Unlike most sports, wrestling has no strict format. While the vast majority of matches are one-on-one or two-on-two, there’s no limit to how many can participate in a match. When you add more people into the equation, there’s always a risk that things can get messy, but when everything goes right, the added dynamism can really lead to some magical multi-man contests.
For this portion of The Wrestling 101 we have picked out five matches each containing a minimum of ten wrestlers that we feel are required viewing. Each match has a different format, but they all share a common trait: they’re exceptional. – Robin Reid
Kaientai DX vs. Michinoku Home Army
Michinoku Pro These Days 1996
Michinoku Pro became world-renowned in the 90s for its unique blend of colorful characters, frenetic action and a tongue-in-cheek tone, and the ten-man tag from the These Days show was the peak of the style. For the four-year period of 1994 to 1998 the rudo stable of Kaientai battled the various incarnations of the Michinoku Home Army in near countless multi-mans, and it cemented itself as the definitive rivalry of the company to this day.
Any viewer at all familiar with any era of the Dragon system (more on them soon) will immediately see the influence Gran Hamada’s lucharesu style had on a large segment of the Japanese scene. Smaller wrestlers working at a high pace and blending together a feel of both lucha and puro may not feel totally unique nowadays, but this match-up between these two groups brought it to the masses.
One of the great benefits of variations on this match having been run so frequently through the years was that the participants built up a familiarity and chemistry near unmatched in all of wrestling history. This allowed for a fluidity of action that’s a beauty to behold, with each coupling of opponents having their own signature sequence with one another which they would seamlessly weave into the action, then in various matches tweak and subvert.
What this Ryogoku edition of the match did particularly fantastically was build to a climax. By the standards of the promotion it starts relatively slowly, but throughout the half hour it accelerates towards a frantic level of action. Early on signature dives are teased, but never executed until later on in the piece. It’s a masterful display of how a multi-man tag can fill an extended time period in a uniquely brilliant way, the fingerprints of which can be seen across the entire world of wrestling today. If you enjoy fluidity of work in your wrestling, you owe a thanks to these ten men.
- Hakata Star Lanes Edition – A less famous edition from a few months later which several experts view as superior
- M-Pro at ECW Barely Legal – Kaientai battles Hamada, Yakushiji and Sasuke in the ECW Arena and it blows minds
- Steenerico & Susumu vs. PAC & Young Bucks – A wonderful fluid multi-man in a completely different time and place
Shin M2K vs. Crazy MAX vs. Do FIXER vs. Italian Connection
Toryumon Verano Peligroso II
The highest honor that you can bestow upon a wrestling match is giving it the privilege of being known by date, and nothing more. 6/3/94, 6/9/95, 3/1/03 all hold this honor for wrestling fans of a certain ilk.
For fans of the Dragon System – Toryumon, Dragongate, and the promotion’s offshoots in the US and UK – 8/30/03 is an unforgettable date. After pioneering and perfecting the three-way nine-man tag match in 2002 with two stellar and innovative affairs that happened seven days apart from one another during an extraordinarily hot period in July, the promotion one-upped themselves a year later by adding a fourth team to a style of match that was already impossible to duplicate outside of the complex world of Toryumon.
Anyone who is willing to accept and embrace wrestling that may look foreign to them is immediately going to be intrigued by this match. This is such a jarring difference from the Japanese scene in 2003. Kenta Kobashi was leading NOAH into their glory years, New Japan was falling down the dark path of Inokism, and All Japan, Zero1, and World Japan were struggling to muster up any interest. Perhaps they should’ve turned their wrestlers into faux-Italian supermodels, because that worked incredibly well for Toryumon.
Once you get beyond the surface level observations – the fact that this match simply looks different than most things that you’ve seen before, and dig into the depths of Toryumon storytelling that are baked into this match, you come to the realization that this is one of God’s greatest gifts to pro wrestling.
The match never eases into itself. It’s go-go-go for the entire 25 minutes that it lasts, and that is largely due to the fact that the four top stars of the promotion kicked off the match. While Magnum TOKYO initially attempted to hide behind the balding head of Genki Horiguchi, he was ushered into the spotlight by his contemporaries in CIMA, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Milano Collection AT. Those four men – and this cannot be overstated – were the lifeblood of Toryumon. Kicking the bout off with those four sharing the ring instead of even respectable stars like Condotti Shuji or Susumu Yokosuka, immediately thrusts a level of importance onto this match that was previously unrealized.
It would be impossible to go move-for-move in a match as intricate as this, but two things are worth mentioning if you are sitting down and watching this match for the first time.
First, as we sit here two decades into the 21st century, wrestling feels more homogenized than ever before. While the end goals of, say, WWE and New Japan are vastly different, wrestlers from both companies are pulling from the same influences. The Japanese scene, in particular, is suffering from a lack of varying styles from their biggest stars. In this match, there’s such robust variety in the wrestling styles that are displayed in this single match. CIMA, Magnum, and Horiguchi brought a more traditional lucharesu style to the match while Dragon Kid and YOSSINO worked at a pace that the rest of the wrestling world failed to ever duplicate. Condotti Shuji and SUWA brought forth a set of powerhouse moves while Masaaki Mochizuki and Susumu Yokosuka brought big strikes that would’ve helped them blend in in a more traditional puro company.
Then, there’s Milano Collection AT.
Milano was the star of nearly every match he was in, but his uniqueness was never displayed better than how it was here. In a match with legends like CIMA and Masaaki Mochizuki and innovators like Dragon Kid and YOSSINO, it was Milano who stole the show. His charisma radiates in a way that few wrestlers have ever been able to accomplish, and in-ring prowess is able to match his otherworldly charisma.
Second, given all the different styles and the sheer amount of wrestlers in this match, the perfectionism in this match should be celebrated. This was flawless. This was the Dragon System at its finest. No company nor cluster of wrestlers with an outside perspective could ever duplicate the intricacy of this contest.
There is no comparison point to be made. This match is essential to wrestling’s history because there’s no match that has ever looked like it before, and no match will look like this again.
- Do FIXER vs. Blood Generation – Incredible triangle gate match at Dragon Gate’s biggest show of the year
- CIMA, DK, Gamma & MochiFuji vs. Rookies – A beautifully unique rookies versus veterans multi-man
- MASQUERADE vs. R.E.D. – Dragon Gate craziness of more recent vintage
The ’97 Cibernetico
CMLL 41st Aniversario de Arena Mexico
One of my favorite matches in all of wrestling is the company showcase main event tag match. From the WWE Survivor Series to War Games to All Japan main six man tags to Dragongate unit disband matches, there is something special about the different stars, rivalries and styles of a promotion coming together for a long showcase match. It’s even better when the elimination aspect is involved. Stories can come together, peak, and twist and turn until one man is left standing.
The Torneo Cibernetico is a lucha libre staple. Teams of eight wrestle each other, cycling through the order one at a time with eliminations until one man is left. The April 1997 version of the match is peak lucha. It features high flyers, it features brawlers, it features technicians. The star power of the match flys off the page. Almost every major CMLL wrestler of the 90s is represented, from El Hijo del Santo to Negro Casas to El Dandy to Atlantis to even Ultimo Dragon. The star power is through the roof and makes each matchup in the ring more special.
The match is a perfect example of escalation. The first round is all about slick matwork laying the groundwork. At the end of this introduction segment, tensions start to explode. A West Side Story showdown erupted on the outside of the ring. From here, the matchups are more tense. Brazo De Oro and Silver King tore into each other with more ferocity. Later, Oro came at Satanico with the same ferocity, but it backfired and led to his elimination. Shocker followed that up with one of the craziest dives you’ll ever see: landing a tope at a complete 90% angle, stacking himself right on top of his opponent.
The main thread through the whole match is the escalation of the Negro Casas and El Hijo Del Santo rivalry. Longtime opponents, they started this match civilly, but ended it in a full blown brawl. Casas just kicked the crap out of Santo. Santo landed his own nasty knees, almost knocking Casas out. Casas clawed at Santo’s mask. The exchange was so vicious that three referees were needed to break it up, disqualifying both.
Finally, Felino was left down five men to one. He scratched and clawed his way through the rest. He eliminated El Dandy. He eliminated La Fiera. Then Atlantis. He was a one-man wrecking crew, taking out the top technicos single-handedly. Mascara Mastica was next. Finally, Ultimo Dragon was the only technico standing. The cat capitalized on a missed dragon moonsault and got the quick elimination.
The best multi-man matches can feel like a culmination and summation of a company at any given time. The April 18th, 1997 Cibernetico is just that: the biggest stars of the company fighting and interacting with each other, escalating feuds and elevating new stars. It is the pinnacle of the lucha multiman style.
- Los Brazos vs. Los Infernales – A heated CMLL trios rivalry
- Reyes del Aire Cibernetico – A high flying tournament decided in a variation on the Cibernetico
- Cibernetico Forever – CHIKARA’s Ciberneticos were some of the best things they did
Ishin Gundan vs. New Japan Home Army Gauntlet
NJPW Big Fight Series II
Watch: New Japan World
Testimonial by Brennan Patrick
Editor’s Note: Unfortunately New Japan World only has the concluding portion of the Gauntlet currently on their service. The full match is available in certain ditches of the internet if you know where to look. This match more than most might be worth joining our Discord for and joining the conversation.
It’s no easy task to put together a thirty-minute match and keep things compelling from bell to bell. Sixty minutes? Good luck. But what about 75 minutes of professional wrestling? Easy. It just needs to be the culmination of near decade-long rivalry in front of a molten hot Tokyo crowd. And on April 19, 1984, that’s exactly what happened. But how did the stars align? Well, to answer that, we must go back to 1972, the birth of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. After the late Antonio Inoki was fired from the Japanese Wrestling Association a year prior, he formed the new promotion along with Osamu Kido, Kotetsu Yamamoto and his young protégé, Tatsumi Fujinami.
From the very start of his career at the age of 17, Fujinami was firmly under Inoki’s wing and groomed to become a top star in the business. He was sent to Mexico on excursion to learn the high-flying ways of the luchador, which he would later use to help develop New Japan’s junior heavyweight division. He traveled to the United States, working the territories and finding his way into the WWF, where he captured the WWF Junior Heavyweight and held it for nearly two years. When he returned to NJPW in the late 1970s, it was obvious Fujinami was the golden child in the eye of Inoki… and that didn’t quite sit well with one Riki Choshu.
Riki Choshu made his debut for NJPW in 1974 and would soon find himself in an uphill battle to find success. No matter how much he bled for New Japan, he couldn’t quite curry favor with the boss and became resentful not only of Inoki, but also Fujinami and the opportunities for success he was continuously provided. If he would only ever be seen as an outsider, than he would become the embodiment of the outsider and take matters into his own hands.
In January 1982, during a six-man tag team match with Inoki and Fujinami against Abdullah the Butcher, Bad News Allen, and SD Jones, Choshu turned his back on his team, leaving them in defeat and therefore, declaring war on Inoki, Fujinami and New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Along with Masa Saito, Animal Hamaguchi, Isamu Teranishi, Yoshiaki Yatsu and Kuniaki Kobayashi, Choshu formed the Revolution Army aka Ishin Gundan, NJPW’s first real faction.
Between 1982 and 1983, Fujinami and Choshu feuded over the WWF International Title but everything would come to a head on April 19, 1984, when Ishin Gundan would finally collide with Antonio Inoki and his team of handpicked favorites, including Fujinami, Kengo Kimura, Nobuhiko Takada, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. The ten would battle it out in a gauntlet match, with Inoki and Choshu as the respective captains. The match itself would go down in history as one of the promotion’s greatest… and one of the best matches in professional wrestling, period.
Everyone had a role to play, and they played it so well, taking the crowd through a series of eight unique and exciting match-ups. There’s never a dull moment inside the arena. From the fire of Fujinami and Kobayashi’s opening stretch, to the shit-heel tactics of Ishin Gundan (with Yatsu especially standing out with his rough-and-tumble offense), to Fujiwari fighting bloody against a forehead-biting Hamiguchi, only to set the stage for the final showdown in the most hilariously Fujiwara way possible. And for anyone who has ever doubted the greatness of Yoshiaki Fujiwara, it’s on full display here. Enjoy.
Of course, that long-awaited final showdown is between Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu, and the fans come unglued. Inoki as the final boss against the insolent Choshu is exactly the kind of New Japan fairy tale ending you’d expect, orchestrated masterfully by all involved. As if echoing his very career in NJPW, no matter how hard Choshu works to get the better of Inoki, in the end, Inoki squashes each and every attempt, finally wearing him down with his patented octopus hold. And even in the face of imminent defeat, Choshu refuses to give in to Inoki, forcing the referee to call the match.
Sustaining that kind of energy, both inside the ring and out, for 75 minutes is no easy feat but I can’t think of a more appropriate choice to best represent the multi-man style than this 1984 epic. A match like this can’t be replicated and quite frankly, wouldn’t work the same in front of today’s ADHD audience.
- UWF vs. NJPW Gauntlet – Another infamous NJPW Gauntlet from a few years later
- Riki Choshu vs. Antonio Inoki – The two leaders face off in an acclaimed match
- Team WWF vs. Team Alliance – One of the more fondly remembered Survivor Series matches
The Royal Rumble
WWF Royal Rumble 1992
The Royal Rumble is one of wrestling’s major tentposts of the year. Every January, 30 men (and now women) compete in a battle royal. Each participant enters one at a time. The winner usually gets a title shot at WrestleMania. In real-time, they are very fun watches. It is a cool experience not knowing who will walk through the curtain next and guessing who will be the eventual winner. As retrospective rewatches, they are interesting time capsules of each year, collections of the characters, gimmicks and storylines all within one single match. There’s an argument that including a Royal Rumble on a Wrestling 101 list is critical, regardless of the quality. The Rumble is a landmark in the wrestling ecosystem.
The 1992 match is much more than that. It is not just a snapshot of 1992. It is a snapshot of the entire American wrestling scene of the late 80s and early 90s. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, the Undertaker, Roddy Piper… they’re all here. From that standpoint, it is an interesting and fun watch.
But again, the match is more than that. The 1992 Royal Rumble is the pinnacle example of one night WWF storytelling. Each cog in the wheel worked together perfectly. The stakes were higher than normal; the WWF Championship was on the line after it was previously vacated. Ric Flair was the invading star. A stalwart in the NWA/WCW, Flair was always the number one wrestling champion never to work for New York. He finally left WCW in 1991 and made the jump.
Flair entered the Rumble 3rd. The performance he delivered, for any other wrestler, would be that of a lifetime. For Flair, it was routine. He lasted for an entire hour. He made sure to give anyone he matched up with the shine. He bumped like a madman. He made alliances and quickly broke them. He knew exactly how to portray the exasperation and desperation of the iron man, the man who grasped and clawed to stay within the ropes.
Flair’s performance is otherworldly, but it’s not even the best of the night. Bobby Heenan, on commentary along with Gorilla Monsoon, was even better. This was the performance of HIS career. As Flair’s manager, Heenan did an even better job showcasing Flair’s struggle. Every new entrant felt like the last man Heenan wanted to see. Every time Flair was close to the ropes, Heenan had the instructions for him, even though they were to deaf ears. “It’s not fair to Flair!” has become an iconic saying. Heenan held the road map for the viewer, brilliantly leading them exactly where they needed to go. By the end, Heenan is so grating about Flair that you just don’t want to see him win. Despite the viewer’s wishes and even matching up against Hulk Hogan, Flair won anyway.
There are other fun things throughout the match. Macho Man attacking his enemy Jake “The Snake” Roberts like a bat out of hell. Shawn Michales on the cusp of stardom. Weird quirky gimmicks like the Repo Man. But Flair and Heenan are the heart and soul of the match.
Flair claimed the title here and lost it to Savage at Wrestlemania. Within a year, he was gone, back to WCW. This match is his greatest legacy of that first WWF run. For exactly one hour, he was the most important man on the roster. And with that, a fun yearly match type grew into one of the single best hours of WWF/E programming ever.
- Royal Rumble 2007 – Perhaps the best closing sequence of any Rumble
- Royal Rumble 2001 – Look, Rumbles are fun, what more reason do you need
- Aztec Warfare – Lucha Underground’s take on the timed battle royal
The Wrestling 101
- An Introduction to the Project & Match #1
- Unique Spectacles: Matches #2-6
- Multi-Man Magic: Matches #7-11
The Wrestling 101 is a Voices of Wrestling group project headed up by Kevin Hare and Robin Reid. You can discuss the series with them on twitter @stan__hansen (Kevin) and @TheRDouble (Robin) or join the conversation over in the Voices of Wrestling Discord.