If you look deep enough in the depths of the Japanese wrestling scene, you’ll come across a small promotion called HEAT-UP.
Founded by Kazuhiro Tamura in 2012, HEAT-UP brings together an interesting cast of characters monthly to produce some good, old-fashioned independent rassling.
Tamura, the ace and current top champion of the promotion, has been in the business for over ten years, having been trained by Minoru Tanaka, which becomes evident when you watch Tamura wrestle. He spent much of his time in Kiyoshi Tamura’s STYLE-E promotion but has wrestled just about everywhere else in Japan, including NJPW.
Under his guidance, a new generation of wrestlers are emerging and beginning to make ripples outside of HEAT-UP, including Daisuke Kanehira, Fuminori Abe, and the probable future ace, Koji Iwamoto.
With Jun Akiyama opening the All Japan doors to smaller companies like HEAT-UP, the exposure these young guys are receiving will help bolster their confidence, benefiting not only their in-ring development but their careers in the long run.
HEAT-UP isn’t going to blow you away, let’s be honest.
After slogging through the available content, the bulk of it ranged from okay to good, with the occasional really good match. It’s B-level wrestling done well—a solid blend of technical graps with light-hearted shenanigans. Their latest 10/31 show featured some bigger name veterans like Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Tatsumi Fujinami, Takao Omori and Minoru Suzuki, and drew one of their largest attendance numbers to date. The formula seems to be working and the online availability of most shows provides something different for new fans to discover.
With HEAT-UP…well, heating up this year, I’ve compiled a list of some of the more enjoyable matches that you can check out if you’re not familiar with the promotion or its wrestlers.
Powerful Tag First Round Match: Kazuhiro Tamura & Mineo Fujita vs. Minoru Tanaka & Koji Iwamoto
Minoru, Tamura and Iwamoto are essentially the same person with different shades of hair color so watching all three mix it up was entertaining. Crotch-biting indy sleaze Mineo Fujita, on the other hand, isn’t a guy I go out of my way to watch but him psyching out Iwamoto with the handshake at the beginning was cute. Freelancer Minoru has been very active on the independent scene, working just about everywhere and seemingly having fun doing so. He and Iwamoto worked well together, isolating Tamura early on and trying to wear him down with kicks and Minoru’s pretty snap suplex.
When Mineo gets the hot tag, he immediately goes to work on the crotches, which builds to a little comedic relief with everyone getting crotched. Tamura and Iwamoto closed out the match, with some spots that would later be echoed in their title match in August. Tamura sets his sights on Iwamoto’s arm, trying to get him into the cross armbreaker, but Tamura fights back, countering with a Hurricane Driver that’s sold like death by Tamura. The finish was heated (no pun intended) as Tamura gets nasty with his rush of slaps and Iwamoto snaps him over with a judo head toss. When Iwamoto tries for the Doctor’s Last Ride, Tamura slips out and schoolboys him for the win.
HEAT-UP Title: Kazuhiro Tamura (c) vs. Hiroshi Watanabe
Hiroshi Watanabe isn’t the most charismatic wrestler but he sure knows how to wrestle, having been training in the New Japan dojo and having over twenty years of experience. This has probably been my favorite HEAT-UP contest to date because it’s a match of small things. For example, the way Tamura maneuvers himself over for a rope break. It was about as technically-proficient as it gets, with a slower pace and a genuine aura of competition. The strikes were hard and heavy, especially from Tamura, and Watanabe delivers some beautiful throws.
After Watanabe tweaks his knee following a missing top rope knee drop and blows the German suplex bridge, Tamura goes after the leg (wait, not the arm?), which becomes the focus of the final act. The selling from Watanabe during the finishing stretch was awesome, as Tamura blasts his leg with kick after kick, taking him down for the ten count only for Watanabe to spirit back up to his feet. Watanabe tries to come at Tamura with headbutts only to have his leg cut out from him again and when that doesn’t keep him down, Tamura submits him with the leglock.
HEAT-UP Universal Next Challenger Tournament 1st Round Match: Shinya Ishida vs. Daichi Kazato
This isn’t necessarily a great match. It’s good, due mostly to Kazato’s focused neckwork, but junior indy sleaze Shinya Ishida blows off all that hard work and picks up the win rather abruptly after having been dominated for three quarters of the match. But let’s shine the spotlight on Kazato for a moment. He’s a BASARA bro, with five years of experience within the DDT system of micro promotions, but he’s also popped up in Big Japan and All Japan since everything is connected.
Here, he cuts off Ishida with a neckbreaker through the ropes and gets busy with manipulating the neck, with some seamless transitions from a cravate to a snapmare to a hammerlocked chinlock down to the headscissors. He does a good job of cutting off Shinya’s momentum and going back to attacking the neck with elbows and knees and a Last Chancery. He does hold back on some of his strikes, which come off looking weak, but the intention is there. Shinya isn’t very compelling on offense, apart from his deep side headlock, and his lack of selling hurt the quality.
After surviving a dragon sleeper, Shinya counters Kazato’s springboard with a superkick and spikes him with a Roll of the Dice for the win.
HEAT-UP Title: Kazuhiro Tamura (c) vs. Koji Iwamoto
Iwamoto initially overpowers the champ, more or less working the lower back of Tamura until Tamura sacrifices his body with a Whisper in the Wind. Having watched a lot of Tamura’s matches, his strategy is consistent: attack the arm. Tamura’s early efforts are thwarted as Iwamoto counters with a hip toss into a knee strike, which he uses to set-up a rope-hung whiplash. There’s a neat little spot where he catches Tamura in an abdominal stretch off the ropes. They trade strikes until Tamura once again lets loose with the hard, repeated slaps to the head.
When he tries to run the ropes, Iwamoto grabs the arm and pulls him into a legsweep STO. Still holding onto the arm, he pulls Tamura back up into another STO. When Tamura switches to his bread-and-butter approach of working the arm, the match really picks up. He comes off the top with a stomp to Iwamoto’s arm while he’s holding onto the ropes and takes him down with a tilt-a-whirl into the wakigatame.
Tamura has such great situational awareness, moving with Iwamoto to maintain control of the arm. Iwamoto powerbombs his way out of an armbar and hits a beautiful German suplex hold for two. Tamura once more evades the Doctor’s Last Ride and after a series of kicks and slaps, he executes the Minoru Special and finally submits Iwamoto with the cross armbeaker after a dramatic struggle for escape.
Daisuke Kanehira vs. Yoji Kondo
Yoji Kondo is one of HEAT-UP’s young boys. He’s a squat, loud-mouthed, beer-bellied kid with tons of energy. This was a good exhibition from both guys, with Kondo showing off his strength early into the match with a torture rack on Kanehira. Kanehira has been wrestling for a couple of years and uses that experience to his advantage. When Kondo struggles against a cross armbreaker, Kanehira transitions to the left leg and applies a leglock, proceeding to work the leg over with kicks and holds.
Kondo’s selling was pretty strong throughout as Kanehira kept going back to the leg at various points in the match. Kondo keeps going for the Sharpshooter for whatever reason but ends up hitting some good looking offense, including a top rope dropkick and a spear. Kanehira looked just as solid on the offensive with his elbows and a brutal backdrop suplex.
After a double kneebreaker, Kanehira locks in an…interesting leg-based submission he calls the Rolling Chair Hold for the win.