5-Star Match Reviews: Wild Pegasus vs. The Great Sasuke - NJPW Super J Cup 1994, by Alex Podgorski

5-Star Match Reviews: Wild Pegasus vs. The Great Sasuke - NJPW Super J Cup 1994, by Alex Podgorski

Dave Meltzer once called the 1994 Super J Cup ‘the most incredible single night of wrestling ever.’ There was so much great wrestling on this show that it was considered the best show of the entire year. And now, over a quarter-of-a-century later, the show itself still holds up incredibly well from a pure match-quality standpoint. And a big part of that praise is thanks to its main-event, which was considered a perfect , 5-star match when it first took place.

Today we look back to see if this match still holds up well in spite of all the changes that have happened in pro wrestling since then. We look back at the classic match between Wild Pegasus and The Great Sasuke from the 1994 Super J Cup.

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.

The story

The Super J Cup tournament was the brainchild of Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. He wanted to create a one-night, invitational-style single-elimination tournament open to wrestlers from wrestling companies around the world. This was done to bring more attention both to the junior heavyweight division as a whole and to younger rising stars that defined it.

The tournament featured fourteen wrestlers, so two of them received byes in the first round. Those two wrestlers were the Great Sasuke and Wild Pegasus (a.k.a. Chris Benoit). In the second round, Pegasus defeated Black Tiger II (a.k.a. Eddy Guerrero), and then beat Gedo (current NJPW head booker) in the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, Sasuke defeated El Samurai in his quarterfinal match and then beat Liger himself in his semi-final match. But Sasuke would have no time to recover as he had to go in to fight in the finals against Pegasus right away.

The match

This is the final match of the one-night Super J Cup First Stage tournament. It originally took place on April 16th, 1994 in the Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall in front of a sold-out crowd of 11,500 fans. That was a major accomplishment for a junior-heavyweight-exclusive show at the time.

They lock up and Pegasus goes for a full nelson. He does some lightning-quick transitions to maintain control but Sasuke reverses into an armlock. Pegasus reverses that into a front neck lock and goes for a snapmare but Sasuke lands on his feet. He goes for a kick, Pegasus grabs his leg, and Sasuke does a standing flip, making the crowd go ‘oohhh’. Sasuke lands a quick takedown and kips up Shawn Michaels-style, leading to a standoff.

Pegasus gets another armlock in then hits some hard strikes in the corner. Sasuke reverse his whip into the corner and does the Tiger Mask kick flip. Pegasus charges but Sasuke leaps over him. Then Pegasus goes for a Boston crab but Sasuke flips him away with his strong legs. Sasuke spinkicks Pegasus so hard he goes out of the ring. Sasuke charges for a dive but Pegasus moves away as the crowd applauds.

Back in the ring, Pegasus applies a figure-4 neck lock, which Sasuke reverses first into a type of surfboard/Romero stretch, and then into a bow-and-arrow hold. Sasuke follows with a seated double-arm submission hold but Pegasus makes it to his feet. Sasuke answers this with an arm drag and we get another standoff.

After another lock up attempt, Sasuke kicks Pegasus in the gut and does a beautiful somersault over a supine Pegasus, only to walk into a clothesline. A bridging German suplex gets Pegasus a two-count Pegasus whips Sasuke, but he ducks a clothesline and lands a spinkick dropping Pegasus. Sasuke lands a second one followed by a slam and a Hogan leg drop for another two-count. When Pegasus kicks out, Sasuke applies a kimura-type submission hold then transitions into a cross armbreaker. But Pegasus counters and gets to his feet. He goes for a powerbomb but Sasuke counters into an arm drag. Sasuke tries to out-speed Pegasus but eats another big clothesline for his efforts.

Pegasus suplexes Sasuke into the ropes then starts hitting him with big forearms. Then Pegasus dives over the rope and onto Sasuke, sending both of them ringside. The fans start chant for Sasuke as Pegasus waits in the ring. As soon as Sasuke returns, Pegasus lands a bridging dragon suplex for a 2.5-count. Diving head-butt by Pegasus. Sasuke kicks out. Folding powerbomb by Pegasus. Sasuke kicks out again. Sharpshooter on Sasuke. He releases the hold after a short while and lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for another two-count.

Pegasus whips Sasuke for a dropkick but Sasuke holds onto the ropes. Sasuke tries the tilt-a-whirl on Pegasus but he lands on his feet. Sasuke does the big standing leap and this time he lands a clothesline on Pegasus instead of the other way around.

Sasuke charges for a clothesline, but Pegasus ducks and lands a bridging German suplex. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Sasuke kicks out. Pegasus teases the dragon suplex again but Sasuke tries to escape into a victory roll. But Pegasus reverses that on him and pins, but Sasuke kicks out at 2.5. Pegasus whips Sasuke into the corner, but Sasuke counters into a flying crossbody press. A kick sends Pegasus out of the ring. Sasuke Special out of the ring! What a gorgeous dive by Sasuke. That gets a huge reaction from the crowd.

Back in the ring, Sasuke lands a bridging German of his own for a two-count. He follows with a Perfectplex for another two-count. Sasuke goes for a diving shotgun dropkick but Pegasus dodges it. Sasuke tries to escape the ring, but Pegasus chases him and they brawl by the ropes. Pegasus tries to suplex Sasuke back into the ring, but Sasuke reverses it and suplexes Pegasus out of the ring and to the floor. Pegasus returns to the ring at the ref’s count of 14 (of 20) but Sasuke kicks him back out right away. Sasuke jumps onto the top turmbuckle and hits a huge missile dropkick onto Pegasus on the floor below.

Sasuke looks like he’s legit hurt but both he and Pegasus return to the ring as the crowd cheers wildly. He limps around a bit and slams Pegasus, before hitting a Twisted Bliss-style diving splash for a close two-count. Sasuke goes to the top rope again, but Pegasus cuts him off. He teases an avalanche back suplex but Sasuke elbows him away. He signals the end but Pegasus cuts him off a second time. Avalanche gutwrench suplex. Pegasus goes for the pin. The referee counts one, two, three! There’s the match. The tournament is over.

Winner of the 1994 Super J Cup Tournament after 18:46: Wild Pegasus

 

Review

That was a great match on an already- fantastic show. The action was smooth, there were some great near-falls, and the crowd was completely immersed in the match. This is definitely a match worth re-watching for its historical significance, if anything. This match put both Pegasus/Benoit and Sasuke on the map as wrestlers, and proved to the world how captivating junior heavyweight wrestlers can be. This helped create a shift in the wrestling zeitgeist in many places, as more and more fans started wanting to see the smaller wrestlers more often.

I also liked the simple story they told in the ring. It was the all-rounder and technically-superior Pegasus taking on the speedier daredevil Sasuke. Sasuke’s strategy to keep taking bigger risks hoping they’d pay off worked well and made him into a solid fan favorite. Yet it made perfect logical sense that said strategy would backfire against a more technically-savvy and ‘balanced’ wrestler in Pegasus. That’s why, if you listen closely to the post-match reaction, the commentators are silent and the audience has a mix of applause and whistling, indicating that Pegasus’s win wasn’t what most people wanted.

At the same time, the match did have some notable issues. Many of the submission holds used in the match didn’t play into the story at all. None of them were sold or built upon, which made those segments rather pointless. The only time there was any obvious selling by either wrestler was Sasuke limping post-missile dropkick. But that looked to be real pain stemming from a possible legit injury instead of him selling any of Benoit’s work like the sharpshooter.

Secondly, this match, while pretty great, was outclassed by a lot of stuff around it, even from something on the same show. This was the final match on the card, and right before this match, Sasuke had wrestled Jushin Liger. I thought the Liger-Sasuke match was better than this one in terms of structure, drama, near-falls and progression. And in terms of the wider wrestling scene at the time, this match just doesn’t really hold up. Pretty much anything these two did someone else did better. A lot of Jushin Liger matches from this period were better than this in terms of defining the junior heavyweight style. The joshis of AJW were better at pulling off incredible reversals and crazy bridging suplexes. And when it came to structuring a logical, scientific match, NJPW on the whole was outclassed by AJPW and some of the Bret Hart matches that took place around that time.

Lastly, if we look at this match as a junior heavyweight contest, one can see just how much more refined that style is now. And not just because there’s more flips and speed in today’s cruiserweights. But there simply appears to be more focus and pure excitement in today’s cruiserweight wrestling.

Final Rating: ****1/4

While this match definitely looks good twenty-six years later, it just doesn’t scream ‘5-star, perfect match’ to me. There were a lot of impressive moves and crazy moments, but the junior heavyweight style has evolved more than any other since 1994. And even if fan expectation for cruiserweight matches have increased since 1994, there are some structural issues in this match that weigh it down. It just seemed like neither wrestler really knew what to do in the middle of the match. That created a sequence of random moves and standoffs that neither created new drama nor added anything already established in the match’s story.

Ultimately, this is a match that really doesn’t hold up well to time. It’s action-packed, but then again so were most cruiserweight matches of its day. There’s definitely some stuff to like here, but nothing will really jump out at you as truly unique or captivating beyond Sasuke’s crazy dives. It’s certainly worth watching, but not really as jaw-droppingly-epic as many of the matches that came after it that used it as their foundation.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.