This is the most unique wrestling match I’ve reviewed thus far in this series. And that’s because this isn’t a true wrestling match, per se. This is, in fact, a worked grappling match disguised as an MMA bout.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This contest took place in Fighting Network RINGS, which was one of the many smaller wrestling promotions in Japan during the 1990s. but unlike most of them, RINGS presented itself as a wrestling company, an MMA company, and sometimes both. This was during the early years of MMA expansion, when things weren’t so clear-cut on what was wrestling and what was ‘real fighting’.
This match has special rules as it operates on a points system. Rope-breaks could cost a wrestler one point, and getting taken down and not getting up by a certain count costs two. So in that sense, it’s a reverse iron-man match of sorts.
There is no point in me trying to call the match’s action like I usually do because there’s nothing to call here. These two wrestlers spend thirty minutes exchanging technical holds, mounts and quick submissions. You know how some modern matches open with a quick little technical exchange between two wrestlers? Imagine that little exchange extended into a half-an-hour contest.
You won’t find any aspects of traditional pro wrestling here. No dramatic structure with back-and-forth control exchanges. No playing to the crowd with obviously-established heroes and villains. Hell, there isn’t even actual wrestling moves like suplexes, dropkicks, powerbombs, or any other crazy actions we’ve come to associate with pro wrestling.
Instead, what we have here is thirty minutes of technical grappling. And pretty impressive grappling, at that.
This might be the most outwardly technical wrestling match in history. Kiyoshi and Kohsaka did some awesome mat grappling and technical exchanges that would put guys like Chris Benoit and Daniel Bryan to shame. They combined incredible quickness, technical mastery, and a realism that makes this a very niche style of match.
But that’s really it when it comes to positives here. Despite all the technical in-ring work, the match length made it a bit of a chore to get through. There were several instances during which nothing happened. One wrestler was in a hold trying to escape and just lay there trying to find an escape. Neither wrestler displayed any emotion or really ‘sold’ anything beyond a sense of urgency to escape a submission hold.
Final Rating: ***1/2
This match is what you get it you took amateur grappler Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan in his prime, gave them thirty minutes, and told them ‘do whatever you want’. And while it’s undeniable that they’d demonstrate some truly spectacular grappling, I can tell you for sure that the novelty of such a concept would wear thin quickly.
Don’t get me wrong; technical wrestling is awesome, but it only really works when it’s combined with some kind of narrative. Pro wrestling is selling a fight or the idea of a fight. And while it’s unreliable that this match feels like a fight, it lacks any emotional depth to it. There’s no reason to care about either wrestler, beyond the simple concept of winning vs. losing. But that approach is so threadbare here that it doesn’t have any emotional pull.
In essence, this match finds itself in grappling no-man’s-land. It’s too MMA-oriented to be a truly great wrestling match while also being too ‘scripted’ to be an MMA fight. That novelty makes it unique, but not historically-great.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.