Disc 1 continues apace. Let’s get into it…
22 November 1985 – Tiger Mask II and Dynamite Kid went to a double count-out (10:04)
First of all, Dynamite Kid may just be the most loathsome human being to ever have competed in the squared circle. If even half the stories about him are true (viz. breaking his niece’s kneecaps for the insurance money, waking his wife up by pointing a shotgun at her and saying “one day it’ll be loaded”), there’s a special circle of Hell reserved for the man when he gets there. Moral imperatives aren’t going to affect how I rate the matches in this thread, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Chris Benoit patterned a lot of his wrestling style from Dynamite, and sadly – it seems – parts of his life as well.
This match happened because when Satoru Sayama was Tiger Mask in New Japan, there were virtually no wrestlers that could keep up with him. His most high-profile opponents came from Britain, which was where he learned his high-flying moves; World of Sport is surprisingly influential on modern puro and indie high-flyers – it wasn’t all matwork and fat bastards waddle-running at each other. One was his evil doppelganger Black Tiger, played by legendary bullshitter/moustache aficionado Mark Rocco. The other was Tom Billington, aka Dynamite Kid, with whom he had a legendary series of matches. Other than Shinya Hashimoto and Naoya Ogawa, I’ve never known a pairing so inconsistent together. At their best, Sayama and Dynamite put on fast-paced state-of-the-art junior heavyweight contests that would still hold up today amongst even the most neckbeardy workrate marks, but which never sacrificed psychology for it. At their worst, they put on fast-paced state-of-the-art junior heavyweight contests that contained numerous logical gaps worthy of a Star Wars prequel and more unsold tombstones than a struggling mortician’s. So where does Misawa’s intervention in the series come on the scale?
Misawa is sporting a lovely new glittery orange mask. This is his first singles match against his predecessor’s main rival, other than an exhibition with a three minute time limit in 1984. Dynamite is clearly on all the roids in the world. He’s got bigger traps than that one where you have to step on the letters that spell ‘IEHOVAH’. You can see every damn vein in his circulatory system. He looks like Bugs Bunny after he drank Michael Jordan’s ‘special stuff’ (cocaine). It’s fucking gross.
Match starts out with the standard Tiger vs. Dynamite chain wrestling spots; lots of cartwheeling and handstands to get out of wristlocks. After about a minute of this, Dynamite decides he’s tried of doing interesting things, and settles in for a long headlock. In a kindergarten somewhere in Tennessee, a young Randy Orton was hit with an epiphany from the ether. Things pick up when Dynamite chucks Misawa out of the ring and into the barricade like a sack of shit, which makes me think that he could have turned in a great vicious heel performance if he could have been arsed. As it is, his heel work mostly consists of doing rest holds with a blank expression, and occasionally shouting ‘COME ON!’ at the ref after a near-fall from one of the brief but awesome instances of gnarly-looking power moves (backdrop, snap brainbuster). He starts selling later, but judging from the looks of him it was probably because he was shoot gassed.
The last few minutes of the match are very good. Dynamite hits the first and, surprisingly, only tombstone of the match. Misawa then earns points with me for countering a tombstone in a way that doesn’t end up with him doing a tombstone himself (an arm drag, if you’re interested). More points for a superplex spot that doesn’t take longer than a lap of the Nurburgring to set up. Misawa tries a plancha to the outside but Dynamite moves and he splats face-first on the floor instead. Jesus Christ. I know Dynamite is renowned for taking stupid bumps he didn’t need to (which may have something to do with the fact he’s in a wheelchair now), but it seems like Misawa took all the hits in this one. Case in point, the finish. Dynamite gives Misawa a suplex to the outside. After a bit of selling and some retaliation, Misawa decides to give Dynamite a backdrop on the floor rather than, you know, trying to beat the count, because the power of Giant Baba’s protective booking overrides all brain patterns. So we get a double count-out.
Good match overall. Felt like the opening ten minutes of something longer. ***1/4
13 March 1986 – Riki Choshu pinned Tiger Mask II with a Lariat (12:25)
OH SHIT IT’S RIKI CHOSHU. I always forget that he spent a few years in All Japan in the mid-80s before jumping back to New Japan. I’m not clear on exactly why he left in the first place, but I can make an educated guess that it had something to do with Inoki being a dick and hogging the spotlight. Just a hunch. Choshu took some other wrestlers with him and made a little invasion angle. Needs more Kanyon.
Good lord is Choshu over here. He makes Misawa’s pop sound like a wet fart. This clearly isn’t one of those “nefarious outsiders are trying to take our promotion over” invasion angles, more an “oh cool, Riki Choshu wrestles here now” one. This match takes place as part of a six-match series between All Japan loyalists and Choshu’s mob, which explains why a junior heavyweight is wrestling a heavyweight. Misawa’s more solidly built here but still in the lower weight division. Slow start for this one, with Misawa spending ages in what you might know as the Figure Four Headlock (thanks, Rich Brennan! We all miss you). Misawa turns the hold over so both men are belly down, and suddenly it looks like two thirds of a human centipede. All we need to complete the image is a third wrestler, but that would require a concatenation of extreme torture porn and a triple threat match, and one of those things is too unthinkable for Japanese society to allow. I’ll let you figure out which.
Choshu blocks a Figure Four Leg Lock attempt by catching one of Misawa’s legs as he applies it. I’ve never seen anyone try that counter on Ric Flair, no doubt because they’re too mesmerised by his strutting and gushing forehead to move. Eventually Choshu decides he’s tired of all this mat-based fucking around, whips Misawa into the ropes and elbows him hard. He follows up with a Running Powerslam so powerful it requires him to run from one corner of the ring to the other.
This match gets damn good from here on out. The heat in the crowd is palpable to say the least, and while Choshu controls most of the play, they really bite on Misawa nearfalls off a German Suplex and a Perfectplex (as Kuniaki Kobayashi stares in through the window, a single tear falling from his eye). Choshu attempts a Sharpshooter/Scorpion Deathlock (which he invented – its original name, Sasori-gatame, literally means ‘Scorpion Hold’) a few times and eventually gets it in the centre of the ring. Unlike The Rock, Choshu can bend at the waist and so it looks good. Misawa struggles for a while but each time he’s forced down each time he pushes himself up, a la Austin and Bret at Mania 13. That match ended with Stone Cold passing out, pissing blood, having obstinately refused to submit. Misawa won’t quit either, so Choshu thinks “fuck this”, lets the hold go and then absolutely wallops Misawa with a lariat when he staggers to his feet. A three count ensues.
Very fun match, lots of bombs being thrown. You can really see how the pace even of heavyweight matches in All Japan had ramped up with Choshu’s entrance into the company. ***1/2
1 June 1987 – Genichiro Tenryu pinned Tiger Mask II with a Folding Powerbomb (11:30)
Before we start, let’s take a moment to appreciate Genichiro Tenryu’s music.
Glorious. You can really imagine it as the theme to an 80s Roppongi-set buddy cop film.
Tenryu is known as ‘Mr. Puroresu’ in Japan, which as you can imagine is a big deal. He retired only last year, at the age of 65, and thought it’d be a good idea for his final match to be a 17-minute singles bout. It wasn’t. Luckily Kazuchika Okada is awesome, and managed to drag him to something resembling a wrestling match in spite of being dropped on his head at one point when Tenryu unwisely tried doing a Powerbomb before going “ooh, me back” and deciding it wasn’t worth it.
I feel it apropos to inform you at this point that Daniel of Puro Pourri Podcast fame owns a signed picture of Okada and treasures it so much that I think he sleeps with it under his pillow.
Tenryu is nearly thirty years younger here, and yet still has the “are you really going to try that shit with me, young man?” expression that characterised his salty veteran years. It’s the best facial expression in wrestling. He’s got a jacket saying “UN Heavyweight Wrestling Champion”, but isn’t wearing the belt. Strange. (This was the third most prestigious of the three belts that were combined to make the famous Triple Crown in 1989, which is still pretty prestigious.) The referee is dressed in a baby blue pantsuit of the sort that Simon Dean used to wear. It’s awesome.
I know a bloke called Simon Dean. Really nice guy. Won’t get fat people out of the crowd to cut a heel promo on them or anything.
The thing I noticed most about this match was how good Misawa’s kicks have become by this stage. In particular he executes one roundhouse kick that would have made me stand up and applaud had I not been watching this on the 10:24 to Aberdeen. It wasn’t quite a Mike Bailey or Tommy End effort, but then those guys have a high-level martial arts background. Misawa was just doing kicks because that’s what the role of Tiger Mask required. Very adaptable performer. In fact, all of Misawa’s offence looks great here, including a Samoan Drop that would make the Usos throw themselves at Rikishi’s feet and beg for forgiveness.
I like Tenryu, but Misawa really outshines him here. In fairness, a ten-minute match against a high-flyer doesn’t play to Tenryu’s strengths (stiff chops, surly looks and slowly unfolding in-match stories). They include some excellent spots, including a cross body from Misawa to the outside which sends both men tumbling over the barricade. Tenryu lands on a table (which of course doesn’t break, this being Japan), and Misawa stacks it into the first few rows. Ow. Another one in the pantheon of ‘logical counters that most wrestlers are too kayfabe dumb to use’, as Tenryu counters a Misawa cross body in the ring but simply lying down and letting Misawa lands on his knees stomach-first. Yes mate. Tenryu does his usual Enzuigiri spam, and as usual they all look shite. At one point Tenryu lifts Misawa for a Powerbomb and just drops him, thus proving this wasn’t just a recent thing.
Finish comes a bit out of nowhere, as Tenryu counters a Misawa charge into the corner by hitting him in the stomach, then lands a Powerbomb and pins him. I liked the Choshu match more, but this was also good, and a nice indicator of where Misawa was positioned on the card at this time – occasionally booked in matches with heavyweights, and able to be competitive, but ultimately outgunned. ***1/4