February 4, 2004


Crafter M . . . continues to be an undercard highlight, this time helping Sasaki get back some of the credibility that the horrible loss to Sakata sucked out of him.

Kazuki Okubo . . . has been showing growth as a fighter over the last few shows but experiences some growing pains when he’s given a real challenge.

Tsuyoshi Kosaka . . . accomplishes what nobody else on the U-STYLE roster is capable of, he makes Tamura show exactly why he’s a bona fide legend.



Moriyama is easily the best of the three rookies we’ve seen so far, he’s the first one that hasn’t gone into a match looking like he’s completely lost. He clearly has the advantage on Ito when it comes to working the mat, even if he only has a couple of things to do. His legbar toward the end was a nice surprise, even if Ito managed to escape before Moriyama could lock it in. Moriyama also adds a smart-for-a-rookie touch when Ito tries for the juji-gatame; they’re near the ropes but instead of wasting the point, Moriyama holds on for dear life to block the hold and only goes to the ropes when Ito gets it locked in. Ito is never in any real danger, between his size and experience he’s able to withstand whatever Moriyama dishes out. And for as sharp as the kid looked working the mat, he’s just as inept at blocking or sucking up strikes, and it doesn’t take Ito long to start trimming points with knees and kicks until he stays down for good.



Watching the way that these two work the mat, with seemingly effortless counters and escapes, only makes the match between Sasaki and Sakata from December seem even more stupid and unnecessary. They go from hold to hold, and sequence to sequence, with every transition and counter looking seamless. Almost as though they were trying to pay homage to Tamura and Kosaka. Sasaki also adds a couple of smart touches, the big one is early on when they take their second trip to the mat and each of them winds up with the other man’s ankle and they both start wrenching. Instead of trying to outdo Crafter M, Sasaki just rolls them both into the ropes so that the ref is forced to break them up, and neither gets docked a point. Sasaki takes the first point by surprising Crafter M with a Sano-style rolling kick to the ribs but tries to push the advantage by continuing to attack with strikes, and Crafter M catches a kick and takes him down. Despite the momentary point advantage, it's a reminder for Sasaki that with only five points to work with, he can’t afford to make many mistakes.


Aside from a couple of exposing moments where it’s obvious that they’re feeding each other limbs to keep things moving, the bulk of the match looks completely natural. Sasaki gets the better of an exchange to force a rope break from Crafter M, and Crafter M turns around and wins the next one to take away one of Sasaki’s points. And at no point does the match come off like either man has a decisive advantage over the other. Crafter M takes Sasaki down to his last point with an insanely deep Fujiwara armbar variation and Sasaki is forced to fight out of everything else Crafter M throws at him. Sasaki gets the win after getting a mount like he wanted to ground and pound and causing Crafter M to give him an opening that allows Sasaki to work his way to a juji-gatame. It’s great to see Sasaki get another win, and this is right up there with the match he and Mishima had in June as amongst U-STYLE’s best. But losing here doesn’t take a single thing away from the masked man. He might have been outdone here, but it still looks like he could step into the ring against anyone else (sans Tamura) and have a very likely chance of winning.



Until the last couple of minutes, it seems like this is going to be a quick squash for Mishima. Hara has never been terrible or anything, but he’s clearly not in Mishima’s league and that’s how the match plays out. Even when Hara gets some sort of win over Mishima, such as the powerbomb to escape the Triangle choke and working his way out of the head scissors so that he has free reign to kick at Mishima’s legs while he’s still on the mat, Hara isn’t able to use those openings to trim any points to put Mishima in real danger. Meanwhile, Mishima literally shows that he can work circles around Hara and locking him up in holds and taking his points at will, with the hanging hammerlock choke being the big highlight. It’s not until Mishima takes Hara down to his last point that it seems to dawn on them to let Hara get in some stuff of his own. It does work in its own way, with the idea of Hara being the proverbial ‘caged animal’ that every wrestling commentator loves to use. He takes down Mishima with a waterwheel drop and locks in an armbar that forces a rope break, and then breaks out two German suplexes. They aren’t as brutal looking as what Hara used on Kimura in the debut show, but they aren’t far off, and they work as revenge spots for the Capture suplex that Mishima used earlier. After it seems like Hara has finally gained back some of the ground he’d lost during the course of the match, Mishima snaps off a fisherman’s buster and floats over to lock in his Cobra hold and submit Hara. Like the match before it, it was fun to watch, although not nearly as competitive, and it’s further proof of how big a mistake it was to feed Mishima to Tamura right out the gate. If Mishima had started against the likes of Kimura, Echigo, Okubo, etc. and then been built up throughout the course of the first year the way Sasaki had, he’d probably look like someone poised to challenge Tamura’s top spot.



At some point I’m going to have to hunt down some of Okubo’s post U-STYLE work to see if he ever gets better than what we’ve been shown so far. His intensity and persistence are nice, but neither of those is of much use to him against someone as formidable as Ueyama, especially since his knee appears to have healed up. Okubo has absolutely no chance at all at hanging with him on the mat and doesn’t really accomplish much standing up either. In fact, most of Okubo’s “accomplishments” during the match wind up working against him. He gets a big flurry of kicks and knee strikes that aren’t able to take Ueyama down, but when Ueyama returns fire, it’s Okubo who goes down and loses the point. Okubo catches an errant kick and turns it into an ankle lock, but Ueyama works his way out of it instead of going for the ropes. It seems impressive when Okubo is able to get out of the hanging guillotine choke, but Ueyama flips him over into a chickenwing armlock, which causes another rope break. Okubo only takes away one point from Ueyama, and it’s questionable. Okubo locks in a legbar that happens to be very close to the ropes, and while he’s trying to crank on it, it looks like his foot touches the ropes, which should have caused the ref to break the hold, but that doesn’t happen and Ueyama winds up grabbing them and losing the point. Okubo thinks he smells blood in the water and tries to keep after the leg, and Ueyama counters another legbar into a juji-gatame and then works his way into a side Triangle choke and submits Okubo. They probably could have worked this a bit more evenly and gave Okubo one or two other chances to trim points, but this was still fun to watch.



This is an odd choice for a semifinal match, seeing as neither of these two have been pushed as even moderate threats to Tamura’s throne; although the way that the match plays out certainly implies that Namekawa could be headed in that direction. Kimura basically gets squashed here, with Namekawa not having any trouble at all taking what he throws at him, and not giving up a single point. Kimura tries to jumpstart by going after him with strikes, and winds up getting thrown to the mat. Kimura’s big strength has always been his matwork, and Namekawa easily fends him off and pretty much smothers him until he’s able to lock in an armbar and make Kimura burn a point. When they get up Namekawa completely turns out Kimura’s lights with a high kick.



As great a match as this is, it’s equally indicative of the overall mediocrity of the promotion’s booking. TK is the biggest possible threat to Tamura there is. Not only is he one of Tamura’s contemporaries, but he’s also beaten him before. And, for anyone who may not be familiar with their RINGS history, TK would be at least recognizable from his recent appearances for New Japan on a couple of their Tokyo Dome cards. So yes, TK is as good of a challenger for Tamura as anyone was going to find. But the fact is that the promotion needed to bring him in because nobody else on the entire U-STYLE roster has been booked worth a damn to look like they could give Tamura any sort of challenge. The only one built up at all as a potential threat was Fujii, and Tamura won that showdown pretty handily.


Despite this being one of the longer matches in the company (only the Okubo/Hara tournament match from October was longer), it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It does feel a bit like a tale of two matches however, with the first ten minutes being something of a feeling out process and the last five being more of a sprint. The early portions almost come off like they’re just testing the waters to see if the other guy can still keep up. They show every bit the grace and fluidity as Sasaki and Crafter M, but instead of an exhibition, this comes off more like a genuine contest. The sprint portion isn’t always so well done, but even an off night for these two is still better than most anyone else at their best, and it’s not like they do anything outright stupid. The biggest miscue is when TK hits a pretty innocent looking knee to the midsection, and Tamura basically crumples to the mat from it. It didn’t look like a Takayama-style knee, or even an Anjo one, but Tamura put it over the way that one might expect to see from Kawada, after his opponent had worn down the area for a good fifteen minutes. Whether TK just didn’t connect it well enough, or Tamura lost his mind, it looks exposing more than anything else. The only other misstep is with Tamura’s single leg crab. Tamura takes TK down and gets the hold applied in a literal instant and TK does a good job selling the hold. But Tamura loses his balance and there’s a short stretch where the hold doesn’t look good at all. Luckily, Tamura manages to salvage things when he segues to an STF that results in TK using a rope break.


Luckily, for every one of their gaffes there are two or three smart moments. Tamura takes the first point off TK with a high kick that TK was just a split second too late to block, and a little bit later Tamura tries for another one and TK blocks it, and then makes a gesture to both Tamura and the crowd that he wasn’t going to let Tamura get him like that again. It looks like Tamura has TK dead to rights with a deep chickenwing armlock, but TK manages to alleviate the pressure and escape the hold, and another trip to the mat ends in TK getting an ankle lock, and it’s Tamura that needs to use a rope break. The finish is so well done that it’s impossible to really know if it was due to dumb luck or superb skill. TK tries to do a rolling takedown into a legbar, and Tamura stops him before he can lock in the legbar and gets the juji-gatame. TK tries to block it, but Tamura has too much leverage and gets the hold locked in and forces TK to submit. Tamura winning the match certainly wasn’t unexpected, but this is the first time in a full year that anyone has come close to truly challenging him, and as a result it’s the first time since the debut show that he truly looked like himself. If TK was going to stick around then it wouldn’t be a big deal, but TK would go on to work a total of three wrestling matches after this, and none of them for U-STYLE. When the only person that seems to be able to really push Tamura is a guy that was brought in as a one-off, why should anyone think that even the most formidable members of the roster, namely Mishima, Ueyama, or Sasaki, would have a prayer against him?


Conclusion: This is a pretty fun card from top to bottom, with the Sasaki and Tamura matches definitely worth going out of your way to check out.