Tuesday, 28 November 2017

RINGS Mega Battle Tournament 1992: Second Round (11/13/92)

Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse

This kind of went on forever. I love Yamamoto and I like Naruse fine, but 20+ minutes might've still been a bit beyond them at this point (felt way longer than Han/Maeda from the last show and that was the longer bout). Still, maybe it stood them in good stead going forward. Smooth waters never made for skilled sailors and all that. Neither were shy about smashing the other in the face at least, and it gave us some nice stand up exchanges where they were really swinging. Yamamoto was deliberate in going for the choke at the end and I liked how he eventually set it up. And Naruse snatching the desperation leglock was a really cool - and welcome, it must be said - finish. Naruse with three draws and a victory in his first four fights is a record Tony Pulis would be proud of.

Herman Renting v Nobuaki Kakuta

I was about to question why this was a second round fight when only one of them actually won their first round fight (and Kakuta got beat so badly he probably dropped out of NEXT year's Mega Battle), but then I think it was actually a shoot and so...who knows? Renting looked decent at points and Kakuta was mostly outmatched again, especially on the ground. Once Renting went for the choke the first time I think he realised Kakuta couldn't defend against it, so it's no surprise he went back to it. This was largely nothing.

Willie Williams v Yukihiro Takenami 

This was some spectacular carny horseshit and I loved it. The crowd is alllll about Williams and his hobo karate! Takenami is in the mood to fight! It lasted about three minutes and the heat was outrageous! I mean I can't explain why people were so thoroughly losing their mind for this but as a viewer I'm grateful that they were (because rabid crowds make the RINGS even better). Williams isn't good, but man he's fun in this type of short spectacle, with his sloppy palm thrusts and wheel kicks. I have absolutely no problem with him doing this every other show, which is not the stance I expected to take after seeing him for the first time however many shows back.

Dick Vrij v Hans Nyman 

Nyman is announced as "the one and only Hans Nyman," which is like that time back when I went to rent Devil May Cry from the Blockbuster and it was already taken but the guy behind the desk told me to rent Kabuki Warriors instead. This is a rematch from a previous show that I remember kind of sucking, This one was a wee bit better, but not really something you need to see for six rounds/hours. They at least had spurts of half decent stand-up and some of Nyman's strikes looked like they actually had some impact behind them, as opposed to just looking pretty. I don't know what the finish was all about. I don't think Nyman did either, though he was gracious about it despite being annoyed (with good reason!).

Andrei Kopylov v Chris Dolman

Perhaps I was hasty in my assessment that Dolman, after his fight on the previous show, had little left to offer in the twilight of his career. Because this was way better. It probably helped being in there with a gamer like Kopylov. I liked how Dolman would try to control with his judo and use his size advantage on the mat. Kopylov is tricky and we've seen how he can submit guys in plenty of ways, but Dolman was patient and used the extra weight. Excellent finish, too. Pretty fun bout.

Akira Maeda v Dimitri Petkov

I like how the booking of this was basically a rocket-fuelled version of Hulk Hogan v whatever member of the Heenan Family was up next for him to feud with. Petkov came in on the last show, looked good, picked up the win, and now he's onto the ace. That they did it as part of a tournament was smart, in that it wasn't completely obvious they were setting Petkov up as the next guy for Maeda to run through. As a standalone bout I also thought this was really good, so it gets thumbs up all around. Petkov was super fun as a sort of shoot style King Kong Bundy, shrugging off Maeda's strikes and telling him to bring it, being pretty damn solid on the ground and tossing Maeda around with some awesome slams. There was one cool bit where he just picked Maeda up like it was nothing and walked around the ring, Maeda helpless, Petkov soaking in the moment before slamming him. He also reeled off a killer headlock takedown that the crowd lost it for. I thought they were kind of obvious in setting up the finish at first, but they threw in a bit of a curve ball and overall I really dug this.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Friday, 24 November 2017

RINGS Mega Battle Tournament 1992: First Round (10/29/92)

Dimitri Petkov v Vladimir Kravchuk

This was alright. Certainly a different sort of opener to the young lion-ish series from the previous few shows. I'd never seen nor heard of either guy before and I didn't have sky high hopes based on the early stand-up, but it got decent enough once they took it to the mat. It was pretty ragged and a far cry from your top tier stuff, but it's interesting seeing how a guy who looks like Hodor will go about submitting someone. Petkov had a few big throws as well -- impressive considering Kravchuk is by no means a slight individual. Petkov is absolutely made up afterwards and high-fives with enough force to leave mere mortals limp-wristed.

Han Nyman v Georgi Keandelaki

I've seen several different spelling variations for Keandelaki's name. I don't know which one is correct. This was another rounds contest, fought mostly standing up. Nyman is limited and has almost no ground game, but he has fast feet and some of those kicks are real pretty. Keandelaki threw some nice punch combos to the body but he had even less to offer on the ground than Nyman, to the point Nyman was actively trying to take it there to finish him. Nasty knockout finish, but otherwise this wasn't much of anything.

Willie Peeters v Herman Renting

This was a little weird. It went twelve minutes and I guess it was spirited enough. They were active - Peeters especially - and there was no "downtime" in the shoot style sense of lying around in half crabs or the likes (the half crab being very much a staple of the RINGS, obviously). But not a lot of what they did felt like it was of consequence. None of the strikes landed with any real authority. Nobody seemed in danger of being submitted (until the finish when, you know, someone was submitted, though even then it happened so quickly you never had a chance to properly register the danger). Peeters was the aggressor and for large parts Renting absorbed body shots, but he's not very compelling. It's not like Fujiwara getting battered while trying to lure a guy into a mistake. It's just...guy getting popped in the gut while semi-successfully protecting himself. Peeters had a couple nice takedowns, at least. Still a treasure, Peeters. The music accompanying the post-fight highlight package is simply sublime, like something from the opening montage of a mid-90s JRPG.

Andrei Kopylov v Sotir Gotchev

This is the kind of thing I started this project for. I haven't a clue who Gotchev is, but straight away he grabs Kopylov and chucks him and you're thinking the Bulgarian Christian Laettner might have something about himself. Then Kopylov forces a few rope breaks and scores a knockdown. It starts looking like a neat wee competitive squash, where Kopylov gets to stretch out a bit (always welcome) against a complete unknown who it turns out can handle himself. Then Gotchev gathers some steam and the score starts to even out a bit. It feels less competitive squash and more flat out competitive. Gotchev is clearly no scrub and the crowd were all in on them rolling around on the mat. It wasn't a lost classic or anything, but it was a really nice, low-key bout between two unassuming guys who could twist your arm off. Which is why we watch the RINGS.

Dick Vrij v Nobuaki Kakuta

I think part of me has wanted this fight from the first time I saw Kakuta. I mean, nothing against the guy, but he's not terribly interesting and his other bouts haven't set the world on fire. They tend to follow a similar pattern and he tops out at "okay, he was better in that than I figured." The crowd love him, though, especially when he's up against it. Vrij is about a foot and a half taller than him so that constitutes up against it. It went about how you thought/hoped it would. Vrij's coming off the loss to Han so I guess the slaughtering of some wee fella was just what the doctor ordered. While Kakuta can't do anything on the ground his stand-up is at least competent, and that usually keeps him in his fights. Here he has no chance because Vrij annihilates him whenever he tries to get in close enough to actually connect. At one point Vrij appears to punch Kakuta with a closed fist, probably out of annoyance. The ref' admonishes him and Vrij responds with this "oh I'm sorry, I didn't know that wasn't allowed." He'd only been there for every single show, of course. Kakuta sort of takes Vrij down, or Vrij falls over as Kakuta happens to be clinging to his leg, and Vrij uses up a rope break almost entirely out of pity. He literally points to the rope and smiles like "see, I was in trouble there" *wink wink*. This was like six minutes of what we'd soon, one and all, come to love about PRIDE.

Grom Zaza v Chris Dolman

I can't help but think this was kind of a waste of our magnificent Grom Zaza. Dolman has that lovable vet thing going and I find the old lug endearing, but he can't really do much as he inches ever closer to 50 (though, looking back, I apparently liked his last fight). Zaza was fun letting loose with combos, moving in and out, finding ways to take Dolman over. Dolman really just bided his time until he could grab a limb and twist. He's wily and been around the block a time or two. Fine enough for five minutes, but you want Zaza against someone with a bit more to offer.

Masaaki Satake v Mitsuya Nagai

This went a minute and a half and I'm not really sure what the deal was. You maybe wonder if it's a shoot, but then you watch the finish where Nagai kind of stands there for a couple seconds before going down for the ten and it's like...well, that happened. What we got was actually okay and probably the only time I can say I'd have been fine with a Satake fight going longer. Mitsuya Nagai: Miracle Worker?

Akira Maeda v Volk Han 

The rubber match. It probably went too long and it wasn't without its lulls, but of their three bouts this one might've had the coolest individual threads running through it. A lot of elements that had been played up in previous fights came together in this, sometimes in ways we hadn't seen before. We got Han's spinning back fist, but this time he did it before the bell had even rung (which got the crowd on his case for doing it, and the referee's case for counting it as a knockdown). Maeda is still the superior striker and Han is STILL and FOREVER (apparently) susceptible to getting smashed in the gut for a nine count. You can tell guys are always wary of grappling with Han, especially on the ground. They'll roll towards the ropes even if they're the ones with the advantage, just because they know how quickly Han can flip that script. There was one bit where Han casually grabbed a wrist and before you knew it Maeda was on his back, then just as casually he let go of the wrist in favour of an ankle and Maeda was left scrambling for the ropes. Han did all this standing up. Hadn't gone to ground at any point. Eventually Maeda started absolutely drilling Han with leg kicks and any time he so much as grimaced the crowd were right on it. Forcing this mild-mannered Russian to show weakness is a victory unto itself. The longer it went the more visibly gassed Han became, then he'd start favouring the left leg (which had been kicked to smithereens), but then you wonder if it was all a ploy because Maeda would come in close and Han would just leap at him and do something preposterous. That happened like four times, where he'd literally leap into a rolling kneebar or cross armbreaker. At one point he managed to apply an STF and it was unbelievable. Finish was pretty great, too. You could've probably shaved ten minutes off this and it wouldn't have hurt, but at 24 minutes I didn't think it was a slog and would still call it one of the better RINGS fights so far.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Friday, 15 September 2017

Back to the 80s Lucha

Rayo De Jalisco Jr. v Mascara Ano 2000 (8/15/86)

I thought this was more interesting than good, but still pretty enjoyable. What they're doing isn't spectacular by any stretch, but it's cool to see a title match between two guys I don't recall ever seeing work a title match. The first caida had some neat enough matwork, although it was more about Rayo whipping 2000 around the ring with armdrags - and a little dancing thrown in for good measure - than them rolling around on the mat. I liked 2000's reactions to Rayo getting the better of him -- you could tell his ego was taking a beating and that aforementioned dancing was adding insult to injury. The tercera wasn't particularly long, but it had a couple nice topes and a big Rayo plancha, and I liked how Rayo wanted no part of the tapatia twice in the same match.

Babe Face, Pirata Morgan & Cien Caras v La Fiera, Lizmark & Rayo De Jalisco Jr. (September 1986)

I'm not sure the date on this is correct. It feels like a lead in to the Babe Face/Fiera hair match from August, what with how they bled and bit each other in the face and whatnot. This was really fun stuff. I've watched a bunch of lead-in trios of late, often setting up apuestas matches where the central pairing go at each other tooth and nail. This wasn't quite as frantic overall as some of those, but the Fiera/Babe Face match up was as gritty and violent as any. Fiera's sell of the blood loss was really awesome, the way he'd stagger around like his body was willing but the tank was nearly empty. He'd unload with the spin kicks and he got his revenge by drawing blood, but Babe Face always seemed to come out on top. Maybe the rudos just worked better as a unit. Honour among thieves and all that -- the kind of code Fiera used to live by himself. The other four guys were very much bit part players, though they each had their moments. Cien Caras was pure hubris and I loved him for it. When things were going his way he reveled in the moment, but whenever the tide turned he wanted nothing to do with anyone on the opposite side, especially Lizmark. Pirata Morgan never took any career-threatening bumps, but he took one doozy to the floor and spat Fiera's blood in the air so he ticked the boxes of what you want in a bit part Pirata Morgan performance. I've been holding off on watching the Fiera/Babe Face apuestas for ages so I'm hyped about it coming up next.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Looking at 1995 CMLL

El Dandy, Ultimo Dragon & Hector Garza v Ray Gonzalez, Dr. Wagner Jr. & El Felino (CMLL, 8/18/95)

1995 is sort of a lost year for CMLL. I could probably count on one hand the amount of 1995 CMLL matches I've seen, I don't recall even reading about anything from that year, and it's not like anybody's jumping to take deep dive on it. I'm not saying I'm going to be the guy to do that, but if this was anything to go by then there might be a few things worth unearthing. El Dandy and Ray Gonzalez are clearly feuding at this point, though going by Dandy's apuestas record this didn't lead to a hair match. Which is sort of astounding because they sure fought like an apuestas match wasn't far away. They bleed truly gruesome amounts of blood. Dandy was cut open about a minute in and he bled EVERYWHERE. Like, I'm not sure enough people were even watching CMLL in 1995 to warrant a gusher like that. Gonzalez is a Puerto Rico guy so he knows how to bleed, but when the tecnicos made their initial comeback he just ran away. Again and again, when Dandy tried to grab him, Gonzalez ran. This went on for a while and I wondered if they were going to hold off on Dandy's revenge for another time, but no, eventually he was caught and he did indeed let the blood flow. Wagner wasn't featured a ton in this, but he was my favourite guy in it. He didn't have to do much, sometimes it was just his mannerisms and charisma that grabbed me, but whenever he was on the screen I paid attention. He threw his hands up on the match and threatened to walk out with Gonzalez, but Dandy followed them up the ramp, clocked Wagner with a hook, and Wagner took a pratfall into the crowd. Later he fell backwards out the ring as Ultimo held the ropes open, tumbling to the floor as he hopelessly tried to grab onto something. It was more of a comedy performance than anything, but it made for a fun counterpoint to Dandy and Gonzalez mutilating each other.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Porky v Escorpion (Hair v Hair)

Super Porky v Rey Escorpion (Hair v Hair) (CMLL, 10/18/13)

How's this for something totally different? I don't remember ever seeing a lucha/shoot style hybrid before, but that's what this was. It's MMA rules and it's sort of surreal watching Brazo de Plata don the gloves and work FUTEN-level stiff. It's unfortunate that they stuck to the two out of three falls format, though. We never got a ton of actual match time and the falls hurt the pacing of it. Felt like things were really starting to break loose only for us to have to settle down for a minute or two before resumption. Porky was crazy fun in this. He doesn't have much left in the tank at this point, but I loved him using his fatness to ground Escorpion, secure the mount and rain down holy hell with the punches. When Escorpion was on top it was all Porky could do to curl up and cover his face, which got the crowd behind him ten thousand percent. I should watch more Escorpion from 2013. I think I've only seen him in this feud, but he was awesome in it and there's bound to be other stuff. The spot where he used his legs to tie Porky to the ropes while punching his unprotected head was glorious and I don't remember seeing anything like that before. Finish might've been cheap on the surface, but Escorpion pummeling Porky so badly that it caused Maximo to lose it and come to his old man's aid was quite the moment. I thought this was a really fun novelty. Probably would've been even better with a few tweaks, but I'm not sure it's ever been done before so it's hard to criticise them for not getting it spot on first time.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Super Porky v Rey Escorpion Trios

Maximo, Stuka Jr. & Super Porky v Dragon Rojo Jr., Polvora & Rey Escorpion (CMLL, 10/4/13)

CMLL really was brilliant in 2013. Between Porky/Escorpion and Rush/Casas/Shocker we got tonnes of awesome brawling. If they allowed blood in Arena Mexico then this would've been twelve stars. I actually thought at several points they were trying to open Porky up hardway as Escorpion was just punching the absolute dogshit out of him, biting him like he was trying to siphon the gravy out of his forehead. It was sort of harrowing because Porky could barely defend himself. He looked like the fat kid being set upon by a gang of thugs and no wonder the ref' tossed out the primera. Porky eventually snapping was incredible and man oh man was he potatoing Escorpion something fierce. There was one bit where Escorpion was lying in a heap in the corner and Porky was just drilling him with left hands. It was as WAR-esque as you'll ever see in lucha. Everyone else played their parts fine as well. Dragon Rojo Jr. and Polvora were capable lieutenants when it came to holding Porky's partners at bay, Maximo's diva shtick was fun once he started making his comeback and Stuka's no-hands reverse plancha is astonishing. Seriously, it never ceases to be breathtaking, and the camera angle made it look completely insane. Awesome ten minute scrap.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Casas v Ultimo Dragon - The Lead-In

I was planning on watching the Casas/Fiera hair match today, but then I kind of wound up down the rabbit hole and wanted to finally check out some build to the Casas/Ultimo title match that I also want to re-watch soon. I'm on a Negro Casas kick, basically. He was very, very good, you know.

Negro Casas, El Felino & Bestia Salvaje v Ultimo Dragon, Ciclon Ramirez & Oro (CMLL, 3/12/93)

This was pretty much everything you'd ask for in a lead-in trios. The early Casas/Ultimo exchange wasn't particularly flashy or grand in scale, but it gave you a taste of what to expect and that thirty second stretch where Ultimo continually dragged Casas back into the armbar was beautiful. It really set the tone for everything they did throughout the match -- Casas was Casas and arguably at the very peak of his powers, but Ultimo was rapid fast and getting better by the day. Plus he had those kicks, and Casas didn't seem to have a proper answer to them. I've shit on Ultimo Dragon plenty of times on this blog, but I thought he was pretty excellent here and Mexico is by far my favourite setting for him. The Felino/Ramirez and Bestia/Oro exchanges ended up going a similar route, with Bestia eating Oro's dust and Felino getting pissed that his partners allowed him to be humiliated so. At that point the rudos teased dissension and suckered the tecnicos into a gang beating. Casas took out his frustrations by seemingly tying Ultimo's leg to a fixed seat, and the beatdown continued into the segunda with Oro playing punchbag. Fittingly it was Ultimo clipping Casas' legs from outside that was the catalyst for the tecnico comeback, leading to an awesome revenge spot with Ultimo repeatedly kicking Casas into rows of seats. Oro's moonsault to pick up the fall on Bestia was gorgeous and of course Ultimo would pin Casas with another one of his kicks (this time it was an enziguri). That issue ate at Casas into the tercera and I loved that he just drove his shoulder into Ultimo's balls. I mean, what better equaliser? Ultimo repaying the favour with a dropkick was another awesome moment. Did he mean to go low? Did it actually CONNECT low or was Casas trying to pull the con job? Maybe it was accidental, maybe it wasn't, but either way it made you wonder if even the subtle low blow was something Casas couldn't beat Ultimo at. The short end run between them was great and Casas once more trying and failing to outdo Ultimo made for a great finish, but it was the Ciclon Ramirez tope leading into it that was the moment of the match. It was truly spectacular; he absolutely fucking torpedoed Bestia with that thing. Great match.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Casas v Fiera - The Lead-In

Negro Casas, Black Magic & Mano Negra v La Fiera, Atlantis & Vampiro (CMLL, 9/17/93)

I remember reading OJ's review of this months ago and being disappointed that it sounded...well, disappointing. I wasn't hugely fussed about watching it, but I'm going to watch the Casas/Fiera apuestas soon and wanted to see at least a little of the build. As a lead in trios this wasn't as strong as those Dandy/Fiera or Dandy/Llanes trios, but maybe my lowish expectations helped matters because I still enjoyed it. I don't disagree with the criticism that it felt like three separate issues playing out with no real thread to tie them together. I didn't really mind everyone mostly sticking to the one dance partner, though. If the brawling was pedestrian then I might've, but I didn't think this was that. It captured a pretty nice sense of chaos and it wasn't like there weren't moments where one guy would stop beating on their rival to take a swing at someone else. They may not have been brothers in arms, but for this night at least they were makeshift comrades and they had a common goal. Casas/Fiera showed flashes of greatness, I thought. Black Magic/Vampiro and Atlantis/Mano Negra had their moments as well, but it's Casas v Fiera at the Anniversary show and that was the most spotlighted match up. When they turned it loose we got a few cracking moments, like Casas trampling over fans as Fiera chased him into the crowd, Fiera repeatedly ramming Casas' head into a seat and later slamming him into the second row. Casas got himself some nice colour after being lawn darted into the post as well, and on the whole it whet the appetite for the hair match. I can't complain.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Arkangel de la Muerte v Tigre Blanco (CMLL, 1/23/00)

Public opinion on this seems to be that it's about as by-the-numbers of an undercard title match as you can get. I don't really disagree with that assessment, but I don't mind by-the-numbers as there's a scarcity of lucha title matches in general. It's also an opportunity to see more Arkangel de la Muerte, so I never felt like it was fourteen minutes of my time wasted. First caida didn't have a ton going on, and to be honest I don't remember anything about it now despite watching it only a couple hours ago. It was short, at least. Segunda picks up some and it gave us a few minutes of nice legwork, which I thought Arkangel sold well. It didn't have much of a payoff and was contained within the fall itself, but it was cool while it lasted. Third caida was where they went for broke, though they never had much time to really get the point across. There's only so much drama you can create with four minutes, I guess. Tigre Blanco's tope was gorgeous, though, and those powerbombs never lacked for impact. CMLL was on quite the tear in early 2000, with the Satanico/Tarzan Boy and Villano III/Atlantis feuds in full swing. This was nowhere near the level of that stuff, but it was a neat detour from the piss and blood and guts of what those guys were doing.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Virus Has Been Commissioned to Deprison the Prism of Your Mind, Spit the Wisdom of The One Divine

Virus v Loco Max (CMLL, 2/7/12) - GOOD

One of the great tragedies in lucha is that we've never gotten that big Virus blood feud. That feud where he's able to strip loose the chains and brawl like his life depended on it. I guess it's looking the gift horse in the mouth to complain about such a thing. It's not like we could be doing with less Virus matwork. Matwork Virus is still the best Virus, but you watch something like this, where he's punching a guy in the chops and brawling around ringside, and it's hard not to conclude that Virus working bloody apuestas bouts wouldn't be awesome. Loco Max was alright, even if I didn't find him very compelling on offence. He's a guy who has an annoying tendency to telegraph kick-outs. When Virus rolled him up in the second fall and he was struggling for dear life I knew it was over, then when he found himself in the same predicament in the tercera and did nothing I knew he wasn't going down then and there. Virus was an awesome little bruiser, though. I loved how he did a triple shot of ramming Max's head into the top, middle and bottom turnbuckle of one corner, but then he went that extra bit further and started bashing his head off the canvas as well. His 'wind up the right arm, pop them with the left' spot is always a favourite, but the part where he just dinged Max in the jaw almost as a desperation shot ruled. You can quibble about the finish being cheap and/or abrupt and I wouldn't really argue with you, but it was a nasty ball shot and it felt suitably desperate. If it led to a wagers match I'd have actively loved it, but I'm willing to bet my house and car and everything in it that it didn't. Such is the lucha libre life, brothers.

Complete & Accurate Virus

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Star-Spangled Up and Virus' Chain Got Cuts, Mr. T Looked, Saw His Shit and Went Nuts

Virus v Dragon Lee (CMLL, 4/5/15) - EPIC

I haven't watched any Virus in a minute, let alone written about any. I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder, because after this I want to go back and watch everything he's done over the last couple years. I guess this match is a little bittersweet. I remember when the Guerrero Maya Jr title match popped up online in 2011 and blew everyone away. That kind of awesome old school title bout was a rarity (still is, I guess) and there was Virus, the guy who'd seemed to spend most of his prime in barely-featured CMLL undercard lightning matches, hand-leading Black Terry's kid through a classic. And for the next four years we got a handful of killer Virus title matches each year. Still, nothing lasts forever. All good things must come to an end, and this was that end, that occasion where the young challenger usurped the champ. What a way to go out, though. The first caida was a total Virus showcase and a Virus matwork caida is pretty much never not great. I love how he used his stocky little frame to pin one of Lee's arms in place while he twisted the other into the position he was satisfied with. Lee spent most of the time escaping holds rather than applying them, but I liked his snappy ankle lock reversal, and that led to Virus straight kicking him in his taped up thigh to get free, which of course ruled. Pretty soon Lee started making some headway, being the younger and quicker of the two, firing off some rapid strikes that Virus had no real defence against. He'd throw his arms up to block, but Lee had it all scouted and changed it up accordingly (loved his jab-hook-spin kick to the gut combo). I'm not sure if Lee intended to go for the double German at the finish or if he just messed up the initial bridge and improvised, but if it was the latter then it was a pretty solid indication of how good he is for someone so young. The second caida followed on from where the first left off, but Virus evening things up by using his old man smarts - punching Lee in the gut in order to secure the Emerald Frosion - was a neat touch. They really kicked it into high gear for the deciding fall, and even if Lee blowing off the leg work when it was time to make his comeback was frustrating, it was worth it for the way Virus tore that thigh apart. How he'd tie him in knots was impressive enough, but it was those nasty moments where he'd just slam the leg into the mat that I dug most. Stretch run had the heat and the drama, a corker of a tope, and a finish that somewhat played off those German suplexes from earlier. Slam dunk of a title match. It may be the last we see of Virus in this setting, which is a real bummer, but it sure ended on a high. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Trauma I v Canis Lupus - The Mask Match

Trauma I v Canis Lupus (Mask v Mask) (IWRG, 9/4/16)

There's always the danger that watching a match you've seen pimped for months on end as an all-timer will fail to live up to the hype. I mean, I thought the first two falls had some nice ideas and set the table well enough for the massacre that was the tercera, but I wouldn't really say they were a particularly strong pair of falls for an apuesa match. I liked Lupus' tope coming in the first fifteen seconds, he had some nice jab combos and his riling up of front row Trauma fans was entertaining, even if I'd rather he spent less time posing and more time punching a guy in the face. It was a solid enough rudo beatdown, but a beatdown more along the lines of something you'd see in the mano a mano rather than the blowoff. Lupus stealing Trauma's Lo Negro del Negro for the finish was great, though, and it begged for a follow up later on. Trauma's selling of the leg heading into the segunda was a nice touch and I bought that first fall beatdown having taken its toll on him. I don't necessarily think his comeback was too easily come by or anything, and I liked him going to the tope quickly as well, but I couldn't help heading into the third caida feeling that the whole thing lacked some bite. Then they started blasting each other with chairs and it became everything I could've asked for. I can't really articulate it, but there are points when I'm watching lucha where it'll suddenly hit me that I'm watching something verging on the transcendent. It just kind of sneaks up on me and I don't get that feeling watching wrestling from America or Japan or Europe. I don't know the exact point I got that feeling during this, but it was somewhere between Canis Lupus curling up in the corner with blood streaming out of his forehead and Trauma headbutting him clean in the nose. The selling of exhaustion down the stretch was phenomenal, the way they'd take that little extra second or two to compose themselves, how they'd throw slaps that had almost nothing behind them. At one point Lupus just grabbed Trauma by the horns on his mask and repeatedly headbutted him, partly because it was about all he had left, partly because fuck this guy who won't stay down. By the end the ring mat looked like a tarp from a blood splatter reenactment, both guys were covered in gore and the drama for every nearfall was absolutely through the roof. I'd somehow managed to avoid major spoilers as well, and with Trauma I being my favourite wrestler in the world a few years back I was right there with those people under their Los Traumas masks. I got worried for a second after they bumped the ref', thinking we were about to get some schmozz finish to put a damper on things, but they went the opposite direction and that along with the tombstone only turned the heat up even more. I loved that Trauma was too fried to even kick out properly so he just grabbed the ref's arm to stop him from counting. Lupus' hands were stained completely red and he could barely push himself to his knees without slipping on the blood. And the finish. Truly the perfect payoff and a fitting way to cap any mask match. The immediate aftermath with Lupus lying face down in a literal puddle of his own blood is the sort of visual you don't soon forget.

Thursday, 31 August 2017


I'm on a Yoshida kick now. I also picked up Lynch's best of ARSION comp a few months back and started watching it the other night. 

Yumi Fukawa v Candy Okutsu (2/18/98)

I figured this was heading toward "fun intro to the style" territory, but then it kept going and before I knew it I was thinking it was a bit more than that. It wasn't perfect -- some transitions were abrupt and they might've overreached on a few ideas, but it had flashes of the lucha and shooty influences early on before morphing into a highly competitive contest by the end. I was impressed with Fukawa, particularly the snap she'd get on flat back bumps for Candy's missile dropkicks. A couple of those moonsaults were pretty brutal as well, including one where I think she was intending on landing on Candy's arm only to near enough crush her head like a spoiled grapefruit. For a match that I assume was to show the audience what to expect from the new promotion I thought they managed to strike a really nice balance between exhibition and struggle. Good match, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of both women. 

Aja Kong v Michiko Ohmukai (2/18/98)

Man, what is Ohmukai? I mean, if you ever needed proof that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Slender, unassuming, supermodel good looks...and she will kick your fucking head in. I thought this was ace. The opening with the slap, Ohmukai's brutal kicks and Aja's subsequent sell (loved her just collapsing after being Irish whipped) was awesome, then Aja came back like you knew she would and unleashed hell. Also liked how she'd sit in the mount position and shit talk Ohmukai while slapping her about the head. It made for a neat dynamic of heavyweight wrecking ball v skinny supermodel who'll kick you in the liver, particularly as skinny supermodel kicking you in the liver clearly had a point to prove (that she was every bit the wrecking ball Aja was, maybe). Where Candy/Fukawa was more along the lines of your lucharesu, this was straight out of Battlarts. And I'm fully on board with Ohmukai as ARSION Takeshi Ono.

Aja Kong, Michiko Ohmukai & Yumi Fukawa v Rie Tamada, Candy Okutsu & Mikiko Futagami (2/18/98)

This was alright, albeit pretty sloppy. Sometimes that meant you got Fukawa hitting crazy moonsaults where she almost lands on her head or crushes Candy Okutsu's ribs, then at other points you got ropey powerslams and double teams where someone had to stand around waiting for others to get into position properly. If everyone was pulling double duty on the show then I guess it's understandable, especially in Ohmukai's case considering Aja Kong blootered her about the head for twelve minutes. Tamada was a lot of fun and probably my favourite girl in this. She'd often smack someone in the face as a cut off and the best spot was her punching an onrushing Aja right in the mouth. Mostly a go-go-go sprint, but the early cutting off of Fukawa gave us something to sink our teeth into and it's no surprise she was satisfied picking up the victory. Her majistral cradle looked air tight.

Mariko Yoshida v Rie Tamada (4/17/98)

Yoshida's first match in ARSION and fittingly it's a doozy. Some of her matwork in this was breathtaking, how she'd just yank Tamada into a hold and give her no peace whatsoever. One of my favourite things about her as a worker is how nothing against her comes easy, even if it's trying to gain side control or apply a routine hold, she makes you work for every little thing and we saw it in abundance here. Her dominance on the ground sort of created a story of Tamada being forced to try every other strategy possible in response, from taking to the air to attempting a bunch of DDT and suplex variations to straight elbowing Yoshida in the mouth. Not that she was a slouch on the mat, but if she was stubborn enough to keep the match there then it wouldn't be long before Yoshida hooked her in something she couldn't get out of. We saw this when she started going after Yoshida's leg, grabbing a few kneebars that forced her to scramble to the ropes, but then she got ahead of herself shooting in for the single leg and Yoshida tied her up in two seconds flat. I can't even describe how she did it, but man was it gorgeous. Classy match. 

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

I Watched Some Joshi (for the Mariko Yoshida)

Mariko Yoshida & Yumiko Hotta v Bison Kimura & Madusa Miceli (AJW, 11/14/90)

Pretty sure this is the earliest match I've seen from every woman involved. I didn't think Madusa showed up in AJW until a couple years later, but it turns out she'd already been there as early as '88. Her heel shtick was sort of amusing, she threw a few nice kicks and she wasn't afraid to cheapshot someone. Hotta never really potatoed anybody and worked pretty light with Madusa. Maybe she hadn't yet developed that crowbar streak, or she wasn't quite as comfortable full force punching the foreigner in the nose. Yoshida played a fun FIP, got ragdolled for a few minutes and took a few nasty face-first bumps off of hair swings. She wasn't into the shoot style/lucha funkiness yet -- this was her doing a bunch of Irish whips and bridge ups at a hundred miles an hour. Not the best version of Yoshida, but I'm interested in watching some of her earlier stuff and for a two year pro there weren't many holes to pick. Finish being a plain old slap was...strange.

Mariko Yoshida v Carlos Amano (GAEA, 4/30/04)

Cracking little match. Yoshida is a wonderful pro wrestler and we got to see plenty of what makes her so here. Her early grappling and tying up of Amano's limbs was Navarro-esque, only quicker and slicker. Pretty soon this became about how Amano could possibly survive Yoshida's masterclass, and she'd eventually get her answer by using her head as a weapon. She'd just launch herself head-first at Yoshida with these wild headbutts from various angles, which opened the door for her to bust out some of her own slick grappling. For an eleven minute match they did a pretty great job of getting across how dangerous the Air Raid Crash is, as every time Yoshida went for it Amano would frantically try to escape or reverse it into a hold. That then meant we got to see Yoshida come up with ways of escaping those predicaments, and I don't know if there's anybody better at milking a possible submission than Yoshida. Those little struggles over a cross armbreaker or a neck crank -- nobody does them better.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle Special: Ishizue (8/21/92)

Masayuki Naruse v Koichiro Kimura

This was a spirited little contest and better than I was expecting. Naruse has evidently graduated from his young lion series and gets to test his mettle against the slightly more experienced Kimura. Some of the stand up exchanges were pretty energetic. Kimura never really showed any of that in his previous fights and it was mostly Naruse forcing the issue, but he at least tried to smack a guy in the face. I wasn't expecting that finish, either. Naruse was never one of RINGS' main players, but he had some fun stuff and one great fight with Han, so I'm interested in seeing if he has any under the radar gems.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Yoshinori Nishi

Hey, for a five round Kakuta fight this was alright! I kind of dread anything to do with Kakuta, but this had more energy than usual and they kept things moving along nicely. Kakuta never really comes across as the aggressor in his fights, probably because he's worried about what'll happen if he's grabbed and taken down (particularly if it's a shoot, for obvious reasons), but this time he came out his shell a little. Nishi was still the more dominant on the ground, but if nothing else Kakuta knew to milk that and the crowd were certainly on board. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see, but a decent enough bout.

Mitsuya Nagai v Cvetan Pavlov

And here we have the shoot style storytellin'! This was one of those fights that might be a wee bit on the nose with what they're trying to do, but I'm a sucker for it and I thought it was fun as fuck. Pavlov looks like he's been sleeping in a bin as he and his soon-to-be ex-wife hash out the final deets of the divorce (she got the house), and I have no idea what his discipline is. Google turns me onto a bunch of LinkedIn profiles that I would very much assume have nothing to do with THIS Cvetan Pavlov so I guess we/I may never know. Nagai basically steamrolls him for five minutes. It's probably the most enjoyable Nagai performance to date, throwing some nice looking strikes and a few brutal jumping knees. He's all about finishing this early and before you know it Cvetan is down to his last point. One more knockdown or rope break and it's over. Nagai has been in no trouble whatsoever. As Cvetan gets back to his feet Nagai even points to his own corner like "one more," as if it's all but over. But of course he overreaches and pays dearly, as we all must, for underestimating a man currently eating discarded banana peels for breakfast. I liked this a bunch.

Grom Zaza v Shtorm Koba

Man, this was really fun too. I feared for them a little when the early stand up elicited laughter from the crowd (even Han had a chuckle), but they won everybody over pretty quickly with the amateur wrestling. Some of the throws were meaty and messy and they were great, just super uncooperative. At one point Koba practically gorilla pressed Zaza and flung him all awkward-like into the ropes. Then as the fight went on they started finding their groove with the striking. It wasn't world class, but it made for a nice complement to the chucking. I was very much a fan of that finish as well. Might've been the best looking full nelson you ever did see.

Chris Dolman v Herman Renting

This was pretty easy to follow. Dolman is big and imposing and can smother Renting if he can grab him. Renting knows it and wants to stay out of reach, yet not so far that he can't use his own kickboxing. At a couple points they get a bit chippy and I think Renting did something to piss Dolman off, judging by Dolman dickishly slapping him about the head as he had his back. I think there was a clip job somewhere despite it lasting a shade over five minutes, so maybe that tell you more than I could.

Masaaki Satake v Rob Kaman

I'll assume this was a shoot, contested under kickboxing rules. It was fine, but I don't really have much to say about it. I don't really care about watching him, but Satake is clearly an extremely solid legit fighter.

Volk Han v Dick Vrij

Fuuuuuck yes. This has honestly become a dream match after going through all of these shows, and I'm delighted to announce that it lived up to expectations. It's total kicker v grappler, between the guy who can knock you out from anywhere and the guy who can submit you from anywhere. Vrij will maul a guy with kicks and knees. Han will tie your limbs in knots. Which strategy wins out? On its own this ruled, but I think it's elevated to another level taken in context. Vrij has stopped everyone he's fought up to this point, including Maeda. Han has the loss to Kopylov on his record, but he's submitted everyone else, including Maeda. Neither are undefeated, but there's a clear hierarchy in RINGS. Maeda is the king, but these two are the next rung down. The beginning really set this up for how it would play out, with Han leaping right into a kneebar attempt as Vrij frantically tried to grab the ropes. It was an awesome struggle that had the crowd rabid straight away. Some of the little touches were super cool, like Han trying his spinning back fists but doing so with a recklessness we don't usually associate with him. Vrij was not to be fucked with and Han knew it. He wanted to finish things quickly, but he left himself open by fighting fire with fire and he never did it again. I also loved how Vrij hesitated in throwing knees when he had Han in the clinch. Against anybody else in that situation he's letting loose, but he knew Han could just as easily catch that knee, we SAW Han readying to catch that knee, and so Vrij had to be smarter about it. Vrij would only really engage when he was close enough to the ropes to reach out if he needed to, and there was a great bit where Han almost hooked a kneebar only for Vrij to grab the rope and wag his finger like he knew well in advance what was coming. After a knockdown Han, visibly rocked, just dropped to the mat and tried to goad Vrij into joining him, knowing full well that he needed to avoid going toe to toe. It never just told you their respective strengths needed to be feared -- it told you how aware of it they both were. Finish was great as well. Han's used up all his lifelines and Vrij is finding it easier to pick his spots. Han's taking a ton of punishment, one more big shot and he's down for the TKO...but he can still submit you from anywhere. It's just a question of whether he can do it before Vrij hits him with too much. Han was spectacular in this, but I thought Vrij more than held up his end and I really didn't think it was a carry job. You can say Han could have this kind of fight with any muscled-up striker and you'd probably be right, but Vrij has continually improved and his aura was as big a part of this feeling special as Han's. Awesome fight.

Akira Maeda v Andrei Kopylov

This was what you wanted in a Maeda main event. It's fine seeing him fight guys like Hans Nyman and Willie Williams if for no reason other than to see how he'll approach them, but this was against a guy closer to his skill level and more like something you'd see from peak UWF Maeda. Fight itself felt more like a UWF fight than a RINGS fight, actually. The matwork was pretty deliberate, lots of shifting for position, not too many "highspots," and the parts where Maeda let loose with strikes were straight out of Maeda/Fujiwara when Fujiwara would get too dominant on the ground. Kopylov is for real. He doesn't quite have Han's ability to pull out a submission from the most unexpected of situations, but he's a dynamo and everything looked great. The crowd being completely bonkers did not hurt one bit. Really good stuff, possibly my favourite Maeda RINGS fight to date.

Awesome show overall. Only the Satake fight was whatever, but that was almost certainly a shoot and so I can't complain too much. Everything else ranged from fine for what it was to awesome and that one-two punch to close the show rocked big time. And the 14,000 strong crowd being absolutely bouncing helped as well.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Once Tenryu Had Mountains in the Palm of His Hand, and Rivers that Ran Through Ev'ry Day

Genichiro Tenryu v Akira Taue (All Japan, 4/16/90) - GOOD

Baby Taue stepping to the big dog! This had exactly the kind of dynamic you'd expect and it was super fun. Taue jumps him early and has a few unexpected tricks up his sleeve, with his gangly dropkick and even taking it to the floor. You know what Tenryu's going to do, and when he takes over and goes apeshit on a chippy young fella punching above his station it's never not glorious. He really mauled Taue, obviously with the Adam's apple chops and punts to the eye and kidneys, but the this time he was stomping his face into the canvas as well. There was one bit where he whipped Taue into the guardrail, but instead of following up he just dismissively headed back into the ring, allowed Taue to eventually follow, then went right back to knocking him around.

Genichiro Tenryu & Tatsumi Fujinami v Riki Choshu & Koki Kitahara (Rikidozan Festival, 6/30/96) - FUN

Pretty standard tribute show affair, with the big stars playing their hits and the support act getting to strum a few notes with the headliners. The twist with the partner mishmash did make for a cool Tenryu/Kitahara dynamic, though. Kitahara took the chance to get chippy with his boss and it led to some awesome little nasty exchanges, including Kitahara getting the mount and raining down forearms. Kitahara also absolutely fucking drilled him in the jaw with a left hook and I shit you not Tenryu's sell of it might be the best there's ever been. Then he cracked him back a minute later and I can't do justice to how good this punch was. The muted crowd meant you heard the smack loud and clear, too. Finish was a wee bit sudden, but you watch this for the greatest hits and that was what we got.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Thursday, 24 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle 6: Hayate (7/16/92)

Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse

I guess these two have a young lions series going. This was my favourite of their three fights and if they haven't outright improved with each outing then they've at least looked more comfortable. They threw more kicks this time, but Yamamoto was stretching out with some more submission attempts and we saw hints of what he'd become in the near future.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Yukihiro Takenami

Was this a GRUDGE match of some sort? They kind of intimated that they didn't particularly care for one another and it was better than the last Kaktua fight for sure. It was helped by not being very long and also not a shoot. Kakuta fairly laid it in with those leg kicks, though.

Mitsuya Nagai v Willie Peeters

I don't want to say this was a total Peeters carry job, but other than a nice early knockdown and an impressive throw, Nagai never really offered much past the second round. He gassed hard and barely even made it out the corner for the final round. Peeters, on the other hand, looked in great shape and was the one forcing the issue for most of the fight. Nagai isn't a complete dummy on the mat, but he was lost there at points while Peeters was comfortable enough. There's something hugely likeable about the Dutchman as well. He throws a closed fist, probably out of habit more than anything else, and instantly apologises, then as the round comes to a close he accidentally heads to the wrong corner. The crowd get a laugh out of it and he plays along with a smile. He has his tempter and it'll flare now and then, but it's a fault he wears on his sleeve. His honesty is endearing and he'll also jump on a guy's liver and that more than anything is what makes us love him.

Dick Vrij v Hans Nyman

Not great, but I guess interesting to see Vrij match up with someone the same size? Like in the Maeda fight Nyman had some quick feet and whipped off a few nice kicks, but he doesn't offer much on the ground. Vrij isn't great on the ground either, but his stand up looks much more dangerous. I did like how Vrij sold a couple kicks, though. They were kind of grazing but he reacted like they stung without going with the full knockdown. And when Vrij decides he wants to knock you out he knows how to make it look convincing.

Chris Dolman v Ramazi Buzariashvili

Very fun five minute fight. This is Dolman's first appearance in months and I wondered how much he had left in the tank the closer he pushed towards 50. He doesn't engage a ton, content to let the fight come to him, but he'll still throw a guy around effortlessly, like when he caught a Buzariashvili kick and just tossed him to the mat. Buzariashvili was sort of derisory in this and it added an edge to the bout. The crowd picked up on it as well and popped for his strike combos, which were a touch ugly but at least they had energy. Dolman's last bit of work on the mat to set up the choke was pretty slick and this was an easy watch.

Masaaki Satake v Pieter Oele

In a deviation from the norm this is fought with both men wearing boxing gloves. I actually thought it might've been a shoot at first, but I became less confident in that the longer it went. This was better than most of Satake's other fights, though that particular bar is scarcely a foot off the ground and it never stopped me from fiddling around on my phone once or twice which is never a good sign when watching the pro-wrestling, shoot style or otherwise. Our knockout blow did not look terribly convincing, but then I am not the one being punched in the face so who am I to question it? The best way I can describe how I feel about Satake at this point is X-Pac heat. He's just not interesting to me whatsoever and his fights are almost always the low point of these shows (I guess it's a toss up between his fights and Kakuta's).

Volk Han v Andrei Kopylov

Excellent bout. It's no easy thing to come across as Han's equal in contorting other people's body parts into disgusting positions, but Kopylov about managed it and kept up with Han pretty much every step of the way. I was an especially big fan of them communicating this equality by ending up in a tangle of limbs so preposterous you couldn't tell where one guy ended and the other began. They managed to ensnare themselves so thoroughly they could barely separate, as if they'd fused together as one -- a twin-headed demon of Sambo sorcery. At times you maybe wonder if some of Han's throws or set-ups border on the carny, but I love them so much and he does them with such snap that it's hard not to get swept up in them. I mean, Kopylov visibly left himself open for Han's Aikido arm-wringer...thing, but it was truly badass and the crowd about lost their mind so how could you not do the same? His front choke/hammerlock combo was also disgusting and fuck me he was so, so good at this fake fighting malarky. Some of the stand up was also really good and every time Han drops a guy with a spinning back fist I get giddy. I've said it before, but for a guy everybody points to as a mat wizard (I mean, he is) he had some killer strikes. That Kopylov responded by front kicking him in the gut for a knockdown of his own was also awesome, and I love that those gut shots have been his Achilles' heel practically from day one. They probably could've shaved off a few minutes as it did have some downtime, but I thought this ruled and I would very much be down for a rematch in future.

Akira Maeda v Willie Williams

Well damn, this was a hoot. They've done real nice job building up Williams as a guy with stopping power who wants to go for the KO early. He's messy as all get out and nothing he does looks clean, but Maeda takes his knees and body shots well and makes the knockdown look convincing enough. Williams will also get funky with his fighting stances and the crowd sure loves it when he goes full Bo' Rai Cho. Maeda worked pretty defensive in this, similar to how I'd imagine his old teacher would've, picking his spots and going for the takedown. Williams has no ground game, but he's BIG and hard to pin down. In the end it looked like Maeda wore him out more than anything, but I liked Williams' vocal selling of how dangerous the armbar was. Williams has gone from a guy I thought was a bomb scare to being actively fun and someone I want to see more of. In short doses, mind you, but still. Give me him over Satake any day.

This was a super fun show that got better as it went on. Han/Kopylov was great - I'd put it in the top three RINGS fights so far - and with some tinkering could've been a classic (they might still have one in them if they match up again). I guess you grade the Williams fights on a curve, but the main event was enjoyable and a neat payoff to him running through folk on previous shows.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Hashimoto v Choshu!

Shinya Hashimoto v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 8/10/91)

Man, I don't know if it's just the grainy handheld footage, but this might be the most badass Hashimoto has ever looked. The goatee, the headband, the fur shoulder cloak; he looked every bit the shogun of yore. This was a story of pride and how even possessing mountains of it can't fend off the ravages of time. Choshu comes out the blocks flying with a lariat, then follows up with a dropkick like he knows he needs to put this to bed early. Except he's not the big dog anymore while the other guy is pretty close to being just that. Choshu winds up for the second lariat...and Hash cuts him off and never looks back. Hash just kicks Choshu half to death for the next few minutes and Choshu's selling was so great. He sold the shoulder, the arm, the ribs, everywhere he took a kick, but he refused to stay down. He didn't know how to and kept coming, with greater and greater degrees of difficulty, intransigent till the end. The spot where Hash fucking decapitates him with a roundhouse about had me off my seat. And I loved someone throwing in the towel only for Choshu to throw it right back, determined to stand up and face his demise head on. He knew what was coming, but he'd take the warrior's death. This was the kind of match both these guys were the very best at and I'd absolutely throw it in the pile as 'best sub-ten minute match ever' candidate.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

On the First Night of His Drinking He was Looking for His Keys, Tenryu was Half Blind and Stinking and Bloody at the Knees

Genichiro Tenryu & Stan Hansen v Jubo Tsuruta & Isao Takagi (All Japan, 7/1/89) - FUN

This had its moments, but it was pretty disjointed and you wouldn't struggle to find twenty better Jumbo v Tenryu tags from '89 alone. It might've peaked in the first minute. Tenryu is above mingling with lowly Takagi and wants Jumbo in there. Jumbo looks to the crowd like "who does this guy think he is?" Takagi is determined to stand his ground even after Tenryu chucks him into the corner and demands Jumbo, who is all but ready to oblige. When we do get Jumbo/Tenryu they run an extended parity/learned psychology sequence that has all the hallmarks of classic All Japan build. Those sequences can be suuuuuuper lame and corny when most people do them, but these guys were the originators and nobody did it better than the All Japan lot. It's also interesting to see just how much guys like Misawa and Kawada took from their predecessors. They mastered the formula but it wasn't until the All Japan 80s set that I realised how much groundwork Jumbo and Tenryu laid. I've said it before, but Tenryu working this style so well only to leave All Japan and work a much more stripped back style with equal effectiveness really speaks to how good he was. And this was definitely at its best when those two were lighting each other up. Hansen was even more belligerent than usual here and it might've been to the match's detriment. His unruliness is one of my favourite things about him, but he wasn't interested in giving even Jumbo anything so you can imagine how much of his largesse extended to Takagi. Tenryu/Takagi is a real fun match up when they get going and Takagi was sure game to step to his superiors.

Genichiro Tenryu, Koki Kitahara & Animal Hamaguchi v Hiromichi Fuyuki, Jado & Gedo (WAR, 6/30/94) - FUN

This is the final of WAR's one-night six man tag title tournament, and I don't know if Fuyuki did something particularly dastardly earlier in the show but the crowd do not like him one bit. He comes in to break up a submission attempt and straight away he's met with a chorus of boos. At one point he took a cheapshot at Tenryu and Tenryu did not appreciate it at all and maybe tried to murder him. No sympathy was afforded him. Tenryu wasn't hugely involved, but there were a few awesome moments of grumpiness, the best being where he chopped Jado in the throat with an absolute fucker of a knife edge. I don't really know what happened at the finish. Kendo Nagasaki showed up and let off a fire extinguisher and somehow it led to Fuyuki and Kitahara being the only two left in the ring. Kitahara was actually fun showing vulnerability and getting worked over, even if you want him kicking people in the eye and kidneys.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Monday, 21 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle 5: Shi Shi Ku (6/25/92)

Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse

Much the same as their first fight, though both looked a little more comfortable here, a little more confident. They threw fast hands and it made for a few nice little strike exchanges, even earning Naruse his first bloody nose of his RINGS career. Nothing on the mat was spectacular, but it all felt like a struggle and when it was announced that the time limit was near I bought them going for that win. Fifteen minutes might've been beyond them at this stage, but I'd rather watch these two for fifteen minutes than Kakuta or Kimura for thirty. 

Yoshinori Nishi v Peter Dijkman

Perhaps I was hasty in my previous judgment of Nishi not having much of a ground game. Or perhaps Dijkman simply has no ground game whatsoever -- negative ground game, if you will. That judgment does not feel hasty. This was less than two minutes and Nishi's cross armbreaker was a picture. 

Mitsuya Nagai v Nobuaki Kakuta

This was pretty rough. A lot of these midcard five rounders feel like the RINGS equivalent of Watts giving Skip Young and Wendell Cooley thirty minutes on TV every other week. It's not the best comparison because I assume this was maybe, possibly, probably a shoot, but it lasted forever and nothing really happened until the fourth round. Kakuta is just not interesting at all. Nagai has his moments, but I don't really care about him in a shoot. I thought his show of respect for Kakuta at the end was cool, but as a fight it had about three minutes of good and every other minute of nothing.

Naoyuki Taira v Eric van der Hoeven

Oh hey, it's Naoyuki Taira! As in the Naoyuki Taira who showed up in Battlarts in 2000 and had a cracking match with Alex Otsuka and then some other okay things with Carl Greco. I'd never even heard of him before last year and I'll be honest, I didn't know it was actually him in this very fight until I checked the match list afterwards, but it was definitely the Naoyuki Taira we (several of us) know and love. I'm almost positive this was a shoot, and a much better one than the previous bout. Taira's kicks are lightning and he busted out a swank flying leg lock after I'd spent the whole fight up until then thinking he had nothing to offer on the ground. Van der Hoeven was pretty nippy as well, but there were a few weird moments where he seemed to either strike Taira with a closed fist or whack him in the eye, and the ref' had to step in more than once. He also complained about Taira being too oily and straight headbutted the back of his head at one point. He never really endeared himself to the evening's crowd. That his sixth strike to the eye was deemed enough to warrant disqualification never did him any favours, either. I'd be fine with seeing more Taira.

Willie Williams v Bert Kops Jr

I think I might be coming around to these Williams bouts. I mean they're not exactly good, but they're short and rough and there's an amusing carny aspect to them. Plus Williams looks like he's enjoying himself more with every fight. I liked how Kops sold that knee at the end as well, just going dead weight like it was a knockout in every sense.

Volk Han v Herman Renting

Quite the mismatch on paper, like something you'd see on a PRIDE card next to some Manny Yarbrough circus show. Like, nobody believes Renting has a shot here. Han toppled Maeda and can submit any living thing. So you want to see how Renting tries to combat that. If he can get lucky once or twice, can he turn it into something meaningful? He almost managed to grab a choke at one point and Han used up a rope break just in case, but part of you knew that might've been the one and only chance Renting had. There was this great bit where Han was probing for a leg lock at the edge of the ring, rolling further into the centre to draw Renting away from the ropes, and with every rotation he seemed to have secured another part of leg (and by the end he'd secured both legs). Kind of low key compared to Han's recent fights, but you take what you can get.

Masaaki Satake v Willie Peeters

Man, this was a slog as well. I don't know if it was another shoot, but it was nothing like any of Peeters' previous worked fights and it was mostly six rounds of tentative stand up. It got real chippy for a second there when Satake threw an illegal elbow and Peeters cussed everybody out ("fuck you all, you all heard it!"), but after threatening to spill over it soon settled back into whatever it had been before. My irrational annoyance at Satake continues to grow (though maybe it's not irrational -- he did take a dastardly cheapshot at Peeters, who we all know is above such comportment) and I kind of hope someone KO's him soon.

Akira Maeda v Hans Nyman

This had the feel of Maeda milking something to add drama to what was basically a foregone conclusion, selling Nyman's kickboxing like it was super dangerous and taking a few downs to give Nyman an early lead. Nyman's kicks looked pretty and they had some nice snap, but none that landed did so with any real impact. Maeda then went full Hogan v Hercules or Cena v Barrett and decided it was time to go home. Nyman got some stuff in, Maeda looked vulnerable (I mean, I guess), but in the end there was only one conclusion.

Strange show. Some of these five round fights are not very interesting and this had a couple of them. Main event was fine for what it was and we did get a Han fight.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Tenryu Used to Drink Like a Fish and Run Like a Dog, Done a Whole Lotta Shit Not Permitted by Law

Genichiro Tenryu & Giant Baba v The Sheik & Bugsy McGraw (All Japan, 5/29/81) - FUN

Well, for better or worse, this was a Sheik match. That means you get some stabbing, some blood, and if you're lucky some brawling that's more chaotic than meandering. We obviously got lucky because this had a hint of pandemonium about it. Tenryu was the focal point and much of the match was built around him getting stabbed with a broken bottle and poked in the eye with a stick. By this point Sheik really needed someone who was willing to play the game for his shtick to be interesting. Tenryu was willing, as he bled and came back with his own stabbing while Baba (who also took a stabbing) acted as back up. The crowd even started throwing stuff in protest to the pieces of wood being jabbed into eyes and Bugsy grabbed a piece of it and conked Baba in the head. Tenryu as spunky underdog will never not be at least a wee bit surreal and this was a fun spunky underdog Tenryu performance.

Genichiro Tenryu v Shinya Hashimoto (WAR, 6/17/93) - EPIC

This is not a perfect match. There's some downtime in the first half and it's pretty minimalist, which might not be everybody's cup of tea even if I personally thought it worked. In fact, you could probably argue that the minimalism is what makes it so good, as minimalism to these two usually involves smashing each other in the teeth. The early parts are tentative, like neither wants to play his hand too early. They've matched up plenty of times in the build up to this so they know each other well enough, but that was in tags and trios and mano a mano is a different enterprise. Few in history convey a sense of contempt like these two, though, so the hatred is palpable even from the way they look at each other never mind the rough tie-ups. Hash was actually way more of the aggressor in this than I remembered. It's him who lets loose with the first strikes and he's the one who takes most of the match. Maybe he had something more to prove. The leg work was really good, and in the moments of inactivity the selling and charisma from both still carried it through. When it picks up down the stretch it turns into the slugfest you expect, from two of the greatest sluggers there ever was. Tenryu's sell of the leg until the end was great, and even if some sloppy execution was unintentional you could at least buy the bum leg being the reason for it (thus, progressing the narrative and such). It's hard enough to powerbomb Hashimoto to begin with, but on one leg? You shouldn't expect that to look pretty. By the end the whole building is a cauldron and it's partly down to how they paced the whole thing, letting it simmer before it really went off. Plus you had a bunch of great individual moments throughout, like Tenryu palm thrusting Hashimoto in the nose, the desperation enziguris and high kicks, Hash going back to the leg with a sweep kick (one of my favourite Hashimoto strikes) when he was in the shit, Tenryu dickishly punting Hash in the eye the second he gained a foothold in the match (as if it's in his nature or something), etc. I've seen people say this wasn't the match they expected them to work. I guess I can see that based on how deliberate the build is, but I thought they set themselves up for future encounters really well and it's not like it doesn't stand on its own as something great.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Saturday, 19 August 2017

If Tenryu Died in Colbert County, Would it Make the Evening News? They too Busy Blowin' Rockets, Puttin' People on the Moon?

Genichiro Tenryu v Ivan Koloff (All Japan, 1/3/90) - SKIPPABLE

How very random. This was kind of surreal, not just because it's Ivan Koloff in 1990 All Japan, but because it started out with Tenryu being jumped by Takagi (I think?) and flung into the crowd and beat on with a chair. Ivan was well on in years here and not really in the mood to be bumping for anything, offering up a grimace and half-stagger for enziguris, maybe thinking about taking a knee after a lariat before deciding even that was too much effort. I think his one bump of the match came at the finish so I guess he maximised the moment.

Genichiro Tenryu v Don Fuji (Dragon Gate, 10/20/06) - GREAT

I'm overrating this for sure (I mean, probably), but look into these eyes and you'll find no trace of a fuck to be given. Fuji is Dragon Gate's resident bruiser and tries to out-Tenryu Tenryu by chopping him really hard and punching him in the jaw and whacking him with chairs. I fully expected Tenryu to dish out something fierce in return but he went beyond even that. The punches and Adam's apple chops were ungodly and he even hit a dive off the stage! Well, it was more of a jump, but still, off the stage! Fuji may be a bruiser among the little fellas of his home promotion, but he's a head shorter than Tenryu and made to pay dearly for his temerity. Tenryu was also great at getting into place for Fuji's offence, like setting up the shining wizard by falling to one knee after being whipped into the exposed turnbuckle, crawling around to set up Fuji's Cena-style legdrop off the top rope. It felt organic and didn't look like a guy blatantly setting up his opponent's move, which was like 70% of what Dragon Gate seemed to be by the time I threw my hands up on it (about a decade ago now). I thought the penultimate punch Tenryu threw was a corker, but my goodness did he top it with the final one. I figured Fuji's head was for getting Oberyn Martell'd all over the canvas.

Genichiro Tenryu v Tiger Mask (Real Japan Pro Wrestling, 3/18/10) - EPIC

The nursing home explodes! Sayama is another case of a guy I didn't care for in his athletic prime who got exponentially more interesting to me as he got older and fatter. Tenryu is sixty here and has to wear a weightlifting belt to keep his lower spine in place. Maybe they had a disagreement over who got the sponge bath off the hottest nurse. It actually started out fairly civil with a couple minutes of matwork, then Tenryu remembered Sayama spat in his oatmeal so he punted him in the face. Sayama looked at him like "you absolute prick of a man." It didn't matter that he was wearing a mask, you could see exactly what he thought of him. And then they just beat the brakes off each other. Sayama kicked the living shit out of Tenryu and you almost felt sorry for him as he lay there in the ropes like he was having a heart attack. I say almost felt sorry for him because you knew fine well what he'd do in response. This had two actual transitions in the whole match and both were amazing. The first came when Tenryu took a powder after being kicked senseless, as Sayama went for a plancha and Tenryu just flung a chair at his face. Pretty soon Sayama's pasty chest was red raw and Tenryu was punching divots in his face. There were moments where you could tell Sayama really did not want to be chopped anymore so he'd take a flat back bump for some respite. The second transition was even better than the first and legit one of my favourite spots of the decade. Sayama had tried to fire back once or twice with kicks, being his bread and butter and about the only thing that could save him, but Tenryu would inevitably cut him off with the face-punching. On this occasion Sayama caught him in the gut and Tenryu sold like it ruptured his spleen, then Sayama pressed home the advantage with a spin kick straight to the dick. It was fucking brutal and I thought they were actually going to do a ref' stoppage. Sayama then threw on a rear naked choke and when Tenryu regained consciousness he tried to murder him in a fit of pure pensioner rage. Beyond all the old man savagery I thought Tenryu's selling and reactions to everything were tremendous, and pushed something hugely fun into one of my favourite matches of the 2010s. One for the Tenryu enthusiasts.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Friday, 18 August 2017

Fuerza Friday!

Fuerza Guerrera v Gallo Tapado (CMLL, 3/1/91)

A Fuerza title match is a real treasure. There aren't that many of them in circulation and it's not necessarily the best setting for him (not to say he won't be great in it), but every time I come across a new one I feel like I need to see it (I say new one, but this has apparently been on youtube for over two years). For a title match it didn't have much in the way of matwork. To be honest, it didn't really have any. It was more of an "anything you can do"/"top this" affair with a primera built around throws rather than holds. Fuerza was even more of a goof than usual, maybe to the point of being too much for some, but I can't say I didn't get a kick out of it all. I'll never complain about him intimating he'd been kicked in the balls, no matter how many times he does it (and I counted at least four instances in this match). I'd never seen Gallo before, but if you're competent I'll have little trouble watching you wrestle Fuerza Guerrera. A little further digging revealed that he was actually Fuerza's trainer, and this was probably his last meaningful program before hanging it up. Fuerza started things out by trying to horse shit his way into getting Gallo disqualified for hair-pulling (no such thing happened, of course) before realising this is a title match and approaching the situation with a little more decorum. It never lasted and you knew it wouldn't, but it's fun to see him try once in a while. Some of what they did in the first caida was kind of weird and it built to them working quite literally as equals, trying the exact same moves at the same time resulting in several stalemates. They both went for a scoop slam and neither would budge, so Gallo tapped Fuerza on the shoulder, Fuerza thought it was the ref' and let go, and Gallo capitalised. This went on for a few minutes until they clonked heads off another shared idea, and that was enough to push Fuerza beyond the boundaries of acceptable title match behaviour. He mostly spent the segunda stomping Gallo and slamming him with a little extra oomph, but it wasn't until the tercera that we got our real Fuerza highlight, as he tried to bolt away from a Gallo tope only to run face-first into the ring post. There's an apuestas match between them on youtube so I think I'll check that out soon. It was probably a really fun feud.

Fuerza Guerrera v Mike Segura (Mask v Hair) (IWRG, 11/4/99)

Pretty decent single fall apuestas match, though I wonder if Segura hadn't nearly ripped Fuerza's mask clean off it might've been better. Fuerza had to keep adjusting it and hide his face when he took a moderately-sized bump, so we never got to see the blood truly flow. At times it felt like he was being more reserved than usual as well, intent as he was on keeping his face covered. It did not stop him from kicking and punching Segura in the balls several times. He seemed to get more creative with the foul each time as well, going from a straight kick to the Fuerza Punt to sneakily punching Segura low as he pushed out of a pin attempt. By the end he just grabbed a handful of wedding tackle and squeezed. Segura was fine. His stuff mostly looked good and I liked him ramming Fuerza's head into a freezer with enough force that it looked like he was trying to stuff him inside without opening the lid first. The big tope looked great as well. Some might nitpick on Fuerza being back to his feet first, but Segura cleared the barricade and might've dislocated a finger or two on the landing, so it's hard to argue he didn't take the brunt of the damage. That's the beauty of the tope, I guess. Sometimes the gamble isn't worth it.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle 4: Kohrin (5/16/92)

Yoshihisa Yamamoto v Masayuki Naruse

Nifty enough version of what I guess is a RINGS young lion bout. Yamamoto was never one to shy away from smashing someone in the face with the palm of his hand and this probably had more palm striking than any other fight so far in RINGS' short history. The stand up capped out at decent, but it was engaging enough and they had one or two neat moments on the mat as well. Yamamoto is a favourite of mine and he goes on to have some absolute corkers of fights, so it was cool to see him as a pimple-faced rookie in his first outing.

Volk Han v Grom Zaza 

You had a feeling this might be good and I'm happy to tell you that you weren't wrong. This was almost sambo v freestyle wrestling and straight away it made for an awesome little bout. As in, literally as soon as the fight starts Zaza is hoisting Han up on his shoulders in a fireman's carry and the crowd are going bonkers. A couple of Han's takedowns were pretty as all get out, with the step over armbar perhaps being the prettiest of all, and there were points where he would maneuver himself into a dangerous position by simply dropping a knee (right into a standing triangle choke) or shifting his hips (as a standing switch of sorts). This also had a couple themes from previous Han bouts emerging again, including that susceptibility to being gut shot as Zaza drops him with a front kick to the solar plexus. Han then responds with the awesome spinning back fist and I think that might be my favourite strike in all of the RINGS so far. Han again shows that you might be able to get the dupe on him once, but if you try it again he'll make you pay. This came about when Zaza initially grabbed a kneebar by reaching through his own legs as Han positioned himself for a German suplex, but then when he tried it again later Han immediately yanked Zaza's arms to flip him over and open him up for a cross armbreaker. Some of Zaza's striking was whatever and Han appeared to have a tendency early in his career to give up his back a little too easily, but otherwise this was pretty damn choice.

Adam Watt v Peter Aerts 

This was a straight kickboxing contest (presumably a shoot) and it looked okay, but I did some stuff for work while it was on and never paid it the fullest attention.

Dick Vrij v Mitsuya Nagai

If you ever wondered about the point at which Nagai decided he was going to be a vicious crowbar bastard then this might be that point. He got fucking annihilated here and yet he would not stop coming back for more. This was like six minutes long and it was mean and hasty and fulla hate and featured a full on sixty yarder to the willy. It ruled. Vrij was just destroying him with kicks to the head, the body, the legs, everywhere. At one point he reeled off an ungodly combo ending with a low kick that looked like it about Theismann'd the fuck out of Nagai's leg. Post-fight Nagai tells us he has learned a valuable lesson today and at some point in the future he will pass that teaching onto someone else in equally hideous fashion. We assume.

Willie Williams v Bitsadze Ameran

Well this was...something. I don't know if it was one of those so-bad-it's-good deals or just bad or maybe kinda somewhat good in a weird spectacle sense but it was indeed...something. It's basically two and a bit rounds of very tall guys doing clumsy, sometimes awkward karate, lots of sloppy body shots and one or two submission attempts that might've materialised purely by happenstance. Ameran tried a bunch of wild looking wheel kicks and rolling kicks and when he accidentally pulled off Williams' do-rag the crowd reacted like Williams was really going to let him have it now. Parts of it were like something from a drunken pub fight in Bristol that you maybe saw on the YouTubes. This is the longest a Williams fight has gone yet (by a fair margin), and you maybe question the wisdom in that as he's not very good, but you appreciate the effort because how could you not but ultimately decide never to watch this ever again.

Masaaki Satake v Bert Kops Jr

This was very much a Masaaki Satake fight, which meant he threw nice kicks and his opponent gave him some trouble on the mat before succumbing to the inevitable (said kicks) after several minutes of meandering-to-average shoot style. I wonder if they're actually building Satake up for something, as opposed to doing the same fight on every show for the sake of it. Kops looked alright in the first round, but you knew beforehand that he was the Barry Horowitz to Satake's 1995 Shawn Michaels, or the Pat Rose to 1984 Magnum TA, or the so on and so forth.

Akira Maeda v Hank Numan

Easily the weakest of the RINGS main events so far, as well as the weakest Maeda fight. This was five minutes of not a lot, even if Numan looked like he might've been sort of okay. It was hard to tell given the brevity. I dug how pro-wrestling his sell job for Maeda's leg kicks was, at least.

Quite a weird show. It had two really fun fights and the rest of the card was all over the place stylistically. It had variety if nothing else.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

El Hijo del Santo & Villano IV v El Hijo del Solitario & Angel Blanco Jr (TXT, 2/25/12)

Good Christ what a match. This was as lucha as you could possibly get in a match that's all about two young pretenders coming to scalp the heroes of yesteryear, given that the young pretenders are in their forties. In Mexico, you don't even hit your prime until you're 53. I loved how this started, with Santo and Villano taking the fight to the rudos and hitting stereo topes. You're thinking it's leading to a quick first caida win for the tecnicos, but they flip it and the rudos go on a lengthy run of beating the crap out of the maestros. Villano IV was so awesome in this, taking crazy unprotected chair shots, flat back bumping from the ring to the floor inside five minutes, engaging in some of the best punch exchanges I've seen in ages. Him and Solitario were just lacing into each other with jabs and hooks, then they'd throw in spin kicks to the guts for good measure. At points Villano and Santo looked utterly helpless, staggering around with their masks torn up, bloody and battered while their opponents had their way with them. There was one bit where Santo came to Villano's aid with this piddly roll up on Solitario and it was a pretty good summation of the match to that point. Angel Blanco Jr never even bothered to try and break it up, even though he was standing right there. What would've been the point? Why waste energy on the inevitable when you could kick Villano IV in the head some more? Non-lucha fans will often complain about transitions in lucha or how certain things are overly predictable. The big tecnico comeback in matches like this are usually telegraphed to an extent, but that moment the tide turned was perfect and I knew it would be as soon as they set it up. Sometimes it pays to give the people what they want and I don't think any wrestler understands that better than El Hijo del Santo. And obviously the tecnico revenge was phenomenal. Good grief were some of those payback chair shots nasty. There was a lull of sorts after a commercial break where they had a few minutes of "I'll apply this submission until someone comes in to break it up, then he'll apply a submission until the next guy breaks it up," but they kept punching each other in the face and soon enough went back to the mask-ripping and biting and such. Then they ran the set up to the finish, and that might've been the best part of the whole match. If you've seen five El Hijo del Santo matches then you've likely seen five senton into corner tope spots. It's a Santo signature and nobody works their signature spots into matches better than Santo. This time, though, the rudos have it scouted. Villano holds Angel in place for the senton, but Angel moves as Santo takes flight and Villano eats the senton instead. Santo keeps going as Solitario is standing outside just begging to be tope'd, but Solitario knows THAT'S coming and flings up a chair as Santo comes flying through the ropes. The post-match brawling might've been even grizzlier than the in-match brawling as they started headbutting each other and throwing uncooperative jab combos. By the time he walked away Angel Blanco Jr's white mask had been stained almost full red.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle 3: Ikazuchi (4/3/92)

I liked how this show opened by giving us a look at various dojos and gyms in the Netherlands with our Dutch fighters preparing for the trials and tribulations of the Fighting Network that is RINGS. At the end of the segment I think they all might've gone to a titty bar.

Tengiz Tedoradze v Koichiro Kimura

Your mileage may vary on how much you get out of this. It's messy and they're pretty liberal with how much they let each other get away with. Tedoradze is game, but you can tell he hasn't quite gotten a full handle on how this works yet (it's his first rodeo so, you know, understandable) and gives his back up rather easily. If you can put up with that then there's a nifty little fight to be had here. There might be more pro-wrestling in these ten minutes than in the entirety of the previous six shows, but it gives it a unique sort of charm, which Kimura was probably in need of after two lengthy fights he wasn't a particularly compelling part of. We got a fisherman suplex, a full on Jumbo-style backdrop, nearly a Go 2 Sleep of all things! Tedoradze doesn't look like much -- he's almost Han-esque in his mild-mannered uncle-ness, but he's a proficient wrestler and chucked Kimura around with a strength that belied his modest physique. At a couple points he muscled Kimura impressively into throws, including a German suplex, and even hit an Olympic Slam from what was practically a deadlift position. You could pick at the finish and say he was close enough to the ropes that he didn't need to tap, but he's new to this, remember? Embrace the storytelling.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Ton von Maurik

This was alright. There's a readymade story built into these Kakuta fights in that he's no use on the ground and instantly in danger when he's taken down, so crowds really buy into the drama when it looks like an opponent has him in some trouble. He still throws fast hands and feet, so you're at least likely to get a few decent combos for a pop as well. Von Maurik had a nice looking head kick even if none of his attempts fully connected, and he was always throwing knees to the body when Kakuta was on the floor rather than trying to grab a submission next to the ropes, so maybe that makes him the smartest Kakuta opponent yet. When he did go for that submission he made sure Kakuta would need to find a different mode of escape. Finish was cool, too.

Willie Peeters v Yoshinori Nishi

There's an interesting contrast between early RINGS and early UWFi that becomes pretty apparent the more you watch of both. The UWFi natives like Takada, Yamazaki, Tamura, etc. were mostly accomplished grapplers while the foreigners they brought in, like Tom Burton, JT Southern and Billy Scott, couldn't really do...anything very well. Especially on the mat. The foreigners Maeda brought in were far more skilled in general, but almost all of them were capable-at-worst grapplers while the natives specialized more in the stand-up (Kakuta and Satake being the prime examples). Nishi is an older gent with a dignified sort of air about him. He's a striker who can handle himself on the floor better than Kakuta or Satake, but this was still Peeters' to lose when the fight went there. Felt like it might've been a shoot, but it didn't stop Peeters from flying off the handle once or twice. Nothing major or outwardly dickheaded, but that temper of his can be fierce. Nishi accepted it with equanimity and went about his business, then when he flung an accidental closed fist himself - and we believe it was accidental, for how could we not? - he was quick to apologise. A sound fella all around. This went the distance and as much as I like Peeters I can't say I was pumped about a six-rounder, but it wasn't the worst fight of its ilk.

Dick Vrij v Marcel Haarmans

Haarmans is back to make his first appearance since the debut show where he offered nothing and got kicked in the face by Willie Peeters. He was a little more active here, but there was no point where I bought Vrij being in any danger whatsoever. Vrij even outright laughed at his piddly body shots and it felt like the big fella could've ended this pretty much whenever he wanted. That choke at the end didn't look the tightest, but I liked how Vrij maneuvered him into it.

Mitsuya Nagai v Willie Williams 

I'll be honest, I expected this to be a whole lot of nothing at best and possibly putrid at worst. But hey, it turned out to be perfectly fine! Nagai was certainly more game than Smit when it came to working with or around Williams and the crowd were way into it. Nagai also made it look like he was trying to actually hit Williams and he never sold half-arsed blows as near KOs. He made it look like a fight he was trying to win, basically. Short, fairly intense, a good crowd...yeah, this was okay.

Masaaki Satake v Herman Renting 

That fun Nagai match is looking more and more like an aberration for our dear Herman Renting as this was very ordinary and seven minutes of not much at all. I suppose it's kicker versus grappler again and Satake, despite having a face that annoys me for reasons I'm not yet aware of, throws some nice kicks. I mean, if you're gonna run a finish where someone's been kicked in the leg so often that they're unable to meet a ten count then you really need to make those leg kicks believable. And well, Satake had painful looking leg kicks.

Akira Maeda v Volk Han

I know it's not the first thing you bring up when you're talking about Han, but man could he be a fun striker when he wanted to. It's kind of amusing seeing how much more convincing his strikes were than what some guys with legit kickboxing and/or karate backgrounds have thrown on these shows. He was throwing pump kicks and fucking spinning backfists and even incorporated the latter into a takdown attempt later on (faked the backfist before ducking low and shooting in for the double leg). Conversely, this might be the fight where it's established that a good shot to the gut is Han's kryptonite, as he takes a left uppercut and crumples in a heap for a near KO. There was also this awesome little theme throughout of Maeda being the more dangerous standing up, but dropping Han for a count would just light a fire under him. On at least two occasions he'd go down after taking a big shot - one being a huge wheel kick that looked spectacular - only to get up and jump straight into a hold that forced Maeda to scramble to the ropes. This wasn't a perfect fight and it was rough around some edges, but it was solid in every department I hoped it'd be and the finish was total Han. If you so desire you could probably even say it played off the finish to the first fight ("I've got him in a good spot oh no wait fuck I am in fact in a terrible spot"). Strong fight.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Monday, 14 August 2017

Hashimoto v Fujinami and Okada/Omega III (yeah I watched that)

Shinya Hashimoto v Tatsumi Fujinami (New Japan, 6/5/98)

You know, I think this might be the only Hashimoto/Fujinami singles match I've seen. If I've seen any of their others then I certainly don't remember them. Fairly sure I haven't seen the '94 title match. I think I've only ever seen brief clips of the 2000 match. For two guys of whom I've watched god knows how many matches, it's pretty cool that this is something of a new experience for me as a viewer. It delivered, of course. Hashimoto was really sensational in this. Fujinami started out by working a headlock and Hash had no time for it whatsoever. Pretty soon it was all about him taking penalty kicks to Fujinami's leg, stretching it out, lifting it up and driving it into the mat. Fujinami would try and make his comebacks and Hash would knee him repeatedly in the hamstring, then when he got annoyed he'd kill him with high kicks. Hashimoto is so great at showing progressive vulnerability, particularly in the way he'd convincingly shut down those early comeback attempts before finding it more difficult the longer it went. I loved the transition to Fujinami going on offence. He'd been catching a number of Hashimoto's kicks all match, but Hash knew what Fujinami wanted to do and immediately grabbed the ropes to prevent the dragon screw. When Fujinami finally catches one where Hash isn't close to the ropes, he doesn't quite hit the dragon screw as much as twist the leg in a super awkward angle and yank Hash to the mat with it. Then he does do it cleanly and we get a short run of Fujinami working the leg. Initially I was a little disappointed that they didn't do more with it, but if nothing else I could buy the leg work as more of an opening to the sleeper, taking Hashimoto's kicks out of play at the same time. And everything they did with the sleeper ruled. Fujinami was dogged in going for it, leaping onto Hashimoto's back and shifting between the regular and dragon variations as required, and Hash would desperately try to shake him off. Hash would back him into the corner to break it, then when Fujinami locked in the first dragon sleeper Hash could only fling himself backwards and land with his entire body weight on Fujinami. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective and it kept him in the game. The next time Fujinami saw it coming and shifted again into the regular sleeper, body scissors and all. I don't know if anybody has ever made being in a sleeper hold more compelling than Hashimoto. Truly badass match.

Kazuchika Okada v Kenny Omega (New Japan, 8/12/17)

I had no intention of watching this but then on a whim I did. And I didn't regret it! I haven't seen their second match because no way I'm watching these two for an hour, but I did watch the January match (and liked some parts of it) and have a decent handle on the big picture of their rivalry. Even without that, though, I thought this managed to tell a really nice story in isolation. I don't like Okada much and in the four other Okada matches I've seen this year I thought he was pretty terrible, but this is by far the best I've seen him look in anything. I was a wee bit worried I was gonna hate it when they opened with the street dance/parity reversal routine as neither guy is Tajiri and likely to make me care about such things, but I suppose it fit with them being super familiar with each other's offence and all that by now. After that they won me over anyway, and I thought the first fifteen minutes were pretty excellent. Okada sold the neck great and I liked how Omega would really lean on it with a chin lock or just outright chop him across the neck, which even got some heel heat. The reverse rana on the floor was huge and the crazy apron dragon suplex felt like a real game changer as well. So many of the bombs in the first match felt inconsequential, but they took time to let the rana sink in and Okada's neck being vulnerable remained a factor right until the end. Okada being broken down even made his not-very-good strikes work, and there was one Rainmaker towards the end that looked like it had nothing behind it whatsoever and he kind of collapsed into the turnbuckle after it like that was as much as he could muster. At some point I started to lose some interest and the finishing stretch will probably never be my thing anymore, but it was right about on the line of what I can handle. It wasn't FULL on Step Up routine, and even if some of the transitions were abrupt and bordered on "doin' stuff," I don't think it went overboard. I still can't get by Omega's facial expressions but the part where he lost it after Okada kicked out of that awesome German suplex was great, like I truly bought that he was at the end of his tether and couldn't believe Okada still refused to stay down. All of the big spots and bumps were appropriately big (and man were some of those bumps BIG) and I never thought it got long in the tooth, so it was overall about as much as I'm going to get out of New Japan main event wrestling. I would put this behind the fourth or fifth best Hideki Suzuki match of the year, which is better than I was expecting going in.