Trying something different. Well, not really different since I'm just gonna be talking about wrestling, which is what I've been doing since I started this thing, but this "project" has a cool name (which I didn't even come up with). I've talked about a fair bit of wrestling since I started this blog, but not as much Japanese wrestling/puro as I'd like. So I'm gonna try and watch at least 5 matches, at least once a week, and ramble about them here. Not exactly a groundbreaking idea, but fuck it, I never said I was creative. Most of it is just gonna be stuff that I've picked out at random as well. Anyways...
Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue & Masa Fuchi v Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada & Kenta Kobashi (All Japan, 1/24/92)
Great match, which is to be expected from these six, although one of the "weaker" 6-mans between these exact teams. But Hell, it goes about 45 minutes and it feels like it's done in half the time, and not too many matches that go that long fly by as "quickly" as this. First half is controlled mostly by Misawa and co. Jumbo and his army of grumps can only really carve out small advantages and momentum shifts, but most of their time is spent on the back foot. Kawada is particularly pissed off and just hates everybody. At one point he knocks Taue off the apron with an elbow smash and later Fuchi gives him one back, even pointing over at Taue as if to say "This is for my boy, bitch." Kawada then tries to knock his teeth out at several points for having the audacity to get in his face like that. Of course FUCHI backs down from no one and, well, everybody is smacking each other in the teeth is what I'm saying. Jumbo's boys finally take over after Misawa lands awkwardly on a plancha and Fuchi starts going to town on his knee. Jumbo Tsuruta as the puro equivalent of Harry Callahan is definitely my favourite period of his career. That 12/4/91 tag is just about my favourite tag match ever and a large part of that is down to Jumbo not being afraid to get deeply contemptuous towards this Misawa flunky and punching him right in the eye socket. The heat segment on Misawa here isn't as transcendently great as it was there, but you still walk away from this with the sense that Jumbo and his buddies hate Misawa and his buddies with the fire of a thousand suns and wouldn't lose an iota of sleep if they crippled one of them. Has there ever been a more lovable curmudgeon in wrestling history than Fuchi? Misawa cleans his fucking clock with a forearm before the hot tag and I dare you not to feel sorry for the poor guy. Sure, Fuchi spent the best part of ten minutes trying to rip Misawa's leg off, so it was totally justified, but I mean, C'MON MAN, LOOK AT THAT FACE. Finishing stretch is the kind of Hell on wheels stretch you expect at this point, and Kobashi in particular is willing to die for our sins. Post-match Jumbo's crew celebrate in the ring while Kobashi lays there dead. Gotta love that.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Akira Taue v Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi (All Japan, 1/26/92)
Jumbo/Kikuchi exchanges are some of my favourite in wrestling history. Kikuchi as the spunky underdog that shows NO FEAR in smashing someone much higher on the food chain RIGHT in the fucking nose is pro-wrestling. Jumbo as the surly vet that goes TOTAL FUCKING ROMAN on the spunky underdog because spunky underdogs aught to learn their place is pro-wrestling. This match has numerous moments where Kikuchi gets chippy and Jumbo mows him down like an irate truck. This match is the motherfucking bizness. Starts out with Kobashi and Kikuchi going right at Jumbo and Taue, and that leads directly to them working over Taue. It's a good spell, but fuck all that because Taue tags in JUMBO and JUMBO fucking murders people. Especially Kikuchi. Kikuchi plays FIP at this point and it ROCKS so hard. Unfortunately it ends way too abruptly when they seem to fuck up one of the tag teases and wind up *actually* tagging, but while it lasts...this is some special ass-stompery. Way too many instances of acrimonious violence to note them all, but there's an atomic drop here that is so very spine-compressing that it hurt my own tailbone just to look at it. My favourite moment of the whole match might be the spot where Jumbo takes his foot off the gas ever so slightly and Kikuchi rails off and thumps him in the ear with a forearm, so Jumbo utterly lays waste to him with knee lifts that really need to be seen to be believed. I watched the Jericho/Juventud match from Superbrawl '98 not long before I watched this, and Jericho hits a knee lift in it that looked super nasty and violent. Jumbo hits about 5 in this and every one makes the Jericho one look almost pansy-like. Once Kikuchi makes the tag things don't really reach that lofty level of greatness again, but there are still plenty of moments where Kobashi and Kikuchi get a rush of blood to the head and do a drive-by elbowing of an apron-bound Jumbo and that results in Jumbo decimating a motherfucker so really, who can complain? The motherfucking bizness. That's what this match is.
Genichiro Tenryu & Nobutaka Araya v Tatsumi Fujinami & Shiro Koshinaka (New Japan, 3/26/96)
Oh man, this is the total Tenryu show and it is absolutely spectacular. He is just full to the brim with HATE and CONTEMPT for everything and everybody and I find myself watching this for the sole purpose of seeing those glorious moments where the rage becomes too much to contain and he bursts into a frenzy of blistering violence. Nobody is safe from it. He backhands Akitoshi Saito before the bell rings just for standing on the apron. Later he goes out to the floor to get at him some more and the fact he's outnumbered 5 to 1 doesn't bother him one bit. He even takes a second to chew out someone in the crowd or a commentator or something. I don't know anymore. I don't think anybody knows. I don't even think HE knows. Everything else could totally suck and this match would still own the universe because of Tenryu chopping people in the throat and hurling the toe of his boot in their eye. Actually, as a *match*, this *wasn't* amazing. It was good, but not the kind of thing that's likely to blow anybody away if you sub Tenryu out for... well, just about anyone else. I'm not really familiar with Araya, but a quick check tells me he's only in his 4th year as a pro here, which makes sense because I was getting a "rookie tries like a bear to hang with the vets but will always have to rely on his cantankerous partner for the heavy lifting" vibe when I watched it last night. You see a pretty great example of this when he tries to hit a hurricanrana off the top to Koshinaka and messes it up, so they improv by having Kosh go on offence and work him over some until Tenryu gets tagged in. He then cleans house in a whirlwind of stiffness and malevolence before taging his partner back in, and the "Do THAT, God dammit" look he gives Araya is tremendous. Koshinaka is a guy I was always sort of whatever on, then the New Japan 80s set kinda turned me off him big time, but this redeemed him in my eyes. He didn't necessarily do anything that'll stick out as being great if I try to remember anything about it a week from now, but he had a couple great exchanges with Tenryu. Right at the start Tenryu walks up to him on the apron and slaps him across the head, so when Tenryu's stepping out of the ring Kosh runs over and does that flying hip attack thing he does, and Tenryu's pissed to the gills and wants to rip his head off. Couple seconds later Tenryu runs along the apron just so he can enziguri him in the back of the head. Then when Tenryu gets in and they match up Tenryu's chopping him in the throat, and they have this punch exchange that is completely ridiculous. Definitely a match where one guy's individual performance is the drawing point as opposed to the actual match itself, but what a performance it is. Goodhelmet really needs to drop a Tenryu set yesterday.
Jinsei Shinzaki v Mr. Gannosuke (FMW, 4/21/98)
Oh man, this was fucking great and is probably a top 10 for the whole year for me. These two straight up do not like each other and spend about 15 minutes throwing bombs. First move of the match has Gannosuke hitting Shinzaki with his own powerbomb (the one where he does the praying motion beforehand... you know the one) from the apron, and Shinzaki takes a fucking hideous bump through a table on the floor, cracking his head on the concrete and presumably splitting the back of his head open hardway. Gannosuke goes to town on the cut with bits of broken table, stomps, etc. Great cut off spot by Gannosuke where he reels back and just punts Shinzaki in the balls. I love a good cut off spot, and a no nonsense forty yarder to some guy's nether regions is a heck of a good cut off spot. The revenge spot afterwards where Shinzaki blocks a German suplex by mule kicking Gannosuke in the balls right back was life affirming, man. I'm not exactly the biggest Hakushi fan in the world, but his out on his feet selling after the opening powerbomb was awesome. Then again, how much of it was a work is hard to tell given how nutso that bump actually was, but still. At this point they settle into a rhythm of white hot death where they devastate each other with stuff and it fucking rules -- Shinzaki hits the motherfucking damndest double stomp ever, like he's going for a Vader bomb out of the corner, but instead of splashing Gannosuke he just DRILLS him in the stomach with his feet. He hits this backflip kick square on Gannosuke's nose. Gannosuke launches Shinzaki off the apron through another table. There's an AMAZING lariat spot where Gannosuke refuses to go down, so Jinsei hits the ropes to his right and fucking RUINS him with a lariat to the side of the head. All of it fucking rocked. Of course after all of this you need a finish that some how tops it, and MAN do they top it. Gannosuke seems to love the idea of putting Shinzaki away with his own trademark powerbomb, which is where the opening craziness came from, and so he tries it again in the middle of the ring to put him down for good. Shinzaki is fed up with that noise and just punches Gannosuke dead in the face with a right hand that is so gloriously fuelled by a kind of hatred I don't recall seeing from Shinzaki any other time that I was leaning on rewind like a ridiculous motherfucker. Seriously, that kind of brusque violence as your final transition spot is EXACTLY the kind of thing I get all giddy for as a wrestling fan. Finish has Shinzaki busting out a sort of running Razor's Edge and this was just 12 kinds of manly. Eight million stars.
Shingo Takago v BxB Hulk (Dragon Gate, 12/26/05)
So last night I started going through a gazillion boxes worth of unwatched DVDs that I've managed to collect over the years, and I realised how much puro I have here that I haven't bothered to ever put in the DVD player. I'm talking, like, 150 discs of puro that I haven't watched. It also made me realise that I have entirely too much Dragon Gate footage. I'd be lucky if I could tell you anything that's gone on in the company over the last 3 years, and yet I have pretty much every episode of Infinity and every PPV from the beginning of 2005 through to the tail end of 2007. Why this is, I have no idea. Well, I was buying all this shit at a time where I was way less disdainful towards current Japanese wrestling and actually made a point of following it with some degree of regularity, so that'd be the "why"... but DRAGON GATE? New Japan and the likes, I can sort of understand, but I stopped following Dragon Gate long before the latest Dragon Gate DVD in my possession would suggest. Maybe I figured that even though I had come to seriously dislike that style, there might be some day where my tastes in puro would come full circle and it'd all be there for me to enjoy. Or maybe I was just an idiot that felt they aught to spend money on something they'll probably never watch. Either way, it's ALL there and there's around two years worth of Dragon Gate DVDs that have probably never been out of the sleeve. And so last night I decided I'd knuckle down and at least TRY and watch some Dragon Gate. I recalled the 2005 King of Gate tourney getting a bunch of praise from the big Dragon Gate fans. I'm pretty sure I was still at least semi-interested in this promotion in 2006, so I don't know why I never got around to watching their big December PPV from '05 (I'm pretty dedicated to watching stuff in chronological order like a hardcore dork). Maybe I skipped it. Maybe I forgot about it. Maybe I did watch it and I was just too drunk to remember anything about it. I don't know. But I came across it last night and I made an honest to goodness attempt at watching it and now that all the other bullshit is out of the way I can actually talk about this fucking match. Long story short it was way better than I was expecting. I can't stomach the tripe you get with most of Japanese wresting today, but if guys would put the kibosh on the main suck points and wrestle a compact little match like this that doesn't go overboard with a trillion nearfalls and shitty no-selling and awful strike exchanges that just seem to be there for the fuck of it, I'd no doubt manage to watch more than 3 matches a year. But of course I'm brought back down to Earth because I know that isn't gonna happen, and instead, shockingly, I'm left with THESE two to give me my fill. And what the fuck is that about? Hulk has God-awful facial expressions and there's one spot where he bounces up from a lariat and asks for more because he's full of FIGHTING SPIRIT and it all feels really sub-Tyler Black level crappy, but he's seriously not afraid to DIE on a lariat or get lit up by chops and forearms. They actually have one of the strike exchanges that I mentioned as being a suck point today, but I thought it was as fine as could be here because Hulk's forearms are so delicate that they make Shingo's look even more brutal in comparison. And Shingo's laying these bad boys in to begin with. Actually most of this is Shingo acting like a douchebag bully while Hulk makes hilarious faces and tries not to get his head caved in. I can deal with that dynamic. Especially great moment where Hulk wants to try some fancy shit from the top rope and I had visions of Shingo standing around for ages while Hulk gets his footing right, but to my pleasant surprise he wants none of that nonsense and just socks him with a lariat to the back of the head. Finishing stretch is short and at no point did I throw my hands in the air (unlike the following match. By the way, I never finished this show and I doubt I ever will. So there), and the spectacular lariat bump by Hulk really is a peach. This gave me hope that the rest of the show might be something I'd enjoy. The next match killed that idea cold, but fuck it, this was choice and totally above my expectations.
Yoshihiro Takayama v Takashi Sugiura (NOAH, 10/3/09)
How is Takayama not dead yet? The guy's had a stroke and has a face like someone stepped on wet putty and is a well-placed shoot punch away from being a vegetable. And here comes this match where he and Sugiura just punch and kick and knee each other a million times right in the fucking face. Match goes about 10 minutes but it is straight up wall to wall violence for the duration. Strike exchanges these days are pretty much always a low point in matches for me, but the strike exchanges in this had absolutely NO daylight whatsoever. Each one seemed to build on the one before it and got progressively nastier until the point where they're legit punching each other in the chops and Takayama fucking murderises Sugiura with the mother of knees square in the beak. And well you can't really top that so Takayama decides to spike him with a German suplex instead. "Manly" doesn't even begin to describe this one.
NEXT WEEK: who knows? Might actually use this as an excuse to try (again) and watch some of that Dragon Gate, but I don't reeeeealy like the sounds of that so I probably won't. I could see myself re-watching some of the DG I liked in the past... that doesn't sound as excruciating, at least. Not sure why I'm clinging to this "watch Dragon Gate" idea but whatever. Probably gonna be more Tenryu. Actually yes, there will be more Tenryu. More dudes hitting each other in the face real hard is pretty likely. Or not. I don't know. Fuck it, it's Christmas next week so you get Volk Han.