365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
I’ve got to confess something. I have a serious, wrestling-related, man-crush on Stan Hansen. Have for years, and it’s time to admit it.
Hansen is one of the best to ever step into a pro wrestling ring, by any metric you want to apply. Five-star matches? He has multiple, according to Dave Meltzer. Longevity? Hansen had more than two decades as a major name, wrestling both in the U.S., and in Japan. He was able to hold up in the grueling Japanese style in lengthy matches, and had a rugged presence that made him a legitimate formidable force — a reputation helped along by being so near-sighted that he was notoriously snug in the ring.
You can bet your hat and your boots, cowpoke, this won’t be the only Stan Hansen match as part of the project.
After several years as a top gaijin heel for New Japan Pro Wrestling, Hansen jumped at the end of 1981 to NJPW’s main rival in the country, All Japan. This match was his first since making the move, but he made a few appearances in the mid-70s for the promotion with a very different look than he had for most of his career:
I don’t know anything about Hara and don’t recall seeing him wrestle before, but some research tells me he arrived in AJPW as part of a faction in 1981 when the IWE promotion folded. He started teaming with Tenryu soon thereafter, and stayed linked with Tenryu as a partner in the ring and friend outside of the ring for much of his career.
Hansen had a reputation as one of the top heels in New Japan, but he’s the attraction in this matchup. There’s a buzz in the crowd that intensifies when Hansen’s music hits and he stalks toward the ring. The crowd starts chanting his name mere seconds into the match, as Hansen clubs his opponent with forearms, elbow drops, and knee drops. Twice, he throttles Hara in a chinlock. Note the mannerisms of Hansen, the extra torque he puts on the hold as he wrenches Hara, and the facial expressions of Hara. They all combine to make this much more than just a “resthold” (a term I despise by the way …)
Back to the fans, who add so much to the atmosphere of this match. Every time Hansen Irish whips Hara into the ropes, or goes into the ropes himself, there’s a murmur of anticipation as they await the Lariat … Hansen’s signature and brutal-looking clothesline finisher. After a couple of teases, including a jumping knee that fells Hara with ease, Hansen delivers on the lariat, unleashing it at center ring to the delight of the crowd. The only unfortunate circumstance is that there’s a nonsensical camera cut as Hansen delivers the move, detracting from its apparent devastation. Hansen makes the cover and wins a match earmarked for 45 minutes in less than three, sending an immediate statement to everyone in his new home promotion.
Give Hara credit for treating Hansen’s lariat like death itself to make his debut as noteworthy as possible. Young boys in matching red windbreakers come out and give Hara the full stretcher treatment. As he is carried to the back, his foot quivers a bit to add just a little extra seasoning to this delectable entree of salesmanship. Hansen, meanwhile, makes the pin, has his hand raised, and stalks to the back without another glance, his job done.
This was the first step in a long, successful career in All Japan for Hansen. By the time he retired, he had racked up the following accomplishments in the promotion, while serving as a fearsome foil for multiple generations of AJPW fan favorites:
— Won each of the three belts that eventually would go in the Triple Crown
— Four-time Triple Crown champion
— Back to back winner of the Champion Carnival, AJPW’s annual round-robin heavyweight tournament and their counterpart to New Japan’s G1 Climax
— Four-time winner of the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League, AJPW’s annual round-robin heavyweight tag tournament
–Thirteen separate tag title reigns
Final Rating: 5.5
I’m a big believer that the quality of the work in a match depends on how effective the work is. If two guys are flying all over the ring killing themselves in a match in front of a packed crowd, but the fans are sitting on their hands the whole time, is that match better than a contest from the yesteryear of wrestling where the combatants are trading headlocks and hammerlocks but the crowd is fully engaged? The goal here is to establish Hansen immediately as a force to be reckoned with in All Japan, and they overachieve in meeting that objective. It’s a historic match for both Hansen and the history of wrestling, especially in Japan.
Another Reader Recommendation brings us to Houston in 1981.
Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.