Thanks to for their badass righteous free counters

NJPW 2/8/97 TV
by Digable James Cobo

In honor of NJPW self-destructing in the last few months, I felt compelled to dig through my tape shelf and find something from back when they were LORDS OF ALL THEY SURVEYED, and I came upon this. This show is actually the first show on a tape of roughly eleven squillion NJ TV shows from either around then or March of '96, so expect a whole slew of these. They won't be my typical long-winded ponderous "EVERYTHING IS A VICTIM OF CONSEQUENCE AND CONTEXT"-style reviews; I'm more in the mood to just watch some wrass'lin and make judicious use of footnotes and taunt the nWo until it's not funny anymore (1), so those expecting that may wish to look elsewhere.

And HEY! Looky here! Speak of the devil, it's a GOD DAMNED NWO promo! And better yet, it's NOT JUST MASA CHONO, NOT JUST SCOTT NORTON, it's...wait for it...wait for it...BUFF MOTHERFUCKING BAGWELL. I instantly yearn for death, but God hates me SO MUCH.

There are brief clips of Inoki - with face blurred - slapping spirit into someone and someone else dangling by a harness from the roof of the Tokyo Dome. Internally, I mull over selling all my belongings except for my TV and moving to Japan.

1. Kazuo Yamazaki/Takayuki Iizuka vs Shinya Hashimoto/Osamu Nishimura The heavies always got a bad rap around this era of NJPW, possibly because the juniors were SO MOTHERFUCKING GOOD, possibly because there WAS an awful lot of crap floating around. Nevertheless, this was seven minutes and forty-seven seconds of interesting - not exactly good, but interesting - wrestling (2). I'm always intrigued by the AJPW "totem pole" structure of matches, and obviously, that's clearly in effect here, as Nishimura - who tends to be the lowest rung on the ladder even today - is CLEARLY down at the bottom. Watch, for instance, the end of the match, where Hash tags him in, Nishimura nails a diving dropkick on Yamazaki, stands up, and BOOM he's down in a Fujiwara arm bar, tapping to beat the band. Naturally, it only makes sense for him to be tagging with Hashimoto, the obvious highest-ranking person in the match. I'm starting to really, really dig Hashimoto, not because he's the most complicated worker in the world (3) but because I'm starting to pick up on all the little things he does, like blind tag in to reinforce the totem pole (4) or, when caught in a Yamazaki leg grapevine, catch the leg Yamazaki's swinging around for leverage and gradually work it into a kneeling ankle pick. (5) Looking back, I'm really starting to wish Hash had done a tour in UWFi; he wouldn't have had to compete with the uber-flashy juniors in terms of impressing the audience with his moveset (although to be fair, that's not what Hash is all about), and judging by work like this as well as stuff like his 4/20/96 match against Takada (6), he already knew the subtleties of the style like "feeding" your opponent limbs and the importance of strikes and so on. And Yamazaki was AWESOME here, getting over the whole "I'M FROM UWFi" thing BEAUTIFULLY via his offense, which consisted of immensely credible strikes and submission attempts. Granted, he had a lot of help from Hashimoto, who was more than willing to sell his strikes like the Second Coming, even going to a knee and backing into the corner after a number of kicks (7), but if they didn't look convincing, there'd be nothing to sell. Iizuka was barely in this match, and like Nishimura he could have probably been replaced by any of a billion other "rookies" (8), as his role was basically to get in there and kick hard and drive the idea that Nishimura was waaaaaaaaaaaay down there home, and basically not do anything trickier than a collar-and-elbow lockup the whole way. It is interesting, however, to look at Yamazaki and then compare his work to Iizuka's present persona. Someone was taking notes!

As for the match itself, like I said, it was interesting, but just kinda there. The meat of the match was obviously the Hashimoto vs. Yamazaki stuff, and it looked like they were slow-burning to an eventual singles match betwixt 'em, which incidentally I would LOVE to see (9), but I can't say I know for sure whether or not they ever did one. Outside of that, this was your basic vet/rookie vs. vet/rookie match, albeit with the totem-pole precept guiding it the whole way. And the ending, though contextually understandable (10), ws irritating, and made the match feel abbreviated as compared to logical. Still, not a waste of time by any stretch of the imagination. **

2. Shinjiro Ohtani/Koji Kanemoto/Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs Jushin Liger/Norio Honaga/El Samurai JIP, damn the WORLD. For those of you not in the know, at this point in time, Ohtani and Liger were arguably the top two (11) workers in the (12) WORLD (13) at this point, and Honaga was just solidifying his position as the Great Lost Junior Worker of the '90s, along with Yuji Yasuroka. Takaiwa and Samurai I am not exactly fans of, as long as the Takaiwa occurred before he became a Decent Little Worker following his match with Naomichi Marufuji (14) at the second Zero-One PPV, but given that most of my distaste for them stems from their no-selling tendencies, a six-man N-Panic is probably the ideal place for them. Watching this match, three things jumped out at me:

a. This match basically had three great tag teams - the Ohtani/Kanemoto We Are Dickheads team, the Liger/Samurai We Are Junior Wrestling team, and the Honaga/Takaiwa We Will Kick Your Ass For You team - but as the last of those never actually happened to the best of my knowledge, the flow of the match felt a little off. Takaiwa works best as an unstoppable surly ass-kicker, not as a cocky heel, and Honaga apparently can't help but do anything but distill years worth of acquired-from-the-future Yuki Ishikawa-ness into one old short guy.
b. Any time someone tries to out-die El Samurai, you've got some SPECTACLE on your hands, and here, Koji Kanemoto's more than up to the task. Arguably, he wins; not only does he take quite possibly the best neckbreaker I've ever seen - it looked like El dropped a little more than usual and just neglected to tell Koji he was going to do it - but Jushin Liger


him with one of the single wickedest German suplexes I've ever seen (15). What's more, it didn't especially look like Liger was really trying to go for the I'll-kill-you-good aesthetic, but rather that Koji decided that there hadn't been enough neck trauma in the match already and took it upon himself to ratchet it up a few thousand notches. KOJI KOJI KOJI.
c. I know Liger was still pretty fresh off brain surgery, and I *think* this was pre-knee injury, but still, watch his moves in this match. At this point he's toned down his offense a TON - his highest-grade highspot isn't just a diving headbutt, it's one where he doesn't have to jump as far as he typically would. Watching his performance in this match, you start to pick up on the traits that would manifest themselves in SPADES recently - the strike-oriented offense (as his "biggest move" in terms of the match's story is probably a MURDEROUS shotay), the no-selling, the tendency to dominate on offense almost to the point of silliness (16). At this point, I got no problem with it, mostly because the structure of these junior matches are more in tune with the model established by Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask, as opposed to the mid/late 80s stuff which, although technically admirable, can't hold a CANDLE when it comes to engaging *me*. I'm just saying that the signs were there five-six years ago.

Now here's something to consider: Admittedly, we the Viewing Public got cheated out of half of this twenty-minute match thanks to Some Nameless Jackass, but even so, there wasn't a whole lot of consistent wrestling going on - Sammy and Koji eating murder moves and popping right back up (17), Liger's big transition being all but invisible, Takaiwa hitting the DVD WAAAAY too early considering that nobody charged the ring to break up the pin. Arguably, there's not even a storyline being propagated outside of Koji/Ohtani/Takaiwa are Big Assholes and Liger/Honaga/El are Not (18). Yet this match is good - not "fun", good. I'd call it ***, maybe even ***1/4. Partly, that's due to the match being just plain exciting; what's shown is all good, credible (19), contextual action. But that's selling it short. I enjoyed this match because of how it fits into the evolution of wrestling at-large (20). It's been noted again and again that one of the primary influences for the NJ juniors at this point was the work of, ironically, the AJPW heavyweights, a trend which would come to a head in the J*Crown match between Ohtani and Liger on the next show. With that in mind, something occurred to me:

This match is straight Kobashi.

Now I'm not here to criticize Kobashi (21), but here's something to chew on: One of the reasons why IMHO Kobashi's matches tend to be more accessible is due to his tendencies to convey his character through things like body language and facial expressions - almost exclusively - rather than through the way he wrestles. It's not insignificant; Kobashi's been vilified by half the 'net for his deficiencies in wrestling skill, when, assuming my hypothesis isn't TOTALLY full of shit, he's actually doing the same traditional things that wrestlers always try to do, just in a radically different way. Again, I'm not defending Kobashi's method of wrestling as any untapped storehouse of virtue, because in terms of wrestling it can/frequently does get quite in the way. But when it works, MAN OH MAN does it work.

I think that the junior set picked up on that, and started porting it over to their ranks. As individuals, Koji and Ohtani don't get over as heels so much by their wrestling so much as they do by their body language; when they walk or run, they have an air of swaggering self-confidence - by which I mean that they know exactly what they're going to do, like they're firmly in control - and when they eat offense, they convey a sense of both panic and damn-near SHOCK at having their best-laid plans go to waste (22).

Now what makes this PARTICULAR stuff interesting is because this has basically become acknowledged as the last gasp before the style went down the figurative tubes. Within a few months of this match, Koji had taken to this meta-stuff so firmly that it was affecting the structure of his matches, and on the whole the "old guard" - Liger, El, etc. - was ill-equipped to keep up, resulting in a few years where stuff felt flat and underwhelming. But here - HERE - it was still balanced out with great, logical wrestling. Again, Ohtani was still one of the best wrestlers in the universe at this point - although it's arguable that this was the period where he began his decline - and Koji was, for a few fleeting moments in time, right up there with him. I like this stuff because of that - it's like a moment frozen in time where there was ass-loads of promise, and the catalogue of disappointing wrestling that followed it up only made that promise seem better by comparison.

All that being said, I did like this match; I can't really complain about a match this action-packed and engaging, no matter how flawed it is. It's enjoyable wrestling, and exactly the sort of thing one should be looking for if one has money to spare. And it's not like they wouldn't top themselves. Fuck, they'd top themselves later in the TAPE.

3. Masa Chono/Scott Norton/Marcus Bagwell vs Keiji Muto/Satoshi Kojima/Manabu Nakanishi (23) Sigh...I'm about to voluntarily watch both Buff Bagwell and Scott Norton wrestle. I WATCH WRESTLING SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO. Basically this is just a trip down mid/late '90s Big Two Main Event Lane; it's all about stuff moving at an absurdly slow pace with next to ZERO transitions. People tag in and out for no apparent reason; enormous suplexes (like Nakanishi's bearhug belly-to-belly) get no-sold, Bagwell's punches look downright ludicrous...basically, the only reason you'd ever have any reason to watch this match is to see Norton and Bagwell's powerbomb/blockbuster double-team and MAAAAYBE a few of the suplex variations, none of which are really worth mentioning. And obviously, neither of those are especially mandatory. At ALL. I know someone out there was probably looking forward to me going in-depth with the hate and the vitriol and the snarky footnotes here, but sorry, it's late, and I'm tired, and life's too short to bitch about wrestling as crappy as this. I'll just say that the nWo stuff sure as hell isn't holding up. (24) 1/4*, almost entirely for the heat. Post-match, Chono yammers on the mic, likely about his penis (25), and they beat down on the heels, culminating in Tenzan giving Kojima a diving headbutt. Insert comment about irony here. Me, I'm'a goin' to bed.


I dunno. It seems like it's one of those shows where technically everything's worthwhile - except for the main event, which in all due honesty was less bad than skull-scrapingly boring - but I certainly wouldn't say that this is the kind of show anyone should - or would, really - rush out and pick up. I do know that this is on the same tape as all SORTS of AJ and NJ TV that people are usually instructed to get all over, though. Considered in that light, basically I look at it this way: I got the tape for the J*Crown matches later on. As a freebie, this'll do quite nicely. Just CHRIST IN A SACK, there's no reason to watch that main.

Digably Yours,
Digable James Cobo
Discuss this on the Message Board!





1. Like that'll ever happen. OOH! NWO, I MODED YOU!
2. I betcha money that if they held this match again tomorrow, it'd be REAL REAL GOOD, as Nishimura's good as all hell in his "I AM OLD SCHOOL" persona, Iizuka - when not getting kicked into last week - is quite the worker, and even Hashimoto as a shadow of his former self is better than about %90 of the wrestlers out there. Yamazaki I can't speak for, but as long as he kicks like he does here, I'm all good.
3. For those of you who don't know, Hash's basic entire gimmick is that he's a beefy sort who looks like Elvis and is astonishingly unafraid to waste you with kicks and DDTs.
4. "Allright, junior, you did the best you could."
5. This is also known as "realistic selling", as opposed to "LOOK AT THESE TWO GIANTS OF THE SPORT! BARBECUE SAUCE! BARBECUE SAUCE!"-esque selling. When one's knee is being yanked upon mightily, you don't just jerk back on it and miraculously get out of the hold, unless of course you totally hate your knees.
6. Which honesty forces me to mention that I haven't seen, but JDW vociferously advocates. And when JDW gets vociferous, if I had any money in my checking account, man, the checks would be FLYING out.
7. This is how attentive wrestlers get someone over. I'm starting to become of the mindset that jobbing is more or less inconsequential in wrestling; it's how impressive you look.
8. Here Is Why Puroresu Rules, Chapter 85234714: I know for sure that Nishimura had been training at the NJ dojo for at least six or seven years by this point, and judging by their roles in this match and in the contemporary card, Iizuka was probably right there with him, but instead of rushing them to the ring and giving them a baptism by fire, NJ wears the fundamentals into them ad nauseum, and doesn't let them do anything really spectacular for quite some time. The end result, of course, is a safer, smarter, better wrestler.
9. Update: My research (i.e. going through JDW's pimping posts) reveals that not only did they have an IWGP title match, it was held later that month. My oblivion knows no bounds.
10. By which I mean even though Nishimura had squared off with Yamazaki at the beginning of the match AND had just spent a goodly bit of time recovering AND had just hit a top-rope dropkick, he was SO far down the totem pole that his instant submission made sense. Add to the fact that as a UWFi wrestler, Yamazaki's submissions are "more expertly applied" or whatever, and it makes...sense...I guess.
11. male
12. non-Mexico
13. And it'll take someone a lot smarter than me to argue which was which.
14. ~!
15. If not actually one of the wickedest SUPLEXES PERIOD that I've ever seen. It looked like Kanemoto landed on the left corner of his forehead, a la TM4's Millenium Suplex, but thanks to the German being so conventional by this point, it looked all the more devastating.
16. viz. his BoSJ finals match from last year with Tanaka, where Liger was on offense for so long that I barely remember it as more than a squash.
17. I know, I know; "tell me another one", you're saying. But it's TRUE. Koji was up from that HELLISH German in time to eat a Liger lariat scant seconds later.
18. And even that's arguable, since the very first sequence shown is Honaga crotching Ohtani, then setting him up for a Shattered Dreams.
19. When I say the match didn't have selling, I didn't mean that they all no-sold everything. I mean that the selling wasn't nuanced; everything pretty much hurt them all over. The moves were sold pretty convincingly across the board.
20. Remember when I said I wasn't going to ramble about meta-stuff in this review? SUCKERS.
21. Well, not right now, anyway. And besides, I'm a fan.
22. As compared to, say, Wild Pegasus, who'd primarily get himself over as a force of nature by adding extra oomph to his WRESTLING MOVES rather than in his mannerisms.
23. Iwant it on record that when I began writing the review of this match, it was 6:10 PST and I was ready for bed. So just imagine how much I was looking forward to all THIS shit.
24. And if you think I'm just talking about the nWo Japan stuff, you are soooooooooooorely mistaken :)

25. I bet you thought I was kidding. Seriously, Chono's an admirable old-school pervert, as this link should prove handily.












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