January 30, 2011
Takeshi Ono . . . damn near wrestles himself in between bouts of stiffing the daylights out of mediocre jobbers.
Manabu Suruga . . . puts on a great showing with a longtime veteran but learns the hard way that there’s no substitute for experience.
Makoto Hashi . . . shows why he probably doesn’t have much of a future in shootstyle promotions.
TAKESHI ONO vs. HAJIME MORIYAMA
This is the first that I’m seeing Moriyama, and I can’t say that I’m too eager to see any more. He doesn’t show very much anyway, and when he does get something locked in, it’s more than a bit obvious that Ono is helping him out by moving himself into the right position for it. Even something simple, like his takedown into the armbar, shows that Ono is dropping himself to the mat, rather than Moriyama forcing him down. The one really cool moment was just after Moriyama got the ropes to break an armbar, and Ono started throwing kicks at him while he was still in the ropes. Moriyama catches the foot does an Achilles lock from the apron. It’s just too bad that Ono had to change up how he was throwing the kicks in order for them to pull the spot off. Ono doesn’t look appreciably better or worse than any other time I’ve seen him. He goes out of his way to paste Moriyama with his kicks and the matwork and transitions look smooth and natural, which is a stark contrast to Moriyama. The best thing from him was his selling when Moriyama was going after his arm, it’s the only time that it truly felt like Moriyama had a prayer of winning. In that sense, this dragged on a little too long. With how mediocre Moriyama looked, it almost feels like a mark against Ono that it took him nearly fourteen minutes to win this.
FUJITA HAYATO vs. NARITA
Fujita looks reminiscent of Tamura, with his ability to work his way around or out of whatever holds his opponent may be able to lock in. But this looks like a 1984 UWF match in the worst way possible. Once it’s established that Fujita has the upper hand, he needlessly tees off on NARITA with kicks and knees until the ref finally calls it off. They even take a page out of the December ’84 match between Sayama and Fujiwara with the ref calling NARITA down and starting to count and as soon as he shows signs of life, Fujita just runs back in with more shots even though he’s not on his feet and the ref is still counting. The one moment that almost works is when Fujita lets loose with a big headbutt on NARITA and stuns himself, and NARITA tries to take advantage and get something going. Yes, Ikeda and Ishikawa made a name for themselves by doing this sort of thing to each other, but it worked because they were the only ones doing it. And if Fu-Ten is going to be based on a bunch of guys paying homage to them, then I doubt I’ll feel inclined to seek out any more of it.
KATSUMI USUDA vs. RYUCHI SEKINE
At some point over the last ten years, Usuda found the path that he needed to take, and went from being the solid, but unspectacular, undercard guy to looking like the second coming of Kazuo Yamazaki. Usuda ties him up on the mat, and never looks like he’s anything but fully in control, and also shows that his kicks can be lethal. Things look a little silly when Sekine does a headbutt and they start trading them off. But, just when you wonder what Usuda is thinking by going along with this stupidity, he counters Sekine into a deep Fujiwara armbar, and after the rope break Usuda takes him right back down and locks in a grounded crossface chickenwing. When Sekine makes his comeback and gets a small run of mostly pro-style offense, including a Finlay roll and a Walls of Jericho-esque crab hold, Usuda does a more-than-respectable job of putting everything over, especially the Regal running knee while Usuda is draped over the ropes. Usuda even somewhat puts the kid over in defeat. Sekine throws a roundhouse and Usuda counters into an ankle lock, and Sekine responds by kicking wildly and forces Usuda to neutralize that as well, and once he does Sekine has no other choice than to give it up. And just like that I’m wondering how soon Tamura can get Usuda booked in GLEAT.
MITSUYA NAGAI vs. MANABU SURUGA
This is the first match that hasn’t felt like a one-sided squash. Nagai works the arm and Suruga works the leg, and it seems like both of them have chances to win the match. If you haven’t already watched the match or read the results, then there are several points where you’ll think that the submission hold being locked in will be the last one, especially Nagai’s standing butterfly lock and Suruga’s flying armbar. The big thing that seems to separate them is experience, with Nagai having several smart touches that give him the edge and eventually the win. The first one is the use of the ropes. Even though rope breaks aren’t limited or counted against them, Nagai only uses them to escape as a last resort, preferring to outwrestle Suruga and counter him into holds of his own rather than resetting the action and giving Suruga another opening to get something else.
The other thing is that Suruga costs himself chances to win by wanting to inflict more punishment. Nagai’s leg is worn down to the point that throwing kicks with his good leg causes him to collapse just from standing on it. Nagai gets called down and the ref is giving the count. But when the ref gets to nine and Nagai still isn’t fully on his feet, Suruga runs in with a Dragon screw and then a legbar, which Nagai eventually gets out of. There was definitely a possibility that Nagai would have failed to beat the count and Suruga could have won, but by rushing back in he gives Nagai another chance. The same thing happens again after a leg lariat gets Nagai called down and Suruga interrupts the count with a stretch plum and then a sleeper, which Nagai tries to counter with an ankle hold, before rolling to the ropes. Contrast that to the finish, with Suruga running into a glancing knee strike and then Nagai hitting a second knee at full force, and before the ref can call him down or Suruga can recover, Nagai goes right for a sleeper and the ref stops it. This certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge step up from the first two matches from both a work and story standpoint, and I can safely add both of these guys to the list, alongside Usuda, as workers I’d like to see more of in this promotion.
DAISUKE IKEDA/YUKI ISHIKAWA vs. KENGO MASHIMO/MAKOTO HASHI
If Mashimo had pretty much anyone else for a partner (aside from Moriyama), then this would have been at least as good as the Usuda match. But Hashi just isn’t a good fit for this style, and it’s shown when Mashimo and Ishikawa work a thirty second mat segment that’s more engaging than what Hashi did for five minutes with both Ishikawa and Ikeda. The only thing that Hashi seems to add to the match is his hard head, which causes Ikeda to bleed and also allows Mashimo to get his offensive run with Ikeda. Hashi’s early attempts at working holds don’t look very good at all, and he’s clearly not familiar with the mechanics of how to work holds, he doesn’t do anything to show that he’s trying to get somewhere with them, which is almost certainly a byproduct of so many years in NOAH. It doesn’t help that Hashi is put into a position to look stupid. Mashimo stuns Ishikawa with a kick flurry and then tags in Hashi, so he can come off the top with a diving headbutt. But Ikeda cuts him off and tries a superplex, and when Mashimo pulls Ikeda down, he inadvertently assists Ikeda in doing the move.
Mashimo manages to bring the match back up to a certain level of respectability. He and Ishikawa work the best exchanges of the entire match, and he adds a very welcome sense of intensity to things. Ishikawa and Ikeda aren’t as young as they used to be, but they (mostly Ishikawa) are able to show that they’re not quite done yet. The quasi-comedy from Ikeda and Ishikawa is amusing, such as Ishikawa’s Indian deathlock to Mashimo and Ikeda coming in and shoving Ishikawa down which wrenches Mashimo’s knee even more. Ishikawa still has an affinity for punching people in the face, landing several shots on Mashimo before locking in a tight juji-gatame, and he shows that he can take as good as he can give when Mashimo drops some knees straight down onto his face. Hell, Ishikawa even does a respectable job of selling during the final stretch with Hashi, putting over his headbutt and other strikes before making a comeback that culminates with Ishikawa submitting him with his Viper hold. Even with Hashi being a drain for most of the match, this is still more than watchable and it’d be interesting to see how things would play out if Mashimo was paired up with someone like Fujita or Suruga.
Conclusion: It didn’t start off looking too promising, but this winds up being a very solid and fun show. I’d definitely recommend picking this up to anyone that enjoys shootstyle.