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William Bologna

Tatsumi Fujinami

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Tatsumi Fujinami & Riki Choshu & Osamu Kido vs Kengo Kimura & Shiro Koshinaka & Masashi Aoyagi 8/15/1992

Here we have the debut of Heisei Ishingun, a faux outsider faction that kicked around for most of the 90s and never accomplished much. You've got Kimura trying to get out from under Fujinami's modest shadow; Koshinaka (now in black pants!) using his ass attacks for evil; and Aoyagi, who likes to kick it. He's a karate guy.

It's funny Aoyagi showed up here - I just started listening to Bahu's magisterial history of FMW, the early part of which is all Onita vs. Aoyagi and various other karate guys. Never heard of the guy in my life, and here is showing up twice in a week.

The idea here is to get the HI faction over as a threat even though no one in it was previously perceived as such, so everyone's selling like crazy for these guys. In particular, Kimura's spamming these leg lariats and the boys in black trunks are acting like they're devastating.

There's some good heat here. Before the match begins, Fujinami strolls over to have a word with Kimura, but Koshinaka steps in and slaps him across the face. There's also a yelling match with one of HI's corner men (I think it's Akitoshi Saito, but he doesn't have completely terrible hair so I can't be sure).

After ten minutes or so of fast-paced action, Kimura pins Fujinami after one of those leg lariats. Then everyone runs in and we have a brawl.

This was cool. I went back and looked up the Heisei Ishingun stuff after the match - while I was watching it, I had no idea why these people were teaming or what, in general, was the beef, but I liked it anyway.

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Tatsumi Fujinami vs Takahashi Ishikawa 1/4/1993

After one whole match, we set aside the feud with the fake outsiders for a feud with real ones: This year's January 4th Tokyo Dome show is headlined by back-to-back NJPW vs. WAR clashes! (Heisei Ishingun is all the way down in the second match, behind a bunch of WCW guys.)

A rivalry with WAR is a difficult thing to book. At the top, you have Genichiro Tenryu. He's won the triple crown. He's pinned Baba. He's got a pedigree, credibility. So you match him up with Riki Choshu at the top of the card (it wasn't any good, but that's not the point).

If Choshu's #1, then Fujinami's #2, and he gets . . . Takahashi Ishikawa. That's the problem when you're dealing with Tenryu's vanity promotion. The talent thins out real fast after you get past Tenryu.

I knew nothing about Ishikawa, but he looks like Tenryu and Arashi had a kid. Hell, I read his Wikipedia article and I still don't know much about him, which makes me think that there's just not that much to know.

But here he is the semi-main of a sold out Tokyo Dome show, so let's see what happens.

Fujinami comes out hot with the boxing. A dropkick sends Ishikawa outside, and he follows up with a tope. At this point the crowd is going apeshit. Then Ishikawa takes over, and we sit in a headlock for most of the rest of the match. Whew! I was getting a little overexcited there.

Eventually Ishikawa escapes two dragon sleeper attempts by kicking Fujinami in the face (that was cool). He hits two powerbombs and goes to the top after Fujinami kicks out, but our hero follows him and suplexes him. He hits three Inoki-style enzuigiris and locks in the dragon sleeper for the win.

This was OK. The body of the match was dull, but not so dull that I'm mad or anything. Ishikawa did not appear to be on Fujinami's level, either as a worker or as a believable competitor.

I think some of the subtext of the work was lost on me - in addition to Fujinami's alluding to Inoki with the kicks, Ishikawa tried a dragon sleeper of his own and a scorpion deathlock. I guess they were doing a thing?

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Tatsumi Fujinami VS The Great Kabuki 2/5/1993

We again run into the thinness of the WAR roster, as this match is all about convincing us that the Great Kabuki has a chance against Fujinami.

Fujinami has a young Yuji Nagata and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in his corner, as well as a middle-aged Riki Choshu. I never accepted those two working together after wrestling each other three hundred and twenty-four times in 1983, but I kind of buy it now that there's an external threat.

The story here - and I liked it - was that Kabuki's cornermen kept distracting Fujinami and/or the ref long enough for Kabuki to do something dastardly, which is his specialty. It worked quite a few times, but I'm unhappy to report that in most of these cases Kabuki didn't do any more than put Fujinami in an armbar.

The other story is that Kabuki wants the match to take place outside the ring, where he has help. We're used to Fujinami bleeding all over the place when he goes out there, so it makes sense when Choshu takes it upon himself to roll his compatriot back inside when the WAR guys are threatening him.

Business picks up when Kabuki takes advantage of the referee's inattention to spit mist in Fujinami's face. Our hero looks like he's covered in pesto and in real danger. He kicks out of Kabuki's attempts to pin him and tries a dragon suplex. Kabuki pops him pretty hard to get out of it. Fujinami tries a rollup off the ropes, which doesn't work, and a rollup off the shoulders, which does. 

This was almost really good. I liked Kabuki's presence. You could tell the dude was a cheater, and it brought an interesting dynamic. But other than the cheating and the finishing sequence (which was a lot of fun), this wasn't much of a match.

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Tatsumi Fujinami & Riki Choshu & Osamu Kido & Hiroshi Hase & Takayuki Iizuka vs Genichiro Tenryu and Ashura Hara & Takashishi Ishikawa & Hiromichi Fuyuki & Koki Kitahara 2/16/1993

It's all hands on deck in this installment of the NJPW vs. WAR feud. Fujinami gets top billing for the home team, while Tenryu gets a bigger pop than anyone during the introductions.

The crowd is beyond excited for this; they roar every time a new contestant enters. Even Fuyuki. Even Iizuka!

Inevitably, Tenryu is the MVP here. He's menacing, well-permed, and hitting people just as hard as he possibly can. But it's Choshu who wins the glory: We get our first fall when Fujinami hits Ishikawa with a couple enzuigiris and tags in Choshu, who lariats him for the pin.

The second fall sees Kido (who's just great in this, as is almost everyone else) (not Hara, whom we haven't seen since 1980 and who got old in the interim) as the surprise hero for New Japan. He's been pulling out these super nifty armbars all over the place, and one of them takes Tenryu out of commission for a while. Kitahara eats a uranage from Hase and then a lariat and deathlock from Choshu. New Japan presses their power play advantage and wins in two straight falls.

This was great. Everyone got to shine, even the pack of nobodies backing up Tenryu. The New Japan guys were surprisingly generous with their opponents, although I guess it's easier to be magnanimous when you're winning in two. Iizuka and Hase did a lot of the actual wrestling for their team, and they were certainly up to the task. Fujinami once again doesn't get treated as a legendary main eventer - he got beat on as much as anyone. But this was about building Choshu back up, and it did that.

It looks like we only get one more match in this WAR feud. I'm going to miss it.

Programming notes: During my post-G1 wrestling fatigue, it appears that Gedo sneaked in and added a bunch of matches to the Fujinami categories. The good news is that we get some Dick Murdoch. The bad news is that this is never, ever going to end. The damn thread turned a year old on Thursday.

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WRESTLINNG DONTAKU IN FUKUOKA DOME May 3, Fukuoka Dome, 1993 Antonio Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Riki Choshu & Genichiro Tenryu

Wrestling Dontaku used to take place in a dome. New Japan's 2010s resurgence is great, but don't get carried away with how much they've resurged.

I'm sure there's some kind of interesting backstory that explains how these teams came together, but I don't know anything about it. On a functional level, this is the final result of the problem that's bedeviled every instance of this WAR incursion: WAR only has one guy. Who can stand next to Tenryu and main event a dome show? Scan the lineup of in the last three matches in this thread - you don't main event Wrestling Goddamn Dontaku with Koki Kitahara.

So it's Tenryu and Choshu vs Inoki and Fujinami, which highlights how much the ring attire game changed in the 90s. These 80s relics are all wearing black trunks. Imagine trying to keep it straight if you weren't a puro obsessive who already knew all about them. It's . . . uh . . . the short one and weird-looking one against the ugly ones - the guy with the perm and the other one with the mullet.

It winds up being exactly the kind of personality-reliant New Japan main event that made all the tape-traders love All Japan. It's not bad or anything, but the work's not compelling enough on its own; it relies on you being really invested in these dramatis personae. 

It's your typical lay around on the mat and then every so often get up and stiff one another kind of match. It's the game Tenryu was born to play, but Fujinami's not great at it - once again he doesn't have the presence to stand out in this company, and he's not one of these fighting spirit tough guys who can get over by standing motionless and trading punches. Inoki, on the other hand, is just great at it. It's really a shame that he spent so much of his career rolling around trying for octopus holds, because even I marked out at the end of the match when he's aiming these deliberate, dramatic punches at Tenryu's face. With his stiff strikes and awful-looking enzuigiri, he could have been the rich man's Tenryu.

Choshu just doesn't work for me. I get that he has charisma, that people buy into him. But the highlights of his matches are supposed to be when he lines it up and levels some chump with a lariat, and his lariats are just terrible. They do not look like they hurt, and there's no excuse for it. Is he not hitting guys hard enough? This is a main event in Japan - you can hit them as hard as you want!

I guess my advice for three quarters of the participants in the match is: Be More Like Tenryu.

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G1 CLIMAX August 7, 1993 Ryogoku Kokugikan Tatsumi Fujinami VS Hiroshi Hase

This was an interesting study in Fujinami working a more modern style. When I saw the roster for this one, I thought there'd be a lot of matwork to endure. That's Fujinami's MO, and I figured Hase would follow the older worker's lead. Instead, we got a very 90s-ish moves-based match. Fujinami goes so far as to take a couple of his old-timey submissions and turn them into moves - an abdominal stretch becomes a German suplex, and a dragons sleeper is turned into some kinda slop drop-looking thing.

Hase takes the advantage by hitting two Rocks Bottom (that is the correct plural - it's like attorneys general) outside the ring and proceeds to work on the old man's back. Fujinami regains the initiative by booting Hase in the knee, and then we do sit in holds for a while.

Hase hits all his big moves, including a dragon suplex and a northern lights suplex, but he can't put Fujinami away. The veteran takes over with a pair of his own Rocks Bottom (not quite as cool-looking as Hase's but not bad) and gets the win with a deathlock of the scorpion variety. It turns out (I didn't know this until checking Wikipedia after the match) this was the finals of the G1, and Fujinami wins! So belated congratulations, old-timer.

I liked this a lot - it's the best Fujinami singles match we've seen since . . . I don't know, maybe Vader? He was in his element working with Hase, who's just great.

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94BATTLE FIELD IN Tokyo Dome January 4 Tokyo Dome, 1994 Eighth game single match Tatsumi Fujinami vs Hulk Hogan

I realize that whenever one of these Hogan matches shows up I'm the victim of my low expectations, but damned if he isn't one of the Fujinami's best opponents. When they last hooked up, back in 1985, Hogan was so good that I had to re-examine a number of my long-held wrestling beliefs. In the US, Hogan was the examplar of style over substance wrestling - a man capable of nothing but posing, someone who needed the full force of the WWF's media machine behind him for anyone to like him.

But in Japan, he brings the goods. His charisma is effortless; he doesn't need Rick Springfield to get over. And he's not out of place when it comes to the work - he runs fast, hits hard, and only occasionally looks completely embarrassing on the mat.

I realized that Hogan's US work wasn't lazy, obvious, and predictable because that's all he was capable of; it's because he knew that that's what the people wanted. If it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid: that's the philosophy behind Hogan's work in the WWF. And in Japan, the people need to see you wrestle if you're going to get over, so that's what Hogan does, and he's really good at it.

Hulk Hogan makes being Hulk Hogan look easy. Examining his work quickly shows that it's anything but.

This is a typical Hogan in Japan match. He does all the matwork, and I enjoyed it. It's strange - when he's on the receiving end of the takeovers, he's downright graceful. When he's the one doing the taking over, it's noticeably clunky. But there's some good stuff in here. He and Fujinami do a long headlock sequence that's really impressive

Eventually they get up, and goddamn does Hogan have some good offense when he's in the Tokyo Dome. He axe bombers Fujinami onto that walkway leading the ring, and Fujinami lariats them both back into the ring. At one point Fujinami's trying to sink in a sleeper, and Hogan backs him into the corner and just wrecks him with back elbows. These were seriously stiff.

Fujinami briefly pretends he has a chance by kicking Hogan in the leg a few times after a missed legdrop, but Hogan hits an axe bomber in the corner and then another for the pin.

The (reasonable) criticism here is that Fujinami got eaten up and was merely a bystander in the match. That happens to him a lot, particularly against the iconic champions of 1980s US wrestling. But - and I never thought I'd think this - the Hulk Hogan show is good enough for me.

I'm probably overrating this because I saw Jimmy Hart there with his megaphone . . . and he never used it.

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FIGHTING SPIRIT '94 February 1994 5 days Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center Tatsumi Fujinami & Osamu Kido VS Akira Nogami & Takayuki Iizuka

Nogami and Iizuka have dopey-looking matching tag team pants with fringes on them, and I don't know which one is which. I used to recognize Iizuka because he wore pink, but he traded those in for the fringes; at the turn of the century he was the guy who looked kind of like Dave Grohl who stood next to Yuji Nagata; now he has a metal hand and is in obvious pain when he moves - I recognize all of those guys, but not this one. I couldn't pick Britt Baker out of a lineup either, though, so maybe it says more about me than about these losers.

They're really playing up the tag team thing here. In addition to the matching outfits, they do all kinds of lame double-team maneuvers. There's a double clothesline, a double dropkick - they're the poor man's New Rockers!

They do all this stuff to Kido and then hit him with a body press, but Fujinami comes off the top with his shin attack, hits one of them (which one? who cares?) with the backdrop into a backbreaker, and puts him to dragon sleep.

This accomplished very little other than making Nogami and Iizuka look like jobbers. 

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WAR went home, so we're back to the phony-baloney Heisei Ishingun fake-ass outsider faction faux invasion ersatz bogus feud. Heisei Ishingun is the Monkees to WAR's Beatles. Which makes Shiro Koshinaka the Michael Nesmith to Genichiro Tenryu's McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and what the hell Ringo too.

As cynical as I am about this, the crowd is at a fever pitch as we head into the climax of a seven match series to decide once and for all if Heisei Ishingun, the Bush to WAR's Nirvana, is better than New Japan (Great Kabuki is Krist Novoselic in this metaphor). The result may surprise you. 

We're all tied up at 3 following what I'm assuming was a clutch performance from Osamu Kido in defeating Akitoshi Saito (we'll just say he's Micky Dolenz). Fujinami whips off his shirt and away we go.

The story they told was that Fujinami kept trying for his dragon-prefixed finishers, while Koshinaka was focused on his opponent's shoulder and arm, which were covered in tape. They told it well, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats during the dragon suplex teases. Koshinaka's anti-arm offense was pleasantly unboring. And they weren't just wasting our time with this stuff, either. The finish comes after some extracurricular activity, as the New Japan team gets so frustrated that Fujinami is enduring a number of armbars that wouldn't look out of place on Chris Jericho's printer paper that a couple of them hop up on the apron. Koshinaka is forced to slap Hiroshi Hase around a little bit, and he follows that up by hitting Fujinami with a sloppy 1988-style powerbomb and then locking in a final armbar.

Heisei Ishingun, once considered the Crazy Town to WAR's Limp Bizkit, has proven itself to be the greatest faction in pro wrestling history.

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1994 Battle Rush April 1994 4 days Hiroshima Green Arena IWGP Heavyweight Championship bout Hashimoto Shinya vs Tatsumi Fujinami

This is a title match, but I don't know which one is the champion. For some reason, NJPW World isn't big on showing us entrances.

It's been a while since we've seen Hashimoto, and I never noticed how much he looks like Jack Black, star of such motion pictures as Nacho Libre and School of Rock. He's also had quite a recording career as one half of Tenacious D, whose albums include The Pick of Destiny and Rize of the Fenix.

But enough about that; it's time for the ring announcer to make the introductions. And this guy is in such a cheesy red velvet tuxedo that he looks like a nightclub entertainer in the hit film Goodfellas, which I still can't believe lost out on the Best Picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves, which Kevin Costner adapted from the memoirs of one of the early Dudley Boys. 

Our competitors spend some time circling and looking for the advantage, accomplishing little except making Hashimoto jiggle. At the six minute mark, though, they set the tone for the rest of the match: Fujinami commences to slapping Hashimoto in the face as hard as he can, and his opponent responds by kicking Fujinami right in the back over and over. At this point I was marking out like David Arquette and Scott Caan when they met Jimmy King in Ready to Rumble

We get the best Fujinami in this match. As I already mentioned, he's hitting Hashimoto really hard, and then he does a magnificent job of conveying that he's in danger of losing not just the match but also some brain cells and years off his life. He's slumped in the corner and almost out when he mounts a comeback and locks in a dragon sleeper, turning crimson from exertion and trauma.

They reenact a couple of those Maeda matches from the 80s - Hashimoto keeps kicking Fujinami, who staggers and falls down. We get a little extra spice as the ref keeps trying to keep Hashimoto off of his comatose opponent, even jumping on his back at one point (this prompts Hase to jump up on the apron and get ref-kicked off - Hase hasn't been having a lot of luck on the apron lately).

More kicks, and Fujinami's close enough to dead that Hashimoto can't even pick him up. When he finally does get back up, Hashimoto comes off the ropes to administer the coup de grace only to get caught in a cradle, which Fujinami screws up just like back in the day. He can't get his arm around Hashimoto's expansive waist, there's an awkward pause, and they're under the ropes as the ref counts three.

I haven't enjoyed something so much only to be let down by the ending since the 1997 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cop Land

Hashimoto is just as annoyed and stomps the victor before being peeled off by his corner men. We don't get entrances, but we get to see Fujinami getting a belt and a trophy and a microphone with which he can make a speech.

This was great. I can't remember the last time Fujinami looked so good; his intensity made this compelling. 

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94WRESTLING DONTAKU IN FUKUOKA DOME May 1, Fukuoka Dome, 1994 IWGP Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Hashimoto Shinya

One month later, Hashimoto gets his rematch. He's not wasting any time, either - he picks up where he left off in April, jumping the champ before the bell and kicking his ass right out of the ring.

He proceeds to kick Fujinami about three hundred times. Fujinami gets a lil tiny comeback and puts Hashimoto in some holds, but he's just killing a couple minutes before Hashimoto kills him. Which is exactly what happens - lots of kicks, a DDT, and Hashimoto has his title back.

This was six minutes long, which is not something you expect from a title match; especially in these days of interminable main events and Meltzer giving stars based on mileage as much as anything else. It was a hell of a six minutes, as Hashimoto really brings out the best in Fujinami. His relentless stiffness forces something compelling out of Fujinami, who's all too willing to go on autopilot when he's not being repeatedly potatoed.

As far as Fujinami's opponents go, Shinya Hashimoto is truly the Hulk Hogan of wrestlers.

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95 Tokyo Dome BATTLE7 January 4 Tokyo Dome, 1995 10TH MATCH SUPERHARD SYNDROME・Tag Match Junji Hirata & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Sabu & Masahiro Chono

SUPERHARD SYNDROME! Fortunately this match went only about ten minutes. Once SUPERHARD SYNDROME hits three hours you have to consult a physician. To do something about your SUPERHARD SYNDROME! WRESTLING PRIAPISM IN TOKYO DOME!

This match's inscrutable subtitle does nothing to explain why it's happening. In this corner we have a couple old guys sporting some suspiciously bulky traps. Maybe I'm a cynic, but when I see a couple 40-somethings whose necks start just below their ears, I assume they've been training really hard together. And by "training really hard together," I mean "injecting steroids into each other and high-fiving."

In that corner we have useless, post-injury Masa Chono and a wrestler who is not only homicidal but also suicidal and even genocidal, Sabu. I always thought that was a bit much. It's just wrestling, Sabu. There's no need for any genocide.

Why are these two tagging together? Why are they wrestling the old guys? Why does there seem to be a particular issue between Chono and Hirata? I don't know. Must be something to do with SUPERHARD SYNDROME.

Chono and Sabu immediately jump their opponents in a manner than can only be described as SUPERHARD, and Sabu immediately starts doing Sabu stuff. He sets up a couple chairs on the walkway leading to the ring and jumps off them to body press Hirata. It hurt that much more because he jumped off chairs.

He proceeds into the ring to try something similar on Fujinami, who's being held in the corner by Chono. But Fujinami ducks, and Sabu leg lariats his own partner; to make things worse, he jumped off a chair so it hurt more!

Then they put the chairs away and wrestle for a while, and it's not terrible The focus, for whatever reason, is on Hirata and Chono. Hirata's one of those guys who has surprised me in this project, and though I've always I've always Super Strong Machine is cooler than this version, I will say that he's surprisingly expressive for someone who spent so much time under a mask. His lariats are sub-Choshu bad, but he holds his own in there.

Sabu does some stuff that tries one's suspension of disbelief, but he does wrestle a little bit. And I appreciate that he has "SABU" written on a piece of tape on his arm so I don't lose track of which one he is.

About nine minutes in, they bring out the props again, and you realize that they had just been killing time until Sabu could play with furniture (hitting someone with a chair in the ring in full view of the referee doesn't get anyone disqualified, by the way. Presumably because of the hardness of the syndrome). Sabu puts a chair on the turnbuckle and then a chair on top of that and then Hirata on top of a table and the crowd here in the Tokyo Dome is super hard excited. He drops a leg from a chaired chair and . . . well, shit. It looks like Hirata was supposed to roll out of the way, but Sabu still clipped him. I think the move "officially" missed because just then Fujinami jumps back in the ring, and Chono and Sabu get beaten up.

Finally, Hirata and Chono square off. Hirata hits some bad clotheslines, a powerbomb, and a top-rope headbutt but can't get the pin. He comes off the ropes only to be hit with a chair by Sabu. Chono uses the opening to Yakuza kick Hirata exactly once and win the match. Hunter Hearst Chono really Booker T'ed Hirata on this one.

I don't know why this made NJPW World, unless being at the Tokyo Dome is reason enough. Everyone except Hirata was either boring or terrible, and it made Hirata look like a chump. It didn't make my SYNDROME any more SUPERHARD than normal.

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'96BATTLE FORMATION 29 days Tokyo Dome April 1996 Tatsumi Fujinami vs Genichiro Tenryu

The subtitle here is Battle of Twin Dragon! Half of Tenryu's name is dragon, and Fujinami's always doing dragon stuff: dragon sleepers, dragon suplexes, hoarding gold, killing Beowulf . . . you know, dragon stuff.

Fujinami hits two topes early on, and you can already tell that this is one of those matches that benefits from the Dome environment. The roar is tremendous, and it's impressive seeing thousands of people stand to watch Fujinami employ himself as a projectile.

Less impressive is the camera work, which completely misses as something goes wrong on the third tope. Tenryu catches Fujinami and breaks his nose, with the result that the rest of the match is covered in blood.

The heat takes care of itself from this point. Fujinami bleeds, and Tenryu does a bunch of stuff that he was probably going to do anyway but that's all the more dramatic because of the red everywhere. Face punches, boots to the mouth, acting like a dick, making dick-like expressions, waiting for the ref to stop the match like a dick, being a dick - it's the Tenryu Show.

Part of the Tenryu Show, of course, is sloppy execution. His enzuigiri is just terrible, but he does it in every match - it's the Choshu lariat of wrestling moves. He hits a godawful powerbomb followed by a dreadful top rope elbow drop, but it only highlights how invested the crowd is in this as they pop for Fujinami's kickout. Did Tenryu pin anyone with that elbow drop? Maybe Stan Hansen in the post-split Triple Crown tournament, but that's only because Hansen's back stopped working.

Fujinami gets little comebacks here and there; the last one starts awkwardly as Tenryu doesn't seem to know it's coming and is in mid-strike when Fujinami takes over. We get a great visual as Fujinami locks in the dragon sleeper and grimaces with blood covering his face. He goes to the top for his shin drop thing and . . . misses, I guess? Once again we have top rope move whose outcome we have to glean from the opponent's response. In this case, Tenryu gets up, lariats him twice, and wins. So I guess it missed.

This is the Tenryu Show with special guest star Fujinami's blood, so if you like Tenryu you'll like this. I like Tenryu, so . . . well, I won't insult you by belaboring the obvious conclusion. Fujinami is barely there other than as a vessel for blood to come out of. Maybe getting his nose busted took him out of the proceedings, but he was noticeably less interesting here than when Hashimoto was kicking his ass.

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97WRESTLING WORLD IN Tokyo Dome January 4 Tokyo Dome, 1997 10TH MATCH IWGP Tag Team Championship match Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Masahiro Chono vs Kengo Kimura & Tatsumi Fujinami

Seiji Sakaguchi is out to do the official announcements, and he's still an intimidating-looking fellow. Hiro Saito (I think) doesn't want to hand over the belts, which sets the tone of lukewarm bad sportsmanship on the part of the champs.

The theme is failed double teams. Both teams do the thing where one guy holds up an opponent for his partner to blast but instead gets blasted himself. Tenzan comes off the top to break up a dragon sleeper but lands on Chono. In fact, our heroes win when Kimura finally hits his leg lariat (which is again treated like a killer move throughout - Chono and Fujinami both get nailed with and respond unfavorably) while Fujinami holds up Chono. Fujinami capitalizes with a backdrop and a dragon sleeper while Old Man Kimura shuffles over to stop Tenzan, and we have new (old) tag team champions! The sounds cuts off immediately, and it's 1997, so Fujinami must be using "Semi-Charmed Life" again.

The leadup to the finishing stretch was dull. The younger guys aren't good, and the gooder guys aren't young (Kimura in particular is showing his age - he's starting to hunch over a little bit). Things picked up during the lengthy build to the finish, so I don't feel like it wasted my time completely. This site's thread on what was going on elsewhere at the same time (this match didn't make the cut) does make you wonder why anyone would decide to watch this instead of All Japan or Shotgun Saturday Night.

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FIGHTING SPIRIT'97 February 1997 9 days Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center Tadao Yasuda & Osamu Kido & Hashimoto Shinya VS Akira Nogami & Tatsumi Fujinami & Kengo Kimura

What was the point of Tadao Yasuda? He gets no reaction during the introductions, and he's Roland Bock-level awkward.

What, indeed, is the point of this match? There are two interesting things that happen:

1. Just as the two participants no one cares about lock up (Nogami gets a Yasuda-esque reaction), the lights go off. We don't see Sabu in the in the ring when they come back on. Kengo Kimura's not covered in mystery blood. So I guess the lights just went off.

2. Kido, Hashimoto, and Yasuda each take a turn jumping off the top rope onto Nogami's stomach. That was kind of fun.

Kimura pins Yasuda after a leg whip to the face, and I'm left wondering once again how they decide what goes on NJPW World.

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FINAL POWER HALL in Tokyo Dome January 1998 4 days Tokyo Dome The fourth game Osamu Nishimura triumphal return match, Tag Match Osamu Nishimura & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Satoshi Kojima & Manabu Nakanishi

All four of these guys are still wrestling.

Nishimura, who's from the Kido school of guys who look like middle management and are named Osamu, doesn't get much of a reaction for his triumphal return match. This is his return from Europe, by the way. The cancer was a little later.

Nishimura pulls off his robe to reveal an NWO shirt! No can believe it! And then he throws it into the crowd and it's like it never happened. Probably I'm missing something about this super hot angle.

Fujinami's looking older (we've fast-forwarded nearly a year since the last match), but he's always in remarkable shape. Nakanishi's the big muscle man in this match, but the old man is right there with him

Nishimura has maybe the best elbows I've ever seen. Like, as far as time-killing throwaway elbows go (as opposed to Misawa-style big windup KO elbows). They're great! He shouldn't ever do anything else (his non-drop kicks are terrible)! He's the Dick Murdoch of elbows.

There's less rolling around than I expected from Nishimura's triumphant return. It's all very standard stuff. Good enough, if you're in the mood for this kind of thing.

So they have a basic New Japan tag match, everyone gets to do some cool stuff, and Nishimura returns triumphantly with a Northern Lights Suplex on Kojima. Later in this show, Choshu has five retirement matches and there are a couple fake shoot fights. This might be the best thing on the show!

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FIGHTING SPIRIT'98 Nakajima Sapporo February 8, 1998 Sports Center Tatsumi Fujinami VS Shiro Koshinaka

This is a match that no one has been waiting for. After some pretty good slaps to open, Koshinaka does his stuff to absolute silence from the crowd in Sapporo. Fujinami gets more of a reaction, but things remain funereal. They pop when it looks like Fujinami's going to attempt a dive, but nah. That's cheap heat, brother - better to have Koshinaka whip Fujinami into the railings.

They try to pick up the pace with some fast-paced matwork, but they keep screwing up. How many times have these guys wrestled each other? You'd think they could cooperate on a headlock.

Fujinami gets the win after they sit in a figure four for a while until Koshinaka decides he's had enough. That's makes two of us, chimpy.

There is no reason for anyone ever to watch this match.

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RISING THE NEXT GENERATIONS August 8, Osaka Dome, 1998 IWGP Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Masahiro Chono

Chono has his NWO or Team 2000 or whatever pals in his corner. Fujinami has Osamu Nishimura's meek demeanor and receding hairline. And also the rest of him.

This match is another example of why the tape traders liked All Japan. Matwork matwork matwork. Couple high spots. Chono wins the title with an STF. Fujinami won this title four months before this - why didn't we see that? He defended it a couple times. Why didn't we see those, and why did we see that meaningless ten minute match with Koshinaka that not even the participants cared about?

This is getting boring again. Tenryu shows up a couple matches from now - maybe that will help. We get to see the NWO version of Irwin R. Schyster a bit after that. At this point, I'm looking forward to the worst parts of 90s US wrestling just to break up the monotony.

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99 WRESTLING WORLD in Tokyo Dome January 4 Tokyo Dome, 1999 The second game New Japan Pro Wrestling vs. Ishingun Tadao Yasuda & Osamu Kido & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Michiyoshi Ohara & Kengo Kimura & Tatsutoshi Goto

We last saw Heisei Ishingun back in 1994, when Shiro Koshinaka defied expectations by defeating Fujinami and New Japan in a climactic seventh match to prove that, despite being a fake outsider faction full of lame-os, HI is in fact the greatest pro wrestling stable ever.

To the extent that Heisei Ishingun has an A-team, we don't get it in this match. Kimura is here, but instead of Koshinaka we get Ohara and Goto. These two are, respectively, the Yoshi-Hashi of 90s New Japan and the Yoshi-Hashi of 90s New Japan.

The home team didn't send its best to this one either (it's the second match on the card). Fujinami and Kido are great but old, and Yasuda is huge but useless. He moves like Manabu Nakanishi. And I mean current Nakanishi, where he's in obvious physical distress at all times.

Kido looks just great here. He's working fast, and his stuff is smooth. He's four years old than Kimura, but Kengo looks decrepit.

I stole this observation from something Ditch pointed out years ago, but these matches where Yasuda's the junior partner are odd if not quite interesting, since you don't expect the most physically imposing guy to be getting beaten on for most of the match. But that's the story they're telling, as Tadao is brutalized by his lilliputian opponents until he hits a Tiger Driver and a top rope body press on either Goto or Ohara (who cares?) to get the win.

This was decent, even though the ringside cameraman cuts off half of everyone's head. (It's not just Yasuda, either - he does it with the short guys too.) Kido was great, Yasuda was pretty bad, and everyone else was somewhere in the middle. 

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FIGHTING SPIRIT'99 February 1999 5 days Sapporo Nakajima Sports Center Kensuke Sasaki & Tatsumi Fujinami VS Shiro Koshinaka & Genichiro Tenryu

Koshinaka ass attacks before the bell but gets dragon screwed. This brings in Tenryu, and man there's just something about that guy. There's a reason he's main evented for everyone. Here he hits Fujinami very hard several times until Fujinami just blasts him. We are reminded that Fujinami is the best wrestler in the world when someone is hitting him full force in the face. It's always in him; you just need to marshal enough violence to bring it out.

The point of this match is to convince everyone that Kensuke is extremely tough and cool. He knocks Koshinaka silly with a single slap. Tenryu's potatoes have no effect on him. He catches Koshinaka mid-ass attack and suplexes him. He gets most of the witty rejoinders.

Koshinaka, by the way, might want to rethink his tactical approach. Those ass attacks just don't have a very high success rate. In addition to the suplex, he gets yanked nearly into a dragon sleeper while attempting one, and he manages to blast his own partner. Maybe stay on your feet, Shiro.

I enjoyed this, but I'm only now realizing what a hopeless Tenryu mark I am. It had hard shots, big personalities, and some nifty sequences.

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FIGHTING SPIRIT'99 Nakajima Sapporo February 6, 1999 Sports Center Tadao Yasuda & Junji Hirata & Tatsumi Fujinami VS Michael Wall Street & NWO Sting & Scott door Norton

This smacks of WCW contractual obligation. Can you put together a worse NWO team without resorting to Virgil?

The visiting team is fully infected with WCWitis, which is to say that they're all juiced up and secure enough in their huge contracts and lack of managerial oversight that they don't care about their jobs. They kill their time here with stomps and clubbing forearms. They try a thing with Hirata - Sting and Wallstreet each grab a leg, then Norton headbutts him in the dick. But they screw up the timing. It looks bad, they don't care, the crowd doesn't care, I don't care. Norton in particular looks as bored as I do.

Not that New Japan is bringing the heat either. I can't believe how bad Yasuda is, how awkwardly he moves. He's only in his 30s - how does he get around so poorly? He's big, but he's not that big. He's bad at literally everything. He's tall, and he's got a pretty dece Mayor Mike Haggar mustache, but that's it. His sumo slaps look like garbage. He throws a big comeback straight punch at Bo Dallas' dad that looks so bad the crowd doesn't even realize it's a transition. He's moving up my list of most embarrassing champions. At least people liked Bob Sapp.

I don't even remember Fujinami tagging in until the very end (I'm not going back to check). He tricks Norton into hitting Wallstreet, then procures the dragon sleeper, prompting him to tap immediately.

I guess Bray Wyatt's dad wasn't the cure for my late career Fujinami blues. We get Tenryu again next time, though.

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BEST OF THE SUPER Jr. VI May 31, 1999 Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium Tatsumi Fujinami&Meng VS Manabu Nakanishi&Genichiro Tenryu

I wonder if Meng/Haku has the longest gap between appearances on NJPW World. He goes from June 1999 (Meng and Yasuda vs. Norton and Tenzan, which I am not going to watch) all the way to the battle royal in January 2016. Tough to beat.

Meng and Nakanishi do big guy stuff (running into each other bellowing), and then Fujinami and Tenryu come in and do character work (Fujinami slapping Tenryu really hard and Tenryu visibly not enjoying it).

Nakanishi is pretty clunky. He's just slow and awkward putting on holds, and he stumbles a lot. He tries for a giant swing on Meng but has to give up and put him in a Boston crab. The crowd doesn't buy into him either - they're at their quietest when Nakanishi's on offense.

What the crowd does like - and here again the burghers of Osaka and I agree - is the Fujinami/Tenryu interactions. Fujinami has this thing he does where he puts up his forearms to block a chop and slaps his opponent in the ear. It works more often than not, but Tenryu is too slap-happy to try something else, so both he and his partner get cuffed extensively on the earhole. Tenryu's mad about this in his understated way and looks for any opportunity to chop back, which leads to some fun exchanges (e.g., just running into the ring to hit Fujinami; chopping him on the back of neck when Fujinami tries for a sleeper; getting his comeuppance in the form of a dragon screw).

Meng was fine, maybe even good. He's got his late WCW-era giant black and gold pants, so he looks cool. He hits pretty hard, gets hit really hard, and (unlike Nakanishi) doesn't try anything he's not capable of.

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WRESTLING WORLD 2002 January 4 Tokyo Dome, 2002 Seventh game Keiji Mutoh, Hiroshi Hase vs Tatsumi Fujinami, Osamu Nishimura

We've fast forwarded a few years, and some things have changed. We get the new look Muto, who's finally given up on having hair and started a cross-promotional, nonsensically-named stable: Bad Ass Translate Trading. Hase, having long since embarked on careers in politics and All Japan, proves himself a loyal BATT soldier by having that nonsense on his trunks.

Other things have not changed. Fujinami's still swole, and Nishimura still looks like middle management. 

They all roll around for a while, and it's pretty good. Hase and Nishimura in particular are skilled at this kind of thing. Fujinami gets things ramped up by slapping Hase repeatedly.

Hase's giant swing brings out the Orson Welles in whoever's producing this. We get a ground-level closeup that fades into a crane shot, which then melts seamlessly back to the ground.

The crescendo is concerned with playing around with the shining wizard. Muto has Nishimura in an abdominal stretch, and Fujinami runs and uses Muto's leg to shining wizard him. There's a new trick for the old dog. That was neat, but the other wizard trick came off as contrived. Hase northern lights suplexes Fujinami and has to hold him there for a while even though he's not the legal man and can't pin him. Eventually Muto gets up and shining wizards Nishimura using Fujinami's prone body as a platform. It was awkward. I blame Muto.

The finish is a letdown, as Muto limps around a little bit, shines his wizard on Nishimura, and pins him nonchalantly. Muto - especially millennial, knees-don't-work Muto - could have been better about showing respect for his opponents.

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NEXESS May 14, Tokyo Dome, 2005 Super Dream Tag Match Tatsumi Fujinami & Mitsuharu Misawa vs Masahiro Chono & Jushin Thunder Liger

At this point in Fujinami's career, we're well into legend/exhibition status. They roll him out here for a "Super Dream Tag Match," and he gets the crowd fired up doing some fast-paced stuff with Liger - rope-running, arm drags, even a monkey flip.

What they're really waiting for, though, is Misawa to come in and start pasting people. I'm going to be frank - the dude looks rough. Liger and Chono are his contemporaries, and Fujinami is significantly older, but you could be forgiven for thinking Misawa's the grizzledest vet out there.

That said, his performance belies his appearance. He sticks to what he can do (elbowing Liger really hard), although he does stretch himself with an elbow suicida.

In fact, everyone is bringing the effort in this one. There's lots of unexpected flying from the old guys, and Chono busts out a shining yakuza kick. Fujinami in particular is downright sprightly. You really appreciate how well he's aging when he's standing next to Misawa.

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