January 21, 1997
Naohiro Hoshikawa . . . looks like someone capable of holding his own with the UWF boys, rather than an undercard guy from Michinoku Pro.
Gran Naniwa . . . taps a gusher and does an admirable job holding his own alongside some of the best juniors in the world at this time.
Takeshi Ono . . . kicks Daisuke Ikeda in the leg like he’s trying to hobble him and collect a debt.
SHOICHI FUNAKI vs. IKUTO HIDAKA
Hidaka’s debut! And he puts in quite a fun performance. He’s fired up and energetic and he takes Funaki by surprise a few times, which never fails to get the crowd excited. It’s a nice change of pace from seeing the young boy matches from U-STYLE, where guys like Okubo and Yoshida basically curl up and die for their opponents without putting up much of a real fight. Funaki didn’t have the sadistic edge that you’d have expected from a Kaientai member, but he had some nice moments, such as rolling Hidaka into a front choke and when Hidaka tries to wiggle himself free, Funaki seamlessly transitions to an armbar. They tease the finish with Hidaka’s missed enzuigiri and Funaki putting on a half crab, but Hidaka makes the ropes for a break. Funaki takes the first opening to hit a dropkick to the knee and slap on a cross kneelock to force Hidaka to submit. This doesn’t go very long, but it’s amazingly effective, and does a great job of showing that Hidaka will be someone to contend with once he gets some real experience.
ALEXANDER OTSUKA vs. NAOHIRO HOSHIKAWA
Wow, this has to be one of the nuttiest shootstyle matches out there. Hoshikawa not only holds his own on the mat with Otsuka, but he virtually dominates him, and Otsuka busts out the fucking Giant Swing of all things. There are a few times when it seems like Otsuka is going to take over the match on the mat, such as his surprise reversal to get on an ankle lock, but Hoshikawa is always right there with a clever escape or counter to keep the pressure on. It’s the exact opposite of how one would expect a match between a Michinoku Pro trained guy and someone trained by The Fuj to play out in a BattlArts ring. In addition to looking great on the mat, Otsuka also stooges and sells like a champ for Hoshikawa, making it seem like his pro-style stuff like the surprise DDT and diving enzuigiri are going to keep him down for good. But just when it looks like Otsuka is all but finished, he avoids a corner charge and plants Hoshikawa with a German suplex. It doesn’t do much damage, but it slows him down enough to give Otsuka openings for more suplexes including a capture suplex and a fisherman’s buster, and those take enough of a toll for Otsuka to keep up the suplex onslaught and put Hoshikawa down for good. This makes two matches in a row that the person who was obviously going to lose was made to look as good as possible before doing so.
DICK TOGO/TAKA MICHINOKU/MEN’S TEIOH/SHIRYU vs. GREAT SASUKE/GRAN HAMADA/MASATO YAKUSHIJI/GRAN NANIWA
Aside from a few ugly moments, this is the usual fun and hell-on-wheels match between these factions during this time frame. It starts with some token work and spots from everyone involved, and then turns into a giant brawl all over ringside and even spilling into the back. Gran Naniwa usually sticks out like a sore thumb in these matches, with his work being so much worse than everyone else, but even he looks pretty good here. He has a fun sequence with TAKA, and when it’s obvious he’s in a bit over his head, Hamada runs in and helps him stay level. The only altogether odd moments come from Teioh and Yakushiji, with Teioh’s bumping making the cooperation a little too obvious with the way he throws himself out of the ring and then gives Yakushiji plenty of help pulling off the baseball side into rana on the floor. TAKA and Togo show the nastiness that Funaki was lacking in the opener, and Sasuke and Hamada easily match them in that department.
The match settles down for a bit with Naniwa as the Kaientai whipping boy, including some mask ripping and blood, with some great selling from Naniwa to show how weak the blood loss is making him. The sekigun team gets some revenge by working over Shiryu and tearing at his mask, but it doesn’t last nearly as long. It’s also neat to see the match decided between each team’s weak link, with Naniwa getting the pin on Shiryu, and only getting help from his teammates in the form of them coming in to prevent the other Kaientai members from helping out Shiryu. After two competitive, but overall respectful, matches, a hateful and bloody (at least in Naniwa’s case) brawl and spotfest is certainly a change of pace.
MINORU TANAKA vs. ORIGINAL TIGER MASK
Looking at Sayama’s work, there isn’t much at all that would separate this from the matches that he was having in 1985. Sayama throws a lot of kicks, which rarely make good contact, and doesn’t look to be much more than decent on the mat. He’s just packed on some extra weight here. Sayama and Tanaka have a few nice exchanges, such as Tanaka blocking a Tiger suplex and Sayama switching gears and locking him in a crossface chickenwing (which is something they go back to several times), but there’s also moments of absurdity, mostly when Tanaka takes something and sells it like death, only to spring back to offense as though nothing is wrong. He gets hit with a surprise leg kick from Sayama and nearly stays down for the full count because he can’t seem to get his footing, and then he charges in and fires away with kicks to take control. Tanaka also gets planted with a big German suplex and jumps back up at the nine count and avoids a few shots before going for the Minoru Special. Even the finish feels anticlimactic, with Sayama getting out of the armbar with a rope break and Tanaka grabbing a full nelson (ostensibly for a Dragon suplex) and Sayama countering into the crossface chickenwing and making Tanaka pass out. It’d be easy to lay the blame for this being so underwhelming on Sayama and say that Tanaka deserved better. Honestly, Tanaka is established enough that it’s probably true, but it’s not like he was out there putting on a classic match before getting torpedoed by Sayama.
YUKI ISHIKAWA/TAKESHI ONO vs. DAISUKE IKEDA/KATSUMI USUDA
This is a great way to cap off a very fun show. There’s plenty of things to like here, with good mat exchanges from Usuda and Ono and it’s nice to see the two lower ranked partners go at each other with the same fervor as their partners. But this is a match featuring Ishikawa versus Ikeda. All of that is completely secondary to stiffing the ever-loving piss out of each other, and they do just that whenever the chance arises. They also work in some pro-style psychology into things with Ishikawa and Ono targeting Ikeda’s leg and turn this into a sort of quasi shootstyle southern tag match. Ono provides, quite possibly, the best heel moment of the entire card after Ishikawa gives Usuda a backdrop suplex. Usuda is still out of it when he gets to his feet and Ono tags in and does a weak high kick that knocks him back down, and Ono raises his arms and poses.
Ishikawa and Ikeda also take full advantage of the tag team setting and aren’t afraid to let Usuda and Ono look good against them. Usuda outwrestles Ishikawa into a juji-gatame, and Ono runs in and breaks the hold with a kick to Usuda’s back, and Usuda does the same thing when Ono gets a legbar on Ikeda. There’s a nice revenge spot from Ono when he kicks Ikeda’s hands to unclasp them and allow Ishikawa to secure the juji-gatame, after Ikeda had smoothly outwrestled Ono earlier in the match to get the same hold. Despite the fact that only a few months ago Ono was teaming with Ikeda against Ishikawa, it feels like Ono has just as much of a grudge with Ikeda as Ishikawa. The finish comes down to Ono losing his focus on winning and going after Ikeda. He gets Usuda in an Octopus hold, and Ikeda breaks it up. Ono goes for the cheap shot with a leg kick, and Ikeda stays on his feet and drills Ono with a Dai-Chan bomber. As Ono is getting up Usuda hits a spinning chop to the back and then locks in a sleeper to put Ono out while Ikeda is holding off Ishikawa. The intensity and hate would have been enough to make this a good match, but the addition of storytelling and smart work pushes it to the next level.
Conclusion: This is definitely a good pickup, whether you’re a longtime BattlArts fan or someone just wanting to get your feet wet.