Even to longtime, hardcore fans of the sport, Japanese heavyweight MMA pioneer Tsuyoshi Kosaka is known today primarily as the answer to a trivia question: the only man to "defeat" Fedor Emelianenko in the first 10 years and 30 fights of Emelianenko’s career. Similarly, the mention of Dutch miscreant Gilbert Yvel is just as likely to conjure memories of countless “World’s Dirtiest Fighter” lists as of an MMA and kickboxing career dating back to the 1990s.
Given that these two legends are mostly remembered today for fights that ended in controversy, it should be no surprise that they combined to author the strangest three-fight rivalry in MMA history. At the time of their first meeting, in the 1999 Rings King of Kings tournament, "TK" was one of the most respected heavyweights in the world, having already fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship three times and tangled with former or future UFC champs including Maurice Smith, Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten and Pete Williams. The fight ended in a TKO by doctor stoppage when Kosaka’s cuts were judged too severe to go on. The result was controversial because Kosaka was ahead on the scorecards due to multiple fouls by Yvel, yet because the fight-ending cuts had not been caused by those fouls, the fight ended in an Yvel victory.
Their rematch took place at Rings “Rise 5th,” on Aug. 19, 1999. Their second fight was just as bizarre as the first, as Kosaka was ahead on the judges’ scorecards when the two men went tumbling through the ring ropes. Once again, the Japanese judoka was injured and unable to go on, but this time the stoppage resulted in a technical decision victory for Kosaka.
The two would meet again once more in December, where—spoiler—the rubber match would also end in an untimely and inconclusive stoppage. After three weird and unsatisfying fights in a single calendar year, Kosaka and Yvel parted ways, competitively speaking. Kosaka went on to give “The Last Emperor” that one defeat—due to a freakish cut and a tournament format that required someone to advance—which unfortunately overshadowed a quietly impressive run in Rings and Pride Fighting Championships, especially considering Kosaka’s age. Yvel, on the other hand, went on to spend another decade-plus doing what brought him to the party: namely, ultra-violent kickboxing and eye-poppingly flagrant fouls on opponents and referees alike.