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Taka Michinoku

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I ranked Taka #44 on my Greatest Wrestler Ever list., which I felt was a pretty aggressive ranking and one I wasn't completely comfortable with it. The fact that he has had such a long career working well in a variety of styles and a variety of places helped him a lot. 44 felt high in isolation, but I also didn't think any of the guys I had below him on my list had better careers.

 

After watching and re-watching some of his work since last March, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t lower his position at all. If anything I would bump him up a little bit the next go-around. He has been a top tier wrestler going on 25 years now and is as well-rounded as any junior heavyweight in history. I would go to bat for Taka being the second greatest Japanese junior heavyweight of all time behind Liger. He doesn’t have Liger’s charisma, but I like Taka just as much as Liger working the mat and better when flying. His career is hurt by spending so much time in the 2000’s in All Japan which was a poor fit for him so the overall output from his career might not match his true talent level.

 

Here’s a few matches I watched recently (I'll be adding more here and there). All but the Malenko match in this first group are worth watching.

 

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Taka Michinoku vs. Mens Teioh (Michinoku Pro – 03/16/1993)

 

From M-Pro’s debut show. From an in-ring style perspective, this match is a harbinger of what was to come for the promotion during the Kaitentai fueled heyday of the mid-90’s. It is a true hybrid of Japanese juniors, lucha influences, and traditional US style (which you would expect from Teioh). They work all of those different stylistic influences into one strong, cohesive package. The heat is great, the structure is familiar, and at just a tick under 10 minutes the match doesn’t overstay its welcome. Both guys are relatively early in their careers at this stage but you would never know it but how polished their work is. Not a classic (wasn’t meant to be) but a very good sub-10 minute match that is also worth seeing due to the historical implications (ie. M-Pro’s inaugural show). Real Hero has this up on his archive.

 

Taka Michinoku vs. Super Delphin (NJPW Sky Diving J – 06/17/1996)

 

For Delphin’s CMLL World welterweight title. Meltzer gave this match the highest star rating of any match on the show (****) and it is hard to disagree with that. They work it like a title match with a lot of low impact stuff in the early and middle portions before going near fall heavy at the end. Taka does a few awesome dives and the crowd completely loses their mind on his springboard moonsault. Delphin was always a weird guy to me because while almost everyone else involved in the Kaentai feud had something that set them apart (Togo was the great rudo, Sasuke was the ace, Naniwa’s comedy, Hamada was the old guy, Yakushiji’s ridiculous arm drags, Teioh’s Terry Funk tribute act, ect.) Delphin was just the solid wrestler with a cool mask. That’s basically his role here which is fine, because Taka brings enough high end stuff for two guys. I thought the finish was a little kick out heavy but this is still a very good match that I would group in the 2nd or 3rd (probably 3rd) tier of the New Japan juniors 1990’s golden age.

 

Taka Michinoku vs. Dean Malenko (WWF Smackdown – 04/04/2000)

 

Dean’s the Light Heavyweight Champion here and a couple of weeks away from his ballyhooed title defense at Backlash versus Scott Taylor. They get five minutes which isn’t bad for those days, but there’s not much here. The best spot was Taka arm dragging his way out of a standing gut buster from Malenko. The disappointing part is that if Dean wanted to exchange holds and do mat work for 3 ½ minutes before the finishing stretch, Taka could have done that. If he wanted to work a sprint that showcased Taka’s athleticism, Taka could have done that. There were different ways to go here that would have allowed Taka to show off in way or another. Instead it was just your basic ho-hum Malenko match where they wrestled an unremarkable, sort of unfocused match for five minutes. Dean was never very good at laying out matches to highlight his opponents (which makes him a questionable choice for an agent) and this is another case of that.

 

Taka Michinoku vs. Kaz Hayashi (All Japan Pro Wrestling – 07/02/2010)

 

All Japan actually headlined a Korakuen Hall show with this junior title match. It’s a dual limb work match with Taka going after Kaz’s neck and Kaz focusing in on Taka’s knee. I really like the transitions here. Both guys had a way of quickly shifting momentum without the match ever becoming too much “your move, my move” back-and-forth. Some really slick counters and submission set ups from both former Kaientai members, but especially Taka. The match stays grounded for the most part but Taka does do a springboard moonsault from the second rope into the crowd which was really incredible looking. I liked the progression and the twenty two minutes went by quickly, but I think it is more of a good/very good match than a great one. Not a big fan of Kaz’s AJPW work in general and he was just okay here.

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I'm pretty sure there isn't a better into the ring spring boarder. Add those to his springboard dives to the outside and you have an amazingly fun wrestler.

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Taka Michinoku vs. Shiryu (Hamada’s UWF – 05/07/1993)

 

About what you would expect from a prelim match between two talented but inexperienced wrestlers. Shiryu looks off at different points and the match comes to a screeching halt at one point (Taka puts on a chin lock as they regroup). There’s some good stuff in here including what was basically a corkscrew lucha arm drag by Taka. I liked the simple mat work opening. The ending sequence – quick reversals of a variety of roll ups – shows off both guy’s athleticism. Average match, but once again you can see how talented and diverse of a wrestler Taka was even at such a young age.

 

Taka Michinoku vs. Gran Naniwa (Michinoku Pro – 09/29/1994)

 

I liked this a lot. You can break the match down into three distinct stages, starting with the high-energy opening. They slug it out right away with Naniwa getting the advantage and landing a top rope plancha to the outside. After a few minutes, they settle into a lock back and forth segment where they trade submissions back and forth. This was my favorite part of the match. It had a real lucha feel to it in that even after a move or after a hold was broken, each wrestler would take another shot at getting a submission. The final part was high spot heavy. Taka goes for TWO springboard planchas and wipes out on the first one, which had to hurt. There are lots of big moves late with Taka showing off his wide range of offense. Naniwa was still blowing stuff rather egregiously from time to time and struggling through singles matches in 1996 so I didn’t expect much from him here, but he was on his game. Highly recommended – not a MOTYC but one of the better Kaientai-era M-Pro singles matches I have seen.

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Taka post 2000 isn't the same as his 1993-2000 self, but is still very interesting. I know TomK really liked the 2/22/04 AJPW match against fellow KDX member Kaz Hayashi. I think 2001-2005 is probably a period where there isn't much online, especially as we all made the switchover to DVD from 2004-2006.

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Taka Michinoku vs. Shinjiro Otani (ZERO1 – 07/28/2002)

 

Man, they were just a few years too late on this one. Otani is in full-on heavyweight mode by this point while Taka is newly arrived back in Japan. The Fire Festival was Taka’s first big booking in Japan after his WWF run, as he was mainly worked his own upstart promotion upon arriving back in Japan. The selling point of this match is watching Taka work more of a heavyweight style match. They could have worked this as heavyweight versus underdog junior, but that would have been kind of weird considering their backgrounds. Instead Taka incorporates enough heavyweight stuff into his offense and adapts to Otani’s pacing. Heavyweight Otani does very little for me and the same holds true in this match, but I do think it is worth watching for Taka. He clearly makes an attempt to adapt and while not everything is perfect, I think he went in the right direction with it.

 

Taka Michinoku vs. Masato Tanaka (ZERO1 – 08/04/2002)

 

From the final day of the 2002 Fire Festival. If Takana won, he would win the block outright. A loss would mean he would win that Otani would have to beat Samoa Joe in the next match to advance or else Tanaka would still advance to the finals. You can probably guess show this one ended up. They opt for a quick start with both guys throwing out big offense and making covers right away. Taka again wrestles this one with a little more heavyweight-ish offense than usual, but this is far more of a sprint than the Otani match. Both guys are good at that sort of match, so I liked this just fine and think it is clearly ahead of the Otani match. Feels like these two could have wrestled the same match on ECW TV in 1999 or 2000 and people would have liked it a bunch. Just the pacing, high impact stuff, run time, ect. all screams ECW on TNN to me.

 

I don’t know if it was ever a real possibility, but after watching these two matches I am glad Taka didn’t go the heavyweight route post-WWF. He was fine in these matches and there is some interesting stuff from him, but that’s mostly because I thought he did a good job straddling the line between junior and heavy offense. It is more that I think Taka works the best when he is a bully junior and well, that’s impossible to do when you are an undersized heavyweight.

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