Tuesday, 3 October 2017

UWF 25/10/1989 - FIGHTING ART (18/31)

UWF Fighting Art
Sports Centre, Nakajima
25th October 1989
att. 5600

To go 'inside the curtain' (which is the meaning of the top division in sumo known as Makuuchi (幕内), referring to the roped-off area these champion athletes would wait in prior to performance, I believe 'curtain' is 'maku' as the third tier is 'makushita', meaning 'beneath the curtain'. Watch sumo, it is excellent) momentarily this is the show that I had feared watching the most ahead of time for reasons that will become, hopefully, apparent during the writing of this entry.

And to go even further inside that curtain like, perhaps, ha ha (does knowing cultural studies lecturer positional adjustment) the recent season of Twin Peaks (imo serious ten out of ten bestoftelly thanks) this entry reverts to the initial style of watching the show and sort-of remembering it which is sometimes stylistically more satisfying but perhaps less involved and perhaps emotionally and factually false. We shall see, won't we? (EDIT: I wrote this intro way before I watched it and eventually I managed to get to a point where I could live-type the edition, rendering this paragraph mostly redundant except aesthetically which is to say not redundant at all)

Aaaand over we go to a nicely Balearic-vibed montage of the streets around the venue that cuts to the FIGHTING ART graphic and then a more serious and urgent musical tone is struck behind the visual of lots of UWF dudes working out with varying degrees of intent (Yoshiaki Fujiwara looks reasonably bored and this possibly explains his eternal dad bod). Some highlights of what we're about to see are played but from a low angled camera as if to suggest the experience YOU could be having if you were watching these kickers, submissioners, and suplexers up close.

The traditional parade is next and OH NO Masakatsu Funaki has his arm in a sling so I am guessing he will not be taking part on this evening. Minoru Suzuki eschews the UWF tracksuit that literally everyone else is wearing, subtly suggesting his part in the schisms in the excellent world of shoot-style wrestling (and, whilst most schisms have a diluting effect, the early 90s actually opened up the door to a lot more guys in shoot-style who were also really quite excellent, so I guess UWF's loss is more-or-less everyone else's gain). The UWF track jacket is black and gold while Suzuki stands there in a white hoody and it is quite a lol, look.

Oration time: Kiyoshi Tamura takes the mic and both sentences he utters are punctuated with a respectful bow and a cheer. That is your talking for tonight.


Straight into match one without any ceremony whatsoever. Mark Rush aka Macduff Roesch returns, clad in a black trouser with lime green side panel and white Asics, takes on Shigeo Miyato in Tiger Mask trunk-over-trousers (but purple where Tiger Mask had blue). Silence greets their opening grapples all the way to the 3 minute mark where Miyato makes the ropes for a break. More tentative grappling occurs before Miyato drives a straight knee into Rush's abdomen. It looks nasty but the crowd still barely make a peep.

Rush appears on his game through the opening 5 minutes, dropping a small but impressive array of catch and amateur techniques, while Miyato is colourless until he makes an occasional flurry of strikes that don't really trouble. The intensity is not great here but at least they're showing some kind of progression and movement in their attacks. Miyato makes a second rope break after being caught in a lazy half crab. All the crowd have reacted to in the slightest is a workmanline hurl from Rush. Coughing is audible.

Ten minutes in and I'm admiring Rush's body rather than the match which I guess is like a more natural Arn Anderson (he is also balding and has facial hair so this is possibly influential) and that is pretty much a great look for a guy to have not just as a midcard wrestler in the late 80s but as a dude just hanging out in life. I'm also open to the notion that Shigeo Miyato might be, and it hurts me to say this, a pretty bland worker. No sooner do I write that and he throws a couple of intense strikes. But Miyato often does a whole bunch of nothing before his 'big moments' so this helps rather than harms my case.

Side control from Rush converts to a rest hold of a kesa gatame that Miyato gets back to standing from before forcing Rush down in a waki-gatame attempt that the crowd react to, and then keep reacting when Rush lurches Miyato around and back into kesa-gatame. There's a series of exhibition-style reversals - back to waki-gatame, then a side headlock - before standing and trading strikes.

On fifteen minutes Rush scoops Miyato over his shoulder and walks around a bit before dropping Miyato in a nothing move that the crowd are reasonably hostile toward. A sleeper attempt by Miyato ends up broken as Rush pushes him back into the ropes, leading to an awkward tangle that looks actually quite cool. It leads to aimlessness and sagging though a third Miyato rope break becomes a DOWN and thus the illusion of some kind of structure remains intact. This is currently unexciting, people.

On around 19 minutes it gets reasonably better as Rush has a kick caught but throws a kick with his standing leg and then follows in on Miyato for another near knockdown. Miyato stumblebums around a lot like he's caught in a tremor and then Rush chases back in for a real knockdown. After Miyato gets up, Rush floors him again, making the score a full 3 knockdowns for Miyato and zero for Rush. The crowd waken up at this flurry of exciting action. Miyato back suplexes Rush and it is game on!

The knockdowns impart a bit of tension that was wholly lacking from the outset. The grappling now seems to have more intent and consequence. Rush makes the ropes for a third time, converting to a knockdown and bringing Miyato toward parity. Rush does some impressive rolling and movement stuck in a head scissor, humourously trying a kip up before rolling his dome on the mat in order to change angle and escape.

Inside the last three minutes (if I heard the ring announcer correctly) Miyato scores big with some overhand rights for a knockdown. Rush takes a full nine count but immediately goes on the attack. His leglock on the ground requires Miyato to rope break for his fourth DOWN and with a minute to go it feels like only Rush can win this. Miyato's defensive strategy is the best one: he attacks, kicking and then grasping onto Rush's neck to try and execute a choke in the dying seconds. The rolling sole butt Miyato is contractually obliged to deliver occurs and Rush takes a third knockdown. Rush gets up and time expires. DRAW! A perfect match to join in the last 12-15 minutes, AJPW compilation style.

Zero hype ahead of match two between Yoji Anjo (purple leopardprint trousers) and Minoru Suzuki (blue trunks) and I mean that in both the sense that it is the second match of the night and the second match between Anjo & Suzuki. The first, at Core The First Anniversary, was a decent bout that Anjo won inside 20 minutes but my write-up of said took something of a backseat as I ruminated at pointless length about UWF's influence on breakaway promotions in Japan.

Suzuki dominates the grapple-heavy opening minute or so. There's something happening just in this one section where Suzuki is trying for a simple kesa-gatame. Anjo is resisting in a way where he is also going for his own opening, so Suzuki is hesitating but also trying to get the technique locked in. Contrast this with Rush & Miyato, where grapples flowed more like pro-wrestling and didn't have that struggling sense where over-commitment might lead to self-owning. Both methods can be fine, of course, but it is just very noticeable here.

Tellingly for this promotion, the crowd are a lot more invested in the micro-level of Anjo and Suzuki's chess game than they were Miyato & Rush's procession. Anjo has notional top control but is caught in a wristlock, so he is trying to knee Suzuki 'off' even though Suzuki is on the bottom. It trusts the audience and their watching skills so much more but they are totally getting this.

But there's no doubt between the intense moments they are not moving at light speed in there. The drama and expression is more judiciously chosen. The struggling makes the match messy and in turn it gives it a greater sense of realism. Anjo catches Suzuki's legs as he is on his back, but Suzuki fires a slap as Anjo juts his jaw out too far.

Nearing fifteen minutes and there's no sense of any dominance. No rope-breaks are made and no knockdowns have been scored. It's been a lot of struggling and hella heavy on the cardio. Suzuki catches Anjo in a scoop much like Rush did Miyato, but Suzuki's next step is simultaneously more devastating and attractive as he throws a nice suplex that Anjo tucks in time to avoid ending up dead. A strike exchange gets hearts fluttering. Suzuki then slaps Anjo into next week with a sickening sound. The building explodes for the first time, confirming that they are there, paying attention, and not badly-mic'd. Anjo wriggles out of a choke and then sprints across the ring to demolish Suzuki with a kick for a knockdown and all of a sudden this match went from decent new-wave catch to really good for anyone with eyes.

Anjo takes a third rope break converted into a knockdown to go level at 1-1, and then Anjo goes behind as he recovers badly into a Suzuki dropkick that plants him fully into the corner. It feels like they're going long but the time is being eaten up well. Anjo forces Suzuki into a rope break and then cheekily hangs onto his legs to try and get a quick submission. The referee is like "yeah nice try buddy" and they go back to standing. Anjo gets German suplexed but instead of being disheartened Anjo does that cool thing Miyato did a bunch of shows ago where he rolls through into a waki-gatame. Suzuki makes the ropes and that one adds up to another knockdown. They go back to standing and Suzuki catches a kick (for the 152453rd time, let someone kick you once mate) but Anjo forces Suzuki downward and into another rope break.

Just as it feels Anjo is taking over like he did back in April (of 1989) Suzuki capitalises on complacency for a neat-looking rear naked choke. Anjo comes flailing out but Suzuki catches him head between legs and...he's not going to is he?...he is! PILEDRIVER. Not Gotch-style, but effective. Knockdown! Anjo gets up on 9 and then knocks Suzuki straight back down and maybe this one is going to be over before time elapses? Either way they're killing it right now.

The last few minutes are a compression of the general themes established in the match, with Anjo going to a fourth knockdown in the final minute. They throw wild slaps and try and take the whole thing home in one brilliantly ugly moment, but neither man can force the finish. 30:00 elapses, the match is ruled a draw, but this time the crowd are like THIS FEELS LIKE FAIR RECOMPENSE FOR OUR TIME rather than LOL MAEDA THANKS. The two shake hands but Anjo is like "I'll do you next time mate".

Probably the best broadway in UWF so far! These two matches right at the top of the card going an hour between them were the reason that on paper I was not exactly dying to review this show. But Anjo-Suzuki did proportionally far more in their 30 minutes here than they did in under 20 back in April and you can begin to see why this was a classic feud for life.

The hovering-around-the-middle Kazuo Yamazaki takes on the rising Tatsuo Nakano (he got a real hearty cheer at the parade, I neglected to mention that) in bout three. The time limit is 45 minutes and god I hope they don't use it. The opening moments suggest that they won't as Nakano drills in a kick and Yamazaki throws uranage and I can sense this one is going to be good and yes yes there I am right Yamazaki just boots the fuck out of Nakano on the floor and the crowd are like HOW VERY DARE HE IS A GOOD CHRISTIAN MAN.

Incredible bit as Nakano i. catches a kick ii. slaps Yamazaki in the face and iii. dragon screws him. Sadly Nakano is not a man of the ground and Yamazaki converts this triple insult into a dominant position that Nakano is forced to wriggle from. They stand and Nakano feints to grapple and throws kicks and slaps. This thuggish metier is perfect for this squat fireplug of a man and I am very much enjoying Nakano Newborn.

But of course Yamazaki is a past master of these parts and when he starts stamping on Nakano's stricken head in the way that you may recall Shinsuke Nakamura did to Kota Ibushi at the Wrestle Kingdom one whole year before Nakamura's slide into a protacted period of utter irrelevance in WWE. I digress when I should simply praise Yamazaki's stamping.

Some quiet grappling takes the temperature down before Yamazaki downs Nakano with a kick. Nakano bullishly strides back into the fray but Yamazaki is ready for quitting time: he suplexes Nakano atop his noggin and then hits a cross armbreaker to finish the match thrillingly at around the seven minute mark. Good quick match and the two hug it out at the end.

And now for something completely different as Akira Maeda reaches downcard, past his usual opponents at the top end or highly-curated foreign shooters of varying reputes, to give the guy at the very bottom a chance to come at the king. Kiyoshi Tamura's UWF and professional wrestling record reads 0-3 while Akira Maeda has lost only once in UWF and not at all in 1989 so you would not be an idiot for thinking that this one is a complete foregone conclusion.

Tamura is interviewed. He is mild-mannered and quiet. Maeda is interviewed in his classic 3/4 repose. He seems confident. A 60 minute time limit is allocated for this semi-final bout and we now move to an analysis of this historical moment in ten second chunks.

A handshake, both men back into their corner

Tamura scuttles toward Maeda and throws big overhand slaps, backing Maeda up, though Maeda grabs a headlock.

Tamura is undaunted and he keeps going and Maeda is covering up! The crowd are exploding! Tamura throws a kick but Maeda catches it and forces Tamura to the ground.

Threatening a leglock, Tamura finds his bearings and scuttles toward the ropes. Maeda looms near threatening to kick the stricken young lion but the referee backs him up.

Tamura sells in a neutral corner while Maeda stalks.

Both throw kicks at the same time but Maeda's legs are longer so his is the one that hits. Tamura remains game but becomes significantly less so when Maeda grabs him around the head and hits two utterly cruel knees to the body.

this match in a .jpg

Grim. Maeda's knee barrage keeps up but this time he goes to the head of Tamura, who now seems like a kid tasked with trying to defeat a man. The final knee puts Tamura on the mat for a count.

9 count. Tamura puts up his dukes and the crowd scream YAYAYAYAYAYAY and tbh I feel the same but I also think "stay down kid".

Maeda lurches in. Grabs Tamura's head. Sick knee. Tamura crumples. Merciless.

9 count. Tamura puts up his dukes and now the crowd are mixed between YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY and "stay down kid". Maeda lurches in and judos Tamura over onto his back

A couple of different positions on the ground from Maeda, completely smothering Tamura, who grimaces. Tamura makes the ropes and the crowd, sadists that they are, cheer.

Tamura stays down and takes a count. He's up to 4 by the end of this segment. It's his third down. Not looking good!

stay down Rocky

Count goes to six. Tamura decides he's better going forward so he throws a dropkick. Maeda just stands there and no sells it completely. Utter indifference. He then goes straight back on the attack and we end this ten seconds with Tamura in a world of shit.

Four straight knees by Maeda, each rougher than the last, as Tamura cowers under this barrage. As he crumples to the mat Maeda throws a kick. Four downs for Tamura. Will he get up?


No. The referee has seen enough. Not since Tatsuo Nakano pretzelled Tsunehito Naito in 1988 has a young lion been so thoroughly declawed.

Maeda lingers over Tamura and seems to say something that adds insult to injury before clambering out of the ring. Christ. Great match!

Everybody's favourite Croatian occasional misanthrope GOTNW has reviewed this 'bout' on Prowrestlingonly (as has one other person, if you want to check the thread) and his words are worth sharing:
This just might be the peak of wrestling bruality. As neat as punhes, chops, kicks, headbutts and so on can look, none of them really convey the sense of horror Maeda hitting Tamura with full force muy thai knees does. Tamura's desperate flurries ruled, but the best thing he did in the entire match was probably the down where he wasn't hit, but simply couldn't get up after getting a rope break. It is kind of insane to do this type of match, where a former yakuza beats up a young boy so bad he's out for a year, but it makes for an unmatchable spectacle of violence. ****
Out for a year. Jesus.

In the main event we have Nobuhiko Takada, who seems largely immune to bad matches, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, who largely has been until his absolute stinker last time out. Very brief interviews from both men and we throw straight to the match with a near-absence of ceremony.

The opening grapples seems to play up the dynamic well: Takada is larger and stronger, but Fujiwara is a grappling expert, and as such the two things largely cancel out. There's more intensity here than in the entirely of Fujiwara's last bout against Funaki (and now I see Funaki's bad arm I think they could have been protecting that to a certain degree? It would make sense). Fujiwara fights against Takada's brutalist judo but Takada woah this man is like an ox and he just lurches Fujiwara over.

But grounding Fujiwara as we should know by know is not a guarantor of success and in fact is actually more likely that unless you assert complete dominance over this grandfather of grappling you will actually be the one in trouble. And so it proves. Takada gets things back to standing where he at least has a better chance but his throw attempt ends up with him on his back and Fujiwara looking for his arm in a dastardly way. Good so far!

Look at this position here. Takada is on top but Fujiwara is just like "ok give it your best shot buddy" and to be fair Takada seems to be quite near a kimura and then a sankaku-jime but Fujiwara has just been biding his time before revealing his plan: a rough as fuck leg lock that sends Takada flying to the ropes before the worst can happen. They go back to standing and Takada is pissed at all of this and he throws kicks, rattled by spite.

Oh woah Fujiwara just threw what looked like harai-goshi but I am actually not as down with judo what with not having taken to the tatami in 18 years and Neil Adams being a terrible commentator who names things incorrectly and sometimes just says something real general like "great sutemi-waza there" which is the name for sacrifice techniques but also quite unspecific. As I look up from this diatribe I see Takada has been knocked down and is hulking up and chasing Fujiwara with low kicks to his weird pencil legs.

Woah insane takedown by Fujiwara, like a low key flying entry into a toe hold or something insane like that, this guy is just wild. They end up back standing and another low kick by Takada sends Fujiwara to earth for a down. Fujiwara has no issue getting up but Takada is on the march and dishing out strikes like they're going out of fashion. Fujiwara is in the corner but often he shines here and this is no exception, reversing the position and throwing strikes of his own. It's quite pro-wrestling in execution but given all that has gone before, with muay thai knees and two thirty minute grapple excursions, it is nice to come down to earth.

Fujiwara dominates a flinty groundwork exchange, finishing with Takada making the rope caught in a crossface. The intensity shows as both are sweating profusely but still going at high levels. Takada slugs Fujiwara down with a high kick for a third down, but at the resumption Fujiwara cannily kicks Takada in his knee ligaments to get the score back to 3-2. I read recently that TK Scissors felt indifferently about the DOWN system but I have to say I think that it's made UWF a whole different - and better - beast. Of course it risks becoming a way of formulaically structuring matches, but when Takada lances Fujiwara with a slap for a DOWN I am fully in the moment and not thinking of formula.

Fujiwara gets revenge immediately, taking Takada down with one of his rough headbutts. Takada tries to finish the job at 4-3 but Fujiwara catches Takada flush to level the score. The crowd scream blue murder in the final moments as both look for that final blow, which comes at Takada's hand. Fujiwara is only knocked down momentarily, and seems to recover immediately, but the referee calls it a knockdown and Takada wins in just north of 17 minutes in a thriller! The ending, I guess, is designed to keep Fujiwara looking like a tough nut. But no such effect is necessary if you just use your eyes.

The two hug it out and some post-match interviews featuring a lot of beaded sweat and panting are played in a sorrowful black and white. Thanks! We've been UWF.

A really good show in the end. Two x 30 minute bouts at the top of the card is quite daunting but the whole show flies by.

NEXT: the spiritual forerunner to RINGS at the Tokyo Dome.


  1. I have seen Maeda's dark cruelty performed so often you would expect it to lose its ability to shock but no, no it can still be very shocking.

    1. it was V I O L E N C E
      (but also really awesome, a true quandary, which means it is great art)