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Tiger in Twilight: The First Tiger Mask Chronological Deep Dive (1994-2016)

Ma Stump Puller

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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.





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Interesting project! The only Tiger Mask match from this era that I've seen is the tag where teamed with Inoki to fight Fujiwara and Liger. I watched it when I first got into puro. Looking like a dream match on paper, I went into it expecting to see magic and what I got was incredibly disappointing! Inoki was ancient by 1997 and Liger and Sayama just didn't seem to click. 

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7 hours ago, cactus said:

Interesting project! The only Tiger Mask match from this era that I've seen is the tag where teamed with Inoki to fight Fujiwara and Liger. I watched it when I first got into puro. Looking like a dream match on paper, I went into it expecting to see magic and what I got was incredibly disappointing! Inoki was ancient by 1997 and Liger and Sayama just didn't seem to click. 

Yeah that's a bizarre match that I struggled to really get a grip on when I watched it. Mega starpower, built like a bare-bones match through. Fujiwara and Inoki basically sit in holds for almost the entire length of their work together. I'll get to that (eventually) but it's a weird one for sure.


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Part 2

Vs. Masaaki Mochizuki (01.12.1996: Inoki Festival in Yoyogi 

Here's a interesting match and a rather big oddity. Mochizuki will become a big Dragon Gate star, but at the moment he's a tough and wild WAR rookie with some reasonable showings, but nothing as of yet that's major beyond some small losses. He's playing his old karate bully role, coming into this match in his full garb and everything. Both him and Tiger Mask come out to Rocky themes, because of course they do.

The match itself is worked as a typical UWF-style bout. While Mochizuki has some impressive work with his kicks, Tiger Mask is simply better at that front, and overcomes him in stand-up exchanges a lot, with Mochizuki only getting in advantages when Mask gets overzealous, namely nailing a heel kick when Tiger Mask goes for a Irish Whip or whatnot: when he tries for more fancy stuff, things usually go wrong. Mochizuki mostly sticks to a fairly basic style in comparison, lots of kicks with a mix of some vicious suplexes when he gets the chance. For what it's worth, this does have a absolutely awesome springboard kick by Mochizuki to a prone Mask on the apron that puts literally everyone else to shame by how great it looked, by far the move of the match. Eventually Tiger Mask hits his signature Tombstone Piledriver/diving headbutt combo but gets countered into a slick spinebuster into a weird top rope Pele Kick variation? No idea what it was, but it looked cool. Mochizuki at this point and time kinda just flings himself off the ropes a lot, sometimes he looks good, others he just looks like a mangled mess of limbs that seems to barely touch the other guy.

Tiger Mask dodges his second attempt at a big top rope spinning kick and gets a Tiger Suplex for the win. I think this match mainly suffers from a lack of definitive tone: both guys will work mostly a shoot style-like bout with lots of stand-up work but then Tiger Mask will start doing piledrivers or just regular wrestling moves before going back to normal, Mochizuki will also just revert to doing pro-wrestling stuff out of the blue after a few kicks. Mochizuki even at this point was fairly solid, hitting some great shots, but that's really all he can pull out: selling is limited and he in general seems to lack a lot of the pacing and psychology he would figure out later, preferring to just hit big shots and then repeat said shots over and over. Tiger Mask gives a standard performance: outside of some nice big kicks, nothing really else to mention. He gets a good rate out of his opponent for what it's worth but I feel like had they just stuck to one format they would've had a better match. Pacing is all over the place. 

RANK: Decent


W/Masaaki Mochizuki Vs. Lance Storm & Yuji Yasuraoka (WAR 13.12.1996: WAR RYOGOKU CRUSH NIGHT!)

Only in WAR could you get such bizarre match conditions lol. First Tiger teams with a rookie Mochizuki against Lance Storm and Yasuraoka, whom I don't really have any idea about beyond the fact that he gets his ass kicked by Mochizuki a lot and he does nice flips. The action is as you would expect: smooth work by Storm (in particular a dropkick that gets amazing height and a beautiful Northern Lights Suplex) and Mochizuki landing huge springboard kicks to the head whenever he's able to get offence in: it's basically one of the few things he's learnt to do incredibly well outside of hitting gross brainbusters. 

 Basically most of this is Mochizuki by himself trying to fight off the pair as they double team him with big shots and dives to the outside. First Tiger mostly has to break up near falls and whatnot. For what it's worth, Mozhizuki sells his beating good and the crowd rally behind him as he claws his way to a big hot tag. First Tiger shows up, in which he runs through Storm and co with big kicks. Him and Mochizuki have a awesome little combo where he hits Yasuraoka with a springboard spinning heel kick and First Tiger takes advantage with a Tiger Suplex that gets a near fall. Outside of that, First Tiger does little outside of that in terms of work (beyond some of his signature spots anyway) which was a bit disappointing given who was here. Mochizuki tries to take the fight to the duo but ends up getting rocked with a pretty dangerous powerbomb/top rope dropkick combo for a very close near fall. Mochizuki recovers and tries to keep going, with a top rope springboard spinning kick to Yasuraoka stunning him and a German getting another near fall broken up by Storm.

Not everything Mochizuki does looks great: there's times where he just kinda does flips and they don't go anywhere or look impactful at all, he's basically falling over on the guy. I mentioned this in the last match review but it's especially noticeable here. Eventually Yasuraoka counters one of his top rope kicks and lands a stiff Lionsault where he lands mostly knees first on Mochizuki. With Storm guarding him, he's able to get the pin. This is pretty much just a spot show where the guys jump around for ten minutes, and the crowd were mostly receptive for it. First Tiger doesn't really do a lot here through, so most of it is up to a rookie Mochizuki, who is still pretty unpolished but he can hit big spots that look cool while also being able to sell fairly well for his early years. Storm was as smooth as butter in his own sequences and Yasuraoka wasn't too bad either as a competent hand that could get heat when beating down Mochizuki and teasing getting KO'd with one of his goofy flip kicks. Not much of a structured match but fun as anything. 

RANK: Decent


vs. Shiryu (Michinoku Pro 26.12.1996)

This is clipped slightly by about a few minutes, namely in the middle. We get Tiger Mask showing up against Shiryu, better known as very underrated late WCW talent Kaz Hayashi. He's fine on the mat but nothing really special in comparison to Mask, more or less here to give the guy a win. Speaking of him, he lands all of his usual ringwork super smooth here and manages sure to add some showmanship at points by adding in some flip transitions between elbow drops and whatnot, having some pretty fancy transitions between what are fairly regular wrestling moves. Shiryu takes the advantage with some chair shots and a low blow, but Mask kicks out of a messy top rope crossbody and manages to trap him in a front-facing triangle choke afterwards. He tries to escape, but Mask grabs his leg and manages to get him in a kneebar for the win. This is fine enough workrate wise but Hayashi is a pretty plain act that the crowd has absolutely no interest in, making this a pretty bare-bones match with a inevitable conclusion. Also, the half-time break where Sasuke and some other bloke are doing a dance number gets more of a reaction than this did, lol. Decent but forgettable despite Sayama getting in some nice work here.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. TAKA Michinoku (Michinoku Pro 14.01.1997: Nakajima Park No. 1 5 '97)

A good match against a young TAKA, who was putting in some of his best material at the time as a top notch Jr act. This first half is a lot more grounded as they take more of a shoot-style approach to things. TAKA tries shooting for Tiger Mask's legs after a minute or so of them having a stand-up affair, with him being able to get into full mount at one point, but a rope break stops him from taking advantage of that fact. Mask later gets the advantage with his big kicks and the pair have some pretty solid fast-paced sequences.

TAKA sells well for his stuff and gets over the danger of his opponent beyond just bumping in how he cowers in the corner after being outsmarted during a starting spot, or him crawling for his life after Mask takes his back and starts choking him out are just general examples and he plays off this as a clearly outmatched opponent, but one that can take the initiative. TAKA takes control after turning things into more of a traditional pro-wrestling style and tries to steal the Tiger Suplex, but gets countered into a kneebar. He plays more defensively but picks his shots, with a smart little spot of him using the impact of Mask's big kicks to bounce himself off the ropes for a flying elbow. Elements like that really make this a lot more enjoyable: it's not like he just pops right up and hits big bombs, there's at least a sense of logic to how he's able to take advantage and squeeze in his shit in-between getting past Sayama's big shots. 

He also takes a horrific bump as he misses a dive outside to Tiger and ends up flying knee first into like, a concrete step or something? Looked ungodly painful and his face says it all afterwards. He just manages to get back in but almost at once gets smacked with kicks and a Tombstone/Diving Headbutt combo for a near fall. TAKA takes some more kicks, but reverses one into a last minute Michinoku Driver in a awesome sequence. TAKA could have perhaps won with that as his opponent seems down and out afterwards, but he's way too exhausted to cover. Despite a great springboard dropkick and second Driver for a near fall, Tiger Mask counters a top rope move with a stiff dropkick in mid-air (perfectly timed as well, which definitely isn't easy to do) and nails TAKA with the Tiger Suplex for the pin. This is a very good match between two solid wrestlers: Tiger Mask is on the ball in terms of varied offence mixed in with his signature spots, as well as spotless technical work while TAKA shows huge guts as he works a more underdog, "fish out of water" style albeit still getting in some terrific high-flying here and there that manages to showcase how he can very easily get back into control with some big risks. He never no-sells anything and it feels like a complete struggle every time he needs to get back into things, especially near the end. Absolutely check this out if you can as it's probably one of Sayama's best matches in the late 90's.

RANK: Great



Vs. Minoru Tanaka (Battlarts 21.01.1997: Project B-Earth ~Conquest Operation)

Terrific little shoot-style bout against a truly fantastic act in Minoru Tanaka, who's still kicking ass even today. This is paced a lot like a old UWF Super Tiger bout for the most part. The main narrative is that Tanaka is a good striker: but he's not Tiger Mask, and his initial big roundhouse at the start that he has to quickly back away from establishes who's the better man in that regard rather easily. Tanaka plays it safe for a while, focusing on low kicks from a good space away to wear him down. Tanaka tries to take Mask down to mat and operates for some submissions, but he underestimates Mask's capabilities to escape his attempts: when he rolls over Mask from half mount and tries to take his foot for a ankle lock, Mask is able to apply a rear naked choke and he has to quickly roll back over again to get out before he's quickly put to sleep. 

There's some great tension as both men try to play both defensive as well as pushing for their own holds at the same time. Eventually Mask ends up caught in a kneebar and has to use the ropes to escape. Needless to say, Mask doesn't want to be on the mat again, so he fires a loud kick to Tanaka's leg that sounded like murder, and he sells it as such as well: when Mask tries to follow it up with more shots, he has to quickly hurl whatever he can in a pure panic spot and sprawls to the mat. Mask's kicks are vicious, half because well, they are pretty stiff, but also because Tanaka sells them as such, doing anything he can to stay away from continued shots to his weakened leg. He manages to counter a Tiger Suplex into a Chickenwing. We also get him going nuts with some of his throws, hitting a insane backdrop on Mask that looked painful as anything. Despite this, Mask patiently counters his submissions, as well as honing it on his leg and using it as a springboard into more painful holds.

When Tanaka tries using his panicked strikes again to scare Mask off, he's able to easily dodge his slap and answer with a huge German that had the guy bounce on his HEAD. Jesus Christ. Tanaka aims for a final gambit by trying to transition to a cross armbreaker, but Mask is able to only just hit the rope with his leg. He tries again for a huge throw, but he's just too far in the hole as Mask counters into a Chickenwing that he has to finally tap out for. All in all, this starts slow with some steady technical work but just turns into a mean scrap after a while with both men throwing strikes and a ton of holds between the two men. Mask shows great awareness on the mat and looks like he belongs alongside Tanaka, but he also makes sure to sell his opponent's superiority when it comes to getting caught in his submissions, being able to contend, but not really dominate or take any major victories on the mat. Tanaka in turn makes Sayama look simply terrifying in stand-up, doing everything humanly possible to not get caught with more vicious kicks. Really solid work and more proof that Sayama could adapt beyond his 80's UWF days to more modern approaches to shoot-style, of which we'll see later on as well.

RANK: Great


Vs. Inoki (NJPW 12.04.1997: Battle Formation 1997)

Obviously Inoki by this point was in his 50's and far beyond his prime, more operating as a Undertaker-type spectacle that would come in for a few big matches, get a big reaction, then disappear into the Inoki-Ism ether. He's way better than you think he is even at this stage, but this is one of his weaker showcases against Tiger Mask, who had returned to the promotion proper after a trial match with Liger a few years ago. He still wrestles mainly like his UWF-counterpart, albeit mixing in some of his old signature offence from his younger days to pop the crowd. He tries for his Tiger Spin at one point but Inoki is way too experienced for that and cuts him off before he could even start by grabbing his mid-section tight, which I felt was a smart little moment that not many people noticed. 

Both men do some pretty decent mat exchanges where Inoki seems to have the advantage, but Tiger Mask's kicks make him far better at stand-up, being able to knock down Inoki with a vicious spinning kick to the back of the head. Inoki really gets the crowd going with his fire, especially when he's got the advantage over Mask on the mat and going for it. Eventually he invokes his infamous Ali match strategy by sitting down into his spider position which leads Mask to try to leap over him Sakuraba-style into a cross armbreaker, which is also smartly countered by Inoki by using his legs to catch one of Mask's own legs midway, allowing him to roll over him into a hammerlock.

Tiger Mask counters this with a jumping snapmare when he tries to get his back and tries to use this tactic again on Inoki after a spinning kick, but Inoki blocks him and transitions into a Cobra Twist: in the middle of the ring and nowhere to go, he's forced to tap out. As stated, this isn't anything really special as it's very short and not exactly bombastic or anything: for what it's worth I think both men work a solid enough pace, namely leaning into a mix of theatrical spots combined with legitimate shooting. This is more for the speciacle of having these two in a actual ring together and the crowd are naturally really heated for this throughout. Tiger Mask does his usual spots fine with some decent technical work, but I didn't think he was as good as Inoki, who conveys sharp fear at Mask's sharp kicks, but also determination and raw fury when he's on the offensive, even tanking some of King's kicks outright with fighting spirit while mixing in some great technical work and sharp counters: he's obviously nowhere near his best years or even his early 90's stuff but his charisma is still very much apparent throughout. It's definitely not a conventional match and not a must see for either man by a far mile, but it's worth watching as a curious extra slice of both men's long careers: like a bonus feature on a DVD, it's neat but not what you wanted.

RANK: Decent


W/ Inoki Vs. Liger and Fujiwara (NJPW 03.05.1997: Strong Style Evolution In Osaka Dome)

Sensationally star-studded here: Inoki and Tiger King coming out like they're going to fight every single person in the entire stadium was incredibly badass. We also finally get the Liger vs Tiger Mask match that fans were anticipating (and NJPW unsuccessfully tried to cash in on before with Tiger III's feud) with Liger on the upend after countering King's speed with a rolling savate to counter a perfect backdrop counter. Despite him botching a tilt a whirl backbreaker (more Liger's fault due to him not jumping right but Sayama doesn't really give much margin for error either) he nails his Tiger Feint, as well as a extra moonsault off the second rope. There's some decent exchanges between the pair as well as King takes advantage with a Tiger Spin and works the legs, leading to a lucha arm wrench exchange which has both men smoothly countering the other, albeit there's some clunky motions between the pair at points as addressed above. Despite being similar styles, there's a clear disconnect between the pair that becomes apparent after a second viewing, and the pacing is very off and on here. Stuff looks good but they don't really know how to work with each other beyond that. 

 The Inoki/Fujiwara exchanges are a lot more boring, with Inoki holding on a cavate and a headlock for minutes on end and sending this back to the 70's with boring, extended rest holds that don't go anywhere. Fujiwara counters his attempt to control his base on the ground with a hammerlock and they just sit some more until he powers out from Fujiwara trying to sit his body weight on him, but the latter takes him down regardless. Tiger King takes advantage against Liger when they tag in with some big kicks, as well as his Tombstone Piledriver, but misses a Diving Headbutt, leading Liger to hit a big brainbuster off it. Fuji follows Liger's lead by hitting a piledriver and a scoop slam, following all of that up with a Fujiwara Armbar that gets a rope break. Liger gets tagged in and does his lucha Dragon Sleeper variation and tries to work over him further with a abdominal stretch, but King reverses it into a weird arm wrench, throwing our some kicks before getting Inoki in.

Liger and him exchange rolling savate kicks and Inoki goes on the downshift, leading to the finishing stretch that has Fujiwara attack him with headbutts before having to tag out, King countering his headbutts with a roundhouse, leading to a Tombstone, a loose Inoki knee drop, Enzuigiri, and sleeper to tap Fujiwara out. This is a pretty cool match in places when Tiger Mask and Liger are finally squaring off: there's some natural rust on Sayama's part still there but he's smooth when it counts, and Liger is more than happy to keep the pace going and bump around, even if they don't really click together as a pairing they can still at least throw out some visually interesting looking stuff. Inoki feels like he can still kinda go at his age (even him landing a top rope knee drop was no issue for him even if he missed by a fair bit lol) but him and Fujiwara sit around in holds a lot and take a backseat to the Jr guys, which is unfortunate considering they could've probably had a good match even at their respective ages. This is a alright match through, helped with a very brisk pace in the middle half that kinda just gets past all of the traditional formalities. It's undoubtfully more of a name-value showcase than anything else by a mile but it's a good example of these matches in action (believe me, that's not saying a whole lot) and I really wouldn't suggest searching this out unless you are really hungry for Tiger Mask interactions. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. El Satanico (Michinoku Pro 10.10.1997: Pro Dioxine From Sasuke)

This actually could've been a dream match had the conditions been better. Sayama was unfortunately in his crazed shooting phase at this moment and time and is far from his usual self, Satanico isn't in his peak condition but could still play a great heel: his shit eating grin as he tries to shake Sayama's hand and attack him afterwards before getting smacked with a head kick is a great overall spot, and he's a good foil to the far more flashy opponent, even despite the fact that he's a bit limited physically and bumps weird at points. Sayama takes some horrific bumps (like Satanico just slams him on the outside at one point just because) but they don't really add up or go anywhere, because most of this is mat-based. 

Sayama takes over in the second half with kicks and leg locks when Satanico tries to counter his existing offence. Despite his best attempts to escape and take advantage of Sayama's grounded state by trying to catch him in his El Nudo submission, he's able to reverse it into a triangle armbar for the win. Despite some miscommunication, this wasn't bad: not great like it could've been in better conditions, but not bad either. There's some value in the detailed ring work and I think the guys here could've put on a pretty reasonable showcase with more time together (reminder that this card had Chris Chandido on it for some reason, as well as some pretty underwhelming matches in general). But yeah: giving these two more than 6 minutes would've probably made this at least something worth mentioning, because the lads have to rush stuff in here a lot. It's frustrating because a uber heel like Satanico with a big babyface like Sayama could've been special.

RANK: Decent


W/ Tiger Mask IV vs. Tiger Mask III & Tiger Mask II (12.10.1997: 97 Martial Arts Festival SPECIAL)

This was supposed to be all four Tiger Masks in a match together, but Misawa had to opt out due to apparent conflicts with his schedule, which I believe because this was just a day after he was facing Steve Williams, and he also had a hellacious match with Kobashi in a week and a bit later after this, so it's understandable that he couldn't commit. In his place, they send a young rookie Kanemaru in his own version of the Tiger II costume. In all fairness, he does somewhat work here, he's incredibly agile in his own right: but he isn't just isn't very good at this point and time namely because of a issue I had with his AJPW material: his moves lack much impact and he hasn't truly learned how to make his shit look feasible in a wrestling standpoint, not just a "this looks good" one. Outside of a running dropkick, that applies to most of his offence here. His moonsaults have like, zero weight to them: he doesn't know how to work his spots into actually looking painful. 

He's also pretty clumsy in terms of sequence building and consistently pauses or doesn't do anything, which was pretty awkward to watch. Tiger III wants First Tiger almost at once, and he uses his flashier speed to outclass him despite the experience disadvantage. For context, Kanemoto (Tiger III) had given up the mantle for a few years now because of a mix of wear and tear/the fans considering him being a failure for being incapable of wrestling Sayama's style, so this is him sticking it to them by showing that he could not only hang with First Tiger, but he could put him in trouble with his own unique style, not by copying another. 

Tiger IV is incredibly agile but knows how to slow down this with holds and strikes with him and First Tiger honing in on the far weaker Kanemaru during most of the middle half. I like how Tiger IV and III have big heat as well as they scrap and have some pretty stiff slaps for each other, almost at once abandoning the flashy stuff and just going for big old fisticuffs. III talking trash to First Tiger before hitting the Tiger Suplex was a great little bit as well. The lead to the finishing stretch has IV hit a huge German and dive to the outside. There's a awesome spot where First Tiger does his Tiger Feint to Kanemaru but Tiger III shows up right behind him and dropkicks him out of the ring with a big bump.

Eventually this leads to Tiger II trying to pick up where III left off, but First Tiger gets tagged in and manages to roll him into a armbar, getting the tap out victory. There's some drama post-match as Tiger III gets pissed at Sasuke for his slow count and there's a bit of a scuffle, but this doesn't go anywhere. All in all, a fun outing that is hampered by Kanemaru's inexperience. There's some growing pains at times but this is mostly structured well, with everyone getting their chance to shine with big sensational flips and spots. Tiger III and IV prove to be solid opponents together, and First Tiger, while limited (Sayama had another match on this very night so he probably didn't want to do as much as he could have) hits his greatest hits alongside selling for the newer lads. All in all, a fun spectacle, but Misawa being here, even if he probably couldn't do most of the shit he used to be able to do (namely because he found it difficult even when he was in his youth doing said moves) would've made this a lot better. Even him and Sayama sharing a ring would've been incredible. Alas, we need to wait a decade or more for that to finally happen. 

RANK: Good


Vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara (Same Night!)

Yes, Inoki had Sayama do double time. This is a rematch between two UWF guys: it's even libelled as such on the billing for this match. Naturally both guys aren't willing to let the other man get over, so they have a screwy finish to this that keeps them both strong. This is a expected dynamic in that Tiger is better at strikes and stand-up, while Fujiwara tries to time his shots to get in his signature leg work and work him down to the mat for submissions. There's some parts where I definitely think Sayama takes liberties (like he just sneaks a headbutt at one point while on the mat before landing more obvious ones later that are worked) and his holds at times are a bit too realistic looking to not be uncomfortable for Fujiwara.

This does play into the narrative as Fujiwara actually has to rope break at times because he ends up in a sticky situation that he can't get out of despite his best attempts, and both men do sell the threat of the other well when they want to play ball. There's one part where Fujiwara attempts a Kimura Lock and Tiger just hammers his lower back with some hard shots that sound pretty stiff as well, which was pretty cool to see. Fujiwara eventually gets fed up with Tiger's shit and starts headbutting him directly in the face, which leads to Tiger in turn eventually countering and just throwing big closed fist shots at Fujiwara until the ref eventually relents and ends the match in a No Contest. Both men brawl after the fact until Inoki goes "fuck it" and restarts the match himself, which was pretty awesome. He becomes the ref at this point because....well it's his event, who's gonna tell him otherwise? 

Both men have a more proactive brawl, with Tiger Mask at one point just hammering fucking elbows to the face of Fujiwara after he tries to roll to the ropes, which was brutal to watch. Tiger and him fall to the floor but he refuses to break it up and they end up resetting again because neither trust the other. Fujiwara dodges a Enzuigiri after catching Tiger's leg and manages to mangle him down into full mount and throws shots. Tiger reaches the ropes but Fujiwara definitely isn't letting go this time, which gets his opponent pissed off, landing a loose kick at his face when he finally lets go and starts kicking the crap outta him in the corner, flooring him: even managing to fit a few stomps to his face.

The match is finally thrown out at his point and they shake hands afterwards after Inoki provides a fighting spirit slap to Fujiwara's face. All in all, have these men had far better matches? Of course, their series in 80's UWF is fantastic. Is this lacking in technical work? Yes. Is this still enjoyable? Damn right it is. It's a great heated brawl between two guys who have a complex past, and there's some great intensity when things start to fall apart with some actual nasty shots in places. It's a shoot-style scuffle with plenty of theatrical melodrama to boot, but it's still brutal as hell and both men really give it socks here at points despite the lack of actual big fancy workrate spots. Lots of fun and a celebration of the kind of over the top antics that come with shoot-style as a whole.

RANK: Good


W/ Liger Vs. Koji Kanemoto & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (NJPW 02.11.1997: Final Power Hall In Fukuoka Dome)

This is a interesting but at times very dry kind of match to follow. Takaiwa and Kanemoto are positioned as the heels here, getting cocky at the start with both Liger and Sayama respectfully before getting shown up when that inevitably goes the wrong way for them. Sayama is fairly good here, having some smooth technical work when he's countering the duo and throwing in his signature spots pretty well throughout, getting some good reliable pops. Liger spends a decent portion of this feeding for the other lads as they double team him multiple times over, Kanemoto namely relying on his kicks as a diss towards his former mentor. Eventually he manages to land a backdrop on Kanemoto and gets in Mask, who beats him down with a Tiger DDT, cross chop, and then a messy Kimura transition that Kanemoto doesn't really take properly. He pulls for a cross armbreaker, but his opponent is able to roll him over into a kneebar. Even when he gets to the ropes, he still wrenches on said hold.

This leads to Mask being in danger as the pair work over him as well: Takaiwa has a killer brainbuster but nothing much else worth bringing up before Mask hits him with a cool-looking three strike combo, ending in a huge savate kick to the head. Liger tries to take control after a tag in but gets his own backdrop moment, leading to Kanemoto trying to show him up in some fairly fast paced exchanges, eventually winning out after Liger misses a rolling heel kick to the corner. Liger also has to sneakily shift position when Kanemoto tries doing his weird flipping senton as he would've missed it otherwise. Eventually he manages to hit a proper heel kick and goes into his big signature spots, ending with a big powerbomb. Mask tries following up with a Diving Headbutt but misses, leading him to bump all over the place for the guy before Liger breaks up a Tiger Suplex with a rolling heel kick to the back of the head: pretty cool spot in general.

 Probably the only bad botch of the match was Tiger Mask completely fucking up his Tiger Feint on the ropes, getting caught in them. Kanemoto saves this by hitting a big plancha afterwards. Sayama redeems himself afterwards by hitting his backdrop counter into a big savate kick to the gut. The road to the finish has Takaiwa and Liger go at it, with a fantastic multiple powerbomb moment where he just relentlessly drops Liger down with them. He would've got the pin if not for a nicely timed roundhouse by Mask. They take him out of the fight with a cool Electric Chair/top rope dropkick combo before focusing in on Liger with a moonsault/Death Valley Driver combo which ends in a huge near fall. He tries for a top rope powerbomb but Liger counters, hits a big palm strike before setting up a top rope brainbuster for the pin while Kanemoto gets knocked back with a cross chop.

All in all, it's a pretty dry match that doesn't really get a lot of heat at all outside of the last few minutes where the lads actually start hitting big moves. Kanemoto does get some heat with his antics against the vets but this is short-lived and his interactions with Sayama leave a lot to be desired. The pacing is also very much up and down here, mixing in extended working segments alongside multiple hot tags and there's definitely some weird moments that don't really play into ring psychology here: individuals will at times do silly things or just look fairly sloppy when it comes to tagging other people in or interrupting other pins. There's no real internal logic at times and it can feel rather disjointed. Liger is a good sport but this is a average performance by him by his high standards, and Sayama was definitely having a off day here with some sloppy chemistry and just outright botches in places. Alright overall but not something I'll be watching again. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. Tiger Mask IV II (01.01.1998: Umanosuke Ueda Benefit Show)

This is a decent little sequel to their match last year (which was far better than this but I'm not complaining) of which the same narrative was played out: First Tiger and Tiger IV engage in some one-upmanship as the more experienced, war-wary student tries to prove he can hang with the living legend himself. You see this from how First Tiger is able to easily take advantage with a spinning kick at the start, but Tiger IV is able to counter a backdrop by landing on his feet, nailing a savate kick to the face. First Tiger tries the same thing but botches completely, stumbling over and falling to the ropes. They make up for that with dual dropkicks and high kicks to the head between each other. 

A lot of the working hold side of things is dedicated to Tiger IV working over the legs (a tactic he used in their first match together) while First Tiger tries to counter this with his own holds. What I like is how Tiger IV not only uses First Tiger's own signature offence against him, he also steals some of his counters while actively in the match: when he applies a cross armbreaker to counter a leg vice, Tiger IV also uses that same method later on to escape a similar hold. Tiger IV kinda sucks at strikes, and that does play into the overall narrative: he's trying to outclass his opponent in every avenue beforehand so it would make sense that he would also try to outstrike him as well. Outside of a rogue slap knocking down First Tiger, the latter is easily able to knock him around: in particular landing a nasty stiff closed fist of his own in response. Tiger IV sells the strike like death, having a extended period of him stumbling around and being incapable of mounting a counterattack.

This allows First Tiger to take full domination with his huge kicks and signature offence, even his Tombstone/Diving Headbutt combo, but nothing gets the pin. The guy just resorts to hammering Tiger IV with body shots and slaps to try to topple him over but he's just able to recover enough to pull the top rope when First Tiger charges at him, sending him outside so he can land a impressive dive. When First Tiger tries to get back in he's met with a kick to the face, but he counters and hits his own. A perfect sunset flip allows him to get the close pin. As stated, this isn't as good as their last match, but it's a solid bout that has Tiger IV try desperately to outmatch his mentor, but ultimately just get caught out when he gets overzealous and tries to stamp in his mark a bit too much. The second part of this is just Sayama beating the hell out of his student, and it's a lot of fun to see how much he punishes him in that regard. It's a short but very fun late 90's showing from both men that does play to elements of their first encounter, showing how much IV has grown since then. 

RANK: Good


Vs. Alexander Otsuka (UFO 30.10.1998: If you have any complaints, come on!)

Yes, that's the actual title of the show. The narrative is simple: Otsuka wants to go to the ground, Tiger Mask (here unmasked with short hair) most definitely fucking doesn't with someone like him and wants to kick the guy in the face whenever he can. They establish that in the first 30 seconds by having Ootsuka shoot for a takedown, Mask lean onto the ropes, then hit some huge kicks on Otsuka's legs in the meantime. This leads to Otsuka focusing on the ground and dodging a roundhouse for his head by catching it, throwing the guy down with him. Sayama doesn't have the advantage there and has to time his transitions carefully to escape Otsuka's grasp before he can do his ground and pound or even worse. He can defend better on the top: well, mostly anyway, Otsuka nails a fantastic German Suplex on him after he tries to sprawl away from a takedown attempt, looked effortless on his part. 

Otsuka's subtle selling is great as well: he shakes off Sayama's big kicks but he's able to slowly sell him getting worse and worse for wear, as well as switching stances facing him from the side of his body that hurts. He's trying to hide the fact that they hurt like hell in the logic of the match but is also able to showcase how badly he doesn't want to get hit by them as well. There's a great example of this as Mask tries to take advantage of this slanted stance changing with his rollover kneebar, but Otsuka rolls through with the hold while blocking the hold and manages to take his back as a result. He tries to end things with a Kimura but his opponent escapes and goes nuts with kicks and stomps; even on the elevated apron he doesn't stop, and they end up falling off the whole thing as a result while stuck in a hold together. They get back in the ring and he continues with huge spinning kicks to the stomach, which rock Otsuka enough that he almost gets KO'd, but manages to roll through a third one to get Mask back on the mat, albeit Otsuka sells these shots afterwards like death, not even being able to apply any proper holds for a bit, only having the strength to hold his position. He gets Mask in for a modified Liontamer (looked painful as anything) but with a single leg. He tries using his punches to apply a leg submission with some ground and pound but gets his own punch in the face for his troubles.

While Otsuka can't beat Mask in stand-up, he can still throw punches to establish distance, using them to get Mask positioned and backed up on the ropes for a spinebuster. Otsuka tries to pound his face in, but he rolls into a cross armbreaker after he leaves a hole in his defence. Otsuka escapes and tries to take down Mask as soon as possible, but he lands a great spinning kick to the face while he's charging for the takedown leaving him to go into his own ground and pound. However, Otsuka JUST has enough left to roll the guy onto his back for a Achilles Tendon lock, which he applies despite him trying to roll out of the ring again. Without the earlier stamina to do so, he's forced to tap out for a huge upset and big cheers. All in all, a fantastic shoot-style bout. Both men get over their respective styles but also show some great intensity with each other as they advance their respective goals. Otsuka is a wrestling beast with huge throws, and Sayama shows that he's not outdated even in the proto-PRIDE days, having a great mix of thunderous kicks and defensive strategy. There's a real threat of him losing throughout but it's never obvious as the fast tempo means both guys get their shots in. I'm 100% confident in saying this was one of Sayama's best shoot-style bouts I've seen, insane energy throughout and a real epic despite only being 8 minutes long.

RANK: Great





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Part 3

Vs. Ikuto Hidaka (Battlarts 09.06.1999: Masami Soranaka Memorial Show)

This is cropped like many of the undercard bouts on this (doesn't help that the actual footage itself is pretty damn hard to find properly) but the curious thing is Tiger Mask coming out to wrestle this in a Gi. Beyond that, this is just him kicking the shit out of a young Hidaka with big fancy kicks to the stomach and head. In typical UWF style he also adds in some wrestling moves like elbow drops to the head and whatnot. Hidaka also comes into this with a bandaged shoulder, which naturally also gets exploited with submissions. Hidaka does fight back with some nice submissions of his own, and his need to just keep throwing out as much as he can: when he takes Tiger Mask's back and just starts throwing out as many submissions as possible to keep him from getting to the rope: is pretty cool. Naturally his opponent just gets fed up with that and picks him up for a huge backdrop. He also just throws the dude in the air for a Butterfly Suplex, dude bumps like crazy for it as well and gets some huge height. 

There's some near misses with submissions and some real drama built as Hidaka has to escape every single one with rope breaks. There's a great moment where Tiger Mask is in a leg vice, and the drama is building as to if he'll tap or not, and he just casually rolls over in the hold to where Yuki Ishikawa (Hidaka's trainer) is at ringside and slaps him a few times with a big smile on his face lol. He also rolls over later to that exact side for a rope break when Ishikawa is screaming at Hidaka to keep focusing in on his leg, just to rub it in a bit more. Hidaka focuses on the leg as per his advice with a great springboard dropkick to the leg, as well as a Dragon Screw.

He tries going for another reverse kneebar but gets another rope break. By this point, Hidaka is just hungry for that leg and just keeps shooting for it any opportunity he gets to do so. However, his over-eagerness to do so bites him in the ass as the finish has Tiger Mask counter a takedown attempt into a smooth backslide for the pin. For what it's worth, I thought this was pretty good. There's some nice comedy in here as Tiger Mask is annoying this angry shoot guy yelling every two seconds, but also some solid selling on his part around the second half to the finish as Hidaka dismantles the leg to the point where he can barely stand, as well as great action between and during the submissions. Paced really well and with a solid performance from both men as Hidaka's desperate nature to get a big pin on a shoot-style legend shined through with his intense facial expressions: him in utter anguish after the loss and all of that was snatched away is also great to see. as that Tiger Mask shows brutal dominance on top, but also makes sure to get over his opponent while fighting from under him as well in the second half, putting himself in real danger despite the goofy stuff mentioned above. This is hard to find, but definitely give it a watch: it's a short but very well done bout.

RANK: Good


Vs. Fujiwara (11.03.2000: Rikidozan Memorial)

I'm going to be real with you: this is two fairly old men (well Tiger Mask wasn't that old here, only 43) who don't wrestle very regularly basically doing a lot of dull grappling on the mat for about the vast majority of the match and doing kinda sloppy shoot-style stand up when that's not the case. Inoki's venture into shoot-style with Sayama as UFO was dragging badly and it seemed like the man was taking another fairly big hiatus from actually wrestling: he comes into this unremarkably dressed as himself and in particularly poor conditioning compared to earlier years. This isn't particularly interesting, and even the grabbling for two really solid mat workers is pretty uninviting which was shocking considering these were two guys who could really work a mat game, even a slower paced variation. There's a lot of it spent with Fujiwara in full mount doing absolutely nothing and Mask hitting less than convincing kicks, at points almost seeming like he was holding back. There's a attempt to provide a narrative (I. E. Mask is better on stand up and Fujiwara on the ground, so you get Mask using a lot of rope breaks and Fujiwara using takedowns as main offence) but Mask's selling isn't great, and him getting gassed five minutes in doesn't exactly make things any better.

Second half has Mask get wrapped in a lot of leg holds until a Achilles Hold ends it. There's some novelty in seeing these two originators of shoot-style collide once more, but this was just a bad stage to have this happen. Fujiwara was not the man at this point and time to be carrying a clearly out of shape Sayama to anything special, and as such, the match quickly stutters into a lot of heatless exchanges and none of the exciting moments that shoot style frequently provides. Dull as anything. 

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Kazuya Yuasa (Michinoku Pro 24.08.2003: 3rd Fukumen World League Tag 28)

Here's a small 5-minute exhibition match between Tiger Mask and Yuasa. I say "Tiger Mask" but it really wasn't even his persona in this case as he doesn't even enter with the mask on, and wears a big sweatshirt. Yuasa almost loses right away as Sayama lands a back kick to the face in the first 10 seconds, which knocks him down after a low side kick to Yuasa's foot. He lands a Tiger Spin (not perfect but better than his other 2003 showings) and hones in on Yuasa's bad foot from before. He uses some pretty stiff kicks to knock Yuasa down, as well as mixing in his signature stuff, as well as a leg drop that he then rolls backwards into a senton, which was a pretty cool spot.

Yuasa takes over after reversing a headlock and works on Tiger's own leg, managing to get a scoop slam + elbow drop combo, as well as a Northern Lights Suplex for a near fall. Tiger Mask counters a running attack with a big spinning kick (lands flush on his neck as well, ouch) he goes for his delayed Tombstone into Diving Headbutt, but rolls out of it mid-air when Yuasa dodges, hits a weird back chop that looked botched, then hits a few more kicks before going into a modified Abdominal Stretch that turns into more of a Octopus Stretch with time. His opponent is trapped, but refuses to tap out as the 5 minute time limit is reached, ending the match.

This is only five minutes, but it's a fairly action packed bunch of minutes, with some solid limb work, even if Yuasa looked like a fish out of water here compared to the guy he was wrestling. I get the feeling that Sayama was trying a somewhat different approach here as he goes for a mix of his old shoot and wrestling sequences as before but tries to add in new stuff as well to experiment. I'm not a big fan of it (he finds a far better balance later) but at least it didn't look all bad: well, outside of whatever that back chop was supposed to be. Fun stuff but not necessary to late-game Tiger Mask viewing.

RANK: Decent


Vs. Gran Hamada II (AJPW 26.10.2003: Road To Re-BirthxRe-Verse 2003 Tag 11)

Hamada and "Mask of Tiger" (wonder who that is?) face off in a little rematch from their early 80's work together. At this point Sayama was still having his identity crisis over his shooty persona and his classical work, and his workrate was very varied around this time before the founding of RJPW. You can see this in how he completely botches his Tiger Spin here and misses Hamada by miles, forcing the poor guy to bump for a ghost. They make up for that by having a fun little explosive sequence where Hamada lands perfectly on his feet after a backdrop and both men land dual dropkicks.

After Tiger Mask throws out a spinning kick, Hamada goes on the defensive, leading to a few technical exchanges mixed in with Tiger Mask's vicious kicks, usually to establish control. This isn't the most exciting but there's some fun spots thrown in-between, like Hamada countering a scoop slam into a Kimura lock, and we get some lucha stuff. My issue is that Tiger Mask is just generally sloppy when he's trying to do his signature spots: he regularly mistimes or outright doesn't land stuff he wants, and you can see that frustration come through at times that he just can't go at the pace he used to be able to do seamlessly.

Even his signature Tiger Feint, something I've seen him do perfectly even when a year away from retiring, he botches it so bad that he falls over afterwards and Hamada needs to cover for him by grabbing his legs and dragging him outside. He also misses a catch after Hamada goes to the outside for a dive, thankfully there's a mat there. He does time a second rope dive into a Fujiwara Armbar in a nice little spot, but still. As for Hamada, he's solid: even in his 50's the lucha style gives him a lot of longevity and he can still fly around and bump well. Eventually Tiger wins with a Tombstone/Diving Headbutt combo for the pin after stunning Hamada with a spinning kick to the face.

Tiger Mask is pretty tired afterwards, noticeably shooing away photographers and wagging his finger when they try to get snaps of him gassed in the corner. I think he injured himself as well as he holds on to the ropes endlessly and gets helped to the back, which they try to sneak away from showing on the cameras. Needless to say, I didn't think this was very good at all. Tiger Mask just isn't in good shape at the moment and it's a very rare instance where I have to say that he actively brought this match down: this was something he was very much aware of as his moments of subtle annoyance and the crowd being incredibly dead (for a Tiger Mask match of all things) were very noticeable. These guys have some good matches in the past but this equated to mostly filler grappling and some alright spots when done properly. Tiger Mask would eventually rethink his wrestling style and get back into ring shape, but at the moment, he had a lot of ring rust to shake off: this big attempt of rehashing the Tiger Mask persona much like how he did with Hamada back in the mid 90's just wasn't working this time. 

RANK: Forgettable 


W/ Koji Kanemoto & Tiger Mask Vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, The Great Sasuke & Ultimo Dragon (14.10.2004: Dragon Fire The Final Challenge)

This was a NIGHTMARE to find, Christ. Trying to find early to mid 2000's indie stuff in Japan has always been difficult, but this was a struggle and a half. We get Kanemoto in his Tiger Mask III gear alongside IV and First Tiger, with Tiger IV having some decent starting sequences with Liger, as well as Sasuke and Tiger III exchanging holds before speeding up into kicks. Sasuke bumps very well as per standard and helps to get the crowd softened up for the starting action, which is mostly dry outside of that. In particular he stumbles into the bottom rope after a savate kick and gets his face washed with boots after Kanemoto removes his mask and forgoes his Tiger Mask identity, which gets a big pop. 

First Tiger and Ultimo have some speedy exchanges followed by a Tiger Spin and Dragon Hold respectfully from the pair: basically how you'd imagine both of them work by this point. I mean First Tiger is 46 and banged up with injuries and additional size, but he moves like a man half his age and has some terrific agility left in him. I actually think he outpaces a lot of these guys just by how he performed here with some truly incredible sequences. Tiger IV has a fun  bit where he's able to outpace the older vets by dodging their double team attempts and nailing his big dives, namely a big splash to the outside to all of them. Eventually he gets outnumbered and gets worked over for a good amount of time, which he sells fairly well. 

Kanemoto has a solid limb targeting section with Sasuke where he hones in on his bad leg (Sasuke has been plagued with knee issues since forever) with kicks and holds: while his kicks can be quite light in areas, Sasuke sells them like he's been dropped in boiling acid, screaming at points. First Tiger hits a springboard knee to it at one point and it looks nasty as anything. Sasuke bumps really well for a Dragon Screw as well: instead of doing what everyone else does and falling in the direction of the leg, he like sticks his leg out and almost slides when he's falling. It's a simple bumping variation of a regular move but it makes people in the audience noticeably wince in response. Naturally a minute or so later he's doing big handspring elbows, but that's par for the course here.

Tiger IV continues getting his ass beat with a stiff powerbomb and palm strike by Liger. We also get some awesome sequences between Kanemoto and Sasuke: namely them hitting dual savate kicks until Kanemoto hits Sasuke's worked leg with one and drops him. Eventually the leadup to the finish has First Tiger take some near falls from Ultimo, him hitting a Lionsault before the Tiger trio take out everyone else and hit a big combo: IV's Tiger Driver, Kanemoto's moonsault, and First Tiger's Tiger Suplex for the pin. This might've been more of a vet showcase but it's pretty well done and everyone at this point could still go really well, with little stopped motions or awkward moments. Sasuke was a definite highlight: big risky moves mixed in with good selling to make the slower sections more exciting. Everyone else puts on a spirited performance. Definitely check this out (if you can find it, anyway)

RANK: Good


Vs. Alexander Otsuka III (RJPW 27.01.2005)

This match is so obscure that not even Cagematch has this listed! Sayama wrestles in his old "Sammy Lee" WoS persona against one of his bigger rivals in Otsuka, who's already beaten him two times over in a great pair of matches. This is more of a traditional pro-wrestling style as compared to the matches before. Having stuff like this between legit martial arts fights is a bit disjointed but hey, can't knock it that much if RJPW is still kicking. This was for the RJPW Legend Championship if I recall. Otsuka and him start really wild as Lee hurls big knees and kicks while sprawling out of any takedown attempts, managing to stun him with a spring-up kick after he manages to catch one of his legs mid-kick. They go for a test of strength that gets countered into a good headscissors off the mat, allowing Otsuka to be taken down in the process. He tries to reverse it and power out, but ends up getting caught again, resulting in him rope-breaking and getting out of the ring.

Otsuka lands some flush strikes, ending in a big Gotch Piledriver. They try for a powerbomb but Sayama doesn't really jump well for it, so they turn it into a arm drag counter instead, which looked a lot better. He also tries for his signature Tiger Flip but botches it completely, leading him to just go for his kicks instead. He does hit a good Tiger Feint through, even if a bit clunky. Otsuka takes over again with some stiff slaps into a Butterfly Suplex for a near fall. He tries to take control with some grounded working holds but gets countered into more stiff kicks to send him away. The next few minutes are just the two wangling on the mat, with Otsuka using a lot of ground and pound to get his holds applied on proper, eventually powering him into a big German for a near fall. he also hits like a gutwrench suplex into a backbreaker which was pretty flush and looked cool. They follow that up with a Boston Crab into Otsuka attempting a Giant Swing, but it's pretty dodgy and barely lasts. 

He does redeem that with a top rope dropkick and Tiger Feint of his own through. Sayama hones in on Otsuka's right leg with strikes, even managing to get few kneebars applied. The lads go back and forth with transitions until Otsuka gets caught in a loose rollup for the win. This is decent but noticeable in how some exchanges seem a bit rusty, with some noticeable botches. They don't really have a narrative going into this as both guys just sorta hit holds and moves until one of them gets the pin: there's no specific wearing down of any limbs, no plan of attack, no real strategy to the whole thing. Stuff happens and it's mostly done well, it's just done for no real reason. Sayama looked fine here with good strikes and some fun holds and whatnot, but one thinks he was leaning away from a Tiger Mask showing as to not get the expectations of the audience up too much. You can safely skip this one. 

RANK: Decent


W/ Ultimo Dragon Vs. Masao Orihara & Sasuke The Great (RJPW 16.04.2005: Prelude) 

Tiger Mask teams with "The Tiger" (who is Ultimo Dragon, not gonna bother trying to cover him under his different name here) against Orihara and Sasuke The Great, AKA fake Great Sasuke, AKA Pentagon II. The two are playing obvious heels to the far more beloved pair, starting with a early shuffle and DDT to the floor by Mask. Him and Ultimo beat down Orihara for a bit before Sasuke recovers and breaks the pin up. Ultimo tries to set up some fancy submission but Sasuke isn't very flexible and they end up dropping it after a attempt. Eventually the heels take the advantage with a weapon shot and low blow to Ultimo by Orihara: the ref is blissfully unaware despite the weapon just laying in the ring for anyone to find afterwards! This seems to function under Lucha tag rules so guys just come in and do stuff whenever without needing to tag out as there's a lot of that happening here.

The heels focus in on Mask with double team moves, namely some top rope stuff and a assisted kneeling dropkick: pretty decent spots all and all. They try showboating but Mask dodges Orihara's big moonsault and Sasuke is too busy taunting the crowd to notice before he gets hit with a spinning kick to the gut. Orihara takes control again with a rolling kick and attempts a top rope back suplex but gets interrupted by Ultimo. Orihara and Sasuke try to throw the duo at each other but they naturally counter, land kicks, and Ultimo hits his Asai DDT and hits a great looking Lionsault to the outside to take out Orihara. With them out, Tiger Mask takes control with a Tombstone/Diving Headbutt combo into a Tiger Suplex for the easy win.

This was fine enough but this felt generally like growing pains: the match takes place in a fairly big arena with less than 600 people in it all spaced out (how many actually paid is another deal altogether) the production is a bit dodgy in places with camera work being quite limited: this is also structured really wonky, with everyone basically taking turns doing big moves without much care for psychology or anything, really. The crowd obviously liked this because of who's in it and some solid spots saves this from being underwhelming, but this is definitely a direction that RJPW moves away from in general from here on out, thankfully. Wouldn't personally recommend this: there's just too little to bother with.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Shinjiro Otani (RJPW 09.06.2005)

This is a pretty underrated albeit short bout. Otani is one of the best workers period (not joking with that either, guy is legit elite when it comes to being a great all-round talent in everything that's relevant).Sayama is super solid here, hitting all of the classic spots from his younger days while adding in that unique shoot-style combination of kicks, high flying, and some grappling when it counts. Here, both guys put on a commendable performance, with Otani throwing some sick kicks while Tiger sticks to his own offence, including some pretty great looking spots between the pair when it counts. Both naturally compliment the other when it comes to styles, so they can comfortably work with the other. 

This is sharply paced as well: outside of some submission struggling and some slowish transitions there's really no downtime here, it's just both men consistently switching from strikes to holds, to flips, and then back to strikes again: Otani hits some amazing looking jumping back kicks as well which are quite unexpected at times and serve as a good way to highlight his flashiness in comparison to the slightly more grounded Tiger, who focuses in on the mat more alongside steady kicks. 

Eventually the finish has Otani nail his opponent with a stiff palm strike and slap on his King Cobra hold on him, forcing Tiger to tap out. Pretty good for a short sprint: through there's some confusion as to if Otani is heel or not (he does some heel tendencies here like big cut offs and rubbing his forearm in the corner illegally) despite getting cheers and the groundwork isn't really anything to speak of (it's just sorta there, doesn't really impress any) this kept to both men's strengths here and didn't go too long, allowing for them to have a lot more freedom in planning out the spots beyond just the usual match format. 

RANK: Good


W/ Gran Hamada Vs. Solar and Ultraman (Dragondoor Project 19.07.2005: Prelude)

Dragondoor was a fairly short-lived promotion that attempted to mix in Mexican and Japanese lucha together under one roof. I could go on and on in how such a thing is pretty much impossible to do proper, but the important bit here is the matches, not about the shitty management. I'm not knowledgeable about Mexican lucha but Solar and Ultraman are WAY past their prime: Solar is 49, Ultraman is nearly 60. Because of the nature of lucha bumping they can go better than you'd think they could at their respective ages, but still. Solar and Hamada have some okish mat exchanges and fast paced work at times, even if it isn't anything you haven't seen before. Hamada does "carry" Solar to a degree in terms of bumping around for him and making his stuff look better than it would have otherwise. 

The main issue with the match is that there's a lot of awkward pauses between sequences: the lads don't really share a common language between each other so they kinda have to guess what the other is trying to do and go along. Hamada and Solar can do this fairly well even if Solar is insanely over the top, but Ultraman and Sayama aren't as lucky together and end up repeating spots: like Ultraman literally at one point just repeats doing a bunch of kicks into a neckbreaker bit for bit because they don't know what to do otherwise. Doesn't help Ultraman's kicks look pretty shit as well. Eventually he gets his arm worked over a fair bit until he escapes into a arm wrench flip sequence and tags in Hamada. Seeing the old lucha duo hit solid dives to the outside was probably the spot of the match overall. Eventually they kinda just stumble around until Mask lands his Tiger DDT and a bizarre Tiger Suplex variation where he's like, kneeled over into more of a rollup than a actual big slam? It looked weird as fuck yet gets the pin anyway.

All in all, for Tiger Mask in particular, this does nothing for him whatsoever. It's a nothing showing against a old lucha guy who can't work well at all with him. Hamada puts on a quite good performance against Solar, however, with him still having a ton of agility even in his older age. Solar has some eccentric mannerisms (like he plays to the crowd here a LOT) but he can still move very well for his age and combined with a legendary figure like Hamada, you get some fast-paced exchanges and lucha work that really gets going after the slow start. If you wanna watch a good showing by him here, this would be worth your time: outside of that, I would say this definitely isn't worth checking out.

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Gran Hamada Vs. Brazo de Oro & Brazo de Plata (Dragondoor Project 09.09.2005: Los Conquistadores)

The Brazo brothers are old lucha guys: they've been wrestling since the 80's and are incredibly overweight by this point, through they were always on the tubby side, they are pretty big here. In their prime, they actually had some reasonably top notch matches, credit to them for that. Here? Not so much, given they are really out of their prime and can't do a lot worth mentioning. At the very least they can bump and jump well for Hamada (who was still in solid condition even at this point) and co so that's something. They play more into their comedy leanings, especially Porky. This came across as more just as a fun comedy match with some serious wrestling at times than a actual competitive match.

The Porky guy was at least funny trying to mimic Mask's kicks and whatnot. Sayama in particular was solid here, being able to pull off all of his big fancy signature spots while working with someone who really couldn't do much at all. Eventually the Brazo brothers try to gang up on Hamada and get knocked around for a bit: this is admittedly some solid slapstick on their part for what it's worth, with Porky being the big heavyweight that's trying his best while his smaller brother is the actual worker of the duo, resulting in Porky usually knocking into Plata on accident and getting beaten up for his troubles. 

Through Porky hits a insane apron splash that's pretty cool to see, he mostly just sticks to hitting people with his belly and basic working holds. Eventually Plata nearly gets pinned off a back kick by Tiger Mask and Porky tries to attack him with a splash, but Mask dodges and he ends up hitting his bro by mistake, leading to Hamada to hit a dive outside while Tiger Mask gets the pin on Plata after a sunset flip. Hamada and Tiger Mask are able to work a fairly decent match despite the conditions: the Brazo brothers are good at comedy but their actual wrestling is not, most sticking to boring working holds or bumping, so it's up to Hamada and Mask to provide the actual lucha spots here, and they do well at that. This doesn't overstay its welcome: despite some dry bits, this eventually turns into a solid undercard comedy bout, with Porky stealing the show in that specific regard but the Japanese vets being good sports and playing along helped this a good bit as well. Worth a watch.

RANK: Decent


Vs. Masao Orihara RJPW 26.09.2005)

Originally the recording I used of this had about 7 minutes of the original 30 minute draw, namely due to the full show in general having a good chunk dedicated to a Tiger Mask interview, so naturally there wasn't enough space to fit all of this in. I managed to find a version of this that wasn't as drastically cut down and while this wasn't a secret masterpiece in hiding or anything, this does show a lot more context for the match overall and provides a lot more work to evaluate it. 

 Orihara isn't really much to talk about: he's a 90's WAR Jr heavyweight that by this point was quite broken down, he's only wrestling a few matches per year. I do question having him and Mask go to a 30 minute draw (through this was to get him over for a title reign in the future). He reminds me a bit of Yoshinari Ogawa in how he plays up more sneaky technical displays and tricky counters than the more straight laced Mask, and how he is just able to hold out against his offence with carefully timed roll ups and rope breaks to stay in the match. His stuff isn't nowhere near as dynamic, but not bad overall, outside of some painful stalling at times to get to the draw. He's a decent hand overall even if he can't really do much worth talking about.

Sayama does basically most of the heavy lifting with some huge flips and a big flying headbutt to the middle of the ring, as well as beating his ass with strikes, of which nearly lead to a KO victory after the ref nearly counts him out on the floor. Eventually Orihara wakes up after the 1 minute announcement is made and tries to throw big slaps, but Mask overpowers him and despite having the clear advantage, he's just way too exhausted to take advantage, leaving Orihara to draw with him after both men can't get the conclusive blow.

Tiger Mask on top is pretty fun enough given he's still in relatively good wrestling shape by this point and can get all of his usual spots out, but there's no real sense of struggle that he's trying to win here, it's more "let me land all of my stuff, then sell right at the end" which kinda rubbed me the wrong way, especially when he's trying to sell raw exhaustion while landing picture perfect dropkicks right afterwards. The weird pacing doesn't help this any and Sayama shouldn't have been doing 30 minute anything at this point, let alone a draw. A good match but a bad premise. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. Yuki Ishikawa (RJPW 16.12.2005: RJPW Legend Championship)

Ishikawa kicks ass: the fact that he's still wrestling great bouts even last year says a lot about him. He's a old-school style shooter and a great rival for the more varied Tiger Mask at this point in his career, and his opponent is more than willing to play ball with him. The narrative of this is a pretty simple one: Mask is way better at throwing strikes and does so to establish range and nail down his opponent, while Ishikawa always tries to drag the guy to the mat, in which he has a lot better chance of actually winning due to his skill on the mat. We see both events happen here as both men have their time to get offence in on the other, but nothing manages to stick truly well. 

There's some good transitions and Ishikawa in particular nails a brutal leg caught German suplex to his opponent after he catches a kick. Ultimately Ishikawa lands multiple big shots to the head, leading Tiger Mask to go into panic mode and start using a ton of rollups, namely a rather clumsy O'Connor Roll and backslide, but manages to get a win out with a sunset flip. The guy definitely didn't look happy afterwards as he shakes his head after the finish. 

While the finish was incredibly underwhelming (no surprise there considering RJPW house style is intended to be a lot more realistic to actual fighting, so anti-climatic finishes are the norm) this match wasn't too bad at all, and Ishikawa and co have good chemistry with each other, through Mask is a bit chunky here and there when he's trying to do stuff outside of technical work, which a decent portion of the match is almost building towards in places as Ishikawa's only real way to get a shot in against the far better striker. All in all, a solid enough short bout, but nothing really to highlight for the pair.

RANK: Decent


W/ Yuki Ishikawa Vs. Alexander Otsuka & Minoru Suzuki (RJPW 07.06.2006: First Anniversary And Tiger Mask 25th Anniversary)

To say Suzuki doesn't add a lot to this is not being accurate: he's really solid technically but his whole cocky persona just radiates charisma for me despite the fact that he's a clear heel, I've always been a fan of "prick that'll snap your arm off when he wants" mid 2000's Suzuki compared to the rather one-dimensional angry uncle he'd be later sadly typecast in NJPW and beyond: he can actually show vulnerability against the pair when he gets caught in holds and whatnot as compared to afterwards. 

As for the match itself, it's perfectly fine: nothing incredible or anything but Tiger Mask and co are solid on the mat, in particular he lands a very nasty Tombstone Piledriver on Suzuki here. the groundwork isn't anything to be wowed at but good enough that it isn't boring considering who's wrestling here. Otsuka doesn't do a ton but he's fine as the sidekick here, landing some big German Suplexes and holds but he's more or less taking a back seat so that Suzuki can take most of the exchanges up. Ishikawa is also fine as a backing partner but this is mostly focused around Suzuki and Tiger Mask, of which their feud will eventually lead to a great singles match down the line. The ending is pretty good as the latter tries to land a Tiger Suplex on Otsuka after countering his own Dragon Suplex attempt. Through he can't lift Otsuka up for the hold, he smartly chooses to instead do a modified O'Connor roll while Otsuka's arms are in position, making it effectively impossible for him to kick out. This establishes one of his new finishes that he would pull out a good few times in subsequent matches after this.

Suzuki gets pissed post-match and chokes him out, as well as removing his mask in the process to big heat. He even gets pissed at Otsuka for losing the match and almost beats him up as well before thinking better of it. All in all, a solid bout that sets up a future feud, as well as showcasing Tiger Mask as a worthy opponent by having the experience to outclass a far younger talent: Suzuki is, as stated, very good here as well, radiating a natural charisma that allows him to easily slot himself in as a big villain to Sayama way before he actually does anything in the match. Good stuff overall but consider this more of a touring main event for the likes of NJPW or AJPW than a big blowoff: it's got good elements but it's leading to something better down the line.

RANK: Good


Vs. Kota Ibushi (RJPW 20.09.2006: Real Strong Style Starting)

This would be a amazing dream match if both men were in their prime, but alas, this is a fairly old and out of prime Tiger Mask vs a very young Ibushi, and even then this is more of a angle for the eventual Suzuki/Mask match as he gets ambushed during his entrance and beat down, with Suzuki targeting his leg in particular beforehand. Therefore, we get a weakened Mask with one good leg that has to contend with a in-shape Ibushi.

One thing I actually do love about this match: Ibushi's performance in general. He's trying to be a babyface and not target his opponent's shitty leg, but he's such in the Ibushi-zone at times that he just fires off at it automatically, and that gets huge heat from the crowd whenever it happens. It's not like a regular occurrence but it gave me flashbacks to Sayama's fantastic UWF match with Takada in the mid 80's. His strikes and kicks are pretty light overall: no one is buying that he can outstrike someone like Sayama straight up: but the injury and Ibushi's general unpredictability means that it's hard for Mask to sustain any advantage without needing time out or staggering even when he does land a good shot due to his bad leg hindering his general balance.

Ibushi also lands some amazing high flying as well, including a picture perfect moonstomp and Phoenix Splash here with relative ease. Mask's selling is great, and he really puts over how much the injury hinders him: from needing to consistently hold the ropes to selling like death for Ibushi's big offence when it matters, he emotes well and does good as the underdog babyface put under near impossible odds The finish comes when he misses a plancha to the outside, fucking up his leg even more, and Ibushi lands a handspring backwards splash to seal the deal as his opponent simply can't go at this point, ending in a proxy win for Ibushi. All in all, a fun short bout that has some big spots, but is mostly just a angle for a future match down the line. Ibushi kills it: when it comes to spotshows he's bar none one of the pros at this stage of his career despite only being around for two years at this point. All in all, for what it was (a short, five minute match that ends in a non-finish) this was about as good as it could have been, with lots of action interlaced with melodrama to build to the Suzuki singles match coming up in a few months. Check this out if curious, because it's definitely a fascinating oddity.

RANK: Good


Part 4 will cover the mid 2000's and his IGF work.



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Part 4

Vs. Minoru Suzuki (RJPW 12.12.2006: Real Strong Style Decisive Battle)

One of the last truly top notch Tiger Mask matches. This is mainly because Suzuki is a great foil for the general stoicism of his opponent. It's also the GOOD Suzuki, not the weird caricature who just spams forearms and maybe five other moves all match. He messes with his opponent right at the start, taking a bunch of high kicks and laughing along with them, even doing a big Flair flop after a roundhouse and waiting until the 9 count to get up to mock the audience and Sayama, which really set the tone for the whole match: Suzuki likes playing with his food a lot. While that's a bad thing, it's also a good thing for Sayama, because it gives him room to set up comebacks when he gets over-confident. Suzuki takes advantage of a missed high kick that hits the ring post outside, and smashes Mask's leg with some big chair shots. Him laughing like a maniac in front of Mask's students while hitting some hard chair shots was a great little bit in general.

A lot of the match structure is based around Suzuki's trash talk and trying to catch the one big submission with Mask barely being able to escape and having to find innovative ways around Suzuki, namely when he tries to operate in stand-up strike exchanges, which has been his biggest weakness in his actual MMA career. The ground work is great by the pair, with some good selling by Mask as he's having to avoid all of Suzuki's big submission attempts and desperately grasping for anything that can work in his favour.

Suzuki is also a master at being the heel in peril: he sells his panic when Mask lands a lucky spinning kick to his gut expertly like he'd just got shot, but it never feels overdramatic, and you never know when he'll get back in control again or if this'll be the point where he's able to win outright. He's effortlessly able to combine his extended control segments into believable "oh shit I messed up" instances where he gets beaten down by taking too big of a chance, always noticeably extending his boundaries until it bites him in the ass. Obviously Tiger Mask's ring work is more or less the same as you'd expect: the usual big signature spots, but he also adds some pretty fiery kicks here to match Suzuki's stiff slaps, which I appreciated. Eventually after his best attempts Suzuki grabs on a sleeper after Mask throws virtually everything he's got left in terms of strikes, getting finally dropped with a Gotch Piledriver.

His opponent firmly out, Suzuki grabs on a basic leg lock, but one of his trainees throws in the towel as Mask is firmly unresponsive. Suzuki's post match celebration is great as well as he celebrates like he just won every world title in existence: just screams of that little shit persona he was so capable of doing back then as he manically jumps up and down in the middle of the ring. Tiger Mask sells a ton for Suzuki and makes him a true menace, Suzuki is a perfect foil and truly soaks in the energy here. It's not insanely workrate but it keeps to a strong narrative, follows it through, and gives a good story of a respected vet trying (and failing) to step up to someone far more vicious than they ever were. A truly phenomenal spectacle of a match. 

RANK: Great


W/ Masao Orihara Vs. Minoru Suzuki & Kota Ibushi (RJPW 07.03.2007)

This was naturally pretty messy, being more of a angle to set up Tiger Mask/Suzuki II later this year. The version shown on the DVD collection only shows maybe 5 minutes of this in action, so this was clearly intended to be more of a transitional match. That said, it isn't bad at all in terms of what we do see of the match beyond the start and whatnot. 

Ibushi and Suzuki are a odd couple but they work well together here: Ibushi is a reluctent partner that kinda has to go along with Suzuki's antics to stay in his good books, but he mainly interacts with Orihara mostly until the finish. Speaking of him, he was fine from what I seen of him (a nice Spider Suplex for one, albeit Ibushi takes it on his neck because of course he does) and Tiger Mask looks strong here beating up Suzuki and getting the better of him as compared to their last encounter.

This ends with Ibushi kicking out of as much of Mask's signature offence as he can, before a Tiger Suplex does him in. Gotta say, this was fine enough, but nothing much special and you definitely aren't missing anything out, even if the Ibushi/Suzuki duo sounds enticing on paper. Not much to say about this, really, through Suzuki shit-talking the ref in a post-match promo was funny. I'd probably say to skip this as it really doesn't add much of anything outside of building up to something better down the line.

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Kota Ibushi Vs. KUDO & Toshiaki Kawada (RJPW 08.06.2007)

This is significantly less cut than the tag team earlier this year: probably because holy shit, Dangerous K has shown up and he's going right into strike exchanges with Tiger Mask. While this isn't the potential big match it could have been in each man's primes, this is still a great pairing, and Kawada's ring general antics elevate this further when they start spamming kicks like a more fancier Sasaki/Kobashi exchange. He sells well for Mask's offence and they both equally go back and forward in terms of the pace here. Him and Ibushi is, again, a good pairing, the younger more agile youth against the experienced vet, something Kawada does equally well here, especially when on top delivering his usual stiff kicks and knocking the youngster around. Even he's nowhere near even his early 2000 workrate and is quite beaten up, he can still go fairly well albeit relying more on his reputation and psychology than big workrate sequences. 

KUDO and Ibushi basically just do flippy spot stuff and there's some cool sequences here between the pair. Yes, some of it is a bit contrived and rather silly in places but overall doesn't insult the intelligence too much. The main attraction is the Kawada/Tiger Mask dynamic through, and both men get in on the action even when they aren't the legal guys, consistently laying in blows to the other to help out their younger partners. Ibushi goes nuts at the end with a weird somersault heel kick into a big moonsault to the outside which he just misses completely and ends up going into the first row but Kawada still sells like a trooper. Tiger Mask then easily gets the pin despite KUDO barely getting worked over with his Tiger Suplex variation. 

While I'm tempted to rate this somewhat in the middle because of the lackluster ending, the match itself was pretty good overall: Kawada even at this point could enhance a match by a ton with just his general reputation and grumpy uncle antics: he really makes sure to have a lasting impression against Tiger Mask with some great kick sequences between the pair. Sayama is the same as he normally is at this point, but he puts in a little bit more effort against Kawada, even just outright taking a top rope superplex (which, believe me, at this point he really shouldn't have been taking) and Ibushi and KUDO are fine enough as foils, naturally I'm far more impressed with Ibushi's crazy style than KUDO's decent but generic Jr heavyweight work here. All in all, a reasonably solid match helped with some good starpower across the board.

RANK: Good


Vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi (RJPW 21.09.2007: Strong Style Karl Gotch Memorial Show)

It was at least good to see these two guys back in the ring together. Naturally Kobayashi is retired by this point: he'd return for some comedy stuff every few years or so: but this is the first actual match he's had since he retired seven years ago, and it clearly does show this as the case here, through he can still throw a pretty mean kick. The pair do some homages to their earlier battles in NJPW, and Sayama in particular has his workrate boots on here as he flips and bumps around for his opponent. He's a bit sloppy here and there but overall, it's a fairly good performance for his age, outside of him just doing a random top rope backflip that almost ends in him falling on his face. You can tell that he wanted to do more than what he usually did out of respect for the guy, as well as just trying to get the match over in general. 

Mask focuses on Kobayashi's arm with working holds, namely armbars and Kimura locks. This keeps most of this a grounded affair, which is good for both men as Kobayashi really doesn't have much to give in terms of, well, moves. He does a decent enough baseball slide and a elbow drop: add some kicks in, a few headlocks and his finish, that's basically his entire offence here. Despite some close calls from both men nailing big counters on the other, this eventually ends after Tiger Mask uses his modified Tiger Suplex to get the pin.

All in all, this wasn't great. Tiger Mask bumps like mad here and pulls out a lot of transitions and moves he hasn't done in a good few years at this point, namely because Kobayashi is so limited in comparison. I commend them for giving it socks and this certainly wasn't bad, but this just felt like a far more sloppy/slower rethread of better matches. I get it, it's not going to be as good, but at least mix things up here a bit if you are going for a older version of this in action, experiment a bit at least. I can't really blame either (Sayama was quite old by this point and couldn't really be relied on to carry someone like him to something super good) for how this came out, but it's still a issue that sadly doesn't get worked around very well here.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Minoru Suzuki II (RJPW 20.12.2007: All or Nothing)

Last match these two had, I said it was Tiger Mask's last truly great showing (excluding the Tenryu bout: we'll get to that later) now they have a storied rematch where he's trying to get his honor back after the beating last time. The start has Mask use his kicks to knock Suzuki around, but he's not able to sustain any advantage against his opponent, who's quickly able to take control on the mat. We also get Suzuki having a scuffle with both the ref and Kobayashi on the outside in the meantime between the action.

Suzuki sells Mask's sustained offence well, throwing himself around at times for the guy, but we just don't get enough actual ring work here beyond Suzuki playing around with the ref for what seems like ages, as well as teasing pins but then not committing to them. This is fine enough for the start, but the lads kinda run out of ideas after a few minutes and it turns into a regular Suzuki match: sleeper hold into Gotch Piledriver (which made no sense because Mask was already down and out from the sleeper) him doing silly faces, some no selling, etc. Suzuki goes after Kobayashi on the outside and tries to set him up for a dropkick, but gets hit instead. He holds Suzuki down enough for Mask to recover and land a good plancha to the outside before following it up with a Tombstone and Diving Headbutt as well (the Diving Headbutt looked pretty ass but I can't blame the guy, it's just not a good bump whatsoever regardless of how old he is doing it)

Suzuki no sells all of it while laughing like a maniac afterwards but Mask has a stiff slap exchange with him on the apron before hitting a roundhouse kick to the head to knock him down, getting the count out victory to a pretty timid reaction. A pretty disappointing sequel thanks to some disjointed pacing between the pair, namely due to them not really committing to any one idea and having too many story threads (Kobayashi on the outside, the ref bumps, Suzuki being a goof) to properly balance. Suzuki just phones this in badly on his part, it reminded me of his indie shows where he'd do the bare minimum in the ring: that's typically because of his age and the fact that his bad back means he can't exactly bump all over the place so it's understandable there but Suzuki was more than capable of going very hard at this point and time and just.....choses to not do so. He does the bare minimum of what you'd expect from his typical antics. 

Maybe it's because he's the one losing, but he doesn't even really lose clean due to interference and a messy finish, which I can again estimate up to Suzuki refusing to lose clean. Sayama puts in a spirited performance in the second half and takes some unnecessary trauma on his knees in a attempt to make this memorable: it ultimately doesn't really get the crowd pumped up at all. This resulted in a pretty flat match where I just kinda left this feeling nothing much at all, which is probably the worst feeling to have after a match. If you wanna see how utterly boring and trite Suzuki can be at his most lazy, I guess check this out? I almost second-guessed myself and thought this was because the formula of the first match soured on me when repeated again but I went back and nope, it's still super solid, so it's just this being shitty. 

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Super Rider Vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Masao Orihara (RJPW 13.03.2008: RJPW Clash)

This is a clash between Tenryu and Sayama before their big singles match two years later, so I was curious to see if they were as good here as they were in that particular match. They mainly focus around strikes, with Tenryu's thunderous chops against the former's big kicks, of which Sayama gets the advantage before Orihara interferes and allows Tenryu to get his cheap shots in. Rider is quickly established to be pretty rubbish as Tenryu easily slaps him away after he tries to help his mentor out of the mess. Tenryu gets hit with a running cross chop that ends up smacking him in the mouth pretty hard: Orihara's is more smooth by comparison. Rider also gets randomly hit by Tenryu's rolling savate kick in a funny spot.

Tenryu also steals Mask's Tombstone Piledriver, doing it right in front of him for a near fall. He also has a nice assisted top rope senton where he helps out Orihara to nail one on Rider for a near fall. Mask gets in after Rider manages to hit a random high kick and tries for a Diving Headbutt, but he doesn't really hit his mark at all and stands around awkwardly before Tenryu gets in and also gets hit with a Tombstone, albeit Tenryu can't get his legs into position so they need to sorta just awkwardly hit it as it is. Rider tries to take over but Tenryu's selling, albeit stunned, is enough in that he can still land a few signature punches to get him away from his kicks.

Orihara does some more bland stuff before Mask gets back in and hurls him into Tenryu's corner: he wants the main man, not Orihara, and shows it by firing more stiff kicks with vicious intent. Tenryu is stunned and rolls to the outside, but is able to dodge a plancha (which looked rough on Mask's knees oof) Rider hits a dive to the outside: but we don't see it because the camera is focused on Tenryu outside brawling. The lads get back in the ring and exchange blows, with Tenryu even pulling out a Dragon Screw at one point and Mask hitting a second rope moonsault to Tenryu's back. Mask tries for I think is a brainbuster but Tenryu counters into a massively sloppy small package for the win.

This suffers from the vets being less than mobile (in this case more so Tenryu given he can't really bump a ton anymore and does tend to do more than he's capable of at points) but they try their best regardless, and Sayama puts in a lot more effort than other instances because this is a fairly big occasion, throwing out some big flips alongside his usual mix of solid strikes and some mat work. Tenryu is limited but can throw great strikes and plays his usual grumpy self. Rider and Orihara are unremarkable and they definitely are a afterthought alongside the far bigger stars, thankfully the match is structured around that fact and little importance is put on them beyond some small exchanges that really add nothing to this match. Definitely not bad, but kinda sloppy as time goes on as the vets get more exhausted: for what it's worth I feel like Sayama could definitely pull his weight far more if he had someone who was incredibly mobile to work with.

RANK: Decent


Vs. Ultimo Dragon (RJPW 18.09.2008: Marvelous)

A Cagematch review on the show in general blames this match in particular for dragging the entire thing down, so I was curious to see if this was the case or not. Match starts with First Tiger taking the advantage by countering a kick and tripping Ultimo over, later completely missing a Tiger Spin transition. He also botches a kip-up during a fairly intense high speed sequence but nails everything else just fine. They have some more lucha-influenced sequences with Mask escaping from them with his usual agility and Ultimo selling the fact that he can't get a good grasp on the guy with a lot of frustration on his part before he's able to ground him down with working holds, as well as a wonky Dragon Hold at the end of it that doesn't really look great. 

Ultimo tries to do a 619 but fucks up and gets tied up: Mask doesn't sell. He makes up for that with a big dropkick and plancha to the outside that gets zero reaction. Ultimo tries for some bigger bombs but gets countered into a solid Tiger DDT. He follows that up with his Tombstone Piledriver/Diving Headbutt combo but misses the latter and Ultimo slaps on probably the slowest La Magistral pin I've ever seen, which only gets a one count. They try for the same spot again and it works out a lot better, getting a near fall.

Mask goes for some of his kicks, as well as a.... weird jumping headbutt? Not sure what that was. Ultimo counters a suplex attempt into the ring from the outside in after he was knocked out, but gets countered into the Tiger Suplex roll up variation (that didn't look great) which gets the pin. This isn't a BAD match per se, but it's definitely not a very good one either. It's two guys who are trying to do old spots and holds when they were a lot more mobile.... but also having to deal with the fact that the other guy is also in that exact same hairy position as well, which results in some awkward botches as they struggle to move around for each other at times. It's usually why Ultimo these days is thrown in with younger guys who can bump and move for his signature work a lot better despite his obvious decline in ability to even when this match happened.

There's some fun bits but beyond a hot start, this inevitably cooled down as both men started to tire (as shown by the numerous rest holds in the middle, at times placed side by side between each other) and got fairly sloppy as a result. Again, this isn't bad, but it's a pretty droll performance for two wrestlers who have had a lot better showings.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (IGF 24.11.2008: Genome7)

This is weirdly under pseudo-wrestling rules as pins are permitted but not used here. This functions like you'd think it would: Mask hurls out his kicks but Fujinami has some tricky counters to handle that, showcasing a nice Dragon Screw into leg lock after catching his leg. There's some good transitions between the pair as Mask is able to use his speed and agility to keep finding measures that'll take Fujinami down to the mat and keep him on top, but Fujinami also has some effective technical stuff that allows him to keep finding holes in said offence and take control, namely throwing out a Kimura lock and a cravate to take him down as well.

Mask tries to grab on a cross armbreaker but Fujinami is able to block it by first holding his hands together, and when he moves his arms to try to break Fujinami's defence, he quickly moves up and grabs Mask's leg with his own to transition into full mount and then apply a cross armbreaker. Weirdly Mask doesn't really do much against it beyond moving slowly to the ropes despite the dangers of the hold just being illustrated by his opponent, who wouldn't even let it be finished. After this he just forgoes the stipulation and starts doing pro wrestling stuff but misses after a Flying Headbutt (that, let's just face it, he was never going to be able to hit considering Fujinami was like, nearly all the way to the other side of the ring) and Fujinami almost makes fun of this by teasing a Tiger Feint but then stopping at the last minute. This gives Mask a excuse to stall as he's absolutely gassed by this point, with him fucking up a suplex reversal and stumbles over himself instead of falling into a sleeper afterwards anyway after a Irish Whip exchange. 

Both men do a good job of a dub spot to the outside after Mask teases a Tiger Suplex and Fujinami counters and tries to get his Dragon Sleeper applied, leaving the former to run out of the ring mid-hold with him still attached instead of face the potential of losing the match. Last part has both men throw out some big stuff, Fujinami almost gets a Dragon Sleeper but Mask counters into a backslide pin and then into some agile stuff like a rolling senton and whatnot, but nothing seals the deal. There's some sloppy stuff near the end as both men are completely spent, with a very slow Tiger Spin and Kimura transition respectfully. Match ends with a time limit draw.

This actually wasn't that bad for maybe the first half: it's when both men start going into a pro wrestling mode that loses me, especially when there's no real reason why: it's not like Tiger Mask couldn't beat the guy on the mat or anything: and there's some pretty off moments in general. Fujinami by this point was still fairly decent through and showcases a lot of solid albeit basic technical work, as well as really fighting to break out the holds he's put in. All in all, could've been a lot better if both men could keep the same pace throughout, instead of the first half or so. Not bad but noticeably limited. 

RANK: Decent


W/ Ultimo Dragon Vs. Kotaro Suzuki & Mitsuharu Misawa (RJPW 04.12.2008: Conclusion)

The first and last time both Tiger Mask I and II have ever shared the ring! This meeting was intended to happen in the late 90's when all of the Tiger Masks were together for a big match, but scheduling conflicts with AJPW (likely Misawa and the company simply not being able to afford taking other bookings because of his immense demand by promoters paired with AJPW's isolationist policies) meant that wasn't to be until both men were a lot older. This wasn't televised (likely because of NOAH's TV deal at the time restricting his public availability) but about 5 minutes or so of footage appeared online in a shaky handcam version, namely the encounters between Misawa and Tiger Mask, so I figured I would check these sections out for myself.

As such, I unfortunately can't rate this match properly as the finish isn't shown (as well as anything from Kotaro or Ultimo outside of some interference spots) so it really wouldn't be fair to judge it on what's available. What we do get are some very heated exchanges between Tiger Mask and Misawa: they start things off by Sayama just slapping the shit out of him with a right hand that's loud as anything. Both men have a exchange that has the Korakuen crowd just in the palm of their hand for every big shot made, and the pair milk this as best as they can with some knockdown teases, Misawa does his whole stoicism spot after shaking off a nasty savate kick to the gut and goes right in for more big elbows, etc. It's great to see Misawa pull out some of his old technical work from his Tiger Mask II days as well with some Kimura transitions, but he also sells for a great Tiger Spin as well afterwards. He's a great sport for Sayama and despite the latter's reputation for selling funny, he does take Misawa's bigger shots well. 

The second encounter has them both tease their Tiger Driver and Suplex respectfully, being interrupted by their tag opponents. There's a fun spot here where Misawa tries doing his little signature flying kicks to the head and Tiger Mask just has absolutely none of it and gives him a roundhouse boot to the head right afterwards, looked stiff as anything. He hits a big dropkick afterwards to follow that up. And.... yep, that's all of the footage we have, sadly, which sucks because the encounters described above are quite well done, and the crowd is more than happy to see these two men share a ring, let alone go to blows: they more than deliver in that aspect. Alas, this'll just something we'll never get to see.

RANK: Inconclusive


Vs. Fujiwara II (IGF 09.08.2009: Genome9)

Last time these guys had a match, it pretty much sucked across the board. Now nine years later, with both even older than before, with the boss himself on commentary, the stakes couldn't be any higher. Both men have a long history between each other: sometimes as respectful rivals, others less so. Fujiwara can't defend himself on stand-up as well as he could before, leading to him usually succumbing to big kicks from Mask. They tease a early knockout early after a sequence of these while he's pinned in the corner. Eventually Fujiwara catches his leg and transitions to a kneebar into heel hook, which his opponent barely escapes from with a rope break. 

He tries this trick again but Sayama has him scouted and hits a Enzuigiri when Fujiwara grabs his leg which he sells like death for. He recovers but it's a more stubborn "I'm not quitting" attitude than actually recovering as he tries to take on more kicks, but they get to him eventually with a big roundhouse knocking him down. a big kick to Fujiwara's torso makes him stumble to the corner and collapse once more, leading to a Tiger DDT and Diving Headbutt that gets dodged at the last minute. Fujiwara gets mad and starts hurling out headbutts, namely to the exposed turnbuckle, which busts him up hardway and gets some blood. He's so mad that he won't even let the ref do his count after Mask is knocked down and gets more headbutts in, the last one causing Mask to flop to the floor. When he shows the slightest bit of life, Fujiwara gets him back up and keeps hitting them until Mask counters into some last-minute roundhouses, which knock Fujiwara back but noticeably don't keep him down, and the lads brawl a bit, going back and forth with kicks and headbutts, neither willing to concede. 

Mask even tries for his own headbutt, but obviously that's a terrible idea as he does far more damage to himself. Eventually Fujiwara gets brought down with a punch to the throat and a knee drop. The drama mounts as the time ticks down, with Fujiwara quickly grabbing on his signature armbar to try to end the match, but Mask refuses to tap, leading to a draw. This isn't great, but manages to be a decent vet showing despite the respective age and wear and tear of both guys. Fujiwara can still relatively go, Sayama is.... varied at this point, but they manage to get some of that old fire back with each other with Fujiwara just going nuts near the end with big headbutts all the time alongside a bunch of stiff kicks. The pacing never truly drags and this doesn't really tire much. If you are looking for a deeply technical, methodical chess game between two varying styles, this isn't for you: go watch their 80's series. This is more of the NJPW, angry grandpa Fujiwara that pops out here, and it does make this a lot less dry in the process. Enjoyable romp.

RANK: Decent


Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (RJPW 11.09.2009: Break Out)

This was a fun one. Takayama by this point is fairly limited, but give him a smaller opponent that can bump around a bit and the ideal settings, he can pull out some nice performances. Tiger Mask can give and take fairly well even at this point of his career, and does so at the start after Takayama underestimates his kicking power and gets rocked with a big roundhouse, which pisses him off enough to drag the guy out afterwards and smash his head in hard on the announcing table. From then on, he takes the advantage with multiple big shots before Tiger Mask manages to counter with his speedy kicks, in particular hitting a great looking spinning shot to his opponent while he was leaning on the ropes stunned. He even manages to hit a back suplex on the guy, which isn't easy even with the assist, rightfully getting a good pop. 

Mask lands all of his signature offence including his Diving Headbutt and Tombstone before Takayama kicks out at one after, because the big lad ain't selling shit. He wakes up after a few extra kicks and goes to town, using his exposed knee (after removing his pad) to land big body and head shots before landing a fantastic Everest German bridge for the pin. Is this very short? Yes. Is this extremely clunky in places due to communication problems? Yes (the pair of them will at times just sorta stand or sit in a position for a bit and noticeably wait around until they decide what to do next). But this is just two guys throwing big shots until one of them stops moving.

Takayama is a monster on top and has some great offence as you'd expect and Tiger Mask throws out the usual greatest hits well, alongside some good kicks, playing a reliable underdog that's not got much time to spare before eventually being ran over. This is understandably a mess given the short format and wild offence at points, but it's a mess you can enjoy, at the very least. I have a good fondness for the fact that Sayama didn't really bother with a traditional format and went with a more realistic brawl between the pair. It doesn't pretend to be a epic, and that level of meta-awareness is sorely missing these days. 

RANK: Good


W/ Kota Ibushi & Tiger Mask IV Vs. AKIRA, Riki Choshu & Jushin Thunder Liger (NJPW 12.10.2009: Masahiro Chono 25th Anniversary Aristrist In Ryogoku Kokugikan)

A nice little vet showcase alongside First Tiger Mask and his successors. Obviously you have Choshu, whom by this point just does the same five moves in his matches: he does the same thing here: but we do get at least some semblance of work here as Liger and Tiger IV have some fun explosive sequences together. AKIRA and Ibushi have basically what you'd expect them to have at this point and time: namely crazy agile spots and Ibushi hurling himself everywhere without a care in the world. He's just so good at car-crash bumping, namely making a pretty old Choshu look like a complete monster when he's wrecking him with a lariat and a brainbuster that makes him look like he weighs absolutely nothing. 

He also spends the middle half as the young kid getting wrecked by the vets as Liger and Choshu just pick him apart with some vicious stuff before Ibushi dodges a double clothesline and nails a Pele Kick and dropkick on AKIRA and Liger respectfully to get the hot tag to First Tiger, who hits some explosive kicks before awkwardly tagging to Tiger IV (seriously, he just sorta forgets that it's not his cue and has to walk over for a tag out of the blue) for his spots before IV misses a moonsault, resulting in him getting hit with a Liger brainbuster and AKIRA splash for a near fall. Ibushi hits a springboard dropkick and moonsault to the outside to handle Liger and co while Tiger IV hits a Tombstone. Him and First Tiger hit a double Diving Headbutt + Tiger IV's modified Tiger Suplex for the pin on AKIRA.

All in all, this is basically just a series of spots: the guys don't even really pretend to sell as Tiger IV gets hit with all of this huge offence but can spring back up after 20 seconds: Ibushi almost instantly recovers from injury as well and goes to his big moves whenever. That being said, it's a pretty solid spotshow with very little wasted motion outside of Tiger IV and First Tiger having some miscommunication at points. Everyone gets their chance to shine and no one was really the weak link, even if Choshu was a bit of a odd one out here and kinda had to be excused to the side for basically all of the fancier Jr style offence. alright stuff for a undercard.

RANK: Decent


W/ Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Mitsuya Nagai & Yoshihiro Takayama (RJPW 10.12.2009: RJPW Revival)  

A nice little 6-man. Takayama plays ball with Fujinami at the start with some basic technical wrestling before he hits his strikes and knocks him around. Choshu gets big chants just showing up for a tag and teasing a Sasori-gatame because he's THAT over at his age that even just the sniff of action gets people going. This eventually devolves into more of a short and snappy 6-man as everyone gets their chance to hit their signature spots, namely the other lads working over First Tiger. Takayama was decent here albeit a bit ehh in places, noticeably not wanting to hurt Tiger much at all with his shots so they come off as fairly soft for the most part outside of some boots to the head. 

Choshu breaks up some holds and no sells Nagai trying to hit him from behind lol. First Tiger even goes up for a Torture Rack from Sekimoto, which was pretty bonkers given he's not a spring chicken by now. He finally makes a comeback after a huge splash from the latter and hits his kicks and a Tiger DDT, hits the hot tag to Choshu who throws out a mean series of lariats to Sekimoto before applying his Sasori-gatame, but Takayama boots his head off in a cool little spot. First Tiger takes him out with a dropkick and dive to the outside before Choshu and Fujinami apply dual submissions (namely a Figure Four and the above once more) to tap the pair left over out, even if Sekimoto is the legal man.

Nothing that'll blow your socks off but a fun short match that gets all of the crowd favourites something to do, and the introduction of Takayama and co, however short and minimalist they are, are still solid additions to proceedings and add in essential workrate with the older guys. Choshu hits maybe less than 6 moves here but is still very much over with the crowd, Fujinami does virtually nothing and First Tiger is set out to bump and sell for basically the entire middle portion. Outside of him no selling a splash just moments after like it didn't even happen, he does a solid job at doing so and playing up to the other team's strengths. Better than you might expect!

RANK: Decent


W/ Yoshiaki Fujiwara Vs. Osamu Kido & Tatsumi Fujinami (IGF 22.02.2010: Genome11)

The best way I can describe these IGF tags is basically if the old 90's 6-man tags with Kimura and the bunch happened in the modern day and the workrate was better. These focus on a lot of comedy with some basic technical wrestling and whatnot. He has a neat exchange with Fujiwara at the start, utilising wrist control over him to keep the advantage throughout: it's nothing crazy good but that and some competent technical work and counters from Kido when Fujiwara tries applying the armbar makes this a pleasant start to the match. Mask and Fujinami have a fairly good technical exchange as well: Fujinami is obviously quite ehh when it comes to match quality outside of the 80's (and 90's when he's rarely on the ball) but he can still have entertaining sequences for the standards of this. Fujiwara and co repeat some of the spots that they'll use in a later IGF match with Hamada later this year. 

Fujiwara gets worked on for a bit before eventually making a comeback with a blatant low blow to Kido, as well as stomping his groin outright lol. He also pulls out some more dirty antics, mainly choking and a fake tag to Mask by clapping his hands together. Mask continues with some good kicks and a decent Diving Headbutt for a near fall before Fujinami gets in the way. Both guys have a bunch of rest holds between them (Fujinami even tries for a Dragon Sleeper but doesn't get it applied properly) Fujiwara interferes to get Mask the advantage, hitting a good cross chop and dropkick with a Tiger Feint at the end. There's a funny as fuck spot where Fujiwara and Fujinami go to the outside to brawl and the former tries to slam his head into a wall, but Fujiwara no sells right afterwards and he just legs it back to the ring lol.

Tiger Mask takes more offence as Fujiwara refuses to get tagged in but he does so afterwards when Mask gets the advantage. He primes his armbar and gets Mask to get in and kick him a few times, but he puts like no effort into them before just scurrying off, which was also unintentionally funny. Kido gets his own armbar but Mask rakes his eyes, then gets ANOTHER on Fujinami, but he powers out. Fujiwara gets his ass kicked with a double Achilles hold but Mask helps out yet again by kicking and stomping both of them before sticking his own to join in. The bell rings for the draw soon afterwards. This is a perfectly fine match that focuses a lot more on vet comedy than workrate, through there's some decent quality throughout. Don't expect nothing crazy but it's a fun match that doesn't drag too long and keeps a good pace throughout. Sayama plays a good straight man to Fujiwara's antics and Kido and Fujinami are fine enough as competent peers, even if they are nowhere near as interesting workrate wise. 

RANK: Decent


W/ Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Genba Hirayanagi & Yoshibobu Kanemaru (NOAH 14.03.2010: Naomichi Marufuji Produce Shiranui Ikotenyoku ~ Yoku No Kan)

A really fun main event. Marufuji's style is largely influenced by Sayama's own antics and as such, it's a no brainer to have him make his one and only NOAH appearance to face against the Disobey lads. If anything it's nice to see him in one last big main event setting. Hirayanagi is someone I have rather limited knowledge about, but he seems to be more of a comedic foil than actual serious threat, he's basically treated as the fall-guy here, cheating to get a advantage while Marufuji and co get around him with their superior agility and whatnot. He's a fast bugger when he wants to be (they have a cool spot where Maru Irish Whips him on the outside and he leaps to the apron before going back down to hit a flying elbow) but he gets over his cowardly antics as well, getting excited to fight Mask before a few kicks scare him off. In general Hirayanagi's such a great annoying heel foil: getting over small elements with tons of cheating while adding in small cheap shots (like stamping the foot of Marufuji to get a brainbuster applied or faking out a punch to rake his eyes) that just add a ton to this match in terms of heat. He's the guy the crowd visibly react to the most, either getting his ass kicked or otherwise. 

Sayama is pretty great here! He's 53 at this point but he can still do most of the spots he could do in his prime in short bursts: it helps that he's with younger opponents that can work around that as well so he really gets to let off some steam here with perfect backdrop counters and all of the big signature spots, keeping a good pace with them. I liked how Marufuji took a lot from Mask as well alongside his usual spots, either just copying them exactly (nailing a Tiger Wall Jump on the corner turnbuckle) or modifying them (nailing his usual kicks while also hitting savate-style strikes as well) which wasn't needed but was a nice change on his usual antics.

Kanemaru and Hirayanagi are a good heel pair, focusing in on a combination of dirty play and legitimately fun sequences: Kanemaru was particularly good on that front, hitting some innovative offence while without taking too much shine off the babyfaces. There's some downtime in the middle where the pair slow things down with rest holds but it never feels overtly boring. Mask gets back in for the tag but gets cut off before he can hit a Diving Headbutt as Hirayanagi holds his legs, leading to a insane top rope superplex....through he quickly recovers in time for a savate kick lol. Hirayanagi even throws in a sneak diss by hitting a Fisherman's Suplex on Mask as a callback to his Kobayashi feud. He tries doing his own fancy kicks but quickly gets rocked with some himself.

The lead to the finish has Hirayanagi taking control with a Brainbuster and tries for a Tiger Suplex, but gets kicked by Mask. Him spitting at the guy leads to Maru and co to land a double Diving Headbutt combo before Maru goes for a running kick and the weirdest Pole Shift I've ever seen (it's like he does the set-up Tiger Driver, but goes into a Northern Lights Bomb for the second part: not sure if that was Hirayanagi fucking up the move or Maru just randomly pulling out the super extreme Kings Road variation for this match) for the win. All in all, this is a pretty solid main event that manages to keep a lot of action while focusing less on the workratey elements of NOAH's usual displays in favour for a more matured showcase that keeps these elements in moderation.

Maru and Sayama are obviously popular babyfaces, with both having good displays of strikes and agility between them. As stated above, the latter is 50+ but can still produce some incredible sequences for his age: probably the best I've seen him in years up to now. Marufuji puts in a expected performance at this stage of his career, still moving well despite his weird paradox he found himself in where he was NOAH's actual big ace (despite Go just awkwardly being squeezed into big title shots) but still dipped in and out between Jr and heavyweight matches. That would change eventually with his Omega match, but that's a story for another time. A very well done performance by Tiger Mask that proved that he still had plenty of gas in him even by this stage. 

RANK: Good


Vs. Genichiro Tenryu (RJPW 18.03.2010: Overheat) 

This is a grudge match after Tiger Mask lost their tag match two years ago, which was to determine if WAR or RJPW won the whole event in general, so naturally this is paced around Sayama getting back his honour with a rematch. Tenryu and Tiger Mask are both pretty old at this point: Tenryu is 60, Mask is 53. Both men are obviously far past any sense of prime here so this is more of a grounded affair. Tenryu immediately goes for his infamous boots to the head after getting a arm lock applied, which gets Mask heated enough to pound him with sharp kicks. Tenryu's punches in response aren't exactly as sharp and get swiftly punished with more kicks, having Tenryu get like 20 shots on the ground or something lol, vicious stuff. Tenryu gets outside and Mask does a nice plancha but gets smacked with a chair mid dive in a brutal spot. 

This leads into a extended heat spot of Tiger Mask getting his shit pushed in with strikes for a good portion of the bout, which is something that, needless to say, the opponent is in his element: for once Tenryu actually lands his Enzuigiri proper. He follows that up with a nasty brainbuster for a near fall. Love Tenryu's expressions throughout this whole thing: guy is so confident going into the brainbuster as the match seems set for a big win with so much of it dominated by a control segment, Mask kicks out and his face afterwards tells you everything you need to know, dude is completely disheartened and already kinda loses the match right here mentally. Mask gets a comeback with his kicks and slaps and throws on a illegal choke: he doesn't want to win with it, just give himself some breathing room and keep the momentum going in his favour Tenryu sells it like a shoot choke as well, waking up all of a sudden after being motionless. Tenryu and Mask have a great final strike exchange afterwards, both landing some intense blows before Mask manages to get the advantage and slaps on a Chickenwing Crossface for the win.

This was more or less all Tenryu here in terms of moves but Sayama does a great job selling the beating he gets and his eventual comebacks, despite being quite obviously limited. There's nothing better than watching grumpy Tenryu beat the snot out of someone and this was no exception, with some strong strikes throughout: Tenryu really works the crowd proper good here with his whole act even getting a chant of his own despite Mask being the underdog after he was choked out and Tenryu playing a heel here. This was the best match both could realistically have, but it's a testament to the pair in particular that they could have this level of quality despite how old each guy was, even if Tenryu brings out a little bit more than his opponent overall. Solid stuff in general. 

RANK: Great


W/ Yoshiaki Fujiwara Vs. Gran Hamada & Tatsumi Fujinami (IGF 09.05.2010: Genome12)

Mask and Fujinami start things off with a typical back and forward, involving Fuji dropping him with a Dragon Screw and Mask faking out a Tiger Spin for a takedown instead. Fujiwara and Hamada also have a fairly decent exchange, with Fujiwara's grumpy antics getting good reactions. Mask hits a Tombstone to Hamada after he works over him with kicks but misses a Diving Headbutt, which leads to the other team then taking the lead.

Fujinami grabs on a Dragon Sleeper but Fujiwara breaks it up, leading to the pair having a solid technical exchange between each other as Fujiwara battles out of the headlock takeover he's in and manages to power him into a monkey flip, but Fujinami manages to take his leg when he tries to establish advantage. Hamada and him have some strikes together before Mask is tagged in for a dropkick, but he ends up hitting Fujiwara accidently, which gets him annoyed enough to slap his head to tag the guy in.

Hamada and Fujinami have some more flavourless offence (particularly Hamada botching a spinning wheel kick and Sayama having to no sell it, quickly setting up the Tiger Suplex to cover it up) Fujinami ends up hitting his partner with a slap and in a comical spot, Mask turns against Fujinami and goes to the other corner, which results in all three men beating Fujiwara until he goes nuts and hurls headbutts at everyone, even the ref!

This results in a DQ loss for him and his partner but they don't really care at this point. Fine enough as a undercard match but mostly focused around comedic stuff which Fujiwara can do very well: Tiger Mask being the stoic rival that eventually just gives up on trying to deal with Fuji's attitude and going ham on him was pretty funny. Not really much to talk about ultimately, through it was fairly enjoyable. Hamada can't really do much at this point through: while I could also point fingers at Fujinami, he can at least work fairly competent. Hamada just sorta....doesn't do a lot, outside of the bare minimum. 

RANK: Decent


Part 5 will cover the last six years (more so five but we'll get to that as well) of Sayama's career, going over his last matches in the ring as well as his final feuds, namely with Onita and a final encounter with Kobayashi. It's definitely going to be a bumpy ride!















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Part 5

Vs. Black Tiger (RJPW 17.06.2010: Brave Of Legend ~ Our Legendary Heroes ~)

OG Mask vs the "Black Tiger" whom is actually Tatsuhito Takaiwa in a ill-fitting mask. As for the match itself, it's actually not that bad despite the length and both guys being fairly banged up by this point: this is worked in the RJPW house style of being a shooty/wrestling hybrid with some high flying put in. Both guys will wrestle on the mat and do grounded work, but Sayama also throws out a dropkick and a pretty picture perfect plancha to the outside soon after. While Tiger Mask is the more agile of the pair and will utilise a lot of strikes in stand up to wear down his opponent, Black Tiger opts to ground him down into mat work, with some pretty cool transitions into submissions.

A lot of this match is pretty eh: Tiger Mask by this point in his career can't really do much workrate wise and Black Tiger, while having some solid enough mat work, it just sorta doesn't go anywhere. He slaps on maybe 5 holds on Tiger Mask within a minute or so but none of them are really sold any by his opponent, and the tendency to "drop" submissions: that is, to have a hold clearly held on and to willingly let go of it despite next to no resistance: bugs me extremely. I hated it when Sabre Jr used to do that, so I especially dislike it here. The run up to the finish is fine enough: Tiger Mask lands his greatest hits once more with his Diving Headbutt and Tombstone, but his second Tiger Suplex is countered into a really good looking Death Valley Driver, but Tiger Mask quickly recovers and no sells to land his Crossface Chickenwing for the submission win.

All in all, not really a essential must watch for either man but a reasonable bout with some nice ground work. It won't really convince any naysayers of late Tiger Mask's style or is a amazing career highlight, but both men throw out some good work and outside of some slight botches by Sayama (namely with timing: sometimes he's a bit off the mark) was done pretty much spotlessly. I do have issues with the pacing as it feels almost rushed at times, contrived even: but it didn't make the match bad or anything, just one I won't be watching again. Takaiwa and co will wrestle each other A LOT through, so get used to seeing him. 

RANK: Decent


W/ Mr. Cacao Vs. Black Tiger & Ikuto Hidaka (Fukumen MANIA 15.08.2010: Mr. Cacao 10th Anniversary)

First off, I'll give a warning: this includes some random bloke semi-consistently honking a clown horn in the middle portions and it gets REALLY fucking annoying, really fast. Literally every second big move for a few minutes has honks behind it. I would suggest muting those portions unless you can somehow stand it. This starts off with typical Black Tiger stalling: moaning about closed fists and running to the outside. He asks for First Tiger and gets him, and predictably gets thrown to the mat with a Judo throw before he counters into a Kimura, of which gets broken up by a Savate kick by his opponent.

Hidaka has some pretty cool exchanges with Cacao as they hit some nice fast-paced sequences that don't drag, with Hidaka bumping all over the place for Cacao's slower stuff. There's a awesome spot where he gets knocked out of the ring with a dropkick but hangs on the bottom rope to pull himself back up and hits a big spinning back kick to take advantage. Black Tiger is.... well less impressive, sticking on holds and some pretty bad looking offence at moments: he tries hitting a snap suplex but he gets zero snap from it and almost shoot-DDT's the guy. It's weird, because I know the guy behind the mask is still having pretty good matches (from what I seen) but he just loses all of that as soon as he puts on the Black Tiger moniker and goes into generic "heel" antics that don't really get him heat for this audience. It's like he doesn't know how to balance both.

He beats down Cacao on the outside with a chair and ring post. Hidaka's work is a lot better, namely focusing on Cacao's back. He gets him in a kneeling Cobra Clutch and hits him with knees while he's in that position, which looked nasty as anything. He also puts on a bizarre grounded inverse Boston Crab or something? I've never seen it before but it looks incredibly well done, surprised no one stole it. The finishing stretch has Cacao finally tag in and land some big dives, namely a crossbody and a dive to the outside while First Tiger gets hit with a Tombstone and top rope back elbow for a near fall by Black Tiger before Sayama recovers mid-Death Valley Driver attempt and manages to hit his modified Tiger Suplex O'Connor Roll for the win.

This is a lot more coherent than their later match together but most of the action worth mentioning is between Cacao and Hidaka, who have solid chemistry together and both have sections in which they shine against the other: it helps that Hidaka is a badass worker as well and extremely talented. Sayama comes in namely for his greatest hits but he's a fairly good wrestler when it comes to that specific style as proven by his numerous match formats that follow that kind of grove. Black Tiger is the weakest by far and his heel sections aren't really engaging as they are more him slapping on boring holds and not engaging with the crowd at all. The younger lads definitely steal the show here. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. Fujinami II (IGF 25.09.2010: Genome13)

This is the second time both men have faced off: spoilers, it ends in another draw lol. They set up the same dynamic from before, basically that Fujinami is better on the mat, Tiger Mask is better in stand-up, albeit he's apprehensive after Fujinami tags him early with a Dragon Screw. This is basically the same as before as Fujinami throws on holds to work over Mask's legs while Mask has to escape them. This is basically a lot of sitting in holds for the first half, with some decent counters here and there as both men exchange counters and whatnot.

Most of this is just Fujimami slapping on holds in general, but he can at least work that style as opposed to gassing himself up in their first match. Mask tries to hit some comebacks with his signature spots but misses a Diving Headbutt and Fujinami gets a Figure Four, which his opponent needs to roll to the ropes to escape. Second half is just them exchanging big moves as Fujinami fails to win with the Cobra Twist, Mask gets a near fall with a Tombstone and hits a dropkick that Fujinami delay sells for so he ends up just falling over after a few seconds of being fine. Both men scramble (well more slowly stumble in the corner) as the time ticks down but no one is able to get any leeway before the 10 minute time limit is reached.

This is better than their last match in terms of structure but not in terms of workrate: Fujinami just sits around in holds for a lot of this and Mask at this point could go, but not with someone who was even older than he was at the time and was way, way past it by this point. It's fine as a vet showcase but as a match, painfully slow and not very exciting. Fujinami can still go as well, I just think these two at this point don't work as a duo together.

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Ultimo Dragon Vs. Fujinami & Red And White Mask (IGF 03.12.2010: Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2010)

First off, I have zero idea who this Red and White guy is supposed to be. Maybe he's the same lad that wrestled Sayama a few years ago as "X" but as for conclusive answers, I don't have any. Him and Ultimo have some short but fun lucha sequences. Fujinami and Mask have some eh exchanges that are drawn from their earlier encounters: Mask trying for a early finish with the Tiger Suplex but Fujinami using the same way he used to escape his Dragon Sleeper by running for the ropes. There's some clumsy notions as Mask hits a sloppy judo throw and a Tiger Spin respectfully.

Ultimo has more solid stuff with RW Mask with some great agility between the pair and fast paced exchanges, with tons of arm drags and flips. Nothing incredible but for a vet match like this, it's VERY much refreshing to see. Tiger Mask also has some alright action with him as he blocks all of his kicks and hits his own big savate to knock him down, following it up with RW no selling into a leg lock. Fujinami follows that up until Sayama manages to escape and tags in Dragon, who gets countered into a Dragon Screw for RW, who follows it up with a good top rope dropkick + weird Russian Leg submission while Fujinami applies his Dragon Sleeper to Mask.

The lads break out very quickly and hit a bad looking double cross chop before they double team RW with Mask hurling savate kicks into Ultimo's own, leading to him hitting his Asai DDT for the win. Very much a nothing match beyond some good showings for Ultimo as he gets a ton of time to have fast-paced sequences alongside some fun lucha stuff. Everyone else is just kinda here and don't add much: subsequently, it adds nothing to Sayama's overall perspective at the time.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Tiger Mask IV III (RJPW 09.12.2010: Extreme)

Actually not terrible. Sayama by this point is pretty much mostly meh but he can still throw a incredibly mean kick with his heavier frame, and his technical stuff is still solid enough that he can get away with his mat-work when this gets grounded. Tiger IV.... isn't really great in the first place but he plays along fine here, and I like the fact that he plays a subtle heel in how he slowly starts to get more and more annoyed that his far older foil is getting the best of him multiple times, and starts to show some frustration when he can't get his own way. This plays to their two earlier matches in that IV is trying to outclass his mentor: not as a young rookie or prospect, but as a fairly respected vet in his own right. 

This is how you might expect this to be framed as: lots of kick exchanges, some back and forward technical stuff, added in with dives by the younger Tiger IV later on. Tiger IV tries to use his older incarnation's tricks against him, even his signature Crossface Chickenwing transition but gets countered by the far more experienced foe, only gaining a advantage once he focuses in on low kicks to damage First Tiger's foot and using that as a foothole for more offence. First Tiger is a bit of a dumbass, consistently going for dives and his top rope Diving Headbutt despite the risk and misses every opportunity at this which damages his leg even more. As for Tiger IV, he mostly sticks to low kicks and leg offence, stomping or grabbing a hold on it. He's no Bret for sure, but the limb work at least makes sense and isn't overdone. It allows for the two to keep a steady pace throughout without getting too involved in meaningless mat work. 

Both guys have a flashy display for the road to the finish: while First Tiger lands a big savate kick to knock down Tiger IV, the bad leg prevents him capitalising, allowing his opponent to recover and place on a kneebar for the win. Not bad, but these guys already had a WAY better match years and years ago. This wasn't bad or anything but just incredibly basic, and First Tiger's inability to lose clean or really give Tiger IV any of his element to work with harms the match quality and forces the guy to work on the mat, of which definitely isn't his speciality. Not worth checking out in my opinion.

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Tiger Shark Vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Black Tiger (Tenryu Project 5 14.12.2010)

Most people harp on about the Tenryu/Tiger Mask encounter they had with each other in RJPW, but don't know about their rematch in Tenryu's own promotion against each other. I myself publicise that particular match as one of Tiger Mask's last legitimately really good outings as stated in the prior post to this but this was a curiosity that I couldn't ignore. While Tenryu by this point was pretty much done in terms of workrate (like this is the "struggling to walk around" stage of his career) he regardless tries to work a fairly decent dynamic with Tiger Mask, getting his ass beat by the latter's strikes and technical stuff and failing to be the big bully that he's usually pretty good at being. Black Tiger is once again played by Tatsuhito Takaiwa: for what it's worth he plays a fun heel in how he consistently moans at the ref at the start for Tiger Shark's aggression and focuses on being more of a cowardly heel than the straight-laced antagonist he is in his series with First Tiger.

For a guy who started wrestling in his near mid-30's, Tiger Shark is a competent worker here: nothing special overall but he can hit his mentor's agile spots fairly well and knows how to sell. For a Sayama clone, he's fine enough. He's a nice addition to the match, even when having to tank Tenryu being a huge prick and smacking him with full on stiff punches. That being said, Tenryu spends like half of this getting his ass kicked, either in working holds on the head or leg, or getting kicked by the pair a lot, in particular Tiger Shark completely wrecks him with a ton of kicks in the corner before Tenryu is just able to recover with his dangerous brainbuster.

Eventually the finish has First Tiger no sell a Death Valley Driver again to quickly apply a really clumsy Crossface Chickenwing for the win, while Tenryu is stuck outside fighting the younger Tiger. This actually gets quite decent when Black Tiger and Tiger Shark are going together: both have some fun, agile exchanges, even if Tiger Shark's offence is mostly just a less impressive version of his mentor. Tenryu tries his best, but he's just like, done here, like REALLY done, even climbing the ropes is a hard task. He does get some babyface cheers when he's getting beat down by Tiger Shark and co but his actual wrestling is kept to a minimum here. Tiger Mask puts on a average performance: nothing special out of him ultimately. Wouldn't recommend this outside of some hard hitting stuff but I suppose it works fine as a addition to Sayama's program with Tenryu.

RANK: Decent


W/ AKIRA Vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Ultimo Dragon (Legend The Pro Wrestling 10.01.2011)

This is a decent match that is unfortunately brought down by Sayama's well known diva-like attitude coming to surface, but we'll get to that when it comes. Liger and Tiger Mask have some decent exchanges with each other throughout here, through I've noticed that they don't really click well when it comes to sequences and have some somewhat iffy moments: even in their 90's matches they just don't really have a good tempo with the other and tend to stall or look weird when doing anything complex. Ultimo Dragon and AKIRA work a lot better: Ultimo in particular still is very fast on his feet and looks solid tagging with Liger, hitting some really agile offence before they hone in on AKIRA's legs for the good part of the middle portion. AKIRA is pretty good in general but that sadly doesn't get brought up a lot either. 

For what it's worth, they do have some nice limb working holds and manage to consistently tag in and out, making this section slower but not any less exciting, especially when the duo hit some double team stuff. Eventually AKIRA gets a comeback with a big jumping kick and tags in Tiger Mask. Here's where things get a bit iffy. Mask hits his usual kick combinations, but after a few, he seems to stomp his legs a few times uncharacteristically before going back to them. Liger counters a right leg kick with his knee (which is quite loud) and Mask seems to sell at first before this noticeably becomes a bit more than that when he staggers over to the ropes. Ultimo comes in and starts kicking it, but Tiger Mask clearly doesn't want him doing that and barely sells for him, only rolling out after a dropkick. He then bizarrely calls for a time-out.... in the middle of the match, mind you, ruining the pace completely. I've seen Sayama  sell injuries like these before, but he's not THIS good of a seller and would be making sure to get his shit in regardless of it playing a factor, so it definitely wasn't him working a injury angle or whatnot. Very weird attitude in general.

Regardless, calling a time-out in a wrestling match and no selling your opponents because your knee hurts is some extreme unprofessionalism and soured the whole match afterwards. AKIRA thankfully covers for him by getting right back in the match and doing some fairly good underdog work in getting around the numbers advantage. He tags in Tiger Mask after a few minutes and he basically just spends the rest of the match on his back while the pair work over his bad leg. Ultimo lands a Asai DDT for the win. AKIRA does well in those very large shoes, getting in some great comeback offence while also selling for the other duo reliably well. Liger and Ultimo put in good performances, through Ultimo impressed me a lot more than Liger at this point in terms of just how smooth Ultimo was compared to him. They work a good dominating routine and even get some big heel heat when they go for Mask's bad leg. All in all, this could've been a lot better had the whole injury nonsense been handled better, but this is still a good performance with some solid action, albeit Sayama is noticeably flagging behind due to obvious factors. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. Black Tiger II (IGF 05.02.2011: Genome14)

This is a repeat of the RJPW match these two had, which I wasn't particularly strong about in the first place. Now it's even shorter of a length in a IGF setting, which isn't exactly prone to match quality. For what it's worth, First Tiger is pretty solid for the stuff he pulls out here, but his opponent was pretty basic. I get it, Takaiwa WAS a great wrestler in his prime and this is him nearly 2 decades later, most of which breaking himself down doing big Jr action pieces in the 90s and onward. When he's actually mat wrestling here, he's perfectly fine, good even at spots, but he spends most of this doing generic week one wrestling school stuff: stomps in the corner, scoop slam, forearm strikes, shit like that. It's very boring and him on top is very flavourless. He can't really play the kind of brawling heel that I think he's trying to go for.

He sells well for First Tiger's usual hits and all pretty solid through, no complaints there. There's also some cool late game spots as Black Tiger nails a superplex and a top rope back elbow for a near count, gets his Death Valley Bomb kicked out right at 2, not even a near fall (because Sayama gotta be kept strong brother) First Tiger quickly recovers and hits his Tiger Suplex after a spinning back kick for the win.....noticing a trend here.

This is basically the same as their RJPW match (with some exact spots in places) but I'm willing to say this is the better match, if only because it cuts the filler (well most of it anyway lol) and goes right into the action. Black Tiger is pretty basic move wise and his technical work doesn't go anywhere, mostly being filler to pad out this even longer. This is a pretty standard performance by Sayama, who mostly sticks to the crowd popping moves. Definitely not one to be worth seeking out for late Tiger Mask fans. It says a lot when I think Fujinami vs Mascaras was better than this lol. 

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. Gran Hamada, Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask IV (RJPW 18.02.2011: Pro-Wrestling Charity Event ~ Pro-Wrestling Japan Aid 2011)

A typical name-value orientated 6-man tag, but nothing terrible. First Tiger and IV have decent sequences together out of everyone else. Choshu is as you'd expect him to be in these kind of matches in that he's all about the greatest hits and really nothing else. There's other sequences here but it's mostly Fujinami and co fumbling on the mat for a good portion in working holds. Tiger IV is probably the only guy out of everyone that can actually "work" to any proper sense but he's only really allowed to use that workrate against First Tiger, otherwise having to work the same pace as everyone else here.

There's lots of tags made (like two to three per minute if they aren't working a hold) yet somehow is still incredibly slow as a match format as nearly everyone just sorta slaps on lazy holds. Choshu gets the crowd going with some actual moves but those are few and far between. First Tiger spends most of the middle portion getting his legs worked, including a double dropkick by Sasuke and IV. Outside of that, it's just kicks and working holds. The build to the finish has everyone hit their big signature moves until Fujinami Dragon Screws nearly everyone, Choshu hits a lariat, and First Tiger hits a Diving Headbutt for the win.

Pretty standard vet showcase match you'd expect to see as a main card for Dradition or whatever, but quite boring in general. No one can really go much anymore (Sayama is probably the best of the bunch but even then, not a big margin) and if they can, they get paired up with someone who can't do that pace, so they need to slow down a lot. Unless you wanna see a lot of old guys just hold on for dear life mixed in with some nostalgia (trust me there's better matches for that, even on this list) this isn't very good at all. Functional sure, but not good.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi II (Legend The Pro Wrestling 07.05.2011)

After seemingly making it up to Sayama over the years during the Suzuki feud, Kobayashi is back to his old Tiger Hunter days and he's raring for blood. We also get a hype package where he's training with Choshu at the NJPW Dojo and vowing his victory. This would be one of Kobayashi's last official matches before retiring, with his last being a random NJPW battle royal. The beginning of this is paced around Kobayashi trying to get past Mask's kicks, of which he basically fails a lot, getting knocked around with some good roundhouse strikes. Sayama nails a Tiger Spin but fucks up a Tiger Feint pretty badly.

Kobayashi hits a good spinning kick from a Irish Whip and hits some strikes. The narrative of the match is that Kobayashi is trying to rip Sayama of his mask once more, and he quickly gets to it by using a ref distraction while in a headlock to start undoing it bit by bit. Eventually after maybe 3 minutes of wrestling, he's able to just completely rip the thing off after raking at his eyes and whatnot, leading to him losing via DQ. Sayama is pissed, refusing to cover up his face. He goes on the mic and basically says "this is bullshit, not taking the win bro" before demanding a restart, which he ends up getting. Kobayashi gets big heat by teasing just leaving the match altogether and getting a count out in a great little spot before bumrushing him and getting his ass kicked with a big kick to the chest by Mask.

He beats down the heel with some big kicks and a flipping senton as well as a good cross chop and his other signature spots, but ends up missing a Diving Headbutt. Kobayashi calls for the Fisherman's Suplex and gets it, but Mask kicks out at 1! Kobayashi at this point kinda goes nuts, hitting a big spinning back kick and a plancha to the outside. Knowing that he can't beat Mask with what he has left, he gets him up to the turnbuckle post and ties his mask into the pole itself, preventing him from getting in the ring. The spot itself takes a bit too long for it to be believable but it was pretty cool to see in action. 

All in all, I'm not going to pretend this was any good, even for their respective ages. This is really only kept up by the relatively good heat the lads manage to gather here, combined with Kobayashi being in good shape and raring to go as best as he can. It's not the greatest conclusion to such a ironic rivalry as this, but it keeps true to both of them: Sayama is the superior wrestler, but Kobayashi simply won't play clean to allow him to win that way. In the end, it's about the best they could do under the circumstances.  

RANK: Decent


W/ Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. Jun Izumida, Tamon Honda & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi (RJPW 21.07.2011: Space Flying Tiger Drop)

A fairly eh 6-man. Obviously everyone involved is far from their best incarnations but they put in some perfectly fine ring work here. Tiger Mask is mostly just nailing his greatest hits routine that he's thrown out a few times over in less important matches but he can do that routine good enough, so can't really complain. Kikuchi is funny as the forever underdog that gets beaten up and bullied by everyone else here: obviously by this point he can't throw himself around madly but he does fine in that role. Choshu and Fujinami put in their standard workrate for this, not really much to add. To be honest, if you took out Tiger Mask and Choshu this could easily be a 6-man AJPW uncle fight especially given the real lack of urgency here.

Is there some funny stuff with the Honda trio all going headbutt crazy at one point and throwing out some dumb headbutt combos? Yes, but it's overall not really much to talk about in detail. Choshu nails Izumida with a second rope brainbuster and then later follows it up with a lariat for the pin while Tiger Mask kicks Honda and Kikuchi around. All in all, a decent vet showcase but that's really what it is, a showcase. Guys like Izumida in particular were pretty immobile here in general and added very little. 

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Kuuga (Legend The Pro Wrestling 30.09.2011)

I don't know a ton about Kugga beyond the fact that he seems to be a pretty generic heel figure. He almost at once leaves the ring after a big spinning kick and gets overpowered on the mat, needing a eye rake to escape the hold. That starting sequence is basically the whole match: First Tiger lands some offence, Kuuga stalls and/or cheats to get a advantage, rinse and repeat. He's got some heel spots (like he spits into his hand and then sticks it in First Tiger's face at one point in a very gross spot lol) but he's also got some fairly alright flippy stuff, with the dude hitting a big senton to the outside while his opponent was under a stack of chairs. Looked sloppy as shit but more of a PCO-kind of sloppy than a actual dangerous sloppy if that makes any sense: he's hurting himself more than his opponent. 

First Tiger takes a nasty landing from a missed Flying Headbutt (usually he puts his knees first to mitigate the landing but his head ends up bouncing off the canvas after he falls upper body first). Kugga hits a shitty STO and then moans at the ref when it doesn't get the pin, which was a nice way to get around the bad execution. First Tiger seemed a bit off here as his moves didn't really have that much behind them, and he badly botches the Tiger Suplex O'Connor Roll finish.

The crowd are polite to both men but clearly didn't care a lot for this, namely because there's not really any fire behind both men. Kuuga's stuff is alright and he at least knows how to act up as a heel, it's just that this crowd weren't biting at all in terms of actual heat. Maybe that's because he isn't really very well known by the kind of older nostalgia-ridden audience that comes here, but still. A pretty nothing match overall: definitely save your time and skip this one. Kuuga is a pretty plain act that adds nothing to Sayama's ring work by this point.

RANK: Forgettable


W/ Mil & Dos Caras Vs. Tiger Mask IV, CIMA & Ultimo Guerrero (Mask Nobility Fiesta 2011 ~ Mil Mascaras 40th Anniversary Of Coming To Japan & Depomart 10th Anniversary)

For what it's worth, this is fine enough for a nostalgia bout. Guerrero and CIMA alongside Tiger Mask are the young next gen guys that can go, while Mascaras, his bro, and First Tiger are the vets who are of varying physical states. Caras wrestles in a shirt and doesn't really do much beyond the greatest hits and light mat work: he does hit a awesome dive to the outside despite this but still, nothing that really shocks in terms of old man lucha standards. If anything, he plays off well with CIMA's dickish antics. First Tiger can still go fairly well and works good technical mat work alongside pulling out his big fancy spots whenever, he works with everyone here fairly well. Mascaras is also.... well, old by this point but in all fairness, he puts in a good performance for his age, even if Ultimo and co bump a lot for him. That's basically this whole match: younger guys bumping around a lot with older vets who can't obviously go as hard as they can, especially the Caras brothers, but what else would you expect at this point?

This also involves a lot of the Caras brothers just outright eating up the younger dudes, either knocking them all down or no-selling their offence to get in their own. It's what you would expect but I appreciate that even when this old they still don't care about selling. lol. After some sloppy back and forward stuff, Mascaras nails the crossbody to pin Guerrero while everyone else is busy, getting the win. We get a prolonged post-match celebration as well as a emotional Hayabusa appearance.

As stated, this was basically a fun little nostalgia bout: the young guys were more than happy to be in the ring with the Caras brothers and sell all over the place for them. CIMA's heel stuff was a big highlight of the match as his consistent interruptions and just general shithouse behaviour got him some big heat with the crowd and gave this random no stakes match a little bit more to work with. Everyone puts in a fair enough performance given who's here: obviously the younger guys like Tiger Mask and Guerrero can't really go all out but they work well with the vets and manage to get a fairly good workrate despite the big age gap, even if things do start to fall apart around about the end. All in all, not career defining or anything, but a decent little match that knows what it is, and plays to that greatly. Sayama is a good workhouse that can still bump and actually sell for the younger lads, and does so just fine.

RANK: Decent


Vs. The Great Sasuke (RJPW 25.10.2011: Breakthrough)

What I like about this match first and foremost is that it doesn't attempt to pretend that Sasuke is incredibly equal to Tiger Mask in this context: he is completely out of his depth in these shooty conditions and quickly realises that his opponent is way better than him at stand up, completely shutting down after a few big kicks. The start of the match is basically Sasuke getting his ass beat, in particular a vicious punch to the throat knocks him down.

He only gets a advantage after going to the ground and working Mask's legs for a bit: through his limb work is eh, it works well to get over his desperate condition to finding a way to keep Mask subdued and away from his kicks. He even tries working the arms and the head with holds, but Sayama finds ways out of them as well. Sasuke is a bit of a mad lad here as well, turning a top rope splash into a neck bump after missing and going for a fancy dropkick through the ropes that ends up with him hitting the floor fairly hard. Guy lands a Swanton Bomb to the outside and he bounces off Tiger with the impact, just ouch overall in this second half as he hurls himself all over. 

Sasuke does another one and ends up missing and landing on a fairly small mat soon afterwards as not to be outdone. Basically, while he sucks at shoot-fighting, he's great when allowed to be a lunatic, and that's where he gains the advantage here. After this missed flip, however, Sasuke is done, and despite the crowd being massively behind him, it means nothing when Tiger Mask is smacking you with kicks until you drop, which Sasuke then does, getting submitted with a key lock.

Not much of a "match" per se, just Sasuke getting wrecked before putting it all on the line with dives until he physically can't anymore. Simple narrative, but it works here, and the crowd really get into it. As a match, obviously both men aren't exactly in their prime, but fill their roles great here. Sakuke is a risk-taker, Sayama is a more pragmatic vet that focuses less on his flips and more on concentrated, grounded ring work and strikes. It's not very good workrate wise but a fun little outing.

RANK: Decent


W/ Mr Cacao & Great Sasuke Vs. Black Tiger, Ikuto Hidaka & Fishman (Fukamen MANIA 20 25.12.2011)

This is one of Fishman I's last matches before passing away a few years later. He's miles away from his prime by point and to be blunt, he's not very good here whatsoever. I'm not going to hold anything against him because the dude was 60, but still, even by old man lucha standards he's pretty terrible and cringed watching him botch move after move with First Tiger: thankfully he's kept to mostly doing strikes or assists with the more mobile guys where he's either holding somebody on the ropes or hitting a strike. I'd rather watch modern day Dory Funk wrerestle than him and I DON'T say that lightly. Hidaka and Cacao have some decent fundamentals and can work fine much like their last match together, through Hidaka does most of the actual big bumps. Black Tiger is meh and I didn't really care for much of what he was doing either.

A lot of the middle section is just headlock city: I get working a hold but this was just strike into rest hold repeated a ton. Hidaka mixes in some good agile work here and there, namely a rolling senton and a handspring calf kick, good shit. Sasuke eventually escapes and manages to get the hot tag to First Tiger, who wrecks Hidaka and Black Tiger with kicks before trying (and failing) to get Fishman to bump for a sunset flip, which ends awkwardly. There's some more scuffle between the trios before Black Tiger hits a low blow on Sasuke to get the advantage, countering his top rope elbow into a superplex. Fishman and Hidaka are taken out with a dive and savate kick before First Tiger battles Black Tiger, getting a near fall after taking a Death Valley Driver. Both men try to land the finishing blow before First Tiger gets the win with his modified Tiger Suplex rollup once again albeit he almost fucks it up by not hooking the arms afterwards: bonus points for the shitty dubbed over rock music they have playing over his theme at the end lol.

All in all, this isn't great. Most of the guys here put on half-baked performances outside of Cacao and Hidaka, who do most of the actual ringwork together. Black Tiger and co aren't bad but they aren't very good either, with a lot of dull work between them. First Tiger adds in some exciting stuff out of them but he's forced to work mostly with Fishman, who can barely move. Alright in general but not a match I'd watch again.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. El Samurai (Legend The Pro Wrestling 08.01.2012)

Complete garbage. I didn't care about El Samurai in his six-man with Mascaras and co a few years back and the prospect of him having to wrestle First Tiger by his lonesome, whom was starting to fairly decline at this point, is a big issue for me. My fears are confirmed when the guys just at once start trading random holds, Samurai fucks up a Americana somehow and has to cover it by going for a pin in the first two minutes of the match, and he starts hitting these uber loose punches.

His style is mostly generic beatdown nonsense that the crowd are silent for, and it's not a respectful silence either. They finally pick up when First Tiger hits his signature Tiger Feint but then Samurai gets back in and does some shitty toe stomps to get him down for a single leg Boston that lasts for what seemed like forever. Later on he hits a Diving Headbutt to crickets before botching a reverse DDT. He does nail a decent top rope dropkick but again, the crowd don't really care because it hasn't been built up any. Samurai tries to follow this up with more offence, but Mask recovers, hits a spinning kick, then pins Samurai with the Tiger Suplex. 

This was pretty bad overall, and I squarely put the blame on Samurai for this as most of the match is him sticking on heatless holds or strikes. If you are going to do a strike-orientated style, your strikes need to look, well, good, not like a budget post-broken neck Chono without any of the charisma. Tiger Mask tries to get something out of this with his selling but this was mind-numbingly boring and just felt like complete padding for the most part. Shockingly bad beyond the last minute or so, probably one of the worst matches I had to watch for this entire project. 

RANK: Forgettable X2


W/ Great Sasuke Vs. Atsushi Onita & Ichiro Yaguchi (RJPW 16.03.2012: Daybreak)

Utter slog. Onita turns this into a brawl fairly quickly with a pre-match ambush and this turns into walk-and-brawl antics almost at once, with Tiger Mask mostly being the guy falling around chairs and whatnot. Yaguchi is.... like nothing here. He's a big dude with a barbed bat, that's basically it for stuff worth talking about. Replace him with literally anyone else and the aura would be the exact same, he's just here to swing the bat and keep Onita out of tricky situations. Onita himself obviously can't wrestle worth a lick beyond some weapon spots, a DDT, and spraying mist, he also does a limp powerbomb at one point and assists in another. Tiger Mask and Sasuke kick out of every powerbomb and DDT here, even the assisted ones on the barbed wire, making the duo look pretty strong and the invading force incredibly weak as they can't seem to put down the pair with tons of offence, despite this mostly being one-sided.

Onita misses a chair shot and ends up hitting his partner, which leads the masked duo to do a comeback, leading Tiger Mask to wreck Yaguchi with multiple DDT's and a Tiger Suplex for the pin while Sasuke hits a dive outside to keep Onita away. This is more of a angle to get the eventual Onita/Tiger Mask match set up and you clearly see that as the case as most of this was mostly just a lot of meandering brawling and weapon spots. I didn't really buy that there was any real hatred between the teams either, which could've at least salvaged the messy format. Had they went all in on the hardcore aspect, this could've been at least a relatively interesting prospect, but because of the restrictions that RJPW provides (combined with them being in Korakuen) they had to stick to this half-assed stuff. All in all, complete filler and badly paced. This is thankfully the weakest part of the multi-year Onita feud.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Atsushi Onita (RJPW 06.07.2012: Strong Style Ism)

Obviously you get what you expect here with a Onita bout: even in the 90's he was basically completely spent workrate wise, so you get his typical smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that the guy by this point can't even really move around without looking like his knees are going to explode. This includes the very stipulation itself, which while sounding interesting and unique (described as a "Dangerous Special Lumberjack Death" format) is in actuality just a standard Lumberjack match, but some of the guys have weapons, namely Onita's guys. This quickly gets played out by the second time it happens, through we get a nice spot where Tiger Mask gets thrown out but does his Tiger Faint to get back in and smack Onita with a kick. 

When Onita gets thrown out, he gets stomped to death, basically. He spends what seems like forever getting hit with incredibly light clubbing blows and kicks. Onita blades almost at once after being thrown at the ring post and spends a lot of the start just getting smacked around by Mask's huge kicks, only recovering when he's able to throw him to his Lumberjack side and his control section is typically him just doing stuff onto weapons like DDT's into barbed wire bats and whatnot. Eventually the match gets out of hand when the lumberjacks predictively start brawling a bit, involving a uber contrived chair duel spot that looked dumb, but enjoyable nonetheless. Eventually this turns into a more conventional affair as Onita focuses on the damaged leg of Tiger Mask with some holds until the lumberjacks drag him out and nail him with a pretty cool looking dropkick from the apron.

Tiger Mask tries to finish him off with the Crossface Chickenwing but more interference stops that from being the finish, and Onita hits yet another DDT on a barbed wire bat for another near fall. Yaguchi mistimes a bat smack and ends up hitting Onita, leaving Mask to land his usual tombstone/diving headbutt combo into the finish, which has him hit a running barbed wire bat shot to the head for the win. Post match has both men seemingly respectfully shaking hands before Onita sprays mist into his face and beats him down, while the bell keeper goes ballistic with the bell ringing. I'm not gonna pretend like this was great or anything, but as a messy hardcore bout, it's perfectly fine even with the limitations. Onita can't really wrestle much but he can emote very well, and his strong charisma keeps him as a good heel foil here. He knows he's outmatched in the ring by a fair margin and relies on his old war buddies to do the dirty work, while Tiger Mask's comebacks are worked well here: he can still pop a crowd with his greatest hits on display. About the best match you could've got in the conditions given but Sayama does a fair job here getting his opponent to something good.

RANK: Decent


W/ Tiger Shark & Tigers Mask Vs. Spider J, Orochi & Kugga (Osaka Pro 22.07.2012: 2012 Hurricane)

Some decent action at the start as First Tiger beats down Kuuga with some big kicks, a flying cross chop and a Tiger Feint, which is all solid fantastically by the heel trio respectfully, with the guys at the apron going nuts while this is going down. Tiger Shark is fine enough for a Sayama clone but he's a bit sluggish in places (like he's 38 here and started wrestling when he was 33, so he's not exactly got time on his side there) but he does fine. The heel trio have some cool sequences where they are cutting off people or just doing general asshole antics, but I couldn't really pick out any particular member in terms of overall performance, especially in the later halves when they start just outside brawling a lot in-between their ring work, through Orochi has some nice agile stuff squeezed in here. I guess Tigers Mask tumbling down the ramp was funny enough. At one point First Tiger looked confused as fuck as Kugga's walking down the ramp after the spot and just sorta didn't do anything while he was getting beaten down: not sure what was going on there but it looked very awkward. The main portion of the middle is based around Tiger Shark getting worked over by all of them, with some nice inventive offence thrown in. Kugga whipping him with the ring cover was pretty brutal.

Eventually Tiger Shark gets the hot tag to First Tiger who sends all of them packing with some nice strikes. After hitting a Tiger DDT to Kuuga he tags out, leaving Tiger Shark to hit a awesome corner kick, German suplex, and roundhouse to the head combo that he does amazingly fast. Eventually Kuuga saves the day by holding onto his boot, preventing Orochi from getting a Irish Whip and allowing the heel lads to take control. In particular, Spider J lands a nasty dropkick while Tigers Mask is kneeling, which he bumps a ton for. Eventually Tiger Shark is able to take back control with a great double dropkick before all of the Tiger guys land dives to the outside in a cool bit. Tigers Mask gets his own back on Kuuga by sending him flying with a massive dropkick on top of the ramp, leading to Shark and First Tiger to land a Tombstone + Diving Headbutt combo on Orochi: he's stunned enough that Sayama can win with his regular Tiger Suplex for the finish.

All in all, a good lucha hybrid outing with some good pacing and action, outside of a somewhat messy start to the middle portion. Spider J and Orochi were good Jr style heels and Kuuga was fine enough for what he did beyond the usual eye raking and whatnot. Shark and Tigers Mask were fine as well: Tigers had better outings but Shark seemed more balanced in comparison. Even in his mid-50's Sayama can still go pretty well at this point and doesn't disappoint for the portions where he's in for. He's obviously limited here but manages to work strongly for the little time he shows up for. All in all, a solid outing.

RANK: Good


W/ Kuniaki Kobayashi Vs. Atsushi Onita & Ichiro Yaguchi (Legend The Pro Wrestling 13.01.2013)

Kobayashi comes out of semi-retirement to help out Tiger Mask in his ongoing feud with Onita. Of course, you know how this goes by now: Onita starts a brawl early with Kobayashi, leaving Tiger Mask to handle Yaguchi, which he does fairly well with a dive to the outside. The next few minutes are basically everyone running around doing walk and brawl shit. Kobayashi...... can't really work at all anymore, which is a stark contrast to two years ago where he was limited, but still able to work basic stuff. Here, he's physically stiff as anything and even doing basic stuff seems to be a issue, so you get him (slowly) hitting his head against a Korakuen sign, or (very very slowly) falling over a row of chairs with Onita. After a few minutes of this they get back in the ring, with Kobayashi just sorta bumping around for everyone else. Yaguchi sucks as per usual and is literally only here to swing the barbed wire bat or do some unconvincing raking of the face using it. He does one move: a spinning kick: and it looks pretty bad.

Kobayashi actually does a better one just a few minutes later before he's put on the defensive again with a Onita mist spray. He takes even more offence with the bat while stuck in a figure-four, as well as Yaguchi doing like a leg-vice with the bat, which looked goofy. They make a stack of chairs and barbed bats and throws Kobayashi (super slowly) into it. Kobayashi finally gets a comeback after like 30 bat shots, dodging one that ends up hitting Onita by accident. This is enough for Tiger Mask to get his shots in, with the pair hitting a nice double back kick combo on Yaguchi for a near fall, as well as a double Fisherman's Buster for the big pin.

All in all, this isn't really that good workrate wise, but the crowd at least bite into Kobayashi having to struggle through this almost solo and do get into this by the end. For me, this was just a garbage brawl that didn't even have that much garbage in it beyond a endless amount of barbed wire bat shots. Sayama doesn't do much of anything and everyone else here suffer a lot for it without his presence. Boring pace and a near endless heat spot in the middle killed this for me.

RANK: Forgettable


Vs. Naomichi Marufuji (RJPW 07.06.2013: Yes, We Can! ~Revival of the Real Strong Style)

This was untelevised but a fancam exists of the full match bar a minute or so. Maru comes here with his own version of the Tiger Mask and starts things off by not clean breaking the guy while in the ropes, establishing himself as cocky right off the bat. Naturally he gets hit with some big kicks and gets knocked to the outside afterwards for his troubles. He continues hitting kicks but also tries to lock in some holds before Maru gets to the ropes. The latter tries to bring his own strikes into this but is way too inexperienced, with Mask easily countering his kicks and hitting his own, namely to Maru's left arm (he's had a long history of injuries around that upper body section) consistently. He sells this strongly by clutching it every time one lands, as well as scrambling when his opponent works over it.

Maru tries to set up the apron dropkick but Mask manages to roll out of place, leading to him having to throw some forearms and his weird neck snap twist thing he does to soften him up for one, which looked pretty great when it did eventually get landed. He follows this up with a big jumping elbow and head stomp from the corner, finally pulling a superkick for a near fall. He tries for the Shiranui but his opponent escapes and manages to dodge some fairly sharp shots for a spinning back kick to the gut, which turns the tables, adding on a Tiger DDT for good measure. A Tiger Suplex gets countered as they both roll outside, but Maru is able to land a top rope dropkick while he's trying to get in, giving him the smallest of near falls.

This leaves Mask badly on the ropes, with Maru landing a successful big Shiranui but his opponent just grabs the rope at the last second. The finish has Maru try for a Tiger Driver but fail, leading him to modify it brilliantly into a cross armbreaker in the middle of the move. Stuck in the centre of the ring and with nowhere to go Tiger Mask is stuck but refuses to tap, forcing the ref to call off the match in favour for his opponent. The first half of this is pretty slow as Maru has to pace himself down a lot for his opponent and he's still trying to find his footing post-Omega injury as he moved into heavyweight bouts, switching between a more grounded approach and his old Genius of the Ark Jr days.

Eventually they pick up good momentum despite the limitations and have some fairly decent sequences between the slower but far more sharper Tiger Mask vs his much lighter and faster foe. Maru is able to hit some of his big spots and they all look really good, but it feels like he doesn't really know what to do with the slower pace, having to fill his time between spots with loose kicks or whatnot that hardly look convincing. Tiger Mask is obviously far more comfortable with such a concept and has some solid working holds thrown alongside some hard strikes, but this felt like a off-day for him as he didn't really pull half of what he was capable of here. This sounds like a great match on paper but it just didn't completely translate well, and I kinda have to blame Marufuji for that factor moreso than his opponent, as weird as that sounds. 

RANK: Almost Good, but some off moments makes this a Decent


W/ Tiger Shark Vs. Atsushi Onita & Ichiro Yaguchi (Legend The Pro Wrestling 14.07.2013)

The listing on Cagematch doesn't list the stipulation of the match here: it's a double bullrope match, so everyone is connected to a single strand of rope between each other and weapons are scattered on the four sides of the ring. Sounds incredibly dumb and impractical? That's because it is, especially when Yaguchi's rope falls off in the first minute of this starting. In all fairness, Onita and co try to work the stipulation with unique spots, like knocking the Tiger duo into each other or whatnot, but they forgo the stipulation after a bit when Yaguchi uses scissors to cut through the rope, turning this into a generic trash brawl, with him and his partner focusing on Tiger Shark mostly as their rope is still attached. 

For what it's worth, Tiger Mask gets good reactions when he's able to get in his offence before Onita and co cut him off and use his remaining rope to tie him to the ring ropes, allowing them to focus in on Tiger Shark exclusively. Rest of this is just Yaguchi and Onita doing consistent barbed wire bat shots or Onita spraying mist. Tiger Mask eventually just takes off the loose strap instead of trying to untie the knot he's stuck in (why he didn't do that right away is another matter) and goes on the offensive. The second part of this turns into a more traditional tag team as everyone now starts to play by the rules. This leads to the Tiger duo to go for a extended beat down on the pair, landing combo kicks, diving headbutts, and a big dive to the outside by Tiger Shark. Tiger Mask gets the win on Yaguchi after a top rope crossbody.

By workrate, this was mostly pretty bad until the end, but I think the Tiger duo make up for that with a fairly strong comeback in the last few minutes or so: for what it's worth the crowd was really into Tiger Mask's comeback and clearly bought into the match: either that's because of the match itself or the nostalgia factor is up to you. Either way, it's a trash brawl (and I do mean trash in this sense) and typical Onita gimmicks that eventually gets fairly good when Tiger Mask works his babyface stuff alongside Shark. Not a essential post-prime Tiger Mask showing but one that might be interesting as a perspective for his Onita feud. 

RANK: Decent


Vs. Atsushi Onita II (Legend The Pro Wrestling 16.08.2013)

Such a weirdly paced match. This is apart of the near infinite Onita/Tiger Mask feud and we unfortunately get a lot of same spots being repeated: even the Tiger Feint into mist shit was already done exactly prior to this. Onita also smacks some poor trainee hard enough with a chair that the base of it snaps off. As you can imagine, this is mostly just the same formula as their last singles match: lots of weapon and outside spots, Sayama smacks around Onita with some big kicks and gains the advantage until his backup gets in and interferes. Repeat that a few times and you have, essentially, the whole match, as well as Onita screaming or shouting the whole way through.  Despite tons of weapons and just blatant cheating throughout, the ref only DQ's Onita after he fireballs Tiger Mask in the face.... for some undiscernible reason.

All in all, a trash brawl with some funny stuff thrown in. Tiger Mask nails his usual spots and looks fine and while this definitely wasn't very good workrate wise, there's at least some charm in how incredibly messy this was and how self-aware everyone was about it. Guilty pleasure for sure, but don't come looking for anything worth much at all. 

RANK: Good


Vs. Akitoshi Saito (RJPW 16.04.2014: Strong Style Returns Project)

This was untelevised but exists as a series of fancam recordings. Saito and First Tiger go right into attempting kicks, with First Tiger winning with some fairly hard shots before hitting his usual spots with his signature Tiger Feint and Tiger Spin respectfully. He finds something to work with as Saito's legs keep getting blasted with some stiff kicks to them before Saito just bumrushes him with some stiff forearm strikes of his own to counterbalance. Saito tries for his own high kick but Mask blocks it and goes for a nicely done back high kick to knock him down. They tease a apron suplex (that was NEVER happening lol get outta here with that) but he manages to hit his DDT instead and then a dodgy piledriver on the exposed mat. The fancam misses what goes on outside so we skip that: looked like a lot of nothing brawling anyway.

Saito hits a nicely done delayed brainbuster for the first near fall. First Tiger responds with his Tiger DDT, a top rope crossbody, a Tombstone but doesn't go for the pin, instead missing his Diving Headbutt. Saito responds with some lariats for a near fall and motions for his backdrop, but gets knocked out of it: in response he lands two Death Cloaks, as well as a dodgy lariat for a near fall. Saito finally hits his forbidden backdrop and his Death Sickle, but Mask won't quit and hits a savate kick when he tries for another lariat, hitting some more strikes before getting the win with the Tiger Suplex.

Some might be bugged out by how much offence Saito hits to see First Tiger just eventually get up and win with relative tame stuff in comparison but I thought this was well-paced, focusing around Saito wearing down his opponent over time with big blows and climbing for the advantage as opposed to Sayama taking a fairly big early lead. They build up to the backdrop nicely by having his opponent escape from it multiple times over and Saito just keeps on attempting it so that when he finally does actually hit it and it isn't just another tease, it's a big shock for the audience. Saito puts on a fine enough performance: he's basically how you would expect him to be here, just kinda his average workrate. First Tiger hits everything well and still looks solid in the ring despite some fumbles. Not a great match but certainly a good example of a considerably late Tiger Mask having good matches.

RANK: Good


W/ Tiger Shark Vs. Black Tiger & Mitsuya Nagai (Dradition 19.11.2014: Immortal Dragon)

This starts off with.... you guessed it, a trash brawl! In all fairness, Nagai is a lot better at this kind of stuff than some of First Tiger's other opponents, and his goofy persona helps with getting through the walk and brawl stuff at the start. Black Tiger is a fun heel that cheats a ton with eye pokes and a delayed Shattered Dreams at one point just for the fun of it. Both together make a solid heel duo that work over Super Tiger for a good portion of this match. I love how the pair don't really try to hide their heel antics and just do them right in front of the ref lol. Eventually a suplex counter allows for the hot tag to First Tiger, who hits his usual kicks and signature spots, as well as a solid rolling senton splash.

Eventually the pair take over with some leg work that goes nowhere (I do mean that as well, they work on it for a minute before dropping the whole thing) before First Tiger is able to get his second wind with some kicks. Super Tiger has a fairly alright exchange with Nagai involving some slap fights and Nagai countering a kick into a Capture Suplex. Black Tiger does more heel stuff but also pulls out a nice modified Tombstone and top rope back elbow for a near fall. There's a really dumb spot where Nagai and Super Tiger are fighting, Black Tiger gets involved, First Tiger is the legal man but doesn't bother to help the guy and lets him try to get out of the double team by himself, then hits a crossbody both him and Black Tiger, who's holding him in place. This somehow takes them both out and leads to a near fall. Eventually Black Tiger manages to counter a diving headbutt thanks to Nagai interfering, First Tiger takes a big back bump but recovers to hit a spinning back kick into Tiger Suplex for the win.

Obviously this isn't particularly great (almost everyone involved is way past their prime and Super Tiger is incredibly mediocre) but as a match, it's perfectly fine for what it is. Super Tiger gets some spots to shine, Nagai and Black Tiger/Takaiwa are good as a heel duo that cheat consistently, keeping a fresh pace and not overusing the same heat spots, mixing stuff up. First Tiger is solid for what little he does beyond his kicks and some agile spots: very well done for someone his age in particular. All in all, a good little match that doesn't overextend itself.

RANK: Decent


W/ Billy Ken Kid, Ryota Chikuzen Vs. Asosan, Minoru Fujita & Naoki Sakurajima (Kyushu Pro 01.03.2015)

This is Tiger Mask's third final match before his fated Akebono bout retires him (and it's also really his final officially recorded bout: the Akebono match wasn't ever caught on camera and his "match" in 2016 was barely even a minute, so that REALLY doesn't count in the end but we'll cover it anyway) and he's teaming up with a bunch of decent performers as well. I don't know most of them to really judge their average performances, but some of them like Billy Ken Kid and whatnot were really bombastic and agile while guys like Chikuzen got their ass beat and really weren't that dynamic in comparison, mostly sticking to basic chops and slams.

Tiger Mask puts on a pretty decent performance: you know by now how that mostly entails him hitting most of his greatest hits, a few sharp kicks, as well as some general limb work. He's not exactly incredible or anything but he gets in his work just fine and is a reasonable hand in these conditions. Eventually Asosan and co do some heel antics to get Ken Kid away from continuing to work over Fujita and they have a middling outside brawl for a few minutes. They then work over Ken Kid for a while with some fine enough ring work but nothing amazing, just some good double team moves. Sakurajima does like a People's Elbow but it's a headbutt instead, which was pretty funny. 

Eventually Chikuzen clears house thanks to a hot tag and Tiger Mask helping out, but the other team recovers after Ken Kid gets back in the match after Fujita sneaks in a low blow. This eventually leads to a triple team move where they hold up Ken Kid sideways while Asosan goes for a middle rope splash, which gets a near fall. Sakurajima tries for one more Sliding N but Ken counters and gets a Air Raid. Tiger Mask comes in and hits his signature kicks, Tombstone Piledriver, and Diving Headbutt for the win.

This is a pretty decent match but doesn't really get into any high gear. There's nice moves but this is mostly just kinda basic ring work, and half of the people involved were far from their prime so this kept to a third gear for the most part, especially given the rather casual ring in the theatre layout or whatever they had going on there lol. The crowd were into this by the end but this was just kinda meh for me. As the (unofficial) end to Tiger Mask's career, it ends on a good, but noticeably dry conclusion for a man of his standing. 

RANK: Decent


Sayama's last match would be against Akebono at RJPW's Burning Tiger event. During the finish, which had Ake land his signature splash and get the win, Sayama reported chest pains, which eventually turned out to be underlying Coronary artery disease and would require emergency surgery involving having multiple catheters installed. This would effectively put him out of commission permanently, despite him proclaiming that he'd continue to wrestle in a RJPW press conference shortly after recovering.

However, he'd wrestle one more time in a sort of trial match to see if he could feasibly wrestle again.


Vs. Minowaman (RJPW 23.06.2016: Legend of The Gold V)

This was unaired but was recorded by local cameras there at the event. but This is a very hard one to judge because it's not even really a match, it's one minute of action and then nothing else. This is namely because Sayama is naturally in no real ring condition whatsoever (he openly admits in interviews that his only exercise leading up to this was just doing casual golf) and this is more of a way to hawk his new "Sumabi" martial arts to the crowd, which was more or less Sayama's typical way to work through his limitations by having this "martial art" involving a points system, very quick matches, namely because touching the ropes: any part of the ropes mind you, not even like a rope break: leads to the other person getting a point.

There's some comedy early on as Minowa backs up to the corner, but then protests because he wasn't touching the ropes. Minowa sells like a champ for Mask's fairly meh kicks, even getting knocked down by them. He also has to basically bump to the floor after Sayama botches his kneebar transition after he catches his leg. He tries to boot Minowa in the face while he's on the floor, but gets caught into his own kneebar, leading to a draw.

Naturally this was pretty rubbish all in all: Sayama seems incapable of doing much at all (not helped by his full body suit and whatnot) and Minowa has always been a pretty niche guy in general. I tend to ignore this in the long run because it adds nothing. Thankfully this is the only Sumabi match ever to my recollection.

RANK: ?????


Sayama would stay out of pro-wrestling afterward and wouldn't return. Considering his physical state has only gotten considerably worse in recent years (with him having developed a rather persistent shaking that seems to plague him almost nonstop) it's extremely doubtful we'll ever see the man in a wrestling ring again. Hopefully this has allowed you to find some proper solid gems, and appericate his late-form work a little bit more. Sayama might've not been the greatest post-prime worker ever, but his versatility and incredible agility provided him with more than enough top notch matches to look through and a lot to consider when figuring out where he lands on a potential top 100 listing.

 Here are my top 10 from this Deep Dive (in no particular order because that's pretty hard!)

Vs. TAKA Michinoku

Vs. Tiger Mask IV I

Vs. Alexander Otsuka I

Vs. Alexander Otsuka II

Vs. Minoru Tanaka

Vs. Minoru Suzuki I

Vs. Genichiro Tenryu

Vs. Genba Hirayanagi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru W/ Marufuji

Vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, The Great Sasuke & Ultimo Dragon W/ Koji Kanemoto & Tiger Mask IV

Vs. KUDO & Toshiaki Kawada W/ Kota Ibushi











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Great thread, will have to check out some of these matches! I have a soft spot from those Legend The Pro Wrestling cards and shows of that ilk as you never know who will show up. I remember the 1/8/12 show had a super fun Mitsuya Nagai & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Yuki Ishikawa main event. 

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10 hours ago, cactus said:

Great thread, will have to check out some of these matches! I have a soft spot from those Legend The Pro Wrestling cards and shows of that ilk as you never know who will show up. I remember the 1/8/12 show had a super fun Mitsuya Nagai & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Yuki Ishikawa main event. 

Thanks! This was a really good little project to go through in-between my AJPW TV work, it really made me respect how vet matches are structured. Legend events are hit and miss but as you said, the unpredictability adds a lot and we get some unique matchups because of that.


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