FLYIN’ SOLO #1
In future editions I’ll cut to the chase, but, being the first, an intro is in order. Flyin’ Solo will consist of standalone match reviews, rather than entire shows, commercial releases, TV blocks, etc. Sometimes there will an underlying theme (title changes here and Jumbo’s AWA Title reign next), but other times it will simply consist of random matches that I felt the need to write about.
KERRY VON ERICH © vs. RIC FLAIR (NWA World Heavyweight Title 2/3 Falls) - All Japan 5/24/84
The first fall is fairly pedestrian, Flair and Kerry don’t seem to know where they want to take the match, so they just throw stuff out and see what works. But aside from a few nice transitions, such as Kerry’s reversal of Flair’s whip into the corner that leads to the sleeper hold, and the spot where Flair sees Kerry charging and ole’s him to the floor, there isn’t that much that works. It’s a shame because it didn’t have to turn out like that. Kerry’s claw hand is still taped up from the beating that it got from Jumbo’s challenge to Kerry two days before and Flair isn’t above taking a cheap shot or two, although he is here, for some reason. Even when Kerry tries for the claw, Flair just tries to block it, like he normally would, despite having a perfect opening to prevent it. Kerry even spends a good portion of the fall throwing punches with that hand, and not showing any effects from the Jumbo match, aside from selling the hand after a missed elbow drop. Well, he does stumble backwards a couple of times after punching Flair, but that’s not the sort of thing that one would associate with an injured hand. Even more weird, is that Kerry wins the first fall with the claw, the finish itself is fine, Flair does the corner flip, runs to the top and jumps right into it. But having such an easy opening to build the match (or at least the fall) around it, and then not only ignoring it, but then not doing anything worthwhile instead, just leaves the fall feeling flat.
The second fall is much more focused, but that’s more than likely due to the fact that Flair spends the bulk of it in control, and doesn’t let Kerry do anything stupid, and the fact that it’s a lot shorter. Putting aside their ugly sunset flip spot where Kerry comes in from the apron and Flair tries to fight it, but isn’t able to, this is straightforward and to the point. Flair counters Kerry’s headlock into a knee buster and takes him to school, he starts by draping the knee across the bottom rope and dropping down onto it a couple of times, and then goes to the figure four and gets the quick submission. It’s most too quick, you’d think that Kerry would have tried to fight the pain and escape, although, with another fall to go, it’s probably wise of him to try to conserve all the strength that he can.
Flair starts out the third fall by smartly trying to follow up on the win, and it results in a cute spot where Flair goes for the figure four again, and Kerry counters into the claw hold. This has a few more nice spots like that, such as Flair’s attempted hip toss that Kerry counters into a Cobra Twist, and then sees the opening he created for himself and does a stomach claw. The finish is also one of their nicer moments, with Kerry doing the O’Connor roll and Flair rolling through into his own (with Flair almost sitting on Kerry’s legs) to begin his third reign. Beyond spots like that, this is more like their first fall, with them not really laying the groundwork for anything, only they replace the time killing stuff for more exciting looking things like their double KO spot, Kerry’s backslide near fall (the move he’d used to beat Flair in Texas), and Flair back dropping Kerry to the floor.
At it’s best this is passable, bordering on good at times, almost entirely thanks to Flair. Which, honestly, isn’t really a surprise. There’s a reason that Flair has the rep of being able to wrestle a broomstick, while Kerry’s rep as a worker (outside of Texas in the ‘80's) is much less. That’s probably a big reason why All Japan was chosen to host the title change, aside from short reigns like Baba, Rich, and Kerry, the title usually changed hands in neutral areas anyway (Amarillo’s Dory Funk beat Canada’s Gene Kiniski in Florida, Florida’s Jack Brisco beat Kansas City’s Harley Race in Houston, Mid Atlantic’s Ric Flair beat Florida’s Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City). And the diehard World Class and Von Erich fans would never see the match, and thus, not see Kerry getting outclassed by Flair.
HIRO SAITO vs. BRAD ARMSTRONG (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title Decision Match) - All Japan 7/31/86
Why, yes, Hiro Saito was actually young once (and rocking a mullet in ‘86). I guess that means that Fuchi was young once too. This isn’t bad as a simple Native vs. Gaijin match, but it’s not as good as one would expect, given that it’s got Brad Armstrong involved. Armstrong isn’t bad, but he drags the match down by trying to look like he’s a junior Stan Hansen (he probably spent most of the tour teaming with Hansen and DiBiase), but doing it with his typical U.S. babyface offense. It’s hard to buy Brad as a Hansen-esqe bad ass, when his big move is to jump up and give Hiro a headlock takedown. Seeing Brad get fired up and ram Hiro into the post was a nice change of pace, but it was gone as soon as it was there. The area where Brad comes through is in his selling. Brad and Hiro have a brief slugfest, Hiro surprises Brad with a headbutt and Brad puts it over perfectly. He staggers back and throws a couple wild swings, looking like he doesn’t have a clue where he is and then falls to the mat. When Hiro hits the German suplex that gets the win, Brad also goes the extra mile to put over the move after the match has ended.
Hiro doesn’t do anything as dynamic as Brad’s selling, but he brings his own good stuff to the table in the form of working over Brad’s arm. The work doesn’t accomplish anything beyond killing time. Brad’s arm isn’t made into any sort of permanent focus, and it doesn’t factor into the finish, but it’s nice to see that Hiro can actually wrestle, since he’s much more well known as the grizzled vet who likes the senton. He also does a pescado, and his German suplex after Brad missed the charge into the corner was a great finish, even if it was out of the blue. This is actually fairly typical of the All Japan Jr. Title scene for the most part, solid, but not as spectacular as New Japan.
STING © vs. KENSUKE SASAKI (WCW United States Heavyweight Title) - New Japan 11/13/95
I’ve never understood why Sasaki, of all people, was given the title here. Sure, he’d made the occasional appearance for WCW (Clash XXI, Slamboree ‘93) but he was never featured as a real attraction the way that Muta was. Then again, there weren’t too many options available. There weren’t many NJPW wrestlers that the WCW fanbase would be familiar with, and the few who they would be familiar with, like Muta and maybe Hase, had other things going on. I’ve never been of the mind that Sting was a great worker, but he’s passable here at first. He stays busy by working over Sasaki’s knee in preparation for the Scorpion Deathlock. Sting’s actual work when going after the knee won’t cause anyone to mistake him for Ric Flair, but he seems to make a conscious effort to be both technically sound and somewhat demonstrative with it.
Sting may be no great shakes, but compared to Sasaki, he’s the second coming of The Destroyer. Sasaki decides he wants to make a comeback and makes sure to undo Sting’s smart, if unspectacular, work while doing it. It starts with Sting attempting a splash from the top and hitting knees, and then Sasaki hits his running facebuster, and follows up with a backdrop suplex and a powerslam, without any problem with his leg, aside from a little bit of selling after the facebuster. Then, just to really hammer home the idea that Sting going after the leg didn’t mean anything, he uses the Stranglehold Gamma and doesn’t have any problem with the pressure it exerts on his leg. Sting escapes the hold and then more or less throws his hands up in the air. Its Sasaki’s night and if he’s going to mail it in, then who is Sting to argue? There’s nothing wrong with the moves they do, aside from Sasaki’s delayed bump from Sting’s jumping DDT, but there’s no context to anything that they do.
Sting does go for the Scorpion, despite the build to it being dead in the water, and Sasaki isn’t any more generous this time around, crawling to the ropes on his own power twice. A minute or so later, Sting misses the Stinger splash and Kensuke hits the Ippon Seionage and NLB in quick order to win the title. I’d understand the mentality of the lopsidedness of the match if Sasaki were beating someone the NJPW fans weren’t familiar with or someone lower in the pecking order, like Bagwell or Craig Pittman. But Sting had worked several major Dome shows for NJPW and he, as well as WCW and the U.S. Title, deserved better.
BUH BUH RAY DUDLEY/D-VON DUDLEY © vs. ROB VAN DAM/SABU (ECW Tag Team Titles) - FMW 12/13/98
The only good thing here is seeing that Bubba is brave/manly/stupid enough to take various forms of Vandaminators flush to the noggin and being smart enough to sell them like he’s dead. Other than that, this is just a mindless brawl, and it’s not one that’s very well done for the most part. Look at Sabu’s attempts to do his triple jump spot using the chair and diving to the floor. He has to try it three times and none of them work for him, and then RVD just dives right out onto the Dudleys, which only makes Sabu look that much worse. Being in FMW rather than ECW also hurts this, because the fans’ genuine hatred of the Dudleys always played a part in their matches, and with that aspect not present, they really needed to go the extra mile with their work to make up for it, and they don’t.
The match isn’t devoid of wrestling, but it may as well be, the wrestling spots that are used, like the Dudley’s double neckbreaker and the dual legdrop/frog splash from RVD/Sabu, don’t really matter at all, they’re not trying to tell any kind of discernable story, they’re just killing time till the finish. And they can’t even be bothered to do a halfway sensible finish, Bubba takes his third Van Daminator when Sabu throws him the chair, Sabu his D-Von with the Arabian Facebuster, and then they both pin Bubba to win the titles. It says enough that both of them needed to pin Bubba to get the win, but the fact that they pinned Bubba, and not the guy who just took one of Sabu’s finishers (he’d used it to pin Shane Douglas, the ECW Champion, only a month or so before this) speaks for itself about how much thought went into the match.