365 Wrestling, Day 51: Chris Hero & Mike Quackenbush vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (CHIKARA, 2/20/05)

365 Wrestling, Day 51: Chris Hero & Mike Quackenbush vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (CHIKARA, 2/20/05)

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

It would be easy when picking matches for this project to just look up one of the many “on this day in wrestling history” features or identify one of the highest-rated matches from that day, watch it, and go on to the next entry. Honestly, this seems too easy, and would lead to multiple write-ups essentially saying “You should watch this match you already know is good because it is good.”

Pass.

While I have watched the occasional well-regarded match that I just happened to have miss, I’d rather go the obscure route. Give me a very good match that most people haven’t seen, or a look at a wrestler or team from the early days of their career. Or, sometimes, both. In this entry, I fire up the Wayback Machine to 2005, to see Chris Hero and Mike Quackenbush face Kevin Steen and El Generico as part of CHIKARA’s Tag World Grand Prix.

You can watch this match and, I believe, the entire available CHIKARA catalog over at IWTV.

The Context

CHIKARA was known for its tournaments and had three that happened annually or almost every year: the Young Lions Cup, intended for wrestlers with less than 50 pro matches, and later those who were 25 or younger; the King of Trios, a weekend-long tournament of — you guessed it — trios matches that was one of the hottest tickets on the independent circuit in the early 2010s; and the Tag World Grand Prix. This is the second Grand Prix and has a whopping 32 teams. This match kicks off the quarterfinal round, on a night where the semifinals and finals also are scheduled.

Quackenbush is the promoter of CHIKARA and, at this point, co-head trainer of his Wrestle Factory school along with Hero. Before closing in 2020 after allegations were made against Quackenbush and CHIKARA as part of the #SpeakingOut movement, the Wrestle Factory produced a veritable plethora of talented graduates, several of whom have gone on to big careers in wrestling. Here, Quackenbush and Hero have joined forces as The Superfriends with the goal of winning the tournament. In a pre-match promo, during which Hero is sporting a sweet Kamala T-shirt, he promises he and Quackenbush will reach the finals.

Steen and Generico (you might know them better as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn) are billed here as Team IWS, representing International Wrestling Syndicate, the Quebec-based promotion where they got their start. They’ve only been part of the scene in America for a few months, and this weekend was the first time either had come to CHIKARA.

The Match

This is not what I’d call a “standard” American tag team match because it lacks that one segment where one team remains in control for an extended period of time, even though the match itself goes more than 15 minutes from bell to bell and is actually the longest of the four quarterfinals on the card.

Hero has always had a unique style, heavily influenced by European grappling with an abundance of chain wrestling, and he shows it off here, especially in the first few minutes of the match as part of a protracted exchange with Generico. He’s just not as vicious or arrogant about it as he was in his other installment in the project, when he was in pure dick-heel mode against Bryan Danielson.

If you’re a big fan of either Steen or Generico, or only seen them wrestle in WWE, this match is an eye opener. Both are 20 years old here and look every bit of it. Watching this match and surveying the rail-thin frame of Generico, he doesn’t even look like the same person.

The action is solid, and occasionally too cutesy for its own good — a common occurrence in CHIKARA, which worked comedy into its general wrestling style as much if not more than any other promotion in North America. Another hallmark of CHIKARA is having matches in unique settings. Several of their early shows occurred at a fire station in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, in a room that looked like the fellowship hall I frequented in various churches living here in the Southeast, usually for meals following funerals. Here, the venue is The Staircase — an intimate concert venue in Pittston, Pennsylvania, that now appears to be closed according to my Googling. Making a habit of holding wrestling events in venues that aren’t traditional for wrestling allows for all kinds of unique angles, entranceways, and even spots. Case in point: late in this match, Quack goes outside the ring and to the back of the stage, which has several rows of seated fans. He gets a running start and, while Hero holds down the top rope, delivers a senton off the stage onto Steen. It’s a great moment in a match where most of the additional value is historic in nature, as Quack and Hero march on in their drive to win the tournament.

Hero’s wording in the pre-match promo is key, as he betrays Quackenbush in the finals against Arik Cannon and Claudio Castagnoli (aka Cesaro). He’s been teasing a turn throughout the tournament and that continues here. After Quackenbush pins Steen, he stays in the ring for a show of sportsmanship with his opponents, while Hero quickly heads for the back.

Random Thoughts

–Watching this match reminded me that, aside from starting a podcast, Hero has remained on the sidelines since he was released from WWE in April of 2020. I think he’d be a great asset for any promotion with television but probably the best fit with ROH. Just my opinion.

Bryce Remsburg, now part of AEW, is the referee here.

Dave Prazak and the late Larry Sweeney are on commentary here. We’ll definitely get to Sweeney at some point in the project.

Final Rating: 5.5

There are a few moments ranging between good and great (Quack’s senton from the stage is pretty spectacular), but this match just felt too long. That said, it’s a nice snapshot of Steen/Owens and Generico/Zayn at an early stage in their career, and serves as a plot point for Hero’s betrayal in the main event, but not really a match I would say you should go out of your way to watch unless you’re a big fan of the wrestlers involved or watching CHIKARA shows in full to digest the twists and turns of their booking.

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

Up Next

Prepare yourself… for the White Castle of Fear! DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN!

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 47: Monster’s Ball, The Wolves vs. Decay (TNA, 2/16/16)

365 Wrestling, Day 47: Monster’s Ball, The Wolves vs. Decay (TNA, 2/16/16)

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

Finding the match for this date was a bit of a quest. First off, February 16 is a Tuesday, which meant choosing a tag match by my self-identified and not-at-all-enforceable “rules” of the project.

In addition to trying to hit various eras, and not repeat the same wrestler and/or promotion on back-to-back days, I’m also trying to hit as many different years as possible. So first, I chose a New Japan tag match from their Australia tour in 2018 but it honestly wasn’t noteworthy enough to write about at length … as is the case with a lot of New Japan house show and “Road To …” tags.

Next, I picked a Rockers vs. Brain Busters match from Saturday Night’s Main Event. Thanks to the WWE Network getting assimilated by Peacock, and no sign of the SNME archive appearing on the latter yet, that one isn’t available online.

After that I chose a ROH Tag Title Match from 2007… which, you guessed it, also is not available anywhere that I can find online.

Hmm. OK then.

Necessity is the mother of invention and in this case I suppose what I needed was 12-ish minutes of plunder and chaos.

With that, ladies and germs, here’s the Monster’s Ball TNA World Tag Title Match bewtixt The Wolves — Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards — and the Decay duo of Crazzy Steve and Abyss from the February 16, 2016, episode of Impact.

You can watch this on Impact’s website.

The Context

This is actually the first big match for the Decay faction, which formed just a few weeks earlier as Rosemary debuted and joined in a 3-on-2 beatdown of the champs, Richards and Edwards. Decay then stole the tag title belts, leading to this moderately awkward promo segment:

Richards and Edwards made their names in Ring Of Honor, where both held the ROH World Title in addition to two previous reigns as tag champs there, known as The American Wolves. After a few appearances on the independent circuit at the end of 2013 and a WWE tryout, they came to TNA where they were known more simply as The Wolves.

Abyss now works behind the scenes in WWE but for nearly two decades he was a fixture on TNA programming even while the roster around him had a constant ebb and flow. The Monster’s Ball is his specialty, at least in storyline.

The Decay group might be new to TNA here, but Steve isn’t, as part of the roster since 2014. We’ve written about Rosemary and our appreciation of her and her gimmick, previously in the project.

The Match

When the Monster’s Ball concept first debuted in TNA, it was a twist on the old concept of a No DQ match with weapons, in that the participants (in storyline) were locked away for 24 hours prior to the match without light, food, and water. Goofy? Kinda. But at least it was an attempt to do something different. That pretext has gone long by the wayside by the time of this match. By 2016, Monster’s Ball has just become synonymous with a hardcore match, although with the weapons Abyss is known for: tacks, barbed wire, etc.

Richards and Edwards get the early advantage, and then start bumping around for Decay. Momentum shifts when both Wolves are on adjacent top turnbuyckles as Rosemary hops on the apron and blows red mist in Richards’ face. Abyss, meanwhile, hurls a chair at Edwards, who plummets through a conveniently placed table at ringside. Steve is smaller and athletic so he’s the guy who gets thrown around by the Wolves, with Abyss the heavy hitter.

Abyss seems to get a lot of grief in online circles for a perceived lack of wrestling ability. I think it’s important to note that, in the latter years of his in-ring career, his body was really starting to break down. The Abyss who is in this match looks like he is wading through molasses compared to the guy who first came into the scene in TNA, eventually dethroned Sting as world champion, and also made waves in ROH as part of The Embassy led by Prince Nana. If you want a true picture of Abyss’ talent and potential, seek out some of his work from the 2000s decade and you will have a very different take.

With all that being said, Abyss takes the two nastiest bumps in this match. First, he eats a sunset bomb by Edwards onto a pile of chairs topped with a trashcan. Next, Abyss is on the floor, staggering right in front of Chekhov’s barbed wire board, ominously propped up against the ringside railing behind him. Edwards goes for a suicide dive, but Abyss grabs him and teases a chokeslam… only to have Richards deliver his own suicide dive and put Abyss into the wire. It’s a small bait and switch in the midst of the chaos, but added to the moment for sure.

The finish is creative as well. Steve has Edwards’ head trapped on the seat of an open chair and is getting ready to wallop him with a steel chair when Rosemary brings Abyss’ bag of tacks into the ring and proceeds to pour it over Edwards’ head. It’s smoke and mirrors, but a spectacular visual, and Edwards sells it like he’s being tortured. Steve whiffs on the chairshot, however, and Richards comes back in the ring to block a second misting by Rosemary by literally sucking face and using her own mist against her. Steve eats a suplex/brainbuster-onto-a-chair-with-tacks-on-the-seat combo to end it.

Random Thoughts

–There sure are a lot of low blows in this match. A more juvenile mind would make a joke related to the Monster’s Ball moniker. Not me, though. Nope.

–There’s a funny line by The Pope on commentary where, after Abyss produces his ever-present cloth bag, he says, “We know it’s the tascks but it could be anything!” (Spoiler: It was tacks).

Final Rating: 5.9

You’ve seen plunder matches like these a hundred times and you know what you’re getting. I thought there was a good effort by all involved (The Wolves and Steve worked hard; Abyss did what he could) and a couple of unique moments — the tacks being poured on Edwards’ head and the reversal of the mist by Richards — make this worth watching.

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

Up Next

Twelve women confined to co-exist within the same structure. Is it a reality show or an Elimination Chamber match?

Send me any and all feedback on the 365 Wrestling project. Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 40: El Texano, Silver King & El Fantasma vs. Samu, Fatu & Fishman (UWA, 2/9/92)

365 Wrestling, Day 40: El Texano, Silver King & El Fantasma vs. Samu, Fatu & Fishman (UWA, 2/9/92)

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

As a wrestling fan, and someone who appreciates and enjoys history, one of the best parts of this project is jumping around to different years and eras. Right now, with 40 entries in the books, 1992 has been the popular destination yet at this juncture of the project.

Counting the two January entries featuring matches with the Dangerous Alliance, today’s stop in 1992 gives that year the most entries — three — out of the 40 to date.

We’re also visiting another gap in my wrestling viewing: lucha libre, in this case. For the first time in the project, we venture into Mexico for this match from the UWA promotion on Feb. 9, 1992. Check out this contest as El Texano, Silver King, and El Fantasma battle Samu, Fatu and Fishman.

You can watch this match on Dailymotion.

The Context

The UWA is the Universal Wrestling Association, a promotion that opened in 1975 when it split off from the CMLL. The UWA might have closed in 1995 but it’s credited for two innovations that remain mainstays in Mexican wrestling: the two out of three falls format for the majority of matches, and the trios match, an example of which we’re about to see here.

Samu and Fatu, as the Samoan Swat Team, already had seen successful runs for both World Class and WCW. They left the latter in 1990 and bounced around working for promotions all over the world, including the UWA, where they enjoyed a short reign in 1991 as trios champs with their cousin, Kokina Maximus (who you probably know better as Yokozuna). Here, the duo formerly known as the SST is teaming with Fishman, a veteran luchador who jumped from CMLL to the UWA when that promotional split first happened. You might have seen Fishman make a few appearances at major World Class shows in 1983.

Texano and Silver King are in the midst of a lengthy and successful run as the Los Cowboys tag team. They started teaming together in 1990 and won titles in four different promotions. At the time of this match, they’re the UWA World Tag Champions. Texano, who debuted as a wrestler at the age of 13(!), is a tecnico here but he reached star level in lucha as a rudo, combining with Negro Navarro and El Signo as Los Misioneros de la Muerte (The Missionaries of Death), which might be one of the coolest group names in the history of wrestling. Silver King is still growing into his own at this point and we’re several years before he comes to WCW as part of their influx of luchador signings. Their partner here is El Fantasma, whose mask and black and purple color scheme hearken to The Phantom, the classic comic hero.

The Match

Samu and Fatu really keep this match going and moving, whether it be with classic heel tactics (biting and gouging and choking, oh my!) or little touches of character work, especially during the third fall.

This is more of a brawl than a wrestling match and it starts in a hurry when Fatu and Fantasma get into it, sparking a melee involving all six. The tecnico trio get wrecked in the ensuing brawl, and the rudos take the one fall lead after about a minute when Samu pins Texano off camera. It takes longer to stop the combatants from fighting to start the second fall than it did for the first fall to take place in its entirety.

The second fall (or segunda caida) is under way coming back from a commercial and Texano still is getting clobbered by the Samoans and Fishman. Fatu hits a sweet powerslam after firing Texano into the ropes as part of this. When Samu misses on a leaping corner attack and ends up straddling the middle turnbuckle, Texano makes the tag to Silver King and the crowd comes alive. The tecnicos tie it up in short order, and there’s another extended scrum while the two referees try to restore order. Maybe this one needs a third ref?

The third fall feels more like serious business than the first two, which are just indiscriminate and often chaotic brawls. Texano, who has a couple of rough moments earlier, combines with Fishman to work well together on an early exchange. Texano ends up back in peril after a commercial break and we go quickly to the finish. Silver King gets tagged in like a house afire until he learns of the perils of striking Samoan wrestlers in the head. Fantasma saves the day with two dropkicks and a great-looking suicide dive. The finish comes when the Samoans break up a double-team by Los Cowboys, leading both Silver King and Texano to get pinned. Score this one for the rudos …

Random Thoughts

–If you’re a fan of family connections in wrestling, there are a ton of them in this match. Samu and Fatu are part of the Anoa’i family tree, which includes The Rock, Roman Reigns, the aforementioned Yokozuna, the Wild Samoans Sika and Afa, Umaga, and The Usos (Fatu’s sons). Texano’s son, El Texano, Jr., went on to carve out a fine career for AAA and was a regular on the first three seasons of Lucha Underground. Silver King was part of one of the wrestling dynasties of Mexico. His father was famed luchador Dr. Wagner and his brother was Dr. Wagner, Jr. Silver King also was the uncle of El Hijo de Dr. Wagner. Lastly, Fantasma’s son is currently a featured talent for WWE’s NXT brand, as Santos Escobar after debuting in WWE as El Hijo del Fantasma — the gimmick he used throughout his lucha libre career in Mexico. You may also know him as King Cuerno from Lucha Underground. Fishman wasn’t the exclusion to all these family connections; each of his sons followed in his footsteps as a masked wrestler.

–As seen in the featured image for this entry, the pre-match graphic identifies Samu and Fatu as Samoano I and II. I’m not sure which is which.

Final Rating: 5.2

There’s a decent pace throughout but the first two falls meander and there’s not enough about the third fall to make this match jump off the proverbial page for me, aside from a couple of quick highlights like Fantasma’s dive and some of the antics of the Samoans. This one definitely falls in the skippable category for me.

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

Up Next

In our next installment, two Women of Honor are in action.

I love having feedback from readers. Send it to me — good or bad — along with any match recommendations you have! Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

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

Underrated and unappreciated.

These are just a few of the words I would choose to describe how Shelton Benjamin has been used — or not used — in WWE.

This project has allowed me the chance to reflect and pontificate on my various favorites in the realm of costumed murder gymnastics: Jushin Liger, William Regal, and Stan Hansen, just to name a few.

Shelton caught my eye in a dark match before watching RAW in Knoxville in the spring of 2001. His legitimate wrestling background combined with some freakish feats of athleticism always made him stand out to me. We all have our personal favorites, and he’s one of mine.

He’s also in action in this, the 37th installment of 365 Wrestling, pairing with Charlie Haas in the still-new-to-WWE Team Angle gimmick against Los Guerreros with the WWE Tag Titles on the line.

Now that the WWE Network has migrated to Peacock, where, at the time of this writing, only the last three years of SmackDown are available, fret not. You still can find this match on Dailymotion, or embedded below:

The Context

Benjamin and Haas spent the bulk of their time in WWE’s developmental system working in tag teams, but not with each other. They started teaming together in the fall of 2002 in dark matches, then made their televised debut on the 12/27/02 episode of SmackDown as backup for Kurt Angle, playing off their legitimate athletic credentials. Both wrestled in college–Haas at Seton Hall and Benjamin at Minnesota, where he was a two-time All-American. New to the main roster, Haas and Benjamin made a quick rise in the tag division, getting this title shot after defeating Edge and Chris Benoit the preceding week thanks to some help from Angle himself.

Eddy Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero, Jr., are the reigning champs, winning the titles in an excellent three-way match at Survivor Series the prior November. They’ve made four televised defenses heading into this match.

The Match

This match serves as a classic example of how to establish a new act as an immediate, credible presence in a promotion. Haas and Benjamin are the rookies (or, presented that way, even though Haas started wrestling professionally back in 1996) but they have instant credibility due to their amateur backgrounds, which Michael Cole and Tazz take great pains to tout on commentary. Cole goes the standard route with resume-reading, while Tazz points out specific things the challengers are doing and techniques they are displaying that make them a threat to the Guerreros.

In a traditional match layout in American wrestling, the fan favorites outwrestle the heels, who have to take shortcuts to seize the advantage. This match flips the script. Despite their experience edge, the champs are unable to outwrestle their pesky young challengers. Instead, it’s Eddy and Chavo using the dirty tricks and pulling out all the stops to take control — after all, “lie, cheat, and steal” was the Guerrero credo at this point.

We watched another tag title match on SmackDown in the January portion of the project, and this match exceeds that one in almost every aspect. The work is superior: with more athleticism and more intensity. The early mat wrestling occurs with a purpose, unlike many instances in the last 20 years where such exchanges come off like a feeling-out process or — my pet peeve — a cooperative affair where one wrestler has a hold but is then waiting, or even assisting, in what becomes a showcase of reversals.

The titles seem like more of a prize here, as well. Both sides go for pin attempts early and often with frequent tags by each team. Overall, a greater sense of urgency is created that adds significantly to the overall presentation.

These four wrestlers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The true heat segment begins after a collision between Shelton and the referee knocks the official into Chavo, launching him into the commentary table at ringside. When Eddy makes the inevitable hot tag, he never leaves his feet during the initial comeback, still cleaning house on the challengers, flinging Shelton out of the ring and even taking a kick at Paul Heyman, who is in Team Angle’s corner.

The match builds to its biggest moves at the end. Superplexes from the top rope. Frog splashes. Dives, or falls, from the top rope to the floor. The drama heightens, with a couple of very credible false finishes along the way, but after all the big moves, some confusion by the champions about who the legal man is leaves Eddy prey to a rolling cradle by Haas that ends the match and Los Guerreros’ title reign.

Random Thoughts

–Team Angle spent most of their time in WWE developmental in tag divisions, but not with one another. In Ohio Valley Wrestling, Benjamin paired with Brock Lesnar, followed by a team with Redd Dogg (better known as Rodney Mack, after Lesnar got called up to the main roster. Meanwhile, in WWE’s other developmental territory, Heartland Wrestling Alliance, Haas was teaming with his brother, Russ Haas, until Russ’ untimely death in 2001.

–Is that a Burberry scarf that Heyman is rocking at ringside? Perhaps this gave early inspiration to MJF, who was 6 years old at the time of this match, by the way.

–Speaking of Heyman, at one point he starts screaming bloody murder as Shelton gets choked with the tag rope in the corner by the Guerreros. It adds to the moment.

Final Rating: 6.7

This is an all-action tag match with real stakes, a creative finish, and it’s historically significant as it marks the start of the first title reign for Benjamin and Haas. Any booker could take a lesson from the way Team Angle gets presented, and built up quickly as contenders, then champions, but without having them shoved down the throats of the audience.

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

Up Next

An exciting take on a longstanding narrative trope: the young up-and-comer looking to make a name against an established veteran.

Send feedback or recommend a match for one of the upcoming dates in 365 Wrestling! Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Tenryu & Tsuruta vs. Choshu & Yatsu (All Japan, 2/5/86)

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Tenryu & Tsuruta vs. Choshu & Yatsu (All Japan, 2/5/86)

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:

The Context

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 Match

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.

Random Thoughts

–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:

  1. It’s a match with tangible, significant stakes.
  2. It’s got a big-fight feel.
  3. 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.

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

Up Next

More tag action, this time from the Ruthless Aggression era of WWE.

Enjoying these write-ups? Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Women’s Semifinals (2/3/21)

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Women’s Semifinals (2/3/21)

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

Originally, when I first started the project, I planned to do one entry for every day, on that day, as we navigate through a full year.

Looking back now, more than a fourth of the way into the year, I only can react thusly to such ambitions:

Anyway, one benefit to being behind the actual calendar, is that 2021 matches are now in play. Thus, I decided to take a look at one of the matches from the first-ever, and recently-completed, women’s edition of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Specifically, taking a look at the semifinal match pitting Kayden Carter and Kacy Catanzaro against Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez.

You can watch this match on (sigh) Peacock or on Hulu.

The Context

WWE started tag tournaments under the Dusty Classic name in 2015. This was the sixth iteration of the tournament but the first time they had separate men’s and women’s divisions, although the women’s field was only half the size of the 16-team men’s bracket.

Kai is the only real veteran in this match. The native New Zealander broke in in 2007 and wrestled around the world by the time she signed with WWE near the end of 2016. Kai showed the ability to be a captivating fan favorite during her time on the independents and aboard, and early in her WWE run, so of course, she was turned heel at the 2019 Survivor Series.

Carter, who was trained at the Dudley Boys’ school, has been wrestling since 2016. Catanzaro, a former Junior Olympian and college gymnast, and earned some level of fame on the American Ninja Warrior show before signing with WWE. Catanzaro and Gonzalez, a former basketball player, are total products of the WWE system, with all their training coming in the Performance Center.

As for the teams, Kai and Gonzalez first allied last March when Gonzalez helped Kai win a cage match over her former partner, Tegan Nox. Carter and Catanzaro didn’t start teaming together regularly on TV until the Dusty Classic.

The Match

One of my favorite dynamics in wrestling is the combination of different sizes. Put a big wrestler in a match with a smaller wrestler, either as opponents or as partners, and you’re likely to have my attention. Here we have a couple of manifestations of the theme, with Kai teaming Gonzalez, a legit 6-footer; and the two of them taking on the scrappy undersized babyface duo of Carter and Catanzaro.

The dynamic plays out two ways, with Gonzalez throwing around her two opponents (the moments where she is in against Catanzaro make for quite the size discrepancy), or with Kai using Gonzalez as a launching pad to add momentum and impact to her own moves, such as a double stomp in the fairly early going.

This match is far from perfect. Catanzaro can pull out some spectacular moments, whether it’s hearkening back to her American Ninja Warrior past with a dive off one of the light pillars in the venue or hitting an impressive twisting splash off the top, but she struggles here with some of the nuts and bolts of wrestling like basic moves and transitions. Kai, meanwhile, is the engine that makes this match go. She’s the most experienced and has the best timing

The finishing stretch is a solid one, with Catanzaro’s dive the catalyst, and Kai and Gonzalez prevail in the expected result of a fine TV match and tournament affair.

Random Thoughts

-Nice to see Carter and Catanzaro wearing matching gear for this match. Little touches like that make a team seem more permanent, and less like a fly-by-night slapped together to fill a spot in the tournament.

-Another nice touch; the heels’ initial control segment occurs without the need to break the rules, speaking to their experience advantage.

Final Rating: 5.8

When assessing a wrestling match, does the whole matter more than the sum of the parts? The match feels like a collection of moments: some excellent, some awkward, most technically good. I have friends who say NXT is the best wrestling on the planet. I would argue these friends need to watch more wrestling from other promotions, and other countries, but, in terms of what happens in the ring, they have a fair argument. However, to me, NXT often feels like someone went into a laboratory and tried to replicate the formula for a “great match” in the super-indy era that began in 2005 or so. They tick all the boxes of what is now regarded by critics and fans as a “good match” but it all happens here in a vacuum with minimal emotion and no real reason for me to care.  

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

Up Next

One of my favorites faces his best opponent. You had me at hello.

Enjoying these write-ups? Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 33: Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. British Bulldogs (2/2/89)

365 Wrestling, Day 33: Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. British Bulldogs (2/2/89)

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

No need for a long introduction because I want to focus on today’s entry: a dream tag match with two of the top teams from the 1980s: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express face the British Bulldogs in their only meeting!

You can watch this match on YouTube, or, below:

The Context

The commentary team, Carmine DiSpirito and Johnny V, mention a few times this is a battle between former WWF tag champs and NWA tag champs (by that, they mean holding Jim Crockett Promotions‘ version of the NWA World Tag Titles) but by the time this match happens it’s been a little bit since either has been on championship level. The Bulldogs had their one run with the WWF belts end in January of 1987, while Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson had their fourth and final run with JCP’s top tag titles end in September of that year. Both left those companies in 1988

The Bulldogs left WWF the preceding fall after the Survivor Series pay-per-view, and spent time in Stampede Wrestling and All Japan prior to this match. Ricky and Robert, meanwhile, had been alternating between AWA appearances and All Japan tours.

As for this event itself, it was a cross-promotional effort between the AWA, All Japan, and what was left of Central States Wrestling.

The Match

The matchup here is a tantalizing one because it’s the only time these four wrestled one another, in any combination, according to the research I’ve done. DiSpirito does his part to sell it, hyping it as “the greatest tag encounter of all time.”

Is such promotion warranted by what happens in the ring? Nope. However, what does occur in this match is a very good example of tag wrestling that bucks the usual structure of a tag match in American wrestling.

We all know the traditional tag team formula by now: feeling out process / the heels are sent reeling / the heels take over / hot tag / finish.

While both teams were fan favorites throughout the 1980s, the Bulldogs definitely take the role as the de facto rulebreakers in the match, or as DiSpirito calls them, “the aggressors.” It makes sense. The Bulldogs are bigger, more muscular, and able to bully their smaller opponents. They take to the role with gusto, especially when they start flinging around Morton in the most extended control segment for either team in the match.

For the most part, though, this isn’t the standard tale of the babyface team getting beat down for minute after minute only for a hot tag and final flourish. Instead the advantage ebbs and flows between the two sides. Meanwhile, both teams work a brisk pace for the vast majority of a lengthy match. There are very few lulls or stalls. It’s an excellent example of how to wrestle a long tag match, and wrestle it well, without doing anything wild or reinventing the wheel.

We also get to see some atypical maneuvers from several wrestlers in the match, whether it’s seeing the Rock ‘n’ Rolls breaking the rules and distracting the referee to deliver some groin-targeted offense to Dynamite, Dynamite Kid doing his darnedest attempt at an MMA-style kimura, or Davey Boy making a rare foray to the top rope. There also are a couple of exchanges between Morton and Dynamite that serve as a tantalizing appetizer for a singles match that unfortunately never would occur. In fact, while Morton and Gibson still are wrestling to this day, the Bulldogs are near the end of their run as a duo, splitting their team for good in January of 1990 when Davey Boy rejoined the WWF as a singles act–and took the British Bulldog name in the process.

Ultimately, the match concludes with no winner, as the 30 minute time limit expires and we go to a bitterly contested draw.

Random Thoughts

–Johnny V, who feuded with the Bulldogs in the WWF when they battled Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake for the tag titles, openly roots against Davey Boy and Dynamite, calls back to that feud, and refers to them has halfwits. Blessed are those who maintain storyline contuinity …

–According to Cagematch, there were about 300 fans in attendance for this event but the number of empty seats in the venue is shocking. The audio appears to be sweetened because many fans appear to be sitting and passively watching.

–Pat O’Connor, who’s going to be featured later in this project, is the special referee.

Final Rating: 6.2

There’s nothing amazing about this match but it’s still a very good tag match that is worth watching for nothing other than the novelty of the matchup. It’s definitely worth watching for current wrestlers, for some of the nuances and little things these four bring to the table to shake up the standard tag formula.

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

Up Next

We take advantage of being behind to bend the rules and check out a match from earlier this year.

Enjoying these write-ups? Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

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

What qualifies someone to be considered an all-time great wrestler?

Is it the ability to sell tickets or pay-per-view buys? What about longevity? How about the ability to re-create yourself, and keep things fresh? Maybe it’s the level of influence over future generations of wrestlers?

Matt and Jeff Hardy check every one of these boxes. How many wrestlers who step through the ropes today grew up watching the Hardys in WWE? They’ve found ways to keep themselves fresh, especially with the “Broken Universe” personas. Even now, both are still regular fixtures on TV for two different promotions. While each has spent some time on the Dark Side as an individual (Matt more than Jeff), the Hardys as a team were consistently fan favorites … but not always.

In this installment of 365 Wrestling, the Hardys take to the ring as heels–and not the so-bad-they’re-good heels. Not the “cool” heels. Nope, in this match from OMEGA (the promotion the Hardys helped start themselves) in 1999 against Shane Helms and Mike Maverick, the Hardys receive nuclear levels of heat from a packed high-school gym.

Let’s proceed, shall we? This match is available in two parts on YouTube, and embedded below:

The Context

You know three of the players in this match. Maverick didn’t reach the heights of the Hardys or Helms in wrestling, though he did spend some time in ECW as Jack Dupp.

For all the details on this match, I went straight to the source: Thomas Simpson, one of the co-founders of the OMEGA promotion, and someone I did commentary for on some independent shows in South Carolina a few years ago.

The Hardys had been OMEGA champs for about six months, winning the titles off of Helms and Venom (aka Joey Abs from the Mean Street Posse in the heyday of the WWF Attitude Era). Simpson noted Venom was substituting in the match for Maverick, who had broken his arm when he fell off a roof while working a construction job.

This match takes place at East Wake High School in Wendell, NC. That also happened to be the alma mater of Helms and Maverick. Hundreds of people are packed into the high school gym for this one and there are several minutes of prelude on the video before the match actually begins. Maverick and Helms, who are out first, are greeted as conquering heroes and receive thunderous applause. Meanwhile, the Hardys already are a known presence on WWF TV but that doesn’t win them any supporters in the crowd. Both Matt and Jeff get booed and heckled mightily from the moment they enter the gym — an off-putting sight at first given their later lengthy track record as fan favorites. Matt tries to stir up the crowd even more, making a reference to how he and his brother will be “winning on Sunday Night Heat” after beating Helms and Maverick here.

The Match

Once the match is well under way, you can hear the voice of someone standing near whomever is filming the action on their handheld camera say, “They’ve gotta win the belts or the crowd’s gonna riot.” That’s a good summary of the raucous atmosphere for this match. Just like certain sports teams and colleges promote their home fans as a de facto extra member of the team, the crowd at East Wake High helps elevate what’s happening in the ring — and the match itself already is quite good.

Maverick isn’t an overwhelming physical presence, but he and Helms work with a big man/little man dynamic that I’ve always enjoyed in tag teams, and they do it well. Twice, Maverick flings his partner into the air to do damage to their foes, whether it be on a gorilla press that turns into a splash for a close two count or launching him out of the ring to land on both Hardys. Such power already has been established through some early interactions with Jeff: delivering a brutal-looking spear and then catching him in midair to disrupt the Hardys’ now-well-known Poetry In Motion double team.

Helms plays a spectacular face in peril and it’s the engine that keeps this match going. He spends more time in the ring than anyone else, and the fans bite on every bit of offense he musters up, even if it ends with him getting cut off. After an initial exchange with Matt where something as simple as a leg trip by Helms gets the crowd cheering, Matt turns the tide with a handful of hair followed by two knees to the midsection in the corner. Helms promptly counters in the far corner by flipping up and over Matt, but lands clutching at his midsection in a spectacular snapshot of nuanced selling. While taking the heat of the match, Helms continues to sell but never completely fades, showing enough fight to keep the already-rabid crowd engaged.

Meanwhile, the Hardys put together an homage to the Southern-style tag teams of yore, but with a modern twist — especially through Jeff. This is 1999 and well before many of the catastrophic landings, injuries, and mishaps out of the ring. Jeff Hardy in 2021 is still a very capable wrestler, but watching him here shows a level of athleticism and mobility that was hard to match at the time. Jeff busts out a springboard swanton off the top rope, and chains it directly into a quebrada and makes it look effortless. In front of a different crowd, it might have earned a golf clap of appreciation or even outright applause. Here, Jeff culminates the high-flying combination by hugging his brother, only further enraging the crowd.

As the heels continue their control, Matt ensnares Helms in a sleeper. Many of the fans start clapping and stomping, to the point that the camera filiming literally starts to shake. We’re 15 minutes into the match at this point and it feels half as long — if that. A few moments later, Helms finally makes the tag to Maverick and we see one more final twist on the standard tag formula. The Hardys cut off the “hot tag” by Maverick in short order, and in the process, the referee gets wiped out. The Hardys simultaneously hit a splash and leg drop off the top on Helms. Jeff has the pin, and in a situation that is rare for heels, has the match won but there’s no referee! A replacement referee finally scurries down, but Helms is able to kick out at two. Matt responds as a true heel would: first by powerbombing referee #2, then hooking Helms by the arms while Jeff brings a chair into the ring.

By now, you can see what’s coming from a mile away, and so does the crowd, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying; Helms moves, Jeff pulverizes his brother and gets knocked to the outside. Helms and Maverick both scale the nearest corner, with Helms leaping off of his partner’s shoulders with a splash to score the win and take the titles to the delight of the packed crowd.

Random Thoughts

–This was the end of an era for OMEGA. Having dropped the titles, the Hardys go to the WWF full time. By May of 1999, Helms and fellow OMEGA product Shannon Moore are in WCW as 3 Count. Venom, though not part of this match, also makes his move to the “big leagues” as Joey Abs. The promotion ran one more event in July of 1999 and a reunion show in December of 2000 (no Hardys on the card, though) before the brand was resurrected in 2013 for 10 shows over a 2 1/2-year span.

–Wrestlers who regularly work as a tag team and might want to look at some new twists on the standard tag formula need to watch this, especially the twists and turns during the finishing stretch.

Final Rating: 8.7

These four combine to create a love letter to Southern tag wrestling with a modern twist through the moves used. The crowd is red-hot throughout and shows no signs of tiring out or losing interest. The end result is fantastic, and a must-watch, especially if you’re a Hardys fan.

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

Up Next

We take a look at another wrestler who embodies excellence over the long haul.

Like what you’ve read here? Follow me on Twitter to keep up with all the updates on the 365 Wrestling project. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match for the project.

365 Wrestling, Day 26: Mr. Wrestling II & Kevin Sullivan vs. Masked Superstar & Austin Idol (Georgia Championship Wrestling, 1/26/80)

365 Wrestling, Day 26: Mr. Wrestling II & Kevin Sullivan vs. Masked Superstar & Austin Idol (Georgia Championship Wrestling, 1/26/80)

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

I wouldn’t be a wrestling fan if it wasn’t for my dad.

Oh sure, I discovered the sublime art of costumed murder gymnastics myself, turning on the USA Network on a Sunday afternoon in 1987 in the midst of a squash match. I don’t remember all the particulars, but I distinctly recall Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim teaming together … maybe with Billy Jack Haynes? Not long after, I remember expressing my newfound interest to my parents. Turns out, dad had been a lifelong fan of wrestling himself, but, with my parents deciding they didn’t want to risk warping my fragile little mind (ha!) he wouldn’t watch it in the room. Dad also likes to tell the story that, as a wee tyke in the early 1980s, I had a habit of awaking from my Saturday afternoon naps right in the middle of the main event of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. Or maybe WorldWide?

Anyhoo… Dad had and has his favorites like any fan. Two guys near the top of his list are featured on opposite sides of our January 26 entry for 365 Wrestling: Mr. Wrestling II and Kevin Sullivan going against Austin Idol and Masked Superstar on Georgia Championship Wrestling TV from January 26, 1980.

You can find this match on YouTube by searching for the full episode of TV. Start watching at the 12-minute mark.

The Context

Mr. Wrestling II and the Superstar were longtime rivals by now, embroiled in a seemingly endless feud. Each man had ripped off the mask of the other on TV, with the de-masked individual in either case quick to cover his head to reveal his face being shown, of course. At the time of this match, II has just dethroned Superstar to become the new Georgia Heavyweight Champion. The Masked Superstar also has an ongoing $3,000 bounty he’s agreed to pay for anyone who can break his dreaded Cobra Clutch.

Meanwhile, Idol and Sullivan are in a feud of their own. The video of this episode features pre-match interviews with both teams, and mention is made of Sullivan’s family. I did some research, which told me the feud started when Idol reportedly broke the leg of Sullivan’s brother in another territory. After Idol and the Superstar have their say, Solie interviews the trio of Sullivan, II, and Steve Travis. Sullivan and Travis originally were slated to team up for this match but Travis and his slouched cowboy hat have agreed to step aside for the masked man.

The Match

The fists and feet start flying from the moment Sullivan and II try entering the ring, and the audience loves it. This kind of heated brawling fits the studio wrestling of the territories so well, with such intimate surroundings and the fans right on top of the action. Seeing Sullivan as a clean-cut babyface is interesting and such a departure from the majority of his later work. He spends the majority of this match as the good guy in peril. Idol and Superstar prevent a tag at every turn. Take note of some of the little things the heels do to keep Sullivan from making the tag. At one point, after Sullivan reverses a suplex on Idol, the Universal Heartthrob blocks off Sullivan with his own body, just planting a leg in front of Sullivan for enough time for Idol to make the tag/

Sullivan keeps fighting and keeps getting knocked back. Meanwhile, the studio audience starts chanting “Two!” at one juncture in their eagerness to see the masked man get into action, while Gordon Solie’s commentary is on point to help keep the overarching narrative flowing. Finally Sullivan makes it to his corner and the crowd goes bananas as II charges into the ring. Looking at Mr. Wrestling II from a modern view, you might wonder what all the fuss was about. He doesn’t have a good physique, his plain white trunks and boots couldn’t be more basic, but he brings so much fire and charisma that made him beloved by the Georgia fans in particular. Though he’s known more I’d say for his singles work, he’s got some great hot tags in him (see the Christmas night steel cage tag with Magnum TA against Jim Neidhart and Butch Reed from Mid-South for evidence, if you haven’t seen that match).

II has the studio audience in the palm of his hand and has the heels reeling with strikes and several of his “patented” knee lifts. Idol trips up the masked man as he goes into the ropes, and that’s apparently enough for the referee to call for the bell. Such a result would get blasted by Twitter nowadays but the actual outcome of the match gets overshadowed as the brawl continues between the four men. Superstar hooks II in the cobra clutch, and II is able to break the hold–with a little help from Sullivan and the unwitting aid of an Idol on all fours. Still, the crowd goes nuts and Solie succinctly describes the $3,000 challenge to break the Cobra Clutch as Idol and Superstar head for the heels.

The segment closes with more words from II and Sullivan, further hyping planned singles matches for the two pairs at the next event at the Omni in Atlanta.

Random Thoughts

-Solie’s outfit for this episode of Georgia TV is a whole mood … especially the pants!

-Idol, who is Georgia’s TV champion at the time of this match, is a guy who I think is pretty underrated. His stint in the WWF ended well before that company reached national and international prominence. He didn’t work for Jim Crockett Promotions after it absorbed the Georgia promotion and established itself as a competitor to the WWF. He’s best known for his work in Memphis, which while a highly entertaining territory, didn’t have the same platform. Just makes you wonder what might have been …

-You might know Masked Superstar better as Ax from Demolition, which started their multi-year run as a top team in the WWF at the beginning of 1987. I love his cool, calm demeanor on the interview here. He just stands there and tells you in a measured tone exactly what he intends to do. It’s also a nice contrast to Idol, who has a more bombastic speaking voice.

Final Rating: 5.5

The action here is fairly standard, but this is worth watching because of the wrestlers taking part in the match, the chance to get a good luck at Sullivan as a clean-cut fan favorite, and as a snapshot for how wrestling booking works, or was supposed to work, during this era. Use the TV show to get people to the arena for the next event. This clip is more than 40 years old but it left me wondering how the two matches at the Omni ended.

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

What’s Next

We go to 2017 and California, and a match featuring perhaps my favorite character in all of current 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 22: Jumbo Tsuruta & Great Kabuki vs. Michael Hayes & Terry Gordy (All Japan, 1/22/84)

365 Wrestling, Day 22: Jumbo Tsuruta & Great Kabuki vs. Michael Hayes & Terry Gordy (All Japan, 1/22/84)

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

The project continues! And it’s not just about watching some good wrestling I haven’t seen yet, which, ya know … *gestures in the direction of the index of posts to date* … but also seeing matchups I haven’t seen. The more esoteric, the better! So when I saw that, on a day in Japan in 1984, Jumbo Tsuruta and Great Kabuki went against the Fabulous Freebirds, I thought that was definitely a match I needed to see.

The Context

Tsuruta is one of the biggest stars in Japanese wrestling of the modern era and he was a top talent for All Japan for more than a decade, including unifying the Pacific Wrestling Federation, NWA United National, and NWA International Heavyweight titles to become the first Triple Crown Champion in AJPW history. At the time of this match, Tsuruta is currently sans title, and about a month away from half of the NWA International tag champs with Tenryu. He’s also just a couple of days away from defeating Nick Bockwinkel to become AWA World Champion.

You probably know Kabuki for his work stateside, making his way around the territorial circuit in the 1980s. He was also the first wrestler to my knowledge to make use of the “Asian mist” in the ring, usually blowing it onto his hands, as depicted in the picture with this article.

Then there’s Hayes and Gordy, who at this point are nearly two years into their wild and wooly blood feud with the Von Erichs in World Class as two-thirds of the Fabulous Freebirds. The Freebirds actually lost a Loser Leaves Town match to the Von Erichs on Christmas night, and then spent most of January on this tour of Japan before returning to Texas.

The Match

I’ve always enjoyed Kabuki, who I’m most familiar with from his run in World Class. Watching some old WCCW episodes and matches recently gave me a new appreciation for Kabuki, especially during matches with Kevin Von Erich where they just beat the hell out of each other on every meeting. Kabuki had a few forays as a fan favorite in Texas but spent most of his time on the rulebreaker side of the fence. So get ready for some cognitive disconnect in this match, as the All Japan crowd treats him like a returning conquering hero.

Kabuki does the lion’s share of the work in this match, and when the Freebirds have control, they clap and chant his name like a diehard Southern rasslin’ crowd rooting for Ricky Morton to make the tag to Robert Gibson. Kabuki shows some old-fashioned babyface fire on a few occasions, although his mojo takes a permanent hit when Gordy smashes him into the ringpost on the outside. Kabuki comes up bloody — though it’s hard to tell given the quality of the video, Kabuki’s facepaint, and dark hair … at least until trickles of crimson start dripping down his chest.

The Freebirds play fine foils here. They act bewildered at Kabuki’s pre-match ritual of spraying the mist, with some great facial expressions by Hayes that transcend any language barrier. Hayes does most of the work for his team in the match, though Gordy makes the most of his action with the requisite amount of clubberin’, including sending Kabuki into the post. Once they have Kabuki bloodied, both Freebirds bite at his head until Kabuki counters a charge into the corner with a thrust kick — a Kabuki staple, and one that usually stands out in his matches with the Von Erichs. Gordy heads to the top rope but his attack is countered by a face full of mist from Kabuki. Gordy sells the mist like he’s been blinded with toxic chemicals, careening into the seats with Hayes trying to corral him, and ultimately getting the Freebirds counted out.

Final Rating: 5.5

This was an easy night’s work for Jumbo, an intriguing showcase for Kabuki, but an otherwise forgettable match aside from the relative novelty. While this wasn’t the only time these four met in the same match, if there’s another contest that’s reasonably accessible online, I haven’t found it. If you’re a big Kabuki fan like me, it’s worth watching for sure.

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

What’s Next

Two in-ring greats walk into a bar.

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.