FIGHTING SQUARE HAKATA
July 24, 1989
Minoru Suzuki . . . shows that potential only means so much when being saddled with one of the non-Backlund foreigners for a thirty-minute draw.
Tatsuo Nakano . . . suffers a broken nose en route to putting on one of the best matches of his career.
Kazuo Yamazaki . . . puts on a more-than-respectable showing, but, isn’t good enough (yet) to overcome the experience of The Fuj!
MINORU SUZUKI vs. MacDUFF ROESCH
Why did anyone think it was necessary for these two to work a thirty minute draw? Suzuki has been fun to watch, but, there’s a reason that he’s working the first match instead of the last match. The existence of Bart Vale means that Roesch isn’t the worst foreigner that the UWF has brought in, but, the story of his UWF career thus far has been that he’s good enough to not be completely dominated by his opponents. There’s a big difference between being ‘good’ and ‘good enough’ and that difference is fully on display in this match. When one looks at things closely, it’s obvious that Suzuki is leading Roesch along. Roesch’s throw is more or less him standing in position while Suzuki throws himself. Suzuki clearly feeds his arm to Roesch so that they can work the juji-gatame segment, and when Roesch starts kicking Suzuki to break one his holds, Suzuki has to bend down to give Roesch his target. And his holds are the definition of rest holds. They look as loose as can be, and he doesn’t do much of anything to show that he’s cranking it or trying to accomplish anything.
This is somewhat watchable, thanks to Suzuki. He completely outwrestles Roesch and ties him up on the mat several times, and it’s hilarious to watch him shove Roesch back and clean his clock with a flying dropkick that actually gets called a down and causes the ref to start counting. But, Suzuki was still a rookie, so we can’t exactly expect miracles from him. It’s not the worst UWF match of the year or anything, but, it’s a thirty minute draw that probably went twenty minutes too long.
MASAKATZU FUNAKI vs. TATSUO NAKANO
It’s the UWF equivalent of Mulkeymania! The company’s perennial curtain jerker gives the performance of his life, and, the crowd goes insane at the prospect of seeing Nakano pull off the big upset. He starts out hot by forgoing the customary handshake, and throwing wild swings at Funaki to take him by surprise. Funaki fires back, resulting in Nakano’s nose getting busted open (possibly the first time, but certainly not the last). Of course, Nakano also reminds everyone that he’s still in way over his head against Funaki, as evidenced by two separate occasions when he tries a leg whip and is unable to take Funaki down. Nakano lands some good shots that are able to drop Funaki for a near KO win, and then he uses a big German suplex. But, just when it seems like the Cinderella Story is going to get to the happy ending, the clock strikes twelve. Funaki gets a huge takedown and sinks in an extra deep crab hold that forces the referee to stop the match.
NOBUHIKO TAKADA vs. SHIGEO MIYATO
I’m not sure if this is a poor attempt to replicate the atmosphere that the previous match created, or simply a passable comedy match. Miyato shows more fire than I’ve probably ever seen from him, but, he’s still miles away from Nakano. For all of the effort Miyato puts into acting angry and motivated, he doesn’t actually accomplish a thing. Takada just stands there, as though he’s amused that a scrub like Miyato thinks that he has any hope of beating him. Takada isn’t wrong either. He scores his first down by escaping Miyato’s attempt to tie him up and hitting a small kick to the head. He gets his second one by preventing Miyato from getting an armbar, and hitting a kick to the back, which only counts as a down when Miyato attempts to get up and falls. Takada ends the match by submitting Miyato to a simple heel hold.
There were a few times that Takada could have done a few things to make Miyato look a little better. The first time Takada goes off his feet, he’s back up before anyone can really register what happened. It’s not even clear if Miyato landed a kick on him, or if Takada just slipped. Takada’s escape of the single leg crab, staple of this company, just makes Miyato look useless, and after Miyato’s surprise backdrop suplex isn’t called as a down, Takada simply refuses to let Miyato get anywhere with his attempt at a juji-gatame. So, this obviously doesn’t even come close to the previous match, and not just because Miyato didn’t bleed.
AKIRA MAEDA vs. YOJI ANJO
This falls somewhere between the Nakano and Miyato matches on this card. Maeda doesn’t do much to make Anjo look very good, but, he makes Anjo burn his points with holds like the chickenwing armlock and the cross kneelock, which are credible finishers. He gets to those holds by countering Anjo’s kicks into suplexes and throws, including a swank looking cross between his capture suplex and a hip throw. Maeda does wind up winning with the single leg crab hold, but it comes after Anjo had lost most of his points, and Maeda also sinks it in extra deep to look like something that just about anyone would have to submit to.
Anjo only gets one run of offense against Maeda, but he makes it count. He catches Maeda with an errant head kick, and Maeda sells like he’s out of it. Anjo presses his advantage with several more unanswered shots, and then tries to take Maeda down, knowing that he’s not going to beat Maeda by KO. Once Maeda gets his bearings together, he outwrestles Anjo and takes over again. The big difference between this and Takada/Miyato is that Maeda was a much smarter worker here. Takada would give Miyato an opening, such as the backdrop suplex, and then decide that he didn’t want to go any further and just put on the brakes. Maeda mostly keeps Anjo at bay, and slowly builds up the anticipation to seeing Anjo make a comeback. The end was never going to be in doubt, but it’s a fun ride to get there.
YOSHIAKI FUJIWARA vs. KAZUO YAMAZAKI
Kazuo Yamazaki will always be considered a great wrestler for many good reasons, including being one of the pioneers of shootstyle wrestling. But, while this is technically the best match of the night, it winds up being a total clinic on why The Fuj(!), and not Sid Justice, is the man who rules the world. Yamazaki doesn’t come out of this looking bad at all, but Fujiwara is just a little bit ahead of him. You get the idea of where this is going when Fujiwara gets the first shot in, with a headbutt just above the ear. Yamazaki goes to knee, not stunned, but clearly surprised by the strike. A little bit later, Yamazaki escapes a headlock and returns the favor with a punt to the ribs. The camera shows Yamazaki with a little sneer on his face, while Fujiwara just gets up and smiles.
The matwork in this match is as good as you’d expect from this pairing. They pull off seamless looking counters, escapes, and transitions, showing that either man could pull off the win at any time. But, Fujiwara is just ahead of Yamazaki, not even a half step, and uses that to his advantage. Yamazaki wrenches the ankle, and Fujiwara instinctively reaches for the ropes, but remembers that rope breaks are limited, so he rolls the other way and opts to reverse the hold, and it winds up making Yamazaki go for the ropes. He also makes sure that he’s near the ropes when he tries for more dangerous holds too, such as the cross kneelock to make sure that Yamazaki uses up his allotted breaks and then starts using points. It wouldn’t be a Fujiwara match without at least one pro-style spot that, for some reason, nobody else can make plausible in this setting, and in this case it’s a sunset flip to set up a cross kneelock, as well as a fisherman’s suplex with a float over.
Anyone familiar with Yamazaki would know how lethal his kicks are, so you’d think that he’d have the edge in the striking game. Nine times out of ten he would, but, not against Fujiwara. Fujiwara almost always manages to turn or angle his body enough so that he doesn’t take the full brunt of the strike. It’s clear (especially later in the match) that Yamazaki is succeeding in wearing him down, but not to the point of putting him in danger of losing. Yamazaki scores three downs on Fujiwara all from kicks. Fujiwara stays down until nine on all three occasions, but pops right back up to show that he’s perfectly fine. Yamazaki tries the same thing to a far weaker effect. Yamazaki is still on his feet when he’s called down, so he simply kneels down until the count of nine, and then gets up. Yamazaki gets one good run of kicks on Fujiwara, which Fujiwara sells perfectly, and makes the crowd go into a frenzy. Yamazaki gets himself out of a hold, and finds himself on his feet and Fujiwara is still on the mat. Realizing the fortuitous position that he’s in, Yamazaki goes right after him with kicks to the back.
The only real weakness to the match is that Yamazaki’s midsection doesn’t play into the finish at all. Again, although one would guess that Yamazaki would be the superior striker, it’s Fujiwara who exploits a weakness in the midsection and goes back to it several times in order to win the strike battles, including a couple of downs. But, the finish is a TKO when Fujiwara scores a down with a headbutt, and Yamazaki is out of points. It’s not completely out of left field, given that the headbutt is one of Fujiwara’s trademark strikes, and it’s been shown to be as lethal as Maeda’s kicks. But, with how much they played up the weakness in Yamazaki’s game, it’s odd that they didn’t go all the way with it, even a shot to the gut to lead to the finishing headbutt would have worked perfectly well. But, then again, that sort of storytelling isn’t a big part of this style of wrestling. It’s just a shame that they had a chance to fit it into the match, in a way that would have looked natural, and didn’t take advantage. And, it’s not like the finish they went with is devoid of any sort of storytelling or build. Yamazaki hits a headbutt and busts open Fujiwara’s mouth (not Nakano levels of blood, but blood nonetheless). Fujiwara, who had been perfectly wiling to be a good sport several times and let Yamazaki out of holds and let him get to his feet, decides that enough is enough. Fujiwara catches a kick and tries to bull rush him for a headbutt, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. So, he grabs Yamazaki and cracks him with a good one, which causes the TKO.
I’ve always felt like wrestling Fujiwara brings out the best in Yamazaki, and this match isn’t much exception. The Maeda match from May allowed Yamazaki to let some emotion bubble to the surface, but Fujiwara allows the aggressiveness and frustration from Yamazaki to come out in spades. Unlike the Maeda match, it never seemed like Yamazaki was an underdog fighting from underneath. Yamazaki looked like a perfectly skilled fighter, who was just in the ring with someone a little bit better than he was. If the match was a footrace, then Fujiwara would have only won by a nose, not a mile. Unlike their 8/85 classic, this wasn’t a top guy making the young boy look good in defeat. This is a match between two guys who are mostly on equal footing, with Fujiwara using his experience to gain enough ground to stay ahead enough to win. And, like so many great matches in both versions of the UWF, it’s worked in a such a way that one can believe another go-around between them could just as easily have a different outcome.
Conclusion: A good match involving Nakano would have been enough to incline me to recommend this. It’s a perfectly fun show (minus the first match), with a hidden gem in the Nakano match and an excellent main event.