Through covering Paradigm Pro Wrestling's UWFi Contenders Series, I've fallen in love with shoot style wrestling. While today that is associated with places like Paradigm, CFU, and Bloodsport, traditionally it has been a mainstay of Japanese wrestling. When you start to look into Japanese shoot style, you'll first find names like UWF, PWFG and Rings. When you start to look into people's favorite shoot style shows however, one name that always comes up is Battlarts. Today we're going to look back on this company's long history, and what it did for the industry.
I already mentioned PWFG, or Pro-Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, and that's because it directly led to the formation of Fighting Investigation Team Battlarts, or simply, Battlarts. Despite having some great fighters early on, PWFG was starting to lag by 1996. So one of the top stars decided to leave and start his own promotion; this was a very common thing in Japan and the various companies there can be all be drawn together in a spider web. That man who led the charge was Yuki Ishikawa. Ishikawa has had a long and storied career, and although we are focusing on Battlarts today, it's worth mentioning he is still wrestling to this day, and recently teamed with Timothy Thatcher to face Battlarts mainstay Daisuke Ikeda and Walter in WXW in Germany.
Battlarts varied from other shoot style promotions in that it blended wrestling and martial arts closer together. While matches could only be won by submission or knockout, you still saw a lot of traditional wrestling. Other promotions of this era were almost all strike based. Battlarts was really ahead of its time in that regard, as even when companies today adapt rules from UWFi, the in ring style tends to be closer to Battlarts. Without Battlarts, we don't get matches like AKIRA vs Yoya.
The company started in 1996, and right away they were hot. They had deals with companies like Big Japan and Frontier Martial Arts that saw fan favorite belts like the BJW Junior Heavyweight Championship and the FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship defended on Battlarts shows. Another major factor in their success was their variety. Although they were primarily doing the aforementioned Battlarts rules, these other companies were promoting matches under their rules for their titles. Another different ruleset was B rules, which allowed for no striking. This was meant to be purely about grappling. With this kind of programming Battlarts felt fresh.
No matter how interesting the match types, however, a company is nothing without good wrestlers. Thankfully Battlarts had in its early years Yuki Ishikawa, Daisuke Ikeda, Alexander Otsuka, Minoru Tanaka, TAKA Michinoku and...Bob Backlund? I mentioned B rules earlier, and sure enough the finals of the 1998 B rules tournament saw Yuki Ishikawa beat Bob Backlund. Other names you might be surprised to see include The Road Warriors, Ricky Banderas(King/Mil Muertes), and Jeff Hardy.
The company even had a women's spinoff, which is incredibly rare in shoot style wrestling. Queen Bee was a show that ran as well featuring all women. Even today, we really just have CFU doing women's shoot style wrestling, so to see this was kind of shocking and refreshing.
Battlarts unfortunately began to slow down in 2001. They weren't doing monthly shows anymore, and over the next few years the company would hit a lull. Ishikawa began training a new crop of talent while Battlarts was barely chugging along, and in 2007 the promotion began monthly shows again with renewed vigor. This second wave saw some new names like Yuta Yoshikawa and Keita Yano, but some of the old roster were still kicking and doing great. The company would enjoy this renaissance, but nothing lasts forever. The company ran its last show on November 5th, 2011, and it was quite fitting that the last ever match was Yuki Ishikawa vs Daisuke Ikeda.
When it was formed in the 90's, Battlarts felt special and unique compared to its shoot style competitors. When it sang its swan song in 2011, it felt like the end of an era, as MMA had fully eclipsed shoot style wrestling. Many of the wrestlers are still active in places like Zero1, DDT, and NOAH. While some of the older shows can be hard to find, places like IVP Videos has a lot available for purchase, and much of the newer run can be found on IWTV. Battlarts still gets talked about today because of its hard hitting style that didn't sacrifice wrestling to achieve brutality. It found a way to blend the two into a beautiful, violent symphony. When you watch it, it's amazing to realize just how much it has influenced modern wrestling. So go check out Battlarts, and don't forget to give it a little thanks.