LET’S ENJOY BATTLARTS
October 30, 1996
Carl Greco . . . puts on an absolute clinic in matwork, proving himself to be more than worthy of the Malenko name that he’d later use.
Minoru Tanaka . . . attempts to win the Independent Junior Title by dropping the current champion on his head a whole bunch of times.
Alexander Otsuka . . . makes Takeshi Ono think he’s in a real-life game of Techmo World Wrestling with a giant swing that’s truly worthy of the adjective.
TETSUHIRO KURODA vs. SATOSHI YONEYAMA
This is a fun enough opener, although the work isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Yone and Kuroda’s mat exchanges are rather fluid and smooth, but it feels more like they’re simply showing off what they can do, than either of them trying to actively win the match. The story centers around Yone’s inexperience, with him making careless errors that allow Kuroda to take over the match, such as trying to stomp him in the corner and getting countered into a takedown. Yone scores a huge backdrop suplex, and instead of following up by trying to tap him out, he decides to celebrate his big moment by errantly stomping at Kuroda. Somewhat to his credit, Yone comes to realize his errors, but his over eagerness to correct them only causes him to make new ones. After he wears down Kuroda with palm strikes and knees, Yone scores a big German suplex and locks in a crab hold but has Kuroda too close to the ropes. Kuroda stuns Yone with some shots of his own, as well as a big lariat, and dumps him with a German suplex of his own and, making sure to keep Yone in the center of the ring, does a single leg crab hold and forces him to submit. Yone’s intensity was fully on display, and that and the story make this worthwhile. It’s certainly better than anything I’ve ever seen out of Kuroda in FMW.
SHOICHI FUNAKI vs. VICTOR KRUEGER
Now we’re two-for-two in matches that do a passable job of telling simple stories, in this case it’s raw power versus speed and technique, which is a story that’s about as old as the business itself. Krueger is your standard big generic white guy. He’s certainly no Stan Hansen, but he does an OK job of giving Funaki openings. They have a few smart moments that make both of them look good. The best is when Funaki tries a Fujiwara armbar and Krueger powers to his feet and counters with a sidewalk slam. Krueger tries to follow up with a running elbow drop, but Funaki moves and takes advantage with a juji-gatame. The only real smart touch from Kruger comes after Funaki is forced to break a legbar and throws a few kicks to his right leg. Funaki hits the ropes, and Krueger has enough sense to try to counter him with a boot to the face using the other leg. While it’s fun to see the story play out, the fact is that all Funaki does, aside from collect fan support, is starve off the inevitable. It’s like a man swatting at a fly. The fly may be able to avoid it, but he’s not going to be able swat down the man. Funaki can avoid the big shots, but it’s made clear that Krueger’s size and strength are enough to offset Funaki’s submissions. Kruger eventually hits a big lariat and drops Funaki with a powerbomb, and that’s enough to stop Funaki from answering the count, complete with some great selling. In a sadistic way, it’d have been interesting to see how Kruger would have fared against someone like Yamazaki or Tamura, where the size difference would be less pronounced, and Krueger would be facing someone who would know how to offset it completely.
KATSUMI USUDA vs. CARL GRECO
The best way to sum this up is that it’s a lot like the opener, without the story of Yone’s mistakes catching up with him. But the lack of story actually makes this a better match. Instead of seeing a young hothead lose because he couldn’t get out of his own way, we’re treated to two skilled grapplers duking it out to see who the better man is. Their matwork is seamless and smooth, and the only thing that happens that could be construed as an error by either of them would be going for a submission too close to the ropes. But with how much both of them try to maneuver and angle their way to any sort of advantage or escape, it sure as hell doesn’t look like Greco is intentionally trying to armbar him close to the ropes. There’s a great moment when Greco is wrenching on Usuda’s ankle and Usuda grabs Greco’s and does the same thing. The stalemate ends with Greco bailing for the ropes. It’d probably be construed by anyone watching that Usuda wins the exchange, but it’s a hollow victory at best, since it doesn’t put him any closer to winning the match.
The only really disappointing thing about this is that it doesn’t end about two minutes before it does, because they incidentally had a near perfect finish right in front of them. Usuda is able to drop Greco with a German suplex and hit some mounted palm strikes before getting a grounded sleeper. With them having spent the match trying to decide things on the mat, it would have been nice to see Usuda win by putting together the matwork with the other aspects of wrestling and win by being the more complete wrestler. Instead, Greco breaks the hold with the ropes, and Usuda gets him in a front neck lock closer to the middle of the ring to beat him, but it’s not as satisfying. Both of them showed to be essentially equal as far as the matwork went, with Usuda’s win only coming by the chance of getting Greco in the right hold in the right part of the ring. The really interesting thing would be to see how these two would have fared in a match with UWF/UWFI rules, that would limit their ability to use the ropes so often.
TAKA MICHINOKU © vs. MINORU TANAKA (Independent World Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Aside from the fact that TAKA sells like a god as well as having a few smart touches, this is a wildly inconsistent match. It seems like in the blink of an eye, TAKA and Tanaka go from not doing anything to doing way too much. They spend nearly the first eight minutes on the mat doing nothing of consequence. They also can’t seem to decide if they want to work a regular pro-style match or go full on shootstyle. At one point TAKA is getting counted down and not showing any signs of stirring, but Tanaka climbs to the top and has to wait for TAKA to get up. TAKA manages to get to his feet and turns himself right into Tanaka’s flying dropkick. TAKA takes a German suplex and a Dragon suplex and is down until nine. When TAKA gets up, Tanaka hits him with a Michinoku Driver II and a big roundhouse to the head and is still down for nine. It’s simply way too much for anyone to believably think that TAKA wouldn’t be down for that extra single second. After TAKA gets to his feet he quickly darts behind Tanaka and does a German suplex of his own and then sinks in a sleeper as though he’s completely refreshed. TAKA also doesn’t seem to want to do much to make Tanaka look good early on. They both focus on the leg with each of them getting on a leg submission that forces the other man to bail to the ropes. But the difference is that Tanaka lingers for a few moments in order to put over the hold and show that TAKA is getting somewhere with it. Tanaka even does a respectable job putting over a figure four. When Tanaka gets something on TAKA, he bails straight away, almost before anyone can even register what’s happened. It’s arguable that his urgency in bailing shows how effective the hold is, but he’d have been better served to follow Tanaka’s lead and make a show of it. TAKA finds the happy medium a bit later on, when he flails for the ropes and comes up short, so he has to scratch and claw his way there.
The best way to sum this up is that it’s a mishmash of some passable shootstyle work and some of the more frustrating excesses to be found with junior and/or indy wrestling. It’s great that TAKA is willing to take nasty shots, big bumps, stay down until nine, and get up looking like he doesn’t know where he is. But after a while it stops being believable that Tanaka can’t do anything that keeps him down for the count, especially when Tanaka spikes him with the Michinoku Driver II. Luckily they have a few smart moments to the match that remind you of how good they can be. Their quickness is fully on display with their early mat exchanges. There’s a nice sequence where TAKA gets a mount and errantly rubs his forearm in Tanaka’s face and then tries a juji-gatame, and Tanaka is right there with a block, and then tries his own quick counter into a legbar. It’s also nice to see that they build up to the finish a little bit and use it to put over TAKA’s tenacity. TAKA hits Tanaka with the Michinoku Driver II and goes for a sleeper, which Tanaka escapes by turning TAKA’s ankle and then turns that into a legbar that forces TAKA to go for the ropes. A bit later, TAKA hits a German suplex and goes back to the sleeper. Tanaka tries the same escape again, only this time TAKA uses his other foot to kick Tanaka’s hands away and keeps the hold on and winds up putting Tanaka out with it. TAKA had been great for nearly the whole match in selling his leg, and it was certainly credible that Tanaka could have beaten him with a leg hold, but TAKA responds by finding a way to stay out of the legbar and keep the sleeper on to ultimately win. If only they’d toned down some of the nuttiness in the last six or so minutes, namely Tanaka’s overkill in spiking TAKA on his head and TAKA’s pop-up to do the German suplex, this would have been head and shoulders above everything that came before it. ***
YUKI ISHIKAWA/ALEXANDER OTSUKA vs. DAISUKE IKEDA/TAKESHI ONO
Although this lacks the overall hate and the faster pace of the Ishikawa/Ikeda tag match from 10/10, this is a bit more structured and gives the viewer a better sense of the BattlArts rules if one isn’t completely familiar with them. The tag matches seem to have some lucha-influence with the idea that leaving the ring constitutes a tag. Ishikawa breaks up a legbar that Ikeda has on Otsuka, and puts on his own, while Otsuka can simply roll to the floor to make Ishikawa the legal man. It’s also fun to see something of a southern tag environment in a shootstyle setting, with Ikeda helping out Ono with cheap shots from the apron to Ishikawa to keep his partner out of trouble. This leads to a great revenge spot with Ikeda having Otsuka in a standing front headlock and Ishikawa comes it and stuns Ikeda with a headbutt, and Otsuka winds up turning that into a Northern Lights suplex, not only doing the same thing that Ikeda and Ono were doing, but also doing it in a much more dangerous and effective manner.
The only thing that seems outright odd is that the heat segment of the match is more focused on Ikeda rather than Ono. There is a decently long stretch of Ishikawa trying to work a hold on Ikeda, only for Ono to run in and break it up, and when Ono finally tags in, he looks like a shootstyle Robert Gibson, coming in all fired up to unload on Ishikawa. But, aside from that oddity, there are plenty of flashy moments that keep the viewer entertained and intrigued for nearly the whole match, so it never feels like it’s getting stale. Even the early stuff has memorable things, such as Ishikawa trying an ankle lock and Ikeda having a clever escape ready. And probably the coolest moment of the match is Otsuka’s giant swing to Ono. Cesaro has nothing on Otsuka for making a swing look truly giant, and instead of just putting him down, Otsuka goes all the way and just throws Ono. The story of the match seems to be that Ishikawa and Otsuka have a better sense of how to use the rules their advantage. Sure, Ikeda and Ono breaking things up with a nice stiff kick to the back seems to work, but it’s more effective long term to do something that will do more than simply break up a hold, such as Otsuka’s German suplex or Ishikawa going back to the legbar to keeping wearing Ikeda down. Ikeda is clearly the weak link of his team, as shown by how worn down he’s become as the match wears on, and when Otsuka dumps Ono with a German and ties him up, nothing can save Ikeda from Ishikawa’s armbar and the ref has to call it. Again, it seems odd that Ikeda is the one who drops the fall, but I suppose it reenforces the notion of who exactly the top guy is.
Conclusion: If nothing else, one can’t say that the show’s title is a lie. If the goal is to get familiar with the group and to “Enjoy BattlArts” this is a good choice.