Theme this week is BAD-ASSERY. Tenryu, Kanemoto, Ikeda, Ishikawa, Murakami, Takayama, so on and so forth. Been watching quite a lot of shoot style recently too, so I'll talk about some of that. And Volk Han, like I promised...
Genichiro Tenryu & Tiger Mask II v Riki Choshu & George Takano (New Japan, 2/14/90)
All Japan are INVADING and this crowd is AMPED to the trillionth fucking degree. This was awesome. Absolutely any time Tenryu is in the ring things are incredible and the crowd is completely losing it for every exchange between him and Takano, and even more so between him and Choshu. The Tenryu/Choshu exchanges are especially great because they just obliterate each other. First time Tenryu gets in he charges at Choshu and Choshu is ducking out of the way and dodging him, and Tenryu's continually trying to change directions and grab hold of him so he can break his teeth. He's not so much running at him, but just recklessly bull rushing him in a pissed off fury of black and yellow. Choshu hits a few ridiculous lariats and generally lays a hellish beating on Tenryu. Tenryu throws chops that sound like a shotgun blast and whips out a few lariats of his own with complete disregard for Choshu's face. He kicks him in the eye, stomps on his nose and punts him in the neck. I mean this is just volcanic hatred. Tenryu also seems to have pissed in Takano's cereal because Takano keeps trying to rip his head off with leg lariats and shit. There's one point where he slaps him and Tenryu just starts laying into him with elbows to the face, so Takano literally shoves him on his ass and the pop for this shit is insane. Match actually takes a big dip any time fucking MISAWA gets in, so that tells you how great the Tenryu stuff is. Granted, Tiger Mask Misawa is a far cry from regular old Mitsuharu. He's good as the outmatched underdog hanging and banging with the enemy, though. Doesn't bring the same kind of barbarous stiffness that Tenryu or Choshu bring, but he'll rifle off a kick from time to time that looks real nasty. Also not shocking that he spends a chunk of time being worked over. Structure is sort of similar to the tags on the NJ 80s set that really wore me out, but I thought they were much better at working momentum shifts into this and they weren't nearly as go-go-go here, plus there were no tags on that set with the same amounts of monumental contempt as there is in this; hate is the selling point here. Lots and lots of hate. Stretch to the finish is amazing and I really can't do it justice. It's literally great moment after great moment with it all building to a huge fever pitch, guys trying to murder each other, crowd losing its collective mind, etc. Way too much to try and hit on it all, but the spot of the match for me is where Choshu goes to lariat Misawa in the corner, and Tenryu steps in front of it and just gets beheaded. Finish is arguably anti-climactic, but if you're gonna end it like that then having everyone vaporize each other beforehand is a great way to make it work. Just a terrific, terrific match.
Volk Han v Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS, 12/29/95)
Great match, almost the best possible shoot style Liu Kang v Shao Kahn. Yamamoto is clearly determined not to be beaten and keeps on coming and coming, but Han just keeps rolling out these crazy tricked out holds and Yamamoto can't do a thing about it. There are times where it looks like he might be able to at least force Han to use up a rope break, but Han just bides his time, waits it out, and counters it into something of his own. There's one spot where he has Yamamoto in a cross arm breaker and Yamamoto's squirming and trying to kick Han's arms away, so Han just grabs hold of his leg as well and winds up hooking in this fucking ridiculous cross arm breaker/kneebar combo that was seriously too cool for school. The overhead cam' in RINGS makes all of Han's nutso matwork look even more spectacular. Yamamoto's forced to use up two of his rope breaks and Han is almost leisurely reversing stuff and seemingly creating shit of his own on the fly. Then persistence pays off and Han's forced to use up two rope breaks of his own. The first one seemed like a case of him giving the opponent one so it at least looks competitive, because he didn't seem to be in too much danger, but the second one comes after a nasty scare where he's caught in a half crab right in the middle of the ring. What started off as being a stroll was turning into something much closer. Kinda like all those Lakers games last year where things were comfortable going into the fourth and then Deron Williams or some other speedy little hellcat would burn Derek Fisher into the ground. Han had a 20 point lead going into the fourth quarter, then Yamamoto went on a run and tied it up. Plus it's on Yamamoto's home court and he has the crowd believing. Like Cleveland before LeBron skipped town and all the t-shirts were burned and Dan Gilbert flipped his tree. Final minute and a half is terrific. Yamamoto actually manages to force Han into a THIRD rope break, so Han pretty much says fuck it and starts lobbing palm strikes at his face for a knockdown. And the finish... how the fuck about it? Hometown boy done good, crowd goes apeshit, men cry. This is the fuckin' biscuits.
Yuki Ishikawa v Daisuke Ikeda (Battlarts, 9/1/97)
This might be the earliest iteration of this match that I've seen, and it felt more like a scrappy bar fight than any of their other matches. You obviously have to sub in cross arm breakers and ankle picks for pool cues and beer bottles, but they're still hucking ridiculous strikes at each other like any good bar fight is likely to have. I was surprised at how much Ishikawa was controlling things here; I watched their Futen match from '05 last week and that had Ishikawa on the defensive for large parts, which is what I remember most from their matches. This was totally great though and builds to a finish where they're trading holds and trying to knock the other's lights out with lariats. Ikeda seems to like the idea of taking Ishikawa's leg home with him so he rifles off kicks and continually goes for kneebars and the sort, and it's a really cool touch that gets huge heat towards the end. Probably prefer this to the Ishikawa/Otsuka match from 2/28 as my favourite BatBat match from the '97 stuff I've seen so far.
Yuki Ishikawa v Kazunari Murakami (Battlarts, 5/10/01)
I loved their short match in 2000, so when I came across this I had to check it out. Didn't think it was on the level of the previous year's match, but this was really nifty all the same, sort of a Nitro-sized shoot style sprint. Has the same hallmarks as their first match, in that Murakami is a total dick and throws a bunch of reckless and violent strikes and Ishikawa keeps coming back because that's who he fucking is. As soon as it starts Murakami high kicks him in the head and Ishikawa is great at selling the knockdown, getting up and smiling like he knows he just took a hefty blow, but won't give this sociopath the satisfaction of showing it. Murakami's pissed off sneer is maybe the best ever. His last two punch flurries are just insane, too. He's also a guy I keep meaning to check out a lot more of because every time I watch him I have a blast... and for whatever reason I still haven't gotten around to it. Should probably do that some time.
Yoshihiro Takayama v Katsuyori Shibata (New Japan, 8/15/03)
Shibata is up there with Murakami in terms of guys I need to see more of. He's in that same stiff-bastard-that'll-punch-you-dead-in-the-face vein as Murakami, albeit less of a psychopath. This match is like a shot of Absinthe - packs a Hell of a punch (literally, in the case of the match) for something so small (or short, in the case of the match). Goes about 6 minutes and they really lay into each other the whole time. Shibata's a grade-A ass kicker, but Takayama is Takayama and HE'S a grade-A ass kicker as well, plus he has the weight, height, strength and reach advantage over Shibata. Shibata is at least the faster of the two, but above all else he doesn't give two shits about being at a disadvantage and just tries to cave Tak's face in from word one. The moment where he takes off his gloves, throws them at Takayama who's sitting down in the corner, and running dropkicks him flush in the face was really spectacular. The combos they were throwing out towards the end were some GNARLY fuggin' combos as well.
Koji Kanemoto v Masato Tanaka (New Japan, 4/13/08)
Talked about the Kanemoto/Marufuji match from this year a couple days ago and how Kanemoto as the surly ass-stomper protecting his home turf while going for a title belt is a dynamic/role I'm a big fan of (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the general point I made). This has more of the same, only this has Tanaka in place of Marufuji and doesn't go ten minutes too long, so it's a flat out better match. I actually thought it was legitimately fucking great. Kanemoto winds up controlling about 75% of it, which isn't something I was expecting going in, but I enjoy watching Kanemoto kick the shit out of dudes, and Tanaka brought the fire when he needed to, anyway. He doesn't have goofy offence either so it all looked intense and nasty. They do a spot mid-match after Tanaka looks to have gained control, where he sets up a table and seems to be going to splash Kanemoto through it, but Koji casually sits up and tosses Tanaka through it instead. Felt like a great "Fuck this tables bullshit - we KICK people in the FACE here!" spot. Finishing run doesn't border on overkill and still manages to come across as "epic", which is a massive positive for me when I'm watching 2008 Japanese wrestling. I also had no idea who won this going on, so I was getting way into it towards the end, even marking out pretty hard when Kanemoto kicked out of that sliding elbow to the face that Tanaka does. Oh yeah, those sliding elbows; Koji took those like a fucking KING. Seriously, there were three and he took them flush in the nose every time. Found myself leaning on rewind like a motherfucker for all of them. Kanemoto is also making me not groan every time I see an ankle lock and, well, fuck me sideways, because that's pretty incredible considering how much Kurt Angle's managed to beat that dead horse in oblivion. This was freaking choice.
NEXT WEEK: if I'm still on a shoot style kick then some more of that, so Han, Ishikawa, Tamura and the likes. Most of next week will likely be a drunken blur though, so I can't say for sure. Tenryu and Kanemoto will surely be back as well. Might try and watch one of those Dragon Gate matches I said I'd try and watch this week. Or I'll just watch more Tenryu. Who knows?