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  1. Without thinking TOO hard about this: 70s - Funk? Inoki? I haven't watched enough 70s in long enough, or maybe even in general, to go by half decade right now. I guess some of the European workers would probably have a shot here, but I haven't seen enough of that to even take a stab at who they might be. 80-84 - Lawler or Fujinami might be my pick. 85-89 - Fujiwara, probably. Satanico has a great case as well. In fairness, lots of wrestlers do because this was a pretty absurd stretch of wrestling. Probably a taste or style preference thing for who you go with here. 90-94 - I might actually go Hansen here. He's obviously past his physical peak - if not in 1990 then certainly by 1994 - but ageing and vulnerable Hansen is my favourite Hansen and I think he's pretty much phenomenal the entire first half of the decade. Tenryu would be another consideration. If you're still all in on 90s All Japan then one of those guys would be an easy candidate. Hokuto, maybe? I can't really pinpoint who I'd pick from any of the lucha candidates. Partly that's a footage thing, where for example there are gaps in Casas footage prior to him being full time in CMLL. Someone like Dandy would've been my pick if that five year stretch was as good as his best single year (1990), but he drops off a bit after 1992. Not sure who it would be from America. I'm not the biggest Bret Hart guy but he probably has as good a case as anyone, at least in terms of consistency (and I can buy him being legit great in 1994). Dustin, maybe? 95-99 - Yeah, I'm with Jerome and would go Tamura. But shoot style is my favourite kind of wrestling so that might be a YMMV thing. I guess if you're still super high on All Japan right until the end of the decade then one of the Pillars would be a shout. Casas would be pretty high on my list here. So would Ikeda and Ishikawa if you're a Battlarts guy (I'm a Battlarts guy). US wrestling was sort of a strange beast in the late 90s and I'm not sure I'd go to bat for anyone there. If Eddie was at 1997 level for that whole stretch then it might've been him, but then if a frog had wings it wouldn't bump its arse when it hops so that's a moot point. 00-04 - I took part in a best matches of the 00s poll about ten years ago and based on memory I might go Kawada here. Well, I might've gone Kawada THEN. I have no idea who I'd go now. But possibly Kawada. 05-09 - I'm not a huge Danielson guy but it's probably Danielson. Or maybe Rey. 2010s are not my bag so I honestly couldn't say one way or the other. From what I have seen I'd maybe go Danielson again. I don't like New Japan so those guys are out, but if that's your thing then one of them are almost certainly the pick here.
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    The Barbarian

    Not for nothing, but Barbarian is involved in one of my three favourite WWF tags ever and one of my three favourite WCW tags ever, and he's awesome in both as the badass powerhouse launching smaller dudes around the place. I'm not sure he'd make my list, but he's someone I'd have no problem doing a mini deep dive into and seeing what there is to unearth. (FWIW the two tags are Powers of Pain v Rockers from 1/90 and Faces of Fear v Eddie and Jericho from 2/97)
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    [1988-07-29-NJPW] Antonio Inoki vs Big Van Vader

    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.
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    [1988-02-04-NJPW] Antonio Inoki vs Riki Choshu

    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.
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    Yoshiaki Fujiwara

    I've watched a whole lot of Fujiwara this month, particularly his 1987 New Japan run where I'd probably call him the best wrestler in the world that year, and holy smokes I think I forgot just how amazing that guy was (even having him all the way down at #7 last time). His performance in the 8/29/87 match with Maeda is one of the best single-match performance I've ever seen, from his selling to his aggression to his obvious application of strategy (or at least communicating the IDEA of strategy in a contest that is predetermined), he was out of this world great. I think right now it's basically a toss up between him and Tamura for who's going to be my second-highest ranked wrestler from Japan in 2026. What a pro wrestler.
  6. 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.
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    [1987-08-29-NJPW] Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Akira Maeda

    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. 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.
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    [1987-01-14-NJPW] Tatsumi Fujinami vs Kengo Kimura

    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'm with Sleeze in wishing 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.
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    [1987-06-10-NJPW] Masa Saito vs Kengo Kimura

    Man, Saito was the ultimate badass. Sleeze describes 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.
  10. 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 actually thought this was a little more shoot than pro (at least in terms of pacing) 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?
  11. 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.
  12. 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. And yeah, they 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 (Murdoch's elbow drops were some of the best I've ever seen btw), 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.
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    [1987-06-29-NJPW] Riki Choshu vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara

    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 that Sleeze also mentions, 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. These two are perfect together and this was another very badass match.
  14. Yeah, 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.
  15. 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) 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.
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