Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Spotlight: Mariko Yoshida

I'm trying to cram in a bunch of stuff for the GWE poll before the deadline, and over the last week and a half I've dived back into a style I figured I had already closed the book on: joshi. I'll level with you; I'm not much of a joshi fan, but my ballot looked kind of weird with only Aja Kong from the joshi workers being on it, so I got my shit together (motivated to do so by reading Dylan's awesome rundowns of a number of joshi workers on PWO) and just motored through a ton of joshi to make sure I wasn't shortchanging anyone. Turns out I was definitely shortchanging Shinobu Kandori. Turns out Aja Kong is still what I remembered her being. Turns out Mayumi Ozaki is still just about my least favourite wrestler ever. Turns out I'm still whatever on Akira Hokuto, even if great Hokuto is pretty fucking great. Turns out I still won't rank Manami Toyota, but I like her more than Ozaki. Turns out I also never realised how great Mariko Yoshida was. I thought I was long past the point of being excited about the joshi puroresu, but I'll be damned if Yoshida hasn't grabbed me in a big way (mostly for the funky out ARSION run, but she was good before that as well).

Yumiko Hotta, Toshiyo Yamada & Mariko Yoshida v Bull Nakano, Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue (AJW, 9/15/92)

This seemed to be geared more towards "fun" than "epic," which I was perfectly fine with. It's 2/3 falls and the last 2/3 falls joshi match I watched went fifty minutes and they went into the finishing stretch after about seven of those minutes. It was not enjoyable. This wasn't like that and they never went overboard at any point. Maybe it's because I was focusing mostly on her, but I thought Yoshida was really good in this and my favourite girl in it. She's young and scrawny and rookie-ish so of course she gets steamrolled, but she had some awesome bumping for fat lady offence. She was also SPUNKY and stuff, so whenever she fired back with some offence it felt really scrappy and desperate, which is exactly what you want out of a four year pro against a couple monsters like Bull and Aja. She was very fun in this match is what I'm saying. Hotta and Aja really smack the crap out each other like you'd expect. Aja drills her with an absolutely fucking ungodly spinning back fist and it looked like Hotta's molars flew out a hole in her cheek. Good start for Yoshida.

Mariko Yoshida v Aja Kong (ARSION, 6/21/98)

I'm not sure why this had a fifteen minute time limit, but either way it was kept relatively short and compact as a result. First half was solid enough but never had a ton going on. There was one cool moment where Aja hit the deck and tried to goad Yoshida into grappling, but Yoshida just strolled into the corner and crossed her legs. This was actually a pretty cool and different look at Aja. I'd never really seen her hit the mat before, and while it's not her game it did make for a fun dynamic. Second half picks up and really builds to a nice finish. Yoshida didn't get TOO tricky on the mat, but she did start rolling out some super neat stuff, and that forced Aja to go back to what she knows. What she knows is how to back fist people in the gub and holy lord did she back fist Yoshida in the gub. Yoshida's KO sell of it was fucking spectacular as well. This kind of almost stripped back style of joshi is far, far more my thing than the go-go-go bombfests, so I'm not sure why I've never really taken a closer look at ARSION in the past.

Mariko Yoshida v Candy Okutsu (ARSION, 12/18/98)

Yoshida is the same age here as I am now. She's probably younger by a few months, actually. We share similar career paths, her and me. She's almost as pretty as well, though she definitely wears the hot Spiderman outfit better than I could. I'll admit that, much as it pains me. This was pretty damn terrific and I think I love her, which really ought to be enough to get her on my ballot. Right? She was really awesome in this and came across as being totally unique, at least in comparison to all the other joshi I've seen personally (I haven't bothered with any joshi post-2004 or so, but I don't doubt plenty of girls are aping her these days). Okutsu isn't on the same level on the mat, but she holds her own fairly well when they take it down there. Some of the sprawling and grappling actually felt a bit like low-to-mid-level RINGS, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment because even low-to-mid-level RINGS can mean really damn good matwork (and when you talk about high-level RINGS you're talking about the level of Tamura, Han, Yamamoto, Kohsaka, etc., and only a handful of wrestlers in history reached that level). Yoshida herself will burst into super quick submissions by grabbing limbs and working them into angles limbs shouldn't be worked into. Her speed on the mat is pretty Tamura-esque, but she's not always grabbing shoot holds as such; more like something Trauma II would throw on someone. So, you know, I never expected a kind of Tamura/Trauma II mash-up from a joshi worker. She will also blast you in the face with a knee Ikeda-style so there's your Battlartsian influence to REALLY make me gush with praise. There was one bit where she literally monkey flipped Okutsu into a cross armbreaker and it just about blew my mind. Eventually the match takes on a grappler v flyer dynamic of sorts, which builds to a big climax that never feels overblown. I'm sold on Yoshida already, and not just because she's purrdy.

Mariko Yoshida v Yumi Fukawa (ARSION, 9/26/99)

I probably should've watched their May match before checking this one, but this felt like it was still pretty easy to follow on its own. I don't think I've seen Fukawa wrestle before, but she can handle herself on the mat. She's not as quick as Yoshida though, and it kind of leads to a few moments during the early exchange where Yoshida has to leave herself open or feed Fukawa in semi-obvious fashion. It's not massively glaring or anything, though. Thought Yoshida was really awesome in this, particularly as the match goes on and she can't seem to put Fukawa away. Fukawa kicks out of an air raid crash and Yoshida has this great look of almost shock before quickly gathering herself to go in again for the kill. Then Fukawa somehow makes the ropes when it looks like Yoshida has her Volk Han'd in the middle of the ring and Yoshida's "fuck sake, this should not be taking this long" expression was awesome. Fukawa sort of targets Yoshida's knee towards the end and I dug Yoshida's selling of it. It's pretty subtle, but at one point she tries to stand up and the leg buckles briefly, so Fukawa just launches herself at that leg like a shark smelling blood. Finish got an audible "What?!" reaction out of me as well. This was really good. I feel like I need to see every single thing Yoshida did in 1999, and I can't say I've ever thought that about any other joshi worker for any other year ever.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Islanders v Bulldogs

The Islanders v British Bulldogs (MSG, 1/25/88)

This feels like it should be a better match-up than it is. The Bulldogs doing a Steiners and launching Tama around for a while sounds great on paper, but I've watched a few Bulldogs/Islanders matches now and unfortunately that never really transpires. This was the best of them, but it still only topped out at decent-to-good. The Bulldogs were a pretty weird team around this point. I remember them often guzzling opponents and giving them hardly anything (not that the Steiners weren't guilty of this from time to time as well). In fairness they don't really do that here, but...well maybe it's because I'm watching these matches after the Islanders/Strike Force feud, but there is just no energy from the Bulldogs shine segment at all. It's all pretty basic headbutt and headlock stuff. Neither guy is a particularly compelling face in peril, either. Dynamite does take a back suplex on his neck, which I guess leaves little surprise as to how he wound up in a wheelchair shooting jackrabbits with an air rifle for a hobby, but either way his FIP section was mostly fun because of the Islanders. Haku has a bunch of cool chop variations (he'll chop you across the chest, Mongolian chop you Killer Khan style, Kabuki uppercut you in the throat, etc.), they run some amusing shtick with one of those invisible dog leashes, and at one point Dynamite has a foot draped over the bottom rope so Tama grabs both legs and yanks him into it balls-first. Davey's run of offence post-hot tag was more like it with the big piledriver and running powerslams, but then it quickly goes to a disappointing DQ finish. Dynamite putting the pensioner referee on his backside was probably warranted, at least. There's probably a pretty damn good match in this pairing, but this one was only halfway there.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

More Islanders; More Tito (and More Martel)

Strike Force v The Islanders (Philadelphia Spectrum, 12/5/87)

I've watched about seven Islanders/Strike Force matches over the last few days and man is it one of the more unheralded feuds of the mid-to-late 80s "golden age" of WWF tag team wrestling. Off the top of my head I think the only series from that period I'd definitely have ahead of it is the Rockers/Brainbusters series. A real staple of these Islanders/Strike Force matches is the awesome babyface shine segment. Martel and Tama are super energetic wrestlers and everything they do has such a spirit about it. I'm not sure you'll find many guys who get more fired up before punching someone in the face than Martel or bump off a dropkick with more zeal than Tama. I don't know if this is the best of the shine segments in a Strike Force/Islanders match, but it's pretty damn great. Haku is tough as nails and really makes the babyfaces earn their moments, Martel busts out a hurricanrana, Tito whips Tama around with killer looking armdrags, and of course Tama takes his nutcase dropkick bump by sailing out over the top and careening head first into a chair. Islanders have some really cool offence once they take over, like Haku's triple backbreaker and Tama's sky high double axe handle off the top rope (if Gorilla was on commentary you'd probably get a line about him literally being able to hang from the rafters). Again, the thing I love most about this series is the participants' willingness to change it up quite a bit even though they wouldn't always have needed to. I've watched tonnes of 80s WWF feuds and it's certainly not uncommon for the guys involved to run practically the exact same match in MSG as they run in Philly as they run in Toronto, right down the to same transitions and comedy spots. I don't even mean that as a knock, because they're wrestling in different markets in front of audiences that wouldn't have seen the match they had three nights ago. WWF never had ten hours of wrestling on TV every week in 1987. But that never stopped all four of these guys from trying something new almost every time out. They still have the great stock spots as well, though, like Tama's amazing face first slingshot bump (it's probably the best spot of its ilk in history) and Martel heaving Tama out the corner with some massive height. Tito's FIP spell was also great here. I said a few days ago that he's not as theatrical a seller as Martel, but I'm not sure there's much daylight between the two in that role. In fact, if pressed, I think I might slightly prefer Tito, if for no reason other than how impressive he is at subtle selling. At this point I'd pretty comfortably take these two teams over just about all of the more lauded WWF teams of the era like the Hart Foundation and British Bulldogs (and I guess Demolition, if you're someone who lauds them).

Friday, 11 March 2016

NWA Classics 24/7 #12

Tito Santana v Butch Reed (Houston Wrestling, 1/13/84)

I'm a big Tito fan and obviously a gigantic Reed mark, so this was one of the matches I got hyped for when it was put up on Classics. Their '87 WWF match was a pretty good 15 minute draw (well, I liked it), but this is really the match you want from these guys. I've watched a lot of Tito over the last few days and it feels pretty clear that he belongs in the same bracket as his babyface contemporaries like Martel and Steamboat. That's to say he was fucking awesome. He wasn't as theatrical with his selling as those two -- Tito's selling seemed grittier, maybe more "realistic" if you want to open that can of worms, but either way it was just as great. I suppose Martel and Steamboat played to the back row, while Tito was maybe a little more subtle. The one thing I think he has over both, though, is his babyface fire. That's one of those YMMV pro-wrestling terms that probably has different meanings to different people, but to me it basically means the intensity with which he teases and makes comebacks, and the conviction he shows while doing it. And well, I don't know if there are many babyfaces in US wrestling history that go after an opponent with more conviction than Tito, especially if he has reason to be pissed off. This wasn't the same Tito that tried to throttle Greg Valentine, but he was committed to everything he did and gave no quarter, which really created the sense of struggle that made a lot of this so good. Even things like the heel pulling the trunks to put the babyface in a pinning predicament while in a headlock felt fought over, rather than a simple spot that's been used to get a bit of heat since time began. It also gave us some awesome moments like Tito hitting a gutwrench suplex out of a front facelock, and Tito charging full steam into Reed only to be chucked throat first into the ropes. I'll always dig Reed hitting his killer fist drops and gorilla pressing dudes, but this was mostly a Tito showcase with Hacksaw as support act.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Does an Islanders Comp Exist?

The Islanders v The Hart Foundation (Maple Leaf Gardens, 11/16/86)

I remember watching this match years ago and loving it. I don't remember why I loved it, but I know I did. And hey, I watched it again and still loved it! It's nice when that happens. I'd actually be surprised if there's a Hart Foundation tag that's significantly better than this. Crowd is behind them because we're in Toronto, so they cheer for things like Anvil cheapshots and Bret being surly. It doesn't lead to them playing to the crowd as such, but Bret appears to really tap into this and ramp up the shithousing in awesome ways, like at one point dragging Tama up the ramp and just fucking hurling him clean off the stage! Then he goes down after him, throws his head into the steps and casually chucks him back in the ring again. It was pretty badass. Tama ruled again and he's 100% solidified his spot on my Greatest Wrestler Ever ballot. He's super fun during the shine segment, then he'll go face in peril and take crazy bumps and sell his butt off. I should re-watch those Samoan Swat Team matches because I don't remember him being nearly this great in WCW. Haku is a nice counterpoint; like the older, tougher brother who people should know better than to fuck with. He's still Haku, the guy who bit someone's nose off for looking at him funny, but it's cool seeing him work as pure babyface hot tag guy (and maybe a little surreal). There was a great bit where he had Anvil in an armbar and thrust kicked Bret who was trying to come in for a sneak attack, then a little later Bret walks up to him and slaps him clean across the face, which in turn leads to Haku making the hot tag and paintbrushing Bret for his insolence.

The Islanders v Dream Team (Boston Gardens, 12/6/86)

Beefcake's involvement in this was basically limited to stooging, mugging and hitting a few stomps. Bulk of the heel end was held up by Valentine, and you may not be shocked to hear that the match probably wasn't hurt because of it. First stretch is total Valentine in peril. Usually you want Greg to be fish hooking people and elbowing them in the temple, but I dug him getting schooled by Haku and Tama. Tama is, once again, the funnest motherfucker in wrestling. His energy is utterly infectious. Then he eats a Valentine back elbow and SOARS over the top rope with an awesome bump to the floor, and good golly is Tama just about the greatest under-the-radar bumper ever. Brutus runs a few distraction spots and mostly sticks to the background so Valentine can deliver the ass beating, which includes a fucking Ganso Bomb-style piledriver! If there's a Tama/Valentine singles match I need to seek it out, because no way it wouldn't rule. This was fifteen minutes that flew by.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Down the 80s WWF Midcard Rabbit Hole

There's just under a month left before ballots are due for the PWO Greatest Wrestler Ever project. I feel like I've got a pretty decent handle on everything bar 70s/80s World of Sport and modern day indies (I doubt I'll bother delving very deep into the latter), but I wanted to go back and re-watch some individual guys for a refresher. One of those guys was Greg Valentine. That led me to the Greg/Tito feud, which in turn led me to scouring dailymotion for some semi-obscure 80s WWF midcard footage for who the fuck knows what reason. I found some cool stuff, though (and how great was the Greg/Tito feud? Jesus).

Rick Martel v Tama (MSG, 7/25/87)

Man, I fucking love Tama. It's been so long since I've watched him that I guess I almost forgot why, but this reminded me. Everything he does is just packed with enthusiasm and energy, like he really loves being there and getting to do what he's doing. Martel is of course awesome and I love HIM even more every time I get to see new footage of him. Both guys ruled in this. Starts out hot with the Islanders double teaming Martel, but Rick comes back and takes them both out before settling into working over Tama's leg. I dug that portion a bunch because it was always chippy, Martel is another guy who does everything with a ton of energy, and Tama was always trying to create space while selling great. Tama tries to get out of a grapevine by continually yanking Martel's hair and pulling at his face, so Martel repeatedly punches him in the mouth. Tama is Samoan so naturally he has to do nerve holds, and nerve holds are rarely ever compelling, but I thought they got about as much out of this as they could, primarily because Tama makes maniacal facial expressions and drools over himself while applying it and Martel sells it by really stretching out his shoulder to get some feeling back into it. There was one cutoff spot where Tama knees Martel in the guts as he's coming off the ropes, and he even sold the early leg work by clutching the knee! It might not sound like much, but how often do you associate that type of selling with late-80s WWF midcard acts (although off the top of my head they did have a pretty stacked midcard, so I might be full of shit on that)? Final stretch after Martel makes his comeback is pretty awesome. Tama has some fucking Nate Robinson-level hops, just flinging himself around wildly off Martel dropkicks and taking an AMAZING face first slingshot bump from the apron into the ring. Match was a total blast and now I will make a point of watching the Islanders/Strike Force feud in its entirety.

Rick Rude v Koko B. Ware (Boston Gardens, 5/7/88)

When did Rick Rude really put it together as a worker? Based on the Warrior match from Summerslam I'd guess he had by mid-'89, though that match almost certainly had some Pat Patterson wizardry involved. If nothing else he seemed more comfortable here than he did in World Class, but then I don't think anyone would argue he was a complete wrestler in Texas anyway. Either way I liked him a lot in this. At times he'd slow the match down to a crawl - he did that when he was at his peak as well - but he was far more natural in his heat-garnering during the workover. His dedication to shitheaded behaviour was pretty inspired, actually, really winding up the Boston City sweat hogs. He has the absolute best sell of an atomic drop in history and I always love it when he does his gyrating hips pose while selling a previous knock, so of course I loved him combining the two by taking the atomic drop, cutting off Koko, gyrating his hips and realising his coccyx hasn't quite shifted back into place yet. Koko frustrates him early by ducking and dodging and imitating the swiveling hips (with Koko adding his own "flapping wings" spin), and Rude gets so annoyed he bails out and threatens to strangle the parrot! There honestly isn't a whole lot to this match; it's pretty bare bones, but it was really enjoyable to me and feels like one of Koko's best WWF matches.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Everybody Better Move Over, That's All, 'Cause Tenryu's Runnin' on the Bad Side and He's Got His Back to the Wall

Genichiro Tenryu & Stan Hansen v Jumbo Tsuruta & Kenta Kobashi (All Japan, 7/15/89) - EPIC

I don't know how many matches Kobashi had under his belt as a pro by this point, but he's only been wrestling for about a year. He's a rookie, for all intents and purposes. This is Japan, and in Japan guys with around a year of experience tend to be slaughtered no matter who they're facing. When they're facing Tenryu or Hansen they will be slaughtered often and in harrowing fashion. When they're facing Tenryu AND Hansen...yeah. The Kobashi parts went about how you'd think, and of course they were great. Tenryu was motherfucking kingsized in this. Hansen is a guy who will just full throttle mow folk down and that's part of what makes him one of the best ever, but he didn't seem to want to give Kobashi anything here. It's not a huge criticism considering Hansen abusing someone is something I'll watch every day and not complain, but when you look at the bar Hansen and Kobashi set together in future meetings, this one left me a little wanting. Tenryu, on the other hand, gave Kobashi juuuuust enough to make him look like a prodigy, but then got pissed off like crazy and that led to the sweet Tenryu-on-rookie violence. One of Tenryu's strengths in general has always been his ability to sell for much lower ranked wrestlers and make it look like they're capable of actually hanging, and this is the perfect example of it. The way he grabs his ear after a hard slap, or how he staggers and bumps for Kobashi's wheel kicks -- it all feels like his armour is being chipped away at, but underneath that armour is still the grumpiest bastard ever and you know it's only a matter of time before that grumpiness boils over. Tenryu and Jumbo are coming off the heels of the June title match and naturally there's plenty of piss and vinegar to go around. There are moments where one will be in the ring and the other will be on the apron, and because they haven't hit each other in the face for a few minutes the guy in the ring will just go off on a madness and crack the one on the apron. At points I thought the match got a bit ragged and the control shifts felt kind of your turn-my turn, but you come for the rookie mauling and you stay for the rookie mauling. Jumbo booting folk in the mouth is a bonus.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Some Folks Got Fortune, Some Got Eyes of Blue. What Tenryu Got Will Always See Him Through

Genichiro Tenryu v Jumbo Tsuruta (All Japan, 6/5/89) - EPIC

So I am not the first person on this here internet to write words about this wrestling match. If you've read a write-up for it in the past then there's a pretty good chance you'll have read something about it being the bridge between the mid-80s Choshu-inspired-all-action bouts and the kind of matches the Pillars would go on to have in the 90s, with the build and extended finishing runs and all that good stuff. I've seen this a handful of times since I started dabbling in the Japanese pro-wrestling, but this time it resonated with me more than ever before. God damn what a fucking peach of a match it is, and this time more than ever before it really did feel like these guys went out and reinvented a style. Shit, maybe they created a new one. First stretch is a massive departure from the early 80s All Japan house style. I got pretty burned out going through the first half of the AJ 80s set, and I was super glad when Choshu showed up to give it some life. This had none of that drab early 80s matwork. It had both guys going right at it from the very start, and any time they did slow things down for a little bit you had them adding nasty touches to simple holds, like Jumbo clubbing Tenryu in the ribs during an abdominal stretch or Tenryu punching Jumbo's kneecap during a leglock. But forget that because those "downtime" moments were few and far between. You can clearly see where Misawa and Kawada and the rest learned how to do strike exchanges. You can clearly see where they learned how to tease throwing out big bombs early and really milk them throughout the match, building more and more anticipation as they went. You can clearly see where they learned how to pace and structure an extended finishing run. All of those things were in this match and they were all done so, so well. This might also be one of the three best performances of Tsuruta's career. Tenryu was awesome in his underdog-esque role - which is sort of novel, considering who he is - but Jumbo just carried himself like he was The Man. He looked every bit the ace of the company that he was. In the early exchanges Tenryu will chop him and punt him in the kidneys and generally do Tenryu things, but this is still Jumbo's house and he comes back with even more vim and vigour than we're used to. He puts that little extra into his big boots, clubs Tenryu's shoulderblades a little harder than usual. He's not quite struggling to hold onto his place the same way he would be against Misawa a year later, but Tenryu's more primed to usurp him now than Misawa would be in 1990. Whichever way you look at it, Jumbo has to dig as deep as he's ever had to before and you can see it in the way he conducts himself from start to finish. Last seven/eight minutes are really incredible. The build, the way every nearfall feels huge, the struggle over everything, the callbacks, the off-the-charts heat, the subtle little touches: all of it. It's amazing. There was one bit where Jumbo pulls down his kneepad for a big home run high knee only to miss, then afterwards Tenryu pulls his own kneepad down. He doesn't really do anything that would make you think he pulled it down for a reason, but it came across as such a cool "well, if the ace is doing it then there must be something to it" moment. From the micro to the macro, this whole thing was just a transcendent piece of the pro-wrestling.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu