365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
I’ve written before several times about my gaps in wrestling viewing and All Japan is one of the biggest — right up there with joshi and lucha libre.
In this entry, we fire up the Wayback Machine to 1986 for a tag title match with Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu defending the NWA International belts against Riki Choshu and Yoshiaki Yatsu.
You can watch this match along with me on YouTube, or embedded below:
Tenryu and Jumbo have held the NWA International Tag Titles for more than two years, dating back to February 3, 1984. Each is a double champion at the time of this match; Tenryu is two years deep into a reign as NWA United National champ, while Jumbo Tsuruta is the NWA International champion in a reign that dates back to 1983.
A week before, on January 28, the champs successfully defended them against Choshu and Yatsu. That match earned a five-star rating (if you’re into that sort of thing) and has been talked about on various Internet forums, as one of the best All Japan tag matches of the 80s. Another match that receives similar praise is the 1981 finals of the Real World Tag League that pit Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka against the Funk Brothers, Dory and Terry.
That January 28 match was also the first time in four meetings between these two teams that there was a decisive winner. The other matches ended in a no contest, a draw, and a double countout.
These title matches are happening in the greater context of the “invasion” of All Japan by Choshu’s Ishin Gundan faction. The group initially formed in New Japan in 1983, after Choshu turned on Tatsumi Fujinami in a pivot from the traditional booking philosophy of booking Japanese wrestlers against foreign, or gaijin, antagonists. Choshu and his faction, which included names you probably know like Masa Saito and Killer Khan, left New Japan in the fall of 1984 and started their own promotion, Japan Pro Wrestling. Shortly thereafter, an interpromotional agreement with All Japan was announced, and Ishin Gundan made their way into that company.
The crowd in Sapporo is buzzing for this one even before the music for the challengers hits. There’s a great atmosphere, as Choshu and Yatsu — technically the invaders from out of town — are escorted to the ring by other members of the Japan Pro Wrestling roster in red tracksuits. Meanwhile, young boys from the All Japan dojo are present in black and yellow attire. Seeing them around the ring, and cheering on their respective team, adds a real-sports element to what transpires.
Choshu and Yatsu might ostensibly be the invaders from an outside promotion, but they’re the crowd favorites here. During introductions, the fans greet Choshu with a bevy of streamers and a reaction that rivals either champion. Later, while Yatsu is getting worked over, the fans chant his name like this match is happening halfway around the world in the Sportatorium and his last name is Von Erich.
The frenzied start shows this won’t be a typical title match with a slow build. Yatsu dekes Jumbo, dropkicks him out of the ring, and then combines with Choshu to deliver a spike piledriver on the floor. Back in the ring, another spike piledriver with Choshu coming off the top. In most promotions in the U.S., this would lead to a prolonged injury angle. Here, it’s just the catalyst to nearly 25 minutes of action.
Choshu and Yatsu work at a faster pace than a typical bigtime match in All Japan during this era, and it elevates the overall quality of the match. Choshu comes out with taped ribs, selling the effects of last week’s title match, and the champions rightly zero in on the injury.
If you were doubting the unique intensity of this match, that goes away when these guys break out the slaps. It starts when Tenryu just starts blasting Yatsu in the face with open-handed strikes, sparking a scrum that brings all four men in the ring to pull apart the two legal combatants. Later, Jumbo and Choshu both spend time in mount trading slaps.
Speaking of Jumbo, he shines brightest in this match. When he’s on the receiving end of the challengers’ offense, he sells everything well. Meanwhile, as the biggest man in the match, he asserts himself physically on multiple occasions as his size and track record of success in AJPW both would suggest. He certainly works harder here than in the tag match with Kabuki against the Freebirds we watched earlier in the project.
The match has a nice ebb and flow to it. Jumbo, Choshu, and Yatsu all spend significant time getting worked over. Tenryu avoids that, but he’s also the one who eats the pin in the end, a creative finish that caps a huge reaction from the crowd as the titles finally change hands.
–Tenryu and Jumbo dethroned Choshu and Yatsu exactly one year later to regain the titles, in what also marked Choshu’s last match under the All Japan banner for more than two decades.
–Check out Yatsu busting out a version of the sling blade at one juncture.
–Choshu is credited with inventing the sharpshooter and busts out the hold a couple of times. It livens up the crowd each time it happens; namely because submission finishes were quite rare in All Japan under the guidance of then-promoter Giant Baba.
-Tenryu voluntarily vacated his singles title after being pinned by Yatsu here. This led to a tournament for the vacant title, which was won by… Tenryu. OK?
Final Rating: 8.0
This match checks most of the boxes of what I want in pro wrestling:
- It’s a match with tangible, significant stakes.
- It’s got a big-fight feel.
- There’s some real heat and hatred present.
Meanwhile, everything unfolds at a quick pace — especially by the standards of the era. There’s lots to like here, very few lulls, and quality intensity and physicality from bell to bell. This is a hard-fought, well-worked wrestling match that is recommended viewing for both fans and wrestlers alike
I’ve been thinking about what project to tackle after this one, and right now, a deep dive into the archive of All Japan looks like the winner.
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