Pro-wrestling is very different depending on where it takes place. There’s this cheesy phrase that once summed it up pretty well: “In Japan, it’s a sport, in Canada it’s tradition. In Mexico it’s religion, and in America, it’s a joke.”
Obviously, that’s an oversimplification of things (and isn’t entirely accurate), but it does point out how a wrestler’s career can be different depending on where they are.
To dive into that further, I’ve once again found five matches involving former and current WWE wrestlers in Japan. Some of these matches are obscure, so hopefully you’ll see a different side to some of your favorite wrestlers.
5. Abyss vs. Yoshihiro Takayama – Wrestle-1 Outbreak 2014
Background: TNA began a working relationship with Keiji Muto’s Wrestle-1 promotion around 2014, which led to a talent exchange between the two companies. Most people remember this leading to Muto himself (as Muta) appearing on TNA Impact for a while. But the flip side saw Abyss and other wrestlers appear on a Wrestle-1 show. Here, the monstrous Abyss took on Japanese giant Yoshihiro Takayama, in one of the very few matches in which Takayama wrestled someone bigger than him. This also features a press conference involving Abyss and he acts like a stereotypical ‘foreign monster’ coming to Japan. As Abyss scares people, a panel of experts (which includes Kenta Kobashi, for some reason) looks on completely unamused.
The Match: Abyss rushes Takayama and chokes him in a corner. A corner splash sends Takayama to the floor and he tries to fight back but Abyss overpowers him. Abyss whips Takayama into the barricade and then throws him back into the ring, where they have some slow brawling. Abyss gets no reaction as he taunts the crows but then he eats a big boot. Takayama starts his comeback with a corner boot, a belly-to-belly suplex, and a Hogan leg drop, all of which lead to a two-count. Abyss powers out of an Everest German suplex, hits some elbows, and punches Takayama back down to the floor. They brawl onto the entrance ramp and Abyss pulls a bag of thumbtacks from underneath the ring. Abyss dumps the thumbtacks on the entrance ramp and signals for a chokeslam. Takayama fights out of it and teases a German. Abyss escapes and bodyslams Takayama onto the thumbtacks! But Abyss doesn’t pin. He winds up and charges for a splash. But Takayama rolls aside. Abyss falls into the bed of thumbtacks. But both wrestlers still want to fight. They start brawling and the ref tries to make them stop. Both of them shove him aside and he calls the match off. The match ends in a Double-Disqualification after 6:45.
Match result: Double-DQ after 6:45
Review: This was disappointing but also exactly what I expected. Like Abyss, Takayama is a guy better suited to being the monster against a smaller and more agile opponent. The dynamic was completely off here with both guys trying to play the monster in a way that displayed little chemistry or excitement. It was just boring brawling, more like an angle than a real match. Nothing of note happened beyond the thumbtack spot, which wasn’t even that tense or exciting to begin with. There had been much crazier thumbtack spots done in both the US and in Japan, and this one came off as forced and unnecessary. I wish they tried something a bit different instead of the tired old brawling that accomplished nothing.
Final Rating: *1/2
4. Masahiro Chono vs. “Chyna” Joanie Laurer – NJPW The Spiral 2002
Background: After her WWE career fell apart, Chyna managed to sort of turn her career around by signing with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. But Chyna (who had to wrestle under her real name since WWE owned the name ‘Chyna’, but I’ll still call her that here) didn’t go there to wrestle women; she went there to wrestle men. Inoki wanted to capitalize on her billing as the Ninth Wonder of the World and was convinced that seeing a woman wrestling men in one of the strictest and most traditional companies in the world would be a huge draw. But it was extremely controversial because the men that had to face her were deeply concerned about their credibility, especially since many of them were already being fed to MMA fighters at the time as well.
The Match: Chyna gets right on Chono’s face and takes him down as the bell rings. She stomps him in the corner and knocks the referee down but then Chono powers up and drops her with an elbow. The referee warns Chono for using close-fisted punches and then he and Chyna start choking each other. they lock-up and Chono powers Chyna to the mat with an armlock but then she pushes back, flips over using the ropes and does some technical wrestling. She mocks him some more and on their next lock-up she wrestles into a standing armlock until he gets a ropebreak.
Chono blocks a kick and takes Chyna to the mat with a heel hook but she locks in her own heel hook at the same time. She locks in a figure-4 leglock in the middle of the ring but Chono basically no-sells and taunts her to try harder. Chyna responds by slapping him and suddenly he can’t decide between selling for her and not selling. Chono rolls over, reversing the hold onto her and then gets to the ropes. Chyna charges for an attack but Chono boots her down. Except she completely no-sells and gets right back up. Then she hits a clothesline and Chono goes down. She charges again and Chono counters with a Manhattan drop that does absolutely nothing (for obvious reasons). Some sloppy brawling ensues and Chono locks in an abdominal stretch, but then Chyna reverses the hold onto him. Chono gets a ropebreak so Chyna hits some corner elbows. She sends him into the opposite corner and lands a handspring back elbow. Chono sells like he got knocked out. She gets him back in the corner and goes for an Irish whip but Chono counters it and sends Chyna out to the floor.
Chyna casually walks back into the ring and argues with Chono before slapping and spitting in his face. She hits some running clotheslines but again Chono hits a Manhattan drop. Chyna has this confused look on her face because it’s not like Chono’s doing any damage with that move. I guess that’s supposed to be some kind of subtle humor? Chono charges next so Chyna hits him with a Manhattan drop and it actually does something. She goes for another clothesline but Chono boots her down. Still, she crawls over for a pin and almost gets three but Chono kicks out, as does Chyna right after.
Chono lands a diving shoulder tackle and pins but only gets two. Chono argues with Chyna’s…manager? I guess…who gets on the apron, which allows Chyna to roll Chono up for a pin but she only gets two again. She locks Chono in the STF (the move he’s famous for) but he crawls to the ropes without any effort. Chyna ducks one big boot but can’t avoid the next one and goes down. That’s enough for Chono to get the pin and the win after 11:35.
Winner: Masahiro Chono
Review: Oh God, this was awkward to watch. I think there’s a different cultural attitude about male-on-female violence/wrestling in Japan, since most people are smart enough to realize it’s a sport/spectacle and don’t consider it legitimate violence. I went into this embracing that mindset, but still, this was weird. As a match it was a standard yet underwhelming affair. Chyna did some technical wrestling that led to nothing and then relied on some weak clotheslines that Chono clearly oversold. It was obvious that neither one of them knew exactly what to do so both of them threw random stuff at the wall hoping that something would stick. After spending most of the match trying to be serious, they added some weird slapstick comedy that led to nothing. All these experiments led to the match becoming a disjointed mess. Chono got the worse end of the deal for having to sell for someone that had no knowledge of the Japanese style and whose offense was pitiful. There was no way Chono could ever be taken seriously again after going through this dreck.
Final Rating: *1/2
3. Naomichi Marufuji vs Chris Hero – NOAH Global League 2015
Background: Chris Hero had spent many years working for Pro Wrestling NOAH between his American indy stints. He was a big fan of Mitsuharu Misawa (man has good taste) and kept going back to NOAH for many years until he got signed by WWE. At this time, NOAH created its own annual singles tournament, which was called the Global League at first before being changed to the N-1 Victory in later years. In this match, Hero went up against Naomichi Marufuji, who was very much considered the heart and soul of NOAH after Misawa passed away and Kobashi retired.
The Match: after shaking hands, they trade armlocks until Hero knocks Marufuji down. They have a quick technical exchange that ends with Marufuji flipping out of a headscissor. Marufuji takes Hero down and applies a headlock, but Hero does something clever by literally bouncing out of the headlock to freedom. Marufuji sends Hero into a corner and charges but Hero pushes him onto the apron and lands a bicycle kick. Marufuji falls to the floor but Hero’s quick to toss him into the ring and pin for a two-count. He lands a back body drop for another two-count and starts hitting chops, then blocks a counter dropkick by holding onto the ropes. Marufuji lands on his feet behind Hero on a back suplex attempt but Hero elbows out of a German, only for Marufuji to land a dropkick against the ropes. Marufuji regains control with a running plancha to the floor.
Back in the ring, Marufuji lands a corner flying elbow but Hero answers with a big chop. Hero no-sells a running lariat, Marufuji ducks another bicycle kick and goes for Hero’s leg, and Hero counters with a snap piledriver. Marufuji crawls up the entrance ramp but Hero drops him with another elbow. Marufuji slowly crawls back into the ring by the referee’s count of nineteen, at which point Hero drops him with a Misawa-style elbow smash for another two-count. Hero follows with a topé atomico that also gets two and then goes for an even bigger one. He runs down the entrance ramp and flips into the ring but Marufuji dodges. Hero charges into the corner art Marufuji but Marufuji lands a huge strike combination. But Hero shuts him down with a Misawa rolling elbow this time. Both wrestlers go down.
Both wrestlers trade chops until Hero lands a pump kick and starts trash-talking. Hero forces him to the mat and goes for a senton but Marufuji dodges and lands a running double stomp/thrust/kick combo for two. Marufuji goes for the Shiranui. Hero counters with an enzui elbow. Marufuji blocks a corner charge with another kick combo and tries the Shiranui again. Hero counters into a Tombstone and pins but Marufuji kicks out. Hero goes for his hangman elbow combo but Marufuji counters with a backslide that gets two as well. Marufuji blocks a pump kick but eats a free-leg enzuigiri, followed by a spinning pump kick. One, two, Marufuji kicks out. Marufuji blocks a rolling elbow with his own bicycle kick. He tries another but Hero kicks first and then lands another rolling elbow. That’s followed by a running jumping elbow to the back of Marufuji’s neck. One, two, no, Marufuji kicks out at 2.9. Hero pulls his elbow pad down and signals the end. He winds up for one last elbow…but Marufuji hits first with another bicycle kick. Shiranui connects. Hero kicks out. Bicycle knee attack. Marufuji gets the pin and the win after 12:34.
Winner: Naomichi Marufuji
Review: Fun little sprint of a match that was a mini King’s Road-style battle. It started off a bit slow with Hero dominating for the most part until Marufuji started throwing bombs. Hero tried different moves to keep Marufuji down, including a lot of clever elbow smash variations. He kept building his near-falls up until he almost had the match won with an exposed elbow strike, only for Marufuji to sweep in at the end with his flurry of explosive attacks. The match suffered a bit from a lack of real heat (there was little crowd noise until the end), and both guys seemed to spam random moves at times without rhyme or reason. Still, it was good while it lasted, especially with Marufuji being able to come back from underneath so quickly and decisively.
Final Rating: ***1/4
2. Stan Hansen vs Giant Baba July 31st, 1984
Background: Hansen was basically a wrestling god in Japan for almost all the 1980s and 1990s. He was revered for his stiffness and no-nonsense style, which made him a top draw wherever he went. In this match, Hansen had to defend his PWF Heavyweight title (five years before it merged with two other belts to become the Triple Crown) against AJPW owner Giant Baba himself.
The match: Lord James Blears reads the official title declaration to sanction the match, but Hansen interrupts and attacks Baba before the bell rings. He brawls with Baba until Baba reverses an Irish whip and lands some slow chops to the chest and head. Hansen falls to the floor then rushes back in and resumes brawling. He hits Baba hard, then snapmares him and drops a knee across Baba’s face for a two-count. Hansen locks in a chinlock and the crowd chants Baba’s name so Hansen lands a second-rope kneedrop for another two-count. Baba starts firing back with an arm wringer and some chops, and then Hansen ends up tied in the ropes. Baba takes advantage with some stomps and takes Hansen by the arm. He falls to the mat with a Fujiwara armbar but Hansen refuses to give up. He breaks free and sends Baba into a corner. He charges but Baba sidesteps and Hansen hits the corner with the shoulder that was just in Baba’s armbar. Baba tries to capitalize but Hansen hits back with kicks to keep Baba at bay. Hansen hits some knees against the ropes, dropping Baba, and then chokes him with his foot. Baba fires back with chops and a snapmare, but Hansen grabs Baba’s foot to prevent further stomping. Hansen powers Baba to the mat by his leg and starts working it over. But Baba counters Hansen’s leglock with a cross armbar. Hansen blocks it and continues punching Baba’s knee. Baba maintains control over Hansen’s lariat arm until Hansen drops elbows and knees on Baba’s weakened left knee. Baba counters another leglock with another cross armbar. Baba tries to use his body weight to keep Hansen from the ropes but Hansen just pushes forward and reaches them.
Hansen kicks Baba when he’s down but Baba fights back with chops. Baba lands a Russian leg sweep and it gets a huge reaction. Then Baba goes for another armbar. Hansen rolls over and starts elbowing Baba with his free arm. Baba counters an Irish whip and lands his patented running neckbreaker drop and pins but only gets two. Hansen fights back and stiffs Baba in the corner and then lands a dropkick. He lands a running splash but only gets a one-count. Then he lands a piledriver but Baba kicks out at two. Hansen sends Baba into the ropes for his western lariat. But Baba hits first with a big boot. Both men go down. Hansen gets up first and smashes Baba’s face in. WESTERN LARIATO! One, two, no, Baba kicks out. Frustrated, Hansen starts hitting random strikes and moves. He goes for a scoop slam. Baba counters with a small package. One, two, and three! Giant Baba gets the win with a small package!
Winner and NEW PWF Heavyweight Champion after 10:07: Giant Baba
Baba has no time to celebrate at first as Hansen starts hitting everything with a pulse in frustration. He tosses the referee out of the ring, stomps on Baba, and beats up the All Japan rookies (including a very young Toshiaki Kawada). He eventually leaves and Baba gets his celebration.
Review: Astonishingly good match. Baba had clear limitations due to his gigantism, but that wasn’t made apparent here. Yes, Baba was slow with everything he did, but he masked that with some great psychology and intelligence. Hansen did most of the work here by acting as the unchained monster that did what he wanted and hit with full force. He brutalized Baba to the point that Baba’s only saving grace would be to weaken Hansen’s lariat arm. And that’s exactly what Baba did. He took Hansen to the mat and spent almost half the match working in and out of various restholds. He kept going until Hansen’s arm just wasn’t strong enough to put Baba away. And once Hansen’s go-to strategy failed, he swung like a madman and went wild, which played into Baba’s strategy. Baba maintained his cool and used a simple small package to score a surprise pinfall that angered Hansen even more. It wasn’t a complex or needlessly-long affair; it didn’t need to be. It was straightforward and was made into a bigger deal thanks to the crowd going nuts for Hansen and roaring at everything Baba did.
Final Rating: ****
1. Shinya Hashimoto vs. Lord Steven Regal – NJPW Battle Rush 1995
Background: As part of the WCW/NJPW talent exchange program, WCW wrestlers got to be in big matches in New Japan. In this case, Regal was brought in as another outside invader to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. But the champion was Hashimoto, a man that not only dominated New Japan’s world title scene at the time, but whose also acted as gatekeeper to New Japan in general. It was his job to defend the company’s honor and reputation against all comers, which is what he intended to do here.
The Match: they shake hands and as the bell rings Regal dodges a dropkick to his legs. Regal takes Hashimoto down and starts working an arm until Hashimoto gets a ropebreak. After a tense standoff, Hashimoto takes Regal to the mat but Regal counters with another armlock. They do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock and Hashimoto gets the upper hand at first, but then Regal uses his technical wizardry to counter and regain control. More mat grappling ensues and Regal gets some punches in, leading to another standoff.
Hashimoto rushes Regal with calf kicks but Regal catches his legs and then fires back with punches and forearms. Regal pulls Hashimoto out of the corner with a cravate, then transitions to an armlock on one arm while standing on Hashimoto’s other arm. He switches to a brutal crossface hold and clubs Hashimoto’s face, which forces Hashimoto to the floor to recover.
Hashimoto returns to the ring and Regal attacks him with punches and forearms, targeting the nose he busted open earlier. He drops another knee across Hashimoto’s face and then digs his knuckles into it until Hashimoto gets another ropebreak. Regal starts beating the crap out of Hashimoto until he comes back with stiff kicks. Hashimoto goes for an armbar but Regal keeps his hands clasped together and starts hitting back. More intense brawling ensues, leading to yet another tense standoff.
Hashimoto goes for an armlock but Regal gets a ropebreak, so he takes Regal down with another Greco-Roman knuckle lock. Regal bridges to avoid being pinned so Hashimoto drops an elbow across his chest. Regal stays on the mat and takes Hashimoto down by his legs and attempts an STF. But Hashimoto starts powering up and hits a big enzuigiri. Regal rolls to the floor and when he returns, Hashimoto starts kicking him hard. Hashimoto follows with a running shoulder tackle that hits so hard it sends Regal back to the floor. Regal returns but is met with a flurry of stiff overhand chops. He tries fighting back with forearms but gets overpowered. Hashimoto goes for his jumping DDT finisher. Regal counters with a wrist-lock elbow. He stiffs Hashimoto again and pins four times but Hashimoto kicks out each time.
Regal goes for a Tiger Driver but Hashimoto powers out and hits another enzuigiri. Hashimoto begins his comeback with a low sweep, roundhouse kicks and a running wheel kick, all of which lead to a two-count. Suddenly, Regal crawls over and locks in his Regal Stretch finisher. Hashimoto crawls to the ropes, so Regal pulls him back to the middle of the ring. Hashimoto blocks a punch and attempts a DDT. Regal counters with an overhead suplex that gets two. Then Regal stomps away on Hashimoto’s head and pins but still only gets two. Hashimoto gets sent into the ropes buty hits a rebound elbow of his own. Snap DDT by Hashimoto. Followed by a cross armbreaker. Regal taps out. Hashimoto retains his title.
Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion after 19:03: Shinya Hashimoto
Review: Great match with lots of technical wrestling and stiff brawling. There was a sense of urgency and tension from the opening bell as the match could’ve ended at any moment. It started off with Regal demonstrating his wrestling knowledge and he took it to Hashimoto without effort. Regal controlled most of the match to get heat and build the match up until it was time for the finish. But even when Hashimoto began his comeback, Regal still fought like hell to make it a struggle for hashimoto to maintain what little control he had. They were neck-and-neck until the very end. Once Regal’s technical skill and brutish brawling failed him, he just tried whatever he could out of desperation, only to be dropped with a DDT. That allowed Hashimoto to break Regal’s guard beyond repair and lock in a simple cross armbar to get the win to further emphasize how easily and quickly the match could end. It was a gritty fight that looked incredibly realistic that made both guys looked terrific.
Final Rating: ****