Greetings grapple fans. Only two matches this week, but because we reach the ten-match point halfway point I’ve also included my first rankings of the matches seen already. There’s your motivation to click on through to the other side.
I’ll stick my neck out now and say that unless two figures in wrestling that are around the same time in the same promotion, and combine both the wrestling charisma of Steve Austin and The Rock with the pop star status of 1964 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, you’ll never hear a crowd as consistently rabid as thousands of young girls watch on as their beloved Crush Gals collide in singles competition, and proceed to beat the tar out of each other. They hadn’t even split up as a team! This is the wrestling equivalent of a friendly.
As she did in her earlier match on this list with Yokota, Asuka plays the dominating, larger wrestler with an emphasis on strikes and power, whereas Nagayo is more comfortable on the mat and with the high-flying moves. The sense of excessiveness that sometimes prevailed in the Asuka-Yokota match is even more prevalent in this match. The striking exchanges at the start are even harder and harsher, the mat-based portion is wrestled with as much intensity, followed by a series of big moves and incredulity-inducing kickouts. These women throw everything at each other, and when that everything isn’t enough for one to pin the other, they just throw everything at each other a second time to see if it’ll work this time. For example, Asuka used the giant swing once in her Yokota match, here she uses it three times. That repetition I suppose is used to show that neither woman has what it took to put the other one away, but I feel that it also made them both look a bit inefffectual as wrestlers.
Would I give it five stars? No. The match felt like it had built up to a natural crescendo around the twenty or twenty five-minute point, and it kept going for several minutes more without a new dimension being added to the match and they just repeated themselves. The long pause between the 30-minute end and the officials deciding to have a five-minute overtime seems to affect the wrestlers as well. The adrenaline rush having died down and both women visibly tiring (which is obviously is also them selling the exhaustion) means the intensity isn’t quite there that probably should have been. I didn’t even realise until double checking the results that Asuka actually won this match through ref’s decision.
Having said that, when you consider that a couple of weeks later the biggest wrestling match in the world involved Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant working around their limitations, you can understand why those who think their wrestling should be as far away from what those sorts of matches as possible (Meltzer at the time rated the WM3 main event minus-four stars) would love a match that packs more moves into thirty-five minutes than most WWF events were fitting in the entire card.
The plan after every ten-episode block in the podcast series is for Simon and me to compare notes, respond to correspondence, and assess a match that Meltzer didn’t award five stars to and maybe should have done.
Here are my rankings of the first ten matches from best to worst (“worst” being a relative term):
- Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (JCP, 02-01-1987)
- Jaguar Yokota vs. Lioness Asuka (AJW, 22-08-1985)
- Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, 28-01-1986)
- Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody vs. The Funks (AJPW, 08-12-1984)
- Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (CWF, 14-02-1986)
- Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (NJPW, 21-04-1983)
- Chigusa Nagayo vs. Lioness Asuka (AJW, 26-02-1987)
- Tiger Mask II vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi (AJPW, 09-03-1985)
- Kazuo Yamazaki vs. Nobuhiko Takada (UWF, 12-05-1984)
n/a The Fantastics vs. The Sheepherders (JCP, 19-04-1986)
The alternative five-star match (which is a match that I would give the full rating to) is the I Quit Steel Cage match between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A. at Starrcade’85 for the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship. There’s really not much to add to this match that many others haven’t already said. For my money it’s the best representation of what a traditional Steel Cage match should be, and the I Quit stipulation is something that makes far more sense to me in these feud-capping matches than the winner being the one who successfully runs away from his opponent.
The fact that there is little wrestling and it almost immediately descends into a fight is fitting. The hatred between these two men is so believably intense because they ignore their wrestling fundamentals in the hopes of just hurting their rival. The I Quit stipulation leads to the added stakes of potential public humiliation at the hands of your most hated rival. The finish is one of the most thrilling and memorable in all of wrestling history. If you haven’t watched this one already then you need to make amends as quickly as possible. No WWE match will ever be allowed to be so violent, and no match in a promotion that would allow so much blood and violence would probably happen either, because its simplicity wouldn’t appeal to the modern wrestler’s desire (and this is not meant as a criticism) for creativity and a variety of moves and emotional shifts to simply allow themselves to just brawl on the mat and include one weapon whose single use will almost certainly cause the match to end.
#011 – IWGP Tag Team Championship: Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada (c) vs. Keiji Mutoh & Shiro Koshinaka
Over the course of this year I’m going to be watching a hell of a lot of matches featuring All Japan’s Four Pillars – Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, and Taue – but this is the only match that features any of New Japan’s equivalent Three Musketeers – Mutoh, Chono, and Hashimoto. As a fan of Mutoh since I first saw him as The Great Muta on old WCW tapes I rented from Blockbusters back in the early 90s (to experience more nostalgia rushes like that you could always buy my book!), I find that both disappointing and a little bit insulting. Maybe Meltzer really is guilty of promotional bias!
Mutoh is only three years into his career and he has the speed of a junior heavyweight whilst already the size of a heavyweight. His inexperience does play into the underdog status that he and Koshinaka have against Maeda and Takada in this match. The dynamic is that of Maeda’s experience and his team’s vicious shoot fighting style, brought back from their UWF days, dominate at the start. Takada is almost a mini-me of Maeda, his disciple who angers Koshinaka with his vicious leg kicks. Maeda appears to be a step ahead of everyone, and his kicks are precise and hard. This is another match like Tsuruta/Tenryu-CHoshu/Yatsu that’s inter-promotional but not really. Having returned from the failed UWF experiment, Maeda and Takada continue to wear the promotion’s letters on their boots and their style against the more conventional wrestling of Koshinaka and Mutoh is an interesting style clash.
The switching control is slightly different to the usual tag formula. It’s not so much an extended heat segment for the shooters as it is them simply overwhelming their opponents with their kicks and submission until Koshinaka and Mutoh find their openings, especially when Mutoh is able to take full flight and top speed. He’s not yet the finished article, but his athleticism is on full display. Whilst his moonsault continued to be a great move into his forties (to the point that the move itself essentially had a retirement ceremony) the speed and agility he displays when pulling off the move here he wasn’t able to match the bigger and more experienced he gets during his main event New Japan run in the 90s.
The upset victory (Mutoh’s first championship win) is well played, with Koshinaka catching Takada (whom he would fight over the IWGP Junior title for the next couple of years) in a surprise cradle. It’s such a shock that Maeda assumed that it was Takada in control and was holding back Mutoh from making a save. I was surprised that the UWF team took the loss in their stride and congratulated the new champions. I guess I just associate Maeda with dick moves because, based on everything I’ve previously read, he seems to be quite the dick.
Would I give it five stars? No. it’s enjoyable enough, and a young Mutoh is very exciting to watch, but this is definitely one of those matches that hasn’t aged well enough for it to seem like an elite-level match, similar to the Tiger Misawa-Kobayashi match, and I’m almost certain that if Meltzer were to re-watch the match today he would agree that it’s not five-star worthy.
Next time: Ric Flair and Barry Windham have their final five-star match at the Crockett Cup, a young Toshiaki Kawada makes his debut on this list, and unless we have a lucky break in the next few days, I have to apologise for a missed match that I haven’t been able to watch (those in the know please forward me the match if they know where to find it!)