Haven't done one of these in a while, but I came across some thoughts on a couple RINGS matches from a few months ago that I thought I had already posted, and I've been tearing into Goodhelmet's '93 yearbook, so I figured now would be as good a time as any to get back on the horse. Here's hoping I actually manage to reach a #10.
Mitsuharu Misawa & Toshiaki Kawada v Steve Williams & Terry Gordy (All Japan, 1/30/93)
Really good slow-burning tag, mostly built around Doc and Gordy being surly big motherfuckers. The "feeling out" at the start felt sort of listless to me, but it kicks into gear once Kawada starts eating an extended beating. The MVC don't exactly do anything fancy, but it all looks nasty and believable (it's Doc and Gordy...c'mon). Thing I got a kick out of most of all was probably how the crowd would just chew them out any time they'd hang onto holds a little longer than they should after a rope break. I mean they're already stretching the shit out of Kawada, but that extra three or four seconds of torture get the crowd riled up good and plenty. Kurt Angle loved (still loves?) to drag his opponent back into the middle of the ring whenever they'd reach the ropes to break the ankle lock, and at this point the concept of that being enough to constitute a break has more or less been destroyed (not implying Kurt Angle is the sole reason for that, btw), but this is 1993 and this crowd ain't having that shit. And neither is old man Higuchi. Hot tag is eventually made and Misawa makes a brief run, but Doc and Gordy just zero in on him and before long he's their new whipping boy. Kawada might be the best agitated apron worker ever. You don't get to REALLY see him shine in that role here, but every time I watch a tag match involving Kawada I get giddy at the prospect of him just throwing his hands up and illegally storming the ring so he can punt someone. I'm watching this on Goodhelmet's 1993 yearbook, so I eagerly anticipate the stuff deeper into the set when he's feuding with Misawa as opposed to teaming with him, because if my memory is worth half a shit then I know he only gets grumpier. Finishing run isn't as long or "epic" as a fair number of All Japan tags of the decade, but you should know what to expect from it either way. Doc's backdrop driver is one of the ultimate "okay, he's dead" moves in wrestling history, and he rolls out a corker in this.
Genichiro Tenryu, Takashi Ishikawa & Ashura Hara v Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Mutoh & Akira Nogami (New Japan, 2/5/93)
Ridiculously entertaining match. In a lot of ways it feels like a taste of what's to come, especially between Tenryu and Hashimoto, but they do a Hell of a job making you want to see a singles match. They're the focal point of this and everything they do together rules. Hashimoto is staring him down before the bell with this look of sheer contempt while Tenryu has the faintest hint of a smile, like "Son...just don't." Probably not surprising, but Tenryu was my favourite part of this. He doesn't necessarily do a ton of stuff, but what he does do is just classic grumpy Tenryu. The initial Tenryu/Hash exchange that starts the match off is as heated as you'd like and Tenryu is amazing at selling all of Hashimoto's kicks like a heavyweight boxer on the ropes. All of the New Japan guys give him at least one cheapshot while he's standing on the apron, and you can see it all building up to him getting some form of revenge. Mutoh throws a forearm at him early and when Tenryu gets the opportunity to extract some revenge later on he rifles off some trademark short punts to the head. Nogami turns around and plants one on his chin and as he's hitting the ropes Tenryu slips in an enziguiri to the back of the head, and his mocking celebration of this small victory is just great. Nogami was probably my second favourite guy in this, actually. He was one of the finds of the New Japan 80s set for a lot of folks and he continues his quest into our hearts by taking a real shitkicking here. Hara abuses him with headbutts, Ishikawa tries to take his head off with lariats, Tenryu chops him in the throat, powerbombs him on his neck and mocks him afterwards; pretty much the perfect recipient of a beatdown from a trio of guys from fucking WAR. And don't even get me started on the post-match riot.
Genichiro Tenryu, Takashi Ishikawa, Ashura Hara, Koki Kitahara & Ricky Fuyuki v Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiroshi Hase, Osamu Kido & Takayuki Iizuka (New Japan, 2/16/93)
Epic match, chock full of hate and bad intentions and pretty much everything else you want out of something like this. It's 2/3 falls and goes 40 minutes, so everybody really gets a chance to strut their stuff and there's a million awesome moments as a result. First fall is pretty even Stevens, but we do get an extended beatdown on Fujinami where the WAR guys just tear into him and work over his KIDNEYS. Fuyuki cheapshots him from behind and team WAR paint a bulls-eye on the lower back; Kitahara rifles off a bunch of nasty kicks, Hara and Ishikawa are a couple of school bullies and they stomp him like a discarded cigarette, and Tenryu naturally punts him up and down place. Couple amazing Tenryu moments in the first fall. Hell, my favourite part of the whole match might be when Iizuki strolls up to him and, with NO FEAR, slaps him dead in the face...and FUUUUCK does Tenryu just fucking beat the motherfucking shit out of him. I mean this was straight up HARROWING. Finish to the first fall is great, with Ishikawa turning his attention away from Fujinami so he can beat up some other pussy boy (think it was Iizuka...was probably Iizuka) and winds up getting clipped by a pair of enziguiris. He manages to absorb them and stay on his feet, but Fujinami's already tagged out and Choshu's ready to steamroll somebody. Ishikawa ducks the first lariat, but Choshu keeps on truckin' and as Ishikawa turns around he gets fucking blitzed by a follow up lariat. I'm talking paraplegia-inducing. Second fall has just as much brutality, but you also get to see guys like Kido and Hara, who were quieter than some of their teammates in the first fall, really shine. Kido is just spectacular down the stretch, Hell bent on ripping someone's arm out the socket, and even though he doesn't score a decision, he winds up taking Tenryu out of the equation late on. That leads to an AWESOME moment where Choshu, like a fucking BOSS, just randomly decides to get in the ring and walk over to the WAR corner so he can stomp on Tenryu a bunch of times while he's in the process of having his arm bandaged up. Felt like a real "So I haven't hit anybody in a little while. Well fuck that" moment and it was why that guy is the best. A bunch of other great shit happens, but I'd be here all day if I tried to touch on all of it. Honestly feels like one of the best multi-man matches ever -- I thought it was fucking with pretty much all of the multi-man matches on the New Japan 80s set and I had two of those in my top 5 with another just outside it. The New Japan/WAR feud is the fucking pro-wrestling.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Volk Han (RINGS, 9/26/97)
Fitting end to their trilogy and really just a tremendous match. I'd probably say their second match is still their *best*, but I think this one might be my personal favourite. This one had a bit of everything. Han comes out much like he did in the first two matches, just grabbing hold of one of Tamura's arms and twisting and yanking it until Tamura is on the mat. He seems more aggressive on the whole, actually. You're guaranteed to see him pull ridiculous submissions out his ass in every one of these Han v native matches (actually you're guaranteed to see it in every Han match, period), but he does it with a lot more force here. There are times where you watch a Han match and get the vibe of a cat toying with a mouse before putting it out of its misery; it doesn't feel "exhibitiony" or like he's diddling around to kill time, but watch enough of him and you realize that twisting and tying people into knots comes easy to him. There isn't that vibe here. He's twisting and tying Tamura into knots, but he's not toying with him. He got the better of Tamura in their first two matches, but Tamura's more than capable of beating him and Han knows it. Thing I love most about Han/Tamura matches is that they almost play off stuff they did in their other matches. In their first match Tamura caught Han with a surprise front kick to the chest that had Han reeling. In their second match Tamura caught him with another one and left Han reeling again. Tamura starts throwing kicks because it's clearly working for him, but Han manages to use it to his advantage, catching a kick and eventually submitting Tamura with a kneebar. Finish to the first match was trademark Han, catching Tamura in a submission and leaving him with no escape. It was the definition of being "caught". He was stuck right in the middle of the ring and if he didn't submit he'd wind up with a snapped arm. Han's a guy that's great at busting out those "quicksand" submissions -- he'll hook something like a kimura, then he'll use his own legs to secure his opponent's, tie him up in the spot, and the more they struggle the quicker they sink. There's a few times in this where they hit on both "themes". Han will come close to trapping Tamura with nowhere to go, but he never manages to seal him up as tights as he needs to. Tamura is great at constantly coming up with escapes and ways to wriggle free, and Han is in a position where he's digging deep into his bag of tricks and nothing is getting the job done. The stand-up in this is the best in any of their matches, and that front kick comes into play again. Han gets knocked down a couple times, but both times are more a result of him losing his footing than Tamura scoring a clean hit, which you see when he instantly puts his hands up and waves a finger as if to say he's okay and shouldn't lose any points. When Tamura drops him with the front kick, he points to Han, who's sprawled out on the canvas, and tells the ref' NOW he can count. Han's return knockdown isn't too dissimilar to the spot in the first match where he unloads with a flurry of nasty palm strikes, but his reaction is different here, almost like he's celebrating. Finish really does leave the door open for a fourth match and a chance for Tamura to level the score, in turn possibly setting up a rubber match. It's a shame this was the last time they fought, but what we did get was more than satisfying and a Hell of a trilogy.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Hans Nyman (RINGS 10/25/97)
Nyman has "BULLDOG" written on his shorts and is pretty good as the big striker stalking down the much smaller technical wiz. You don't really get a sense of how good or bad he is on the mat from this, but he can sprawl and doesn't look shit scared the second Tamura might have so much as a slight chance of taking him to the ground, so he's better than the Dick Vrij's and Willie Peeters's of the world in that respect. Also got a big kick out of him acting like a douchebag when the ref' docks him a point for punching Tamura in the kidneys on the ground, taunting and egging the crowd on when they start a Tamura chant. It's like he's asking them to start a Nyman chant. "A kidney punch? What a girl. I am alpha male." Tamura taking exception to this and going right for the kill after the restart was awesome; just a total "fuck this shit" moment. Match is fought almost entirely on the feet, which isn't normally where you want Tamura fights to be, but this was still pretty great.