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