There have been stories that pro-wrestlers do not bring out their best when they work for WWE. The internet is full of rumors and allegations that every wrestler that comes from elsewhere must be “re-trained” to fit WWE’s style. To that end, those wrestlers are said to be ‘dumbed down’ and thus are unable to showcase to WWE’s fans what they’re truly capable of.
To see if this is indeed true, and that wrestlers have better matches outside WWE, I found another five matches involving current and former wrestlers in Japan. I chose Japan because that country’s wrestling culture emphasizes in-ring skills way more than angles and gimmicks (for the most part). Thus, once again we have five wrestling matches that took place in Japan, and we’re going to see if that claim is completely true.
5. Goldberg vs. Naoya Ogawa – January 4th, 2004
Background: This actually took place while Goldberg was still under his WWE contract. It was hosted by HUSTLE, a more entertainment-driven company that ran angles and storylines, sort of like WWE. How Goldberg was able to work this match while still under his one-year WWE contract remains a mystery. Anyway, his opponent here was Naoya Ogawa, one of the most controversial and polarizing wrestlers in Japanese history. As a judoka, he won numerous gold medals in the Judo World Championships and won a silver medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics. His infamy came from being Inoki’s handpicked project during Inoki’s MMA obsession in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1999, Inoki ordered Ogawa to shoot on then-NJPW ace Shinya Hashimoto (i.e. beat him up for real), and then spent several years using Ogawa as the centerpiece for his wrestling-MMA crossover experiments. Ogawa became notoriously unpopular and fans left NJPW in droves over the years. By 2004, Ogawa had joined HUSTLE, and in one of his first moments, grew enraged when Noboyuki Sakakibara, the owner of PRIDE Fighting Championships, called wrestling inferior to MMA in front of Ogawa. Thus a stage was set whereby MMA wrestlers would face pro wrestlers. Where it gets confusing is that Ogawa, a guy known for his MMA skill, faced Goldberg, a pro wrestler. Except Ogawa was defending pro-wrestling and Goldberg was…defending MMA? I don’t know, this was weird and it was about to get weirder.
The match: Ogawa gets in Goldberg’s face to talk trash and then lightly head-butts him. Goldberg gets that crazy grin on his and head-butts back as the bell rings. Ogawa strikes first with kicks and punches and then lands a cheapshot as the ref forces a break. Goldberg ducks a clothesline and lands one of his own. He grabs Ogawa by his throat, lifts him over his head and lands a military press into a spinebuster that sends Ogawa out of the ring.
Ogawa recovers and they lock-up again. Goldberg does his roll-through leglock but Ogawa counters into one of his own. Goldberg drags himself (and therefore Ogawa) to the ropes but Ogawa takes his time releasing the hold. He stomps on Goldberg’s neck using the ropes for support and then lands some judo throws, and then goes to the mat. Goldberg avoids various armlocks so Ogawa goes for his leg and then Goldberg grabs Ogawa’s. The two men trade punches with their free hands until Goldberg counters into a single leg crab. Ogawa escapes and lands more karate kicks but Goldberg pushes him back. Ogawa fires back and lands a judo stomach throw. Goldberg responds with knees and a heaving double-arm suplex and then slaps Ogawa in the corner. Goldberg ducks a punch and goes for a back suplex but Ogawa counters into one of his own. Ogawa locks in a sleeper. Goldberg gets to the corner but Ogawa doesn’t let go and then throws the ref aside. Goldberg manages to throw Ogawa off and lands a huge spear. Goldberg goes for a pin but the referee’s out cold, apparently. Goldberg decides to attempt another spear, but this time Ogawa rolls away and lands one of the weakest-looking clotheslines I’ve ever seen.
Both wrestlers get up and Ogawa lands another clothesline. He gets a visual pin but the ref’s still down. Ogawa decides to remedy this by…stomping on the ref. Great idea. He tries to hold Goldberg up for more running clotheslines but Goldberg collapses both times. And on the second one, Ogawa gets tripped up by…Giant Silva. Silva gets in Ogawa’s face then punches him. Goldberg lands another spear. That’s followed by a really bad-looking Jackhammer. The referee magically wakes up with Goldberg’s touch and counts to three to end the match after about thirteen minutes.
Review: They tried but this was a mess. Goldberg and Ogawa had no chemistry together whatsoever which caused the match to come across as sloppy and disjointed. There seemed to be issues with timing and selling. Nothing really looked good, despite both wrestlers’ best attempts at making this come across like a fight. There was a complete lack of flow from one sequence to the next. And then there was the nonsensical finish, with Giant Silva of all people getting involved and making Ogawa sell his weak offence like he’s been hit with an anvil. It also didn’t help that the referee was made to look like he was made of paper (I’m pretty sure even WWE referees would laugh at this), only to spring to life at the last second like he was, I don’t know, playing dead. Lastly, that Jackhammer looked pretty bad with Ogawa landing almost entirely on one side instead of flat on his back. I’m surprised he didn’t break a rib on that landing. This sucked, plain and simple.
Final Rating: *
4. Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto vs. Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow & Punisher Dice Morgan
Background: Masa Saito was an established pro-wrestler in New Japan and had wrestled all over the United States prior to this match. Shinya Hashimoto was arguably the biggest of New Japan’s Three Musketeers and was being groomed as a future main-eventer and company ace. Bigelow was one of the most agile and athletic big men of his day and as such found regular work in the wrestling-intense NJPW. Lastly, Punisher Dice Morgan was, of course, The Undertaker. This match took place while he was still under WCW contract, but instead of wrestling under his WCW name (‘Mean’ Mark Callous), he wrestled under a different one altogether. I’ll refer to him as ‘Undertaker’ here.
The match: Hashimoto and Bigelow start off by dodging each other’s high kicks. After a clean break, Hashimoto gets a headlock and runs the ropes but is met with a wall in the form of Bigelow. Bigelow takes his turn running to the ropes and charges but Hashimoto returns the favor and stays put. Bigelow goes for a high crossbody but Hashimoto ducks. Hashimoto follows with some kicks that send Bigelow to the floor. Bigelow grabs Hashimoto upon returning to the ring and tags Undertaker, who lands some punches. He taunts Hashimoto with a knuckle lock but Hashimoto spits on him, so Undertaker spits back. They lock knuckles and Undertaker overpowers Hashimoto, and then lands some chops. He follows with a big slam and a rib breaker for a two-count and then stomps on Hashimoto’s back. A flying clothesline gets Undertaker another two-count so he goes to the top rope, but he misses his flying crossbody. That allows Hashimoto to land a spinning wheel kick and his patented jumping DDT, before tagging Saito. Saito lands some nasty chops and then connects with a big back body drop. He slams Undertaker and locks him in a Boston Crab, but Bigelow breaks it up with a kick. Hashimoto tags in and he and Saito land double knee smashers on Undertaker. Hashimoto follows with an extremely stiff kick to Undertakers calf, so he lands a boot and then limps over to tag Bigelow.
Bigelow lands a vertical suplex for two and then applies a chinlock but Hashimoto rolls through and claws his eyes. Saito tags in and so does Undertaker. Saito lands one arm drag but Undertaker counters the second with a knee. He connects with his flying clothesline and tags Bigelow, who lands a dropkick and a falling head-butt for two. Bigelow goes for a headlock but Saito counters with a Backdrop/Saito suplex. He pins but Undertaker makes the save. Saito messes up a scoop slam, which allows Bigelow to overpower him and tag Undertaker back in. Undertaker pulls a Hulk Hogan and lands a scoop slam/leg drop combo but Hashimoto breaks up his pin. He follows with a chinlock but Saito gets his foot on the ropes, so he tags Bigelow again. They double-back-elbow Saito and Bigelow lands more falling head-butts for another two-count.
Undertaker tags in again and lands an aided big boot and then starts brawling with Saito. Saito counters an Irish whip and lands a lariat but Undertaker remains standing. He charges again but Bigelow trips him up against the ropes. Bigelow mauls Saito ringside as Undertaker brawls with Hashimoto in the ring. Hashimoto breaks up a pin following a vertical suplex so Bigelow goes after him. Undertaker picks Saito up and tosses him into a charging Bigelow who lands a body block. Both Undertaker and Bigelow climb different turnbuckles. Hashimoto cuts Bigelow off and sends him to the floor while Undertaker lands a top-rope falling elbow drop. He pins Saito and gets the three-count right before Hashimoto can break it up. The Americans win after 12:23.
Winners: Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow & Punisher Dice Morgan (Undertaker)
Review: A very basic and straightforward match. It was very simple with lots of easy moves and quick tags to keep the match going. But there also wasn’t much of a story here since the Americans didn’t wrestle as the typical ‘evil foreigners’ and the Japanese wrestlers didn’t really tell a story either. There wasn’t much ‘heat’ or excitement outside of a few quick moves here and there. It just came across as an exhibition but didn’t really showcase anything special. The real draw here is the rarity of seeing Mark Calaway wrestling in neither WCW nor WWE. But that’s really all this match has to offer.
Final Rating: **1/2
3. Toshiaki Kawada vs. D’Lo Brown – July 30th, 2006
Background: Kawada was the only wrestler still relatively in his prime that didn’t follow Misawa to Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2000. As a result, he spent the next several years either as Triple Crown Champion, in big cross-promotional feuds, or injured. By mid-decade, he was undoubtedly the company’s ace and took on all comers whenever possible. One such a challenger was D’Lo Brown, who came to AJPW hoping to grow his own reputation following his own stints in WWE and TNA.
The match: Some chain grappling starts and D’Lo tries for a cross armbreaker but both men reach the ropes. Kawada takes him down and works the leg, then switches into a bow-and-arrow hold. After some more mat wrestling, D’Lo overpowers Kawada with the Greco-Roman knuckle lock and chops him into a corner. D’Lo proves he has brass balls by daring Kawada to chop him back and Kawada does. They go back-and-forth with chops and forearms until Kawada spinkicks D’Lo so hard he falls out of the ring.
Kawada gives chase but D’Lo lands a huge punch to the jaw and whips Kawada into the barricade. Kawada fires back with a big boot and returns the favro with the barricade whip. D’Lo gets back onto the apron but Kawada lands a running yakuza kick so strong it sends D’Lo over the barricade and into the fans. D’Lo returns to the ring but is met with a grumpy Kawada who has murder in his eyes. Kawada goes to town on D’Lo with chops, step kicks, and a leg lariat, only for D’Lo to fire up. Kawada tries more step-kicks. D’Lo fires up again and actually lariats Kawada to the mat. He pins but Kawada kicks out at one.
D’Lo lands a corner clothesline followed by a snapmare/basement clothesline for two. The two men trade chops until D’Lo goes for a swinging side slam. Kawada tries to counter with a Dangerous Backdrop but D’Lo blocks and gets to the ropes for safety. Smart man. Kawada lands some knee-lifts, so D’Lo pokes his eye and lands a backdrop suplex of his own. D’Lo follows with a Stretch Plum submission hold. He uses Kawada’s own move against him and pins but only gets two. He goes for a German suplex but Kawada elbows out. D’Lo answers with an enzui lariat and tries again but Kawada blocks and lands a gamengiri kick. D’Lo staggers into a corner. Kawada follows with a big running yakuza kick. He follows that with a suplex and a punt to D’Lo’s spine, and then applies his own Stretch Plum. This time D’Lo kicks out at two just like Kawada did before.
D’Lo remains fired up as Kawada lands a chest chop/spine kick combo, with D’Lo sitting up each time. Kawada goes for a running kick to D’Lo’s face but D’Lo blocks and rolls Kawada up for two. D’Lo goes for a running lariat. Kawada kicks his arm and then his face. Brainbuster by Kawada. D’Lo kicks out and lands one more round of desperation elbows. Kawada fires back with a massive elbow flurry of his own. D’Lo slumps down to a seated position…and soccer kicks D’Lo in the side of the head. Kawada pins D’Lo by sitting on his chest after eleven minutes.
Winner: Toshiaki Kawada
Review: That was a fun competitive throwaway match. There was little doubt Kawada was winning this match but he made D’Lo look great all the same. D’Lo fought through immense pain and endured a ton of punishment and dished out lots of hard-hitting offense as well. The best part was when D’Lo ate several brutal shots from Kawada and then fired up King’s Road-style. He tried his best to keep up with Kawada and even try to humiliate Kawada by stealing his submission finisher. But D’Lo’s tenacity was all for naught in the end as Kawada simply hit harder. At least D’Lo can say he survived being in the ring with arguably the hardest striker in pro-wrestling history and went down swinging.
Final Rating: ***1/4
2. Jushin Liger vs. Black Tiger II – February 3rd, 1996
Background: Black Tiger II is Eddy Guerrero under a mask (and for this review I’ll be referring to him as ‘Eddy’). He had been wrestling in Japan sporadically since 1992 under that gimmick and had grown as a star over several years. Here, Eddy hoped to claim the coveted IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, but to do that he had to beat Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, who was basically the god of all cruiserweights at the time.
The match: They trade waistlocks to start until Eddy takes Liger down by his leg. That’s followed by a great chain-wrestling sequence and some attempts at leglocks. Liger gets the advantage with a modified Romero stretch and tries the full surfboard but Eddy counters with a pin for a one-count. They do the Greco-Roman test of strength and go back-and-forth on this until Eddy grapples into some pin attempts and an armlock. Liger escapes a hammerlock with a cool takeover-type move and then the high-speed chaos begins. They trade moves with each other at blistering speed with Eddy hitting a snap headscissor and Liger landing a headscissor takedown of his own that sends Eddy out of the ring. Liger fakes him out on the ropes and then lands a plancha to the floor. But Eddy catches him and throws him into the steel barricade. He throws Liger back into the ring and lands a senton atomico for two.
Eddy applies a grounded double-arm stretch but Liger reaches the ropes so Eddy responds with a dropkick and a backdrop suplex for two. Eddy applies a chinlock and then lands a top-rope Frankensteiner for another two-count. He goes back to the double-arm hold but Liger gets to the ropes again, so Eddy follows with a standing Gory Special stretch in the middle of the ring. Eddy goes for a corner whip but Liger counters and lands two rolling koppu kicks that lead to a two-count for him. He goes for a hip toss but Eddy counters with a victory roll that also gets two. Liger follows that with a Frankensteiner but Eddy kicks out again. Eddy goes to counter another Irish whip with a crucifix into a sunset flip but Liger reverses the pin for another quick two-count. Eddy goes for a powerbomb but Liger escapes via arm drag and lands a Fisherman buster that gets two. Liger goes for a diving head-butt but Eddy gets his feet up and lands a Black Tiger Bomb/Splash Mountain for another close two-count. Eddy goes to the top rope but Liger cuts him off and tries to put him in the electric chair position. Wait, no, Eddy counters and puts Liger on his shoulders. No, Eddy counters into a sunset flip pin. One, two, Liger kicks out. Eddy lands a front vertical suplex followed by a springboard tornado DDT. He pins but Liger kicks out again. Eddy goes for a frog splash. Liger gets his knees up. Liger tries to maintain control but Eddy out-powers him and lands a springboard rope-assisted headscissor takedown. Eddy goes back to the top rope. Liger cuts him off and lands an avalanche Fisherman buster. That’s enough for Liger to get the pin and retain his title after 12:26.
Winner: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger
Review: Another match that looked great on paper but, for whatever reason, didn’t deliver in execution. There was some decent grappling to start things off and there were some great near-falls in the end. And yet, it seemed pretty clear that Eddy was miles ahead of Liger here. This match was centered more on lucha libre than on New Japan junior-style wrestling, which benefitted Eddy and left Liger looking a bit slow. Liger did some interesting moves here and there, but he didn’t really showcase his reputed awesomeness in this match. It also didn’t help that the crowd was completely dead here. The crowd didn’t seem to care at all for anything that happened in the ring, not even the finish (which also suffered from a huge lack of build-up). I had such high hopes for this match considering both wrestlers’ reputations. Unfortunately, a lot of things just seemed to be off here, and that led to this match not really living up to its reputation after all this time.
Final Rating: ***1/2
1. Rey Mysterio vs. Psicosis – WAR Super J Cup 1995 – December 13th, 1995
Background: the 1995 Super J Cup was the successor to the first one from the year prior, but with a few differences. First, it wasn’t hosted by New Japan, but by a smaller company called Wrestling Association R (WAR). Second, it featured new wrestlers such as Gran Naniwa, Dos Caras, Ultimo Dragón, and Lionheart (Chris Jericho). Third, it resolved a problem that the first event had. In the first event, the final match happened immediately after the second semi-final match. That forced The Great Sasuke to wrestle two matches back-to-back without much time to recover. To resolve that issue in the second tournament, WAR brought two wrestlers that weren’t part of the tournament itself to wrestle an exhibition match so that the two tournament finalists could prepare for the finals. And the two wrestlers chosen for this exhibition match were none other than Psicosis and Rey Mysterio Jr.
Before the match begins, I just want to point something out. As both wrestlers make their entrances, they cut to pre-taped promos. Mysterio speaks in English while Psicosis speaks a bit of English but mostly in Spanish. But what’s important here is that WAR gives both guys Japanese subtitles so that the local audience can understand what’s being said. It’s so simple yet it does so much. It always astounds me when stories emerge of some companies in North America giving up on a ‘foreign’ wrestler because of language barriers. WAR’s short and probably cheap videos here did more than enough to introduce these two wrestlers to a new audience that had never seen them before.
The match: They lock-up and Psicosis double-legs Mysterio into an STF. Mysterio counter-wrestles but Psicosis keeps him grounded with a hammerlock until Mysterio counters with a type of shin breaker. Mysterio gets to his feet, sends Psicosis into the ropes and lands a tilt-a-whirl slam, followed by a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Psicosis counters an arm wringer and sends Mysterio into a corner, and then lands a huge corner dropkick. Psicosis applies another hammerlock but Mysterio grapples out with a forward takeover. He goes for a low kick but Psicosis powers through and tackles him down. Psicosis goes for a double-arm move but Mysterio counters with a wheelbarrow arm drag, followed by a Yoshi tonic into a headscissor that sends Psicosis to the floor. Great move by Mysterio. But he’s not done. Mysterio runs to the top rope and lands a flip senton to Psicosis to the floor. That gets tons of applause from the crowd.
Both wrestlers make it back into the ring at the count of fifteen and Psicosis strikes first with a running dropkick to Mysterio’s knee. He sends Mysterio into the ropes but Mysterio does the tiger feint kick to no-sell and then handsprings his way onto Psicosis’s shoulders and does another crazy headscisssor takedown. He runs again, Psicosis ducks and lifts him onto the apron, and then Psicosis lands a huge punch to Mysterio’s face. Both men chop each other back-and-forth on the apron. Psicosis boots Mysterio down and charges. Mysterio gets his feet up and monkey flips Psicosis face-first into the ringpost. Great counter. Mysterio follows with a diving hurricanrana to the floor. The fans give these guys a standing ovation. I agree with them.
Psicosis cuts Mysterio off on the apron and goes for a suplex but Mysterio counters. He runs to the ropes but Psicosis cuts him off again with a wheel kick and Mysterio falls to the floor. Psicosis follows with a suicide dive that nearly goes bad as he taps the ropes with his foot slightly but still makes enough contact with Mysterio to hit the move. Psicosis re-enters the ring checking his nose to make sure it’s not bleeding but is unaware that Mysterio’s behind him. Mysterio lands a springboard dropkick to the back of his head, which sends Psicosis out of the ring on the opposite side. Mysterio follows with a springboard flip senton to the floor. He tosses Psicosis back into the ring and jumps back onto the apron. West Coast Pop flying Frankensteiner connects but Psicosis kicks out. Mysterio can’t believe it. He sends Psicosis into the ropes and kicks his leg, causing Psicosis to hit the ropes hard. Mysterio follows with a flying crossbody that sends Psicosis to the floor. But Mysterio ends up on the apron…and lands a gorgeous top-rope springboard quebrada. More tremendous athleticism from these lucha masters.
Both men return to the ring and Psicosis lands the first hit with a counter powerslam followed by a snap powerbomb. He goes to the top rope and lands a diving guillotine leg drop but Mysterio kicks out of his pin. Another snap powerbomb. Psicosis goes for a diving moonsault but Mysterio dodges and lands a wheel kick and then kicks Psicosis onto the top turnbuckle. Mysterio goes for a top-rope Frankensteiner but Psicosis pushes him off. Mysterio responds with a jumping top-rope Frankensteiner, using the top rope to springboard onto Psicosis. Amazing. Rey responds with one last spike Frankensteiner and pins for the win after 9:39.
Winner: Rey Mysterio
Review: I read that when this match first took place it actually stole the show from the actual tournament matches. Looking back with more than 25 years’ worth of hindsight, I’m not surprised at all. That was quite possibly the best under-ten-minute wrestling match ever. It was nonstop lucha libre action from bell to bell, and what it lacked in realism it made up in pure athleticism. These two really were pioneers of the junior heavyweight style. They more than proved they belonged in the premier juniors’ tournament in Japan, even though they weren’t actually part of it. And most importantly, this match was pure lucha but it was also serious. Both wrestlers treated this match as a pure competition and as a means of demonstrating both their skills as professionals and the style that was popularized in Mexico. Because of that, they put on an intense back-and-forth match with lots of technical wrestling, blistering speed, lightning-quick transitions and changes in control, and terrific near-falls. Yeah, they might’ve overdone it a bit with the out-of-ring dives, but those spots served their purpose too.
This match is a textbook case on how to expose an audience to a foreign style in a short amount of time. It elevated both wrestlers’ reputations immensely by proving they could elicit reactions outside their home country, which was critical to both of them becoming even bigger stars in WCW. Watch this match as soon and as much as you can.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Thanks for reading.