So I got my buddy to make me a Shinya Hashimoto comp a couple weeks ago and as I started it last night I got to thinking about how great a year 1989 was for the old pro-wrestling. There is just a ton of great shit from a bunch of different countries and promotions, and it might be the all-around best year of the decade... maybe ever. Well, it inspired me to go back and watch a chunk of '89 stuff that was on the New Japan 80s set.
Big Van Vader v Tatsumi Fujinami (4/24/89)
This is part of the one night IWGP Title tournament (it's a semi-finals match) at the Tokyo Dome and is "only" the third best match of the night for me. That says a lot about the two matches that I thought were better, because this is still a heck of a match. Vader mostly dominates the early stages with his massive Vader-like girth and looks to manhandle Fujinami at every turn, but it was Fujinami that put the belt up for grabs and he's not letting go of it without a fight. He decides to target the arm and it leads to some big time drama down the stretch. Vader was pretty excellent at looking vulnerable and vocally selling the damage to the arm here. He's still the kind of monster that can halt any Fujinami momentum with a well placed punch to the face or a fatboy charge, but Fujinami sticking and moving and looking to hook in arm submissions works like a charm and Vader's selling of the whole thing is a big reason why it gets over as well as it does. Fujinami is equally great at getting across the severity of those big soup bones, too. There's one lariat spot where his sell of it is just indescribable. Finish is exactly what I was talking about as Vader catches Fujinami with a hefty strike that floors him long enough to hit the big splash. Great match.
Shinya Hashimoto v Victor Zangiev (4/24/89)
This is the other half of the semi-finals and the winner faces the big man for the belt. I watched this a couple times as I was working through the set; the first time I watched it I thought it looked like a super fun sub-10 minute match, but I was kind of distracted at the time and struggled to remember much of it despite it being the second or third (I don't remember exactly and I don't care enough to go check) shortest match on the whole set. Second time I watched it I thought it was a balls out great sub-10 minute match. I mean, Hashimoto spitting on Zangiev and the subsequent Zangiev look of sheer contempt before they head into the final exchange is one of my favourite moments on the entire set. Zangiev is working something like his second pro match here and for it to be this good is nuts. The guy looks like the sort of bear-like individual that could rip your head clean off your shoulders - he actually looks a lot like Zangief from the Street Fighter games right down to the mass of chest hair - and he's constantly grabbing hold of Hashimoto's arm and trying to submit him and now and again he'll just toss him with a gnarly suplex. Hashimoto finds an opening or two, but Zangiev always has a way out (the escape from the headscissors is fucking awesome) and you can see Hashimoto's frustration building and building, first to the point of rifling off a kick right to Zangiev's chin, then to the point where he spits on him because he's fuckin' had enough. The final flurry of kicks that leads to the figure four feels like it's desperation time and Zangiev's just fantastic at selling it. Tremendous match. I had this just inside my top 30 at the time, but I'd put it higher on a re-worked list.
Big Van Vader v Shinya Hashimoto (4/24/89)
And this is the final. I had this as my highest match for both guys (it was my #16) and it really feels like the kind of slugfest you want out of these two -- compact, tight, yet still managing to get across a sense of "epicness." Vader is REALLY laying it in here and comes off as such a total beast, cutting Hash off with lariats and punches that looks like they're thrown as hard as humanly possible. Hash is incredible at selling it all; at one point he takes this sort of whiplash bump into the ropes after a big blow from Vader, and the bump was as spectacular as the strike was nasty. Vader doesn't just spend the whole match assaulting Hashimoto, though. They play off his semi-final match with Fujinami with Hash going after the same arm, and Vader really is awesome as a wounded grizzly bear. Thesz is your special ref' here and he mucks up the final pinfall, but other than that this is just a fucking slaughterhouse of a match. These guys right here, man... THESE guys.
Big Van Vader v Riki Choshu (6/27/89)
I had this one just outside my top 20, and it totally holds up as the absolute hurricane of blood and stiffness that I remembered. Choshu waffles (and I mean WAFFLES) Vader with a chair early and from there on out you get the amazing visual of Vader walking around covered in blood with his mask half ripped trying to brutalise Choshu. It's like something out of a Rob Zombie slasher flick except Vader will fuck you up with his fists, to Hell with a chainsaw, son. Also thought this was one of the better count out finishes on the entire set as Choshu jumps off the apron only to be caught by Vader and crushed with a spinebuster on the floor. Vader following up with a fatboy mugging off the apron was great. I found the New Japan set as a whole really difficult to get through, and there were points where I figured I had no chance of getting a ballot together by the deadline (unlike Memphis where I had it done and dusted with about 4 months to spare). But by the time the last couple discs rolled around and I got stuck into the 1989 stuff, pimping most definitely came easy. This was one of those matches that I watched and made me think, "Yeah, I'll finish this in 2 days no sweat."
Big Van Vader, Buzz Sawyer & Manny Fernandez v Riki Choshu, Jushin Liger & Kengo Kimura (8/3/89)
This was my #17 and was probably my straight up favourite match of the whole set. It's another one that doesn't even go 10 minutes, but the Liger/Vader interactions are some of the absolute best things about the New Japan project for me and I've sat with a gigantic grin on my face each time I've watched it (and I've watched this more than any other match on the set by far). Everything Vader and Liger do together is just a ton of fun. Liger dropkicks Vader off the apron right at the start and Vader goes completely postal, hurling chairs, tearing up barricades, flipping tables, etc. Liger looks like some weird action figure and Vader wants to snap his tiny little arms off. They do a couple spots where he chases him out to the floor, but Liger's too quick for him and jumps back in, and that obviously leads to Vader causing more destruction around the ring. When he finally gets his hands on him Liger eats his punishment like a MAN and Vader just picks him up and lobs him out onto two guys standing around the ring. There's another spot later on where it looks like Vader's gonna get a run at him again and Choshu just flies into the picture and creams him with a lariat. Vader/Liger is really the main theme, but outside of that you get a ton of other great stuff, like the Sawyer/Liger criss-cross spot that was totally fucking boss and ends with Sawyer taking this glorious bump where he flies backwards through the middle rope head-first, almost like an upside down Chris Hamrick special. Sawyer's powerslam spot where he just plucks Liger out the air looked tremendous, too. Actually Sawyer was just about as much fun as Vader and Liger in this, the only difference being that the spotlight wasn't really on him as much as the other two. Kimura and Manny didn't really do much here and never added nearly as much as their partners, but their participation is pretty minimal and everybody else is rocking out so hard that it doesn't matter much, anyway. A Vader/Sawyer v Liger/Choshu tag just shot way up on my list of holy grails and this match seriously gets better and better every time I watch it. This is pro-wrestling, motherfucker.
Jushin Liger & Akira Nogami v Kantaro Hoshino & Naoki Sano (8/8/89)
Kantaro Hoshino was probably the find of the entire New Japan project for me. Bill Dundee was my find of the Memphis set and Hoshino is like a grumpier, cheapshottier Japanese Bill Dundee; just the most awesome seedy little rat bastard imaginable. I wound up with this as my #9 and thought it was one of the best extended squash matches in history ("extended squash" probably undersells it, but that's what it essentially is). It starts out with fired up Liger going straight for the jugular, but before long Hoshino and Sano turn it into a prison riot and Liger's arm is the target of a shanking. Liger is tremendous selling the arm for the entire match, whether it's while he's being worked over early or working the apron in the second half; he always seems so desperate, but he's working against Hoshino and Sano with one arm and sometimes the size of the fight in the dog just isn't enough to overcome the size of the dog in the fight. This is Hoshino and Sano for chrissakes; fuck outta here with your Mark Twain bullshit. Akira Nogami is someone that's never really talked about in any great detail. There's the match with Kanemoto from 2003 and there's probably some stuff from the early 90s or some other point of the last decade that's worth talking about, but there generally isn't a ton of Akira Nogami discussion. I don't know if he's a "lost great worker", but holy shit is he seriously not afraid to get his ass well and truly STOMPED here. He gets the hot tag from Liger and comes in swinging, then he tries to hit a tope on Sano and winds up careening face first into the guard rail in one of the most insane bumps I've ever seen. Of course Hoshino starts punching him right in his broken face and a little later Sano completely fucking obliterates him with a baseball slide that really didn't look a whole lot less nasty than the self-inflicted disfigurement off the bullet tope. And Liger can't do a thing about any of it. There's one moment where it looks like Nogami might be able to make the hot tag, but then old man Hoshino just strolls in front of him and kicks him clean in his bloody face to put and end to that. As an extended mugging, this has all the violence and viciousness that you could hope for. Had they gone 4 or 5 minutes longer with the hot tag actually being made then this goes from a top 10 match to a likely top 3. As it stands, even with a sort of weird finish, it's still an exceptional match where your babyfaces are amazing at taking and selling a shit kicking while your heels are equally so at dishing one out.