I kinda freaked out over this, I’m about as big of an Akitoshi Saito fan as there is and Hash is #1, they start this by Hash just beating the shit out of Saito and I’m thinking this might be one of those Choshu superiority matches where one guy takes the entire match because fuck you New Japan is strongest. Then Saito makes a comeback with these great looking body punches and awesome knee strikes and I realise we’re getting a different type of the Choshu superiority booking match, still you want to see Hashimoto beat on someone and Saito will fire back with some nice shots as well. Very short (just under 5 min) and a great use of my time.
MMA may have been at its most interesting when they’d just take guys with completely different styles and sizes and let them go at it, it seems like such a logical thing to do in pro wrestling but unfortunately too many people are just interested in doing *stuff* to really commit to a character. And say what you will about Mutoh-I’m certainly not his biggest fan-but he really did commit to the Muta character and making it something distinctive, and of course Ogawa didn’t have much trouble bringing his being a judo world champion into the context of being a judo guy in prowres. There are some fun shenanigans at the start as they tease tension between Muta and Inoki only for Muta to mist him and Inoki, in classic Inoki fashion, instantly gets his heat back with a punch after which Ogawa rushes Muta and we’re off. Ogawa steps out of his comfort zone here, hitting Muta with kicks and palm strikes at the start as well as going for a takedown at one point, while Muta’s primary focus is Ogawa’s clothing. He does a remarkable job of using Ogawa’s gimmick against him, choking him with the belt and even managing to make a pro wrestling armdrag looks legit by grabbing onto the dougi. Still, Ogawa is a killer and all it takes is a Harai Goshi and an STO and he’s not just right back in this, but on the verge on killing Muta. It may not have the biggest instant effect were you to see it in a GIF form, but Ogawa grabbing a killer Triangle Choke only to eat Green Mist was an incredibly rewarding moment, and an example of how you can sometimes hit the big move and have it protected without resulting to cheap props if you’re creative enough. ***1/2
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. ***
Another very interesting match. The heat for it is off the charts-the chants for Hogan and especially Inoki are just insanely loud before the match even starts. Andre is in the first row so you know what kind of BS finish we’re getting here. The matwork consists of the most you can get out of Hogan-basic leg holds, headlocks etc. but it looks fine enough. What impressed me most here were the little things Inoki did-he’d go for a Figure 4 attempt, and Hogan would kind of stand up and shift his weight, but it’s Inoki’s facial expression and the way he put Hogan’s feet back on the floor that *sell* the idea he was putting up any kind of defence. Inoki kicking Hogan when he grabs his leg may not sound like some amazing spot but in an environment when it’s the last thing you’re expecting it it really is. I also liked the way Inoki feinted before kicking Hogan’s leg, he manages to fool the viewer very convincingly. They work two big count-out spots after hitting big moves-first one after an Axe Bomber, then another one after Inoki evades another Axe Bomber by sliding under (which someone needs to steal it’s way cooler than the limbo Nagata used to evade Okada’s Lariat) and hitting an Enzuigiri. Respect is shown and then forgotten about when it’s tome to get in some solid brawling, finish is a mess as Andre interferes for no reason, then Inoki and Hogan team up to lay him out, then Andre gets up and scares them out of the ring. I swear the only difference between pre-UWF booking and today’s is that the old ways served as a way to get everyone to not lose while today’s serves as a way to get everyone wins. ***
A nostalgia match, but a very interestingly worked one. In 1997 New Japan was already bringing in Naoya Ogawa and Don Frye and moving towards the “Inokiism”, and some sequences here look like they were straight out of a sparring session-Sayama takes Inoki’s back, rolls him over into an Armbar, Inoki blocks it with his leg and so on. They also work some pro-style holds into it by doing stuff like Inoki turning a battle over leglocks into an Indian Deathlock. Sayama blasts Inoki with some brutal kicks and Inoki’s facial expressions of dread he conveys every time Sayama knocks him down are something else. They also work in some junior moves like the Tiger Feint Kick and Sayama’s pattented hammerlock snapmare counter to pop the crowd and set up the finish. So basically a Battlarts match. ***1/4
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
Mutoh can fuck off forever. This is such an ambivalent match up, and you’d hope with this being 1990 Mutoh would give a shit, and maybe he did but at this point he has no clue how to pro-wrestle. He works over Hashimoto’s leg and it’s really dry, dull and completely uninteresting. Mutoh will grab a shitty toe hold and Hashimoto will counter it by just punching him in the face and I am trying to figure out how anyone could come to the conclusion Mutoh was ever better than Hash. He could jump high. I guess that’s important to some. He did a really nice elbow drop flurry. He got really impressive height on those elbow drops. If only he could structure a match worth shit. Hashimoto does his best to try and make something of Mutoh’s work, selling well for him, switching to his right leg, but there really is no focus to Mutoh’s work, he’ll just start doing random shit because he think it looks cool, he’ll go from working a kneebar to a punch flurry in the corner to doing cartwheel planchas without any logic or rhythm. He can bump well at least so it’s gratifying when Hashimoto DDT’s his head through the ring but fuck man this just has WAAAAY too much Mutoh in control to be good. I did enjoy parts of it, like Hashimoto continously countering Mutoh’s holds by throwing him around but this is as unremarkable as a Hashimoto match gets. Also Mutoh jumps Hashimoto at the beginning of the match by irish whipping him and then doing the cartwheel elbow which was every bit as stupid as it sounds.