While it has faded from prominence in recent years, Rings was one of the most important promotions of the 90s and early 00s. The Japanese pro wrestling crossover was a first stop or early showcase for several of Pride Fighting Championships and the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest stars, including Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson and Randy Couture.
While Rings conducted the majority of its events in Japan, it also put on shows across the world, using local talent to bolster its unique structure of fighter “stables” based loosely on nationality. Rings Holland “No Guts, No Glory”, which took place in Amsterdam on June 10, 2001, was headlined by Dutch kickboxer and MMA pioneer “Dirty” Bob Schrijber, who fought to a draw with a pre-prison Bobby Hoffman. The card also featured several up-and-comers from France, including future Pride and UFC light heavyweight Cyrille Diabate and, in his professional MMA debut, a chiseled 26-year-old who went by the name of Cheick Kongo.
Rings clearly knew it had something in the statuesque young Frenchman, installing him in the co-main event despite it being his first professional bout, and he did not disappoint, mauling Andre Tete before heel-hooking him in a bizarre, chaotic fight that featured more referee stoppage time than actual clock time. However, nobody likely would have guessed that Kongo would go on to an over 40-fight career, including a 17-fight run as a UFC heavyweight contender. Today, the ageless 45-year-old, looking largely the same as ever, is sitting on a nine-fight unbeaten streak in Bellator MMA, where his shot at Ryan Bader’s heavyweight title last year ended in a no-contest.