Wednesday, 23 August 2017

UWF 04/05/1989 - MAY HISTORY 1ST (10/31)

UWF May History 1st
Osaka Stadium, Osaka
4th May 1989
att. 23000

Whatever you think of Akira Maeda's history of surly non-cooperation or weird booking or the unusual fake-fighting-but-more-real-than-other-fake-fighting style his company/ies offer(s) up you have to admit that 23000 people in a baseball stadium to watch a wrestling company still not 1 year old is incredible. Please, admit it, using the comments below.

Now to lift the lid on the writerly process a little. Most weeks I sort of watch the shows in sections and write about them mostly from memory and a few scribbled notes, inserting historical and biographical data to keep things contextual. This one is going to be different as, for a change, I am going to type along with the show in-running on a separate screen. No idea how this is going to turn out. I could find myself halfway down a side road when someone breaks out something incredible. To worry about that later.

The opening montage freeze-frames on a still of Masaktsu Funaki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara and then shows both men purposefully striding around backstage. Then Kazuo Yamazaki and Nobuhiko Takada get the same treatment, followed by Akira Maeda and...his opponent...who we don't know as his name does not flash up (I know who it is but I am reporting as if seeing this for the first time, which is probably insincere, and besides it doesn't matter, you are here to see Maeda fight even if his opponent is an assemblage of weather balloons if he deems it a leading martial art exponent).

After seeing the Osaka Baseball Stadium reasonably full in the terror twilight we get a vigorously be-clapped parade. Mark Rush gets barely any reaction and motions as if to say "what gives, is my sick t-shirt not enough?"

"Why have you turned up to work in your street clothes?"
"Sorry Mr. Lanley it won't happen again."

The first major pop is for Masakatsu Funaki in his lemon-coloured tracksuit pants and Prince Valiant hairstyle. He is followed by the born-at-the-age-of-45 Yoshiaki Fujiwara who to be utterly fair looks great here until a camera shot that engulfs his entire head in a ball of light. Yamazaki looks more like a dad at a picnic in a UWF shirt with the sleeves cut off, but that is very much his thing, right? To be the dad that could actually kick your schoolyard bully's face off is probably to be a really great dad.


Suzuki and Funaki make brief orations. Suzuki goofs and Fujiwara smiles for possibly the first time ever. Then Fujiwara speaks, someone you might not think of as "a promo guy". Even so, he lights up Osaka's shoot-style faithful ahead of the first match proper.

"...turn that sumbitch sideways and stick it STRAIGHT UP..."

Maeda and his opponent? They don't show.

The opening bout pits Minoru Suzuki, who debuted with defeat on the most recent event at Korakuen Hall, against Shigeo Miyato. There's a lovely stillness in the air before they kick things off, the sound (?) of 23000 in anticipation. Suzuki, with normal hair, in teal trunks and kickpads, wins the aesthetics war over Miyato's new coral and lavender get up.

Suzuki is shooting for the leg a lot here early. Do you remember early UWF 2 where no one really did that? Suzuki then puts his knee on Miyato's chest and rifles in a few cocky slaps. Miyato gets up and starts kicking wildly but on resumption of grappling it is just way obvious that, regardless of what is being booked, Suzuki is a way better grappler. In a nice mirroring moment, Miyato ends up atop Suzuki and gets in some slaps of his own. That he was in a perfect position to be triangle choked to hell we shall overlook.

Exchanges of standing slaps that degenerate into clinching. Tentative grapples, Suzuki resisting a side headlock then shoving Miyato against the ropes. Suzuki giving up a cravat position to work a reverse chinlock that Miyato busts out of. It's kind of messy and unfocused, a bit like a Zack Sabre Jr. match.

(I read a defence of Sabre Jr. that stated that in fights you don't target limbs, you just go for whatever is available. It gave me pause! I like the theory but do wish he was a bit less pantomime about it)

The two head to the ground. Miyato resists a juji-gatame attempt and then gets caught in something Volk Han-ish as Suzuki is bending the ankle downward as Miyato lies on his back with his legs trapped. They get up and Miyato bounces around as if to say "I ain't hurt" but then Suzuki catches the same damn leg...and then transitions into an armbar.

They're up again. Miyato drills in a couple of high kicks and then a nice suplex that he fails to transition into a meaningful submission. A brief pause as Miyato's soft leather boots tear at the heel.

Lot of standing and tussling and exchanging with Miyato getting the better of things. Occasionally Suzuki catches a kick but Miyato fends off a takedown until Suzuki just rushes Miyato with an ungainly-but-effective rugby tackle.

Then an awesome bit where Suzuki catches a kick and hoists Miyato up and rushes him into the corner and drop kicks the hell out of him and then armdrags him before cinching in a rear naked choke that Miyato slips out of at a rope break. Miyato goes straight on the offensive at the reset with a back suplex and a half crab that Suzuki hits the ropes for. Crowd are all over this one.

The next stretch is furious with exchanges of rough kicks and slaps not-too-dissimilar to Suzuki's recent New Japan bout with Kazuchika Okada (*****). Suzuki takes a count after getting lit up with a spinning mid-kick, Miyato's favoured late-match technique (it feels wrong to talk of 'finishers' here). The count hits 8 and then Miyato is straight in there with a flurry of limbs and this time Suzuki doesn't make it fully upright. Good match! Way more exciting than a lot of Miyato's recent efforts. Crowd chant SU-ZU-KI! at the conclusion.

He kicked him so hard he went pixellated

You probably didn't know you wanted it at the time but this show features the rematch between Mark Rush aka Macduff Roesch and Yoji Anjo. Rush won the original encounter quite comfortably, but since then Anjo has crested the wave and is surfing straight to the midcard.

Anjo starts out hot. He kicks Rush and then goads him, "come on!" he says and gestures in a way that will serve him well on holiday in the US in a few years time. Rush switches from cool to furious and then sort of realises he's been had and then goes back to a methodical catch-like anticipation posture.

(The match has gone to ground so I am eating a banana. Oh shit there was a cool little draggy suplex thing by Anjo).

Bit of a pro-wrestling sell by Rush after getting up from being kicked on the ground, hobbling and feeling the affected area. I like it! The style allows for bits of both reality and falseness. It's an aesthetic of taste rather than hardline adherence to style, I now realise, live in running as Anjo climbs on Rush's back to apply a sleeper and is flipped forward to the mat.

They play on the strength vs. speed/cunning dynamic a lot in one bit where Anjo again nips around Rush's back and Rush just sort of reaches back there like performing a butt-scratch and throws Anjo in a single fluid motion that is quite cartoonish but also great. As a total contrast, Rush catches Anjo again and performs the perfunctory bodyslam of every WWF wrestling match of the mid-80s. This time the crowd deflates.

(I just had a phonecall but kept the match running and there are loads of pro-wrestling bits in this between the increasing frequency of strike exchanges, stalling suplexes and just picking up and throwing, the crowd are sort of mixed on the whole thing but generally Anjo gets away with it. He throws a suplex and gets a rear choke in and Rush taps! Stupid phonecall. Decent match. Rush's best one so far.)

My disc only contained these two bouts. Fortunately Youtube has the remainder though the transfer seems unideal. Let's power on. The images will probably suck.

In an occurrence not seen since the opening night, two debutants square off against one another as Masakatsu Funaki takes on mentor Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Funaki, handsome, in a red headband, is adored on his way to the ring. Then Fujiwara walks out and two words flash up on the screen that make me laugh like a drain in dire need of unclogging.

Fujiwara is about 40 here which I think seems to actually be about the prime for most wrestlers who aren't dependent on high-flying: the physical gifts are all there, there's a load of history to draw from, and the experience factor that makes for good pro-wrestling psychology. Not only that, with the introduction of Fujiwara and his two pupils (Funaki and Suzuki) we are starting to actually see the end of this version of UWF and the beginning of MMA. In short: important and good.

Fujiwara comes jittering out like a shocked crab whilst Funaki does some fancy spinning air-kick shit and the crowd are just electric. When they lock horns they go straight to intense and fluid grapples, with Funaki trying to young hulk the master but Fujiwara just always able to find a loose limb to catch hold of or a way of rolling through into a better position. There just seems to be an intent and ability to communicate this really subtle thing - finding a submission on the ground - to a stadium audience. In a ground position stalemate Funaki starts booting the shit out of Fujiwara and man this is goooooooood.

Next up is Fujiwara going for His Armbar (can't remember the name) but Funaki scouts it and slips underneath and grabs Fujiwara's arm and starts wrenching it this way and that. Fujiwara retreats within himself (you can see it, it is a thing he does, unlike the lower card guys) and works patiently before finding a way to drive Funaki to the mat. He applies a wristlock using the same facial expression that Suzuki does as a latter-day pro-wrestler, full of piss and vinegar and taunting and yes this one is really gooooooooood.

Fujiwara gets Funaki in a seated rear choke but puts his own head too far forward (lift the shoulders, says Bas Rutten, it increases the torque and keeps your head out of danger) and for his troubles gets a knee to the noggin. Fujiwara takes a count and then gets up clutching his head. Fake out! He slaps Funaki but his opponent starts going mad with a flurry of kicks. Fujiwara stays upright and bundles his student into the corner and tanks him with a slap or three and man this one is goooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

The next phase occurs mostly on the ground, with an exchange of leglocks, perhaps some down time to build up for a final sprint? Even this work has some meaning and grit about it. They go back to standing and Funaki shoots Fujiwara's legs as the latter tries to shy away, resulting in Fujiwara face down and Funaki grinding him from on top with youthful spirit. They stand again and Fujiwara seems way more wary, backing off, keeping out of strike range, aware of his opponent's gifts. Funaki pursues and of course Fujiwara was playing possum, though the trick does not fully work.

Funaki is taking quite the stretch here, dishing out a side suplex and a couple of slaps and an armbar attempt on the floor. Fujiwara gets out of it with a slap and then, as the two recover the upright, Fujiwara headbutts Funaki right on the chin and knocks him down but not all the way out. The referee waves it off. The crowd seems surprised. Some of them even boo.

It's a surprise ending for sure. Even Fujiwara is kind of like "this shouldn't be over"...and they carry on! Bit weird. Fujiwara dumps Funaki in a back suplex, applies a cross kneelock, and then Funaki taps within 30 seconds of the restart. Fujiwara seems displeased at the reaction and holds up Funaki's hand. I think I preferred the original wrong ending to the attempt at covering the tracks. Either way this was really great.

Nobuhiko Takada and Kazuo Yamazaki are apparently immune to having bad matches with one another across either the original UWF, New Japan, or this version of the UWF. This is their third bout in this UWF thus far, with both men already having registered trilogies against Akira Maeda. Indeed, Takada's last recorded match in UWF was two shows ago against Yamazaki. In the intervening two-and-a-bit months it appears that Takada has spent a lot of time lifting things. He looks much squarer in the shoulder and generally thicker, though it must be said the youtube transfer of this VHS is really grainy.

No feeling out process: both men kick. Takada's kicks are meaty whilst Yamazaki, a student of Satoru Sayama and therefore a possible reason for Maeda continually wrecking the guy, throws kicks that are needlepoint and sharp. After some distance measuring, Yamazaki shoots, but is rejected by Takada's sheer buffness.

Some groundwork ensues to a lone call leader chanting TA-KA-DA! After Funaki & Fujiwara the groundwork game has been raised, though Yamazaki elicits some oohs and aahs for a couple of nifty reversals and get-outs. A lot of groundwork follows and it is all at least compelling and gritty.

They stand and Takada hits a pro-wrestling style powerslam that the crowd seem split on. Yamazaki hits a Seio-Otoshi that the crowd are more equivocal in their enthusiasm for: they love it. They then go back to feeling out and then Yamazaki hits a sick kick after feinting for a grapple, one of many small reasons Yamazaki rules. He then goes completely wild with kicks in the corner on a stricken Takada. A miss sees Takada go HAM with kicks, scoring a knockdown to a six count. It's on!

Yamazaki's sloppy resumption sees him end up in a half-crab. He makes the ropes and the rope break graphic flashes up for the first time in the show despite there being quite a few rope breaks already. Will this factor into the finish?

A natty callback to the first match as Yamazaki catches a kick and dinks the groin of Takada, just as Takada did to Yamazaki except it was to the inner knee in a spot that still haunts my poor-knee-infested dreams.

20 mins in and they're still back and forth with kicks and slaps when Takada catches Yamazaki full flush with a kick for another six count knockdown. Yamazaki gets up, looking groggy, and returns the favour. Takada stays down for four and then gets immediately up and goes straight back on the attack. Yamazaki tries to throw a palm strike and Takada wraps him in a triangle choke attempt that resolves in a rope break (#2 for Yamazaki).

Yamazaki starts to wear Takada down in a chancery but the babyface power of Takada sees him power through such attempts at draining and force a waki-gatame attempt of his own. Yamazaki slides out and then lays beefy kicks in that scatter Takada to the mat for a third knockdown (I missed one in the excitement, apologies). Takada gets up but immediately wishes he hadn't as Yamazaki boots him in the mid-section a number of times in succession. A quick grappling exchange sees Takada slide into a funny kesa-gatame attempt that sees Yamazaki resort to a third rope break, which counts as a knockdown and it is three apiece.

Fuck damn the ending is just going off as I am typing this shit and we get to four knockdowns apiece with some sick suplexes and kicks and the crowd are like WWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA as Yamazaki fights the certain death of a Dragon Suplex. Takada takes it to the mat and hits the half crab and for a moment Yamazaki looks dead but he rolls out without needing the ropes at all.

Both get up and Yamazaki just tees off with left kicks and right kicks and Takada eats mat and there is the fifth knockdown and Yamazaki wins by TKO in a frigging AWESOME match! As good as their first one for sure and I'm pretty sure it has the same ending but WHO CARES THIS IS GREEEEEEEEEEATTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!

Takada bows to Yamazaki at the end and leaves the ring to the winner. Classy. Great stuff all around. Probably going to get Maeda-Yamazaki IV now.

Whatever happens between Akira Maeda and his mystery opponent won't kill the quality of this show. However, if it is a good match, then I think we have a solid contender for the best UWF show thus far (trumping the weird one with all the shoot-boxing that I nonetheless enjoyed).

Pre-match pyro and a spectacular light show worthy of Tangerine Dream hype the crowd before we meet (in video form) our star guest. Here are his words:
My name is Chris Dolman. I'm from Holland. I am 1m 87cm. My weight is 116kg. And I do martial arts for...about...30 years. Today I am going to beat Maeda in the second round with the leglock which of course is my speciality. It is a special grip for me, which I have beaten all my opponents with in the last three years.

Chris Dolman's wikipedia entry shows an impressive back catalogue of achievement in greco-roman, judo, and sambo - as well as where he may have picked up the Different Style fight bug from, seconding judoka Willem Ruska in his fight with Antonio Inoki. But it is Dolman's future (from the perspective of this fight) tournament win in RINGS that reminds me that TK Scissors has written extensively about Dolman's shoot-style work, adding a little extra depth to Dolman's CV in the process:
Dolman really is very good, though, as one would perhaps expect of a two-time Dutch national judo champion and known pal of Willem Ruska. I have just now learned that he is also a tenth-degree black belt in Kyokushin karate, widely acknowledged to be the illest karate. 

As TK Scissors learns, we learn too.

So Dolman here is in a gi (red jacket, dark trousers) and looking pretty firepluggish whilst Maeda retains the physique that would leave him in the mid-90s. Maeda has previously defeated savate and kenpo, whilst Yamazaki defeated kickboxing, but here Maeda is apparently attempting to prove his pro-wrestling to be stronger than someone who is basically good at every kind of legitimate striking and grappling. Best of luck champ!

The VHS transfer makes Dolman look like a giant Nick Nolte which is an observation I had time to make as the first round sees a whole lot of not much happening. They attempt to grapple, someone gets backed up in a corner, and not a whit of judo or karate make themselves known. A round of posturing and feeling. Dolman has like 4 burly Dutch guys in his corner. Hey, free holiday.

More happens in the first six seconds of round two than in all of round one. Maeda gets trapped in a - nay, THE - leglock and frantically scurries for the rope. When they stand up, Maeda hits a clumsy ogoshi on Dolman, this man of highest level judo.

Ego and music does nothing for me as a combination, but that kind of ego in wrestling is usually A++++. The disparity in judo ability is displayed when Dolman hits a harai goshi with a natural efficiency and ability. A good round.

Round three sees Maeda taking over and Dolman backing up or trying to shut the fight down, evading Maeda's looping kicks that chase both head and upper thigh. Dolman is puffing, probably not specifically conditioned for the weird rigours of a shoot-style bout. His best offence comes from a charge featured in none of his own sports-of-expertise that pins Maeda to the ropes before the bell sounds with a hollow metallic clank.

Round four goes like this: Maeda kick. Maeda kick. Capture suplex. Cross kneelock. Pro-wrestling reigns supreme, all other martial arts are null and void. The crowd chant MA-E-DA! MA-E-DA! as one and camera shots show them to be utterly jubilant at what was otherwise a tepid bout. Maeda raises Dolman's hand as we see Anjo and Fujiwara milling about the ring in the post-match. Maeda grabs a big trophy and holds it aloft and the show closes with a highlight reel of the final match, showing both of the moves that occurred YYYYYYEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHhhhhh!

NEXT: two debuts and a returning megastar!

1 comment:

  1. I admit freely that which I have been asked to admit in the earliest sentences of this essential work of criticism; I did not anticipate this Dolman-blessing, what a gift.

    ps I reject any and all ZSJ apologism, death to false 業 (わざ)。