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Tatsumi Fujinami

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#1 William Bologna

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 07:44 PM

Fujinami is a wrestler I've long thought I'd like without ever seeing much of his work. As a longtime All Japan mark and all-around wrestling philistine, I've never had much occasion to dive into the work of a man who is, according to the inarguable dictates of science, the 20th greatest wrestler of all time.

 

Of all time!

 

But I have an NJPW World account and some time to kill between their last letdown of an event and upcoming, dog-ass awful tag team tournament, so why not watch every Fujinami match on the service?

 

They didn't make it easy (I hesitate to blame Gedo personally, but who else is there?). Normally a wrestler has two entries in the tag list; one in Japanese, and one in our Roman script. For some reason, there are four Fujinamis in the archive, and each one has a different number of matches. Dammit, Gedo!

 

I choose the first of these, with the largest number of matches (44). It seems to be mostly in chronological order.

 

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Carlos Estrada vs Tatsumi Fujinami

 

I guess this is the title that wound up in the J-Crown before the WWF demanded it back.

 

Here's what I like about Carlos/Jose Estrada (and kudos to the MSG ring announcer for that rolled R on his last name): The dude starts heeling immediately. He lofts the belt like a dick and then proceeds to bitch and moan the whole time the ref is checking him. Here is a man who will take a shortcut, you say to yourself. Meanwhile, Fujinami's in the other corner wearing the traditional young lion gear and looking all wholesome and full of fighting spirit.

 

Estrada brings a lot of hip tosses and some pretty sweet full-body-windup punches, and Fujinami gets his fighting spirit comebacks here and there. In response to a couple totally rad dropkicks, Estrada puts on the full heel handshake act. The beg-off, the hands behind the back, the offered handshake, the full drop to the knees one hand behind the back offered handshake.

 

Will this virtuous young man fall for the wiles of the crafty veteran? What if I told you there were no wiles, and Estrada just wanted to shake hands? And the fans boo him for just shaking hands and not cheating? Seriously, this guy's an amazing heel.

 

Eventually Estrada goes for and misses some kind off flip of the top rope. Fujinami hits him with what must be one of the first recorded dragon suplexes, and - making an argument that wrestling in 1978 is better than it is in 2017 - pins him with it. 

 

Fujinami reacts with wild, hair-out-of-place enthusiasm - he can't believe he did it! His joy is infectious, as the American crowd seems to be just as excited as he is (at least the collection of sideburns and turtlenecks picked up by the camera is). Estrada sells like he's dead, because he's a pro and he just got nailed with a damn dragon suplex in 1978.

 

An in-ring in-Japanese interview follows, in which they seem to talk a lot about the suplex and about Fujinami doing his best. This must have been fascinating for the audience.

 

This was great. Early Fujinami was like Hirai Kawato, and that's pretty much the best thing you can be.



#2 William Bologna

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 08:05 PM

WWWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Ryoma Tsuyoshi 7/27/1978

 

I had no idea who Ryoma is, and I feared that transliteration issues would keep his identity a secret forever. But then I smartened up, turned off Google translate, and searched for his name in Japanese.

 

It's goddamn Ryuma Go! Alien-fighin', baka-yellin', absurdist indy rasslin'-inventin' Ryuma Go! I'll be damned.

 

Just as his later career would prefigure Survival Tobita, the late 70s Ryuma Go prefigured Genichiro Tenryu, with his puffy perm, yellow towel, and high-waisted trunks that look like a diaper.

 

What I learned here is that when it comes to wasting time in pre-modern wrestling, I much MUCH prefer Puerto Rican heel work to good honest Japanese mat wrestling. These two roll around and procure headlocks and whatnot with no effect and no pretense of any effect until it's time to hit the highspots.

 

The finish is nifty. Go misses a dive - truly the Achilles' heel of Fujinami's first two opponents here - and Fujinami goes for the dragon suplex. Go blocks, goes behind, and is then gone behind himself, allowing Fujinami to hit the German suplex and - making an argument that wrestling in 1978 is better than it is in 2017 - pin Go with it.

 

Then they shake hands and show respect and what have you. Neither of these guys is the other's best opponent. Thus far, Fujinami has done his best work against Jose Estrada, while Ryuma has his best work ahead of him against aliens. 



#3 William Bologna

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 05:45 PM

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs El Canek 6/7/1979

 

I don't watch much lucha, and I'd always just known El Canek as the other guy who bodyslammed Andre. So it's cool to get a look at him here.

 

Fujinami's rocking an amazing burgundy robe with the biggest lapels you ever saw. I bet that's still sitting in the back of his closet.

 

We have about two-thirds of a really great match here. They start off with action matwork broken up by rope-running hijinks, ending with Fujinami pulling off a flying headscissors. He looks just fantastic here, and none of this feels dated.

 

Eventually our antagonists each take a turn going outside the ring and taking a dive. It is at this point, I'm sorry to say, that the match falls apart. Fujinami starts trying to rip off El Canek's mask, which seems to come out of nowhere. They didn't seem any more pissed at each other than any other two opponents, but I don't know the conventions of mask-ripping in the late 70s. Canek gets blown up, and his exhaustion causes him to drop Fujinami in a couple dangerous-looking ways. Back in control, he seems to run out of ideas and things drag.

 

Well, he had one idea. He takes off Fujinami's boot and then his sock. That'll show him!

 

While this would seem to be a devastating setback, boot-and-sock-removal didn't help Tarzan Goto (or was it Mr. Pogo?) against Tenryu, and it can't save Canek this time. He hops onto the top rope to do a flying crossbody, but Fujinami hits a quick, one-boot dropkick and gets an abrupt pin.

 

This is hot stuff until Canek gets tired. I like that in the three matches so far, Fujinami has won with three different moves. I find the modern rigidity regarding finishers limiting.



#4 William Bologna

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Posted 10 November 2017 - 03:04 PM

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Kengo Kimura 12/13/1979

 

The part I copy/pasted above says this is for the WWF junior title; elsewhere on the page it says "Martial arts world finals." Dammit, Gedo!

 

Kimura comes in hot with two dropkicks and a backdrop suplex. He then presses his advantage by taking it to the mat. And keeping it there. For a while.

 

The crowd starts entertaining itself with chants while they wait for this bit to end. In the Canek match, they broke up the matwork with some running around. No such luck here.

 

That said, these guys are really over or this is just a good crowd, because they're clearly waiting for an occasion to start yelling. This comes when our combatants finally get up off the mat and commence to running the ropes, in which scenario Fujinami again looks amazing.

 

Business continues to pick up as Kimura hits a backdrop outside the ring, and once back inside sloppily drops Fujinami on his neck a couple times. The opponents are not doing a great job taking care of the man, but he's still out here wrestling in his 60s so I guess the damage wasn't too bad.

 

Finally Fujinami hits a German suplex hold, but too close to the ropes for the pin. He scoops Kimura back up and piledrives him for the win.

 

Four matches, four different finishing moves.

 

My verdict on Fujinami so far is that he's completely awesome. His stuff looks great, and he's got great babyface charisma. All of these matches have been good, although the Estrada one is the only one I loved.



#5 WingedEagle

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Posted 10 November 2017 - 03:11 PM

Really enjoying your takes on these older matches.  Will have to check some out on the site.



#6 William Bologna

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Posted 10 November 2017 - 09:22 PM

Thanks! It's been a lot easier to watch than I figured it would be. And we got a humdinger with Dynamite Kid coming up.

#7 William Bologna

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 11:05 AM

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Dynamite Kid 2/5/1980
 
I was about to say that Dynamite was the first opponent I was really familiar with, but that's not true. I remember the British Bulldogs from when I was a kid, but it's not like I remember anything about their work. If I'm being honest, I mostly remember Matilda.
 
I'm happy to report that Dynamite Kid is amazing. The bulk of this match consists of Dynamite just beating the hell out of Fujinami. He's dealing out what appear to extremely hard strikes, and if anything I've ever heard about Dyanmite is true, they actually are extremely hard strikes - European uppercuts, kicks right to the face, and quick, short, vicious punches. DK has this sudden, terse body language. Little wasted motion, lots of pain.
 
Fujinami has a bandaged cut over his eye, and I probably don't need to tell you that Dynamite goes right for it. The important thing when you're bleeding is to take a moment to stand up and slowly present your face to all four sides of the ring, and Fujinami takes a momentary trip by DK to the outside to do just that. Always gets a pop.
 
Dynamite continues to attack the wound with his teeth and these brutal diving fistdrops. Fujinami comes back with some dropkicks. To the extent a shoot dropkick is a real thing, these are it. Fujinami finally gets a chance to dish out some receipts, and DK gets a boot right in the jaw on each one.
 
The end comes on a fluke, as Fujinami pulls off some kind of fancy-ass rollup and gets the three count. (Five matches, five different winning moves.) Dynamite responds with the sportsmanship we expect from him, stomping the winner in the head a few times. 
 
This is just about perfect. I realized while watching this that my issue with the Go and Kimura matches was that in both cases Fujinami was wrestling a guy who was pretty much just like him but not as good. The Estrada match pitted a man of skill and virtue vs a dirty cheater, and that was great. DK is a different kind of heel - he's not really cheating, he's just mean. It's a perfect persona for Fujinami's natural babyfacedness to play off of.
 
I even loved the fluke finish. Dynamite Kid had done absolutely everything to Fujinami. Him overpowering DK after that and hitting a real finish would have strained suspension of disbelief (this was my problem with Okada vs Shibata) (well, that and one of the participants almost killing himself).
 
So this was great. I knew Dynamite was good, but he blew me away in this, and Fujinami is a perfect opponent for him. Five stars. Ten, maybe. More.



#8 William Bologna

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 10:30 AM

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Ashura Hara 4/3/1980

 

Hara's another guy I've heard of without seeing his work or really knowing who he was. My guesses on Hara were "Tenryu crony" and "gambler?" and I was right! I also guessed this match was interpromotional, since Hara's corner guys are pointedly wearing yellow rather than the red NJPW windbreakers, and that was also correct. Hara was an IWE guy who jumped to All Japan with Rusher Kimura, was fired over his gambling debts, and wound up following Tenryu around during that man's peripatetic career.

 

Also that's not his real name (Hara is, Ashura's not), and I'm wondering about this. Typically a Japanese wrestler is announced family name first - Fujinami Tatsumi. This is also the case when it's not the man's real name but functions as a Japanese name rather than a nickname (cf. Tenryu). Here the ring announcer says "Ashura Hara," putting Ashura in the nickname category along with Jumbo, Giant, Jaguar, Tarzan, W*ING, Dump, Survival, Animal, Bull, Plum, Antonio, and Abdullah Jr. I can't think of another example (which is not to say that there isn't one) of a non-foreign word being announced in this way.

 

ANYWAY, Hara looks like a sleazy Hiroshi Hase and responds to Fujinami's offer of a handshake with a slap in the face. Those IWE guys are a bunch of no-goodniks if you ask me. Even Gypsy Joe.

 

Fujinami wants to keep it on the mat (specifically a headscissors) because he's a sportsman, while Hara wants to brawl because he's a bastard. They're not always looking real cooperative, which who knows might even be a shoot, brother. Eventually Hara goads Fujinami into stomping him (Hara) while he's in the ropes, which just goes to show you how spicy things are getting.

 

It gets even spicier as Fujinami goes outside and once again returns to ring with his face all red and drippy. Make sure everyone gets a look!

 

Hara goes hits of one of those looping, full-body Estrada punches, but when he tries another, Fujinami ducks it, hits a German suplex, and sinks in a not great-looking submission for the win. The yellow boys are outraged, hitting the ring and shoving the ref out of the way because IWE guys got no respect. Post-match shenanigans are teased, but cooler heads prevail and they haul out the trophies.

 

Fujinami gets two trophies and a Lord Blears-style announcement every time he wins one of these, and lately he also gets a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

 

This was pretty good. The pace was decent, the non-cooperativeness worked, and while Hara wasn't as vicious as Dynamite Kid, but he was ornery enough to keep things interesting.



#9 NintendoLogic

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 06:07 PM

Ashura isn't a Japanese given name. It's a warrior demon in Buddhist cosmology. As for actual names, Masa Saito's name was announced in the Western order, at least from the 80s on.

 

Anyway, really enjoying the writeups. Keep them coming.



#10 William Bologna

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 07:19 PM

Interesting, thanks. You know, it never even occurred to me that Ashura wasn't Japanese. Mostly I blame two things: Wikipedia for not telling me that, and Hara himself for acting more like if Hase were a drunk than a demon.

 

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Chavo Guerrero 5/9/1980

 

Well here's a letdown. Meltzer told me Chavo Classic was really good, and here he is with the greatest wrestler in the history of 1980. All I can say about this is that it's unquestionably a wrestling match that occurred.

 

I mostly forgot about this ten minutes after it ended, but I remember some Taguchi-style hip attacks from Guerrero, some lucha-style submissions that they couldn't quite hold together (a surfboard works only when both participants are fully invested), and Chavo just kind of doing his own thing. 

 

At one point he does a backflip off the top rope for no reason at all. It kind of looked like he expected Fujinami to run into him afterwards so they could do something lucha-ish, but Fujinami was as surprised as I was. Chavo was just out there going into flip-business for himself like Teddy Hart.

 

We get a repeat of the finish from the Ryuma Go match (foiled dragon suplex into a German for the pin), and with this Fujinami breaks his six match streak of never repeating a finisher. The announcers seem to be talking a lot about the dragon suplex, but we haven't actually seen one since all the way back in the first match against Estrada (who might still be selling it - what a pro!).

 

So yeah, very little to say about this one. I will mention that the New Japan refs at this time are all really muscular and favor the tight t- or polo shirt with slacks pulled up half a foot above their navels. Hell, maybe it's the same guy with different haircuts putting himself out there like that.



#11 William Bologna

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Posted 13 November 2017 - 04:33 PM

Tatsumi Fujinami & Tiger Mask vs El Soritario & El Solar 9/18/1981

 

Here's a handy guide to keeping our competitors straight:

 

Fujinami: Our hero! A clean-cut, athletic young man with one hell of a head of hair.

 

El Solar: Has suns all over him, including on his knees. Makes it clear that he doesn't belong in a wrestling match the instant he does anything.

 

El Solitario: Looks like a raccoon. I looked this up, and "Solitario" is "Lone," as in the Lone Ranger. Thus, the raccoon eyes refer to the Lone Ranger's mask. Just as George Washington had a wig for his wig and a brain for his heart, the dude has a mask on his mask.

 

Tiger Mask: Has a mask that looks like a tiger.

 

I was hoping for something here. 15 minutes, four men, two of them straight out of Mexico - that's a recipe for action! But . . . not really. There's a lot of laying around in holds for such a short match, and about half the population of this match shouldn't be there.

 

El Solar is so bad it makes me think I missed something. Like, were they filming a Jerry Lewis vehicle where the wacky main character has to put on a mask and get in there with real wrestlers? Seriously, at one point he hits Tiger Mask to break up a hold and he (Solar) bounces backwards from the impact. He has the physique, body language, and ability of the Mighty Maccabee, but at least Maccabee bankrolled the show. Someone in an office in Tokyo actually bought Solar a plane ticket.
 

I always found the Tiger Mask gimmick irritating, but the original one almost won me over here by kicking dudes pretty hard. I was jerked back to reality when he tried to do that silly spot where he gets the guy in the corner and flips off his chest, and he completely eats shit on it. He follows that up by whiffing on a dive I think he was supposed to hit. You don't win the hearts of the children by plancha-ing onto the floor, jackass.

 

Then everyone else hits their dives, and then we're reminded it's the 80s as everyone brawls outside until they wave it off. I guess you have to keep Solitario and Solar strong - can't have them doing any jobs.

 

Solitario grabs a mic and cuts a promo in what I guess is Spanish - the sound system isn't the best. Fujinami responds in . . . English, maybe? He says "OK" at the end, but that's a trans-languitational word. 

 

Maybe this lame match full of incompetents going to a non-finish was worth it to fans in 1981 if it led anywhere. We get nothing, though - there's no follow-up on NJPW World. I get the impression that these early matches are from a Fujinami retrospective commercial tape with after the fact commentary. So why include this?

 

I'm happy at least to see that the Mexican tag teams NJPW is bringing over have gotten better. These guys ain't exactly Dragon Lee and Titan.



#12 William Bologna

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Posted 14 November 2017 - 05:35 PM

Tatsumi Fujinami vs Animal Hamaguchi 11/5/1981
 
I'm going to provide some speculative background on this match. Given that the commentators keep saying "heavykyu," I'm guessing Fujinami's in the process of moving up to heavyweight.
 
Considering the heat during the intros and the fact that Fujinami jumps Hamaguchi, I'll posit that Hamaguchi is a midcard heavyweight who expressed skepticism that Fujinami could swim with the sharks ("sharks" defined as people who weigh ten pounds more than the guys he was wrestling a couple months ago).
 
It's the classic Beretta/Yujiro Takahashi narrative, as described by Aristotle.

We get a real fired up Fujinami here, and it almost totally works. He's angry enough to do commit some unsportsmanlike conduct, like when he holds on to a cross armbreaker after Hamaguchi makes the ropes. He lays in some stiff shots punctuated by yelling - this isn't another day at the office for him. 
 
But they miss some opportunities. There's a lot of matwork, and it's pretty good except that they don't take the opportunity to do a lot of character work. There's one instance where Hamaguchi has Fujinami down in a leglock, and Fujinami slaps him in the face. Hamaguchi puts his fist right in front of Fujinami's nose, and . . . nothing. They go back to exchanging holds.
 
I liked Hamaguchi. He had a sneer of cold command, and his stuff looked good. He hit Fujinami with an airplane spin into a Samoan drop that was just brutal and cool enough that I'm surprised it hasn't been stolen.
 
Just between you and me, though, I'm not sure his hair was a shoot, if you get my drift. It doesn't look right on his neck.
 
The finish comes when Fujinami hits a vicious suicide dive to the outside (this was so good it made up for him whiffing on three out of four dropkicks - this is the sloppiest we've seen him). He puts Hamaguchi in a sleeper, they tumble over the guardrail, and then goddammit it's still the 80s and the ref calls for the bell.
 
There's some post-match fighting and both guys look like they're calling for five more minutes, but we get nothing. Once again, why did this match make the cut? This was a real nice piece of business if you're setting up something for down the road. If they had another singles match, I bet it was really awesome - more hate, and Animal gets his comeuppance. That'd put my butt in a seat.
 
But as it is, we just get the tease. I didn't care about seeing Tiger Mask and the Mexicans again, but I'm actually annoyed that I don't get any resolution here. Stop blueballing me, Gedo.

#13 William Bologna

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Posted 15 November 2017 - 04:17 PM

Antonio Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Stan Hansen & Laurent Bock 12/8/1981

 

"Laurent Bock" is Roland Bock, and this caused me some confusion. When NJPW World tells me a match features Choshu Force or Big Bang Vader, I can figure it out. This is a more obscure figure, and a Google search taught me that "Laurent Bock" is a completely reasonable name for someone to have. Like this guy, who teaches about Belgian soil or something.

 

Anyway, Bock is a tall German who had a couple of interminable and apparently non-cooperative singles matches with Inoki (the one in Germany clocks in at 53 minutes, and I have no intention of subjecting myself to that). He looks like a giant Holger Czukay, and he's just weird. He looks kind of under- or oddly-trained - his throws, his strikes, and his whips into the ropes look different. Not truly bad - he's not El Solar or anything - but distinctive.

 

He's clearly not a good professional wrestler, and here the comparison with Hansen is instructive. Hansen's presence fills the ring, and he really tries to carry Bock through this thing. He shouts instructions several times, and whenever he tags in Roland, he sets something up for him - holding up an arm for an elbow strike or whatever. When Bock tags out, he just kind leaves his opponent alone and shuffles across the ring.

 

There are also body language issues. It's clear from the moment this match starts that Bock would rather do be doing something else, and throughout he has this hangdog, Jay Cutler-esque look on his face. At one point Fujinami slaps him, and Bock dispiritedly heads back to his corner looking like Fujinami hurt his feelings. There are some emotions that are acceptable for a worker in his role to express - anger, fear, intensity, etc. Hurt feelings isn't one of them.

 

Hansen, meanwhile - and I'm sure I don't need to tell you this - is a perfect damn pro wrestler. The smallest things he does he does well. If he's stomping a guy, he's stomping the hell out of him. If he's dropping an elbow, then by God that elbow knows it's been dropped. He's always moving and yelling and throwing up the horns.

 

The natives are overshadowed by this weirdo foreigner pairing. Inoki does very little. Fujinami has a weird, giddy expression on his face. It's endearing - maybe he didn't know about Bock yet. Inoki sets him for a couple kneedrops off the top rope, and we almost get a hot sequence when he hits Hansen with a backdrop suplex (they fumble it from there, and I think I have to blame Stan).

 

After fifteen minutes that felt longer, Bock hits a double-arm suplex on Fujinami (which, to everyone's credit, they did tease like a killer move) and pins Fujinami before Inoki can save him. There's some brawling after the finish, but it's downright eerie how quiet it is. The introductions are hot, with Hansen, Inoki, and Fujinami all getting big pops and streamers. But they completely lose the audience during the course of the contest, and that continues into the post-match festivities. But then Hansen throws up the horns again. They like that.

 

Weird and bad.



#14 William Bologna

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 05:51 PM

2nd MSG Tag League championship Antonio Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Andre the Giant & Rene Goulet 12/10/81
 
It's always fun to see Andre when he can still kind of move, and man was this cool. He tosses our heroes around and shrugs off their offense, and they have to resort to some pretty tricky stuff to make any headway. For example, Inoki goes for a flying headscissors, and Andre just flings him off. When Inoki tries again, Fujinami comes charging in and dropkicks Andre in the back to knock him over. Andre doesn't take the bump perfectly, but what the hell? The man's a giant.
 
Goulet tags and, and is he really good? He and Fujinami do some really fun matwork and both look great. Andre and Goulet make sense as a team - Andre can do his giant stuff in small doses, and then Rene can come in and work. Plus from the back if you squint he looks kind of like the Hulkster, and that makes us think about the greatest moment in sports entertainment history, brother.
 
This is our second Inoki match, and he's shown me absolutely nothing so far. He was a non-entity in the Bock/Hansen match (although Hansen still sold like hell for him because he's the boss), and here the match grinds to a halt when the Goulet/Fujinami pairing is replaced with Goulet/Inoki. Fujinami was actually working; Inoki puts Goulet in a hold and takes a rest. He's not even showing any personality, which - I thought that was the whole thing with this jackass?
 
The finish: Inoki gets Andre (who's been selling like hell for him because he's the boss) in a cross armbreaker; Goulet breaks it up, and Inoki is so angry that he just has to fight Goulet outside the ring, where anything goes and the ref - resplendent in his slacks and skintight polo shirt - can't do anything about it. He does make sure awkwardly to tag in Fujinami before he departs for the lawless trench that surrounds the field of battle.
 
Fujinami heads to top rope, whence he is flung by the Giant to the mat. Andre then proactively imitates two consecutive WWF champions by hitting a big boot and a splash for the win. Somehow this way better than when Hogan and Warrior used those moves.
 
Andre really excels in the post-match. This being the finals of a tournament, they immediately haul out all the trophies and ringboys and announcements. Andre's stomping around, bellowing, demanding applause, and browbeating the audience. And it's really impressive because he's got that voice and he's, you know, a giant. I'm pretty sure they're chanting "Andre" at one point.
 
Meanwhile, and I'd love to hear if anyone knows anything about this, there are a half dozen guys in windbreakers standing behind the losers, and one of them has his face digitally blurred. What could that possibly be about?
 
This was a really fun 8 minutes. Andre was great, Goulet and Fujinami kept things moving, and Inoki wasn't in all that much. If I were ranking these things, this would be #3 (behind Dynamite Kid and Estrada).

#15 William Bologna

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 08:12 PM

WWF Heavyweight Championship bout Bob Backlund vs Tatsumi Fujinami 1/1/1982

 

I can't bring myself to care about this. It's Bob Backlund rolling around on the mat and making weird noises ("whoah whoah" or sometimes "whoah oh oh") in a match whose conclusion is never in doubt.

 

Backlund has got to be the weirdest main eventer in pro wrestling history. Nothing about him, from how he stands ass-out to how he blows into the microphone several times before yelling like an idiot, suggests "wrestling champion." More like "guy you don't make eye contact with at the bus stop."

 

He is really strong. Fujinami has him in an armlock, and Backlund just picks him. Doesn't do anything with him; just carries him around and deposits him on the turnbuckle.

 

Fujinami didn't look very good either. He hits a dropkick into a rollup, and both look bad enough that I wonder if he's tired. The dropkick only got up as far as a New Japan referee pulls his slacks.

 

You better believe this waste of my time wasn't redeemed by the finish. They exchange some rollup attempts when suddenly the bell rings. Turns out (as we see in the slow motion replay) on one of them Backlund accidentally got a three count. Good night, everyone!

 

Backlund is weirdly outraged and stomps around in his uncanny way before he comes to terms with it, favors the audience with a yell and a lobotomized grin, and goes home.

 

This felt like work.



#16 William Bologna

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Posted 19 November 2017 - 06:33 PM

Antonio Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Rusher Kimura & Animal Hamaguchi 10/26/82

 

Plenty of heat for the intros - we got streamers flying everywhere, the combatants throwing bouquets at one another, and Inoki brandishing a pair of scissors.

 

In this corner we have our New Japan heroes, and in that corner we have a couple of cheating IWE bastards. Boo! Rusher Kimura is dressed like Rikidozan and has a suspicious wrap on his forearm. The ref wants to check it, and that's apparently a problem that requires Rusher and his goons to slap the ref around. Those bastards. IWE is all bastards.

 

Animal is moving on up my personal list - he shows some good fire in this and does a nice job getting beaten up by Fujinami. His partner, meanwhile, is terrible. Kimura is stiff and awkward, and his offense consists mainly of throwing these unnatural-looking strikes with the wrapped-up part of his forearm. He also busts out a devastating move where his opponent is on the mat and he gently places a hand over the throat.

 

Inoki is worse. He's back to sitting in holds and doing nothing. Sometimes he'll punch a guy in the arm and then make a face.

 

Inoki and Fujinami get their opponents in submissions, and then the IWE's third man (no idea) comes in a stomps everyone. I figured (hoped) this would be the DQ finish, but everything just keeps going like it never happened. I should note that the crowd isn't much more interested in this than I am. After the hot intro, they're pretty checked out.

 

Finally Inoki does a bunch of Inoki stuff to Hamaguchi and gets the pin. The crowd finally heats up when Inoki uses his scissors on that third IWE guy. I don't know who he is, but he must have done something to make the New Japan fans hate his hair.

 

This match was annoying. All the elements were there - interpromotional drama, dudes who hate one another, and dudes the fans hated. I didn't want workrate; I didn't want a bunch of moves. I just wanted some heat and quasi-legit punches to the face.

 

They wasted it. They could have done something great here, but Kimura and Inoki were too goddamn lazy to take advantage of the situation. Hamaguchi gets it, but there's only one Animal in this match.

 

Regarding the protagonist of this series, Fujinami isn't there yet. His stuff looks good and he shows the necessary fighting spirit. But in situations like this, he can get lost in the mix - he's been an afterthought in all these matches with Inoki as partner (which wouldn't bother me so much if Inoki brought anything to the table). I hope that as he gets the heavyweight spotlight pointed at him he learns how to project his character.

 

The good news is no more Inoki for a while. The news that I'm not certain how to take is that up next we have four consecutive singles matches against Riki Choshu. Fujinami had better figure it out at some point, if only for me.



#17 William Bologna

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Posted 21 November 2017 - 04:43 PM

WWF International Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Riki Choshu 11/4/1982

 

Half the runtime on this one is taken up with a recap of Fujinami and Choshu having issues during and after a six man tag (those two and Inoki vs Bad News Allen, SD Jones, and Abdullah). I don't know what it is, but they just can't stop slapping the piss out of each other! So I was actually pretty excited for this because man they were hitting each other really hard.

 

I don't know anything about the title at stake here, but it's got an off-brand eagle on it and is hideous.

 

The issues between these two gentlemen continue as Fujinami jumps Choshu while the ref checks his boot for guns or swords or whatever. Choshu takes the initiative with a backdrop suplex. We get dueling sleeper holds, and then they lay around on the mat for a while.

 

They can't spend too long down there, though, because it's a short match in the 80s and they have to get to the awful finish. Choshu hits a clothesline and then another to send Fujinami outside. Then because they hate each other so much, they keep fighting out there until the ref is forced to call it.

 

The end was bad even by the standards of 80s bad finishes for a few reasons:

  • It was just so damn obvious. As soon as Fujinami went out, we all knew what was going to happen.
  • Choshu's clotheslines are terrible (which explains why Kensuke Sasaki's clotheslines are terrible). He just kind of swings his arm without moving the rest of his body.
  • They screw it up. The second clothesline was supposed to be so forceful that it would propel Fujinami clear out the ring. It does not, and Fujinami is forced to just duck under the top rope.

This did nothing for me, but I will admit that the crowd was enthusiastic throughout. So it wasn't as bad as one of those Inoki catastrophes at least.

 

I figured that when Fujinami moved up to heavyweight the workrate would go down. But I was hopeful that the fast pace and cool suplexes would be replaced with stiffness and intensity. This has not been the case.



#18 Jetlag

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 06:00 AM

Roland Bock was a former olympic-level amateur who quit the real fighting after he had a nervous breakdown and blundering his chance at the olympics. He got into pro wrestling for a quick buck and "not wanting to be there" pretty much sums him up. He used to run his own wrestling shows where he main evented against a bear and all that crap. Of course the japanese loved him for his uncooperative bullshit.



#19 William Bologna

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 08:07 PM

I bet Bock vs Bear was better than Bock vs Inoki.

 

WWF International Heavyweight Championship bout Tatsumi Fujinami vs Riki Choshu 4/3/1983

 

Last time on "Fujinami vs Choshu for the WWF International Title": It sucked and Fujinami kept the belt.

 

Here we resume the series as the same two men face off for the same belt in the same building with, we hope, a different outcome.

 

They still hate each other, and we start with them lariating each other and then selling for a while. You can tell the announcers are really trying to get the move over as a killer because they keep mentioning Stan Hansen.

 

They fill the time with matwork, but it's a little more entertaining this time. They're upright more often, and we get a nice build to a couple scorpion deathlocks from Choshu.

 

The finish is hot as hell. Our combatants go outside and have a short but vicious brawl out there - Fujinami whips Choshu into the barricade and turns his back on him, only for Choshu to stalk him and hit a lariat among the spent streamers. Choshu gets in first and attempts to bring Fujinami back in with a vertical suplex from the apron. Fujinami flips out of it and pulls off a beautiful bridging German suplex for a two count. Because wrestling in 1983 is better than it is in 2017, people - including Choshu himself - can't believe that he kicked out. In our degenerate age, three of those things in a row is a transition move.

 

Fujinami ducks a lariat and rolls Choshu up. It doesn't work, and he runs into a full-body lariat from Choshu, who dickishly smooshes his hand over Fujinami's face to ensure that he gets a three count.

 

The post-match is wonderful. Choshu has a burly, bearded sidekick (I'm guessing Hiro Saito) who's super excited and keeps hugging the victor. Fujinami looks distraught to the point that I felt bad for him. Choshu hoists his trophy (you get a trophy, I guess) with what seems like real pride. The ring announcer in his droopy, overlapelled tuxedo looks like he's on his way to prom with Marge Bouvier and Artie Ziff. And there's another burly hug!

 

It's been a while since I liked one of these, so maybe I'm overrating this. But I dug it. They kept the hatred going throughout the match, which has been difficult for some of these guys. The finishing sequence was modern (in a good way), and they - the wrestlers, the cornermen, everyone - treated it like a legit athletic contest. This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to see after Fujinami joined the heavies.

 

Two more to go. Let's hope they can keep it up.



#20 William Bologna

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Posted 26 November 2017 - 05:51 PM

WWF International Heavyweight Championship bout Riki Choshu vs Tatsumi Fujinami 7/7/1983

 

Part three of our four part series. Fujinami wants his title back, but will the rage that burns inside stop him from reaching his goals?

 

Choshu taunts Fujinami with the (ugly) belt, and Fujinami throws a towel at him, so you know this is personal.

 

It's noticeably hot here in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium tonight. The fans are . . . fanning themselves, and our competitors are completely drenched in sweat pretty much immediately. Which, look, no judgment here - if you like the sweaty muscley man aspect of pro wrestling, this is the match for you. Fujinami is always in fantastic shape, and he's looking even swoller than usual in this match.

 

They trade cross armbreakers, which is a hold you can sit around in like a headlock since this is before MMA. It's no skin off my back, since they break up the matwork by getting up and doing some rope running and rasslin moves every so often before going back to the mat.

 

That's essential in this style. It's a given that you're going to spend ten minutes doing matwork. Two things have to happen to make it entertaining: 1. Actually work the holds, rather than putting on an armbar and sitting there until it's time to do something else. 2. Break it up. After a couple minutes of armbar, get up, run the ropes, and throw a dropkick. Then you can go back into the armbar without me losing interest.

 

As they trade holds, Choshu focuses on the head while Fujinami works on the legs. Fujinami gets in enough legwork that Choshu starts limping around, which I think is the first instance of actual selling we've seen in this series. I didn't even notice it was missing until someone started doing it.

 

Choshu gets the advantage and heads to the top rope, which is a first. But Fujinami springs up and pulls off the second-and-a-half rope vertical suplex (Choshu is on the top rope, but Fujinami is on the second, so I split the difference). We're getting a real escalation of moves here.

 

We get some stiff slaps into a backdrop suplex and a scorpion deathlock from Choshu. Fujinami responds with a deathlock of his own and refuses to release it when Choshu gets to the ropes. The ref gives him five full counts of warning before the disqualification.

 

At this point all hell breaks loose - Choshu has one tall guy in his corner, and he runs in to try to peel Fujinami off. But Fujinami has a whole passel of dudes in 10th anniversary windbreakers, and their might makes right as they hold off Choshu's guy and allow Fujinami to keep that deathlock on for a downright heelish amount of time.

 

As far as non-finishes go, this is one of the better ones. It didn't feel as perfunctory as the DCORs we've seen before, and it built interest for a rematch. I'm on board with the idea that an otherwise reasonable man can get carried away by the violence of a pro wrestling match and allow the baser aspects of his nature to rob him of his chance at victory. I remember - and it's been years since I've seen this, so I hope I'm remembering it correctly - a Jumbo vs Tenryu triple crown match where the intensity built and built until Tenryu lost control and kicked Jumbo right in the dick for the DQ. It's my favorite non-finish ever, and this wasn't at that level. Fujinami throws away his chance to win back his title because he's overwhelmed by his own cruelty and anger, but he doesn't quite get that across. He's mad, but he's not mad enough.

 

Still, this was good stuff, the crowd loved it, and we're all (i.e., me, the fans of 1983 Japan, and perhaps even you the reader) looking forward to the final installment.







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