365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been using the same system for decades to develop up-and-coming wrestlers. Aspiring wrestlers come up through the New Japan dojo, enduring rigorous training and long days. They debut as Young Lions, wearing black trunks and boots and using very limited movesets. Then, once these wrestlers graduate, they’re sent on excursion–meaning they go to other promotions in other countries to continue to ply their craft.
For this entry, we’re taking a look at an excursion match of an NJPW legend: Satoshi Kojima, in action here against Drew McDonald in Reslo from 1995.
You can watch this match on YouTube, and it’s also embedded below:
Reslo was a televised wrestling program in the small country of Wales, part of the United Kingdom. The show aired entirely in the Welsh language, and the name, Reslo, is simply the Welsh word for wrestling. (Thank you, Google Translate …).
Kojima stayed on the New Japan roster through the end of 1994 and then made the move to Europe for this excursion. At the time of this match, he’s been in the United Kingdom for about a month.
McDonald is an established veteran on the UK scene by the time of this match, having debuted in 1980. Here, he’s known as The Ultimate Chippendale, a gimmick he adopted earlier in the ’90s.
Forget the Kojima you know from New Japan and All Japan or, currently, making appears for Impact Wrestling now that THE FORBIDDEN DOOR has opened. We are far afield from that hard hitter; this is long before he started firing off machine gun chops in the corner, dropping foes with his version of the cutter, or tweeting (mostly about bread).
Kojima is listed on both Cagematch and Wrestlingdata.com as Lion Satoshi for this match, but on the footage, the ring announcer calls him Suzuki Kanemoto. Kojima is considerably leaner here, wearing long loose pants, and has his face painted. The entire presentation is reminiscent of the Great Muta, which makes sense when considering that Keiji Muto is one of Kojima’s chief mentors.
McDonald has an unnamed manager in a tuxedo and derby in his corner. He’s a huge-looking guy–overweight but also massive, with that wrecking ball-type physique.
The match itself is fairly boilerplate. The Reslo crowd quickly throws its support behind Kojima, who spends the early minutes getting tossed around, and then eats a steady diet of clubbering offense from the Scotsman McDonald. In between, Kojima shows the spryness of a junior heavyweight; there’s a fine bit of rope running early, culminating in a baseball slide between McDonald’s legs, and springing to his feet for a crisp standing dropkick.
This is my first exposure to the Reslo TV product and the crowd is loud. Factor in the screaming and all the bright colors in the venue, and it’s more reminiscent of a children’s TV show than a wrestling event. Kojima also works the crowd more than I expected, and when he unleashes a barrage of leaping elbows on McDonald (another homage to Muto), he lets out a whoop as each blow is dealt. Ultimately, Kojima goes to the top rope one time too many, leaving him easy prey for McDonald to win a brisk seven-minute match.
Kojima spent the rest of 1995 in Europe before returning to his home country and near-immediate title contention, first in the tag division. It might be somewhat forgotten as he has moved down the card in NJPW, but Kojima and has compiled one of the most impressive bodies of work of his generation. He joins Muto and Shinya Hashimoto as the only wrestlers to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Title, the Triple Crown Championship for All Japan, and the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
McDonald stayed active on the UK circuit for nearly another two decades after this match, even wrestling a ladder match in 2006 when he was 50 years old. He died from cancer in February of 2015, just a couple years’ removed from his final bout.
–Kojima wasn’t the only NJPW wrestler to appear in Reslo on excursion. In 1987, a wrestler named Fuji Yamada also worked for Reslo. You may know him better by another name, though.
–Kojima is credited with inventing the Rydeen Bomb, which you may know better as a sitout spinebuster.
Final Rating: 5.5
Sometimes a match is mediocre or skippable on its own but still has a quality or element to make it worth watching. Maybe it’s a title change, a debut, or it has historic value for some other reason. There are other matches from Kojima’s excursion out there (he had several later in the year against Finlay), but this is the one and only I have seen in this Great Muta homage. I think it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re a big fan of Kojima.
We head to the Northeast independent circuit to watch royalty in action, so get your shrimp cocktail ready.