Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling is a mixed martial arts organization founded in Japan in 1993 by professional wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki. Pancrase is taken from Pankration, a sport in the ancient Olympic games. Suzuki and Funaki are particularly skilled in the art of catch wrestling and based the promotion on professional wrestling consisting of shoots rather than works. Per its custom, its champions are named King of Pancrase rather than the title of Champion.
The promotion had a rule-set more similar to that of professional wrestling than those used in contemporary fighting organizations such as Shooto. Just as in Japanese professional wrestling, closed-fists to the face were illegal and submission holds had to be broken when a competitor made it to the ropes. However, beginning in 1998, it began adopting a rule set more in line with other mixed martial arts organizations, with most fights transitioning to the new ruleset by 2000.
In 1993, Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, Yusuke Fuke and others from the shoot-style Fujiwara Gumi wrestling promotion left the company, due to (mentor and promoter) Yoshiaki Fujiwara's decision to cooperate with the likes of Universal Lucha Libre and W*ING and favoring showmanship over in-ring work. As suggested by Karl Gotch, Pancrase was formed by Funaki, Suzuki and Fuke, and the promotion would focus on pure shoot style wrestling with limited gimmicks and no predetermined outcomes. The first King Of Pancrase Open Weight champion was Ken Shamrock (later becoming famous for his exploits in the Ultimate Fighting Championship), who had previous experience in the Newborn UWF and Fujiwara Gumi. Over the years, Funaki and Suzuki held the title alongside other big names, such as Bas Rutten, Frank Shamrock and Guy Mezger.
Pancrase now recognizes King of Pancrase titles in the super heavyweight, heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight divisions, and there are plans to award new lightweight and featherweight champions in the future. The open weight title was recently restored and is currently held by Josh Barnett, who formerly competed in PRIDE and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Minoru Suzuki no longer competes for Pancrase, as he returned to regular professional wrestling in 2003 as a freelancer, but he primarily competes in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Aside from the traditional grappling rules (e.g., no biting, no eye-gouging) the rules were formerly as follows:
- No elbows to the head (neither while standing nor on the ground).
- No closed-fist strikes to the head (neither while standing nor on the ground).
- No knees to the head on the ground.
- No kicks/stomps to the head on the ground.
- If a participant gets too close to the ropes, he is stood back up on the feet. (as opposed to PRIDE's recentering in the middle of the ring)
- Non-title matches consist of one 15 minute round, while title matches consist of one 30 minute round.
- If a participant is caught in a submission and taps out (whether unable to reach the ropes or not), it is a loss.
- Five "escapes" are given to each fighter at the start of every match. An escape can be used when caught in a submission near the ropes, in which case the participant can grab them, be stood back on the feet and have one point deducted. Once a participant has used all of his escapes, it is a loss.
- For knockouts, a ten-count similar to boxing and kickboxing is used. If the participant is unable to answer the ten-count, it is declared a TKO and that fighter has lost the match. However, if the participant is able to answer the ten-count, the fight resumes and one point is deducted.
- If, at the end of regulated time, neither fighter has submitted, been knocked out, or lost all their points, a decision is rendered based on who lost fewer points. If neither fighter lost any points, or both lost the same number of points, the fight is declared a draw.
- In the 1994 King of Pancrase tournament, the rules were slightly different, in that the first round had one 10 minute round and three rope escapes, and the finals had one 20 minute round with three rope escapes.
- For a short period of time when Bas Rutten was the King of Pancrase, heelhooks were banned because of the frequency of injuries.
Today, Pancrase uses a ruleset similar to that of Pride FC, but prohibits knees to the head of grounded opponents.
Current King of Pancrase champions
Openweight Josh Barnett (tenth Openweight Champion) Heavyweight Vacant LtHeavyweight Ryo Kawamura (fourth Light Heavyweight Champion) Middleweight Izuru Takeuchi (seventh Middleweight Champion) Welterweight Takuya Wada (interim Welterweight Champion) Lightweight Maximo Blanco (third Lightweight Champion) Featherweight Marlon Sandro (second Featherweight Champion) Bantamweight Manabu Inoue (first Bantamweight Champion) Flyweight Mitsuhisa Sunabe (first Flyweight Champion)
Former KOP Title Holders
* Ken Shamrock * Masakatsu Funaki * Bas Rutten * Minoru Suzuki * Sanae Kikuta * Kiuma Kunioku * Tsuyoshi Kosaka * Frank Shamrock * Yuki Kondo * Nathan Marquardt * Ricardo Almeida * Semmy Schilt * Guy Mezger * Katsuya Inoue * Kestutis Arbocius
Other notable fighters
* Ikuhisa Minowa * Evangelista Santos * Akihiro Gono * Jason Delucia * Ryushi Yanagisawa * Manabu Yamada * Yoshiki Takahashi * Osami Shibuya * Ryo Kawamura * Riki Fukuda * Paul Daley * Gustavo Picone * Daichi Fujiwara * Satoru Kitaoka * Daiki Hata * Izuru Takeuchi * Carlos Condit * Umahanov Artur * Poai Suganuma * Joe Riggs * Chris Lytle * Kazuo Misaki * Evan Tanner * Genki Sudo