Ma Stump Puller Posted January 26, 2022 Report Share Posted January 26, 2022 Woooo boy. I've been looking forward to getting this set up. A lot of people focus in on Sayama's prime days: either as the Jr heavyweight ace in New Japan or his UWF stuff. That's perfectly fine: a grand majority of his career highlights exist within those years: but I always noticed that his later stuff when he returns to pro wrestling proper in 1994 to fight Liger and beyond are kinda ignored and left by the wayside. I've heard some people have overlooked his work in that regard for a multitude of reasons, mainly his varying quality and/or style. I don't agree with this mostly and I believe there are not only good matches after his first major break from wrestling, but downright fantastic showings. The goal of this is to discuss these and try to draw a general idea of how good he was during this specific era. What will this entail? Basically, I've reviewed a pretty massive amount of Tiger Mask's matches since 1994, including his RJPW, his Battlarts, Michinoku Pro and UFO work, etc etc. Have I reviewed everything possible? Obviously not. There are some noticeable gaps in that some of his later RJPW, Tokyo Pro Wrestling, early 2000's AJPW, or general hard to find stuff like IGF shit aren't here, namely because these shows were put on incredibly obscure networks and/or distributed terribly, so even the vaguest of Russian websites don't have them (and that's a seriously big achievement) If anyone has reliable links to these I would appreciate it a ton. I will be also including some material that I managed to piece together with local fancam footage, including some unaired RJPW shows and general stuff that didn't get on air. This includes stuff like his Misawa tag bout, as well as some NOAH crossovers with a Saito and Marufuji match. A lot of these reviews have already been uploaded on Cagematch but the obvious limitations (I.E being not able to review shorter matches, matches with people with no profile, word limits, etc) mean that I can't always make the reviews I would like to do. Here, I'm free to just go ham. I'll be ranking these matches on a grade of four standards: 1. Great 2. Good 3. Decent 4. Forgettable This is more of a formality so anyone who's skimming these can get a quick synopsis of what to watch and not to watch without having to read through paragraphs. Obviously this will be a long project even with what is already done: I will not swamp the site with reviews because I want to take my time with this, so expect this to go at a fairly slowish pace even if most of the work is already completed. If you want links for any of these matches, feel free to ask, because some of them are REALLY hard to search out. Vs. Liger (NJPW 01.05.1994: Wrestling Dontaku In Fukuoka Dome) A weird match for sure. Liger faces against the past generational Jr talent that arguably made Liger both in style and in flashiness, but not as his masked moniker, but rather his real life self. This was during Sayama's 10 year retirement to go into actual mixed martial arts, namely developing the very first days of MMA with active promotion of Vale Judo to Japan, which would have major ramifications in the future (namely his influences on the development of MMA forward but that's another deal altogether) Outside of that, he hadn't even in a actual wrestling ring for nearly to a decade and would come back here essentially to get his foot back into the business before taking on Inoki later on, through not without getting over Tiger Mask IV on the indies first and having some middling matches. Given Sayama's extreme ring rust, this plays as a 10 minute exhibition that focuses far less on big Jr style high flying sequences or solid pacing like NJPW's 90's scene was known for, but rather a more shooty variation involving Battle Liger rather than his regular version. Liger and co play a lot of footsies: Liger is also most definitely not a shoot-style guy either so there's a natural awkwardness in how he acts here, even his takedown attempts are rather slow and rather clunky, which I think actually plays into the whole motif pretty well, even if not intentional. Liger's not a shoot-style guy and can't really get a lead over his far more experienced opponent, leading to him having to kinda pull out anything to get some sort of control over the situation. Sayama has to hold back immensely here but he's also quite clumsy at points when trying to work all the same: falling over from tripping over Liger's legs or just general sloppiness. As a result, we get a really stilted affair where Liger can't do much but takedowns and some basic ground transitions, and his opponent CAN do a lot but has to let Liger get in offence as not to make this immensely slanted. That's not to say there's some great moments: Liger breaking out of a clinch to hit a rolling wheel kick that legitimately clocks Sayama is a great spot and rightfully gets a big pop, Sayama hits a great transition into a triangle armbar and there's some solid strikes thrown throughout: but most of it is just plodding around and the crowd knows this. When it gets to the 10 minute draw, they boo. A lot. Which is particularly crazy considering Japanese crowds are usually incredibly respectful and boo usually at what they are supposed to boo at: heels and heel actions. It seemed like the guys out here thought of a few spots beforehand (like the wheel kick and some of the submission attempts) but improvised the rest of the length. This can work, but not when one person is incredibly rusty, and the other has next to no experience in this particular field. All in all, a interesting experiment, but this was still quite bad and felt a LOT longer than 10 minutes. Absolutely skip this one. RANK: Forgettable Vs. Tiger Mask IV (30.06.1996: Rikidozan Memorial) Despite the shitty card in general (seriously, this is super underwhelming despite the star power involved: everyone else throws in their big guns while AJPW have Inoue and Momota do their thing) this is probably the best match on there as it focuses on a clear narrative: Tiger IV trying to prove himself in the face of the man who taught him. He's still fairly untested as of this date, only a year into his wrestling career, so far incapable of defining himself in the same Jr style that his master dominated. It's also Sayama's first official match back in the Tiger Mask moniker. The match starts great when First Tiger hits a series of wild jumping spinning kicks before nailing a low rolling kick to IV's leg, knocking him down to the outside with the crowd rightfully giving the man a round of applause afterwards. IV tries to steal his thunder by doing his signature flip sequence to escape a arm wrench, but once again gets trumped when he uses a one hand front flip forward to escape expertly. IV tries to work over his legs for a minute or so as to remove his critical advantage (a tactic that Sayama himself used in matches) but he's still able to outsmart him using his speed, as well as nailing him with a perfect Tiger Spin into Indian Deathlock. First Tiger is able to take control from a spinning back kick to the gut far better than IV does, using a Tiger DDT and Tombstone afterwards but misses a Diving Headbutt. He tries to take advantage using momentum, namely using a huge running cross chop and a shoulder charge, but First Tiger is able to nail him with his Space Flying Tiger Drop for a near fall. The narrative is clear in that IV has the youth and agility to hit his mentor's moves.....but he can't use them as effectively as the guy who pioneered them in the first place, causing mounting frustration. IV starts to move away from his mentor's signature moves to try to find his own groove as time goes on. They both have a good sequence with a headscissors transition from lock-up, as well as IV trying to use First Tiger's signature flipping kneebar transition against him when he catches one of his kicks, but he's able to reverse out of it into his own leg work, namely his own figure four, once again establishing the difference in experience between them. First Tiger and IV hit the same Tiger Wall Flip respectfully, namely IV using it as a springboard into a Diving Headbutt. Both men get sent outside but IV chooses to keep hitting wild dives to keep First Tiger out, which in turn also prevents him from getting in, and they end up going to a count out. They decide to restart for three extra minutes and almost at once go for big kicks and wrestling on the mat for the win, but IV reaches the ropes before any hold can be established. IV tries to go for a leg sweep but gets telegraphed and has to give up his back, which results in First Tiger trying to choke him out. He drops it to go for a moonsault (that's nowhere near his location at all lol) but misses, allowing IV to keep trying for the figure four. First Tiger counters a third attempt with a heel kick as the bell once again sounds, resulting in a definitive draw. While some sections are slow, I really liked how this was built: IV tries to show his mentor up but struggles and has to go reckless in order to hold out, throwing a fair chunk of leg work while also throwing out offence to see what sticks, with his most effective weapon being his ability to hurl himself around and take huge risks. When he realises the figure four is effective, he relentlessly goes to it, which results in some of the later counters as his opponent has the experience to adapt, while IV is stuck having to try to keep going back to the same offence to wear him out. Sayama puts on probably his best performance in terms of flips and dives, hitting basically all of his old spots perfectly: he's silky smooth in the ring but also puts over IV as someone who might not be as well-rounded as him, but definitely a threat to be weary of, and one he can't definitively put down. His nuanced selling (even if he's a bit prone to ignoring moves to hit his own) is impressive and not at all something that shows up at once. The format of this match is built around that as a whole (I.E Sayama hitting big fancy signature moves) but it works as the main clutch of the match as both try to outpace the other. The double draw might annoy some but I think it works here: IV definitely wasn't winning but he's shown to have enough guts to hold out against someone who trumps him in almost everything. The result is a solidly paced match that helped to give IV some early legitimacy despite mostly playing a secondary role, which is far from a easy task. RANK: Good Vs. Gran Hamada (UWF-I 17.08.1996: Mid Summer in Jingu) This is from a compilation tape that skips about 5 minutes or so from the original recording, mostly with multiple small cuts to the middle portion while leaving the start and finish intact. It's also technically First Tiger's big return to the UWF after him quitting more than a decade before, and it's him facing off against a old rival from his past days. This starts off hot with Hamada getting nailed with a low/high kick combo before teasing the Tiger Feint, but actually going for a dive to the outside, which Hamada dodges and hits his own, which is successful. We get our first cut as it goes to them in the ring as Hamada works on the legs, with Tiger escaping with a handspring to his feet before a second cut in which Mask overpowers Hamada with a headlock before landing his backdrop counter and backbreaker before a third cut is made. Hamada takes the advantage with a lariat and a fantastic second rope Tornado DDT after Mask tries to attack him in the corner. He follows that with a equally as good top rope Frankensteiner which gets a near fall. Cut #5 leads to Mask landing his signature kick combos and a Tiger DDT. Cut #6 leads into a backdrop by Hamada seemingly when he tries to capitalise further. He tries hit a brainbuster but is countered mid move, leading into more big kicks. He tries for the Tiger Suplex but Hamada struggles for a extended amount of time, leading him to try for a Chickenwing before being able to wiggle out one eventually, which gets a near fall. He tries for a standing moonsault (knees first to Hamada's shoulder oof) which also gets a near fall. Mask tries to angle for a Americana but the time limit is reached, resulting in a draw. This was obviously never going to be as good as their original encounter, but for what is left on the cutting room floor, this was fairly solid. Hamada can still go and Sayama is the same, leading to some impressive high-flying spots and raw speed in places. This isn't really much of a UWF or even a post-rule change, post Choshu UWF style match but still a decent feature. Way better than their 2003 match anyway (we'll get to that.) This is just pretty cropped in general and it's hard to get any real narrative when it's consistently jumping around. Fine enough as a tune-up. RANK: Decent Vs. The Cobra (UWF-I 11.09.1996: Sudden Death) Cobra returns from a semi-retirement (well, more because he was a SWS guy that couldn't really get anywhere beyond the indie shows, some of which are so indie that even Cagematch doesn't list them) to face off against First Tiger in a series of matches, the first happening here and then the sequel being taped later on a random UWF touring event. I like Takano: he was never really incredible or anything but a solid Jr heavyweight in his prime. Here, he's wrestling in the UWF, but he's mostly wrestling his usual style with little adjustment. He spends most of the beginning getting knocked around by his opponent's big kicks, through we also get Cobra no selling a Tiger DDT for some reason. Cobra does use some fairly basic holds, like he can work a Key Lock and a armlock or whatever, but comparing him to any of Sayama's actual opponents from a decade ago is night and day. He's reliable enough to bump for all of First Tiger's signature spots and whatnot but he's not really engaging as a foil for him whatsoever, he has zero threat or menace to speak of, no real point where the crowd thinks Mask is ever in any true danger. He does add some nice transitions here and there, like when Cobra tries to escape from a back mount, Tiger Mask grabs onto his arm and attempts to roll him into a cross armbreaker until he rakes his face with his boot. When Mask tries to hold on to his back to keep control of him on the ground, Cobra manages to slip around until he uses his legs to pin down one of his arms and take him down to the mat instead. Simple but fairly cool little spots on the mat that showcase Cobra's more unconventional methods in comparison to the stoic Sayama. They eventually go to more high speed stuff, with Cobra botching a handspring senton to the outside by stumbling over after the handspring. Looked cool otherwise. They also manage to get a full Mexican Surfboard applied, through Mask counters by twisting his body forward in the hold into a Key Lock attempt. When Mask is in control things look a lot smoother as his offence is varied and agile, mixing in mat work with lots of speed. There's a funny spot where Mask slaps on a headscissors and Cobra tries to do the fancy handstand to get out of it, but Mask just ends up moving his legs so he gets DDT'd lol. There's some latter match exchanges and Mask lands his usual signature spots (including his kicks, Tombstone Piledriver, etc etc) until Cobra dodges a Diving Headbutt and dropkicks him out of the arena, hitting a dodgy plancha afterwards. Mask recovers, hits a second combo of the same moves to the outside (the headbutt looks terrible but I don't blame him at all for that, it's a shitty bump either way) and wins via count out. This isn't much of a serious match, being more of a throwback to older Jr heavyweight days with some technical work thrown alongside spots. Cobra plays more of a comedic foil here and gets some good reactions from the crowd but as stated, he isn't presented as legitimate challenge for Mask so there's no real tension at all. Fine enough as a light hearted undercard match in-between some serious hard hitting bouts: not essential unless you are really into super past prime Cobra bumping around a bit. RANK: Decent W/Mil Mascaras, Great Sasuke vs. Dos Caras, Dynamite Kid & Kuniaki Kobayashi (Michinoku Pro 10.10.1996: -These Days-) More or less a name value match but there's decent quality to be found here. Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid have some exchanges (through "exchanges" is more so Mask doing all of the heavy lifting considering Kid's condition during this match, which isn't helped later when he doesn't bump well for a suplex and ends up getting legit DDT'd on his head in the process) and Sasuke blows out of the park with some big high flying stuff, throwing himself all over for this special occasion. Sayama and Dynamite had already met in the ring in a non-match setting for Michinoku Pro a few months earlier and needless to say, the guy looked a lot better then than he does now. Mascaras and Caras also have some nice work, with Mascaras actually selling offence for once against his own brother: it's nothing special from those two and exactly as you'd expect them to be for something like this, but they do push a little bit when facing each other as compared to what you might expect. Sasuke in turn gets his ass beat by the whole team for his troubles with a baseball slide and a suplex outside: he basically spends the majority of this flying around for the older guys. Sayama was solid with his usual spots but doesn't really add much else to things. Road to the finish has everyone land their signature offence before Mascaras wins with a powerbomb over Sasuke, because typical Mascaras wants to go over the top guy while no selling. As stated, this is basically just a "greatest hits" name value match where guys come out and do their usual spots, but it's quite well done in places and the crowd is very receptive to everything. Kobayashi wasn't exactly much to brag about through from my memory of this match. This is also more well known, sadly, for being Dynamite's last wrestling match, and his biography makes it well known that he had absolutely no desire (or ability, really) to even get in the ring at that point, let alone wrestle, something which is blatantly obvious by how little he does here. This would also result in him suffering from a seizure the next day, which would essentially start a very drastic snowball decline up to his death. Everyone else does a fairly good job in carrying him to a reasonable quality but even then I'd say this is rough viewing. I couldn't really recommend this very much, especially for late game Tiger Mask showings. RANK: Forgettable Vs. The Cobra II (UWF-I 20.11.1996: UWF ROAD) This is a shorter rematch between these two guys since their big stadium match before. This is mainly played completely straight as compared to their first fight, with Cobra being more of a tangible threat with his shooting capabilities. This is played a lot like more old-fashioned catch-shooting in particular as both men go for holds on the mat a lot, namely focusing on the arms or legs whenever they can and utilising a lot of hooks to get their advantage when on top. This actually feels like a UWF match as compared to their more wild showcase before. We get some crisp action on that front as they both exchange some solid counters between themselves, namely a lot of hold exchanges and very little submissions outside of some filler holds in the first half: usually both men just trying to stay in a dominant position while maintaining defence. First Tiger gets in his usual spots to pop the crowd during these long hold sessions to keep things fresh, namely his Tiger DDT, his Tiger Feint, etc. That being said, this is mainly pretty dry action that doesn't really get past third gear: everything done is competent and well done, just that there's not really any heat or actual story behind what they are doing or what they are working on in terms of holds. They just kinda shuffle around for a sub-10 format match before Tiger Mask teases a Tiger Suplex but manages to get Cobra to the ground with a Judo throw and gets in a Americana for the quick submission win. This is a good but noticeably dry bout as stated above: not much tension to this at all. Sayama puts in a good performance and Cobra can keep up fine but he's just not very well adapted for the UWF style despite some nice technical work in places, tending to repeat himself or just not really add any flavour to proceedings. He doesn't really try to well, use any proper submissions, preferring to just go for mat work and hooks. Sayama is a lot more competent in that field but he can only really add so much flavour to something as dry as this was. Again, this definitely wasn't a bad match, just one that kinda settles into a simmering pace that doesn't really excite the crowd a lot. The issues from last match (that is, Cobra being a pretty weak opponent that isn't going to be able to beat someone as dominant as Tiger Mask) carry over to here, even if I think this second match is a lot more conventional with the style. Check this out if you were disappointed with their first encounter. RANK: Decent Vs. Shoichi Funaki (UWF-I 23.11.1996: UWF ROAD) This is cut down to six minutes as apart of a UWF compilation tape: to my knowledge the full thing isn't publicly available so there you go. We also get some noticeable cuts in the middle half. Funaki is better known for his WWE work but he was also known as a solid hand before then with a underrated mean streak. First Tiger puts in a regular solid performance, mixing in more grounded work with his signature spots. Funaki for his credit clearly has some good experience working from the mat, even applying some lucha- inspired submissions in places as well as a Camel Clutch, tying his opponent up in places. Obviously he's threatened by his opponent's far greater striking and technical work so he refuses to break from a headlock and stomps the guy when he finally drops it, using the momentum to keep himself in control by focusing on his legs until First Tiger counters with a inverse Enzuigiri to the face. One thing I can say here is that Funaki is a great seller: he throws himself around for offence fairly convincingly and keeps in pace with First Tiger's regular spots perfectly. He sells the threat of his opponent and how outclassed he is by comparison. he is so good that you could go into this not knowing anything about Tiger Mask, yet you'd know that he's the superior guy here just by how both act. This isn't to say Sayama's spots are on point, because he was incredible here (he hits a picture perfect Tiger Flip from the turnbuckle corner into his signature savate kick) but Funaki is a good hand that makes these look a lot smoother. He tries for his Tiger Suplex but Funaki counters into a roll up before transitioning into a kneebar after Mask kicks out, needing a rope break. He tries for his own version but gets caught in a sleeper hold, causing the roles to be reversed, needing Funaki to then hit the ropes. Funaki gets nailed with a smooth back kick to head and a big German for a nearfall. Funaki does a Kawada sell in that despite kicking out, he's already done: his glazed, confused eyes say everything before the finish even happens. Mask lands a Tombstone and Tiger Suplex for the pin. Despite this being short, it's a really explosive sub-10 match with some nice bumping and general selling from Funaki, who makes Sayama look like a world ender here. There's some nice technical work mixed in with traditional wrestling spots, so it might not be a pure shoot style bout, but it's a fun one regardless. Definitely suggest checking this out if curious about Funaki as a performer, because he puts on a blinder here despite the runtime. RANK: Good This'll be the end of the reviews....for now. I'll have the next batch soonish. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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