Taped 6/29/03


Katsuhisa Fujii . . . continues using the U-STYLE young boys as suplex dummies while he waits for a real challenge.

Kyosuke Sasaki . . . once again proves why he’s amongst the best workers on the roster, despite being booked to constantly lose.

Takaku Fuke . . . proves to be no different than anyone else on the U-STYLE roster thus far, inferior to Tamura in every way.



This winds up being similar to the match that Kimura had with Hara on the debut show. Kimura shows to be the better mat worker, but his lack of well-roundedness winds up leading to his undoing. The really odd thing is that it takes Echigo so long to figure out how he can beat Kimura. Echigo proves to be competent on the mat, but that’s about it. He’s able to hold his own and keep Kimura stationary for a time, but he can’t do any real damage and Kimura is able to think and wiggle his way into escapes or reversals. Even after Echigo is able to get something going, such as catching an errant kick or his slam to escape Kimura’s attempt at the Triangle choke, he still wants to press things on the mat, rather than play up what got him the opening in the first place. It’s not until Echigo burns his last point on a rope break that it seems to dawn on him that trying to best Kimura on the mat won’t win him the match. He drops Kimura with an Exploder and then a German suplex, with no real resistance from Kimura, and gets a quick tap out from the juji-gatame.



This is pretty much the perfect use of both men. Yoshida and Okubo getting used as fodder for Fujii keeps them visible, while also not exposing how not ready they are to carry their weight working with the more formidable workers in the company. Fujii squashing the rookies is an easy way to keep him occupied until the eventual showdown with Tamura (which everyone knows is what this is all leading up to). Yoshida looks like a more game opponent than he did in his debut with Ito, trying to jumpstart the match and attack with strikes, but Fujii is just too skilled and too strong to get outdone that way. He makes Yoshida burn a couple of points with submissions and then hits a big German suplex followed by a Dragon suplex for the KO win.



Truth be told, this is as close as Okubo has come to looking like a capable worker, although that probably speaks more about Hara and his spot in the U-STYLE pecking order than it does anything else. The matwork is relatively busy here, with both of them trading lots of holds, counters, and escapes, rather than anyone looking to be in over their head, the way Echigo was in his match. They’re both able to take the other by surprise and knock off points, but neither is able to score anything big enough to end the match. The eventually just forgo the matwork and paste each other with kicks until Okubo can’t take anymore, and Hara swoops in with the flying armbar to submit him. Whether Tamura is only booking Hara to be a warm body on the undercards of his shows, or if he’s got some sort of plan for him, it’s nice to see Hara being able to genuinely work with Okubo, which nobody else has shown to be able to do thus far.



After an undercard of matches that look like little more than exhibitions, this is the first match that really feels like an actual contest. Sasaki and Mishima look like they were made to wrestle each other. Sasaki has no problems keeping up with, and playing off of, Mishima’s flashiness and neither has any qualms about burning through points, even on something simple as Mishima surprising Sasaki with a spinning kick to the forehead. The ref calls him down and docks a point, and Sasaki curses himself for getting outsmarted like that. They work several extended sequences on the mat and show more grace and fluidity than anyone else has thus far. Their best exchange starts with Sasaki diving for a leg, and after they trade off various escapes and counters, including Mishima hitting one of the best German suplexes that you’ll ever see, Sasaki ends up twisting Mishima’s ankle and forces a rope break. He wants the leg and after he patiently works through what Mishima throws at him, he eventually gets it and makes the most of it.


The other thing that they never lack in is drama. They go through quite a few points by getting holds on close to the ropes, and they play off that after they each get down to their last point when Mishima intentionally locks in a legbar near the ropes to see if Sasaki will take the bait, which he doesn’t. They also each get in something particularly nasty looking in the center of the ring, that they have to escape from, before Mishima traps Sasaki in an ankle lock and forces him to tap out. It’s disappointing to see Sasaki lose that way, but Sasaki makes it clear that he’s not simply tapping to the hold, the way that Kimura and Okubo did, he’s also tapping because he knows he’s trapped with no viable means of escape. Sasaki losing on points instead of submission would have been a nice way to keep him protected and set up a potential rematch down the road, but the way that they work the finish doesn’t do anything to diminish Sasaki’s credibility. It’s too bad that U-STYLE already went with Tamura vs. Mishima because his performance here makes Mishima look like a natural challenger to him, and despite suffering his third consecutive loss, it’s nigh impossible to look at Sasaki and not see him as a can’t miss prospect for this company in the vein of Takada in UWF or Tamura in UWFI.



And now we have almost the polar opposite of the last match. Instead of being treated to seamless and fluid mat exchanges, we get two big lugs just trying to hurt each other. Neither of these guys is awful, but they’re not going to wow anyone with their mat skills, so they just forgo it in favor of beating the tar out of each other. Sakata is the better mat worker of the two, and he uses it to his advantage by getting Ito into several compromising positions and letting the fists fly with body shots and kidney punches. Sakata also leaves himself vulnerable, and Ito takes advantage to surprise him with a juji-gatame, but things like this are the exception rather than the rule. You know everything you need to about how they feel about one another when you see the way that they grind their forearms and elbows into each other’s faces. The finish doesn’t really gel with the rest of the match, with Sakata easily sinking in a single leg crab and Ito quickly submitting. It certainly seems more appropriate for this to end with a KO or Ito running out of points, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch. It’s the sort of match that, if it happened in a New Japan or a NOAH ring, would wind up with them forming a tag team and going on a three-month reign of terror against all the rookies and plunky underdog types.



The booking here illustrates why, as great of a wrestler and performer as he may be, Tamura’s booking leaves a lot to be desired (which might also explain why GLEAT isn’t taking the world by storm). After two enjoyable, if a bit predictable, matches against lower ranked roster members, Tamura faces one of his UWF contemporaries and someone with a reasonably successful stint in Pancrase, and thoroughly decimates him. Tamura has always been better known for his grappling than his striking, yet he keeps a distance and earns a KO win over Fuke with middle kicks without losing a single point. If nothing else, this was rather intense, and Fuke had one cool moment when he feigned a palm strike only to shoot in for a takedown. If Tamura was going to shut him down with strikes, they could have presented Fuke as having some sort of advantage on the mat by having him surprise Tamura and take off a point or two, or even surprise Tamura with a hold he’s not prepared for and force him to think on his feet to escape. But alas no. Instead of making Fuke look good before losing, and potentially setting him up as the U-STYLE equivalent of Yamazaki, essentially the barrier for the guys like Fujii and Sasaki to go through before they can try their hand with Tamura, he winds up looking no different than any of the scrubs on the undercard.


Conclusion: Sasaki/Mishima is must-see stuff, and Sakata/Ito is a lot of fun. The rest isn’t anything to rush out to see, but it’s worth sitting through to get to the good stuff.