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Chris Jericho & Eddy Guerrero v. Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko
by Shane Osman

Monday Nitro - 2.16.98

Eddy and Benoit start. They lockup and Benoit grabs a side headlock. Eddy shoots him into the ropes, but gets knocked on his ass. He gets up and charges Benoit, who takes him over with an armdrag. He lays in a few chops in the corner, but Eddy cuts him off with an eye rake. He rams him into the corner and scores with some chops of his own. He goes for a whip, but Benoit reverses him into the opposite corner. Eddy rebounds out and gets press slammed. Benoit adds another chop, sending Eddy scurrying into his corner. Tag to Jericho, who is still wearing his Cruiserweight belt. Ref makes him take it off. Benoit takes advantage, kicking him in the gut. He whips him into the ropes and takes him over with a backdrop. Tag to Malenko. He nails Jericho with a leg lariat, sending him to the floor. He manages to tag Eddy as he rolls by. He and Dean close in for a lockup. Eddy dropkicks him in the knee instead.

He whips him into the ropes and lines up for a clothesline. Malenko ducks it and grabs a rear waistlock. Eddy reverses and goes for a rollup. Dean hangs on to the ropes. Eddy charges, but Dean drops him throat first across the top rope. He picks him up for a backdrop suplex, but Eddy rolls through. His momentum takes him into the ropes, where he accidentally collides with Jericho, knocking him off of the apron. Malenko picks him up for a powerbomb, but Eddy ends up spilling over the top rope and to the floor as he tries to break free. The heels regroup, taking time for a nice, big hug. Eddy finally climbs back in, where Dean is waiting with a few kicks to the gut. He whips Eddy into the ropes and plants him with a flapjack. Tag to Benoit. He chops away at Eddy, eventually bringing Jericho into the ring. Benoit has a chop for him, too. He takes Eddy over with a snap suplex and makes the cover. Eddy manages to get a foot on the ropes.

Benoit pulls him up, but Eddy rakes his eyes and starts pounding on him. He goes for a whip, but Benoit reverses. Eddy tries to slide between his legs, but Benoit grabs him by the hair, pulls him up and drills him with a German suplex! Jericho comes in to break the count. Benoit tags in Malenko, who scores with a wheelbarrow suplex on Eddy. He turns him over into a Boston Crab, but Jericho is in to make the save. Benoit is sick of Jericho's interference. He comes in and tosses Jericho to the floor. In the ring, Malenko goes for a suplex. Eddy slips away and spikes him with a brainbuster! He hits the Frogsplash and makes the cover. Referee gets to two, but Benoit breaks it up with a diving headbutt off the top! Malenko rolls on top of Eddy, but Jericho makes the save once again.

Dean pulls Eddy back up and starts punching away at him. Eddy grabs his tights though, ramming him face first into the corner. Tag to Jericho, who comes in with a missile dropkick. He gives Malenko his double underhook backbreaker and locks him in the Liontamer. Benoit runs in, so Jericho releases the hold. He nails Benoit, sending him to the floor. Eddy goes up top…plancha onto Benoit! Back in the ring, Jericho is going for a whip. Malenko reverses and goes for a dropkick. Jericho stops short and tries to put him back into the Liontamer. Dean was waiting for it though, countering into a rollup. Jericho counters, but Malenko quickly locks him in the Texas Cloverleaf. Jericho is tapping out before the hold is even fully applied…

Fun match. Not as awesome as should have been, though. You can't blame any of these guys for the WCW booking style. This is a match that demands 30 minutes. There's just too much going on to condense it into 10 minutes. The biggest compliment that this match can get is that it was one of those rare instances where the announcers were so into the match, that they stopped hyping the latest nWo shenanigans and stuck to calling the match. It didn't happen often, so you knew you were in for something good when it happened.

Nikita Koloff (w/Ivan Koloff) v. Magnum T.A.
by Shane Osman

From The Great American Bash - 8.2.86

This is match four out of their famous seven match series to decide a new United States champion, with Nikita up 3-0. The angle leading up to the series saw Magnum, who was the champ at the time, being stripped of the title after attacking the NWA President, Bob Geigel. At the time, Nikita was the "Next Big Thing," so this is basically his ascension to the main events. He'd worked Flair already, but this series is really his big singles break.

We open with a stare down, as the referee checks both guys. Nikita arrogantly holds up three fingers, reminding Magnum that if he doesn't win tonight, the US belt goes home to the Mother Russia (by way of South Carolina, I guess.). They lockup several times, but neither man is willing to give and inch. Magnum finally takes control, grabbing a side headlock. Nikita shoots him into the ropes and lines up for a back elbow. Magnum ducks it and floors him with a forearm smash. Nikita bails out to talk strategy with Uncle Ivan. Back in the ring, we have another lockup. Nikita backs him into the corner. Nikita reverses positions before anything can happen and we get a clean break. Nikita looks to Ivan for some advice. He grabs a side headlock, which Magnum quickly counters into a top wristlock. Nikita yanks his hair and gets him back in the headlock.

Magnum tries to counter it again, but Nikita is too strong. He takes Magnum down and grabs his arm. Magnum slips away and puts him in a hammerlock. He drives a pair of knees into Nikita's shoulder, then turns it into a keylock. Nikita manages to get to his feet and back Magnum into the corner. Magnum breaks the hold, allowing Nikita to drive a series of shoulders into his gut. Referee Tommy Young gets in his face, telling him to break, but Nikita just glares at him. He scoops Magnum up and drops him across the top rope. He also takes the time to sell Magnum's prior offense, shaking out the arm that had been worked on earlier. People liken Koloff to Goldberg. I can see the comparison, but I maintain that Koloff was a much better worker. Anyway, he whips Magnum into the ropes and catches him with a back elbow. The match clips and suddenly Magnum is transitioning back to offense.

He punches away at Nikita and whips him into the ropes. He ducks his head for a backdrop, but Nikita cuts him off with a kick. He gives Magnum a backbreaker and gets a two count. He follows up with a slam for another nearfall. The announcers are really trying to push the fact that Nikita isn't hooking Magnum's leg. Nikita tosses Magnum out. He climbs back onto the apron, but Nikita stretches him out in the ropes and nails him with a forearm to the chest. He tosses him to the floor once again, this time at Ivan's feet. He distracts the ref, allowing Ivan to get in a kick.

Nikita pulls Magnum back in, but only so he can toss him to the floor again. Magnum hits the corner of the steps on his way out. Nikita starts celebrating. Magnum slowly gets to his feet and we see that he's busted open. Nikita starts arguing with Tommy Young. Magnum climbs onto the apron and catches him with a shoulderblock. He goes for a sunset flip back into the ring. But Nikita holds onto the ropes. Tommy Young kicks his hands away. Nikita goes down and Magnum picks up the win!

This certainly isn't a great match. It isn't even the best match in the series. But for some reason, it's my favorite. The crowd is just white hot, wanting Magnum to win so that "their" belt wouldn't belong to those filthy Commies. Magnum was great at playing that up. He went into overdrive in his selling, trying to make every little thing that Nikita did look like it might be enough to end it. The true tragedy of this entire story is that a little over two months later, Magnum wrecked his Porsche and ended his in-ring career. He had so much potential and was poised to be the next breakout superstar of the time

British Jr. Title match: Jushin Liger vs. Dick Togo, NJPW Sky Diving J 1996
GHC Jr. Title match: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa, NOAH 12/9/01
by Digable James Cobo

I suppose claiming to remember the clamorous hype springing up around the Marufuji vs. Takaiwa match isn't really anything special, seeing as how it only started six months ago, and even then didn't get crazy until February or March. But in order to put the match in the proper perspective, you really have to remember exactly how loudly people were proclaiming this match to be one of the all-time greats.

But let's backtrack.

Naomichi Marufuji was the biggest success story of puroresu in 2001; NJPW dropped the ball on striking with Yuji Nagata while the iron was white-hot, and even Momoe Nakanishi's stellar year proved insufficient to sustain AJW, which lost its TV deal in February of this year. Marufuji, however, singlehandedly generated a ton of interest in two companies, Shinya Hashimoto's Zero-One (where he only wrestled two matches, both of which stole the show in such convincing fashion that when he left, US fan interest all but evaporated) and his homebase of Pro Wrestling NOAH. And while I of all people don't want to trivialize either of his Zero-One matches, the first of which was the best match I'd seen all year for nearly eight months of it, it's not hard to say that his NOAH work was overall more impressive, simply because Marufuji is a junior in a big-man's fed.

NOAH may differ from pre-split AJPW in a ton of fundamental ways, but in terms of the juniors, the song pretty much remains the same. I'm no AJPW expert, but I've watched my share; therefore, when I say that the only juniors in AJPW of any distinction that jump to mind are Fuchi, Furnas, Kroffat, and Kikuchi - over a TEN YEAR PERIOD - that's not insignificant. NOAH, like AJPW, was built on the premise that the people were there to see the big guys like Misawa and Akiyama and Vader, and while that's not UNtrue, it became patently clear as the fed progressed that a whole lot of people were there to see Naomichi Marufuji. Compared to the rest of the roster - including the aforementioned heavyweights - Marufuji's pops were ASTRONOMICAL, which looking at his matches wasn't really surprising. Marufuji's style is spotty, but exciting; he's a natural athlete, and he's got all the natural charisma in the world, something that can't be said for a lot of the rest of the NOAH roster. Eventually, even Misawa had to grudgingly give in and let Marufuji pretty far into the uppercard, tagging with the heavies and occasionally even getting singles matches with them. By the big 12/9/01 show, it was clear that the kid was capable of having one of those Big Matches, so they let him do just that.

Make no mistake about it; this match is very much one of those Big Matches. The heat is astronomical, NOAH show or not; everyone's there to see Marufuji take the title back from Takaiwa, the Zero-One interloper. And again, it's not debatable whether or not Marufuji delivers, because he does, in style.The match is flashy, but more importantly, once the spots get going, it's paced really well - fast as all hell in a handbag, but not too fast, since they want you to keep up with it. Of course, he's not wrestling himself; he's wrestling Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Resurgent Motherfucker. Takaiwa is just stupefyingly good in this match; I can't quite figure out who exactly convinced him to stop the no-selling bullshit, but I should send them a barrel of roses. The difference between Takaiwa here and Takaiwa even two years ago is like night and day; he doesn't have to rely on his natural heel charisma in order to give a match structure, instead pacing a match based around his Power Junior offense. He's also progressed to the point where he can credibly work a body-part-specific storyline, as here he MAULS Marufuji's leg in a ton of creative ways, yet never neglects his aforementioned Murder-You-Good power offense, the gal that brought him to the dance.

It's a very, very good match - one of the four or five best from last year by my reckoning. It's exciting, fast, fresh, and you really can't underestimate the oft-mentioned big-match feel. This truly does "feel" like a momentous wrestling match; the heat is nuclear, the moves are spectacular, there's plenty of involving near-falls, and the finish is GREAT. But this match was getting praised as one of the best junior matches in history, and having seen Togo/Liger, I can conclusively say that it most certainly isn't.

The illusion of the big-match feel, you see, is all well and good, and again I don't want to take anything away from either Takaiwa or Marufuji, both of whom put on the performance of their careers up to this point, but it all boils down to the irrefutable fact that they just aren't good enough to pull it off yet. They're both very one-dimensional workers, and no matter how involving that one dimension is, it'll never be enough to pull off the match that they needed to. Jushin Liger and Dick Togo, on the other hand, are more than good enough; and as would befit two of the five best juniors of the '90s wrestling each other during their arguable prime, their match - which compared to the gravitas of Marufuji/Takaiwa wasn't even really all that big - comes off as a world-changing wrestling match.

Stylistically speaking, that's obviously what it was. Togo/Liger was a spotfest, plain and simple; I'm certainly not going to argue that it was more than that, despite the obvious undertones of Big Swingin' Dick Jushin Liger Wrestles the Local Indy Star Guy. But so much of its structure shows up in Marufuji/Takaiwa that it's hard to write off. The heels in both (Takaiwa and Togo) start the match in control, breaking out GIGANTIC moves which could otherwise be credible finishers, before slowly injecting a body-part-specific storyline into the match (with Takaiwa working Marufuji's gut and Togo working Liger's belly), at which point the face capitalizes and slowly turns the tide. Once the face is in control, the match is all but over; despite a heel comeback (and a stepped-up return to the prior psychology), both the face and the heel killing each other's "regular" finisher (especially the face - Marufuji's shiranui and Liger's Fisherman Buster are killed in SPECTACULAR fashion) and some excellent nearfalls in both matches about 3/4s of the way through, it's obvious that the face will win as soon as the heel starts pulling the face at the two-count. The finishing sequence, of course, is the most revealingly similar part; in both cases, the face hits the heel with a top-rope version of their finisher which by all rights should be enough to cap off the day, but then hits a "backup" finisher for good measure. It's all right there.

The x-factor between the two matches is, of course, the undeniable edge that Liger and Togo have in terms of wrestling smarts. Takaiwa's ridiculously credible offense and Marufuji's unbelievable athleticism make for great spectacle, but Togo and Liger click to make a very smartly-wrestled match by cutting down on the ways the match can go wrong. Takaiwa, for instance, chooses to work on Marufuji's leg, and while it certainly makes sense to ground the high flyer, it forces Marufuji to either change his style dramatically or ignore it down the stretch. Naturally Marufuji does the latter; given the amount that Takaiwa worked on his leg, it's painful to see Marufuji jump right up. And of course Marufuji doesn't even really work on anything in particular, choosing just to capitalize on moments with big moves. Togo and Liger, on the other hand, have duelling targets - more importantly, very smart duelling targets. Togo targets Liger's belly, a smart choice in that all Liger has to do to sell it is sell overall damage and grab his stomach every so often AND in that it builds to his finisher (the Big Fat Diving Senton), while Liger targets Togo's arm and shoulder, which may be even smarter, since it guarantees that the other guy can still get up and move without having to worry about how he should be walking.

Additionally, for all the praise that Takaiwa should be afforded for his efforts in pacing the match, it's just not as well-done as Liger-Togo. Takaiwa opens the match by WASTING Marufuji with IIRC a clothesline, then planting him on his head, then taking him out to the ramp, which is effective insofar as it makes him look like a force of nature, but it throws off the flow of the match when they have to take it back down. Liger/Togo starts off with big moves too - the first segment is pretty much one extended sprint to Togo's diving footstomp, but it features a tope con hilo for good measure - but with one major difference: whereas Takaiwa started off the match with credible finishers, Togo started off with moves more suited to the middle of the match, slowly building to a credible finisher.

Really, I think it all comes down to the issue of how one-dimensional the Takaiwa/Marufuji match is; although it's undeniably Marufuji's moment in the sun, and he hits all the biggest moves that stay with you, Takaiwa's got the match on his back the whole way. He sets the tone, he sets the pace, he sets up when the big sequences are going to go down; Marufuji might as well be a high-end Yaz Urano for all the input he has on the match. Togo/Liger is much more of a back-and-forth affair; they seem to actually be working together, rather than simply working in the same ring. Each gets their chance to control the pace and show off what they can do, and the end result is a much more dynamic, dramatic match. Again, I hate to take anything away from Takaiwa and Marufuji; they wrestled about as well as they could have. And wrestling a match in the ****1/4 range certainly isn't anything to be ashamed of, nor is being unable to compare to two of the most innately gifted wrestlers of our time. But Togo/Liger isn't just a more "quality" match (something like ****1/2 by my count); it's a dictionary definition on how formula, in the hands of two masters, can exceed the expectations of both the card and the formula. And again, while I'm not saying that Takaiwa and Marufuji won't be capable of hitting those heights in time (Marufuji in particular, who has all the markings of the next Great Sasuke), I'm just saying that right now, this was the best they could do, and it wasn't the world-beating show-stopper that it got credit for.

Click Here for Part 2

Shane Osman
Digable James Cobo
Chris Lening

Buster Time Magazine

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