This was another tremendous disc and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the closer wound up being the overall #1 at the end. It's probably one of those "universal" matches that'll land top 10 on every ballot (I would be stunned if it didn't land top 5 on my own).
Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada v Tiger Mask & Isao Takagi (7/16/88)
- This was kind of a mixed bag. Not in a “some good, some bad” way, but rather a “some decent, some REALLY good” way. Tenryu provides much of the “really good” by being a total cunt to Takagi and generally being a guy that hates the world and everybody in it. We may have the best break up of a pinfall on the entire set here as Tenryu punts Takagi directly in the eye and then stomps him in the head. He actually stomps him in the head a bunch of times throughout the match and it ruled. Punts him in the kidneys, chops him in the throat...The Blind Boys of Alabama should write an uplifting gospel number about Takagi’s fight for survival and how he throws amazing shoulder tackles. Then Alanis Morissette should write the follow-up about how the world is a cold place and Takagi gets dumped on his neck.
Toshiaki Kawada & Ricky Fuyuki v Shunji Takano & Shinichi Nakano (7/19/88)
- Man, Fuyuki has been totally awesome in all this ’88 stuff and he rules the world as your Japanese Ricky Morton again here. He transitions into his FIP spell by eating a NASTY gutbuster thing after attempting a cross body off the middle rope, and a little later he eats a fucking HYYYUGE boot to the face from Takano. I dug Nakano a whole lot here, too. He’s a big tall dude that doesn’t really do a ton of big tall dude things, but the things he does do can often look real good because of the big tall dude factor. The big boot that I mentioned is one of them, but he also does a King Kong kneedrop and a huge running legdrop and both looked pretty killer. Finishing stretch is really hectic and they’re going Hell on wheels with a bunch of nearfalls and saves. Between this and the 90s WAR stuff, Fuyuki looks to be a dude in need of a serious re-evaluation.
Genichiro Tenryu v Stan Hansen (7/27/88)
- I prefer their 3/27 match by a little, but this was still fucking great and currently sitting in my top 15. Tenryu’s a guy that has taken the blade to his head a few times already, but it’s always produced a mere trickle of blood that’s wound up being hidden by his fringe. Hansen jumps him in the aisle here and Tenryu BLEEDS like a faucet, and not even Cousin Itt’s fringe could hide this. From that point on the story of the match is basically Tenryu fighting an uphill battle against this freight train of violence. Hansen just paints a bulls-eye on the cut like you’d expect, at one point throwing a couple back elbows that looked brutal as all get out, and Tenryu is great at eating all of this and stumbling around like he’s half dead. Hansen eventually goes for the kill, but Tenryu manages to catch him in the ribs with a knee as he’s charging in for the lariat, and that opens a window of opportunity. I don’t know if Tenryu going after Hansen’s ribs was supposed to play off their last match, but it was some cool continuity regardless. Tenryu goes for the elbow off the top to cap off a run of offence, but Hansen moves and just bowls him out to the floor with these nasty shoulderblocks before blasting him with a chair. Still, Tenryu keeps plugging away until Hansen manages to hit the lariat, and Tenryu takes a great bump by flying halfway up the aisle for the count out. Both guys were aces here and this rocked something fierce.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu (8/29/88)
- The first half of this felt a little time-kill-y, but these four are generally good at killing time and there’s still the kind of hate that you want from the feud, so it’s better than a lot of “time-killing segments” on the set. About halfway through Tenryu and Hara zero in on Jumbo’s knee for the first real heat segment of note. Jumbo is really good at selling it and at one point he hits a high knee that almost loses his team the advantage (because the knee’s FUCKED). Then he hits another three dozen and keeps selling the damage to his own leg, and well, if my knee was giving me bother because I kept kneeing people in the skull, I personally would stop kneeing people in the skull. But that’s just me. Tenryu kind of powerbombs Yatsu on the floor and that leaves Jumbo on his own for a little while, and the whole finishing run is just really choice in general. Match finishing with a roll-up was pretty boss, too. Feels like an upper half match.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu (8/30/88)
- I liked this better than the previous night’s match, and right now it’s sitting in my top 30. Both matches go about the same length of time, but I thought the first half of this, leading up to the first real heat segment, was way better and I never got the same sort of “killing time” vibe that I got from the other match. Tenryu and Yatsu trade slaps in the corner and Tenryu turns around and just LEVELS Jumbo with a slap out of nowhere. It was the greatest. They do another Jumbo in peril segment where Tenryu and Hara work over the leg, but Jumbo doesn’t persist on throwing fifty running knees this time, and Tenryu smacks him in the knee with a table at one point so it was pretty awesome. They go into an extended Hara in peril segment after Jumbo fucking drills him with a lariat, and Hara might have the best lariat bump of any beefy guy in wrestling history. He totally leans into it like a pro and lands like a sack of potatoes. I thought they started to lose a little momentum/direction after Hara makes the tag, but they reel me back in again when Jumbo completely loses his mind and tries to murder Tenryu. Tenryu tries to get in the ring and Jumbo just waffles him with these super nasty looking clubbing blows right to the face, then he throws him over the barricade and starts beating the shit out of him with this big metal box thing while everybody in the vicinity scatters. This was like some “Hansen swinging a cowbell” shit; people just running for their lives, not wanting to get caught in the firestorm. The finishing stretch was pretty fucking great here, but there’s one nearfall that was blown pretty badly (not sure whether it was the ref’s fault, Yatsu and Hara’s fault, or all three’s). Tenryu eating three nasty backdrops and Hara trying to save him by covering him with his body was a cool touch, as was Jumbo going ahead and just pinning both of them. Hell of a match.
Toshiaki Kawada & Ricky Fuyuki v Tatsuo Nakano & Shunji Takano (9/15/88)
- I liked how this was structured, basically a bunch of short, strong control segments with a bunch of great segues and spots interspersed. I liked Takano here about as much as I did in the first match (so a lot) and he does this crazy escape of a dragon sleeper where he almost deadlifts Kawada from his knees while his body is own bent backwards. He also boots Fuyuki right in the teeth. Kawada hits this running flying lariat/right hook to Nakano’s face early on and GOD DAMN did it look nasty as fuuuuck. Fuyuki continues to be a star and he’s probably gonna come out of this set as the All Japan equiv of Kantaro Hoshino. “Hit me with a chair, I’ll burst your kidneys.” Fuck yeah.
Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara v Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu (9/15/88)
- Fuck me, the opening stretch of this was loaded with some nasty, nasty looking shit. Tenryu and Yatsu just SHRED each other with chops and Yatsu starts cracking Tenryu in the head with horrendously unpulled forearms. He wasn’t throwing them like pro-wrestling forearms; he was bringing his arm down full force in a kind of downward stabbing motion. Jumbo completely nukes Tenryu’s face with a running dropkick as well. I thought his nose was going to be spread across his forehead. This didn’t have the layout of the 8/30 match, but of all the outings this math-up has on the set, I’d probably put this one third. Finish was pretty crappy, though. Tenryu and Hara walking away like it ain’t ‘bout shit was pretty bossy, but still, walking away from a title match after that finish like it ain’t ‘bout shit might not be the best thing.
Stan Hansen & Dan Kroffat v Rock N Roll Express (10/26/88)
- What the fuck did Morton do to Hansen? Did he and Gibson pull that rib Jericho mentions in his book where they get you to close your eyes and touch a part of the wall with your finger, only what you end up touching is Gibson’s asshole (I don’t remember if that was the rib exactly, but it involved Robert Gibson’s asshole, anyway)? Did they pull that shit with Hansen? Because Hansen seems to want to murder Morton here for discernible reason, jumping in the ring unprovoked and dragging him out to the floor so he can beat on him, stomping him in the head, and there’s an awesome shot of him cackling like a lunatic when Kroffat grabs Morton’s hair and flings him into the air. Kroffat actually had a ton of awesome looking stuff here, the best of which is a teased Fuerza bump to the floor only to skin the cat back in before getting dumped back out when he turns around. And I know it doesn’t need repeating at this point, but holy fuck is Morton the greatest. His peril segment here has an awkward spot near its conclusion, but other than that I don’t think there’s much in wrestling history that I rather see than Stan Hansen cutting off Ricky Morton in a southern style tag. I wish Morton went on and made the hot tag to Gibson in order to REALLY launch it into my heart, but you take what you can get. I still prefer the ’86 Tag League final as far as total southern style tags on the set, but this’ll probably land in my top 50 as well.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Genichiro Tenryu (10/28/88)
- This was pretty excellent. I slightly prefer the 8/31/87 match, but both are sitting in my top 10 right now. Only real complaint I have is that I thought it could’ve done with being trimmed by 5 minutes or so, because they started getting into “downtime” territory in the body of it. I didn’t love the finish either, but I can’t really bring myself to complain a great deal about Tenryu hauling off and punting someone in the balls before punching him into oblivion. I mean a good DQ is a good DQ, I guess. Finishing stretch – the match in general, actually – really managed to capture a sense of “epic” and both guys were totally selling the shit out of the exhaustion factor the longer it went on. Still, my favourite spot of the match might have happened in the first couple minutes. Tenryu launches Jumbo into the guardrail and tries to get back in the ring, but Jumbo jumps on him and tries to mount some offence. Tenryu is almost dismissive of this and just throws him back into the guardrail, but it only pisses Jumbo off as he responds by running after him and punching him in the kidneys. 6/5/89 is looming on the horizon and I’m eager to see how it holds up, because this has been a great series so far.
Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy v Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada (12/16/88)
- Pretty much a classic. Story is simple enough – Hara is gone and Kawada is stepping into his shoes as Tenryu’s partner, but he’s clearly not at the “#2” level yet. Hansen and Gordy are two of the greatest ass-kickers of all time (and at this point I’m convinced Hansen is the greatest wrestler ever, period) and will FUCKING KILL YOU. Tenryu is Tenryu. Kawada doesn’t have the firepower to hang and bang with the likes of Hansen and Gordy, but he’ll try all the same. For about ten minutes he gets the job done (and nukes Gordy’s chin with a wheel kick). Then Hansen kicks him in the knee to break a pin attempt and it all goes downhill from there. Hansen and Gordy just destroy him and leave him out on the floor with one good leg to stand on, and Tenryu is left all alone against THOSE two. Kawada actually runs all the way around the ring to pick a fight with Hansen and God damn does Stan fucking eat him alive for his shit. There’s a couple amazing moments where Kawada will desperately try to help his partner, like when Gordy powerbombs Tenryu in the middle of the ring and you just see Kawada leaping into the frame to break the pin. Of course Hansen is annoyed and cooks him. GREAT spot where Tenryu busts out a desperation kneebar on Hansen while Gordy is brutalising Kawada on the floor and you see him sprint into the ring to make the save. Hansen’s expression at the end is perfect, like he had to dish out more punishment than even Stan fucking Hansen could ever imagine. Tenryu made him do this. He should’ve just stayed down. Seriously, this is as good as any tag match that happened during the decade and I’m going back and forth on whether or not to put it at #1 ahead of the 1/28/86 tag.