Monday, 24 July 2017

UWF 27/02/1989 - FIGHTING BASE TOKUSHIMA (08/31)

UWF Fighting Base Tokushima
City Gymnasium, Tokushima
27th February 1989
att. 4200

The eighth event of the travelling ode-to-grappling excellence known as UWF visits Shikoku, the smallest of the four major islands of Japan, zealously completing its first national circuit of missionary shoot-style goodness. Though if you have seen Silence (2016) (for many weeks this was written as Sacrifice in a potent example of the way things sometimes get switched in my head, apologies), Martin Scorsese's tale of what happens when a strange new ideology attempts to penetrate the core culture of the Japanese people, you will know what lies in store by the end of this blog.

please, Maeda-san, consider a push for Yamazaki

On the horizon for UWF are a few significant changes. In a way this show represents the end of the initial 'shoot-style six' period of the UWF Newborn Era (itself part of the shoot-style eon under the PRO-WRESTLING supereon which as we know is infinite). What follows it will soon become clear.

We open with a lightly jazzy soundtrack and a montage of Kazuo Yamazaki training that is consistent with the solid levels of visual flair exhibited thus far:

After spending thirty seconds or so with Yamazaki the montage melts into Nobuhiko Takada, clad in a supreme UWF-branded sweatshirt that I will now attempt to procure from eBay somehow, sparring with Shigeo Miyato.

And, just in case you're wondering why these two and what the hell this could all possibly mean, Maeda gives it to you wrapped in a delicate bow of a lovely graphic.

These early graphics take the place of the customary parade (sigh) as the telecast cuts straight to the first contest. Another instant Shigeo Miyato post-draw rematch occurs, this time of course with Yoji Anjo, representing the third meeting between the two (Miyato won the first at Hakata back in September).

For the first ten minutes or so this feels like the coming-out party of Yoji Anjo after his initial spell in the doldrums was recently supplanted by the seeds of a minor push. He's in there throwing these great kicks and stiff knees that he sort of dances between to wind up the knee and the crowd are just enjoying the hell out of it because Anjo is one of those physical artists whose purest joy is expressed in the fullest flourishing of their craft, like a George Best, a Merlene Ottey, a Hakuho, a Marshawn Lynch, or a Ronda Rousey.

But a lot of the middle and early second half of the match is Shigeo Miyato throwing cold water on Anjo's pep. Miyato ties Anjo up on the ground a lot in static positions and the crowd become completely silent to the point where you can hear individual coughs fourteen rows back. This is because Miyato is one of those sports people who works entirely in a bubble and whose purest joy comes not from the acclaim of the crowd because of their style and more from internal resources, like a Bobby Fischer, a Chris Froome, a Graeme Dott, a Floyd Mayweather, or a Billie Jean King.

Anjo does come roaring back at the end to lift the crowd ahead of his win, which he attains by sinking in a waki-gatame only for Miyato to flip onto his back. Anjo doesn't let go and Miyato taps from this new predicament, rendering their personal series at 1 win apiece, with a draw. Tense!

The fortunes of one Tatsuo Nakano lifted for the first time on the previous show, having bested Mark Rush aka Macduff Roesch (neither name is in the Cagematch database, this mystery is like an onion) in probably the worst UWF non-shootboxing bout to date. But his match-up against Norman Smiley does not bode well for his prospects of winning, with Smiley seemingly positioned directly beneath the Big Three of UWF (Maeda, Takada, Yamazaki) but above all others.

Nakano sheds the trunks that made him look portly and debuts what my friends and I would call the 'middleweight tights' back in the days of the rigorous hierarchy of post-Attitude Era WWE (compare: heavyweight trunks, big man odd kit). Smiley opts for black trunks (he is a heavyweight, this is fine) with black kickpads over red Asics Tigers...which I like!

Unfortunately that is the sum total of enjoyment as this match is reasonably poor. They don't click and toward the end Smiley is giving himself in a nakedly pro-wrestling style to Nakano so he can get some shit in. It's all terribly professional and it doesn't fall apart at any point. But all nineteen minutes of the match are terminally dull and the crowd's silence feels on the edge of hostility.

There's no real story and the net result is two guys having a match in a bubble, but not really sure about what they're trying to achieve. The ending (Smiley rolls forward whilst being choked and catches Nakano in the most drama-free triangle you'll see outside of a casual wrestling seminar) has an air of 'let's get out of here' and the response from the crowd is a smattering of golf applause. Both men can do better.

The third match features the winless kenpo practitioner and shameless mullet enthusiast Bart Vale. Here's a peek at Vale at the day job:

Bart Vale is going to attempt to register his first win against a Mr...what does it say here...Akira Maeda. Ah. Sorry Bart. (read that last sentence in the voice of Milhouse).

If we recall from the previous card, Maeda summarily ended Takada's short reign as the top guy (remember: there is no championship, rather a collective understanding of who the best person is, kind of like being the hardest person at school (widely acknowledged and understood to have been Scott Gallagher, he was not the biggest but he was fearless and insane and, fortunately for the person understood to be the hardest kid at school, was not a bully but a reasonably chilled guy who just knew how to handle himself)). But given Vale's standing in the W/L column (0-2) and the marquee status of the headline bout, this is a rare piece of magnanimity from Big Boss Maeda.

"next on the balance beam...BART VALE (USA)"

And while the result was never in any doubt (Maeda wins by cross kneelock) my anticipation of quality was also not particularly high after reading that K&D gave this match *1/4 stars after rating the previous match, which I did not like, *3/4. Lummee.

In truth it is not that bad and indeed is better than Nakano-Smiley. If such a thing can be said to exist, this is the house show/Main Event version of a UWF major player vs. foreign odd-stylist match. The foreign odd-stylist displays their odd style in a non-intense but visual way. The major player initially struggles before working out the method by which they will win whilst also getting signature shit in (Capture Suplex). Vale has a trick up his sleeve late in the day that perhaps Maeda did not see coming (he manages a nifty hip-throw from a rear naked choke) but it is insufficient and too late to prevent the defeat. And at least in this match the crowd seemed to actually enjoy it in its relative brevity rather than letting it die out there for longer.

So far, so-so. But as the opening credits have indicated, the evening's main event is a particularly mouthwatering proposition; featuring as it does a rematch of one of the best bouts of Newborn UWF's short history as recently-deposed top guy Nobuhiko Takada attempts to even the score against Kazuo Yamazaki. Yamazaki defeated Takada at The Professional Bout over six months prior - but it is Takada who has leaped forward to take the spot as top dog while Yamazaki has floundered under the crushing yoke of the Maeda regime.

There are pre-match interviews. Yamazaki is fighting the losing battle of the hairline, whilst Takada retains his boyish handsomeness:

There are also full ring entrances for the first time since I cannot recall. Yamazaki's theme is the generic UWF theme whilst Takada's is all gothic chords and tense seconds (the interval not the measure of time) before a sprightly arpeggio bursts in to herald the moment of arrival. Immediately everything seems to snap out of stagnant house show mode and become something much more.

It's just that Takada and Yamazaki seem to have, Maeda aside, bigger personalities to go with their more credible-seeming styles. Yamazaki has lovely high kicks and feints like a real fighter, but he carries a thoughtful mien that allows the audience to interpret and theorise him as a thinker. By contrast, Takada is more pugnacious, boisterous, and his kicks are rugged and he punches through the centre line in a hopeful manner. But his air and aura are the natural sportsman, the kid who just got ahead of you in life but also you sort of liked him for his easy-going manner. 

Their bout rescues the card well, splitting the difference between taut and attractive grappling (that pays attention to details rather than doing rote transitions), suplexes that are sometimes executed and sometimes not but always fought against, and strikes that are way above anything that anyone else has thrown tonight with the possible exception of Yoji Anjo

Knockdowns are exchanged near the end but the rope break/knockdown graphic is not overused - which is great because previously it only came into play if it was going to come into play. Also I have neglected to mention that on two or three of the recent shows since pinfalls had allegedly been eradicated, pinfall attempts had been made. Whilst I must repeat that this is an emerging style, it is not a wildly consistent one.

Nonetheless this is a really good match - not as good as the previous one between the pair, alas, because that one was electric - but another very good outing by Takada. There is also this excellent section worthy less of remark and more a reasonable accurate visual capture (though I consider learning how to make .gifs too deep a thing to get into at my age):



...HANG ON...

...TA DAA!

Takada wins with a painful looking lower leg submission that I can't identify but it seems to focus on the Achilles. Yamazaki is graceful in defeat but is cast back down into that hinterland that he occupies; above the foreigners and the young lads, but very much beneath Maeda and Takada.

Not the most essential show of the UWF journey so far, though the opener and closer do represent over 40 minutes of fine wrestling. However, the next three shows feature debuts by characters that feature strongly elsewhere in the Long UWF, and as such this show cannot be taken as a decline in the UWF aesthetic, rather a shedding of skin.

NEXT TIME: 鈴木 みのる

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