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.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

He was Rougher Than the Timber Shipping Out of Fond du Lac When Tenryu Headed South at Seventeen, the Sheriff on His Back

Genichiro Tenryu, Hiroshi Ono, Ichiro Yaguchi & Shoji Nakamaki v Atsushi Onita, Mitsunobu Kikuzawa, Sambo Asako & Shigeo Okumura (No Rope Barbed Wire Street Fight Tornado Double Hell Match) (Onita Pro, 6/27/99) - EPIC

Man, I loved the opening to this. Tenryu and Onita take centre stage again and they immediately try to throw each other into the barbed wire. Onita whips him across the ring, but Tenryu pulls up short and stares like "not today, motherfucker." Then one of Onita's little buddies comes flying into shot and dropkicks Tenryu into the wire. It was a really cool little play on the norm. Tenryu was fucking incredible in this and I wonder if he never missed his calling as a deathmatch worker. I don't recognise most of the participants and there's something amazing about Tenryu in his dress shirt and tie (yes, he's wearing a dress shirt and tie, and no, I don't know why) potatoing nameless scuzzy indy scrubs and throwing them through tables. He's the guy nobody knows who shows up at the house party and smashes the coffee table and headers your gran. He just revels in madness and Onita Pro made for fecund soil in which to plant the seeds of bloody chaos. I think my favourite part was when he picked up a barbed wire board and flung it at a group of hecklers (god damn unbelievable), but he also monkey flipped Okamura from the ring onto a different barbed wire board and then pelted his face with chairs, so maybe that was my favourite. Someone from team Onita got wrapped in wire again and I love how Onita proceeded to use him as a barbed wire-coated battering ram rather than, you know, alleviate him of his suffering and remove the barbed wire. Always the pragmatist, is Onita. The five minutes of clipping is annoying because why would you not want another five minutes of this, but we got a solid ten minutes of action and it was wild and crazy and awesome like you'd hope.

Genichiro Tenryu & Shiro Koshinaka v Mitsuharu Misawa & Tekeshi Rikio (NOAH, 1/8/05) - GOOD

Remember when NOAH was really fun for a minute there? I thought Tenryu was pretty exceptional in this, in a subtle, low key sort of way. It was a match largely built around strike exchanges, but it was Tenryu's reactions to them that stood out (insert point here about those exchanges not just being rote "you hit me, I'll hit you" affairs, that they sold the strikes in interesting ways, that they injected personality into them, etc). Tenryu was 55 by the time he got to NOAH (this is his first appearance there, actually). He's a big name and still has pretty good mobility for a 55 year old who's been wrestling for nearly three decades. He can still go and he'll hit super hard (evident by Misawa's welted chest after a couple minutes), but he's breaking down and can't hang with the very top dogs like he used to. So he gets even more belligerent! And acts like an even bigger shithouse! There were a bunch of great moments in this where he'd be laying it in with chops, then later potato punches, and he'd be at least even in the exchanges...but then age would creep up on him and he'd be left in a heap somewhere. I love how he'd sell Misawa's elbows like molars had been knocked out, or Rikio's slaps like they'd scrambled his brains. It also led to him ramping up the cheapshots, like the knees and kicks from the apron, the short punts to the face, the casual interference. It could only get him to far, but he still had gas in the tank and he wasn't ready to accept that it might be time to step aside. Misawa was mostly elbows in this but good grief did they have some meat behind them. He hit one combo that even Tenryu's relatives felt, and later when he had Tenryu in a chinlock he took the time to measure one nasty little elbow to the bridge of the nose. Rikio and Koshinaka were fun understudies and for the eighty seventh time on this blog I'll reiterate how much more enjoyable old man Koshinaka is than prime Koshinaka. I haven't seen the Tenryu/Misawa singles match in about a decade, but I'm wondering if it's as disappointing as it was thought to be at the time. It certainly shouldn't have been based on this.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Saturday, 12 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle 2: Ibuki (3/5/92)

The opening montage to this ruled so hard. The black and white footage, the music, everything. Then we got a sambo/judo demonstration from the one and only Volk Han and one of his Russian buddies I didn't recognise. Everyone is loose and in good spirits as they prepare for the fighting ahead. Have I mentioned that I love everything about RINGS' production?

Hans Nyman v Adam Watt

Fairly dire and I'm pretty sure it was a shoot. Watt is a tall, rangy Australian of some pedigree in boxing and kickboxing, but he never really troubled Nyman for the most part. His corner spent the entire fight shouting "punch, kick, punch, punch, kick, face punch, face punch!" in increasingly exasperated, broken English at the distinct lack of face punching. He also had no ground game whatsoever and had he been in there with someone a little more capable this probably wouldn't have gone as long as it did. My goodness Nyman is the spitting image of a young Ronald Koeman. He mostly stood flat-footed and scowling until the last round and a half when he went from first all the way up to second gear.

Volk Han v Gennadi Gigant

Super fun bout, almost a highlight reel of Volk Han grabbing a guy's arm and throwing him around the place with it. It kind of makes you wonder why people would so casually try to grab him, or languidly throw palm strikes around his head. Why would you do that? Why would you hand him a lever to your pain? To be fair to Gigant he got the message eventually, but it never outright stopped Han, it only made it more difficult for him. There was one bit in particular where Han's yanked him around with an arm wringer and then landed him on his back with a throw. It looked absolutely spectacular. Gigant is a tall, heavyset guy who I think is also a sambo practitioner. He handled himself fairly well and used his weight advantage to try and control the ground, but Han was always slipping out of his grasp, and on top of that there's the ever-present danger of being countered in some absurd way you never thought possible. The final armbar was a thing of beauty, particularly in how Han secured Gigant's legs so he couldn't reach the ropes.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Rudy Ewoldt

Definitely my favourite thing Kakuta's been involved in thus far. He still can't do anything on the mat but that at least added some drama to the parts where Ewoldt was able to take him down, which he did with a couple big slams. These crowds are massively behind Kakuta every time out and they about lost it whenever he reeled off any halfway decent combo. His team coming in and throwing him in the air after the fight - as he wept tears of joy - was so carny and great, particularly as Ewoldt approached those last couple minutes like a man who'd had about enough of this and was ready to go collect his paycheck already.

Dick Vrij v Herman Renting

They seem to be referring to Vrij as Dick Fly now. I will not be following suit, however. This was decent enough. There's a hook to most of these Vrij fights in that, by virtue of the fact he's so much larger than his opponents, he's pretty much always opposite an underdog. Even Maeda felt like an underdog and Renting is not Maeda. Things started out pretty okay for Renting and he was persistent in going for takedowns, even if he never made much headway thereafter. He wasn't finding himself in a ton of trouble despite Vrij's striking, at least. Then Vrij found his feet and you felt it was only a matter of time. First came the leg kicks, then came Renting anticipating them, then came Vrij going high when Renting expected him to go low. And fuck me what a finish.

Willy Williams v Peter Smit

Kind of a lumbering mess, but it only lasted a couple minutes. Williams clearly has no idea what he's doing on the ground and can't really make his strikes look convincing, so Smit is eating knockdowns off of ropey knees as obvious job fodder. But hey, no downtime!

Masaaki Satake v Fred Oosterom

This was another short one, and like the Kakuta fight Satake wants nothing to do with the ground. Also like the Kakuta fight, it was probably helped by the fact they've ditched the rounds system. I mean it wasn't great, or even good, but it was short. Oosterom seemed capable enough of taking Satake down and Satake threw some nice enough shots, but there wasn't much to this. There's something about Satake's face that makes me wants to see him lose one of these. Maybe stick him in there with Dick Vrij.

Akira Maeda v Ramazi Buzariashvili

This felt a bit more mat based than Maeda's last few fights, or at least that it had more of Maeda working the mat...if that makes sense. He's still the superior striker, but I don't think we've really seen him stretch out with his grappling yet like we did here, even including the Han fight (which was largely dominated by Han whenever it went to the ground). Buzariashvili is the guy from the sambo demonstrations at the beginning of the show and he was really fun in this. Some of his throws looked excellent and there were a few moments where he treated Maeda's kicks to the midsection with disdain, raising his arms and waving to the crowd as he dared Maeda to do it some more. Maeda of course did it some more and Buzariashvili was left to regret his earlier insults as he ate a kick straight to the chin. As Maeda started to create openings with his kicks I liked how it was Buzariashvili's throws that created his own openings, at one point tossing Maeda like a bag of cement and leaping on his back with the attempted rear naked choke (you know the crowd buy Maeda being in real peril when they start the MA-E-DA chants). It looked like they messed up the finish a tiny bit, but other than that this was really nice stuff and I hope Buzariashvili shows up again in future.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Friday, 11 August 2017

Takeshi Ono Friday!

I can't believe I had Ono down at #92 on my Greatest Wrestler Ever ballot last year. He'd be stupid high if I had to rejig it today. At this point there are less than ten wrestlers from Japan I'd rather watch. He was so, so good.

Takeshi Ono v Yuki Ishikawa (Battlarts, 6/18/00)

I'm on an Ono/Battlarts kick right now and it may be colouring my perception, but I thought this was truly phenomenal; like one of the best sub-ten minute matches I've ever seen. Ono is one of the all time greatest at swarming a guy and he was unbelievable in this, going after Ishikawa at the bell and not relenting for a second, just crawling all over him, blasting him in the face -- he was a ferocious little machine. All of the punches and kicks looked immaculate, but it was the way he was leaping into those leglocks that impressed me most. He was grabbing them from absolutely everywhere and you know you're onto something when even Ishikawa looks like he's struggling to contain you. It led to an amazing bit where Ishikawa finally managed to hold onto him as Ono went for maybe his eighth crazy rolling kneebar of the match, hoist him in the air and drop him on his neck with a huge German suplex. Ishikawa for his part was excellent as well. You know his matwork is going to rule and he was countering in slick and awesome ways, usually by grabbing limbs and bending them at more angles than there existed joints to be bent at. There was one part as well where he'd just taken a shot to the face - could've been a kick, a punch, a knee, it was hard to keep track - and he came out smiling, like the extent to which this match was not a monkey show pleased him greatly. I would need to play-by-play this whole thing in order to note down everything I liked about it because I thought it was tremendous from start to finish. Seriously loved it.

Takeshi Ono v Ryuji Hijikata (Battlarts, 3/14/01)

I didn't really care one way or the other about Hijikata and his fighting spirit business, but Ono was outstanding again. He looks like one of the best wrestlers in the world in 2000/20001 and yet he mostly seems to be dicking around in barely-spotlighted undercard fights. Surely the one major blemish on Yuki Ishikawa as a booker/human being. Hijikata jumped Ono before the bell here, running him into the barricade before throwing him into the first row, and as Ono made his way into the ring for the first time he had this "okay so we're doing that, are we?" look on his face and you get a little giddy at what you fully expect him to do. Naturally he went and kicked the shit out of Hijikata. Some of his selling towards the end was incredible, like the crumpled sell of a lariat and the way he made it back to his feet like a cobra in answer to the snake charmer's punji. And like most dealings with a cobra, Hijikata wound up getting bit when he came too close.

Takeshi Ono v Hiroyuki Kotsubo (FUTEN, 4/24/05)

It's already been established that Ono can work a pretty, pretty, pretty good four minute match, but Kotsubo is very much not Ikeda and there's only so much Ono can do with a guy like that in four minutes. Kotsubo didn't flat out suck or anything -- he has some solidish wrestling, and he at least made the matwork look somewhat competitive even if Ono's scrambling was much quicker. I mean, if you've seen enough Ono then you get the sense he could turn loose and Kotsubo would not be able to fight off that armbar or heel hook. Kotsubo's main problem is that he doesn't hit hard, and when you're i) in FUTEN and ii) against Ono, that problem tends to be magnified. His German suplex never had much snap and looked more like a throw, then his lariat was kind of a grazing love tap, and Ono is supposed to sell that as a near KO after we've seen him take cannons from the Battlarts crew for years. Then Ono kicked him in the face and backfisted him into the 22nd century and you conclude that Takeshi Ono is far too precious a treasure to be showing up on tape once every other year to be wrestling Hiroyuki Kotsubo for four minutes.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

RINGS Mega Battle: Kaiten (1/25/92)

Herman Renting v Shtorm Koba

Koba looks like he’s another guy straight out of the Grom Zaza/Tiger Levani camp of wrestling. Unfortunately the google search turns up nada, so confirmation eludes us. He certainly fought like someone with a modicum of proficiency in throwing people around, though. Renting was also less about the striking in this fight and tried to match wrestling with wrestling. At one point a suplex attempt goes awry and the clash of heads gives Koba a gnarly cut above the eyebrow. Koba’s sell of a Renting knockdown was somewhat less than convincing and he left the ring at the end like a man who knew he was getting paid to show up and roll around for thirteen minutes before submitting to a toe hold. One must respect the hustle.

Mitsuya Nagai v Koichiro Kimura

This started out in fairly drab fashion and not a whole lot happened for a while there. We got some takedowns and they struggled for position, but it was mostly a stalemate and a bit of a slog. Then we hit the last five minutes and things started to get interesting. Kimura came close a few times to locking in some nasty looking chokes and Nagai threw strikes with a little more venom. Last couple minutes were especially good as they were just wildly flinging palm thrusts at each other’s face and Kimura looked about ready to collapse, at one point quite literally almost falling out the ring. There was some clipping going on as I think we only got about half of the full 28 minutes (why is Kimura going so long on these shows?), but it built to a nice crescendo.

Willie Peeters v Bert Kops Jr

Peeters may have been my favourite guy of the ’91 shows and this is a rematch of a pretty entertaining fight, so I was looking forward to it. I will look forward to most things Willie Peeters, brothers. I’m not really sure how good Kops is, but he’s scrappy and he’s always willing to keep things moving, so if nothing else he’s a perfectly fine shoot style Tommy Gilbert. Peeters did his usual Willie Peeters things and I think my favourite Willie Peeters thing is how it’s basically guaranteed that his temper will spill over at least once a fight and he’ll knee a guy who’s on the floor or outright jump on their kidneys. In actual fact he did both those things here, but better than that he somehow managed to his a fucking piledriver! As in a full on piledriver where he caught Kops shooting in for the double leg and planted him. He did it right in front of his corner and the best part of all came afterwards when he turned to his corner man (Vrij) and laughed like he couldn’t quite believe he’d hit an honest to goodness piledriver. I was a little surprised at the finish because Peeters is very much a guy the crowd have taken to and Kops is sort of whatever, but I guess it leaves the door open for the rubber match and who knows, perhaps Peeters will hit a Burning Hammer or whatever gets you a solid two count these days.

Nobuaki Kakuta v Rob Kaman

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this was very much a shoot, the rules of which seemingly having changed from Kakuta's last fight. I base this on the last twenty seconds as they wound up on the mat and the ref' didn't immediately stand them back up. So I guess it's straight MMA this time? Kaman looked super accomplished here. I figured he was either a kickboxer or Muay Thai fighter. Turns out he was a world champion in both, used to play for Ajax (the football/soccer team) as a kid and was even in a few movies. I feel like I aught to have known this somehow. Anyway, this was what it was. Kaman looked great, Kakuta was spunky and persistent.

Willy Wilhelm v Igor Kolmykov

I'll be honest, I'm not sure what Kolmykov does. You know, what his discipline is. Maybe freestyle wrestling? This was mostly Wilhelm as aggressor and he had a few nice takedowns, but neither are the most accomplished on the ground and not a whole lot happened when the fight got there. Crowd had themselves a chuckle at Kolmykov's wobbly karate but they weren't laughing at his cross armbreaker, no they were not.

Gerard Gourdeau v Masaaki Satake

This was another rounds fight and I think it started off as a work, but then Gourdeau went off like a nutcase and punched Satake in the face a bunch for real and the fight got thrown out. Satake was bleeding from somewhere and Gourdeau raised his hand apologetically afterwards, but the whole thing was passable. I look forward to seeing Mahershala Ali hunt down the green-eared spaghetti monster's distant cousin Gourdeau in the upcoming third season of True Detective.

Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij

The rubber match. This was mostly fought on the feet and there was that unease lingering from the previous fight that suggested Maeda might not be smart to let things continue like that. Other than Maeda hitting one capture suplex through the first three quarters of the fight it wasn't hard to disagree. Maeda's leg is still heavily taped and it wasn't not long before Vrij paints a bullseye on it. I liked the way Maeda sold all the leg kicks, a slight limp here and there that the crowd picked up on, which of course only added to their unease. At times during this he felt like a man with little more than a prayer, half hobbled as he was with Vrij only growing in confidence. In comparison, Maeda's leg kicks had nothing behind them and Vrij let him know it, then Vrij overwhelmed him and it led to a third knockdown. And there was that sense that it was going to happen again. Vrij had Maeda's number and if it kept going the way it was then he'd only TKO him again. You could argue that the climax might've been telegraphed, but I thought it was a fitting enough way to cap off a fun series.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Takeshi Ono Saw Ten Thousand Talkers Whose Tongues Were All Broken (he broke them)

Takeshi Ono v Ryuji Hijikata (Battlarts, 12/25/99)

Wonderful little ten minute scrap. Ono was fucking incredible in this, decking Hijikata in the first couple seconds with a straight right, unleashing hell with his strikes the whole way through, finding ways to escape whatever predicament Hijikata put him in to come back and drill him in the face. At a couple different points Hijikata left a limb dangling and Ono pounced on it, first tearing at the shoulder before moving onto the knee. He also has some of the most obnoxious hairstyles in wrestling history and this time he was rocking the bleach blond Johnny Rotten spikes. This really had something cool and/or brutal happening every other second and I loved Ono grabbing hold of Hijikata's kneepad so he couldn't reach the ropes out of the armbar. That sort of attention to detail is probably second only to his attention to punching you dead in the nose as my favourite thing about him.

Takeshi Ono v Daisuke Ikeda (FUTEN, 9/26/10)

Probably the best five minute match there's ever been. What a preposterously violent shitstorm of a thing. Ono starts throwing grenades right out the gate and drops Ikeda with an early knockdown, and I love how they managed to work a solid narrative into four and a half minutes. Ono is a whirlwind of punches and kicks, really going hell for leather, no beating about the bush. He's here for a good time not a long time, he doesn't get paid by the hour, etc. Ikeda is Ikeda, though. There's probably only a handful of wrestlers in history who can endure a more hellish beating than him and less than a handful who can dish it out even worse in return. So Ikeda survives the onslaught and just fucks Ono in the face with a headbutt. Ikeda's riposte is truly harrowing and yet Ono won't stop coming forward. The bit where Ikeda over-commits and Ono full force knees him in the back of the head is legit one of the most truculent things I've seen in a wrestling match. I've referenced this a few times as the bar for sub-five minute matches and every re-watch of it still leaves me sort of stunned.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

RINGS Astral Step: Final (12/7/91)

The big one, the Superbowl of RINGS, the Shoot Style Wrestlemania, as they say (no one says that). There's something about the feel of these RINGS shows that I adore. The ambiance. It does not hurt that this has a rocking crowd that are ridiculously stoked for the shoot style. And so too do I find myself (being stoked). They also showed snippets of Maeda meeting with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman. Holyfield says he respects Maeda's dedication to the kung fu and that his kids love the Ninja Turtles. Because obviously. Foreman tells us he's gonna come to RINGS and do a little bit of punching and then a little bit of kicking. I have no idea what was going on with all of that but it was surreal and befitting the Wrestlemania of RINGS.

Grom Zaza v Koichiro Kimura

I guess Maeda's been on that tour of Russia then, because enter: tricked out Easter European grapplers. This was edited in parts because unless I fell asleep for a bit - and I'm certain I didn't - the post-fight graphic says it went ten minutes longer than was shown. Even the editing department in RINGS must be stellar then, because I did not notice any clipping whatsoever. This was good stuff for what we got. Zaza seemed to bring a bit of everything to this: his awesome wrestling, some judo, a solid submission game and even some passable striking. He clearly has a hell of an engine as well because he never relented for a second and he didn't seem to be sucking wind by the end (of a twenty three minute fight (apparently), of which he was largely the aggressor). Kimura looks a bit like Yoji Anjoh in the face but he's far less of an obnoxious wee shitbird. He has pretty quick hands, but I think he gassed about five minutes in because he spent most of the time either curling up like a turtle or trying to crawl to the ropes. Grom Zaza will do that to you, I suppose. The crowd weren't totally on board with it and started booing him after his fifth or six rope break (which for all I know may have been his fourteenth or fifteenth of the unedited fight -- the points system seems to have changed on this show and I haven't quite grasped it yet). Conversely they were all about Zaza and his awesome shoot style STF and sharpshooter. I don't know what the finish was exactly, but it looked like maybe a choke or some sort of keylock but I'm also wondering if Kimura never just said to fuck with this relentless Georgian man climbing all over me and tapped. Maybe we'll never know. I will take more Grom Zaza and be immediately pleased, thank you.

Herman Renting v Nobuaki Kakuta

This was strange. Was it a shoot? I mean, it didn't always look like one, but it had a fevered sort of hesitancy to it and if it was a work then...strange. Maybe it's the rounds system. This was another one of those and there hasn't been a good one yet. The difference here, though, is the inexplicably molten crowd! Why is this place going so bananas for a Herman Renting fight? Kakuta is a short karateka who wants absolutely nothing to do with a clinch or the ground or anything that doesn't involve standing and engaging in the fighting arts of karate. For large spells they do nothing much at all besides throw a few probing kicks. It was all very tentative, though it sometimes looked like they were right on the verge of turning loose. In the end the caution to protect their own face overrode the desire to smack the opponent's. Other than a few semi-grazing kicks I think one shot landed clean the whole fight and that was a suspect/probably illegal closed fist. Renting would close at a few points and Kakuta would sort of fall into the ropes to force the break without actually using a rope escape. The ref' would then stand them up and on one of those occasions Renting refused to let go of a partial choke which set the crowd off big time. Later on he grabbed another choke, this time of the illegal hand around throat/throttling variety and they liked that even less. When he cracked Kakuda's jaw with the punch that was it, never again would Herman Renting be welcome in the Ariake Coliseum. This was kind of a waste after Renting's promising outing on the last show, but his heeling it up was amusing. And holy moly did the people get into it.

Chris Dolman v Tiger Levani

I'd never heard of Tiger Levani before. Where does he come from? What's his discipline, his hobbies, his hopes and dreams? A google search yields answers to none of these questions. He's kitted out in the same red and blue gear as Zaza so maybe they're from the same camp? He certainly has some Grom Zaza-ish tendencies in that he'll pursue those takedowns doggedly, and he almost turned one of them into a slick wrist lock. When it did go to the ground they were both pretty determined to grab leg locks, like nearly every single time. This often led to stalemates so eventually Dolman changed tact to lots of clinching and knees to the body. One or two might've been a wee bit south of the belt, but in the end it opened the door for a front choke and Chris Dolman is now the proud holder of the best win record in all of the Fighting Network RINGS.

Dick Vrij v Willie Peeters

What an awesome little scrap. This had a bit of everything, some great striking, big takedowns and throws, dramatic submission work, insane heat, a frantic pace, even a kick to the balls. Vrij has a real unique aura and he's already improved noticeably over his four appearances. He's not a wizard on the mat by any stretch, but it sure looked like he'd picked up a few tricks. He is of course a man of many head kicks and that remains his primary mode of attack, but it's the way he carries himself as the big dog now with the shredded physique and the buzz cut that added an extra layer to this. Peeters ruled again. He has tonnes of personality and the crowd adopted him as their underdog babyface, which is a role he turned out to be awesome in. He was always in danger of taking blows because of Vrij's length and reach, but he'd continually try and close and chip away with punches to the body. They started coming off and earned him a couple knockdowns, and the crowd were totally behind him doing the upset. He just refused to accept defeat and tried to take it to Vrij at every opportunity. This had an easily discernible story that came off as being organic, two guys that were great in their roles, and a crowd that bought all the way into it. I loved this.

Mitsuya Nagai v Gerard Gourdeau

Another weird round system fight. Gourdeau is the guy who kicked Teila Tuli's teeth out in the very first official fight in UFC history and later in the night broke two of the only three rules of the tournament (no eye-gouging; no biting). A few years later he yolked out Yuki Nagai's eye (or at least gouged it unto a state of permanent blindness) and generally looks like the sort who pulls the legs off of spiders for a hobby. Those are not the eyes of a kind individual. Apparently he's a neo-Nazi as well so all around swell gent, is Gerard. He dominated this and Nagai never got much of a look in. I actually thought it might've been stopped before it was because there was a point where Nagai was clearly not right after a guillotine choke. Nagai looked thoroughly outmatched here and Gourdeu's striking was too much for him.

Hans Nyman v Masaaki Satake

Alright, this was definitely a shoot. Probably. I think it was a straight karate contest as well. Satake was very much the aggressor in this and really didn’t stop through all five rounds; he was constantly active and striking. Nyman was almost entirely on the defensive for the last couple rounds, though in fairness he never looked too troubled. Nothing from either guy had the other in a ton of danger, but it wasn’t a difficult fight to watch.

Akira Maeda v Volk Han 

Has anybody ever looked as good straight out the gate as Han? It didn’t hurt that he was about as legit as any to ever do it, but I imagine shoot style would be one of the most difficult styles to do properly and Han took to it right away. I mean, this is his debut and he’s pretty much already the Volk Han we know. There didn’t appear to be many growing pains at all. This was pretty great, of course. We’ve seen a host Europeans pass through RINGS already, some of them good, some of them less so, but it’s immediately obvious that none have been quite like this unassuming Russian as he flies into a rolling armbar after about forty seconds. This is a very different kettle of fish and the closest thing to what most people would point to as ‘high end RINGS’ yet. It largely felt like kicker v grappler, with Maeda being the superior striker and Han taking him down almost at will, tying him up in heel hooks and armbars. Han wasn’t as freaky with the submissions as he’d eventually become, but some of what he was doing was ridiculous. You think you’ve managed to fend off an attempted heel hook and before you know it you’re in a kneebar, then you somehow wriggle out of that but now he’s got BOTH your legs and you have no choice but to cling to the ropes for a reprieve. Once or twice Han would catch a high kick and just throw Maeda to the mat, a sort of casualness to it. Then he started to tire and Maeda caught him with that big wheel kick he’d been aiming for. Finish didn’t feel like Han underestimating Maeda as such, but with how dominant he’d been on the mat until then you get the sense he maybe never expected Maeda to have that in his locker. A fitting way to draw the curtain on the first year of RINGS.

Really good show overall. I'd say Maeda/Han and Vrij/Peeters are the two best RINGS matches of the year and there wasn't anything here that I thought was outright bad. The awesome crowd didn't hurt, either.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Monday, 7 August 2017

RINGS Astral Step 3rd: Kamui (9/14/91)

Man, the intros to these RINGS shows are the greatest. This one has an English voice over laying out the card with similar graphics to those the WWF would use for early Survivor Series PPVs where McMahon would yell out the teams. "Joining the Warlord are Power and Glory, and captained by Rick Martel, IT'S THE VISIONARIES!" Those PPV intros were a substantial part of my childhood. I was a peculiar six year old.

Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting 

One of the coolest things about a project like this, where you basically follow a promotion from its inception through to its closure with all the peaks and valleys in between (you know, hypothetically), is that you get to see the progression and growth of certain folk during the journey. Case in point: these two. In their first match they were fairly tentative, acclimatising themselves to this new and bizarre world of the shoot style, and it made for a fairly garden variety scrap between two young fellas finding their feet. Both are just far more assured this time out, their kicks thrown with a little extra whip, those kicks landing with a little extra leather. Combos are faster, the cooperation aspect more negligible, as if testing to see how well the other might react, pushing the boundaries of how much of the shoot-fightin' one can get away with in the fake-shootin'. Things started to get real chippy and Renting was taunting Nagai by brushing his shoulder off and asking if that was his best shot. Of course we see signs of reckless crowbar Nagai in response as he tries to full force Wanderlei punt Renting in the head as he's lying prostrate on the canvas and I'll be damned but at some point I had to stop and ask myself if this wasn't pretty fucking awesome. And you know what, I really think it might've been! I was practically in shock a few times at what they were doing. I mean it wasn't Tamura/Han matwork or world class striking, but it was so far above what they had done before (all of that one fight together that time) that I couldn't quite believe it. Renting was super persistent with his takedowns and Nagai was having to exert a ton of energy in not just preventing them, but in escaping if prevention failed. He got dumped on his neck for a knockdown and later Renting - I'm honestly not bullshitting you - hit one of the coolest German suplexes/throws I've seen. Often when they'd be stood up they'd waste no time at all in going back to the striking and Nagai even sprinted across the ring and tried a flying knee! He also drilled Renting with an unbelievable enziguri that legit had me off the couch. I had no idea Renting had this in him. Just a total blast.

Willie Peeters v Bert Kops Jr. 

Hot damn this was really fun as well. We're getting the niggliness on this show, brothers! Kops is unfamiliar to me and a google search doesn't turn up much of anything, but I'll go out on a limb and say he's a wrestler who's maybe dabbled in a wee bit of the kickboxing. He has some awesome throws, really torquing the hips and getting some angles on them as Peeters sails helplessly through the air. Unfortunately he can't really seem to do much once he gets to the ground and Peeters is usually able to wriggle free, so I'm left to question how much of the wrestling Bert really does (more than me, I'd wager). It leads to things being a little stop-start at points with the ref' standing them back up. Peeters continues to be a favourite of mine. He's a kickboxer who wants little to do with being on the mat. If he can avoid being there he will and his first plan of action is to stand and strike, though he is able to take Kops down a few times himself when pressed (he has the wrestling background and such). He also has a sort of Murakami-ness about him where it looks like he maybe never quite figured out how to pull his strikes and so he smacks Kops really hard with closed fists. I'm not sure he ever cared about that closed fist rule the whole time he was in RINGS. Same goes for the striking a downed opponent rule because he did that a bunch as well. There was one amazing bit where Kops took him over with a German suplex but Peeters immediately rolled back to his feet and cracked him with an uppercut. Post-fight Peeters is asked about his key to victory and he answers with, "I think the knee to the face. Thank you." How can you not love this guy?

Dick Vrij v Ton von Maurik 

Cagey start to to this one as Von Maurik - perhaps sensibly after Vrij's recent slaying of Maeda - appears to be reluctant to engage. Then again Vrij doesn't seem too eager, either. And so it goes for about two and a half rounds (this is seven three-minute rounds, btw) with the highlight being Vrij dickishly mussing Von Maurik's hair. Von Maurik isn't very good nor convincing and that's kind of the killer in this. Vrij is coasting in his own right but you at least get the sense he could break out and finish it whenever he wanted. That it went nearly six rounds and didn't even end with a brutal KO does not amuse Dana White. It actually started to pick up a bit as it went on and they followed suit with the first two fights by getting pretty chippy, at one point even spilling to the floor in the most obvious "accidental" fashion ever where Vrij threw a sly knee to the ribs, but there was a lot of fluff in between the good bits (which were few and far between, besides). Vrij's first knockdown of Von Maurik was an absolute corker, though. The slow motion replays of it are truly spectacular.

Akira Maeda v Willy Wilhelm

This had a coupe iffy moments where the cooperation aspect was fairly obvious, but on the whole I thought this was pretty enjoyable. Wilhelm is a likeable sort of fellow, somewhat oafish looking yet wholly capable of chucking mere mortals around with relative ease, which he did several times. A couple of his harai goshis in this looked especially awesome. At one point it led to a half crab right in the middle of the ring and the crowd were in a rabid panic that Maeda might actually lose for the second show in a row. He also exposed his belly like a big gorilla and dared Maeda to kick him there, which Maeda did to little effect. Maeda going to the leg kicks seemed like a pretty sound strategy thereafter and it created openings to other things, such as the head kicks that almost KO'd Wilhelm twice. Finish had one of those moments of obvious cooperation, but it's whatever.

Best show yet, I'd say. Vrij/Von Maurik wasn't up to much but it was better than the last RINGS fight that employed the rounds system. The first two matches were super fun contests that I had no real expectations for whatsoever, and I look forward to seeing more of all four guys now that they seem to be settling into the style. Main event was another enjoyable Maeda bout. He hasn't fought any world beaters yet, but the crowd are always rocking and it certainly adds to the spectacle. Plus a certain Russian wizard is about to show up...

The overall production continues to be excellent as well. Those post-fight action replays are a thing of beauty.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Complete & Accurate RINGS

RINGS. The shoot style promotion that brought Volk Han to the attention of pro wrestling nerds the world over. The shoot style promotion that was home to peak Kiyoshi Tamura, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Yoshihisa Yamamoto and a bunch of Russian grapplers nobody had ever heard of. Akira Maeda's baby, his splinter group from the original UWF. It's one of my favourite promotions of the 90s and at its best there are few things in wrestling I'd rather watch.

It'll probably take me around a decade, but the goal is to go through everything (now that it's readily available to me), at least up until they switched to full MMA around the end of 1999. So that's like 90 shows. So a decade might be underselling the scope of such a project, knowing me like I know me. But we'll give it a try nonetheless!

I won't bother categorising it into EPIC, GREAT, GOOD and so on since I'm taking this show by show rather than match by match. I'm not really sure how I'll lay it out, actually. It's a work in progress. Fuck it.

Anyway, all of the RINGS!

RINGS Astral Step: Spirit U (5/11/91)
RINGS Astral Step 2nd: Aqua Heat (8/1/91)
RINGS Astral Step 3rd: Kamui (9/14/91)
RINGS Astral Step: Final (12/7/91)

RINGS Mega Battle: Kaiten (1/25/92)
RINGS Mega Battle 2: Ibuki (3/5/92)
RINGS Mega Battle 3: Ikazuchi (4/3/92)
RINGS Mega Battle 4: Kohrin (5/16/92)

Saturday, 5 August 2017

RINGS Astral Step 2nd: Aqua Heat (8/1/91)

Mitsuya Nagai v Herman Renting

Is this Nagai's debut, not just in RINGS but in all of the pretend fighting? It's certainly the earliest Nagai I've seen, as well as the least bald. This had more going on than Renting's last outing (also a show opener) and was pretty okay if largely unspectacular. Nagai's kicks look sharp enough, though none that landed were of much consequence. It's a departure from later career Nagai where he's crowbarring the living shit out of people and everything is landing eight thousand percent, often across Yuki Ishikawa's front teeth. Renting is another kickboxer but his shots were more probing than anything. There were some sparks of an alright ground struggle and at one point Nagai slickly escaped a choke attempt to gain side control, but otherwise this was fairly by the numbers.

Chris Dolman v Ton von Maurik

This was basically a shoot style hoss fight. It wasn't pretty, in fact it was ugly and ragged, but fuck if I didn't enjoy it a bunch. Von Maurik is...well I can't find any worthwhile info on him from a cursory google search but he's a tall Dutchman with a bitchin' perm. Dolman mentions in his pre-fight interview that he needs to be careful of Von Maurik as he's fast, in good condition and skilled in both boxing and sumo! He does not look like a sumo wrestler but who am I to argue? But yeah, right from the start Von Maurik charges Dolman and they're very soon taking pot shots at each other. Von Maurik's kicks come from a very flat stance and none of them land all that clean, but it looks like he's putting some meat behind them - at least to the extent he can with no real hip torque. Dolman has a really weird guard, forearms tight around his ears, face shielded by his elbow. Not much got past it, to be fair to him, but it did leave his midriff open to a punch combo that scored Von Maurik a knockdown. Dolman then started to flex the judo muscles and take Von Maurik down pretty much at will - once with an absolutely gorgeous harai goshi - at which point he would start headbutting him in the chest. This was evidently effective as it opened Von Maurik up to some submission attempts and Von Maurik clearly wanted no part of it, scrambling to the ropes as quickly as possible. It played into the finish as well, and I liked how Von Maurik tried to claw his way to safety while Dolman pulled him into the middle of the ring, like a big monster dragging some poor fellow into a pit. I said after his last fight that I'd like to see Dolman get a run out against someone who can actually go, and while I don't know if Von Maurik ticks that box he was an exponentially better match-up than Billy Kazmaier. And I thought this was just way fun.

Willy Wilhelm v Peter Smit

If you squint hard enough Wilhelm looks a bit like Calumet County district attorney Ken Kratz, or a Tesco brand Stan Hansen. He's a judoka who medalled in the '83 and '85 world judo championships and apparently had a match (presumably worked) with Maeda in '89 that drew 60,000 to the Tokyo Dome! He tells us he's beaten Smit a couple times in the past, back when Smit was much lighter. This time it'll be a bit more challenging, and while he knows he can't compete if it becomes a kickboxing contest he feels he'll be able to take Smit down and either put him in an arm lock or strangle him. Smit's interview is gibberish to me as my Dutch isn't for shit. Basically I wanted to transcribe the Wilhelm interview because that is pretty much exactly how the fight went from his perspective and I sort of love that he not only outright told you his strategy, but went and actually executed it. He had his gameplan, was confident enough in it to lay it out there, and followed through on it. Smit really wasn't very good at all. He would move into the clinch without ever actually trying to do anything, though there was one bit where he threw Wilhelm into the ropes and kicked him in the ribs which led to Wilhelm selling it like he'd popped a lung or something. I thought that was going to be the finish, but Wilhelm got up after 8 and came out, arms raised and roaring, like a big bear who's just happened upon a campsite. I figured a mauling was imminent. And well, he never quite mauled him but he sure did strangle him.

Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij

Vrij is in a foul mood after taking the L - as the youths say - in their last fight and comes out immediately swingin' for the fences. He's just all knees to the body and high kicks in a flurry of neo-Nazi primary villain in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie rage and manages to score two early knockdowns. And it's obvious pretty quick that this fight has as clear a story as any pro-style match you'll see. Maeda has barely been in competition since the UWF closure. In fact I think this might only be his second bout in nearly two years; the first being his fight against Vrij on the previous show. Vrij is bigger, stronger, angrier and is literally trying to kick him senseless. He almost kicks him clean out the ring at one point (Maeda had to basically Terry Funk teeter-totter in order to stay in and it was great). The crowd get one million percent behind Maeda and when Vrij scores the fourth knockdown there's an audible "holy fuck he might actually lose this" reaction rippling throughout the whole arena. It turns to genuine panic when Vrij just keep coming forward, and not knowing the result myself I was thinking "nah, he's not getting TKO'd in ten he?" His knee is also pretty heavily taped and when he gets up gingerly after taking another spill (not counted as a knockdown) you're thinking there might be no way back. He's injured and one knockdown off a stoppage and Vrij is absolutely all over him. It's inevitable. But it's still Maeda and this is his newly built house. He's been in worse situations, hasn't he? I was very much a fan of this, not just for the way they went about executing the match but also of the ballsiness of the booking. Best fight so far in our short history of Fighting Network RINGS.

This was one of the easiest hours of pro-wrestling I can recall seeing. It was a total breeze. The main event (and post-fight) was an awesome spectacle made even better by a crowd living and dying with their guy. Dolman/Von Maurik was quite the shoot style slobberknocker and absolutely exceeded my expectations. Wilhelm/Smit was like six minutes long and the opener, while not a blowaway fight or anything, was a fine enough debut for Nagai. More than the fights themselves, though, the overall production is generally outstanding. The pre-fight interviews (even with the guys I can't understand because my linguistic breadth is shamefully inadequate) and the short build up packages space out the card so that everything flows smoothly.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Friday, 4 August 2017

Koki Kitahara and the Face-Kicking and Such

Koki Kitahara v Akira Katayama (SWS, 10/29/91)

Man Kitahara was the best. I remember when I first got into Japanese wrestling I'd buy tapes with as much junior heavyweight stuff on them as I could find. Guys like Liger, Kanemoto, Ohtani, Eddie, Benoit, etc. I doubt I even knew who Koki Kitahara was back then and if I saw his name on a match list I probably would've skipped right over it (unless he happened to be matched up with one of the aforementioned names). It's been a while since those simpler times. My tastes have shifted somewhat dramatically since then and at this point I'm more likely to seek out obscure Koki Kitahara matches than any from those other guys (with the exception of probably Eddie). This started out with Katayama, in his leopard print tights and kneepads, jumping Kitahara at the bell and laying a beating on him. He had to try and stay on top the whole match because if he let Kitahara catch his breath he'd pay for it. Of course Kitahara caught his breath and kicked Katayama really hard in the mouth. I thought he'd literally kicked his teeth out and Katayama spent the back half of the match bleeding down his chest. Kitahara also seemed to be nursing a bum leg from a previous match so Katayama would go after that now and then as well, almost as a contingency plan of sorts. Kitahara hit what was basically a Ganso Bomb and his snap suplex is so, so good; easily as fast and sharp as Dynamite Kid's or Benoit's or whoever else's. Fun match. There's bound to be some hidden Kitahara gems from WAR v New Japan.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

RINGS Astral Step: Spirit U (5/11/91)

Towards the end of last year I did what I said I was gonna do for ages and finally bought a stack of RINGS shows. I don't even know where I've put them all now but I think I grabbed every show from the first (well, the first proper show -- they ran an exhibition type gig before that) through the end of 1994. Or maybe it was the middle of '94, it doesn't matter. Either way my plan was to watch them all and write about them. Then of course I got distracted by something else and barely watched anything for like half a year, killing my idea dead. But then the other night I flung in the first disc and got to watching.

Herman Renting v Peter Smit

This had some okay grappling on the ground and one or two decent takedowns (or maybe takedown attempts), but there wasn't a ton of urgency to any of it and it all mostly felt like two guys doing a demonstration. "This is how you go for an armbar..." Renting threw some okay kicks, but they were pretty light and again looked a bit like he was showing us all where you're SUPPOSED to kick someone. The winning armbar was cool, at least. Not terrible, but it won't knock your socks off.

Willie Peeters v Marcel Haarmans

Man, Peeters was fun in this. He threw lots of nice kicks that made a smack when they landed, he wasn't afraid to lay into Haarmans with punches, and even if he wasn't much use on the mat he was certainly game to try for takedowns. Haarmans doesn't really seem to do...anything...very well. He's a big lumpy dude and he absorbed lots of body shots, but there was never much behind any of what he was doing. When it went to the mat it felt like he was fairly composed, but I don't know if he had much to offer there offensively. I've liked the limited amount of Peeters I've seen previously and he's one of the guys I'm interested in seeing more of in the early RINGS years.

Bill Kazmaier v Chris Dolman

Jeez Louise this was rough. They work it within the rounds system so I briefly wondered if it somehow was a shoot, like Maeda was on the crystal meth one night and thought it might be fun to book that, but it didn't take long for the notion to be squashed. Kazmaier looks a bit like Arn Anderson here if Arn Anderson fell out a boat, drowned, and washed up on the shore. At times he moved like it, too. I've never seen Dolman before but he has a bit of young Glenn Jacobs about him, despite apparently being 46(!). He also has a legit judo and Sambo background so if he shows up again I guess I'd like to see what he can do with someone capable. Kazmaier threw some strangely amusing body shots and a big suplex, Dolman had one or two okay takedowns, but otherwise this was four and a half rounds of not a whole lot.

Akira Maeda v Dick Vrij

This was almost certainly helped by coming after the listlessness of the previous fight, but on its own I thought it still managed to be pretty dang fun. Vrij is always good for a bit of banter, his taunting and horse-shitting it up usually fairly amusing. Maeda was cool as you like through all of this, never rising to Vrij's bait, content to let Vrij force the issue before he would try and capitalise. Most of Vrij's slaps were more insulting than anything, though he did catch Maeda with a few that made the crowd sit up. He threw a handful of high kicks, but again Maeda would wait, catch one, then try and go for the takedown or submission. A couple times it backfired and he found himself rocked, but in the end it paid off like he'd planned. This went like eleven minutes and I dug it just fine.

I've said before on this here blog, probably several times as I journeyed through a handful of early UWFi shows last year, that I find it much easier to sit through mediocre/middling shoot style at this point in my wrestling fandom than pretty much any other kind of style (or similarly mediocre/middling instances of it, anyway). Whatever the reasons for that may be (there are a few, I'm sure), I know I'd rather watch a bang average RINGS show from 1991 than a bang average WWE PPV from the here and now. And this show was pretty consistent in its bang-averageness and I do not regret watching it whatsoever. The main event was fun and I look forward to seeing the rematch on the next show. Willie Peeters impressed both the crowd and this boozehound before you in his debut and we all as a collective look forward to seeing him some more. The Kazmaier fight was not good in the slightest and I'll never be in a hurry to re-watch it, but its sluggish weirdness sort of made of it a spectacle that you feel you need to see through to the end before - inevitably - vowing never to do so again.

When it comes to RINGS I know most people - myself included - think first and foremost of the Tamuras and Hans and Kohsakas and maybe the Yamamotos and probably the Maedas, but early RINGS seems to be a blind spot that nobody really talks about outside a handful of matches. I'm not expecting to come away thinking guys like Herman Renting or Ton von Maurik are unheralded superworkers, but I want to see how the promotion grew from basically being Akira Maeda and a bunch of Dutch judokas and kickboxers into one of my favourite promotions ever from '96-'98.

Complete & Accurate RINGS

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Even if Tenryu Crashes and Burns All the Way Down to the Embers, He'll Leave Them Something to Remember

Genichiro Tenryu, Ichiro Yaguchi & Shoji Nakamaki v Atsushi Onita, Sambo Asako & Shigeo Okumura (No Rope Barbed Wire Street Fight Tornado Death Match) (Onita Pro, 5/13/99) - GREAT

Who knew Tenryu working a no rope barbed wire street fight tornado death match would be this fun? Man was that guy the ultimate journeyman in the 90s. He wrestled just about everywhere in Japan, working all these different styles from King's Road to what I guess was the approximation of Strong Style at the time to inter-genre (wow that doesn't sound pretentious at all) spectacles with Takada to crazy barbed wire deathmatches in Onita's scuzzy castoff indy. And he even showed up for a couple Royal Rumbles, just because. I have no idea why they decided to clip this. It's the main event of the very fist Onita Pro card, it's Onita v Tenryu, it had a rabid crowd, and above all else it was fucking wild. Why would you not want to show that in its full and unedited glory? Stupid people. They really just go hell for leather straight away and I love how Tenryu and Onita took centre stage while the others brawled away in the peripheries. Onita was rocking a big forehead bandage and Tenryu zeroed in on it and punched and elbowed the cut (with some awesome, brutal downward elbows) until it reopened. They also sold that first Irish whip attempt like they wanted no part of the wire whatsoever, eliciting a big "oooooohhhhh" reaction from the crowd. Match was all over the place in the best way possible. Guys brawled into the seats (whereupon seats were flung everywhere and used frequently as weapons), in and around the barbed wire, just everywhere in sight. Great bit where Tenryu and Nakamaki front suplexed Okamura into the wire and Tenryu used the body as a means of smooth egress from the ring, then Asako came flying into view with a crazy tope. Nakamaki and Yaguchi wrapped Onita in barbed wire and I loved how Onita, like a crazy fuck, spent the remainder of the match deliberately wrapped up so he could use it to his advantage. He was throwing himself bodily into people and they were getting their clothes and hair and face shredded by the barbed wire, then he gave Yaguchi a piledriver while his legs were still wrapped in said wire. By the end Yaguchi looked like he'd been savaged by a panther. If this was in full I'd be stunned if it didn't hit EPIC.

Complete & Accurate Tenryu

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Japanese Indy Sleaze!

Tadahiro Fujisaki & Makoto Saito v Cosmo Soldier & Sato (Wrestle Yume Factory, 6/10/97)

This had a real Battlartsy recklessness to it, just fifteen minutes of uncooperative crowbarring and potatoing from all four involved. Honestly, I had no idea who any of these guys were and didn't bother trying to identify them until after I'd watched the match. Cosmo seemed fairly obvious given the mask with the big star on the front and therefore it would stand to reason that whoever he was teaming with was Sato, but I didn't put names to faces of the other two until afterwards. I'm not sure who you'd point to as the best guy in the match (I'm not sure you'd be bothered to), but you might point to Fujisaki (he's wearing the singlet) as the one who gave the least shits about his opponents' safety. He really brutalised Cosmo and flung him about with abandon, hitting this weird body slam that left Cosmo crumpled beneath himself in a tangle of ACLs and ruptured patellar tendons. Beyond that he was stomping him in the face and hitting lariats right around the throat and dumping him on his ear with back suplexes. Saito (the future K-Ness of Dragon Gate fame (I would never have known this, btw, if it hadn't been pointed out by Jetlag on PWO)) was throwing brutal high kicks and dropkicking guys at weird angles, across the lower spine, upper thigh, just below the shoulder, right under the chin. Almost nothing in the match looked pretty but it did look like it hurt a lot. There wasn't a ton of structure, but the messiness worked for it and the heat segments certainly made it feel like someone was in peril. Pretty much the definition of Japanese indy sleaze. The very best kind.

Masaaki Mochizuki, Yoshikazu Taru & Takashi Okamura v Masakazu Fukuda, Kamikaze & Hiroyoshi Kotsubo (Wrestle Yume Factory, 6/10/97)

What the fuck was this? I'd never even heard of half these guys, Mochizuki is a Dragon Gate mainstay I've never had anything but apathy for, Taru has been doing his half-baked Voodoo Murderers shtick for years...and yet this totally ruled. Mochizuki, Taru and Okamura are all kitted out in karategis and I assumed they were playing the role of invaders (they're from Koji Kitao's dojo, courtesy again of Jetlag), but the crowd were 100% behind them and spent near enough the whole match chanting for Taru. It was rabid, honest to goodness heat in this dingy little gym. Match was very much your Aoyagi-booked wrestler v karateka affair, but it was less outlandish spectacle and more balls out sprint that happened to be between karatekas and wrestlers. Taru spent most of the match being worked over by the home team and they really kicked the shit out of him. I don't know the difference between any of those guys but one of them was trying to burst Taru's lungs with double stomps. Another would rake his eyes across the ring ropes and crush him with portly sentons. We even got nasty little punts to the face while he crawled around the ring helpless. As far as I know this is the only Takashi Okamura match I've ever seen and he was just destroying guys with crazy stomps and head kicks. He did a wheel kick at one point that connected full force across the nose, total disregard for the face of whoever took it. The last stretch had guys laying into each other on the floor, dives through the ropes, Mochizuki running up turnbuckles and drilling guys with wheel kicks, and while all this chaos is going on Okamura and whoever are in the middle of the ring trying to tap each other out. I seriously thought this was as good as any of the high end MPro tags on the '96 yearbook, and in some respects it was even wilder. Great match.