365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
There are several benefits to this project for me, whether it’s seeing ballyhooed matches that I missed or filling in gaps in my fandom. I also enjoy finding those deep tracks, those unlikely matchups from back in the archives. Today’s selection is definitely a deep track: Tatsumi Fujinami facing Roddy Piper (under the mask as the Masked Canadian) for NWA Hollywood from Jan. 27, 1978.
It’s hard to imagine in modern times a WWF champion appearing on an NWA event, but the 1970s were a different time and here Fujinami is, defending the WWWF Junior Heavyweight Title, which he won just four days prior at Madison Square Garden. Fujinami goes on to really put New Japan Pro Wrestling’s junior division on the map before evolving into one of the “aces” of the heavyweight ranks. He’s only starting to enter his prime here and is in tremendous shape, with what I would describe as a lean swimmer’s build.
You might know about other wrestlers who went to masked characters — Dusty Rhodes as The Midnight Rider is probably the best example. Piper, the top heel in NWA Hollywood at the time, went under the hood after dropping a loser leaves town match. He is unrecognizable here in a white and red mask and full bodysuit and changes up his wrestling style as well. He even gives Fujinami a handshake of respect before the match begins.
As mentioned, this is clipped. Shots of people in the crowd, including at one point a uniformed police officer, serve as jump-ahead moments. For some reason, even with the editing, we get a full minute or two of Fujinami hooking the Canadian in a headlock, followed by a figure-four variation around the head. What’s worth noting is how Piper stays right with Fujinami during some of the hold-for-hold work, showing more technical prowess than we typically see from the Rowdy Scot.
The crowd is very invested in seeing Fujinami exact punishment on his masked foe, but the action itself is rather basic. A few moments jump out–literally–such as Fujinami hitting a tremendous leapfrog with an astonishing vertical leap where Piper barely has to drop his head. Fujinami shows that athleticism at the finish as well, leaping up onto Piper’s shoulders with what would be a huracanrana set-up in later years but here, the champion drops down to ensnare him in a sunset flip.
The wrestlers aren’t the only ones who get athletic. Check out a great leap into position by the referee to make the count after a diving splash and pin attempt by Fujinami.
Final Rating: 5.3
This is worth watching for its rarity, and the novelty of Piper wrestling under a mask and working a different type of match than his usual madcap frenzied style.