Before there was AEW, before there was the Young Bucks, before there was PWG, before there was Dragon Gate, before there was Ring of Honor, there was Michinoku Pro Wrestling (MPW). It was very much to the wrestling world in the 1990s what AEW is today: a semi-serious promotion that focuses on smaller and more athletic and acrobatic wrestlers. The MPW wrestlers were the daredevils of their day and their influence continues to the present. That’s why it’s important to look back to see how influential they really were…which brings us to this match.
I’ve been looking for a video of this match for a very long time. It’s one of the most obscure Dave Meltzer 5-Star matches ever. When it first took place, it was rated on the same level of greatness as some of the best singles, four-man, and six-man tag matches of all time. But was it really possible to have a 10-man tag match and have it only not be a total clusterf**k but also have a match so great it’s listed as one of the best to ever take place? Read on to find out.
Today we revisit the big 10-man tag from MPW’s October 10th, 1996 show.
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.
MPW didn’t really do stories; this is simply a match built on athleticism and its wrestlers’ skills. So instead, I’ll break down who’s in this match since there’s a good chance you might not have heard of them.
On the first team there’s:
- Tiger Mask IV (“Tiger” hereafter): The only iteration of Tiger Mask to be endorsed by the original, this one has worn the mask since 1995. He has been a staple of the junior heavyweight seen in both MPW and New Japan for decades.
- Super Delfin: a Japanese wrestler that wrestled in a more lucha libre-inspired style. He also made appearance on the original Super J Cup in 1994 and on the famous Bridge of Dreams show.
- Masato Yakushiji: another random high-flyer who’d go on to have a notable tag match in ECW a year after this.
- Gran Hamada: the oldest wrestler in this match, Hamada was the first Japanese wrestler to actually adopt the Mexican style and create the hybrid version used in MPW (and later elsewhere) known as “lucharesu”
- Gran Naniwa: a comedy guy similar Orange Cassidy, Naniwa was a solid cruiserweight who like to make crab motions and copy Hulk Hogan a lot.
The other team, known as Kaientai DX, is composed of the following wrestlers:
- Shiryu: also known as Kaz Hayashi in WWE/WCW, he was one of many Japanese wrestlers brought stateside but not used correctly
- Dick Togo: One of the most tenured Japanese wrestlers still active, Togo has wrestled all over the world for many different companies. He has wrestled for WWE, WCW, ECW, ROH, DDT, Zero1, many indy promotions, and most recently, New Japan. Currently he’s part of the House of Torture stable and does some creative consulting in New Japan as well.
- MEN’s Teioh/Terry Boy: a mainstay of Big Japan Pro Wrestling, Teioh gets his name from Terry Funk, whom he pays homage to. Incidentally, two of his opponents in this match – Hamada and Delfin – trained him to wrestle
- Shoichi Funaki: Yes indeed, SmackDown #1 announcer Funaki was involved in a (supposed) 5-Star match. How? You’ll find out below.
- TAKA Michinoku: Possibly the most recognizable wrestler on this list, TAKA was brought in to WWE in 1997 when they tried to create their own version of WCW’s cruiserweight division. He got a huge reaction at WWE IYH: Canadian Stampede despite losing, and then became the centerpiece of Kaientai in WWE alongside Funaki years later.
Also, everyone on this team except Shiryu would work for WWE during the Attitude Era, and all of them would participate in the infamous Val Venis ‘choppee-choppee-your-peepee’ segment.
This match originally took place on October 10th 1996.
Togo and Yakushiji start things off with a technical reversal sequence. Yakushiji gains the upper hand after a second chain sequence but the next one ends in a stalemate so Yakushiji tags Tiger and Togo tags TAKA. After a tense stalemate, Tiger slams TAKA a few times, kicks him around, and does a mocking tiger feint kick/619. Then Naniwa and Teioh tag in and Naniwa plays with the audience. The two of them have another chain grappling sequence but Naniwa hits harder than his comedy gimmick would suggest. He does his crab taunts as Teioh lands on his feet following a monkey flip. Funaki tags in next and so does Hamada. Hamada counters a lariat with a grounded armbar but TAKA breaks it up. Hamada ducks a double-team move, causing TAKA to hit Funaki. Hamada hits some basic slams and a facecrusher, and then tags Delfin, who knocks TAKA out of the ring and then goes after Shiryu. Delfin lands a big lariat and a headscissor takedown but Shiryu fires back with an atomic drop and a dropkick that sends Delfin into the stands and onto some fans.
As Delfin recovers, TAKA and Naniwa enter the ring (I guess the concept of legal man isn’t the same here in MPW). They go nose-to-nose and trade snapmare dropkicks and then slaps to the chest. Naniwa hits a clothesline but TAKA blocks a bulldog. Naniwa ducks ad dumps TAKA to the floor, teases a dive, but then stops and does a comedy spot instead. Yakushiji and Teioh tag in next and have a basic move exchange. Teioh dumps Yakushiji to the floor a few times but Yakushiji returns and makes a joke out of it. Teioh blocks a baseball slide dropkick but Yakushiji turns it into a headscissor on the outside.
Togo and Hamada tag in and trade chops until Togo absorbs some head-butts and hits an enzuigiri. Togo tries a pop-up powerbomb but Hamada counters with a Frankensteiner for a two-count. TAKA and Tiger tag in and Tiger lands a dropkick followed by a flurry of martial arts kicks. TAKA bails to the floor so Delfin and Funaki come in instead. Delfin dropkicks Funaki, lands a counter headscissor, dropkicks Funaki to the floor and then does his own comedy spot as he tags Yakushiji. Shiryu also tag in and the two have a criss-cross sprint spot that ends with Yakushiji flying high off a back body drop. Yakushiji fires back with a counter armdrag and a headscissor of his own that force Shiryu to leave the ring. TAKA tags in but he too ends up knocked to the floor by Yakushiji’s high flying so then both Togo and Naniwa tag in.
Togo hits a crossbody block from the top rope and smashes Naniwa’s head into a turnbuckle but Naniwa starts hulking up. Naniwa lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and does his crab pose, and then both Tiger and Teioh tag in. Teioh counters a hiptoss with a facecrusher but then gets spinkicked into a corner. Tiger kicks him out of the ring and then both Funaki and Yakushiji tag in. they trade shoulderblocks but then Yakushiji hits an armdrag and then does a cool flippy counter to block Funaki’s attempt at one.
Hamada and TAKA tag in and Hamada takes him down with a clothesline and a back suplex for a two-count. Delfin tags in and knocks TAKA down alongside Hamada and then hits a delayed Brainbuster for another two-count. Shiryu tries attacking Delfin but he gets tackled by Delfin and Naniwa. Naniwa hits a snap suplex into a double underhook lock but Shiryu escapes, despite Delfin’s attempt to kick Shiryu’s foot from the ropes. Shiryu reverses an Irish whip and blocks a monkey flip with a spinebuster. He puts Naniwa in a Boston Crab as Teioh puts Naniwa in a camel clutch and Togo dropkicks Naniwa’s face. Triple-teaming done right.
Funaki tags in and locks Naniwa in an abdominal stretch as TAKA dropkicks him as well. All five Kaientai wrestlers take turns dropping elbows on Naniwa as the ref does f**k all to restore order. Togo hits Naniwa with a kneelift and then all of Kaientai take turns again, this time doing double foot stomps to Naniwa’s torso. Two of them hold Naniwa in place, two more double dropkick his head, and then the fifth guy poses on him like he’s a big trophy animal. The ganging up continues as Funaki and TAKA hit Naniwa with corner strikes followed by a snap suplex/springboard suplex combo. Shiryu tags in and stiffs Naniwa but Naniwa starts hulking up again. Naniwa clotheslines Shiryu and tags Yakushiji who lands a dropkick for a two-count. He lands a corner dropkick as well but then Shiryu reverses another corner whip and hits a lariat. Shiryu hits a fisherman Brainbuster but Tiger stops his pin. Shiryu reverses a corner whip but Tiger counters with a springboard crossbody and a flip kick to send Shiryu to the floor. TAKA comes in but Tiger counters him and goes for a flying cross armbreaker, only for Togo to break it up. Togo tries unmasking Tiger but Hamada saves his partner, only to end up taking a spike Piledriver from TAKA and Teioh. Teioh covers Hamada but only gets a two-count.
Teioh lands his own delayed vertical suplex for a two-count and then chokes Hamada in a corner as all his partners hold Hamada in place. Funaki tags in and gets another two-count off a back suplex and suddenly Hamada grabs Funaki’s leg, pulls him to his corner, and tags Naniwa. Naniwa stomps on Funaki’s groin and then crotches him on the top rope. Delfin tags in and hits a butterfly suplex for yet another two-count. Then Funaki grabs Delfin’s leg and tags Togo, who locks in a sharpshooter until Tiger breaks it up. Togo and his buddies start pulling Tiger’s mask off but for some reason stop short of pulling it off, even though it’s clearly loose. Because they have to execute the next spot, which is Teioh hitting a yakuza kick and then holding Tiger in place for double dropkicks from Funaki and Togo.
TAKA tags in and clotheslines Tiger alongside Teioh. Tiger kicks out at two so TAKA hits a rib breaker followed by a Boston Crab. Naniwa attacks TAKA with head-butts but TAKA doesn’t let go right away so Naniwa lariats him. Naniwa slams TAKA and goes for his crabwalk across the second tope but TAKA dropkicks him to the floor. TAKA does a flip to show off but gets dropkicked from behind by Yakushiji. Teioh tags in and lands another yakuza kick to Yakushiji followed by a full nelson slam for a two-count. Teioh slams Yakushiji and Togo lands a frog splash that gets two once more. Yakushiji kicks out of a pin following a back suplex from Shiryu and tags TAKA. Yakushiji dodges a corner clothesline from Funaki and lands thrust kicks to both him and TAKA. TAKA tries countering an Irish whip but Takushiji kicks him to the floor. Delfin tags in and runs wild on everyone left in Kaientai DX. He drops Shiryu with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and then Hamada drops TAKA with a tilt-a-whirl slam for another two-count.
Hamada powerbombs TAKA but Funaki makes the save. Yakushiji goes after Funaki with a suplex and a second-rope moonsault but his pin gets interrupted. Teioh punches Naniwa into one corner and Togo powers Tiger into the opposite one. they try whipping their opponents into each other but Tiger and Naniwa both reverse, sending Togo and Teioh into each other instead. Tiger and Naniwa do a leg split on Togo as Delfin lands a picture-perfect Frankensteiner on Shiryu for a 2.5-count. Naniwa, Delfin, and Tiger all get headscissored to the floor and then get dived onto by Togo, Shiryu, and Teioh. Funaki then dives onto Yakushiji and TAKA dives onto Hamada. Everyone is down at ringside.
Back in the ring, Shiryu goes for a suplex over the top rope but Tiger counters and tries a German. Shiryu lands on his feet and lands a Tombstone Piledriver followed by a top-rope moonsault for a two-count as Yakushiji interrupts the pin. Shiryu and Teioh double-team Yakushiji with a pop-up into a powerbomb. They slam and hold Yakushiji in place (I have no idea how that doesn’t count as a cover since Yakushiji’s flat on the mat and can’t move) as Togo goes for a dive. But Tiger cuts Togo off and then Hamada dives onto Togo. The chaos continues in the ring as Yakushiji suddenly lands a missile dropkick onto both Shiryu and Teioh. Then he and Tiger get running starts and then dive onto them plus Togo on the floor. Meanwhile in the ring, Naniwa dropkicks TAKA as he flies through the air and Delfin dodges a dropkick from Funaki. Naniwa and Delfin hit stereo DDTs but both of them only get two-count. Those two hit dives of their own, leaving Togo and Hamada in the ring. Togo reverses an Irish whip and hits a snap powerslam for a two-count. Hamada blocks a corner charge with a kneelift and hits a tornado DDT for a two-count. Then he lands a super hurricanrana but Shiryu breaks up the pin. Naniwa goes after Shiryu with a tornado DDT of his own but he gets a two-count as well. Naniwa goes for a superplex but Shiryu fights out and lands a super huricanrana as well. he only gets a two-count and then Naniwa reverses the pin for yet another close two-count. Gutwrench powerbomb by Naniwa. Teioh breaks up the pin. Flying wheel kick by Yakushiji onto Teioh. Teioh counters a leapfrog with a powerslam and covers but Yakushiji kicks out. Yakushiji hops over Teioh and kicks him into a corner. More quick reversals. Teioh lands a sudden lariat for yet another two-count. Teioh lands a corner yakuza kick followed by his Miracle Ecstasy Chokeslam/powerbomb combo finisher. One, two, Tiger makes the save.
Tiger brawls with Funaki and then kicks out of a Fisherman buster. Tiger reverses Funaki’s Tombstone with a Tombstone of his own and lands a diving head-butt. One, two, Funaki kicks out. Tiger tries a Tiger suplex but TAKA dropkicks him from behind. Delfin attacks TAKA and spikes him with a scoop lift Tombstone. He follows with a diving elbow drop but TAKA kicks out. Delfin follows with two tornado DDTs and locks in a majistral cradle to cover but Togo breaks it up. Togo goes for a lariat. Delfin ducks and lands a Bridging German suplex. One, two, Teioh breaks it up. Yakushiji knocks teioh to the floor and Hamada dives onto Teioh. Delfin teases a Tiger suplex on Togo but Togo hits a back low blow. Togo powerbombs Delfin and hits a diving senton splash as the ring gets cleared of everyone on Delfin’s team. The rest of Kaientai enter the ring to count the pin along with the referee. One, two, three! There’s the match! Finally, it’s over!
Winners after 32:07: Kaientai DX (Shiryu, Dick Togo, MEN’s Teioh, Shoichi Funaki, and TAKA Michinoku)
That was one of the longest and most exhausting thirty-minute matches I’ve ever seen. It was fine from an athletic standpoint but it was so superficial. It was over half an hour of flips, dives, and other craziness. That’s all fine and good, but there comes a point when you see the same stuff happen over and over and you start thinking to yourself, “My God, end this already.” I reached that point about 2/3 of the way through this. The match didn’t have much of a structure anything resembling a direction for the first half of it. So many spots were repeated and copied that nothing really felt like it mattered. I know some people herald these guys for their revolutionary style, especially considering this stuff was happening back in 1996. But even the most inventive and novel approach to wrestling needs limits. And these ten guys crossed that line way earlier than when the match actually ended. It goes to show that the whole ‘go long because you can’ trope isn’t that new; these guys were doing it a long time ago and it was a problem then as it is now.
This was the dictionary definition of a wrestling spot-fest. For over thirty minutes these ten wrestlers just hit MOVEZ on each other without any semblance of a story or emotion outside of some comedy and mockery. The match was sold on the athleticism of its participants, with the concept of rest holds replaced with constant switches and no actual tags.
That athleticism gave way to wild action that was almost impossible to follow. At times it was hard to tell what was happening; I had to keep a separate note on which wrestler was which, and it didn’t help that even with masks, so many of them looked alike due to similar color schemes. Wrestlers entered and exited without any signals and the match devolved into bedlam more than once.
And yet, there was a hint of progression that actually made this match a lot more engaging than many more recent indy-style spot-fests. Because of the sheer number of wrestlers involved, it was a much bigger effort to keep everyone down for believable falls. The first half of the match saw lots of frenetic action, quick tags, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchanges. Everyone stayed fresh and healthy by leaving the ring. It wasn’t until Naniwa started getting worked over (in a manner that was simultaneously effective, comedic, and ridiculous) that the match actually started going somewhere. After that, it returned to the token lucha-style mayhem but with moves and sequences starting to have greater effect. Then the dives started happening and that signaled for the near-falls to begin in earnest.
Because there were so many people to take care of, the closing stretch required a metric ton of high-spots and coordinated attacks. For one team to win, everyone on the other side had to be neutralized, and that was hard to achieve as the first half of the match established. But the Kaientai guys pulled it off because they did something their opponents didn’t: screw the rules and use the numbers game. Maybe that was by design; I got the impression that the Kaientai guys were the heels here. And yet they managed to pick the other team apart more successfully, despite some valiant efforts from that team and especially Yakushiji, who was the MVP here with his top-notch athleticism and involvement in big spots.
Final Rating: ****
Had these guys shaved off ten minutes then this would’ve been a much better match. The concept of ten cruiserweights hitting high-spots flawlessly and with perfect timing is a great idea on paper. But when it gets stretched too long it exhausts the viewer. And not in the emotionally cathartic way, but the groan-inducing way. Even though this was innovative stuff in 1996, it doesn’t gold up as well as other matches from the same era.
But if you want to turn your brain off and watch thirty minutes of wrestling-as-acrobatics and high-speed mayhem, this match is the one for you. There’s a certain historical or cross-this-off-your-list value to this match, but by no means is it the instant classic that it was hyped up to be when it first occurred.