It’s a sensitive subject, pro wrestling mixed with MMA. But the two sports have always been tied closely at the hip. UFC 1 featured Ken Shamrock, who represented Pancrase, a group of athletes largely made up of professional wrestlers trying out shoot-fighting. UWFI and Pride FC were closely linked, with the wrestling company providing some of the MMA’s company’s biggest stars, namely Kazushi Sakuraba.
Bloodsport is a newer promotion that attempts to cross over pro wrestling and MMA. Bloodsport’s style resembles early Pride FC, Pancrase and UWFI. Soccer kicks are legal. There are no ring ropes. There are also no pin falls. The only possible finishes are knock outs, tap outs and TKO’s via an out of the ring count out. Athletes must also allow their opponent to freely re-enter the ring while the ten count is in effect.
Bloodsport 5’s early matches set up the style really well. Calvin Tankman v. Nolan Edward is an especially good example of what this style does well. Nolan Edward is severely smaller than Tankman, so he employs a series of shin kicks, followed by takedown attempts on Tankman’s knees. These takedowns aim to setup submissions that are opened up through his shin kicks. Unfortunately for Edward, this was not Royce Gracie v. Dan Severn from UFC 4. Tankman uses his size in tandem with his superior wrestling abilities to come out with an emphatic win.
The show features a lot of callbacks to the greats of the MMA and pro wrestling cross over style. Kazushi Sakuraba is an especially favorite subject. And in many ways Sakurbaba is the gold standard of pro wrestling and MMA cross over. He has defeated Royce Gracie, an achievement that can be compared to Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, and he remains one of the more entertaining pro wrestlers to watch to this day. Several Bloodsport athletes employ Sakuraba’s techniques during the event, including Sakuraba’s cartwheel motions.
The marketing leading up to Bloodsport 5 recalls the early marketing of the UFC. Both companies tried to advertise their products as a hyper violent, no holds barred blood bath. Whereas in fact, the contests are by in large extremely technical bouts where precision and technique define the bulk of the product.
That being said, in an interview with Bryan Alvarez on Wrestling Observer Live, Jon Moxley describes MMA style pro wrestling as being very similar to death match style wrestling. I personally agree with this. Barb wire, glass and thumb tacks, while aesthetically graphic, ultimately create skin lacerations. Whereas the submissions, suplexes and unprotected strikes of an MMA style contest can create severe, long lasting trauma and injuries. Bloodsport 5 is an uncomfortable show. Elbows to the head, raw suplexes and headbutts are extremely dangerous.
The main event, Jon Moxley v. Davey Boy Smith Jr. is very good. Jon Moxley walks out to Violet by Hole, which is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I also really like Jon’s overall in-ring demeanor. He has a very intriguing way of being a nasty, violent fighter that can both make a fight extremely personal without it actually becoming personal.
To be candid, Davey Boy Smith Jr. looks like an absolute superstar. He should be one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling. His look is just astounding. And to paraphrase Jon Moxley’s interview with Bryan Alvarez, Davey Boy Jr. has indeed taken the Stu Hart Dungeon Torture Chamber style to an entirely different level.
Josh Barnett is on color commentary. He discusses training Davey Boy Jr since Davey was 19. And again, to be candid, Davey’s unique training really shows. He combines the classic Hart Dungeon style with Josh Barnett’s heavyweight MMA style wrestling in such a unique way.
The Hart style itself is rooted in shoot wrestling. I see Davey Boy Smith Jr. specifically as a combination of Bruno Sammartino and his own father, The British Bulldog. As good as Bruno was, Bruno did not have the cut, gorgeous physique of later generations of wrestlers. Bruno always prided himself on his ability to shoot. And when you combine such a dangerous shoot style with such a gorgeous pro wrestling body, you have a superstar.
The match between Moxley and Smith Jr. resembles a kind of reverse Royce Gracie v. Kimo from UFC 3. Up to that point, Royce Gracie was famous for being a smaller athlete who used his technical mastery to overcome any size disadvantage. Kimo became his first great foil. Kimo was a large, beautiful brawler who took Royce to the limit and ultimately took him to a draw.
Moxley v. Smith Jr instead sees Jon Moxley as the smaller athlete who lacks the technical reputation of his larger, more polished opponent. Jon is looking to prove that his equal dedication to extreme training and unhinged violence can best the established pedigree of his more polished opponent. Davey Boy Smith Jr. remains calm and collected throughout the match. He slowly walks to the ring and never rushes his holds. Jon on the other hand is constantly pacing and making his trademark nervous gestures. Moxley also is constantly talking trash, trying to get into Davey’s head and trying to upset him. Moxley even attempts to put Davey Boy Smith Jr. into the sharpshooter at one point in the match.
Ultimately Moxley wins the contest, which surprises me. Jon then stomps around the ring, saying that he is not in Bloodsport for an extra payday. He swears that he will take on anyone and looks to be a part of Bloodsport for the foreseeable future.
I think the future of Bloodsport is exciting. I think someone like Leyla Hersch from AEW would be an excellent addition to their roster. Thunder Rosa is also an ideal Bloodsport fighter, as she is an active MMA fighter alongside her pro wrestling career.
Looking forward, I would love to see Bloodsport do some of the things that MMA can’t exactly do anymore. Namely, the one night tournament. There is a certain mystique surrounding the early UFC shows that is hard to recapture because their tournament style cards are a thing of the past. I would love to see a Bloodsport tournament to crown their first champion.
And in the post pandemic world, there are so many athletes that would fit in so well with this style. Kenoh and Katsuhiko Nakajima are two athletes that come to mind, but imagine a Minoru Suzuki and Ken Shamrock Pancrase reunion in Bloodsport? I won’t even bring up the dreams of Shayna Baszler or Asuka v. Cris Cyborg.
Bloodsport 5 is a good show, especially for the pro wrestling fans that have fond memories of the early Pride and UWFI cross over styles. It will be exciting to see what Bloodsport as a whole does in the future as well as what Jon Moxley and Davey Boy Smith Jr. do in Bloodsport.