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Ric Flair v Jumbo Tsuruta


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Ric Flair v Jumbo Tsuruta - AJPW 10/09/81


They had a match in 1978 that I haven't seen, but this is Flair's first world title defense of note in Japan. It's two out of three falls, and features two wrestlers who would become the defining figures of their respective companies in the 1980s. Needless to say, that factor alone contributes a lot to the atmosphere here, as the crowd is very excited about this match and pops huge every time the workers goad them in that direction. The first fall sees Jumbo work a headlock most of the time with many fast-paced sequences in between to keep things interesting. Flair would work his way out, and try something different, and end right back up where he started. The character work from both is also very strong, as Flair is definitely cocky in his role, and Jumbo is perfect as the local hero. The Flair formula hadn't been established yet, although the signs are there, with the overdone begging off and being slammed off the top turnbuckle. While he comes across a bit cartoonish at times, he also comes across as a worthy champion -- it's a fine line that Flair teeters on at times, but he mostly stays on the right side. In fact, he very well may be more World champ-like and more tenacious than he usually is. Part of that can probably be attributed to the fact that being the champ was something very new and exciting for him at the time, and part of that can be attributed attributed to having a quality opponent who he doesn't have to carry -- someone who'll work with him instead of requiring Flair to set the rhythm, the pace, the offense and his opponent's comebacks. This match feels much more organic than many noteworthy Flair matches as a result.


Flair takes control in the second fall, and surprisingly, he's better on offense than Jumbo was on offense in this match, although I think that was intentional -- it made sense to give the new champ a chance to get over since he'd be performing in front of this fanbase for the foreseeable future. His vertical suplex is fantastic, one of the better ones I've ever seen, and in fact, this fall is probably the best of the match. He works over Jumbo's leg to set up the figure four, incorporating most of his typical stuff, but doing it in a faster way than usual, and in context, it's all fresh stuff. The figure four gets great heat, because Flair teased it a few times before locking it in, and Jumbo sells it as well as you'd expect him to sell it. It's a quick fall, but it's very well done.


The third fall has a nice touch before it, with the younger wrestlers icing Jumbo's leg down and checking him for injuries, similar to the sporting atmosphere in a boxing match. Flair goes after the leg with in even more aggressive fashion this time around and Jumbo continually hobbles back. Because of Jumbo's selling, this rivals Flair's matches with Steamboat and Windham not only in quality, but as some of the best limb work he's ever done. The ref bump stuff at the end probably could have been eliminated, but clean finishes were the exception more than the rule in this era in All Japan, and Jumbo did so much to not only have everyone in attendance believing he was going to pull off the victory, but also to put over Flair, even if he never took a pinfall to him. This was a nice start to what would be a five-year rivalry, with Flair defending the belt against Tsuruta nearly every time he toured the country with the title.


****1/4, 30:39

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