I've watched a good amount of awesome shit since I last did one of these, mostly thanks to the 1993 yearbook that people really need to pick up if they haven't already (because it fucking rules). That and the All Japan 80s set has me leaning towards the idea that Stan Hansen is the fucking best wrestler ever. And I know I've said it before, but the WAR v New Japan feud is ridiculously great.
Stan Hansen v Andre the Giant (New Japan, 9/23/81)
"Like watching plate tectonics with humans." "Watching them is more like getting to eavesdrop on warring storm gods." "Looks like a Jack Kirby splash page." "Real-life Godzilla battle." -- I don't know if there's ever been a match that inspires so many extravagant metaphors or similes. I had this #2 on my New Japan ballot, and if I had to come up with a "10 matches you'd take to a desert island" list, this would probably be on it. It's also the match that made me think of Andre as one of the all-time great big men in wrestling history. Hansen is as great as Stan Hansen always is, but other than him working almost as an underdog babyface - which I guess is pretty extraordinary in its own right - he doesn't do a whole lot here that I hadn't seen him do before. I mean Hansen being Hansen is something you always want to see. It's not like he's merely "going through the motions" or is just "along for the ride" -- he's most definitely not. He's great. He's HANSEN. But it's Andre that steals the show. I've seen this about 5 times now and he is flat out amazing every single time. He boots Stan in the face while he's *stepping over the ropes* and just rules it so hard from there on out. He works Hansen over with a bearhug initially until Stan reels back and cracks him with a lariat-esque clubber of a forearm, so he switches strategy and starts working the lariat arm. Hansen sells of this like a king and Andre is SO great picking him apart, headbutting him in the elbow (and selling his own head afterwards like he just headbutted a coconut), twisting the arm around the ring ropes, cranking and pulling at it, etc. Hansen has this great hope spot where he punches Andre in the leg, and Andre wails like a grizzly bear that's just been shot in the thigh. There's another awesome moment where Andre is about to hit a falling headbutt and Stan rolls out of the way, but Andre spots it just before he's left his feet and laughs at Hansen's futility. Eventually Hansen takes over by slamming Andre (which is a fucking great transition spot) and not long after this they wind up spilling out to the floor where the match eventually gets thrown out for either a double DQ or a double count out...the insanity makes it difficult to tell, which is exactly how it should be. And well this would've been a terrific match had it ended right then and there, but neither guy wants that shit and the ref' decides to restart it, and the crowd reaction to this is just out-of-this-world spectacular. They get right back to killing each other and it culminates with Hansen hitting a fucking BLISTERING lariat. Andre's bump to the floor is perfect, like he's just been hit by a fire engine. The pop for this is amazing. Whole match has been building to it and when it comes it gets the reaction it deserves. Andre's response to just having his chest caved in is to slip on his own elbow pad, much like the one Hansen wears on his lariat arm, and there is a stir of panic through the crowd because...well what the fuck does THIS mean? Is it loaded? Was it doused in sobriety? For surely that would be the end of Stan Hansen! Stan is obviously pissed and wants it removed. Andre doesn't care and wants to keep it on. The ref' talks too much so Andre just throws him into the ropes and lariats him in two. That might be the best DQ finish ever. And we're off to the races again with a bunch of ring boys getting mowed down while the Thunder Gods try to END each other. Spectacular match and one I don't think I'll ever stop enjoying.
Hiroshi Hase v Nobuhiko Takada (New Japan, 3/11/88)
I had this #15 on my New Japan ballot. After watching it again, without thinking too hard about it, I'd probably bump it up about 10 places. This is a really terrific match, maybe the best of either guy's career and I’m struggling to think of a better Takada performance. I'm not much of a fan of his, but I thought he was pretty spectacular here, especially in the first half. Going through the New Japan set I actively dreaded watching him in singles matches. I lost count of the number of times he'd hit the mat and I'd be itching to lean on fast forward. There's none of that here as Hase jumps him at the bell with a lariat and tries to choke him out, and while Hase is good at beating on him, it's Takada's selling that really puts it over the top. When he finally manages to mount a comeback he's still selling grogginess and I loved how he transitioned into offence by slowly gaining momentum (after the first big strike), always "shaking the cobwebs". Once he's in control he busts out every submission move in his arsenal to put Hase away, and at this point it's Hase's turn to sell like a king. The way he eats Takada's big kicks and teases the knockout is fucking awesome, all jelly legged and shit. The stretch run is SHOCKINGLY good as they're rolling out a boatload of spots and bombs without veering into overkill territory and even the ref' bump doesn't push it over the edge. Takada's dragon suplex looked SUPER nasty, too. Honestly, I was surprised this held up as well as it did when I watched it going through the New Japan set, but I legitimately loved it this go around and unless any of the late-80s Fuchi stuff on the All Japan set pips it, this is my pick for the best juniors match of the decade.
Stan Hansen v Toshiaki Kawada (All Japan, 2/28/93)
Well fuck my face. This is everything you want it to be. No, fuck you, I DO mean everything. These guys are two of the greatest asskickers of all time, and sure enough they spend twenty minutes just trying to kill each other in a total shitstorm of nuclear violence. I honestly lost count of the number of instances of molten savagery after about five minutes. I mean Kawada tries to full force punt Hansen's spleen into the third row. Hansen is all "I take umbrage" and just fucking drops his entire body weight onto Kawada's head with a knee drop. They stand in the middle of the ring and rifle off kicks on each other's kneecaps. It was like watching two guys try to imitate the fight they had on Mortal Kombat that afternoon except Hansen can't physically do that thing that Scorpion does with the little monster shooting out of his hand so instead he MURDERS Kawada with the absolute motherfuckingest fatality of a lariat. He hits him so hard he winds up launching his OWN ass out the ring. And I almost forgot about him doing an Austin Aries bullet tope where he jumps between the middle and bottom ropes and knocks Kawada back with so much force he almost breaks the guardrail with his head. But you can watch a month's worth of Japanese wrestling from 2011 and you're pretty much guaranteed to see a metric ton of stiff strikes. The clear difference between this and the large majority of current Japanese wrestling is that THESE guys are selling the absolute shit out of it. The brutality only works as well as it does because the selling is off the charts. Tell me somebody in 2011 has sold something as well as Kawada sells the finish of this and I'll call you a crummy liar. I love their match from the previous year. That was some seriously hot shit, but this is, like, third degree burns or something. Something hotter, maybe. I wish I had a decent Mortal Kombat reference at hand.
Mitsuharu Misaswa v Toshiaki Kawada (All Japan, 3/27/93)
Hell of a match. I'm a third of the way through the '93 yearbook and right now Kawada is looking like a good candidate for the best wrestler in the world (although Tenryu is starting to run away with that prize). He's a machine in this, absolutely unloading on his at-the-time tag partner (which is quite the appetizer for what would happen when they split the next month). Misawa is really great fighting mostly from underneath as The Man, and probably has as good a shout for being the best in the world at the time as Kawada, but I'm more inclined to lean towards the guys that'll just haul off and punt you in the nose, and well Kawada is pretty much guaranteed to haul off and punt you in the nose at least twice a match. I obviously have the benefit of having seen a ton of 90s All Japan already, so I know Kawada splits from the Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi group and goes on to feud with Misawa for the next hundred years and they have a bunch of matches that have been talked about to death a million times by a million people. So there's a good chance that's colouring me perceptions of Kawada's performance here...but the way he just goes for the jugular right from word one is a pretty good indication that, even without the benefit of hindsight, this partnership might not be long for the world. He throws a couple kicks in particular that look ridiculously nasty, especially the one down the stretch that leaves Misawa with a cut just below the eye. Misawa of course sells all of this like you expect him to and I actually bit on a couple of the nearfalls even though I was 99% sure of the outcome. I could see someone being iffy on the finish, but I thought it was pretty great and as soon as it happened I figured it was game over. It's been about 4 years since I watched any of the Misawa/Kawada matches other than the '92 Triple Crown match, so I don’t know where I'd put this amongst everything else, but as a "launch pad" (although I guess their match later in the year after the split would be a better "launch pad") this was awesome and worthy of multiple stars and Easter eggs.
Shiro Koshinaka, Kengo Kimura, Akitoshi Saito & Kuniaki Kobayashi v Ashura Hara, Koki Kitahara, Ricky Fuyuki & Super Strong Machine (WAR, 4/2/93)
This WAR v New Japan feud is one of my favourite things in wrestling history. Practically every single time there's a WAR guy against a New Japan guy something spectacularly violent happens. This is just wild and crazy and loaded with palpable hatred. Team WAR might be the best team of lumpy thugs ever. The NJ team has its share of dudes that will smack you directly in the nose as well, but they carry themselves with a little more class. They're a hit squad that demands a moderately high price. The WAR guys look like pig farmers that will blow up a KFC because McDonalds offered them 2 Happy Meals. EACH. Fuyuki is a total scumbag. Hara is sort of loveable in a total scumbag sort of way. Kitahara is a scumbag that I find myself loving. SSM is a scumbag in a mask. Pro-wrestling is nothing without its scumbags and Team WAR is the pro-wrestling. Kitahara was especially awesome in this, rifling off a shit load of hellish kicks, punting Saito in the eye with the toe of his boot – you can tell he's learning from the boss. Koshinaka is way, way more fun to me in this feud than he was practically any time he showed up on the New Japan 80s set. He might have been my favourite New Japan guy here, primarily because he punched people in the nose and carried himself like a guy that was above his opponents, which he would display by assaulting them. Saito also needs some love because that guy was seriously THROWING the kicks. Almost any time his right leg left the ground I got the sense someone's chest might get caved in. And then he winds up eating an extended beatdown and holy shit does he get kicked square in the beak like a man. This fucking ruled.
Genichiro Tenryu & Takashi Ishikawa v Riki Choshu & Shinya Hashimoto (WAR, 4/2/93)
Yet another WAR v New Japan tag, yet another violent masterpiece. I'm convinced Tenryu is the absolute best "Fuck you for I despise you" wrestler ever. I've seen a truckload of pissed off Tenryu performances where he just oozes contempt. Tenryu working as violent bastard with contempt for his opponent is one of my favourite things in wrestling. This is as rampantly pissed off as I can recall seeing him and my God is it a spectacular performance you want every second of. I mean it's not like he’s carrying this on his back or anything, because all four guys seriously bring it here. Ishikawa is amazing at hurling cheapshots from the apron, running into the ring so he can plaster someone, refusing to be outdone by the three Rottweilers he's wound up in a match with. Choshu and Hashimoto are two all-time great ass-kickers and they're working a Tenryu fed so there is nothing to stop them from completely uncorking with all sorts of nasty shit. Really, there isn't much more you can ask for from those three. But Tenryu just takes it one step further. It's like being at a party with Keith Richards. You can snort all the cocaine you can find, but Keith will do all that, fuck a mountain goat and eat his weight in plasticine. You cannot out-debauch Keith Richards. Can't be done. You cannot out-violent Tenryu. Can't be done. The opening exchange with Hashimoto – the Tenryu/Hashimoto match-up is the main "storyline" of this in a lot of ways – feels like an honest to goodness fight, like two bikers rolling around on the piss-stained floor of a nightclub. When Choshu tags in, Tenryu never takes his eyes off Hashimoto and points to him like "You'll get yours, prick." When they next wind up back in the ring together they have a truly epic staredown and proceed to just thump the holy shit out of each other. Like the 3/7 tag where Ohara got bloodied and brutalised, things hit that next level up when Choshu gets cut open and Team WAR go to town on him. Tenryu is just ridiculously great at going right after him. It's like the shackles well and truly come off and he won't be content until his boot is covered in Choshu’s blood, repeatedly punting him in the eye and shoving the ref' on his ass when he tries to stop him. The crowd even starts booing him and you get the sense they're genuinely concerned that he might actually blind Choshu. Eventually Hash gets the hot tag (although Choshu making sure to blast Ishikawa with a lariat before tagging out was an awesome spot) and holy shit is this a hot tag. Tenryu tries to get in the ring to cut him off and Hash boots him clean in the jaw as he's stepping through the ropes. Tenryu also has this great "heavyweight boxer on the ropes" sell that he does for Hashimoto's kick flurries and there is an amazing visual of him eating a shot to the temple and making this face like he's about to throw up. Then Ishikawa says fuck it and starts throwing crazy cheapshots, and that leads to Hashimoto in peril. And this match goes up ANOTHER level. I'm not sure which shot did it, but before long Hash has a bloody nose and looks half dead. Hashimoto is a great seller, but can you imagine how much you'd need to thoroughly lay it in in order to make it plausible that a snowplough of violence like Hashimoto is in serious danger? A lot, that's how much. Finish is great and might feature the best Tenryu "blinded by rage" moment of the whole match as he just bull rushes Choshu in the corner and punches him senseless (Choshu wasn't the legal man and I'm not even sure he did anything that'd normally necessitate such a mugging), oblivious to the fact Hashimoto just planted his partner on his head with a DDT. Of course Tenryu isn't satisfied and instantly starts another fight, which leads to a huge pull-apart that these WAR v New Japan matches pull off spectacularly well. And then Tenryu gets on the mic and calls Hashimoto a punk bitch and Choshu a punk bitch and hurls the microphone at Choshu's face. And I'm pretty sure he tries to kick someone in the head just for standing near the ring. This was really terrific stuff.