Issue 025

May 2007

June 23, 2002, Saitama Super Arena, Japan

Don Frye

Amateur wrestler, fireman, boxer, UFC star, PRIDE star, pro wrestler, and actor: the 41-year-old ‘Predator’ has packed plenty of experience into the last 20 years. Among the first ‘cross-trained’ fighters, Frye exploded onto the scene in 1996, displaying a viciously effective mixture of boxing and wrestling that earned him a pair of UFC tournament wins. Retiring after just 10 months with a 10-1 record, Frye headed for the then-bigger money of Japanese pro wrestling. He returned to fighting five years later with PRIDE and spent the next couple of years treating fans to some incredible brawls. Possibly the most stubborn man on Earth, Frye refuses to give in to Father Time or a list of injuries that would leave most people unable to get out of bed in the morning. A regular for K-1 Hero’s, Frye went unbeaten in 2006, albeit against some average opposition. His MMA record is currently 17-5-1 and he also finds time to coach the Arizona-based Scorpions for the IFL.

Yoshihiro Takayama

For reasons that will soon become very clear, Takayama’s MMA record stands at a pitiful 0-4, yet during his fighting career he was a huge star in Japan due to his pro wrestling stardom. Only fellow pro wrestler and occasional training partner Kazuyuki Fujita ever allowed Takayama to even last beyond the first round. His other fights saw him armbarred by Bob Sapp and destroyed by Semmy Schilt. Originally set to face Mirko Cro Cop, Takayama had a lucky escape on New Year’s Eve 2003. Luckily for everyone a sudden and convenient back injury saw him sat at the commentary table instead of laid out on a stretcher. Any chance of Takayama reviving his fighting career ended for good in August 2004 when he suffered a stroke in the dressing room after a big pro wrestling match. Out of action for almost two years, he returned to pro wrestling and has made a more or less full recovery, but has sensibly toned things down a little.


A very ugly thriller

Already a candidate for ‘World’s Ugliest Fighter’ going into his war with Frye, the heroically useless Takayama emerged from it looking like the Elephant Man. Both eyes swollen shut, his mouth misshapen and with cuts and bruises all over his face, the poor bloke looked hideous. He certainly paid the penalty for getting involved in one of the most insane fights in history. A huge man at 6’5” and pushing 280 pounds, he achieved far more than he should through size, determination, and a cheerful willingness to take physical abuse. After dabbling in rugby and lifesaving (imagine being resuscitated by THAT?) he debuted as an atrocious pro wrestler for the UWF-I in 1992. The UWF-I presented a fairly realistic product based around kicks, suplexes, and submissions, designed to look like early shootfighting. 


Unfortunately, Takayama was clumsier than a newborn giraffe and his matches looked as laughably fake as anything ever acted out by Hulk Hogan. Even with his size, he should have faded away into obscurity but after years of trying he slowly developed as a performer. With his recognizable face, unruly mass of blonde hair, ever-expanding gut, and brutally exciting in-ring style he became a genuine star. Japanese pro wrestling is traditionally tougher than the American version but Takayama really pushed things to the limit. Taking genuine punishment in all his big matches, he always came back for more, establishing himself in fans’ minds as a proper tough guy, even in a ‘sport’ that wasn’t actually real. 


With Japan’s crossover fanbase of fighting and pro wrestling fans, he was a perfect fit for PRIDE. The only problem is, Takayama was abysmal. Big, clumsy, with poor cardio, little striking skill, the submission instincts of a sedated hippo and reliant on his chin and what little knowledge he’d picked up at the UWF-I Dojo many years before, Takayama may have been one of the very worst big name fighters in MMA history. But he could certainly pull a crowd. 

By this point, Frye was also a huge pro wrestling star in Japan, based mostly on his success in the MMA world. Going into this match he was 13-1, his only loss coming when Mark Coleman wrecked him in an uncomfortably brutal fight at UFC 10 almost six years earlier. Along the way he’d pasted BJJ world champion Amaury Bitetti, twice bashed Gary Goodridge, choked out Tank Abbott and decisioned Ken Shamrock in a grudge match thriller. Always entertaining and with a take-no-prisoners attitude that endeared him to fans everywhere, Frye was already past his best by 2002. A litany of neck injuries (mostly sustained in pro wrestling) and his age had already taken their toll. A talented wrestler, he was coached by Dan Severn at Arizona State in the mid-1980s. A former professional boxer, admittedly with a pretty mediocre record, a Judo black belt, and simply one of the toughest men on the planet, Frye at his best could be a real handful. 


Sheer insanity

The wildly excited crowd of nearly 23,000 were treated to the most amazing opening minute of mixed martial arts action in living memory. Almost from the start they grabbed each other by the back of the head and started pounding away with wild punches at a furious pace. How furious? Frye landed some 60 punches in 30 seconds! Clearly the harder puncher, he was just hammering his bone-headedly brave opponent while completely ignoring Takayama’s own shots. The big man’s eyes were swollen shut inside a minute. Shockingly, Takayama took Frye down and just missed a hefty knee to the face. More trading of punches saw Frye cut and even looking disorganized for a second. Gasping for air, Takayama was bruised and exhausted and eating some big right hooks in the corner. 

A pause to check Takayama’s grotesquely distorted face should have ended things prematurely but with no commissions or governing bodies, Japanese promotions have always been more blasé about fighter safety. Somewhat refreshed, Takayama started swinging again but even as the crowd chanted his name he managed to execute the worst takedown of all time. Trying a suplex, he landed flat on his back, gifting Frye the full mount. The American hammered away and an extraordinary beating finally came to an end. No matter what anyone thinks of Takayama, they have to admit this fight delivered unbelievable entertainment and must be seen by every MMA fan. 

Thankfully, Takayama never fought again but Frye, of course, soldiered on. He’s 3-4-1 since this unforgettable fight but has struggled badly against quality opposition and his PRIDE career ended on New Year’s Eve 2003 when Goodridge KO’ed the almost immobile, broken-down ‘Predator’ with a spectacular high kick. A year earlier K-1 superstar Jerome Le Banner had brutally KO’ed Frye under kickboxing rules in a furious, but ultimately sad, 90 seconds of action. Still, Frye could probably go on beating the Akebono’s and the Kim Min Soo’s of this world for a couple more years yet.