It’s not exactly a secret that there’s a particular kissing cousins-type relationship between mixed martial arts and pro-wrestling. On both accords, it’s impossible to tell the story of one without the other. For so many fans who found MMA during its Western infancy, myself included, the early allure to the sport was having grown up a wrestling fan. On the other side of the Pacific, the Japanese MMA industry, which was the nexus of the sport for a decade, is deeply rooted in the evolution of puroresu.
By that same token, that evolution came about as legendary Japanese performers like Antonio Inoki, Satoru Sayama and Akira Maeda sought to make their domestic product more akin to an authentic fight, giving rise to MMA’s popularity and cultural entrenchment itself. It’s not just Japan, though: with the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the 1990s, America’s “big three” -- World Wrestling Entertainment (then the World Wrestling Federation), World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling -- all sought to capitalize on its burgeoning popularity by signing no holds barred fighting talent. WWE signed the likes of UFC stars Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, WCW snapped up the sport’s most popular brawler “Tank” David Abbott and ECW even put its future world champion Taz on the map by giving him a faux-MMA gimmick and having him squash a UFC veteran in Paul Varelans.