Alan gives us an update on where he is with his greatest wrestling ever project.
“Not dipped my toe too far into the Joshi swimming pool just yet, but from what I have seen, Hokuto is the first to reach out and try to grab me in. GOD DAMN IT AKIRA, THE WATER’S COLD, GIVE ME A MINUTE!!!!!”
Well Ms. Hokuto didn’t listen to my request in the April blog, and she pulled me right into that Joshi pool – clothes and all. Wait that sounds weird; let’s start over.
Areas of focus
So I watched a God damn load of Joshi in the last 3 months!!! And I think it’s finally clicked with me. After years of checking out a hyped match here and there with the prevailing thought always being “I guess that was really good but I dunno…” it took a focused dedication to get me to really appreciate the characters, stories and performances of some of the best wrestlers ever – and that’s what we’re all about here for this project. The driving force behind my progress was a fantastic Akira Hokuto comp that I ordered over a year ago from IVPvideos. I knuckled down and made a commitment to watching this thing from start to finish, supplemented by checking out many matches from some of the other workers that caught my eye. There were some who I was obviously familiar with such as Aja Kong, Manami Toyota and Bull Nakano. However there were others like Toshiyo Yamada, Yumiko Hotta and Harley Saito who caught me by surprise.
I checked out some 80s stuff with the molten crowd heat and young girls losing their minds. I was first of all very impressed by the quality of the footage from a production standpoint. If it wasn’t for the fashion which was very much of it’s time, you’d think you were watching something from a decade later. The video quality was that much better than almost any other promotion of that time. The matches can be a little out of control for my liking with the constant flow of interference from Dump Matsumoto lead heel crew being a bit much for even my MAD BLANKEY weathered eyeballs. But the level of passion and intensity brought to the matches is incredible, particularly when some of the top stars were in their mid-teens! Nakano is particular was so young here, it was startling.
My Hokuto comp centered around what’s considered the other glory period of Joshi, the early 1990s. The banner year for the future “Mrs. Kenskee” was 1993 and it really has to be considered amongst the best singular years for any wrestler ever. Her number one rivalry that year was with the biggest legit badass on the block, Judo star Shinobu Kandori and they had two incredible singles matches. The more famous of the two bouts is the April showdown at the historic Dreamslam event. It was a showcase for the type of drama and intensity Hokuto could bring to a match. What she does so well, perhaps better than anyone I can think of is flip a switch between being an absolute bitch on offense and gaining huge sympathy when she’s selling one of her mummified body parts. That was part of the greatness of her ’93 – she had this litany of injuries and it seemed like every match a different one would get targeted. One match in particular which I loved for that was against Yamada in May as part of the AJW Grand Prix. Her opponent whose strikes and technical skill were maybe the most impressive of all the Joshis, ripped apart Hokuto’s arm to the point where Akira was working solely as a one armed fighter, refusing to use the bad limb in any way. The crowd were worked into a frenzy for this one.
I think my favourite match for Hokuto’s “Queen Bitch” stylings was a hair match against Rumi Kazama in LLPW. She was working as an outsider in the promotion (where Kandori was top star – building heat for their match a month later) and was a total asshole in the greatest sense of the word. She toyed with her opponent at times and when she finally finished her off it felt like a true act of cruelty. But even in that match at times, she was great at showing vulnerability. All that aside, Hokuto has cemented her place on my list by having an ALL TIME GREAT TAN right the way through 1993. This was the WrestleMania tan but year-round. A more commendable accomplishment, you won’t find.
The thesis that Joshi fell off in a big way towards the end of the 90s and into the 2000s is one that we’re all familiar with, so I didn’t feel the need to dig too much into that “post-peak” era. However some of what I did check out has me gagging to watch more. Sure the crowds aren’t as big or as passionate about the top stars, but the work and the quality of the performers stayed at a very high level. One match in particular which blew my mind was a tag from the Oz Academy promotion in 2001 pitting Meiko Satomura & Sumie Sakai against Chikayo Nagashima and Carlos Amano. There was more technical skill on display in this one 12 minute match than anything I can recall seeing, past or present, in a long time. This looked futuristic to 2015 eyes, I can only imagine what it looked like when it happened.
Got through a decent amount of Portland and AWA footage and unfortunately it didn’t light my world on fire. Very solid work no doubt, but nothing that I found particularly jaw-dropping or grabbed me by the wrist and took me on a ride. Curt Hennig was emblematic of this. You wouldn’t be able to find a single hole in his work and he was consistent as all hell, but there wasn’t that one match that wowed me in the way that his classic WWF matches against Bret did. I honestly found the highly rated matches with Nick Bockwinkel to be a little boring and trust me I really wanted to love them. Bockwinkel in general is a guy I want to be a huge fan of (I think because it just seems cool to be) but in the ring he just bores me unfortunately. Promos are a different matter altogether – I love him on the mic (but we’re talking bell to bell work for this project). Buddy Rose is a fun heel, bumps great and makes the babyface look good. A talented guy absolutely, but not someone that I’ll be considering for this list based on what I’ve seen.
I’ve been watching more 1988/1989 NWA – the Clashes and the PPVs. No huge revelations really. I think I prefer the Flair/Funk matches more than the Flair/Steamboats as the gritty brawls of the former hold up better for me than the more technical back & forth contests of the latter. I know it’s a sin to say it but I was drifting out of parts of the Flair/Steamboat matches. They were obviously incredible for their time though.
Watched a decent amount of the SWS and WAR that’s been hitting the internets lately. Ultimo Dragon/Yoshihiro Asai has been an interesting case study in that I’ve gone all over the map in my opinion of him as I’ve watched more of his stuff and I’ve more or less ended up back where I was. Insanely talented but he definitely has a tendency to coast at times. However when he wants to turn it on full whack, he’s incredible and he can have some amazing matches. One such example of that I’ll save for the lucha section. Favourite WAR match I’ve seen was Hiroshi Hase vs. Samson Fuyuki, a great performance from both men. Hase has also been impressing as I blitz through 1998 All Japan. I think I said it last time, but his AJPW run deserves so much more praise than I’ve seen it get. The way he put over Akiyama on the May 1st 98 AJPW dome show was excellent.
Ahhh lucha, our tumultuous relationship continues…
I think I’ll just have to accept the following as my position on our pals in Mexico. I’ll never truly get it and appreciate it like some do, but it’s worth keeping on watching because there will always be the occasional match which is just flat out awesome. I can’t really tell you what it is that makes some Lucha matches work for me, and why others fall flat but in some ways that mystery is the beauty of it.
Brought about obviously by horrible circumstances, I watched a ton of El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo. What an incredible performer this guy was. An absolutely savage brawler, either as a fiery babyface in his teens and early 20s or as a cocky dickhead as he matured. Some of my favourite matches he had were against Hector Garza, El Hijo Del Santo, Mistico and Atlantis. It’s all action with Perro, the matches are frenetic and high intensity but that is never at the expense of selling or telling a story.
Man, Atlantis really is a well rounded wrestler isn’t he? He’s been the guy in Mexico, more than any other, who’s really made me stand up and take notice. I’ve seem him put in great brawling performances (vs Perrito), great technical performances (vs Blue Panther), a great mask vs mask “epic” performance (vs. Villano III) and in some of the tags from his younger days, great aerial performances. Plus he’s one of the only lucha guys who almost never throws up a dud to me. Perhaps “dud” is too harsh a word. But a match that I don’t quite get. He doesn’t ever have those. At least that I’ve seen.
Stock up/Stock down
Arn Anderson (DOWN) – Had Arn in my top 50 on the baseline test and after watching him quite a bit recently I just can’t see him staying there. There are too many other incredible candidates with stronger cases. Arn is as solid as they come, but there’s just not enough classic matches in that portfolio (particularly as a single).
Keiji Muto (UP & DOWN) – Has got to be a candidate for most inconsistent wrestler ever. Watching more of his late 80s / early 90s stuff and as soon as I get ready to throw a ton of praise at him he throws up a stinker of a performance. Curse you Muto!!! *shakes fist*
Genichiro Tenryu (UP) – In his retirement year now, and what a career he had. The more I watch him, the more I realise he’s one of the most brilliantly unique performers of all time.
Atlantis (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
Akira Hokuto (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
Meiko Satomura (UP): Always assumed Meiko was in her 40s because I’ve heard the name around for so long but she started at 15 and was training people by 25. She’s 35 now and is looking incredible. Her earlier stuff will be a point of focus going forward.
Nick Bockwinkle (DOWN): (for the reasons talked about)
Curt Hennig (DOWN): (for the reasons talked about)
Barry Windham (DOWN): Yes, two blogs in a row that Barry falls in my estimation. He just constantly disappoints me when I’m expecting a lot.
Jun Akiyama (UP): Hell of a 1998 for this guy. Loved the Champion Carnival match with Kobashi.
Shinobu Kandori (UP): Such realism in her matches. It’s nuts. Perhaps the novelty wears off after seeing her do the same stuff 50 times, but at the point I’m at now she’s pretty incredible.
Harley Race (DOWN): I just don’t get Harley at all. Now Harley Saito on the other hand….
Manami Toyota (DOWN): Down but I say this with hesitancy. I just had her in my mind as one of, if not the best, Joshi wrestlers based on rep really. But from watching a lot of stuff, she has some holes in her game that others don’t have. What is great about her is really great though, so a rebound is very possible.
And for the laugh, one more who absolutely won’t make me list but damn it if he hasn’t popped up in my viewing way more than he should have. Whether it’s Lucha or SWS, I can’t escape…..
EMILIO CHARLES JR!!!! (UP): Yep he goes from not on my radar to appreciating this fella as a fun little heel. Ugly as sin but a damn good worker.
The race for number one
So I’m pretty much unwavering in the idea that my number 1 will be either Kenta Kobashi or Bryan Danielson. I pretty much can’t watch either now without comparing to the other. It’s very tight. Watched a bunch of peak and early Danielson for the show I did on his career with Matt Feuerstein (you can listen here: http://media001.f4wonline.com/dmdocuments/052015dks.mp3 ) and it’s as good as I remember. Found a gem of a match from JAPW against Low Ki several months before ROH started. The intensity and matwork in that match were incredible.
Kobashi has a small lead though with his All Japan performances as I roll through 1998 continuing to impress. The guy’s charisma during his matches is just off the charts.
Last blog we went with Kota Ibushi, this time we go with his DDT rival, company ace HARASHIMA. What a year it’s been for this guy. Honestly it’s been two incredible years for him, but people just weren’t paying attention last year. His standouts are the two matches with Ibushi, his match with KUDO where he totally heeled it up and his match with Tetsuya Endo in January which was as fantastic a 9 minutes of pro wrestling as you’ll see. But above individual matches, the way this guy carries himself, the way he tells stories, his execution…. it’s all to be marvelled at. When you look back at his earlier years, he was absolutely no slouch then either. This guy has a damn good shot at featuring prominently on my list. A big match lies ahead in August when he faces Hiroshi Tanahashi at Sumo Hall.
Some highlight matches
HARASHIMA vs. Kota Ibushi (DDT April 29 2015)
HARASHIMA vs. Tetsuya Endo (January 3 2015)
El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo vs. Hector Garza (AAA 2001)
Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas (1993)
Blue Panther vs. Atlantis (CMLL 1997)
Villano III vs. Atlantis (CMLL 2001)
Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori (4/2/93)