When I first took a keen interest in the mixed martial arts world a few years ago, I was eager to find out how the sport first evolved. Many think that it began with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship show in 1993, but it’s roots go back further than that.
Kings of the Square ring, originally released thirty years ago, is a documentary that takes a look at four fighting styles - boxing, kickboxing, sumo, and professional wrestling, at a time when, as far as wrestling goes, kayfabe was still very much alive.
The documentary takes a look at fighters from the various disciplines. From sumo, there’s Hawaiian-born Takamiyama, who claimed he could win a street fight with his skills. Sadly, this is all we get to find out about the man, as there’s very little else about him here.
Then there’s Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, an American karate fighter who owns his own training school in Los Angeles. Benny looks awesome in the fights that are shown, especially against Japanese star Takeshi Naito, who he dispenses with an awesome spinning back kick.
Muay Thai practitioner Toshio Fujiwara is another awesome fighter, becoming the first Japanese to win a major Muay Thai title when he defeats Monsavan Lukchiangmai by knockout. Sadly, Fujiwara loses the title in his first defence with a dubious decision to Seepree Kiatsompop in front of a partisan crowd in Thailand. We later learn that Fujiwara would like a martial arts fight against Urquidez.
As far as boxing goes, there’s Paul Fuji and Abdul Bey. Bey copies Muhammad Ali’s style in the ring, while Fuji, an American of Japanese descent, is on the comeback trail, but loses his third fight and then retires.
The main bulk of the documentary looks at Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. There’s some great footage here of Inoki in matches against Bob Backlund, Andre the Giant and Tiger Jeet Singh. In fact, mention is made of the infamous incident where Singh attacked Inoki on the streets of Tokyo.
But the most interesting part is Inoki’s participation in matches against those from other fighting styles, early mixed martial arts matches if you will. We get to see footage from the much maligned fight against Muhammad Ali, and against American karate fighter known as the Monster Man, before we hear how karate star Willy Williams wants to fight Inoki.
There’s also footage of another Japanese wrestling legend, Seiji Sakaguchi against another American karate fighter, the Lumberjack, and a judo fight between Dutchman William Ruska and Buffalo Allen. Allen would later go on to become a professional wrestler, earning fame as the tough brawler Bad News Brown.
Kings of the Square ring is certainly interesting viewing, although it may not be to everyone’s taste. But it’s also a good way to see how some of the martial arts were viewed all those years ago. While some credit the original driving forces behind the UFC with the birth of what we now know as mixed martial arts, this DVD shows that credit must also be given to the likes of Antonio Inoki, and this is one DVD that I will definitely be watching again.