1993 · Akitoshi Saito · NJPW · Yoshiaki Fujiwara

Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs Akitoshi Saito-NJPW 3.8.1993.

Fujiwara looks like such a badass here. This is a match built as a battle of Saito’s striking and kicking and Fujiwara’s submissions, and Fujiwara just overwhelms Saito with his badassery. Early on as they’re making their first moves he checks Saito’s kicks and then just explodes with brutal chokes, making great use of Saito’s gi and surely making whoever his judo coach was proud with sweet collar chokes. Saito takes the gi off but Fujiwara then just uses the belt to choke him even more violently, really the whole match is just a sweet Fujiwara showcase, Saito has really nice kicks and body blows, and he busts Fujiwara open with punches to the forehead, which just results in Fujiwara rising up like a vampire and headbutting the hell out of him, as well as often just brushing off Saito’s kicks. Fujiwara also basically no-sells Saito when he goes to argue with his second instead of paying attention to Saito and totally super rekts him when he fakes being stunned by body shots to lure Saito in, and Saito takes the bait like a faithless fool. A little bit too one sided to reach “greatness” but a great time to be had watching it. What are ratings anyway? ***3/4

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1997 · Kiyoshi Tamura · RINGS · Volk Han

Volk Han vs Kiyoshi Tamura-RINGS 26.9.1997.

I loved their match from january but actually preferred this one. What really made it for me is the narrative, Tamura was cleary a bigger threat here than he was in the january match, he smacked Han with a couple of badass kicks that really rocked him, Han’s stoic reactions to peril were great (and his selling style was perfect for it, it’s really hard to express pain in a way it seems like you’re trying to act like you’re not bothered like it while you actually are and Han was amazing at it), Tamura recognizing Han’s stoicism by keeping him in a full mount after a rope break to emphasise his dominance was great, Han trying to brush off Tamura’s attacks while gradually weakening was even better, him trying to do so even after it was clear he was knocked down now was even better. Then you get Tamura reacting to Han’s false bravado by just shoot kicking him in the ribs so hard he couldn’t brush it off. The struggle for the final takedown was great and played off the size difference really well. Awesome, dramatic finish. *****

2017 · Braun Strowman · Brock Lesnar · WWE

Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman-WWE No Mercy 24.9.2017.

This match was dumb. By far the most interesting about it coming in was how they were going to reconcile protecting Braun with the likely result of him not winning the title, and they ended up with a solution that accomplished nothing. Braun overpowered Lesnar early on, which was his one advantage over Lesnar (as is over everyone), but we’ve seen Lesnar in that position a bunch of times already. As soon as Lesnar grabbed the arm on the Double Wristlock and started spamming Germans the idea Strowman was just another challenge for him to overcome started clearing up, and that’s exactly what happened. Lesnar’s back being “injured” was dumb-an attempt to put over Strowman as causing damage only made the match look more ridiculous, as an injured Lesnar suplexed Strowman numerous times after not being able to do so forever, then did the same thing with the F5 (which he also couldn’t hit earlier on). Strowman got his finisher efficency ruined and lost clean in a match where the most memorable thing was Lesnar taking a bump to the outside through the ropes. Blarh. The exhaustion selling after the match is analogous to a cheating spuse promising change-“See! He’s tired! Look what it took for him to beat him! We know what we’re doing! This is fine! Wait to see where it leads to! It will get better!” **1/2

2017 · John Cena · Roman Reigns · WWE

Roman Reigns vs John Cena-WWE No Mercy 24.9.2017.

This was a weird match. The beginning was worth like they were building a proper match with a narrative and proper control segments, with Reigns just dominating Cena, working at a slower pace while Cena was too focused on playing to the crowd and got cut off over and over again. Eventually it just turned into a WWE workrate wankfest, as predictable as ever. If you’ve seen Cena matches like this before you could basically call half the spots, the Diving Legdrop into the Powerbomb, the Five Knuckle Shuffle cut-off followed by a proper one later in the match where Cena does a Fist Drop straight away instead of running the ropes and a billion finishers. To met these Cena matches are in the same vein as the Omega/Okada matches that have been getting a bunch of buzz-I don’t really think the *wrestling* in them is very good, but they do offer something in the flash, big spots and buzz they generate. I did like the executions of many of the spots like the Shoulder Tackle>Punch counter and Reigns was really good at convincing you he was gonna hit a Clothesline, punch or whatever and was not just setting up for an AA or whatever. And I loved the finish, Reigns just hitting a quick 1-2 combo was masterful. Still, for a workrate match like this to be anything more than an itsy bitsy fun watch while you grab a snack you’d want it to not just be spamming big moves and sequences in predictable fashion (is there anyone who didn’t see Reigns hitting a Spear once Cena cleared both tables? or the AA counter to the Spear? or the last ten matches where the same “Big Match” structure has been beaten to death so much), that’s sub-1998 All Japan guys sleepwalking through a Korauken 6 man tag effort. ***

1995 · Dan Severn · Tajiri

Dan Severn v. Yoshihiro Tajiri -NWA New Jersey 24.6.1995.

This match was an interesting caricature of shoot style, which doesn’t seem like a style that ever fully developed or was often used anywhere (I’m having trouble recalling similar matches outside of maybe Super Porky vs Rey Escorpion, and even that was a different subgenre). Not a case of shoot style implementing pro-style elements for flash of vice versa, just a shooty style done more elaborately. The kicker-wrestler dynamic was a logical way to start things off-I loved how Severn would roll through with Tajiri once he got his back but them just exchanging top positions didn’t really fit in. Tajiri countering a leglock by a slap rush was awesome and a somewhat fascinating spot for a 1995 New Jersey show. Severn killing off Tajiri ruled too-ragdolling Tajiri into the ropes, setting up suplexes by getting control on the ground and then lifting him or bouncing off the ropes while already holding him for momentum, swell stuff all around. ***1/4

1994 · JR Carson · Kitao Pro · Koki Kitahara

Koki Kitahara vs. JR Carson-Kitao Pro 14.6.1994.

This was too bizarre for me not to love. Carson wrestles like a prototypical 1990s american heavyweight, doing worked kickstomps and shoulder blocks. There’s a section where he just stands there and lets Kitahara kicks him for a while, and then kinda brushes it off. Finish sees Kitahara hit a brutal knee followed by a Reverse WAR Special which looks more like a forgotten nasty shoulder/neck lock from on old instructional than what you’d expect a Reverse WAR Special to look (a dumb double underhook), after which he swears at Carson and they both act as it had been a shoot. Magnificently weird. **3/4