The history of Shooto is an interwoven pattern of development from both side of the Pacific Ocean – Japan and the USA. It traces a formulated set of rules and organized competitions back to 1985 as the first full contact fighting event to feature non-predetermined bouts. The first competitions were amateur matches, then in 1989 the organization went pro. In 1994, Shooto was the organization to host the original Vale Tudo Japan event.
Shooto is a mixed martial arts organization that is governed by the Shooto Association and the International Shooto Commission. Shooto was originally formed in 1985, as an organization and as a particular fighting system derived from shoot wrestling. Practitioners are referred to as shooters, similarly to practitioners of shoot wrestling. Shooto rules have evolved such that their events are now true mixed martial arts competitions.
The Wiki page is a cut-and-dried history of the sporting organization’s development. The colorful bits can be found in this article by KJ Gould on BloodyElbow: “Karl Gotch Week: Satoru Sayama, Shooto And The Style Of Japanese Catch Wrestling“. Gould brings to life the men who have become icons of combat sports such as “Tiger Mask” Sayama, Karl Gotch, Dan Inosanto, and Eric Paulson. There is a slew of incredible historical videos compiled that are definitely necessary curriculum for the combat sport aficionado. Gould details some of the events that determined the beginnings of Shooto:
Sayama developed his own Shooto syllabus for learning what could be considered the first put together MMA training of its kind, with a focus on striking from arts like Karate and Muay Thai, takedowns from wrestling and Judo and submissions from Catch Wrestling (via Gotch and Inoki)and Judo. The curriculum would help produce the first well rounded fighters of MMA at a time 4 years before the first UFC that focused on single disciplines squaring off against each other to promote the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu Jitsu ground fighting.
He then refers to the relationship changes between Paulson and the Gracie camp, which shows Shooto developing alongside of the UFC and outpacing it in some regards:
Knowing he could not be a part of UFC 1 in November 1993, Paulson took to Japan to compete in Shooto thanks to his training and connections with Nakamura. And so on June 24th, 1993 Erik Paulson made his MMA debut against Shoot veteran Kazuhiro Kusayanagi. Paulson won by Inverted Triangle Choke, 16 years before Toby Imada made the move iconic against Jorge Masvidal at Bellator Fighting Championship 5.
KJ Gould refers often to this article by TP Grant also on BloodyElbow, “MMA Origins: Catch Wrestling Travels to Japan“. This goes even deeper into the background of catch wrestling in Japan and has vintage Shooto video footage from the early ’90s. In conclusion, he segues into the results that the development of Shooto had on all MMA:
Other Karl Gotch students would go on to have major impacts in the development of Japanese MMA. Akira Maeda would go on to found a Pro Wrestling promotion based on Inoki’s “strong style” wrestling that in the early 1990’s would transform into the Mixed Martial Arts promotion RINGS, which would be a very successful promotion. They would go on to feature fights that included names like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Fedor Emeliankenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Alistar Overeem and many more great fighters starting their careers.
Shooto has produced international champions from its promotions, notably Shinya Aoki, Masakazu Imanari, Masakatsu Ueda, Hatsu Hioki, Caol Uno, and Enson Inoue. The Rookies competitions show that fostering young fighters early can lead to greatness, attributed to the likes of Yasuhiro Urushitani, Shinichi “BJ” Kojima, Takeya Mizugaki, Issei Tamura, and the hot prospect on a tear this year, Kyoji Horiguchi. Shooto is a mainstay of the MMA world and an organization pertinent to the growth of the sport internationally. Know your Shooto!