Monday, October 28, 2013

At Budokan: Four Corners of Heaven, The Lariat & Miracle Violence 04/18/91

I am headed off to the Grand Canyon this weekend and combined with copious WCW watching and Halloween festvities this previous weekend (I was jobbed out of winning the Phoenix Landing Best Dressed Contest by the Spice Girls. There clearly should have been a male and female division. I did win last year and sure as hell plan on winning next year. As Meatloaf says two outta three ain't bad ) I don't think I get out the Demolition column, but wanted to make sure I still had some content for this week, but I was not quite done yet with any particular WCW wrestler. Then I remembered I had recently watched the second half of All Japan's 4/18/91 Budokan card because many of the faithful of ProWrestlingOnly Yearbook series have touted this as one of the best nights in wrestling history. As a huge fan of All Japan Pro Wrestling. I was not disappointed by four distinct, entertaining matches. All Japan in the 90s, for all its esteem among wrestling fans, is not the deepest promotion. It both deserves praise for being able to basically run entire promotion around six wrestlers from 1993-1996 (Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue, Hansen, Dr. Death) and criticism for being myopic and not building a mid-card infrastructure.


The 04/18/91 Budokan card is the diametric opposite of the prototypical All Japan card of the 90s. It harkens back to the days of 80s All Japan where there was greater depth and diversity on the cards. On this card, you had a nice mid-card exhibition spotfest, a blood feud grudge match with blood in it, a heavy-hitting tag team brawl with a batshit insane finish and more blood, and a high-end title match. It is incredibly hard to pick a match of the night. Nothing attained GOAT contender match status, but three of the four matches are really high-end matches that bolster the resumes of all involved.

I would rank the Misawa/Jumbo match third on the night. I thought the beginning was a bit tepid even though Misawa did bring the offense at the outset. He could have done more to press the advantage. When you read the review, you will see that I say if we can JIP to the match I actually think it would have enjoyed it more as it did have especially hot finish stretch.

The Kawada/Taue grudge match comes in second. Partly because the 01/15/91 match, which I have included is just that much better so that it comes as the lesser of the two. That is not knock on it, but rather how good the 01/15/91 match is. Taue is just suffocating in that match and Kawada is fucking just throwing kicks to get this giant off of him. In the 4/18/91 match has Kawada working on top and struggling to hit the big bomb to put Taue away, but I preferred the 01/15/91 match.

I feel like a bit of hypocrite for putting a JIP match on top when I just made the arguement that the reason Misawa/Jumbo isn't higher is because I didn't like as a complete match just the home stretch. I will say in my defense that while home stretch is one of the most dramatic stretch runs ever, in addition the face in peril on Stan Hansen was bitchin' as all hell. Yes, Stan Hansen playing Ricky Morton was not just good, he was actually a great FIP. There is nothing Stan Hansen can't do. The finish run starting with the ref missing the tag to Stan finally annihilating Doc with the Lariat is some of the most engrossing in-ring storytelling and became an instant favorite. With every match I watch, Stan Hansen gets closer and closer to overcoming Ric Flair as the greatest wrestler of all time in my opinion.

God's Gift to Pro Wrestling Fans

BONUS MATCH: Akira Taue vs Toshiaki Kawda - 01/15/91

WAR! Taue immediately bullrushes Kawada knocks him off the apron hard onto the railing. That spot sets the tone for the rest of match: Total War. I loved how relentless Taue was in this match forcing Kawada to work the entire match from underneath and put on one of his gritty, scrappy performances to best the larger, ferocious Taue. Also, the fact the crowd was right top of the action added to that claustrophobic feel. Taue was suffocating Kawada as he right on top of him never letting up on offense. Kawada in desperation was able to grab his leg at one point and ram his head into the railing busting him open. However, Taue catches one of Kawada's kick and in one fluid motion whips that leg into the guardrail. Taue zeroes on that knee with fierce tenacity: wicked kneecrusher onto table, wrapping it around the post, chairshots to it. I love that Taue sort of realizes in a leg lace or a toehold Kawada is able to kick him in the head really hard so he tries the figure-4, which will tie up that free leg. One of my favorite moments, is when the camera zooms in on Taue trying to pick up Kawada and all of sudden you just see a flash of yellow connect with Taue's heads. Kawada is just fucking tremendous from underneath with all these kicks. I love how they work in Taue's size as he is able to reverse a press slam off the top and a powerbomb by just landing on top of Kawada. I actually bit on the powerbomb reversal finish as Taue really crashes down on top of him. If Kawada has kicks, Misawa elbows and Kobashi chops, then Taue should have kept the headbutts as they look way better than any of his punches or forearms. Kawada's out of nowhere Axe Bomber for the finish was the perfect end to this war. Taue unleashed his entire arsenal and Kawada had to hit that sudden bomb to secure the victory. I will echo all the other comments; All Japan could have added a lot of variety by sprinkling some short 10-15 minute brawls with the 30+ epics. Kawada and Taue brought the hate in this match and this is one of the all-time best blood feud brawls.

Move over Great Muta, the true Pearl of the Orient

Kenta Kobashi vs Dan Kroffat - Budokan 04/18/91

Wow, I was surprisingly underwhelmed by this match. However, this was one of the best two-person male gymnastics routines even a Canadian judge would have a hard time disagreeing. This was way too cooperative for my tastes. From the beginning the fluid headlock to headscissors ending in a stalemate seemed more at home in the American Indies circa 2007. The strikes were surprisingly weak and the whole match felt heatless. The cartwheel escape into a clothesline sequence by Kroffat would be perfect for ROH. The transitions were perfunctory and the spots aimless. It was weird that punches were used so liberally in a AJPW match. In this match, Kroffat does not bother to sell and at least Kobashi at least displays anguish on his face after Kroffat's moves. Kroffat was a gymnastic robot. An example of the hyper-back and forth was Kroffat hits a huge dive and Kobashi immediately counters into a rolling cradle; Kroffat rolling senton->eats knees on splash->Back drop driver. There was just no sense of struggle. The one interesting takeaway was why didn't Kobashi keep the double-arm DDT in his arsenal. It was the only thing that looked wicked and it is a relatively safe head-drop. This is a great exhibition of wrestling spots, but it misses all the glue that makes wrestling good.

Holy Demon Army Explodes

Akira Taue vs Toshiaki Kawada - Budokan 04/18/91

Kawada and Taue are hungry for top billing and they demonstrate that in spades in this encounter. It may be the two second bananas going at it, but they know a victory over the other could secure future matches against the opposing team captains or the Triple Crown. The match encapsulates that tension with wrestlers working hard to secure the victory and throwing caution to wind. They were both willing to take shortcuts and throw big bombs even if meant they risked losing it all. This match and the last both surprised me in how they were worked. This one was a throwback to the 80s. You had the intense matwork, blood, ref bumps and a countout finish and I loved it. The opening matwork is some of the best you will see in 90s All Japan and seemed sensible for the smaller Kawada to keep Taue contained with gnarly submissions. We see once Taue gets free how much of a power advantage he has over Kawada. Kawada is not above taking any measure necessary as he scrapes his boot across the forehead to disengage from Taue's figure-four on the arm in the process cutting Taue open. Now Taue is hot and he proceeds to sumo slap Kawada until they fall out of the ring ending with Taue executing a kneecrusher on the guardrail. I always loved that All Japan spot. Taue's leg work is pretty spot-on and Kawada keeps the struggle alive. They roll out of the ring Taue hits a powerbomb, but waits too long to capitalize allowing Kawada to hot a jumping kick. In a display of superb storytelling, he tenaciously goes after the arm. However, in order to get more leverage on the taller Taue, he is shoved off the ring ropes by Taue. They hit the home stretch each getting nearfalls, Kawada hits his spinkick knocking Taue into the ref. Kawada is able to hit his powerbomb, but the groggy ref is a bit late and he only gets two. They end up on the floor with Kawada looking to put the nail in the coffin with a powerbomb on the floor, but Taue hits the Nodowa on the floor for the countout victory.

I loved how scrappy Kawada was in all of this. He was just going from broke and throwing everything he had at the bigger Taue. Taue, for his part, was no slouch and was definitely timing his spots well and looked really invested in the match. The transitions were pretty top notch and the dueling arm/leg work was pretty great. It was a showcase for how effective a simpler style AJPW match could be. It also one of the better usages of the countout finishes. Kawada high-risk offense finally bit him in the ass and it got over Taue's finish as a devastating move.

Miracle Violence Connection

All Japan World Tag Team Champions "Dr. Death" Steve Williams & Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy 
vs. Stan "The Lariat" Hansen & Danny Spivey - Budokan 4/18/91

Holy shit! Doc absolutely levels that fan in the intros? I don't think he pulled that punch.

The Japanese fans sure as hell love them some Stan Hansen. I mean how can you not. What can't he do? Well, if you thought he couldn't play Ricky Morton, guess again. Even, with all the respected posters above me telling me he could. I thought it was still an incredulous statement that you have to see. Blessed are those who believe without seeing, but doubly blessed are those who have seen because you can revel in the glory that is Stan Hansen. Gordy & Doc were just pricks in this match constantly interfering and that is how we see Hansen get busted open right from the get-go. Whta I love about Hansen's FIP performance is how he is slowly sapped of energy. In the beginning, he is struggling more fiercely and then by the time Gordy is biting his cut you see he has all but withered away until a last second reverse elbow. It was really high-end work. Doc & Gordy were tenacious on that cut never deviating from it. While Spivey is hitting all his big spots, Hansen is still selling on the apron. Then we get the second round of Hansen's great performance where the ref misses the tag due to trying to escort Gordy from the ring and Doc clocks him. The home stretch is so dramatic as Doc is trying to finish off Spivey with everything he has and Gordy keeps running interference on the Human Heat Seeking Missile known as Stan Hansen. The Japanese fans are actively booing Doc & Gordy and they pop progressively bigger for ever Hansen break-up. I LOVED Gordy's tackles to the outside and the wide shot so we could see how much mayhem was going on. They built to a fantastic finish that all paid off with the second ref deeming Hansen legal and Hansen taking Doc's head off with a LARIATOOOOOO~!

Hansen played two different roles to perfection in this match as Ricky Morton in the beginning and a wild man running rampant who finally gets his revenge from the first half with a monster lariat. Gordy & Doc keep it off the mat and are excellent pricks with their interference, working the cut, Gordy tackling Hansen at every turn and Doc trying to polish off Spivey. My favorite part may have been all the Japanese fans doing "Hook 'Em Horns" with Stan Hansen. When Americans get that over in Japan it is just cool. Nothing beats 4 big, bad Americans kicking ass and getting over in Japan.

80s vs 90s

All Japan Triple Crown Champion Jumbo Tsuruta vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 4/18/91

Does anybody else have trouble watching Misawa take Back Drop Drivers?

The home stretch epitomizes All Japan and how incredible Misawa and Jumbo are as workers. This is the type of match where if you came in JIP to the slapfest in the middle, you may come away thinking there was a five star match here. There is one element of the beginning that I did like. I liked how Misawa took it to Jumbo immediately and hit his big diving elbow. It is a title match and Misawa is going in with the challenger’s mentality that he has to take the match to Jumbo. However, the match goes into a whole another gear once the slapfest breaks out and Jumbo annihilates Misawa with the high knee. As soon as the crowd is finished doing the Jumbo cheer, they break into a “Mi-Sa-Wa” chant. The heat segment was ok, it is nothing that will set your world on fire with Jumbo working the knee after a kneecrusher on the table. Once Misawa dodges Jumbo on a criss-cross and hits his lariat, the match really picks up into a great sequence for the Triple Crown. Misawa is not quite where he would be in a couple years, but this extended comeback is portent of the amazing things to come. The highlight spots that stuck out in my mind were the reversal of the back drop driver, but Misawa’s faces eats the ropes, just nasty. Misawa’s diving elbow (I kept thinking this was in the Champion’s Carnival so I bit on that finish). The hotshot by Jumbo followed by the Misawa German was friggin crazy and it was so cool to see a Japanese audience lose their shit over it.

What I love about this finish by actually watching matches backwards is how in some ways Misawa feels like Kawada. He pours it on attempting to get the pin after each bomb. He goes for the big bomb, Tiger Driver, only to be reversed and eat three back drop drivers. You would see that in Kawada/Misawa matches with Kawada running out of gas and Misawa hitting the repeated moves to get victory. It enhances those matches because now you know Misawa knows how Kawada feels. He was there. He lived it. He developed his killer instinct wrestling these matches with Jumbo where he learned when you get the chance you pounce and you do not let up. If that means three Tiger Suplexes so be it, I friggin’ earned this and I am not letting go. This was another in a slew of star-making performances for Misawa where you could feel he was getting closer both in kayfabe sense and in a real sense. The match was becoming more built around him and what would become predominant All Japan style. He had so much more confidence to lead in this match. In a kayfabe sense, he took it to Jumbo early and his comeback was filled with a lot of nearfalls that you got the impression that Jumbo was desperate (hotshot), but pulled it out in the end. I am slighting Jumbo by not talking about him more because he was great in this match timing all his offense well and selling the Misawa elbow like a million bucks. The Misawa elbow only works if he, the Ace, sells it and he made that move.

I think the top three matches are all hovering around four stars for me and I will give it sometime before I make argument for ranking them, but hot damn that was one helluva night if you were attendance. Judging by the crowd reactions, they knew they were getting the best and they were hot as hell for it.
All in all, the 04/18/91 Budokan show illustrated how deep All Japan was at this point. Even though they were not reaching the highs they would later deliver, this was a consistently great night with a diverse card.

Hopefully, I will get up a Demolition: Walking Disaster Blog that chronicles their babyface run in 1989 and their demise in 1990.

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