Got the PWFG comp this week and started watching that. Mostly been watching Mid-South stuff and trying to finish the Texas set so I can get a ballot in before the deadline. Still holding out for the Tenryu set before I watch a bunch of Tenryu stuff, but the 1993 yearbook set should be here some time in the next couple weeks and there's tonnes of great looking shit on that.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Johnny Barrett (3/14/91)
This was a lot of fun. Fujiwara drills Barrett right in the jaw with a crazy headbutt at the start and, well, that's a Hell of a way to get me into a match from the get-go. This is the first time I've seen Barrett. He's shaped almost like the One Man Gang in that lumberjack match on the Mid-South set, which isn't something I was expecting. Fatboys in my shoot style is something I can totally get behind, though, and I dug how he took exception to the opening headbutt by forcing Fujiwara into the corner and peppering him with knees and palm strikes to the head. His size makes for a really cool dynamic as well. Fujiwara isn't exactly the Rey Mysterio to Barrett's Mark Henry, but the size difference is big enough that it gives off a sort of David v Goliath vibe, and there's times where Fujiwara seems like the piranha trying to figure out ways to take chunks out of the whale without being wiped out by it. Finish is nice, too. Barrett tries to lock in a cross armbreaker and winds up slipping and stumbling back, so Fujiwara seizes the opportunity and pounces. Fujiwara is just a master at flash finishes like that.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Wellington Wilkins Jr. (5/19/91)
Man Fujiwara was awesome in this. He busts out his trademark boston crab counter early and it looks like Wilkins gets caught in the eye socket with his heel (it's turned purple by the end of the match), so Wilkins starts getting rough, throwing palm strikes and nasty little headbutts at Fujiwara's temple. Fujiwara grins and I get giddy because I know what's coming. Match from that point out is really gritty and potatoey with both guys throwing some mean strikes. They aren't full on Ishikawa/Ikeda level strikes, though; they're more subtle, but the intent is clear and in a way it comes off a little more vicious. Fujiwara is awesome as this cocky dickhead; bouncing around taunting Wilkins, throwing this slick roundhouse kick and looking self-satisfied even though it barely connects, and my favourite spot of the match is him hooking on a kneebar and laying sprawled out with his head resting on his elbow (he has this amazing smile on his face too) while Wilkins struggles to break free. In the end I think he actually just smacks him in the face. Every match on this set is new to me and I'm pretty excited about what's to come. This was really good.
Wayne Shamrock v Naoki Sano (PWFG, 5/19/91)
Absolutely incredible match. Wayne and Ken Shamrock are one and the same and I had no idea he had something like this in him. I mean, I had heard enough praise for this match from people whose opinion on wrestling I trust, so I fully expected it to be good, but fuck man, I honestly thought this was as good as any match I've ever seen in the style. For almost half an hour it's just amazing exchanges on the mat punctuated by amazing exchanges on the feet where they're chucking flurries of palm strikes and knees. Shamrock really was a beast here; he had some awesome takedowns, so quick and sudden, and he was relentless on the ground at points. There's one spell where he's determined to get a hold of Sano's arm and lock in a submission. Doesn't matter what submission; he just wants that arm and Sano has to roll and counter and scramble to avoid constant submission attempts. Thing that impressed me most about this is the way they incorporated pro-style moves into the shoot-style setting without them looking out of place. Sano hits an amazing DDT at one point that had me leaning on rewind like a motherfucker, and a little later Shamrock responds by hitting one of his own. Neither came off like pro-style wrestling moves as opposed to shoot style throws, except these shoot style throws land your opponent flat on their head. Sano's STF looked awesome as well. I've seen him bust that spot out in two shoot style matches now and I've popped big for it both times. Still, my favourite spot of the match might have been Shamrock's German suplex. The match had been paced beforehand with both guys taking their time to set up big submission attempts, waiting for the opening and going for the kill. Sano winds up giving up his back and Shamrock looks like he's trying to find an arm or a leg to grab onto so he can go for the submission. He's biding his time and Sano ends up almost on all fours, so Shamrock just deadlifts him and spikes him with the suplex. The actual spot looked great, but the set-up really made it. Love the finish too -- both guys slow down some after the 20 minute mark and when they call it that 25 minutes have passed it seems likely that they're going to a time limit draw. Then they both start blasting each other in the face with strikes and Shamrock has Sano reeling with a number of clean knees and palm strikes. Sano looks like he's about to drop, but Shamrock leaves himself open and gets caught with a good shot that rocks him, so Sano makes his move and hits a fucking dragon suplex (!) before locking in the Fujiwara armbar. Tremendous, tremendous stuff.
Shinya Hashimoto v Scott Norton (New Japan 3/21/94)
Unless any of the other Hashimoto/Norton matches top it, this is probably the best Scott Norton match ever. I mean, Norton is a guy I generally quite like, but this was way better than "quite like". He's awesome as a giant oak tree that Hashimoto is trying to chop down, eating a ton of really nasty strikes and just refusing to topple. He pretty much brutalises Hash early on and laughs at a fool's attempt at a fight back, so Hashimoto has to change it up and try a different strategy. He picks an arm and a leg and just starts hurling kicks at both. It visibly takes its toll on big Scott, who does a fine job selling it all, and it's all really good "groundwork" stuff. Norton isn't as quick to throw lariats and bombs because of the arm, and if nothing else it at least buys Hashimoto time. Norton started out as this total juggernaut, but as things go on there's clear chinks in the armour. Simple story, and they tell it really well. Final few minutes are great with Hashimoto laying into Scott with enziguris while Norton does the whole out on his feet ready to collapse sell, and there's a great moment where it looks like he's one good strike away from dream street before rifling off a big desperation lariat. Hell of a match.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Nikolai Zouev (RINGS, 6/21/97)
This is the first time I've seen Zouev. I heard he was the real deal, and he certainly looks it. Isn't quite as spectacular as Han (based on first impressions, at least), but it looks like he's another one of those Eastern European guys that can just flat out go like crazy on the mat. Tamura is Tamura and some of the scrambles and counters on the ground in the opening 3 minutes are utterly spectacular; just exceptional grappling. Eventually Tamura catches Zouev with a good kick to the knee and Zouev is visibly hurt by it, so Tamura paints a bullseye on it and starts picking away at him with strikes. Zouev knows he can't keep eating leg kicks, and the finish is amazing. Seriously one of the most incredible armbars I've ever seen. Actually felt a lot like the finish to the first Tamura/Han match with Tamura having nowhere to go and needing to tap out before his arm's snapped. Same deal here, but the knot Zouev ties him up in looks even more ridiculous than the one in the Han match. RINGS is gradually becoming one of my favourite promotions of the 90s.