So Choshu's finally arrived and there was some real good stuff on this disc. You can see the shift towards the Choshu inspired style right from the moment he first appears, although the real top shit from the Choshu's Army v Jumbo/Tenryu feud is still to come.
Jumbo Tsuruta v Terry Gordy (10/29/84)
- Talk about a match of two halves. The first half didn’t do much for me at all, but Jumbo winds up getting posted and starts bleeding and from there things pick up quite a bit. The layout is pretty weird, especially when they’re going to a slow duelling figure-four spot after the stretch run appeared to have kicked off, but there’s a revenge posting and Gordy hits a bastard of a powerbomb so there’s always that. Crowd seemed strangely flat, though. These guys are rolling out some of the better spots I’ve seen so far and the heat for them is just not where it deserves to be. Finish is truly awful, but the second half was good enough to probably keep it floating somewhere around mid-range.
Genichiro Tenryu, Takashi Ishikawa & Mighty Inoue v Riki Choshu, Animal Hamaguchi & Isamu Teranishi (1/10/85)
- So Choshu and his army have arrived and the difference in style between this and a large chunk of the 50+ matches on the set up to this point is pretty clear (it’s the first all-native match as well). This is paced a lot faster and there’s a general sense of potential chaos that only the Hansen matches have really been able to capture (only with Hansen it’s not “potential”). In some ways it’s a taste of what’s to come, but it still stands up as a pretty great match in its own right. It’s also the first sign of grumpy Tenryu as he and Choshu are the marquee match-up. He’s not quite storming the ring to punt people in the eye yet, but he cheapshots Choshu while he’s standing on the apron and the cocoon of nice guy babyface is beginning to crack. Lots of great moments, like the Teranishi/Inoue slap battle while Inoue has him in some leglock...thing, Choshu (who was probably my favourite guy in this) creaming Ishikawa with a lariat because he dares to rip off the Scorpion Deathlock, Ishikawa responding by breaking Choshu’s own attempt at the hold by running him over with a shoulder tackle, and Tenryu chopping Hamaguchi in the throat as a partner save. I would’ve liked a longer FIP spell at some point to really sink my teeth into, and the finish is whatever, but this was a great intro to the feud and right now it’s sitting in my top 10.
Tiger Mask v Kuniaki Kobayashi (6/21/85)
- Kobayashi generally doesn’t do much for me and his juniors stuff on the New Japan set didn’t really do anything to change that, but he starts this out by spin kicking Misawa in the face and throwing him into the barricade so hard that it collapses, so that’s as good a way as any to turn me around on him. Unfortunately they hit the mat after that, and my interest doesn’t exactly plummet, but it certainly wanes. I mean this was not Fujinami/Kimura levels of juniors matwork. Eventually they put the foot down and the stretch run, while short, has another Misawa tope con giro that looked fuuucking sick. I think he had managed to injure his knee on a flubbed spot (must be the mask) not long before it which makes it even nuttier. And then we get the finish and that’s that. Didn’t hate this (the first minute and Misawa’s dive saved it from the absolute dregs of the ballot no matter what), but I can’t imagine it moving out of the bottom fifth.
Genichiro Tenryu v Riki Choshu (6/22/85)
- I really love this match-up. Almost everything they do together seems really uncooperative in a way that I dig the shit out of, and even when they mess up a spot here or there it adds to my enjoyment rather than detracts from it. The first half this is paced much slower than the two ’93 matches I watched recently, but I actually liked it a lot. Tenryu is really good at milking the Scorpion teases while working on Choshu’s lariat arm. There isn’t the same sense that they could get up and start cracking each other in the face at any moment that the ’93 matches have, but it’s a slow build that feels like it’s leading to a big climax. And that’s what we get when Tenryu drops Choshu right on his neck with a powerbomb. Momentum shifts when he hits a running bulldog out of the corner before trying another one only for Choshu to put the brakes on and plant him with a backdrop. There’s this great moment where Choshu hits a lariat with the bad arm and “winds up” for another, but the first one has taken more out of him than expected and he’s left buckled over in pain, like “Oh shit, that hurt me more than I thought it would.” Eventually Tenryu gets busted open and Choshu zeroes in on the cut like a shark smelling blood. When the ref’ tries to check the cut and Choshu starts manhandling him you know what’s coming, but Tenryu’s selling is pretty incredible and one guy stomping another guy into oblivion resulting in a DQ is a DQ finish I can always live with.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu v Riki Choshu & Killer Khan (8/2/85)
- Oh yeah, this was fucking GREAT. In some ways it felt like a precursor to the awesome WAR tags of the 90s, just full of piss and vinegar and palpable hatred. It starts out relatively civilised, but Khan and Jumbo slap the TASTE out of each other’s mouths and the civility is soon tossed out the window. This is the Jumbo that had me thinking he was the best ever a few years ago. In the beginning he’s content to try and grind it out with a headlock, but once Khan pisses him off with that slap he wants blood. Except he’s the one who ends up bleeding all over the place. First he hits an awkward looking lariat with his bandaged arm and sells it like he’s hurt himself, so Choshu and Khan go right to work on it. Then he gets posted and the blood FLOWS, so you’ve got Khan biting him in the head while twisting and pulling at his elbow. Tenryu’s hot tag leads to the greatest slap flurry of ALL TIME. You can literally see the sweat flying off of Khan entire face as Tenryu slaps the shit out of him. I thought Jumbo got tagged back in way too quickly considering he was covered in blood and had his face bitten off by a bald psycho and Tenryu had only been house o’ fire for about a minute, but it probably made the finish seem more dramatic. Tenryu running in to save his partner and Choshu completely obliterating him with a lariat was an amazing cut-off. I’ll be shocked if this leaves my top 40.
Stan Hansen v Terry Funk (8/23/85)
- This is just about the perfect pro-wrestling match-up; Funk might be the best ever at taking a shit kicking and Hansen might be the best ever at dishing one out. Terry’s let his hair and beard grow during his retirement and kind of looks like that homeless guy from The Simpsons that created Itchy and Scratchy. He wrestles this like Rambo if Rambo was a wino, all punch drunk and crazy yet dangerous. He could whip out a cleaver and gut you at any second. Hansen is your iron-fisted sheriff that will rid the town of vermin that live in bins and sleep with newspapers in their socks. Terry showed Hansen’s high school buddy’s nephew how to roll a joint out of A4 paper with a straw for a roach. Hansen is all “Don’t worry God dammit, I’ll take care of it.” Ted DiBiase is Hansen’s old high school buddy and Hansen wants to give him the satisfaction of ending this piece of shit. “He’s the reason Bobby’s clothes smell of dope. Kill him.” “Well hold on now, Stan...I didn’t mean for you to kill the guy. Can’t you just throw him in jail?” “Fuck that, we need to make an EXAMPLE. Won’t nobody miss him. Look at him fer chrissakes.” “Uh, I dunno Stan. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with this.” “Fine. Then let’s do it together.” And so they each grab an end of bullrope, wrap it around Terry’s neck and pull so hard it looks like his head’s about to pop off. Then Terry’s homeless brother hits the scene looking like Red Foreman – also rocking the hobo beard – and all Hell breaks loose. “God dammit, Stan, I thought you said nobody would miss him!” “Fuck it, we’ll kill him too.” “Aw Hell...” Not as good as the ’83 iteration as a match, but it might just be the greatest story ever told.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu v Stan Hansen & Ted DiBiase (8/31/85)
- Fresh off their slaughter of Terry the Hobo with a Shotgun, Hansen and DiBiase team up against the two top dog natives. Thought this chugged along nicely for about two thirds, then Jumbo posts Hansen on the floor and DiBiase gets briefly isolated, and from there it gets awesome. Jumbo reels off a string of big bombs on Ted and Ted just tries to survive long enough for Hansen to recover, and when he does they drag Jumbo out to the floor and paint a bullseye on his lariat arm. They basically do whatever they can to break his arm while keeping Tenryu as far away as possible. Great moment where Tenryu comes in to try and break up a double team only for Hansen to murder him with a lariat that Tenryu takes an amazing, almost Rock-taking-a-Stunner, bump off of. When he’s recovered a little later he gets back up on the apron and Hansen just pops him in the teeth with a punch that leaves him dead for a while longer. Finish was great, and unexpected to boot. This probably would’ve landed around mid-ballot if the last third was as “solid” as the first two thirds. But it goes from “solid” to “great” and that should keep it floating around the top 60.
Riki Choshu v Rick Martel (10/19/85)
- Aside from the strangeness of a World Title match having a 15 minute time limit, this was really damn good. Felt more “US than Japan” in the way it was structured, which was a nice change of pace. Choshu controls early by going after the arm and Martel is great at working around it, coming up to quicken the pace at the right moments, finding neat ways to get dragged back down, etc. I’m assuming this must be the first time Martel’s seen the Scorpion Deathlock because he sells the initial application (Choshu stepping his leg through, crossing Martel’s over) as if it’s a submission hold on its own, rather than just the struggle before “turning over”. Choshu letting go of the hold when Martel has nowhere to go seems like a pretty goofy thing to do, though. He does it twice here and I think he did it in the Tenryu match as well. Stretch run is really heated and the crowd are awesome and this was just a ton of fun.
Ric Flair v Rick Martel (10/21/85)
- In some ways this is my favourite Flair match on the set. Like Choshu/Martel, it was structured more like it would’ve been had it happened in America, and well I usually much prefer US Flair to Japan Flair. Martel was really fucking good yet again and I’m looking forward to seeing some more of him on Portland and AWA. Starts out with both guys working “clean”, Martel controlling most of it and coming out on top of exchanges. Flair is getting more and more frustrated and eventually takes over with an inverted atomic drop out of the corner, and this is definitely the most animated he’s been on the set. This is “You shut your mouth” Flair, which is awesome because I can’t imagine whoever he’s shouting at understanding a word of it. Thought the “opponent puts Flair in the figure-four” stuff was great here. Martel sells the leg like a champ when Flair’s working it over, and there’s a GREAT moment (after Martel’s had Flair in the hold) where Flair jumps on Martel’s leg and then crumples in a heap holding his own knee. Finish is pretty much a foregone conclusion, although it’s funny to see how much the crowd at the time were expecting it as well. Any time they spill out to the floor it’s like they sense it coming, and when someone gets back in there’s a huge pop because it means it’s continuing. Flair’s ’85 might be my favourite year for any wrestler ever, and this only adds to his “best in the world” (at the time) case.
Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu v Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu (11/30/85)
- This was really good in parts (Tenryu as FIP, Jumbo/Choshu exchanges, Yatsu’s German suplex, etc.), but I thought it also had a fair bit of downtime that made it kind of obvious where they were going with it. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen any of the Choshu/Jumbo matches, but the build that goes into a singles match between the two was great here. Tenryu is a bad motherfucker and Yatsu is tough as nails, but at some point Jumbo and Choshu are going to get a hold of one another and that’s what it’s all about (at least that’s what it felt like they were building to). Using Hansen/Ted v Jumbo/Tenryu as a comparison, the first two thirds of that was a better level of “solid” than the first two thirds of this, and the final third of that was “great” while the final third of this was “really good”. That’ll go top half, but I don’t think this will.