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  1. Introduction Through Takayama's wrestling years are pretty well documented by now, not a ton is really focused around the first 5 years of his career which was almost completely dedicated to being a shoot-style wrestler in the likes of the UWFI as well as showing up for most of the very short-lived successor-promotion known as Kingdom. This has been a curiosity for a while as I'm a big fan of Takayama in general, so the idea of seeing him in a completely different environment was a very interesting proposition. I've reviewed and documented almost all of his matches from those five years to go over here, through this will only be focusing on mainly his actual shoot-style matches, so I won't be including his more comedic Golden Cups work in NJPW and the like; I will be throwing in some inter-promotional work regardless as it is practically impossible to avoid once we go into 1995/1996 when Choshu starts to get involved with the UWFI and whatnot. I'll also probably skip over the REALLY short stuff, namely the matches under a minute as they really don't do anything mindblowing for the most part. I'll also be throwing in some bonus matches for the occasional indie date afterwards when Taka got to wrestle shoot-style again, though mostly for UWF reunion cards. I'll be ranking the matches the same as the Tiger Mask thread, reminder of that below: 1. Great 2. Good 3. Decent 4. Forgettable This is more of a formality so anyone who's skimming these can get a quick synopsis of what to watch and not to watch without having to read through paragraphs. =========== Vs. Hiromitsu Kanehara (UWF-I Sekai Gannen: Hakata Live 26.06.1992) This is Takayama's first ever recorded match ever, and it's quite noticeable from his shaved buzz-cut, a signature of most wrestling rookies starting off, as well as his considerably skinnier body: seeing him so lean and thin is a shock given most people are used to his larger frame. Taka and Kanehara will have endless matches over the years but this is their first meeting together. The lads are still pretty green, with Takayama just flat-out stumbling over in the first 30 seconds and Kanehara having to cover for him by going to the mat. His selling is still very good through; he sells a Achilles Lock by just outright screaming and hugging the ropes, which is weird to see given his later "tough guy" status. The match itself is very frantic, with Takayama having the advantage on stand-up with his knees and slaps while Kanehara is the more competent on the mat, so we get a lot of interaction between the pair as they push their respective strengths. Takayama's strikes need a LOT of work and don't look very good at all (seriously, he does like some tap-kicks in the middle-half of this that look dreadful) but I at least appreciated the attempt. That said, the crowd still get into this when he's having to escape from Kanehara's submissions due to his natural underdog stauts. He uses the ropes a lot to this effect and can't really do much about it: even his counter-submissions are countered fairly effectively and turned against him. There's a weird thing in the middle where they both seem to hit low blows on the other (Takayama's seemed accidental while Kanehara just outright palm strikes it as a receipt) which looked a bit awkward and didn't really do anything. Eventually Kanehara gets one too many holds in and manages to win with a single-leg Boston Crab before transitioning to a kneebar for the win. Some good moments but both lads are naturally a bit clumsy and there's not really a narrative or story beyond Takayama escaping submissions and trying to survive. As for the big lad himself, he's nowhere near his best yet but shows potential, especially in his knee strikes (which will become a signature of his wrestling style) but at the moment he's still very green and struggled in making the mat-work look convincing when on the offensive, with a lot of contrived moments. Kanehara was a lot better in general, through he didn't really bring much intensity to this at all and his strikes were also kinda eh in places. A decent start but a LONG way to go for both men. RANK: Decent Vs. Kanehara II (UWF-I The Root of Wrestling 28.08.1992) Takayama has already lost to Kanehara three times over (two of which are unrecorded) things have to change now, right? Not exactly. Taka takes the early advantage after a scrappy start, hitting a side kick that does clear damage by how Kanehara backs off suddenly in pain, but Taka's messy strikes means he can't capitalise, allowing Kanehara to grab on a side-takedown and drag this down to the mat. They have a decent exchange there as Kanehara slaps on a cross armbreaker and struggles for it, with Taka having to reach for the ropes when his defence is finally ripped away. The lads build up a good narrative in which Taka is able to knock around Kanehara in stand-up but can't make any definitive breakthroughs while Kanehara opts for mat-work and vicious takedowns but Taka is able to keep safe through rope breaks and defensive work. There's a awesome spot in the middle section where Taka hurls himself for a reckless leaping kick while Kanehara is backing up in the corner which hits the guy, but also allows his opponent to take over when he hits the mat. The action isn't super amazing, but the pair manage to get some great heat here as they both get closer and closer to their endgame goals. Taka gets some sensational falls (involving some stiff wide slaps and a huge German suplex in the second half that the crowd explodes for) but can't get a definitive win. At one point Kanehara just goes "fuck it" and forgoes the takedowns for spinning Savate kicks and slaps, which catches his opponent very much off guard and allows for a knockdown of his own, which was a great reversal to surprise everyone with. I just like how messy this gets around about the end: both guys just start throwing out dropkicks and big bombs in a attempt to finish the other off, and there's a big sense of uncertainty here as Taka looks the most confident he's ever looked thus far. Eventually Taka starts to gas out, allowing for Kanehara to clinch multiple submission false finishes until he can get in for the kill, stunning Taka with slaps before rolling him onto the mat and into side-mount. A quick Americana taps him out for the fourth loss in a row. This isn't incredible in terms of technique but the heat and pure chaotic energy this produces more than makes up for that. The duo have a natural chemistry that allows Kanehara to get the best out of the (still green and clumsy) Taka in the best ways involving furious strike exchanges, slaps, knees, all the stuff you'd expect, even if Taka still can't strike very good and still looks very awkward given his size and whatnot. The brawls that Taka will have later on his career are almost influenced completely by matches like this where he's off the chain and throwing for the fences. Taka sells really good with how he can crumble sell for one minute and explode in violence the next, managing to once again get the crowd heated up for his win over his rival. Mat work is mostly basic but competent on Kanehara's half but is more of a side-attraction to everything else going on here so it's excused in my mind. Not a "good" shoot style match by any means but it's pure fun and definitely a good addition to the Takayama/Kanehara endless feud. Arguably stole the night in terms of quality (especially given the main event is a 3 minute Albright squash). RANK: Good Vs. Tom Burton (UWF-I World Heavyweight Title Match 21.09.1992) Takayama is facing up against Thomas Burton, well known for.... being a jobber in the WWF? In all seriousness, Burton had a pretty respectful career for himself both here and elsewhere, being a useful guy who could do odd jobs anywhere but his UWF work is where he was given the most room to wiggle around in. Burton actually gets a good bit of work against Takayama, catching him off guard with some grounded work and a heel hook at one point. He's no Albright by at least a few miles but he can at least have some sort of convincing style here as he continually keeps Taka down and away from his height advantage. He tries to sell Taka as being too much to handle in terms of stand-up.... Taka's striking stuff at this point is still pretty dreadful through, so you have Burton running from his dude landing limp slaps and slow kicks for the most part like he's some scary prospect, which is really funny, but I doubt that was what they were going for. My other issue is that Burton just kinda holds on to Taka's body here for dear life during these mat-sequences: he doesn't try for submissions or really anything, he just sorta gets to the body in a half-comfortable position, holds on and waits. As you can imagine, this is fairly boring to watch and not going to lie, the early sequences are just all this with the odd point where Taka either gets some control or reaches for the ropes. I would appreciate it more if it was apart of a longer gameplan to maybe force Taka to lose via points or just wearing him out for bigger stuff but nothing of sorts is really communicated here. Burton tries to inject some fire into this by hitting Taka with a few loose shots after a rope break out of frustration, but Taka just goes into the same stuff he'd been doing the whole match for about nine minutes until he decides to use his knees to nail Burton enough for a big German suplex, which was pretty cool but then the match just drifts back into the same pattern again of Taka getting taken down, going to the ropes and then resetting. Eventually Taka starts actually throwing stuff and the crowd pick up for it because the first half was so boring. Burton doesn't change his gameplan at all and keeps just holding Taka's midsection endlessly until the finish has Taka hit him with a slap and a kick to the face, which knocks him out of the ring. I get why this exists as a device to get the young Taka over as a act with resiliency, but man, this is just not very good namely because it's maybe too realistic: Burton is a wrestler and basically just wrestles Taka to the ground for the entire match with no real gameplan beyond getting Taka on the mat: he shows no agency, and that fucks the pacing of this badly. Not very good, and it's not really Taka's fault here: he's still a noobie and can't direct a match like this. Burton is not the man to be pushing so much when there's not a lot to go against at all. RANK: Forgettable Vs. Mark Sliver (UWF-I Combat Sport: Takada Vs. Kitao 23.10.1992) Really feeling like I'm cheating here given this match only lasts for about a minute and a half and it's not the good kind of short match either for reasons I'll get into. Sliver runs in and pushes Taka onto the floor early, but ends up eating a submission after his leg gets caught by Taka and his Sayama-lite Enzuigiri counter is ducked under. Sliver gets caught and screams a ton while in the hold, which is unusual for such a early bit like this. This carries on as even with the rope break and the ref calls a break for a bit until resuming. Sliver tries going business as usual with some wild swings but his leg once again gives out and the match is quickly called off with Taka declared the winner. Apparently this was a legitimate injury as Mark Sliver will be gone from UWF-I for a while (he'll try to come back a few times but his leg will keep giving out) said injury will somewhat plague him despite his fairly decent work (he has a bonkers match with Kakihara that I'd absolutely suggest watching when you can). Obviously this is a non-match given the length and lack of action; it can't really be considered by any standard whatsoever which is usually why I don't like doing matches this short. RANK: ???? Vs. Kanehara III (UWF-I Final '92 The Root Of Wrestling 20.12.1992) Kanehara has beaten Takayama numerous times at this point, and this time the stakes are higher as the latter has gotten to the finals of the Jr League over two opponents only to be met with the same man again. He proves that he isn't going to be so easily beaten this time by taking the initiative by getting a Achilles Hold on early after blocking a roundhouse, needing Kanehara to reach for the ropes for the first time. Takayama's strikes still aren't perfect (his slaps even by this point don't look good at all despite all of the experience) but his knee shots are already looking quite smooth and hard-hitting. There's a awesome spot early where Kanehara just picks up Taka and hits a amazing rolling backdrop to get a takedown proper on the guy, which even with him assisting is no easy feat. Taka returns the favour with a big Capture Suplex into cross armbreaker not to be outdone. What I love in particular about this match is the HEAT: the crowd are really into this and little bits and pieces by the duo really highlight how this is more than just a regular match: the sneaky kicks on the ground by Kanehara, Taka just rampaging around and refusing to give his opponent any space, even when a loose slap may have potentially caught Kanehara's eye for a illegal move. Taka doesn't give a shit, he just runs at him full force with a jumping knee to get that knockdown, and any chance he gets to inflict more damage is taken in a heartbeat. We also get a vicious kick to the head after Kanehara catches one from Taka, which looked pretty stiff. Taka also hits a German as per standard, and it's also equally as good. They do tease Taka getting the big win a few times here, namely in the middle; Taka gets him down for a sleeper for a rope break, before following it up with some flush knee shots for a knockdown. However, Kanehara is way too stubborn and manages to get Taka for a second takedown and a jumping heel kick, which evens the score. The second half is built around Taka withstanding a ton of abuse from Kanehara on the mat, namely to his legs to immobilise him. Taka is dangerously low on points, so every break is a step closer to failure; something the crowd pick out and keep thunderously cheering for the tables to turn. Taka is positioned as competent but ultimately outmatched on that front: outside of some reversals and a accidental elbow in the eye when he's escaping a hold, he has no real luck handling Kanehara's submissions. Near the end he's spent and needs to use his legs to merely push Kanehara away, especially after some stiff slaps knock him down again. One too many result in yet another mat exchange: Takayama's flaw is giving his back up to escape side mount, which allows his opponent to grab on a rear naked choke for the win. Really awesome bout that's by far the best out of their series thus far. The crowd is really up and roaring for every close shave strike and hold and the duo really exploit this with some great stagger-selling and fatigue building throughout. Kanehara is solid and Taka, while still pretty iffy, gets really good here when he's unloading with strikes despite getting gassed in the latter half. It's not a scientific match by any means of the imagination but these two have a grove together that just boosts the pair up: Taka has this natural intensity to everything he does even if he's sloppy at points and Kanehara who's mechanically solid but typically a bit dry gets to feed off that to give his stuff a lot more pro-style drama behind it. Strong stuff. RANK: Great =========== I'll be going through these year by year as not to bloat this up too much so next post will cover his 1993 tenure.
  2. This show had a lot of rad matches. By this time, Orihara had fully morphed into the singlet wearing punk. Even though this was UWFi vs. WAR and he was the outsider, he was quite sympathetic here taking on ultra-skilled young Sakuraba. Lots of basic but hard fought grappling, gritty suplexes and Orihara getting kicked in the face by Saku. Orihara actually gets the upper hand on Sakuraba - apparently the trick is to just kick him in the balls and follow up with a nasty kick to the back of the head - before uncorking some nasty as fuck piledrivers. Great little match.
  3. One of the lesser known Tamura classics. Maybe his best pre-RINGS match. Amazing matwork, amazing crowd. ****3/8
  4. How about this for a lumpy undercard dream match? This was like some parallel universe Dark Tower shit because both guys are basically each other if their career trajectories happened to be swapped. Nakano works SWS/WAR? He's Kitahara. Kitahara does shoot style and ends up in a Takada promotion? He's Nakano. To be fair, though, I actually didn't expect Kitahara to be as fun in this environment. I mean, it isn't really a shoot style match as opposed to a pro style match with shoot style trappings, but it was a neat enough amalgamation and I liked how Kitahara handled himself. The early mat exchange was nice and solid and once again Nakano ends up with a bloody nose. It must be made of mashed potato. Pretty soon they start smacking each other in the face real hard and my Clone Wars theory is confirmed as Kitahara's nose also gets opened up, though this was at least a result of a nasty looking knee and not just breathing, which is what I assume did for Nakano. Nakano hits a German and Kitahara no sells it like "*I* am the lumpiest here!" and roundhouse kicks Nakano in the head. This was yet another fun six minutes.
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