Keiichi Yamada vs. Shiro Koshinaka (1/25/88)
Whew. This is super boring. Koshinaka’s stuff doesn’t go anywhere and Yamada’s stuff, while it looks good,doesn’t really go anywhere. The ring bell spot and shenanigns is fun, but just like the matwork, it doesn’t really go anywhere. Koshinaka’s problem isn’t that he’s a BAD seller in the sense that he doesn’t sell. Its just that his selling isn’t very interesting. Kind of surprised this made the set considering how throw-away it felt.
Keiichi Yamada vs. Hiro Hase (2/4/88)
I thought this was kind of all over the place, too. Liger’s mat work is perfectly fine, but its just not very exciting. Hase’s comebacks have some good fire and his selling really carry the bulk of this. The high spots all seem really random, especially when none of them really go anywhere. Dropping Liger on the guardrail seems like a big deal and then there’s almost no follow up. I’m not wild about the pile driver spot on the outside, although at this point you kind of have to take what you get with New Japan and pile drivers in general. Overall a decent match, but nothing to eally write home about.
Antonio Inoki vs. Riki Choshu (2/4/88)
Much like their first match against each other, this didn’t do much for me, either. Choshu brings the heat early on but Inoki isn’t interesting at all on the sell. His comebacks have plenty of fire and he’s obviously putting a lot of effort into them, but there were just times where this seemed like Inoki wanted this laid out to get him over more than anything else. The backdrop spot is goofy, and there’s a spot where they’re looking for a back body drop that’s flat out botched. And the finish
Nobuhiko Takada vs. Hiro Hase (3/11/88)
This match was a total shock to me and is a case in poit for why you really do need to give every match a shot. Takada’s been terrible on this set and is stiff competition for Tiger Mask in the ‘Guy everyone thinks is good, but is actually terrible’ category. But maybe this is what everyone was talking about. His selling is great here in the early going. Hase’s a guy who’s got really fantastic timing and the Takada comeback was built to really well. There’s a great sort of elongated transition in momentum here where Takada is slow to go on the offense which I actually really thought was a cool spot. The match gets entirely flipped on its head in the second half and Takada goes from sympathetic crowd favorite to bully babyface as the plucky and game Hase tries to make HIS comeback. Hase eating kicks down the stretch is also really phenomenal stuff. While it completely shocks me to say it, I’d say that this is easily one of the top 3 juniors matches up to this point.
Shiro Koshinaka & Antonio Inoki vs. Hiroshi Hase & Riki Choshu (4/11/88)
I liked the body of this a great deal, especially Koshinaka’s gusher. There are some really good cut offs in here – notably from Hase catching Koshinaka’s ass bump and turning it into a german suplex. Choshu and Koshinaka were even better, especially Choshu’s running lariats to the back of his head. It all built really well to the hot tag, but when it finally comes, this literally nose dives off a cliff. Inoki comes in, smooshes Hase and… uh… that’s it? I mean I get some of those southern style quick finishes, but this was built for such a strong payoff that you really feel cheated at the end. The finish totally kills this.
Akira Nogami, Tatsutoshi Goto, Keiichi Yamada, Kantaro Hoshino & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Hase, Hiro Saito, Norio Honaga & Kensuke Sasaki (4/27/88)
This was the first match on the set I had a hard time getting through. This was just all over the place. Lots of miscued spots, some spots where a guy is visibly waiting in position so that another guy can get to where he needs to get to, etc. It’s a fun go-go-go style match, but its just a really large collection of spots. When Hase takes a spiked pile driver and then rolls to his corner and tags out I couldn’t believe it. Mindless fun for sure, but a good match? No way.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Vader (4/27/88)
Fujinami is the ace of the company, but boy does he sure seem like an underdog here. Vader’s his usual intimidating, dominating self, viciously attacking – of all things – Fujinami’s throat. The military press onto the guard rail on the outside is just nasty looking and the collective choking and strikes to the wind pipe make you wince. Vader’s bumping I pretty solid here as well, with him taking a nice back body drop bump and a hard spill over the top rope. The only issues here is that it probably drags on a little longer than it needed to. They could’ve cut a good two minutes of Vader control out of this and tightened it up just a bit more. I’m kind of undecided about the finish. On one hand, Fujinami probably SHOULD be winning this match and a countout victory is perfect to protect both. But at the same time, given the preentation of the Vader character here, I can’t help but think, ‘A count out!? That’s all it takes!?’. Hard match for me to rate because there’ so much I like about it yet the flaws are really glaring.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Riki Choshu (5/27/88)
Its pretty awesome to see that five years later these two can pick up and not lose a beat. Some really great stuff from both guys littered throughout the match. Fujinami constantly having answers for Choshu in the early on in a lot of ways is a big, fat callback spot to their ’83 feud together. It also features perhaps the most slick, undetectable blade job ever from Choshu. The transitions are exceptionally violent in this match, especially the spot where Choshu literally drives Fujinami through the mat on a suprirse back drop driver. We got form Choshu looking like a sympathetic figure to Fujinami sliding into that role thanks to his new bum ankle thanks to Riki. While this might not be their best match together, its perhaps the best display of how ridiculously talented both guys are and how they can seamlessly transition from one role to another with little to no effort.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Riki Choshu (6/24/88)
This match reminds me A TON of a lot of modern day ‘big star’ Wrestlemania matches, where there’s lots of call back spots and big moments that come together for a really good, albeit flawed match. Given the way the last match ended, these two trading shitty mat holds for 5 minutes to kick this off really confused me. Once the kick assery gets going though, it really gets going. I love Choshu getting caught going to the well with the lariats one too many times and eating the dropkick. The roll up pin finish is even more awesome considering the ‘not this time’ finger wage from Choshu earlier in the match where he almost gets pinned with a backslide. A good, appropriate blow off to their feud. A good match, but flawed.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Vader (6/26/88)
I really dug this. Up to this point, Vader had pretty much run through the roster, so the fact that Fujinami doesn’t bend as easily as the others makes him frustrated. He takes it out on his spine, smashing him on the guard rail, throwing him on the floor, smashing him with his hands, etc. It really makes everything interesting. Some people might not like the finish because of the backslide being used (after Fujinami’s back had been blown to bits), but then again – how else do you beat Vader? This has its flaws, but it’s a solid title match.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. Don Nakaya Nielsen (7/29/88)
Are you kidding me!? This is freaking awesome. I wasn’t really into Maeda-Nielsen as much largely due to the fact that Nielsen is constantly and frantically looking for rope breaks when Maeda takes him down. The result seemed to be roles that were TOO well defined. Nielsen here is punching on the breaks and trying to strike his way out of every hold. I’m fine with Fujiwara not getting in a lot of offense because he’s so fucking awesome on defense, that I could watch it all day. Nielsen is freaking brutal here laying in some absolute haymakes. This seems like a genuine fight. When Fujiwara does get ahold of him (a great takedown in Round 4 and a heel hook in Round 5), the crowd really pops. Fujiwara comes across looking plucky and tough in the face of an absolute massacre. The roundhouse kick Fujiwara eats in the mouth in round 6 that all but knocks him out is unbelievable. Great striking, great facial expression – I’d go as far as to say it’s the best ‘wrestler vs legit sports dude’ match I’ve ever seen by a long shot. Top 10 contender.
Antonio Inoki vs. Vader (7/29/88)
This was incredible. Easily Inoki’s best performance on the set so far. I’m a sucker for Giant vs Giant killer matches, and this was a really good one. During the initial brawl, Vader hurts his arm, and it serves as a great reference point for the rest of the match. Whenever Inoki need a comeback, he goes to the arm and it works to great effect. Sure, the injury is played off as a bit flukey, but hey, it super believable. Some of the visuals are flat out uncomfortable – especially when Inoki’s on his backside and getting waffled with Vader hammer fists to the face. Sure, Vader taps in thed end, but that’ after an INSANE arm bar counter after a whole match worth of work, a blade job on the arm, etc. Everyone looks like a killer here. Top 20 easily.
Tatsumi Fujinami, Keiichi Yamada, Shiro Koshinaka, Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Kengo Kimura vs. Hiro Saito, Kuniaki Kobayashi, Super Strong Machine, Masa Saito & Riki Choshu (9/12/88)
For a lot of people, this was the discovery of the set and let me tell you – it’s a doozie. This is worked as a sprint, but there’s so much time in the opening before they hit eliminations, that everyone gets their stuff in without it ever feeling like some sort of a spotfest. Fujiwara and SSM are the two that probably grab me the most as their whole interaction is worth the price of admission alone. I’ve love to see these two in a singles match. Yamada looks especially stand out spraying kicks and working two great mini-babyface in peril spots.
Once we hit the eliminations though, that’s where this really shines. I love the ‘ring out’ rule where if you get knocked out of the ring, you’re eliminated. Its such a great way of getting rid of key players without having to have them look bad with a pin or submission and wouldn’t ya know – they use it to maximum effect. Choshu, Fujinami, Kimura and Fujiawara are all elminated going over, through and under the ropes and tumbling to the outside.
Of the big elimination tags, this is perhaps the most satisfying in the end. We get a great spot where Fujinami goes from being the sympathetic babyface to the ass kicking heel as Saito catches perhaps the biggest gusher on the set so far. Fujinami charges Saito in the corner at a moment of vulnerability and Saito side steps him and he goes clattering to the floor. While the editing in this match left a ton to be desired, the shot of the finish was excellent.
This does a have a few execution flaws like Fujinami and Choshu blowing the Choshu elimination and that shouldn’t be overlooked. But really in the big picture – its small grapes. This is one of those matches that have every kind of wrestler you can imagine and no matter who you talk to, they’ll find someone or something they really like about it.
Between the pacing, structure and hate in this match – combined with a totally satisfying finish on a set of totally unsatisfying ends to matches, this is going to score really, really high.
Keiichi Yamada & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Perro Aguayo & El Canek (10/10/88)
This is a really fun tag match. Perro is really the star of the show all on his own. Between cat calls, strutting, the CONSTANT dialogue with the crowd, the most hilariously awesome chair shots on the outside, ever and then him randomly slipping and falling and getting laughed at on his way to the corner, this guy is a total one man stooging band. He takes a bump off the apron on the head, gets waffled with a chairshot to the head and then eats an exposed turnbuckle – all the span of like one minute. Yamada is fun as a FIP and Canek and Koshinaka, while they’re not setting the world on fire, are adequate, too. This is a total Perro Aguayo sampler though and if you ever want to get into him, this match would have to be on a siet at some point.
Tatsumi Fujinami, Shinya Hashimoto & Masa Chono vs. Tracy Smothers, Steve Armstrong & George Takano (11/11/88)
Kind of a match of first here. First time seeing the Wild Eyed Southern Boys and also a confederate flag in Japan. Hashimoto and Chono also makes their debuts here. Hashimoto looks like Jaoquin Phoenix from GLADIATOR. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wild about this. Chono and Hashimoto looks super green and don’t look like they quite know what to do with a southern US tag team. Translation is lots of oddly placed rest holds and what’s obviously a few miscomunications. There’s some good here. For one – Hashimoto’s and chono’s tools are obvious even despite the green ness. Hashimoto’s cartoony bumping is hysterical at this point in his career considering all things. Very fun match.
Antonio Inoki, Riki Choshu & Kantaro Hoshino vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Kengo Kimura & Osamu Kido (11/11/88)
This was OK stuff. The hierarchy is really on heavy display here wit hInoki being practically untouchable. This match actually had a lot of bizarre, kind of funny moments in it that I totally didn’t mind, especially Fujiwara getting pinned after two straight Choshu cheap shots. Kimura looks good here as easily the toughest out on his obviously overmatched team. OK, but nothing spectacular.
Antonio Inoki, Riki Choshu & Kantaro Hoshino vs. Scott Hall, Bob Orton & Dick Murdoch (11/17/88)
I enjoyed this. Hoshino is a ton of fun here as the plucky underdog without a chance. This is probably Murdoch’s best individual performance on the set, especially during the stretch run with Inoki. Goto and Hall are both pretty green and more or less ‘just there’, but they’re both perfectly acceptable. Bob Orton’s runs in the early going – especially with CHoshu are lots of fun. Fun six-man.
Antonio Inoki, Riki Choshu & Kantaro Hoshino vs. Tatsutoshi Goto, Masa Saito & Seiji Sakaguchi (12/5/88)
Really fun match. There’s lots to like and dislike, but at the end of the day, I think this is pretty good. Goto eliminating Inoki is pretty awesome. It’s a great moment as it really ramps up the intensity in the match between Sakaguchi, Saito and Choshu. Hoshino’s elimination is awesome on his sprawling cross body whiff and subsequent crash to the floor. Fun stuff.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Grappler (12/5/88)
This never really drew me in that much. I always enjoyed Denton, but this isn’t too engaging. Fujinami is fine enough on the sell but Grappler’s offense is never overly interesting. Throw in a bunch of stalling on the outside that’s good in theory – but fails in practice thanks to a dead as a doornail crowd and the end result is a choppy, lackluster match.
Tatsutoshi Goto, Masa Saito, Seiji Sakaguchi vs. Scott Hall, Bob Orton & Dick Murdoch (12/7/88)
Fun match. Loved the Saito-Murdoch slug fest early on. The feeling out phase of this is more or less rushed, but man, the last five minutes is totally worth the price of admission. Goto looks every bit the equal of Murdoch and thanks to the ring-out elimination rule, there’s a whole bunch of nifty ways for him to tease the near falls. Even Orton and Hall get in on the action with their ‘what? Us cheat? We don’t know what you’re talking about!!’ save on Murdoch. While this could have used some more ‘meat’ to it from the other participants, its was still a lot of fun.
Keiichi Yamada vs. Shiro Koshinaka (12/9/88)
There's so much going on it's like some kind of masochistic flogging. Yamada hit Koshinaka non-stop in this match until it was time for Koshinaka to up the ante and rattle off the bigger moves. Not much in the way of variety or nuance and no switches in rhythm, but it wasn't a bad match. I guess it could be an adrenaline kick for some people.