The WWF in Japan – 1994

Before I even knew there was an internet, my wrestling fandom comprised watching the WWF on Sky, WCW on ITV and German satellite channels, All Star Promotions at the local theatre, and picking up the magazines that were out there, with books like Pro Wrestling Illustrated being the ones that gave you a wider world view of wrestling. One of the interesting articles from 1994 looked at the post-WrestleMania X tour of Japan and the Pacific, which was pretty much the brain child of JJ Dillon, assisted by Akio Sato. Some really interesting matches, including one man’s WWF hurrah of sorts, but I didn’t know until yesterday that some of them were recorded, so I’m going to review four ones that piqued my interest.

Bam Bam Bigelow and Yokozuna vs. Genichiro Tenryu and the Undertaker

In the main WWF continuity the Undertaker had ascended to… the ceiling and an extended holiday to recuperate, but he did this tour seeing as it wasn’t going to be broadcast. Bill Dunn, one of my least favourite ring announcers, is doing the introductions. Bam Bam is pretty over from his prior Japan experience and hams it up a bit. Yoko has just lost the WWF championship and was meandering until he was given a few months off after November. Fuji has reverted back to the Oddjob outfit instead of the kimono, as seen above. ‘Taker hasn’t had his purple Summerslam revamp yet, so it’s the classic look with the grey gloves and boot covers and the old funeral dirge music, which honestly I preferred. Introductions eat up the first eight minutes before the two teams have a stare down with one another, with Tenryu facepalming Bigelow. They’re obviously the ones to start.

Bam Bam starts with a dropkick out of nowhere and a pair of slams, with the fan recording quick-counting Tenryu. Tenryu ducks a clothesline and gets his own and an enzigiuri to the floor. Back in, Bammer gets a boot and tags in Yoko. The fans must not like Tenryu because they’re immediately calling for the Banzai Drop. Tenryu gets two clotheslines and just about forearms Yoko out to the floor. Yoko comes back in with a headbutt and choke. Slam to set up Bam Bam coming in with the flying headbutt, but Tenryu gets out of the way and hits the chops. Big slam sets up his back elbow off the top for two. That move proliferated the THQ games for so long! ‘Taker leans into shot from the left as it exposes one of the weaknesses of his character – he couldn’t look emotional when going for a tag and just had to stand there. He tags in at the same time as Yoko does to prompt their obvious showdown. He bumps him around until Bam Bam comes in, taking a ridiculous bump into the corner. ‘Taker meets boot and a dropping lariat, then sits up out of that. Bigelow tries booting him back down and drops headbutts, but gets chokeslammed for two. Rope walk looks imminent, but instead he tags in Tenryu, who gets caught in a front powerslam.

Things slow down a bit with Tenryu in the heel corner with his arm being worked over. That goes on for a few minutes, oddly placed within the flow of the match. Bam Bam takes a cross armbreaker, which looks silly for a man of his size. Yoko wakes everyone up with his incredible legdrop, which to me had two things going for it: 1. the size of the leg being dropped, and 2. how quickly he’d be back up from it. Back to sleep with a nerve hold. ‘Taker comes in with to break up a pinfall attempt, with Earl Hebner nervously shooing him away. Bam Bam takes an armbar as the pace has slowed way down. It’s almost fifteen minutes in when the match should’ve gone just over ten. Bam Bam kinda fluffs a head kick that Tenryu deigns to sell, eventually falling down. The camera gets a bit twitchy as the heels try a double avalanche that sees Bam Bam getting squashed, and it’s wake up time with the Undertaker coming back in.

Double whip of the heels into one another and a double clothesline, but Bam Bam and Tenryu f--- up a low bridge spot on the ropes. Double clothesline attempt from the heels, but ‘Taker gets the flying clothesline on Yoko after Tenryu trips Bigelow. Big DDT on Yoko inside while Bam Bam wears out Tenryu with Fuji’s cane outside. Paul Bearer gets a shot in on him to pay that back. Yoko gets the belly-to-belly, but ‘Taker sits up out of it and applies a choke. Yoko manages to grab him for a shot, but ‘Taker ducks as Bam Bam accidentally hits his partner with a clothesline using the cane and the Undertaker pins Yoko for the victory. Well, it had me, then it lost me. Way too long at eighteen minutes. Make it half the length with all the big, crazy stuff and you’ve got one that’s a lot of fun, but this outstayed its welcome. The faces both do a cool tribute to one another after the match by dropping to a knee and linking hands.

“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart

Here’s the match everyone knows this tour for! Macho finished off his feud with Crush at WrestleMania, but then reverted to Raw commentator for the rest of his run before leaving in November to reinvent himself in WCW. This is his last match of note.

JJ Dillon actually says a few words before the match, thanking everyone who made the tour possible on behalf of Vince McMahon. A female Japanese announcer translates for him from ringside. Then to the match, and I’d forgotten that Bret still had the original (cooler) Hart Foundation music rather than the second one with the guitar squeal at the start. Handshake to start. Macho is good at leading with the idea of being friendly, but doing little things like a smother in the lockup and pleased with himself on an armdrag, plus generally noisier when taking some moves, to show he’s going to be the heel. Pretty clean wrestling with just a bit of tension thrown in to set the early tone for the first five minutes. Randy takes a tumble outside and Bret opens the ropes for him to let him back in, prompting the fourth or fifth handshake of the match, and it’s a sucker move as Randy throws a kick in and rakes the eyes to go heel. And it’s on!

Choke across the ropes and a hair pull. I kinda wish Randy had wrestled without the vest on to revert back to the idea of the old Macho Man. He keeps a side headlock with use of the hair for a minute or two. Bret breaks and goes for a tackle off the ropes, but Randy knees him in the gut and goes back to the wear down hold. He tries to switch it into a sleeper. Bret breaks again and gets a sunset flip for two, but Randy catches him with a clothesline, then ducks on an O’Connor roll to send him out. It’s fairly heatless as he throws Bret into the post, but the crowd wakes up when he mounts the top rope and drops a double axehandle to the floor. He allows the ref to count for a bit, but goes out and lays some of his awesome punches in and another post shot to break it.

Back in, a double axehandle off the top for two. Irish whip to the corner, although Bret doesn’t do his trademark bump. It’s a little thing, but Randy did have one of the best Irish whips because he actually ran with the guy and placed his hand behind their head to lead them. Neck snap over the top rope, but sadly without the run. Suplex for two. Randy runs into a boot and then gets backdropped over the top rope, leading to Bret making a comeback with a sweet pescado. He rolls Randy back in and gets an inverted atomic drop and clothesline for two, followed by a suplex for the same. You can pretty much guess the next two moves, although Bret changes it up by making it a traditional elbow after the backbreaker rather than one where he lands on his knees so that he can miss it. Randy gets a neckbreaker and then a slam to set up the big elbow. That lands, and he didn’t pull anything on it, but it’s only two. Quickly back up again, but Bret catches him with a gut punch coming down, then gets the side Russian legsweep and locks in the Sharpshooter for the victory. A good match and has a legendary status because of the people involved, but disappointing in a way because it’s not a classic of all time. It’s in the top tier of what these two would sometimes would be willing to do on a house show, though. They shake hands after and hug to restore the friendship, with Randy putting Bret over. Bret tells the story in his book about how Blackjack Lanza gave Randy some patronising praise afterwards in the locker room about how he still had it and Randy told him to shove it up his arse, which probably speaks for why he was gone by ’95.

Jinsei Shinzaki vs. The 1-2-3 Kid

One more from the next night in Nagoya, moving on from Yokohama. Dunn manages to f--- up the future Hakushi’s name as Jinzaki Shinsei. I was always disappointed that Hakushi didn’t have more luck in the WWF because he had a cool gimmick, great body, distinctive look, awesome and unique moveset and didn’t do stuff that hurt him or anyone else. He couldn’t talk, but he didn’t need to. It was like they booked him as an eighties villain when he was so clearly ahead of the rest of the roster with his moves. Anyway, Kid comes out with a young lady as his guest manager, which is pretty pointless but was one of the things they were doing at the time.

Criss-cross to start, with Kid missing a flying leg lariat and Shinzaki getting a back kick to put him out. Kid comes back in with a side headlock, but runs into a press slam out of nowhere. Avalanche in one corner, missed move in another, with Jinsei heading out for a breather after some kicks. Coming back in, Kid goes to grab him but gets chopped in the throat and Shinzaki springboards up to the top rope while holding the arm and does his incredible praying rope walk, which he couldn’t do in the WWF because of the Undertaker already doing it, which leads to a flying chop, then a pescado. Kid dropkicks him off the top rope, then gets a flying flip on him to the outside. Kid has taken a lot of s--- over the years over X-Pac Heat and the like, but he was someone who came into wrestling loving it and was fully formed as far as his arsenal and presence from the day he started, instead toning it down as he quickly accumulated injuries. Snap legdrop leads to a cross armbreaker. Out of that, it’s a series of kicks, although Jinsei catches one coming out of the ropes and turns it into a back suplex for two.

Praying powerbomb, again a move he had to leave home in the WWF because Sid was on top. That gets two. He misses a diving headbutt off the top, leading to a Kid victory roll for two, subsequently reversed for two. Northern Lights suplex from Kid for two. Kid goes up and gets caught in a superplex attempt. Block with a headbutt, leading to a tornado DDT for two. Kind of a funny landing on it, although nobody got hurt. German suplex from Kid finally gets the win. Really good match, more like it, different from their fantastic Summerslam ’95 match. Jinsei walks out on a handshake offer, but Kid still puts him over. You can see why the WWF would want to pick up Shinzaki for a run down the line.

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart

One more for now, again courtesy of Roy Lucier. These two wrestled a lot and had a match that always worked for them, culminating in a Bret victory roll, but I was sold this on the premise of it being a bit different. Bret has an interesting take in his book where he understates the lack of domestic success at the time while talking up how the multiple tours abroad, to Europe and this one, meant that he was a REAL world champion in comparison with the last few ones who just worked in the States. Bam Bam attacks to start, but gets his leg caught in the ropes and Bret drops some elbows. Back up, he throws a dropkick that was designed to bounce Bam Bam out, but seeing as he didn’t go he just dumps him and follows with a pescado. Bam Bam was keen to put Bret over in the shoot interviews he did, but always slipped in that Bret slipped one out a few times when they rolled over on the finish. Bammer tries a press but falls and Bret lands on top for two. He baseball slides him out, but gets elbowed out himself upon Bret’s return. They do the old “Bret jumps off the apron into Bam Bam’s arm and gets posted” spot, but someone is standing in the way of the camera so you don’t see it. Bigelow goes to use the ring steps as a followup weapon, but the ref talks him out of it.

Back in, a whiff on the enzigiuri again like in the Tenryu match, with Bret deciding to fall backwards off the shot. Choke on the rope and an Irish whip, and where I spoke last time about Bret not doing his front bump, I neglected to talk about the awesome strained crumple he would do as well if he hit it with his back. Bret tries a comeback with punches, but Bigelow does a cool bell-ringing dropkick to cut him off. Gets two, with Bret getting his foot on the ropes. Bigelow might have had detractors on some aspects of his life and personality, but he was an awesome wrestler, even as a big guy his body language and poise was fantastic. Double arm backbreaker, the one that Jericho took off him, for two, followed by a standing bodybreaker, which was an old standard of the Bret/Bam Bam matches. Bret of course flips out of it and gets a chance back suplex to break. Bam Bam misses a dropkick, setting up a Bret legsweep for two. Flying clothesline for another two. Back to the second rope, with a flying bulldog for two. They go for the boot to the face and victory roll, but as promised it’s only a two here. Bigelow is right in place for the Sharpshooter, but blocks and kicks Bret off. Bret takes a rare trip to the top, but lands in Bammer’s arms. He breaks a bearhug with biting, but another back suplex sees Bam Bam flip over for a pinfall, getting two. He heads up for the moonsault to finish, but Bret moves, then uses the weakened moment to get the Sharpshooter for the submission. Really good match, again showing off why Bret was the master when it came to finishes: build to where they expect the finish, then don’t finish, then catch them off guard with the real finish. I’ll take that over a bunch of false finishes of declining legitimacy.

Melting it down: Good to get the chance to see these matches, with the Bret/Randy match not quite being what you’d dream for but still being very good. WrestleMania IX dream main event? I’ll let you argue underneath.