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[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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Let's get the flaws out of the way first, the match lost steam around the 50 minute mark before picking back up in the last 2-3. Understandable but when the rest of the match is so exciting and so energetic, it's noticeable. It's very minor though because 50+ minutes of a 60 match being some of the most fun you can have watching wrestling negates it all. This was pretty fantastic. It's the epitome of the style. It has superb, snug mat work with great counters and most of all strategy with Fujinami mostly working on the leg of Inoki. There was a ton of emphasis on takedowns too. And heavy strikes that popped me big - Fujinami no selling the hard punches had me jumping around in shock and excitement. That's goddamn stubbornness right there, and then his sell of the following enziguri was also great. The sporadic strike exchanges all came at the perfect time and added to the ever rising drama. The high spots were all great. The struggle for the suplex on the top rope, Fujinami barrage of moves (that drop kick early on~! ), etc, etc. Going back to the aforementioned leg work, Inoki's selling was excellent - he in general was brilliant in everything he did from his transitions from hold to hold, his strikes, mat wrestling and selling was all up-to standard. He's limping was a constant presence. You don't need to be writhing in agony on the floor, although Fujinami's figure four which was still locked on when both fell out of the ring probably warranted it that level of selling (ouch). Fujinami was a king with his facial expressions, his fiery spurts of offence, his technique, everything. Inoki is a near god in New Japan and Fujinami didn't look out of place against him. Both brought it big time. The finishing run with Fujinami taking Inoki to his limit, refusing to lose to Inoki once again and thus keeping the title was great storytelling, and made for great significance for the promotion and Fujinami himself. *****

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Fujinami was finally world champion, yet he was still in the shadow of the New Japan legend, Inoki. So, he had a chip on his shoulder and was determined to topple Inoki. A swanky and lengthy technical battle between the top two wrestlers in the company ensued. Fujinami went all out, with his pride and defiance occasionally taking center stage, compared to Inoki’s more measured approach. But, ultimately, Fujinami’s quest was in vain as they reached the time limit, and Inoki was no closer to being defeated by then anyways. Fujinami wasn’t defeated but lost the symbolic battle. My patience for long matches is not what it used to be. If 40 minutes feels long, 60 minutes is an eternity. So, they did a great job of keeping things consistently lively, especially as the pace slowed. As a result, it may be the best match of its kind. ****1/2

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IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tatsumi Fujinami vs Antonio Inoki - NJPW 8/8/88

Inoki defeated Vader for the right to challenge Fujinami for the IWGP Champion. Inoki was 45 years old and I think he knew this was it. He wanted to have one last 60 minute draws in true Championship style fashion against his best student, the one that most emulated traditional pro wrestling  I have only watched twenty minutes thus far but this is a significant improvement over their 1985 match. The exchanges dont just have struggle within the exchange but there is an overarching struggle to win the match. The 1985 match lacked progression and felt like an exhibition of grappling. This feels like a match where each man wants to win. Also, I thought Fujinami was more offensive-minded in this match. 

First twenty minutes: Tremendous grappling here as expected. Everything drips with struggle quite literally as they are drenched in sweat quickly. This is a Championship match and it is wrestled as such. This is one of those rare instances that the defending champion has something to prove to the challenger. For Inoki, this is one last chance to prove he is the Greatest. He only has to be as great as he once was once. The early stages are chippy as expected even throwing in some strikes. Fujinami goes for a snapmare how many times have we seen that only for Inoki to RIP him down via horse collar. That was terrific, a microcosm of this match. The ref has to slap Fujinami awake. Fujinami is definitely alert as he blocks the Enziguiri and converts it into a Giant Swing and then into a Figure-4. The Figure-4 in the 1985 was interminable and the death of the match. Here the move seems like the most epic Figure-4 of all time. Amazing struggle by both men. The sequences focus on arms. Whether it is Fujinami's straight armbar or Inoki leg-grapevine crucifix these were intense struggles and counters to each other. They even threw in some highspots. Inoki misses another Enziguiri and Fujinami nails a dropkick. Inoki shows the old school wrestler way to counter anything is to bridge as he bridges out of a chinlock. Fujinami Figure-4s the head which is a stock Inoki spot to set up the Inoki Indian Deathlock. He snaps it back multiple times and works a Bow & Arrow. He doesnt bridge back into a chinlock which I surprised me. He goes back to the Bow & Arrow but Fujinami has it scouted and applies a Dragon Sleeper. Sublime grappling with so much struggle and intensity.  Champion vs Challenger. Intergenerational Match. Big improvement over 1985. On track to be one of the best hour broadways. Let see what happens...

Second Twenty Minutes: They are really progressing and fleshing out the narrative which is what needed to happen in these twenty minutes as I thought that was the one weakness of the first twenty minutes. The older Inoki becomes more and more reliant on big bombs as he is being consistently out-wrestled. Big Bombs gets it over early and he expends less energy. Fujinami has energy for days. Fujinami counters into a choke early in this segment. Inoki uses the 'ol Volk Han standby of crossing Fujinami's ankles. Fujinami looks in trouble and Inoki moves into a deep toehold. They leads to an intense criss cross sequence and a flash Fujinami roll-up for two which gets nuclear heat. Thats my one knock in this match some of the connective tissue is missing. The deep toehold into a hot criss-cross seemed out of place. Inoki feigns the over the shoulder armbreaker to nail German with bridge and then a Rolling Koppou Kick. Fujinami has to powder. Fujinami needs something and he crowds in the corner and throws a barrage of headbutts, Robinson Backbreaker and back to the Figure-4. They roll all the way to the outside intertwined to put over the hold and their wills. Fujinami sticks with the leg with some strikes, a Scorpion Deathlock and then a Indian Deathlock. Inoki breaks free and throws a missile dropkick which sells his desperation. Inoki is favoring his leg he avoids two Fujinami dropkicks, trying to convert the second into a Boston Crab. To further this desperation angle, Inoki chokes Fujinami illegally on the apron which is illegal due to it being a choke and the position. Inoki applies his Octopus Stretch and the crowd is going wild. That kid is losing his shit and I am here for it! Fujinami break and hits a Belly to Back Suplex. Fujinami steals the move but he cant hold it and Inoki seamlessly transitions to it but it is too difficult a move to maintain. Inoki is relying on bigger and bigger bombs to try to win. Fujinami has been outwrestling him and has succeeded in injuring Inoki's leg. It is anyone's ballgame in the last 20 minutes...

Last Twenty Minutes: Inoki just takes over and kicks ass. I like Fujinami and think he is a great worker/mechanic, but unlike the true GOATs he doesnt have the personality/charisma/presence that just takes over a match make that match his. Inoki does. Inoki slaps the shit out of him. Fujinami's sell to no-sell transition is great. Two big Inoki blows to the chest and then the Enizguiri finally fells Fujinami again a terrific no-sell to sell transition. Loved Inoki's Kneeling Torture Rack only to demolish him with the Saito Suplex. I didnt love Fujinami coming right back with a Piledriver. There was a lot of weird things like that throughout the match that keep from being one of the best one hour Broadways I have ever seen. Inoki hits the Bombs Away Kneedrops one of his many staples. The second one is met by Fujinami they struggle over a Superplex that never materializes. Around the 50 minute mark, they have an insane grappling scramble that would have been wild in the first five minutes, at the fiftieth minute their cardio is insane! As previous posters have mentioned the match loses a little sumthin sumthin here as for the first time it becomes obvious that they are going the distance and the crowd loses a bit. There are still great moments here and there. Fujinami is busting out Dragon Sleepers and trying for the Dragon Suplex. Inoki is still trying to choke Fujinami out and win via the Octopus Stretch. They end up entangled in Octopus Stretch and Abdominal Stretch at the end. Switching in and out. Inoki drops down into a pinning combination for two and time expires. 

I love & respect all the work the DVDVR crew did in putting together the 80s sets but this has to be the biggest oversight/miss of that project as this match was fantastic and historic. This was Inoki's farewell to classic Championship style pro wrestling. He threw everything he had into this match. You could tell how much this match meant to him. Fujinami gave as good as he got, but this as the Inoki show. Both men are carried out on the shoulders of their peers a sign of respect for both warriors. A Broadway every wrestling fan should watch once. ****1/2

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