October 10, 1996
Daisuke Ikeda . . . kicks people as hard as humanly possible, and makes everyone wish that he’d never stepped into the Green Ring.
Kuniaki Kobayashi . . . looks like he’s still capable of whipping most of the New Japan junior division on a regular basis.
Gran Naniwa . . . is the standout performer in a ten-man tag match, but, he stands out in the wrong way.
World of Sport Rules: NAOHIRO HOSHIKAWA vs. JOHNNY SAINT
This is fun to watch, but, it’s just an excuse for Johnny to show off his World of Sport stylings. Johnny shows off his flashy counters and escapes, and makes Hoshikawa looks like a fool by seemingly taking the bait every single time. Hoshikawa gets fed up and tries fighting back, but it’s too late in the round and Johnny literally gets saved the bell. It’s especially notable toward the end of the second round, with Hoshikawa looking like he’s getting close to finishing him off. The fourth round looks like it’s going to be more of the same, but the action is more balanced this time, and it ends with Johnny getting the pin after a vertical suplex and float over. There really wasn’t much that could have been done to make this marginally better, since their main goal was allowing Johnny to show off his stuff. It would have been nice to see Hoshikawa show a bigger mean streak during the match, but, the short length of the rounds prevented it.
WELLINGTON WILKINS Jr. © vs. LENNY LANE (PWA Heavyweight Title)
I know that Wilkins had done matches for Maeda’s UWF, so I was hoping to see some good matwork out of him, and I wound up being disappointed. Wilkins’ work, and really the whole match, was meandering and disappointing with nothing as far a story goes. Lenny gets a near fall from a Tombstone and tries for a second one, which Wilkins counters into one of his own. Probably because Lenny read somewhere that it’s mandatory to work that spot when you wrestle in Japan. Wilkins suplexes Lane all over the place, including off the top rope, and then wins with a legbar, without having worked the leg at all. There’s an angle afterwards with Wilkins’ manager, but, honestly, I’ve already written far too much about this match.
YUKI ISHIKAWA/ALEXANDER OTSUKA vs. DAISUKE IKEDA/SATOSHI YONEYAMA
Holy smokes, why did I wait so long to watch this, and why didn’t Ikeda have matches like this in NOAH? Before the match starts, you get the feeling that these teams don’t care much for each other. And once the bell rings, it’s confirmed! Ikeda and Yoneyama take turns stiffing the ever-loving dogshit out of Otsuka. Otsuka fights back by spiking Yoneyama with a backdrop suplex. But Yoneyama is able to tag out to Ikeda, who keeps up the assault on Otsuka. Otsuka catches Ikeda in a legbar, but Ikeda is close enough to tag out. The tag causes the ref to force Otsuka to break the hold, and then they use the ref’s five count to double team Otsuka. There’s more fun when Ishikawa is trying to submit Ikeda, but he levels him with a straight punch to the face, which not only breaks the hold, but also drops Ishikawa and causes the ref to start counting him down.
The story of the match lies in Yoneyama. He’s clearly the low man on the totem pole, and any time he gets into trouble Ikeda has to make the save, or he quickly has to tag out. But, late in the match, he gets trapped in a legbar by Ishikawa, and Otsuka spikes Ikeda with a German suplex. Yoneyama is able to hold out and get the ropes to break the hold. But, the effort seems to have spent him. Ishikawa gets a few mounted punches and segues into a juji-gatame, and when Yoneyama sees Otsuka cut off Ikeda again, he quickly taps out. Maybe it’s just because of the contrast to the first two matches, but, this was an absolute blast from start to finish, especially with the disdain and disgust that both teams showed for each other. At a little more than sixteen minutes, this is actually the second longest match of the show, but it flew right by. It looks like BattlArts from ‘96 is getting added to the long list of stuff that I need to get more of.
DOS CARAS/KUNIAKI KOBAYASHI/DYNAMITE KID vs. MIL MASCARAS/GREAT SASUKE/ORIGINAL TIGER MASK
This isn’t as much of an actual match as it is an exhibition. It’s designed show that everyone not named Sasuke (and, to be fair, Kobayashi) is old, out of shape, and past their prime, but they can still go. And that’s more or less what happens, everyone gets a chance to pop the crowd by doing familiar spots and sequences, with Sasuke and Kobayashi as the two clear standout performers. It’s not exactly a shocker that Sasuke takes the bulk of the punishment, since neither Mascaras nor Sayama is in the shape to take any real bumps. There’s also, quite possibly, the first ever extended dive sequence, where everyone (sans Sayama and Dynamite) dives to the floor. It seems odd (although, again, not surprising) that Sasuke eats the pin, given that he held the J*Crown at the time (he’d actually lose it to Ultimo Dragon the following night). In that regard, it probably would have been better to have Gran Hamada in the match in place of Sasuke, it would have protected him from taking the direct loss ahead of his title match, and Hamada would have fit right in with the rest of junior legends.
GRAN HAMADA/SUPER DELFIN/GRAN NANIWA/TIGER MASK/MASATO YAKUSHIJI vs. DICK TOGO/MEN’S TEIOH/TAKA MICHINOKU/SHIRYU/SHOICHI FUNAKI
Although this certainly isn’t the first match of this sort, it’s easily one of the most famous. It’s the match that most people immediately associate with this show. It’s not the first and it’s also not the best. There are certainly things to enjoy about this match. It’s a thirty-two minute sprint of almost wall-to-wall action, involving some of the best workers of the era. One of the best compliments to give this match is that they keep things somewhat simple. Later on (and still to this day in some places), these sorts of matches would look positively choreographed, with opponents being in the right place at the right time so that the spot comes off seamlessly, even if it defies all logic. But, at its core, this is a wrestling match. You can watch the kick sequence between Teioh and Yakushiji and believe that they’re trying to hurt each other. Kaientai gets a little fancy when working over Naniwa with all five charging him in the corner and also the diving stomp sequence. But, at the end of the day, they’re trying to accomplish their goal of winning the match.
The only big negative on the match is the participation of Gran Naniwa. The only thing that he really adds to the match is being the whipping boy during the Kaientai heat segment. Other than that, he does little else other than his comedy spots and no selling, with the latter being particularly offensive because it comes on the heels of Kaientai working him over. Instead of someone saving him from being beaten, and giving him a chance to make a comeback and tag out, he just stops selling Kaientai’s offense and makes his own comeback. The finish also falls a bit flat. Aside from the fact that the last few sequences featured the spots getting ramped up (Hamada’s leaping DDT, Naniwa’s powerbomb, and Delfin’s Tornado DDT into the Delfin clutch), there’s no real sign that they’re getting ready to wind things down. Togo gives Delfin a foul to escape a suplex and then drops the senton bomb for the pin. There’s nothing especially bad about the finish itself, but it just seems to show up without any warning. It would have been easy to show the heels incapacitating the rest of the Sekigun team, or for TAKA to give Delfin the foul to save Togo from the suplex, and then have Togo finish him off. But, all things considered, this finish comes off a lot better than the finishing move and near fall marathons that would creep up later.
This may not be a great match, but, it’s certainly a very enjoyable one. And, to some extent, it’s remarkable that everyone (aside from Naniwa) could cut this sort of pace and work for more than thirty minutes without getting lost, without losing the crowd, and without doing anything stupid. Yes, it’s easy to see where things could be improved, but, it’s also just as easy to look at the matches that have tried to emulate this style and fallen woefully short, and appreciate the simplicity of what they do, even if it’s not perfect.
HAYABUSA vs. JINSEI SHINZAKI
This isn’t an actively bad match or anything, but, it’s rather underwhelming as a main event. The work itself is fine, but, there’s nothing as far as a story goes. Hayabusa works an armbar for a bit, but that doesn’t lead anywhere. Toward the end, Hayabusa collapses while he’s being whipped to the ropes, but that doesn’t go anywhere either. Shinzaki doesn’t use a single submission or do anything to work over the leg. In a nutshell, it’s Hayabusa putting Shinzaki through the ringer with his usual spots. When he misses the Phoenix splash, it lets Shinzaki put him through the ringer in return, and, it eventually ends when Shinzaki gets the pin after a crucifix powerbomb. The one thing that makes this memorable is Hayabusa’s selling. Even with a mask on, he gives off so much sympathy. When Shinzaki is doing his powerbomb and his diving headbutts, it almost seems tragic that Hayabusa is taking so much punishment. By the time the three count finally comes, you don’t know whether to be disappointed that he lost, or just relieved that it’s finally over and he doesn’t have to get hurt anymore.
Conclusion: This is certainly an interesting card. The only negative is the PWA Title match. Everything else is at least watchable, and the BattlArts tag match is a real hidden gem!