Alan gives us an update on where he is with his greatest wrestler ever project.
We’re coming close to a year since I started this project. I’ve made an effort to not look at the original list I made too much as I don’t want to let it subconsciously influence me when I go to re-list in a few months, but I can tell you for sure that there will have been many changes. I’ve made many discoveries as I’ve gone on, gained an appreciation for styles that I previously wasn’t hooked by and overall had quite the lovely time! Essentially I’ve gotten all I wanted out of this thing, and the most fun part is still to come!
AREAS OF FOCUS
80s All Japan
So with the retirement upcoming of Japanese pro wrestling legend Genichiro Tenryu, I wanted to go back and get a more well-rounded appreciation of his career. I’d seen bits and bobs of his 80s stuff but not near enough to really gain a sense of what the man was about back then. I have seen all his big matches from the 2000s and a good amount of his 90s work so I was well versed in “Grumpy Old Tenryu” but I wanted to become acquainted with his younger self.
The earliest match I watched was a singles in the 1982 Champion Carnival vs. the man he’d have his greatest rivalry with – Jumbo Tsuruta. This was a sportsmanlike contest between two clean cut popular natives with a ton of technical wrestling and enough fire to give it an added spark. Tenryu was very adept doing the more technical style here and I was mightily impressed. They would later go on to team with each as they were positioned as the top native team in the company and had several great clashes with Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody. I loved the way Tenryu worked with these guys. He brought it to them, never really coming across like an underdog but still like someone who had a massive task at their feet and they weren’t backing down from it.
Jumbo was an interesting case for me at this point. I’ve never really been a big fan of the 70s/early 80s Jumbo style of lonnnnng technical matches but the stuff near the end of his career where he was a moody and violent scrapper, I absolutely loved. I used the word interesting because his transition from one to the other was really evident as the 80s rolled on. What lit the fuse was the arrival on the scene of Riki Choshu and his pals Yoshiaki Yatsu, Animal Hamiguchi, Masa Saito and Killer Khan. Much like when Choshu showed back up in New Japan a few years earlier and lit that company a blaze, his arrival into All Japan created major waves. The biggest thing it did was attempt to draw the evil out of Jumbo. They tried to drag him down to their level of bloody, intense brawls.
It was so awesome seeing the different reactions of Jumbo and Tenryu to this. Tenryu was all for it. He got stuck right in! Jumbo however was apprehensive. He wasn’t gung-ho about the brawling but he kinda had to in order to survive…and he knew it!
I’ve watched about a year’s worth of the matches between these sides (with the likes of the Funks and Hansen being involved a bit too) and the quality is very high. There’s enough clean finishes to keep things moving along but the real heart of these matches is the action before it comes time to wrap up. From minute one, there’s no down time.
It’s ultra intense. I’m really looking forward to continuing on my viewing of this period.
NOW I GOTTA CUT LOOSE!!!!
That wasn’t all the 80s All Japan I watched. Oh no, because I also broke out my IVPvideos FOOTLOOSE compilation!!! I’m sorry but cast your Kevin Bacon imagery aside because this had nothing to do with him. “Footloose” was the name of the tag team of Toshiaki Kawada and Samson Fuyuki and was essentially Baba’s version of what the American promoters would tastefully call “your blowjob babyface tag team”. Sure Fuyuki had lovely hair but tubby little rat tailed Kawada???? Really? Well I guess Dennis Condrey passed as a “Loverboy” in the States so who knows with the 80s? They had colourful zebra patterned tights and came out to the Kenny Loggins song so they ticked a few boxes anyway.
But on a serious note, this early career work of Kawada really adds a cherry to his GWE candidacy. He was fantastic on this team. His fire and selling combined with his great kick-based offense made him a standout. Fuyuki was excellent too during this run and it’s disappointing that he and Kawada went in such opposite directions in the 90s. Their best opponents were the Can Am Express – Doug Furnas and Danny Kroffat. Anyone who has been following me online for any length of time knows I’m a HUGE Can-Ams fan. I got a billion disc comp of them in 2007 and loved so much of their stuff. They were even half of what’s probably my favourite match ever, against Kobashi & Kikuchi in 1992.
(My screenshot of that match printed out and brought to Coventry, England to get signed by Kobashi – making his and my day in the process!).
Anyway there’s a bunch of great Footloose tags and trios matches through 1988 and 1989 which really bolster All Japan’s midcard. It was also a chance to catch some of the Tenryu vs. Jumbo feud which had reignited as they would often be on the opposite sides of Footloose 6 mans.
Okay, so some people may not like these next few paragraphs but I promise, they are my honest feelings. I’m not trying to troll or anything like that. Quite frankly, I want to think differently than I do on this, and I don’t like that I’ve come to this conclusion, but I can’t deny it.
For what I look for from a wrestling match, the US territorial days just really didn’t deliver it enough. Don’t get me wrong – I love US territorial wrestling! But it’s not for the match quality. It’s for the characters, the stories, the feuds, the angles and the overall presentation. The matches are too often, just really nothing that I’m excited about when I finish watching them. Compared to old Japanese stuff or modern day wrestling, it just doesn’t hold a candle when it comes to the matches. There are gems to be found, no doubt, but for me the hits are considerably less than the misses.
It makes sense though. The wrestlers of the time weren’t striving to have “Match Of The Year” candidates the way guys now do. It was a different thing. Unfortunately for a project like this, where it’s all about bell-to-bell wrestling, that hurts those wrestlers.
I know this is hardly considered one of the all=time great territories but I’m going to use it as an example just because I’ve been watching a lot of it lately (and for the record I’ve seen all the best Mid South, Portland, Memphis, Carolinas so allow me). The post World Class version of the USWA – Jeff Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Eric Embry, Cactus Jack, Billy Joe Travis and of course General Skandar Akbar! I’ve really enjoyed their TV that I’ve been watching on Youtube. It’s such an easy watch. The angles are fun, the stories are well told, the promos are great, it’s a very good wrestling product. But the great matches are non-existant I’m afraid.
I also watched a ton of Buzz Sawyer since he’s one half of one of those afformentioned “gem” matches that I love against Jim Duggan in Mid South. I hadn’t seen much Buzz outside of that so I sought out all I could. Watched him against the likes of Terry Taylor, Arn Anderson, Kevin Von Erich, Butch Reed and Tommy Rich. Enjoyed his stuff it has to be said, but I think he’ll fall shy of my list. I’d just love to see 2 or 3 more matches from him that hit the heights of the Duggan match. Maybe they happened (they probably did) but without the footage available I can’t give him the credit for it.
With Volk Han and Kiyoshi Tamura up for balloting again in the Wrestling Observer awards, I used that as inspiration to delve into the world of 80s and 90s shoot style wrestling in Japan. I finished my Gary Albright comp which unfortunately saw him peter out towards the end of his RINGS run. He looked so unmotivated at the end there; it was disappointing. His first few years in RINGS are incredible – trust me! I watched a ton of UWFI to try to get a better feel for Tamura, Yamazaki, Funaki and Suzuki but the guy who I ended up being most excited about was of all people, NORMAN SMILEY!!! Yep, Mr. Big Wiggle himself. Norman was fantastic in matches I saw against Suzuki, Yamazaki and Yoji Anjoh. There was something about his demeanour in these matches that I loved. The Japanese were ultra intense and aggressive, but he was almost gentleman like throughout. Even when a guy like Suzuki was being a TOTAL dick to him, Norman kept his composure and kept looking for his openings. It was fascinating to watch him operate.
Just the usual from me here – scatterbrain Lucha viewing was the order of the day. If you’ve read my previous GWE blogs, you know I tend to bounce around, googling random guys rather than targeting specific periods. Over-arching point to note here is that there really is a fantastic selection of classic lucha on YouTube and other sites of that ilk. It’s awesome that there’s so much there for lucha novices like me to dig into. Sometimes you come up with gold; sometimes not so much. I’ll get into all of the GWE candidates that I have thoughts about in the next section but I have to quickly mention a lucha DVD I watched which has absolutely nothing to do with the Greatest Wrestlers Ever – “Best Of Lucha Gimmicks”. This was a DVD featuring Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Freddy Kruegger and much much more. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Red Power Ranger hit a hurricanrana.
STOCK UP/STOCK DOWN
Yoshiaki Yatsu (UP) – One of my favourite discoveries this year has been the greatness of Yoshiaki Yatsu. I had heard the legend of him but I really wasn’t expecting him to grab me as much as he has. He was phenomenal in 1985.
El Hijo Del Santo (UP) – Probably the luchador I’ve watched the most of in the last few months. He’s really the total package for a luchador. He can brawl, fly or go on the mat. Highlight for me was a great match with Psicosis from 1995. So much untapped that I still need to see.
Dean Malenko (DOWN) – The more I see of Dean, the less enamoured I am. A great worker hold for hold, but the lack of fire compared to other guys who are just as good hold for hold means he won’t feature on my list.
Toshiaki Kawada (UP): FOOTLOOOOSE!!!
Dynamite Kid (UP): It’s talked about as if he was terrible after he left WWF in the late 80s. But in watching the footage, he was still so good in 1989 All Japan. Not as mobile, but man the crispness and intensity is still there.
Gary Albright (DOWN): Tail end of his UWFI run was a drag.
Norman Smiley (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
Kazuo Yamazaki (UP): Not just for the UWFI stuff, I caught a good bit of his 1995 feud with Hashimoto and that’s fun stuff.
Negro Casas (DOWN): A guy I’ll be continuing to research for sure and he could easily end up going back the other direction, but more often than not his matches that I’ve been watching leave me wanting more.
Blue Panther (UP): Just an absolute demon on the mat. Enjoying his stuff.
Genichiro Tenryu (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
Jumbo Tsuruta (UP): (for the reasons talked about)
Animal Hamiguchi (UP): Becoming a real favourite of mine. Love him in the role of Choshu’s veteran henchman. Also watched some of his IWE stuff and that’s super fun.
Danny Kroffat (UP): Sometimes I need a little reminding about how good this guy was. He was so creative and innovative in the late 80s and early 90s, it was like watching a guy pulled from 2004 ROH and dropped in there. In fact, I really think ’89 Kroffat is a guy that you could have put into a main event role in ROH in the mid 2000s and he’d have fit perfectly.
Sting (DOWN): Outside of the Vader, Cactus and a couple of Flair matches, I’ve struggled to find any Sting gems. Those were all matches I was well aware of and I was hoping I’d come across more, but I just haven’t. For such a long career, he just didn’t have all that many excellent matches.
THE RACE FOR NUMBER ONE
Didn’t really watch much Daniel Bryan these last few months so Kenta Kobashi has pulled away a little as a result of a fantastic 2nd half of 1998. His title matches with Kawada, Akiyama and Taue are all phenomenal.
Matt Sydal! Wow, what a year the “Reborn” one has had. I’ve never touched a drug in my life but seeing the way this dude is killing it makes me want to join him on his next crazy trip to Peru to engage in all kinds of hallucinogens. He’s operating on a crazy level right now. There were big question marks about him during his time off in WWE. People thought his career may be over. But he has burst back onto the independent scene and been having incredible matches in the US, Europe and Japan. His series’ with Will Ospreay in Revolution Pro UK and ACH in Ring Of Honor have put him in the role of savvy veteran against young up and comer and he’s thrived in it. His matches in PWG against Ricochet and Fenix were among the best anywhere in the world this year, and his recent performances alongside Ricochet in New Japan’s junior tag league have been off the charts. Matt Sydal will be one of the highest movers from my initial list, guaranteed.
SOME HIGHLIGHT MATCHES
Matt Sydal vs. Will Ospreay (Rev Pro UK May 2015)
Bob Backlund vs. Masakatsu Funaki (UWFI – May 21 1989)
USWA Challenge TV Episode (August 28 1989)
Casas/Panther/Fuerza vs. Asai/Hamada/Santo (Arena Tijuana)
“Black Magic” Norman Smiley vs. Kazuo Yamazaki (UWFI 1988)
Footloose/Tenryu vs. Jumbo/Yatsu/Fuchi (All Japan – January 1989)