Hakata Star Lanes, Fukuoka
24th September 1988
After a slightly confusing (but entertaining) show, comprising three regular-style UWF bouts in the emerging genre known as 'shoot-style' alongside three actual shoot-boxing bouts and one match thrilling in its indeterminacy of style and rules between promotion kingpin Akira Maeda and fabled Dutch grump Gerard Gordeau, UWF scale things back for the first in their Fighting Network pair of shows.
After some scrolling text (white on black, very Nagisa Oshima) that I think heralds our interesting new addition to the rules (more later) comes a classic-if-slightly-workmanlike peppily-soundtracked montage featuring wrestlers training and fans arriving at the SHOOT bowling alley-cum-wrestling venue of the low-ceilinged Hakata Star Lanes. It is good and breezy fare but it feels as if it was cobbled together on the day. For instance: we see Kazuo Yamazaki jogging around the venue in a manner that rings slightly false for a man so clearly meticulous in his preparations.
This is followed by a full parade of fighters: the original "shoot-style six" of the first UWF show (in approximate ranking, as of this show: Maeda, Yamazaki, Takada, Miyato, Nakano, Anjo) return, as does Norman Smiley. One new face is seen, a fresh-faced youth with an athletic physique, who goes by the name Tsunehito Naito. It is not Maeda who cuts the customary thank you promo, but Yamazaki, who receives quite a thunderous reaction.
|Anjo looks for position|
Perennial show opener and likeable babyface Shigeo Miyato opens up against serial loser Yoji Anjo. Like many Miyato matches, it is on the longer side and completely and utterly competent, with skiddy little kicks that zip through the air. Miyato doesn't exude "big star" but the crowd are always drawn into his sphere by the quality of his drama.
Anjo works in the underdog role in a match with a different kind of pacing. Miyato's matches thus far have seen a careful opening of intense groundwork before progressing to big strikes and suplexes to conclude. Here the rhythm is different. Strikes break out in clusters. Suplexes happen out of nothing. Groundwork can be prolonged or it can be momentary. It gives the match, between two low rankers with much to prove, a testy and unsettled feeling which might detract from the smooth flow beloved of wrestling critics but adds to the 'realism' quotient greatly.
Anjo's performance wins hearts through battling and resilience in the face of Miyato's presentation as another good guy who just has a bit more in the way of stuff and nouse.
The ending puts both over: Miyato belts Anjo in the guts with a rough kick but Anjo beats the count at 9.5. Miyato works Anjo over again with several strikes. Anjo keels over and this time is done for, giving Miyato the first actual KO win in a UWF shoot-style match.
Bout two sees the debut - in both UWF and indeed all of professional wrestling - of 17 year old Tsunehito Naito. Over the other side of the ring is Tatsuo Nakano who is wearing the expression of a bulldog that just licked piss from a thistle. The bell rings and Naito shows some moxy for all of 8 seconds with a nice stinging kick that the crowd love.
|moments before death|
From there Naito gets nothing - absolutely nothing - except a love tap of a slap and a hopeful cheer of his name later in the contest. Nakano is having absolutely none of Naito's youthful bullshit in this match. An ogoshi into a juji-gatame sees a rope break save Naito's arm and shoulder from being separated. A forceful sacrifice to the floor is broken up by it taking place at the ring edge. Finally Nakano, after all of two minutes, heaves a kick into the teenager and not so much pretzels the kid in a half crab as much as he fully candy cane curls his back into a very understandable submission. Brutal. The crowd kind of go 'oh shit was that the end?' in a way that is mixed between deflated and impressed.
|GODDAMN KIDS ON MY GODDAMN LAWN|
As a piece of theatre it is incredible. Nakano is recast, morphing instantly from a low-ranked chancer to a thuggish bully. Certainly this match was not a true shoot but it felt very close to other footage of liberty-taking matches of yore. And a relevant biographical note: this is the last of young UWF dojo-trained Naito you will see in this company. That's a lot of resources for a one-job guy and suggests a darker reason for his transition out of the promotion. Precious little data exists other than to say he will surface in a few Tokyo-based start-ups (George Takano's post-SWS failure company Pro Wrestling Crusaders, Dramatic Dream Team) without really making much impact. Crumbs.
I have not had the time to pursue any more translation of the apparently Akira Maeda-related manuscript that came into my possession. However KSS (that's me, or this blog) has been deep in thought about an article written by treasured wrestling thinker Dave Walsh on the topic of homogeneity in wrestling. Here is an excerpt:
Gone are the days of any wrestling being obscure, instead we have an era where everything is available within seconds. But also gone is the diversity in pro wrestling styles. The idea of New Japan's "Strong Style" became an indie darling talking point, with Americans adapting the phrase for their own hybrid style, fusing together the mid-90's high flying with the stiff strikes of New Japan and the head drop high drama of All Japan and NOAH into one homogeneous style.
If you tune into WWE Monday Night Raw now, that's the style that you'll see on display. If you watch one of the bigger indie shows around right now, that's the style that you'll see. If you watch modern New Japan that's the style that you'll see. Why WWE felt the need to create its own cruiserweight division is beyond me, considering none of them are doing anything that different from the rest of the roster, anyway. Kevin Owens is doing swantons and frog splashes alongside his slams and powerbombs, Sami Zayn is flying with crossbodies, dives and moonsaults, Luke Harper is hitting dives as often as he is taking heads off with lariats and so forth and so on. Someone like The Miz feels so different because in a world of Dolph Zigglers and Dean Ambroses he actually is different.
And I guess because KSS is an endeavour covering a style that is, compared to today, a complete outlier in terms of both presentation and 'philosophy', then it seems that Dave's theories and I are natural bedfellows because UWF is dead and its footprints long dried-up.
Dave has also established concern with the language utilised by critics of wrestling, suggestive of either a conscious or unconscious reading of Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, as well as a furrow-raised sigh at the depth of critical influence held by noted wrestling historian Dave Meltzer:
I blame Meltzer for a lot of this. Not his intent, but wrestling has completely adhered to his tastes and vindicated his opinions as canon.— d.w. (@dvewlsh) June 11, 2017
It is a good read and a provocative piece, and Dave (Walsh) is a good follow on Twitter. He's certainly not 'wrong' as i. he is not one of those wrestling scoopz and hot takes guys who are really just post-modernist yutzes building a brand for themselves, so his words feel authentically-felt ii. he is demonstrably right inasmuch as the star rating guide adopted by Meltzer early in his fabled newsletter is now not just the metric used by most critics but part of the language of the industry and iii. that old hoary standby of wrestling's subjectivity meaning 'wrong' is impossible.
Supporting Dave's piece is a look at the current scene: there is no shoot-style featuring genuine athletes, that indeed many current wrestlers are wrestling fans that like to ape their heroes, there is very little extreme and hardcore wrestling, there are very few huge stars that means a lot of wrestling shows look like some people you don't know just having a match, WWE and NXT wrestlers are more open about their homages to cool foreign/indy wrestlers in a way that Seth Rollins can just do a move that directly takes from both Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega and no one bats an eyelid.
The KSS view is this: there is lots of good wrestling that Meltzer is not rating or introducing to his curation of wrestling discourse because he lacks the time, not the interest. And yes, definitely, the influence of his opinion has crept into the work of the wrestlers, particularly those self-reflexive types able to parse the underlying worldview behind what makes a match highly-rated and replicate it for themselves. Also: television flattens wrestling, an artform best experienced live.
Perhaps because we can see so much current and historical wrestling within 10 seconds of thinking that is what you want, KSS argues that there is more good wrestling than ever to an almost maddening range of diversity. Just look at the history of shoot-style on this blog. Tracking the 'Long UWF' (copyright TK Scissors) alone is a project that could take years.
That said, and this is a personal feeling: a lot of top matches in the major promotions of the world feel like they are shooting for the same thing, the same emotional register and appeal to a small band of critics, only to different degrees of success. I'd go as far to call this a homogeneity that is not just in the wrestling but in every aspect of the presentation: camera shots, video packages, vocal cadences, announcing, lighting, etc.
|completely different of course|
But if homogeneity is perceived it will, in such a small world given to contrariness, reach saturation point. People will tire of 40 minute matches featuring high spot overkill. Hiroshi Tanahashi has written about it. And the tastemakers in promotion, wrestling itself, and its critical culture, will vaunt other names clearly doing something markedly different.
Whether that difference comes from actual difference (such as Walsh's example of The Miz, someone who cannot physically perform the feats of such highly-rated matches and in turn crafts a different route for himself) or self-reflexive wrestlers once again attempting to anticipate the critical curve cannot be known. And such is the nature of capital that an emergent idiosyncrasy will be purchased and made into the homogeneous commodity anew.
There is definitely different wrestling out there that is captured on tape and preserved. I suspect there is more outside of the usual choke points of the US, Japan, and Mexico. Dave points to All Japan and Big Japan for their contrast to a great deal of modern wrestling. I would add in the Mexican independents IWRG and DTU that contain the feeling of danger and actual violence gone in the PG era. There is true variety in a DDT show. On a great New Japan show it is possible to see several different kinds of matches (though their house shows often blend into one thing). And, whether you like it or not, the worldview of Mike Quackenbush underpins the ongoing difference of CHIKARA
It is difficult to talk accurately about what can be done about the critical culture because it is one thing to change wrestling but quite another to change how people think. Actual critics produce work rather than cynically-conceived 'takes' constructed to draw fire so fan-hives such as Twitter and Reddit are not necessarily studded with good or even okay critics. The way that both sites are constructed around upvotes or likes naturally brings about a crowd-sourced race to the middle to gain the fastest or most popular opinion. And it goes without saying that Twitter is poisonous for any kind of discourse.
It would be great to think that other places or personas can reach Meltzer's level of influence and contribution. But also nobody produces as much material (though TK Scissors' unpaid 550000 words over 8 months bears comparison to Meltzer's estimated near million) and nearly no one else is as personal agenda-free or open-minded (I do like Alan Counihan, STRIGGA, and John Pollock as general surveyors of wrestling who put the work before their personality).
Anyway, go and read Dave's piece and have a think._____________________________
Another short contest occurs between Nobuhiko Takada and Norman Smiley. On the same show in which Smiley was workmanlike in victory against Yoji Anjo, Takada was the subject of a stunning defeat at the hands of Kazuo Yamazaki that represented the high watermark of the UWF aesthetic thus far.
I note that Smiley is the most fond of gutwrench variations, often wheeling his opponents about with his hands wrapped around the middle, which is indicative of the proclivities of the amateur wrestler is it not?
Smiley grabs the upper hand in the second half of the bout with a sharp half-crab that Takada hits the ropes to break. Smiley grabs Takada, boots the crocked leg, and cinches the crab back in for a big UUUHHHHHH from the crowd before a rope break. Smiley boots Takada in the head and then sets up for a kind of rear naked choke with legs hooked in that the crowd do a super large UHHHHHHHHHHHHHH for while Takada is doing some A+ selling:
The finish occurs one minute after the timing of this shot, though it is Takada who wins in a fairly Hulk Hogan-ish style. Another escape prefigures a couple of kicks, a big back exploder suplex, and a smart heel hold for the instant tap on the six minute mark. Maybe this is the way of real fights?
The main event features Chief Inspector Akira Maeda defending his belt of lineal Akira Maedaness against his opening night opponent Kazuo Yamazaki. If you recall, Yamazaki has rebuilt his credibility by besting Norman Smiley and shocking Nobuhiko Takada in a super match.
The rematch is not as good as their initial encounter. However, it is still good and, crucially, it is an important learning experience for the ongoing dogma of UWF and as such we (I) here at KSS urge you to its relevance. UWF's new - and to many, classic - ruleset is now in play and five knockdowns result in a victory by TKO. Pinfalls seem to have finally been eradicated.
And that is how Maeda wins. Yamazaki, lacking Maeda's striking power, attempts to play the long game of working Maeda over and wearing him down for the submission. But Maeda closes the door before he is caught out, hoofing Yamazaki every which way for a TKO win just after the 10 minute mark - short by UWF standards.
Given the lack of depth to the roster and the way that Yamazaki was smartly reconstructed since his initial defeat and received rapturously at the parade, this quick battering seems only to underscore the solar nature of Maeda in the UWFniverse. Perhaps now we are seeing how the divisions that ended the company in 1990 would arise, with Yamazaki eventually aligning with Takada (who willingly jobbed to Yamazaki last month) in the creation of UWF-I.
|in the end, nothing really matters, and also Maeda wins|
With entrances clipped this edition of UWF passed by, with four substantiative bouts and sufficient development, inside an hour. It's rare that anyone might describe a shoot-style wrestling show as a light, fun, relaxed watch to serve with a zinfandel and perhaps a quality vanilla ice cream - but this may be the one.
NEXT TIME: Maeda and Takada do it all over again! And two new faces!