Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
on Samurai TV, September 2000: Young Generation Battle Finals
Hey, yo. It's me, it's me, it's that L-O-R-D. And we will today, students, be studying BattlArts, paradoxically the finest and relatively unheralded fed on earth (at least to this point. I have no 2001 BatBat TV as yet). Consistently great work since 1996, in both shootstyle and other shoot-influenced forms. Yet, it's tiny. By all rights, they should be doing better than Toryumon by now, but while Ultimo claims sellouts in 5000 seat buildings, a recent show with comparitively big names on top (including the visiting Masato Tanaka) drew 99 fans. Just breaktakingly annoying. Yes, I'm a huge lucharesu fan, but BattlArts is more often high-end than any of those feds, and even the big 3. New Japan fans may differ, but BatBat has no one as clunky as Nakanishi, Goto, Yasuda, Yoshie, Ohara, 2001 Chono or the parade of shitty gaijin. For a little more in-depth intro to BatBat, please read the Ishikawa/Ikeda edition of YLF. http://www.geocities.com/yourlucharesufix is my site's address.
I hope all you readers like this as, for a roughly 2 hour tape, it took a fair ol' while to do. BattlArts is DEEP.
1. Takeshi Ono/Ryuji Hijikata Vs Alvin Ken/junji.com Ono and Hijikata are mid-level guys and the other team are about the lowest of the low in terms of pecking order. Hijikata may be the closest of the younger generation of BattlArtists to Daisuke Ikeda, assured of all he does, fluid standing and on the mat and also blessed with excellent kicks. Ono's a great punk heel when he's schoolin' it with his mate Masao Orihara, but he doesn't really show that here. This performance (and Hijikata's) is all about clever pacing, assured work and understated disgust. junji's gimmick is great as he is decked out all in pink with a dishevelled shock of matching hair. The genius comes from the fact that he doesn't act like a comic character at all, as if in his world that is what everyone does. Unfortunately, Ken had to retire this year because of a brain injury. This match makes you majorly pissed off about that as he is pretty damn good here. The basic story here is that Ono/Hijikata have come for an easy payday, brutalising their opponents (Hijikata with chain wrestling and kicks; Ono throwin' da leathuh, showcasing his moves (like the bow-and-arrow with legs wrapped around the bottom rope) and brawling outside)) and being rather creative in their interpretation of the tag rules. But through sheer force of will, whenever the youngsters get the chance, they fight back as best they can, and have the best success working over Ono's knee. The other team works their way back through thier greater experience and softening up Ken's arm. From here on out, it's just chaos and drama, with a bunch of closer-than-close submissions, plus a gorgeous Fisherman's Buster by Hijikata. The ending comes as Ono, in a wonderful spot, leapfrogs Ken's spear (a really good version, especially when he does it into the corner, and hangs his feet in the air for a few seconds) twice, lands a glacing superkick, hits a Falcon Arrow on Ken, then ties him up a pretty submission where the pressure was all on the arm (being pulled back as the head is pushed the opposite way in the crook of a leg). It was fitting as Ono had to use his greatest asset (speed), in a balls-out manner to overcome Ken, signifying he was finally treating him as an equal. The only two things that annoyed me was a couple of missed blows by Ono: a fistdrop which hit the mat a face from Ken's head, but he sold anyway; and the superkick near then end, which was due to doing it blind. Not major things, but in a match where Ono is stiffing the fuck out of both guys with his punches and kicks, it hurts the suspension of disbelief.
This sort of match is the mark of a great wrestling organisation for me. It's not about those handful of killer workers, it's about consistent excellence. That is why I consider BattlArts the best wrestling company I've ever seen. Even mid-nineties Michinoku Pro had Yone Genjin and (occasionally) Perro Russo. There was a little clippage in the middle here, but that appeared to be a section of the early Ono/Hijikata beatdown on Ken, as the pace of the match was the same afterwards. ***1/4
We cut to a press conference, with Ishikawa in a suit and others in spiffy BattlArts tracksuits. The rest of the roster file in at the end. Obviously some sort of shill for the YGB, having Minoru back 'n' all for a couple of shots is big news.
Aw! Now we see Mohammed Yone playing with his kids. His daughter's as cute as a button. However, whatever the guy does, he can't really get her attention. Sort of like when I'm watching him wrestle.
2. Minoru Tanaka Vs Ikuto Hidaka Oh, baby. This is another one of those great yin-yangs of BatBat, like Ikeda/Ishikawa. Two guys whose styles mesh perfectly, each being a distinct variation on a similar model. I like to call these guys proponents (along with guys like Ono and SAITO) of luchashootsaresu: a hybrid style with a mix of stiffness, shooty matwork and highspots. This was just sublime. They began with a amateur wrestling emulation, grappling and riding each other, then graduating to more MMA-type exchanges on the mat. Minoru started work on the arm, Ikuto the leg. The upshot of all this was that Tanaka was just a wee bit quicker and nimbler. In their next exchange, Tanaka pushes his advantage, chopping the hell out of poor ol' Moptop. Ikuto fights back through mule kicking the injured knee, then baseball sliding undeneath before snapping off a lightning Dragon Screw. Ikuto is now showing that he has the speed to fight Minoru on his own terms but he needs to be very disciplined about working the leg, no longer pulling stupid shit like a blind charge, that won him some treatment from the underside of Minoru's boots. After a period underneath the Hidaka Knee Torture Machine, Tanaka modifies his assault, smacking the hell out of Hidaka's head and injured arm with some of the most disturbing kicks I've heard. There was no cracking noise, just the deep, dull thud of kickpad on skull. An early one knocks IK down for a nine-count, putting over the damage just a few of the blows (of which he takes many) can do. From here on out, it's a titanic battle to the finish, with Ikuto trying any way possible to take out the leg, and Tanaka getting as many licks in as possible to the head (trying for the KO) and arm, while putting holds on the arm when the opportunity arises. It's one of those "damsel strapped to the railway line" situations as Tanaka's major attack is the kicking, but how can he keep kicking if he cannot put weight on the non-kicking leg? Compelling shit. The solution comes as Hidaka tends to get cocky when he has the upper hand going for more dangerous moves which work well (a gorgeous kick catch=>jumping sit-out powerbomb) or don't at all (having a near miss when they do an RVD/Lynn-ish Tornado DDT=>waistlock=>German=>roll through onto his feet. Luckily he manages to pull out a frankensteiner, which puts him back in charge). He tries a Thesz Press from the top, but Tanaka dropkicks him in mid-air, then goes upstairs for a dropkick to the head, giving him time to score with one of his signature spots (Northern Lights Suplex=>jujigatame) for the submission.
I'm of the mind that Hidaka is the superior, more complete worker of the two and it was he who was responsible moreso for the storytelling, through his facials and selling. Minoru certainly did his part well and was the superior athlete, but he clearly has a narrower emotional range. The sad thing is that Hidaka may never make it beyond a cult indy star. This is partly due to his appearence, which while unique, can't touch the movie star looks of Minoru and partly that NJ tends to do far more in-house productions than the WWF, only picking out the truly sensational indy guys. El Digablio, when we were chatting the other week, claimed that Tanaka is more interested in showcasing his moves than telling a story. I think that this, vs Sano (Jan 2000) and vs TAKA (Nov 1999) contradicts that. However, I'm yet to see him really lead (or carry someone) to a match of this calibre. ***3/4
3. Naoyuki Taira/Kazunari Murakami Vs Yuki Ishikawa/Carl Malenko There's a hell of a lot of moods one can express in a wrestling ring, but few are more fun than naked, unabashed, balls-to-the-wall HATE. Ishikawa had some tremendous battles with Ikeda, but they were based on a deep-down mutual admiration of the other guy's skills. Murakami is the complete opposite, a swaggering, knuckledragging smartass bitch, intent on kicking Old Man Ishikawa's ass all over the ring. As soon as the bell rings, Kaz rushes him, but Yuki catches a waistlock and hits a very credible looking German suplex, which Kaz no-sells, sadly. It's quite a shocking sight in BatBat, as 90% of matches will begin with a feel-out session or some tentative grappling. That's part of the point, as Kaz doesn't see Yuki as a threat, so feels he has impunity to throw out all the rules he learnt in shootin' school. That'll teach the little miscreant. Once they get down on the mat, Kaz's deficiencies become more apparent, as he's rather awkward, hugging Yuki like a big red pants wearing monkey and continuing with a few more of the big hand bombs. Yuki is fully deserving of his elevated place on the DVDVR 500, and is good enough to lead Kaz to something fully acceptable on the mat most of the time.
This is the first and only time I've seen Taira, and he really is good. Tremendously fluid work, standing and on the deck. I expect he has either UWFi or RINGS experience, but I'm guessing. The truly cool thing about this guy (apart from Nagai-ish flowing kicks in the air (a little touch I just love)), however, is the dichotomy between him and Kaz. Murakami is merely there to be a pain in the ass and hurt people, whereas Taira really seems to want to show his skills and win the bout, egging on his opponents with a smirk on his face. His exchanges throughout the bout with Carl are great and a challenge to the folks who claim BatBat doesn't do any true shootstyle. Their conflict provides the micro-storylines. These include the contrast between their sportsmanlike exchanges and those of the other pair and the bare bones of bodypart psychology, but the really interesting one comes near the end, as Carl, rubber-legged, is stopped from making the tag, and one becomes involved with his battle to overcome the limitations of his own body and the mad skillz of Taira. Carl Malenko, despite his impressive size and look, seems consigned to the same fate as his teacher: no chance of ever being used to his full potential in the US. He is already in the top 3 Americans in terms of pure work (equal with Angle, slightly ahead of Austin (although Austin has a better grasp of psychology, knows how to make the most of less and is the best wrestling actor of his generation)). I wouldn't be surprised to see him land an NJ or Z1 spot soon as he knocks spots off all their current gaijin, and looks every bit the monstrous killer foreigner. If that happens, I'd expect him to become Ken Shamrock mark 2 around 2007.
The coolest section comes mid-way through as Kaz and Yuki spill outside and they do some fighting spirit (with added defiance) selling of blows, then more brawling, including Kaz taking that ubiquious Japanese indy spot: the out-of-control bump through the front row seats. There could not be a more perfect ending, as Taira gets tied up by Malenko, and Kaz (who has been strolling in a lot to stomp most submission attempts) is confronted by Yuki, and after a Hogan/Andre staredown during which Taira cries "uncle", they go for each other like angry elephants and commence "clubberin'" again. Great visual metaphor of the content of the match, which also clarifies Murakami's indifference to winning the match. This stuff is just gold, kids. Why this fed gets such tiny crowds in a cultured country is an absolute mystery to me.
Kaz was green as grass here, but had a ton of potential and real presence (something you just can't teach). After watching him on the April 2001 Zero One PPV, either Yuki carried him by the nose or he is regressing. It's probably hanging around with noted asshole Naoya Ogawa, to whom "respect" and "paying dues" are alien terms. ***1/2
It's a pinfallathon as we see how the group stages of the Young Generation Battle took shape.
4. Young Generation Battle 2000 Semifinal: Mitsuya Nagai Vs Katsumi Usuda Nagai's my second favourite wrestler, behind Masaaki Mochizuki. He's just the quintessential dead-eyed monster with a range of stiff, well-executed offence and skilled matwork. You can say what you like about Mrs. Baba to me, but she made a great decision in snapping up Nagai, even if it meant his shooty matwork wasn't so emphasised. Usuda's one of my faves too, for simliar skills to Nagai, but with a far more sportsmanlike demeanour. He's pretty much the best possible Ken Shamrock. This match is all about establishing the men as equals in kicks and on the mat, the match possibly ending at any time whether by KO or submission. Nagai was primarily using the kicks when he can, (nearly winning in the opening minute, where Usuda's down for a 9 count), and doing what he can on the mat. Usuda, realising that going toe-to-toe standing against him isn't the best idea, and initiates the matwork, which he has the best of (causing considerable damage to Nagai's leg and arm), and opens up opportunities for him later to use kicks of his own. Nagai has a secret weapon, though, that ultimately separates the men. He can pull out pro-style power moves, especially the powerbomb. On the first attempt, he falls prey to a guillotine choke/wristlock, and while he causes two big back bumps, honours are even as Nagai's time in the submission hold has damaged him. The finish of the match sees Usuda keep returning to the submission holds and variations thereof, causing Nagai to suck it up and in a situation where Usuda chances his kicks (perhaps intentionally softer, Rudo Usuda~!), he just BLASTS him with one of his own, taking the legs from underneath his opponent. He then, having caused severe damage, keeps his nerve against the still dangerous Usuda to score with a German Suplex then an emphatic powerbomb, sold as a move on the extremes of the match's universe should. He goes back to the neck damaged by the German to lock on the crossface-chickenwing for the submission win. Excellent match, with a sophisticated storyline hidden underneath tremendous, credible wrestling. Both men shake afterwards. Usuda says, "Aw, never mind. I'm winning this thing next year." ***3/4
Hey! Hidaka (who comes to scrape up bodies) has an ECDub T-shirt on!
5. Young Generation Battle 2000 Semifinal: Mohammed Yone Vs Alexander Otsuka I'm just not a big Yone fan at all. He's an OK (if goofy at times) seller, has a nice pro-style moveset (especially his sit-out muscle buster) and good strikes. He also has a neato 'fro, which I dig. His problems arise from transitions (I hate those seconds when you just know he's thinking "What shall I do next? Aah, now I remember...") and his matwork is subpar. He'd do much better full time in All Japan, IMHO. Also, Nagai, Kakihara and Kawada could take him to the woodshed, which is always fun. Otsuka just rules it. I'm so glad he's got more exposure through Z1. The best way I can describe him is Scott Steiner at his peak, minus the attitude and unnecessary roughness. Very cool story here that plays to both men's strengths. It's a battle of Yone's pro style moves (a sit out pumphandle slam segued into a single-leg Liontamer being the most swanky) and wicked strikes (like jumping knee strikes and spin kicks) versus the ground work (which Yone is outclassed at in story terms (and carried to in reality) early on) and suplexes of Otsuka (the released Dragon and half nelson versions being cringeworthy in their sickness). Otsuka triumphs by specifically choosing an area to attack (the head) and invading Yone's turf, scoring with both a cradle tombstone and an awesome Steiner Screwdriver(I think Otsuka (student of US wrestling) is really playing up to the Steiner mold here). He even tries to use Yone's own muscle buster against him, but fails. The finish is another of those which are a microcosm of the match as a whole, Yone scoring with the Muscle Buster, but Otsuka, who has a set target to execute, struggles back to his feet to get a Dragon Suplex, knocking out Yone. Yone's attempt to get up before falling flat on his face is on the boundary of goofy, but is fine with me. ***3/4
6. Young Generation Battle 2000 Final: Mitsuya Nagai Vs Alexander Otsuka Given this match and another vs Ikeda in early 2000, it appears if Nagai is going to lose in BattlArts, he is going to murder his opponent in kayfabe terms, and perhaps for real too. Apart from the ending, this match was way cool. It started in the same way as Usuda/Nagai, with Otsuka getting kicked to the outside. This foreshadowed two things: Nagai's kicks will be instrumental to his campaign and, of course, his eventual victory. This match's major motif was the fact that, Nagai was the manifestation of "You want to play 21, I got 22. You want to play black jack? I got two of those too. You want to play aces and eights? Well, I got some of those too", just without the beer gut, coming on to middle aged women and using a snake as a penis extension. Otsuka (who really put over Nagai through fear and apprehensive mannerisms) couldn't stand and trade blows, his European uppercuts and headbutt being not in the same universe as Nagai's leg strikes. In terms of suplexes (a notorious area of Otsuka advantage in most matches), Otsuka downs Nagai with a belly-to-belly and a german, but Nagai scores a far better suplex, getting to his feet with Otsuka still holding a jujigatame, then lifting him vertical still in the hold and throwing him over his head (!). Pro-style moves were another area of disparity, as, tellingly, Alex couldn't hit his Giant Swing (mostly because of Nagai's arm work) which he then recieved. Nagai could perform his trademark powerbomb, too. On the face of it, it appears Nagai is all that Yone was and more. Also, oje might think Otsuka is being buried. This would be so if it was not for the clever Kawada-ish "really hurting but trying to deny it and carry on" selling. Also, the mat was the area where they could go toe-to-toe (Nagai is not, however, inferior as Yone was).
Most of the work was done on each man's arms, with jujigatames, keylocks and that judo "drape leg over the reciever's hand and shoulder, link the hands in the crook of the elbow and pull" move that Minoru Tanaka's so fond of. Thus, it is ironic that the important bodypart psychology was not concerned with this at all. It was really subtle stuff, as Otsuka gets an early kneebar, which is heavily sold by Nagai, due to Usuda's earlier work. The way that the leg gets worn further down has nothing further to do with Alex, as Nagai further injures it himself by continuing to kick with that leg and doing a Giant Swing, that gets one, pained revolution before Nagai has to let it go. That is cleverer considering on the August 2000 Toryumon TV, Otsuka probably sets the world record by achieving over 40 revolutions on poor Stoker Ichikawa. The ending again is microcosmic of the whole, as Alex, after surviving the powerbomb/CFCW combo (which bested Usuda in the semis. More build on the previous match) endures more sick kicks (most to the torso and one, nearly KOing him, across the head. This is symbolic of his denial of Nagai's all consuming power and brutality) then Nagai tries a Minoru-ish jumping roll-through jujigatame he denied Otsuka using at the start of the bout (yet another, and the largest exhibition of his confidence), which Otsuka reverses into another kneebar, earning the submission. I'm astounded they managed to do so much in just over 10 minutes. I was torn on what to rate this match. It really matures like a fine wine as you rewatch a few times. Then you start to see the subtleties and how they build on previous matches, the latter being something still relatively rarely done outside All Japan and two-sided feuds. ****
Otsuka gets his trophy, and we get a BATTLARTS TEAM PHOTO~!
Excellent tape. No true classics here, but ample evidence of BattlArts's greatness. If you love stories in matches, subtlety and deeper selling, this is for you. The only problem was that some matches could have been given a little more time. Thumbs way up.
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