Wrestling Summit

Wrestling Summit

April 13th, 1990 from the Tokyo Dome. 

A combined WWF, AJPW and NJPW supershow?! Yes indeed. Mostly. Sort of.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, this felt like a festive stocking filler of a show to review, so this my gift to you – it’s better than nothing, eh? Let’s get to it. 

First of all, some context courtesy of the Wrestling Observer (by way of Scott’s great Observer Flashback posts):

On 29 November 1989, the revived Universal Wrestling Federation – headed by former New Japan Pro-Wrestling talent Akira Maeda – ran a Tokyo Dome show which broke the records for fastest sell-out and biggest ever gate in Japan. NJPW founder Antonio Inoki was humiliated by this and booked a Tokyo Dome show for the following February which was to feature four reigning world heavyweight champions – Vader/NJPW, Hulk Hogan/WWF, Ric Flair/NWA and Larry Zbyszko/AWA. They weren’t able to book Hogan, however, and the mooted Muta vs. Flair match was cancelled at the last minute, with Flair citing political pressure from Turner Broadcasting System.

Flair’s cancellation, combined with the threat posed by the UWF led to a surprising and unlikely alliance, as New Japan and rivals All Japan Pro Wrestling agreed to trade foreign talent. The deal was facilitated by the man who deposed Inoki as NJPW President, Seiji Sakaguchi, and led to the Tokyo Dome show on 10 February being co-promoted, with the card ultimately featuring the debut of former sumo wrestler Koji Kitao vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, Masa Saito beating Zbyszko for the AWA title and Vader defending his IWGP title in a brutal match against All Japan’s Stan Hansen.

Meanwhile, Vince McMahon had booked a WWF show at the Tokyo Dome for April and a few weeks later (reported 5 February 1990) held a press conference with All Japan owner, Giant Baba, to announce that it would be a joint show with both AJPW and NJPW. It was christened Wrestling Summit soon after.

The advertised card was modified in places, most significantly with regards to NJPW’s matches, two of which took place at the show, but neither of which made it to tape. This was because the show’s television broadcaster, Nippon TV, was home to All Japan and therefore unwilling to promote a rival wrestling company. (Note: there may well be fan-cam recordings of those matches, but I couldn’t find them.) Because of this, the show has since become thought of as joint WWF/AJPW venture only and the two companies have enjoyed a fruitful working relationship ever since. Wait, that’s not right. More on the fallout later.

The opening match (AJPW: Dan Kroffat, Doug Furnas & Joe Malenko defeating Samson Fuyuki, Tatsumi Kitahara & Toshiaki Kawada) wasn’t shown either, so we skip that and match No.2 (NJPW: Jushin Thunder Liger beating Akira Nogami) and go straight to…

Kenta Kobashi & Masanobu Fuchi vs. Jimmy Snuka & Tito Santana

Kobashi, in red trunks and still looked like a teenager, was already drawing a decent reaction from the crowd. He and Santana went back-and-forth for a couple of minutes, with Santana dominating, but Kobashi hit back with a springboard crossbody(!) and made the tag to Fuchi, who unloaded with right hands then scored an enzuigiri to set up Kobashi’s missile dropkick. Fuchi then delivered the same to Snuka, who was tagged moments later. Kobashi earned a two-count with a crossbody out of the corner and followed with one from the top-rope, then Fuchi was in to dump the blown-up Snuka with a backdrop. Tag made to Santana, who ran wild with dropkicks and a leaping forearm, then he scoop slammed Fuchi to tee up Snuka’s Superfly Splash for the three-count. Snuka looked rough here and messed up a couple of things in the brief time he was in the ring, but it was otherwise a fairly decent tag match. I certainly got a kick out of seeing young Kobashi’s flashy offence. **

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Tiger Mask II

Bret Hart vs. Mitsuharu Misawa! This should be amazing (spoiler: it is not). Tiger spent the opening minutes controlling the arm, then dropkicked Hart to the floor and fooled him with a dive fake-out. Hart charged straight into an armdrag before a crucifix earned two and it was back to Tiger controlling on the mat. Hart fought to his feet and reversed Tiger’s crossbody for two-count before cinching in a chinlock, but after a couple of minutes of that a rope-running sequence allowed Tiger to catapult Hart into the turnbuckle and it was back to the arm once more. Hart countered a second crucifix, scored a couple of elbows then applied another chinlock when it threatened to get interesting. Tiger powered up, landed a spin kick and flattened Hart on the outside with a plancha. Back in, Hart reached the ropes from a cross armbar then feigned a knee injury from a leapfrog to take control. Backbreaker from Hart for two, backslide counter by Tiger for two, then Hart threw Tiger to the floor before bringing him back in for a Russian Leg Sweep.

Tiger fought up from of a third chinlock to hit a scoop slam, but Hart delivered a nasty inverted atomic drop and suplex for a two-count. A fourth – fourth! – chinlock was applied, then abdominal stretches were traded before Hart missed the middle-rope diving elbow and Tiger connected with  a diving crossbody for a near-fall. Sternum-first turnbuckle whip and just as Tiger hit a running crossbody the bell rang to signal a 20-minute draw. I can’t recall seeing Hart dog it quite so obviously in a singles match. He was the one (very obviously) calling the match, which barely got out of second gear before being put back in a rest hold. A month later Misawa would be unmasked and in June he would beat Jumbo Tsuruta in his first Budokan main event – this was no young boy in the ring with Bret and it’s embarrassing in hindsight that he treated him as such. Bret + Misawa = 4/10 (no, seriously, it’s a two-star match).

Greg “The Hammer” Valentine vs. The Great Kabuki

Valentine’s music was “She’s Got The Look” by Roxette. I have no idea why. Anyway, Valentine – who was cosplaying as the untaped Riki Choshu – started strongly with elbow strikes until Kabuki replied with closed fists, which referee Shane McMahon decided to let go. Double-arm suplex from Valentine for two, then knife edge chops and a sort of rudimentary Jackhammer for another two-count. Kabuki managed to fling himself into the tree-of-woe, from which he was released by Shane O Mac, only for Valentine to stomp low. Kabuki blocked the figure-four, though, and applied a Boston Crab until Valentine reached the ropes. More elbows and a scoop slam from Valentine, followed by a shinbreaker and much mocking of Kabuki’s mannerism, but Kabuki had the last laugh as he small packaged Valentine for the three-count. This was fine and Valentine’s efforts to garner heat were appreciated. *1/2

Big Boss Man vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts

Despite both men being babyfaces at the time, Boss Man worked heel here, catching Roberts early on with a spinebuster then working on the back. This continued in uninspired fashion for several minutes before a chinlock was applied and Roberts tried gamely to get the crowd into it. Nope. Boss Man went to the top-rope after delivering a scoop slam, but the diving belly flop missed and allowed Roberts to make the comeback with punches and the short clothesline. Something went awry with Roberts’ knee lift, but no matter, as the DDT connected moments later to give Jake the win and Damien made a post-match cameo. Boss Man’s offence – which was the body of the match – was awful in every respect. Not good at all. 1/2*

Next up was an IWGP Tag Team title match in which the champions, Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto, successfully defended against the challengers, Masahiro Chono & Riki Choshu. Sounds like a good match on paper. 

Jumbo Tsuruta & King Haku vs. Mr. Perfect & Rick Martel

Perfect and Martel first dealt with Haku then went after Jumbo, who quickly turned the tide with a jumping knee to Perfect. The commentator loved that one. Haku took control with a nice shoulderbreaker, then a double-team clothesline enabled Jumbo to lock in the abdominal stretch. Martel interfered to break the hold, allowing Perfect to fire back with stomps, punches and the rolling neck snap. A big scoop slam from Jumbo brought in Haku, whose flipping senton missed the mark, bringing in Martel for the first time. A pair of scoop slams and a series of elbows set up the frankensteiner(!) for a near-fall, and after a brief flurry from Perfect, Martel was back in with a slingshot splash, but a second attempted frankensteiner resulted in him being dropped into the turnbuckle. Haku couldn’t make the tag, though, and a double-team slam allowed Martel to lock in the Boston Crab. Now it was Jumbo’s turn to interject, but all it led to was Perfect tagging in for an abdominal stretch of his own. Suplex from Martel and a knee drop for two, then an eye rake and scoop slam, but Haku got his knees up on the diving splash and he finally made the hot tag to Jumbo! Back body drops and scoop slams all round, then he and Haku whipped their opponents together, Jumbo nailed Martel with the jumping knee and the Backdrop Hold got the win! A very basic layout, with Haku imperilled for the majority of the match, but Martel and Perfect’s offence was nice and varied and the hot tag to Jumbo worked a treat. Good match. *** 

“Macho King” Randy Savage (w/ Sensational Sherri) vs. Genichiro Tenryu

Nice bird’s eye view of the ring as Savage entered the ring – they should use that again. Savage got a couple of punches in before taking a powder and posing on the turnbuckle, then Tenryu flipped out of a suplex and floored Savage with chops to a big reaction. Sherri’s distraction saw Savage briefly gain control, but Tenryu nailed a clothesline, back body dropped Savage to the floor and followed with a crossbody from the apron! Sherri got involved again, allowing Savage some respite and drawing huge heat, which was amazing to watch. Back in, Tenryu blocked Savage’s charge and scored an enzuigiri, but Savage hit back with a clothesline and punches before pushing the referee to the mat.

Another clothesline got two and one more sent Tenryu to the floor where Savage struck him with the double axe handle from the top-rope. Sherri twice gave Tenryu a smack behind the ref’s back and a second diving axe handle in the ring earned a near-fall, then Savage headed up top and the diving elbow hit the mark! One, two, no! A third axe handle was blocked, but Tenryu couldn’t get the powerbomb and Savage scored a diving crossbody. He seemed to tweak his knee off that, which gave Tenryu the opening for one more enzuigiri and this time the powerbomb connected! One, two, three! This was wrestled at a great pace and, thanks to Sherri, benefitted from plenty of heat. Savage dominated, Tenryu showed fighting spirit and it was certainly a sign of respect that he kicked out of the diving elbow drop. Really good match. ***1/2 

WWF World Heavyweight Championship 

Ultimate Warrior (c) vs. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase

Warrior was fresh off beating Hulk Hogan for the title at Wrestlemania VI and had been world champion less than two weeks at this point. This had initially been advertised as an Intercontinental title match.

DiBiase attacked Warrior as he was playing to the crowd, but Warrior quickly brushed him off, sending him to the floor with a clothesline over the top. He proceeded to demonstrate his strength from a few tie-ups, then a criss cross led to a big shoulder block, but DiBiase avoided the attempted flying clothesline and took control. The crowd started chanting something every time he punched Warrior and he got a big reaction for clothesline and two-count. No idea what that was about. Snapmare and a fist drop and another massive reaction for a suplex. What is going on? Piledriver from DiBiase! That got two despite Warrior’s foot being under the rope, then it was time for the champ to make the comeback with a bunch of clotheslines, the flying clothesline and the big splash to retain his title in under 7 minutes. The bizarre crowd reaction made this relatively entertaining, but there wasn’t much to it otherwise. These two would have a far better match on the fourth edition of The Main Event later in 1990. *1/2

Demolition (Ax & Smash) vs. Andre the Giant & Giant Baba

Demolition were the reigning WWF tag champs at the time, having beaten Andre and Haku (aka The Colossal Connection) at Wrestlemania VI, but this is a non-title match because… well, look at the team they’re facing.

Baba began by shoulder blocking Smash and chopping him a few times before tagging in Andre. He was looking rough, bless him, but was mobile enough to stand on Smash before missing an elbow drop. Ax and Smash tagged in-and-out a few times, taking turns at clubbing Andre until he was able to roll over to the corner and bring in Baba once more. Baba trampled Ax, but Demolition quickly took control in their corner, choking him behind the ref’s back. More chops from Baba, and a spinning neckbreaker(!) saw Andre return to manhandle Ax. It all got a bit out of hand, with Baba interjecting and nailing a big boot to Smash, and Andre capitalised with an elbow drop for the (sort of) three-count. Not a good match by any means, but that was to be expected. Still, Demolition flung themselves around and the crowd enjoyed it. *

Special Dream Match

Hulk Hogan vs. Stan Hansen

This was due to be Hogan vs. Terry Gordy (despite Vince McMahon initially pushing for Hogan vs. Dusty Rhodes, according to Dave Meltzer), but that was before Hogan lost the WWF title. Supposedly, neither Baba nor Gordy were pleased with this development and so the match was changed on the day of the show, with Hansen replacing Gordy out of self-interest or selflessness, depending on who you believe. 

An even opening exchange saw Hogan demonstrating some technical prowess with double-leg and drop toehold takedowns, then they traded slaps and eye rakes until Hansen threw Hogan to the floor. Hogan fought free and managed to ram Hansen’s head into the ringpost, busting him open! Back suplex in the ring for two, then Hogan targeted the cut with punches and stomps before locking in an abdominal stretch. Knife edge chops in the corner sent Hansen to the floor again, where he was punched over the guardrail and slammed onto a table! Hogan posed in the ring, then brought Hansen back in for a two-count and delivered more chops in the corner. Finally, Hansen was able to block a charge and he bulldozed Hogan with a shoulder block.

Outside, Hansen smashed Hogan in the head with a chair and now Hogan was busted open too! Hansen drew cheers by rolling him back into the ring for a two-count and proceeded to wail on him with punches, then a brief sojourn to the floor saw Hansen use his bull rope, but back in, Hogan nailed a running elbow. The leg drop missed, but Hogan connected with a running crossbody(!) for a near-fall, then pushed Hansen off and nailed the Axe Bomber! One, two, three! What a great match. I’d go as far to say it was one of the best of Hogan’s career. Aggressive brawling, double colour and a clean finish. What more could you want? ****

The usual Hogan schtick to close and we’re out. 

The Aftermath

The UWF held what was to be their final show at the Tokyo Dome on 1 December 1990. This came after many months of issues between UWF President, Jin Shinji, and Akira Maeda over the direction of the company, as well as being a consequence of the general economic downturn in Japan. Maeda would go on to form shoot-style promotion Fighting Network RINGS, while a third iteration of the UWF – Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWFi) – would run until the end of 1996, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Only weeks after Wrestling Summit took place, Genichiro Tenryu left All Japan Pro Wrestling. Backed by well-known spectacles makers Megane Super, Tenryu would become the figurehead of a new promotion named Super World of Sports (SWS), who spent big and quickly built an impressive roster.

In October 1990, WWF representatives JJ Dillon and Akio Sato visited Japan and made a deal with SWS for a working agreement (AJPW having been given only a courtesy meeting and NJPW unwilling to meet the WWF’s terms). WWF talent began wrestling semi-regularly for SWS in December of that year and continued to do so until May 1992. A month after that, SWS held its final show in tumultuous circumstances, with talent splitting off into several new promotions. One of these was Tenryu’s WAR, with whom WWF held a joint show in September 1992. Beyond that, WWF ran four house shows across Japan in 1994 and… that was it for a long time. They didn’t return until 2002.

Tenryu’s departure from AJPW led directly to the push of Mitsuharu Misawa, which in turn would lead to the most prosperous time in the company’s history, and despite their absence from the footage, the likes of Hashimoto, Chono and Liger would bring about similar incredible success for NJPW. Coupled with the demise of the UWF and later SWS, this meant neither company was desperate enough to co-promote for the rest of the decade, and they wouldn’t run another joint show until 2011/2012, when they and Pro Wrestling NOAH organised a pair of events in response to the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. 

Final thoughts: A preposterous one-off event in the middle of an extraordinary time for Japanese professional wrestling – of course it’s a recommendation. Even at its worst, this bizarre spectacle is thoroughly entertaining. Clearly it’s not a high quality show, with the Misawa/Hart match a notable disappointed, but there are couple of very good matches here that would be worth seeing even if isolated from the occasion.