BIG JAPAN ON SAMURAI TV
Shadow VII . . . makes a tag team match just barely watchable with some good old-fashioned Lucha Libre!
Isao “Arashi” Takagi . . . joins the Dick Togo club of bulky men who come off the top rope.
Ikuto Hidaka . . . latches onto Tajiri’s knee like he’s some kind of experimental spider monkey that’s been trained in shootstyle wrestling.
MAKOTO SAITO vs. TADAHIRO FUJISAKI
Both of these two had been around for a little while at this point, although you wouldn’t know it from watching this. They look like a pair of green rookies who were still trying to put things together. There aren’t a whole lot of wrestling exchanges anyway, and the few that we do see look slow and loose, as though they’re not trying to work too hard to get to where they’re supposed to be. Saito and his kick-heavy offense is the bulk of what we’re shown, but it’s the same story there with Saito throwing them extra slow. If he was setting up Fujisaki to duck or counter one of them to go back on offense, it’d be one thing. It would still look exposing, but at least there’d be a reason for it. This is just Saito connecting over and over with slow kicks that don’t seem to have much effect. The one cool moment was Saito’s springboard spin kick, which isn’t even worthy of a pin attempt. Saito just picks him up and hits an ugly Michinoku Driver for the win. Come to think of it, Saito versus an extra grumpy TAKA could be a boatload of fun, at least on a visceral level.
AYA KOYAMA vs. MIHO KAWASAKI
This isn’t anything special, but the intensity from both women is a very welcome sight. This isn’t a terribly long match in the first place, and they work such a frantic pace that there isn’t much in the way of themes or storytelling. But, they have a few nice moments that display the urgency that both of them seem to have, with Miho’s spear and takedown being the big highlight. Koyama’s takeover into the juji-gatame is a fine finish, but it would have come off better if Miho had tapped right away, to show how easily she can submit someone, or if they’d slowed down a bit and allowed Koyama to work the arm over for a bit and build up to the finish.
JASON THE TERRIBLE/SHADOW VII vs. POTRO SALVAJE/MASAYOSHI MOTEGI
Thank God for clipping, because this was looking like hot garbage before Shadow and Potro abruptly ended things at well under the eleven minutes that this apparently lasted. The only things to see here are Shadow’s lucha spots, namely the arm drags, the back flip off the top, and the rana that he pins Potro with. Motegi and Potro were dull and plodding when working over Jason, and Jason wasn’t exactly a master of selling to make that segment work any better. Pair up Shadow with Fujisaki and Motegi with Saito, and you might have a fun little tag match, especially if Motegi could really let his grumpy side out.
ISAO TAKAGI/OSAMU KAWAHARA vs. KAZUHIKO MATSUZAKI/KISHIN KAWABATA
LUMPY HEAVYWEIGHTS! This is yet another match that gets clipped to shreds, but it looks just a little bit like a real wrestling match, so I’ll take it. This is actually mostly unremarkable aside from Matsuzaki’s gusher. It apparently comes from a chair shot from Kawahara, and Arashi rams him into the side of the ring truck a couple of times just to keep the blood flowing. Arashi follows up with his double chickenwing hold, which isn’t particularly effective in this context, but the sight of Matsuzaki struggling in the hold with the proverbial crimson mask does make for a sick visual. Kawabata tries to make a save, but he and Arashi have their timing off, which telegraphs Arashi’s back drop to the floor, and then Arashi ends it with his frog splash. This has its fun moments, but this is in no way a good wrestling match.
NAOHIRO HOSHIKAWA/RYUJI YAMAKAWA/TOMOAKI HONMA vs. KATSUMI USUDA/GRAN NANIWA/YUTAKA FUJITA
This is a lot of fun, but it never quite comes together the way you’d expect of a match with so many solid workers. The story of the match is each team’s lowest ranked member, Fujita and Honma, having to weather the storm of an onslaught by the other team, and having some good exchanges with each other. It’s also nice that the other four don’t do anything to detract from the story going on, even Naniwa is only in for short stretches. It’s a bit of a disappointment that the finish doesn’t come down to Honma versus Fujita with one of them ultimately winning out, but the finishing stretch from Usuda and Honma is very well done, and it does its job of showing Honma’s place overall.
As nice as it is to watch the story play out, it would have been nice to see some more heelishness from each team when their respective lowest ranked opponent was getting worked over. The closest that we see is Hoshikawa’s team putting the boots to Fujita, followed by a Kaientai-esque triple beatdown sequence of forearm shots to the back, and a little bit later when Fujita is able to get Hoshikawa backed into his team’s corner, they return the favor with a shoe job and a triple beatdown of their own. Honma is the victim of an armbar in the corner from Usuda, with Naniwa and Fujita holding his legs on the floor. The other great thing to see here is that when Honma and Fujita are in trouble, they don’t rely on their partners to bail them out, they both wind up making their own comeback by having to outwrestle or outsmart their opponent. Fujita avoids a corner charge from Hoshikawa, but instead of tagging out when he gets the chance, he sees Hoshikawa roll to the floor, and he charges for a baseball slide, which Hoshikawa avoids, and once they return to the ring, then he’s got to get Hoshikawa to his corner so that he can tag out. Honma gets trapped in an ankle lock while Fujita and Naniwa keep the other team at bay, so he has to escape it himself. He also succeeds where Fujita fails by stunning Usuda with a waterwheel drop and connecting on a big dive onto Usuda on the floor.
Both Usuda and Yamakawa find little ways to put over Honma and Fujita to keep the story going, without doing anything that might damage their own reputations. Yamakawa’s is probably his best moment of the match, he sees Fujita climb the ropes for a drop kick and he more or less dares him to do it, thinking he’s big enough to just suck it up. It doesn’t work, and Yamakawa gets dropped. He gets back to his feet, angry at being shown up, and sees Fujita climbing again. He thinks he’s ready for it, and once again, Fujita’s dropkick takes him down. Honma, obviously, doesn’t have Usuda’s shootstyle background, so when Usuda is peppering him with kicks and palm strikes, he can only fire back with slaps, but when Honma does return fire, Usuda’s reaction to Honma’s slaps is perfect. Again, with the story that plays out, and the urgency that they showed in their exchanges with each other, it would have been nice to see Fujita win the match by beating Honma, or vice versa, but Fujita tagging out to Usuda shows his awareness of his limitations to some degree. Honma’s team had been using suplexes on Fujita, and after Honma’s near fall from the German suplex, Fujita knows that he can’t take much more, so he counters Honma with a German of his own and then tags in Usuda. Usuda tries to submit Honma with a couple different armbars, but yet again, Honma makes his own save by getting the ropes. Honma ducks a kick and tries for another German, but Usuda counters into a chickenwing armlock for an instant submission. Even if Usuda hadn’t used the earlier armbars, the quick tap out would still make perfect sense, with Honma being outwrestled into a predicament that he’s unable to get himself out of. If the rest of the workers had showed the same fire and urgency as the Honma/Fujita exchanges, and either team showed some semblance of attitude to push the story forward, this could have been a lot better. It still smokes everything else on this card so far, but it doesn’t touch the better matches from the junior title tournament from the month before. ***
YOSHIHIRO TAJIRI © vs. IKUTO HIDAKA (BJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)
If you’re a fan of lucha inspired and/or shootstyle matwork, this is something you’ll want to see. Hidaka and Tajiri’s early mat exchanges are smooth and effortless, and once Hidaka decides to start focusing on Tajiri’s leg, he rarely strays from it, and Tajiri is great at getting over how Hidaka’s leg work is getting him closer and closer to the title. Even when Hidaka locks in the single leg crab, which nobody expects to finish off anyone other than a green rookie, Tajiri’s urgency in getting the rope break shows everyone how much the ‘simple’ hold his actually hurting him. He makes up for it when Hidaka gets his second control segment, but Tajiri blowing off the leg work for his comeback is the only real mark against this match. Tajiri just starts working over Hidaka like nothing happened. And even worse is that Hidaka goes back to the leg to get control again, when Tajiri throws a kick from the apron, ostensibly to set up an Asai moonsault, and Hidaka catches it and takes him down.
Hidaka’s second run of offense against the leg is even better than the first. He shows the ability to seemingly get a cross kneelock from any position possible, including a swank segue from a German suplex. It really doesn’t say much about the hold itself that Hidaka can get it on Tajiri, seemingly at will, and not be able to submit him with it. But it’s nice to see that Hidaka is skilled enough to get to the hold in such a variety of ways. Tajiri is much better about selling consistently when it’s his turn to control things. He sells after his initial flash cradle, and when he gets the knees up on Hidaka’s moonsault. Instead of trying to beat Hidaka on the mat, where Hidaka had already bested him a few times, Tajiri opts for more high impact things, such as his brainbuster and German suplex. Tajiri wins by putting the two of them together, after Hidaka had escaped the brainbuster and nearly pinned him with a backslide. Tajiri stuns him with a sitdown powerbomb and then locked in an inverted crab hold to make him submit. This doesn’t hit the same level as Tajiri’s title win over Gedo, mostly because Hidaka wasn’t presented as being a threat to Tajiri the way that Gedo was, but this is still head and shoulders above everything else on this card, and Tajiri’s matches continue to be the highlight of these Big Japan shows. ***1/4
SHADOW WX/SHADOW WINGER © vs. YUICHI TANIGUCHI/GENNOSUKE KOBAYASHI (BJPW Tag Team Titles)
After leaving the penthouse, we go to the outhouse! Kobayashi busts himself open giving Winger a headbutt, and not a Kikuchi or a Yamazaki-to-Maeda one either. The Shadows work the cut over for a bit, and a whole lot of nothing happens. They do a few things to try to drum up some heat for Kobayashi to tag out. Winger fouls him, and there’s a tag behind the ref’s back, but the crowd doesn’t really react at all. There’s a decent sized pop when Taniguchi finally does tag in, but for some reason WX and Kobayashi start brawling on top of the ring truck and anyone expecting something exciting, like a dive, is disappointed. Kobayashi and Taniguchi roll out some decent spots on Winger, including Kobayashi hitting a diving headbutt, but he’s able to hold out until his partner shows up, and they wind up pinning Kobayashi with a TKO after nearly twenty minutes of a match that was probably fifteen minutes too long.
SHOJI NAKAMAKI vs. GREAT POGO
Watching this pile of shit made me consider canceling my donation to prevent blindness. It’s just as bad as the Jason/Shadow tag match, and there’s not even any lucha stylings to be seen. They both plod around and introduce various forms of plunder and then make each other bleed a bunch. The little bit of actual wrestling they try to do is just sloppy. Pogo does a vertical suplex into the ring from the apron, with Nakamaki doing 90% of the work and putting himself into position, and Pogo’s DDT, that actually winds up dropping Nakamaki on his shoulder. Nakamaki does a bit of a Hulk-Up after the vertical suplex, for no real reason, and then Pogo starts bringing in power tools. I don’t know if Nakamaki was actually being gouged with them or not. If not, his selling and reactions were amazing. If so, then I admire his dedication to the “craft” to allow himself to willingly have that done, even if I think it’s beyond idiotic. Pogo wins and then Pogo and the tag champs all blow fireballs on him.
Conclusion: The enjoyment from seeing the early days of Tajiri, Hidaka and Fujita pretty much equals the exasperation of having to watch everything else. If there’s any other way to see the junior title and the trios matches, go that route instead.