It’s time for another break away from the current-day WWE product, this time looking at some of the freely available gems that are online. Whilst the in-ring product isn’t bad (and with the quality on the current roster, how can it?), the creative tied to those matches can often be deflating. So, to provide some variety, I’ll be trawling the internet and reviewing random matches from around the world (as opposed to entire shows).
Hayabusa vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger (New Japan Pro Wrestling, Super J Cup 1st Round, April 16, 1994 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5cy3eQhgLc)
We’re jumping back almost 22 years for this one, with an opening round match in 1994’s Super J Cup, with eventual semi-finalist Liger taking on the debuting Hayabusa (although Eiji Ezaki had wrestled for a few years prior, this was the first outing of the Hayabusa gimmick). This is held under the auspices of New Japan Pro Wrestling, complete with their ring announcer doing his best Beatles Sgt. Pepper tribute. It’s amazing to hear Liger having the same music in 1994 as he does today, which just shows that character’s longevity.
Hayabusa jumps Liger before the bell with a spin kick, sending Liger to the floor, in perfect position to be wiped out with a tope con hilo. Back in the ring, Hayabusa connects with a missile dropkick to the back of Liger’s head, then proceeds to stretch the arms of his New Japan opponent whilst shoving a knee into Liger’s back. We see a weird attempt at a cover by Hayabusa which doesn’t even get acknowledged by the referee, so Hayabusa bodyslams Liger and hits a jumping legdrop (a la Kofi Kingston, for the modern fans) for the first near-fall of the match.
Hayabusa goes to work on Liger’s right leg, but a missed knee lets Liger back into it, as he too starts to chop away on his opponent’s vertical base. Liger locks in a figure four, but Hayabusa quickly gets to the ropes to break it up. A standard powerbomb gets Liger a two-count, and reverts back to submission holds with a sitting leg lock that from some angles looks like it’s come straight from the Kama Sutra. Liger relents, only to connect with a lariat for a two-count, as Liger remains firmly in control.
Liger goes to whip Hayabusa into the corner, who almost slips, but recovers in time to take a cannonball. That’s followed up with a superplex for another two-count for Liger, who appears to get frustrated, since he goes after Hayabusa with chops and kicks. Hayabusa tries to mount another comeback with a spinning kick, before scoring a two-count with a dropkick of his own. A standing flipping senton gets another near-fall for Hayabusa, as does a spinning wheel kick off the top rope. Hayabusa inches closer with a moonsault off the top rope with another two-count, but an attempt at a spinning flying huracanrana doesn’t come off cleanly, but that thankfully isn’t the end of things.
Hayabusa connects with a backbreaker, placing Liger in position for another top rope assault, but he overshoots a shooting star press attempt, giving me flashbacks to the quebrada that ended his career some seven years later. Liger pops up and drills Hayabusa with a sit-out powerbomb for another near fall, followed by another one as Hayabusa attempted yet another missile dropkick, before hitting a Fisherman Buster for the win.
All-in-all, not bad for a first round match at the first ever Super J Cup. It was clear that Hayabusa wasn’t quite the finished article, but for a debut match (in the gimmick), Shooting Star Press botch aside, it was quite the showing.
Fit Finlay vs. Johnny Saint (All Star Wrestling, January 5, 1988 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52DyOdMTcZU)
We go a little further back in time for our next match, as ITV’s World of Sport presents a catchweight clash between two of Britain’s better exports. Croydon’s Fairfield Halls are the venue for this encounter, which is being held under Admiral-Lord Mountevans rules (or as is more commonly referred to, the rounds system), with a winner being decided on either one knock-out, or the first to two-falls within the eight round format.
Accompanied by his second, “Princess Paula” (clad in a glittery gold dress and an Indian-style feather head-dress for some reason), Finlay was rocking the mustache and mullet combination that was later borrowed by Eddie Guerrero in his early days in ECW and WCW, whilst also wearing a championship belt that would be openly mocked in 2016. Johnny Saint, on the other hand, received a good cheer from the Croydon crowd, and was the obvious babyface going into this.
The first round starts with a headlock by Finlay, as the pair exchange holds, with Saint ultimately reversing in his typical fashion, only to be forced into the ropes and receive a headbutt to the chest as Finlay opted against a clean break. After some advice from his corner, Finlay took down Saint with a leg lock, which Saint is able to break out of, before Finlay goes for a knuckle lock, which again, is reversed by Saint, who sends his Northern Irish counterpart flipping onto the mat as the first round ends in a stalemate.
Saint charges out of the corner at the start of the second round, and after a brief spell where we’re led to believe that Finlay’s complaining about his opponent’s attire, Finlay sends his opponent to his knees with a chickenwing. An armdrag leads Finlay into the contest’s first pinfall attempts, getting a pair of one-counts as round two ends with Saint in the middle of another sequence of holds, and the babyface clearly connecting with some jumping knees seconds after the end-of-round bell. Finlay and Paula argue this during the break between rounds, but to no avail… who’s the babyface here?!
After Paula exits the ring, Finlay starts the third round with a heart punch to Saint, followed by some headbutts to the chest and another illegal punch, which gets the Finlay receiving a public warning for the use of a closed fist. Saint gets into things with a collection of back body drops, but Finlay catches Saint with a Samoan drop for the first fall at the end of the third round.
The fourth round commences with some stalling, as Finlay launches into Saint with some strikes, getting a near-fall with a tilt-a-whirl slam. Finlay is almost caught with a closed fist again, which lets Saint get back into things as he sweeps the Northern Irishman’s legs from underneath him, before hitting a pair of dropkicks. Saint then sidesteps a charging Finlay, before rolling him up for the equalising fall. Round five starts with yet more stalling as Paula takes her time exiting the ring, in a tactic that is quickly losing its novelty, but Finlay sees a back body drop attempt blocked as Saint connects with a dropkick and a cross body for a two-count.
Saint avoids a handshake, but gets caught in a hammerlock by Finlay, who sneaks in a punch to the gut as the referee goes to check for a submission. Saint recovers to roll-up Finlay, but they’re too close to the ropes for a pinfall to even be attempted. Finlay rushes after Saint with some overhead chops, but an attempt at a cross body is fruitless as Saint ducks, sending Finlay over the top and crashing to the floor. Back in the ring, Saint ends the fifth round with a snapmare, but Finlay tries to attack Saint after the bell… only for Saint to see it coming and fend off his opponent.
Paula comes in to stop Saint from connecting with a punch, and the ensuing distraction allows Finlay to throw him over the top rope, earning him a final warning as the sixth round begins. Back in the ring, Finlay catches Saint in an armlock for a surprise submission, which catches everyone out, since that was the deciding fall, giving Finlay the win.
The British rounds system was an acquired taste when it comes to wrestling – but the biggest negative about it is that it prevented matches from flowing well. I wasn’t a fan of the inbetween-rounds attacks that saw Finlay get a public warning for throwing Saint out of the ring, but Saint get off scot-free for a knee-strike well after the bell. It’s hard to believe that this Finlay, twelve years after this match, would be wrestling hardcore matches in WCW, and sixteen years later he’d have recovered from a serious leg injury and enjoy an Indian summer in the WWE.
Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee vs. Brian Christopher & Flex Kavana (USWA, aired May 25, 1996 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0SEitEkK98)
Heading over to Memphis now, and we’re diving deep into the internets to pull out the first televised match of a man known as Flex Kavana… who would have slightly better success in the WWE in the years that followed as The Rock. You might have heard of him.
Before the match, Kavana cuts a very brief promo that sounds like the Rock hadn’t hit the people’s puberty at that point, but you could tell that he had “it” even in his early days. Christopher and Kavana head to the ring for a good old fashioned studio wrestling match, which, despite this being Kavana’s first televised bout, is for Lawler and Dundee’s tag team titles.
Christopher starts off with a hattrick of bodyslams on his dad, before Dundee comes in to take a fourth bodyslam, and we have a bit of stalling to lead us into Lawler’s offence, which starts with… a bodyslam. Somehow, this is looking more like watching someone play WWE 2K16 after you’ve taught them one move… and they repeat it over and over and over! We finally get a different move as Christopher catches Lawler out of the corner with a hiptoss; thankfully Lawler’s attempt to mimic doesn’t work, as Christopher blocks the hiptoss attempt and levels his old man with a clothesline. At this point, Lawler gets frustrated and demands that Kavana be tagged in. Christopher obliges, and tags in Kavana to perhaps the most muted reaction that the future Rock had in his entire career.
Kavana’s first actions are to leapfrog Lawler a few times before monkey-flipping him into the ropes and connecting with some armdrags as Lawler makes it into the ropes. Lawler tags in Dundee for the first time in the match, but Dundee’s first move sees him shoved across the ring as Kavana powers out of a tie-up in the corner. Kavana hits a dropkick following some heel stalling from Lawler, who spent a good chunk of the match protesting that Kavana was pulling hair.
Lawler makes it back in and connects with a punch to Kavana, then hides behind the referee before taking control of the match with some double-team work. Dundee tags in and connects with a double axehandle off the top rope, but he only gets a two count as Kavana powers out of the pinfall attempt. Lawler is tagged back in as the heels hit a double elbow on Kavana, but he misses a fist drop as Kavana makes the lukewarm tag to Christopher who cleans house. Christopher and Kavana lock their opponents in stereo abdominal stretches, but Dundee sucker-punches the referee as he went to check him, causing the cheap disqualification, handing the victory to the babyfaces. Christopher grabs the belts and mistakenly believes that they got the win by submission, but the ref hands the titles back to Lawler and Dundee, announcing the disqualification.
As a debut match, this was a by-the-books outing for the future Rock. Promo-wise, you could see that he had something, but his in-ring work was a long way from being ready for the big-time. In 1996, we were about to enter the Monday Night Wars, and firmly kill off the old era of territories and studio wrestling (USWA would close down for good the following year).
Bulldog Raines & Mick Tierney vs. Kid Wikkid & Kurt Angle (Power Pro Wrestling, May 29, 1999 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPttwI_3jzY)
Staying in Memphis, we go back to studio wrestling with another of the local groups that WWE had an affiliation with at one time, as Power Pro Wrestling gives us a match from the early days of a former Olympian called Kurt Angle. This tag team match came two months into his run in PPW, if you care about any sort of measuring stick.
Bulldog Raines appears to be wearing a knock-off Vader singlet, whilst Mick Tierney is wearing black trunks with the Irish flag on the side, whilst also carrying the flag of the Emerald Isle, just in case you’re confused as to where he hails from. Meanwhile, Wikkid comes straight out of the mid 90s with frosted hair, and is also carrying a trophy, and Angle is wearing a weird singlet of his own. The commentators start the match by hyping up the return of “Baldo” in his new gimmick of Prince Albert (of course, now NXT head coach Matt Bloom)
Wikkid and the larger Bulldog start off, with Bulldog shoulder-tackling the smaller Wikkid after sending him into the ropes. Despite telegraphing a back body drop attempt, Raines blocks a neckbreaker attempt, but eventually eats a dropkick from Wikkid, who then tags in Angle, as Raines makes a tag for his team also.
Tierney looks, erm, well, and pretty much repeats the opening spots, shooting Angle into the ropes and missing clotheslines, with Angle getting a one-count from a cross body block. Angle connects with a back body drop, only for Downtown Bruno (aka Harvey Wippleman) to attempt to trip Angle, thus creating an opening for his charge. Tierney takes Angle down with a rolling leg-lock, but Wikkid comes in to break things up. Fun fact – Tierney was trained by the former Ludvig Borga, and also used to participate in judo, hence his shoot-wrestling style.
Raines and Tierney double-team Angle with a double-elbow after sending him into the ropes, but heels’ advantage wears off as Tierney sees sleeperhold countered with a back suplex by Angle. Wikkid gets tagged in, and clears out the heels with a pair of dropkicks, before tagging Angle back into the match so they can hit a double back body drop on Raines, then on Tierney. Wikkid clotheslines Tierney out of the ring, allowing Angle to connect with a belly-to-belly on Raines for the pinfall victory. Post-match, Downtown Bruno enters the ring and gets a belly-to-belly of his own for his troubles, with the camera showing him selling as if he were stuck making a snow angel.
Not bad action for a fairly inexperienced Angle, particularly in a match which featured so many back body drops that we probably should have sponsored it… but the confines of the old-style studio wrestling shows show their limits here. A sub-five minute tag match is not enough for talent to learn, and although back in the day television shows were used to promote house shows, it just wasn’t viable in the late 1990s. Much like the USWA, Power Pro’s shelf life was limited too, with the company closing its doors in 2001.
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