22nd December 1988
Prefectural Gymnasium, Osaka
A-ho-ho-ho and MERRRRRRRY CHRISTMAS from the St. Nicholas of Japan Akira Maeda! You'd better not laugh, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout - I'm tellin' you why: because Akira Maeda will put you in a locker backstage after SHOOT kicking you in the head in front of many paying customers.
|not taken from this event, but what a t-shirt!|
The opening montage soundtracked by a gorgeous drumbreak features none of our sainted promotion head, some of Nobuhiko Takada, but quite a lot of former (and future) WWF Champion ROBERT LOUIS "BOB" BACKLUND.
At this point in time Bob was 39 years old and had been out of wrestling for around three years after his dispute with WWF and a brief period working all the territories opposed to Vince McMahonism (noble).
Say what you like about Backlund - the way his lengthy title run of the 70s & 80s seemed to have everyone turn against him, his apparent novelty return to WWF in the 90s, his heel turn, his brief business-declining title run, the squash to Kevin Nash that ended that reign, the spin out into ineffectual noveltydom, or his real life slide into a parodic Republicanism that prefigures Glenn "Kane" Jacobs (such learned, so smart) - I always kinda liked the guy. When he 'snapped' on Bret Hart in WWF and cross-face chickenwinged him into unconsciousness was one of my first "noooooooooooo!" moments as a child. His style seemed refined enough that I could look past his less visibly-excellent body. And his promos had that quiet menace and creepiness along the lines of Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie and Jake "The Snake" Roberts that I like:
At the very outset of the transmission Backlund graces us with some words:
Well they're a little bit worried because it has been about four years since I wrestled. But they wished me the best of luck and they know I enjoy wrestling. I didn't quit wrestling because I wanted to. I quit wrestling because I was standing up for my principles. (question edited out, presumably about why he chose UWF to make his return) because I enjoy the style so much. I think it's a great style. I think it's what wrestling should be all about. It's science. It's knowledge. It's conditioning. And it's what I want to be involved with.
Thank you Bob. THANK YOU. On with the show. There is a parade and it is excellent. Takada gets mobbed.
|I feel empty / I feel dark / I remark / I am mesmerized|
By my own beat
Like a heartbeat
Tonight's opening contest does not feature Shigeo Miyato but his last two vanquished foes Tatsuo Nakano and the hapless and winless Yoji Anjo. Though now I think about it Nakano has hardly been cracking many pots, opening night draw and a win over an actual teenage boy aside (EDIT: of course, these two have fought before on opening night, with Nakano winning).
The match in keywords: niggly, tense, testy, halting, gritty. There's some meat (strikes, suplexes, displays of charisma) on the bones (match) late in the contest but it is not the easiest ride throughout. Whilst there's a lot of flaws in UK/European independent booking approaches, I do believe in something simple and upbeat to get things moving. The hardest part about reviewing these shows is not the writing or the .jpging or the translating Akira Maeda's tour to the UK (more next time) or the researching of other opinions. It is often just getting ready for an opener north of 20 minutes that is made primarily of hushed grapples. Like roughage, it is good for you. And once the shows get going they've all been super so far. But this is one occasion where I'll have to say: not great, though solid nonetheless .
|A representative image|
The crowd seem far more invested in Yoji Anjo as a battling babyface jerking the curtain than they ever were Shigeo Miyato. I think I am with them too. Based on what we have seen over 5.25 episodes of UWF Newborn it is apparent that Anjo is much less polished but is just far more fun to watch. At the finish, where Anjo finds his way out of a chickenwing attempt and reverses smartly into a fully-extended and picture-perfect wakigatame, the crowd roar wholeheartedly.
|update your manuals|
Anjo flops around the ring in a mixture of exhaustion and delight. Meanwhile Tatsuo Nakano is left to consider his place at the bottom of the heap:
|the master of incredulity|
Miyato's absence in the opener is due to his sprightly vaulting upcard to meet a Kazuo Yamazaki on his way...sideways?...after besting Bart Vale (we have no frame of reference for his talents) last time out.
|Miyato, admiring Yamazaki's new trousers|
After pinging an early kick the match turns into 'how long can Miyato put up with this ass-beating by a much better and slightly bigger fighter?' Which makes for an interesting dynamic as it grinds north of ten minutes and makes Miyato look tougher than if he was just beating Anjo or Nakano again.
Miyato does get some shit in though. My favourite is, on taking a German suplex, Miyato spots Yamazaki's arm has come loose and he grabs it for a lighting fast wakigatame. Sounds like nothing written down and I don't know how to do .gifs but it really is something. Fuck it. Here it is in three .jpgs.
After some struggle, Yamazaki gets out and hits a vengeful sleeper to end the contest. Miyato stays down long after the finish until he is revived to his feet by the encouragement and approval of his conqueror. Good stuff as usual from Yamazaki.
|barely broken sweat|
Clutch your pearls tightly if you have them because the rumours are true: Akira Maeda is not in the main event. Norman Smiley, firmly established as 'credible foreign midcard guy' and the dictionary definition of a 'good hand', is the man employed to dance with The Archduke of the Violent Rebuke.
Inarguably this Maeda's least significant match thus far but it serves at least the purpose of rebuilding Maeda into a cross between a titan and Hercules. After all Maeda did suffer a very narrow defeat to a man he has beaten six times previously who, in spite of those half-dozen defeats, remains a phenomenally popular and credible drawing card (as the sellout here attests).
UWF has these new rules pertaining to rope breaks and knockdowns. Initially it seems that they never apply them unless they're going to come into play. Both Smiley and Maeda break early and often and none of them are apparently applied to any kind of running total until, after Smiley's third rope break, we cut to the arena scoreboard that we at home can otherwise not see to reveal that yes these rope breaks and downs are being scored but not revealed to the viewers at home. Shoddy work UWF. Shoddy.
The ending, then. Maeda boots Smiley down for a count. Smiley gets up and is then put back down for another. Smiley gets up. Maeda throws a kick and Smiley catches it, but Maeda twists and wraps Smiley in a nice cross kneelock that ends in a rope break. Maeda boots Smiley down a third time. On returning to his feet, Maeda whips smartly round Smiley's back and hooks in a full sleeper that is taken to the mat where Smiley taps inside 9 minutes. Completely dominant stuff by Maeda. We get it. You are strong. The crowd eat this up.
As a significant bout in the history of UWF I have surveyed the internet for the general perception of Bob Backlund's appearance here against Nobuhiko Takada. The first opinion is posted by a user going by "Dave Meltzer" over on the forum Wrestling Classics back in 2005. Really him? It reads like him.
The first match was great in my mind. However, there was a lot of complaints in UWF about Bob doing too many pro wrestling spots. The match got over with the crowd, but a lot of people didn't even want to bring Backlund back. I remember the reaction when I was talking about how great it was and the feedback I heard was in the company they were very negative on Bob. When they did bring him back, Funaki did a number on him in training and was very stiff with him in the ring as well. Bob looked like he'd been through a war when they were done with him, and they pretty much killed off his shooter rep. I don't think they booked him after that, but I could be wrong.
This checks out on the UWF side of things to a certain extent as Backlund's matches was not included on the UWF best matches so far compilation at the end of 1989. And that a relative rookie like Funaki would stiff Backlund at the dojo? Christ. Such self-seriousness - in UWF? Who would have thought it? Did UWF avail Backlund of their profound politico-philosophical treatise ahead of getting this booking? It all seems a bit harsh.
Our new friend over at American Puro has also weighed in on this potentially fascinating contest:
Backlund's quirkiness adds charm to the match, a fun, almost unpredictable element that distinguishes this from a lot of other "shoot-style" bouts of the 80's. I won't go through the whole match because at times, it's all over the place, but there are so many cool touches and moments.
Nearly 30 years of hindsight has opened up a lot of holes in UWF and with that in mind it doesn't seem that the obvious worked elements of Backlund are any more egregious than the UWF regular guys. Backlund does a couple of taunts and some of his strike selling is very much WWF 1981 but on the flip his stuff is all snug and graceful. His bodily charisma is actually superior in some regards and generally the Karl Gotch-trained Backlund appears is if he is actually really good at this grappling-wrestling lark. Surprise!
The crowd enjoy him too. And, maybe because he appears credible or just maybe because everyone is likely aware of his accolades in the industry, whenever he gets Takada in a precarious position the crowd are just wilding out. He's not a heel but in this situation he is the perfect antagonist. But also he's not above selling, which he does just in time for the UWF Graphics Manager to switch the machine back on:
While there are good suplexes and stiff strikes (one which busts Backlund's nose) the most fascinating work is done on the ground. It has a catch vs. freestyle flavour that is irresistible, gruff lockdowns and silky hip-shifts to reverse position.
Plus everything that Backlund does as constitutes the physical grappling is done with intent and intensity and the blood dripping down his face only adds to that. In story Backlund is a better grappler than Takada, whose major victories come from strikes. But I think it is likely that Backlund just actually is a better grappler in a pro-wrestling context:
Takada finds himself locked into positions and, having used up his rope break quota, results to striking his way out of holds:
This is a way better match than UWF seem to think it is. Shame. Top five in the company so far. Maybe top three. Best foreign star yet.
But: is it on record anywhere that the finish of this match is kinda suspect? Like not-quite but near-Montreal screwjob levels of horseshittery? Backlund is locked in a kimura and he's going nowhere, sure. He should probably be tapping and I get the feeling, though don't ask me to pinpoint it, Takada was expecting Backlund to tap a spot previously when Takada got a super cinched-in half-crab in the middle of the ring that created a nice visual:
Anyway Backlund kicks Takada off with his free leg and we go around and into this kimura bit on the mat and the ref just sort of steps in and waves it off. Takada is awarded the match by TKO (which surely could only happen if Backlund was on four downs and made a rope break, which clearly is not the case here).
Adding to the suspicion is the fact that a tracksuited Maeda is in the ring lickety-split after the bell with Takada and the ref getting clear of a peeved Backlund. Sure, this could be a pre-arranged bit of fuckery designed to give Backlund an excuse for the loss, and if so it is well done. But also you can sort of see why it is worthy of question. Mizzle Assault Ant of the Cagematch community seems to sway in my direction:
Backlund seemed to quit but it was called a TKO and Backlund seemed legitimately confused. Maybe he was doing a bit but I didn't get it. Apart from that though, fantastic match.
My verdict? Backlund missed the right spot to tap and the UWF nabobs panicked and stepped in to ensure that Backlund wasn't going into business for himself. Though as no less a man than Sean Waltman would profess, Bob Backlund is a complete pro:
Over the house mic and soundtracked by a Mike Oldfield knock-off, Backlund gets in Maeda's face and cryptically says:
That's why I am you: you are me.
Hmm. Ok! After we see a close-up of a pretty big welt around Takada's eye, there is a closing light show and visual display.
If you do watch this show then perhaps you could try switching the first two matches around for both the sake of entertainment and to restore Shigeo Miyato to his rightful place as opener. But a solid show with a main event you should probably try and see whether shoot-style fan or curious about the credentials of Bob Backlund as a talent.
|AND FROM US, GOODNIGHT|
NEXT TIME: Budokan!