Since this worked out so well for me the first time, I’m going back to the New Japan World well and dipping into Senor Lariato’s watch list for some more hidden (or not so hidden!) gems!
In this instalment, I’ll be looking mostly at “guys we know, under different aliases” and some of the more wonderful Google Translate fails. And let’s start with a guy who’s just gotten himself in the news, with a booking in England thanks to a Twitter feud!
Big Van Vader vs. Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow (Sengoku Series 1988, September 12, 1988)
Our whole universe was in a hot dense state, Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait… Sorry about that, I got carried away because of Google Translate, as we apparently have Big Bang Vader in action here… Let me try again, Big Van Vader, against “Crusher” Bam Bam Bigelow.
Bigelow does a cartwheel at his introduction, whilst Vader’s helmet snorts steam for his. I wonder how many flips Vader will do here… nope, he starts by posing on the middle turnbuckle as more steam comes out of it.
Bigelow rolls away from a Vader punch, and they finally lock-up, with Vader taking him into the corner and breaking with an attempted chop to the head. After being sent into the ropes, Bigelow and Vader collide, and they do it again, before Vader punches Bigelow into the ropes, and then hits a body attack to send him staggering again.
Bigelow blocks a hiptoss before pulling one off himself as Vader rolls to the floor, and gets knocked back down there after Bigelow knocked him off the apron. Cue some good old fashioned heel rage, as Vader clears out the timekeeper’s table and throws the table down. Finally making it back inside, Vader and Bigelow go for a test of strength, which Vader wins, sending Bigelow to his knees, only for Bigelow to power back up, before Vader knees Bigelow and clotheslines him a few times.
They resort to strikes, before Vader drops Bigelow with a back suplex, with a three point stance and a charge seeing Vader splat Bigelow in the corner for a two-count. Vader pulls off a bodyslam for a near-fall, before Vader clotheslines him to the floor as I was about to fear for the safety of the ring ropes!
Back inside, Vader hits another bodyslam, before going up top (?!), and connecting with a flying body attack that sends Bigelow reeling to the floor once more. Vader then breaks the crowd barriers when Bigelow moves out of the way of a body charge, and Bigelow takes over in the ring with forearm shots, before the referee tries to restrain Bigelow and enforce a rope break. That didn’t go too well for the ref, as he took an overhand shot from Vader and was decked.
With the referee down, Vader went for a head claw, as they just brought in Tiger Hattori as a second referee instead of calling for a DQ. Vader shoved away Hattori, before Bigelow came back with a shoulder tackle that (eventually) saw Vader spill to the outside, where he took the crowd barricade again. As Vader backdropped Bigelow into the crowd, the bell started ringing, with Vader leaping into the crowd to start pounding on Bigelow, as apparently the official decision ended up being Bigelow winning by disqualification, with the locker room emptying to break the two apart.
Well, that was fun! Not exactly fast-paced, but a good brawl between two of pro-wrestling’s best agile big men. I wasn’t so thrilled with the non-finish, but given that I can count on one hand how many non-finishes I’ve seen in Japan, I’m not about to complain. ***½
Black Tiger vs. TAKA Michinoku (Super J Cup, 1st Stage, April 16, 1994)
This first round match from 1994’s Super J Cup features the late Eddie Guerrero under the Black Tiger mask, with Eddie being 26 at the time, and TAKA a relatively sprightly 19 years old.
Tiger starts by taking TAKA into the ropes, before snapmaring him and hitting a bodyslam, then a somersault plancha into the ring. A fold-up powerbomb follows for a two-count as Black Tiger starts off a million miles an hour here against the sophomore. Black Tiger drops TAKA with a neckbreaker for a two-count, then slows things with an abdominal stretch, before walloping him with a clothesline.
Black Tiger then pulls off a Sharpshooter but loses his footing as they go to various headlock spots, ending with a vicious clothesline on TAKA, who would dive over Tiger’s head with a quebrada, before sending him to the outside with headscissors. After returning to the ring, Black Tiger took TAKA to the corner with some charges, but TAKA sailed over him again with a moonsault, before dropping Tiger with a snap overherd belly to belly suplex.
A dropkick sent Black Tiger out to the floor, where TAKA met him with a springboard body press, before hitting a bridging German suplex in the ring for a two-count, then a hurricanrana for another near-fall. TAKA went for another hurricanrana, but found himself planted in the middle of the ring with a powerbomb, but was able to kick out at two.
Black Tiger went up for a frog splash, and got a near-fall from that, before TAKA came close with a sunset flip and another powerbomb. A moonsault earned TAKA yet-another near-fall, but he got nothing but knees when he repeated the move, and almost lost after a brainbuster, before Black Tiger got the win with a tornado DDT. A fantastic action-packed, yet short match, and I’d have killed to see this go another 10-15 minutes. ***¾
Going a million miles an hour would have been good had this been an ultra-quick squash match, but for the pace to be slowed down after a stumble in a Sharpshooter kinda took the sheen off this match for me. Still, at least Guerrero had way better matches under the hood, and didn’t go into a change of gimmick after one botched spot.
Super Liger vs. Koji Kanemoto (Wrestling World, January 4, 1997)
In our first New Japan World Special, we reviewed Jushin “Thunder” Liger’s J-crown victory over Ultimo Dragon, in a match that was meant to set the wheels in motion on a collision course with Super Liger, who had debuted earlier on the same show – 1997’s Wrestling World – and was played by Chris Jericho in a silver-and-red Jushin “Thunder” Liger outfit.
Super Liger was taking on Koji Kanemoto, with Jericho immediately having issues with the outfit, claiming in later interviews that he had difficulties in seeing through the Liger mask. Kanemoto immediately went for a headlock, with Liger using a back suplex to free himself. Kanemoto returned fire with kicks and a snapmare, before cinching in a rear chinlock on the debutant.
Liger snapmared Kanemoto and delivered a kick, and the favour was quickly returned, before Liger slapped Kanemoto to the mat. A dropkick to the knee downed Kanemoto, with Liger going for a leg grapevine, but Kanemoto freed himself and slapped Liger down, before stomping away.
Kanemoto started working on Liger’s left leg, scissoring it and forcing Super Liger to reach for the ropes, before pulling off an enziguiri and a bodyslam. Liger used the ropes to slingshot himself in with a body splash for a near-fall, then a Dragon Sleeper, before dumping Kanemoto across the top rope. Liger took Kanemoto to the outside with a spinning wheel kick, before going for a springboard dropkick to Kanemoto on the apron… only to slip on the ropes and miss completely. And it was all going so well before then.
A standard dropkick finished the job, as Liger went up top with a missile dropkick to the floor, before rolling into the ring and flipping off the fans. Kanemoto blocked a suplex into the ring, and instead suplexed Liger from the inside out, and followed up with a springboard Asai cannonball off the middle rope. Liger flipped out of a suplex from the apron back in, missed a quebrada before the pair went for a dropkick at the same time, leading to a stalemate.
Kanemoto countered a super hurricanrana attempt with a powerbomb off the top on Liger, before lighting up the downed Liger with kicks, and then hitting the twisting back senton out of the corner for a near-fall. A top rope moonsault got Kanemoto a two-count as he pulled Liger up, before scoring another near-fall from a Tiger suplex.
That seemed to fire up Liger, who took Kanemoto up top for a superplex, but instead he was dropped to the outside with a front suplex… but Liger met a body press with a dropkick, before going for another superplex, instead hitting a butterfly superplex for a near-fall. Yep, Liger pulled him up, and instead went for the Tiger suplex for the win.
Taking out the botched springboard dropkick, this wasn’t that bad a match. Yes, it came across as bland, but considering you had a 27-year-old Chris Jericho making his debut in Japan, on one of their biggest shows of the year and in a gimmick that was completely alien to him? Unless this was his request, it seemed really harsh to scrap the entire gimmick because it’s debut didn’t hit a home run. ***¼
Wild Pegasus vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan (Wrestling World, January 4, 2000)
Ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room, this is a bizarre match-up. Wild Pegasus was, of course, the late Chris Benoit, and even though he debuted under a mask as the Pegasus Kid, he had wrestled at this point under his real name for years. Benoit was starting out a month in his professional career that could best be described as turbulent, having started 2000 with this match, before ending his WCW career (as champion) and going to WWE, all within the space of 28 days.
So, going under his Japan-friendly “Wild Pegasus” moniker (even though his tights had “Crippler” on them…) Benoit was facing Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and they started by going straight into the corner, where the pair lit each other up with chops and headbutts. Tenzan ran into a drop toe hold and a low dropkick from Pegasus, who then followed up with a baseball slide into the guard railings on the outside. Back inside, a clothesline took down Tenzan for a one-count, before we had a knife-edge vs. Mongolian chop battle, which Tenzan won.
Pegasus dropped Tenzan with an enziguiri, then hit a snap suplex for a near-fall, and finally a back suplex that nearly dropped Tenzan on his head. A pendulum backbreaker got Pegasus a two-count, before he went to a rear chinlock, and a seated abdominal stretch to wear down his opponent. Tenzan fought back with a bodyslam and a falling headbutt for a near-fall, before being decked by a back elbow by Pegasus.
Tenzan returned with a headbutt to the groin, and a spinning heel kick to get a two-count, only for Pegasus to catch him on the top rope with a superplex for a near-fall of his own. Pegasus ducked a clothesline and rattled off three rolling German suplexes, before going up for the swandive headbutt, but only getting a two from that.
Pegasus looked to finish off Tenzan with a sit-out piledriver, a la Owen Hart, but he reversed it into a TTD (tombstone piledriver), before missing a moonsault off the top. Tenzan charged into Pegasus, who locked him in the crossface, but Tenzan was already in the ropes. Tenzan would then get his feet up to block a corner charge, lands a Mountain Bomb (like a snap Samoan drop) for a two-count.
Tenzan then finished off Pegasus up top with a super hurricanrana, and a diving headbutt of his own to claim the win. A good, hard-hitting match, although at just ten minutes, it felt a little on the short side. Politically, this was interesting, given that WCW must have allowed one of their wrestlers – and someone who was barely a fortnight from being crowned “their guy” – to lose to someone who was by this point slotted as a tag team wrestler. ***½
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