Saturday, 12 February 2011

That Time I Got Drunk With Tenryu #6

This is Yoshiaki Fujiwara week. Most of what I've been watching recently has been from the WAR/New Japan feud, but I've already rambled about all of that in separate entries like an out of control dork. Everything in between the WAR stuff has been Fujiwara. The title says Tenryu, but THIS time I got drunk with Fujiwara.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 6/9/87)

So this has always kind of felt like a match in 1987 between a Japanese Steve Austin circa-1997 and a Japanese John Cena circa-2007. Fujiwara is your 1997 Steve Austin where he's doing whatever the fuck he pleases and the crowd are completely losing it for him. Choshu is your 2007 John Cena where he gets mauled and sells like crazy and is just fantastic working from the bottom, but there's still a large part of the audience that refuse to get behind him (I guess '06 Cena would be a better comparison from that standpoint, but Cena was a far better worker in '07... and I'm tickled by the '87-'97-'07 'decades ending in sevens' thing so I'll just run with it). I had this as my overall #3 on the New Japan 80s set and it's been one of all-time favourite matches ever since I first watched it 3 years ago. Fujiwara is just ridiculously great here. Nobody in wrestling history has better facial expressions than him and we get a few corkers in this. He jumps Choshu right at the start and just continually lays into him, tossing him into the ring post, busting him open, choking him, throwing awesome Fujiwara headbutts, etc. Crowd reaction to this is incredible, and as Fujiwara's getting into the ring for the first time post-mugging on the floor, he has this amazing little smile on his face, like a subtle nod to everybody that's been chanting his name. He cuts off Choshu by just wrestling him to the mat and blatantly choking him with this "HEEEERE'S JOHNNY!" grin on his face. Then he'll pin him after a piledriver and pick him up voluntarily while there's this collective "Oh man he's not finished yet" reaction from the crowd. Choshu will throw out a few kicks and Fujiwara will tell him to bring it and then he'll just wrap his hands around his throat and start choking him again. The early parts of it feel like the opening rudo beatdown caida in a lucha hair match. There's this utterly amazing moment where Choshu backs him into the corner and starts punching him in the face, and Fujiwara's expressions go from amusement to annoyance to defiance before capping it off with the greatest look of sheer and utter contempt I've ever seen, and of course he then goes back to clawing at Choshu's throat while there's a huge Fujiwara chant. Choshu finally manages to take control with a backdrop, and Fujiwara's surprised "Oh, shit!" face as he's going up is just out of this world. I mean, it's getting to the point where I'm running out of superlatives to describe Fujiwara making pretend faces, but Jesus Christ are they fucking great. Choshu's only in control briefly before he goes for a suplex, and the pop for Fujiwara's reverse of it into a Fujiwara armbar is insane. Fujiwara's shit eating grin is just... there are no words. Bar one scare, Fujiwara's basically been in control for the entire match at this point, but he gets cocky and takes the ring pad off the turnbuckles. Choshu reverses the whip in and Fujiwara eats the steel, and Choshu just nukes him with a lariat. Fujiwara takes it almost side on and it looks like he got clipped by a bus. Second lariat attempt is reversed into another Fujiwara armbar and the crowd reaction to this is totally spectacular, like Austin stunning McMahon or Goldberg getting The Giant up for the Jackhammer. They spill out to the floor where Choshu blasts Fujiwara's head off the post a couple times, and Fujiwara's blade job is absolutely ridiculous. I've seen a ton of Fujiwara blade jobs where there's a trickle of blood above the nose, but he is a hideous fucking mess here. Doesn't even need to be said, but his sell of the blood loss is outstanding, throwing headbutts and doing this stagger where he's all but ready to collapse, like the headbutts are doing as much damage to himself as they are to his opponent. I can't even describe the way he takes the last couple lariats and do it anywhere close to enough justice. Just a phenomenal match, so simple yet so amazingly effective. And the facial expressions. Bah gawd, the facial expressions.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Nobuhiko Takada (UWF, 2/27/90)

This is the first time I've seen Takada since the New Japan set. He's bulked up quite a bit in the two years between his last match on that set and here. He's not exactly fat, but he's really puffy, kinda like someone stuck Samoa Joe's head on Helmsley's body. I'm not sure how good this is as an actual match, because Takada really wasn't very good in his own right, but holy fuck is it a Hell of a Fujiwara performance. He is just on another level entirely when it comes to selling Takada's strikes. Takada looks pretty gassed for a lot of this and doesn't hit everything clean, but Fujiwara sells in a way that lets you know what *does* connect. He'll parry the weaker shots that aren't landing flush and keep moving. Then as time goes on, even the shots that only partially land are managing to take their toll. There's a great moment where he's able to catch a kick that's aimed at his stomach, but gets a hold of it a little too late to keep it from getting through his defence, and he does this utterly amazing sell of it by falling to his knees in a heap while trying to cling onto the leg. It's at this point where he starts bouncing around smiling and taunting, like he's trying to goad Takada into making a mistake. He's been patient up until now and it hasn't gotten him anywhere, so it's time to switch up the strategy. Another great moment where he backs Takada into the corner and just rams him with a headbutt. Takada's revenge headbutt in the same corner is probably the best thing he did in the entire match. Also liked the finish, although that was all Fujiwara, too. Everything that was good about this other than one payback spot can basically be attributed to Fujiwara. Everything. I guess Takada "holding up his end" was all he really needed to do when his opponent is performing on the level he was, but there's still plenty of instances where he sucks the life out of the match as well. There's one spot where he has Fujiwara reeling after a series of kicks in the corner, so he just slaps on a kneebar and sits there. You can't even call it an attempt at a submission because he doesn't *do* anything. Doesn't feel like he's showing any impetus to actually win the match at any point. Work this exact same story with, say, Yamazaki in Takada's place and I can't imagine it not being a whole lot better as an actual match. But you still can't take anything away from Fujiwara, seriously.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Akira Maeda (UWF, 2/9/90)

This is probably one of the better match-ups in wrestling history. I'm not sure where this ranks on the Fujiwara v Maeda scale, but it was pretty great however you want to look at it. Match is wrestled almost entirely on the mat. There's brief exchanges on the feet whenever the matwork is broken up, but it's practically all about what they're doing on the mat. Even the best strikes happen on the mat, including Fujiwara's amazing diving headbutt through Maeda's guard, which is one of the best spots I've ever seen. Maeda's kick to the teeth to break up the ankle pick towards the end looked nasty as shit. Also leads to Fujiwara gurgling blood while Maeda's got him in a choke, and any match where Fujiwara starts gurgling is a match you want to see. Maeda's also far better on the mat than Takada, so there's always the sense either guy could cause a tap out with the right twist or pull. Takada mostly looked like he was clueless in the 2/27 match. Finish is boss, too.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Nobuhiko Takada (UWF, 10/25/90)

Takada has bulked up even more here and kind of looks like Glenn Shadix. His chin doesn't even look real; like someone's cut the neck off a fat suit and just stuck it on his face. It'd probably be really distracting if this wasn't a fucking awesome match. Takada is much better in this than he was in the February match. His matwork is still pretty poor and his strikes don't look particularly great, which is unfortunate since this is mostly worked standing up, but there's times where his selling of Fujiwara's strikes is really spectacular; collapsing on a 7 count before just managing to get back up before 10, staggering back with great "concussed" facial expressions, etc. Just a flat out better performance in every department. This is still your Fujiwara show, though, and what a show it is. His performance in the February match was sublime, but I think he might be even better here. 25 minute+ match that's mostly stand-up isn't really what you want out of your Fujiwara, but he starts this by laying in a bunch of punches to the body and some great headbutts (Fujiwara's shoot-style headbutts are always awesome; he really bends his knees and rams up into you with the top of his head), just on a total tear like he's trying to kill this off and hit the showers in jig time. Also gotta mention his selling. You're pretty much guaranteed to get a few amazing moments of selling in any Fujiwara match, and holy shit are there a few amazing moments of selling in this. He tries to take Takada down at one point and winds up getting drilled with a palm strike, and the way he sort of delays his stagger backwards before collapsing in the corner is just ridiculously great. There's a lot of times where he'll eat a good strike and then smile like someone that's just taken a nasty hit and doesn't want to show it. Here he gets up out of the corner, looks out to the crowd, smiles, and dusts off his cheek. Breathtaking sell of a kick to the side towards the end as well. There are still a few spells on the mat that aren't great and begin to lull, but Fujiwara's one of those guys that's always doing *something* interesting, even if his opponent isn't. Positives far outweigh the negatives anyway, and this is a terrific match full of positives. I still think Dandy was the best in the world in '90, but Fujiwara's getting closer and closer every time I see him from that year.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Shinya Hashimoto v Kohei Sato & Hirotaka Yokoi (Zero-One, 8/15/04)

Man this was great; felt pretty Battlartsian at points with everybody really teeing off on each other. Sato and Yokoi are especially keen to let loose and Fujiwara winds up taking quite the shit kicking at points; full force punches to the face, kicks to the spine, etc. He gets worked over for a spell and there is a spot where he comes out of the corner with a surprise headbutt right to the side of Sato's face. Hashimoto is one of the best hot tags in history so you know what you're getting once he comes in. He has a big chop exchange with Sato and he really unloads with those overhand chops right to the neck. Sato is great at progressively being chopped down while firing back with strikes that he probably knows are doing less damage each time. 2000s Fujiwara is a well I've left relatively untapped up to this point, but it's something I really should get around to digging into soon.

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