The Wrestling 101 Match #7
Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa, Masato Yakushiji, Super Delfin & Tiger Mask vs. Kaientai DX (Dick Togo, MEN’s Teioh, Shiryu, Shoichi Funaki & TAKA Michinoku)

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
Ryōgoku Sumo Hall

Watch it on Dailymotion here

If there are two things I love, it’s eating and watching wrestling.

And one thing I love about both of these activities is when someone decides to combine familiar flavors into an unfamiliar pairing and make something entirely new. 

This is not to say I don’t love a homestyle plate of southern barbecue or a perfectly executed southern tag-team match, because god, I absolutely do love those things. But if you’ve got a Korean taco stand at your artisan food court or a Heyman-Baba stew going at your Ring of Honor show, I’m absolutely going to get in line and grab a plate. And even if the end product isn’t quite as good as a traditional taco or a straightforward bibimbap, I’m going to take great pleasure in swishing it around my mouth, pausing for a moment, and telling my date between bites, “You should try this…it’s interesting.”

The 10-man tag-team match I’m reviewing today is known as one of the early exemplars of the fusion style of wrestling known as lucharesu, which blends the acrobatics, grand gestures, and fast-paced choreography of Mexican lucha libre with the hard strikes, big slams, and escalating drama associated with Japanese puroresu. If you’re a Serious Wrestling Fan, you know lucharesu as the house style of the Dragongate promotion in Japan.

If you were my date at the Queens Night Market and we stopped at the tent selling “Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa, Masato Yakushiji, Super Delfin & Tiger Mask vs. Kaientai DX (Dick Togo, MEN’s Teioh, Shiryu, Shoichi Funaki & TAKA Michinoku),” I’d take a couple of bites, turn to you, and say “Hey, this is pretty good!… You really should try it.” And then I’d take another bite, scrunch my face a little bit, and say, “You know, it’s a little heavier on the lucha flavor than I’d like, but it’s still pretty good. I mean, it’s definitely interesting.”

Now that I’m done testing my ability to execute an extended metaphor, I have a dirty little secret to confess: I don’t really enjoy watching lucha libre. 

To clarify: I love watching luchadors like Rey Mysterio and Ricky Marvin wrestle in other countries where they’ve fused the lucha style with Japanese or U.S. American elements. I’m fascinated by the role of lucha in Mexican culture, and taking in the vibes at Arena Mexico is absolutely on my bucket list as a wrestling fan. And if I’m talking to a cultured non-fan at a party, YOU KNOW I’m going to “yes-and” when they talk about going to lucha in Mexico or reading a magazine profile of an exótico. This way, I come off as  “quirky and interesting” and not “a weird virgin who’s talking your ear off about how it’s kind of annoying that every match is 2-out-of-3-falls.” 

But actually, sitting down and watching a CMLL show on my computer? Hasn’t clicked for me yet. I’ve never really understood the internal logic of pure lucha libre, and I’ve found the pacing extremely frustrating every time I’ve tried to dig in. All these rolling arm drags and head scissors don’t look like they hurt much, and other moves do look like they hurt but don’t seem to cause much damage or lead directly to pinfalls. The matches I’ve seen have generally ended in ways that felt abrupt and unsatisfying to me. Hopefully, the lucha matches I see in this series will change my mind—I really want to love it.

Anyway, the first half of this match was filled with a lot of the stuff I don’t like about lucha: tons of spinny arm drags and head scissors that don’t seem to alter the course of the match narrative, guys streaming in and out of the ring without making much of an impact. Everything is happening all the time, but nothing is really happening, you know?

This one really picked up for me when the heel team of Kaientai DX gained extended control of the match, which they used to do some classic lucha heel antics. They rip at Tiger’s mask, beat up on Gran Naniwa, and they do one of those spots where two guys stretch an opponent, and then a third guy stands on his teammates’ shoulders to make a pyramid, which I always love. The rudo behavior gave the match more story and stakes, and I started to feel invested, even though the bad guys were by and large, much cooler and more interesting than the good guys.

The match hit another gear shortly after, transitioning into a frenetic finishing stretch that brings to mind one of its spiritual successors: the famous Dragon Gate trios match from 2006 Ring of Honor. There are stereo hurricanranas, synchronized suicide dives, tornado DDTs, stiff strikes, tombstones, and powerbombs. Death-defying dives, graceful flips, high-impact slams—the whole kitchen sink, executed flawlessly and at top speed. Crucially, this sequence was peppered with perfectly timed near falls that were just as convincing to me as they were to the live audience 16 years ago. By the end, I was sucked in, hooting and hollering in my little Astoria apartment. On the whole, this one was a pretty damn good time.

So go ahead, take a taste, and see what you think. Lucharesu might not be my favorite style of wrestling, but I’m really glad I tried it.