Friday, April 5, 2019

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 49: Best of Other Puroresu 1996-1999 (Volk Han, Kiyoshi Tamura, Genichiro Tenryu)

Hey Yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 49:
The Best of Other Puroresu 1996-1999

Objective:  Break up the Greatest Match Ever Project (hosted at into more manageable chunks to help me build my Top 100 List for the project.

Motivation: Contribute to the discussion around these matches to enrich my own understanding of pro wrestling and give a fresh perspective for old matches and even hopefully discover great pro wrestling matches that have been hidden by the sands of time.

Subject: This forty-ninth volume of Pro Wrestling Love is the conclusion of the Top 12 countdown of the best matches to take place in the independent promotions of Japan between 1996-1999 this includes the shoot-style promotions of RINGS, UWFi, Battlarts, and Kingdom and the pro-style promotions of WAR, FMW and Onita Pro. The year 1996 was selected as the beginning because that was the year that there was an increase in quality matches from the independent scene and when RINGS really kicked into high gear. The big four of Volk Han, Kiyoshi Tamura, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Yoshihisa Yamamoto closed the decade with some of the best matches not just of the decade, but of all time. 1996 is also the year that saw the demise of UWFi as Takada completed his invasion of New Japan and had one last gasp in a major feud with Genichiro Tenryu in a UWFi vs WAR feud. WAR also was on fumes with very few shows at the end of the decade with Tenryu spending his time in New Japan. FMW switched from an Onita-centric Death Match promotion to an Attitude Era style promotion centered around Hayabusa. Finally, with the demise of PWFG, BattlArts, centered around the interminable feud between Yuki Ishikawa and Daisuke Ikedea, rose from its ashes and created a ultra-violent, brutal hybrid style between pro and shoot style.    You can revisit past Pro Wrestling Love Volumes at You can check out the full version of these reviews in by going to the forums and finding the folders associated with the date of the match.

Contact Info: @superstarsleeze on Twitter, Instagram &

Top Six Heavyweight Other Puroresu Matches 1996-1999

#6. Yoshihisa Yamamoto vs Tsuyoshi Kohsaka - RINGS 4/4/97

"That doesnt look good" - Some ignorant American fan hollering in the middle of the match

First 15 minutes: Yamamoto is a wizard and coming out of all my 1996 watching I thought he was a solid 3rd behind Han & Tamura. It was demonstrated in the first half of this match as he was clearly dominating on the match. He was wearing the kick pads but no boots which would leave him open for my dreaded Greco-Roman Toelock. When my buddy comes home, we always wrestle (him being an actual wrestler from back in high school always beats me in the end), and my favorite finish is too grab his big toe and just wrench it. Anyways, the reason not to wear shoes is to evade heel hooks. As typical with RINGS, it is standup->takedown->scrap on the mat->rope break, rinse lather repeat. The interesting stuff is always the mat action. Kohsaka was usually the one taking Yamamoto down, but Yamamoto was the one who would win the scrap on the mat. Kohsaka was breathing heavy about ten minutes into this match. Yamamoto was countering at will. At one point, the crowd popped because they though Kohsaka had a toehold, but Yamamoto remained calm; wriggled free and won the day. It was mostly toeholds that Yamamoto was using, there was a great one he basically did a double wristlock but applied to the ankle. He also had a strong guillotine choke. The sequence of the match thus far was Kohsaka had a side-mount double top wristlock which Yamamoto beautifully turned into a DEEP headscissors and from there a bodyscissors, but left his feet dangling and Kohsaka crossed his ankles to force the break. Late into the 15 minutes, Kohsaka again was about to counter into a toehold that is hard to describe. In the resulting standup something interesting happened, Yamamoto actually connected with a vicious knee that drew blood from Kohsaka's face right above the eyebrow. RINGS in my experience is very much a mat-based promotion and the stand up is usually perfunctory. They take about a minute to check on him and that wraps up the first half. I would say Yamamoto won the first half, BUT Kohsaka looked strong in the last two scraps, however he just took a knee to the face. Will the knee change the complexion of the match and turn it into a stand up fight OR do they keep it on the mat?  Fuck, I almost forgot, the coolest submission of the first half was Yamamoto using what can only be described as a Short Leg Scissors. Think of a Short Arm Scissors but applied to the knee instead of the elbow. He had it in their deep. I cant believe I almost forgot that. I marked out for that. 

Final 15 minutes: Wow I dont think they were selling exhaustion, I think they were exhausted. What a cardio workout that was amazing. Kohsaka comes out hot from the knee to the face. He throws some of his own knees and settles for a heel hook, but thats reversed, Kohsaka does force the rope break. He is off to hot start. The standup has definitely gotten more fierce. Kohsaka comes down from his high. Yamamoto cool & calm as ever takes him down with a guillotine choke and takes the next two rope breaks. Kohsaka takes the next one. By my count, they are even, but I may have missed one. I feel like this match was designed to be very symmetrical. To me the story was Yamamoto is the natural. Kohsaka is the workhorse. Yamamoto makes things look effortless. Kohsaka's strongest attribute is his willpower. It goes full stand up and wow it is amazing. So much desperation. So much exhaustion. Kohsaka throws a kick to Yamamoto's side that crumples him which is an automatic down. That takes me back to the old UWF days when a well-placed mid-section kick could really ruin someone's day. Kohsaka gives as good as he hot as he rips the side of the eye/eye lid of Yamamoto open. Nasty injury! I couldnt really tell how it happened. I bet they didnt plan for blood on either end but it worked into the symmetry story AND how desperately these men wanted the victory. Yamamoto finished the sequence out coming roaring back to knock Kohsaka down. Again the story is symmetry. They tussle on the mat. The end of the match is Yamamoto desperately trying to pry the clasp of Kohsaka's hands so that he can apply the cross-armbreaker. Honestly, when the bell rang, I thought it was a straight up draw, but I think there was one Yamamoto rope break I might have missed, but this was insane. 

Talk about wanting to win a match these two men make you believe that their entire worlds depend on the outcome of this match. The exhaustion, the nasty, hardway cuts, the desperation grappling, My God. The submission wizardy in the first half was engrossing and the grittiness in the second half had me on my seat. Generally, I am not a proponent of long shoot style matches. I think this is easily the best long shoot style match I have seen, BUT it still had some of the negatives that come with this type of length: there are only so many toeholds, wristlocks that you can do and there is a lot of jockeying. They should be applauded for having a classic match at this length in a genre that does not benefit in going long, but I still think the length was to the detriment of the match. Hate to criticize but I have to because I am always thinking Greatest Match Ever. Still these are two men who honestly I dont care about. I have seen 3-5 matches from each. I dont love or hate them, I just have no emotional connection to either. It is a feather in their cap that they made me care. I was on the ride with them and I wanted to know who the hell was going to win. Incredible gutsy performance from both men. 

#5. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka - RINGS 6/27/98

Well they are breaking the RINGS formula here. Usually, it is stand-up->takedown->grapple->rope break->repeat, but the first twelve minutes are all grappling with no rope breaks. Tamura decides to reset by standing. It is amazing twelve minutes. The body positioning, movement and struggle are on full display here. Kohsaka looked great, more offensive minded. He was putting his body in weird positions to be successful. He almost got Tamura twice once with a headscissors and the other a toehold. The toehold looked devastating. Kohsaka was flipping out of full mounts into  Boston Crab and Cross-Armbreaker attempts so explosively. Tamura did get a triangle choke from a full mount in a way I have never seen. Like I said it was Tamura who decided to reset and if I was judging I would have given Kohsaka that 12-minute round. The fight gets really good. They do a little stand up and Tamura catches a kick. Great takedown by Tamura. Very immediate and the heel hook he has looks sunk in. Kohsaka gets figure-4 using his arms on Tamura's legs that forces Tamura to use the ropes and that is the first rope break. From 12 minutes of grappling to that explosive exchange on that mat. I like the shifting gear. Tamura as usual when he gets shown up comes out swinging in the stand up. Really good shit. Kohsaka tries to quell this fast break by going for a takedown but Tamura easily spins out and gets behind Koshaka quashing the takedown attempt. This is definitely high end RINGS so far. 

Tamura is controlling the stand up. Showing himself to be more aggressive, hitting harder and landing more shots. This is forcing bad takedown attempts by Kohsaka and Tamura is controlling the grappling. Interesting that three times, Tamura starts on top during the grappling, he is left scrambling for the ropes. I mentioned one time in the previous paragraph. In addition, he loses control to a heel hook and a top wristlock (transitioned into a cross-armbreaker). It seems very un-Tamura like. Each time, he comes out firing. There is one exception. In between, the second and third ropebreak he does finish a grappling session out. I thought he was going for a neck crank headscissors, but he explosively switches gears to a cross-armbreaker. Watch how Kohsaka immediately bridges. This alleviates some pressure and gives him a chance to get to his belly and make the ropes. Great Kohsaka defensive match. Defensive clinic. Down 3-1, Tamura just light his ass up. You could tell he was not going to relent with these vicious strikes until Kohsaka went down meaning it is now 3-3. Love that aggression and mean streak. Tamura gets loose again. He takes Kohsaka down into a deep, deep side choke, really cranking, but cant finish and it is Kohsaka that finds a way to apply a rear naked choke. They are too close to the ropes so it doesnt count, but still Tamura is just not finishing besides that excellent stand up exchange where he would not be denied. 

From here on out, they really "sell" exhaustion well (who know they might have been shoot blowed up because this is a very taxing cardio style). Tamura falls on his ass during the next stand up and Kohsaka collapsing on a kick to the shin. Tamura gets a quick rope break by going for a choke. Kohsaka has changed game plans. He is going for big bombs. Huge head rocking strikes. I thought he had Tamura down, but Tamura SWEEPS THE LEG! Tremendous leg bar! Koshaka is forced to get the ropes. Tamura is now winning 5-3 after being down 3-1, scored four unanswered points. Whats interested is that Kohsaka gets the next rope break on the attempt of a submission. Tamura almost never goes for a rope break until he is in trouble. At the 5 minute mark of this match, he would have applied his wizardry to get out now instead he is so exhausted, he is just going for the rope break. Then Kohsaka actually controls a takedown and applies a guillotine choke and Tamura just gets his toe on the ropes. This is a very vulnerable Tamura. A side we dont see too often. It is 5-5 with 3 minutes left in the time limit. Kohsaka gets a very tired takedown that Tamura kneels into. This has gone from Man vs Man to Man vs Self. Each man is battling with his own body. Trying to will a victory when there is very little will left. Kohsaka looks poised to apply a submission, but Tamura wriggles free and climbs his back. REAR NAKED CHOKE! After all the defensive wizardry of Kohsaka, for Tamura to get a counter like this is huge. He leaves his feet dangling. Kohsaka gets the ankle cross. Tamura has to release the choke, but he goes for the cross-armbreaker, but the bell rings signaling a draw and it is a dead heat in points too at 5 apiece. 

Terrific match. I liked the first twelve minutes, but I LOVED the last 18 minutes. Great story. I was really pulling for Kohsaka masterful defensive wrestling match turning defense into offense on numerous occasions and then becoming offensive-minded down the stretch. Tamura was great striking a balance between vulnerable and asskicker. I loved his mistakes fueled his rage. Then I loved the selling of exhaustion and how this became a struggle against their own bodies as much as it was against themselves. In the running for the best non-Volk Han RINGS match with the Kohsaka/Yamamoto draw from the year before.

#4. Genichiro Tenryu vs Great Muta - WAR 10/11/96

One of my all-time favorite matches, which I watched originally over ten years ago (I cant believe that!), and it does not disappoint in rewatch (probably the first time I have watched it in 5 years). There is something about Great Muta in his full regalia that is just so captivating. There have been many imitations but they all pale in comparison to the original. Tenryu in his stately kimono stands in stark contrast to the demonic Muta. Tenryu throwing the ceremonial bouquet of flowers is a great opening salve of hostility. The action is fast & furious. When Muta is on. the chaos & violence he generates is engrossing. He is able to combine Wildman actions with Hellish overtones into a very intoxicating concoction. It is both sad that Great Muta vs Undertaker was never seriously considered because that would have been a great WrestleMania Spectacle and that there is a real dearth of great Wildman characters in pro wrestling today. Tenryu stands in direct opposition as a stoic, Japanese badass that stands for authority with his brutal hard strikes. Muta breaks a glass bottle against the ring post and drive it deep into Tenryu's head drawing blood. Muta is such a glorious heel here jabbing the wound with his fingers and any hard metal object he can find. He piledrives him into a table. He takes every heel shortcut imaginable. I loved Tenryu trying to chop Muta down, but like the Creature from the Black Lagoon he arises again and again to chop Tenryu down. Eventually, Tenryu rallies with big chops and fists. Just by the virtue of how good the heat segment was you just pumped to see Tenryu overcome and kick some ass. TENRYU SNAPS~! Throwing chairs and a table into the ring. He goes to take Muta's head off with a chair and MIST~! Great cutoff and great use of the table with the back handspring elbow and moonsault. I love Muta throwing the table on his head then beating up a WAR dude and taking his write shirt to write something in Tenryu's blood. That's awesome. Backbreaker, which is the traditional lead in to the moonsault but Tenryu powerbombs him off the top! Kickout, he goes for number two and MIST~! I FORGOT ABOUT THAT! MARK OUT CITY! Tenryu is really covered in green and really sells it. Tenryu blocks the mist by COVERING MUTA'S MOUTH! I forgot about that too! MARK OUT CITY~! Tenryu hits a combination lariat and puts Muta down with a third powerbomb.

Amazing combination of Clash of Titans and violent brawl. Everything felt HUGE~! From the entrance attire to their characters to the spots in the match, everything felt enormous. My minor complaint is the first powerbomb was a bit out of nowhere (would have liked Muta to miss that moonsault) and thought a more violent climax like a powerbomb on a chair or table would have been more fitting. Thought the heat segment by Muta is one of the all-time greatest and the work around the Mist was amazing. Just a match that built and built with two amazing characters ready to have your mind blown by this rating...****3/4 Whats crazy is that five years later they have a polar opposite match and I say that's *****. Great chemistry.

#3. Volk Han vs Kiyoshi Tamura - RINGS 9/26/97

Some people find God, I found Volk Han. Fan-fucking-tastic. I love how aggressive Han comes out in this match. He wants to rip Tamura's arm off. The normally stoic, nonchalant Tamura was even caught off guard. Han ripped him to the ground and hit a wicked palm strike to break the clasp of Tamura's hands preventing the cross-armbreaker. It set the tone for the entire match. The drama was off the charts. On the second scrap, Han loses the grip on his clasp for a second and then quickly regains before Tamura get him all the way over. That was crazy. Han was just so into the double wristlock. Great double wristlock rip takedown. Tamura is a great fighter, but Han was just imposing his well. Han wraps Tamura up in a pretzel and Tamura escapes right into a double wristlock. Tamura shows some signs of life when he gets a kneebar and forces a ropebreak. Then all of sudden the match changes. Tamura has all this pep in his step and Han has kind of gassed himself. Tamura throws some AMAZING kicks in this match. Han is knocked down but quickly springs to his feet as if to stay dont charge me with a knockdown. The first two times they dont but Tamura is just blitzing him and evrntually Han has to take counts. Two knockdowns are scored back to back. Han catches the next kick, but Tamura wraps him in a guillotine choke. It was all Han in the first part, but Tamura is whuppin' him now. So Han does for his trusty double wristlock, but Tamura partially blocks but it leads to a Han cross armbreaker and Tamura needs a rope break. Han is feeling better and again goes back to the double wristlock, but cant get the right positioning. My favorite moment of the match is when Tamura reverses into a cross armbreaker but just as he breaks the clasp, his grip slips and he loses Han's hand! Han immediately grabs the legs! A close second is right after this, Han comes in with a wicked combination of palm strikes and knocks Tamura down! Han's cocky celebration is magnificent. I fucking love him! Not to be outdone, the finish sequence is a beauty. The struggle it took for Tamura to yank Han down to the mat with a side headlock takeover into a cross armbreaker was awesome! Perfect reaction upon tap out...Tamura is fucking pumped and Han slams the mat in disgust. 

The only reason I know more perfect matches exist is because I like the other two more, but this is terrific. It is absolutely thrilling with so many character touches. All three of Han/Tamura matches will make my Top 100.

#2. Volk Han vs Kiyoshi Tamura - RINGS 9/25/96

Volk Han in all his glory double wristlock rips, ankle crosses galore and him taking a straight front kick to the gut. Tamura is a great opponent because he is so energetic and feisty. That opening double wristlock rip is godly. Tamura is a champ for taking that. As soon as Tamura wriggles free, it is right into the ankle cross. This is Volk Han 101 and it looks great because of Tamura's energy and struggle. I love how Han has an answer for everything. Tamura goes for a legbar to counter the ankle cross and Han goes for the cross armbreaker. Han grabs heel and had good control, but squanders the control and on the takedown almost cost himself by ending up in a cross armbreaker. Han is able to counter into an amazing double wristlock and forces him to go for the ropes. Amazing ability to stay on offense by Han. Han has great takedown defense for Tamura who tries to switch up by shooting for a double leg. These are great opponents because Han is so cool under pressure and Tamura is feisty. Han can get cocky though like his showy pulling arm through Tamura's legs and Tamura catches him with a heel hook forcing the rope break. Han grabs a choke and of course his ankles get crossed so you believe a submission is possible. They end up in the ropes and Tamura gets charged with an rope escape. Weird. DEEP Tamura single leg crab then floats into an armbar. Great struggle in this. I loved Han's short leg scissors amazing bend. I love when wrestlers figure-4 random body parts. Always looks amazing. Another tremendous Han spot is when Tamura tries to apply a figure-4 to his leg and leaves his arm just out there and Han grabs a cross armbreaker. Tamura is just writhing around in pain and flaying. It really feels like a finish and I know Han has finished a match like that before. Just great drama. Han goes up 4-1 in rope breaks and then in classic Han runs into a straight front kick for the knockdown. That sort of levels the playing field and looks like Han could fall after controlling the first portion of the match. Tamura is working so hard. Look at how much effort he does getting a side headlock and the way every single muscle is focused on making a Volk Han head pop. Han slaps the taste out of his mouth and gets a knockdown. Tamura tries desperately for a choke, but Han is able to grab his favorite hold, the double wristlock.

Amazing match! Before I always I thought I liked and appreciated shoot style, but I could never really love it as much as traditional pro wrestling. I loved this! The struggle and energy were off the charts. I liked the strategy and the distinct characters. The matwork was incredible and the way he kept going for double wristlocks and ankle crosses gave the match a touchstone that a lot of shoot style matches lack. Highly recommended.

#1. Volk Han vs Kiyoshi Tamura - RINGS 1/22/97

This match starts off the same way as their first encounter when Han gets an awesome double wristlock rip (did you see the wrist control!) and then ankle crossing. The difference here is Tamura acquits himself much better on the mat. He is not as easily suckered into a cross armbreaker and holds his own. The second spot in the first match is Han getting heel control here Tamura throws a wild spinning mule kick. Han tries to close the gap, but Tamura goes for a rolling legbar, but Han picks his foot out and Tamura does a kip up. WOW! Loved it! I am sorry how did anyone buy this as a shoot though? Tamura gets a takedown. Tamura is doing a lot better here. The jockeying around the heel hook is great with each looking to be in command. There is a great moment where Han has switched to a double wristlock, but releases as Tamura almost gets the ropes to prevent the rope break. Tamura gets a cross armbreaker and forces the first escape. Tamura 1-0. Interesting. Tamura is just as aggressive but is definitely wrestling within himself. Tamura is way more aggressive in his stand up now. I think this is a winning strategy for Tamura. The kicks to the legs look like they are making in roads and Han does not look as comfortabke standin up. I love Han is constantly trying to close the gap and Tamura is pushing him away so he can get full extension on his kicks. Tamura's mistake is going for a bodyscissors takedown and not completing it. This leaves him open for Han's second favorite hold the ankle cross and Tamura has to go for the ropes. On stand up, Tamura goes back to work, but Han closes the gap and takes him down with a double wristlock. Great selling from Tamura once he gets out. On the mat, Tamura gets a flash cross armbreaker that freaks Han out and Han retaliates with a choke, but keeps his ankles to the side so they cant be crossed. Very cool! Hot sequence. Tamura goes high with a kick and it is blocked. Han is vulnerable to the STRAIGHT FRONT KICK! Tamura up 4-2 and is looking much better going into the home stretch. Until Han just takes him down and immediately crosses his ankles for the rope break. Han absorbs some kicks finally feels the rhythm and catches one and THEN HE KICKS OUT THE PLANT LEG! WOW! Heel hook and immobilizes the free leg and Tamura has no choice to tap.

Great callbacks to the first match. Awesome progression from Tamura. I feel like there was a lot of nervous energy in the first match (in a good way) here he is much more in the zone. He acquits himself well with the Mat Wizard from Soviet Russia but starts to make in roads in the stand up game. However, Han can still take him down at will and Tamura really does not have a defense against the double wristlock or ankle cross. The kicking out the plant leg and just watching Tamura's knee buckle was crazy. The progression from Tamura and the awesome finish make this another stone cold RINGS classic. *****

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