My internet conked out for a while there, but I've been blowing through this set even if I haven't bothered talking about it (or haven't been able to, rather). I'll catch up at some point, though.
Ric Flair v Jumbo Tsuruta (6/8/83)
- This is really, really good stuff, but it didn’t strike me as the absolute slam dunk that I remembered and figured it’d hold up as. I expected it to be a top 15 lock going in, and while I can’t see it falling out of the top 40, I’d be surprised if it stays in my top 20 (so I’m still fairly sure I’ll be a low voter on it). Hour long matches generally aren’t my cup of tea anymore – at this stage I’d rather see Funk and Hansen try to hang, draw and quarter each other for 15 minutes – and I don’t particularly love a great deal of Flair’s stuff in Japan, anyway. First fall is a strong slow-burner, and there’s some good stuff in it. Thought Jumbo was far more interesting on the mat here than he was in their first two matches, and everything felt like more of a struggle as a result. Flair is a guy I always like working basic holds, but I tend to get more out of it when he’s working stateside. Jumbo’s all over him for most of the first half hour and Flair is never able to sustain any sort of advantage. Jumbo’s flurry at the end of the fall is really good and capped off by a great looking backdrop. Second fall has Flair come out as if he knows he has to change his approach and lets loose with the strikes, including his awesome punches to the armpit. Final 20 minute spell is what I always remembered as being the stretch that pushed this into the top level, and it still held up as being terrific. Flair getting cut open is really when things kick up a few gears and they don’t slow down from that point on. Great spot where Flair is hanging upside down in the corner while Jumbo lays into his blood-blond head. Felt like a scene from a Jason movie with Flair as your Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan or some other walking STD being strung up in an abattoir. Last ten minutes are basically built around Flair continually going back to the figure-four while Jumbo refuses to quit, and it’s pretty remarkable how much drama they get out of it considering the hold is applied for minutes at a time. Flair knows the score and just trash talks and shouts at Higuchi to count Jumbo out, and as much of a gutsy motherfucker Jumbo comes across as for not quitting, Flair equally comes across as a guy that, despite how often it might seem like he’s escaping by the skin of his teeth, will fight tooth and nail to keep his title whenever it’s in jeopardy. This is in my top 6 right now, but I think the fact it won’t stay up in the very top tier is a sign of how my tastes have shifted pretty considerably since the last time I watched it (about 4 years ago now) rather than there being anything “wrong” with it.
Terry Funk v Nick Bockwinkel (7/12/83)
- Oh man, this was GREAT. It’s unfortunately JIP, but I don’t think we miss much. I thought the matwork during the first 15 or so minutes was far more interesting than anything in the first fall of the Flair/Jumbo match above. Lots of great touches, like Terry trying to break Bock’s grip on a headlock by grinding his forearm back and forth across his ear so Bock starts cranking and trying to give him some mean cauliflower ears, and there’s another moment where Terry is twisting Bock’s ankle at the joint and Bock tries to peel his grip, so Terry just backhands him right in the jaw. Eventually Bock takes over and starts working Terry’s knee, and Terry is just spectacular at selling the damage from then on out. Dude seriously looks like the best in the world here, standing up only to collapse under the strain, stumbling around on one leg, picking Bock up for a suplex and almost losing the match because he can’t stay upright (leads to Bock falling on top of him for a cool nearfall), shouting “COME ON, GODDAMMIT!” while trying to reverse a figure-four, generally selling the FUCK out of said figure-four, etc. Bock is also really good at working him over and captures a real sense of urgency. He’s the World Champion, but Terry is a Funk and a total maniac with more guts than brains, so when you create an opening you need to capitalise on it. Eventually Funk decides to fight fire with fire and goes after Bock’s leg, and that of course leads to the spinning toe hold spot where Bock is trying like crazy to shake him. Even their mini-brawl on the ring apron leading to the finish was choice. I might be overrating this, but I’ve got it as my working #5, one spot ahead of the Flair/Jumbo broadway. For a guy who I’m not much of a fan of, Bockwinkel has been in two really awesome matches so far, both of which are in my top 5. Funk continues to rule the fucking earth.
Chavo Guerrero v Masa Fuchi (8/31/83)
- It is almost surreal seeing Fuchi play total underdog babyface against a surlier opponent. When I think of surly, I think of Fuchi. But here he is, hitting top rope dropkicks and refusing to be stretched to the point of submission. When I think of guys stretching other guys, I think of Fuchi torturing Kikuchi. I can honestly say I’ve never seen Fuchi in this role, but fuck it, he’s Fuchi and rules it either way. This was way more “fun” than “great”, but they do a ton of really cool things and I really enjoyed it. Chavo blows a Romero Special and is visibly annoyed, and from that point on he ups the nastiness. Crowd is 100% behind Fuchi and he makes a bunch of fired up underdog babyface expressions that I’m not used to seeing. Chavo’s rolling Boston Crab is boss. So is his plancha, all piss and vinegary. His riling up of Onita post-match is pretty tremendous as well.
Terry & Dory Funk v Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy (8/31/83)
- Yeah, this was spectacular, from the pre-match to the match itself through to the post-match. Terry and Hansen just despise each other and everything they do together is AMAZING. Actually everything they do is amazing, period, but when they’re in (or out) there together it reaches another level. This is Terry’s retirement match (his first one, anyway) and the crowd is insanely pro-Funk (goes for both Funks, but especially Terry). At the intros he and Hansen start trash talking and it devolves into a brawl out on the floor amongst the streamers and fans. Back in the ring Hansen whips Terry into the ropes and goes for the lariat, and the pop for Terry grabbing hold of the ropes while Stan swings at mid-air is mind blowing. Terry is really the star here, but Hansen is a close second and it’s not like Gordy and Dory are mailing it in, either. This is one of the more inspired Dory performances on the set, and while his FIP spell isn’t as strong as Terry’s (probably because Terry is better than him in practically every single facet...although Terry’s better than most wrestlers in every single facet so whatever), the crowd are good and rabid for it. He does unload with a flurry of dropkicks down the stretch that had the crowd going NUTS. I mean they aren’t Kevin Von Erich or Skip Young level dropkicks, but it feels like “big match” Dory offence, and well, this was big match Dory (at least when it comes to 80s Dory). Gordy is rompin’ and stompin’ and totally brings it here as well; huge bumps, great punches, lays in a nasty beating – pretty much exactly what you want out of him in this situation. And holy FUCK does his entrance gear kick ass. But yeah, Hansen and Terry. Terry is just itching to get a hold of Hansen and he is a total king working the apron as guy that desperately wants to get the tag. Any time Hansen comes near him Terry takes a swing and a bunch of times he almost lands himself head-first in the ring he’s swinging so hard. Marty Jannetty loved to do that spot and I can totally see him lying stoned on his couch watching a bunch of Terry Funk tapes and eating stale Corn Flakes. The pop for the hot tag is ridiculous and the fist fight that ensues between him and Hansen is just about the best moment on the entire set so far. Hansen punches Terry and Terry stares at him in complete and utter contemptuous defiance. Hansen punches him again. And again. Last punch sends Terry spinning almost in a pirouette, and when he rotates all the way around he just cracks Hansen right in the sternum and unloads with a follow up flurry on the button. When Hansen goes down...man, you just do not get stuff like that in wrestling anymore. Terry’s FIP spell is awesome as well, from the blade job to the incredible sell job of the leg; everything. He really looks like the best ever here. And the post-match is really something words don’t do any justice to. This is my working #2, but I could just as easily stick it on top of the pile.
Genichiro Tenryu v Ted DiBiase (10/23/83)
- So I’ve watched a pretty hefty chunk of 90s Tenryu over the last 6 months or so. This is not 90s Tenryu. There is no seething hatred in this match. He doesn’t kick DiBiase in the face or kidneys ONCE. This was a totally different kind of Tenryu. He doesn’t even sneer in a way that SUGGESTS he’s going to punch someone in the throat. But I’ll be damned if this match isn’t the fucking biscuits. I was actually really shocked at how slick Tenryu looked on the mat in the Mil Mascaras match a couple discs back, because when I think of Tenryu I think of the punting and stiffness and contempt, not the slick matwork. That match was obviously not a fluke because here he is again working the mat in a bunch of really interesting ways. He spends a decent amount of time in particular working Ted’s arm, and as good as Tenryu is and as much of a Tenryu fan as I am, I was surprised at just *how* much I was digging all of it. I mean what he was doing isn’t quite on the level of what Bock and Robinson or even Bock and Funk were doing in those two singles matches elsewhere on the set, but for someone that was always considered a step or two below Jumbo right up until they started feuding (and even then you’d probably find more leaning in favour of Jumbo), Tenryu struck me as being *way* more compelling working holds and doing basic things than Jumbo has at any point so far. You won’t find him doing a bunch of shit that Volk Han will end up cribbing, but he keeps things moving along really nicely and has lots of neat ways to “work holds”. And I guess I’ll take this time to mention that Ted does a really nice job selling the arm. After a while they start rolling out a ton of big offense and we hit another gear. Ted busts out a great looking powerslam, Tenryu splats him with a tope, there’s nearfalls aplenty...and as much as I really should not be, I find myself being surprised at just how fucking boss this match is. Finish is kind of a letdown, I guess, but at the same time it’s something one probably has to expect. Tenryu is the greatest and this should do well.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Harley Race (10/26/83)
- This had its share of highlights, but it suffered from some real downtime and probably would’ve benefited from being about 10 minutes shorter. First ten minutes or so were fine again, but I’m struggling to remember anything about them, which has been the story with a lot of the Jumbo singles matches. Once they shift gears it gets real good, though. Crowd is rocking for a bunch of nearfalls and there were a couple in particular that I thought might have actually been the finish. Then, for whatever reason, Race decides to slow it way back down just as the crowd heat peaks and slaps on a headlock. Finish was pretty creative if a little shitty looking, but this isn’t really a match-up that does much for me, especially when it’s going over half an hour. I was surprised by how much I wound up liking their 8/1/82 match, but even that won’t land sky high and this seems destined for the bottom half.
Genichiro Tenryu v Ricky Steamboat (2/23/84)
- Sort of a dream match – arguably the best Japanese wrestler ever against arguably the best American wrestler ever. I would rather have seen the match-up take place ten years later, but I’ve always been a fan of this. Like the last match it goes longer than it probably needs to, but I was way more interested in what these guys were doing the whole time than I was in what Jumbo and Harley were doing (again, you can credit the Tenryu love. And I like Steamboat way more than Race, too). Steamboat blocking an enziguiri with his “karate” early on was cool as shit. Made the spot later on when Tenryu manages to hit it successfully even better (and it’s a great spot besides, thanks in part to the camera angle and Steamboat’s awesome KO sell of it). The “peaks” in this probably aren’t as high as the “peaks” in Jumbo/Race, and I can totally see someone thinking this dragged more in the early parts as well, but I find these sets far easier to rank based on pure enjoyment and I enjoyed this quite a bit. So there. Probably won’t be top third, but top half is likely.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Nick Bockwinkel (2/23/84)
- Terry Funk is the special referee here and holy shit is he ROCKING the best referee outfit ever. He just beats out Sandy Barr as the best dressed ref’ in history. As far as special referees go he’s also WAAAY better than Fargo was on the Memphis set. He’s actually pretty great in that role, always trying to keep things in line but never being so over the top as to distract from the guys actually wrestling. Seriously, is there ANYTHING this guy does not fucking rule at? This is the third match in a row on disc 4 that’s gone around half an hour (think this goes a little over that), but the early stuff with Bockwinkel working the arm is really good and as an opening section it’s better than the early stages of Jumbo/Race and Steamboat/God. Thought it went a little longer than needed before Jumbo got a foothold, but everything looked rough and nasty and they never stopped to lie around. I think I’m starting to turn a corner on Bock. I wouldn’t call myself a big Bockwinkel fan just yet, but coming into this set he was pretty much on a level with Harley Race on my list of guys that don’t do a whole lot for me despite generally being pimped fairly heavily. At this stage I have no more desire to watch a bunch of Harley, but I’d be totally fine with a Bockwinkel-heavy AWA set being the next one to drop. Finish to this might be my favourite finish of the set so far (does Hansen trying to hang Funk with a bullrope count as a finish? I mean I guess it meant “the end” for all intents and purposes, but Dory running out like a school teacher and running Hansen off felt more like the “finish” than Hansen’s attempt on Terry’s life...which probably sounds ass-backwards since how much more of a finish can you get than murder?). First Terry takes the best ref’ bump on the set – no wait, screw that, he takes a TERRY FUNK bump while moonlighting as a referee – and flies out of the ring and lands on his head and winds up dangling over the barricade. Bock tries to suplex Jumbo from the ring apron back into the ring, but Jumbo slides down the back and hits the backdrop, just in time for Terry to recover and scoot back in to count the 3. Crowd comes UNGLUED and we have a new World Champ. The backdrop felt sort of like that spot on the New Japan set where Fujinami finally hits the Dragon Suplex and pins Inoki clean as a whistle. I knew Jumbo won this already, so it didn’t feel as “out of nowhere” as the Fujinami match, but it was still an awesome moment.