Wednesday, 24 November 2021

We conquered 1987, now how about some 1988 New Japan!

Antonio Inoki v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 2/4/88)

I thought this fell surprisingly flat. Straight from the bell Choshu comes running out the corner with a dropkick and hits two lariats, so at that point I'm thinking okay it's going to be one of THOSE matches and I'm ready for the roof to go. It just never really kept hold of me for very long after that. I liked Inoki's dazed selling on the floor, the way he'd try and get back in the ring only to be knocked back down again, his whole demeanour in the face of Choshu's thuggery, and Choshu is always going to be interesting playing king of the mountain in a stretch like that. He paces around and threatens to swing at the ref' for restraining him, always eager to be dishing out punishment while being smart enough to not go out after Inoki and risk it backfiring. Then he gets a little too mouthy with the ref' and Inoki hits an apron enziguri, which is a pretty great transition spot. From there it simmered without ever really coming to the boil. They did some decent stuff and they definitely grabbed me again when Inoki punched a divot in Choshu's forehead. This was Inoki channelling whatever he unleashed on Kintaro Oki back in the day, dishing out receipts for earlier in the match. Choshu hits a real gusher and he might not be the most expressive or dramatic seller, but I sure bought him being in danger here. The finish felt like an Inoki finish, in that it left us with more questions than answers. 

Antonio Inoki v Big Van Vader (New Japan, 7/29/88)

This was the business. I remembered not a single thing about it, but it was my #31 on the DVDVR New Japan set so I must've thought highly of it back in the distant past (of 2009, which is fuckin DISTANT now, boys). I loved the start of it. Vader is a menace and before the bell he chucks Inoki out the ring, then does his pre-match ceremonial war dance with his huge mastodon helmet thing. He drops to one knee and roars, arms held aloft as this ridiculous helmet sprays steam into the air, so Inoki just enziguris him in the head because to hell with standing on ceremony. The story here was all about Inoki's persistence against Vader's dominance. Vader is inevitable, a thing whose advancement you can only divert if you're lucky, but never halt completely. He really walks that line amazingly between smothering an opponent and giving them just enough where it's plausible, largely because his selling is so good, and I thought his selling was sensational in this. He picks up a knock on his arm early and Inoki immediately hits it with an enziguri, because of course you would because you need to take advantage of every chink in the armour that presents itself. Whenever Inoki grabs one of those armbars Vader bellows to the heavens, so maybe every monster can be felled after all. It's just that Vader can swing momentum again with one big fist, or by flinging his entire body at Inoki like he's a small vehicle. There was one part where Vader had Inoki in a seated abdominal stretch, pulled Inoki's head back by the hair to expose his face, and just clubbed him with half a dozen hammer blows. The match finally turns when they end up on the floor again and Vader tries to bludgeon Inoki with some sort of sceptre, only Inoki moves and Vader jars his hand when he hits the post, so Inoki picks it up and stabs him in the bad arm. Vader comes up with a bloody arm and the close-up shot is properly gruesome. He's shrieking like a bear caught in a trap and it looks like Inoki full on stabbed him in the arm with this thing, a real nasty gash just streaming blood. Of course Inoki sticks with what brung him and hits another enziguri to the arm, and the vocal selling from Vader is legit some of the best I've ever seen (or heard). It was almost disturbing and if he was somewhat less monstrous you might even feel sympathy for him. The finish is also spectacular. If some predators like to play with their prey then the sight of his own blood hit Vader with some urgency, because he tried to finish things quickly after that. He slammed Inoki in the corner to set up the moonsault (or something else off the top if he wasn't using the moonsault yet), and even though Inoki retreated into the middle of the ring Vader was not for hanging about. He leaps off with a clothesline, but Inoki catches him upon landing and drags him to the mat with a Fujiwara armbar. Vader howling at the moon in agony afterwards, blood continuing to flow from his wound, while ring boys sheepishly try to usher him backstage was a pretty incredible bit of theatre. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

The rest of November is now Yoshiaki Fujiwara Month

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 6/19/88)

Another fine entry into one of the greatest match-up scrapbooks in history. This wasn't as heated as the two matches from '87, but it had a lot of the same things going for it. Initially I thought they were going to work a more grounded contest, one that wasn't built on Fujiwara being a bastard and forcing Choshu to be the same. They even started with a knucklelock, much like a nice sporting contest might. Then Fujiwara headbutted Choshu dead in the face and I mean DEAD in the face and that was the end of that. I don't know what it is about Choshu but Fujiwara is a man possessed every time he steps in the ring with him. Did he hate him for real? I've never seen him not try to choke the life out of Choshu any time they square off. At one point Choshu was flat on the canvas and Fujiwara stood over him, one foot planted on Choshu's hair to keep him pinned, staring at him in obvious contempt, then let him back up just to slap him as hard as possible. The match slowed down a bit when Choshu took over, but he always has that quality where he'll grind someone down then unleash a huge burst of offence, where even a snapmare will look like it comes from a place of malice. Choshu goes after the leg for a little bit and I love how savage he comes across when he has a guy in the corner. This time he wrapped Fujiwara's leg in the rope and started throwing kicks, hit a couple nasty back elbows to the neck, used his weighty advantage to keep Fujiwara stuck in there, just some really mean corner offence. You still get the sense Fujiwara's biding his time and he even manages a tentative run at a Fujiwara armbar, in case Choshu forgot who he was dealing with. Great bit where Fujiwara is on the apron and Choshu is peppering him with shots, then as Fujiwara steps through the ropes he pauses, waits for Choshu to throw another one, and as he does Fujiwara headbutts him in the stomach. First lariat comes after Fujiwara locks in the armbar too close to the ropes and takes umbrage with the ref' forcing the break, but then he dodges the second and grabs it again out the corner to a massive pop. These two are always great at milking that big lariat into Fujiwara armbar counter in their matches and people go nuts for it every time. Choshu cracking Fujiwara with a punch as the latter winds up for a headbutt was incredible and not a single person in history is better at selling a lariat decapitation than Fujiwara. 

Monday, 22 November 2021

One more 1987 New Japan entry for the road

Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Kazuo Yamazaki v Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada (New Japan, 9/1/87)

Maeda is wearing a t-shirt pre-match with a big cartoon fist that says "I PACK A MEAN PUNCH", so this is already five and a half stars. Overall it was quite similar to the May match, at least in terms of pacing and roles and how they communicated their individual strengths and weaknesses. Yamazaki is still young and inexperienced and sometimes the overexuberance that comes with youth will be punished. Maeda and Takada throw very many nasty kicks and Maeda was dropping him on his head with throws, including an amazing capture suplex to counter a high kick. The main difference from May was Fujiwara's mood, as in he was not in a good one in this match. He was a demon at points and slapped the taste buds out of Takada's mouth, headbutted both Takada and Maeda in the jaw, threw body shot punches, head kicks, the whole repertoire and all of it done with a scowl. Maybe he remembered how that May bout went and how Yamazaki was eventually targeted, and this time his paternal instinct kicked in and he wouldn't let his young partner suffer so again. The exchanges with Maeda picked right up from their outstanding singles match a couple days earlier and once again we are here considering if it might be a worthwhile venture to watch in one sitting every Fujiwara v Maeda match committed to tape. Fujiwara embracing an exhausted Yamazaki at the end was pretty much the perfect post-match. 

And with that, as we draw to a close this impromptu little project, I present to you the highly anticipated 1987 New Japan Top 15. What a quality year for the pro wrestling. 

  1. Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Riki Choshu (6/9/87)
  2. Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Akira Maeda (8/29/87)
  3. Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Masa Saito, Seiji Sakaguchi & Dick Murdoch v Tatsumi Fujinami, Nobuhiko Takada, Riki Choshu, Akira Maeda & Super Strong Machine (9/17/87)
  4. Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Kantaro Hoshino, Seiji Sakaguchi & Keiji Mutoh v Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, Akira Maeda, Kengo Kimura & Super Strong Machine (8/19/87)
  5. Nobuhiko Takada v Shiro Koshinaka (2/5/87) 
  6. Tatsumi Fujinami v Kengo Kimura (1/2/87)
  7. Antonio Inoki v Masa Saito (4/27/87)
  8. Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Kazuo Yamazaki v Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada (5/25/87)
  9. Riki Choshu v Yoshiaki Fujiwara (6/29/87) 
  10. Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada v Shiro Koshinaka & Keiji Mutoh (3/20/87)
  11. Tatsumi Fujinami v Kengo Kimura (1/14/87)
  12. Antonio Inoki & Dick Murdoch v Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Masa Saito (12/4/87)
  13. Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Kazuo Yamazaki v Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada (9/1/87)
  14. Masa Saito v Kengo Kimura (6/10/87)
  15. Akira Maeda v Masa Saito (5/18/87)

Friday, 19 November 2021

The 1987 New Japan hits just keep coming

Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Kantaro Hoshino, Seiji Sakaguchi & Keiji Mutoh v Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, Akira Maeda, Kengo Kimura & Super Strong Machine (New Japan, 8/19/87)

I think the most impressive thing about these multi-man matches is how the pace basically never drops below a hundred miles an hour. And if that's not the most impressive thing then the most impressive thing is how it never feels like it's too much despite that pace. They never shirk on the selling just to get more stuff in, never let it feel rushed, never let it feel like overkill. If I've watched one Dragon Gate multi-man tag then I've watched a thousand (or maybe just one and it felt like a thousand) and those guys worked rapid quick and did ten million things over the course of a match, but none of them had the urgency and desperation of these. This had the feeling of a match where any move could result in an elimination, and not in the stupid way where you'd get wrestlers being eliminated by stuff that ordinarily wouldn't be enough to pin or submit them but the booking was such that those falls just...sort of happen. This had no Nikolai Volkoff being eliminated by a Sgt Slaughter elbow drop energy. It had holy shit Fujinami just body slammed Hoshino so hard he might've killed the wee fella energy. That people could be eliminated by leaving the ring added to that ever-present danger - fuckin UBIQUITOUS you might say - as it meant even the lowest in the pecking order could get rid of the highest with a quick shift of weight or a yank of rope. There's history for that too considering Maeda once got rolled by Umanosuke Ueda of all people. And of course, consistent with the very best of this stupid artform, the crowd being absolutely scorching doesn't hurt. Like the September match this was old guard v new generation, only with a few different faces, and in a bit of a twist we had the youngest of the whole lot on team Inoki. I'm not entirely sure why Mutoh was with the old-timers, maybe he just had some bloody respect for his elders, but either way his addition there was a fun wrinkle. Also like September this was amazing and every person involved pretty much ruled in one way or another. Hoshino was probably my MVP this time. His role wasn't necessarily a central one, but he was a pocket rocket of violence and had no problem leading the charge for the boss. I think everyone on the opposing team got potatoed and the first flurry he landed on Fujinami was spectacular, especially the uppercut that I rewound seventeen times. Inoki was going nuts on the apron as well, throwing imaginary hands like he was watching a title fight in his living room. The Hoshino/Kimura parts were almost all punches and once again taped fist Kimura is a sensation. Fujiwara was unbelievable as the wrecking ball. Yanking guys into armbars, trying to rip legs off, headbutting folk into next week, everything. There was one bit where Choshu was on the apron holding onto the rope and Fujiwara was peppering him with slaps and headbutts and the crowd was going bananas. Loved when the tables were then flipped and Fujiwara was on the apron, Fujinami ramming his head into the turnbuckle bolt for the big death blow, only for it to backfire and wake the old warrior up instead. Inoki did that thing again where he came in as the roof blew off the place, threw a slap to Maeda and tagged straight back out. It had to be a deliberate dick move because he pulled that too often for it to be anything else. His proper exchanges were molten though, and the double elimination with Maeda would've been the perfect setup to a singles match that would've drawn 80,000 people if Maeda hadn't wellied Choshu in the face. In the end you've got the young upstart staring down the barrel of Fujinami and Choshu, and you know and I know and everyone else knows it's basically inevitable, but I loved how Inoki got up on the apron, one arm around Mutoh, offering a few words before sending him into a battle he can't possibly win. "Take one of them with you if you can. We'll talk about that Kabuki idea if you make it back." A tremendous bit of pro wrestling. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

I have still not finished watching 1987 New Japan

Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada v Shiro Koshinaka & Keiji Mutoh (New Japan, 3/20/87)

I wasn't super into this for the first half, but when they kicked things into gear they did so in a big way and I was pretty well in on it after that. Takada and Maeda are a pair of total wrecking balls here, especially Maeda who was a force of nature. This was proper Big Dog on Campus Maeda as he would assertively shut down any offence from Mutoh or Koshinaka, usually by fucking murdering them with kicks. He also threw about four suplexes that were beautiful and lethal in equal measure, just the prettiest technique while dropping guys in the way that you would least enjoy being dropped. Takada was full steam ahead and he clearly wasn't over the feud with Koshinaka because that boy was getting walloped at every opportunity. The German suplex counter to Koshinaka's hip attack ruled and I loved that any time Takada came in while Kosh was already there, usually after being left on his butt by Maeda, Takada would pick him up and slap the stubble off him or kick him in the liver. The longer it goes the less chance you feel Mutoh and Koshinaka have of actually winning. Like, that first half was probably 50-50, but you felt the UWF guys had three or four more gears to go up while the New Japan pair were struggling to even hold serve. Then 50-50 started veering more towards 60-40, then 70-30, and it wasn't in favour of Mutoh and Koshinaka. The UWF pair were sustaining runs of offence and tags were getting harder to come by for team New Japan. Mutoh would need to break up consecutive pin attempts on Koshinaka and if he wasn't around you get the sense it would've been over. Even when it looked like Koshinaka might string together some offence on Maeda - after Maeda took a wild missed wheel kick bump into the corner - Takada would immediately come in and shut him down. By the end Koshinaka was on his last legs, getting peppered from all angles, and baby Mutoh's energy was only going to take him so far. For what it's worth I thought Mutoh was really fun in this. His selling was a wee bit iffy once or twice, but lazy old red mist Muta sometimes makes it easy to forget how quick he could move back when he still had knees, and holy smokes was his moonsault a thing of beauty. The finish is great. Koshinaka basically has no chance of fighting his way back into the match, so instead he tries to use the element of surprise. He rolls up Takada with a super tight cradle that Maeda has to break, then he almost catches Maeda himself with one of the slickest backslides you've ever seen. He clearly figures this is his best shot, and persistence pays off when he graba a small package on Takada (and this was a perfect looking small package) while Mutoh holds Maeda at bay on the apron. Those last five minutes were awesome, Korakuen Hall is in raptures, grown men weep, the world is good. Yeah this was pretty great. 

Monday, 15 November 2021

I have not finished watching 1987 New Japan

Dick Murdoch v Akira Maeda (New Japan, 9/14/87)

Talk about a styles clash. In fairness it's not shocking that this was pretty damn fun, considering the match Murdoch had with Fujiwara in PWFG (which ruled). That was when Dick was broken down though, more about the shtick than what it would've been in 1987 (their interactions in the December tag show as much). Still, I wasn't sure how this would play out because if anybody was going to full force kick the shit out of a closet racist in the middle of a wrestling ring then it's Maeda (not that you blame the man). There were many kicks, but I don't think any were of the shoot variety and they crafted a nice little story despite the fact we were never in a million years getting a proper payoff at the end. I loved how Murdoch sold all of Maeda's shots. Right at the start Maeda unloads with a high kick and Murdoch goes down like his eardrum is ruptured, then later he does an unbelievable KO sell off the apron when Maeda clocks him again. Maeda would throw kicks to the arm and shoulder and Murdoch was really fun selling all of that, then he'd sort of go after Maeda's leg because around this period I guess everyone knew to go after Maeda's leg. There was a great bit where Maeda rolled all the way out the ring to break a figure-four and that crowd fully expected the double count out, so Murdoch held his hand up for a ceasefire and gestured to the ring like "shall we not finish this in the squared circle like GENTLEMEN?" He even held the ropes open for Maeda and everything. A very nice curveball before Murdoch smacks the ref' and the match gets tossed in the end anyway. Such is the way of things. 

Sunday, 14 November 2021

1987 New Japan was very good!

Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Masa Saito, Seiji Sakaguchi & Dick Murdoch v Tatsumi Fujinami, Nobuhiko Takada, Riki Choshu, Akira Maeda & Super Strong Machine (New Japan, 9/17/87)

The old guard and the new generation explode! I must've been HITTIN' the good whisky back when I put together my DVDVR New Japan ballot because I had this outside my top 30, and that is quite frankly a nonsense of a thing to do because holy smokes what a match. I think the biggest compliment I can give it is that Dick Murdoch and Riki Choshu are both eliminated right away and we see none of what led to that due to a commercial break, and yet 30 seconds later you don't even care because everyone else has dragged you back in. And everyone else was amazing in this. Not a bad or average performance to be had anywhere, just top drawer pro wrestling from all involved. Masa Saito may have been the star though, turning in one of the all-time great thug performances. What a monumental bastard of a man he chose to be on this night. It wasn't even like he was underhanded about it either. There were no cheapshots to speak of, nothing sly, it was all pretty clear and obvious. Clear and obvious in that he was clearly and obviously enjoying being a bastard. He was a total shark in the water, where he'd jump into attack mode and maul someone if the opportunity presented itself, but he was just as likely to go right for the throat of a fresh man as well. Sakaguchi wasn't in this for very long but he was a hoot while he was. He was the sympathetic big lanky kid in school who'd get mugged for his YuGiOh cards even though he was the only one who even played YuGiOh before finally snapping and making the bullies pay dearly. Takada was always eager to throw grenades and he had some great exchanges, especially with Fujiwara who slapped him down to size more than once. Also got wrecked by Saito because Saito was just in one of those moods. Inoki is always a bit of a prick in these matches. He's stupid charismatic and crowds will live and die on anything he does, so whenever he gets in for the first time the building just erupts, but it was always like he enjoyed fucking with people and would tag back out again straight away. This time he came in to a monster pop, immediately took a swing at Fujinami on the apron, and then Fujinami demanded to be tagged in to an even bigger monster pop. Teacher versus student, the old king versus the crowned prince...and Inoki just tags out. I think the first time I saw him do it (I specifically recall him doing it in the first big New Japan v UWF match) I was disappointed, but at this point I sort of like it because I'm pretty sure it's a deliberate wind-up tactic. There were two stretches of the match that stood out to me above the rest and the first was Fujiwara and Maeda reprising their fight from a couple weeks back. Fujiwara goes after the leg again, dogged in forcing the tap and Maeda sells it spectacularly, really milking every near submission while there's a palpable sense that he's going to submit. The desperation roll-up to flip the tables and eliminate Fujiwara was incredible, then Saito came in like a dog with a bone and was fucking amazing smashing Maeda's leg off the mat, twisting him into the prison lock for the huge tap out. The second awesome (or even more awesome) part of the match was the finishing run. Fujinami is left alone against Inoki and Saito and Saito just tries to break his skull open off the exposed turnbuckle. Fujinami is a mess and I love him swinging blindly at Inoki, while Inoki almost looks on regretfully at having to do this to his old pupil. Saito regrets nothing and completely abuses him, biting the exposed wound, hitting multiple Saito suplexes and a sick lariat, picking Fujinami's shoulders up off the mat after every two-count so he can dish out more punishment. Initially the crowd are going crazy because it looks like Fujinami is kicking out, but after the fourth or fifth instance of this it's clear he's not. His legs might be moving like he's TRYING to kick out, but the only reason the shoulders are coming up is because Saito's lifting them. Fujinami is pretty much dead in the water, so Inoki tags himself in, slaps Saito and immediately pins Fujinami to put him out his misery. I thought that finish was fucking sensational. I could see it maybe falling flat for some people, but knowing the history of Inoki and Fujinami, and Inoki and SAITO - who tried to kill each other six months ago - I thought it was a perfect little bit of storytelling that never felt forced or melodramatic or hammy at all. Choshu is irate after the bell. "He was your wee buddy and this is how you treat him?!" I assume. Murdoch has no idea what's happening and Fujinami is carried out with a head bandage the size of a bath towel and this was phenomenal. 

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Some New Japan! But from a year that's not 1987!

I'm making the most of that fuckin New Japan World subscription that I've had for about ten months and used for maybe two weeks tops. Don't try and stop me!

The Great Sasuke & Black Tiger v Wild Pegasus & Shinjiro Ohtani (New Japan, 10/18/94)

This is probably not going to be something I'll love at this stage of the game, but there was enough here to keep me interested and overall I'd say it held up pretty well. Look, if you're one of the seven people who read this nonsense of a thing on a regular basis then you don't need me saying another word about Eddie Guerrero to know where I stand on him. If I watch a match with him in it and he's at least halfway entertaining then I'll write lengthy paragraphs about everything he did that made him so. I'm a broken record and I know it. But here I am, back on my bullshit to yet again tell you that Eddie Guerrero was outstanding in this wrestling match. It might be his best heel performance as Black Tiger and almost certainly his best performance under the mask up to this point (heel or babyface). He was fully in Gringo Loco mode by now back in Mexico so he brought some of the bastardry over with him for this tour. To be honest I don't know if anybody actually worked babyface here. I guess there were babyface moments, if for no reason other than the fact someone was being beaten up for stretches, but everybody basically acted like a dick and there was tetchyness all around. Ohtani is the young pup but he would dish out as many cheapshots as he'd take, so it was sort of hard to feel any sympathy for him. Benoit was surly as a bastard and sure never worked babyface and...well. You know. Sasuke was MAYBE sympathetic? A little bit? Then again he did not enjoy being chopped out of his pyjamas and I get the feeling his response wouldn't have been very babyface-like if he wasn't physically restrained. Still, we are all about the chippiness and potato-farming and so we welcome it, embrace it, treasure it. Eddie was working OVERTLY heel, though. He would come in and break up pins or submissions, but he'd do it by being a prick and I about lost it when he sauntered over and broke up a Boston Crab by casually poking Benoit in the eye. Fancy watching some of that snappy juniors offence? Eddie wasn't bothered his arse about what you fancied and would intermittently come in to put a stop to it. He brought the surliness, the hostility, the rampant shithousery, and everything he did on offence looked picture perfect. The finish was whiffed to hell but Ohtani scoring the win felt like a big moment for him, and ultimately was satisfying in that respect. Yeah, this was decent. 

Shinya Hashimoto v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 1/4/01)

The final chapter in the eternal story of Hashimto and Choshu beating the dog piss out of each other in front of 50,000 people. This did not reinvent their particular wheel, did not stray far from their beaten path. There were many thumping lariats, many chops, many kicks and many awesome bits of selling. The one major wrinkle here was that Hashimoto in full dickhead mode. I guess as a rivalry or series there's never been a true heel or babyface divide between these two. A lot of it was built around respect and HONOUR and not so much about good or bad. Grey areas and all that. By this point Hashimoto is close to being out the door in New Japan, and I don't really know the full history behind that but I guess his ongoing disagreements with Choshu were relatively well-known. Either way, as soon as this started Hashimoto remained in the corner and wasn't even interested in locking up. Choshu was obviously annoyed by this and continued to get more annoyed as Hashimoto would barely acknowledge him. Even the ref' was getting frustrated! Then Hash stepped onto the ramp like he was ready to walk out on the whole mess and it's the first time I've heard a crowd actively boo Hash in...what, forever? When he eventually decides he's ready to fight he slabbers Choshu. And Choshu slabbers him back and neither will give the other the satisfaction of leaving their feet no matter how hard they're hit. It's the tried and true Hash v Choshu formula, just a bit more strike-driven than some of their previous matches. The finish is a bit hokey with Fujinami putting a stop to it, I guess because he's worried someone gets beaten to death or whatever, and the crowd were not particularly happy about it. However it is these two and so we take every second of it. 

Friday, 12 November 2021

I may soon run out of 1987 New Japan to watch

Yoshiaki Fujiwara v Akira Maeda (New Japan, 8/29/87)

Fucking hell what a match. Is this the best Fujiwara v Maeda bout? It's been ten years since I've watched any of them but if there's a better one then I need to check it out again, because I thought this was a masterpiece. I mean I've watched a handful of amazing Yoshiaki Fujiwara performances the last few days and this might be the best of the lot. I thought he was absolutely phenomenal in this. People much smarter and far earlier to the party than me have written many words about how Fujiwara is one of the best defensive wrestlers ever. They've written many words about how he's someone who conveys actual strategy in wrestling better than maybe anyone else. Words upon words about his matwork and skill as a grappler. Countless paragraphs about his selling. Just a whole bunch of stuff typed up and flung onto the internet singing his praises (you'll find plenty on this here nonsense of a blog as well). All of that is present in this bout, and all of it to a stupidly high level. It started with him weaving in and out, lots of energy without overextending. He throws a little kick to Maeda's knee - specifically the knee; it wasn't just a leg kick - and goes for a kneebar, but generally speaking he's happy to keep most of this on the feet. We even get a glimpse of his striking early as he reels off a quick combo of body punches and a slap, then he immediately backs up as Maeda stalks him down. And that kind of sets the tone for much of this. Fujiwara isn't as prolific a striker as Maeda, but these were some of the best strikes I've ever seen him throw and by christ he was laying them in. There were punches to the body, slaps to the face, punches right to the temple, full blown Tenryu punts to the head, those nasty kicks to the knee, it was as vicious as I'd ever seen him and that was even before the headbutts (just wait). You question how viable a strategy that might be because Maeda will inevitably catch him with a howitzer, and yet the whole time he's doing this he's grinning and throwing goofy feints and very clearly reeling Maeda in. You can put it down to him being a carny and you might be onto something, but if you've seen one Fujiwara match where he's setting traps then you've seen a dozen and this was classic Fujiwara. It really had the feel of a red hot young sports team coming up against a group of veterans, where the latter have seen it all before and know how to use their experience to manipulate an outcome. You can see it unfolding and you KNOW it's happening, but the young guys either can't and stick to what had been working up until now, or they can and are powerless to actually do anything about it. 

Fujiwara's selling is amazing from beginning to end. Maeda obviously gets his licks in and there are several moments where Fujiwara will sell them brilliantly. Moments where you can find yourself getting super pretentious trying to write about them because it's like, this is pro wrestling not fucking Broadway but I don't know man, they don't teach this at your Royal Academy of Drama or whatever. The very first shot Maeda lands, Fujiwara stumbles in the corner and half slumps to the mat, and as Maeda throws another shot Fujiwara catches it, grabs hold and almost curls around the foot for a few seconds just to recover. There are shots that partially land and Fujiwara laughs them off, still goading Maeda, then there are shots that land more than partially, that clearly sting, and he laughs at those ones BECAUSE they sting. There's a bit later where Fujiwara's been downed for an 8-count and is visibly rocked, and as Maeda presses ahead Fujiwara backs into the corner for some respite, hanging through the ropes while Maeda throws knees to the body. The first chance Fujiwara gets he grabs Maeda and switches their position, then he pins Maeda in the corner and throws some shots to the body and head, but between those flurries you get the sense his goal is more to keep the fight in the corner for a minute just so he can recuperate. It was such a cool bit of defence from the best defensive wrestler ever. He's also the best headbutting bastard ever and this might be the GOAT Fujiwara headbutt spot. He actually hadn't thrown any in the match before the last couple minutes, and it wasn't even him who started it. Maeda's frustration had boiled over, because it was always going to, and as he backed Fujiwara into another corner it was him who threw that first headbutt. Fujiwara took it and covered up, absorbing a few body shots, then when Maeda paused Fujiwara just smashed him in the jaw with one of the grossest headbutts ever. This was a genuine headbutt to the face, not one of those bowling ball headbutts that makes you wince when you hear one head clonk off another. I mean both types are hellish but I think the surprise factor of this was what made it truly vile. 

The finish is pretty much perfect. Fujiwara had been throwing those little kicks to Maeda's knee all match. They all bent the knee at awkward angles and he was clearly using them to try and set up something else, but Maeda was always onto it and nothing materialised. Maeda throws a kick to the body and Fujiwara buckles over like he's been shot, so Maeda throws another, because why wouldn't you? And the old bastard knew it was coming because he caught that kick, booted Maeda's planted leg twisting it at a disgusting angle (I'm talking snapped MCL angle), and followed up with the kneebar. Just a wonderful finish to a wonderful match, with a wonderful Fujiwara performance. And maybe the best shoot style match to ever happen outside of an actual shoot style promotion. 

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Another day of 1987 New Japan

Tatsumi Fujinami v Kengo Kimura (New Japan, 1/14/87)

This kind of swung between decent enough and balls out awesome. On the one hand that's a little disappointing because you can't help but want the balls out awesome to be the constant, but on the other hand pretty decent is pretty decent, you know? How loudly can we really complain? I think this feud only lasted about a month and that was definitely nine months too short. I actually thought the best parts of this were even better than the best parts of the January 2nd match, though they were rooted in the same idea (or PHILOSOPHY, if you will). Kimura still has serious ill will for Fujinami and this time Fujinami is less forgiving when his old partner blatantly punches him in the jaw. Fujinami wrestles like someone who'd rather do that - wrestle - than have a fist fight, but he won't give Kimura the same leeway he did before. The early grappling had a nice intensity to it and I loved that they both decided to put that to the side so they could have a stand up exchange in full boxing stance. Moments like that happened throughout, where one or both - though most often it was Kimura - would let their tempers boil over and someone would get cracked in the mouth. The first slap Fujinami threw landed flush and Kimura shot him this look of "I really hate you, you know that?" When Kimura next backed him into the corner everyone knew what was coming, and I love that Fujinami just stood there and braced himself, daring Kimura to throw his best shot and get it over with. It was almost derisory, like even leaving himself open so Kimura could hit him unimpeded wouldn't matter in the long run, confident as he was that he was still The Ace and Kimura never would be. I'm sure that sat brilliantly with Kimura. I'm also sure it added a little mustard to every closed fist he threw at Fujinami after the fact, and he threw a good fucking few of them let me tell you. There was one punch flurry in particular that was incredible and I guess Kengo Kimura is super underrated as a puncher? The leg lariat plays a part again, but I wish they played up the first one that connected a little more. I thought it came off like a bit of an afterthought, which is strange considering it was a huge part of the feud up until now. That might be nitpicky though, because I did really like how Kimura never seemed to be satisfied and would lift Fujinami's shoulders on a few pin attempts (like after the leg lariat). Either he was messing with Fujinami because he knew he wasn't beaten yet anyway or he was messing with him because he thought he was VERY beaten, but as soon as he did it you got the sense he was wrong one way or the other. When Fujinami countered the third leg lariat and put him in the Scorpion you pretty much knew Kimura had fucked up. He held on as long as he could and nearly made it to the ropes, but in the end Fujinami is The Ace and Kimura is not. 

Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Kazuo Yamazaki v Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada (New Japan, 5/25/87)

This was pretty awesome, and maybe the best mixture of shoot and pro style in a tag match that New Japan produced from around this time (that '86-'88 period with all the shoot style guys, between the original UWF closing down and the second iteration starting up after Maeda shoot kicked Choshu in the eye socket). I guess it was a little more shoot than pro so it was mostly back and forth the whole way, which is fine when the transitions are this strong, but I would've loved an extended heat segment somewhere to really fire it up a level. After all I'm a 90s kid who was raised on the tag team prowess of the Headshrinkers and Men on a Mission, I can't help but be set in my ways. The roles are pretty well established -- Yamazaki is the young technician with picture perfect striking and rapid fast feet, a real prodigy with the sky as his limit. He's in there with three-quarters of the shoot style Mount Rushmore so you expect him to play whipping boy, but I like that they almost circumvented that with the existing injuries to Maeda and Takada. The former has a taped up forehead from the Strong Machine mugging the previous week and Takada has a bandaged up thigh, so there are a couple bullseyes for Yamazaki to tee off on and tee off on them he does. Those moments worked as plausible momentum swings, where he could drag himself back into the fight with a flurry of kicks to the thigh without it feeling like Takada was giving him too much. Fujiwara was properly fired up as well, maybe because he knew that he was tagging with a kid and might need to carry the load a bit. He's the one who starts tearing at that Maeda bandage, then Yamazaki follows suit because why wouldn't you follow the godfather? Lots of killer strikes, snug submissions attempts, nasty suplexes and a great final pairing to cap it off. One or two weird bits of selling, but when everything else is so on point who really gives a shit?

Masa Saito v Kengo Kimura (New Japan, 6/10/87)

Man, Saito was the ultimate badass. Someone on PWO described this as Saito working as Arn Anderson and that's totally apt, as he spends the majority of the match trying to wreck Kimura's bandaged up knee. Kimura does not take kindly to this and starts throwing wild potato punches to the cheek, so Saito grabs him and puts him on his head with a backdrop. This was some real mean leg work from Saito. All of the holds were tight and you knew he was looking for that Scorpion Deathlock. He also hit one of the cleanest dragon screws you've ever seen, made even better by the fact it was a reversal to Kimura going for the leg lariat. I liked Kimura's scrappiness as well and you could tell he had a chip on his shoulder in '87. Although you maybe question whether that mean streak hampered his judgment because going for a top rope kneedrop with a bad wheel was probably a risk too great to be taking, especially against the king of the Scorpion Deathlock. Pretty much the ideal 12-minute midcard bout. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Yet more 1987 New Japan!

Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Osamu Kido v The Sheepherders (New Japan, 3/9/87)

Pretty rudimentary midcard tag, but it's Fujiwara v the Bushwhackers so of course I was going to enjoy the thing. I expected some shtick with the Sheepherders trying to ram Fujiwara into the ring post and sure enough they both tried it, looked at each other and the crowd incredulously when Fujiwara walked away unscathed, then Fujiwara headbutted the both of them just to drive the point home. It's a pretty easy trick to throw out and Fujiwara will do it quite often against some out-of-towners rolling in, but the crowd always dig it and I'll always love Fujiwara acting like a carny. I also like that the Sheepherders were unapologetically the Sheepherders and worked this exactly the way they would in Mid-South or Portland or Puerto Rico (minus the gallons of spilled blood if it was the latter). "Japanese crowds don't respond to kooky shit like that." Yer arse in parsley. 

Antonio Inoki v Masa Saito (New Japan, 4/27/87)

Maybe the absolute Inokiest Inoki spectacle of them all. Someone could comp tape all of the wild Hollywood carry on Inoki has put together and I'd pay decent money to get my hands on it. All of the invading MMA stuff, the nonsense in packed out buildings that incites near riots, the pro wrestling THEATRE, him right in the middle of it all, an evil genius or possibly an out of touch old fool. This was the sort of thing I imagine Vince would've loved to have run, but it only could've worked in Japan, and probably only with Inoki as the lodestone. The long and short of it is Masa Saito has returned to New Japan after a couple-year stint in All Japan and the AWA and the United States Correctional System. A month earlier he and Inoki wrestled to a no contest when a man dressed as a pirate handcuffed himself to Saito and a riot ensued. I have not seen the match and therefore will speak no more on the matter, but no I am not making it up. This is the return bout and this time sitting front row in the crowd is Saito's best buddy Riki Choshu, also returned after a couple years in All Japan (but not an American federal prison). Inoki is seconded by Fujinami while Saito has Hiroshi Hase in his corner. Honestly, the first half of this is decent enough but I didn't think it was particularly compelling. It's largely a squash, with Saito wearing Inoki down and putting him in the Scorpion Deathlock. Where it really picks up is when Saito gets pissed that Inoki won't submit so he just picks him up and drops him balls-first across the top rope. Twice. That's when the mayhem starts. Inoki has no interest in bruised testicles so he fucking skulls Saito with a kappo kick and starts undoing the ring bolts. He turns to the crowd like "how the fuck about it?!" and everyone goes ballistic like absolutely yes we are about it! The ref' gets on the mic and presumably says we're now having a no-rope match and so a bunch of people get up and dismantle the ring ropes, leaving only the canvas and ring posts. Inoki rams Saito's head into the post and Saito is just COVERED in blood and after a few minutes Inoki is COVERED in blood and all of it is Saito's. Hase then hands Saito a pair of handcuffs, and Saito thumps Inoki in the balls and handcuffs his wrist to Inoki's. This leads right into an amazing bit where Inoki punches and headbutts Saito to the point where the latter is dead on his feet, maybe only still upright because he's handcuffed to a conscious body. It's amazing selling from Saito and the more he refuses to go down the more unhinged Inoki becomes. The last minute is like a murder scene with Inoki driven to insanity trying to cave Saito's face in, Saito lying in a pool of his own blood, completely motionless, so Hase throws in the towel before Saito is beaten to death. Inoki is relentless and it takes Fujinami to come in and literally slap some sense into him before he stops beating on Saito, but by this point Choshu is going fucking ballistic in the crowd and people are having to hold him back from storming the ring. While this is going on there's an amazing shot of Inoki, seemingly oblivious to it all, on his knees staring at his blood-coated hands trying to come to terms with what he's just done. I'm actually imagining NXT doing something like this today with Michaels up in a crane somewhere with a megaphone shouting "WE NEED MORE ANGST!" It's sort of astounding that this never came off hokey at all and at one point was actively disturbing, when it so easily could've been Gargano/Ciampa level dumb. Fujinami and Choshu then get into it as Choshu slaps his old nemesis and by christ New Japan was a hoot. This is just spectacular pro wrestling.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Some more New Japan from 1987!

Nobuhiko Takada v Shiro Koshinaka (New Japan, 2/5/87) 

Cards on the table, I hated this series back during the DVDVR project. Well I hated two of their matches. This one I had just outside my top 60, so I probably didn't hate it but I wouldn't suggest I loved it. But 2009 was a time long ago and what are we (it is merely I, a singular entity) at Whiskey & Wrestling Towers if not open to re-evaluation? Honestly this is a bit of a strange match, at least in terms of structure. It's quite choppy, but that matches the rough execution and overall it adds to the uncooperative feel of it, almost like a pro/shoot style hybrid. Even though they don't necessarily communicate hatred in an overt sense, at least not early, you can tell that they do not like each other one bit and that resonates from start to finish. They're a little tentative to begin, some missed kicks here and there, mostly a feeling out process. There's one moment where they tie up and Koshinaka kind of slaps Takada's hand away, and Takada immediately sells it in a way that tells you there's something to it. Two of the fingers on that hand are taped up and the camera zooms in on it, so you can probably file that one away for later. Neither guy really sustains an advantage early and they do a few "I have you too well scouted" exchanges, but they were fine and the underlying malice behind those exchanges kept them from feeling rote. Like, the part where Takada's spin kick was met with Koshinaka's dropkick worked not just because it conveyed that part of the story ("this is our third singles match so we know each other pretty well"), but because it didn't look like those kicks were intended to do anything other than land on the opponent. Even some of the iffy selling was fine. I don't think either guy is a particularly compelling seller anyway, but this was some fight-through-pain selling that I didn't mind and even the dodgy no-selling parts added to how uncooperative everything felt. The first real example of that was when Koshinaka hit a tombstone and Takada kicked out, got up to his feet and punted Koshinaka right in the head (and even after it he sort of slumped in the ropes as a delayed reaction). Takada has the edge in grappling and he's obviously a better striker, so at points it feels like Koshinaka only has a shot through stubborn determination. There was also a great sense of escalation, the way they'd try and hit moves only for the other to fight them off, then come back to them later once fatigue had kicked in. It happened with the dragon suplex (this was one of the most gorgeous dragon suplexes you'll see btw), some of the submission attempts, even some of the strikes that were being avoided earlier. Towards the end Takada is all in on the crossface chickenwing, then we get that payoff from earlier as Koshinaka tries to snap his fingers. Takada's selling here was awesome and I loved that he looked at Koshinaka like this was beyond the pale even for him. He'd try and circle around Koshinaka with that hand hidden, but any time he'd grab him or come close enough Koshinaka would get to the finger-bending. The bit where he stomped on the hand while bleeding from the mouth made him look like a desperate man who may or may not also be a psychopath. Finish rules, with Koshinaka applying an armbar while bending the fingers at disgusting angles, leaving the fancy kickpad MMA guy no choice but to submit. Those pro wrestling rules are different, brother. This was way the fuck better than I remembered. Maybe watching it in isolation without the stink of their previous matches helped, but either way I thought it was really good. Maybe I've been too harsh on 80s Koshinaka all this time. 

Akira Maeda v Masa Saito (New Japan, 5/18/87)

I guess this is more of an angle than a match, but if your angle is someone getting launched into a ring post and bleeding everywhere then I'm pretty much sold. Super Strong Machine (in his immaculate blue tracksuit) trips Maeda as he's getting into the ring at the start, rams him into the post a few times, and after about thirty seconds Maeda falls into the ring covered in blood. I mean he has absolutely massacred himself with the blade on this, good grief. Saito tries to put him away immediately with a couple Saito Suplexes and a lariat, but Maeda keeps kicking out with milliseconds to spare and the people are in bits. Maeda gets almost nothing in the way of offence but everything he does do is met with a monster pop. He also takes another three or four ludicrous postings on the floor and the fact Saito had to resort to that for a count out win is maybe a story in itself. Post-match all hell breaks loose and a shirtless Fujiwara runs off the bad bastards, practically by his presence alone. One of a kind. 

Akira Maeda v Super Strong Machine (New Japan, 8/20/87)

This never quite hit the heights that the pre-match mugging promised. It wasn't really worked like a match where one of the participants had been smashed into a ring post several times by the other opponent in the not too distant past. No real sense of Maeda being out for revenge, even when SSM jumped him again here and they had to be separated before the bell. And I know that's judging something for what it isn't rather than what it actually is, but when you're all about the chaos and you've got the prospect of Maeda right there ready to bring it then it's sort of hard not to be disappointed. Still, this was alright and even pretty good when they started whomping on each other. You never quite know for sure if Maeda's taking liberties so the strike sections were super heated. Maeda threw a goodly number of kicks that I would not like to be taking and Strong Machine was throwing headbutts, some mean lariats, even a few nasty kicks of his own. The parts when they took it to the mat were a bit dry, though. It wasn't even that it was matwork as such, it was really more a case of someone grabbing a hold and struggling to apply it before the other forced the break or escaped. Towards the end the heat picks up nicely and the teased count out grabbed the crowd, so they were biting on everything after that. Strong Machine injures his shoulder missing a top rope elbow so the ref' checks for a potential stoppage, and while this is going on Maeda is gesturing to the crowd that he's going to break something and then he kicks the shoulder to bits. I know he's not for everyone but by god I love Maeda. 

Monday, 8 November 2021

Some New Japan! From the year 1987!

Tatsumi Fujinami v Kengo Kimura (New Japan, 1/2/87)

This is one of my favourite Fujinami performances ever. Probably one of my favourite Kimura performances as well. I don't know why Kimura was so pissed at his former teammate but he clobbered him before the bell with a taped fist and Fujinami was up against it straight away. I thought Fujinami was amazing in the first half of this, all of it stemming from that opening punch. He can never really mount any offence and has to operate with caution, has to be patient before engaging, backing into the corner, trying to shake the cobwebs loose, clearly still reeling from the sucker punch and trying to just bide his time to get himself right. Kimura being all over him and socking his jaw several more times never did him much good either. There was a great bit where Fujinami managed to grab a nice hammerlock out of a standing switch, and instead of engaging in any of that Kimura just immediately cracked him in the cheek and Fujinami was on the mat staring at the lights. He'd stomp Fujinami while he was curled up in the ropes, punch him in the ear and let everyone know he was doing it, apply every submission with venom, basically he was all over Fujinami like a very angry rash. When Fujinami did manage to take over he absolutely slabbered Kimura like you'd want. He persisted and tried to wrestle this thing clean, but you can only push a man's buttons so many times before he snaps and when he did he tried to split Kimura's skull like a pomegranate. Fujinami punches the cut about a dozen times and you wonder if maybe Kimura should've stopped riling him up with those cheapshots earlier. The finishing run is short and compact and, even though they mostly stop the blatant closed fist punching, manages to capture a sense of escalating violence. That peaked with Kimura bringing a chair into the ring and piledriving Fujinami on top of it, and I guess even in Japan a piledriver on a chair carries some WEIGHT. KinchStalker on PWO gives us a little background on the finish as well, noting that Kimura's eventual victory is wiped off because apparently his leg lariat finisher was done with a loaded kneepad! In Japan! That boy hated Fujinami so bad he stuck a roll of quarters down his kneepad. How very Memphis. How very badass.   

Riki Choshu v Yoshiaki Fujiwara (New Japan, 6/29/87) 

Rematch of their bout from earlier in the month, which is almost certainly the best wrestling match to ever happen on the date of June 9th in any year in history. So a lot to live up to, and it doesn't quite, but I don't think they were going for that anyway and taken on its own it's Choshu v Fujiwara, so you will watch it and you will be glad that you did. It's been a minute since I've watched much Fujiwara from around this period and I'm wondering if he wasn't the best wrestler alive in 1987. He was incredible in this, in much the same way he was incredible in their first match. The man is a menace, unshackled and rampant, constrained by no rules, out to drag Choshu down to his level. Straight away he's throwing wild headbutts and grabbing Choshu by the throat, really forcing him to the mat while we get these close-up camera shots of his fingers clinching Choshu's windpipe. Everything is nasty and uncooperative and all of the strike exchanges are amazing - the slaps, the punches, nothing fancy or pretty, all of it ragged and GRITTY. Awesome bit where Choshu backs Fujiwara into the corner and uses his weight to pin him there, then hammers him with back elbows to the head and neck. Every time Choshu does something offensively Fujiwara gets a little more rabid in response, which means the GOAT of crazed grinning facial expressions does a whole lot of crazed grinning, extremely satisfied that he's under Choshu's skin and extremely happy to keep digging further. Everything around the Choshu lariat and Fujiwara armbar was unreal, similar in a lot of ways to their previous match. The first lariat Choshu throws here is one of the best spots I've seen in a wrestling match in forever and I'm dead ass serious. Fujiwara is caving Choshu's head in with amazing Fujiwara headbutts, properly reeling back and clonking him on the forehead while he has Choshu by the hair, then as he rocks back for another Choshu uncorks a lariat and DESTROYS him on the spot. The camera work really amplified it as well, the way it was zoomed in on Fujiwara, anticipating that headbutt to connect, so we never saw the wind-up from Choshu before he took his head off. The way Fujiwara sold each lariat was perfect, not just in the moment but as the lingering effects took hold. There was one brilliant bit of selling where he sort of stumbled out of the corner with glazed over eyes, his entire body language loose like you could tell he wasn't quite right, whereas earlier he was smirking and circling the waters and even the roll of his shoulders looked dangerous. He had that one Fujiwara armbar attempt, but by the second lariat it might've been academic. Another very badass match. 

Antonio Inoki & Dick Murdoch v Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Masa Saito (New Japan, 12/4/87)

This was like two thirds really good and one third awesome. It's a 30 minute draw, but it only starts to feel like a 30 minute draw when there's an announcement that the time limit is imminent (I speak no Japanese but "2 minutes remaining" is truly the universal language of pro wrestling). Those first two thirds were fairly even, neither side really sustaining an advantage. I thought it came off as a nice slow build though, as opposed to them just killing time because they knew they were going 30. Then again it's these four so even some blatant time-killing would've been at least entertaining. Everyone was great in this and every possible match-up ruled. They also had the amazing running theme of everybody clonking each other with headbutts. I don't even remember who started it, maybe Saito though I guess the smart money would be on Fujiwara, but they all got in on it and I loved how they'd work those headbutts into standard exchanges. Saito lumped Murdoch with a couple and Dickie blocked a third with his forearms, which popped the crowd huge, then he retaliated with an elbow to the forehead that Saito did not expect. Fujiwara and Inoki were throwing putrid headbutts. This was late-career Kikuchi without the snarling and brain damage. Inoki gets cut open hardway and the sneer of pure disgust he throws at Fujiwara would shrivel your testes. The match properly kicks up a gear with ten minutes to go, first with an extended Murdoch and Fujiwara segment, followed by Inoki coming in and decapitating Fujiwara with an enziguri. Fujiwara is maybe the king of selling a surprise KO and this was an incredible bit of selling even for him. Fujiwara in peril is just sensational - his second enziguri sell might've been even better than the first - and Inoki was top drawer revelling in the beatdown. Inoki always had an air of arrogance about him so you can imagine how much fun he had putting the clamps on one of the crowd's favourites. Last few minutes are nice and heated, everyone pushing for the late win, and the Fujiwara-Saito double headbutt on Murdoch is the nearfall of the century. Prolly. This was very fucking badass. 

Saturday, 6 November 2021

And Your Parlour Trick Magic Mighta Fooled Everybody, but You Didn't Pull Nothin' on Tenryu

Genichiro Tenryu, Ashura Hara & Toshiaki Kawada v Jumbo Tsuruta, Masa Fuchi & The Great Kabuki (All Japan, 2/24/88) - GOOD

This started with some bizarro world junior parity shenanigans between Fuchi and Kawada, in case you forgot for a second there that Fuchi was in fact a junior heavyweight despite mostly wrestling with the big fellas (because All Japan really couldn't give a shit about their junior division) and once upon a time a fresh-faced Kawada would actually do stuff like that. And Kawada kind of worked like that for most of the match, doing a bunch of quick dropkicks and even a handspring elbow. He was probably the lowest-ranked guy in the thing, which wouldn't have been the case for much longer, but it was a cool look at him punching up against an entire trio and his heat segment was good stuff. This was just a really solid house show Jumbo v Tenryu six-man, one that never got properly out of third gear, though it had some great individual moments and the last few minutes were excellent. The Jumbo/Tenryu exchanges were brief but you knew what you were getting. It was almost as if Tenryu started slower than usual and couldn't get into his groove until the final third. At one point both of them got tagged in at the same time and Jumbo just floored him with a high knee, so Tenryu immediately rolled to the corner and tagged back out again like that'll be enough of that for the time being thank you very much. He did grow into it though, and once he got rolling he threw many strikes that probably had Kabuki questioning his life choices. Kabuki is so much fun and I get why he's had a shitty rep over the years, but if you get a kick out of someone throwing amazing uppercuts and thrust kicks then he's pretty much the perfect guy for a match like this. The short finishing run was the business, with Tenryu chucking a table at Fuchi, everything breaking down and guys brawling on the floor, Fuchi trying to monkey flip Tenryu and Fuchi getting clotheslined in the face for trying to monkey flip Tenryu. 

Genichiro Tenryu & Stan Hansen v Jumbo Tsuruta & The Great Kabuki (All Japan, 9/30/89) - FUN

Not a classic, but there are worse ways to spend 15 minutes. Plus the meat of this was Kabuki in peril and that part was a whole bunch of fun. Hansen was a mouthy bastard all the way through, constantly shouting "ASK HIM, REF!" at Higuchi and by the eighteenth time Higuchi looked at him like buddy will you please give me some peace? Kabuki throwing those uppercuts at him was obviously great, and of course Hansen made him pay for every one of them with a single lariat. 

Friday, 5 November 2021

Tenryu Rode a Horse Named Whiskey He thought He Could Trust, 'Til She Pinned Her Ears Back and Just Like a Whip Crack She Left Him in the Dust

Genichiro Tenryu v Dick Slater (All Japan, 7/25/84) - GOOD

This is JIP'd by about half which is always a bastard of a thing. An even bigger bastard because the 12 minutes we do get are pretty damn good. It has a really nice slow build feel to it, a sense of escalation with Slater having to get a little meaner and nastier as it goes along. He would try and grind Tenryu down with a seated abdominal stretch, trying to force the shoulders to the mat while Tenryu struggled to escape, then he'd need to roll out the piledriver and when none of that worked he just bonked Tenryu's head into the ring post. By the end Slater is stomping on Tenryu's cut open forehead and Tenryu is valiantly fighting out of the figure-four, blood trickling onto his chest from one of the deeper blade jobs I've seen from him. That figure-four spot was milked for all it was worth and when Tenryu finally managed to turn it over I half expected them to stay there until the time limit expired. That they didn't and went into an actual clean and decisive finish was a pleasant surprise. I would not be opposed to watching a full version of this, if such a thing even exists. 

Genichiro Tenryu v Toshiaki Kawada (All Japan, 10/8/89) - GREAT

Tenryu v Kawada is such an all-timer of a pairing. It's not one that usually springs to mind when that topic comes up, even when talking about the best match-ups of each individual (Hashimoto is my go-to for Tenryu and it's pretty impossible to separate Kawada from Misawa), but they've been great facing off in a bunch of different environments. When Tenryu returned to All Japan in 2000 they smashed each other to bits on more than one occasion and the October Triple Crown match is one of the best matches of the decade. This was way different - Kawada far from being established at this point - an awesome fiery underdog v superstar tag partner version of their match-up, like something you'd see in the early days of WAR with Kawada as an affluent man's Koki Kitahara. Tenryu's selling and general demeanour was incredible here, from the subtle to the overt. He wasn't out to brutalise his young protégé and even stopped a few centimetres short of slabbering him off a clean break. That was in the first ten seconds. Then Kawada backed him into the corner and showed no such restraint, throwing multiple high kicks that had Tenryu folded in the ropes. The next opportunity Tenryu had to retaliate you knew he did so and I bet Kawada couldn't chew food properly for a week. I love that Kawada just kept coming, though. He wouldn't be deterred and continued rallying with as much violence as he could muster, intent as he must've been in making a point. The way Tenryu sold the beating was basically perfect, in a way that's hard to articulate beyond the standard "he took Kawada's shots like a trooper and bumped big for all of them." I mean he did take them like a trooper and he did bump big for all of them. The early flurry where Kawada hit a string of baseball slide dropkicks that sent Tenryu into the front row was incredible. But it was how he reacted with almost surprise at points, how he maybe never realised just from teaming with Kawada how hard his understudy could actually hit. That Tenryu resorted to the blatant throat-chopping might've happened anyway, because Tenryu is who Tenryu is, but you kind of get the sense Kawada's fire maybe brought it out in him. These were some absolute bastards of throat chops and you could audibly hear Kawada rasping lungfuls of air. There was an amazing bit where Kawada could only hold the bridge on a German suplex for so long because Tenryu had punted him in the spine earlier, and as he writhed around holding his back Tenryu got up and punted him in the spine again. Just a great little match. 

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

It's Dark as a Well Down There in Hell, Where Everything Reminds Me of Anjoh

Yoji Anjoh v Riki Choshu (New Japan, 10/9/95) - FUN

This wasn't much more than a squash, but it's amusing to see Anjoh stepping to the one-time biggest star in Japanese wrestling while smirking like a douchebag. Choshu's facial expression never changed once throughout the match. Anjoh never got under his skin and he stayed even-keeled from beginning to end, a man with a job to do that he took no pleasure in nor would he be perturbed in the pursuit of its completion. When Anjoh backed him into the corner and started throwing headbutts you half expected Choshu to blow a gasket, but instead he waited his turn and when he smashed Anjoh with elbows he registered no emotion whatsoever. He never even looked at Anjoh while he did it, an insult if there ever was one, though of course the crowd ate it up completely. You wish New Japan would've let any of the UWFi guys other than just Takada look halfway threatening during this feud, but it's still Choshu v Anjoh and you take the five minutes you get. 

Yoji Anjoh & Yoshihiro Takayama v Shinya Hashimoto & Junji Hirata (New Japan, 2/25/96) - GREAT

You had a decent idea of how this was going as soon as Anjoh and Takayama showed up in Super Strong Machine masks just to fuck with Hirata (the former Super Strong Machine). Hashimoto might be at his very best when he's given a reason to try and kill someone and Anjoh and Takayama are great at making smug faces you'd want to erase with a bazooka, so it's really the perfect storm. Hashimoto was phenomenal in this. He was trying to overhand chop ears off and the more Anjoh riled him up the more you knew he wanted to throttle the wee prick. Hashimoto has the all-time greatest double stomp, the way it looks like he's trying to make the recipient fart out their intestines. He about crushed Anjoh to death with it. Anjoh clearly learned his lesson so any time he tried to come in there later to break up a submission or take a cheapshot, as soon as he thought Hashimoto was aware of his intentions he immediately scooted back onto the apron. It played out almost as a recurring comedy spot, at least until he finally managed to land one of those shots because the only person laughing then was Anjoh. There were a couple strange reset spots that took me out of the flow a little, one where Anjoh seemed to just decide his team were going on offence, and as a whole the rhythm was choppy, but the latter did add to the uncooperative nature of things. There was no King's Road here and if you wanted that you could look on the other side of town. Either way there was no chance this wouldn't rule. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Time in Bars that He has Spent, Tenryu Knows Just Where the Money Went

Genichiro Tenryu v Hiroyoshi Tenzan (New Japan, 2/15/04) - GREAT

Well I'll tell you one thing - this couldn't have started much better. Straight from the bell Tenryu comes charging out the corner and wellies Tenzan with a koppu kick, then he immediately picks him up and starts biting his freshly split open forehead. At points of this Tenryu was covered in blood and none of it was his own; his mouth where he'd been biting Tenzan like a rabid old psychopath, his hands where he'd been punching the cut, his chest and stomach where Tenzan had tried to throw gut shot headbutts, his boots where he'd been punting Tenzan in the face. It was Tenryu working over a cut and it ruled like you'd expect it to. Tenzan was largely a punching bag for about two thirds of this, and he did it well and tried to fire back in plausible ways and he took a screwball brainbuster from the apron to the floor. His comeback attempts were pretty strike-heavy, which in turn led to strike exchanges, but I don't think they felt rote. The facial expressions were always strong and Tenzan was pretty good at selling the blood loss, so I never got the impression they were doing them just to do them. Tenzan's comeback felt well enough earned to me as well, even though it only really took one big lariat to properly swing the tide, or at least put things on level footing. I guess you could argue he should've worked a little harder for it, but he was coming off a recent IWGP title reign, was clearly in that Company Ace category, and Tenryu was 54 at this point. Sometimes the old dog isn't able to bite like he once could. Sometimes he can't take a hit like he once could either. 

Monday, 1 November 2021

As Predicted, Tenryu's Persistence got His Name on All the Lists. Had a Brick Before a Rack, Like that Dope Boy from Memphis

Genichiro Tenryu & Hiromichi Fuyuki v Akira Nogami & Takayuki Iizuka (New Japan, 9/24/93) - EPIC

Pretty much the perfect WAR v New Japan midcard match. One of the very coolest things about this feud is how nobody ever takes an off night, whether it's a packed out Dome show, a spot show in a thousand-seater venue, or an untelevised house show. Whenever it's WAR v New Japan everybody brings the violence. This was a G1 Climax show headlined by Mutoh v Hase, so it was a card of some relevance. I can only assume the event was taped for television even if the version I watched was a handheld. That said, this was like the fourth match from the top and they had thirteen minutes to work with. Nogami and Iizuka were not a top level team in the company. Tenryu was 44 working middle of the card for the evening and a star of his calibre easily could've coasted at half- or even quarter-pace. The match would've landed regardless, because it's Tenryu bringing one of his pot-bellied wee bastard mates into New Japan to cause a ruckus. But not a single one of them reined anything in and we wound up with something awesome. For not the first time on this here nonsense of a thing I would like to note that Tenryu was the best wrestler on the planet in 1993. Again, this feud always lit a fire under everyone involved in it, but no matter who he was working against, no matter where on the card he was placed, Tenryu was going balls out every match. He was in an absolute STINKER of a mood and good grief did Nogami and Iizuka bear the brunt of it. I'm not sure I've ever seen Tenryu throw more blatant kicks to the eye in one match than he did here. There must've been a thousand, or at least thirty. He would sporadically come in illegally while one of them was crawling around the mat and he'd punt them clean in the face, sometimes twice or thrice. There was an amazing part where Fuyuki had a bloody and battered Iizuka in a camel clutch while Tenryu was laying into Nogami in the corner. You can guess how the last part went and after Tenryu punted him in the spine enough times that Nogami rolled to the floor, Tenryu turned around, noticed Iizuka right there, and casually booted him in the face like "oh it's you again." Nogami and Iizuka were great playing off of it all. They refused to take any of Tenryu's shit and even less of Fuyuki's, the crowd got totally behind them and that spurred them on even more. The heat segment on Iizuka ruled as well, even getting himself a bit of colour for good measure. At one point Nogami could stand no more and came in swinging a chair, and the moment he fully snapped by chopping and kicking and biting Tenryu to the mat was incredible. Fuyuki working as slovenly sidekick in this feud is always great because crowds hate his guts no matter what he does. Iizuka was dead in the water, struggling to even get up to a kneeling position, and Fuyuki dancing around him shadowboxing had that entire building irate. Just the absolute best feud. 

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #38

Homicide v Necro Butcher (ROH Ring of Homicide, 5/13/06)

How good was the ROH v CZW feud? You've got this workrate super-indie known for guys like AJ Styles and CM Punk and Samoa Joe - the real upper echelon favourites of folk talking about wrestling on the internet - putting on matches that yer man Meltzer is raving about and throwing all sorts of star ratings at, and yet at this point, even in the midst of an acclaimed year-long title reign by THE internet wrestling community sacred cow, the best stuff happening on every show was whatever involved a bunch of scumbags from a garbage fed running into town and wreaking havoc. I checked out on ROH in early 2008, but for a two-year stretch before that it became a promotion that consistently ran awesome brawls, and part of me wishes they just leaned all the fucking way into that and rebranded as a 2000s indie Mid-South. To hell with your Davey Richards and Tyler Blacks of the world, give Necro Butcher the keys to the kingdom. What was so great about ROH v CZW was how chaotic it was. It felt like all manner of shit could kick off at any moment, and this was one of those moments. Memphis was the king (man I am hilarious) of the match-angle segment, where both aspects would mesh together to make a seamless whole. This was that, but stiffer and with lots of cussing and an increased likelihood of someone actually being killed. Homicide v Necro wasn't even the scheduled match -- it was supposed to be Joe v Necro, but that got abandoned early when Hero and Castagnoli interjected. Then Adam Pearce and BJ Whitmer evened the score and for a minute there we got a redux of the 100th Show riot. Many chairs were battered over heads, people were thrown bodily into things in uncomfortable ways, Adam Pearce crushed Claudio with an absolute bastard of a piledriver, Necro took a powerbomb across two chairs that would make you vomit, it was ROH v CZW at its scuzzy best. Then the CZW guys are going to kill Whitmer and the lights go out, the siren blares and everyone goes crazy. Homicide had stayed on the peripheries of this turf war before now, still a heel feuding with Colt Cabana and trying to poison him with bleach, but on this night he stepped up, if not necessarily for ROH then at least for himself, or maybe just out of belligerence. The actual Homicide v Necro part ruled. You probably know what you're getting and they largely deliver. This is also the match that's been GIF'd and used on twitter in meme format to communicate when someone spouting a terrible opinion needs to shut up, as Homicide incites a near-murder by getting about a hundred fans to throw chairs into the ring as Necro curls up underneath them. They then wrestle part of the match on top of this sea of chairs and obviously Necro Butcher is going to be taking lunatic bumps on a million folded chairs, because why would you expect anything else. "Welcome to Ring of Homicide, bitch!" A corker of a feud. 

Friday, 29 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #37

Bryan Danielson v Arik Cannon (IWA-MS Stylin' in the Summertime, 7/31/04)

I had never before seen an Arik Cannon match. I've been meaning to check out the Hero feud - and specifically their I Quit match from 2005 - since I started going through this stuff a year ago, but as is my wont I got side-tracked and never did. I was familiar with the name Arik Cannon, and have been for a number of years, long and winding as my journey as a wrestling fan has been. I was aware of his existence as a professional wrestler. Could not have told you a single thing ABOUT him, but I knew OF him. Strangely he didn't really look like I would've expected, which I guess is sort of weird because I'm not sure why I would've expected something in particular anyway. He was 22 years old here and I would not have guessed that from looking at him. He had the baggy pants and leather vest but is sort of pudgily put together so that choice of ring gear isn't the most flattering, looks like he could be Glenn Morshower's delinquent son who ran away from home in Friday Night Lights because his old man is a cop, must only be about 5 foot 4 considering Danielson is noticeably taller than him, has the face of someone who maybe had a rough paper round growing up...just a very different look than the vague portrait I'd painted in my head. Still, we're not here to judge books by their covers and overall I thought he was perfectly good in this. He works as overt heel and had lots of fun moments, both on offence and while working from below. He tells the crowd to shut up, is never above taking cheapshots and shortcuts, stooges with a little subtlety to it, just generally turns in a nice heel performance. And on top of that he brought some neat grappling, sold his arm pretty well, had some nice stuff to work over Danielson's neck, threw mean forearms, it was all fine work. Danielson was playing big fish in a small pond here though, and it was wonderful. The grappling was first class and he stretched Cannon to the limits of his flexibility, almost condescendingly gave him clean breaks without being a proper dick about it, then when Cannon annoyed him he wellied the wee fella in the face with elbows. Danielson's neck selling wasn't big and dramatic, but he made it look like he was at least bothered by it and Cannon's offence came off all the better because of it. Is it contrarian to say Danielson was better before he got the ROH title? Because he was on another level around 2004-2005. He was hardly a chump during the title reign and maybe some of those longer title defences are colouring my judgment, but everything just felt tighter and chip on his shoulder Danielson really was something else. This was very decent. 

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #36

Low-Ki v Mark Briscoe (ROH Death Before Dishonour II - Night 2, 7/24/04)

This was everything it needed to be. It's not quite an extended squash, but it is Low-Ki smashing someone to bits and comes with all that entails. Mark is fired up and starts quick and Ki just cannot be bothered with that foolishness. The crowd start a duelling "let's go Briscoe/let's go Low-Ki" chant and are hungry for some non-Sports Entertainment independent wrestling action, so Ki assumes the down/referee's position because we're going 1972 here, motherfuckers! But then Briscoe obliges and actually out-wrestles him! And Ki is extremely peeved! He takes a powder, Mark gets agitated, Smokes climbs up for a cheapshot, Gabe is mortified. Ki then leapfrogs Mark and comes down clutching his leg and we one and all fear the worst. Perhaps it's a torn ACL, perhaps a dislocated patella. It must be serious for Low-Ki of all people to be in this much visible pain. But then he throws Briscoe into the ref' and as they work to untangle themselves Ki hits Mark with a springboard leg lariat. He had us all fooled and Gabe calls him a deplorable asshole, and we can't help but nod in agreement after such a wanton display of dishonour. Ki just eats Briscoe up here and shreds him with chops, so Briscoe will fire back and Ki will punt him in the mouth. There was one roundhouse kick that about took Mark's jaw off and by the end the crowd were almost entirely behind Briscoe. That's just good pro wrestling, friends.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #35

Eddie Kingston v Chris Hero (Last Man Standing Match) (IWA-MS, 9/29/07)

I'm a bit of a low voter on this. I like Kingston well enough and I'm mostly fine with Hero, but I've watched this a couple times over the years now and it's never blown me away. Some of the fighting spirit parts are kind of ropey, though they at least manage to feel like moments that are driven by a desire to get back up and kick the shit out of an opponent. Fuelled by HATRED and whatnot, as opposed to...whatever else fuels one's fighting spirit. And those parts are few and far between anyway because this is largely an alley fight. "Gritty", "seedy", "nasty"; the good stuff. There's no commentary and nobody even bothers with introductions, they just appear from a room punching and slapping each other. How long were they brawling back there to begin with? Where in the arena did they bump into each other? It could've been three minutes, it could've been an hour. Every shot lands with a thud or a whack and not a minute goes by without Hero calling Kingston a piece of shit or Eddie threatening to "fuckin kill" Hero. The chokes are violent, the eye rakes look like proper thumb in the eye trying to squish brains eye rakes, the elbows and forearms rattle teeth and the headbutts are appropriately disgusting. All the weapon shots are reckless and the bit where Hero just chucks a chair in the ring and the edge of it belts Kingston in the neck was unreal. Hero stamps repeatedly on Kingston's hands and fingers, at one point doing so while it looked like Eddie's fingers were flexed at the joints. Usually you'll have guys do that on flat fingers, obviously so it doesn't legit break those fingers (or at least offers less chance of breaking them, as you're still stamping on a person's hand after all). This time Kingston's hand was just lying curled on the mat and Hero squashed it with the sole of his boot. To hell with him being able to tie his shoelaces for a month. All of the guardrail stuff was mean and I'll always appreciate the finish of a match like this being the biggest and nastiest spot of them all. There was no anti-climax here, boys. Not my favourite match, one I'd put a few rungs below your Necro Butcher prison riots, but a badass fight all the same. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #34

Samoa Joe v Homicide (ROH Death Before Dishonour II - Night One, 7/23/04)

This was a good Samoa Joe v Homicide match. I've watched a handful of them over the last couple weeks and I haven't really loved any of them, but this one was very good. Watching it in the context of their feud from this period helped as well. Homicide has been on a rampage and wants Joe's belt, and at the previous week's show Low Ki returned and joined the Rottweilers. They all stomped Joe to bits and Gabe suggested on commentary that they might actually murder him, which was very Gabe. This is now Homicide's last shot at the belt as long as Joe has it. I hoped he would be extra wild to match the occasion and I was not disappointed even a wee bit. Straight away he runs around ringside kicking over chairs and pulling apart bits of ring barricade, giving the finger to fans, delivering fuck yous all around. The rest of the Rottweilers are in attendance and Smokes jumps on the apron to distract Joe as Homicide attacks, a trick as old as any in the book and the mark of truly dishonourable individuals. Mark Nulty makes note of how he's "never seen Samoa Joe more focused," as Rocky Romero immediately gets up on the other apron and the laser-focused champ is reeled into being sucker punched for the second time in 15 seconds. At this point the ref' ejects all of Homicide's THUGGISH companions and I love how that really formed the story of the match; the story being that Homicide will lean all the way into being a bastard, even when doing so often ends up being actively detrimental, because he's Homicide and fuck everyone else and particularly fuck Samoa Joe. Trying to stand and trade blows with Joe is almost certainly not the strategy he wants to employ, but to hell with it. Maybe he's doing it because someone said he shouldn't, or that he wouldn't be able to, or he just can't help himself and he'll die on his sword no matter what. After Joe mauls him a few times he then starts going to the eyes, and obviously that ruled because the eye poke is one of the great, underutilised moves in modern wrestling (especially in a place where such dishonourable behaviour won't be tolerated). Homicide tries to brawl, Joe gets annoyed and fires back, Homicide pokes him in the eye, Joe goes down. Look, if it works it works. The big turning point comes when Homicide finally pushes one too many buttons, as he attempts Joe's own Ole kick and gets heaved across the floor with a nasty belly-to-belly. I liked how he sold it the rest of the way, how it stopped him from being able to hit a piledriver later, how he couldn't really go for the cover at points, how it felt like he never truly recovered from that moment on. In one sense I suppose it made it difficult to buy him actually winning, even when he was kicking out of Joe's biggest bombs down the stretch. Even when he hit three lariats on the spin it never felt like they would be enough, and shortly thereafter Joe was back in control again anyway. He fought hard until the end, refused to be pinned and never in a millions years was he going to submit, but when Joe grabbed that choke the lights were going out whether he liked it or not. Post-match the Rottweilers lay another gang beating on Joe and they all spit on the belt and Gabe shouts in his nasaly whine that "THEY'VE RAPED THE BELT OF ITS DIGNITY!" What a strange fellow. 

Friday, 22 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #33

Samoa Joe v Homicide v Bryan Danielson v Austin Aries v Mark Briscoe v Colt Cabana (ROH Survival of the Fittest, 6/24/04)

This is another long one and I really only wanted to watch the Danielson/Aries part of it, but I had some time and went all in. NO FEAR. It didn't really feel like 40+ minutes so straight away we're onto a winner. First half is the elimination part and it was mostly decent stuff. The Colt Cabana/Mark Briscoe pairing to start us off was very Colt Cabana-ish and they did some parity stuff with quasi-WoS exchanges that I didn't have much use for. At one point Mark turned his back and started walking towards the ropes for no reason whatsoever and you're like "oh, they're setting up the next part of their routine. I see" and they did something or other and I really just wanted Homicide to stab someone with a fork instead, ideally Colt Cabana. Cabana has done very little for me during this little trip down memory lane, in case you were wondering. Danielson was spectacular in this entire thing and he was in a surly mood from the start. The few minutes where he took Briscoe's leg apart was particularly great. Aries was a weasel and in no hurry to get involved unless it was necessary, but the exchange with Joe was really good. Joe of course steamrolled folk and especially wanted to steamroll Homicide, who stabbed him in the face many times with a fork not too long ago, and then his surprise elimination came off great. Cabana acting like a full blown doofus after being the one to pin him ruled. We've all known a Colt Cabana and we all know how they'd react to taking a scalp like that. Strutting around like they're untouchable, zero humility, full of hubris, that inflated sense of self-assurance, just totally insufferable. That he was eliminated next was a great payoff, particularly while Mark Nulty on commentary solemnly speaks to "the highs and lows of an elimination match." Very poignant. Aries and Danielson get about 20 minutes to work one on one and shockingly enough it was excellent. I guess Danielson works a little more like the heel than Aires - the actual heel - but I thought it played out fine. Surly Danielson will stretch anybody and their granny so Aries is probably always going to be an underdog in that scenario, whether he's supposed to be likeable or not. Aries tries to match him on the mat and Danielson applies this brutal sort of full nelson hold where both of Aries' arms are key-locked. Aries' offence comes in bursts and all looks really explosive, though the one time he does manage to apply something on the mat it's awesome, as he grabs a crossface and about cranks Danielson's head around a full 180 degrees with a fish hook. He gets his first proper opening after Danielson misses a charge in the corner and tangles himself in the ropes, and while there's never really any specific and prolonged limbwork, there are at least moments where they'll both focus on something. There's Aries going after the leg a bit. At some point Aries gets split open under the chin so Danielson hammers him with uppercuts. Towards the end Aries keeps going for the brainbuster because, you know, it works so why wouldn't that be a viable strategy, while Danielson apparently wants to break Aries' spine. Not extended body part segments, but it doesn't feel haphazard and all fits together nicely. The finish is great. Danielson is just obliterating Aries with some of the meanest body slams you've ever seen, then he clonks him with a roaring elbow and applies a fucking bearhug! I've seen a goodly amount of Bryan Danielson matches where he's twisted someone in knots, but I don't recall him using a bearhug as a viable means of finishing a match. The crowd totally bought it as well, and the way he used it to eventually set up his disgusting Boston Crab variation was amazing. The Danielson/Aries segment is where the money's at, but the first half with all six guys involved was good and as a whole I thought it was booked super well, especially watching it in context and knowing the surrounding storylines.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Revisiting 00s US Indies #32

Necro Butcher v Toby Klein v Brain Damage (CZW Tournament of Death V, 7/29/06)

What a ridiculous nonsense of a thing. Mid-2000s CZW deathmatch isn't a stylistic rabbit hole I have much interest in jumping down, but I hoped this would be more of a deranged Necro Butcher alley fight than a light tubes and barbed wire gorefest. I care little about guys in their awful baggy wrestling pants getting thrown shirtless into glass panels and bathtubs fulla thumbtacks, but I can make myself care somewhat about a bunch of psycho hillbillies trying to take the jaw off each other in front of 60 methamphetamine distributors. This was held in what looked like a forest clearing so it had the feel of a drunken brawl that broke out during a Yellowstone Park tour. As soon as the match starts Klein literally rips out Brain Damage's eyebrow piercing with a pair of pliers. I'd never seen a Brain Damage match in my life (prolly) but he certainly lived up to his name. Necro comes out to 'Freebird' and the crowd immediately lose their shit and five seconds later he's absolutely fucking whomped Brain Damage in the face with an empty gallon-sized water cannister tied to a broom handle. Klein gets bottled by Brain Damage, then Klein tries to pay him in kind except the bottle doesn't smash and somehow that looked even worse. Klein takes a hiptoss off a truck through four tables, Necro sneaks in and goes for the cover, and when Klein kicks out a fan shouts "you should've hooked the leg" and Necro holds his head in his hands like "fuck man I SHOULD'VE hooked the leg!" Still, the craziest bit comes at the end when they're just cracking each other in the face. This is all the way up there as the single most absurd punch exchange ever. All three are completely drilling each other in very non-worked fashion, both Klein and Damage laying full force jabs and hooks right to Necro's jaw and temple, Necro swinging wildly at anything attached to a pair of shoulders, and this rather than any of the previous gruesome stuff is what elicits the big CZ-Dub chant. If you're going to end a match like this with a punch then you better make that punch count, and brothers, any one of these punches would've done the trick.