Once upon a time I proclaimed Shinya Hashimoto the greatest wrestler of all time in the 2016 PWO GWE poll. I tend to change my opinions these things a lot, so nothing’s set in stone (especially with the idea of the *greatest* carrying so much imaginary stake-I very well could just make pace with Kikuchi or Angel Azteca as the 97th greatest wrestler of all time and just go on never thinking about it again). Luckily pro wrestling is more of a fun hobby than an unhealthy obsession for me these days and it looks like getting my stuff together correlates with my participation in silly arguments over fake fighting subsiding. Much like other posts in the “all things” edition, this is going to be a showcase that for those who do enjoy the worker in question, there’s no shortage of excellence to point to, as well as a general guide for those interested in a worker.
This was essentially a shoot style spotfest for the most part. I quite like their offence, so I didn’t have much problem with it, even if it seemed there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to it. There were occassional highlights in the matwork in the form of a cool counter, but for the most part it was just fine and used like submission finishers are in modern wrestling, milked to get the crowd behind the wrestler crawling to the ropes. In that sense I liked how they didn’t make it too obvious what they were doing, as they’d have a wrestler reach the ropes before the crowd paked in vocal support or before they even had enough time to start chanting at all too. Still, the best parts of the match were the kicking flurries, and the match just reached a higher level once they reached the finishing stretch and the match turned into an all out brawl, it was like a pastiche of a Bruce Lee movie and a high end K1 fight which appropriated the best of both worlds. It had took the cartoonish stamina and reistance of an action movie and the brutality and kicking precision from actual combat, but also maybe the best exhaustion selling ever. Maeda and Yamazaki looked completely gassed, and a desperate Maeda trying to grab Yamazaki’s leg to counter with a Capture Suplex was an amazing sight, and the rowdiness of the crowd even minutes after the match really cemented how much 99% of wrestling is missing out by not having the ability and vision to fully encapsulate the humanity of combat. ****1/4
I’m not quite sure what to say about Akira Maeda, particularly because my main motivation behind doing these is organizing things so I can recommend matches more easily to folks. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story, especially for Maeda. Who is Akira Maeda? Quite possibly the greatest revolutionary since some 18th century french folks. A man whom you’d admire, but not necessarily respect. A former yakuza, a man who broke Choshu’s orbital bone, kicked Sayama in the nuts, beat up a wrestler backstage for having a bad match, got in Tamura’s face after a K1 fight because he deemed it fixed, fell asleep during some random junior tag match and so much more. Following his career is a wonderful journey, a tale of violence, and, urgh, some other stuff too.
Akira Maeda vs Super Tiger-UWF 7.1.1985.
Akira Maeda vs Super Tiger-UWF 25.7.1985.
Akira Maeda vs Masa Saito-NJPW 18.5.1987.
Akira Maeda vs Kazuo Yamazaki-UWF 12.5.1988.
Akira Maeda vs Kiyoshi Tamura-UWF 25.10.1989.
Akira Maeda vs Dick Vrij-RINGS 14.7.1994.
Akira Maeda vs Yoshihisa Yamamoto-RINGS 16.12.1994.
Akira Maeda vs Yoshihisa Yamamoto-RINGS 24.1.1996.
Akira Maeda vs Kiyoshi Tamura-RINGS 28.3.1997.
Akira Maeda vs Volk Han-RINGS 16.4.1998.
Akira Maeda vs Super Tiger-UWF 11.9.1984.
Akira Maeda vs Tariel Bitsadze-RINGS 21.1.1994.
I’m going to go ahead and say they missed the mark on one of the more important things in this type of match, which is really making the crowd buy into the drama. A big reason for that is probably the first pin in the match resulted in a 2 count and at least half of the kick-outs were 2.9 counts, that’s completely against the philosophy of how a match like this should be worked (with the timing of the kick-outs getting later and later and the 2.9 counts being reserved for the finishing minutes). I mean, it’s not like the match couldn’t have been any better, but aside from that it really feels like nitpicking. I agree this is a great example of how to build a long back and forth match-which makes their mistakes that much more devastating and regrettable. One of my favourite things in the match was that, even when they did the rope running transitions I’m allergic to, they were really good, as Sekimoto was actually attempting a move (and one quite important in his arsenal as well) and Sekimoto would until the very end to sway and grab onto him. That’s just so much cooler than countering nothing with a move you can do from some other situation. Sekimoto is a meathead whose COM logic would be quite easy to edit in Fire Pro-you know what you’re getting out of him, you know what he does in what scenarios. I think that limits the quality of his matches most of the time, but there’s an a solid foundation in what he does, which probably explains why he’s such a good trainer. Suzuki really pushed to match in the direction it went-with the emphasis on struggle instead of a ridiculous war of attrition and repetition. Whether it was Suzuki Uppercuting Sekimoto on the Lariat attempt he always does (usually successfully) after eating a German Suplex, Suzuki blocking a Boston Crab by grabbing Sekimoto’s ankle and neck and Sekimoto having to earn an opening by pinning Suzuki to transition into the submission, the the sandbagging of the opponent’s finishers, desperately throwing themselves into pins or continuing to strike away when when they were floored, this match was full of great, memorable moments and a rare modern japanese wrestling showcase of how I envision great wrestling. ****
It’s easy to point to the ridiculous violence of chairhots and throwing beer boxes onto your opponent, but there was so much more which really made the match work as well as it did. It really speaks to both the charisma of Rush and LA Park that they can basically do a ten minute control segment and have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand the entire time. In ring sequences which end in them doing DDTs and Powerslams aren’t really what you’re watching this for, but when they come they feel a lot fresher and more important because they signalize the end is near. Their dedication to ram their head into ring posts and whatever object they were thrown in was phenomenal. And there were so many wonderful “small” moments too-like Rush selling his own Headbutt, Park’s theatrical bump for a simple chest slap which reminds you how old he is and how much bumps on the floor hurt and Rush salvaging a botch where Park tripped by just kind of shootily underhooking him onto the floor. Doing longer control segments allowed them to have less transitions which almost instantly makes them less memorable, but also allows them to put more thought into making them better, and there were some really neat here-the counter punch into the tope which finally started Park’s initial comeback gave me Sangre Chicana flashbacks, it’s insane a man his age is throwing his body around so recklessly; Rush recuperating and seizing control because Park took too long to get back in the ring for he went to get a chair was clever, and Rush’s kick to set up the rope hanging DDT as Park was about the enter the ring was probably the best single use of that spot wrestling’s seen so far. So, a great match, lots to appreaciate in it, but even with all it’s positives it still felt like there was a floor to how could it could get-it was almost like a solved equation. For a match to do more than just scratch greatness you’d hope for something unexpected, an incredibly special version of the expected, something that really gets it to the next level, there was a moment where LA Park started nailing Rush with vicious punches in the corner where it looked like they could get to that, but then they did the ref drama which negated this match’s chances of being something more. ****
I rolled my eyes when this point was mentioned in a certain match review years ago, but I’ll steal it here-to me, this really felt like a real pro wrestler taking on a phony. Negro Navarro is a lucha maestro-he’s changed with the times and has constantly updated his offence, but the way he’d done it and performed has stayed true to that lineage and tradition. Zack Sabre Jr. is a total hybrid. You can see he is someone fascinated with pro wrestling and wants to rip everything he likes and create this all encompassing stlyle and whatnot, but as a result his matches don’t really have a specific flair, particularly outside of a context that is “indy wrestler having matches indy crowds think are great”. And Sabre looking “bad” isn’t something I came in expecting to think, since I’ve always liked him as a worker, but him working against Negro Navarro in this environment really hammered that at me over and over again. Some of it was a 60 year old man looking like he was in much better shape than Sabre. Some of it were Sabre’s ridiculous facial expressions and silly vocal selling that I don’t pay heed to much when he usually wrestles, which suddenly started really standing out when Navarro was just selling like people usually do in these types of matches. And some of it was that Sabre would hit Navarro with weak European Uppercuts to the chest while the fantastic impact of Navarro’s chops and chest slaps made them essentially look like he was shooting a laser at Sabre. For what it was, this was very well done-I’m not sure a one off attraction match could reach the heights of a title match, but if it could this isn’t one I could point to. A very fun exhibition of holds I’d recommend everyone who likes the style to seek out, but not something that’s going to leave a lasting impression on me. ***1/2
I am going to give this a big fat no on the “best match ever/five star match” hype it’s getting, though unlike many of the contemporary New Japan matches that do get that same hype I did think it was a great match.
The opening matwork varied. I liked that they continued it after the first (few) strike exchanges, that and the bigger use of submissions is one element of the match that really reminded me of 80s New Japan classics that went even longer. The MMA matwork they opened with wasn’t very good. Shibata just moved from position to position, not really attempting anything, while Okada looked as uncomfortable as he did the last time someone tried to do the same thing against him (Nagata in a G1 match). You could explain that with Shibata projecting his dominance or whatever, but I don’t find it very interesting to watch wrestlers do nothing or move from one nothingnes to another. The WOS matwork was cool-a nice touch of Shibata picking it up new techniques in his run as the british champion. Then there was the headlock, which, happened, and they moved onto strike exchanges, the sequences you’d expect from them and occasional holds. Okada heeling it up was amusing, and it basically allowed him to stooge for Shibata’s strikes a bunch, and caused the best part of the match, which is Okada stubbornly trying to match Shibata and geating beat up over and over again. It’s been a long time since their 2012 G1 match where their incompatibility caused them to have a subpar match that consisted of a million forearms, a dropkick and a rainmaker-but they still give nods that Shibata is “different” than the usual Okada opponent, as Okada has to work to get moves like his flapjack and the diving elbow drop it, while it’s usually a given that he’ll hit them. There are no nearfalls-they milk Shibata’s submission for all they’re worth (and both Okada and Red Shoes deserve credit for their work there). Props to Okada for holding for Shibata’s leg to prevent his figure four from reaching maximal efficiency, that was a cool detail, as was Shibata grabbing hold of Okada’s arm in the Octopus Hold so Okada couldn’t escape. Shibata refusing to go down after being hit with the Rainmaker was probably the most iconic moment of the match- so much attention has been given to that move, with everyone having a counter to it, everyone avoiding it, and Okada winning with it over and over again with it despite it all. It’s not like it’s some super dangerous move, it’s just a convoluted Lariat, making a fitting no-sell that much sweeter. The ridiculousness of them building drama over holding hands could justly be attacked as a wrong turn in New Japan style, but it’s here and it isn’t going away, and it was used about as well as it could’ve here, with Shibata giving Okada a does of his own medicine by constantly laying into him while using it, only for that same trick to be what started Okada’s comeback victory.
So there was a lot going on to say the least. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if folks who are generally predisposed to disliking New Japan style thought this match was average or even bad. I’m really open to symbolism in pro-wrestling, and it’s probably why I liked the match as much as I did, but I really don’t see anything *all time great* about the match. There are plenty of matches with better beatdowns, better comebacks, more focus in the matwork and more cohesion in interwining the matwork and the rest of the match, matches where the dominance of one wrestler doesn’t telegraph the comeback and so on. Aaaaaaaaand……….even in a match where he gets beaten up all the time I still get annoyed by Okada’s stupid offence and feel like he’s getting in too much. ****