I’m a sucker for all things martial arts and pro wrestling. When I heard that one of my favourite wrestlers, David “Fit” Finlay was a shooter, I began searching the internet for matches in which I could see his catch wrestling wizardry and knowledge of the martial arts. One day, I came across a YouTube video in a language I never heard before (Welsh?) in which Finlay wrestled Masaharu Funaki in a promotion called Reslo. Could it be? Could this Masaharu Funaki who looked, dressed and wrestled like Masakatsu Funaki be THE Masakatsu Funaki? I had to find out.
Asking Funaki and Finlay on Twitter
What better way to ascertain that one of my favourite pro wrestlers had really wrestled one of the MMA fighter I try to emulate the most than by asking both men if they had really wrestled and show them the video? When Finlay answered me by confirming that Masaharu Funaki and Masakatsu Funaki were one and the same, I felt like a kid again: the dream match had truly been held! Funaki then replied to Finlay and both men thanked each other for that wonderful match they had. Casual MMA and pro wrestling fans in North America (or in Canada at least) may not have heard of these greats but die-hard fans know that by watching this video, they are witnessing something great.
Yes I did and he was awesome!
— Fit Finlay (@ringfox1) January 29, 2018
No thank you Funaki San I enjoyed wrestling you all those years ago.
— Fit Finlay (@ringfox1) January 29, 2018
Why is David “Fit” Finlay Great?
Watching Fit Finlay wrestled is like watching a great martial arts master: it is not his ability to perform complex techniques that is memorable but his mastery and application of the fundamentals. Take, for example, his debut match in the WWE against Matt Hardy. Finley didn’t use any flashy moves but simple ones that conveyed his aggressiveness while giving a hint of what he can do technically. In his simplicity, Finley was also creative: see how he traps Matt Hardy in the ring apron.
But Finlay, in addition to having a great move set, also has personality. After being disqualified for punching Matt Hardy repeatedly in the head, Finlay takes the microphone, criticizes the referee’s decision, “gives the referee a reason to disqualify him” and stomps Hardy’s head on the steel steps. Finlay could have started swearing, hitting the referee, and break equipment to show his anger but went for something less flashy and less predictable. Simple, brutal, effective. He also used the tumultuous history between England and his native Ireland in the same simple and brutal way to intensify his rivalry with William Regal (then Steven Regal) in the WCW.
Like a great martial arts master, not only can he do, but he can also teach. Do you remember the great WWE’s great matches in the women’s division of the 2000’s? Finley trained a lot of these women. The Belfast native also helped Olympic gold medallist Kurt Angle transition from Olympic wrestling into pro wrestling.
Can that many wrestlers claim to have helped other wrestlers reach these heights?
Why is Masakatsu Funaki Memorable?
Before there was the UFC, there was Pancrase. This organization featured MMA fighters who dressed like pro wrestlers and fought according to pro wrestling rules. Who founded this early MMA promotion? Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese pro wrestlers such as Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask) and Antonio Inoki along with Funaki and Suzuki wanted to promote pro-wrestling as a fighting sport rather than an exhibition or a spectacle.
Funaki and Suzuki’s Pancrase succeeded: the organization’s top stars such as Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock and Bas Rutten were successful in MMA, pro wrestling or both. Thanks to Pancrase’s success, catch wrestling was back on the map as a martial art and fighting sport.
Funaki wasn’t just the cofounder of Pancrase: he also competed there. Funaki won the King of Pancrase title, and defeated legends such as Bas Rutten, Ken Shamrock, Minoru Suzuki, Frank Shamrock and Semmy Schilt. In the 1990s, most MMA fighters specialized either in striking martial arts or in grappling martial arts. Funaki could do both well, which helped him dominate most of his opponents.
Technical prowess is also a reason Funaki was a fine pro wrestler. He had excellent technical wrestling matches with greats such as Bob Backlund.
MMA, pro wrestling and catch wrestling all owe something to Mr. Funaki.
A True Dream Match
This Reslo bout between Finlay and Funaki is a treat for MMA and wrestling fans. How often do you get to see wrestlers who are masters of their craft fight each other in their early days? If only we could see a rematch under MMA rules. Oh well, I can always dream.