Better known as one of the greatest Japanese MMA fighters ever, Masakatsu Funaki is also a veteran of wrestling. The son of a movie theater owner, Funaki was exposed to martial arts films at an early age. He idolized Bruce Lee above all others, but also eagerly devoured the films of Sammo Hung and Sonny Chiba. Though his father would ultimately abandon a young Funaki and his family, the exposure to such films left an indelible mark on him, one that would forever influence the course of his life.
Instead of going to high school, Funaki instead enrolled in the New Japan Dojo. He made his debut in the Junior Heavyweight division as a 15-year-old boy against Chris Benoit, setting the record for the youngest debut ever in the promotion. He didn’t get much of a chance to shine though, as the Jr. Heavyweight division was in a transition period. And as such, the owner Antonio Inoki decided to shift the focus towards his heavyweight division which dominated the cards. Funaki still had several impressive matches before leaving for UWF after Akira Maeda was fired. After UWF folded, Funaki went elsewhere.
In the 1990s, Funaki began transitioning into MMA, where he is best known as the co-founder of the Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling promotion, also called just Pancrase, along with fellow wrestler/fighter Minoru Suzuki. Funaki fought exclusively for Pancrase from his debut in 1993 until 1999, and became a 2-time Openweight King Of Pancrase (Pancrase refers to each weight class champion as “King Of Pancrase” rather than “This Weight Class” Champion). He retired in 1999 due to injuries and burnout, but returned for one fight in 2000. After being elected to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame in 2006, Funaki made another comeback in 2007. He fought Kazushi Sakuraba in a matchup of the 2 fighters considered Japan’s greatest ever, but lost to Sakuraba by submission. Funaki then signed with the new DREAM promotion and entered the Middleweight GP. In his first fight, he was quickly stopped by Kiyoshi Tamura in under a minute, the first time since 1998 Funaki had been KO/TKO’d in MMA, but he returned to DREAM in September and quickly submitted Ikuhisa Minowa.
Following this, Funaki made a return to wrestling. On August 30, 2009 he joined All-Japan and teamed with Keiji Muto in Muto’s 25th anniversary match, then signed a 1-year deal with All-Japan. He is now a regular in the promotion. He has alternated between singles and tag team matches and won the Real World Tag League in December 2009 with Keiji Muto.
In addition to wrestling and MMA, Funaki made several appearances in Japanese movies in the 2000s. He is also credited with voice work in 2 anime features: 1994’s “Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie” (as Fei Long) and 2001’s “ShootFighter Tekken” (aka High School Exciting Story: Tough, as Seiko “Oton” Miyazawa). He appeared in the Japanese films “Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle”, “Electric Dragon 80.000 V” (as the narrator), “Shadow Fury”, “Shin Karate Baka Ichidai 2”, “Godzilla: Final Wars”, and “Rikidozan”.
Stats & info:
Real name: Masaharu Funaki
Weight: 195 pounds/88 kg
Experience: At least 7 years wrestling (not including a 20 year break/hiatus), 8 years MMA
Finishing move: Backdrop suplex
Current affiliation: All-Japan
Ring entrance theme: “KING OF STRONG STYLE”
MMA career record (as of 9/23/2008): 39 Wins, 13 Losses, 1 Draw
Titles won (wrestling):
1-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
Tournaments won (wrestling):
2009 Real World Tag League
Titles won (MMA):
2-time Openweight King Of Pancrase
Inducted Into Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame In 2006
Official website (Japanese):
Ring entrance music: