December 3, 2023

UWF Starting Over (8.11.88) review 

UWF Starting Over (8.11.88) review 


June 11, 1988 


I know what you’re thinking (if you’ve been paying attention); didn’t you literally just review this show? The answer, dear friends, is no, this is another show from UWF with the same name. I’ve heard it dubbed “Starting Over II” or “Starting Over Vol. 2” (as it says on the graphic) but yeah, it’s another show from their opening month as a promotion. This one is in Sapporo at the Nakajima Sports Center. On tap for this one is the money match of Maeda vs. Takada. To fill out the undercard they have Norman Smiley. You pronounce that Nor-MEN Smi-LAY.  



They bring all the guys out for introductions and holy shit, Smiley is ENORMOUS. What the fuck? He’s 6’2” and it’s easy to forget that looks pretty big until you get “where the big boys play”. That’s who I want to see in there with Maeda, instead of the booker bullying a lightweight. 


Shigeo Miyato vs. Tetsuo Nakano 

Nakano, the chubby killer who beat Yoji Anjo last time, is up against the diminutive Miyato, who got schooled by Takada last time out. Initially Miyato looks in trouble again. Nakano uses his size and weight to get better kicks in and then dominates on the mat. Miyato lacks the technical skill of Anjo and is also smaller. He looks in real trouble after a couple of minutes. 


The story becomes Nakano’s inability to put him away and Miyato’s feisty refusal to give up. Which was detailed in his loss to Takada. He got tapped out twice but kept going. Nakano knows he can win this, and you can sense his eagerness to do so but the wilder his kicks get, the less accurate they are. He keeps going for big moves and Miyato’s defensive wrestling blocks everything. Nakano also has this belief he can’t get into trouble in stand-up, which Miyato puts to the test by unloading ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING at him during a wacky strike duel. The good thing about it is how many of those strikes are blocked. Almost nothing lands but it opens Nakano up for a double leg takedown.  


They get tired after a while and some of the mat work gets very sloppy. Nakano grabs an arm and Miyato just lets him do it. It feels far too cooperative. Considering how high their bar had been to that point, it’s a little disappointing. They end up in a big double leglock mess, which is how Miyato tapped to Takada. He realises this too and looks for a way out of it only for Nakano to drag him back into trouble. Nakano knows he just has to stay in this and eventually he’ll get the win. Miyato knows he has to escape and flat out kicks Nakano in the face. IN THE FACE.  


Nakano goes after him immediately for it and Miyato catches him coming in with a head kick. YES, FUCK HIM UP! The main issue this match has is that they reach these little crescendos and then go back into a hold. It’s a learning curve for the promotion as a whole. The 15-20:00 stretch is Miyato on top, kicking Nakano when he gets to his feet but unable to pick him off with submissions. The vibe is that Miyato has worn himself out and lacks the strength to finish the match. He takes Nakano down at will but just can’t get a tap out. 


The match switches gears and we get some great stand up, followed by lulls of Nakano leglocks designed to replicate the ‘near finish’ of the earlier one. The perfect finish feels like either Nakano getting that submission or Miyato kicking his face clean off. I do like that the match gets a bit messy as both guys are clearly fatigued. Both guys slip out of holds due to a build up of sweat and tiredness. They go crazy looking for the KO in the last minute but no one can land anything clean and we go 30:00. A draw. ***¾ 


This is a tough one to rate because they didn’t quite have enough storyline to run for 30:00 but the highs of this match were very strong. The leglock story was solid, the trading of strikes/blocks worked until the last minute and both guys seemed to have a strategy. Both guys showed a degree of inexperience when it came to finishing a fight and that is also a story. It would have been more satisfying if either guy had found a finish from somewhere.  


Norman Smiley vs. Kazuo Yamazaki 

Norman is English and was born in Northampton but moved to Miami when he was young. I like Northampton but it’s hard to argue with that switch. Trained by a combination of Malenko’s and Karl Gotch, he’s ideally suited to this style. He’s only been working in the Florida scene for a few years at this point, so it’s a big move for him.  

They fed Yamazaki to Maeda on Starting Over Vol. 1. Smiley is very much working the style, rather than embodying it like a lot of the other guys. There’s a lot of feeding going on. Yamazaki is much smoother in transition. Their stand up is nicely apprehensive with dodging kicks being the norm. Yamazaki tries a half crab, which should surely be curtains but Smiley is so pliable, he’s able to turn around in it and dislodge one of the standing legs, into his own leglock. The crowd are surprised by Smiley’s flexibility.  


Smiley does throw in some silly overblown character work, which would be a success for him in WCW later in his career. It doesn’t land here but the crowd likes it. Smiley is far more convincing in his counter work. A few of his escapes are beautifully smooth, I just wish he would close distance in the grappling in between. There’s too much gapping. Oh, fuck me, I sound like Craig Revel-Horwood.  


Maybe some of that is on Yamazaki for not making his own stuff tighter but a key element of shootstyle is never allowing it to look like a work. The second it looks like you’re cooperating with each other, the illusion is dashed. Which makes it a very difficult style to perfect as wrestling is, by design, a cooperative process. There’s a hip toss from Yamazaki in here and Smiley isn’t ready for it the first time. So they pause and then go to it. The reason behind this is because it leads directly to Yamazaki scoring the submission win so it has to stay. *** 


It was a good showing from Smiley. A lot of his short strikes looked good, his counters were excellent, and he was only let down by not keeping it consistent in holds. Sadly it looked fake on half a dozen occasions, which is just too often.  


Akira Maeda vs. Nobuhiko Takada 

These two teamed together in NJPW and are the backbone of the Newborn UWF. It’s interesting they went to this match on the second show. Both guys have basic black trunks, black boots with UWF on the side and even have similar haircuts. They are the mirror image of each other. Takada must feel like he needs to take a few shortcuts because he drops on an early leg kick and resorts to hoofing Maeda the first time he uses the ropes to break.  


The issue I have with this match is that they’re too alike. The mirror image thing isn’t fun. Wrestling is often at its level best when you have contrast. Two different styles colliding. What does work is how well they know each other. I like Maeda trying to tee off on kicks only for Takada to sweep his standing leg. I mean, he was just standing there kicking wildly and asking for it.  


They have a mixed bag on stand up in general. A weird palm strike duel looks stupid but leads directly into Maeda’s best offence of the match; a great capture suplex. They also both insist on using spin kicks, a holdover from their NJPW moveset. It meshes badly with the insistence at working long, grinding mat holds. Maeda’s choice of holds is very pro-wrestling as well and Takada’s escapes usually involve him pulling Maeda into the ropes. If they were gunning for shootstyle, they’ve missed by a mile. 


Even if you look at this as a pro-wrestling match, it’s not good because there’s too much resting and dead time designed to look like ‘shoot wrestling holds’. Takada is much better as the aggressor, targeting Maeda’s leg with kicks and holds. Unfortunately, Maeda insists on ‘selling’ by limping around. Selling is key to telling a story in a pro-wrestling match. In a shootstyle match, the only time you want to be selling like that is when you’re telling the crowd you’re finished. To give you an out when you submit. You were hurt. You saw. There was limping.  


Walking around on a bad leg and firing up just mocks competitive fighting. Look at the Brawl for All. Steve Williams hurt his leg and he got creamed because of it. In a real fight, if you’re hurt you’re done. Blood in the water. They almost pull this off with Takada tagging a hobbled Maeda with repeated kicks because his mobility is gone. But then it’s back to a rest hold and Maeda switches things by going for his own leglock.  


There’s a nice call back when Takada is teeing off on Maeda with kicks and Maeda sweeps his leg. They get in some lovely big strikes, which should be near falls in a pro-wrestling match. If they’d just gone out there and done a NJPW match without pretending to make it shootstyle, this would have banged. The trouble is, it ends up being neither one thing nor the other. The perfect spot to demonstrate this is the dragon suplex, where it’s supposed to be a near fall but instead the bridge collapses and they try to get Maeda’s shoulders down again. Pfft, fuck off lads.  


They do a better German suplex, which is the only near fall of the match and Maeda finishes with a submission soon thereafter. If they’d done this with all the bells and whistles of NJPW it would have been ****+ easy but without the dramatic near falls and with the faux pro-wrestling approach, it just didn’t land. It also didn’t work at all as a shootstyle match and was miles off the intensity and style of the opener. As a shoot style match, it’s **¼ or thereabouts. I’ll go like ***¼ but that’s being generous. This didn’t work at all and would merely serve as a bridging match from NJPW strongstyle to UWF shootstyle. If they’d kept the pro-wrestling near falls in this, it could have banged, and that’s ultimately where the style went in the 2000’s as we got hybrid wrestling with elements of shoot, lucha, British and American wrestling combined. 


The 411: 

A difficult sophomore effort from UWF. The opener is pure shootstyle, although it gets tired long before the 30:00 time limit expires. Smiley had a solid debut but has holes in his game. The main event has to be the biggest disappointment of the show. A mesh of strong and shoot style, which is ultimately neither and not good. Nothing on this show was as entertaining as Maeda vs. Yamazaki on the first Starting Over.  

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