re: Official Puro Match/DVD Discussion Thread (NO SPOILERS)
Been watching a lot of Puro as part of a Top 100 Matches of the Decade project. All the following matches are currently on my list and things I've been most impressed by the last week or so:
Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen & Taiyo Kea (All Japan 7/23/00)
FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. This is just absolutely everything you want it to be given 3 of the guys involved, and Kea more than holds his own as the spunky rookie in comparison to his comrades trying to leather seven shades of shit out of Tenryu and Kawada. Tenryu's ability to display utter distain and contempt for his opponents is well documented, and by god does he just look PISSED at Hansen especially throughout, feels like they're two old guys who haven't seen each other in years who then run into another at the most inconvienient of times, "remember me?", "aye, ya cunt". There's this one spot I should hate where Kea suckers Tenryu with a superkick and Tenryu just stands unaffected on the apron, but by god does Tenryu's just stoic badass stance and sudden jolt as it dawns on him what that punk just pulled manage to somehow make me not criticise the sequence. Hansen himself is fucking INCREDIBLE, there's a 3 minute spell early in the match where he's just fucking murdering Kawada and Tenryu with chops and kicks, feels like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino before the movie was even made, just a badass old man mad at the world and these damn kids and just hurling abuse at the closest person he finds. Plus his selling of every chop and kick is just astounding, he crumbles and shakes his head to get some sense of perspective, he sells each strike to his neck like its just collapsed his entire body..just amazing. He also has a couple of astounding nonschalant adventures into the ring to punt Tenryu in the skull to break up a pin, seriously at one point its like the ref hesitates to count because he expects Hansen to enter and *BAM* Hansen just casually punts Tenryu like he's not even fit to lick his boot. Kawada is Kawada, brutally stiff and sells like an absolute king, highlight of the match might have been his exchange with Hansen in his peril segment, just battling it out before he collapses to his knees off an elbow and then does this beautiful delayed retreating stumble into the corner after a knee to the temple, he also does really well in working a sense of hierarchy with Kea and making every exchange between them feel intense and about Kea proving himself as a man. He's an absolute DICK throughout as well, crowd boos him everytime he breaks up pins and makes Kea look a bitch, and then when they recreate the nobody potatoes me setup spot by dual kicking Hansen, only for the crazy old bastard to have one last bit of fight in him and lariat the fuck out of Tenryu to a massive pop he just casually breaks up the biggest cover of Kea's life. WHAT A DICK.
Match is just entirely compromised of some brutal looking strikes (got to love it when Kea just punts Tenryu's kidney to hit a German) which are sold like death, a ton of emphatic and brilliant bumps, some great selling from Kawada and Hansen, Tenryu having some epicly choice facial expressions when locking up with Kea (he eats a boot at one point and just pulls this perfect 'what in the fuck was that, this ain't how its supposed to go down' expression. Tenryu and Hansen are also just perfect on opposite corners, feels like the other is defined by the other's continued existence. Match might also have my favourite transition spot out of FIP segment, Kawada just counters Kea in midflight with a fucking sick sounding roundhouse kick which sounded like it dislodged two teeth. THE SOUND, JESUS WEPT. Finish is also satisfyingly horrific, Kawada manages to subdue a resilient Kea whilst Tenryu and Hansen slug it out on the streets of Tokyo on the outside, he gets a powerbomb and appears to be running towards the corner only to stop and then drop Kea in a horrific looking way. Seriously might have eclipsed the Benoit-Eddie Nitro Powerbomb for sheer insanity in the bump, and this match deserved nothing less as the finish.
Toshiaki Kawada & Nobutaka Araya vs Genichiro Tenryu & Masa Fuchi (All Japan 6/30/01)
So yeah, remember when Andy said any juniors stuff he voted for would be matches filled with hate instead of cutesy spots and perfunctory matwork which goes nowhere? Well HATE is the best way to describe this match, HOLY FUCK is Tenryu arguably at his most dick-headed self here and his brutalising of Araya is staggering to watch. He busts him hardway with a stiff as hell punch to the top of the eye and throughout he's just an ass kicking machine, there's a couple of amazing moments where he just stands around contemplating his next move and just settles on punting Araya dead in the skull. Spot of the match has to be Tenryu busting out a stiff as shit lariat and then just casually punting Araya dead in the eye with zero fucks given for his safety. Araya to his credit sells that moment in particular superbly, its like he just wakes up and thinks in disbelief 'what in the fuck did I do to you to deserve this?'. He's brilliant throughout as the spunky kid trying to take on Tenryu and Fuchi, and the crowd really rally behind him when he gets into a full on war with Tenryu near the end. They do a great job at making him look tough and resilient in constantly coming back for more without delving into him just popping up for some hokey fighting spirit bullshit. There's this brilliant moment where he eats the Tenryu lariat and staggers up to his feet with this teary eyed expression before collapsing back to his knees in pain. Kawada sells fucking well as usual, a couple of really great delayed sells of Tenryu punches and enziguri's to the skull and he eats a beauty of a right hook square in Tenryu's jaw to set up Araya's fiery comeback spell. Fuchi is damn good as well, just schooling the youngster and being a cocky shit throughout, but he's never allowed to be as violent as Tenryu and Araya's workover automatically makes his story and role more prominent in the success of the match. Tenryu's facial expressions were also AMAZING here, whether he's conveying disgust at Araya not doing the polite thing and dieing before him, or getting pissed at the mere sight of Kawada or selling the shock in the force of Kawada's offence in particular. There's this great moment where Araya just forearms Tenryu and he just stares the fuck out of him and has to be held back by the ref from entering the ring and committing murder. Match might also have my favourite babyface transition spot where Araya gets irish wipped into the corner and as Tenryu runs for a lariat Araya just runs full force and headbutts the absolute shit out of him before tagging in Kawada. Absolutely fucking bonkers. Strikes and Tenryu's facial expressions alone would be enough to make my ballot, but take in the underdog story they develop in every Tenryu/Araya exchange and the great pacing and you've got a match pushing its way into the top 50. WATCH IT.
Mariko Yoshida vs. Megumi Fujii, (ARSION 05/24/03)
Excellent grappling/shoot style match between two women who do it better than most men could dream of. Fujii is an MMA girl I believe whereas Yoshida is a skilled pro wrestler and they work a really great story around Fujii dominating a vast majority of the grappling and takedowns with Yoshida usually being close to finding an opening but always having it shut down by the more skilled Fujii. I dug the rounds system meaning that both competitors were denied what looked to be a submission win in the opening two rounds with the time limit working against them. Also dug how Yoshida was stubborn in continuing with grappling Fujii but by the third round her arm's quite damaged and she's had numerous close escapes from defeat...so she sets about turning it into more of a bomb throwing affair and hits a couple of ridiculous boots to the face of Fujii, including one where Fujii was crawling on the mat which looked absolutely disgusting. Finish was also quite good with Yoshida finally managing to create an opportunity and Fujii being unable to shut it down this time. Both women went for the win at all costs and the matwork managed to be 'visually impressive' whilst still looking gritty and unco-operative and with everything being fought for. Fujii also trying to submit Yoshida with her own submission move was also really awesome in a taking her to school sort of way. Not amongst the high end shoot stuff (namely because Fujii is so far ahead of Yoshida its not even funny) but definitely on the tier below that and well worth anyone's time. The other folks here who dig shoot style (Andy, Moops, Sterling) will love this and I could see guys like Cal and Seabs who might not be fans of the style finding this more pleasing, only goes like 14 minutes as well so its to the point and doesn't go longer than it needs to.
Jun Akiyama vs Mitsuharu Misawa, (All Japan 02/27/00)
Superb teacher vs student battle. Akiyama controls about 90% of the match and it just works, he loses out in the early battles as Misawa proves despite Akiyama's moments of choice counters, he's still the man and the one who can dictate the pace. Akiyama seizing the opportunity and then working over Misawa is really good, its not a consistent workover body part wise but I took it more as him just trying anything to contain and weaken Misawa and keep his confidence growing as he controlled more and more of the match without Misawa getting back into things. A couple of really Finlay esque elbows/knee drops right on the bridge of the nose from both men which was a nice little touch to the subtle anger both men had to put the other away. Misawa's comeback was really well done in hitting enough of his signature offence to put over Akiyama's dominance and establish Misawa needed to weaken Akiyama to even the odds, but also moving at a slower pace and grimacing noticeably when going for certain moves to put over the earlier damage. Akiyama is amazing in the finishing stretch, he gets a couple of really strong false finishes and they somehow make the spot where Misawa pops up after a big move feel like a key moment in the story: he goes to elbow Akiyama but its like Akiyama subconcsiously told himself Misawa wouldn't stay down and he catches him for a second exploder and Misawa just collapses instantly when he tries to get up. From there the camera just focuses in on Akiyama's realisation of what he's just accomplished and you see him man up and tell himself Misawa is going to be put down and he won't choke, him winning via the wrist clutch exploder was also an excellent setup after the exploder proved to only be able to contain rather than finish Misawa. Only slight issue I had was a spike tombstone being used as a setup spot for another move, but otherwise this avoided any of the pitfalls I have about puro main events these days and was paced impeccably.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (U-Style 2/4/04)
Incredible matwork, in fact is there any matwork in a 00s match that tops this? Everything feels hard fought and competitive, and they establish parity by letting both men look skillful and dangerous in the exchanges, but in such a way that the pace is slow enough to put over the caution and respect both men have for the other whilst creating some drama in amongst the impressive grappling. Pacing between matwork and strike exchanges is wonderful, Tamura going down a point after an extended opening of matwork forces him to try his hand at catching Kohsaka off guard with a strike and christ does he catch him off guard, Kohsaka's desperate attempt to catch the leg and work a hold only to collapse upon impact was beautiful. Incredible drama down the finishing stretch as well, with Tamura slowly losing points and constantly having to enter each exchange one point worse off than Kohsaka, really ties into the final exchange tremendously with Tamura looking to be 40-15 down and with seemingly little to no hope, until Kohsaka's eagerness draws him into more matwork and Tamura spots his only chance, fact its very similar in execution to the Kohsaka/Volk Han 98 finish just fills my heart with joy. Oh and the guy in the background visibly relieved at the finish is stupendous, half convinced he bet his house on the victor and was about to find himself homeless.
Kiyoshi Tamura vs Hiroyuki Ito, (U-Style 08/18/04)
Another excellent bout here, Ito is such a terrific underdog taking the fight to the far more savvy and skilled Tamura. He comes right out of the gates like he can't afford to let Tamura dictate the pace or show too much respect to him, and seeing Tamura valiantly try to counter and escape Ito's holds only to have concede 2 points via rope breaks in the early going really gets you invested in not only how Tamura can overturn the deficit, but also in how Ito can maintain the advantage. Next few minutes are just a masterclass from Tamura, feels like a true champion who's best gets brought out in moments of sheer adversity and he proceeds to set the pace and manages to wrangle 2 points from Ito in the process. Final few moments however are where the brilliant pacing and structure pays off, Ito tees off on Tamura recognising it as perhaps his best chance against Tamura's mat skills and he connects with a couple of nice strikes which Tamura sells in a Fujiwara esque KO sell as Andy mentions. Really gets you invested in both when you see Ito sucking up air on the ropes whilst Tamura clearly looks flustered, Ito's proven to be more than a handful but the longer the match goes on the more you struggle to believe his stamina can survive against Tamura's deadly accuracy, and sure enough he goes for one kick too many and gets picked off by the veteran. Classy match, an engaging underdog story with some gripping selling from Tamura throughout.
Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka vs Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi (New Japan, 12/14/00)
JESUS CHRIST, top 10 at the absolute minimum. Just an incredible match with a shitload of drama and tension and some wonderful stories developing, Iizuka is the young lion hopelessly outmatched but with the fire to prove himself in the biggest match of his career, Kawada and Nagata are the two ass kickers and everytime they lock up its in short spurts with both men trying to take the other down. You get the feeling every kick and strike is a difference maker especially with how both are the respective leaders but they pace the build to each time they meet superbly so it doesn't come off as tame but rather a tease as to what they can do without ever going too long and making the match solely about them. The real star in this though is Masa Fuchi, HOLY SHIT is he amazing here. He starts out tentative and fearful as the old man who's probably past it and likely is doing the job of a younger man and you can sense that fear in the early lock-up with Iizuka, but somewhere he just snaps and its like he realises to himself, "I'M MASA FUCKING FUCHI" and just goes on an absolute tear stretching Iizuka with some old school submssions and then standing on his face like the cockiest bastard in the world. Its like something inside of him just clicks and suddenly he's 10 years younger and everything is going his way, its a really superb story that dominates the middle and plays alongside Iizuka's long beatdown and him slowly but surely trying to hang with Kawada & Fuchi and keep the match alive. So many awesome spots that are timed incredibly well to pop the crowd, Iizuka's desperation suplex to break the what seemed forever workover of him gets an amazing response and feels like everything he had left, the finishing stretch is one of the best I've ever seen in Puro tbh. Everyone's selling the wear and tear and you get guys going nearly two minutes before they re-enter to try and help their partner/enter the fray, instead of guys going in and out its like they're going prepping themselves on the outside and then entering when they're committed to seeing the match out. The selling is incredible as well, Fuchi's stumbling into the ring upon entry and Kawada does some awe inspiring selling of his leg after Iizuka gets a superb nearfall with a leg submission after Nagata weakened Kawada's left leg, seriously Iizuka sets him up for a huge german and Kawada just collapses twice before Iizuka can actually hold him in position. Fuchi getting put in a submission by Nagata to prevent him breaking Iizuka's submission and then collapsing to his knees the minute he tries to stand up after being let out of it was beautiful. Finish is perfect as well and totally comes as unexpected, you never get the feeling where they're heading is obvious and what could have been seen as a mediocre finish to a classic match just somehow feels like the only way the match could have ended.
Yuki Ishikawa vs Alexander Otsuka (Big Mouth Loud, 09/11/05)
I could watch these two grapple all day, feels like the Japanese equivalent of Finlay/Regal. Sensational grappling which builds a beautiful 'human chess' story, even things like Ishikawa eating air on an attempted enziguri and immediately shifting into a defensive guard puts over how both men can beat the other in an instant: everything feels like its a struggle to win. Nothing is given up easily at all, and the strikes feel more like a perverse way to one up the other when the matwork can't separate them, not to mention I loved how on a couple of occasions both men would use the strikes to try and shoot in with the other not expecting it. Also adore how they fight for every counter, they don't sit in the hold but straight away look for an escape the minute an ankle or arm is even slightly bent in a way which could draw about a submission. Headbutts in this are also fucking horrific, first one felt disgusting to hear but the second one was definitely the worst, Otsuka does a Fujiwara esque shoot in headbutt and Ishikawa just sells it superbly as he richochets back into the ropes. Finish is wonderful and puts over the straightforward grappling, and Ishikawa's prior offence progressively weakening Otsuka really adds to the eventual submission.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs Osamu Nishimura - (MUGA 09/25/2006)
Excellent 70s style 2/3 falls match, built on some really choice matwork which won't make you consider either to be on the level of a Tamura/Volk Han, but still leaves you impressed with the brilliance in the simplicity of this match, and how they make certain moves feel huge. Figure four dominates this match, Nishimura counters it in the opening minute and rolls up Fujinami to take a 1-0 lead. From here they work a really nice matwork section where Fujinami tries to impose his veteran instincts to control Nishimura, but also realising the perilous position he's in with Nishimura looking to be close to his level and already 1 fall up. LOVED how Fujinami took control by injuring Nishimura's leg with some kicks, kind of put over that both men were dangerous with their strikes as well as their grappling, and made Fujinami's subsequent onslaught throughout look more dramatic and convincing with Nishimura's selling. Figure Four then securing the submission and taking us to a third fall was an excellent payoff to how Nishimura won the opening fall, and served as a nice demonstration that Fujinami could out-manoeuvre Nishimura at crucial times and wasn't too be overlooked. Final fall has some really choice selling from both men, especially loved Fujinami's delayed sell of a desperation Nishimura kick and how that served to give Nishimura something to try and exploit in the closing stages. Nishimura however being unable to further work the leg served as a nice explanation to me for how Fujinami managed to walk around and not sell the leg like it was something which could hurt him, its not like he was sprinting around the ring, but I felt like his momentary sense of pain had gradually decreased with Nishimura basically being on one leg rendering him practically immobile. Finish is absolutely perfect given how the opening 2 falls ended, Fujinami got the submission in the prior fall but Nishimura proved he could counter Fujinami's offence when he needed to, and this plays wonderfully in drawing you into Nishimura being able to escape or having to submit. Fujinami's brief leg injury also playing into the finish just put this over the edge for me, excellently worked with a really simple structure and match outline without resorting to anything stupid to pop the crowd.
Meiko Satomura vs Aja Kong - (Sendai Pro Wrestling 7/9/2006)
Not going to have this as high as Seabs, but its still an excellent match overall with strong performances by both women, with Kong overall being better IMO. I can understand Seabs' argument that Satomura constantly throwing everything Kong throws at her straight back helped progress both the resilience of Satomura as well as the dominance of Kong, and truth be told that's something I felt made me tolerate the lack of a true heat segment compared to say when Eddie Edwards works that sort of match, but I'd be lieing if I said Kong not getting a true spell of dominance irked me a little bit. Don't get me wrong I enjoyed Kong generally always being one step ahead in the strike battles, thus adding to her monstrous image and making Satomura's eventual progression in the exchanges mean more by the end...its just that from time to time I thought Satomura could have just sold a bump better rather than immediately getting up to try and take the fight to Kong (suplex by Kong on the ramp is probably the best illustration of that minor quibble). I thought the mini sequence where both no sold consecutive death valley drivers was done shockingly well and was made less irritable by the character dynamics built up in each exchange prior, plus Satomura being killed immediately by Kong the minute she got to her feet at least served to continue the theme of Satomura's resiliency alone not being enough to curb Kong. Armwork therefore served as a great hope-spot for Satomura, I didn't mind it not coming into play in the middle, since it broke down into more of a fight rather than Satomura controlling and blatantly ignoring the arm, minute she got a chance through Kong's arrogance she immediately took it. Kong's selling was flat out mesmerising, even in the opening exchanges after a couple of kicks she's shaking the arm and then entering the next lock up with her right arm hidden away, always a fan when wrestlers will sell the effects of their opponents' strikes even when its only a couple of strikes, really helps add legitimacy to the threat of the strike rather than the opponent having to hit flurries to make their offence feel dangerous. Seabs covered the selling near the end perfectly, great progression with Kong trying to fight through the pain but slowly losing more and more exchanges with the arm proving a liability, her selling the arm the minute she connected with that lariat I mentioned after Satomura popped up from the death valley driver, as well as her trying to hold her arm up to the crowd in defiance only to grimace in agony and then throwing left handed strikes and laying desperately onto Satomura in pin attempts were all just amazing little touches that reinforced the damage and peril she was in. I also really dug how Satomura could believably fight through the two backfists, with Kong's power noticeably reduced to the arm, made what could otherwise have thrown people off the sequence appreciate it more since they took the time to outline why Kong's offence was now proving ineffective for the most part. Great match, though anything past my top 40 seems a stretch at this point.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Satoshi Kojima - (AJPW 2/16/2005)
Oh hell yes, I'd agree with Moops that I thought Kawada was immensely better here, felt like the way the match was layed out and how dominant and terrific he was working as the ace that he could have worked anyone from Kojima to Dino and still made this work. Not trying to slight Kojima there, since Kawada's performance is stupendous, but I do feel that he was placed into a role of which he did well in but was ultimately plugged into a formula which you never felt could falter with how well Kawada was working. Strike battle progression is just what I want from Puro Main Events, Kawada looking like the ace early and then Kojima slowly establishing parity throughout the match and building into the finish is far more satisfying than endless even exchanges in the beginning. Felt the way they slowly had Kawada react and sell each blow in each exchange also meant that moments where he popped up from a big move fitted into the character dynamic, especially in that epic sequence where Kawada gets up from a lariat which finally downs him, both men then club each other with lariats with neither moving, but Kojima then hits the big lariat to put Kawada down for the first time in the match. If they'd have worked even early I could have groaned at that spot, but as it was it felt like the moment where Kojima's suffering and defiance had finally softened Kawada up enough to strike him down. LOVED Kawada's facial expressions throughout, whether it was conveying a sense of disbelief that Kojima would dare strike him in the beginning, to getting slowly pissed at his defiance and having to work hard for every big bit of offence (particularly his powerbomb and backdrop driver) and his selling of the arm was typical Kawada greatness: hobbling into covers, selling it after big blows, screaming in agony when its double axed etc. So many cool little touches as well I thought, like Kojima getting struck with a desperation Gamengiri (loved the close-up on Kawada's perplexed face at Kojima now being the dominant one, made the following gamengiri feel like a moment of defiance from him) and doing a great delayed sell where it looked like he had enough in the tank to barely keep on his feet...only to plummet just as the crowd were about to pop thinking it was now Kawada's offence which was proving useless. Finishing stretch was also magnificent, again in other circumstances I might have found the Kawada kickout at 1 to be over the top, but the way it played off of his performance as 'the ace' and then forcing Kojima to hit harder the next time was layered in storytelling and made what would otherwise have been a worthless spot mean something, Kawada also sold the damage of each lariat at the end marvellously, loved him standing only to half sink to his knees before staggering up to be hit by the final blow. Feels like it could land anywhere from 40-60 on my list, but no complaints with it potentially landing exceptionally high on other ballots.
Ishikawa/Otsuka as much as I love their matches is most likely going to drop off sadly by the end. Kawada & Fuchi vs Nagata & Iizuka could be as high as my top 5, Hansen & Kea vs Kawada & Tenryu will be in my top 30 at the lowest as well.