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Spotlight: Tiger Mask - Part 3

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G. Badger

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...and we're back!

Let's start with clips...ugh great...

Tiger Mask/Antonio Inoki/Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Masked Superstar/Don Muraco/Steve Wright (03/30/82) - clips

Tiger Mask/Kengo Kimura vs. Steve Wright/Blackman (03/31/82) - great clips of Tiger against Wright & Blackman

vs. Steve Wright (04/01/82): This was just excellent. It was a long technical match with beautiful chain wrestling - counters, escapes, reversals, and counter reversals. It was what I consider an aggressive World of Sport style. Since this is a spotlight on Tiger, I want to mention how comfortable he is at this style as well as lucha libre. It was distinct from his matches with Baby Face, Hamada, Blackman but, still was athletic and exciting as we've come to expect. I think I'd have to say this was a classsic bout but, may not be everyone's cup of tea. You really have to want to see wrestling for wrestling's sake.

vs. Black Tiger (04/21/82): Rollerball Rocco is the Black Tiger. He had a roughneck but, technical  style that is what i imagined Bret vs Tiger would be. The first time, Tiger Mask did not have an answer for his foe. He we see Tiger's true rival (as established in the manga (imagine Vicious & Spike in Cowboy Bebop)) and told through the story of the match. Everytime we thought a TM flurry of kicks or dives would turn the tide, Black Tiger would shut him down. The superhero met his super villain...and Tiger snaps at the end. Almost betraying his vow to fight fair and for good (think like a technico) and turn back to the evil (rudo) ways of the syndicate he and Dark Tiger fight for. A very good match, a compelling story, if you know a little bit of the manga or the trope (again Cowboy Bebop uses it well and The Wild Bunch to a degree). I think what's even deeper is that NJ had the idea to bring in one of Saiyama's best opponents from the UK as his evil counterpart. I think it's the closest the TM and Black Tiger characters had matched real-life...or even tried to. They had a back story and a history. If you're unaware of these things then, its an OK match BUT with some depth, it makes this more substantial. Plus, it is only setting the stage for the future.

vs. Les Thorton (05/25/82): This was a good technical match but, lacked any sort of chemistry or fire. Thorton did some good back work on Tiger but, it never went anywhere and then they wrapped the match up. Glad I watched this but, only to see how Tiger works with everyone.

vs. Black Tiger (05/26/82): Man is that a hot crowd! They are eating every spectacular Tiger move up! Black Tiger doesn't give a damn. He's making the hero pay. Again, Black Tiger Rocco is staying one step ahead. I really like how BT kept going for the pin by using knuckle locks and leverage holds. This was a brilliant touch because it made the fight feel more real. It wasn't out of desparation to get the match over but, a way to show technical superiority over Tiger. Think of Bryan Danielson or Tatsumi Fujinami winning with a small package. Its not a cheap win like maybe a school boy roll up. Its a display of technical mastery and getting the "W." Even moreso like Danielson, BT Rocco is making Tiger expend all of this energy to kickout. These pin attempts are more like amateur wrestling attempts...making the opponent keep moving and fighting out so that, they'll be tired or hurt later and make a mistake. Honestly, its a simple thing but, so few wrestlers do it. If you're looking a this type of work as rest-holds or think every fucking hold has to set-up the finish then, we're going to disagree on this. I thought this was a near classic match.
 

I've gone through a few of the match archives here on PWO to gauge my opinion against others. I (along with the Vader vs Sting matches) disagree with most folks on Tiger Mask. I'm only 2 discs into the set but, man, I'm really glad I bought this. I'm bummed that I was discouraged by the backlash or the style shift. It reminds me when my comic loving cousin & I said that "Jack Kirby sucked!" at 15 years old; thinking Jim Lee was the shit. Jack Kirby didn't suck but, our minds were so much about Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell, the Kuberts and other modern artists, that we couldn't appreciate the simplicity, efficiency, and innovation of Kirby. I consider most folks here to have a pretty damn refined wrestling taste BUT, I think a lot of people had TM vs Dynamite as one of their first set of puro matches. It was probably amazing especially in comparison to what was happening in contemporary wrestling and perhaps other tape watching. like 'Whoa this was in the early 80s and they were doing shit 10 years before the NJ Jrs.!" Or AJPW or NOAH or whatever...maybe NJPW from the past couple years is your entry point. Regardless, I think everyone including myself was blown away by the spots, sequences, and bumps from the TM vs DK matches but, the actual matches were a blur because we were still catching our breaths from that amazing move! Then, when people went back, the moves had been surpassed and the trend was very much "how was the selling? did he get put in a leglock? Why didn't he sell the leg the rest of the match?" Under this scrutiny, early 1980s wrestling especially this lucha/World of Sport/Puro hybrid wasn't going to make the grade. I think people have cooled off on this as this is not emphasized in any wrestling promotion anymore for probably the last 10 years. If we were going to watch contemporary wrestling, all of the "is he selling that?" type of analysis had to make a stop. It was really putting a damper on our overall enjoyment of watching wrestling when ANY legwork wasn't sold like '88 RWTL Kawada.

Man, I digress...I don't think anyone is going to go back and watch Tiger Mask matches anymore...I mean if they've already watched them. I'm not trying to change minds. Plus, there's so new much stuff out there. I'm an odd duck that I'm trying to pull myself away from the [FREE MATCH] videos and the other distractions and focus on watching what I want to watch. With so much newer stuff available online, I fear that the great wrestling of the past will no longer be pro-wrestling canon and be forgotten. How many great 1950's matches can you name? You may have a Thesz match but that's not the only one..but, no one talks about them so, we collectively are ignorant. Then, we must think if no one talks about them then wrestling then n the 50's must have sucked except a couple matches. We're about 40 years out from these Tiger Mask matches. That's like talking about Thesz vs Rikidozan in the 90's. See how time can get away from you? Ironically, these older bouts' availability online should make it easier to see but, if you've got the WWE network its very easy to get lost and lose years of your life there. Let alone if you've got a personal life!

In summary, I feel like I really can trust my own judgement and knowledge at this point. I've been watching puroresu predominately for about 15 years so, I want this blog to still be a guide for folks looking to branch out or trust their own guts. This has been some sort of taste test I guess...if you're on board with what I've recommended in the past then, have no fear. If you think I'm off base here, ah well that's cool too. I thank you for reading and hopefully watching some of this wrestling. Its good to be curious :)

Stay safe and be smart folks! This shit ain't getting better anytime soon...

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