Meanwhile, in Japan (2.5.87)
February 5, 1987
I’ve focused mainly on WWF in 1987 so far but shit was happening out in the Land of the Rising Sun. Let’s check in with New and All Japan.
NJPW New Year Dash 1987
From the Ryogoku Kokugikan. 10,020 in attendance.
Akira Nogami & Masa Funaki vs. Tatsuo Nakano & Yoji Anjo
AKIRA, a New Japan lifer, has somehow still had a crazy Indie career for over a decade after leaving NJPW in 2010. Funaki is someone you’ve probably seen. He was part of the UWF group and went to be a shooter for some 17 years before returning to AJPW in 2009. He’s now part of NOAH. Nakano also went the UWF route. Anjo I know from Hustle but he was also a UWF guy and he had a run in AJPW.
Naoki Sano & Tatsutoshi Goto vs. Chris Benoit & Shinya Hashimoto
Sano would become a staple of NOAH undercards about 20 years ago. Goto and Hash stayed with NJPW. It’s weird to see such a mixture of guys on these undercards. It’s clear that the NJPW guys and the shootstyle guys were coexisting at this point but wouldn’t forever.
Cuban Assassin vs. Masa Chono
Chono is only a few years in at this point and basically a jobber. Cuban Assassin would go on to work for WCW for a chunk of the 90s.
Don Arakawa & Kim Su Hong vs. El Canek & Rey Cobra
This is Cobra’s only NJPW tour. Canek obviously worked there a lot more. Arakawa had been with NJPW since the beginning but would leave in 1989. Hong was a Korean wrestler, who only wrestled for a few years before becoming president of the Korea Wrestling Association. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him.
Osamu Kido vs. Tony St. Clair
Tony is an English grappler. You might have seen him on World of Sports or in CWA. He wrestled a lot for NJPW in the mid-late 80s.
George Takano & Kantaro Hoshino vs. Black Bart & Brett Sawyer
Takano was also known as “The Cobra”. He went to New York in 1985 after a run for Stampede in 1983. He also wrestled in Mexico. Excursions were a thing even back then. Attempting to take a vanilla, but well trained in basics, New Japan guy and give them something else. Hoshino is a veteran, at this point, having started a decade before NJPW existed. This is Black Bart’s only NJPW tour. Same with Brett Sawyer, who we won’t see much more of.
Konga the Barbarian vs. Daryl Peterson
Barbarian would spend the rest of the year in the NWA before defecting to the WWF in 1988. Peterson is the future Maxx Payne. One of my early wrestling heroes. We’ll have to wait a while before he pops up anywhere else.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Shiro Koshinaka (c) vs. Nobuhiko Takada
Koshinaka won the belt back from Takada in autumn of 1986. This is the re-match. This is why we’re here! The great thing about Takada matches is they feel like a shoot. The lock ups, missed kicks and other little bits and pieces feel more genuine than in traditional pro-wrestling. There’s a tidy little sequence where Takada throws a leg kick, which connects, so he goes for a high kick KO blow, which Shiro side steps. To get his kick game back on track he goes for a mid-kick, but it lacks the intensity of the previous two and is swatted aside. It’s all very simple stuff but it feels real. It feels like a tactical fight. The whole match is like that. Littered with tactical choices. They do pre-plan stuff as well but the pre-planned stuff feels like EPIC FIGHT BUSINESS. Like a massive roundhouse from Takada coinciding with Koshinaka going for a leg sweep. The roundhouse just about connects but Takada loses his standing leg at the same time so it’s a double down. Awesome stuff.
A bizarre commentary call here where the commentator calls a Tombstone, an actual Tombstone. Undertaker wouldn’t debut for another 3.5 years. I assume this was re-recorded comms because I don’t think it was called that pre-Taker. Shiro does a smart block of the Enzuigiri. He catches the initial mid-kick but then pulls his arm up to block the Enzuigiri as it comes acround and he drives his elbow into the shin. Like, me personally taking would result in a broken elbow but I’m prepared to believe the spot. Shiro does too many hip attacks, or attempted hip attacks. It feels too predictable for the style of the rest of the match.
I feel slightly differently about it when Takada starts going after armbars on that same arm. They should have worked the block later and had Shiro get hurt doing it. Or was he hurt doing it and I just didn’t pick up on his selling? Shiro’s comeback is pure fighting spirit. He just absorbs big powerful kicks. So, Takada takes his leg. I love that they both slap each other while in submission holds. There’s an element of disrespect but also, why wouldn’t you? Shiro ends up bleeding from the mouth from it.
Takada gets the Crossface Chickenwing, which is how he beat Shiro last year but Shiro has been figuring out how to escape it by going to small joint locks. Pretty sure that’s not legal referree. Shiro works the hand, which means Takada can’t lock up and Shiro keeps baiting him into it. Just kick him! Shiro’s defence against certain defeat has turned into his winning hand. He gets an armbar and pulls back on the fingers while the ref can’t see and Takada taps out. Takada, making submissions interactive and visible to the crowd a decade before they started having tap outs in the WWF. Just saying. ****. Awesome.
I love that Takada is still hot after the decision is rendered because he knows he got fucked here. Shiro would have lost without resorting to shortcuts.
Akira Maeda & Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. Keiji Muto & Tatsumi Fujinami
It’s a pity this isn’t on NJPW World. The clash of UWF vs. NJPW was potentially a real winner. The last match is prime evidence of that. I’ve always liked the clash of NJPW vs. Shootstyle. It’s even continued into recent years with Tanahashi vs. Shibata.
Antonio Inoki vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
Inoki was still NJPW’s biggest star in 1987. Despite his advancing years, he wasn’t willing to step aside. It wasn’t until 1988-89 that he let Fujinami take over as the star of the show. Even then Fujinami never got the ‘Tsuruta’ push and they did a bunch of wacky experiments until Fujinami went back to being the man in 1991. All this to come! Bigelow went straight to the top in NJPW. He ended up being a major rival for Inoki in 1987 before jumping to the WWF.
New Year Giant Series. We’re in Sapporo, Hokkaido at the Nakajima Sports Center. 6,200 in attendance. This aired on Nippon TV a few days later. This was a big show for AJPW as it represented the end of Ishin Gundan and the storyline that had been running for two years. Choshu was on his way back to NJPW and was still holding the tag titles with Yatsu. The main event here pits them against the AJPW duo of Tsuruta & Tenryu.
Shinji Sasazaki vs. Kensuke Sasaki
Sasaki is about a year into his career here. He started in AJPW but when Choshu went back to NJPW, he went with him. His first match was against Sasazaki, so it’s appropriate he faces him on his way out. Sasazaki would end up in NJPW too after a spell working for Stampede under the name Yang Chung.
Shinichi Nakano vs. Mark Regan
I’ve seen Mark Regan wrestle on this odyssey. He was never anything more than a jabroni. He loses here in under four minutes.
Norio Honaga vs. Toshiaki Kawada
Kawada debuted back in 1982 but didn’t start getting noticed until his run in Stampede in 1986. He’ll start to creep into the regular viewing cycle by late 1988, when he was teaming with Tenryu. Honaga is another guy headed to NJPW, although he’d hang around for another month before eventually leaving.
Akio Sato & Motoshi Okuma vs. A Sheik & Nelson Royal
Sheik is Jerry Stubbs. He occasionally worked AWA as the Masked Superstar. Royal is on his final Japan tour before retiring.
Kuniaki Kobayashi & Isamu Teranishi vs. Masanobu Fuchi & Mighty Inoue
Kobayashi had a good run in AJPW, for a few years, but he’s now going home. Teranishi was technically in the same stable but unlike everyone else, he stayed in AJPW until 1992. Fuchi is All Japan 4 LYFE. Seriously, he’s been wrestling there the entire time I’ve been alive, scoop slamming bitches.
Hiro Saito & Killer Khan vs. Animal Hamaguchi & Masanobu Kurisu
Ashura Hara, Goro Tsurumi & Rusher Kimura vs. Giant Baba, Haru Sonoda & Takashi Ishikawa
Baba knew he was deteriorated and booked himself in the midcard to lose. I respect it. Rusher Kimura was a regular comedy undercard guy in NOAH come 2003.
Great Kabuki & Tiger Mask II vs. Curt Hennig & Frank Lancaster
Hennig was semi-regular in Japan, but prioritising AWA. The opposite of Stan Hansen. Lancaster was a WCW jobber later in life. This is his only AJPW tour.
Hiroshi Wajima vs. Tiger Jeet Singh
Wajima was a former sumo wrestler, and a good one. His career got cut short by injury so we probably won’t be seeing him. I don’t remember seeing him.
NWA International Tag Team Championship
Ishin Gundan (Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu) (c) vs. Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu
This is for Riki Choshu. He’s returning to NJPW after this match. The reaction for him is enormous. These two teams have been going to war for a year and this is the culmination of all that. I expect a bigger reaction from the crowd, who have been routinely hot for everything Choshu has done over the past two years. I do enjoy Choshu’s lack of respect for Tenryu. He swats aside the Enzuirgiri and puts him straight in the Sharpshooter. This is like 2 minutes into the match.
Jumbo is the one who wants those belts in the worst way. He’s coming off the top rope with the big knee! Jumbo always felt like a company guy to me, whereas Tenryu was just there for the shits and giggles.
Watching AJPW right after watching NJPW reveals some issues with their production and even the in-ring. It feels behind New Japan. There’s a reason I didn’t really connect with AJPW until Misawa was on top. The style feels very old-fashioned and not in a good way. It’s Tenryu who ends up forcing the pace but Choshu, normally an absolute don, is pulling his kicks and everything. It’s reflected by the work with Jumbo regularly getting the best of Riki.
It eventually picks up some steam, but it takes a while to get there. Jumbo takes a beating and I’m not sold on his selling. Tenryu is a guy whose mechanics bother me and that feels very pronounced here. I think it’s because I watched after watching Takada and it makes it feel a bit fake. Tenryu has it won with the powerbomb but Riki lariats him off the pin. Tsuruta gets rid of him, and Tenryu finishes Yatsu with the German suplex. I wasn’t a big fan of this. The crowd never got to the levels they’d done previously in this feud, and it felt like it was just getting going at the finish. ***
It’s crazy to see this and feel that NJPW was a much better product based on these two cards. You can see the depth in NJPW while AJPW was heavily reliant on a couple of guys and one of those was leaving to join NJPW!
When I’m asked about Japanese wrestling, I always refer to early 90s AJPW as the turning point for me. The promotion that drew me in with long term storylines and epic matches. Could it be that I preferred NJPW the whole time? I’m intrigued to see what happens when we hit the 90s and all the NJPW stuff is directly up against the elite AJPW matches, to see which I prefer now. I’m genuinely excited for both a second run at watching all that classic AJPW stuff and getting fresh eyes on NJPW, which I watched in bits and pieces the first time around.