Today, we’re exploring the Pancrase promotion headquartered in Kameido, Koto, Tokyo, Japan. Founded in 1993, the promotion is equally as old as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The organization’s governing body includes Executive President and MMA referee Yuji Shimada, co-founders and former Kings of Pancrase Masakatsu Funaki (KOP ’96 & ’97) and Minoru Suzuki (KOP ’95) and event promoter Masakazu Sakai (Smash Pro Wrestling).

Born out of Japanese professional wrestling – like Fighting Network RINGS in 1991 – the early rules of Pancrase included no closed fist strikes to the face and rope escapes (grabbing the ropes to call a momentary halt to and reset of the action). Years later they adopted PRIDE era rules that allow kicking, kneeing, and stomping the head of a downed opponent but do not allow elbows to the head. These rules differ from the Mixed Martial Arts Unified Rules of Combat that most professional MMA promotions utilize.

There have been 310 events in the organizations 13 years of operation. Pancrase 276 is scheduled to take place in Differ Ariake, Tokyo, Japan on March 13, 2016.

Pancrase events can be seen CJ E&M in Korea. Several events are available for view over the internet and at the promotion’s own website.

Pancrase’s Top 5 Veteran Performers (in alphabetical order)

This section includes athletes that have competed in the promotion at least ten times and the majority are not current title holders. Additional noteworthy fighting experience has also been provided.

Masakatsu Funaki (39-13-2 MMA, 38-10-1 Pancrase), former 2-time Openweight King of Pancrase
Wins over Ryushi Yanagisawa (twice: kneebar, Americana armlock), Yoshiki Takahashi (KO-palm and knees), Bas Rutten (toe hold), Vernon White (three times: KO-palm, Americana armlock, Achilles lock), Ken Shamrock (rear naked choke), Minoru Suzuki (rear naked choke), Jason DeLucia (twice: heel hook, TKO-leg injury), Frank Shamrock (toe hold), Guy Mezger (Achilles lock), Yuki Kondo (rear naked choke), Semmy Schilt (toe hold),

Losses to Ken Shamrock (twice: both by arm triangle choke), Jason DeLucia (kneebar), Frank Shamrock (toe hold), Bas Rutten (KO-knee)

Kento Kambe (10-0 MMA, 10-0 Pancrase), current Featherweight King of Pancrase NOTE: I don’t usually include champions in this section but Kambe is just 19 years old and undefeated.
Wins over Suguru Hayasaka (armbar), Yusei Shimokawa (TKO-injury), Tatsuya So (dec), Yukitaka Musashi (heel hook)

Yuki Kondo (59-30-9 MMA, 53-17-9 Pancrase), former two-time Openweight King of Pancrase
Wins over Minoru Suzuki (dec), Semmy Schilt (three times: all by decision), Keiichiro Yamamiya (twice: TKO-palm, dec), Pete Williams (dec), Frank Shamrock (KO-head kick), Kiuma Kunioku (dec), Guy Mezger dec), Masakatsu Funaki (triangle armbar), Ikuhisa Minowa (toe hold), Jason DeLucia (toe hold), Yoshiki Takahashi (arm triangle choke), Kiuma Kunioku (twice: dec, flying knee/palm strike), Akihiro Gono (TKO-corner), Sanae Kikuta (KO-punch), Mario Sperry (TKO-doc), Steve Heath (rear naked choke), Evangelista Santos (dec), Hiromitsu Kanehara (twice: dec, dec), Kenji Kawaguchi (KO-punch)

Losses to Jason DeLucia (dec), Masakatsu Funaki (twice: rear naked choke, triangle kimura armlock), Guy Mezger (twice: dec, dec), Semmy Schilt (rear naked choke), Tito Ortiz (cobra choke), Vladimir Matyushenko (dec), Paulo Filho (dec), Josh Barnett (rear naked choke), Wanderlei Silva (KO-stomp), Dan Henderson (dec), Igor Vovchanchyn (dec), Kazuhiro Nakamura (dec), Phil Baroni (KO-punch), Akihiro Gono (dec), Trevor Prangley (TKO-doc), Keiichiro Yamamiya (dec), Yuki Sasaki (rear naked choke)

Bas Rutten (28-4-1 MMA, 25-4-1 Pancrase), former UFC Heavyweight Champion, former Openweight King of Pancrase
Wins over Ryushi Yanagisawa (twice: KO-palm/knee, rear naked choke), Vernon White (guillotine choke), Yoshiki Takahashi (leg injury), Minoru Suzuki (Twice: knee strike, guillotine choke), Jason DeLucia (twice: guillotine choke, palm strike), Maurice Smith (twice: kneebar), Frank Shamrock (twice; dec, TKO-doc), Guy Mezger (heel hook), Masakatsu Funaki (KO-knee), Kiuma Kunioku (dec), Keiichiro Yamamiya (TKO-palm), Kengo Watanabe (TKO-palm), Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (TKO-punches), Kevin Randleman (dec)

Losses to Masakatsu Funaki (toe hold, rear naked choke), Ken Shamrock (twice: rear naked choke, kneebar), Frank Shamrock (dec)

Frank Shamrock (23-10-2 MMA, 11-6-1 Pancrase), former 5-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, former interim Openweight King of Pancrase
Wins over Bas Rutten (dec), Minoru Suzuki (twice: KO-punch, kneebar), Masakatsu Funaki (toehold), Vernon White (Achilles lock), Ryushi Yanagisawa (dec), Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (dec), Enson Inoue (TKO-punches), Kevin Jackson (armbar), Igor Zinoviev (KO-slam), Jeremy Horn (kneebar), John Lober (punches), Tito Ortiz (punches), Elvis Sinosic (dec), Cesar Gracie (KO-punches), Phil Baroni (rear naked choke)

Losses to Masakatsu Funaki (toehold), Bas Rutten (twice: dec, TKO-doc), Yuki Kondo (KO-head kick), Kiuma Kunioku (dec), John Lober (dec), Renzo Gracie (DQ-knees), Cung Le (broken arm), Nick Diaz (TKO-punches)

Honorable mention: In an organization with a deep history like Pancrase there are many fighters who dedicate many years of service you the promotion. With this in mind, several other fighters could have made this list. The following athletes are listed with just their Pancrase record reflected.

Masa Funaki 38-10-1
Kiuma Kunioku 30-18-7
Nate Marquardt 13-5-2
Guy Mezger 16-7-2
Ikuhisa Minowa 20-15-6
Kazuo Misaki 13-4-2
Sanae Kikuta 14-2-2-1
Minoru Suzuki 27-19
Semmy Schilt 16-8
Keiichiro Yamamiya 41-27-9
Ryushi Yanagisawa 22-18-9

NOTE: Plenty of other high profile fighters competed under the Pancrase banner at one time or another including Jose Aldo, Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Evan Tanner, Maurice Smith, Chael Sonnen, Chris Lytle, Joe Riggs, Mike Kyle, Evangelista Santos, Jason DeLucia, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Riki Fukuda, Akihiro Gono, Yoshiki Takahashi, Satoru Kitaoka, Yukio Sakaguchi, Manabu Yamada and Daiki Hata

Pancrase Champions

All of the current divisional champions are listed. Given the rich history of this particular organization and the unusual number of title vacancies at this time, all previous champions have also been listed.

Openweight Champion – Josh Barnett (34-8 MMA, 1-0 Pancrase). He won the title in 2003 by defeating Yuki Kondo by rear naked choke and he has not returned to the promotion in 13 years. Semmy Schilt was the champion prior to Barnett. He held the title from 1999 to 2001 until he vacated the title to sign with the UFC. The promotion has had 6 previous Openweight Champions: Ken Shamrock, Minoru Suzuki, Bas Rutten, Masakatsu Funaki (twice), Yuki Kondo (twice), and the aforementioned Shilt. There has also been 1 interim champion in the division: Frank Shamrock.

Heavyweight Champion – this title is currently vacant. The promotion had 3 previous heavyweight champions: Yoshiki Takahashi, Kestutis Arbocius and most recently Chute Boxe Academy product Assuerio Silva.

Light Heavyweight Champion – this title is currently vacant. The promotion had 4 previous light heavyweight champions: Keiichiro Yamamiya, Sanae Kikuta, Yuki Kondo and most recently Ryo Kawamura.

Middleweight Champion – this title is currently vacant. The most recent champion was Shinsho Anzai and he vacated the title in 2014 when he signed with the UFC. The promotion had previous 7 middleweight champions: Nathan Marquardt (three times), Kiuma Kunioku, Ricardo Almeida, Yuichi Nakanishi, Izuru Takeuchi, Yuki Kondo (also interim champ), Rikuhei Fujii and Ryo Kawamura.

Welterweight Champion – Shingo Suzuki (13-8-3 MMA, 13-7-3 Pancrase). Suzuki won the title at Pancrase 270 last October by defeating Gota Yamashita for the second time in five months (first with strikes and then by rear naked choke for the title). There have been 7 previous champions: Kiuma Kunioku, Daizo Ishige, Katsuya Inoue (also interim champ twice), Takuya Wada (also interim champ), Kengo Ura, Takenori Sato, and Gota Yamashita.

Lightweight Champion – Kazuki Tokudome (15-6-1 MMA, 10-1 Pancrase). Tukudome won the title at Pancrase 271 last November by knocking out Satoru Kitaoka. There have been 5 previous champions: Shoji Maruyama, Katsuya Inoue, Maximo Blanco, Koji Oishi and Isao Kobayashi.

Featherweight Champion – Andy Main (11-2 MMA, 3-0 Pancrase). Main won the title at Pancrase 270 last October by defeating his TUF 12 teammate Nam Pham by triangle choke. There have been 4 previous champions: Yoshiro Maeda, Marlon Sandro, Takumi Nakayama (also interim champ) and Nam Phan.

Bantamweight Champion – Shintaro Ishiwatari (20-6-4 MMA, 9-1-1 Pancrase). Ishiwatari last won the title in 2011 at Pancrase: Impressive Tour 13 by defeating Manabu Inoue by decision. Ironically, Manabu Inoue is the only previous champion in this division.

Super Flyweight Champion – Kiyotaka Shinmuzii (16-11-3 MMA, 11-3-3 Pancrase, one bout as an amateur). Shinmuzii won the Flyweight Championship in February of 2010, defeating Mitsuhisa Sunabe by decision at Pancrase: Passion Tour 1. The title was changed to Super Flyweight in June of 2011 and Shinmuzii is currently Pancrase’s longest reigning and defending champion. Mitsuhisa Sunabe is the only previous champion in this division.

Flyweight Champion – Kento Kambe (10-0 in MMA, 10-0 Pancrase, three bouts as an amateur). Kambe won the title at Pancrase 273 last December by defeating Yukitaka Musashi by kneebar. Mitsuhisa Sunabe is the only previous champion in this division. He vacated his title when he moved down to the light flyweight division.

Light Flyweight Champion – Mitsuhisa Sunabe (26-7-4 MMA, 22-7-4 Pancrase). Sunabe is the former 2-time Flyweight King of Pancrase. He won his Light Flyweight Championship at Pancrase 271 last November defeating Hiroyuki Abe by decision. Hiroyuki Abe is the only previous champion in this division.

Women’s Bantamnweight Champion – Rin Nakai (16-1-1 MMA, 8-0-1 Pancrase). Nakai won the title in December of 2012 at Pancrase: Progress Tour 14 defeating Danielle West by decision. She is the inaugural Women’s Bantamweight Champion or Queen of Pancrase.

5 Pancrase Fight You Should See

Pancrase: Truth 5: Bas Rutten vs. Frank Shamrock
It was the third time Bas and Frank met in a 3-year span but this was the most significant of them all. Rutten won the Openweight KOP title by submitting Minoru Suzuki in September of ’95. When injury left Rutten unable to defend the title, Frank Shamrock stepped in and submitted Suzuki himself to earn the interim title in January of ‘96. This brings us to the unification match held in May of that same year.

Shamrock was in control early, throwing Rutten to the mat and keeping him there for much of the fight. Rutten had his moments too. He made the most of his famous palm strikes, landing them frequently to Shamrock’s face and getting flagged for a foul on more than one occasion (the ref thought at least some were thrown as punches). Eventually one of the palm strikes opened up a gash over Shamrock’s left eye. It occurred during the dramatic leg lock scramble that is the must-see portion of this fight. It was that sequence and the pro wrestling-inspired, two-man tumble they took out of the ring about 6 and a half minutes into the contest. After the cut was opened, Shamrock continued on but a knee to his eye while scrambling for a takedown opened the cut further and it called a halt to the fight. With the win, Rutten became the undisputed King of Pancrase.

Pancrase: Alive 11: John Lober vs. Ryushi Yanagisawa
Lober was making his third appearance in Pancrase. He would fight a total of 6 times for the promotion sporting a dismal 0-3-3 record. Despite the poor showing in Japan so far and the gruesome injury resulting from this match, Lober returned to the Pancrase ring just 6 months later. Yanagisawa was already a Pancrase lifer, owning an 18-11-2 record in the promotion at the time of this match.

Lober was your prototype NHB fighter: bald, muscular, sporting a goatee and the word “MACHINE” tattooed across his midsection. Though his fighting career is not the stuff of legends (5-9-4), I never recall seeing a boring Lober fight. This one was no exception.

Lober got the early takedown. He was working for a hold but Yanagisawa seemed even more comfortable manipulating the giant clunky boots they were forced to wear (now banned) and he quickly rolled Lober into an ankle lock. As they both jockeyed for position, Yanagisawa’s hold was more secure and his superior leverage broke Lober’s leg at the knee right in the boot. The most bizarre part was that Lober had no reaction! He sat up and spoke to the doctor while a visibly upset Yanagisawa circles the ring. Lober even attempted to put weight on the leg and stand up but thankfully the medical staff encouraged him to lie back down as shock set in. If you see the full clip, there’s footage of Lober being carried away on a stretcher and the boot being cut off his foot backstage. This bout was just one of the reasons they no longer use those boots. Bas Rutten was another.

Pancrase: Alive 11: Masakatsu Funaki vs. Yuki Kondo
This was the third meeting between Funaki and Kondo in just 13 months. They were even in the series at 1-1. Funaki won the first meeting in ’96 by rear naked choke. Kondo won their second confrontation by triangle choke 5 months later and captured Funaki’s King of Pancrase title in the process. Their final encounter was yet another title fight and Funaki was able to win the KOP belt back, stopping Kondo by submission in the opening round. This one is worth seeing not for the action, but more due to what was on the line.

Funaki landed the first takedown and controlled the pace, shifting from mount to side control. Kondo reversed position but was unable to establish control from inside Funaki’s guard. Funaki seized Kondo’s left arm and maneuvered into a triangle choke position. When Kondo shifted his weight forward – to try and pass out of Funaki’s guard – Funaki secured an even tighter grip on the arm. He was elbow-deep on the arm at that point and it allowed him to threaten Kondo with a shoulder dislocation. The tap came quickly and Funaki became the first man to win the King of Pancrase title twice.

Pancrase: 2004 Neo-Blood Tournament Final: Kazuo Misaki vs. Ed Herman
With a record of 13-4-2 in Pancrase, Misaki spent 4 years exclusively fighting for the promotion before making the rounds to PRIDE FC, DEEP, Sengoku and even Strikeforce in the U.S. Herman had only been fighting for a year at the time but he’d already amassed an 8-1 record and the Team Quest product was fighting for the 7th time in 2004. He actually fought 2 more times that year, finishing with a 7-2 record.

After a short feeling-out process, Herman landed a right straight and put Misaki on the mat where they fought from his guard. Herman controlled the rest of the round and pounded Misaki’s head with hammer fists. As they walked back to their corners, the huge mouse under Misaki’s right eye took center stage. Herman – with Chris Leben in his corner – came out like a man on a mission in Rd 2, pressuring Misaki with strikes. Determined to make it a contest, Misaki responded with better footwork and takedown defense than he showed up to that point. Once he brought Herman the mat, Misaki weathered the storm of strikes and worked his way to mount. Misaki showed superior ground skills at that point, choking Herman unconscious with an arm triangle choke.

Pancrase: Spiral 8: Satoru Kitaoka vs. Carlos Condit
Condit entered the ring with an impressive 12-1 record in MMA, fighting in regional shows including Ring of Fire and King of the Cage. None of his fights had gone the distance. Kitaoka, who recently fought for the KOP Lightweight Championship (11/15), was 13-6-8 at that point in his career. He went on to win the Sengoku: Victory Road Lightweight Championship, the Sengoku Lightweight Grand Prix and the DEEP Lightweight Championship.

A young (just 20 years old), tall and lanky Condit made his Pancrase debut against a 5-year veteran of the promotion and future title contender. He avoided the initial takedown attempt of Kitaoka but eventually Condit found himself on the mat and looking for submissions. Kitaoka showed good defense on the mat and rolled to attack Condit’s leg, working for an ankle lock. Condit defended well, blasting Kitaoka in the face with punches and chopping him with heels to the ribs but the Japanese veteran would not release the hold for several minutes. Once back on the feet, Condit was the aggressor, putting Kitaoka on his back and looking for a leg submission of his own. Though he defended with kicks to the face, Condit gambled and lost as he eventually tapped to a heel hook. Kitaoka looked physically spent after the bout. It was clear he gave his all for the victory.

Next up: Bellator MMA

About The Author

James Hirth
Staff Writer

James Hirth has been covering combat sports in a variety of media formats (magazine, internet and radio) since the late 1990’s. He was first exposed to Mixed Martial Arts (then called No Holds Barred) when a training partner brought in a grainy VHS tape of an event called the Japan Open Vale Tudo ’94. James recalls “I’m the first person I‘m aware of who was familiar with Rickson Gracie’s fights before Royce. I saw a tape of UFC 1 a few weeks later and I was hooked”. Having done everything from in-house play-by-play and judging at live fights, ringside camera work and even cornering a fighter - in addition to previews and interviews - James has witnessed the growth of the sport. James has studied a variety of martial arts for more than 30 years. Growing up in Chicago and the youngest of 8 children, James’ oldest brother would take him Downtown to the theaters of The Loop on Saturday mornings in the late 1970’s to see martial arts films. Like many youth of that day, seeing Bruce Lee on the big screen changed his life. His brother would also introduce him to the arts of Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido where he spent 10 years training and teaching at the same academy. After receiving his Bachelors of Science in Business Operations he spent 5 years in the field of Marketing Research in The Loop. The 9-11 tragedy resulted in significant layoffs in the industry and he would return to teaching martial arts, this time for a non-for-profit organization. He spent more than a decade teaching and developing a variety of martial arts programming in multiple branches of the organization. He not only taught all ages and in more than a dozen Chicago Public Schools, but had the opportunity to train Cook County Juvenile Probation Officers and the children of local FBI agents. Now James is thrilled to bring his years of experience to The MMA Corner and Press Box Insider.