Rival studio Capcom had actually incorporated an MMA fighter years before Gai. Instead of basing a character on real world fighters Capcom invented their own legend. This was one thing that Capcom did better than any other studio. They took cues from various fighting arts and real legends and adapted them into new and refreshing designs. In 1997 they introduced the world to the star of Street Fighter III. The first of the "New Generation" fighters was named Alex.
In keeping with tradition the studio had to tell a story through the design of the character. They made Alex tall and incredibly muscular. His costume had to show off enough skin to highlight his massive frame, as well as two massive scars that ran under his eyes and down his shoulders. His clothing consisted of fingerless gloves, a pair of green overalls and green combat boots. Street Fighter characters had typically been assigned a primary color to help them stand out in a lineup. Chun-Li wore blue, Ken wore red and Ryu wore white for example. A large red bandanna kept Alex's long hair out of his face. Designer Kinu Nishimura had considered placing him in the more traditional MMA uniform. However it was not believable that a half naked person wearing only shorts and sparring gloves would have been able to wander from town to town without drawing the attention of local authorities.
Alex was in essence a new fighter that was following in the traditions of Ryu. The red bandana was partially an homage to Ryu as well as his mentor Tom. Instead of traveling from place to place fighting the masters of the martial arts he was learning from them. Alex wanted to be the best fighter the world had ever known so that he could get revenge on a powerful Illuminati leader named Gill.
The fighting style given to Alex was unique for SF characters yet also eerily familiar. Capcom wanted to make it very obvious who his fighting influences had been. Unlike Ken and Ryu who shared a similar form of karate or any of the Kung-Fu fighters, Alex had strikes and special attacks that crossed the spectrum of schools. The attacks were meant to remind players of older characters.
Long time fans of the series could pick out the moves that Alex had learned and who he had learned them from. He had the scrappy street brawling style of Birdie from the original Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha. From Birdie he also picked up a dangerous headbutt strike. Alex had a flurry of vicious elbow strikes that could only come from a master of muay thai. However he did not have the knees or kicks of Sagat so the flashy elbows were undoubtedly from Adon, the understudy. Adon was also from the original Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha. The grappling moves, throws and rolling German suplex attacks could have only come from the Russian Zangief.
Capcom managed to create a character that was textbook MMA, as in he had bits and pieces of very effective systems, and combined them into his own form. By not making him look like any fighter living or dead they would not date themselves to a particular era. Overalls and combat boots could be found in any time of the modern world yet could have also worked a century ago. Some of the fighters featured in Buriki One were based on real people and thus marked a particular era. By 2013 most of the original fighters from Pride and K1 had retired from competition and some of the promotions that hosted early MMA tournaments had closed as well.
To be fair Capcom had also inserted a character that looked eerily similar to a certain BJJ master. The character of Oro was an ancient fighter that was looking for a worthy understudy. He was so powerful that he would only use one arm in combat. That was all he needed too! He could choke out opponents and even throw them effortlessly with his single arm. Oro had been influenced in part by the One Armed Boxer, a character created by Jimmy Wang Yu, but his physical appearance was very much based on Helio Gracie. That was if Helio were 140-years-old and had lived in a cave for the past half century. The arm tucked into his gi was also a nod to the toughness of Helio and his refusal to ever tap out.
Capcom had actually featured a different MMA fighter earlier. A year before Street Fighter III was released the character Blair Dame appeared in Street Fighter EX. The game was rendered in 3D rather than 2D as Street Fighter had traditionally been done. Blair had a number of strikes, takedowns and bone-breaking locks that she could use in rapid succession. Yet despite this few people acknowledged the contribution of the EX designs even though they were done by current and former Capcom employees.
Additionally ARIKA held the rights to the EX characters so most did not recognize the first lady of MMA in a Street Fighter game. A decade after Street Fighter III was released Capcom returned for a sequel. One of the bruisers they introduced in Street Fighter IV was modeled after the God of heavyweight MMA fighters.
Unfortunately audiences in the west had made up their minds as to the authenticity of wrestling and wrestlers. To them only boxing or karate were real fighting arts and any wrestler trying to convince the public otherwise was looking for a big payday. This perception only grew through the 80's and 90's as gimmick gave way to attitude and wrestling shows began to be scripted by Hollywood writers. This shift began to polarize the audience and those that grew up on a steady diet of wrestling were looking for something more genuine. By this time Japan was going through a mixed martial arts renaissance.
The US was slow on adopting the format as the UFC and King of the Cage tournaments followed at a slower pace. Young grapplers, eager to show their skills and become television superstars were more than willing to try out for reality shows like WWE's "Tough Enough." One of the challenges had hopefuls taking on Olympic gold medalist and WWE superstar Kurt Angle in a wrestling match. To ensure that Angle looked unbeatable the challengers were forced to do wind sprints and other exercises for an hour before accepting Angle's test. The organizers assumed that the activity would tire them out and they wouldn't be able to put up a decent fight. The opposite turned out to be true.
Angle was furious for several reasons. Had the hold Puder put on Angle lasted a few more seconds he would have separated Angle's arm from his shoulder. Severely injuring the star wrestler of a company you are trying to get a contract with is not only bad for business but it also made Puder look selfish and reckless with his skills. This was also a severe blow to Angle's ego. Angle had won a gold medal competing in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, as he likes to remind people, "with a broken frickin' neck." So Angle had genuine wrestling skills and in a competition under greco-roman wrestling or freestyle wrestling he would have outclassed Puder. Unfortunately he was not well versed in the trappings of jujitsu and could not have foreseen that Puder would try to get him in a submission move. It was probably Angle's pride that took the biggest hit.
Over the next few years many pro wrestlers would begin adopting submission moves into their repertoire. The "Dead Man" character the Undertaker even adopted the gogoplata jujitsu submission move to make him more fearful. Even without formally saying anything about the contribution of mixed martial arts, the wrestlers were slowly taking on more of their cues in an attempt to broaden their appeal. None more so than Angle. After leaving the WWE Angle maintained his wrestler gimmick a while longer before slowly changing his look to more of a MMA fighter. He ditched the stars and stripes wrestling suit and boots in favor of shorts and taped up hands and feet. Without saying he had renounced wrestling it was easy to see that Angle had taken on the guise of MMA fighter to appeal more to the fans.
Even with the rise in popularity of MMA tournaments Pro wrestling would remain as popular as ever. The pioneers of the sport were some of the most colorful performers ever to step into the ring. In North America they reflected a culture steeped in centuries of tradition. The next blog will highlight these people.