January 4, 2004
Hi, Arn here. I’ve not been in lockdown as I’m a key worker but I haven’t been writing in my spare time for an assortment of reasons. Mainly that I can’t get into wrestling without a crowd. I basically hate it (and also think wrestling promotions should think about the health and safety of their wrestlers and not run shows right now) and that isn’t going away anytime soon so modern wrestling is on hold for me. I’ve been idling away my spare time by reading Tintin books, playing Football Manager, watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and drinking a lot of beer. I am sorry but the current situation in the world requires relaxation.
I’ve been trying to think of a project to keep me occupied and what better project than a full on deep dive into a promotion that I’ve seen a little of but not enough of. I watched a few HUSTLE shows back in the day, this one included, but they continued to run for six years and there’s a ton of shows out there. 114 according to Cagematch.
If you missed HUSTLE at the time it was an experiment to see if a WWE style “sports entertainment” product would wash with a Japanese audience. It was founded by noted shooter Nobuhiko Takada (who also boss of UWFi, one of the best shootstyle promotions ever and MMA fighter for Pride). The backing came from Dream Stage who are definitely not linked to organised crime. The pro wrestling side was supported by Zero1, which means a presence on these cards for Shinya Hashimoto and Shinjiro Otani.
The other participants were a mixture of famous Japanese wrestlers (Toshiaki Kawada), MMA stars (Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman), American stars (Vader, Dusty, Goldberg!) and luchadores (Dos Caras, Mil Mascaras). They were really covering all the bases. As time progresses we’ll see how things changed within HUSTLE.
The initial show was hugely successful. It was held at Saitama Super Arena, which you probably recognize from NJPW shows but also the home of UFC 144. It’s a huge building. Around 12,000 people were at the first show and it also aired on PPV on SKY PerfecTV.
Commentary here comes from Takeshi Yano, Porsche Okite & Itsuki Marui. Yano is a sports commentator. Porsche is a musician. I’ve listened to some of his music and its very 90s electronica. It is bad. His eye makeup (above) is on point though. Marui? I really don’t know at all. I tried googling the name and it just came back with a load of porn.
Part of the joy of HUSTLE is them constantly playing “Do the Hustle” and everyone involving in this venture doing a dance move called “The Hustle” but also the babyfaces developing a “Hustle, Hustle” dance to counter that.
Low Ki vs. Jun Kasai vs. King Adamo vs. MIKAMI
Ki is about 6 years in at this point. He’s been working for Zero1 but hasn’t started with NOAH yet. The Zero1 link is what brings him to this dance. In fact, all these boys were on the books at Zero1, apart from MIKAMI who was in DDT. King Adamo is one of those ‘nearly men’ of wrestling. He had trials with WWE but the closest he got to fame was playing “Fat Hardy” in a skit match where he was squashed by Kane.
MIKAMI brings a ladder with him, as was his gimmick at the time. Jun Kasai is deep in his Monkey Magic era. If you’re wondering why Low Ki is wasting away here it was because he was booked as a junior for most of his Japan run and he takes himself way to seriously to get pushed here. I’m saddened to report Ki allows himself to take part in a Tower of Doom spot. MIKAMI is a pretty fun dude if you’ve never seen him work. Like if Rey Mysterio was really obsessed with ladders. They get a lot of mileage out of the ladder. Ki murders MIKAMI twice and beats Kasai with the Ki Krusher. This was really fun. Ki stoically celebrating his victory while Axel F (the Beverly Hills Cop theme) blares over the tannoy system is pretty weird but this is HUSTLE! PS: someone bring back the Krush Rush.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Ikuto Hidaka vs. Zebraman
This is a tie-in with forthcoming Takashi Miike (yes, that one) movie Zebraman. Kazuhiko Ogasawara is the man behind the Zebraman mask. He was in Zero1 around this time, as was Hidaka, so it’s probably not a surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wrestle before but he’s actually really good. Like a jacked up luchadore. Hidaka is 31 years old here so he’s in great shape.
This match makes me excited to go and watch Zebraman in the hopes that the footage appears in the film. Hidaka eats the Rackbomb for the loss and this was basically an extended squash but the execution was very good. Not as good as Zebraman disappearing into a cloud of smoke through a trapdoor on the ramp! We immediately cut to backstage where Zebraman is getting changed. He’s magic!
Final Rating: ***
Backstage: Bill Goldberg chats to Takada about chicken before determining he needs to nosh on “Ogawa chicken”. What are the odds on Bill thinking this would never reach foreign shores?
Elsewhere Interview Guy tries to get Ogawa and Hashimoto do the Hustle and gets slapped for his troubles.
Satoshi Kojima & Kaz Hayashi vs. Dos Caras Jr & Solar
You may know Dos Caras Jr better as Alberto Del Rio. Solar, in typical lucha veteran fashion, has been wrestling since 1977. He’s still wrestling now, aged 63. Kaz takes this really seriously. Young Del Rio is an interesting specimen. He seems to have no idea how to put a match together and just throws shit out at random. Solar though? He’s fucking great. He’s so purposeful and smooth. My favourite part of this match is Kaz Hayashi properly fighting the Mexican Surfboard and then doing a bang up job of selling it. The longer the match goes, the worse Del Rio looks and yet Kaz makes him look like a million bucks. The match is quite long at almost 15 minutes and I appreciate Solar countering the first attempt at the lariat before getting twatted a second time. Kojima wins it for KojiKazu. I had forgotten how great Kaz Hayashi was around this time.
Final Rating: ***
Masato Tanaka & Shinjiro Otani vs. Kevin Randleman & The Predator
The MMA influence on pro wrestling in Japan around this time was palpable. Just about every successful MMA fighter was transitioning to puroresu. Randleman is quite similar to Shelton Benjamin. Muscular but very athletic and a blonde dye job. I suspect Shelts switch to “The Gold Standard” may have been influenced by the Randleman look. Predator, aka Sylvester Terkay, is a big lunk whose gimmick involves scaring the crowd. He is very limited but doesn’t seem to know it and tries shit like back kicks. He botches an Irish whip in this. It’s pretty obvious watching this that WWE were 100% correct in cutting their losses with him. WWE actually signed him AFTER this. Tanaka & Otani do a brilliant job of making both gaijin look good. Randleman because of his raw athleticism. Terkay because they bump for him. In Terkay’s defence he helps Randleman out a few times when Kevin gets lost. He clearly knows what he’s doing but he lacks the ability to be good. He keeps throwing in these terrible spots. Every time I think he’s improving he throws out an overly ambitious spinning heel kick or some shit. Terkay finishes with the Musclebuster and Tanaka is a lunatic for agreeing to take that. Randleman will feature in future HUSTLE events but retired in 2007 and died of a heart attack in 2016.
Final Rating: **3/4
Giant Silva vs. Kohei Sato & Katsuhisa Fujii
Fujii is a former judoka who only really worked HUSTLE and IGF. Sato, on the other hand, is a multiple time champion in Zero1 and one of the best wrestlers in Japan over the past 5 years. At the time he was just jobber fodder for Silva. Interesting to see how people change over time. Silva is completely rotten. He wrestled 29 times for HUSTLE! As with just about everyone in this time frame he had an MMA career and was 2-6. He beat Akebono! This is just a squash. It lasts about two minutes.
Final Rating: NR
Shinya Hashimoto vs. Vader
Now, let’s make something clear; I love Vader and Hash. Love them to bits. However…this match is not good. Vader was very much on the downward slope at this point. He had a decent run in All Japan at the back end of the 90s, passing over in NOAH but he’s a few years past that here. Hash could still go in 2004, despite only having a year to live, but he tended to save his big performances. This isn’t one of them. Vader is in horrible condition here. A shadow of his former self, coasting by on personality. Hash, covered in tape, is also rough and struggles to push the pace. The only good action is Hash scoring with some leg kicks. He DDT’s Vader on the floor and wins on count out. I assume Vader had jobberitis. The crowd jeer the outcome. Awful match and based on Hashimoto’s attempts to do stuff I have to blame Vader here. Sad to see one of the all-time great super heavyweights reduced to this.
Final Rating: 1/2*
*INTERMISSION*. The commentators have a chat for a while and review the first half. To date this show they play some music and it’s Geri Halliwell! They introduce some ‘divas’, which is three models doing the cat walk. I’m not surprised that HUSTLE chose to use women as solely eye candy based on the promotion they were making fun of. They also play Chyna’s theme music while one of the commentators whoops like Jerry Lawler.
WWE’s first three PPV’s of 2004 featured two women’s matches. One was a Playboy evening gown tag match and the other had Molly Holly losing her hair just so the women could have a proper match at WrestleMania. Even though they got less than five minutes. This mockery of WWE is fairly appropriate.
Dusty Rhodes, Steve Corino & Tom Howard vs. Dos Caras, Mil Mascaras & Sicodelico Jr
Tom Howard did ok in Mexico and WWE were interested. He did a bunch of dark match jobs and never got anywhere. He was in Zero1 for a bit and this is in the middle of that run. Dusty had this weird little indies run around this time before WWE hired him. Caras and Mil are Mexican legends. Mil also had a big run in All Japan so he’s the most popular guy here. Corino decides to carry this for his team and it’s probably the right call. Dusty, when he is in there, isn’t good but he’s an old man by this point. I do enjoy being able to hear him talk during this match. “It’s been a long time baby”. Sicodelico Jr does a lot of fun stuff in this but the match feels very long. Mil beats Corino with a high crossbody after a horrible ‘miscommunication’ spot with Dusty and Caras. Corino turns on Dusty after the match and busts him open. Dusty responds by smacking Corino in the head and busting him open with his boot. This would lead to a singles match at HUSTLE 3.
Final Rating: **1/2
Toshiaki Kawada vs. Mark Coleman
Coleman is 13-5 in MMA at this point, having had a good run in UFC and Pride. He’d get humbled by Fedor and Cro Cop right after this and his star would wane somewhat. They try and make this a shoot style with Coleman going after double legs and Kawada throwing open hand palm strikes. The shoot style is pretty deliberate because Coleman has only had five matches. He was an amateur wrestler though and Kawada still rules in 2004 so they have a good little match.
When they abandon any pretence of selling and just beat the piss out of each other it’s awesome. From there they hit the mat and Coleman loses by heel hook. I’m pretty sure the ref fucked that up because Coleman didn’t tap. Best match on the show. Not even close.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Naoya Ogawa vs. Bill Goldberg
Somehow they get to use Goldberg’s WCW music. There is no way they own the copyright for that. Ogawa is the closest thing HUSTLE has to a star so he’s in the first main event. Personally I’d have had Goldberg squash him in three minutes or so but seeing as they only have Goldberg for one show that’s not happening. Ogawa’s one real pro wrestling claim to fame is originating the STO (Space Tornado Ogawa) based on a judo throw as he’d been a successful judoka prior to his wrestling career. He won a silver medal at the Olympics and won three gold medals at Judo World Championships. So, he is properly legitimate and a typical MMA era wrestler. Pure Inokism.
Ogawa is big (6’4”) and has cool judo throws and they build a match based on this. Trying to establish Ogawa as a threat after he’s initially swatted aside. Unfortunately Ogawa’s offence dries up and he’s left with sleepers and disrespect of officials. Doing a ref bump makes me physically sick. What the fuck boys? The ref bump exists so Goldberg can get a visual pin with the spear. But he’s winning anyway. What’s the fucking point? Ogawa’s stupid little roll to set up the STO has me raging too. The trouble with both these guys is they’re dynamic and entertaining in short matches. But this one rumbles on for 13 minutes and feels much, much longer.
Giant Silva comes out to attack Ogawa to set up his next main event feud. Only not because it never happened for ‘reasons’. Spear. Botched Jackhammer. Goldberg has to punch the ref to wake him up because he’s missed the finish and he wins. This fucking sucked. A few minutes of decent Ogawa throws and Goldberg power stuff and everything else is bullshit. They pretty much nailed the ‘WWE main event style’ though.
Final Rating: *
Post Match: Shinya Hashimoto runs in and Goldberg tells him “you’re next”. This also never happened.