I reviewed it longform on SC (and I imagine Phil/Eric will follow suit soon):
I have no idea why this came out now. I'm just glad it did. This is one of the earliest Andre matches we've seen and it's potentially his first title win. Van Buyten is a guy we just have bits and pieces of at disparate points of his career. We have him in Germany against Lasartesse and Dave Taylor and Terry Rudge in the mid-late 80s. We have him in one of my favorite comedy performances of all time in a 6 man against Andre in 1973 IWE. This is a straight up title match with him absolutely shining.
After about eight minutes of ceremony, this gets going. It's actually structured unlike many Andre matches I've seen, but in a way that I really love. Van Buyten, the more experienced technician (champion even), who has dozens of tools in his arsenal, has to figure out how to deal with the problem of Andre. The problem of Andre in 1968 is different than in 1978 or 1988 when he was thicker, slower, easier to keep grounded once you got him down. Here he was all arms and legs, with incredible strength and incredible reach. Just twisting an ankle or stepping over for some sort of legvine was near impossible, and if Van Buyten somehow managed it, Andre would be within reach of the ropes almost no matter where he was in the ring.
This played out in practice. There's a 30+ second segment at the start of Van Buyten trying desperately to get a leglock of some sort on. He does everything from attacking at the leg to trying to ride it down with all of his body weight, to no avail as Andre shrugs him off in the end. The sheer struggle of it was tremendous though. Ultimately, Van Buyten's able to use his speed and skill and sheer aggression and confidence to hold his own during this first third. He'll leap right into Andre just to get a front facelock on, will dive head first into Andre's torso just to buy some distance to lock in another cravat. He knows his only chance at long term survival is to keep these holds on; if Andre gets his hands on him, it's over. So he hangs on even as Andre tries to shrug him off, leading, at one point, to Andre taking a fly mare (an appropriate naming, as opposed to a snap mare, believe it or not), but Andre's just too big and too lanky and any movement around the ring takes him towards the ropes.
The culmination of this is a pair of 'ranas, outright, real, true ones. One unfortunate development in wrestling over the last fifty or so years is that we've come to take so many spots for granted. Things are done for the sake of doing them and without the purpose or struggle that something newly developed might have. Here, to hit that first rana, Van Buyten has to twist his body back and forth. Absolutely nothing in this match is taken for granted. Everything Van Buyten does is fought for. Part of that was the fact that he was trying to do it to Andre, yes, but so much of it was just about the fact that this was a match from Frace in 1968. Times were different and the struggle was visceral.
The middle of the match is Andre getting his hands on Van Buyten. Yes, it's a bear hug. Yes, it's an Andre bear hug, but it's like none you've ever seen. There is struggle here to go along with the selling, and Van Buyten has to sell this. Andre's winning the match and it's up to Van Buyten to keep himself over by both showing how hard he's fighting and also showing Andre to be the threat that he is. In the end, though, he tries to hip top his way out of the bearhug, which is a crazy thought, and Andre hangs on, causing both men to tumble to the mat.
The finishing stretch is all about Van Buyten's skill and desperation against Andre's inevitable strength. Towards the end, as Van Buyten tries to charge at him once more, Andre lifts him up for a first press-slam into a gut buster. Then, remarkably, Van Buyten tries it again. When you're watching a match from an alien time and an alien place, in an alien style, with one wrestler you're only passingly familiar with, there's always a danger of reading too much or too little into the text. Here, though, I feel fairly sure of myself. Van Buyten all but jumped into the second press slam-gutbuster, without the struggle of the first or most of the rest of the match. This surprised me in the moment, until it became relatively clear that it was part of a broader gambit. At the moment of contact (knee to stomach), he arched his body, grabbing hold to Andre and rolling him over. It was a moment of true sacrifice, a desperate gambit late in the match to get the advantage back, to lock on one pin attempt or hold that might win the day, to fight the tide of Andre's gargantuan presence. It failed. Andre was too big, too lanky, and no matter where he was, just too close to the ropes. After a clean break, Van Buyten, selling the side, came up firing, a last ditch attempt at survival, firing off nasty forearm blows. Andre shrugged them off and lifted him for a third press slam-gutbuster. One slam later and it was over.
This was great and we're lucky to have it. It's maddening to think what else might be locked up in a warehouse in France, but exciting as well. It's a testament to both men that they could have a match like this so early into Andre's run and it's also a testament to them that their interaction five years later in Japan was so wildly different and so differently entertaining. Hopefully more of these might slip out in the months to come.