What the World Was Watching: The Wrestling Summit (Special Column)

As noted in prior columns, this show was a joint effort by the WWF, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and All Japan Pro Wrestling.  The WWF was looking to expand its global presence while New Japan and All Japan felt threatened by Akira Maeda’s shoot-like Universal Wrestling Federation, which drew a 50,000 person crowd to the Tokyo Dome for a big show in November 1989.  To counter them, New Japan and All Japan worked together on a supershow at the Tokyo Dome on February 10.  Then, they built on that effort by partnering with the WWF for another big card in Tokyo on April 13 that was named The Wrestling Summit.  According tothehistoryofwwe.com, the show drew a crowd of 53,742.

Since the show was not promoted or aired in the United States, win/loss records for WWF talents will be omitted and bouts will not be counted into the running totals of this project.  Still, it is a show worth looking at due to seeing WWF stars in a foreign environment and in unique matches.

There were some bouts – largely New Japan matches – that did not make the videotaped copy of the show.  Here were the results of those matches, courtesy of thehistoryofwwe.com:

-Dan Kroffat, Doug Furnas & Joe Malenko defeated Samson Fuyuki, Tatsumi Kitahara & Toshiaki Kawada when Kroffat pinned Kitahara with a Tiger Driver at 11:56

-Jushin Liger pinned Akira Nogami after a moonsault at 8:37

-IWGP Tag Team Champions Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto defeated Riki Choshu & Masa Chono when Saito pinned Chono after a backdrop suplex

Jimmy Snuka & Tito Santana defeat Kenta Kobashi & Masanobu Fuchi when Snuka pins Fuchi with a splash off the top rope at 8:28:

Kobashi was an All-Japan talent who was trained by Dory Funk, Jr., Giant Baba, Kazuharu Sonoda, and Fuchi and wrestled his first match in 1988.  He lost all of his matches that year to lay the groundwork for a gutsy underdog character.  Just prior to this show, Kobashi had won AJPW’s All Asia Tag Team Championship with Tiger Mask II, his first pro wrestling title.

Fuchi was a sixteen-year veteran, wrestling briefly in Memphis and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in the late 1970s.  He became one of All Japan’s most decorated junior heavyweights and was in the midst of his third reign as the AJPW Junior Heavyweight Champion by the time of this show, a reign that would last until May 21, 1993.

The Japanese stars win the entrance battle, coming to the ring to Kenny Loggins’ “Highway to the Danger Zone.”  And a young Shane McMahon also makes his on-screen debut as a referee.  Santana and Snuka work as heels, giving American viewers the funny visual of Santana getting on the second rope and yelling “Arriba!” to a chorus of boos.  When Santana is involved, the match’s pace and flow is on another level, but Snuka has a messy bit with Fuchi halfway through.  Santana hits Fuchi with the flying forearm and Snuka finishes with the splash, while Santana hits another flying forearm to keep Kobashi from interrupting the fall.  This was a fun little match that could have been better if Santana had a better partner.  Rating:  **

Bret Hart wrestles Tiger Mask II to a time-limit draw at 20:15:

Tiger Mask II was Mitsuharu Misawa, who began wrestling for All Japan in 1981.  Misawa wrestled under his own name until 1984, when he donned the Tiger Mask gimmick to succeed Satoru Sayama, who played the first incarnation of the gimmick.  The high-flying put stress on Misawa’s knees and he upgraded from the junior heavyweight to heavyweight division in 1986, making a trip that same year to the United States with Giant Baba for the first annual NWA Crockett Cup.  The team was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Ronnie Garvin and Magnum T.A.  Misawa also wrestled the next day at the AWA’s WrestleRock ’86 show, beating Buck Zumhofe.  In Japan he wrestled AWA World Champion Curt Hennig in 1988 and NWA Champion Ricky Steamboat in 1989 but failed to win either title.  By 1990, Misawa’s run with the gimmick was ending, as he would be unmasked the next month.

Fans of the 1990s might look at this match on paper and think it is going to be an amazing piece of wrestling but there are three factors to consider.  First, Misawa was coming off an ACL injury the year prior.  Second, Misawa’s style as Tiger Mask is not the same physical, ground-based style he would use under his own name for the rest of the decade.  And third, Bret works heel and decides its best to work like 1990s Irwin R. Schyster.  Due to the latter, the match has little sustained action for the first eleven minutes and when Bret feigns a knee injury to gain an advantage there are promising signs that things will pick up.  However, he goes back to chinlocks moments later and the match just kind of peters out after Tiger Mask scores near-falls from a flying body press and whipping Bret chest-first into the corner.  For whatever reason, Bret thought it was best to gobble Tiger Mask up, but this was a dreadful effort and one of the worst, if not the worst, Bret matches of all-time.  Great cure for insomnia, though.  Rating:  ½*

The Great Kabuki beats Greg Valentine with a small package at 7:15:

At the time of this match Kabuki was nearing forty-two years of age.  Starting his career in Japan at sixteen, Kabuki wrestled in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s for Mid-South, Jim Crockett Promotions, and World Class, among others, and he settled on the Kabuki gimmick in World Class in 1981 with the help of booker and manager Gary Hart.  Kabuki’s major contribution to the business was serving as the first Asian wrestler to spray mist, a technique later employed by the Great Muta.

Japanese fans who had seen Valentine work many tours in their country prior to 1990 were probably puzzled as to why he is looking like an Elvis impersonator as part of the Rhythm & Blues gimmick.  Valentine enters to Roxette’s “The Look,” which fits his gimmick due to the lyric “walking like a man, hitting like a hammer.”  It might seem silly, but it works in a quirky kind of way.  Valentine plays well to the crowd by dancing and looking terrified of some of Kabuki’s strikes.  Valentine dominates most of the match, with Kabuki only managing some token strikes and a Boston Crab, but Valentine waits too long to apply the figure-four, allowing Kabuki to small package him for the win.  Rating:  *

Jake Roberts pins the Big Bossman after a DDT at 10:23:

Even though the Bossman turned babyface in February he reverts to a heel for this bout.  The Bossman controls almost the entire match after catching Roberts with a spinebuster at the two-minute mark.  A splash off the top rope misses, but the Bossman does not want to lay out for it, so he lands feet first and awkwardly falls and rolls to the floor.  This triggers Roberts’ comeback to wake up the fans, and he floats over on a slam effort to hit the DDT.  Rating:  *

Jumbo Tsuruta & Haku beat Mr. Perfect & Rick Martel when Tsuruta pins Martel after the Jumbo Backdrop at 9:13 shown:

Tsuruta was one of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s most decorated stars.  A Japanese amateur champion, Tsuruta was trained by Dory Funk, Jr. and made his debut in the United States in 1973.  He would go on to win the AWA Championship from Nick Bockwinkel in 1984, a title he would lose to Martel two and a half months later.  He became the first man to win the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship after defeating Stan Hansen in April 1989, a bout that unified the NWA International Heavyweight Championship with the PWF Heavyweight and NWA United National titles.  At the time of this show Tsuruta was on his second reign as Triple Crown Champion.

Haku is in the babyface role because he is paired with the popular Tsuruta.  The match is joined in progress with Perfect and Martel getting the better of Tsuruta and then working over Haku.  Martel uses a hurricanrana to keep Haku in the heel corner and then does a beautiful slingshot splash from the apron that earns the applause of the crowd.  When a Martel splash off the second ropes hits knees that allows for Tsuruta to get the hot tag and a four-way brawl commences.  Haku sends Perfect over the top rope with a thrust kick and Tsuruta blasts Martel with a jumping (high) knee and Jumbo Backdrop (a backdrop suplex) for the win.  Tsuruta got a great reaction at the end and the heels kept the action moving on their end.  Rating:  **½

Genichiro Tenryu defeats Randy Savage (w/Sensational Sherri) with a powerbomb at 10:48:

Tenryu was a former sumo wrestler who entered the wrestling business in 1976, debuting in Texas after undergoing training from Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk.  In 1984, Tenryu won the NWA International Tag Team Championship with Jumbo Tsuruta and also won the NWA United National Championship. Four years later he would team with the Road Warriors to capture the NWA Six Man Tag Team Championship at Clash of the Champions IV but booking problems between the NWA and All Japan prevented the team from doing much with them.  In 1990, Tenryu was coming off a well-received series of matches with Tsuruta over the Triple Crown Championship, a belt that he held from June to October 1989.

There are so many great things about the match that unfolds.  First, Savage and Tenryu immediately get over the idea that they do not like each other when Tenryu throws his ring jacket in Savage’s face and Savage tosses it back at him.  Then, Tenryu gets ticked off at Savage’s antics in the early going and unloads a crazy barrage of chops in the corner as the crowd goes wild.  And third, Sherri demonstrates how she can be a powerful heat magnet by getting involved on several occasions behind the referee’s back and the arena floor, putting the crowd on edge.  The match’s quick pace outshines anything else on the card so far and Savage scores near-falls from the flying ax handle and a knee drop.  Tenryu kicks out of the flying elbow drop, but Savage goes to the top rope one too many times as he hurts his knee on a flying body press.  That allows Tenryu to give Savage an enzuigiri and quickly follow up with a powerbomb to win a good, hard-fought match.  This would be one of Tenryu’s last appearances for All Japan as he would leave the company weeks later to create his own promotion called Super World of Sports (SWS) and that company would strike a talent relations deal with the WWF by the end of the year.  Rating:  ****

WWF Championship Match:  The Ultimate Warrior (Champion) pins Ted DiBiase after a splash to the back at 6:10:

DiBiase was originally slated to get a shot at the Intercontinental Championship here but Warrior’s victory at WrestleMania VI upgraded the stakes.  This bout would later appear on the Coliseum Video World Tour 1990.  It is an average contest, with DiBiase getting some offense in after avoiding a Warrior flying shoulder block.  He never seems on the verge of winning the belt, though, and never uses the Million Dollar Dream.  The Warrior unloads a ton of clotheslines out of nowhere and wins with a splash to the back.  Rating:  **

Non-Title Match:  Andre the Giant & Giant Baba defeat Demolition (WWF Tag Team Champions) when Andre pins Smash after an elbow drop at 6:39:

Baba was the founder of All Japan Pro Wrestling, creating the company in 1972 with the sons of Japanese wrestling legend Rikidozan.  He started wrestling in 1960 after playing professional baseball and he would go on to win the NWA World Championship three times, defeating Jack Brisco for the title in December 1974 and Harley Race in October 1979 and September 1980.  These reigns, along with Baba’s seven wins in the Champion Carnival Tournament, made him one of the most popular stars in Japanese wrestling history.  By 1990, Baba had removed himself from the main event scene and worked opening matches on All Japan cards, often in tags.

One could argue that Andre and Baba were the actual Colossal Connection as they tower over Demolition.  The WWF Tag Team Champions pounce when Andre misses a butt splash and Smash is able to stagger him with a clothesline, but otherwise they are totally ineffective.  When all four men start brawling, Baba knocks down Smash with a big boot and Andre finishes with an elbow drop.  The match was not pretty but it was an awesome sight seeing Andre and Baba tag together.  Rating:  *

Hulk Hogan pins Stan Hansen after a leg drop at 12:30:

Hansen started his wrestling career in 1973 and was known to longtime WWF fans for a feud with Brumo Sammartino over the WWF Championship in 1976 and later with Bob Backlund over that same title.  He was also known stateside for beating Rick Martel for the AWA Championship in 1985.  Hansen became one of the top foreign talents in Japan in 1977, working with New Japan’s Antonio Inoki and Tatsumi Fujinami.  He jumped to All Japan in 1981, and just prior to this card Hansen had been involved in a infamous match with New Japan’s Vader at the Tokyo Dome on February 2, 1990 where Vader’s right eye popped out of its socket during a match between the two.

This bout was originally going to feature Terry Gordy, but Gordy backed out.  It has been said he did not want to undermine his main event status in Japan by losing to Hogan, and it has also been said that Gordy backed out of the match when Hogan lost the WWF Championship at WrestleMania VI.  Either way, Hansen was slotted into the main event, which did a lot for his career going forward in Japan as he would win the Triple Crown Championship by the end of the year.  And this match can be found on Coliseum Video’s Hulkamania VI tape.

Hogan dominates Hansen in the early going, giving him a hellacious beating on the floor by running him into the ring post, slamming him on a table, and busting him open.  A blind charge turns the tide, and it is Hansen’s turn to give as good as he got, and he bloodies Hogan after hitting him over the head with a chair on the floor.  In a nice callback to WrestleMania VI, Hogan floors Hansen with an elbow and goes for a leg drop, but Hansen moves and covers for a close near-fall.  Hogan then busts out a body press off the ropes for a near-fall and catches Hansen with another Axe Bomber (a lariat) to prevail.  This is a fun brawl worth checking out.  Rating:  ***

The Last Word:  This show is historically significant as it is the last time that New Japan and All Japan worked together.  And it has some fun curiosities like Haku playing babyface, Mr. Perfect and Rick Martel teaming together, Tito Santana playing heel, and Andre the Giant teaming with Giant Baba.  The Randy Savage match with Genichiro Tenryu is worth a look, as is the main event, which departed from some of the more formulaic Hulk Hogan matches stateside fans were used to in this era.

Backstage News*:        The Wrestling Summit show grossed $2.1 million in gate receipts but since the yen has dropped in value it was not as financially successful as it could have been.

*Japanese fans were not into the Ultimate Warrior, viewing him as a second-rate Road Warrior, and they were surprised that the main event had a finish instead of a double count out or disqualification.

*There were several backstage agreements that will likely prevent the WWF from doing a big supershow with either New Japan or All Japan in the future.  First, the WWF refused Japanese media access to its stars and at press conferences WWF talent did not acknowledge prior trips to Japan.  And second, the WWF demanded that the ring be placed at home plate at the stadium so it would look full on television, while All Japan wanted it on second base.  The WWF won the argument, but a lot of fans could not see the action as a result. Third, All Japan was not happy that Hulk Hogan came into the show without the WWF Championship even though Vince McMahon told Giant Baba that there would be a title change at WrestleMania.  And finally, McMahon was insistent that an American wrestle Hogan in the main event so when Terry Gordy pulled out Stan Hansen was plugged in rather than using Genichiro Tenryu.  There was also heat on Akio Sato since he was trying to mediate disputes and incurred everyone’s anger.

*Tim Horner is pursuing litigation against McMahon to try to get out of his WWF contract.  Horner stopped making towns last year and disregarded booking instructions when he was around, but the WWF refuses to release him and is threatening him with litigation if he tries to go to WCW.

*In talent relations news, there is a rumor that Stan Hansen might come into the WWF later in the year and work a program with Hogan where Hogan would return the favor from The Wrestling Summit show.

*Backstage news is provided courtesy of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer for April 23.

Up Next:  Prime Time Wrestling for April 16!