Booking mystery wrestlers and unknown matches can be a dicey proposition. It always looks good on paper, but the ticket buying public usually responds negatively.
WCW’s “Battlebowl” shows never did well on PPV. WWE attempted user interaction based “Cyber (insert day of the week)” PPV’s for a couple of years, and they all bombed, resulting in the abandonment of the concept.
A well-placed mystery opponent in the mid card can get over well (see: Rick Rude as the WCW Halloween Phantom), but as a rule you never really want to use this concept in your main event.
Keiji Muto’s Wrestle-1 thumbed their noses to conventional booking wisdom, to the tune of SEVENTEEN mysterious red x’s on their debut show. The only performers announced ahead of time were the members of the native roster. Some matches featured mystery tag team partners along with mystery opponents, meaning three red x’s in one match. One match went full blind, listed as Mystery Red X vs. Mystery Red X. They were able to get away with this the first time out, because the Japan market buys tickets for debuts and sold 4000 tickets almost immediately. Not sure what it will mean for iPPV buys, but I get the feeling it wouldn’t have done well either way.
Here is what we knew coming in. Muto was in the main event, teaming with X against X & X. Stack of Arms was in the semi, facing TBD & TBD. Rookie Daiki Inaba was making his debut, teaming with Hiroshi Yamato against the always-dangerous TBA & TBA. As the show approached, I started to get excited about the possibilities. Anybody could come out of that curtain! Thus, the problem with mystery opponents. Most of the time, they don’t meet expectations. That would turn out to not be a problem tonight, with the exception of the main event.
Hard to preview a show with no matches. So, let’s just get to the review.
A comedian named Kannazuki came out to start the show, dressed like Muto. He did a short promo. He sold the knee better than Tetsuya Naito did.
1. Daiki Inaba & Hiroshi Yamato vs NOSAWA Rongai & Mazada – Our first mystery men were NOSAWA & Mazada. I have no problem with that. Inaba is a rookie, still clad in black tights & boots, fresh from excursion in Mexico. He looked technically sound & athletic, with some good facials as he sold for submissions. He was the babyface in peril, as the heels worked him over and taunted Yamato. Yamato cleaned house on the hot tag and pinned NOSAWA following a brainbuster. It was short & simple. Decent enough opener. Inaba looked impressive, pleasantly surprised they bucked predictability by not having him drop the fall. **1/4
2. Yasufumi Nakanoue & Ryota Hama vs Ryouji Sai & Kohei Sato – Sai & Sato are from ZERO-1. They didn’t get the reaction of the first two red x’s. Hama was letting it all hang out in Rikishi style gear. He’s like an adult version of an overfed Maury baby. The Zero-1 boys worked over Nakanoue to set up the Hama hot tag. Hama came in and crushed dudes. He even (sorta) did a stinkface.
A neat little back & forth match, with the big spot being the Zero-1 team delivering a double suplex to Hama. Nakanoue survived some head drops until being put away with a piledriver. Not bad. **1/2
3. Mayu Iwatami vs Yoshiko – This was a women’s match featuring ladies from STARDOM. I do not watch joshi at all, so I was not familiar with either person. They screamed a lot and were athletic enough, but this was just not my bag. I have never been able to get into joshi for whatever reason. They worked their asses off at a frenetic pace. Yoshiko won it with a diving senton. Iwatami was the typical fiery smaller babyface and both looked good. **1/2
4. Minoru Tanaka & Koji Kanemoto vs Fujita “Jr” Hayato & Masaaki Mochizuki – Welp, all three mystery men delivered huge. This match was exactly what you would expect from these four. Kicks, submissions, kicks, more submissions, stiff kicks. Mochizuki was flying all over the place and heeling it up. Hayato tapped to a Kanemoto ankle lock. He wouldn’t shake hands after the match, so Koji mushed him and cut a promo. Best match to this point. ***
5. Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo vs Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayahi – Legit popped in my living room at 3:33 am when Sekimoto & Okabayashi came out of the curtain. Two years ago, in what was an absolute travesty caused by lack of mainstream exposure, Sekimoto & Okabayashi should have ran away with Tag Team of the Year. These men beat on Hayashi like he owed them money, and it was glorious. Kaz was stuck in there with three fire plugs and got rag dolled the entire match. In a cool spot, Sek/Oba used a double German on Kondo, and tried another on Kaz but Kaz flipped over and landed on his feet. The finish was Sekimoto pinning Kondo with a Deadlift German. This match was all kinds of awesome. Tons of cool stuff, well paced, and just a tad too short to be in the match of the year mix. ****
6. Masakatsu Funaki & Masayuki Kono vs Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata – Holy. Shit. Stack of Arms vs Laughter 7. Is this real life? On twitter I joked about sending out Ebessan & Kikutaru to face SoA, and maybe they should have, and had L7 come out and kill them to take their place. Armchair bookin’. Also, combined MMA record of these men is 72-45. Anyway, you knew they were going long based on the early pace. Some shooty wrestling stuff and exchanging holds to get warmed up. As to be expected, some stiff exchanges. Shibata caught a Funaki kick and reversed into a figure four leg lock in the first big spot.
Some more manly stiffin’, including Shibata delivering his wicked headbutt to Funaki, which scares the living shit out of me every time he does it.
They tagged out, and Saku locked a triangle on Kono, who barely survived. Then it broke down, with Funaki & Shibata on the outside and the other two inside. Kono got caught in a chicken wing type maneuver, could not reach the ropes, and tapped. They did an angle after the match where the Zero-1 guys, Sai & Sato, attacked Funaki and dragged him back in the ring for a beatdown. Kono ran them off with a chair, but then blasted Funaki in the head with it. So Kono turned, and the angle was great. The match was men fighting each other. Exactly what you think it would be. And the post match was fantastic. If you like the style, seek it out. ***1/2
7. KAI vs Seiya Sananda – The card was reshuffled a bit, and now I guess we know why. They needed something in between the hot angle and the main event, and these two weren’t going to have any trouble keeping the crowd up. Sanada had been on excursion in Canada working for the Dupree’s promotion. KAI & Sanada have plenty of history, as they won the World’s Strongest Tag League in 2011 and have had a couple of good singles bouts against one another since the team broke up. There had been some speculation over which side Sanada would end up on in the All Japan split, but he had announced from Canada that he was part of the exodus. Welp, he showed up, so that sealed it. A brainbuster on the floor was the first big move of the match.
Later, Sanada used his new submission, This is It, but KAI made the ropes. The fans weren’t buying this as a finish, which was important, because this was the key tease spot in the match. So that dragged the match down a bit overall. KAI made his comeback, and won with a frogsplash set up by a tombstone. Good match, but hurt by the lack of heat for the submission spot. ***1/4
8. Keiji Muto & Bob Sapp vs Rene Dupree & Zodiac – They announced on the screen “HE COMES FROM TNA” Jeff Jarrett for the next show in Korakuen Hall. The crowd went mild for that. Then Sapp came out to less than zero reaction. I mean, NOBODY cared. I felt bad for him, because he knew it. Dupree & Zodiac weren’t exactly moving the needle, either. This was the first real letdown in terms of mystery opponents on the entire show.
This was hard to watch at 5:22 am running on fumes. Muto worked hard. Sapp was Sapp. Zodiac & Dupree were bad guys. It wasn’t state of the art. Sapp worked in basketball shoes. Muto used a shining wizard & moonsault on Dupree for the win. Sapp actually worked very hard. Everybody did. The match was better than it had any right to be. ***
Overall, this was a really fun card with some great stuff. The Hayashi/Kondo vs Big Japan tag was excellent, as was the SoA vs L7 match & angle. All of the mystery people lived up with the exception of the main event, which ended up being pretty decent anyway. This was an impressive debut show, with major league production values, and quality matches. The angle with Stack of Arms was fantastic, and i’m looking forward to seeing more from this promotion.
Special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for the fantastic gif work.