirement of RINGS founder Akira Maeda, but it was too much for them. Nonetheless, TK met some future MMA legends in the ring and was the first Japanese top player in Ultimate Fighting Championship, and also was a part of the pioneer team The Alliance with Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith. After his tenure in RINGS, he dabbled in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and snatched a championship in Pancrase, and eventually retired with some last showings in PRIDE Fighting Championships. He works now as a MMA trainer, being the old master behind names like Hirotaka Yokoi and Katsunori Kikuno.

He is the innovator of the TK Guard, which is a different grappling position depending who you ask. Also, he must not be confused with another certain TK, nor with another TK again.

"TK Tropes":

  • Achilles' Heel: Though he was a superb defensive grappler with great technique, TK had a notorious difficulty to finish his opponents, and actually lost many matches for not being able to secure a submission. It was best exemplified by his ADCC bout with Rolles Gracie, as TK basically dominated it by launching a ton of submission attempts (some of them very close), only for him to fail them all and lose to Gracie through the points of a single guard pass.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent:
    • Kohsaka's career is oddly similar to Shooto fighter Yuki Nakai: they are both skilled university judoka with a penchant for groundfighting (Nakai in Hokkaido, TK in Senshu), both gained fame by performing well in a primitive MMA tournament (Vale Tudo Japan and Lumax Cup respectively), both were worfed in grappling rules by Jean-Jacques Machado (Shooto and ADCC), and both later became trainers of renown with important teams (Paraestra Shooto Gym and Alliance-Squared). They even started working together when Kohsaka was appointed consultant of the JBJJF by Nakai.
    • Kohsaka is also comparable to Minoru Suzuki from Pancrase: they both were the number two in their respective promotions (Suzuki behind Masakatsu Funaki and Kohsaka behind Kiyoshi Tamura), had fighting styles based on wrestling (Suzuki was an Olympic wrestling alternate and Kohsaka a national level judoka), and both could defeat a scary gaijin opponent than their superior couldn't (Suzuki beat Ken Shamrock, who Funaki only bested in works, and Kohsaka has a win over Gilbert Yvel, who beat Tamura in a title match). They even teamed up in a special grappling bout in The Contenders.
  • Always Second Best: Kohsaka is rarely mentioned at all in discussions about the best shoot-style worker ever, which tend to go to Tamura instead, despite the fact they were very close in performances and even wrestled some classic matches together. The reasons are simple, though - unlike Tamura, who came from a mainstream pro wrestling career and only did MMA as a side business, Kohsaka was first and foremost a fighter and his only wrestling tenure was for RINGS, which many wrestling sites don't even cover because they consider it a MMA promotion. (Ironically, the opposite happens to Tamura when talking about Japanese mixed martial artists, as his MMA career had relatively little exposure to western fans and is entangled with works in RINGS.)
  • The Apprentice: To Akira Maeda.
  • Arch-Enemy: In MMA, Gilbert Yvel. In pro wrestling, Kiyoshi Tamura and Volk Han. All of them in a Worthy Rival light, however.
  • Badass Teacher: In the Alliance-Square dojo. Among his trainees are Hirotaka Yokoi, Hiroyuki Ito, Yuta Watanabe and Katsunori Kikuno.
  • Bald Head of Toughness: Has his hair in a signature buzzcut and was known for being an incredibly tough, physical fighter, being able to absorb lots of strikes.
  • Big Entrance: Kohsaka introduced the DREAM 16 event wearing a samurai armor and playing drums to Bon Jovi. It was technically not his entrance, but if that's not a big entrance, then nothing is.
  • Big Guy Rodeo: He took Mark Hunt's back, but the kickboxer was too huge for Kohsaka to lock the body triangle, and he simply stood on four corners and powered his way out while Tsuyoshi worked submission attempts with no success.
  • Broken Ace: He was good enough in mixed martial arts for RINGS to put him to shoot from his beginnings, but this factor played against him when he passed through too many shoots over the years and started feeling up the battle wear.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Kohsaka's reaction after defeating BJJ pope Mario Sperry in PRIDE. He only commented that it had been a short match and that he had got improved hands.
  • Call-Back:
    • His fights with Gilbert Yvel were reminiscences of the ones between Minoru Suzuki and Bas Rutten, and both followed the same structure: a shoot wrestler constantly taking the fight to the mat but unable to score submissions, and a Dutch kickboxer resorting to survive in the ground and capitalize the stands-up to inflict damage.
    • Conversely, TK's fight against Frank Shamrock was a call forward to Frank facing Tamura two years later. The two bouts went the same way, with the RINGS aces dominating and stretching Shamrock in every possible fashion, yet Shamrock amazingly fending off just everything and getting a lucky guillotine choke to score the decisive point. (In Tamura's case, it went to a draw because Frank lost his own point for punching Kiyoshi close-fisted later in the match).
  • Calling Your Attacks:
    • He likes to create names for the techniques he has innovated in pro wrestling-style, like the TK Guard (a modified open guard), the TK Scissors (a mount counter), the TK Clutch (an armlock/rear naked choke combination) and such.
    • Also, he defines his patented grappling style as "TK Jiu Jitsu" (before that, his groundwork had been referred by commentators as "TK no Sekai" or "TK's World", very much like Joe Rogan's modern Catchphrase of "he is in his world now!").
  • Cast Speciation: He is the least mentioned member of The Alliance, in a big part because the grappler role of the cross-training they practised was already filled by Shamrock, so TK, being another shoot-stylist just like Frank, had little more to add to the mix. However, he is sometimes cited by Frank as an important contributor because TK's grappling style was significantly different from his, more specialized in defense and survival, which Frank would have benefited greatly of for his attrition fights against Enson Inoue and Tito Ortiz.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Black. He always wore stern black tights and boots. He did wear purple tights and boots in his early days in RINGS however.
  • Contortionist: Downplayed, but his TK Scissors requires great flexibility for it to work.
  • Cool vs. Awesome:
    • His feud with Kiyoshi Tamura, which featured a legendary match composed of half an hour of sharp grappling, was considered a clash of titans.
    • The match between TK and Bas Rutten was billed as such by Ultimate Fighting Championship, which hyped Kohsaka as a "master of the TK Guard" (not many people knew what was this guard, but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was booming at the time, so anything related to a new grappling position was huge) and mega-hyped Rutten as "the World's Greatest Mixed Martial Artist" (period).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Some of his first shoots were it, especially his fights against Sione Latu and his run in the Lumax Cup.
    • The rematch against Fedor Emelianenko was basically Fedor pounding Kohsaka away from his guard while the latter tried some leglocks in an attempt to stop the pounding. It didn't stop.
  • David vs. Goliath:
    • Was the david to Mark Hunt's goliath. To explain, Hunt outweighted him for 50 ibs and outstrengthed him for a mountain or two.
    • Again Tsuyoshi was the david against Ricardo Morais, who was an even bigger dude.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: During his feud with Yuji Nagata, Kohsaka unveiled a move which he claimed to have been taught by Maeda in RINGS but deemed too dangerous to use. Said move was the Jigoku-Jime (a STF/chickenwing facelock combination, not to be confused with the similarly named judo hold), which he used in their second match.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Often resorted to grinding punches and leg kicks to open opportunities for takedowns.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable:
    • Drew with Minotauro Nogueira, who at the time had steamrolled the RINGS native team including Tamura and was thought to be able to submit just everybody. Kohsaka actually outgrappled him at the second round, though failed to do decisively so.
    • Pulling a judo hip throw in no-gi competition is hard, but when you perform a clean one in a Pan American Greco-Roman champion like Randy Freaking Couture, even if you end losing the match by decision, you know you are something.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: With Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith, in both ways. Kohsaka bested Smith in RINGS, and then went to lose in a surprising fashion against Shamrock. The latter was the case in which Smith invited him to train with them, giving birth to The Alliance.
  • Determinator: Neither seeing a flying knee by Gilbert Yvel towards his face, nor while lying under a rain of strikes by Fedor Emelianenko, nor when getting his head swung around by Mark Hunt's fists, Kohsaka ever gave freaking up.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: With Mark Hunt. It was known that Hunt had a concrete chin and hands to match, so Tsuyoshi knew that he would never knock him out with his modest kickboxing skills, but he tried nonetheless, and actually hit him hard in some instances. He came out throwing everything and went throwing everything.
  • Escape Artist: Once the fight hit the ground, Kohsaka could escape from almost any hold or position. The most known instance was when he was surprisingly caught in an armbar by Chris Haseman, and still he could even more surprisingly get out of it. It also played big time in his legendary pro wrestling match against Kiyoshi Tamura, in which they locked, escaped and reversed for half an hour.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Debuting his TK Scissors (multiple times) against Egan Inoue in the Lumax Cup, and outgrappling the BJJ world champion for the win.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: According to an investigation, his family descends from historical samurai Masanobu Kosaka. Tsuyoshi once appeared as a guest in a DREAM event wearing a samurai armor.
  • Finishing Move: Cross armbar, heel hook variations and rear naked choke.
  • Fish out of Water: Subverted. When thrown into the UFC ruleset, Kohsaka performed better than most of the ther shoot-style wrestlers who did the transition too. It was because, thanks to his judo training, Kohsaka's skills were centered around positional control and not diving for a joint lock like the Pancrase boys, which enabled him to deal with ground and pound and strikes to the face much better than them.
  • Freudian Trio: The Superego to Frank Shamrock's Ego and Mo Smith's Id.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: He had a solid striking, and after training with Maurice Smith and the Yonekura Boxing Gym people, his hands became some of his most dangerous weapons on the ring. It can be genuinely said that, despite his reputation, Kohsaka became better at dirty boxing than at his famed ground game.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: In an interview for the RIZIN website, Kohsaka talked about his fighting style and its shortcomings.
    "I'm not one of those guys at the top of UFC who can have great matches - actually far from it. I have my own style of fighting, and it's not the prettiest way. It's actually not a very good fight style at all, and the matches I have are usually not good, but I do understand myself as a fighter and I have confidence in myself to put on a fight that the fans will appreciate."
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Is a close friend of fellow judoka and MMA fighter Hidehiko Yoshida, who he met in the high school, and they currently share the same training facility. He also helped Yoshida to jump from judo to MMA, as Kohsaka had a greater experience in the sport when Hidehiko debuted.
  • Honor Before Reason: The reason he returned to rematch Fedor.
  • I Know Judo: A judoka of level, he got sponsored by Toray Corporation since he turned pro until he had to retire by knee injury (and according to very old rumors, he might have been trained some kosen judo). Kohsaka also trained Catch Wrestling with Akira Maeda and Kickboxing with Maurice Smith, and has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (though it was actually given to him by Yuki Nakai after an impressive roll; Kohsaka never trained the art itself).
  • Informed Ability: He is often called a "submission fighter" by MMA databases, pretty much just because he knows a lot about grappling and innovated a position or two. However, Kohsaka rarely finished his fights by submission, unless facing low level opponents, and he actually trusted much more in his brawling skills.
  • Jack of All Stats: Thanks to his well rounded skillset, Kohsaka usually followed the Marco Ruas rule of using striking against the better grapplers and grappling against the better strikers.
  • Japanese Spirit: Behaves like a samurai on his interviews, which is right given his ascendence.
  • Loophole Abuse: Subverted because it wasn't an abuse but a default official rule, but Kohsaka famously won two of his biggest matches by technicality.
    • He got a win over Gilbert Yvel in strange fashion when they had to stop the match for Kohsaka falling off the ring and getting injured. Although it should have been ruled a no contest, at the moment the ruleset didn't include tha possibility, and it specified somehow loosely that in case of having to stop the match for a reason different to an official fight outcome, win would go to the wrestler highest in points. Through this way, the win was given to TK for having scored a submission earlier over Yvel.
    • During his match with Fedor Emelianenko, Kohsaka elbowed him for accident and reopened a wound, which made the referee stop the match. It would have been a no contest had the match been hosted outside of a tournament, but as they were in midst of the King of Kings league, they had to get a winner of the round, and they chose Kohsaka because Fedor could not compete.
  • Made of Iron: He could absorb a ton of punishment without losing his poise.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Upon his stoppage loss against Fedor Emelianenko, a heavily bloodied Tsuyoshi was seen casually talking with his corner with a "so yeah, guys, this has got a bit more complicated than thought" attitude painted on his face.
  • Master of None: Kohsaka had good strikes, could take down and throw opponents with surprising skill, and once on the ground he was resourceful and very solid. However, he lacked enough specialization in any of those fields to make a decisive point, and he often could only aspire to control and grind his opponents for the decision.
  • Murderous Thighs: His grappling trademark was his counter game based in using the legs, especially from an inferior position. This was exemplified by his TK Scissors, a move in which he reached back with his legs while being mounted, hooked the feet under the opponent's armpits and dragged him backwards and down, allowing TK to come over with a leglock in the process. In an instance, he reversed a north/south position under Randy Couture with this.
  • Odd Friendship: With Kazushi Sakuraba, despite both originally coming from Rival Dojos. In fact, Kohsaka went to train with him at the Takada Dojo, and Japanese media shows them going fishing together from time to time.
  • Old Master: Is known as an authority in grappling, and one of his nicknames references it.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Kohsaka doing color commentary for PRIDE Bushido with Nobuhiko Takada of all people as his straight man was like Bizarro World, as Kohsaka is usually the most intellectual of the two while Takada hams up much more. It was even compared to Michael Cole and Tazz, only with each guy playing the other's role.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: He might have been the best native fighter in RINGS (or the second best, if he was not), but it was just not enough when he had to face world-class opponents who were frequently younger and/or fresher.
  • Passing the Torch: A failed example, as neither Kohsaka or his rival Tamura could completely hold Akira Maeda's torch after his retirement.
  • Power Trio: The Alliance's members were a symbiotic relationship: Maurice Smith taught them kickboxing, while Frank Shamrock and TK taught him grappling. Among the two, Frank was the submission expert and Tsuyoshi the guard technician, and both were apt in wrestling, so The Alliance covered all the fighting spectrum.
  • Red Baron: "TK", "Kakutogi Kai no Kenja" ("The Sage of the Combat Sports World").
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The blue to Tamura's red, as seen in their tights.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: As bizarre as it might sound, no official announcement was made to explain why Tom Erikson got the decision win against Kohsaka in the IWF grappling event. According to the given ruleset, Erikson won technically the first round and Kohsaka the second, and there wasn't any difference between the value of each. The entire affair was addressed in Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter without coming to an answer.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After losing to Gilbert Yvel in a quite frustrating way at their first match, Kohsaka went ballistic through the second one and dominated Yvel for several minutes. And then, when it appeared that TK was going to get his revenge, they fell off the ring in a judo throw fiasco and TK got injured against the floor, with the match being stopped. Kohsaka was given the win by lost points in a confusing application of the ruleset, but neither him nor Yvel looked very happy with this outcome.
  • Spell My Name With An S: His surname is sometimes listed as Kosaka or Kousaka.
  • Start My Own: He started what he calls TK Jiu-Jitsu, a personal style of grappling rooted in Judo and Catch Wrestling.
  • The Stoic: A paradigmatic Japanese fighter, ready to endure any beatdown or loss with a straight face.
  • Stone Wall: On the mat, his submission defense was crazy. To date, the only guy who managed to submit Kohsaka (aside from Frank Shamrock, to whom Kohsaka voluntarily forfeited a point) was Jean-Jacques Machado, multiple world champion in BJJ, and it was at the ADCC championships, where the grappling-only ruleset restricted the rest of Kohsaka's Mma skills.
  • Those Two Guys: Was school pals with future pro wrestling legend Jun Akiyama, and later was it as well with Hidehiko Yoshida.
  • Ur-Example / Last of His Kind: The first, last, and only Pancrase Superheavyweight champion.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: He was expert in using leglocks from any damn position, and had a thousand of rolls and counters to get them.
  • Worked Shoot: A master of them, given his career in a shoot-style promotion especialized in realistic matches, and some of them are hard to tell if they are shoot or works. The prestigious Sherdog gives his record as 29-21-2, mistakenly counting several professional wrestling matches as legit bouts, while his most accurate record would be approximately 24-17-1.