This week I’ve decided to look at a company from Japan that I haven’t done a review for before in the form of HUSTLE. For those not au fait, HUSTLE was a company ran by Dream Stage Entertainment and was a Japanese attempt at recreating a more WWE like product for the Japanese market. Rather than being Pro Wrestling, HUSTLE decided to market itself as “Fighting Opera” and it featured a lot of silly storylines and characters that the more serious promotions like Pro Wrestling NOAH or New Japan wouldn’t have included on their shows.
At first HUSTLE ran some pretty big venues and shelled out for some big name foreign wrestlers like Goldberg, Mick Foley, The Outsiders and Dusty Rhodes. However, the ticket sales were disappointing and they eventually decided to downsize a bit and run these smaller “HUSTLE House” events, where they featured fewer big names and filled the roster out with people from Shinya Hashimoto’s Zero-1 promotion. This was the first show of that type.
The big storyline centres around Nobuhiko Takada’s “Monster Army” heel group taking on the HUSTLE guys led by the likes of Hashimoto, Toshiaki Kawada and Naoya Ogawa. For some reason they decided to change Takada from being a serious shoot style worker in UWFi to a wacky general who spends the majority of his time dressed as M-Bison and taking part in odd backstage vignettes.
HUSTLE did eventually manage to cultivate somewhat of a fan base and this show apparently drew 2,200 people to Korakuen Hall, so as weird as this all was there was definitely an audience for it who dug seeing a strange WWE styled group, just not a big enough one to justify all the wild spending.
If you fancy watching this yourself then you can do so on YouTube by clicking HERE!
Let’s see how HUSTLE handles their first show in the smaller venue as we watch some chuffing wrestling!
The event is emanating from Korakuen Hall on the 28th of June 2004
Jose and Joel Maximo Vs Kaz Hayashi and Leonardo Spanky
The Japanese felt that Spanky looked quite a bit like Leo DiCaprio, hence the first name, and he leans into the gimmick by coming out to a dance mix of “My Heart Will Go On”. Jose and Joel worked all over the American Indies at the time and often worked with Amazing Red as The Spanish Announce Team. Kaz Hayashi will likely be known to some here as a member of the Jung Dragons from WCW, where he also bought Glacier’s gimmick and feuded with diminutive heel manager Sonny Onoo at one stage. So yeah, it wasn’t a stellar run in all honesty.
This one is your typical hot opener, with flashy counter sequences and plenty of dives to pop the crowd. There’s a tad bit of sloppiness here and there, mostly from Los Chicos Maximos, but the action is fun in general and the crowd responds to big spots and dives. Spanky sells well in the heat and Los Chicos Maximos do some nice tandem offence, along with some wacky Lucha inspired submission holds. At one stage they stomp away on Spanky and chant whilst doing so, which gets some of the crowd to actually chant along with them. Eventually Hayashi gets the hot tag and runs wild, getting a nice Quebrada on Joel for two. Things get a bit scrappy in the closing stretch, with some of the execution not being as smooth as you’d like it to be, but the crowd enjoys the near falls and pops when Spanky gets the pin with an Everest Shiranui.
WINNERS: HAYASHI & SPANKY
Sloppy in places, but it was fine for an opener
Both teams make nice post-match and Spanky dances to amuse the crowd.
We head to Monster Army headquarters, where M-Bison Takada is angry at heel referee Yuji Shimada, who was also the group’s spokesperson. By the looks of things Shimada counted the winning pin for Hashimoto and Ogawa on a previous show under threat of violence from Hash. Shimada tries apologising, but that won’t satisfy Takada’s bloodlust and he ends up locking Shimada in one of his trademark leg submission holds to seemingly injure him.
We follow that with footage of Ogawa tying Shimada up at what looks to be the HUSTLE offices, and he even signs his leg cast in a cute touch. The HUSTLE General Manager shows up and protests to this, which somehow leads to a match getting booked where Hashimoto will have to wear a wig if he loses.
So yeah, the problem with SUCH a story based product is that lack of Japanese language skills can sometimes lead to you missing stuff or misinterpreting what’s going on. If any Japanese speakers amongst us fancy fleshing out some of the angles or correcting me on how I’ve interpreted something then please feel free in the comments.
We head down to the ring where Shimada gets into a duelling mics segment with some bloke who is dressed as a baseball player and the crowd seems to really enjoy it, so I guess they achieved what they were going for?
After that we see that Hashimoto DDT’ed someone on a previous show and it appeared to kill them. There are worse moves to be killed by I guess. Takada ain’t having that though and seemingly brings the man back to life, because he can do that. I can just picture UWFi fans HATING all of this with merciless passion. The now revived wrestler appears to have been reincarnated as Monsieur De Barbarossa, an odd masked fellow, and Takada cackles like he’s Rita Repulsa or something.
Monsieur De Barbarossa Vs Shamoji Fujii
Barbarossa is a Canadian wrestler who also worked under the name Jason X according to Cage Match. Fujii is an MMA guy who is one of the Zero-1 roster fillers. This is pretty much a squash for Barbarossa, as he works Fujii over with mostly basic power stuff. He looks decent enough and Fujii sells his offence well, but the match itself isn’t especially exciting. Barbarossa’s power moves look better than his strikes, which look a bit loose and don’t have much of a snap to them. Fujii does get the briefest of flurries, but a Dominator ends his night soon after.
WINNER: MONSIEUR DE BARBAROSSA
Not a bad way to debut a new gimmick to be honest, as they kept him strong and gave him an impressive clean win
We get a pretty good vignette to hype up Psycho The Death, who will be competing next.
Psycho The Death Vs Hirotaka Yokoi
Yokoi is another Zero-1 guy with an MMA background whilst Psycho is an American wrestler from Texas who apparently managed to get a WWE Developmental deal at one stage. Psycho The Death would of course be a cousin of Reasonable The Pleasant. The crowd doesn’t seem to know what to make of him actually, especially as he brings a doll down to the ring like he’s Rimmer from the quarantine episode of Red Dwarf. Yokoi decides to attack the doll, which riles Psycho up (which probably isn’t especially difficult to be fair) and leads to the fight spilling out of the ring.
They have a decent brawl out there actually, with Psycho moving the mats and suplexing Yokoi on the floor. Psycho is really committing to this silly gimmick I must say, even though it’s pretty much how a high school amateur drama club member would think a “crazy” person would behave. Yokoi finally decides that he can sanction this buffoonery no longer and fights back, eventually ending things with an Exploder Suplex.
WINNER: HIROTAKA YOKOI
Okay for a mostly comedy based under card bout, with the odd bit of bonus brawling thrown in
We get a promo from Shimada in the Monster Army headquarters, where he introduces The Flying Vampires, who will wrestle next.
Flying Vampire #16 and Flying Vampire #23 Vs Taichi and Ryoji Sai
That’s pretty low on The Flying Vampire pecking order isn’t it? What, were #7 and #12 busy or something? Sadly I can’t find out who is under the masks as the Vampires, but they are decent workers by the looks of things. Taichi is the same one who is currently working New Japan and Sai would eventually go on to win the Zero-1 Title down the line. The Vampires immediately get themselves over by doing wacky comedy and some nicely executed high flying.
The Vampires dominate large portions of the match, with Taichi mostly selling on behalf of the human team. The Vampires have a nice mix of comedy and hot high flying moves in their arsenal and Taichi sells it all well. The Vampires keep biting people, because Count Dracula wasn’t really known for tickling people to death, but Sai eventually gets a tag and the human team manage to fight back. Things breakdown and we get some wild dives into the crowd from both teams, which leads to Finisher Madness® back inside the ring, and that ends with The Vampires batpiling onto the humans for the three count.
WINNERS: THE FLYING VAMPIRES
This was a fun match with some good comedy and exciting high flying action
Shimada continues to stake his claim to being HUSTLE’s Baron Corbin by being all over this show and joins us again to bring down Yoji Anjoh, who has apparently joined the Monster Army and will now been known as Mr. 200%. The fans play along and boo all of this, whilst the heels amuse themselves at what Hashimoto will look like if he loses the next match.
Afro Hair Stipulation
KATAKARI Vs Shinya Hashimoto
I have no idea who KATAKARI is but he seems to be an in-shape foreign guy working a sort of Saba Simba gimmick with a spear and whatnot. Funnily enough, “loser wears an embarrassing wig” was actually a stipulation I had on one of my WrestleMania 2000 pay per views back when I played it on my N64. Hashimoto’s shoulder is all taped up, so KATAKARI goes after it with simple things like punches and even some biting. This surprisingly draws some genuine heel heat from the crowd, who don’t like seeing a big foreigner chomping on their beloved Hashimoto. Whoever this KATAKARI guy is he’s obviously athletic and can even do a dropkick, but they keep things as simple as possible for him because he appears to be pretty green.
Hashimoto does his kicks and that causes KATAKARI to bail outside and stall for a bit before a fight starts outside. KATAKARI throws Hashimoto shoulder first into the ring post during that before adding a Divorce Court arm breaker back inside. Hashimoto is totally walking this guy through a basic match and it hasn’t been that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been particularly good either, but it’s probably been better than it’s had any right to be. Eventually Hashimoto has enough of the big goof and puts him down with a DDT before locking in a cross arm breaker for the submission win.
WINNER: SHINYA HASHIMOTO
It was an actual wrestling match, which was honestly more than I was expecting it to be. Hashimoto showed off his working prowess with that one
Hashimoto cuts a fired up promo in the ring following that and he’s over like rover.
We get a video package hyping up the two Monster Army representatives in the upcoming match.
Dan Bobish and Piranha Monster Z w/ Yoji Anjoh Vs Toshiaki Kawada and Wataru Sakata
Bobish is a big MMA dude who dabbled in pro wrestling and I can’t find anything on Monster Z. Kawada is a Japanese Wrestling Legend who competed for years in All Japan Pro Wrestling, having great matches with some of the best of his generation. Sakata is another in the long list of MMA guys who worked in Zero-1. Kawada ain’t messing around here and does a good stiff opening segment with Bobish before tagging out so Monster Z and Sakata can do a bit together. Monster Z isn’t particularly good and Kawada almost seems to take pity on him with some of his kicks at certain points.
Bobish isn’t particularly good either, but what he has going for him are good snug strikes and a genuine star presence. Monster Z just comes across as a bland guy in a silly mask by comparison. Sakata looks pretty good and has a nice mixture of strikes and flashier moves to draw upon. Kawada is the star of the show though, which should shock no one really, with his offence looking great and the crowd being super into the idea of him and Anjoh eventually locking horns. They have Anjoh get involved quite a bit in the match, possibly with the idea of getting the crowd interested in a bout between the two.
The heels don’t really get a heat segment and it’s mostly back and forth action throughout, with things eventually breaking down. Sakata gets to kick out of some big moves from Bobish, which the crowd responds to. However, Kawada ends up on the outside of the ring doing battle with Anjoh and that allows Bobish to finally put Sakata away with a TKO after a brave struggle from the Japanese wrestler.
WINNERS: BOBISH & MONSTER Z
Decent enough match in the end thanks to Sakata carrying his end and Kawada being a level above everyone else
Takada joins us in the balcony (with Randy Savage’s theme for some reason) and he cuts a promo. He seems to have Marc Coleman and Kevin Randleman with him. The crowd boos him because they know they are supposed to, but they also seem to enjoy his promo and act at the same time. Ogawa interrupts and grabs a mic of his own, which leads to him and Takada jousting on the mic. Takada seems to win that battle quite handily by the looks of things. Takada takes things to another level by introducing Yoshihiro Takayama as the newest member of the Monster Army, which leads to Ogawa, Kawada and Hashimoto all agreeing to work together to try and fend the Monster Army off. We get the HUSTLE guys celebrating in the ring to close us out.
This felt a lot like watching an episode of something like Raw, with wacky gimmicks and matches based more around advancing storylines and getting characters over. As a result the matches were mostly on the shorter side and there were lots of promo’s and backstage segments throughout the show.
As a show it wasn’t bad actually, but as an English speaker I did find that I zoned out during some of the longer talking segments. There was plenty of fun stuff in it and the best thing I can say for it is that they had a crowd full of people who understood what they were trying to do and were willing to enjoy the “Fighting Opera” for what it was. As a result they had a pretty easy crowd who got behind mostly everything, which always tends to make watching a show a bit easier.
I’m not sure if I’ll do another HUSTLE show any time soon, but there are more up on YouTube, so if you enjoyed it then let me know and I might seek out some more. Next week we’re back to Stinkers, and oh boy have I got a real Stinker for ya’ll. You might even say I was a real “Hero” for slogging through it.
See you all next week!