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Gran Hamada

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Kind of feels like the Japanese Tommy Rich, in that if we had enough of his prime footage I suspect he'd be considered a lock, but operating with what we have it's harder to put him on that level. Still as with Rich I kind of feel compelled to rank him. I actually THINK Rich has the better resume of what's available but what I do like about Hamada is that the early stuff we have shows him looking great and ahead of his time, and then fifteen-twenty years later he was often one of my favorite two guys in any random M-Pro multi-man. I would like to see if anyone has a list or idea of must see Hamada singles matches, but he is absolutely someone I want to rate.

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Is it just me or is Hamada's contribution to those Michinoku Pro tags wildly overstated? They could have replaced him with someone else and the matches would have been just as good. Even his best performance in the 12/16 tag is overshadowed by Yakushiji. I prefer his UWA trios work.

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Is it just me or is Hamada's contribution to those Michinoku Pro tags wildly overstated? They could have replaced him with someone else and the matches would have been just as good. Even his best performance in the 12/16 tag is overshadowed by Yakushiji. I prefer his UWA trios work.

 

If nothing else, I thought Hamada was important to those matches because as a veteran, his presence in those matches served as a needed contrast to Kaientai’s disrespectful, young punk personas. I think they got that point across in their matches, too. At the very least, it came across that way to me when I first watched them. Hamada filled a needed role. Sasuke was the face of M-Pro. Delphin was his #2. Naniwa was the emotional kid sticking with the M-Pro home team rather than joining the young guys in Kaientai. All of those guys – plus Yakushiji – were either legitimately very young or relatively young. Hamada filled the role of the respected veteran who these punk kids in Kaientai were messing with. I’ve always felt the feud needed someone in that role.

 

I can see the point a bit in terms of pure in-ring work, but I’d still disagree that Hamada was completely replaceable. I watched these matches 15 or so years ago as kid not long after getting into wrestling and was blown away by a guy Hamada’s age (and he probably looked a bit older than the mid-40’s he was) doing the stuff he did. That added a ton to those matches for me. You could replace him with Shinzaki or Tiger Mask IV or whoever and the work might have been about equal, but it would have lost something without Hamada in there. This old looking guy doing tornado DDT’s to the floor and splatting to the mat on high backdrops are added a lot of visual value beyond just strict wrestling ability.

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That's a very good answer, but to me it comes across better on paper than it does in the matches. There's not really that many extended sequences where they focus on the psychology you're detailing. It's mostly one pair squaring off another another. Hamada's work is good, but quite a few of the guys are better. Of course you could probably say the same about his UWA work too, but he was lightning quick in those days.

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I thought I remember him getting some highlight matches in NJPW when MPro had the working agreement with them. I think he had a match with Koji that made a Schneider Comp (might have been someone else).

 

He's one of the best trios workers ever, though. That's a really weird career foundation to have in a competition such as this, where there's so many more great singles workers, but it's an interesting thing to consider if you're looking for wrestlers who honed a specific style better than others.

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One thing that struck me wathing old NJ stuff, is that he was doing the exact same counters and sequences that I saw him do as late as the early 00's in ARSION and MPro. Which is both amazing and maybe telling that Hamada has been doing the same thing for more than 20 years, which may not be as amazing save for the fact that his execution was just as perfect in 2001 as it was in 79. Which is amazing.

 

Anyway, he's a guy I'd love to see more of.

 

And he's Ayako's papa, which is great.

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I don't think the problem is that the footage isn't there. There is some, it's just under explored. I don't see how Hamada from 90-93 isn't atleast as good, if not even better than anything he did in 1980 and afterwards, and there is plenty of handhelds and other complete stuff where we get to see Hamada on a show-to-show basis. Hamada is a weird case where I feel that, despite the fact he is considered a legend and his work in those M-Pro tags is very beloved, he seems underrated to me. He is one of the only japanese juniors where I'm actively interested in watching every match he's in as his stuff ages well. While he is a guy with awesome highspots, he isn't stupid about them. He can lead on the mat, and knows how to make a "comeback" rather than just transition back on offense. The span of his career is crazy: the man first pops up in 1980, looking outstanding and ahead of his time, can go with the top juniors as late as 1999 and then continues a streak of being a really fun 50 year old guy who can still go throughout the 2000s. He shows up in Mexican arenas, random UWF cards, his own promotion as ace, M-Pro as respected vet, NJPW as guy coming over through a working agreement and unexpectedly kicking ass in the BOSJ, ECW shows as old guy nobody has heard of, random joshi or BattlARTS undercards where he teams with his girl, and finally a variety of legends shows... and Hamada always delivers. Maybe it's just that current japanese wrestling undercards are so dire that I've found new appreciation for super consistent japanese workers. Still, 30 years...

 

Sample matchlist, excluding the well known Michinoku Pro stuff

 

1. Gran Hamada vs. Babe Face (NJPW 4/3/1980)

Great match and really outstanding due to being a very complete japanese jr style match with dives, matwork, and face/heel dynamic.

 

2. Gran Hamada/Sayama vs. Perro Aguayo/Babe Face (Mexico 4/13/80)

The first match of the Aguayo/Hamada rivalry on tape. Really fun brawl and Hamada is already outstanding in his role of lightning fast guy who smokes heels with sweet comebacks.

 

3. Gran Hamada vs. Tiger Mask (NJPW 11/6/1981)

I like this better than any TM vs. Dynamite Kid match. Very much a workrate match, but because they are natives they click better than TM matches usually do. Another showcase match for why Hamada looks ahead of the curve as he matches the man previously considered the best japanese athlete of the time.

 

4. Gran Hamada/Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Anibal/Perro Aguayo (NJPW, date unknown)

Hamada vs. the legendary Anibal provides some very good wrestling. Aguayo doesn't look shabb either but in the end again brings the fight.

 

5. Gran Hamada vs. Centurion Negro (2/14/82)

Very good lucha style match. First falls are working in and out of holds and throws and it's very good, before they throw out the great looking dives into the dirty arena floor.

 

6. Gran Hamada & Kuniaki Kobayashi vs. Tiger Mask & Kantaro Hoshino (NJPW 2/10/83)

Great fast paced juniors tag. Hamada vs. Hoshino is a stumpy legged dream matchup that delivers. Hamada also shows his rougher side.

 

7. Gran Hamada vs. Perro Aguayo (UWF 4/11/1984)

Aguayo chases Hamada down at a shootstyle card. Perro doesn't care that this is really out of place and Hamada gets demolished in this blood drenched massacre.

 

8. Chavo & Hector Guerrero vs. Mighty Inoue & Gran Hamada (9/12/84)

I wouldn't mind finding a bunch more AJPW 80s lightweight stuff after this. 4 underrated guys kick out a really nifty 80s workrate match.

 

9. Perro Aguayo/Jose Luis Feliciano v. Gran Hamada/Lizmark (UWF 3.1.1990)

Beginning of the tremendous Hamada/Aguayo interactions in 1990. Aguayo and Hamada look like superstar. Perro is brutal while Hamada has some fantastic comebacks and offense himself.

 

10. Perro Aguayo vs. Gran Hamada (UWF 5.3.1990)

They had a few great matches that year and this is the best. 2/3 falls, starts with matwork, escalates and eventually leads to a fucking great 3rd fall where they kill eachother, including a bloody Hamada headbutting a bloody Aguayo. Also really great chaotic spectacle after the match ends.

 

11. Misioneros vs. Hamada/Aguayo/Kendo (UWF 7.6.1990)

An example of the greatness Hamada was doing regularily in multiman tags. Aguayo is great, Hamada is great getting fired up, being lightning fast and awesome and getting in great comebacks. My favourite 90s Misioneros trios.

 

12. Gran Hamada vs. Blue Panther (UWF 11/13/1990)

They absolute work their asses off. Really I'm not a big workrate mark but watching these guys giving their all on a small show handheld is something else. Also interesting because this is, I believe, the first long Panther singles on tape. Not for the lucha purists as this is closer to Lucharesu, but there is a ton of good stuff here and both guys bust out unusual stuff, Panther has a rolling senton to the floor, Hamada flies at Panther with a twisting Asai moonsault and busts out a great deadlift german. Just a tremendous match, the best junior match of 1990 if it weren't for Liger/Sano.

 

13. Gran Hamada/Huracan vs. Blue Panther/Guerrero Negro (Monterrey 1991)

A chance to see why Hamada got so strangely legendary in Mexico. I love how improvized his exchanges feel. Match gets ugly when Hamada takes a powerbomb on his head. In the 3rd falls Hamada seems really offended by Panther suddenly using foul tactics and things get very intense.

 

14. Cowboys/Hamada vs. Casas/Wagner Jr/Rambo (UWF 2/29/1992)

One of the funnest matches of the year. Hamada isn't the best guy here but this is one of these Lucha trios where everyone gets to look really good.

 

15. Villano V/Villano IV/Rokambole vs Dos Caras/Gran Hamada/Ninja Samurai (UWF 12/16/1993)

Hamada vs. Villano IV is the focus here as intro to their feud. This is another great trios, Villanos (Rokambole is V3) are asskicking machines, technico comeback is very good stuff.

 

16. Gran Hamada vs. Villano IV (UWF 12/16/1993)

Villano IV beats the shit out of Hamada and pushes him to the limit.

 

17. Gran Hamada vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa (NJPW 22/5/1999)

Hamada does the impossible and gets Takaiwa to have a match that isn't completely senseless! At a little less than 10 minutes this is the worlds greatest Superstars match. Hamada at 49 isn't afraid to take brutal Takaiwa powerbombs or bust out spots that would make Masato Tanaka wince.

 

18. Gran Hamada vs. Koji Kanemoto (NJPW 3/6/1999)

Again there is no good reason why Hamada should work this hard in 1999. He does it anyways. Hamada looks almost maestro-ish controlling Kanemoto on the mat here, allows Koji to kick the shit out of him and again shows up all the other juniors in the tournament with some huge spots.

 

19. Gran Hamada/Great Sasuke/Dick Togo vs. Pentagon/Sasuke the Great/Gran Apache (Michinoku Pro 3/10/2001)

Pentagon had attacked Ayako earlier in the show, so Papa Hamada goes after him with a fury in this all out brawl.

 

20. Gran Hamada/Bear Fukuda/Super Rider vs. Yujiro Yamamoto/Akifumi Saito/Mazada (RJPW 3/16/12)

This is like a bizarro world tag where the young guys hit eachother hard while the old guy busts out the big highspot. This shows even a near 60 year old Hamada is still spry and fun.

 

Summary: Even with footage gaps, Hamada has been around so long and been so consistent you could probably move all his stuff together and still have a really great 10 year career with a fun 10 year post prime period. It's hard to watch this stuff without starting to fantasy book a Gran Hamada vs. Kantaro Hoshino feud in your head though. Regardless Hamada has a ton of under the radar stuff to go with his praised showings. Keep in mind the above stuff isn't a "best of" but rather a career overview.

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I actually think Jetlag's point is right about Hamada being a guy who is more unexplored than unavailable when it comes to footage. Even in the 90s I feel like he really hasn't been looked at closely. I own all the MPro stuff and I've made no real effort to go through it to take just one example.

 

One other thing that Jetlag said that I do agree with is that Hamada was good much later than people realize. I remember him popping up on Real Japan shows and feds of that ilk in the last five or six years and still thinking he was a solid hand.

 

Hamada, Sasuke and Kanemoto are all kind of in the same boat for me at this point as guys I could see on my ballot, but none of them feel like absolute must haves. My guess is one of those three will make it.

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I'd have to disagree with the Tiger Mask comment.

 

 

 

New Japan 2.6

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (4/23/81)

 

Feel like I've heard about this match somewhere before. A lot of flash here obviously, but some of this was surprisingly sloppy. Actual botches. There's a moment when Tiger Mask misses DK's head by about a foot but DK still sells it. I do like some of DK's subtle or not so subtle heeling, but this was very very underwhelming in general. I had to go and check the date on the match again to make sure this was the right one. A little baffling as to why this was held up as a classic for so long -- even viewed in context there isn't anything that special about it. Fujinami, for example, has had better matches in this style to date. Honestly thought Tiger Mask was awful in this match.

 

**1/2

 

New Japan 2.13

Tiger Mask vs. Gran Hamada (11/6/81)

 

Mostly drab matwork punctuated by moments of explosive action. Tiger Mask contines to underwhelm relentlessly. I thought Hamada was mostly disappointing here too. Feel like the match meandered and never really established any sort of narrative or tone. The strikes and high spots were disconnected from the matwork. Failed to cohere.

 

**1/2

 

New Japan 2.14

Tiger Mask vs. El Canek (12/8/81)

 

I didn't think much of El Canek on the Lucha stuff, so this is not promising. That said, I thought he looked solid here with his clubbing blows and focused work on Tiger Mask's back. This was better than the last match but there's something about Tiger Mask's work that I'm really not enjoying. I was also very disappointed to see El Canek try to do a fucking abdominal stretch during the post-match brawl -- there's real anger for you!

 

Attempting "the new discipline": an hour a day.

 

New Japan 3.2

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (1/28/82)

 

So, you might have heard that these two can go. That's certainly true. Dynamite has some very good selling and little heel wrinkles in his work, at one point he sneaks his hand down Tiger Mask's tights for additional leverage, then denies knowledge of it, shades of Jim Breaks or The Destroyer.

 

This match has a lot of your turn, my turn suplexes, but is also full of some very fun mat exchanges. DK tries to headstand out of a headscissors, Tiger Mask piledrives him from that position. Another time we gets Breaks style joint work by Tiger Mask, which is not what I particularly expect from him.

 

This is a bombfest with moments of matwork. Not exactly a psychological masterpiece but I dug it. It was helped a good bit by DK's character work and level of intensity throughout. Tiger Mask felt less sloppy here than he has in earlier matches, and less flashy / more substantive in his offense.

 

****1/2

 

New Japan 3.3

Tiger Mask vs. Bret Hart (2/5/82)

 

This is the actual Bret Hart, whose punches and movements are identical to his WWF self from a few years later. Tiger Mask is a bit like a wrestling Catherine Wheel, fizzes and twirls brightly, but ultimately a lot of what he does feels ephemeral. I feel a similar way about Rey, of course, and this is partly just a bias on my part against juniors / high flyers. With that said, this settles down into being quite an interesting encounter. Bret is very solid. He's methodical and ground based, but feels a lot like Bret from later in the 80s to me. A lot of this match is built around Tiger Mask working on Bret's leg, and his selling is fantastic, almost Flair-like at times because he is very vocal. They hit piledrivers almost for fun in this style, but you just have to accept that I think.

 

I really enjoyed this match. The execution on everything was crisp. Bret gave as good as he has at this time. The missile drop kick by Tiger Mask that led into the finish was really great. Probably one of Bret's top five matches of the 1980s, some fine work here. I'd put it on par with the DiBiase match from 1989.

 

****

 

Tiger Mask vs. Steven Wright (4/1/82)

 

I want to study at the school where Dory Funk is the maths teacher, Verne is headmaster and Steven Wright teaches geography.

 

This match is almost worked in the World of Sport style, and there are tons of swank counters and clever escapes. I think it's a real feather in Tiger Mask's cap (mask?) that's he was able to work a match like this with a guy like Wright working a completely different style. This is really an exhibition type match, but it has some really cool moments including that one sequence someone turned into a gif.

 

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Wright has some good European uppercuts and works with intensity. Has a range of interesting bumps and some good offense. Would love to see him vs. Breaks, but I don't think that match exists.

 

One small thing about Tiger Mask is that he definitely wasn't an execution guy, pretty sloppy delivering various suplexes here. His gutwrench is horrible.

 

Nonetheless, this is a pretty cool match well worth tracking down.

 

***3/4

 

New Japan 3.6

Tiger Mask vs. Black Tiger (5/26/82)

 

This is like an episode of Thundercats. Remember the blue Tygara? Black Tiger is, of course, Mark Rocco.

 

I really didn't care for this. Not my thing. A lot of flash and not a lot of substance. I will say that Rocco's execution is very good, and he was busting out some pretty innovative offense with some big and wild bumps. I'm really done with Tiger Mask at this point though. No interest in stuff like this to be honest. Rocco vs. Steven Wright would be something I'd want to watch though.

 

*1/2

 

New Japan 3.11

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (8/5/82)

 

Here we go again. Got to the point where all I want is for DK to kick Tiger Mask's head in. Hate the guy.

 

This is a famous match up and when you see some of the bombs fly, you can understand why, but Tiger Mask is so damn sloppy and botchy. Horrible suplex to outside. Horrible side salto. And then they hit the deck for five minutes. If ever a match didn't need matwork, this is one.

 

Later, DK hits a tombstone and his diving headbutt and moments later Tiger Mask is doing a flying tope over the top rope and a shoulder breaker as if nothing has happened at all. He's the definition of go go go, but isn't even good at execution, bumping, selling or any of those those core mechanics. Continue to enjoy DK a good bit. Frustrating match up.

 

**1/2

 

Tiger Mask vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi (11/4/82)

 

This is red pants Kobayashi who would crop up later in the 80s in All Japan. I pretty much want to go back in time and kill Tiger Mask and then laugh in the faces of all the crying Japanese kids. Horrible worker. Would be impressed if Red Pants can get anything out of him.

 

He brings the ground game here which gives this match a real sense of strategy missing in, well, practically every other Tiger Mask match. All the strategy -- and therefore psychology -- is coming from Kobayashi though. He wants to keep Tiger Mask from doing his shit and so we get a sense of build towards said shit. So the flying crossbody or arm drag exchange sequence feel like they have actual impact because Tiger Mask has had to work to get to them.

 

He also tries to rip the mask off. And has some really stiff strikes. I like Red Pants. I feel like in another time and place he would have had a great match with Lo Ki. PERFECTPLEX! Also an awesome moment where Tiger Mask does a 619 thing and then jumps over the top rope only for Kobayashi to slam him into the floor. Count out finish, but Kobayshi lays out some young boys, and things get really really heated post match.

 

Red Pants is awesome! This felt like the best match up for Tiger Mask on the set to this point, if not the best match. Really heated, well worked, and well laid out match.

 

***3/4

 

New Japan 4.2

Tiger Mask vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi (1/6/83)

 

On the one hand, I am thrilled with Kobayashi's Elvis hair, on the other I'm very disappointed by the lack of red pants. Naturally, I am not thrilled to be seeing another Tiger Mask match, even if this has been one of his better opponents so far. Thinking about it, in terms of his general look, he has a passing resemblance to Kenta Kobashi.

 

Opening exchanges are really cool here. Kobayashi's leg sweep is awesome. As a general observation, I think the New Japan crowds are more chirpy than the All Japan crowds of this period. More chanting and stuff.

 

This was a great match, fast-paced, well-executed, great action, exciting, told a good story, there is absolutely nothing not to like here and I think this is one of the very best matches on this set to this point. Better than the Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid match from 1/28/82. This would likely make my top 100 matches of all time based on the rating I'm about to drop. If you haven't seen this one, recommendation to go out of your way to seek it out.

 

****4/3

 

New Japan 4.7

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (4/21/83)

 

Here we go again, have had one tremendous match from these two and a bunch of more disappointing stuff. I believe this is actually the "famous" match that was pimped for so many years. And one of the very first that got the Dave Meltzer five-star rating.

 

Honestly, I thought the work in this match was fantastic. They cut a frantic pace, hatred, violence, intensity, spots galore, and all in all I did not feel it's running time. Tremendous match up and at least as good as 1/28/82. Yes, it tends towards spotiness and may not have the best psychology ever, but my view is that that is more than compensated for by the levels of intensity on display. And both guys really really work their arses off. I rate this on about the same level as my favourite Steiners tags.

 

****1/2

 

 

 

 

I honestly thought Gran Hamada was really disappointing in the early 80s NJ setting. As was Chavo.

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Given we both fundamentally disagree on subjects such as Lucha, shootstyle, modern wrestling, or Dory Funk Jr. matches, it's pretty pointless to argue about this as we might aswell come from different planets when it comes to pro wrestling opinions. I checked cagematch and that match has only positive reviews, so there's that. Atleast I agree with you that Ted DiBiase's best stuff is great :)

 

Hamada vs. Sasuke will be incredibly tough for me. Before I have thought Sasuke would be an easy pick for the Top 100 while Gran Hamada would require some pondering, but now it seems Hamada's case is easier to piece together than Sasukes. They have the similiar strengths though.

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Also worth noting that as we were watching footage and voting for the DVDVR set, the response to Hamada's New Japan work was widely positive. At the time, I thought he looked sensational in that Tiger Mask match.

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Any time I watch a match with Hamada in it he is sure to surprise me with something incredibly athletic even if it's just landing on his feet on a back body drop. I'm not at all a fan of "athleticism for athleticism sake" in wrestling but Hamada usually uses those spots to transition from his opponent's offense into his own which I find far more interesting than just doing flippy offense for the sake of doing flips.

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I just wanted to put it out there that I've seen Hamada in a variety of settings and he's never done a single thing that stood out to me.

 

Different people respond in different ways to stuff.

As with any wrestler?

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