The collection of matches and segments I am watching for this series come from a 1992 Yearbook created by Goodhelmet, a longtime poster at the Death Valley Driver Forum and other wrestling places. A cross-section of the best (and worst of wrestling within a certain year), it is a great snapshot of everything of importance. This article covers footage from March 17-20.
With things at time becoming a little WWF-centric due to the road to WrestleMania, this week’s collection of matches was a much more varied bunch as joshi, puro, independent US and shootstyle all have their window of opportunity to shine.
Unfortunately, Mark Silver versus Masahito Kakihara was the type of shoot-style contest I don’t really care for, at least in the first half of a match the clocked in at half an hour. It sat too firmly within the bounds of trying to be ‘real’ that it bored me for long stretches. Silver, with some awful hair it must be said, was the bigger man and had some success with strikes, yet the two men were more evenly matched on the mat. As a man who enjoys strike exchanges in my combat sports, there weren’t enough of them to really engage me until the second half with Kakihara both gaining and losing control via wild spinkicks that did or didn’t connect respectively. Behind on points, Silver used a couple of slams to get back into the contest, whilst a palm thrust by Kakihara brought forth lashings of blood from Silver’s nose. Kakihara was ahead 5-3, but a time limit draw was the outcome as the clock hit thirty. The second half was much better; shame about the opening fifteen minutes.
A huge Joshi match followed as Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada fought Aja Kong and Bison Kimura in a unification match which saw the WWWA and UWA belts on the line in a two out of three falls contest. Toyota dropped Kong with a German suplex within the opening seconds to get a two count, but this was a brief initial success in an opening fall that soon saw Kong and Kimura use their collective size advantage to good effect on both of their opponents. Toyota also showed her fire to put her team back in control with multiple dropkicks on Kimura, as well as an interesting submission that trapped Kimura’s arms and legs, effectively folding her in half. Kong’s introduction of a metal bin – somehow legal – backfired eventually when she hit Kimura by mistake, leading to a wild finish with a missed diving headbutt by Kimura and a pin via Toyota’s Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex.
Since the bin was legal, the four-woman brawl in the audience with chairs was unsurprising as a means to begin the second fall. Toyota ended up isolated in the ring with Kong and brutalized with a chair as the referee struggled to regain control (and took an errant chair to the face in the process). This fall became all about Toyota’s will to survive as she constantly bridged out of high impact offense and vicious submissions from both of her opponents before it became the myriad ways Toyota could save Yamada from getting pinned. It couldn’t last and a super sitout powerbomb by Kong on Yamada did for the second fall.
Yamada’s suffering only continued as the heels began the third fall on top, yet it was Kimura who I worried for as a superplex spot-cum-reversal saw Toyota seemingly land on her face. This did at least segue into some revenge for the face duo as they double-teamed Kimura, with some particularly no-nonsense kicks from Yamada a highlight. With the pace rarely slowing throughout, a Kong chokehold on Toyota at least gives everyone a moment to breathe, though she then followed it up with a modified chokeslam for a nearfall. We still had time for Yamada to fly through the air to take out Kimura at ringside as the finishing stretch loomed large, before a ridiculous back superplex that saw Kong flipped through the air and onto her front ended an engaging contest from start to finish. A popular win, hard-hitting action, frenetic pace – watch, watch, watch. Unsurprisingly, Kong didn’t take kindly to losing, throwing a fit and trying to destroy her belt in the process.
Miami was an interesting venue for a Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi show, although the main event did feature Bart Vale, a fighter who proudly wore the Star-Spangled Banner on his shorts to fight in. Yoshiaki Fujiwara himself is the opponent and the crowd was hugely into the match, especially in favor of Vale. Whilst I’ve already expressed my apathy for shoot fighting, this was a really fun contest with Vale often getting the better of the strikes, only for Fujiwara to threaten to catch the odd submission on the canvas. An impressive belly to belly by Fujiwara was one of the highlights of the contest, though the champion soon got booed heavily for what appeared to be a headbutt that had Vale down. Still, this was all set for the American hero to rise up and conquer all as a headkick not only sent Fujiwara down, but out of the ring for the ten count. This was really enjoyable with the crowd heat in particular worthy of note.
The wild starts to many an All Japan singles match are always fun and this is no exception as Kenta Kobashi took the fight to Toshiaki Kawada in the opening minutes, hitting a DDT on the floor and a top rope shoulderblock to the outside. The bulk of the middle saw Kobashi working on the neck before Kawada targeted his opponent’s legs in an effort to slow him down. At points, each man offered up some pretty stiff strikes to their downed opponent which really helped up the feeling of intensity. In an interesting move, Kobashi tried to use the middle and top rope to add spring to a bulldog that just ended up looking awkward. As the finishing stretch hit, Kawada’s offense always looked ever increasingly desperate, as if he knew he needed to capitalize on any opportunity. A powerbomb wasn’t enough, but a Stretch Plum, twice applied, was enough for Kawada to win via submission. A strong offering as you might expect from these two.
Having been to the GWF office – which is apparently in Barcelona, Spain – Bruce Prichard and Joe Esposito have managed to get Eddie Gilbert stripped of the Television Title. Esposito as a smarmy official is great with his repetition of ‘I’m an official’, whilst the big next step in the storyline is that Gilbert will be suspended if he puts his hand on a referee again. There is more to where that came from later in the show.
Before that though, we have the latest attempt to make Mike Davis into something that might help move the needle. The Viper, a man dressed in a green mask and who hisses like a snake, was probably never going to be like that. His debut promo saw the interviewer almost giving up as he couldn’t find him, only to get a shock when it turned out he was underneath a bench. It is somewhat surreal and not necessarily in a good way. Worth a look to see a bit of a wrestling oddity come to life.
Even with Joe Esposito and Eddie Gilbert in conflict, Esposito is the man given the official’s role in Gilbert versus Barry Horowitz. This is another example of a simple, yet well-executed match that lets the story do the work. Esposito was biased from the bell, offering slow counts, allowing Horowitz free shots on the break and halting Gilbert when he tried the same. This came with a barrage of reminders about the previous ruling about Gilbert’s aggression towards officials, as well as the occasional shove from Esposito.
Eventually, Gilbert began to fight back against Horowitz, but was kicked back into the referee. With Horowitz submitting in the figure four, the match was waved off and Horowitz awarded the match via disqualification. Another referee did come down to argue with Esposito, but he re-stated his reasoning and then fled the scene. It definitely lacks subtlety as a storyline, but the men involved were doing a good job in at least making it watchable.
As someone who has really never watched much joshi, the clear highlight of this window of matches was the unification tag contest. I’ve seen a decent amount of Aja Kong, a little Manami Toyota and nothing from Kimura and Yamada, so it was great to finally get to see a top-level joshi match. The Vale/Fujiwara contest was also one of the better shoot style fights that I’ve watched up until now.
Check back next week for a more US-focused edition of That Was The Year That Was that looks at Memphis, SMW, WWF and WCW.