1988 · Antonio Inoki · NJPW · Vader

Antonio Inoki vs Vader-NJPW 4.1.1988

At this point Vader has figured out some of the stuff that would later become his trademarks like the clubbing blows and the body tackles/attacks/how do you even call those things? Wiki has running body block but that’s not something I’ve ever heard used in real life. But he also does goofy headbutts that aren’t really fitting for his gimmick. What’s interesting about this match is just how far Inoki goes in putting Vader over. Vader takes control of the ring positioning making Inoki retreat to corners. When Inoki throws some of his punches/slaps he usually uses to surprise his opponents early on and throw them off their game Vader easily shrugs them off. When Vader throws hands Inoki goes down. Inoki’s only real moments of shine come after a sweeping leg kick (and Vader’s bump made it look amazing and reminds you of what he would eventually become) and a missed shoulder tackle. The shoulder tackle Vader managed to hit Inoki sold for the remainder of the match. They did a ref bump that actually managed to look realistic enough-Vader picked up Inoki for a Bodyslam and while up in the air Inoki hit the referee in the face with his feet. After the missed tackle Inoki got in a couple of Enzuigiris and locked in the Octopus Hold only to have Vader counter by just slamming him on the ground which looked great. Vader managed to both get a visual pin in and take out Inoki after the match. The closest Inoki got to a payback or a comeback after that getting up and going after Vader while Vader was almost already backstage, and even then he quickly went back to selling the ribs. Not nearly as interesting as an Inoki/Andre match, and Vader’s control segments lacked the violence and the intelligence of an Andre to positon himself as this giant threat that would have made this structure work. Inoki’s burning fighting spirit however remains unbroken. Also Choshu interfered and hit Vader with a Lariat which Vader quickly got up from. There really isn’t much difference in how they’re putting Vader over here and how Undertaker and Kane were put over ten years later. Both worked too. ***

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1988 · Antonio Inoki · Bam Bam Bigelow · NJPW

Antonio Inoki vs Bam Bam Bigelow-NJPW 27.10.1988.

Bigelow is a guy whose matches I have definitely watched in the past that I have absolutely no opinion or one way or the other, this wasn’t a very good showcase for him. Early shine with Inoki punking Bigelow was fun but Bigelow’s control segments did very little for me, mediocre strikes, slams and clotheslines as well as faux-athletic big guy moves that don’t look good and serve no purpose, Inoki might as well have been facing Kane. Inoki’s comeback attempts and comeback were totally badass though, you have him going fiercely going after Bigelow by throwing great punches, raking his eye and dragging him in the ring over the ropes with a Choke Sleeper which looked absolutely brutal. Inoki chokes Bigelow out but Bigelow has his foot on the ropes and they have Bigelow sell forever before getting up and throwing a tantrum at ringside. **3/4

1988 · Nobuhiko Takada · Shigeo Miyato · UWF

Nobuhiko Takada vs Shigeo Miyato-UWF 12.5.1988.

The first match in UWF history is a ten minute exhibiton match. It’s kind of like a sparring session in front of a live crowd, where no matter how many “finishes” there are they get restarted and go at it again. Takada easily outclasses Miyato here-the match was more focused on striking than the grappling, and on their feet Takada used his size and reach advantage to outkick Miyato-and that’s not a stretch in interpretation, they really do obviously play up to that as several spots have Miyato not being able to reach Takada. Takada may not be a wizard on the ground, but he knows his strengths and plays to them, keeps it basic and moving and submits Miyato several times, and for a short introduction to the style instant gratification was probably a better option than spending too much time building around escaping. ***1/4

1988 · Tatsuo Nakano · UWF · Yoji Anjoh

Yoji Anjoh vs Tatsuo Nakano-UWF 12.5.1988.

The second match from UWFII’s first show Starting Over is as intruiguing, ambitious and entertaining as you’d hope for. The structure of the match is simple-it starts out with them simply gauging the distance with leg kicks and some simple takedowns and mat exchanges and the match gradually heats up. The way the holds are used here is hard to compare to anything else-like a weird combo of U-style and classic NWA style. Essentially, there are plenty of submission attempts where the submission isn’t fully locked in, and the true pay-off is more in the transition which comes after the hold than the hold itself. They managed to convincingly display their character gradually getting frustrated and going from cheapshots to just plain brawling. Anjoh pinballed as much as he possibly could’ve in this setting, the novelty of the style resulted in some interesting moments like Anjoh going for a Jacknife Pin, shooting Nakano into the ropes and Nakano going for a Dragon Suplex as well as going for a pin straight off a German. The match also had a well executed shoulder injury angle, which was sold fittingly (Anjoh targeted it with his kicks and strikes and went for submission on Nakano’s bad arm, Nakano sold it initially and after the match but didn’t weep and go overboard). Really, had they found conclusions other than rope breaks a few more times when there was a locked in submission this would’ve easily been a great match. ***3/4

1988 · AJPW · Ashura Hara · Genichiro Tenryu · Stan Hansen · Terry Gordy

Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara vs Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy-AJPW 5.3.1988.

This match wasn’t much, mostly because Terry Gordy’s performance was god awful, Memphis TV undercard matches had more intensity than he did in this match. The structure was quite dull too, the foreigners pretty much took the entire match, and it just doesn’t make for an interesting experience to see someone get cut off over and over and over again, especially knowing more shitty worked punches await. There were some nice moments of violence when Hansen would get it on, and Hara’s comeback punches looked great (unlike his headbutts, which looked terrible, backyard level headbutting your own hand), Tenryu’s role was kept to a minimum, he had a couple off stare offs with Hansen’s and managed to Lariat him in a throat near the end, but he wasn’t the focus off the match. Hansen going on one of his signature rampages at the end and destroying everything in sight is enough for me to call this above average but if you’re itching for some 80s All Japan tag action there are better choices out there. **3/4

1988 · Antonio Inoki · NJPW · Tatsumi Fujinami

Antonio Inoki vs Tatsumi Fujinami-NJPW 8.8.1988.

I’m trying to put into words how much I liked this match but I don’t think I’ll be able to do this justice. If the match was about ten minutes shorter I think it could’ve rated it as a top ten match of all time. It’s still an absolutely incredible match, an the crowd never really dies but after a certain point they just aren’t buying the submissions as much as they did and it’s more of a “clap for rope breaks/escapes/general effort” thing. This was a perfect showcase for both wrestler’s abilities, the matwork was phenomenal and they managed to escape a perfect sense of one-upmanship. It is a match that manages to excel both at the little things and the big things, there’s a moment where Inoki does a bridge and Fujinami tries to drive him to that and I swear Inoki did the most beautiful bridge I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that could only be possible because of stuff like this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnHmKPSYxPo

The crowd was fucking insane, you get shots of people standing up and not leaving their feet for about ten minutes just mesmerized by the drama of the match, Inoki firing up while Fujinami had him in a Figure Four was one of the greatest spots I’ve ever seen and Fujinami responded appropriately by pushing himself up as far as he could and trying to rip apart Inoki’s leg, the struggle over everything was so well done here and the match also served as a great display for their character though I’d find it understable if people used to gigantic bumps for irish whips and WWF wrestling didn’t pick it up (not actually trying to call anyone out here fwiw), Fujinami has a chip on his shoulder and while being a great athlete in his own right doesn’t really possess Inoki’s strength and they play it up really well, Inoki goes for an illegal Sleeper in the beginning and Fujinami sells it like a huge threat, later on Fujinami uses the same maneuver several times but never manages to damage Inoki as much as Inoki had damaged him, I think that came off really well every time Fujinami would grab a hold for a longer period of time where, he’d just come off as the most tenacious wrestler ever, and later in the match when Inoki stars slapping the shit out of him and Fujinami sells it enough so it doesn’t come off as no selling (especially with his facial expression) but no sells it enough so the crowd can put his awesome facial expressions together with him refusing to go down to Inoki’s strikes and it’s this humongous amazing moment and everyone is losing their shit and pro wrestling fucking rules mate. I also find it amusing how Fujinami’s character seems to consistent both in his on air presentation and in scummy backstage videos and stories (him slapping Kevin Nash comes to mind, also there was a video where him and Inoki just yell at each other for five minutes and Fujinami responds to Inoki’s weak fifth grader bully slap by Bas Ruttening him). ****3/4