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William Bologna

Johnny Smith

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No one cares about Johnny Smith. Here's a guy with a 20-year career spread over three continents. A headliner on some poorly-attended Stampede shows and a bystander to some of the most talked-about wrestling that ever happened.

Sure, he looked like Murray from Flight of the Conchords years before that could do you any good, and sure he was saddled with the most nondescript name a wrestler could possibly have, but he wrestled a lot of matches, he hit Dynamite Kid with a chain, and he got Korakuen to boo Misawa.

It doesn't seem that anyone noticed any of it. Check out the Greatest Wrestler Ever subforum on this very site - barely a word about him. Danny Spivey has a thread. Takao Omori's merits are discussed. We are asked to consider B-Boy.

Is it right that Johnny Smith is less worthy of consideration than Kaz Fujita? Is he unjustly obscure, or is he just regular obscure?

I mean to find out. We're going all over for this one. We'll go from golden age All Japan undercards to the desolate moonscape of a promotion so bereft of talent they put Johnny Smith in a title tournament. We'll bear the bad video quality and worse announcing of late 1980s Stampede. World of Sport. A couple ECW shows. Mostly All Japan, though (thank God).

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Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama vs Johnny Smith/Wolf Hawkfield (AJPW 11/15/1997)

It's the first night of the 1997 World's Strongest Tag Determination League, and we get one of the favorites to win versus perennial midcarder Johnny Smith and Wolf Hawkfield, who is not only a perennial midcarder but also pretending to be a video game character. Should be an easy two points for the home team, right?

We join this about twenty minutes in, which on a normal night is enough time for Smith and Hawkfield to lose twice. But tonight is full of magic - Johnny Magic!

Smith and Hawkfield have a plan: Akiyama's the weak link on his team, and the arm is the weak link on the Akiyama. Smith pins his arm under him for a body slam. Hawkfield stomps the arm. As things heat up and we head toward the terminal 30 minute mark, Smith busts out all this fancy English arm stuff. He winds up in a cobra clutch; Akiyama hip tosses out of it, but Smith holds on and kicks Akiyama in the knee to bring him down.

The crowd is getting hot because they sense an upset and because that sequence was awesome. They only get hotter as Misawa comes in to break up the pin . . . and gets booed. Korakuen is completely on Team Johnny here.

Eventually Misawa's cheating puts his team in a position to win. Time is running out, but Akiyama has taken the virtua fighter out of the action, and Smith is primed for the Tiger Driver. If Misawa hits it, it's over. He tries, but Smith gets a knee down. After a few elbows, he tries again. Again Smith takes a knee. One more elbow and Misawa hits it. Hawkfield is being held back on the outside. It's all over for the underdogs. One . . . two . . . Johnny Smith kicks out of a Tiger Driver.

This must be the biggest pop of Johnny Smith's career. They're going nuts. I'm going nuts even though I've already seen this ten or twenty times. Time runs out. Smith and Hawkfield get one point for a draw, but it feels like a victory.

This match is the reason I've always been interested in Johnny Smith. The 1997 tag league was the first Japanese wrestling I ever saw, and even though I was un- or barely familiar with the participants in this match, I immediately understood the storytelling. Smith is just great in this (his work on Akiyama is superb, and Akiyama is superb at getting worked over), and I thought to myself, "Ah, here's a guy to keep an eye on as you continue your puroresu journey." How young I was, and how little knew!

Anyway, maybe the first twenty minutes of this were terrible and it's actually a bad match, but the last ten minutes are great and I never get tired of watching it.

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Dynamite Kid vs Johnny Smith (Chain Match Stampede 02/17/1989)

We're told that they're calling this the Battle of Britain. I'm skeptical, but I'm no expert on what was popping on the streets of western Canada at the end of the 80s.

They chain the two Brits together, and they proceed to have just a terrible match. One of them stomps and punches, and the transitions are that every so often the other guy stomps and punches. We don't get a move for three and a half minutes, when Smith goes all the way to piledriver. 

Dynamite bleeds from the forehead, and Smith rakes the chain across the wound, but it's not nearly as violent as it sounds. There is no intensity and no pretense of building to anything.

Five minutes in there's a commercial break, and we come back to . . . the announcers standing in the ring telling us what happened. There was, according to Ed Whalen, a real hot angle involving Bob Brown and Davey Boy Smith and a stick, but instead of seeing it we get to watch a very boring man explain it to us.

What in the hell kind of wrestling show is this?

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Alan Kilby vs. John Savage (World of Sport 1985)

Kind of a guess on the date, based on Kilby being British Light Heavyweight champion and Savage being 19 years old.

I've never seen any of this World of Sport stuff, and I can barely see it now - this is some rough video quality. They're big on telling us where everyone's from. Savage, "The Manx Man," is from the Isle of Man. Kilby is from Sheffield. The referee is from Croydon. There's a Welsh bloke in the front row.

Savage of course is Johnny Smith. Alan Kilby is the champ and is deaf (announcer: "All the calls for Alan. But unfortunately he can't hear them."). They do a little bit with this - at one point there's an exchange of gestures that's apparently funny, but I can't make it out. And the ref has to come get him when the round ends because he can't hear the bell.

Round 1 is all holds, and it was nifty. You can see where Smith learned all that stuff he did to Akiyama. Kilby is definitely smoother here - he gets an advantage and immediately moves to the next hold. Smith will do something cool (like flipping Kilby over by his wrist) and then pause for a moment.

We come back from break and it's a different match - lots of strikes, rope-running, and wrestling moves, and very little of the matwork. Smith gets a pinfall with a sort of bodypress off the second rope, which was either a botch or too clever for me to figure out. Kilby evens it up with a vertical suplex. We head into the sixth and final round when disaster strikes: An attempt at a vertical suplex sends both men spilling onto the ringside tables. It really does look like a catastrophe. The tables are right up against the ring, and they don't look prepared for this to happen. Double KO.

This was pretty cool - definitely a nice change of pace, although neither guy showed a lot of personality. I did find the switch from holds to moves to be abrupt and, well, fakey, but I didn't get the whole match, so maybe it looked more organic if you saw the entirety. Smith is only 19, but he already knows what he's doing.

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I'd just like to point out that Misawa getting booed was far from unheard of. All Japan crowds tended to boo tactics rather than wrestlers (other than Taue, who seemingly got booed for merely existing in the early 90s), so even Misawa and Kobashi would get booed when they performed illegal double-teams and broke up pins and submissions.

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Toshiaki Kawada vs. Johnny Smith (AJPW Champion Carnival 03/19/1994)

You can tell we're getting a sprint because Smith comes out hot, hitting a dropkick, a German suplex, and a dive to the outside immediately. They get back in the ring, and he sets in to grind down Kawada. Smith's in his element now. Time do some real crafty English stuff and really make his joints scream!

Well . . . not quite. Smith should have Kawada right where he wants him, but his matwork is awful. He sits in a chinlock for a while before procuring a lousy bow and arrow. Then we get a front facelock. What happened to the guy who flipped Alan Kilby over by grabbing his wrist?

Kawada, meanwhile, looked bored - he didn't evince any peril while Smith was half-heartedly manhandling him - and acted bored after he went on offense. Kick. Stomp. Chop.

Smith eventually runs through some bad power moves and bad flying moves (including a twisting top rope body press that would have sucked even if he hadn't overshot the target). They do the one spot they worked out beforehand - Smith kips up into a facekick - and very nearly blow it completely. Then Kawada hits some kicks and wins with a stretch plum.

What a letdown. Here's the subject of this thread in a singles match against my favorite wrestler, and this is all they can muster. 

What is Smith doing? We've seen him work an arm before this match, and we've seen work one afterwards. Did he forget how to do it for a couple years? And he certainly wasn't good at anything else.

What is Kawada doing? I realize that the Johnny Smith match isn't something you circle on the calendar, but this wasn't some spot show. It's in Korakuen, you're the second match from the top, it's on TV, and it's the first night of a Champion Carnival that you're going to win. I would have expected some effort.

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Akira Taue vs. Johnny Smith (AJPW Champion Carnival 04/20/1994)

It's the last day of the Carnival - let's see if things have gotten any better.

What a relief. It's only six minutes, but it's good. They work some cool headlock/armbar sequences. Taue DDTs Smith outside the ring, and it felt like it was too soon to escalate to that point, but that's before I knew it was only six minutes.

Back in the ring, Taue works one of the only abdominal stretches that I've ever liked. They keep getting lower and lower and he winds up pushing on Smith's face in a Tenryu-esque dick move.

Smith comes back and shows some fire - it's really a pretty good comeback except that he keeps throwing these lame, short guy lariats. Not a good part of the repertoire. The fisherman's suplex was cool, though.

Taue puts him away with a great chokeslam, and I'm no longer worried that I'm going to have to hit the eject button on this thing.

Here's my theory about why the Kawada match was so bad:

  • Kawada didn't care.
  • Smith was rusty. That was the first date of the tour, and if Cagematch is to be believed, he hadn't wrestled since July of 1993.
  • Hell, maybe Kawada was rusty too. He had had a couple weeks off.

We sign off to some slow motion replays of the action from this and the Carnival final between Kawada and Williams. You're reminded that these dudes are working so stiff you can watch it in slow motion without worrying about exposing any daylight.

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Mike Awesome vs. Johnny Smith (ECW Heavyweight Title Match 09/26/1999)

Smith earned a title match by losing to Sabu three days before this, losing to Jerry Lynn one day before this, and defeating Tom Marquez a minute before this.

This is a ringside fan cam video, so we get to hear some scintillating conversation ("I'm gonna kick your ass!"), some E-C-Dub chants, and even a solitary "Kill the Brit!" The wounds of 1812 are still fresh in Michigan.

Smith isn't exactly in his element here, as they do no wrestling. I don't believe that a single arm is held throughout. It's all moves, including a Michael Elgin-esque number of powerbombs (i.e., too many). 

They do some stuff and then Awesome sets up a table on the outside only for Smith to slip out of a powerbomb and dropkick him through it. There is no point to this other than a dopamine rush for the 856 in attendance, as the only effect it has on Awesome is that he looks kind of uncomfortable. He gets right up under his own power and then wins.

Garbage!

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Owen Hart vs. Johnny Smith (Stampede 08/18/1989)

The quality on this one is rough. The video is good enough that I can see Johnny Smith has the worst haircut in history (short on top, shaved on the sides, endless mullet). But the audio is so bad that the commentary is just a low Canadian buzz. My limited Stampede experience suggests that this may be an improvement.

This is the mirror image of the Awesome match. They wrestle so much! Hip tosses, armbars, flips to get out of out of armdrags, the whole megillah. Owen was so fast back then. He's really impressive.

Smith keeps up with him, but he's more of a brawler than I thought he was. I was expecting his work to be more Zack Sabre-ish, but he doesn't betray his heritage with joint holds as often as I figured he would.

So they wrestle and wrestle and wrestle until Smith goes for a piledriver but is reversed. Owen then hits an awesome moonsault, but Smith's evil manager hops up. Hart throws manager into managee and then stacks them and goes to the top, only to be knocked off by Larry Cameron for a DQ win.

This was a lot fun and definitely action-packed, but it was like what Bret Hart thinks a Ric Flair match is. They just did stuff without building to anything or telling a story. I could make out through the buzz that this was a grudge match, but there was too much hip-tossing and dancing for that to come across.

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Owen Hart vs. Johnny Smith (North American Title Stampede 04/29/1988)

I had to date this by the announcers mentioning the death of Tiger Joe Tomasso. That was kind of morbid.

We join this in progress just before Makhan Singh interferes and KOs Owen on the outside. Smith takes advantage by doing a shoulderbreaker and stomping Owen's arm. Puzzling.

Owen wakes up, and we are told he is furious. And thus we find something Owen Hart is bad at. He doesn't look furious, and his punches on a prone Johnny are pretty embarrassing. You forget how bad they are a moment later when he tries choking Smith. I mean, you always hear that Owen was a really nice guy, but too nice to pretend convincingly to beat someone up in a wrestling match?

Makhan hops up to distract Owen, and Smith rolls up Hart only to be rolled himself.

Six minutes revolving around interference from Bastion Booger. If I were rating these, I wouldn't rate this.

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Steve Williams vs. Johnny Smith (AJPW 07/02/2000)

Oh man do I love All Japan right after everyone leaves. The promotion had lightened up a little bit over the course of the 1990s, but it remained the most staid, hidebound wrestling company in the world.

Then - POOF - almost everyone splits, leaving Kawada, Fuchi, and a bunch of foreigners. What had once been the most stable roster around turns into a collection randos putting even weirdest WAR card to shame. Gran Naniwa's there. They dust off Fujiwara and Kim Duk. Remember Dan Kroffat? Well here he is again. Tenryu's lumpy cronies are moving up in the world.

And with all but one creditable wrestler gone, that means there's room for advancement. It's time for Johnny Smith to shine! A little bit. Briefly.

We start here, on the second night of the new All Japan, the very night that Tenryu makes his unthinkable return.

I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when they booked these shows. It can't have been easy, and it wound up weird. Korakuen gets five matches, and four of them are singles. The main event has George Hines in it. There are twelve wrestlers, and two-thirds of them are foreign.

Williams vs. Smith is our semi-main, and we get the last four minutes of seventeen. Once again, Korakuen is cheering for a Johnny Smith upset (though not as loudly as back in '97). Smith, selling his leg so hard it interferes with his kip-up, is on the ropes. He fights the doctor bomb, but that leaves him open for a pretty great finish: Williams punches him right in his goddamn face and backdrops him. I guess Williams was inspired by Tenryu's presence - that punch was really something. 

So I guess Smith isn't headed to the top just yet. This was short and even so had a couple obvious screw-ups, but the finish was cool and I wasn't the only one cheering for Johnny, so I liked it. It is perhaps merciful that we didn't get the other thirteen minutes.

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Stan Hansen/Mike Barton/Johnny Smith vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Genichiro Tenryu/Nobutaka Araya (AJPW 8/20/2000)

Johnny's contributions to this match - which I'm sure were spectacular - are left on the cutting room floor. The other guys manage to do some good stuff. Barton holds Araya up before suplexing him and manages to get a hand free so he can give Tenryu and Kawada the finger.

They get him back with a really cool enzuigiri/ganmengiri combination. You don't notice how bad Tenryu's kick is when there's another, better kick happening in front of it.

But the only really notable thing about this match comes at the end. Barton shrugs off a couple more face kicks to give Kawada a punch in the gut and a powerbomb for the win. See what I mean about AJPW at this point? It's a whimsical, magical place where Bart Gunn can pin Toshiaki Kawada.

I'm not sure what's missing with Barton. He's a big guy, he does some really athletic stuff, and he made Jim Ross cry in the Brawl for All, but his work just doesn't register.

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John Savage vs. Terry Rudge (World of Sport 9/3/1985)

Savage has already won the first fall, which the announcer makes clear is an upset. They mess with each other's wrists for a while, but things ramp up quickly as Rudge repeatedly throws Savage into the corner, then takes him down and procures a Boston crab, which is greeted by an immediate submission.

In the third and final fall, Savage tries to delay the inevitable. He gains a momentary advantage with a reverse half nelson, but Rudge punches him in the stomach. We're dealing with a much tougher specimen here than we had with Alan Kilby.

Yet again the crowd gets excited for our boy to complete the upset - they pop big for a cross body block - but once again it's not to be as Rudge sinks in a terminal Boston crab.

I've seen all of two World of Sport matches, so now I'm an expert. The Kilby match had niftier stuff, but this one told more of a story, and one of the participants showed a lot of personality. Rudge had the look and the mannerisms of someone who would absolutely beat the hell out of out of you, Johnny Smith, and anyone else.

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Johnny Smith/Dynamite Kid vs. Chris Benoit/Ken Johnson (Stampede 6/30/1989)

Warning: If you are prone to seizures, DO NOT SEEK OUT THIS MATCH. Every time I watch one of these Stampede matches, I see new frontiers in audio/visual crappiness. This one was transferred from a haunted VHS tape and by the end of it I had sea legs.

The idea here is that Dynamite Kid has replaced Davey Boy Smith with his no-good brother Johnny. David Boy responded by taking up with Chris Benoit, figuring that if he can't team with Dynamite, he might as well team with someone doing a Dynamite impression. Too bad we never got to repeat this angle with Davey Richards.

Davey Boy’s not around for this, though, and Benoit is tagging with sacrificial lamb Ken Johnson.

So, Stampede television is just terrible, and that's without me blaming them for VCR tracking issues. The announcers are yelling at each constantly, mostly saying just the stupidest, lamest stuff you can imagine. That's a constant.

In this match, they add a new wrinkle: Davey Boy and Dynamite take turns showing up in a box at the bottom right to insult each other in pre-recorded interviews. Which is pretty cool - I ain't exactly up to speed on Stampede angles in 1989, and this gave me everything I needed to know.

EXCEPT

For the first five minutes of this, the British Bruisers are beating Ken Johnson up. Benoit's trying to tag, but he can't get in. Bulldog Bob Brown is calling him a coward because he's not wrestling. It's the whole story of the match.

Finally, Benoit tags and is a house afire . . . while Dynamite is still in the corner talking. We're distracted by trying to decipher Dynamite's Mancunian threats; we don't have play-by-play to help us follow the action, and we can't see a quarter of it. Way to distract us from the important thing that is happening, you dumb hosers.

But anyway, Benoit tags Johnson back in and he immediately loses. They beat on Benoit until Davey Boy makes the save.

This was good! I mean, it wasn't supposed to be a super hot match; they were trying to advance an angle, and they did. Dynamite looked great beating Johnson up. And we got hear a Johnny Smith promo for the first time ever! He did just fine, and he was easier to understand than his partner.

And even though the announcing was awful, toward the end Bulldog Bob Brown sure sounded like he called Benoit a "smart-aleck fuck," and that makes up for a lot.

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Johnny Ace/Johnny Smith vs Akira Taue/Yoshinari Ogawa (AJPW 9/271997)

We're going to do a run through late 97/early 98 All Japan here. It's going to be great. I might go ahead and watch that Misawa/Akiyama match again.

The Global Johnny Team takes on a random pairing of natives here, and we join it most of the way in. Ogawa does some cool leg stuff to Smith and they take turns beating him up. Ace comes and fires up until he gets beaten up. Smith comes back in and outclasses Misawa's weed carrier to get the win. He's already using the British Fall, but I guess they aren't calling it yet. It's like a scoop slam setup into a reverse DDT. Basically a Slop Drop with an extra step. 

Pretty good. I mean, nothing you need to go out of your way to find, but satisfying professional wrestling. It did lack focus and narrative - the Johnnies took turns getting worked over and getting in offense after a tag. But it was solid work. Smith and Ogawa work well together. They can do the clever stuff to each other, and Ogawa's small enough that Smith's power offense looks convincing.

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Giant Kimala II/Johnny Smith/Wolf Hawkfield vs Johnny Ace/Kenta Kobashi/Maunakea Mossman (All Japan 12/5/1997)

We join this match just in time for Kobashi to suplex vertically Kimala, which gets a big pop. Kimala I guess is trying to get across that he is now afraid of pro wrestling, so when Mossman tags in we get the image of him kicking a shrieking fat man who's trying to run away.

Smith does nifty arm stuff to Mossman, and it gets a pop again - and this isn't even the diehard turbonerds at Korakuen. He's got Budokan yelling for this stuff, and I really don't know why he doesn't do it more often.

They go outside, and Ace powerbombs Smith on the floor and then shit-talks him. Where the hell did that come from? It's just a normal match, then all of a sudden Ace brings an inappropriate amount of heat. What happened to the good times, Johnny? A few months ago you guys were working together to beat Ogawa and Taue, and now this?

They telegraph the arrival of the finishing sequence pretty awkwardly - all of a sudden four of the six guys in the match have to go brawl outside - and we're left with Hawfield and Mossman. Smith comes in to bail out his partner and they cooperate to drop Mossman throat-first on the top rope. Looked nasty. Hawkfield presses his advantage and wins with a really nondescript twirly slam thing.

He really is the Mike Barton of wrestling. Nothing he does is bad, but you forget about it right after you see it. Imagine how boring it must have been when they were a team.

This wound being an effective semi-main event (the tag league final was at the top of the card tonight). They kept Kimala mostly out of the way, and the rest of the B-team came through and did all the false finishes you're supposed to do at the end.

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Johnny Smith/Wolf Hawkfield vs. Gedo/Jado (AJPW 5/1/1998)

All those years of hard work paid off: All Japan Pro Wrestling has finally made it to the Tokyo Dome, and Johnny Smith is along for the ride.

This is a rarity when it comes to the historiography of Johnny Smith's work: Not only do we get the whole match, we even get entrances. Smith and his video game pal come out to some garbage that  might well be from Virtua Fighter. The evil interlopers, on the other hand, have an entrance theme that starts with a gong, and then someone yells about Gedo and Jado, and then an almost certainly uncleared instrumental version of "Sharp-Dressed Man" kicks in. I like "Spartan X" as much as the next guy, but I'm giving Gedo and Jado the "Best Entrance Music at This Here Tokyo Dome Show" award.

This has to be the biggest crowd that either John Savage or Jungle Jim Steele ever wrestled in front of, right? Good for them. They get a nice, affectionate response throughout. We're all happy to be here, you know?

Man, I really liked this. The players had clearly-delineated characters: Smith outwrestles his opponents, Hawkfield outpowers them, and Gedo and Jado cheat. Gedo is great at being on the other end of Smith's grappling, both of them are small enough for Wolf's cruddy power stuff to look good, and they're really, really good at cheating. Smooth as silk. Their double-teams are impeccable.

Jado even does me a mitzvah. I hate rolling German suplexes. They're an emblem of the continual escalation of damage that's plagued wrestling pretty much forever. Johnny Smith suplexes Jado Teutonically and then rolls over for another one, but Jado foils it by kicking him in the dick. That's what you get, Johnny. You and your bruised dick go think about how rolling suplexes are awful.

So they do all their stuff and eventually Smith avenges his dick by pinning Jado with a British Fall. God bless Gedo and Jado. I had seen a significant amount of their stuff back in the day (they went everywhere), but I never appreciated them. I was a young fellow - an idiot, really - who was all hyped up because he had only recently seen a dragon suplex for the first time and thought that's what made matches good. These little guys in their pajamas didn't have any hot moves or anything, and I wrote them off as indy chumps. But here they are doing everything right, playing exactly to the home team's strengths and making them look like stars.

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Kenta Kobashi/Johnny Ace vs Johnny Smith/Wolf Hawkfield (1/26/1998)

Kind of a weird matchup. As expected, Kobashi and Ace beat Smith and Hawkfield in the tag league a couple months ago, so why the rematch? Smith and Hawkfield are the All Asia tag champs, although they didn't bring the belts with them and it's not a title match. Ace and Kobashi lost the world tag titles the night before.

The fans throw five (5) streamers during the introductions, which is worse than none. Also of note is that Smith is introduced before Hawkfield, even though events will show shortly that he's the superior member of the team.

Basically, the overdogs give Hawfield close to nothing throughout the match and treat Smith as a near-equal. Hawkfield is outsmarted by Ace and overpowered by Kobashi. The smaller man, on the other hand, gets to do fancy arm stuff to both of his opponents, and they don't blow it off. Their underdogs' challenge comes off as a believable because Smith is treated as a serious competitor and because they cheat - Hawkfield is continually coming in to save his partner from a pin or submission or big move.

By the end of it, they have the crowd believing that Kobashi might actually go down to Johnny Smith's special limey slop drop (he doesn't even kick out it! Ace has to bail him out).

So this is a really good match, even though the personnel isn't of the highest caliber. Hawkfield just isn't very good. He does his bland power stuff well enough, but it's all forgettable and he has no presence. He fires up by wobbling his forearm and doing a Dee Snider face, and it just doesn't work.

Johnny Ace is sloppier but better. He's tall, but he's very bad at being tall. He never seems to know where his extremities are going, and everything he does looks awkward. But he works really hard, has some hot moves, and hits hard, so he gets by. Ace is likely to be the worst guy in a world tag title match, but Hawkfield is likely to be the worst guy in an All Asia tag match.

Kobashi puts things away by dropping Hawkfield on his head and clotheslining him into bolivian, and then everyone shakes hands and raises one another's arms. Odd vibe to this one, but the work was good, and I liked seeing my man go toe-to-toe with Kobashi and look like a threat.

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Misawa, Akiyama & Mossman vs Ace, Smith & Kobashi (AJPW 2/14/1998)

This is ten minutes of trying to get people excited for a Johnny Ace Triple Crown challenge. Misawa goes too far peeling Ace off of Mossman and winds up stomping a mudhole in him. Ace gets his revenge, though. He hops on the top turnbuckle and Ace crushes Misawa off Kobashi's shoulders, KOing him for the remainder. This remainder isn't much, as he pins Akiyama after a cobra clutch suplex.

Smith was barely in this and suffers some disrespect when he is in. He's got this thing he does where he hits a dropkick off the top rope then kips up and pumps his arm. He does it all the time, and if a crowd is into Johnny Smith, this is one of the things they're into.

He does it against Misawa here, and the camera guy just doesn't give a damn. We get a glimpse of Smith's moment of triumph while we're focused on Misawa looking pained. It's not even the first time they've done this to him. No respect, I tell ya.

The two Johnnies are all hugs after this. I guess we forgot all about that powerbomb on the floor, huh?

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Keith Hart/Johnny Smith vs. Great Gama/Chic Scott (Stampede 6/21/1986)

Early days in Stampede for young Johnny. He still looks like John Savage: Job interview hair and simple yellow trunks.

Also of note is that he does some of his arm work here, which makes me think that he's a crappy wrestler who does nothing but stomps and bodyslams when he's a heel. He's been very boring in his other Stampede matches, but he was a bad guy with the Mad Max haircut to prove it. Good wrestling is babyface stuff, I guess.

He's already doing the dropkick into a kip-up, but he's not pumping his arm yet. That's a veteran move.

He doesn't quite seem to understand the face in peril/hot tag sequence. He's a face and in peril, but when he gets a momentary advantage he first beats up his opponent before tagging in his house afire tag team partner. 

Eventually Scott hits Keith Hart in the head with a foreign object, allowing Singh to choke him out. Ed Whalen bitches and moans about this endlessly.

We get a nice babyface promo from Smith. He does better than his partner, who sounds like Bret on Quaaludes.

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Owen Hart/Ben Bassarab/Johnny Smith vs. Viet Cong Express/Les Thornton Stampede (Stampede 10/10/1986)

That's former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hiroshi Hase under a mask pretending to be a Vietnamese insurgent. We all have to start somewhere.

We also have the lost Hart brother-in-law, Ben Bassarab, and the guy teaming with Cactus Jack when the Bulldogs beat the hell out of him, Les Thornton. Plus another Japanese guy pretending to be from Vietnam. That covers all the new guys.

We arrive 20 minutes into the match with Johnny Smith getting worked over. He manages to tag in Owen and holy crap was Owen amazing. He gets whipped into the corner, whereupon he hops up to the top rope and does what looks like a cross body but turns into a picture perfect sunset flip. I can't believe a video this bad was showing me something that awesome.

Bassarab comes in and does some stuff, but he works too fast, if that makes sense. He busts out a piledriver, but there's no anticipation or setup. It's just "OKI'mpiledrivingyounow*piledriver*."

Eventually they do a tricky finish where Owen tags himself in as Bassarab shoots Thornton off the ropes; Owen bounces off Thornton's head with a cross body and pins him.

What little we saw of this was fun but sloppy. The ring generalship of the competitors wasn't quite up to the task of arranging the positions of six men, but there's something charming about it. If I'd been in the audience, I probably would have really enjoyed it, but I've been blessed enough never to have been in Calgary in October.

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Johnny Smith/Makhan Singh/Midnight Cowboys vs. Owen Hart/Bad Company/Jason the Terrible (Stampede 4/15/1988)

This is an elimination match, and we join it - thank heavens - 20 minutes in. Only four men remain: Smith and Singh vs. Owen Hart and Brian Pillman.

The match has peculiar rules: Going over the top rope means elimination, and there are no tags; everyone wrestles at once. So most of what we see here is like a particularly dispirited ECW tag team match. There are two singles matches happening at the same time in the same ring, and neither of them is good.

This is our first look at Pillman, and he disappoints. He looks like a million bucks (the only man in Calgary with a tan!), but his execution is lacking. It really does hurt him that he's on a team with Owen Hart. They both do a lot of flying, and Owen's is much better. And a sloppy sunset flip is one thing; Pillman lays the worst sleeper hold I've ever seen on Singh. A sleeper is the single easiest wrestling move there is, right? I didn't know there could be a bad one.

Pillman is eliminated when Norman the Lunatic sits on him, and the heels go to work on Owen. They send him over the top, but he flips himself back in and dropkicks Bastion Booger over the top. Disaster is averted when Singh grabs the top rope to send Owen out and leaving Johnny Smith as the last man standing.

Big win for our boy here. Good to see the best man win.

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Johnny Smith vs. Louie Spicolli (ECW 3/8/1996)

Joey Styles tells a lot of fibs, which is objectionable even if it is in the service of making us think Johnny Smith is tough and cool. He claims that Smith has held titles in Great Britain, Austria, Australia, and Japan. As far as I can tell, only Japan is correct there, and he left out Canada. He states that Smith is making his ECW debut, as if we're supposed to forget that he lost to 2 Cold Scorpio the day before in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

I should be more appreciative, since we're all trying to get Johnny Smith over here. If ever there was a wrestler destined to get over in front of the ECW Arena crowd . . . well, it wouldn't be Johnny Smith, but I appreciate the effort. On an ironic note, Styles tells us that Smith is looking to make a name in the U.S., and you can be sure Stamford and Atlanta are watching. One of these guys wound up working for Stamford and Atlanta, but it wasn't Johnny.

They start off with some matwork, but it's dumb matwork. They do the same headlock takeover into a headscissors spot three times like it's supposed to be impressive. Then they give that up and go outside. It's only a five minute match, so you can't waste a lot of time.

They do some moves to each other, and then Smith kicks Spicolli in the gut and does a sitout powerbomb (Styles: "TIGER BOMB!") to get the win.

It's a short, sloppy match (the finish comes after Smith almost reverses an Irish whip but decides not to midway through). Everyone chanted "Johnny" at the end, which is nice to hear - ECW Arena is second only to Korakuen when it comes to Johnny Appreciation. 

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Johnny Smith vs. Biff Wellington (Stampede 12/16/1988)

Wellington gets a shot at Smith's Mid-Heavyweight title. Smith is heeling like crazy here. We join ten minutes in to see him yelling at the crowd, his bad guy mullet billowing behind him. When Wellington takes control, he even does the beg off.

This follows the Stampede formula: The heel isn't allowed to do anything cool; he may only stomp and cheat while Ed Whalen drones moralistically in the background. Smith rakes Wellington's eyes and tries to leave, but Wellington, who looks like Dynamite Kid wearing Don Frye's mustache, rolls him back in.

Which he ends up regretting, as Smith tries to drop him face-first onto the turnbuckle but misses completely. He still gets the pin.

Young Johnny is off to All Japan for pretty much the rest of his career, so we're leaving Calgary behind. I wonder if he missed it. I certainly won't.

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Johnny Smith vs. Mitsuo Momota (AJPW 5/12/1989)

Johnny's finally made it to All Japan, but I didn't recognize him at first. He had that mullet plus shaved sides hairstyle after he became a bad guy in Canada. All that now remains is blotch of hair on the back of head anchoring the mullet. It's hideous. Did he go through a bad breakup and take the clippers to himself in a moment of despair? Did he pass out and endure an All Japan hazing ritual? Did they tell him he was getting a Mongol gimmick?

Aside from the hair situation, things are looking up. Freed from the dumbass face/heel structure around which Stampede contests revolved, Johnny gets to wrestle again. He gets a shot at the junior heavyweight title, held by Rikidozan's kid.

The crowd is dead silent as they exchange holds (not counting me thirty years leader - I was popping pretty hard). They do react to the high spots, though. Momota has Smith in a . . . leggy arm scissors (I don't know), and Smith stands up while still in the hold and deadlifts him, only for Momota to roll him ever and keep the hold on. We all enjoyed that.

They're positively raucous as the match heats up. Smith hits a brutal-looking second rope leg drop, Momota hits a dive to the outside, Smith catches him in midair for a powerslam . . . and then they start messing stuff up, which quiets but does not silence Korakuen.

Smith just seems off. It is the first match on only his second All Japan tour, so maybe he was rusty or nervous or communicating poorly. He's supposed to get hurricanrana'd and just completely blows it, and there are numerous moments of hesitation on his part. Momota wins with a clunky small package.

This is seven minutes of a thirteen minute match, and it was full of mistakes, but I really enjoyed it. I liked the timing and pacing of the match, and I dug seeing Johnny wrestle again.

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