Match Reviews: 5 Famous Under-15-Minute Matches (Vader/Undertaker, Awesome/Tanaka, Kobashi/Akiyama, more)
Is longer better? That seems to be a question some wrestling fans and even some wrestlers are asking these days. Some think that longer matches are automatically better because it sells the idea that a match is competitive and the wrestlers are tough and determined to win.
Others think that shorter matches are better because they get to the story’s point faster and think that getting things done faster is a mark of an effective wrestler. Truth be told, there’s compelling arguments on either side, and since most of the matches I’ve covered thus far have been on the longer side, I figured I’d give the shorter matches more attention.
And so once again, I’ve found five under-fifteen-minute matches from around the world to see if they can be just as great as the longer ones.
5. Vader vs. The Undertaker – WWE Royal Rumble 1997
Background: Undertaker attacked Vader’s manager Jim Cornette earlier in January to setup this match. Vader hadn’t had much interaction with ‘Taker beforehand, aside from being part of many multi-man run-ins in previous Undertaker matches. Thus, this was the first match between two famous American wrestlers. Undertaker was considered the best superheavyweight wrestler in WWE and Vader had the same reputation in WCW and elsewhere. But Vader’s WWE career faltered due to backstage politics and other nonsense. And yet, with this win, Vader hoped to bounce back and show the WWF/E fans what he was capable of.
The match: Vader charges at Undertaker but ‘Taker dodges him and start punching as the bell rings. They go back and forth with punches until Vader tries a back club but ‘Taker straightens up and no-sells it. Undertaker chokes Vader in a corner and charges but runs into a back elbow. Vader clotheslines him down but ‘Taker sit up immediately and gives Vader a death glare. Vader sends him into the ropes and hits a body block but ‘Taker sits up again. The exact same spot is repeated with the same result. Vader tries leaving but the ref stops him, which allows Undertaker to hit an ax handle from the apron. Back in the ring, Vader thumb’s ‘Taker’s eye and hotshots him across the top rope. Vader goes for a back body drop but Undertaker counters with a running guillotine leg drop. Undertaker follows with a big scoop slam and a running leg drop for a two-count. ‘Taker goes for Old School but Vader counters by crotching ‘Taker on the top rope.
Vader lands a low blow that somehow doesn’t lead to a DQ. He follows with some hammer shots in the corner, a corner body block, and a short-arm clothesline. Then Vader lands a second-rope body block for a two-count and follows with a shoulder nerve hold. Undertaker escapes with a flurry of punches as the crowd finally wakes up. He lands a backdrop suplex to escape a headlock. He goes for an elbow drop but Vader dodges and attacks ‘Taker’s leg again. Vader goes for another second-rope attack but this time Undertaker counters with a swinging powerslam. Undertaker goes for his own back body drop but Vader blocks. Vader lands his powerbomb finisher. Undertaker kicks out and sits up. Undertaker lands punches and his flying clothesline. Then he connects with both Old School and a chokeslam. Suddenly, Paul Bearer makes his way down the aisle. ‘Taker signals the Tombstone and clotheslines Vader out of the ring on one side…and punches Bearer on the other side. Undertaker tosses Bearer into the ring and Bearer pleads for mercy. He goes to chokeslam Bearer but then goes after an approaching Vader and clotheslines him back to the floor. Undertaker charges towards Vader but Vader sidesteps and ‘Taker hits the barricade sternum-first. Vader distracts the ref while Bearer hits Taker’s head with the urn. Vaderbomb from the second rope. Vader gets the three-count to beat the Undertaker!
Winner after 13:19: Vader
Review: This was enormously disappointing and I’m not just saying that to be punny. Vader and ‘Taker were two of the best superheavyweight wrestlers of the 1990s, almost like they were the WCW and WWF versions of one another. Yet their chemistry was completely off here. They had poor timing and executed poor spots throughout the match. Vader came across as weak when he needed Bearer to interfere so that Vader could land his finish. And everything Vader did prior to Bearer’s appearance – save for the low blow – had almost no effect on ‘Taker whatsoever. The sad thing was that Undertaker was used to having to work harder to get the most out of wrestlers that were bigger than him and Vader was one such a wrestler. But more than that, Vader was an awesome wrestler in general and had put on spectacular matches before. This match should’ve been more balanced and had more action than just some lame punch exchanges. It got boring fast and didn’t live up to expectations. But at least they’d go on to have better matches together. Though, considering how low the bar is here, that isn’t as impressive as one might think.
Final Rating: **
4. Hirooki Goto vs. The Great Muta – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom II (2008)
Background: Keiji Muto has spent decades wrestling around the world, alternating between two personas in the process. When he competed under his real name, he was a straightforward competitor with babyface fire and strong wrestling technique. Then there was his alter-ego The Great Muta. Muta was everything Muto was not: bizarre, ultraviolent, unpredictable, and generally savage. If Muto wrestled ‘clean’ by following the rules and showing sportsmanship, then Muta would use dangerous weapons, spit mist, and try to go beyond a match and kill his opponent. That’s the threat that a young Hirooki Goto faced when he challenged Muta at Wrestle Kingdom II. Goto hoped to make a name for himself by beating and established legend like Muta, but like his WWE equivalent The Undertaker, Muta was still a major threat despite his age and the wear-and-tear on his body.
The match: Goto attacks Muta during his entrance with a weapon, and then pulls out an iconic Muta spot with a big running clothesline down the entrance ramp. The bell rings and Goto chokes Muta with the shaft of what appears to be either a spike or a mini sword. Goto teases a downward strike with the weapon off the apron but Muta spits his green mist first. Muta blinds Goto and then smashes a ladder in his face. Then he grabs Goto’s weapon and grinds it into Goto’s own forehead. Muta tosses a now-bloody Goto into the ring and hits his trademark snapmare/flashing elbow combo and then locks in an STF. Goto crawls to the ropes but Muta traps one arm and switches to a crossface. Goto does manage a ropebreak so Muta throws him to ringside and then into the barricade. Muta hits Goto’s throat with a chair and then applies a sleeper hold in the ring. Goto gets another ropebreak and then hits a low blow to stop Muta’s striking. Then Goto lands a shining wizard on Muta. Goto unleashes a fury of strikes in the corner and even shoves the ref into Muta as he tries to make Goto stop. Goto goes for a corner wheel kick and uses the ref as a stepstool but Muta dodges.
Muta hits a corner shining wizard and goes for a superplex. Goto blocks and lands a diving sunset bomb for a two-count. Muta blocks a suplex so Goto goes for a kick but Muta catches his leg and lands a dragon screw leg whip. Figure-4 leglock by Muta. Goto gets a ropebreak but Muta takes a very long time letting go. Muta lands another dragon screw but Goto fights up to his feet again. And despite the pain in his leg, Goto manages two running lariats, a corner lariat, and a diving elbow drop. He pins but only manages a two-count. Goto goes for his Shouten suplex slam finisher. Muta blocks with a knee to Goto’s head and lands another shining wizard. Goto reverses an Irish whip and charges behind Muta to hit a lariat from behind. But before he can do that, Muta spits mist a second time. Then Muta hits two more shining wizards. One, two, Goto kicks out. Rib breaker by Muta followed by a diving snap moonsault. One, two, and three! There’s the match!
Winner after 13:04: The Great Muta
Review: This was alright. It was more of a ‘showy’ match with theatrics and gimmicks than actual wrestling. Both wrestlers played the hits here, only hitting their biggest moves and using weapons to do the most damage. Muta was really slow and limited here; then again, people have been saying that well before this match and little has changed now since he’s still wrestling in 2022. But he showed exactly how to get so much out of so little. He relied on very simple and safe moves like the dragon screw, shining wizards, and green mist. Goto had a few moments of explosive power but this was more of a wild brawl and he seemed out of place in that kind of contest. He’s much better at having an actual strong style fight with power moves and brutal strike exchanges, and Muta isn’t the kind of opponent to fit into that.
Final Rating: ***
3. Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka – ECW One Night Stand 2005
Background: Awesome and Tanaka had some great matches during ECW’s late 1990s prime so it made sense for WWE to bring them back for the One Night Stand 2005 show.
The match: after a shoving and strike exchange, Awesome lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on Tanaka. Tanaka ducks to send Awesome onto the apron and then charges but Awesome hits first with a springboard shoulderblock. Awesome follows with a picture-perfect Undertaker-style suicide dive to the floor.
Awesome sends Tanaka into the barricade and charges but Tanaka ducks again and sends Awesome into the crowd. Tanaka grabs a chair, runs, and cracks Awesome in the head with it (not for the first time). Now it’s Tanaka who sends Awesome into the barricade but Awesome boots and clotheslines Tanaka before Tanaka can follow-up. Awesome sets up a table at ringside, ducks a clothesline from Tanaka, and lands another one of his own while still on the apron. Then he picks Tanaka up…and powerbombs him from the apron onto the table at ringside below! The crowd quickly shifts from chanting ‘E-C-Dub’ to ‘Holy s**t’! Can’t say I’m surprised.
Awesome tosses Tanaka into the ring and lands a top-rope splash for a two-count. Tanaka powers out of another Awesome Bomb and gets a one-count. Awesome rolls over and connects with the Awesome Bomb and then grabs a steel chair. But so does Tanaka. Both men swing and ducks chair shots. Then Awesome hits a nasty chair-shot to the head. But Tanaka remains standing. Awesome lands another CHTTD. Tanaka straight-up no-sells and fires up like he’s Hulk Hogan. Awesome scrambles his brain again with a third chair-shot. Tanaka goes down but soon starts firing up again. Awesome charges but Tanaka boots the chair into him. Tanaka follows with his Diamond Dust somersault stunner. Then he follows with a tornado DDT onto the chair. Tanaka covers but only gets a two-count. Tanaka puts one chair on Awesome’s head and hits that with a second chair with all his might. Then Tanaka goes to the top rope and lands a diving chair splash. Another cover and another two-count. Tanaka charges for a clothesline but Awesome goes for a boot. Tanaka blocks and swings for a discus elbow but Awesome ducks and lands a German suplex. But Tanaka gets up almost immediately only to walk into a spear. Awesome goes to the top rope and lands a diving CHTTD. Then Awesome sets up two tables, one ringside and one in the ring. He lifts Tanaka onto the top turnbuckle and goes for a superplex through the talbe inside the ring. But Tanaka counters with a tornado DDT. Tanaka isn’t done. He goes back to the same turnbuckle, only for Awesome to cut him off. Diving Awesome Bomb through (what’s left of) the same table. The referee counts one, two, Tanaka kicks out. The crowd’s going nuts with cheers and applause. Tanaka escapes one more powerbomb attempt but Awesome cuts him off yet again. Awesome Bomb from the ring to the ringside table! Good God what a fall. But Awesome’s not done. He does another suicide dive onto Tanaka and the table before covering. One, two, three! There’s the match!
Winner after 9:52: Mike Awesome
Review: This was the best sampler plate of what ECW was all about: violence, mayhem, destruction, and a rabid crowd. There was no psychology or story here; it was just two badasses hitting each other with their biggest moves and whatever weapons they could find. It was a spot-fest in which both wrestlers played their biggest hits. But that’s exactly what this crowd wanted to see. They wanted sickening carnage and violent nonsense and the wrestlers delivered. Tanaka and Awesome satisfied the fans’ bloodlust with some nasty chair-shots and some incredible bumps. I give them credit for putting themselves through such pain and danger, and for being smart enough to give these fans what they (the fans) wanted and delivering as expected. It’s pretty bland in terms of structure (the match flows like a series of clearly-choreographed spots more than anything), but it’s still fine as one of those matches you don’t have to think about much to enjoy.
Final Rating: ***3/4
2. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NJPW G1 Climax 2016
Background: Marufuji entered the 2016 G1 Climax as an outside representative for Pro Wrestling NOAH. Here he took on Ishii, who wasn’t a favorite to win the tournament but was a favorite to be its MVP for putting on the best matches. It’s available on NJPW World.
The match: Ishii powers Marufuji to the ropes and both men duck big chops from each other. Marufuji headlocks Ishii but Ishii sends him into the ropes. Marufuji tries a shoulderblock but Ishii doesn’t budge and Ishii taunts him. Marufuji tries running shoulderblocks from different sides and keeps running into Ishii until Ishii starts staggering. He hits at least ten shoulderblocks but Ishii remains standing so Marufuji chops him. Then Marufuji charges…and gets dropped by an Ishii shoulderblock. Ishii hits a variety of stiff strikes and then starts kicking/elbowing Marufuji’s head mockingly. Marufuji hits back with chops but Ishii absorbs them and then drops Marufuji again with an elbow. The crowd chants for Marufuji as he kicks out of a pin at two following a scoop slam. Ishii goes for a suplex but Marufuji lands behind him. Ishii ducks a spinkick and Marufuji ducks a clothesline and hits another chop. Then Marufuji counters an Irish whip with a handspring dropkick that sends Ishii to the floor. Marufuji follows with a suicide dive to the floor to gain control of the match.
Both men return to the ring and Marufuji hits first with a big corner jumping elbow. Marufuji charges but runs into an elbow. Ishii charges and then hits a rebound powerslam. He goes for a powerbomb but Marufuji escapes. Then the two start trading STIFF chops to the chest. I can’t tell if Ishii is grinning or just gritting his teeth but he’s trying damn hard to not show any pain. They keep going back and forth as Ishii’s chest and collar starts turning purple. Then Ishii willingly exposes his chest by wrapping his arms in the ropes. Marufuji keeps hitting him. Ishii sinks down…and then bounces back up. Marufuji continues with his chops but now Ishii begins pushing forward with each one. Ishii downs Marufuji with a big chop of his own. Folding powerbomb by Ishii. Marufuji kicks out at two and then ducks a running basement lariat. Marufuji lands a spinkick but doesn’t land his follow-up kick because Ishii catches his leg and lands a big head-butt. Ishii charges into a corner. Marufuji blocks with a kick combo. Ishii tanks it and lands a big corner lariat. Ishii’s delayed superplex gets countered into a Shiranui in midair. Ishii goes for a head-butt. Marufuji hits first with a kneelift to the head followed by a lariat. One, two, Ishii kicks out. The two trade suplex attempts until Marufuji fights out and lands a thrust kick for another two-count. Marufuji goes for another Shiranui. Ishii counters into a perfect Emerald Flowsion. Ishii follows with a sliding lariat but only manages another two-count. Ishii plays to the crowd and charges for another lariat. He swings his arm. Marufuji hits a bicycle knee and then a spinkick to the head. Ishii blocks the second bicycle knee and lands an enzuigiri. Marufuji staggers and lands a hook kick followed by a successful bicycle knee to Ishii’s face. Then he goes for another one but Ishii catches his leg and head-butts him. LARIATO! One, two, and thr – Marufuji kicks out. Sheerdrop Brainbuster! Three-count for Ishii!
Winner after 12:14: Tomohiro Ishii
Review: This is another great example of why Ishii matches are great and why he doesn’t need to wrestle long matches. It was straight and to the point. Marufuji brought an outsider’s style and even though he looked smaller than Ishii, he actually hit harder than Ishii. Marufuji chopped Ishii’s chest into oblivion and seemed to have an answer for everything. Ishii may be something of a one-trick pony but his one trick never fails to entertain. No matter how battered and bruised Ishii gets, he still pushes forward and fights back. He’s a great underdog that fights from beneath, which is what happened here. He overcame Marufuji’s punishing offense and clever counters and at one point showed Marufuji that his chops weren’t going to break him. Ishii then managed a great comeback and even made things a bit personal by hitting a Misawa-style Emerald Flowsion on Misawa’s protégé. This didn’t need to go any longer than it did; a longer match between these two is more of a want than a need. But if they got ten more minutes then they could easily pull of a MOTYC if this match is any indication of how they competed against each other.
Final Rating: ***3/4
1. Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama – Champion Carnival 1994 – April 11th, 1994
Background: Just like New Japan with the G1, All Japan had their own singles tournament called the Champion Carnival. In 1994, twelve wrestlers competed in a single round robin block. Among them were Kobashi and Akiyama, two members of Misawa’s Super Generation Army. But these two teammates and friends had to put all of that aside for the CC as it was all about personal glory here. Also, for what it’s worth, Akiyama was less than two years unto his professional career when this match took place.
The match: Kobashi gets a clean break in a corner and then headlocks Akiyama. He shoulder tackles Akiyama down and the two start chain grappling. They do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock and Kobashi overpowers Akiyama but Akiyama escapes and lands a dropkick. Kobashi hits some chops and another shoulder tackle for a one-count followed by a vertical suplex for a two-count. Akiyama fights out of a chinlock and starts hitting back at Kobashi. But Kobashi hits much harder with chops and boots. He thinks Akiyama will go down but Akiyama presses forward defiantly. Akiyama rushes him but Kobashi chops him down to the mat and when Akiyama gets up Kobashi dares Akiyama to hit him. The two wrestlers trade strikes until Akiyama reverses an Irish whip and lands a hiptoss. Then Akiyama dropkicks Kobashi to the floor. He goes for a plancha but Kobashi moves away. Akiyama adapts in midair by landing on the apron and then hits a diving elbow to the floor.
Back in the ring, Akiyama hits a leg drop for a two-count and a jumping knee for a two-count. After Kobashi kicks out at two again, Akiyama applies a chinlock but Kobashi escapes with elbows and a big rolling kick to Akiyama’s gut. Kobashi slams him, lands his own leg drop, and gets his own two-count. Akiyama survives another chinlock so Kobashi chops the hell out of him in a corner. But that doesn’t go on for long as Akiyama fires back and hits chops of his own followed by a big corner body attack. Kobashi kicks out at two so Akiyama DDT;s him for yet another two-count. Akiyama stiffs Kobashi but he hits one time too many as Kobashi catches his leg and lands a huge lariat. Kobashi applies an abdominal stretch and the crowd starts chanting for Akiyama as he gets a ropebreak. Kobashi lands another big chop and then the two wrestlers trade suplex attempts. Kobashi overpowers Akiyama but Akiyama lands behind him. Akiyama charges and runs into a big boot. Then Kobashi charges and the same happens to him. Akiyama eats one more boot but then hits a lariat of his own to drop Kobashi. Akiyama goes for his Exploder suplex but Kobashi throws him off. Kobashi boots him and goes for another lariat. Akiyama ducks and lands his Exploder. One, two, Kobashi kicks out.
Akiyama goes for a northern lights suplex but Kobashi counters with a front facelock and then gets a ropebreak. Akiyama hits more corner chops and then another corner whip/flying forearm combo. He tries the northern lights again but Kobashi blocks once more with forearms and kneelifts. Akiyama answers that with a kick to Kobashi’s knee and an enzuigiri.
Akiyama powers Kobashi into a corner and goes for an Irish whip. But Kobashi counters into one of his own and – no, Akiyama counters that counter and sends Kobashi into the opposite corner. Elbow to the back of Kobashi’s head. Bridging northern lights suplex connects. Kobashi kicks out at two. Akiyama hits a running forearm and a bridging German suplex. One, tow, Kobashi kicks out again. He tries again. Kobashi elbows out and goes for a DDT. Akiyama counters and tries another northern lights suplex. Kobashi blocks and connects with his DDT. Kobashi pulls Akiyama up but he breaks free and kicks Kobashi into a corner. Akiyama charges. Kobashi blocks. LARIATO! Both guys collapse. Kobashi gets up first and hits a guillotine leg drop for a two-count. Kobashi follows with his Kentucky Bomb/pumphandle powerbomb early career finisher and gets another two-count. Then he tries a powerbomb. He gets Akiyama up but Akiyama uses the momentum to land in a press pin for a two-count of his own. Both guys run at each other. Kobashi hits a running neckbreaker followed by a jackknife powerbomb. One, two, Akiyama kicks out. The crowd chants for Akiyama as Kobashi destroys what’s left of his neck with chops. Then Kobashi slams Akiyama and goes to the top rope. Diving moonsault press! Kobashi gets the pin and the win!
Winner after 14:40: Kenta Kobashi
Review: This is the uncreative or indecisive booker’s dream match. If you can’t come up with a story or you need something great to fill time, this is the kind of match you want to have. It featured two amazing wrestlers having a competitive match that told its own story. Akiyama was much less experienced but still he brought the fight to Kobashi. He was fiery, clever, and adaptive. He built tension up with clever counters and teases of big moves. He tried the northern lights suplex twice but he failed because Kobashi knew it was a big move and avoided it with quickness and urgency. So when Akiyama landed it, it was a big moment that got a huge reaction from the crowd. And once that move failed, it was pure desperation on Akiyama’s part. He had nothing left and just went crazy trying to land anything while Kobashi still had a few tricks left. He wrecked Akiyama’s neck that he had targeted all match thus far. He threw bomb after bomb until Akiyama couldn’t even defend himself from Kobashi’s vicious chops. That allowed Kobashi to clinch the victory with a moonsault. Kobashi winning was the obvious choice but Akiyama looked incredibly valiant in defeat. And as I said, this guy was less than two years into his career yet he wrestled like a seasoned pro. He was amazing during the 1990s, especially since he spent almost the entire decade in such stellar company.
Final Rating: ****
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.