Luke Rockhold came to the J-Rock Workout studio with his training shorts on, clearly with designs on risking his injured shoulder for some honest training, which he’s been dying to get in since first arriving in Japan.
It didn’t come to that, though, as chiropractor Ken Yamamoto arrived in time to occupy his attention. A judo black belt who has worked with Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal and Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Yamamoto applied several different pressures to Rockhold’s left shoulder to see if he could alleviate the pain from the separated shoulder joint.
No luck, but Yamamoto did order Rockhold to place the arm in a sling for several weeks so the joint repairs more quickly. Yamamoto had more success with the sore foot of Wayne Phillips, working out some collected cells on the base and helping him move better.
Wayne Phillips’ first brush with combat sports was on the high school wrestling team, a base he later combined with jiu-jitsu training to develop the American style of aggressive grappling that is rare in other parts of the world, particularly Japan with its heavy judo influence. When Phillips first arrived to train at J-Rock Workout Studio, he seemed one of the few dropping for single leg takedowns in practice.
Until Ryo Chonan came back home.
Chonan returned to J-Rock to make final preparations for his Oct. 24 fight in Tokyo after finishing a U.S. training stint that was focused on sharpening his wrestling. He worked in California with the likes of 2001 NCAA National Champion Mark Munoz. Phillips’ clinch-heavy grappling session with Chonan much more resembled the type of wrestling seen in American gyms.
“His wrestling’s better than most of the Japanese,” Phillips said.
Phillips guessed Chonan was going at about 60 percent in training, though it looked more intense than that. Philips ended up biting the inside of his mouth a few times and taking three shots to his broken nose, prompting him to shout out that he “hates my f***ing nose” after the buzzer sounded.
Chonan was aggressive in scrambles, ignored a cut near his elbow that caused him to bleed on the bright white mat and, at one point, rolled out of bounds into where Luke Rockhold was sitting, nearly kicking him low.
“It was so close,” Rockhold said. “Somehow he stopped his momentum. His foot just rested on my (groin). Almost took me out.”
Wayne Phillips is just as much of a geek for Pride Fighting Championships as anyone was who started training mixed martial arts in 2002, about three years before the UFC took off on American cable television and brought legions of new fans to the sport. Prior to that, the Japanese promotion was the place to be for unforgettable MMA moments. One moment, though, took on more and more meaning as the UFC – more specifically, its middleweight champion – evolved into a superpower.
On New Year’s Eve in 2004, Ryo Chonan handed top pound-for-pound fighter and UFC 185-pound kingpin Anderson Silva his last true loss (a 2006 defeat came after he used an illegal kick). In a memorable moment from the Pride archives, Chonan surprised the Brazilian striking ace with a leg scissor takedown that landed him in position to synch a heel hook and earn a sudden third round submission victory.
Phillips is a fan. After sparring and rolling with Chonan at Tokyo’s J-Rock Workout Studio, the request went out that Chonan recreate the finishing technique for ceremonial purposes. Phillips mimicked the striking stance Silva assumed that fateful night and tapped in exaggerated fashion.
“It’s the momentum of coming forward, but while he’s coming forward one leg is sweeping at the same time,” he said. “Your leg falls right into place, right into the heel hook.”
Call it a kind of souvenir for a Pride geek.
To see the constant activity six days a week inside the J-Rock Workout Studio in Tokyo, you would think interest in mixed martial arts in Japan is strong. But it’s really nothing compared to what it was before Pride Fighting Championships folded in 2007 and was purchased by the UFC, said Ryo Chonan, who’s fought for both leading promotions over a nine-year career.
“Japan MMA is down now,” said Chonan, who fights next Saturday on the 50th anniversary show for the Deep promotion, the company where he started his career. “Money no good. TV cut Pride and it break.”
Chonan, in spotty English, is referring to the Fuji TV television network’s decision to cut sponsorship and broadcasting of Pride in 2007. A series of articles in a gossip magazine about the promotion’s ties to yakuza – an element most know exists in fight sports here but never acknowledge publicly – caused the network to sour on Pride. Today the leading MMA promotion, Dream, is struggling to make ends meet, and it’s been several years since a new MMA star has hooked the casual Japanese viewing public enough to keep television ratings high.
Fighters like Chonan who were known for their Pride careers have made a go in the UFC. Few have been very successful. Chonan went 1-3 in a UFC run in 2008 and 2009 and returned to Japan after being cut. Despite the losses, fight offers were not hard to come by back home.
“Japanese people don’t know UFC,” he said.