I’ve seen many outstanding, out-of-this-world tag team matches while doing this match reviews series. Some of the greatest matches to ever take place have been tag matches. In fact, one of them just might be the single-greatest wrestling match, period.
But in order to really determine which tag matches hold up well to time and scrutiny, we need to go to the very beginning. We need to revisit the very first tag team match to ever receive a 5-Star rating by wrestling’s most well-known journalist.
To that end, today we look back at the tag team match between Bruiser Brody & Stan Hansen and Terry Funk and Dory Funk, Jr. from December 8th, 1984.
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.
1980s All Japan was a different place from 1990s All Japan. The wrestling style was wilder and finishes weren’t as clean. It was a bit more of a chaotic time with lots of crazy brawls and shenanigans taking place. Those concepts were on full display in this match.
This match pitted two teams of Americans against each other in All Japan’s premier tag tournament, the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League. All Japan enjoyed a healthy relationship with the NWA and other American promotions thanks to Giant Baba’s connections stateside. Through those connections, he was able to bring together four of the most iconic wrestlers from the past fifty years.
Bruiser Brody was quite possibly the greatest brawler in wrestling history (Meltzer named the Best Brawler Award after him). He was unchained, unpredictable, and in many cases, unstoppable. Many wrestlers to have come after him have modeled themselves after him, either by his style or by his appearance.
Stan Hansen was, and to this day is, considered the greatest gaijin wrestler in Japanese history. He was known across the country for his in-ring prowess and his stiffness. The Japanese admired his no-nonsense brutality and toughness. Even now, more than twenty years after his retirement, many more Japanese people recognize Stan Hansen’s name than they do currently active foreign wrestlers.
Terry Funk is perhaps the most legendary performer in American wrestling history. His longevity is largely unmatched, as is his dedication to his craft. He has done it all in wrestling but he still keeps coming back to it. He has had more retirements than Jerry Lawler has had championships. That’s how passionate Terry is about wrestling.
Lastly, there’s Dory Funk, Jr. Whereas Terry is famous for his personality and his showmanship, Dory is famous for his technique. Dory was a straightforward grappling master in his prime and achieved great success by keeping things simple in the ring. He’s also something of the American version of Stu Hart. Both Stu and Dory oversaw the training of many of the greatest wrestlers of the past four decades. Stu’s list of trainees is better known, but Dory’s is just as impressive. Wrestlers trained by Dory include:
- Kurt Angle
- Matt Hardy
- Jeff Hardy
- Jumbo Tsuruta
- Mitsuharu Misawa
- Kenta Kobashi
- Genichiro Tenryu
- And many more
In other words, this was to be a titanic clash between four of the best and most respected American wrestlers that happened to be in Japan for a big tourament. But who would win? The two stiff and unchained brawlers, or the legendary blood brothers?
This match originally took place on December 8th, 1984. It was rated five stars in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter by Dave Meltzer.
Hansen and Dory start, but Hansen attacks Terry first. Dory crisscrosses with Hansen and hits a forearm but Hansen headlocks him and tags Brody. Hansen holds Dory against the ropes so that Brody can boot him and then takes Dory to the mat with a slam and a headlock takeover. Brody leapfrogs over Dory and hits a high kick for a one-count, then smashes Dory into Hansen’s knee and tags Hansen in. Hansen hits a dropkick and a kneedrop, followed by a running elbow drop for another one-count. the crowd chant for Dory as he fights out of a chinlock but he ends up double shoulder-tackled by Hansen and Brody. Brody’s legal as he lands another big slam into a chinlock of his own but Dory fights to the ropes. Dory catches onto Brody’s strategy and avoids the leapfrog this time, hits an elbow, and tags Terry. Terry hits a flurry of different strikes including a snampare/dropkick combo but Brody rolls out of the way of an elbow drop. Hansen comes in and elbow drops Terry and Terry ends up caught in the ropes so both Hansen and Brody pummel him.
Hansen tags in and lands a high kick to Terry’s gut and then gives Terry a taste of his own medicine. Terry sells like only he can, swinging wildly and staggering like he’s about to lose balance. Hansen throws him into Brody’s knee and tags Brody, who lands a dropkick. Terry ducks a big chop and tags Dory, who hits some uppercuts and sends Brody into a corner. Brody boots Dory down and tags Hansen and the two land a double back body drop. Dory avoids another elbow drop and hits another uppercut and slams Hansen this time despite Hansen’s resistance. Hansen kicks out of a pin at one and the two Texans brawl. Hansen gains the upper hand and locks in a deep chinlock but Terry saves his brother. Brody tags in and hits a running knee against the ropes and follows with a backbreaker into a back stretch. Hansen comes in to hit a kneedrop on a helpless Dory and Brody pins but Terry makes the save again.
Hansen tags in and charges as Brody holds Dory in place for him but Dory escapes and suplexes Hansen for a two-count. He tags Terry and they hit stereo chest punches and Terry manages to knock Hansen down with some shoulder tackles. Hansen sends Terry into the ropes and then dumps him to the floor where he gets attacked by Brody. Hansen smashes Terry into the announce table, throws him into the ring, and lands a knee to the back of his neck. Terry starts shaking to fire up as both Hansen and Brody double team him. Brody tags in and lands a double suplex alongside Hansen for a two-count. Then Brody hits a piledriver despite Terry’s best efforts at kicking his way out of it. Brody only gets a one-count so he tags Hansen, who lands a nasty chop to Terry’s chest. Another elbow drop gets Hansen a two-count and he goes for a powerbomb but Terry fights out and lands a back low blow without the referee seeing it.
Terry tags Dory, who lands a running forearm despite Hansen hitting body blows. Brody tags in but Dory dropkicks him and lands another vertical suplex for a two-count. Hansen tags in and Dory goes for a back body drop but Hansen kicks him first. Hansen hits more elbow drops and kicks and then holds Dory in place so that Brody can hit an ax handle to Dory’s kidneys. Brody’s now legal as he lands a front powerslam for a two-count. Then he tags Hansen and they both boot Dory in his face. Dory reaches out to tag Terry but Hansen pulls him back with an abdominal stretch. Hansen switches to a gutwrench suplex and gets another two-count and then tags Brody. Brody lands a running splash to Dory’s lower back/kidney area and then hits that same spot with more ax handles. He gets another two-count off a proto-Jackhammer and tags Hansen, who hits a back elbow, smashes Dory into a turnbuckle, and tags Brody back in again. Brody lands a chop of his own and applies a headlock but Dory coutners with a back suplex. Hansen tries to stop a tag but he can’t and in comes Terry. Wait, no, Hansen distracts the referee so he never sees the tag. All four wrestlers end up brawling in the ring. The ref pulls Terry back as Hansen whips Dory into the ropes and Brody parts them, sending Dory to the floor.
With Dory outside the ring, Hansen tackles Terry but he also collides with the referee and both of them fall to the floor as well. Brody chokes one Funk as Hansen grabs a table. And not a gimmicked table but a regular table. Hansen & Brody smash the table over Dory’s back and then throw Dory into the ring as Terry goes after Brody. Hansen lands several elbow drops to Dory as Brody keeps punching Terry down as he tries to get into the ring. Eventually, Terry makes it into the ring but he’s stopped and thrown back out by Hansen. Hansen lands another kneedrop as Brody pulls the ref back into the ring. But as soon as he gets to his feet he sees something in Terry’s hand. It’s hard to tell if it’s wrist tape, a streamer, or Hansen’s lasso/cowbell. Whatever it is, it’s a weapon, and the ref won’t allow it in the ring. The ref and Terry play tug-of-war until Terry head-butts him and then Terry goes to down on both Hansen and Brody. Terry chokes both of his opponents with the rope and then swings it around until the ref calls for the bell. The match ends via disqualification!
Winners via Disqualification after 18:42: Bruiser Brody & Stan Hansen
Some matches age like a fine wine. Others age like milk. And others still age like a Big Mac found in a coat pocket after God knows how many years: still technically intact but then you realize it wasn’t that good in the first place. This is a case of that third scenario.
This match was very underwhelming. I understand that it took place almost forty years ago but that’s not an excuse. Funk had a great match with Lawler three years earlier and Ric Flair had a tremendous match with Butch Reed in 1982. Both of those matches hold up to time while this one doesn’t. Even though it had some solid elements to it, those elements didn’t mesh well with each other.
The two best things in this match were Terry Funk’s selling and Brody & Hansen’s hot tags. The latter was a great example of the tag gimmick being worked to perfection with quick tags being done to keep a fast pace and isolate Dory from his brother. Meanwhile, the former really excited the crowd and gave a serious edge to the match. Though Dory took the brunt of the damage, it was his brother and hit hot tag and wildness that brought the match to its emotional peak. This has always been one of Terry’s biggest strengths, and even when he does precious little in a match, he compensates for that by selling and moving like he knows he’s in danger and fighting desperately to stay alive.
And yet, those things didn’t make this special. I’ve seen heels do the quick tag things before in later matches and in those ones it was just as good as in here if not better. Funk’s selling was great, but it was overshadowed by some questionable selling by Dory, who seemed to have only one default expression and lacked his brother’s ability to convey emotion and talk to the crowd without speaking to them. a lot of the in-ring action was boring and repetitive. When Dory came in he slowed the pace down big time and weakened the match’s tension in the process.
And then, there was the finish.
I know all four men were known as brawlers (even Dory, who was more of a heavy-hitter here). I know that they’re supposed to be wild and chaotic. But that match finish was simple asinine. There was no reason to shoehorn such a nonsensical finish into a match that was centered on having a clear winner and loser. The whole point of the WSTDL tournament was to crown a top team based on points. Winning a match via DQ cheapens that goal and undersells the importance of that tournament. Plus, it had no logical basis. Yes, Funk was upset that Brody and Hansen missed his tag and that they were constantly double-teaming Dory. But their cheap tactics were meant to build to a ‘house of fire’ comeback for Terry, yet that never came. Terry disqualified himself intentionally just to get a brief moment of revenge. Sure, Brody and Hansen got hit in their heads and choked for a bit. But Brody and Hansen got the wins they needed to go further in the tournament. And since there was no rematch scheduled after this, the DQ was rendered even more pointless.
This match showed just how much better a clean finish is in a match. I know some readers out there either watch modern WWE or read John Canton’s regular show reviews. And I know most of you that do see the letters ‘DQ’ on a weekly basis. Disqualification finishes suck; they suck now, they sucked in the past, and they’ll suck in the future for however long pro wrestling exists. But it’s important to note that this is not a modern problem; it was commonplace in Japan throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that clean finishes and the decisiveness and catharsis that come with them became the new standard. Having a match end by DQ makes sense only in certain circumstances, which wasn’t the case here. It diminished an above-average match and shoehorned in some chaos and aggression that didn’t belong in this particular situation. After all, if Terry was so angry, why didn’t he use that weapon while the referee was down?
Final Rating: ***1/4
While I’ve found that most of these older matches have held up well, the same can’t be said here. This is a clear-cut example of a match not living up to expectations and falling short when reviewed through a modern lens. I just didn’t get it. There was nothing special about this match in any way. It had good action, some decent tag team psychology, and great selling from Terry Funk in particular. But that’s it. There wasn’t anything really exceptional here. I’ve seen much better wrestling, heard better crowd reactions, and been more excited about seeing matches way better than this that weren’t even close to 5-Stars, either in Meltzer’s opinion or my own.
This may have been the first-ever 5-star tag match, but the industry has changed and improved so much since then. Compared to most high-level tag matches that have taken place since, this one is really underwhelming. Luckily, there are better matches out there involving these wrestlers and AJPW in general. Stick to those ones; this one doesn’t have much going for it.