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GOTNW

[1988-08-08-NJPW] Tatsumi Fujinami vs Antonio Inoki

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I'm trying to put into words how much I liked this match but I don't think I'll be able to do this justice. If the match was about ten minutes shorter I think it could've rated it as a top ten match of all time. It's still an absolutely incredible match, an the crowd never really dies but after a certain point they just aren't buying the submissions as much as they did and it's more of a "clap for rope breaks/escapes/general effort" thing. This was a perfect showcase for both wrestler's abilities, the matwork was phenomenal and they managed to escape a perfect sense of one-upmanship. It is a match that manages to excel both at the little things and the big things, there's a moment where Inoki does a bridge and Fujinami tries to drive him to that and I swear Inoki did the most beautiful bridge I've ever seen, the kind of thing that could only be possible because of stuff like this:



The crowd was fucking insane, you get shots of people standing up and not leaving their feet for about ten minutes just mesmerized by the drama of the match, Inoki firing up while Fujinami had him in a Figure Four was one of the greatest spots I've ever seen and Fujinami responded appropriately by pushing himself up as far as he could and trying to rip apart Inoki's leg, the struggle over everything was so well done here and the match also served as a great display for their character though I'd find it understable if people used to gigantic bumps for irish whips and WWF wrestling didn't pick it up (not actually trying to call anyone out here fwiw), Fujinami has a chip on his shoulder and while being a great athlete in his own right doesn't really possess Inoki's strength and they play it up really well, Inoki goes for an illegal Sleeper in the beginning and Fujinami sells it like a huge threat, later on Fujinami uses the same maneuver several times but never manages to damage Inoki as much as Inoki had damaged him, I think that came off really well every time Fujinami would grab a hold for a longer period of time where, he'd just come off as the most tenacious wrestler ever, and later in the match when Inoki stars slapping the shit out of him and Fujinami sells it enough so it doesn't come off as no selling (especially with his facial expression) but no sells it enough so the crowd can put his awesome facial expressions together with him refusing to go down to Inoki's strikes and it's this humongous amazing moment and everyone is losing their shit and pro wrestling fucking rules mate. I also find it amusing how Fujinami's character seems to consistent both in his on air presentation and in scummy backstage videos and stories (him slapping Kevin Nash comes to mind, also there was a video where him and Inoki just yell at each other for five minutes and Fujinami responds to Inoki's weak fifth grader bully slap by Bas Ruttening him). ****3/4

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I can see why some people wouldn't like this match. The Inoki drama plays into this match big time. Even if you didn't know this, the NJ production people give a great build-up of clips to show the Hvy. Wt. matches leading up to this date as well as the history of Inoki in Japan.

 

In regards to the match, it was a gruelling 60 minutes of struggling to gain the upperhand. Inoki probably controlled more than Fujinami (60-40) but, Fujinami had youth on his side. Just an amazing display of endurance and athleticism and a perfect story showing the fighting spirit, strong style and NJPW leading up in essence to this very match. It's not really an ending but the continuation. The clips really helped get this across especially after the match. The definitive Inoki strong style epic, a puroresu must-see.

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If it weren't for a few minor nitpicks, this match would head straight into GOAT territory. Hell, even with the nitpicks, this might be the GOAT as far as a certain vision of wrestling is concerned. The 1985 match was a tribute to the old style with an underdog story, here, they set out to wrestle straight into olymp with modernized high end grappling contest built around the traditional holds. At no point did they go through the motions; at no point (atleast in the first 30 minutes) did they make it obvious that they were going to go the full 60 minutes. Every sequence was worked in such a way that it could plausibly lead to a finish, which is exactly why they had the crowd by the balls the whole time. The holds they used were grinding and tight as it gets, and the suplexes were used in awesome ways. Too many great sequences to list them all, but Fujinami getting fired up when slapped only to get punched in the face and be nearly KO'd and put away may be the best I've ever seen. To be fair, some of Fujinami's transitions were poor, and Inoki may have looked better than him. Inoki looked like a world class grappler (check out that smooth armbreaker/suplex transition) and his selling was pretty cool – he seemed invincible, but was limping, going for desperation moves and clearly spent by the last few minutes. That was fascinating to watch for sure. They lose direction a little and run out of ideas by the last third, but they stuck to what works for them. It could have been better, but that's not a huge knock on what already was cemented as one of the greatest wrestling contests ever anyways. The #2 guy vs. #1 guy story was there too, but for me not as important as the grappling here.


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There's a lot to digest but on a whole, it's a pretty spectacular display of athleticism and endurance. I can see where some might be turned off by this as it's a lot of takedowns, counters, and matwork but they manage to keep the drama going and the crowd engaged throughout. I'll hit on a few of my favorite moments instead of regurgitating sixty minutes worth of action.Early on, Inoki stuns Fujinami with a takedown but when he tries for a high kick, Fujinami catches the leg and turns it into a giant swing to set up the figure-four leglock. I love the Indian deathlock teases and when Inoki's able to lock it in, he turns it into a bow-and-arrow hold, then goes back to the Indian deathlock, then again to the bow-and-arrow hold, but this allows Fujinami an opportunity to escape and in turn, cinch in the dragon sleeper. Fujinami's use of the choke was awesome, with the ref reprimanding him between counts. Inoki scores a two count off a German suplex hold and Fujinami takes a breather on the outside, returning to barrage Inoki with headbutts, hitting a Billy Robinson-style backbreaker to once again set up the figure-four. This time, they end up falling out of the ring with the hold still applied! With Inoki struggling back into the ring, Fujinami continues targeting the leg with kicks and a sasorigatame. Inoki was really terrific in the last half of the match, getting pissy with Fujinami when he tries for the octopus hold, peppering him with slaps, then straight punches, before taking him down with the enziguri. He uses a seated torture rack and when Fujinami escapes, Inoki backdrops him. At this point, they're trying to wear each other down on the mat and as Inoki starts building some momentum, hitting a double arm suplex, Fujinami's able to cut him off with the octopus hold. Inoki's tried just about everything to beat Fujinami but he can't do it and in the end, you really see the desperation as Inoki repeatedly tries to pin Fujinami before the time limit expires. If you've got the patience and time, check this one out. It's the last of it's kind in a lot of ways as the style transitions into what would become the more fast-paced, bomb-dropping routine of the 1990's.

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I thought this was an incredibly fantastic match.  I've always been hesitant to watch the Inoki/Fujinami series of matches as I had it in my head that it wouldn't be interesting and too dry.  While it is slow, yes, but it doesn't make it any less interesting or even exciting throughout.  I think the work in the match, while very rooted in the previous era, had meaning, grit and struggle.  So with all that, it actually made any highspots (chop exchanges, throws, top rope dropkicks) so much more lively and memorable.  More high-end Inoki that I watch, the more I realize, when he's great and on, he's one of the best.  Fujinami isn't one to sneeze at as I do think he's one of the handful of the very best in the world at that time period in wrestling.  I love when Fujinami is running offense, he's bringing a barrage of moves to offset Inoki who had the majority of the match as the offense.  The crowd in this was absolutely molten and really helped put the match into all time great territory.  Had it been a more sedate crowd, I think it would have hurt the match although not too terribly as the work is still amazing.  It's a match I believe the rewards patience but if you can get yourself in the mindset that you're in for a long haul and for really interesting mat exchanges, you'll get a lot of out of this.  Highly recommended.

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