365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

New Japan Pro Wrestling has produced, over the course of its history, some of the best wrestling on the planet. And the Best of Super Juniors is probably my favorite of their annual tournaments: first because I enjoy that style of wrestling, and second because it gives the junior heavyweights — who usually are second banana in the promotion — a chance to shine.

The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title is the top prize for the New Japan juniors. At the time of this writing, there have been 41 wrestlers to hold the title for 91 combined reigns. Past champions include Jushin Liger, Finn Balor, Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega, Owen Hart and more … but it all started with today’s match selection, a bout between The Cobra and Shiro Koshinaka on February 6, 1986, to crown the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.

You can watch this match on New Japan World.

The Match

Koshinaka got started in All Japan, NJPW’s top competitor, and jumped over in 1985. The Cobra is George Takano, who is working here under a mask and billed from Uganda. The match is the culmination of a round-robin league tournament to crown the first IWGP champion. Other participants in the round-robin included the original Black Tiger, Mark Rocco, and Keiichi Yamada (a young, unmasked Liger).

After a month of round-robin league wrestling to get to this point, and a loss to Koshinaka during the block, the Cobra isn’t wasting any time. He takes the fight right to Koshinaka and, mere seconds in, hits a fantastic standing dropkick. I’ve watched, well, more wrestling that I probably would care to think about and this is one of the best dropkicks I’ve seen. It also elicits one of the great “OHHHH!” reactions known to Japanese crowds.

There are a few lulls, mostly to sell holds, but otherwise this match keeps the pedal pressed into the proverbial floor. The finishing stretch would hold up against any modern Japanese juniors match, with both men trading some very close near falls to the delight of the Sumo Hall crowd.

As is often the case, the small moments stand out and really tie together this match. The Cobra is aggressive in going for pins. After weathering the initial storm by Cobra, Koshinaka shows some grit with a running cross body, but note now he jams a forearm into the face of the Cobra on the impact and the landing. Later, Koshinaka lies prone with a twitching leg after taking a tombstone. That and a running legdrop still aren’t enough to put away Koshinaka, and the crowd starts chanting for him as he counters a top-rope splash and hoists the Cobra in a bridging German for the historic victory.

Final Rating: 6.3

This is a good match with a couple of off moments, such as The Cobra coming up short on a cartwheel into a dive to the floor. There’s probably nothing here you haven’t seen before, but it’s a well-worked match and a historic one to boot.

Up Next

A very good example of the youth vs. experience story, told inside the squared circle.

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365 Wrestling, Day 18: Masato Yoshino vs. Don Fujii (Dragon Gate, 1/18/11)

365 Wrestling, Day 18: Masato Yoshino vs. Don Fujii (Dragon Gate, 1/18/11)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Of the thousands upon thousands who have stepped into a wrestling ring, a select few stand out for their ability to perform one element of the art better than the rest.

Arn Anderson and his spinebuster.

Randy Savage and his flying elbow.

Or, in the case of today’s entry, Masato Yoshino and running the ropes. With Yoshino, something you’ve seen thousands of times before — a wrestler running the ropes — transcends into an attraction.

Let’s dig a little deeper with today’s match, as Yoshino takes on Don Fujii from this Dragon Gate bout on January 18, 2011.

You can watch this match at this link.

The Match

If you like fast-paced, high-flying wrestling, you owe it to yourself to give Dragon Gate a look. This promotion takes the same style as Impact Wrestling‘s X Division or New Japan’s junior heavyweights and dials up the tempo.

Dragon Gate’s alumni include CIMA, Akira Tozawa, Shingo Takagi and many foreign talent who came in for tours and have gone on to stardom on the mainstream wrestling scene: Kevin Owens, Ricochet, Pac, Jack Evans, Rich Swann and many more.

Here we have Yoshino defending the Open the Dream Gate Title, the top singles championship in the promotion. He’s been champion for about six months, and this is his fourth defense. His opponent, Fujii, brings more of a ground-based style than many of his cohorts and so there’s a bit of a stylistic conflict that produces the central story of the match.

I saw Yoshino in action at three ROH shows during WrestleMania weekend in 2006, and I’ve yet to see another wrestler to match his speed in the ring.

When Yoshino first goes into the ropes, Fujii gives him multiple passes, allowing the speed to build. It might seem cooperative in another environment but here, it’s more about Fujii trying to anticipate whatever move is to come. Sometimes the challenger succeeds and counters; sometimes he fails.

When Fujii does try to go to the top rope, it backfires. He connects on a huracanrana but lands on his head in the process. Fujii remains addled for the rest of the match, fighting off some of Yoshino’s signature offense — such as a straight jacket triangle choke he calls Sol Naciente — and turns the tide after winning a fracas with both perched on the top turnbuckle to deliver an avalanche chokeslam.

A few tantalizing false finishes follow, with one of them so close I honestly don’t want to spoil it for you. The match ends with both men frantically trying to pin the other, before a mistake leads to the final three count.

Final Rating: 6.4

This is a good, solid match that definitely is worth watching. There’s very little filler or stalling and plenty of action. My greatest critique is that I think the Dragon Gate style translates more to multi-man tags (which will be coming later in the project), but this is still a fine capture of the talents of both wrestlers, especially if they are new to you.

Up Next

A gem of a tag match from a Royal Rumble of old.

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365 Wrestling, Day 15: Stan Hansen vs. Ashura Hara (All Japan, 1/15/82)

365 Wrestling, Day 15: Stan Hansen vs. Ashura Hara (All Japan, 1/15/82)

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.

For me, Hansen is one of the best to ever step into a pro wrestling ring, by any metric you care 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 was known for his rugged presence and style — a reputation helped along by being so near-sighted that he was notoriously snug in the ring.

The Match

First a little context: 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 Pro Wrestling. He made his debut with All Japan in December of 1981, seconding Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka in the 1981 Real World Tag League finals against the Funk Brothers. However, this bout with Hara was his first match in AJPW since making the move, although he did work a few tours in the mid-70s for the promotion, albeit with a beard and shaggy blond hair that was more Moondog than cowboy.

There’s a packed house in Kisarazu, a city in the Japanese province of Chiba, on this night. The anticipation for Hansen is palpable. From the second his music starts, many of the fans come to their feet as he stalks toward the ring. Hansen’s known for being a heel in Japan, but the starstruck crowd starts chanting his name mere seconds into the match, as Hansen physically overwhelms his foe. Even a chinlock advances the tale being told. Note the mannerisms of Hansen, the extra torque he puts on the hold as he wrenches Hara, and the facial expressions of Hara.

Every time Hansen Irish whips Hara into the ropes, or goes into the ropes himself, there’s a discernible buzz from the crowd 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 unleashes his signature strike 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 with a 45-minute time limit in less than three.

Give Hara credit for treating Hansen’s lariat like death itself. Young boys in matching red windbreakers (including a young Haku) 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. It’s a solid piece of business that, in hindsight, would have meant more had Hara not been back in the ring two days later.

Final Rating: 5.5

I’m a big believer that the quality of a match depends, in part, on how effective the match is in accomplishing its goal. The objective here is to establish Hansen as a force to be reckoned with in All Japan, and they overachieve in meeting that objective.

You can bet your hat and your boots, cowpoke, this won’t be the only Stan Hansen match as part of the project.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

A throwback showcase of scientific wrestling.

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.

365 Wrestling, Day 4: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, 1/4/15)

365 Wrestling, Day 4: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, 1/4/15)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

When I think of January 4, I think of wrestling at the Tokyo Dome. After all, New Japan Pro Wrestling has held an event every January 4 since 1992–a tradition dating back 30 years and counting. I’ve followed NJPW regularly since Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016, so to find a noteworthy Wrestle Kingdom match I hadn’t seen I went back to 2015 for this contest between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi fromWrestle Kingdom 9.

New Japan World offers this match with original and English-language commentary; Kevin Kelly provides the latter in a recorded version after the fact. I opted to watch the original version, because the version with Kelly slightly dampened the volume of the live crowd. You might be able to find alternate broadcasts online as well.

The Match

Nakamura is in his fourth reign with the Intercontinental Title, which he’s credited with elevating from a midcard title to a more prominent, coveted championship. This also eventually sets the stage for New Japan unifying the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Titles.

Wrestle Kingdom has had some wild entrances through the years and here, Nakamura heads out in an amazing oversized gold crown and red cloak befitting his “King of Strong Style” moniker.

If you like wrestling matches where the intensity builds throughout, this is the one for you. From his entrance through the post-match you witness the massive charisma of Nakamura. He’s oozing overconfidence as the match begins, trying for his finishing knee strike (called the Kinshasa in WWE but known as Bomaye in New Japan) mere moments into the match.

If you’ve only seen Nakamura’s WWE work, including his matches in NXT, don’t miss this match. Nakamura’s presence is captivating here, whether he is on offense delivering some brutal-looking knees and strikes (more on those later), selling or playing to the crowd. At one point about eight minutes in, Ibushi tries to make a comeback but Nakamura arrogantly and literally brushes off his forearm strikes.

We’re several years removed here from the Ibushi who won consecutive G1 Climaxes and captured both the major IWGP titles at Wrestle Kingdom in 2020. You see the potential, though. Ibushi is the brash young upstart here; after all, he made his challenge for this match by attacking Nakamura from behind with a German suplex. In this match, he starts mocking Nakamura’s mannerisms, including his quivering “Good Vibrations” foot choke in the corner. He does some of the flying you come to expect from Ibushi at this stage, including a spectacular moonsault where he leaps from the mat to the top rope in a single bound, then vaults onto Nakamura at ringside.

Once these two shift to throwing strikes, that intensity I mentioned reaches a new level. A head kick by Ibushi drops Nakamura in a heap. After Ibushi misses a Phoenix Splash, Nakamura hits a Bomaye on the third attempt — this time to the back of the head — and then starts stomping the life out of Ibushi as he crawls for the apron. Ibushi responds with some straight punches (a real rarity in modern NJPW) and soon these two are teeing off on one another with strikes that blur the line between a predetermined pro wrestling match and a legitimate fight in all the best ways. Wrestlers watching and reading this should take note of how Nakamura makes the most of a single punch, delivered out of “Red Shoes” Umino’s viewpoint after he shoves the referee into Ibushi.

In the midst of the back-and-forth slugfest, Ibushi continues his mockery, mimicking Nakamura’s mannerisms and delivering his own Bomaye, which Nakamura kicks out of at one! This sparks a spectacular finishing stretch that is so compelling I won’t even chronicle it so you can watch it, and savor it, on your own.

Final Rating: 9.6

This is an incredible match. It tops all of the Wrestle Kingdom main events I’ve seen from Ibushi in recent years, and it’s immediately my favorite Nakamura match ever. One criticism I have about New Japan is match length. It’s expected now that an NJPW main event is going to go about 30 minutes or more, whether it’s a major event or a “Road To” show. This match has all of the athleticism and drama you see in current New Japan epics, but with none of the filler to pad the length. A beautiful example of pro wrestling as sport blended with art that you should not miss.

What’s Next

We hop in the Wayback Machine to the Pacific Northwest in 1980 for some eight-man tag action.

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365 Wrestling, Day 2: New Year Death Match, Abdullah Kobayashi vs. Shuji Ishikawa (Big Japan, 1/2/13)

365 Wrestling, Day 2: New Year Death Match, Abdullah Kobayashi vs. Shuji Ishikawa (Big Japan, 1/2/13)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Thanks to the advent of streaming services in recent years, American wrestling fans have more access to Japanese wrestling than ever. One company that still flies a bit under the radar is Big Japan Pro Wrestling, which features both a strong style division and a death match division. Big Japan holds an event almost every January 2, and in this installment, we’re firing up the main event from Big Japan’s January 2 event in 2013, with Abdullah Kobayashi defending the promotion’s Death Match Title against Shuji Ishikawa in a New Year Death Match. You can watch this match on IWTV.

The Wrestlers

I’m not familiar with either of these guys so I thought some brief context would be helpful. Abdullah the Butcher helped train Kobayashi and Kobayashi looks like the Japanese version of that icon. Ishikawa’s got a significant size advantage, but Kobayashi has held the title for more than a year and successfully defended against Ishikawa in May of 2012. At the contract signing, Ishikawa jumps Kobayashi, stuffs him into a port-a-potty, pants him and sprays window cleaner on and up his ass (Yes, really).

The Match

The stage is set with the usual plunder in a match of this type but some other elements that fit the theme of the Japanese new year:

–Kobayashi comes to the ring with an orange tied to the top of his head, which represents the continuation of family.

–There’s a glass version of Kadomatsu, a plant decoration that Japanese tradition believes to be the temporary dwelling place of gods, propped ominously in one corner. Japanese families keep it outside their home until January 7, then burn it on the 15th, but this version gets destroyed when Kobayasahi obliterates Ishikawa with it.

–Ishikawa busts out a Kagami Mochi, which is a New Year’s decoration made of two round rice cakes. The version here contains, well, something sharp that lacerates Ishikawa quickly and profusely once Kobayashi shoves it into his head.

Both men waste little time making for the plunder, building to a spectacular moment where Ishikawa lays a pane of glass against three propped chairs and scales the ropes, only to get superplexed through the glass himself. After exhausting the supply of weaponry, champion and challenger resort to trading strikes — including several shoot-style headbutts — in an exchange that makes Kobayashi look more formidable than anything else in the match to this point. Ishikawa gets the better of the champ, though, and finishes it with a splash off of the top rope.

Final Rating: 5.8

Death match wrestling is more prominent than ever in the U.S. I’ve certainly seen some great death matches through the years, and some that were just awful. This battle fell in the “good” range for me. Having an invested crowd certainly helped. Ultimately, if you like death match wrestling, you’ll like this. If you don’t like death matches, just skip it.

What’s Next

We make our first (but definitely not our last) foray into the grab bag of bizarre matchups that embodied WCW C-shows in the late 1990s.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

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.