365 Wrestling, Day 50: Dave Finlay vs. Tajiri (SMASH, 2/19/12)

365 Wrestling, Day 50: Dave Finlay vs. Tajiri (SMASH, 2/19/12)

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

Tajiri has become a repeat showcase here at 365 Wrestling. He and Steve Austin (twice as Stunning, once as Stone Cold) tie thus far for the most total appearances in the project, with three apiece.

Recently I joked that this project is like a wrestling nerd’s equivalent of Quantum Leap, jumping to different promotions and places for various snapshots. Thus far we’ve seen Tajiri at two different times and places: a chapter of his star-making and highly influential feud with Super Crazy, and a well-done, fast-paced WWE cruiserweight match with Rey Mysterio, Jr.

And now, for something completely different, we take a look at the latter stages of Tajiri’s career, in this match with Dave Finlay from Tajiri’s SMASH promotion in 2012.

This match is available on YouTube and, for your convenience, embedded below:

The Context

Tajiri started SMASH (not to be confused with the Canadian promotion also called Smash) at the end of 2009, not long after HUSTLE — a Japanese company where Tajiri had been a regular — closed. SMASH brought in a wide and varied roster through its two-plus years of active existence but by the time of this event, SMASH 25, the promotion had announced it would be shutting down. Finlay, who you probably know better as longtime WWE/WCW wrestler Fit Finlay, had won the SMASH Title the prior November.

This was Finlay’s only defense of the title, the final match for the title, and the only time Tajiri and Finlay wrestled one another in a singles match.

Before the match gets going, SMASH put together a video to hype the title bout, and what was announced at the the time as the final event, and it’s pretty fantastic. The video touts Finlay as a world-beater, calling him King Terror, and showcasing several big names of wrestling talking about how formidable he is, including Ultimo Dragon noting he would refuse to wrestle Finlay if the match got booked. Well then.

The Match

This was not what I expected to see at all, in a good way. I anticipated lots of striking. Instead Finlay’s forearms and Tajiri’s kicks serve as accents to spice up the unexpected stew that hearkened back to wrestling’s days of yore. Matwork is the centerpiece of this match, and every aspect of that battle felt like a true struggle. Along the way, we see some beautiful touches, such as Tajiri picking an ankle and applying a leglock on Finlay when the retaining champion goes for a lateral press. Later, after Tajiri finally starts throwing kicks targeting that same leg and Finlay regains the upper hand, Finlay rubs his thigh in a subtle but masterful bit of selling, getting the feeling back in his leg.

Matters intensify after Finlay counters a tarantula attempt by Tajiri and just starts laying in a beating both inside and outside the ring. Finlay lives up to the reputation placed upon him in the pre-match video. He controls the majority of the match and just keeps coming at Tajiri, although eventually the Irishman does wear down, a battle of attrition that leads to a very believable false finish after a Buzzsaw Kick.

Finlay blocks a second attempted Buzzsaw Kick with a spinebuster and, after a tombstone doesn’t seal the deal, he shortly thereafter resorts to rulebreaking. He brings his shillelagh into the ring behind the referee’s back and waylays Tajiri, then hits a second tombstone piledriver after a prolonged struggle to finish the match.

The pomp and circumstance surrounding the match — with the knowledge of the promotion’s impending closure, and the video presenting it as Tajiri’s last chance to capture the title in his own company — positions this as an eventual coronation, making the outcome a major surprise.

Random Thoughts

–After the match, Finlay grabs the microphone and leaves the title belt in the middle of the ring, then challenges Tajiri to “keep wrestling classic.” This is a harbinger of Wrestling New Classic, the promotion Tajiri would start not long after SMASH folded.

–The national anthems of both wrestlers play before the match, an outstanding touch that adds to both the real-sport and big-fight feel of this one.

Final Rating: 7.2

This is a very good throwback match with plenty of stakes and history adding to the appeal. Both guys wrestle with a sense of urgency, and you believe that they are trying to win the title at all costs and as quickly as possible, not just trying to have a “classic” or highly-rated match. It’s atypical in the body of work of two guys who spent the bulk of their careers thriving as midcarders, but they carry the big-match feel and made me wish there were more one-on-one matches between them. Definitely seek out this one.

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

Up Next

We fire up some tag action in CHIKARA from 2005.

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 35: Super Crazy vs. Tajiri (ECW, 2/4/00)

365 Wrestling, Day 35: Super Crazy vs. Tajiri (ECW, 2/4/00)

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

You’ve probably heard the old cliche about certain wrestlers being so talented that they could “carry a broomstick to a good match.” Generally speaking, though, a wrestling match is a collective effort. Sometimes, pairing two wrestlers or two teams serves to elevate all parties involved. That’s definitely the case when looking back at the shared history of Super Crazy and Tajiri in ECW.

Whether it be in a singles match, a three way dance, or a tag team match (as opponents and occasionally as partners), Tajiri and Crazy consistently brought out the best in one another. It’s not hyperbole to say that, without their series of matches, neither would have the level of fame or notoriety in the wrestling community they rose to achieve.

As the 365 Wrestling project continues (sluggishly), I take a look at one of their meetings: specifically, a Japanese Death Match from an ECW house show held February 4, 2000, in Jacksonville, FL.

The handheld version of this match, which is what I watched, is available on YouTube. You can also find it on the Highspots Wrestling Network. It later aired on the Feb. 13 episode of ECW Hardcore TV.

The Context

By the time of this match, it’s been a little more than a year since the first ECW meeting between Tajiri and Super Crazy. They had a couple of house show matches before their contest at the 1999 Guilty As Charged pay-per-view that really sparked their rivalry in the promotion. According to Cagematch, this battle in Jacksonville is the 28th singles match between Tajiri and Crazy in ECW, with the two mostly trading wins back and forth since the rivalry began the prior year. It also doesn’t count some excellent three-way matches, with Little Guido and Jerry Lynn as the respective third man.

This particular match happens just a few weeks removed from the 2000 version of the Guilty As Charged pay-per-view, where Tajiri and Crazy teamed together on the whim of Steve Corino to face another haphazard duo in Guido and Lynn, whose team fell apart when Guido turned on Lynn. And yes, it was as confusing to watch as that last sentence was to read.

The Match

A Japanese Death Match might sound like something in Big Japan, but here, it just means there are no disqualifications and any and all weapons are allowed. It drives me crazy sometimes to see a heated grudge match start out with chain wrestling, so after fighting one another for more than a year of battles and given the stipulations, Super Crazy gets right down to business, launching himself at Tajiri with a springboard dropkick. The action stays hot and heavy from there all the way through the match.

This is ECW, and a gimmick match, which means chairs and tables, and a fair amount of “hitting each other with stuff” spots, along with some degree of “setup time.” While there are a couple of pauses that threaten to go on too long, Crazy and Tajiri both do a credible job of keeping the action going without requiring too much suspension of disbelief (aside from the usual level of suspension of disbelief required to watch wrestling in the first place).

The history between these two and the talent of both wrestlers help elevate this beyond a standard grudge match with weapons. In this case, familiarity definitely breeds contempt. Both men end up bloody by the conclusion of this match (with Tajiri getting the superior amount of crimson). Tajiri delivers his baseball slide dropkick with Crazy in the Tree of Woe (a standard element of Tajiri’s offense), but places three chairs in front of his nemesis’ head before delivering the blow, busting open Super Crazy.

Tajiri is more polished in his match with Rey Mysterio from the very first entry in the project, but here, he’s younger and incredibly over with the crowd despite technically being a heel (though a turn is not far away for the Japanese Buzzsaw). All of his kicks are delivered well, with apparent evil intent. At one point, after Super Crazy gets lacerated, Tajiri makes the most of it with the crowd: licking his fingers (ew), wiping his enemy’s bloody head against the shirt sleeve of the referee, and biting at the forehead.

Super Crazy, meanwhile, attacks Tajiri with reckless abandon. After regaining control on a lightning-quick transition through a rapid combination of moves, he launches off the top rope with a legdrop on Tajiri through a table, apparently taking damage himself when the far end of the table flips up and hits him upon impact.

The match culminates with one of the nastier spots I have seen in matches of this type, in terms of excess and violence. It’s so over the top that it should end the match, and does.

Random Thoughts

–If you’ve seen a Tajiri match you’ve likely seen him hit the handspring back elbow but this is one of the better ones you’ll find. The maneuver unfurls at a rapid pace. Tajiri sprints into the ropes, and Super Crazy comes forward a bit into the elbow, avoiding the “standing there waiting to be hit” that is seen often with similar moves of this type.

–Watching the level of violence in this match, and knowing this was par for the course in the rivalry between these two, it’s pretty amazing that Tajiri and Super Crazy are still active more than 20 years later.

–Tajiri puts his hands up on a chairshot from his nemesis. Not something you saw often in this era, but should have happened more regularly all across wrestling.

–Watching fans ringside feed chair after chair to Super Crazy at one point in the match is part of that organic visceral feel that gave ECW its charm.

Final Rating: 6.4

Tajiri and Super Crazy are both extremely talented and produced their best work when going against one another. They were pretty phenomenal as a team as well. They brought out the best in one another. They had better matches than this one, but this overall sample from their body of work is elevated by the finishing spot, which I am determined not to spoil and for you to witness instead.

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

Up Next

Back to 1980s All Japan for one of the best tag matches you might never have seen.

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 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

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

What makes someone an outstanding performer in the realm of pro wrestling? Should they be measured by their single “greatest” match? Their ability to sell tickets (when we aren’t in the middle of a plague, of course) or move merch? In recent years, I’ve placed more stock in longevity as a key determinant in wrestling–whether it be the ability to reinvent yourself time and time again to remain relevant, a gradual evolution to become one of the top practitioners of your craft, or being able to sustain excellence for years… even decades.

For me, Rey Mysterio, Jr,. falls into that latter category. He’s slowed down some, naturally, after the pile-up of years and injuries but his appeal, his style and many of his signature moves remain, in many ways, timeless. In the opening installment of 365 Wrestling, I decided to watch a match between Rey and another personal favorite, Tajiri, from the New Year’s Day episode of SmackDown back in 2004. You can check out this match, and every episode of SmackDown except the most recent four episodes, on the WWE Network. You can also watch a clip from the match in the video above.

The Context

Rey gets one more crack at Tajiri, the man who beat him for the Cruiserweight Title the previous September. Tajiri’s reign included him bringing on two lackeys to watch his back and interfere on his behalf, Akio (better known as Jimmy Yang) and Sakoda.

The Match

This culminates a four-month rivalry between Rey and Tajiri, and their familiarity shines through in this one. Rather than go flying at one another, and flying around the ring, at the opening bell, they opt for a more patient, mat-based battle in the opening minutes that runs counter to what most might expect from a matchup between these two. Each man anticipates key offense of the other: Rey blocks signature Tajiri offense like the springboard back elbow and the Tarantula, while, late in the bout, Tajiri avoids a springboard senton by Rey into a sweet counter to a half crab on the left leg, which is the main target of Tajiri’s offense for most of the match.

After relying on a distraction from Akio and interference by Sakoda to get control of the match, Tajiri really works over that leg, busting out the shin breaker best known as one of Ric Flair‘s favorite moves, the aforementioned single-leg crab and (my personal favorite) a pinpoint dropkick to the knee while Rey is hanging upside down in the Tree of Woe.

The finishing stretch is a good one. Tajiri delivers a nasty-looking running sitout powerbomb for a long two count. Rey counters the following Buzzsaw Kick with a double leg bridge for a very believable false finish. Ultimately, Rey foils interference by Akio and Sakoda, hooking Tajiri with a huracanrana into the pin to become two-time Cruiserweight Champ.

Random Thoughts

–Because this is the opening match on the show, I watched from the very beginning and was reminded of Hardcore Holly getting the rub as Brock Lesnar’s challenger at the Royal Rumble, and the SmackDown credits, which were a fine trip down memory lane as they’re the same credits and theme song from SmackDown: Here Comes The Pain, a game I played habitually for most of the mid-2000s.

–Sending out Akio and Sakoda in blue shirts with black pants wasn’t the best choice. On wide shots, they looked to similar to the uniform of the time for SmackDown referees.

–Hearing Michael Cole on commentary underscored just how long he has been a lead broadcaster for WWE. Has anyone else had a longer stretch as a key part of week-to-week TV for the company?

Final Rating: 7.8

This was an excellent match that showcases both Rey and Tajiri in their primes. Everything flowed well and looked good. At under 12 minutes (counting entrances, and minus the early portion of the match we don’t see due to the commercial break), this is a brisk, action-packed match with real stakes and a satisfying conclusion. A high bar has been set for tomorrow.

What’s Next

We head to Japan and get hardcore with a death match.

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.