Last Refuge of Scoundrels
Hansen/Rob Van Dam vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi 2/22/93
Journey, "Don't Stop Believing"
Digable James Cobo
to Hoyakillah, the man who pimps this site more than anyone who actually
writes here (outside of NATE). BTM: We're Here For The FANS, maaaaaaaaan.
I also hear he scored higher than Chris Lening on his SATs, which means
he scored WAY higher than me. The important thing is that he scored higher
than Chris :)
discussion of wrestling eventually turns into a discussion of form. It's
just the way it goes - wrestling is an inherently formulaic art, and it's
the job of the critic to pretty much just point out where and how it deviates.
This isn't a bad thing - it's never a bad thing to have conventions, as
I'm sure anyone who's ever seen a movie from 1930s Hollywood can tell
you. An effective formula is basically just a cheat sheet for the crowd
(to let them know when they should start really zeroing in on the performances
et al) and the wrestlers - it's there to HELP.
And as evidence,
I present this tag match, an actual dyed-in-the-wool, no-two-ways-around-it
good goddamn match featuring the shemale-looking-and-wrestling-like-est
man in the history of recorded time in Rob Van Dam. I mean, he breaks
out the motherfucking ROLLING GODDAMNED MOTHERFUCKING THUN MOTHERFUCKING
DER in the middle of the match - this really, truly is Rob Van Dam wrestling
in AJPW. But you know what? It really, really works, because they find
a formula to shoehorn him into and they don't let his most retarded tendencies
in the ring budge them in the slightest.
for this match - as it is with so many other matches, especially from
around this era when the Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi trinity was still solidifying
their roles as Important Wrestlers - is your average totem-pole story
- both Kawada and Kobashi are obviously more accomplished in wrestling
than RVD, but since Hansen's even moreso than either of them, it mostly
evens out. What's interesting about this formula is that it segments the
match, a DANGEROUS DANGEROUS DANGEROUS thing, as anyone who's ever watched
a Kawada/Taue tag match prior to Taue becoming an unlikely God of Work
will tell you. Here, though, that trap is avoided - the RVD who showed
up here is just way too weird of a wrestler to just be boring. Watching
him in the ring with two of the greatest wrestlers of the last decade
just toes the line of perversity too much.
It's SO perverse,
in fact, that I can't think of a single other match to compare it to.
All that's left...is JOURNEY.
I will totally
admit to being a complete tard for Journey. They suck, but they suck endearingly,
and if you're willing to admit that they suck and pay attention, it dawns
on you that they don't really suck at all. There is no other concentrated
unit of entertainment in the world that provides such a level of unholy
entertainment (short perhaps of The Mask of Dimitrios, the only
movie ever to STAR Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, let alone have
Peter Lorre as the HERO) that can really compare to what I get out of
this match. And although you could make a case for a dozen of their songs,
I tend to go back to "Don't Stop Believing" when I need an example
of what makes them great - it's just arena-rock, but it's done so well
and so bald-facedly that if you don't crack a smile when you're making
a big show about how stupid the song is to your Philistene friends, you're
missing the forest for the trees, and you're more anhedonic than ME.
that said, let's go to the TALE OF THE TAPE.
both are essentially textbook examples of how to take something inherently
stupid (this she-man in All Japan, this embarassingly earnest Tale of
Alienation and Perseverence in the Big City in Journey) and make it Work,
you'd think I have a hard time picking. You'd be wrong. The tag match
is more adventurous; as far as innovation goes, the most interesting thing
in "Don't Stop Believing" is the use of the piano. Outside of
that, it's just your standard play-slightly-off-the-beat arena-rock ballad.
The tag match, on the other hand, was endemic of the still-fresh Extended
AJPW Finishing Sequence style; hence we get a lot of credible nearfalls
and a LOT of stretching of Mr. Monday Night At The Man-Hole. Besides,
the fundamental differences between the formulae give a clear advantage
to the tag match: providing that it's not worked retardedly, the shift
in the tone of the match whenever RVD and Hansen tag in and out makes
it a lot more dynamic than the rising-tide structure of the Journey song
(and while lord knows I love progression in music, c'mon, it's FUCKING
ARENA ROCK, not King Unique). It's literally almost a blowout.
different rankings; I mean I love the tag match and everything but MAN
is there some ugly in there. Most of it, of course, comes from Mr. Van
Dam - it's certainly understandable, given that he really, really, really
couldn't have been in the business for long at ALL at this point, but
to just explain it away isn't fair either. He's mostly just a whole lot
of hesitant, and that really really REALLY stands out when you're facing
off with two guys who wrestle matches so naturally that you half-expect
them to nonchalantly call and check and see how their portfolios are doing.
Oddly enough, he seems to be most hesitant about doing the acrobatic stuff;
the aforementioned Rolling Thunder looks preposterously contrived (as
compared to just pretty goddamn contrived), and he seems REALLY afraid
of taking big strikes, leading to Kenta taking a few DEEPLY sick chops
and lariats to, in the immortal words of Chris Lening, say "Seriously,
it's OK. Don't be a puss." (This tendency leads to something outrageously
immortal later on in the match, but that's for later.)
Journey sounds as sweet as Cheerwine. It would be too easy to break out
the He Hate Super Dragon spot and say "B'dur, of course they click;
they work together all the time", but that's a stupid fucking argument
in the first place: good is good, no matter how many times you work with
someone. And "Don't Stop Believing" is demonstrably more pleasing
to the ear than, say, "Ask the Lonely"; the melody they use
is good, catchy, and lends itself REALLY well to the progression of the
song. I mean fuck, even the obligatory soft-lighting and earnest-grimace
guitar solo doesn't sound too embarassing. Again, not even close; Journey
in a walk.
tells you performance equals aesthetics needs a punch in the mouth. Case
in point: the tag match. I don't mean to belittle Steve Perry (who sings
the HELL out the song) or more importantly Neil Fucking Schon's guitar
work (is there a more overlooked guitarist in contemporary appreciation
of arena rock? I doubt it), but when the rubber hits the road, nobody
puts in a singular performance that MAKES the formula work - it's just
a bunch of guys hitting their strides at roughly an equivalent level.
Compare that, then, to Kenta Motherfucking Kobashi and Toshiaki MotherFUCKING
Kawada, two guys who bust their asses to make a match with the greenest
wrestler in the history of the color green really, really fun. The best
part is that they're smart about it - instead of potatoing the fuck out
of him, they treat him differently, as evidenced by Kawada stretching
(smart work, considering that RVD's biggest asset in the match was his
bendiness) and punting the FUCK out of Van Dam while Kobashi mostly uses
strikes and fighting-spirit spots to keep his plucky kid role in full
effect. And hell, I'm feeling charitable (and honest) - you gotta give
RVD his due. I don't mean to imply that he went out there and wrestled
One Of Those Matches or took One Of Those Beatings, but he was capable,
he didn't try to stroke his Cock of Wrestling more than you'd think, and
given that he was wrestling the best male wrestler on the planet and the
second-best male wrestler on the planet during the arguable (for Kawada,
anyway) best year of their careers, that's all he really needed to do.
that I haven't said anything about Stan Hansen, and that's because he
really doesn't do too much. He doesn't drag the match down or anything,
and he certainly doesn't fuck anything perceptibly up, but he's the epitome
of a guy who's there to play his part and pick up his paycheck. He's best
compared to the work of drummer Steve Smith - you got your snare rolls,
you got your wicked lariats, move on.
of intangibles to formula is an interesting one, since you can either
divide them into being excellent examples of how to pull off a formula
or excellent examples of how ridiculous formula can look sometimes. The
problem with intangibles is that they tend to be hugely subjective. And
by motherfucking GOD there's a ton here, which is why I can't play Journey
very very loudly in public places like it motherfucking DESERVES TO BE
HEARD. Hence, instead of making a decision, I'll just list the most striking
ones from each and leave the question open-ended.
- RVD's appearance.
My ways of describing him are limited only by my reservoir of shemale
jokes, which as it turned out was much lower than I had anticipated.
- Stan Hansen as Bull of the Woods. He really does play the one-man wrecking
crew in a tag match better than anyone else in history. Vader was obviously
superior in singles matches, but in tags? Fucking forget it. Hansen was
blunt, to-the-point, and left no room for error - if you were on the other
side of the ring, you were going to get Beat the Fuck Down.
- Kenta Kobashi getting the shit beat out of him. One could obviously
point to just about any of his matches from 1993 for this, but here it's
Much Much Funnier - I'm not kidding when he really does seem to be directing
it at RVD. I think at one point he looks at RVD out of the corner of his
eye when Hansen's punching him.
- Kenta Kobashi anticipating the Rolling Thunder. Very possibly the funniest
thing Kobashi's ever been responsible for. I have never seen more of a
look of "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?" in my life, and LORD have
I ever seen some unexpectedly terrible opening acts at punk shows. Too
- Toshiaki Kawada putting his foot in the exact middle of Rob Van Dam's
face. For one, you're laughing because RVD spends SO much of this time
throwing offense that wouldn't wake a sleeping kitten up. For two, you're
laughing because it's as close to Toshiaki Kawada beating up Wong Foo
as you're ever going to get.
- Rob Van Dam Sells The Lariat. A classic BTM Moment: RVD attempts to
do a flip-sell of a Kawada lariat, while Kawada attempts to lariat RVD
into the middle of last week, thereby FORCING him to cut a flip-sell in
the process. Accidental Driver '93 ensues, followed immediately by much
rewinding and PEALS of laughter from Chris and James.
- The ending. I ordinarily hate to give away endings, but this ones's
too great - Kawada stretch-plums the BEJABERS out of RVD while looking
out of the ring at Hansen, setting up their meeting down the road. GREAT
GREAT STUFF that legitimizes the reasoning behind the formula PERFECTLY.
- The opening
piano. I have faith that Jonathan Cain will never go hungry, because if
his greenback stack ever starts to look kinda slack, he can go to the
Silver Dollar in Reno and run "An Evening with Journey's Jonathan
Cain" and jump from a piano-only version of this to various torch
songs. And I will be there.
- "The smell of wine and chEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAP PERFYOOOOO-OOOO-OOOM...".
BEST LINE EVER.
- The moment the drums finally kick in. Arena rock sucks the cocks of
a thousand giant sloths in a lot of ways, but SO many of them get the
introduction of the percussion segments SO right. This is SO one of those
- The guitar solo. Camp? Kitsch? Parody? All of the above.
- Steve Perry. Nuff said.
in strict terms of mathematics, the tag match takes it 2-1 (with one no-contest),
but, to cop out big time, that's not really a valid proof. The truth is
this: both the tag match and "Don't Stop Believing" are really
freaking great examples of how form can make stuff hugely enjoyable if
you're willing to break it down and look at the parts. It's also proof
that proper appreciation of formula can lead to better shedding a light
on what you like about wrestling, because GOD knows I pay more attention
to AJPW tags after seeing this match than before.
I like both the match and the song because they're proof to me that I
can be as big a ponce about wrestling as I wanna be, and I can still enjoy
it on a gut level. I just spent five e-trees worth of e-paper writing
about what boils down to a stupid-ass match and a stupid-ass song, but
right now I could jump in the car, careen around the empty freeways of
Los Angeles bellowing every fucking word to "Don't Stop Believing",
come home, run up the stairs, throw the tape with the match in the VCR,
have a fucking blast watching every second that made it to TV, and go
to sleep with a smile on my face. I've always held fast to the belief
that the most interesting form of intellect is that most closely in tune
with the gut reaction, and in a time when I'm starting to get miserably
bored by wrestling, it's enormously comforting to know that because I'm
not blind to formula, I can go around the park a few more times.
Like I said
way up there, I love form. Form empowers me to carve out a worldview.
Form enables me to maintain interest. Hell, form even permits me to write
a giant formulist essay glorifying form. Why would I bitch about that?
Here for Part 2
Digable James Cobo
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