What a great disc. The '88 and '89 stuff was what I was most looking forward to out of everything on the set, and the '88 stuff on this disc did not disappoint.
Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada v Yoshiaki Yatsu & Tiger Mask (1/23/88)
- ’88 starts off with a BANG! I dug the SHIT out of this! TENRYU! There’s a lot to like here, but the palpable hatred between Tenryu and Yatsu is what really pushed this into my top 15. Tenryu is grumpy and agitated right out the gate, but he ends up going one step too far and Yatsu just fucking WASTES him with one of the stiffest slaps I’ve ever seen. Tenryu either sells it spectacularly – which wouldn’t surprise me one bit – or Yatsu rung his bell for real – which also wouldn’t surprise me – but whatever the case he swiftly tags out and tries to shake off the effects. You can see him brooding on the apron, itching to get in there so he can hurt someone, and from time to time he’ll just waltz in and take a swing or kick a guy in the teeth. There have been better matches involving Tenryu on the set, but this might be my favourite Tenryu *performance* for the fact it most closely resembles the 90s Tenryu that made me a huge fan of the guy in the first place. It’s almost surreal seeing Kawada and Misawa on opposite sides and *not* being the clear top dog of their team, but both guys are good as the “underlings” here. Kawada takes a pretty hefty beating after Tenryu goes down following that slap, then Yatsu and Misawa isolate him again a little later for another pounding. Misawa wiping out Tenryu towards the end with a dive off the apron taking them both over the guardrail was a great spot. Tenryu powerbombing Misawa on a table for his bullshit was a greater spot. I didn’t have any problem with the finish here, either. I mean Tenryu and Kawada mugging a guy with a chair is as good an excuse for a DQ as any. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the ’88 and ’89 stuff since the match list for the set came out, and this was a great way to kick if off.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v Jumbo Tsuruta & Hiroshi Wajima (1/24/88)
- Tenryu’s ring jacket says “CATCH US IF YOU CAN!” He starts this out by jumping Jumbo at the bell, but it backfires and he ends up being the recipient of a beatdown with a busted forehead. Wajima looks pretty decrepit here but he headbutts Tenryu about ninety times upon introduction to the match and that kind of ruled. I actually thought he was fine in general as the old geezer that was out of his league, especially with his willingness to get the shit stomped out of him. He isn’t all that interesting offensively, but there’s one sequence with Tenryu that culminates with him hitting a big backdrop that looked pretty swank. The Tenryu/Jumbo stuff ruled again and Tenryu appears to be REALLY putting it all together at this point. I’m probably overrating this by putting it just outside the top 20, but structurally it was way more up my alley than most of the tags before it and didn’t suffer from being too long. Kept up a good pace, had a good layout, plenty of hate and ill will, stayed focused...yeah, this was good.
Genichiro Tenryu & Samson Fuyuki v Takashi Ishikawa & Great Kabuki (2/20/88)
- I really liked the dynamic of this. Fuyuki is outmatched against Ishikawa and Kabuki, but he’s teaming with motherfucking Tenryu and doesn’t much care as long as he gets to fight with people. Tenryu is of course Tenryu and a Hell of a guy to have watching your back. Ishikawa and Kabuki do the smart thing and isolate Fuyuki, which leaves Tenryu to basically feed off scraps, coming in from time to time so he can thump someone. Kabuki was awesome here, throwing his great looking uppercuts and working super stiff, and Ishikawa is starting to look like the surly little shitkicker he would become in WAR. When Tenryu gets the hot tag he comes in and does a Tito Santana-esque flying forearm right to Ishikawa’s head, and then he repeatedly elbows him above the eye until he splits him open. Tenryu selling his own elbow after bludgeoning Ishikawa was fucking tremendous. The beatdown on Ishikawa is pretty short, but I can’t really complain when it leads to Kabuki coming in and stiffing dudes. There’s a great cut off later where Ishikawa lowers his head and Tenryu just pops him with the point of the elbow on the cut. I initially thought the finish was a bit of a downer, but it was timed well and Kabuki’s superkick looked suitably nasty, so I’m not too bothered. This was really good stuff.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v John Tenta & Yoshiaki Yatsu (2/29/88)
- The commentator constantly referring to Tenta as “Big John Tenta” tickles me for some reason. This wasn’t blowaway great or anything, but it’s four big lumpy dudes throwing nasty shots and generally wrestling like they don’t much care for their opponents. My first thought was that it was a sort of WAR midcard/Nitro style hybrid with guys that just give off that “WAR vibe.” It’s mostly back and forth, but they don’t bog it down by going long and cramming it with filler. I liked Tenta as a big brick wall here and there’s a few nifty spots involving him. Tenryu chops him at one point so Tenta responds with a big clubber to the chest that lands Tenryu on his ass, and Tenryu’s “Well...maybe I shouldn’t have done that” look was great. Loved him dragging Tenta out to the floor and hurling him into the barricade as a receipt. Tenryu suplexing Tenta is an impressive looking spot, but as a finish it isn’t all that great. Still, this was fun and will probably land somewhere in the middle third.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy (3/5/88)
- “NOBODY POTATOES ME!” So this isn’t a great match, but it may have the best “end” to any match on the set. Not necessarily best as in fitting or conclusive, but...well, I’ll get to it in a second. The actual match leading up to it is more or less entirely controlled by Hansen and Gordy. At times it feels a little *too* one-sided, though, which is weird to say considering I can’t think of much I’d rather watch than Stan Hansen cutting guys off and beating them up. Tenryu or Hara will start to fire back, Hansen or Gordy will shut them down within seconds, rinse and repeat. We’re still talking about Hansen and Gordy here, so it’s not like watching those guys beat somebody up is going to be much of a chore to sit through, but I would’ve liked for them to give the natives a little more offence. And then Tenryu and Hara hit Stan with a double enziguiri and Hansen goes dead weight and sells it like he’s legit KO’d. When he wakes up he goes absolutely BALLISTIC, flinging chairs, breaking tables, swinging his bullrope, stiffing the daylights out of Tenryu and Hara (there’s one shot to Tenryu that looked fucking disgusting), running through the crowd while fans part like the red sea, punching Higuchi in the head, etc. I mean you know he’s going crazy when fucking GORDY is trying to talk him down. The match itself feels like a bottom half affair, but the Hansen insanity at the end will hurl it up the ballot some. The close-up camera shot of his face when he gets up and dives out of the ring to get at someone is seriously one of the greatest images in wrestling history.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Tiger Mask (3/9/88)
- Other than the early portion with Misawa working a headlock maybe going a touch too long, this was a fucking great match. I like Misawa going to the headlock because he knows he can’t hang and bang with the big cat, but the match goes 15 minutes and the headlock stuff eats up practically half of it. Still, they work in and out of it well and they do some interesting things when they come up for air, like Misawa’s awesome leaping headbutt out the corner, so it’s honestly a minor complaint. Jumbo getting fed up with the bullshit and just whipping out a backdrop was a really great sudden transition. He really snapped into it and yanked him over quick as you like. Misawa rolls out some of his own bombs in response and hits an awesome looking plancha, but Jumbo’s hotshot cut-off spot topped it. Misawa takes it with his arms at his side and literally goes throat first across the rope; it looked like some brutal shit. I figured it was over for sure at a couple points down the stretch, but Misawa kicks out and sneaks in a roll up for a Hell of a nearfall that actually had me biting. Jumbo hitting another backdrop and hooking every limb possible seals it in the end, but Misawa got to look great here by kicking out of a bunch of Jumbo’s bigger moves and came out looking like a gutsy son of a bitch even in defeat. I could honestly see this landing in my top 20.
Genichiro Tenryu v Stan Hansen (3/9/88)
- Definitely my favourite Hansen/Tenryu match so far, and currently just inside my top 20. Starts out with both guys swinging wildly and Tenryu going right for the enziguiri, so Hansen just bowls him out to the floor with a shoulder block and beats him up. He works Tenryu’s back from here on out and everything he does looks gloriously hurty. Hansen’s kneedrops are the greatest, the way he jabs the knee right into the spine, and from time to time he’ll just start punting Tenryu in the kidneys, which also ruled. Really liked the finish here too – Tenryu goes for a fisherman suplex and can’t lift Hansen because his back is hurt, so he regroups and tries to hit a German suplex only for that to fail as well. Stan has Tenryu where he wants him and goes for the kill, but he lowers his head and Tenryu seizes the opportunity. He may not be able to lift him up for the big bombs, but he can still perform a small package. Post-match Hansen goes nuts, wrapping the bullrope around his arm and hitting the lariat on Tenryu, tearing up the ringside area, chasing after fans, etc. He goes back to Tenryu and Hara jumps in the way so he just cracks him with a cowbell and punts Higuchi in the liver. Then he leaves. Some guy tries to get an interview out of Tenryu and Tenryu’s all “Dude...seriously, just fuck off.” I eagerly await the rematch.
Jumbo Tsuruta, Great Kabuki & Takashi Ishikawa v Ashura Hara, Toshiaki Kawada & Ricky Fuyuki (3/11/88)
- Well fuck my face. This sounded really interesting on paper, but I never expected it to wind up being one of my favourite things on the whole set. Ricky Fuyuki was totally awesome in this. He has no qualms punching above his weight and will throw down with anyone. His exchanges with Jumbo are outstanding and probably my favourite thing about this. Jumbo’s an amazing grumpy prick and really lays it in, especially down the stretch when he fucking NUKES Fuyuki with a couple high knees. Everything they do together feels like an earlier version of Jumbo/Kikuchi, which is some real high praise. Actually Fuyuki basically IS Kikuchi here because he gets pounded on during a great FIP section and really excels in that role. Kabuki unloads with a NASTY combo of punches at one point and there’s this awesome cut off spot later on where Fuyuki hits a flash cross body only to get up and walk right into a chin-rattling superkick. Hara was also pretty ace as agitated leader of his team, channelling Tenryu at times by walking in and picking a fight with someone because his boy is being assaulted. There’s a couple moments where he and Jumbo forget about everything else and just start brawling with each other. Kawada is pretty quiet and isn’t involved for very long, but he cracks Ishikawa to break up a submission, and then tries it again later on only for Ishikawa to spot him and put him back in his place. Wasn’t really feeling the finish, but it was at least clean and it’s not like it sucked and hurt the match to any degree. Seriously, this ruled.
Genichiro Tenryu v Stan Hansen (3/27/88)
- Man, with a better finish this might have been fucking with my top 5. Someone picking their opponent’s shoulders up off the mat during a pin attempt is a spot I don’t like at the best of times, but when you’re Stan Hansen and you’ve just drilled a guy with a Western Lariat (dead in the middle of the ring, which is pretty much a guaranteed victory) only to pick him up and then get DQ’d twenty seconds later, I tend to throw my hands up. The fact he tries to maim Tenryu afterwards is small salvation, but this was a total fucking slaughterhouse of a match that ended with the most deflating DQ finish on the set for me personally. Luckily what comes before it is as awesome as the finish is crappy. These guys seriously knock lumps out of each other, especially Hansen who is as violent as I’ve ever seen him. He looks like a rabid animal during the intros, pacing back and forth, itching to take a bite out of anyone that gets close enough. Tenryu charges him at the bell and gets a couple licks in, but Hansen sneaks in a big forearm and levels him with a punch right to the eye, and from that point on Tenryu is fighting an uphill battle. Hansen is just ridiculously vicious, focusing his entire attack on the cut above Tenryu’s eye. There’s a couple punts that would make the FUTEN boys grimace and there’s a great spot where he blocks a powerbomb attempt by dragging Tenryu to the mat and nailing him with one of the nastiest kneedrops you’ll see. This is worked more evenly than their last match. That had Hansen controlling the majority of it by working the back with Tenryu fighting back in spurts. Tenryu ramps up the violence this time out (he’d be dead if he didn’t) and is willing to give just as good as he gets. Hansen starts punching him dead in the face, so he just grabs Hansen’s fist to block it and uncorks with a huge left hand of his own before following up with a monster lariat. He also gears most of the nastiness towards Hansen’s ribs, at one point running all the way across the ring and punting him so hard that he ends up flinging himself out the ring. Really, I know what I like in my pro-wrestling and THIS is it. I am super stoked for the next instalment on disc 11.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Bruiser Brody (3/27/88)
- For starters this had the unenviable task of following the shitstorm that was Hansen v Tenryu, but even watching it in isolation I doubt I’d like it all that much. I mean they do some interesting enough things. Brody throws this really stiff chop in the corner and Jumbo’s sell of it was great, like he’d just had all the wind knocked out of him. And there’s a clean finish, at least. Still, most of it felt really dry and listless. Brody’s sell of the triple enziguiris was pretty hilarious, although not in the same “good way” as his sell of the backdrop after the second Jumbo/Tenryu match. Can’t see this breaking out of the bottom 20.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Hiroshi Wajima v Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara (4/21/88)
- So Wajima is OLD and pretty rubbish at this point (although he was OLD and pretty rubbish the first time he showed up), but if you can handle copious amounts of “OLD rubbish guy getting his clock cleaned” then you shouldn’t have a terribly hard time enjoying parts of this. I enjoyed the whole thing, but I get the sense I’ll be a high-voter on it. Wajima takes three separate turns at getting beat down for an extended period of time, and while he’s not nearly as compelling as Jumbo at eating a shitkicking, Tenryu and Hara still dish one out all the same. Tenryu looks like one of the best in the world at this point and everything he does has this contemptuous vibe to it. It’s like everybody in the company decided to step up huge at the turn of ’88 (even the guys that were already great) and Tenryu looks to have turned his shit WAY up. Hara is throwing some fucking brutal looking punts here as well; I expected old man Wajima’s liver to fly out through his ribcage. Jumbo is really great as the pissed off ace that is simmering on the apron while being forced to watch his decrepit partner get beat from pillar to post. Any time he comes in he’s a total house o’ fire, throwing the stiffest knees and lariats imaginable. He catches Tenryu with a running knee that looked absolutely nuts and Tenryu must’ve been high to lean into it like he did. Count out finish is a count out finish, but Wajima wiping Hara out with a tope was a fine enough setup. Jumbo no-selling a Tenryu powerbomb was far more annoying than one more count out finish, anyway.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu v Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara (6/4/88)
- Totally different dynamic from the last match in that it’s Jumbo who’s the one getting beat down most of the time. It starts early when Tenryu and Hara go after the leg, and while the leg work never truly pays off (that I can remember, anyway), it remains a focus for a large part of the match. There’s a particularly great spot where Jumbo comes in and fucking wastes Tenryu with a high knee and sells the shit out of his own leg afterwards. He also obliterates Hara with a lariat and Jumbo is another guy that has seriously ramped it up since the turn of the year, just mowing guys down and taking zero shit from anyone. Moment of the match might have been Yatsu going for a bulldog only to be rammed into a knee in the corner. Totally came out of nowhere and looked great. I actually liked this a little less than the last match, but this was such a great disc that it’s not out of the realms of possibility that every match on it, other than Jumbo/Brody, could finish in my top half.