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  1. Introduction Tiger Mask has a bit of a iffy reputation depending on who you ask or where: some places he's a sloppy overrated act that could never sell a lick of anything, in other places he's one of the big "events" of wrestling, someone who permanently changed the landscape forever and well beyond his time in a lot of ways. Which one is it? There's no obvious objective answer obviously, but given my interest in the guy I figured I would watch basically every single match possible of his that I could get my hands on, including a lot of random tags. My only big rule for this was that I would skip the Dynamite Kid matches.....because quite frankly I think virtually every single person has had a chance to talk about them, go over them in chronic detail and whatnot; for me I really just could not be humanly bothered to try to reinvent the wheel or try to go over that series without some of those decades of hype creep in, so I pretty much omitted them from this bar some of the tags they had together. Too much baggage, I suppose, but I also wanted to see how good his run is without these epically hyped up series contributing. Other than that, this is pretty much everything from the start of the Mask shtick all the way to the end, warts and all. Matches will of course be ranked in the same manner as the others I've done, so basically like this- I'll be ranking these matches on a grade of four standards: 1. Great (fantastic, must watch/MOTY) 2. Good (worth watching, solid) 3. Decent (alright, does the job) 4. Forgettable (bad/not worth watching) 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 or try to guess how good a match is based on other ranking systems. As always these will come out in chunks, I'm thinking maybe 6 months each depending on how many there are lol. I'll also probably skip the matches where there's about 3 or 4 minutes intact, because at that point there's no real way you can figure out how good it is unless it's just non-stop action. =========== Vs. Black Cat (08.05.1981) Right after making his amazing debut for NJPW as Tiger Mask, Sayama has a tune-up match with well known undercard Jr Black Cat. Honestly? I thought this was pretty good...for the first few minutes, anyway. Cat is this grumpy bald-headed plain black trunk wearing lad who focuses on just running Mask over, while the latter focuses on getting his usual spots in while also having to contend with being knocked around the ring at points. Cat focuses on a pretty grounded approach with nasty European Uppercuts alongside some pretty fancy stuff to get the job done, but we all know he ain't winning anything here given Mask's presentation; but that doesn't mean he's not gonna throw some dirty old-school shit in to at least give it a good shot. Sayama is mostly good with his spots bar completely botching his usual "backdrop flip into dropkick" bit, falling right on his ass, which Cat immediately covers for by landing a sharp elbow drop afterwards. Sayama also messes up his usual turnbuckle Tiger Wally Flip as he falls once again but Cat covers by running in and eating a hip toss. I definitely think this was down to more or less one thing: his early mask is pretty dreadful and he spends a good part here fixing it, even having to eat a fall to the outside to adjust the thing, namely because it keeps slipping on his face which I imagine would cause some issues doing high-risk flips. It's a weird design that's closer to the manga series it was inspired from, but also rather cumbersome. Mask tries for a bodyscissors flip and Cat's just like "nah man" and dumps him lol. Sayama does land a nice back suplex but Cat can't keep his shoulders down so they awkwardly roll out. That definitely felt like the intended finish as Mask just quickly snaps on a normal abdominal stretch to get the win abruptly right afterwards. This starts fun but eventually it seems like Sayama gets a bit too sloppy on his end thanks to his dodgy mask diverting his attention, meaning he just can't get into a good grove here despite his obvious talent and the crowd wanting to cheer him. Cat looked solid for a Jr act at the time with some mean strikes and bombs. That said, purely here for management to test out Mask's capabilities against someone less talented than Kid, and the prognosis was....yes, but fix the mask! This wasn't particularly much worth checking out. RANK: Forgettable Vs Chris Adams (12.05.1981) Another tune-up match for Mask, this time against a very young Chris Adams. Adams was also the apparent inventor of bad Young Bucks thigh-slap super kicks, though his are a bit more subtle and he doesn't overplay them for 20+ minutes. Despite this match only taking place four days later, they've already modified Sayama's mask to be less bulky, looking closer to the design that people generally associate him with. As the two are well known WoS workers they go into more of that kind of pace here than a typical Jr heavyweight showcase, focusing on arm locks, holds, and fancy ways to escape them: Sayama even pulls from his Sammy Lee days with some of his impressive transitions here, including backflipping out of a key lock and effortlessly springing to his feet after a quick small package attempt by Adams. Of course we get the usual Tiger Mask spots for the time (the fancy kicks, the cross-chop, etc) and they are done very well, despite Adams' floaty selling at points. Adams gets to show off at bits as well, escaping a wheelbarrel position by crawling to the turnbuckle and climbing his body all the way to the top rope before then using the momentum to throw his opponent off; just that classic British Catch shit that looks goofy as anything, but you can appreciate the uniqueness of it here in comparison to everything else. Adams takes over with a throw to the outside, some more super kicks and a (very gentle) scoop slam to the floor. Eventually he tries for a comedic second rope diving headbutt by just leaning himself off the rope than jumping, which gets dodged, naturally. Adams gets knocked around a bit but uses his super kicks to keep distance; even with Sayama catching one, he reverses into a now-classic Enzuigiri counter with his other leg. The finish is somewhat abrupt as Adams eats a dropkick before Sayama flips over the guy during a back suplex to throw on a early version of his Tiger Suplex-leg clutch variation, which gets the win. This was a pretty fun matchup that had Adams take up a surprising amount with fairly decent work on his end; he's not amazing or anything but he's a very safe and reliable worker that takes some generous bumps here given his youth, so he has more to work with in terms of how much he can throw himself around. Sayama looks better than his last match with Cat and seems a lot more energised, especially with him not needing to fix his mask every two seconds. He gets to show off a bit more versatility as well, throwing in some of that early hold work that'll quickly become a handy tool in his matches and incorporating his ability to work well from underneath. RANK: Decent W/ Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. Chris Adams & Mike Masters (04.06.1981) This is clipped down to about 9 of the original 14 minute match, and mostly what is cut is interactions without Tiger Mask in the ring, so barely any Fujinami or Adams gets on tape: this is the case with both the official NJPW Tiger Mask collection and other variations. Masters by comparison is a very bland act that Sayama gets to play around, using some British Catch-lite arm spins and holds alongside the usual spots, including his sensational dropkick that gets ludicrous amounts of height from. We do get Fujinami for the end however as he tags in to beat down on Adams with a spinebuster set-up for Sayama to dive in with a top drop crossbody, kinda like a variation on a Hart Attack-style move with the set-up. But yeah, this was a pretty nothing match for what was shown, which was 90% just Tiger Mask being, well, Tiger Mask, only with someone who isn't that interesting a worker and so kinda just is a body to be outsmarted and thrown around. Great spots throughout and Masters plays well as the befuddled gaijin dragged in to battle against someone way out of his league. That said, lots of nothing beyond that and stunk of filler. RANK: Forgettable Vs Villano III (24.06.1981) Yeah, this ruled: I'm kinda gutted these two didn't face off more often (only here and then a quick match later on). Very strongly paced lucha-action and for once it seems like Tiger Mask actually has some competition as the two tend with a mix of holds and high-flying, but it's actually logical and makes sense to the pacing of the match as the two use it to either maintain or change positions as the defender or pusher, rather than merely to speed the match up. They actually built off spots as well: Sayama would get caught by a backwards headscissors early by Villano, for example, and when he'd try for it the next time it would get countered, like it's obviously pretty simple but they build off that simple work to more complex sequences down the line. We also do get more fast-paced stuff as the two seamlessly go from move to flip to move to flip again with ease, with some really innovative work for the time. Of course there's the slower bits but the two don't sit in holds too much and it's built around pacing to the more back-and-forth sequences eventually. Sayama was in peak condition here, just moving with unreal speed and accuracy in some points here that at some moments just makes his opponent look almost outdated by comparison. Villano very smartly works this into the match by getting progressively more annoyed that this kid is working circles around him, eventually having to work himself up bad to escape a simple arm wrench with a ton of aggressive flipping, which Sayama sarcastically claps afterwards. They get over this rather bravely with a extended Nishimura-style Surfboard spot, with the crowd eating it up when Sayama manages to overpower the guy and the two go into some fancy lucha pins before resetting. They then go into more submissions, namely a cool figure four that they milk with some good Villano selling; him also reversing the hold before then holding himself up with his arms for more leverage was a REALLY small but good spot that I haven't honestly seen done since in such a cool manner. Seeing the crowd pop for Sayama simply reversing a headlock just shows how well they paced this out given that fact; they aren't just quietly waiting for the next burst of action, this slower-paced, drawn out technique has them engaged as well, perhaps even more in places given the reactions. They go almost non-stop between reversals, arm drags, flips, and some big near falls that the crowd bit for immensely. Sayama gets his spots in, but they don't feel dominating or forced, especially given Villano is a actual threat here and can sneak back in with his own counters at any point. Crowd pop hard for a big apron springboard to the outside which is treated as a actual dangerous move as Villano can't get in afterwards, so Mask wins via count-out which was a expected finish for this time and will happen a lot in these matches. Absolutely check this out if you can; despite it slowing a bit with some holds it never loses that allure of these two just having good chemistry and a natural pace to the spots used as opposed to mindlessly spamming them out. This is a super rare look into Villano's prime and simply put, he became a instant favourite for me from how he worked this match and balanced getting his own shit with making Sayama look like the clear superior. Just so much fun and a shame this isn't more well-known because I'd say this is on bar with the Dynamite Kid stuff if not even more ambitious in places. RANK: Great Vs. Scorpio (02.08.1981) Scorpio is another enhancement talent mid-card lucha lad and isn't very good here outside of some cartoonish selling when his attempts to ground Mask fail. He has some moments where it's just him fumbling behind while the crowd awes at Sayama just wrecking his shit with the usual crazy spots and makes a fool out of him over and over. Of course Scorpio is to lose, but he makes sure to make his opponent look pretty great with his fumbling in the process despite his best attempts to keep Mask down on the mat and winded. This would be the first of many B-show "roadblock" matches paced like this. I did think Sayama going for a Indian Deathlock of all things was pretty weird but he made it work given the conditions and he'll make it a regular feature moving from here. Finish has Mask overshoot for a top rope sunset flip, forcing Scorpio to kinda flop after him a bit to get into position. It's a bit weird as Scorpio seemingly kicks out near the end (and he does to be fair, he gets the shoulders up) but it gets counted anyway. This was a pretty nothing match outside of just making Sayama look good, which, like.....he's already fairly great at already. Scorpio is a decent stooge and bumps well for the better man, but his stooging is a bit too good as there's no tension at all here as a result and you quickly lose interest. RANK: Forgettable Vs. Scorpio II (06.08.1981) Cut down to six minutes. Scorpio again! He's still not really that good, but his goofy antics keep him a entertaining foil to the young Tiger Mask, a Saturday morning cartoon villain that the hero just easily runs though despite some shortcomings. He's a good stooge, at least, bumping all over the place and pulling some dirty antics to try to stop the inevitable. We get a decent mat-exchange before a pretty cool bit where Scorpio's second rope backwards crossbody is countered into a mid-air dropkick by Sayama before he effortlessly snaps on a Tiger Suplex (one of the first, in fact) before effortlessly bending right back up when he gets the pin. Fine enough for a short outing, these two work pretty decent together and Scorpio bumps good for the lad, which is all you can ask from enhancement talent. This suffers from the same issues as the last match but if you want to see more of the two (for some reason) then this'll satisfy any cravings. RANK: Forgettable W/ El Solitaro vs. Brazo de Oro & Brazo de Plata (21.08.1981) This is almost cheating given it's only two minutes, and half of it is a Brazo Oro control-segment with the big highlight being a big backdrop on Solitaro. Plata comes in to add a powerslam, but then Solitaro just....walks off all of the damage quite literally, skipping towards the tag to Mask. Plata tries to keep him under control but a cross-chop and missed dropkick into Butterfly Suplex is enough to pin Plata rather easily. As stated, I'm not a fan of ranking things with so little, and this is a pure example of it, two minutes is nothing. RANK: ??? Vs. Brazo de Oro (28.08.1981) This is working off the Brazo feud that'll continue for a bit, with about 4 and a half minutes of this intact. Oro definitely fits that "roadblock" format that I discussed with Scoprio prior as Oro spends most of his control segment on the leg of Sayama and basically sitting on it. Of course this doesn't go anywhere and he makes sure to no-sell by landing a Savate kick right afterwards, but still, it's something. There's a entertaining bit of gaff as Oro celebrates Mask catching him out with a hug and raising his hand; of course this turns out to be a ambush as he goes right into a heavy German suplex that gets a 2-count but is then reversed into a headscissors. Oro actually has Mask slightly outpaced here with the usage of a cross-chop and dropkick to keep him unsteady, but his crossbody is countered into a gutbuster, and then into a really gnarly tilt-a-whirl inverse backbreaker from the German suplex position, looked rough in a good way. Even though there's lot of this out there, I still thought it was a entertaining romp that manages to show off what Oro could do when not with his brothers or in tags. Mask doesn't really change course from his usual routine outside of more nasty slams and whatnot in response to Oro's cheeky antics. RANK: Decent W/ Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. El Solitario & Pete Roberts (04.09.1981) This is actually intact compared to other showings at the time, which is a good thing considering who's involved. Solitario and Mask exchange some holds but it's mostly here to have some of the usual Mask spots and Solitario bumping around for the lad, not really to progress anything. Roberts also adds a lot of British flair to the occasion with a lot of oldie Catch work between them and Fujinami, which if you like then it definitely hits that mark given the two have some slick counters and now how to pace out their stuff well. We also get a good few just fast-paced Jr style sequences where we get move after move in very quick fashion, which despite seeming archaic in comparison to today still have a charm and level of struggle that is missing a lot from more workrate-centred matches. I also thought Roberts and Sayama especially had good chemistry as they go seamlessly between arm lock transitions, with Sayama showing off that signature showmanship as he outsmarts the vet at his own game; Roberts having some WoS-style pantomime selling as he slams the mat in frustration and gives small yells of surprise when caught out but never overtly goes over the top to make it all about him either. We get a speedy finish as Fuji and everyone else go at full tilt with move after move, with Roberts and co suffering a loss after Solitario's crossbody is taken by the latter instead by mistake, allowing Fuji to land a swift sunset flip for the win. This had some solid technical work (even if it doesn't go really anywhere, it's still good in isolation) alongside a surprisingly fast pace that would fit even in modern matches just fine. Fuji despite his obviously well-done work felt more or less like a afterthought here to Mask, who astonishes with some amazing spots and works well with both members of the other team who are fine enough in their respective roles and don't feel like afterthoughts. Really fun showing for what it's worth and a fascinating blend of styles. RANK: Decent W/ Fujinami Vs. Brazo de Oro & Brazo de Plata (09.09.1981) The Brazo brothers are entertaining foils for the more straight ace duo of Fujinami and Mask, and this was when they were in decent shape and not grossly over the hill physically like their more known 90's stuff. The match itself is pretty by the numbers; the Brazo brothers have some tricky holds to slap on but let's just face it, they weren't going to win this by a mile. It was interesting seeing Plata actually not be ridiculously overweight here and not be the butt of the joke a la Super Porky, instead being a competent lucha worker with some goofy bumps here and there, including a VERY rare slingshot spot that doesn't end with the guy hitting the ropes or turnbuckle. The start and some of the middle work mostly clean before we get a funny sequence where the Brazo brothers keep trying to double team Fujinami, only for him to dodge and they end up getting the other brother instead; it's a really early example of their slapstick shtick in full effect and glorious to witness, even if it's fairly common. After this the match structure goes into more of a conventional one as the Brazo lads use interference and skirt the rules to try to keep things grounded, raking at Sayama's mask or biting Fuji. Bar one or two top rope spots (that honestly, didn't look great) they mostly stick to that gameplan. Admittedly this part of the match is a bit dull as we go into a lot of mostly heatless working holds that don't really mean a whole as well as the occasional explosion of action by the natives. Now the heel work by the Brazo lads was actually pretty smart in places; feigning a snapmare to yank on the mask of Sayama or Oro using the excuse of a abdominal stretch to land some sneaky shots on the groin are good small spots, it's a shame the crowd don't really bite for any of it though and really aren't interested in these two whatsoever, even interested enough to boo. Sayama botches his turnbuckle flip again (noticeably damaging his hand to a unknown extent) but recovers eventually to land a surprisingly good looking Uranage. Finish seemed very abrupt as Mask quickly lands a German suplex right afterwards and everyone kinda awkwardly looks at each other like this wasn't the finish; maybe it was, but it seemed very much improvised given the lack of build and how sudden it felt. That said, this was a decent match, just that it doesn't have the best crowd for it: not even a prime Tiger Mask seems to get them going much, which is really saying something given the shit he'll have to deal with. Fuji is a fine enough hand and the Brazo bros throw in some decent color as foreign foils, with good heel work. Once again, the crowd is the main issue, as was the bad finish. RANK: Decent Vs. Brazo de Plata (17.09.1981) Yeah this match is a LOT better than the tag they had last week, thanks to a better crowd and more overt antics. The Brazo lads are great at the kind of silly wrestling pantomime that takes surprising amounts of skill to pull off successfully, and this was them way before their popularity prime in the 90's. At first they wrestle clean but Mask just completely dominates Plata though arm work or countering any attempts to take control with his usual sensational spots, giving zero leeway for Plata to even remotely get a sniff in beyond some occasional slow-down holds. I did notice however that he occasionally favoured his hand: the same hand that he had noticeably damaged last week during a botched turnbuckle spot. This wouldn't mean much usually but Sayama was not a particularly great long-term seller, which makes me think he had something still going on with it at the time. Plata mostly keeps to rest-holds and occasional faster moments if only to shut down his far faster opponent. the Brazo bros quickly resort to dirty antics; these were somewhat comedic, as Oro tries standing in for his brother despite being a good bit smaller and looking completely different with his golden mask and sleeve lol. Of course they try other petty things like a sneak attack off a "hey let's make up" hug, but of course he gets outsmarted again as Sayama is wise to their pretty predictable attempts at cheating and Plata is too stupid to realise Oro tried the same spot already. The second half is a long heat segment by Plata, and while the tension is noticeable from the audience this time Plata's work is a bit lacking, mostly going into working hold into working hold without much rhyme or reason but it builds good enough to a great comeback from Sayama all the way to the finish that it almost gets forgotten despite that fact, with just a lot of speed and hard-hitting agility all coming so fast that you can at times be overwhelmed. It's a good match in terms of that kind of showcase, but I did think there was a real lack of big offence from Plata, and like many of Sayama's opponents at the time, he doesn't feel like a tangible threat for the prodigy. Maybe that's literally him suffering from success given how wildly fantastic he is bar the selling, but either way you never really buy him in true danger, which does diminish the heat spots given that inevitable conclusion. RANK: Decent W/ Fuji vs. El Solitario & Solar (18.09.1981) Clipped to six minutes. This is mostly to get over the impending Solar/Mask encounter the week after this as he's the lucha villain of the week, so naturally we start with those two and it's just hold-exchanging, standard lucha stuff with not much urgency added. Solitario takes most of the offence while Mask and co are more 50/50. Solar gets rocked with some kicks and even a cool extended sequence where the two dodge and parry strikes and moves from the other, including Solar dodging a uppercut and escaping a Tiger Suplex, which was not common at that time. Sayama botches his turnbuckle corner Tiger Wall Flip bad, so instead he has to land some equally bad strikes to knock his opponent out of the ring. Everyone brawls, Solar misses a dive and hits his partner instead but it doesn't matter because everyone is too busy throwing bad punches to the chest to care. Nothing match outside of the Solar/Mask interactions, felt very low-effort by everyone involved and a definite product of what happens when you have a lot of talent that just can't be bothered getting the other to better things. RANK: Forgettable Vs. Solar (23.09.1981) This is the infamous "bad shoulder " match as Solar seemingly majorly hurt his shoulder during this match and like a big babyface, Sayama immediately works on it alongside everything else. The injury looks like it's caused when Sayama does his signature escape out of the arm wrench with his flips; he slips with the arm wrench pull at the end, and that slip causes Solar's shoulder to be put in a rather uncomfortable position; you can see him immediately shaking it and clearly having issues, but he's still able to move around fine and the two have a good chemistry going between them for a few more minutes until the shoulder seems to get worse as he takes some bumps off it. Some have tried to say that Solar put on this supposed shoulder injury to try to rationalise losing to Tiger Mask, but I don't see it given how this is still worked; it's not like the bad shoulder is especially worked on during the match, hell it doesn't get touched nearly at all until the very end. Either way, it does somewhat harm the match as Solar has to just outright not do sequences because his shoulder is so bad. You can definitely tell Sayama gets impatient as he prances around and is consistently either looking at the ref like "wtf do I do here?" or getting annoyed because Solar teases just leaving altogether at one point with a count-out tease, which felt weird and not at all planned, especially with all of the Young Lion guys at ringside trying to get him back in. Eventually he just goes "fuck this" and smacks him around with a long series of kicks, some clearly not as worked as others and some aimed right at the bad side. He tries pulling for the shoulder a few times, but Solar just yells and refuses to give him any of it due to the supposed pain. Sayama goes back to kicks, before trying for his usual German for the finish: Solar ain't taking that and immediately goes down to his knees, so instead he just gets stuck with a double wrist lock that Sayama stubbornly applies until Solar submits. This was starting to look good, but eventually went ugly after the supposed shoulder injury, even if we do get some nice comedy out of Tiger Mask going from this uber-babyface to grumpy guy kicking a one-armed masked lucha dude and attempting to snap his arm. That's probably worth the watch alone, but the two work good for the first 6 minutes before the injury gets really bad, even if it's nothing particularly mind-blowing. Fun for what it was, but a mess nonetheless. RANK: Decent Vs. Masked Hurricane (08.10.1981) Lol this is some classic carny shit here. "Masked Hurricane" is Bobby Lee, and this is a Mask vs Mask match.....only this is the only match that Lee ever wrestled with the aforementioned moniker up to this very point. Lee is the obvious heel here as he lands a early cheap shot during a handshake. Mask takes over the early halves with some really creative lucha-style submissions, including a half-botch where he does his Tiger Spin spot but Lee falls backwards instead of forwards, which while obviously wasn't planned actually made it look more painful despite it being a simple leg-vice. The two trade holds before Lee bites the hand to escape a Misawa-style head crank. The two go into some hard chest chops before Lee tries showing off with some successive kip-ups, but ends up eating a big dropkick for his troubles. Lee offers another handshake but it's legit this time. He tries taking Mask down to the mat but ends up caught in a creative heel hook instead. Lee gets bullied as Mask dominates with his usual spots, as well as a bit where he legitimately just spams out about six dropkicks over and over never-ending before catching the guy in a weird modified backbreaker, which Lee screams afterwards. This is also the finish, bizarrely, as he submits to this. Post-match has him unmask and him initially covering up his face before eventually relenting and shaking Sayama's hand after the fact. As a match this didn't have much tension because Lee literally had no buildup before this and you could tell from the real lack of reaction from the crowd outside of when the spots were being pulled out. I did think this was a alright showing of both men as they got to really wiggle around on the mat and show off a bit. Honestly Lee here felt kinda like the 80's version of Kendo Kashin here what with the handshake shtick, the hand biting, focus on holds and eye raking all being shit you'd expect from him. As a Mask showcase it does the job, and you can see the beginnings of his more mat-based technique here with his focus on leg holds and submissions: obviously none of it is particularly realistic to modern day, but you can see where that would lead him in the UWF and whatnot, and Sayama certainly isn't half-bad at it given his background. RANK: Decent Vs. El Texano (16.10.1981) Cut by just a minute. Texano is here for a filler lucha of the week foil for Tiger Mask and the two get some nice work done despite the short time. Texano focuses on some really innovative holds, including a sideways Surfboard and a remarkably early usage of what appears to be a STO: way before it was popularised as a wrestling move it seems. Texano slaps on the rough holds until Sayama quickly escapes with a arm wrench and snappy savate kick. What do I like is how the two interact here: yes it comes across as a Mask showcase in places with just how overbearingly innovative Tiger Mask was at this time, but Texano always makes sure to add in some things here and there to show he isn't just a passive idiot gawking at the guy; in a particularly good sequence Mask knocks Texano around with a fancy arm drag out of a backbreaker attempt before pulling for a fast Frankensteiner, but a third attempt at the same counter has Texano put a stop to that with a nasty powerbomb to shut him down. Sayama sells....for about 10 seconds anyway, before he's back to just doing bonkers high-spots. We do slow down a bit and even see a early UWF Super Tiger emerge as Sayama slaps on a cross armbreaker after Texano kicks out of a pin, albeit it's super lax as per the standards of the time. Texano takes over with a spinebuster, headbutts to the stomach and more mid-section work to prep for his second rope senton (it's actually hold work that builds to something!) but misses. Texano goes all shoot-style with a judo throw and double wrist lock attempt before landing a wicked tilt-a-whirl Tombstone perfectly, shit looked stiff as anything. That gets a near fall and the crowd react pretty well, showing that he's actually looking like a threat as opposed to a lot of other opponents. Sayama counters a backdrop into a perfect flip onto his feet, dropkicks, feints a dropkick attempt into a quick cartwheel before getting on his own tilt-a-whirl backbreaker (one of the first of its kind) for the win. This was actually pretty good despite only being 8 minutes, with a strong flavour of submissions and innovative sequences between the pair. Texano is pretty good and incorporates a surprising amount of pseudo-shoot style into the mix, making for a real interesting opposition to Sayama's crazy flips and masterful athleticism. Quite enjoyable romp and one that really showcases a wild mix between Sayama's bonkers atheticism and his more grounded side when facing off with someone talented enough to wrestle him down. RANK: Good W/ Gran Hamada vs El Signo & Negro Navarro (23.10.1981) This is cut down to about five minutes, but it's a decent burst of action out of the young Los Misioneros de la Muerte duo as they gang up on a baby-faced Hamada with a double team Snake Eyes onto the steel guardrail to Hamada. He's generally used as the scrappy underdog that gets beat up while Mask is the big boss who knocks around the rudo duo with some good spots outsmarting or outpacing them, with Signo having to use double-team antics to keep him under control. Hamada looks great when he has to dive up and over Tiger Mask during a submission to catch Navarro right on the nose with a crossbody, and his fiery dive to the outside looked good. Despite some resistance Navarro is quickly put down with a springboard corner crossbody and tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for the pin. Nothing special but for what was seen, this was a standard filler lucha tag that got over both sides fairly well despite not really having much time to actually establish any ring-work outside of spots. RANK: Decent W/ Kengo Kimura vs. El Signo & Negro Navarro (30.10.1981) This is drastically cut down on the official collection, but you can find the full match with some digging. Kimura is a bit awkward given his sheer height difference to everyone else here but he does fine with the task at hand with a lot of hold-wangling, albeit is mostly here to do the bumping and big selling for the heels. The Los Misioneros de la Muerte duo are decent enough foils, but don't particularly shine when paired up against someone as unique and dynamic as Mask himself, who steals a lot of their thunder with his routine and some big spots; this is of course by design but regardless is somewhat of a general issue when trying to find good foils for the lad. Naturally we get the usual lucha comedy routine where the rudos keep bashing into each other with moves alongside them just bumping all over the place for the guy, especially Navarro who takes a few beatings and stooges a fair bit. La Muerte take over in the middle half, namely bullying Kimura and slamming him into the guardrail. They do the same to Mask after ganging up on him as well: they pull out a few variations of Snake Eyes, namely on the guardrail itself and on the ropes in a repeat spot to their last match together. Crowd are really hot for him to make a comeback, and when he does they really get loud for the guy: it's only been about 6 months of showings but the Tiger Mask shtick is already well over, helped by the heels just grubbing it up with their dirty antics and some really great bursts of action from Sayama in particular when he's having to get around them. We also interestingly get the heels playing around with his mask a bit, which is a gimmick that won't get incredibly popular until two years later. The finish is abrupt as Kimura lands a piledriver on Signo and then ducks to allow Mask to land a big top rope sunset flip for the win. This was fairly by the numbers but there's some good lucha work from La Muerte as they get their brawling heel shtick over, contrasting well with the babyfaces with their smooth and measured ringwork. It's a bit of a shame that they couldn't work as consistent opponents for Tiger Mask given they have much better chemistry than some of his slower opponents. Regardless, I thought this was surprisingly strong for a outing, and really showed already how crazy over Sayama was with the crowd already. Kimura was a decent hand, but didn't really do a whole lot that was memorable outside of the occasional big move; his material in-between felt like classic salad dressing, nothing much to it. RANK: Decent Vs Gran Hamada (05.11.1981) Hamada is probably the first act since Villano III that can't just be ran over, especially given he's also a babyface. Unlike Mask's dazzling stuff, Hamada while capable of the same high spots is more inclined to sit on the mat and wear his opponent down with holds, albeit these aren't really sold or build to anything like modern watchers would be inclined to think, it's just general wear-down work. They do a good job of showing Hamada's danger early as he's able to match Mask with flips, but can also just outright power him out of his own when the chance comes around, including just slamming him down early when he tries for a arm wrench. I typically hate stuff like the double dropkick but it works here given Hamada's general abilities can keep pace with his opponent on virtually everything, even seemingly off the cuff moves. Now, I can definitely see why people might not be the biggest fans of this; there's a lot of just grabbing onto limbs like arms or legs, but nothing comes of it ultimately and it is a fair part of this....but for me, even though the stuff like the leg work is basically ignored, there's still a great sense of drama as they make the holds into a struggle in and of themselves, how they escape from them but also try to push for offence right afterwards. Like small stuff like Mask closing his legs during a sun-set to hurt Hamada and break the hold or doing a full arch to escape a headscissors and reverse into a bow and arrow by turning it inside out; that's the kind of work I like to see, just small elements that add to a bigger presentation. They also get meaner over time, starting with conventional holds and soon escalating to angry slaps and big strikes. Hamada is the better of the two when it comes to communicating aggression: you can tell when he starts to take shit seriously, how he goes from trying to outwork Mask to just landing big bombs without much care before trying to cool off and stick to the gameplan of mat-work, but he can't resist throwing some stiff ass chops sometimes. He bumps incredibly for his opponent as well, just making him look like a world-ender with some of the big bumps he'd take from a regular roundhouse or whatever. There's some bits where the two just kinda fumble a bit or don't look great, but those are few and far between and frankly don't really detract from the match itself given it's all about one-upmanship and a slow increasing of the moves until it reaches the peak. Hamada has his own range of tricks as does Mask to put the other way, but they manage to shake off everything the other has until Hamada has to fully go full-tilt with dives, one though the ropes and then a failed one from the top rope that Mask dodges, allowing him to get back in the ring before Hamada can for the win. Now I'll be honest: Hamada here as a wrestler has the better selling, and he has the better holds at this moment and time; he also gets over the kind of internal drive to show he can beat this big shot at his own game, and you almost believe that from how well he does throughout this, being able to take on Mask in every comparison that counts and then some. Even though Sayama isn't selling anything for a sustained amount of time, the drama presented here is more than enough to make up for that. "ahead of its time" is a overused phrase, but outside of the slower moments this really felt like a pure example of that, what with the big spot sequences paired with engaging storytelling though those spots. Arguably one of the few times I can honestly say Tiger Mask wasn't the bigger deal in a match! RANK: Great W/ Fuji Vs. El Canek & Super Maquina (01.12.1981) Shown in full. This is to hype up Canek for a upcoming singles match against Mask, so the focus is on them here. Super Maquina immediately sticks out with his big American Football outfit, kinda looking like WCW Norman Smiley lol. You get what he's going for here; he's a bigger and taller dude than Mask and co, so he can just pick up and hurl the guy into different holds and the like; Mask needs to flip and move around to get a good edge, to unsteady the guy. Canek and Fuji have about the same dynamic, with them working a more conventional format as they exchange working holds and some good counters. Fuji gets the chance to show off with big running headscissors takedowns and even a Dragon Screw to both lads when they charge in, which was a fairly cool spot. Canek gets in finally with Mask after Maquina gets dominated with Mask's flippy shit, and he has a funny bit where he's just miming a bouncing ball and kicking it, obviously in reference to Sayama and his flippy shit. Indeed he does manage to get this done somewhat by getting good height with a military press and squishing him with a running elbow, as well as literally swinging him around in a choke. Canek and co get into more heel antics with distractions, eye raking, etc, but it never gets over the top or overbearing like the Brazo bros or whatever. Canek gets in a great running neckbreaker alongside Fuji throwing out some good fundamentals and actually selling, with Mask getting in at the last few minutes to fight Canek again, but the lad runs away after getting caught up in another burst of crazy high-flying from Sayama. Maquina tries to clean up but gets beat up with kicks and a awesome double team spot where Fuji goes for a slingshot while Mask lands a top rope crossbody. Fuji lands a quick brainbuster to finish this up, post-match has Canek threaten the two to lead into the aforementioned singles. This was a good bit of fun despite the limitations at the time; selling and the concept of a hot tag don't really exist here, so some might be bugged out by that. I thought personally that this was pretty solid for a random undercard, with Canek and co having a unique powerhouse contrast to Fuji and co's flippy workrate. Quite well put together and Tiger Mask as always is a treat to watch around this time, with Fuji getting to show off more as well rather than stay in the sidelines with mostly set-up work or selling to build for a Mask hot-tag. RANK: Decent Vs. El Canek (08.12.1981) Mask comes in with Young Lions holding him up and getting flowers but Canek runs out and slams his head onto the turnbuckle when he tries to get in. Sayama shockingly actually sells the attack quite well, with Canek cocky while Mask is hunched over and clearly hurting, staying away from him for a bit when the match starts to recover. The next part is either genius or Sayama botching: he keeps trying for his hip toss counter where he lands on his feet and lands a arm drag, but he just can't do it despite trying a few times, which could have been his attempt to sell the bad arm. He does land his handspring splash and cross chop though, so maybe just a botch after-all. Canek uses strikes and wear-down holds, including a Cobra Clutch, which was pretty cool to see. You start to see more kick-based offence from Mask here as he throws a body shot before landing one from the apron. While this looked cool, it seemed to fuck his foot here as he starts hoppling around when he gets into the ring. He seems to eventually shake this off but it does mean more sitting in holds as a result. It got the crowd going though with chants, especially when he gets stuck in a Gory Special: so it did work ultimately. Mask eventually throws out more kicks and snaps out a figure-four. This follows into more leg work out of a Tiger Spin into a Indian Deathlock, but the lads botch a attempt at a bow and arrow. They do manage throw out a lovely Mexican Stretch though so fair play. They pick up the pace well in the last few minutes as Sayama starts throwing out the big bombs, including a nasty Butterfly and back suplex. An attempt at a cradle pin is countered by Canek smartly back into his Cobra Clutch, which wears down Mask long enough to throw out a impressive military press gutbuster for a near fall. He throws out a second with a elbow drop for the same result. A third? Countered, but Canek still gets a running neckbreaker for another near fall. Finish has Sayama dodge a big crossbody from Canek before going for his signature Tiger Feint, then quickly bounding off the top rope for a huge crossbody to the floor in a pretty epic spot. He tries for another, but Canek catches and slams him to the mat. He can't get back in due to the lad holding onto his foot, causing a double count out. This was expected: El Canek has a rep for politicking so he certainly wasn't losing or looking bad here at all. That said, this was a solid match where the holds made sense and you can see the gears of Sayama's Tiger Mask persona working as he throws out his soon to be infamous big kicks, as well as early versions of some future spots. He's great here, actually selling a fair bit and really bumping for Canek's big bombs. Canek obviously doesn't really sell a whole lot for the younger lad, but he's undeniably got his role down pat as a lucha powerhouse who can just muscle people around, even if his actual range is somewhat limited and more or less propped up by his opponent flying around for him. Finish sucked, but I enjoyed this nonetheless. RANK: Good =========== That's the end of the first part and also of 1981; next up is 1982, in which the Tiger quickly becomes one of the biggest acts in NJPW.....will he have the opponents to match, or more lucha filler?
  2. Introduction Ok, so you are probably wondering how, of all things, did this come to be in the first place? Simply put, I wanted to see if Tadao Yasuda was ACTUALLY the worst IWGP champion in history, and I was left so impressed after watching what's available of his title stint that I changed into a Deep Dive: was those three Nagata matches outliers, Nagata carrying him to greatness, or did Yasuda actually have a GWE case that hadn't yet been discovered? My findings are....complicated. I outlined some basic thoughts midway though on another thread, but here like with Nishimura I really wanted to put all of the cards on the table, and see what you think of what's there. 1. What kind of candidate is this wrestler (Peak vs Longevity,Peak+ Longevity, Big Match Wrestler, Week to Week Performer etc) and what range would you consider ranking them? Yasuda is complicated here because his "longevity" is decent enough: he wrestles the same style from the mid to late 90's up to the mid 2000's. I would say his mutation as a worker starts early on as he functions more as a tag guy with some nice big-man spots to then go into MMA, and then return with a Inoki-Ism style. He then transitions into the Coward Shooter persona, where he's a cowardly heel with the same MMA shtick, which is surprisingly unique for the time. After his NJPW stint Yasuda still mostly retains the tendencies from this time, but he can change them to be a babyface or a heel depending on where or who he's facing off with. By the end of his career (2011) Yasuda is mostly done due to sumo and wrestling + age catching up with him, but he's not terrible and his final matches are solid for what they were. Yasuda doesn't have a big peak but he's consistent, if that makes any sense. 2. What is your elevator pitch for this wrestler to be a Top 100 Wrestler? (Sum up their case in a short paragraph). Ok so Yasuda isn't a workrate god or someone with a thousand flips, but what he has is a general understanding of his role in the ring, and how to play it: he can be a underdog baby-faced goof, a lesser half of a big tag team, a henchman heel, a cowardly heel, a bully heel, a old vet with some smart tricks left in the bag, etc etc. Yasuda has a great knowledge of how wrestling works, and he's great at playing up babyface/heel stuff with whoever he's with, either getting over guys like Tanahashi or Nakamura or getting himself hated (or loved) by a multitude of different crowds. He's not a master of wrestling per-se, but a master of wrestling dynamics: whatever role he plays, he plays it to great effect. 3. Were they ever the best wrestler in the world? Were they ever the best wrestler in their country? Were they ever the best wrestler in their promotion? Who were some of their competitors for the best wrestler in the world, country, and promotion? No. Yasuda was never ever the best wrestler in the world by any metric. He was at best top 15 in NJPW's heavyweight division in 2001 and 2002 before he turned into a badly overpushed ace babyface but that's really it. For me though, that doesn't impact his GWE case, but it instead strengthens it: we have somebody who was never the best around, but consistently got huge reactions regardless of his positioning on the card. 4. How many years were they a top worker (top worker being a candidate for top 10 wrestler in the world)? Yasuda's "peak" comes between 2001 and 2003, his full mainline push. His babyface stuff isn't great because he's being pushed above Nagata (which was a obvious doomed project before even starting off) but everything before and after is mostly great, either his role as G1 spoiler or dickhead Makai Club boss, he excels in both. I say "peak" because his late 90's work basically had him wrestle some fairly solid matches, but more as a underdog babyface working under big mainstream acts or a fun midcard tag option. 5. Were they a great worker before their prime? Were they a great worker after their prime? How great were they (were they a best in the world, country, promotion candidate while before their prime/after their prime) Yasuda was a bit generic for a while but grew a big following due to his big pushes in G1 cards as basically the 90's version of Honma: someone who never really won a whole lot, but always had the crowd right behind them in terms of fighting and scratching for a win. He arguably got some of the more hotter matches out of Tenzan and Kojima at the time due to said dynamic. Yasuda after his prime is iffy: his HUSTLE stuff isn't terrible but he was mostly going for a paycheck there. His IGF is interesting with some good matches I'll mention in a moment but he was mostly used as squash fodder. His ZERO-1 stuff is limited but he does good work there. Nothing on the quality of the NJPW stuff, but decent additions that help his case in terms of being able to keep delivering the same Yasuda-style performance while not losing a whole lot of quality. 6. Did they have the opportunities to produce a large body of excellent matches? IF YES 6a Do they have a large body of excellent matches? I have mentioned this before but he has a good selection of matches: not all of them are excellent, 4 star+ showings but a lot of them showcase his ability to stand out, to get big reactions, and also to showcase his ability to work heel/face styles super effectively. He definitely has a large body of work to be impressed by, especially when you dig around for content and whatnot. 6b Do they have a large body of excellent matches against a variety of opponents? I mean Nagata, Fujinami, Nakamura, Tanahashi, Kojima, Tenzan, Nakanishi, Tanaka, Muto, Ogawa....I'd say so, and that isn't even everyone involved. 6c Do they have a large body of excellent matches in a variety of settings? (for example singles, tags, gimmicks, no gimmicks, brawls, technical, short matches, long matches etc) Definitely. His Nagata series is mostly worked-MMA shtick and he's shockingly good for a lumpy ex-sumo with not a lot of big agility. His 2001 G1 stuff is based around short showings where he gets to be a spoiler with his clinch-work and dangerous submissions that can get him easy upsets, his IGF match with Naoya Ogawa is mostly him getting kicked hard in the fucking chest for about 5+ minutes and it's GREAT just because Yasuda is able to convey so much with so little to work with, his Makai Club tags involve solid brawls, good heel performances, as well as some of his later stuff where he's jobbing to youngsters and getting them over with big-man bumping and excellent stodging, and on the flip-side he has a endearing partnership with Hashimoto in a lop-sided tag where he has to try to hold his own with a ace, and he....can't, but still pushes on as much as he possibly can despite taking some bad beatings. Yasuda has literally done it all and then some. 6d How much of those excellent matches were a direct result of their performance?" I mean the Nagata stuff is either/or but I think Yasuda definitely wasn't carried in those matches: he holds his own, gets his own dynamic over, and definitely isn't a pushover. Sure one can argue that his involvement with big stars would enhance his image, but he's had so many good to great outings with a wide range of different wrestlers that at some point, you do have to acknowledge that Yasuda is definitely pulling his weight in a lot of them, either emotive or otherwise. "7. Do they have a large body of excellent performances in a variety of roles (heel/face, undercard/midcard/main event, champion/challenger, underdog/favorite, younger/older etc)" This was basically answered above but I'll act like it wasn't. Yasuda is not a amazing main ace babyface, but that's with a unwarranted push (basically he goes from tweener heel in 2001 to suddently being treated like the Next Best Thing because he beat Le Banner in a MMA contest in a insane upset) and he has no chance against Nagata in terms of popularity. Everything else? Yasuda consistently makes a presence regardless of the position on the card; he can work a underdog role great, but then can also flip a switch and go into full bully-mode with a Jr heavyweight. He can be a dangerous heel upset challenger or a comedic heel tag specialist who uses his dirty antics to entertain a crowd rather than to simply make them boo. He can be a old vet on his last legs with nothing in the tank and really drag a crowd into getting super invested in his stuff. One of his greatest strengths as mentioned already is his ability to play a multitude of roles and focus on dynamics. "8. Do they work in a way that is consistent with the way they're booked & presented?" Absolutely: even though the failed Inoki-Ism push wasn't successful, Yasuda still wrestles fairly solid for the role provided, going into a more MMA-focused babyface ace position who focuses on his strength and sumo-spots (which are always over) to topple his opponents before tapping them out. He also uses more fantastical stuff for the comebacks, like his dropkicks or rare stiff-arm lariat. He's actually solid in the role, but compared to a prime Nagata, being "solid" isn't enough, especially with so much goodwill on his side already. Coward Shooter Yasuda is fantastic: he's so good at working a crowd while doing so little, stalling for time, going for cheap shots, low-blows, trash talking, etc. Just his general look, this bald-lumpy dude who has a consistent scowl on his face...like it takes no time at all for anyone to tell that he's a heel. The same focus on clinches appears here as well, only Yasuda adjusts it to be used as heat spots and to allow the babyfaces to rally the crowd to their side, which is extremely effective. Simple changes like that are the forefront of Yasuda's style. "9. What are their standout traits? (For example, selling, psychology, offense, character work etc)" Yasuda is amazing at character work in-ring, either emoting as a babyface underdog in how he's a really big dude who usually dwarfs his opponents, but in the sense of being more of a big lump who eats a lot of offence before finally getting that big comeback to pop crowds huge. That's NOT easy to do (especially when you are 6'5 and again, really big) but Yasuda has tons of those moments because he's also a really solid big-man bumper, able to take backdrops, German suplexes, powerbombs, brainbusters and other really big moves on a whim. One of his signature spots is doing a RVD-lite head spike off a DDT, which makes the move look terrifying. This turns from a sympathetic thing to the opposite when Yasuda becomes a heel, as he's basically eating his comeuppance, so the bumps are the same but used in a different context for a different reason, mainly to get the faces over. Yasuda compensates for not having a big move-pool with intelligent ring-psychology, able to play his role great while not overusing his big bumps or spots, always keeping them in the back pocket for the right moment for them to really pop out. It also helps that Yasuda as Coward Shooter typically always eats shit when he doesn't have his goons to help him out, so the dynamic is fresh and typically quite effective. He's a great seller and has a good mind for knowing how to get a crowd invested in what he's doing. 10. Did they make the people and workers around them better? Not the easiest question but let's try to provide a good answer. Controversial opinion, but I think Yasuda's work with Nagata really made him stand out when he won the championship. Why? Because Nagata's run afterwards would basically be a super dominant "Giant Killer" run, fighting guys like Fujita, Sasaki, Takayama, etc. Yasuda provides the basis for this big run, as well as his first win unintentionally adding to the drama as Nagata has to chase a guy who stole his first big chance at a title. Nagata's chase and subsequent match is what develops his endearment to the crowd and you can really track that progression as we go though the duo of matches. If he had just won it the first time, I'd argue it wouldn't be AS effective than it would have the second time, especially with the added dynamic of Yasuda being a dickhead spoiler heel who is desperate to stamp out Nagata for good. He doesn't necessarily "make" Nagata, but his loss to him stamps his mark as someone who can do Big Match formats while also getting his challenger more over. On top of that we also have good heat-seeking performances against a number of babyfaces, in multi-tags where he can really drag out his heel stuff to get the biggest impact and whatnot. He arguably gets a lot of that mileage out of bullying a young Tana alongside Murakami; despite being a bit-player in their overall feud, he works his role well as the larger bully, and bumps huge when Tana does get his big second wind, even eating a loss to him at one point. 11. Is there any reason to believe that this wrestler was better or worse than they appeared? Yasuda definitely looks worse than you think, especially if you go off the occasional match or whatnot: he just seems like a big lump with a limited moveset and not a lot else to him beyond that. He doesn't look particularly the part and his looks especially in this case are very deceiving given you'd just write him off as another ex-sumo looking for paychecks, even though Yasuda clearly put in the work and was a lot more talented than on the surface. 12. If you had to pick 5-10 matches (Or more) to sell someone on this wrestler what would they be? (Not necessarily the best matches but ones that are best representative of the wrestlers’ GWE case) Alright so I already stuck on a big list elsewhere but I'll modify it slightly here to provide a more detailed case. Being a Underdog vs Hiroshi Hase 06/11/1994 vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan 01/08/1997 w/ Shinya Hashimoto vs Manabu Nakanishi & Satoshi Kojima 17/09/1997 w/ Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Michiyoshi Ohara & Scott Norton 02/11/1997 w/ Shinya Hashimoto vs Genichiro Tenryu & Shiro Koshinaka 14/07/1998 vs Satoshi Kojima 01/08/1998 w/Takashi Iizuka vs Kazuo Yamazaki & Osamu Nishimura 08/08/1998 vs Naoya Ogawa 20/12/2007 W/Shinjiro Otani vs. Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama 04/02/2011 Being a Spoiler Heel/Mat-Work All of his 2001 G1 showings (ESPECIALLY the Nagata and Tanaka matches) vs Yuji Nagata 16/02/2002 vs Yuji Nagata 05/04/2002 vs. Kensuke Sasaki 05/06/2002 vs Yuji Nagata 12/08/2003 Best of Coward Shooter w/ Yutaka Yoshie vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Shiro Koshinaka 20/07/2002 w/ Makai #1, Ryushi Yanagisawa vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Masahiro Chono & Tatsumi Fujinami 23/11/2002 w/ Ryushi Yanagisawa vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Masahiro Chono 10/12/2002 w/Makai #1, Makai #5, Ryushi Yanagisawa vs. Hiro Saito, Michiyoshi Ohara, Takashi Iizuka & Tatsutoshi Goto 21/07/2003 vs. Shinsuke Nakamura 14/08/2003 w/Makai #1, Ryota Chikuzen vs Jinsei Shinzaki, Jushin Thunder Liger & Osamu Nishimura 03/11/2003 w/ Kazunari Murakami vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yutaka Yoshie 12/03/2004 vs. Takao Omori 10/10/2005 vs. Josh Barnett 29/06/2007 14. Any final thoughts you’d like to share? Not a whole lot, just that I feel like the early 2000's of NJPW has been kinda shrouded in this Inoki-Ism revisionist idea that the entire era was a mess and it didn't get good until Tanahashi and Gedo took the reigns: that's maybe true from a business standpoint but it also means that guys like Yasuda get buried in every obscure trivia as Inoki's Failed Ace, routinely billed as the "worst IWGP champion ever" and as essentially a joke to poke fun at, which is a massive shame because Tadao Yasuda was genuinely a bloody solid act that is sadly only historically known for being a bad ace. I hope that this has at least tried to remove that stigma and allowed you to check out his work, because it doesn't deserve to be buried alongside everything else.
  3. Actually a fairly solid match given the conditions. Jay is a Young Lion here, so he's restricted to what he can and can't get away with: Young Lions are kept to a fairly basic move set and not really allowed to do much of anything else, even if Jay could (and had) done a lot more. That being said, Jay's still able to show that his fundamentals are very much solid. We see this with a strong starting pace as Ogawa and him exchange smooth technical work as they both battle for control. This bit is done really well as both men manage to balance coordination as they flow between White using his athleticism to take Ogawa down, as well as the latter's experience to eventually take over from his initial advantages: they make it look clean, but also not something that makes it look like they are coordinating, if that makes any sense: things still feel like a struggle and no transition is easily performed. Jay has a awesome spot where he manages to counter a tight headscissors by Ogawa and flip him over to his back, rolling over to get the guy in a front headlock. He relentlessly aims at Ogawa's arm, even pulling back his hand at points for extra leverage. Eventually Ogawa counters with his signature nifty "spin around the wrist" sequence to take back control. Ogawa tries to turn this into a more traditional affair by going for a Irish Whip and then countering Jay's dropdown for a side headlock, only to be countered himself into a weird Indian Deathlock/arm wrench combination. He even tries to pin his arms for a pin but that doesn't work obviously. Ogawa works over the leg of his opponent awesomely, leading to him using the turnbuckle post to smack it around. Jay sells this great, with some very convincing yells of pain, but he never goes overboard with it, with him holding on some submissions to carry up the drama as well as good timing with his comebacks when he's able to eventually battle though the pain enough to even things out. What I also love is that he doesn't stop selling the leg even on offence: when he's leaping around, he drags his bad leg and delays what he's doing to sell more. It's a small but very well done detail that many don't seem to get quite as well, especially on a consistent basis. Ogawa also makes his basic offence look killer: even a Boston Crab, as basic as you can imagine, Ogawa sells like it could be a world-ender with the crowd getting surprisingly into this despite the obvious outcome. The finish comes when Ogawa tries for a superplex, gets countered into a top rope dropkick but he dodges at the last second, leading to Jay damaging his bad leg even more. Ogawa then finishes things with a Figure-Four. He really holds on to it afterwards like the biggest of trolls, not even letting him have the dignity of a ice pack for his leg by throwing it away. It's rude, yes, but it gets over Jay hugely as he got under Rat Boy's skin: something that few can testify to doing. All in all, a early sighting of Jay White's greatness (as a underdog babyface, of all things) but Ogawa gives him a ton of leeway for a Young Lion and manages to work with the limitations of said match standards to really elevate this to something way better than it had any right to be in the first place, Ogawa really made the guy look great.
  4. Rutten has been quite the consistent worker in NJPW. His strikes are so crazy that you buy him just caving in Nakanishis face any second. Rutten has such an aura that anytime Nakanishi can get a move in on him is impressive. There are a few spots that they pull off much better than you'd think, and Rutten gets thrown around. Nakanishis selling in the last couple seconds was shockingly good, not something I thought he had in him. Also loved him trying to power out of the flying armbar a split second after getting caught.
  5. Good hidden gem that I found while I was doing Yasuda's Deep Dive. This was a fairly hot Korakuen huge brawl that had the Makai Club use their antics to stay on top of the big babyface troop: as you might imagine this was messy, but you can't really help that when there's so many lads in the ring. Yoshie was surprisingly on point here as he has good, super scrappy stuff with Yasuda and the gang, throwing some hard forearm shots and having a really stiff brawl with Yanagisawa despite everything else going on, honestly was probably the best I've ever seen him in terms of outright performance and looking like a world-ender in his own right. Makai Club afterwards isolate out Tenzan with a dive from Makai #2/Ryota Chikuzen as well as utilising unfair team-ups and cutting him off from the other side of the ring. Outside of a slight botch where Makai #2 goes for a double wristlock and then randomly drops it to land a awkward knee, this bit is solid, as is Nagata's great hot tag when Tenzan is eventually able to recover and send Yasuda flying with his signature jumping wheel kick. He has a good back and forth with Yanagisawa with kicks before he springs for a cross armbreaker attempt, also wrecks Yasuda with a big belly to belly throw when he creeps in like a vulture to beat him down after he'd been softened up, was a great spot. The crowd also loves Nakanishi coming in like a brickhouse and just wrecking everyone with shoulder tackles and whatnot, especially a awesome double spear to the two Makai guys. Yoshie come in for his own stuff, but Yasuda uses his Makai Club goons to beat him down and they all hit him in the turnbuckle corner with different moves, including a lariat, belly splash, and a nasty jumping knee from Yanagisawa. The crowd thinks the match is over when Yasuda goes for the Butterfly Suplex but pop huge when it is instead a near fall. Yoshie lands a big German suplex and snaps on a Camel Clutch, but gets a brutal Maeda/Choshu-lite kick to the back of the head by Yanagisawa to break it up. With everyone brawling with the Makai Club, it's easy pickings for Yasuda to snap in and get the pin off said kick for the scummy victory. This was a really good sprint of a match that was designed to take advantage of the big crowd with lots of easy to get, digestible action, and it definitely paid off given the reactions. I think it also did a really good job of getting Yoshie of all people over as he remarkably leads the charge against the Makai bullies and takes it to them with some beefy slams and strikes. Guys like Yasuda, Yanagisawa, Nagata etc all play their parts great when they need to do so, and even the more limited guys do get to do their thing without it seeming much of a issue. Super good brawl that supremely took advantage of team dynamics between the two teams and did a considerably impressive job of getting everyone involved. I know the consensus was that early 2000's NJPW was the pits most of the time but this really didn't reflect that as this was a all action and no filler contest that didn't drag and had something for everyone.
  6. This is a fun matchup even though it's rather obvious from the start that it would be better off in a smaller setting than the Tokyo Dome. Suzuki pretty much dominates the matchup from the early going as he has a creative shoot-style counter to all of Nishimura's old-school spots. Eventually catching Nishimura in a cross-armbreaker then focusing his attack on the arm. Just when it looks like Nishimura has no answer for Suzuki's attack he gets a backslide out of nowhere for the win. This was fun but it comes off as a teaser to watch this to could do if you gave them 20+ mins at Korakuen.
  7. Yuji Nagata vs Kensuke Sasaki - NJPW 01/04/04 Up until the finish, I thought this was a classic, bloody, Dome brawl. I was perplexed why no one talked about this match until that finish, which takes it down quite a bit. Sasaki returns, but not to a hero's welcome. No, he must have been portrayed as a turncoat for leaving Inoki's New Japan to join a short-lived Choshu's promotion that would focus more on pro wrestling. Sasaki fit the 90s New Japan Strong Style well, but Sasaki stuck out like a sore thumb in Inoki's MMA-influenced New Japan of the early 2000s, but he comes back here to challenge Inoki's boy, Yuji Nagata at the Dome. Without the title on the line and New Japan in its nadir in terms of critical quality, I can see why this is overlooked, but I thought this was awesome. They are chippy before the match starts and have to be held back during introductions. It feels like Sasaki is a Choshu-like invader taking on the Hero of New Japan. They just stand up and duke it the fuck out. Sasaki rocks him with a slap to the ear. Nagata tries to fight back and Sasaki hits him a lariat. Sasaki goes for the cross-armbreaker to win the match, but Nagata retreats to the outside. Sasaki whips him into the railing and goes for the chair. Nagata in desperation smokes the chair back into Sasaki's face with a wicked kick. Sasaki does a nice blade job. Sasaki gets a lariat to back of Nagata's head and sends him head-first into the post. Nagata does a nasty, gory blade job. We get the double juice and Nagata & Sasaki stand up in the ring and just throw haymakers, headbutts and strikes. It was fucking awesome. Nagata is left in the middle ring laying and you can see the pool of blood forming around the back of the head. Sasaki just goes vampire crazy gnawing on Nagata and then headbutting him. Sasaki gloats and the New Japan crowd boos loudly. Damn! Northern Lights Bomb! He chooses to go for the ten count. He goes for it again, but Nagata gets a wild kick to the head that rocks Sasaki. Nagata follows it up and you really feel like it going to build to this awesome finish and be a slam dunk 2004 match of the year contender, but then Nagata just puts Sasaki in the Rings of Saturn for like 60-90 seconds until Sasaki passes out. It was very anticlimatic. Up until the finish, a damn exciting brawl. I loved the visual of the double juice with them standing up and just trading strikes in the middle of the ring. Sasaki was actually playing a good heel. Definitely worth a look and see.
  8. Recorded via fancam of the event as Young Lion matches were almost universally not filmed outside of some here and there. This in particular is a great showing as it involves two guys who will go on to have strong careers: Ishizawa as the devious Kendo Kashin and Ishikawa as a straight laced ace shooter. Even this early in his career (not even a year) he's pretty great on the mat, and Ishizawa pre Kashin can't coast off his reputation and goofy antics as per standard so he has to do the same. The result is a pretty heated match that starts off with both men hurling out slaps and other strikes in a game of one-upmanship between them while occasionally losing their cool. This also makes the match a bit more interesting beyond it just being two guys aggressively rolling about on the mat, which is still solid, don't get me wrong, but versatility helps a lot here. The match itself is as you can imagine fairly heatless as the crowd only really pick up for the striking portions as they don't really care about these two much at all, so there's a lot of very silent grappling, but this in itself is pretty awesome as the two move at a brisk pace and are as smooth as butter moving from hold to hold. Ishizawa pulls for his signature cross armbreaker at one point from back mount but this is for a majority just them going for takedowns, passing guard and sitting in holds: the pace is what especially is great here as both don't hang around for long in any position, only pulling for submissions when they are 100% sure it could work: Ishikawa uses maybe three actual submissions here and all of them are close calls with the last one being the finish, so they feel threatening. It's really refreshing to see submissions used as tangible match-ending moves than just things to sit around in, with even the hint of a double wrist lock being immediately escaped from. There's some good heat bits as well given Ishikawa acts like a shit with random slaps and even punches in places: Ishizawa responds in kind with his own petty stuff. The middle half has a good bit where Ishizawa manages to force his opponent to break to the ropes due to countering a Achilles Tendon hold: his pettiness makes him immediately jump back to the same leg to work it over again only for Ishikawa to knock him down and use the tease of a toe-hold to snap on a kneebar instead which got the crowd super loud. Ishizawa second submission (a Grovit/front face lock) causes his opponent almost at once to sprint to the ropes to escape, but he doesn't break the hold afterwards and tries to choke him out; hits the ropes again. He tries for it a third time and succeeds, but Ishikawa is more than ready for it this time by catching him in a painful toe hold for the surprise submission win. This is probably my bias talking but this was a really good, short technical wrestling match that felt legit while not completely boring at the same time. Kashin shows off a lot of that technical wrestling excellence that's overshadowed by his trolly persona and Ishikawa is already extremely competent on the mat, balancing good takedowns with some surprising submissions at points. If this is your thing, it's absolutely worth checking out despite the trappings of Young Lion formats given the two push it as far as possible in terms of technical work, because for what could've been just a regular 7-minute rookie match, it was LEAGUES above the standard for these sort of things.
  9. I was fairly hyped for this given Yasuda and Nagata historically have pretty good chemistry and will have a great trio of matches in the next year or so. This kinda sparked that pairing given this is their first major showing against the other, and it starts great with Nagata rushing in for a surprise rolling kick and German suplex combo in the first 10 seconds! The crowd pick up for a full-mount beatdown and a cross armbreaker; Yasuda just about escapes to the ropes. This shakes Yasuda up enough that when he manages to get in his clinch in the turnbuckle he really lets rip with some good-looking knees, as well as just choking Nagata out with his boot. Crowd reacts strongly to him shoving the ref out of the way and threatening the guy; while Yasuda had been a heel in his earlier G1 showings, he wasn't THIS much of a overt heel and this was pre Coward Shooter gimmick so he wasn't full on cartoony villain yet. They brawl on the outside and we get a great spot where Nagata slaps on the Nagata Lock on the apron to really bend back Yasuda's arm. The middle part of this is a bit slower as the two work on the mat: Yasuda isn't amazing but he can hold his own, as shown by him pushing with clinch work and defending against a rear naked choke and triangle armbar respectfully. We get a good spot where Nagata tries for a dropdown Guillotine choke, Yasuda is able to pop his head out mid-fall, beating him up for a pair of rear naked choke attempts. Nagata impressively counters the second with a figure-four no-hands heel hook, which gives him the leverage to go into a full-on Achilles Tendon lock. This is followed up with real sharp kicks from Nagata to work over the leg as well. Nagata sells the shit out of Yasuda snapping up his arms in a clinch before doing the usual sumo chops followed up with a Guillotine and Butterfly Suplex and the crowd really shit themselves when Yasuda tries for another Guillotine, Nagata is just about able to spring his leg up onto the ropes. The finish is excellently done as Yasuda gets a near fall with a sit-out Tiger Driver however Nagata counters a final push for a Guillotine with a Fujiwara Armbar set-up before just pounding the guy with knees to the head to set up Crossface variation of the Nagata Lock, which gets the big win. This was really strongly built throughout with some great scrappy stuff at the beginning before settling down into a good pace between the two as they scramble on the mat. Yasuda is a menace with his clinches and dangerous submissions, and Nagata shines under pressure to deliver a solid babyface performance with tons of teases and fire to get the crowd right into this. Super fun for what it was and definitely worth watching if a fan of their existing trilogy of matches, maybe wanting something a bit less gimmicky than Yasuda's usual Coward Shooter stuff.
  10. I'm going to organize this years matches by what's 2010's AJPW and what's not. Sorry for some inconsistency with the labeling of dates & promotions. I hope this helps folks find cool stuff to watch as well as stir up a little interest in going back and reading old blog posts. Its my version of Match of the Year and other year end award type stuff. Let's do the superlatives first. Best Surprise I think something I would say to start with would be the high quality of wrestling AJPW was putting out in 2011-2014. I obviously have some knowledge of this at the start of the year but I bought most of these DVDs on a hunch a few years back (probably longer if being honest). So I have been pleasantly surprised that I trusted my gut. It's been like the Full Impact Pro stuff from last year. So in a similar situation, I've been surprised in the quality of Zero One and BJW. Again, not much of a positive consensus was given at the time or thereabouts on this stuff. If anything, the impression I got was purchase at your own risk. I touched on this in my previous post, the bounty of material online and the ease of access to that has given my a taste of these promotions and I like it! With many of my projects, I try to find the stuff that I think is most interesting and disregard the rest. Saves me time and hopefully saves you the trouble. More Zero One and BJW for 2023. Best surprise is probably how much I enjoyed the Eddie and Steven Regal WCW TV matches. I don't look back upon Nitro fondly and with good reason but man there was some awesome stuff before the suits took all of their time away. Dean Malenko's the best at these 5-10 minute matches. His stuff with Regal and Guerrero were the best. I'd soured on Dean but these TV bouts were his specialty. Best Feud The Zero One vs NOAH stuff was really cool and had a very 2001 in-transition magic to it. I've watched MLW from around this time and it feels like this... Kinda like "What If this promotion, which was closer to latter day ECW, took off instead of ROH?" Even the 2003_stuff including the Differ Cup stuff feels very unlike NOAH in a very good way. So it wasn't the best feud exactly but an overlooked one in comparison to NOAH vs NJPW from '02-03. I think it has way more character than the NJ one. Burning vs AJPW was pretty darn great especially in tag settings. The best was Burning vs Masa Funaki's Stack of Arms stable...specifically Aoki & Kotaro Suzuki vs Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka. In honesty it felt like the only true feud night in & night out. Underrated Wrestler Naohiro Hoshikawa was simply awesome during the NOAH vs Zero One stuff. Never heard much about him but, he was a real stand out. Takashi Sasaki is another guy I never heard much about other than in name really. Man he's one of my favorite death match wrestlers now. He blends the wrestling and hardcore wrestling near perfectly. It reminds me of Tajiri in ECW in a way. Most underrated worker for the year is KENSO. Dude was mainly upper mid card but acted like a star and the fans responded in kind. When he was given a chance to shine he took the opportunity. KAI vs KENSO 2013 Champ Carnival is a very good example. Best Tag Team I love tag wrestling. AJPW had top shelf stuff. The 2003 Differ Cup and assorted other tags were the real high points of 2022. This is an easy one though. I gotta go with Atsushi Aoki (RIP) and Kotaro Suzuki. Their stuff in 2013 is some of the best stuff of the year. Even their stuff in 2012 NOAH was very good. I do have to give props to Junior Stars (Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka) as they were equally responsible for the awesome feud and boosting my interest in the team. A great later one to watch in 2013 is their 10/27 match vs Keisuke Ishii & Shigehiro Irie. Best Wrestler If we're looking at volume of excellent matches, Jun Akiyama, Go Shiozaki and Suwama are all very solid candidates for best wrestler of the year. Joe Doering is another very good candidate. His stuff in 2014 as champ is absolutely amazing especially his bout vs Shiozaki (more on that later). Doering before then doesn't make a big enough impression as a star. He's more like Suwama's big gaijin buddy until later. Suwama is a great ace and the face of of AJPW especially when the NOAH guys invaded in 2013. He has some real classic matches but also disappointed me in smaller bouts and even in some title fights. He reminds me of later Misawa in that regard. Not bad company to be in at but, maybe not for the greatest of reasons. Shiozaki has been the spark of AJPW in 2013 & 2014. He's brought an energy and intensity to every fight - singles, tags, six mans. That said he's one dimensional in that regard. That is how he's booked. We know that he can play plucky from his stuff in 2005, he can do powerhouse and heel stuff from his time in ROH & FIP. Here he's co-ace with Suwama and he does a great job. However every performance is coming from the same place emotionally. Akiyama is different from all of these guys as he's past his prime. He's Tenryu for the 2010's. He's tough, clever and mean. His style really harkens back to an older AJPW style now that his body won't allow him to perform as he once did. This may sound pretty silly but he actually tells stories in his matches. He makes little things matter ever if it just for one match. Like Tenryu or Fujiwara he sells a lot through his facial expressions at this point of his career. Not just selling as in "ow this hurts" but selling the story. He shows his anger, disgust, frustration. I think he's always done this but was maybe overlooked because of the types of matches he was able to do at the time. But I still wouldn't say he's the Best Wrestler for 2022. Akiyama is 2010's Tenryu and in that regard he's not really an underdog. He's still a big deal and the only BIG name in late 2013-14 All Japan. Takao Omori is my wrestler of the year. He wrestles/performs his story. That is to say, he's the heart & soul of All Japan. He wants to be there and in some ways I feel his goal was to always come back after the NOAH split and his time in Zero One. So when Akiyama, Kanemaru want to come back to AJPW and bring their NOAH pals, he doesn't want them there. He wants to be an AJPW wrestler and didn't come back for the money or notoriety or was forced to come there. But not just that, he does everything that Akiyama does. He along with Jun are bringing the old AJPW to the 2010's. You can see and feel it in how the matches are paced and structured. Akiyama will bring this most of the time but sometimes relies on routine, Omori always tries to work this older, richer style. A fantastic example is his 2013 Champion Carnival match against Shiozaki (04/25/13) or Jun Akiyama vs. Takao Omori (Vacant Triple Crown Title - 06/15/14). All in all, I want to give Takao Omori the credit he is due. For his consistency, quality, stylistic choices, and storytelling he is the Best Wrestler. Now onto the big list of matches... 2010's AJPW (and related matches) Honorable Mention: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Hiroshi Yamato (06/02/2013) Near Classic Matches: Jun Akiyama, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Kotaro Suzuki vs Takao Omori, Manabu Soya & Kaz Hayashi (02/10/13) Jun Akiyama vs KAI (04/29/13) Suwama & SUSHI vs Go Shiozaki & Kotaro Suzuki (07/21/13) Kensuke Sasaki, Jun Akiyama & Go Shiozaki vs Suwama, Takao Omori & Kento Miyahara (08/31/13 Diamond Ring) Joe Doering & Suwama vs. Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori (AJPW - 02/08/14) Classic Matches: Sanada/Soya vs Yuji Okabayashi and Daisuke Sekimoto (03/21/11) Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka (c) vs Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki (03/17/13) Suwama vs Go Shiozaki (04/18/13) Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka vs Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki (04/25/13) Minoru Tanaka, Koji Kanemoto & Hiroshi Yamato vs Atsushi Aoki, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Kotaro Suzuki (04/29/13) Jun Akiyama and Go Shiozaki vs. Joe Doering and Suwama (06/02/2013) Akiyama & Shiozaki vs Omori & Suwama (2/3 falls 07/28/13) Go Shiozaki & Jun Akiyama vs. Suwama & Takao Omori (08/17/13) Go Shiozaki vs Suwama (Triple Crown, 08/25/13) Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori vs. Go Shiozaki & Kento Miyahara (10/27/13) Jun Akiyama vs. Takao Omori (Vacant Triple Crown Title - 06/15/14) Joe Doering (c) vs. Go Shiozaki (10/29/14 -Triple Crown Title) Burning Wild vs Xceed (11/29/14) Doering/Shingo vs Hino/Miyahara (12/04/14 Fortune Dream) Everything Else Honorable Mention: Bruiser Brody vs Jumbo Tsuruta (10/14/83) Dory Funk Jr. vs Stan Hansen (AJPW 11/28/83) Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Genichiro Tenryu (NJPW 09/26/1993) Lord Steven Regal vs Dean Malenko (WCW 08/19/96) Naomichi Marufuji vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa (ZERO1 03/02/2001) Shinya Hashimoto & Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Daisuke Ikeda & Takashi Sugiura (ZERO1 09/15/2001) Ikuto Hidaka & Masao Orihara vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Yoshihito Sasaki (Differ Cup 2003) Kotaro Suzuki, Yoshinari Ogawa & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Atsushi Aoki, Bryan Danielson & Doug Williams (NOAH 10/25/08) Aoki & Suzuki vs Marvin & Super Crazy - (NOAH 07/22/12) Near Classic Matches: Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Jericho (WCW Fall Brawl 09/14/97) Kentaro Shiga & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (ZERO1 09/15/2001) Mitsuharu Misawa & Masahiro Chono vs Kenta Kobashi & Akira Taue (01/10/03 NOAH) Madoka & Kengo Mashimo vs Katsumasa Inoue & Daisuke Sekimoto (BJW 03/14/07) Classic Matches: Baba & Dory Jr. vs Hansen & Brody (AJPW 12/10/83) Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio (WCW Halloween Havoc, Mask vs Title October 26, 1997) Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs Naomichi Marufuji (NOAH 12/09/01) Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito vs Shinjiro Otani & Masato Tanaka (01/10/03 NOAH) Jushin Liger & Takehiro Murahama vs. Tsubasa & Black Buffalo (02/1/03 Osaka Pro) Samoa Joe vs Homicide (ROH Do Or Die – May 2003) Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels (ROH Glory by Honor II - September 2003) Samoa Joe vs AJ Styles (ROH War of the Wire - November 2003) Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels vs AJ Styles (TNA Against All Odds 2006) Takashi Sasaki vs Yuko Miyamoto - Scaffold and Light tube (BJW 03/14/07) Takashi Sasaki vs Ryuji Ito: 300 light tube death match (BJW 07/08/07) Masato Tanaka v Togi Makabe (Zero One 08/03/08) Shiozaki, Suzuki & Aoki vs Otani, Hidaka & Hashimoto - (NOAH 05/09/12) All Time Classic Matches: AJ Styles vs Bryan Danielson (ROH Main Event Spectacles 2003) Well there it is...AJ vs Danielson. Thanks folks, see ya in 2023! ...just kidding. So the best match watched in 2022 was AJ vs Danielson at ROH Main Event Spectacles 2003. That's a known classic that lives up to the hype. That's awesome but I'm flipping the script and picking something different A couple others come to mind from AJPW 2013: Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka (c) vs Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki (03/17/13) Suwama vs Go Shiozaki (04/18/13) Akiyama & Shiozaki vs Omori & Suwama (2/3 falls 07/28/13) Some from the Everything Else category that really stuck with me this year are: Samoa Joe vs Homicide (ROH Do Or Die – May 2003) Masato Tanaka v Togi Makabe (Zero One 08/03/08) There might be some others that I raved about in my blog at the time so by all means believe those words. However scanning over both lists these ones really, really stuck out in my mind. The first Jr. tag match is on there because its the first in their series and just knocked my socks off. Suwama vs Shiozaki is the because it's their first meeting, there's so much tension and hype but it lives up to it sets the stage for ace vs conquering ace. Its a Champion Carnival match on the first night so both guys are fresh and ready to go. The 2/3 falls tag is there because it is a stipulation you just don't see anymore but was a staple of AJPW tags going back to the 70's. That was a conscious choice to use it here in order to help revive/restore a truer All Japan style (they use it in a Shiozaki vs Suwama match I didn't see as well). We see that in how this match is worked as well. Its my quintessential Burning vs All Japan heavyweight tag. Joe vs Homicide is here because I'd didn't really see this get talked about other than Mcxal's awesome complete ROH blog. He and I match up with our views/ratings and he wasn't wrong. I didn't go one about this on my Joe post but it was because I couldn't not do it justice but, "Intense violent title fight" really is true. Tanaka vs Makabe falls into that category as well. It just did everything right for me. I said back in February, "more Southern brawl (with heel cheating) than a late 00's puro match. It had a couple hardcore spots but in the ways of later ECW/FMW plus it was intense and hard hitting as you wanted for 2008." All that aside, my pick for the best match watched in 2022 is Joe Doering vs Go Shiozaki (10/29/14 -Triple Crown Title). As much as people had said Doering was channeling Stan Hansen, Shiozaki was channeling Misawa. If this period is about restoring the true classic AJPW style then I think they nailed it here. "It never felt like they were killing time or working a sequence. Because just when you thought they were going to do something expected, they did something else. Expect the unexpected is a phrase I kept in mind early on and it stayed relevant throughout. Don't anticipate some slick or cute match. Its nasty and a little rough around the edges at times but man! That's part of what makes it worth your time. A classic match and a fight worthy of the Triple Crown title." So there you have it! Another year gone...Holy Cow! I feel like I watched a ton of wrestling this year by the looks of this list. Again, I hope this helps you out and if you're new around here, go check out my posts from 2022. And please join me in 2023! Thanks for reading! It really means a lot to me and thanks to anyone who left me comments. I've got some good stuff planned for the new year. Take care everyone
  11. These two definitely have their detractors but this for me personally was a great showing. This was the kind of match that you would inevitably expect from both men as they mostly go into Koji's bombs and strikes vs Nishimura's old school limb work, namely to the legs where he can snipe Koji off his feet and wear the man down due to having one leg taped up at this point and time. Koji's selling is also pretty good; he's always been pretty solid at emoting pain and frustration, and he does so a ton here to really showcase Nishimura's control segments well while never going massively into the usual screaming and shouting shit that he can just default to doing in any hold. At one point Kojima lariats Nishimura's leg in a gloriously goofy spot. This match is also helped a lot by a very hot crowd who are firmly behind Nishimura: again making the claim that he "lacks charisma" immensely silly. The guy gets frenzied chants off getting stuck and then struggling in a single leg Boston Crab, you really can't get more over than that unless you want prime Hogan levels. We get some nice bombs here and there with a top rope Koji Cutter; the spot where Nishimura finally drops the gameplan and goes for a big top rope dropkick and Koji no sells and just has his sinister expression on his face like "you fucked up" was amazing, as was the crowd exploding when Koji missed the following lariat and got caught in a Cobra Twist. Nishimura gets wrecked near the end with a number of bombs including a rough rebound lariat, but his bad leg stops him from making the pin fast enough so he gets a 2.9. Crowd AGAIN goes ape-shit and finally bursts as Nishimura dodges a second lariat into a Cobra Twist cradle for the pin. This is a pretty good match that helped a ton by the crowd just eating every little bit up and going crazy for Nishimura's antics. Kojima lands some solid bombs and works great as the straight-laced antagonist to shut down hope spots and keep this firmly under control with his usual explosive style. It's a fairly shortish match for Nishimura standards as well (sub-20) so it feels immensely fresh as a result and not too muddled in Nishimura getting his shtick over with numerous extended sequences. Big highlight out of binge-watching Nishimura's G1 outings.
  12. This year has been relatively an AJPW focused year. So I thought I'd squeeze in a quickie spotlight on my favorite NJ wrestler, Tatsumi Fujinami. No real theme or anything beyond matches I found online that looked cool Bob Backlund vs Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW 01/01/82): Man, this is 40 almost 41 years old. Anyhow, this is 15 minute technical duel and I loved it. Its the type of match (and time) where they escaped or reversed holds rather than use rope breaks. This could have gone on much longer but we get a weird finish. It legitimately looked like the ref counted in an odd manner and the finish didn't go as planned. I know its the 80's but this didn't even look like a finish. These two are master technicians so I don't think they would have had this look or end as clunky as it did. But screw that, everything else before was gold. I'd say it was a great match except for the finie. Dos Caras & Jimmy Snuka VS Kengo Kimura & Tatsumi Fujinami (NJ Tag League 1985): Fun tag match with Dos Caras working his ass off. 1985, it could be 1995 with all of the springboard moves he does. Otherwise nothing terribly remarkable but a fun high energy go-go tag match. It's typical of most NJPW tag matches of the era. What is remarkable is again Dos Caras AND he's posted the full match on his YouTube channel. So I figure it is OK to share it here: ----- Kevin Von Erich vs Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW in Shizuoka 1986): 80's finish but this is off the hook so it doesn't matter. Kevin is a wild mad man! Everything he does looks fantastic. Scoop slams and snap mares even. Credit due to Fujinami for bumping like this. It really sells the match. You know Kevin reminds me of Muto in his explosive athleticism. Imagine those bursts from Muto but for 12 minutes. On top of that they work a little story with the claw and Fujinami going after the hands in order to take that away from Von Erich. Really good stuff. Fujinami has a pink ring jacket that I don't think even flies in 1986...check that out too Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW 12/11/1991): I think this is one I've wanted to see for some time. It was good but nothing terribly remarkable. And that probably sounds like crap when it was actually good wrestling. I figure they wanted to show how Liger would stack up against Fujinami. He does very well but it feels like an off night for him or something. I just wasn't as excited as I expected to be. This was neither a technical duel or an all out action match. Too high of expectations? I don't think so. I just felt like they wanted to have a 'just a pretty good match' and they totally accomplished that. Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Genichiro Tenryu (NJPW 09/26/1993): Fucking great match! I haven't seen enough of the NJ vs Tenryu feud as I want to but have seen enough & know enough. This is a big deal. Tenryu is beating Fujinami from pillar to post. The Dragon does not quit and will find a way to turn the tide if he can. Not a long match but that doesn't matter. The pace is all right for the bout. Glad to see Tenryu too, it's been awhile! Keiji Muto vs Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW 2001 AJPW Triple Crown match): 15 minutes long or so. This was a really neat match that focused on actual wrestling on the mat. Fujinami in particular showed moments of brilliance in his counters. Towards the end they sprinkled in some bigger moves like the Shining Wizard. Perhaps this match worked around some physical limitations of the workers or maybe it was just really clever, focused and unique. Shit, maybe it's all those things! I thought that this was pretty darn good...perhaps great depending on your preferences. Pretty fun little project to do after work this week. I totally recommend sneaking in a match or two this holiday weekend. I don't think anything was longer than 20 minutes. Just sneak out on Xmas day B.S. and watch some great wrestling instead. Thank you as always for reading, be safe and happy holidays folks!
  13. This is a two birds with one stone post. I wanted to get a little more Zero One in this year as well as get back to early 2000s NOAH. I was going through my 2001 list and realized I had a mini project with Zero One vs NOAH in 2001. There's some better known stuff and a couple I'd never heard of. Let's jump in! Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Shinya Hashimoto & Alexander Otsuka (January 13th, 2001) : A good match that goes a long way on the Misawa vs Hashimoto interactions. Very exciting and extremely well worked despite not being memorable from an action standpoint. This is a big one but I think would've been better with someone other than Otsuka. Naomichi Marufuji vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa - ZERO1 - 03/02/2001 : Great match! This is one I wanted to see for a long time as it was highly recommended on Quebrada (which was my gateway to serious puro fandom). It didn't really disappoint either. Now I wouldn't call it a classic in 2022 but 21 years ago, I could certainly buy that rating. Marufuji is spot on here and Hoshikawa is someone who looked ready to break out in the new millennium. He's like a beefier KENTA. This is kinda the template for their NOAH classics. I'd really recommend watching this match. It just has this really neat early 2000's transitional vibe to it. Like you could see where 2000's wrestling was headed but it was grounded by 90's sensibilities. From a personal perspective, I was only 5-6 years removed from this match when I found out about it. It's taken me 15 years to see it. Ha! A weird existential/where-has-the-time-gone feeling came over me when thinking about that. Like using wrestling as a way to measure the passage of time. Kentaro Shiga & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa & Tatsuhito Takaiwa - ZERO1 - 09/15/2001: This was off the hook! Fantastic junior action from bell-to-bell. The mix of styles is what I think did if for me. Zero One is power & kicks vs NOAH's speed and technique. It made for some great interactions and unexpected moments. And thy showed restraint by not emptying their tanks. They are building up the program and there's not much more you can do than this. It got over exactly as it needed too. I'm calling this a lost near classic junior tag match. It was a blast! Shinya Hashimoto & Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Daisuke Ikeda & Takashi Sugiura - ZERO1 - 09/15/2001: Where did this come from? Holy cow this is a interesting matchup. It's clever and exciting. Its much more like a 1986-87 NJPW heavyweight strong style tag. It's been awhile since I watched this type of stuff and this was appreciated. Yeah buddy, go check this shit out. Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Shinjiro Otani & Takao Omori (October 12, 2001) Back in the green ring of Noah. This is neat as Omori is here as a cast off from the early days of Noah but there's that great AJPW history that ties him to Ogawa & Misawa. Then you've got Otani who has no love for Ogawa or Misawa whether you want to draw upon his NJ history or as one of the top stars of the fledgling Zero One. It's a simple match but a great one. I think what elevates it is that the little touches are done right. And perhaps it's because it is 2001 and we're not that far away from when wrestling (as in holds, storytelling over moves etc.) mattered. Compare this to nowadays or 2011 AJ which I was just watching, and working a few holds in between moves, escalating the action and selling rather than acting as a tough guy seems so very old fashioned. But dammit, those things work! And this isn't a text book example of those things but they're in the match and this small venue/B show main event was exciting and got me engaged. And rather than beat the scrap out of each other, go move crazy or whatever, they did a simple yet dramatic tag battle with good heel/face work, well timed counters & spots, and some believable near falls (rare as a unicorn nowadays). Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (10/19/01) - Very good to great Jr. Heavyweight title fight. Lots of bombs thrown and no way will you not dig this match. Nice counter moves and surprises... just a lot of fun and believable near falls. Naomichi Marufuji & KENTA vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (11/30/01) - A prelude to the Marufuji/Takaiwa encounter. Its 13 minutes of really good junior tag action. KENTA hasn't quite found his identity yet and its the earliest I've seen him. The potential is visible already. The Zero-One team is a great combo and Hoshikawa impressed again. As a lead in to the match below, there's no reason not to see this. Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs Naomichi Marufuji (12/09/01): This is a classic junior match because of all of bananas shit that takes place. It definitely belongs in the list of awesome Junior matches of early NOAH and perhaps it's the first one. But not only is it shocking (in a good way) but its clever at times as well. Takaiwa attacks the leg quite viciously and Marufuji's real only offense is his side kick (super kick) and taking flying leaps of the top rope. And his only defense is trying to counter Takaiwa with a pinning combination or endure the onslaught and maybe get lucky. I will say with a bit more structure this could have been a high end classic and be scratching at an all time classic (****3/4-*****) however it's just sneaking in at ****1/2. I try to avoid stars anymore because I'm splitting hairs with fractions so yeah low-end classic but a classic nonetheless In summary, this was extremely fun to watch. There's variety in styles and match-ups. The intensity was there. The action was exciting and surprising at times. It was exactly what I wanted. Everything here is easy to find online. If nothing else, pick 2-3 matches to watch. If you haven't seen Misawa in awhile, go with those. You want guys kicking people, Hashimoto and Hoshikawa got you covered. It is hard to go wrong with anything here. Be kind and patient with people this holiday season. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. Thanks for reading!
  14. Let's go back to 2011 and see what I missed the first time around. I'll post the links to the Gaora YouTube videos for your enjoyment: Minoru Tanaka vs Kaz Hiyashi (01/02/11): This was a very good junior battle with two legends of the style. I think they have something better in them but this was still pretty good stuff. My issue is with how they're not really transitioning control from one guy to the other. It does seem a bit like 'your turn-my turn' and I'd like to see a reason why Minoru is able to now do his arm bar or brainbuster after getting whooped on for 3 minutes. Same goes for Kaz. And this is the whole thing. They have really great sequences planned but no good or simple way to get to them other than 'OK now we do dueling kicks' or 'now we do the turnbuckle spots.' And they are impressive and athletic on their own but putting 20 of those in a row doesn't make a great match. Watch below and maybe you will feel differently. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-nkbRoz6Yjk&list=PL9GbOLsWy6qLCD-R4zPkA9lUAtbzj06bm&index=4 Suwama (c) vs. Taiyo Kea (01/11/11): This was a smart match especially by Kea. He stayed focused on working Suwama's neck. And well Suwama worked Kea's ribs throughout. So I really liked that. And this was a good fight. I'd say it ***1/2 stars. Just really solid heavyweight wrestling. Sanada/Soya vs Yuji Okabayashi and Daisuke Sekimoto (03/21/11): This was a classic tag match in my book. I think 3 out of the 4 guys wrestle like Riki Choshu/Kensuke and the 4th guy like prime Muto so as long as they stick to that then we're gonna get a very good bout. But this is for the tag belts and they bring everything. Strong BJW is a really fantastic at this time in AJ. This isn't on Gaora but your 'day to day movement' video website has it for you. Search it out! Suwama & Masakatsu Funaki vs Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi (05/15/11): Great inter-promotional tag battle! Hard hitting, spiteful stuff. Nakanishi does not get the love he deserves. There's not a ton to go on about here. This is exactly what I wanted and expected. Firm **** stuff https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2j0IrWl-9t4&list=PL9GbOLsWy6qLCD-R4zPkA9lUAtbzj06bm&index=7 Yuji Nagata VS Seiya Sanada [2011 Champion Carnival Battle]: Sweet sassy molassy Sanada took a beating. This was a near great match where Sanada took the pain train. An absolute treat to watch for a Yuji Nagata fan - striking mixed with grappling. He was really testing Sanada. But in all fairness Sanada really got a boost going toe to toe with such a decorated wrestler. He kept things fun and the outcome was in doubt. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LDiVWNX_p9Y&list=PL9GbOLsWy6qLCD-R4zPkA9lUAtbzj06bm&index=87 KAI vs Kenny Omega (Junior League Match 2011) : Yeah this was borderline great stuff. I continue to be a fan of KAI. Kenny was pretty hit or miss. He's got his mannerisms that work in some regards. When he's selling his abdomen injury then it works but once he moved on to just selling exhaustion/punch drunk it gets a bit melodramatic. That coupled with his ability to snap out of this fatigue/stupor to do drop kicks and other cardio moves takes away from the match. He's just waiting for his turn. That said KAI doesn't get into this behavior. He is the rock of the match and doesn't get too swayed to get carried away. I originally ordered a DVD with this match but got sent the wrong one (which features the awesome KAI vs Kanemoto match). So it was nice to see this finally but am quite happy that I got the Kanemoto match instead. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nGKO7Sz-1no&list=PL9GbOLsWy6qLCD-R4zPkA9lUAtbzj06bm&index=74 --- A pretty fun little project. Definitely seek out the Soya/Sanada vs Strong BJW tag match. Then go watch the Nagata matches. The links are above so you've got no excuse Thank you for reading!!
  15. This was a really amusing match despite only going about 4 and a half minutes. They get the ongoing Tiger Mask/Kuniaki Kobayashi feud over by having him attack mid-entrance, and the two have a scrappy back and forth with Kobayashi getting the lead with some nasty kicks. That's the story going into this; Sayama is hurt, Les is not, albeit the latter sells it more like a head blow than general fatigue, so he's not really any slower or less capable, just hurting. These two had a match last year and it was....decent, but nothing special: the two don't really work that well together despite being fairly well respected wrestlers in their own right. They start off with Mask hurling out kicks and whatnot like normal, but can't overpower Thornton just hurling him down to the mat. Boston Crab gets countered into a throw out of the ring and a Tiger Feint, business as usual. Some leg work between the two as Thornton counters with some clubs to the back and a backbreaker that gets oversold by Sayama like he got shot or something. Some knees to the head before Thornton has to hold hands with his opponent so they can do the fancy monkey flip off the floor spot, which fair play to both men, it looked great. Thornton hooks the arm for a key lock but Mask goes into a standing headscissors, which Thornton just powers out into a armbar instead. Eventually he gets out of it by doing a full on backflip into a hip toss and some knee drops. Moment of truth as we get a Tombstone out of Mask which almost is botched, but they manage to bounce off the ropes to get some extra time to get the leverage right and it goes off without a problem. Now this was going smoothly.....but things fall off for the finish lol. Sayama primes the Diving Headbutt for a near fall, Thornton just stands up abruptly for no reason other than for him to land the German suplex for the pin, but he sandbags the shit out of him for it and immediately no sells by springing right up with no issues as soon as the pin is counted. Sayama plays ball for a bit as he sells afterwards, but when he notices that Thornton is right up when talking to the ref, this dude gets MAD. Like I've seen the trainee footage, I've seen him kick Maeda's head like a football so hard he fell over, but he was especially violent here as he walks up to Thornton and kicks him hard as anything in the back of the head, and once in the stomach. Thornton isn't badly hurt, but he quickly gets out when Sayama squares up. That's probably the most entertaining part of this match, but for a sprint-form of their (IIRC much slower and worse last year match) I thought it worked, even though Thornton was essentially getting jobbed out here with how quick the entire thing was. Reasonably fun for what it was, and the violence post-match was daft but definitely fascinating.
  16. This was interesting. Bret really was mechanically very good even this early, when he had yet to see his 25th birthday. But my biggest takeaway from this is, "Oh, so that's why so many wrestlers have long hair." The right hair and ring attire gives everything a bit more umph, and that's a lot of what's lacking here -- just that everything seems so small. Besides that, the match is technically well worked but on the bland side, although by the standards of 1982, it's pretty action-packed. I like Bret working as a power junior, with the biggest aspect of his game being hard strikes and a great suplex. The timing on the dropkick as Bret was running the ropes was fantastic, and I'll never complain about a butterfly suplex getting a win. Not really hugely memorable, but a good, enjoyable match. ***1/4
  17. This match combined two of my favorite archetypes in wrestling: two tough guys beating the tar out of each other and the surly veteran teaching the young gun a lesson. Narita being the protege of Katsuyori Shibata, one of Ishii’s fiercest rivals, has probably studied plenty of tape on his opponent. That manifests in ways like Narita cutting short Ishii’s counter sequences with a sleeper hold or a kick to the head. Ishii, ever the resilient underdog, may have met his match in Narita. Ren gets just as aggressive as he does, dishing out punishment with unruly slaps. Ishii fires back by simply chopping Narita in the throat repeatedly. It was a visceral sight, and Narita’s approach to selling was varied. He didn’t just grit his teeth and fight through the pain, but registered the damage to his throat throughout the match. The former usually bothers me, as I prefer when wrestlers show vulnerability, but Narita’s determination and desperation to prove himself against one of NJPW’s most respected wrestlers worked. The match was also laid out masterfully, with Ishii controlling the pace and Narita making the most of his hope spots. Narita’s offense looked fantastic, whether he was going strike-for-strike with Ishii or dealing out Manjigatames and Cobra Twists to fatigue Tomohiro. Another issue I’ve had with Ishii’s recent matches is the number of spots where both competitors are laid out on the mat, selling. The sole moment when that happened was towards the end of the match, with both being spent after withstanding so much punishment. The crowd got firmly behind Narita, but the closer they got to the end of the time limit, the more urgent the match became. Ishii started throwing bombs left and right, but Narita kicked out. Narita dodged a Sliding D and rallied after a shoulder tackle. Ishii went for a lariat, but in a last-gasp effort to win, Narita summoned all of the energy he could muster. Narita slapped the taste out of Ishii’s mouth and got downed by a lariat. Still, it was only enough for a two-count. Ishii barely survived a Jujigatame and an Enziguri. He bounced off the ropes for another lariat, but Narita caught him with a Kanuki Suplex for the win. I adored how they turned the NJPW formula on its head. The match didn’t end with a flashy series of counters and a bunch of unearned kickouts, but with Narita being in the right place at the right time and catching Ishii off-guard. This was the antithesis of the modern New Japan epic right down to the finish, and it was beautiful. I’ve likened Narita to Shibata in the past, and this match will only further those comparisons. His execution was on-point, his sense of timing and awareness immaculate, and his ability to take a formula that has otherwise become rote and tell a time-tested story with it impressed. The match was a sub-fifteen-minute delight with plenty of nuances to set it apart and the correct winner.
  18. NJPW handheld flood gives us Liger's first shot at the IWGP Jr. Title. Altough this is very different from the matches that would come in the future. Essentially young Yamada is a huge underdog against shootstylist Takada. During the early matwork portion Yamada is super cautious to avoid all of Takada's UWF submissions. Eventually Takada gets sick of this and blasts him with kicks. Takada goes for the Tombstone but Yamada desperately avoids that move aswell. Soon Yamada is selling big and the crowd is going bananas for every offensive move and counter he is able to land. Basic match executed extremely well and really fun to check out a way different Liger.
  19. It's a big shame that due to bad timing and some other external factors (Hashimoto leaving NJPW shortly after Nishimura returned from cancer treatment) this is the only singular time these two would share a ring in a singles match. It's also a shame because Hashimoto's intensity with Nishimura's style makes this a pretty great match for what it's worth, with them immediately establishing the tone with Nishimura bumping hard for leg kicks, trying for some Inoki-crab sweeps that get no-sold as Hashimoto coldly stares him down. Nishimura's frustration at being treated like this definitely shines though as he gets beaten down, but keeps getting back up every time despite the beating being given, refusing to properly give in. He is scared shitless pretty early on however; you see that as he rolls out and then looks like a deer in the headlights when trying to get back in. Hashimoto lands some nasty big-man offence as he does a stiff elbow and then a hard back-first senton in succession, which causes gasps in the crowd. Nishimura does get some control with a frenzy of iffy forearm shots, but Hashimoto's damage to the leg means he can't keep up the momentum and gets shut down with some brilliantly sold kicks to the body. This does become more of a generic affair as Nishimura counters a backfist with a Cobra Twist before going for some bombs of his own. Hashimoto of course shuts this down with more really well sold kicks to the body. We get some great intensity with the leg work as Nishimura just starts barking stuff while pulling as much as he can while in a figure-four in a attempt to disable the best feature of his opponent. Hashimoto also gets in some fighting spirit screams as he eats some crab-sweeps to the leg before landing just a nasty, vicious chop/kick combo to send Nishimura flailing to the ground. At one point he just goes ballistic with chops, doing them even when Nishimura is on the ground and out already. He follows up with a stiff spinning wheel kick and a DDT that Nishimura almost RVD-sells for which gets the win. Really good work despite how quick this was; so much intensity is communicated with just 10 minutes of time. The stare downs, the no selling mind games between the pair, Nishimura hurling himself around; it all just works to provide a really awesome short match that got a fairly lethargic crowd to get surprisingly well behind this despite Nishimura having no real chance against the big Ace of the promotion. Damn shame we never got to see these two work longer; they would've killed it in the early 2000's with more time and Nishimura being a actual threat.
  20. God, sometimes I forget how good Nagata was before he became a gimmick wrestler. I’m sure making goofy faces, turning his eyes white and finding a couple of spots to recycle in every match made his life a lot easier, but I definitely don’t consider it as creatively interesting as his early 2000s work. This match isn’t without flaws-at one point you see Nagata do a wacky Release German Suplex before going for a lame leg hook pin, and on the “is this something Inoki would do” scale this gets a stern no. He’d either hit a perfect bridge on that damn Suplex or work the (not huge but still ostensibly present) size difference into the match and opting for a Cradle pin or a Takedown instead. But, the roughness is what gives this match its charm, and Inokiism bring a wonderful pastiche of wacky pro wrestling and MMA really unique to wrestling history, even compared to other “shooty” styles. Yasuda is a former rikishi and thus has an advantage in the clinch, they are about evenly matched on the ground but Nagata possesses a wider array of joint locks Yasuda is just a brute who’s going to put his forearm in Nagata’s throat and go for simple chokes. This dichotomy is present on their feet too although there Nagata’s finesse in kicking techniques helps him prevail over Yasuda’s roughhouseness. Whether you call it genius wrestling storytelling or a simple dedication to identities of wrestling characters-it’s really cool to see Nagata throw lame forearms and get punched out for all he’s good only to realise his only solution is to revere back to his kicking, it’s such a breath of frash air to see something like struggle over underhooks and overhooks and Yasuda blocking Nagata’s Belly To Belly by grabbing his hooks and just steamrolling him into the corner. You get Nagata preying on in an S mount, PRIDE-esque grounded knees and Tiger Drivers and a wacky Indian Deathlock/Figure 4/whatever Nagata Lock I is supposed to be and the internal logic of the match remains consistent, because they are merely (a very visually pleasing, which is very important in a performance art!) substance, the form is what drives this to excellence. ****1/4
  21. Man, I love this matchup. Young Punk Choshu was the best. You can say what you want about Inoki, but he was great at portraying himself as an untouchable badass. You look at some of the stuff Inoki does here and it's no wonder people thought he was a genius. He also always has these crazy facial expressions. I think the first 15 minutes or so of this didn't even have a bump but still ended up mesmerizing pro wrestling. This was worked like a technical battle of megastars so that was really cool. Both guys struggled hard and every movement could possibly lead to a finish which is exactly what you want from a match with really high stakes. Choshu was aggressive and really putting Inoki through the wringer, not just when he throw punches and stomps, but also in his grappling, butting heads when looking up and uncorking a super tight front headlock roll. Inoki came across as calm and cool headed so exactly the perfect counterpart to Choshu's rage. His selling was really strong too, at the beginning of the match he was dominating on the ground, but after Choshu really put the torque on him with the Scorpion Deathlock he was limping and stalling. Seeing the cool headed Inoki getting into desperation mode when Choshu tried the move again was great too. A limping Inoki punching Choshu in the face from the knees was epic and so was Choshu trying to bulldoze the legend with lariats and suplexes. I think if they had continued in that vein the match would've cruised into my all time top 10-20, but instead they slowed down again and went back to the holds. It was still really strong work and they delivered a great, clean finish. For a clash of the titans type match in front of a super hot 80s crowd that was mostly built around matwork this pretty much delivered all you can ask for.
  22. Interpromotional matches in Japanese pro-wrestling are the best. This part of the New Japan vs. UWF feud and Takada is here to kick butt and to me he is clearly the star of this match. He puts an absolute beating on Yamada just blasting him with slaps, kicks and hitting him with one of the nastiest tombstone piledrivers I’ve ever seen in my life. Takada is not afraid of throwing hands with Inoki either, however the main focus of this is the Yamada beatdown. Kido is perfectly fine in his invading role as well, but he more so just along for the ride.
  23. I was pleasantly surprised how well-done this was for a barely 10 minute match. Both of these guys work a Jr-style pace of the time while combining that with a TON of submission wangling and smart mat-work while making sure nothing drags for too long. The start of this in particular sets that tone perfectly as the two just spam kneebars and cross armbreakers on each other over and over to try to catch the other guy out. Some could say this was unrealistic: I would say otherwise given these two didn't make this nonsensically fast-paced and made sure to sell the struggle of either man escaping and then applying said submissions. Kashin is naturally as hit-or-miss as ever but I do think even naysayers have to admit that this was a strong performance out of him: he really sells the desperation at points as he struggles to get a win while pulling all of his usual rule-bending shit to do so. Tanaka responds with some surprisingly brutal spots: him consistently dropkicking Kashin's trapped leg in the ropes endlessly and turning a Torture Rack into a nasty rear naked choke are good examples. The match gets real ugly after Tanaka tries for a dive and fails, with a frustrated Kashin throwing him over the guardrail and hitting him with a horrifically stiff chair throw to his back. Tanaka sells for a bit but quickly goes back into submission attempts. He throws a ton of offence at Kashin and tries to find the sweet spot, but his defence is just way too good for him to crack. Eventually he makes the mistake of trying for a standing cross armbreaker transition as a dig at Kashin which the latter counters and smoothly steps in and rolls over into his own for the sneaky win. Gotta say, this is somewhat all over the place; some might say spotty at times with the amount of submissions and flashy shit: but I loved it. Tanaka is so fast on the mat and Kashin provides that grit via his selling, but also his sharp strikes and effective mat-defence. Tanaka's strikes felt a bit too floaty at points and lacked impact but they weren't really the main focus of the match, so I tended to ignore them. The selling is spotty on Tanaka's side and I felt like he didn't quite sell the damage he was taking over the course of the match nearly as well as Kashin was but regardless both put on a top-notch performance here for a fast-paced tournament-format match. A very good match and a breeze to get through.
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