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William Bologna

Tatsumi Fujinami

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INOKI & FUJINAMI VS VADER & MASA SAITO 4/22/1988

 

Three minutes of highlights. Vader beats up our heroes and looks good doing it. He gets Inoki in the tree of woe and keeps tackling his dick. The referee tries to stop the carnage, but Vader throws him around until he gets DQed (I think) (this doesn't merit a trip to Cagematch).

 

Then we get a further three minutes of Inoki and Fujinami in the locker room talking. The Attitude Era continues.

 

This was short enough that we can squeeze in a programming note. I thought I was almost done with this - the clock would strike Vader Time, and we'd be home free.

 

But I was as foolish as whoever booked Roland Bock, because it turns out that for whatever reason there's a whole other Fujinami tag on New Japan World. The one I've been using is in chronological order and, except for one oddball tag match from 1997, ends with the 80s. The new one plays all your favorite hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s and is chronologically as mixed up as whoever booked El Solar.

 

So much to look forward to! Flair, Tenryu, Bigelow, Hase! Another singles match with Choshu!

 

So basically this is never going to end, and my anticipated Scott Norton retrospective is on hold indefinitely.

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IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS FUJINAMI TATSUMI VS RIKI CHOSHU 6/24/1988

 

The IWGP title is still only a year old at this point, and it keeps getting vacated. This match is to fill one of those early vacancies.

 

It was good. It's hard for me to get super enthusiastic about another one between these two, but this was probably the best of them. The crowd's hot, they keep up the pace, and there are some nifty spots. Fujinami does a backdrop into a backbreaker, which I've never seen before. Choshu hits probably the best lariat of his life to knock Fujinami outside, where once again he commences to bleeding.

 

The finish could have been better. Fujinami rolls up Choshu for a two count then rolls him up again for three. I guess the second rollup was one better.

 

So yeah. This was another day at the office. I'm almost sure I'm underrating it, but I doubt I'll remember watching it in a month.

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IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT FUJINAMI TATSUMI VS BIG BANG VADER 6/26/1988

 

It's only been two days since Fujinami beat Choshu to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but it's already Vader Time!

 

This early Vader stuff is trying too hard. They gave him a stick with a skull on the end of it and some dumb-looking getup that he takes off, puts on the mat, and prays to. Then he does some kind of haka, and it shoots steam. Fujinami's in the other corner in his regular old black trunks trying not to laugh.

 

All that nonsense aside, ol' Ben Bader's worth watching, although he's plainly a work in progress. He and Fujinami work a standard big guy/little guy match (although given Fujinami's boulderish upper body, the size difference is smaller than I would have thought). Vader does power stuff and Fujinami writhes. Then he does something clever to get out of the way and works on Vader's leg.

 

It's decent but not great - Vader has a tendency to just sit in holds without doing anything to make them interesting, and his greenness betrays him in a few spots when they try to do sequences. Fujinami ducks a punch and turns it into a backdrop suplex, but Vader stands there waiting too artlessly for it to work. Later he forgets to run into a bodyslam, which leaves Fujinami standing there looking dumb until he remembers.

 

It affects the finish as well. Vader whips Fujinami into the ropes and goes for a clothesline, but Fujinami turns it into a backslide for the pin. Vader's just not quite up to the task, and it looks awkward.

 

Still, we're all real excited that Fujinami won. His cornermen (Koshinaka's one of them) lift him up on their shoulders, and Vader takes his frustration out on various chairs and barricades that get in his way.

 

Vader does some things well at this point in his career. He's already doing those cool clubbing punches, and his body language is impressively confident and intimidating, especially when you consider that he'd only been wrestling for a few years and is headlining major shows in a foreign country.

 

He's not great at filling time when he isn't punching, and his execution could use some improvement, but none of that stops this from being a good match. Fujinami is always at his best against foes who aren't anything like him - Estrada, Dynamite Kid, and now Vader.

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FUJINAMI TATSUMI & KENGO KIMURA & SHIRO KOSHINAKA VS KEIJI MUTOH & MASAHIRO CHONO & SHINYA HASHIMOTO 7/29/1988

 

It's interesting to see which of the new guys have their stuff figured out and which are still working on it. Koshinaka and Hashimoto are already at the places they wind up - Koshinaka is clean-shaven but has the white pants and ass attacks that will propel him to the highest heights of the midcard. Hashimoto has settled on the bell bottoms and Rubenesque physique that would become his trademarks.

 

Chono, meanwhile, is wearing white trunks that I think say "Tokyo Japan" on the side - makes him look like a tourist. Muto is literally unrecognizable. If his name weren't there in the match description, I wouldn't have known it was he. He looks like Steve Blackman - real jacked, short haircut, goatee. He doesn't do a whole lot in this match (no moonsault), so I really don't think I would have figured out who he was.

 

I don't know what the beef is between these teams, but they hate each other a great deal. Before the match even starts, Chono holds Fujinami so Hashimoto can bounce off the ropes twice and blast him with a kick (rad). Things don't calm down once the bell rings, either. They brawl all over the place. The venue has four poles outside the ring but inside the barricades, and they all take turns bouncing the other guys' heads off them.

 

No blood, though, which made me wonder when they stopped blading. This situation seemed to call for it, and we've seen that Fujinami is perfectly willing.

 

The finish comes with Fujinami putting Muto in a tree of woe position and just beating the hell out of him. This was noticeably vicious, to the point that we don't mind when the match gets waved off. (Not sure what the actual decision was, but the referee - still bursting out of his skintight polo shirt after all these years - would have been well within his rights to disqualify Fujinami.)

 

This was a blast. It was short (under ten minutes) and violent, and it was fun to see the new talent. It's a great performance from Fujinami where he really shows some personality. His blandness has been an issue here and there, but he's on fire here. He really hates those guys!

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IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS ANTONIO INOKI 8/8/1988

 

I don't watch hour-long matches unless I'm tricked into it. I went to an ROH pay per view in 2015, and they fooled me into suffering through 60 minutes of Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong repeating spots. I watched the second Okada/Omega match only because I didn't know it was a draw.

 

I've never watched the Kawada vs. Kobashi draw, and I love those guys!

 

So while I can honestly state that this match played in its entirety in my presence, I would not go so far as to say I watched it. I looked up every once in a while to check that it was still going (it was), but that's the extent of it.

 

It actually looked pretty good! Highlights include a weird closeup on the play-by-play announcer's forehead (shiny!), and an instance where Inoki was slapping the hell of Fujinami, who was showing a lot of fighting spirit in letting him do it. The crowd was excellent, and you have to give the competitors credit - an hour in, and they were still going at a fine clip.

 

So while I'd rather get started on my Scott Norton retrospective than watch Inoki roll around for an hour, maybe you should go ahead and watch it if you can stomach draws and really long matches and Antonio Inoki. The reviews elsewhere on this site are ecstatic. It's probably a really good example of that kind of thing.

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THE THIRD GAME IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP &闘強SHIRUBEYUME CUP CONTENTION TOURNAMENT FIRST ROUND TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS VLADIMIR BERKOVICH 4/24/1989

 

The Russians are here! For a while there in the late 80s, New Japan did its own Rocky IV experiment, bringing over a few hulking Soviets that no one had ever heard of. It's an odd little episode, and its legacy lives on whenever someone looks at a list of IWGP champions and says "Who the hell is Salman Hashimikov?!"

 

I'd love to know more about the negotiations behind this. Were Soviets actually not allowed to go to Japan and pretend to fight before this, or was it just that no one had asked? Whom did they pay for this and how much? Did some minister for fake sporting events agree to sign off only if they got a championship out of it?

 

At any rate, the International Wrestling Grand Prix has never been more international, as Vladimir Berkovich competes for the gold. He's a big fella from what is now Kazakhstan, and he comes from the Gary Albright school of shoot-stylists: singlet, throws, not much else. He's representing his doomed country to the fullest, with a CCCP on the front of his singlet and a hammer and sickle on the back.

 

The competitors lock up and throw each other around until Fujinami throws a leg kick. Berkovich's selling is just great here. He can't believe how much that hurt! He looks betrayed and angry and pained all at once. Fujinami throws another and then one more, but by that point Vlad has figured it out - he catches the kick, traps Fujinami, throws him over his head with a capture suplex. Awesome!

 

Fujinami wins by using his pro wrestling. Snapmare, dropkick, then a backdrop suplex to set up an arm 'n' head submission that I don't know the name of.

 

This was a lot of fun. You can't call a five minute match that drags a bit in the middle great, but it was really interesting and a nice change of pace. Berkovich was a little awkward, but his throws looked great, and his selling was surprisingly good.

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SEVENTH GAME IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP & 闘強 SHIRUBEYUME CUP CONTENTION TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINAL BIG BANG VADER VS TATSUMI FUJINAMI 4/24/1989

 

Imagine Fujinami's situation here. He's just dispatched a massive commie, and he checks for his next match only to discover that it's scheduled for . . . VADER TIME!

 

We start off hit with Vader hitting a backdrop immediately, which Fujinami sells the hell out of before responding in kind. Then we settle into the bulk of the match - Vader punishes Fujinami until it's time for the smaller man to mount a comeback.

 

Vader has improved noticeably since last we saw him, so this is all really good. He's much better at filling time, and the limb work is interesting.

 

Each man has a game plan: Fujinami is working on Vader's arm, while Vader is working on Fujinami's consciousness. The latter fails first. Fujinami goes for a sunset flip only for Vader to sit on him. This is followed by a splash for the pin and a chance for Mr. Bader to win the IWGP heavyweight championship, if he can get past Hashimoto. But that's beyond the purview of this thread (it's good and you should watch it).

 

This is great, and one of those instances where the Tokyo Dome atmosphere is a plus. If you only watch the matches where tens of thousands sit on their hands while Ultimo Dragon blows spots, it's understandable that you'd think the Dome is no place for a professional wrestling show. But when they're interested, it makes everything that much more impressive.

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TATSUMI FUJINAMI RIKI CHOSHU VS VLADIMIR BERKOVICH VICTOR ZANGIEF 5/25/1989

 

It's interesting to what extent these guys have figured out pro wrestling. It's not all the way, but they're making progress. Zangief works in a headlock and a single leg Boston crab, and Berkovich very nearly manages a hot tag. He comes in after his partner's taken a beating, throws Choshu, and then puts up his arms and yells. The crowd is ready for something to happen, but then nothing much does. So close.

 

And that's pretty much how this match goes. There's a move and then they sit in a hold and eventually get up. There's no flow to anything, and it's not very interesting.

 

Fujinami hits a bad piledriver and a dragon sleeper on Berkovich to send the Soviets home. Actually, Berkovich wrestled as late as 1994, but it wasn't again Fujinami so it's none of our business.

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IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TATSUMI FUJINAMI & KENGO KIMURA VS KEIJI MUTOH & JUNJI HIRATA 2/8/1997

 

It's the distant future: The year 1997.

 

Much has changed since we last checked in. The Soviets have long since gone home to face uncertain prospects. Vader is off in the WWF getting fat-shamed. Super Strong Machine has abandoned his mask and adopted a fanciful ring name: "Junji Hirata." Keiji Muto has lost some but not all of his hair.

 

It's good to know that even in this unsettling dystopian landscape, some things remain unchanged: Fujinami and Kimura, still teaming, still the champs, still in their boring old black trunks.

 

Hirata was the best part of this. He comes in after some boring matwork straight throwing chops and no-selling. He means business! He has by far the most interesting moveset in this thing. We get a great big beefy senton, two top-rope headbutts, a Ligerbomb, a hammerlock suplex, and a great German.

 

Kimura busts out a powerbomb, but other than that our champions don't seem to have changed things up.

 

Everything other than Hirata is disappointing. The mat work is aimless, obvious time-filler. There's an attempt to get heat by getting a little tiny trickle of blood on Muto and punching him, but it doesn't work (it doesn't help that Kimura is punching him in the back of the head rather than where the blood's coming from). We get the worst outside the ring brawling this side of Scott Steiner and Christian. They have that walkway leading to ring, and even though it was clearly there before the match started, Kimura and Hirata seem surprised by it. Rather than going headfirst into the mat, Hirata has to hop down to the floor.

 

There is some action in the finishing sequence, which is where Hirata pulls out much of his cool offense. Fujinami gets the pin with a backslide - he really hasn't left the 80s. The sound immediately cuts off, so I wonder what his music was. Based on what I remember of 1997, it was almost certainly "Semi-Charmed Life."

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WWF JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS CHAVO GUERRERO 8/9/1980

I figured out (or had figured out for me) the deal with the two Fujinami tags on New Japan World. What had happened was, Fujinami changed the spelling of his name when he came back from an injury in 1990. This change did not affect the pronunciation - kind of a "Tazz" situation. Or "Hardy Boyz."

 

A quarter of a century later, the interns Gedo hired to do the metadata for these matches missed the fact that "Tatsumi Fujinami" was the same person as "Tatsumi Fujinami."

 

So, if this all made perfect sense, you'd expect all the pre-1990 matches to be under one tag and everything afterwards to covered by the other. That's nearly the case, but there are exceptions. In our last installment, we covered a 1997 match that was the final thing in the first Fujinami tag. Meanwhile, the post-1990 tag includes a solid handful of stuff from the 80s.

 

And that allows to take a trip down memory lane here, as we get a rematch to a May match between Fujinami and Chavo Classic.

 

Shea Stadium (or, as Google Translate has it, "Share stadium") is an unconventional venue. There's grass in all directions, and other than smallish group of people loitering around in big lapels and/or police uniforms, the fans are miles away. Vince is the ring announcer. Texas native Chavo Guerrero has gone full Mexican - introduced as being from the DF and wearing a sombrero with matching costume.

 

This was a fun little match, better than the previous matchup. They do a bunch of clever stuff on the mat. They do the thing where they hit the same move on each and then get up at the same time. Fujinami does an airplane spin, which is pretty dopey.

 

The earn the biggest pop when Fujinami does a dive onto Chavo and the outfield grass, which leaves him with dirt on his ass for the rest of the match. Chavo follows up by teasing a dive but catching himself in the ropes. I approve, as I consider one dive to be the correct number in a junior heavyweight championship match.

 

Things pick up for the finish. Chavo hits a butt attack and misses a flipping senton, there are some reversals as Fujinami tries for a suplex, and finally the champ retains with that move where you put your boots under the guys armpits and roll him over.

 

We get an in-ring Japanese interview post-match. Inoki was on this card (he won), so I guess this was for his benefit.

 

This was just some fun pro wrestling. I missed those early workrate junior matches Fujinami got to do back in the day.

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WWF CERTIFICATION INTERNATIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP RIKI CHOSHU VS TATSUMI FUJINAMI 4/21/1983

We move ahead a few years and find ourselves right back in the middle of the Choshu/Fujinami feud over that butt-ugly WWF International title. This takes place a few weeks after the second and best match, where Choshu won the belt with a rare-as-a-unicorn clean finish in the middle of the ring.

Two good things here: 1 ) It tells a simple story. Fujinami has his knee taped up, and Choshu wants to punish him with the scorpion deathlock. B ) Choshu brings a lot of intensity. Fujinami's as Fujinamish as he always is, but his opponent is bringing the heat.

Choshu punishes the hell out of Fujinami's knee for ten minutes. He hits a (bad) lariat on the outside, then a (bad) lariat in the ring, and then he locks in the scorpion. But Fujinami refuses to quit! There's fighting spirit all over the mat!

So Choshu takes him outside, tree of woes him on the barricade, and strolls back into the ring to enjoy his countout victory. Which, yeah, it's a countout and those are usually bad, but this was great. He did it on purpose, and it made sense. Plus we get the visual of Fujinami in agony among the streamers on the floor, which represent his broken hopes and dreams.

Fujinami's fighting spirit propels him back into the ring after the loss, and Choshu beats him up some more until Inoki and everyone else come in make him stop. I was surprised not to hear any boos during the postmatch shenanigans, or any heat at all really. I was popping pretty hard for it, but the fans in the Kuramae Kokugikan weren't interested.

 

This is definitely one of the thirty best Fujinami vs. Choshu matches.

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IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TATSUMI FUJINAMI & KENGO KIMURA VS RIKI CHOSHU & SUPER STRONG MACHINE 2/7/1988

 

It's nice to see Machine back to being himself.

 

Fujinami and Kimura jump the challengers, and everyone brawls for a while. We get Kimura as face in peril, but the hot tag to Fujinami isn't all that hot. The crowd isn't particularly into this, and despite a distance of three decades, I can truly sympathize. We're supposed to get all heated up for Choshu, but it just doesn't happen this time.

 

There's a lot sitting around on the mat, and when they do get up and do stuff it's all too fast, if that makes any sense. They're not taking any time to build tension or anything. The wrestling moves are perfunctory.

 

Eventually they beat on Mr. S. Strong Machine, and Fujinami wins with a dragon sleeper. This didn't do anything for me. I already forgot about it.

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TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS KURASSSHA, BAM BAM BIGELOW 1/10/1989

 

Let's see if Fujinami can keep up his hot streak against giant, spherical Americans. They're calling Bigelow "Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow," which is just too many nicknames. Is "Bam Bam" supposed to be his real name, and "Crusher" is his nickname?

 

Regardless, Fujinami doesn't wait to start kicking Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow the Bruiser in his legs. Sadly, this can't go on forever, and eventually they have to let Crusher Bam Bam "The American Dream" Bigelow the Bruiser retaliate. His generic, big-man-killing-time-until-the-Hulkster-makes-his-comeback-brother offense really makes you appreciate Vader.

 

Even worse is a brief attempt at martial arts. Bam Bam "The Dragon" Bigelow switched up his stance, and I winced before I even saw his awful karate kick.

 

The only memorable thing about this match comes as Ultimo Bam Bam Bigelow goes to the top rope . . . and falls off.

 

Fujinami here shows his poise and experience, as he does not miss a beat. No standing around in a stupor, no trying to repeat the spot - he pounces on Bigelow, smirks at the crowd, and goes right on offense. It's so smooth, in fact, that I think this was supposed to be a transition. Bam Bam J.T. Smith Bigelow was supposed to screw up his move, just not quite like that.

 

There's a new contender for worst Fujinami finish. Bigelow hoists his opponent into a vertical suplex position but places him gently on the ropes so he can land on the apron (why would he do that?). He then tries vertically to suplex Fujinami back into the ring, but Fujinami lands on him for what turns out after some soul-searching by the referee to be a three count. Both competitors look confused, and they stand around for a bit until Fujinami leaves.

 

Five minutes, felt longer, huge botch, bad finish.

 

The main event on this show, by the way, was Choshu vs. Vader. It went seven minutes before Vader got himself disqualified. Just a real solid pro wrestling show right here. It's amazing this company is still in business.

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TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS KURASSSHA, BAM BAM BIGELOW 1/16/1989

 

As a result of his humiliating, fall-off-the-ropes-like-a-dumbass loss six days ago, Crusher Bam Bam Dr. Death the Lariat Bigelow . . . gets a title shot! Against the guy who just beat him! I don't know what kind of crooked Great White Hype-style commission decides who fights for the IWGP heavyweight championship, but this is awfully fishy. The Diet should look into this.

 

Bigelow tries to show some intensity. I like his demeanor before the match starts - he comes off as intense but nervous, which is appropriate for a title fight. The problem is that he can look all tough and mean, but his work is neither. His stuff is just too loose. Fujinami tries for a sunset flip but is countered by Bigelow sitting on him. But it looks lousy, because Bam Bam barely makes contact. We get an unfortunate closeup of Bigelow throwing strikes at a grounded Fujinami, and he misses by a mile. If I were a wrestler, I'm sure I'd much rather work with Bigelow than Vader. But as a spectator with a sociopathically low level of concern for the physical well-being of others...

 

Bigelow is famous for his agility, but that's not always good. He throws a nifty dropkick, but he also takes a goofy, forced flip bump on an enzuigiri that got an actual chortle out of me. Not the reaction you want in a title match.

 

This is a typical Fujinami vs. large man match. Big guy slams Fujinami; Fujinami writhes amid comebacks. He gets the win on a Thesz press of all things, and the booking has not been doing Fujinami any favors ever since he became a heavyweight. He seldom really beats anyone - you know, KOs them with a dragon suplex or whatever. Back in his junior days, he looked like a killer, but at heavyweight, he's always just barely getting out of there with a sunset flip or a cradle or a countout or something.

 

Meanwhile, Bigelow continues to be out of his element. He looks kind of like Vader; he's shaped like Vader; he does everything worse than Vader. I feel sorry for him having to tag with a much better version of himself.

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I cashed in my free month of the WWE Network (I feel just like Carmella!). It's nice enough, but the only way I'm going to pay for it is if I forget to cancel after a month. So while I still have access, here's Tatsumi Fujinami on the WWE Network Gaiden.

Johnny Rivera vs. Tatsumi "Dragon" Fujinami WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship 12/17/1979

Coming to you from Madison Square Garden, home of the biggest damn wrestling ring I've ever seen. In awe of the size of this ring. Absolute unit. The top rope is up by their ears. Fujinami isn't a towering behemoth or anything, but the ring makes him look like Sky Low Low.

Vince is doing commentary all by his lonely. He doesn't know what any of the moves are called.

Johnny Rivera is from Puerto Rico and is apparently better known as Invader #3. He and Fujinami have what Vince calls (often) a scientific match - lots of hiptosses and pinning combinations and handshakes. Fujinami wins with a German suplex (Vince: "Look at this!").

This fits nicely into the earliest part of the Fujinami story. His WWF junior matches are always fun, but this is more interesting for the setting than for anything that happens in the match.

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Tatsumi Fujinami on the WWE Network Gaiden continues.

Tatsumi Fujinami and Takayuki Iizuka vs. Rick Steiner and Scott Steiner (WCW WrestleWar 5/17/1992)

This match is apparently infamous for the Steiners being incompetent, unprofessional, violent pricks.

Scott Steiner's main problem, other than rage issues and a reliance on horse steroids, is that his reach exceeds his grasp. He's convinced that he can do these really nifty moves, and when he fucks them it must be someone else's fault. And that someone else needs to get potatoed in order to teach him a lesson about how you shouldn't let a juiced-up halfwit fuck up moves on you.

Case in point: Steiner tries a blockbuster suplex on Fujinami and messes it up because it's a stupid move and Steiner's worse at pro wrestling than he thinks he is. He responds to this setback by cuffing Fujinami right in the jaw with a clothesline.

Maybe I'm defensive because I've been reviewing the guy's matches for what feels like forever, but who in the hell is Scott Steiner to be stiffing Tatsumi fucking Fujinami? I know his name has a lot of syllables, but he's not some jobber you toss around, you chemical monstrosity.

The Steiners are absolutely terrible pro wrestlers. Let's add up all the factors.

  1. They can't get over without ingesting their own body weight in steroids.
  2. They can't get over without doing a bunch of complicated hot moves that they can't pull off.
  3. They can't get over without hurting people.

It makes you appreciate people who are really good at pro wrestling, like Hulk Hogan. Sure, Hogan needed the roids, but he didn't injure anyone, and he knew exactly what he was capable of. He didn't fuck up the hulk-up, you know?

It also makes you appreciate shit-talking crippled Scott Steiner. Not only is listening to him do quick maths as good as wrestling gets, his dimished physical state leads to fewer near-manslaughters via ill-conceived suplex.

So anyway, this is at a WCW show with Jesse Ventura and Jim Ross on commentary. That's a plus, because Ventura really is the best ever. He's an honest broker: he'll point out that we should be rooting for the Steiners because of the state of Detroit's auto industry, but he'll also point out when the Steiners are cheating. A man you can trust.

Gary Cappetta in introducing the match uses what an old professor of mine called the lilies of the field construction, which is poetic if not strictly grammatical: "The following tag team event, it is set for one fall."

Iizuka, wearing hot pink, is really good in this. I feel like he gets it a little more than Fujinami. This is a match with no issue (the winning team is #1 contender for the IWGP tag titles! Obviously the fans in Jacksonville are going to be on the edge of their seats for those stakes); the people don't know the Japanese guys. So Iizuka goes out there and does all the hottest stuff he can think of, and he gets some good reactions. I liked one part where he had Scott in a Boston crab. Steiner was about to reverse it, and rather than let him get out, Iizuka rolled him over and tried to pin him. Just a nifty piece of logical wrestling. I feel sorry for the guy - it seems like every time I see him he's getting stiffed by some crowbar. In this one, Rick Steiner crushes his face, and I have a VHS tape on which Mitsuya Nagai kicks him right in his damn throat. It's the hard knock life for Iizuka.

So anyway, they beat each other up for a while and Scott fucks up suplexes, and finally Rick hits a belly to belly off the top and pins Iizuka.

I hated this. I hated the Steiners. I hated Jim Ross for turning the Steiners' fumbling brutality into a WCW selling point.

I liked Iizuka and Jesse Ventura.

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Tatsumi Fujinami on the WWE Network Gaiden concludes with...

Ric Flair vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (WCW SuperBrawl 5/19/1991)

 

This follows some kind of disputed finish between these two in Japan, which we'll get to pretty soon once we return to our regularly-scheduled NJPW World programming.

 

Fujinami enters preceded by some uncomfortable-looking women in geisha robes sprinkling flowers in front of him to thunderous applause from . . . some dudes with signs in Japanese yelling his name? Dusty or somebody must have given them those signs and told them to cheer for the Japanese guy, right? Unless St. Petersburg has a bunch of white wrestling fans who pretend to be Japanese. That'd just be pathetic.

 

Flair's entrance is possibly even dumber, as a chef and a butler and a maid and someone else come out (and stand around for a while since they mistimed it) and wait for Flair to hand off his watch. WCW in 1991 is looking pretty low-rent.

 

So what we get here is a good Ric Flair match with Fujinami as a mildly involved bystander. I can see how people get tired of Flair's formula, and if I watched three of these in a row I probably would be too. But it's been a nice long time since I'd seen a Flair match, so this was a lot of fun. The chops, the theatrical selling, the kneedrop . . . meanwhile, I couldn't tell you anything Fujinami did except screw up a couple times.

 

Speaking of screw ups, I'm going to give an extra shout-out to the Nature Boy here. Having bladed, he goes for an Oklahoma roll and misses. Instead of trying it again, he acts like the blood in his eyes caused the misfire. Very clever.

 

Also worth a shout is Dusty Rhodes on color commentary. I'm familiar with his work later in the decade when he'd continually ignore what was going on in the ring to babble about whatever terrible main event WCW was going to subject us to. He was just great here, his trademark Dustyisms mixed in with good strategic insights. Most of it was about how much everyone's back hurts, but it gave the match a real sports feel.

 

The finish comes when Flair kicks out of a sloppy rollup attempt, sending Fujinami noggin-first into Tiger Hattori. Flair then grabs the tights and trouble-shooting referee Bill Alphonso makes the count.

 

It is certainly bizarre to have Tatsumi Fujinami main event an American pay-per-view in 1991, but the match was pretty good. It dragged a bit, and once again Fujinami was overhadowed by his opponent, but it could have been worse. The next WWF PPV had Hogan and Warrior vs. Iraqis as a main event.

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...white wrestling fans who pretend to be Japanese. That'd just be pathetic.

 

 

 

:D

 

I'm enjoying reading this project. Fujinami had such a long and diverse career.

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THE BIG BANG VADER VS TATSUMI FUJINAMI 2/9/1989

We're back in the early days of Vader - he has his steaming headgear and his Brad Rheingans, and he's not very good.

This is a solid enough match, but all I can see is the missed opportunities. They repeatedly almost build to a big heated babyface comeback, and then they just stall out. For example, there's a brawl outside the ring. This is pretty far into the match, so everyone (including me) thinks the countout is coming, and Fujinami gets a big pop when he rolls Vader back in. He lets out a fighting spirit yell and heads in to really take it to his opponent!

Except he doesn't. He climbs through the ropes like it's his first time, half-heartedly clubs Vader on the back, and calls a spot. Crowd (including me) deflated.
That’s not the only example. Fujinami’s comebacks throughout the match just don’t land owing to poor execution and timing. It’s clear that he’s leading Vader by the hand through this, but even dealing with the rookie, I’m surprised he can’t build to much.

I went back through the Vader matches I’d watched before this, and I was pleased to see that this confirmed my prior thoughts. Vader became good at some point between February 9 and April 24 1989. His April match with Fujinami is super rad; in everything before that, he’s OK and has decent matches, but there’s always something he screws up.

In this one, it’s a spot where he whips Fujinami into the corner and charges after him. Fujinami gets his boots up, but Vader just charges through it and whomps him anyway. That’s actually pretty cool, but the problem is that after their sojourn to the outside, they come in and redo it. This time, Vader makes damn sure he eats the kick by tiptoeing up to Fujinami like a ballerina and then flinging himself backwards.

In general, he lacks any kind of flow on offense. It all feels very abrupt.

That’s not to say that there’s not good stuff. I love his clubbing punches, and Fujinami is really good at taking Vader’s clotheslines. We get a near finish as Vader hoists Fujinami for a vertical suplex, but the smaller man drops behind, procures a sleeper and then upgrades it into a dragon sleeper. Vader’s in trouble, but he gets out of it by punching Fujinami in the damn face.

He even goes to the top and proves he’s a better man than Bigelow by not falling off but instead throwing his bulk into a standing Fujinami and landing on his feet. This gets less of a pop than I would have expected – the crowd in general is subdued, and the herky-jerkiness of the pacing doesn’t improve matters.

Vader wins after a clothesline and then bellows into the mic about wanting a title shot (Fujinami was the champ, but this was non-title).

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TATSUMI FUJINAMI VS OSAMU KIDO 2/5/1991

 

One of the pleasant surprises in this project is how good some of these New Japan mid-carders were. I'd never seen a Kido match, and no one ever told me to. But the dude was pretty good! Ditto for Kantaro Hoshino, Super Strong "Junji Hirata" Machine, Kuniaki Kobayashi, and Kengo Kimura. These fellows are not widely discussed, but they haven't let me down yet.

 

Kido by this point no longer looks like a wrestler; he looks like management. He's got an efficient mustache and a bottom line-oriented haircut. He gives Fujinami a firm handshake, and I was half expecting him to hand over a business card along with it.

 

Kido and Fujinami lock up and take the crowd back to 1981. We got matwork! It's really good matwork, and the crowd is into it. They build to some dropkicks and uppercuts, Fujinami hits a backdrop backbreaker and a dragon sleeper, and he wins with an abdominal stretch into a pin.

 

This was a nifty exhibition, and it showcased Fujinami in his element (this is in contrast to the next match, where we'll see him struggle to work with Ric Flair). It's an odd thing to include on NJPW World, but I stopped trying to make sense of that months ago.

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11TH GAME NWA WORLD & IWGP BOTH HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS FIGHT FUJINAMI TATSUJI VS RICK FLAIR 3/21/1991

 

A disassembled portmanteau is always amusing, so I'm pleased that NJPW World calls this show "Star Arcade in Tokyo Dome." I'm having a brother romance with that. I might take a stay vacation and watch Slam Jamboree.

 

This match is the forerunner of the Superbrawl contest, and it's more of the same. Flair does Flair stuff with Fujinami in the broom position. He's just not good at this kind of thing. Flair does all the comeback-feeding tricks - he bleeds all over the place, he begs off, he goes to the top with no intention of jumping on anyone - but Fujinami is simply incapable of responding with the kind of babyface fire that his role requires.

 

Sometimes he claps and says "yeah" or something. That's him showing personality.

 

Flair resorts to working with trouble-shooting referee Bill Alphonso. He shoves him when Alphonso wants Flair to get back in the ring; he manhandles him a bit when he's trying to stop Flair from pouncing on Fujinami; he even lets out a "You keep your mouth shut!" when Alphonso objects to some rule-bending.

 

Alphonso, in fact, takes the best move of the match. In order to set up the dumb ending, Flair charges Fujinami, who gets out of the way and lets Alphonso take a huge shot from Flair. He's knocked silly, and it's great. But then Fujinami pins Flair a couple times with no ref. Tiger Hattori comes in and finally counts three on the same abdominal stretch pin that beat Kido last time.

 

Fujinami's a double champ! Momentarily! Everyone's very excited, and he's hoisted on shoulders.

 

Their rematch was better - Fujinami is really pretty bad in this. He doesn't work well with Flair, and he whiffs on all his dropkicks. He's no Jushin "Thunder" Lion Tiger.

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"TATSUNJI FUJINAMI" TATSUJIFUJINAMI VS MASAHIRO BUTOHNO 5/31/1991

 

Maybe it's Chrome's fault, but NJPW World has actually gotten harder to decipher. Mr. Butohno is Chono.

 

It's Fujinami's 20th anniversary, and his wife and child are in attendance to see him take on the Jumbo Tsuruta role as the old guy holding down the young up and comers. Here he defends the IWGP title against young Masahiro "But Oh No" Chono, whom I've never liked. They say that he was a good worker before a back injury reduced him to wearing cool outfits and gesturing with a baseball bat, but until now I've had to take their word for it. These are the same people who never warned me about Osamu Kido being cool, so we'll see.

 

We start off hot with a slap leading to a brawl leading to some headlocks. Fujinami's back to his matwork, but it's OK because this is the good matwork.

 

Chono throws some yakuza kicks, but they're not called that yet. I was surprised to see what a daredevil he was. He hits a diving body press from the top rope to the apron and a shoulder block off the top.

 

Eventually after some shenanigans (ref bump, tope from Fujinami), the champion starts working on the dragon sleeper. His third procurement of the hold is decisive as Fujinami shows that he's no keener than Jumbo on letting the youngsters take his spot.

 

Good stuff. Fujinami worked well in his role, and Chono was as good as advertised. The 90s puroresu cognoscenti is forgiven for not telling me about Super Strong Machine.

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"TATSUNJI FUJINAMI" TATSUJIFUJINAMI VS GREAT · MUTA 9/23/1991

 

I was excited to watch a Fujinami vs. Muto singles match until I discovered that I was getting Muto's self-indulgent, Chris Gaines-esque alter ego. Why wrestle when you can wander around and hit people with stuff?

 

Muta shows off during the introductions, but Fujinami's motto is "Spit mist get kicked," and he takes the early advantage. He beats up on Muta, sends him outside, hits a tope . . . and then strolls back in the ring.

 

But this makes perfect sense and highlights the only thing I liked about this match. There was a pronounced difference between our competitors: Fujinami is a wrestler. Muta is (a guy pretending to be) an out of control demon from Hell. Fujinami realizes that Muta's in his element outside the ring where anything goes, so he avoids it.

 

Muta, meanwhile, shows how comfortable he is out there by disappearing under the ring for a while in search of stuff to hit Fujinami with. Once he rejoins us, he remains out of control and unties a turnbuckle cover.

 

The turnbuckle becomes his own petard, however, and Fujinami hoists him upon it. The hoisting is short-lived as Fujinami goes into it, which kicks off the lame portion of the match. Muta strolls around the ring and every so often finds a foreign object to hit Fujinami with (the Japanese word for case is "case-u"). Fujinami bleeds, Muta bites him, the fans boo, and I eventually stop paying attention. I had to go back in there to figure out where the ref bump came from.

 

I should have guessed, but it was mist. So the ref's out for a while because Keiji Muto decided that he wanted everyone to pretend that he had mystical powers but only when he puts on long pants, and we get the traditional spot where the good guy totally would have pinned the bad guy if only there were someone to count. Then Muta hits Fujinami with a bottle, moonsaults him, and wins. They're really going to the "champion loses a non-title match" crutch a lot here.

 

This was bad. Fujinami was very good - he showed great babyface fire for once, particularly when he had Muta in the corner and slapped him repeatedly. The bulk of the match - Muta doing heel stuff - was listless and seemed never to end. I really did stop paying attention.

 

I wonder if the structure, which was unusual if not experimental, was effective. We had an actual heel/face dynamic here, and the crowd responded appropriately. They booed Muta rather than merely not cheering him, and they were very hot for Fujinami's comebacks. However, they were quiet during the cruddy brawling and noticeably flat for the finish. Perhaps the cheating leading directly to the finish was too much for them.

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IWGP Heavy & Gray test 18 club certification both championship game Tatsumi Fujinami vs Riki Choshu 1/4/1992

 

It's a special occasion here in the Tokyo Dome. The announcers are wearing tuxedos, and the capacity crowd is electric for this, the last Fujinami vs. Choshu singles match I have to review!

 

It's a big one, as Fujinami's putting his IWGP heavyweight championship on the line, while Choshu is risking his bullshit, made-up-ass Greatest 18 Club title.

 

They pick up where they left off in the 80s with some deliberate matwork. Too much for a twelve minute match. Fujinami tries to get things heated up with an unsportsmanlike slap off a rope break, but Choshu's not quite ready, so we do some more matwork.

 

And even though I was a little bored, it seems that Riki was correct. Based on the reaction of the crowd, the pacing here cannot be faulted. The spectators were never uninterested and became downright ecstatic as things reached their end.

 

That end comes when Choshu hits three consecutive lariats - two to the front of Fujinami and one to the back - to win one title and retain another.

 

If it weren't for the finish, which was not only clean and definitive but also an example of the escalation of punishment required to win a match, this could have come right out of 1983.

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