This was a really good disc, especially when Hansen showed up. Also thought this was the first disc where Jumbo *really* stepped up.
Chavo Guerrero v Mighty Inoue (2/26/84)
- Didn’t think this was as good as the Chavo/Fuchi match, but Chavo Classic is the man and I’ve liked all the 70s Inoue that I’ve seen. This isn’t 70s Inoue and wasn’t doing as much for me, but Chavo was working all pissed off again and busting out some neat stretches. Actually dug most of what they were doing on the mat, period, although it wasn’t fucking with Bock/Billy or anything. Flash finish looked really good, too. There isn’t nearly as much juniors stuff on this set as there was on New Japan, but there’s something about the idea of Chavo Classic being this set’s Gran Hamada or early 80s Fujinami that just tickles me. Actually Chavo was ON the New Japan set, wasn’t he? Mighty Inoue was not. Or was he?
Giant Baba v Stan Hansen (3/24/84)
- Hansen has to have one of the best entrances in history. His music sounds like something you’d hear when Clint Eastwood is chasing a posse of bank robbers, and he comes out swinging his bullrope at everybody like a maniac. He’s even wearing a cow hide here and seriously looks like the baddest motherfucker on the planet. He also totally RULES in this match. He launches his title belt at Baba during the introductions and starts laying into him in the corner while people are still chucking streamers into the ring. It might have been the best start to any match so far. Before long he gets caught with a big chop and stumbles out onto the floor, and he does this great dizzy sell where he falls over the railing. Match goes less than 10 minutes, but it’s mostly built around Baba working Stan’s lariat arm of mass destruction. Stan is really awesome at selling all of this (much like he does in the Andre match on the New Japan set) and trying to fight back in un-Hansen-like ways. You know, as opposed to punching a fucker dead in the face. As good as Hansen is, though, Baba is every bit as responsible for this being as good as it is. I get all of the Giant Baba criticisms. He’s lanky and has arms like Mr. Tickle and most of his offense looks awkward and goofy. But the guy is about as good at working smartly, within his physical limitations, as anybody I’ve seen. And really, big lanky dudes with Mr. Tickle arms tomahawking people in the forehead IS the pro-wrestling. Still, this is a Baba performance that even those who are down on him could appreciate, especially from an offensive point of view. His Baba chops are still Baba chops, but he’s busting out a bunch of great shit to work the arm (and he chops the arm a lot so it’s a neat way to further the story if nothing else). He rolls out a shoulderbreaker thing (not the one where you scoop the guy up into a tombstone position and drop his shoulder across your knee...I have no idea what this one is called, but it looks like it could mess your shoulder up so I’m running with shoulderbreaker), does a Russian leg sweep straight into a cross arm breaker that looked FUUUCKING boss, and there’s an amazing spot where Hansen is about to throw a desperation lariat and Baba counters with a drop toehold into a Fujiwara armbar. He also takes this crazy bump late on where Hansen just boots him in the throat and he falls backwards like an oak tree landing with his neck getting whipped across the bottom rope. It looked super nasty and I thought he was dead. They spill out to the floor at the end to tease the double count out, and we get a great ‘Hansen lariats the ring post’ spot. I watched this twice and the finish really deflated me the first time, not because I hated the idea of Baba saying fuck it and trying to break Hansen’s arm (because that is an idea I can get behind. THOSE chops were annoyingly shitty, however), but because I was loving what they were doing and didn’t want it to end so soon. Second time around I knew it was coming and it didn’t bother me much at all (although the chops don’t look any better – and I’m a guy that’s rambled a few times about how I don’t mind Baba’s strikes), and there’s no way this isn’t jumping into my top 10. The coolest thing might be that it’s an 8 minute match built around body part work yet it still feels like a street riot. This match-up is one of the best finds of the whole set for me and at this point I’d say Hansen is far and away Baba’s best opponent. He just seems to GET how to work with the big lug. Their first match from ’82 is also in my top 20 (working #11) and I’m really stoked that there’s another match to come.
Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody v Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu (4/28/84)
- I also watched this twice, but I couldn’t really get into it either time. There’s some good stuff here, like Jumbo playing FIP and having his arm torn up, Hansen and Brody being surly bastards (I actively liked Brody a fair bit), and some nice back and forth down the stretch. For the most part it felt pretty directionless, though. I mean what they were doing was fine, but it never seemed to be leading anywhere. And I mentioned I liked Brody, but there’s a stupid spot where he gets whipped into the ropes and he just kind of throws himself out to the floor because he’s gearing up for a juicing and wants someone to post him. Someone obliges, but he doesn’t have the blade ready yet, so after he’s thrown into the post he sort of shrugs it off, because if you can’t cut yourself then who cares, right? You see him fidgeting around with his wrist tape, and when he’s ready he has someone post him again. Then you see him cut himself. Would you need more than one hand to count the number of Brody matches where he DOESN’T bleed? His dropkick at the end looked really sweet though, as did Tenryu’s head-first tumble off the apron. Feels like I might be missing something, but if I’m not sold after two sittings then I doubt I’ll bother going for a third.
Ric Flair v Harley Race (5/22/84)
- I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of this, but I thought it turned out to be pretty damn good. You really pick up on a lot of similarities between the two here, from some of their offense (the kneedrop obviously comes to mind) to the way they both like to bump in big ways (both like to take the slam off the top, Flair has the Flair Flop while Harley has that spot where he stands on the apron and lands flat on his face when he gets brought back in, etc.), to the way they like to structure things. When I think ‘Touring World Champ’ I think Flair, and by extension I think of the Flair Formula. I’m sure there’s a ‘Harley Formula’ there if one watched enough Harley title defences, but the goal was generally the same (touring champ comes in to make challenger from whatever territory look like a threat). This kind of felt like Touring World Champ v Touring World Champ, which is a dynamic I found to be really cool. They do a bunch of shit that I thought was pretty great. Flair gets slammed off the top early and returns the favour late on. The early spot where Flair goes for an elbow and Harley rolls out of the way only for Flair to spot it, walk forward a few steps and hit it anyway is a spot I always like a lot. Flair catching a Harley kneedrop and immediately going into the figure-four was a great escalation spot down the stretch. Best part of the match is Harley whipping Flair into the corner and Flair taking his upside down bump, Harley picking him up and whipping him into the opposite corner where Flair goes upside down again and Harley celebrating, not noticing that Flair’s momentum carried him out onto the apron where he runs across to the next corner, scoots up top and catches Harley with a flying cross body as he’s turning around. Seriously, that was a fucking awesome spot that I marked out for. Clean finish was also a pleasant surprise. I shouldn’t be shocked at the fact I came away from a Flair match thinking it was really good, but still, I liked this more than I expected to and it’s my highest rated Harley match on the set.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Kerry Von Erich (5/22/84)
- I’ve been pretty apathetic towards Jumbo so far, but this held up like I hoped it would and Jumbo really felt like The Man here. I could also absolutely see someone pegging this as the best Kerry match ever (although I still like the Flair match from Hawaii and the ’88 Badstreet match on the TX set was the fucking business) and he totally held up his end as well. First fall didn’t actually do a ton for me after it was over, but if anything I think that’s because it works way better as a “part” of the whole story rather than a standalone fall (unlike the third fall, which works as a great payoff to the first two as well as being awesome on its own). Although I guess that’d be the whole point of an opening fall in a two out of three falls match? Whatever. Jumbo’s clearly the aggressor early and he starts rolling out the big bombs while Kerry is still trying to settle in to things. Kerry works an armbar for a little while and tries to build from the ground up, but Jumbo’s in no mood for a slow burn and wants the title NOW. He came close the year before against Flair only to run out of clock. That won’t happen again. To break an armbar early, Jumbo just hoists Kerry up on his shoulders and casually sits him on the top rope. Kerry gets more and more frustrated as the fall goes on, and when he gets the chance to sit Jumbo on the turnbuckle later he gives him a shove, clearly annoyed at not being able to do much of anything so far. The claw tease that leads to Jumbo blocking and Kerry throwing it on the stomach was a nice taster of things to come, and Jumbo winning the first fall with a big string of offense was a good way to further the idea that he’s definitely the more aggressive of the two. If Joe Rogan was doing commentary he’d tear Kerry a new one. Second fall starts out with Jumbo picking right up where he left off and soon enough Kerry winds up bleeding. Jumbo doesn’t slow down one bit and if anything the blood spurs him on, at one point laying into Kerry in the corner so much I thought for a second Higuchi might DQ him. Kerry going to the sleeper as a means of somehow slowing things down was really good. Thought the finish to the second fall was great with Kerry locking in the claw, Jumbo doing a nice tease of an escape, and Kerry refusing to let go of it after he’s evened things up. Felt like the moment where he realised he’d HAVE to up the aggression or else he wouldn’t leave with the belt. Joe Rogan would have far kinder words for Kerry at the end of this round. Third fall is really awesome and would probably have jumped into my top 20 on its own. The fact it builds on the first two falls and serves as a pay off (or as close to one as the non-finish permits) launches it into the top 10. Jumbo is great at responding to going down in the second by zoning right in on Kerry’s claw hand, stomping on it, wrapping it around the ropes, smashing it into the ring bolt, just going to town on it. Kerry does a fine job selling it all, throwing a punch at one point – half out of habit, half out of desperation – and instantly recoiling in pain. When he switches it up and throws a forearm instead, Jumbo grabs hold of the arm and goes to a cross armbreaker, basically going from working the hand to the elbow. I thought that was great and one of the best “little touches” of the match. Double count-out finish is still a double count-out finish, but the backdrop/claw combo on the floor that led to it was a good spot. I honestly have no clue where this’ll end up at the end, but it’s a great match and *should* stay in my top 30.
Ric Flair v Kerry Von Erich (5/22/84)
- Well this was pretty dull. First fall did nothing for me at all, and the crowd sitting on their hands never helped matters. They were doing things that would’ve gotten huge reactions in Texas (fuck, they were doing things that DID get huge reactions in Texas), but this crowd never seemed interested at all. The crowds have generally been hot ever since Hansen showed up, but this was not hot. Second fall is much shorter, but other than Flair scoring a fall via figure-four I don’t remember anything about it. Picks up quite nicely in the third, though, and they do some neat stuff, like working a sort of ‘figure-four versus the claw’ story which leads to the always-cool spot where Kerry locks on the claw while Flair has him in the figure-four. Still, this might be the weakest iteration of this match-up that I’ve seen. The handful on the Texas set were good to great; the Mid-South matches were really good; I remember the St. Louis match from January ’85 being great, and the Hawaii match from the same year is a MOTDC. They work *extremely* well together. This fell way short of my expectations of a Flair/Kerry match. Bottom 10 right now, probably won’t go much higher.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Rick Martel (7/31/84)
- Martel is a guy I’m really looking forward to seeing more of when the AWA set rolls around, and I got a good taster here because this was a great match. The early parts felt similar to the early parts of Jumbo/Kerry, with Jumbo not caring for any sort of tentative approach and throwing bombs right from the jump. Martel’s approach is different, opting to go after the leg briefly before settling into working the arm. Difference between this and the Kerry match is that Martel gets more time to work the body part (Jumbo was on top most of the match versus Kerry) and he’s really good at it, keeping things engaging, moving it along nicely, always managing to convey a sense of struggle. Eventually it progresses past that and the last 10 minutes feels like an awesome extended finishing stretch. Martel is really terrific here in ways that I can’t really explain. It’s just something about the way he moves and takes/sells everything. Couple huge nearfalls including a cross body off the top, and Martel down the stretch is as good as any of the touring world champs that have shown up so far. This is my third highest ranked Jumbo match at this point and currently in my top 10, although the late 80s stuff to come leaves me with no clue as to where it’ll finish.
Stan Hansen v Giant Baba (7/31/84)
- Honestly, this might be my favourite series on the set so far. I’ve got three of their matches in my top 15 with one of them being my working #7. I liked this a little less than their third match, but this has a good clean finish and it’s not like the rest of it is a huge step down. They’re both similar in that Baba works the lariat arm again, and I thought it was all really good stuff. Hansen also continues to be a king at taking and selling all of Baba’s offense. The idea that Hansen was just a dude that was stiff as Hell and good in a crazy uncontrollable brawling setting is a talking point I’ve seen a few times, and I can’t for the life of me understand how someone could come to that conclusion if they had watched stuff like this. I mean he is a dude that’s stiff as Hell, and he’s pretty much the God of crazy uncontrollable brawling, but he’s been amazing working opposite Baba every time out and it’s not like those matches are the only examples of him *not* working crazy uncontrollable brawling and still ruling it. There’s still the element of chaos, but that’s because it’s HANSEN and there’s ALWAYS going to be that kind of aura with him. The point is, this isn’t something you normally see people point to as a “Hansen match”, but here he is being fucking great just because. And the lariat kick-out spot is the best nearfall on the set. This was the bomb.
Tiger Mask v La Fiera (8/26/84)
- This was actually one of the first matches I watched on the set and I came away from it thinking La Fiera was fucking awesome. Watching it again, I get the same impression. Misawa doesn’t seem completely comfortable in the Tiger Mask gimmick, but this was a WAAAY better intro to this set’s Tiger Mask than the New Japan set’s. He hits a spectacular tope con giro that leaves a bunch of shit around the ring, including Fiera, looking like it was just hit by a car. Fiera’s bumps are great, the highlight being his bump off a monkey flip that racked up some serious air miles. He’s also kind of Zbyszko-esque in his constant “OOH”ing which I always get a kick out of. This set hasn’t had as many matches that just sort of breeze by with the “fun factor” as New Japan did, but this was definitely fun and I doubt it’ll fall out of my top half.
Chavo & Hector Guerrero v Gran Hamada & Mighty Inoue (9/12/84)
- Oh shit, I must’ve missed this when I skimmed through the match list because I had no idea there was any HAMADA on the set. Dude looks the same here as he did on an M-Pro match from 10 years later that I watched a couple months back. He is ageless and the fucking greatest. Hector looks so much like Eddy circa 1996 that it’s crazy. Still, this was all about Hamada and his awesome armdrags. He actually flubs a spot at one point that I think might legitimately be the only thing I’ve *ever* seen that guy mess up. This is another match that’s a nice change of pace from some of the heavyweight stuff. The New Japan set burned me out at points, but there was far more variety in styles over the first handful of discs than there is here, so something like this and the Fiera match really hit the spot in terms of just sitting back and watching guys go out and breeze through a “fun match”. I doubt I’ll have it top 50 or anything at the end, but it’s in the top half right now. And the Guerreros post-match RULE.
Ric Flair v Genichiro Tenryu (9/12/84)
- This was really disappointing. The first fall in particular just felt flat and I’d probably have enjoyed it more if it happened ten years later. They would’ve at least chopped the shit out of each other in ’94. I’ve actually liked all of the early Tenryu stuff a good deal despite the fact it’s been nothing like the grumpy Tenryu I’m used to (Grumpy Tenryu is probably tied with Eddie Guerrero as my all-time favourite wrestler), but I found myself missing that Tenryu here. Flair snapping and trying to break Tenryu’s leg was a fine DQ finish, but I really wanted more from this.