This was the first UWFi show in the interpromotional feud with WAR. I've seen some stuff from that feud, like Tenryu/Anjoh and Tenryu/Takada x2, but never a full show. UWFi was kind of on its last legs at this point and would close its doors indefinitely by the end of the year, but apparently this show drew 15,000 at the Budokan and I would not have expected that.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Kazushi Sakuraba
Tamura's last match in UWFi before heading to RINGS. I don't know if the story about him working this as a big fuck you to the company/Takada is true or not, but it was certainly a RINGS match more than a UWFi one. The matwork especially is very RINGS; super fast sprawling and tumbling and jockeying for position. They only use one rope break each and mostly work to a stalemate, but it's the kind of shoot style matwork that's my absolute favourite matwork in wrestling. It's not quite the highest of high end RINGS, but you could see they had something brilliant in them and probably would've produced it if Sakuraba went to RINGS rather than Kingdom/MMA. There was one bit where Sakuraba was shifting his weight to get into position for a cross armbreaker, trying to force Tamura's hands apart. He leaned back to break the grip, but Tamura used Sakuraba's momentum to roll backwards and essentially wind up with side control. Finish was so good. Sakuraba comes in close and throws an uppercut, so Tamura moves in to close the distance and they sort of wind up in a clinch. I'm not sure if Sakuraba tried to throw another palm strike inside or Tamura just grabbed an arm, but one second they were standing in the clinch and the next Tamura had rolled him into a perfect cross armbreaker. Tamura was about to go on a run where he legit had a handful of the best matches ever done in the style, and this was a nice way to cap off his time in a promotion he'd pretty much grown out of.
Hiromitsu Kanehara v Akira Nogami
I did not know Nogami ever worked shoot style. Or this approximation of it, at least. They don't use the points system and there's a nearfall of a German suplex, so I guess it's a mishmash of shoot/pro. For five minutes I thought this was pretty tidy. Kanehara has big time strikes and tries to kick Nogami's leg in half and Nogami sells it like he has half a leg. Kanehara goes for a big KO shot, but Nogami ducks it and hits a German for a nearfall,which is about the most headway he'd been able to make up to that point. He then tried to follow up with another, because why wouldn't he, I guess? but Kanehara rolls through into a kneebar and Nogami has no choice but to tap. Perfectly fine.
Naoki Sano v Kenichi Yamamoto
Man this ruled. I don't know why, but these two do not like each other and we get an awesome start with Yamamoto charging in straight away flinging slaps and Sano pump kicking him in the face. While the last match was like a UWFi/NJ match this was more Battlartsy. Naoki Sano was fucking awesome at the pro wrestling, man. He's always able to incorporate pro style moves into a shoot style setting in really cool in organic ways. In this he applied what was basically a scorpion deathlock, then transitioned into an STF/choke, then into a regular crossface. Yamamoto stood him up and planted Sano right on his neck with a backdrop, but then got ahead of himself in the stand up and Sano OBLITERATED him with a spinning back kick. This hit flush in the face and I was stunned Yamamoto was able to get up. Well, Sano just dropped him again anyway, this time with a couple ugly looking powerbombs, eventually hooking in a choke for the submission. Six minutes of badass, that's what this was.
Tatsuo Nakano v Koki Kitahara
How about this for a lumpy undercard dream match? This was like some parallel universe Dark Tower shit because both guys are basically each other if their career trajectories happened to be swapped. Nakano works SWS/WAR? He's Kitahara. Kitahara does shoot style and ends up in a Takada promotion? He's Nakano. To be fair, though, I actually didn't expect Kitahara to be as fun in this environment. I mean, it isn't really a shoot style match as opposed to a pro style match with shoot style trappings, but it was a neat enough amalgamation and I liked how Kitahara handled himself. The early mat exchange was nice and solid and once again Nakano ends up with a bloody nose. It must be made of mashed potato. Pretty soon they start smacking each other in the face real hard and my Clone Wars theory is confirmed as Kitahara's nose also gets opened up, though this was at least a result of a nasty looking knee and not just breathing, which is what I assume did for Nakano. Nakano hits a German and Kitahara no sells it like "*I* am the lumpiest here!" and roundhouse kicks Nakano in the head. This was yet another fun six minutes.
Yoji Anjoh & Yoshihiro Takayama v Hiromichi Fuyuki & Gedo
Anjoh cuts an amazing promo before this starts. I don't even know what he's saying but he's wearing a dress shirt and beige chinos and you can tell he's being a condescending prick to the ugly homeless WAR guys, making these "I'm soooo scared" gestures while Takayama laughs at his little buddy's mean jokes. I'm not sure it's particularly smart business practice for a shoot style fed to have this on the same card as Tamura/Sakuraba. Like, this is not shoot style at all. At times it even felt a bit like a wink wink nudge nudge comedy match. But I'll be fucked if I didn't enjoy lots of it. Anjoh and Tak started out sort of dismissive, poking fun at the tubby WAR dudes and Gedo's ring gear. Fuyuki wants a Greco-Roman knuckle lock so Tak holds his hand way up and Fuyuki can't reach it. Anjoh is one of my favourite shoot style guys but he's such an awesome smug little carny that he makes this kind of match his home as well. He and Takayama were like a pair of all-star high school receivers welcoming a ragtag secondary that could barely run the length of themselves. So the secondary started being dirty fucks and kneeing the all-stars in the balls. I love how vocal Fuyuki is in the ring. He does this shrieking thing as he goes to hit someone and it makes him sound like a wildman. Anjoh mocks him for it so Fuyuki hits him with a fire extinguisher and we get a heat segment on Anjoh who blades and everything. Fuyuki punches him in the cut and team WAR work full on heel. At one point Fuyuki brings in a pair of Y-fronts or something and puts them on Anjoh's head, and Anjoh wrestles the rest of the match with these blood-soaked Y-fronts on his head. It was...strange. As was the finish. I have no clue what that was about at all. This was basically a WAR match that happened to be taking place in UWFi. There was nothing UWFi about it other than the initials on Anjoh's singlet.
Shiro Koshinaka v Masahito Kakihara
This started out great with Kakihara rifling off a big slap and Kosh dropping him with a brutal, side-of-the-head brainbuster. For the most part the match continued in that vein. One thing I've liked about this show is catching a glimpse of some shoot style guys working a bit of pro style. Sano's obviously always been awesome at it and I'd seen Anjoh work it plenty of times. Takayama had one of the best heavyweight runs of the 00s. But it was cool seeing Nakano do it, and it was cool seeing Kakihara do it too (though I suppose you could argue UWFi always had some pro style elements). He only had six minutes to work with (lot of 5-6 minute fights on this card), but he made the most of it. He threw down with lots of nasty palm strikes and lariats, so Kosh was almost forced to grab a front face lock just to contain. Kosh has been around the block more than once, his age is starting to show a bit, but he knows how to handle a young guy getting chippy. The hip attacks are still treated as a big deal even if they maybe look a touch ridiculous in a shoot style setting, but we've been over that already and I don't want to keep harping on it. Finish was nasty and yet probably only the third nastiest version of it done on this show.
Nobuhiko Takada v Yoshiaki Fujiwara
I liked this while it lasted, but it had a bummer of a finish that I assume was unplanned. There was lots of Fujiwara playing defence in this and it was pretty great, which should be unsurprising because nobody has ever been better at playing defence than Fujiwara. Takada caught him with a leg kick early and I love how Fujiwara tried to nonchalantly walk it off, but he couldn't hide that dead leg limp and the crowd picked up on it. Takada tried to force the issue on the mat and there was one bit where he almost grabbed a triangle, and Fujiwara was wheezing and drooling trying to fight it. Fujiwara went down at the end like he'd punctured a lung, but this was just starting to pick up when it happened. Going by Takada's reaction it wasn't supposed to end like that after nine minutes.
Honestly, I had fun with this. The main event was underwhelming, but it was cool to see that match-up in '96. There were really only two matches that you could say were proper shoot style, but I wouldn't be surprised if UWFi had started to mix shoot and pro style at least as far back as the interpromotional deal with New Japan (I may end up finding out if I stick with this). There's only so much you can do when you're bringing in guys that don't normally work shoot style. The quasi-shoot/Strong Style thing they seemed to be going for worked okay, though. The tag was pretty much 100% WAR, but then I'm not sure you could expect anything else based on the participants on the WAR end. Tamura/Sakuraba was excellent. RINGS (or Pancrase) was probably the next logical step for Tamura. UWFi had passed him by at this point. Or he'd passed it.