Monday, 9 October 2017

UWF 29/11/1989 - U-COSMOS (19/31)

29th November 1989
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo
att. 60000

Pre-note: As it stands on the date of writing (10/10/17) this represents the final UWF Newborn show that I have in complete and watchable form, so perhaps there will be an enforced hiatus until the world of the internet turns and deposits the missing 1989 and the entirety of the 1990 shows somewhere accessible. 

As we learn from watching RINGS (or if you are me, reading RINGSblog aka TK Scissors) Akira Maeda's obsessions in the years between UWF's death and RINGS' creation would morph from "shoot-style" wrestling in Japan to a nascent-MMA/NHB style incorporating fighters from around the world. We have seen the beginnings of that in UWF, sure, with the appearances of a sextet of shoot-boxers, Gerard Gordeau, Bart Vale, Trevor "Power" Clarke, Chris Dolman, etc. 

What this card perhaps represents, at least for the continuity of these shoot-style blogs, is perhaps much more a dry run for RINGS than it is an evolution of UWF. Without spoiling future entries should they happen but in the UWF canon this event is sui generis. Sure they would still rope real fighters to pretend (spoiler) in the future but never again on this scale.

Commercially, the show was a smash hit. Fabled wrestling scrivener Dave Meltzer wrote of the occasion, long after the event:
Its most successful show was on November 29, 1989 at the Tokyo Egg Dome. They sold 40,000 tickets for $2 million the first day tickets went on sale, blistering all previous records for one-day sales (the SummerSlam '92 at Wembley Stadium sold more tickets the first day they went on sale although with much lower ticket prices). The show drew 60,000 fans live, at the time the third largest crowd in pro wrestling history and a record at the time in Japan, and $2.9 million, which was an all-time world record at the time. It also was put on closed-circuit television in nine locations, drawing another 15,000 fans. Between live tickets, merchandise sales and closed-circuit revenue, the show grossed $5.6 million, which is a record never topped to this day in Japan.
And so it would remain. But since the show I would suggest that it has not gone down in critical history as well as other UWF events and moments outside of its financial standing. There are a couple of written reviews and they are largely jaded and sneering. And there's this watch-along video commentary review, which I have not watched/listened to, but it exists.

Maeda's most successful wheeze to date begins as they all do, with atmospheric music playing over establishing shots of the venue. But this month's edition is the most successful of all of these beginnings simply because this is the freaking TOKYO DOME man (edit: is this the first Tokyo Dome wrestling show?). Maeda knows this and the montage is extended, as some new age synth gives away to a rockin' guitar break and the guest wrestlers carrying their luggage into the venue and craning their necks as if to say "we're wrestling here? And it's sold out???" After a freeze on the U-COSMOS name there are more montages, this time an intercut of pensive fans cut with various fighters undertaking their pre-show ritual.

Then, silence. The Tokyo Dome's iconic neon at night and then inside the stadium in real time. Lights. Pompous music of a thousand genres at once. The ring appears as a speck of light from the bird's nest position of the camera. Then the familiar voice of the UWF voice cuts through the mostly-blackness. A ten-bell salute occurs. Why? Dunno.

Parade time and it is set to my favourite UWF music - not the parping major key "hey we're the UWF" theme but the one with the slightly off-time piano and hang on wait this is not a parade (no parade?? DENIED) but the entrance music for Shigeo Miyato. We learn this because Miyato does not stand in the ring awaiting 7 to 11 other dudes but is ready, shirts off, and awaiting the person who the next, unfamiliar, theme soundtracks: Tatsuo Nakano.

Their series stands at 3 wins for Miyato, 1 draw, and a fat load of nothing for Nakano. A graphic flashes up with what I assumed to be the UWF win/loss record, which is a new touch. Miyato offers a hand in respect and Nakano walks away. The bell rings and Miyato, on soaking in this slight, rushes Nakano and starts throwing wild strikes. Things have a good energy about them though they take a couple of minutes for the first actual technique (Nakano -> fireman's carry) but it's ok because the crowd - 60000 of them! for shootstyle! - are pretty much into this one. Miyato hits the ropes after Nakano grinds dirtily atop him.

Miyato goes back on the offensive with a kick and a headbutt. Nakano bludgeons back with a pugilist pose and then wrenches Miyato over for a sick DOWN. When Miyato stands back up Nakano is not messing around, hitting high knees and then forcing his opponent to the ground in a rough-looking waki-gatame attempt that gets broken up.

Neither guy has really excelled on the floor in shoot or kayfabe so they return to their better senses and go standing. Nakano tries for a headlock takeover but Miyato powers up and hits a back suplex for a near knockout of a DOWN. Nakano gets up, raises his fists, and gets clobbered for another 8 count DOWN. And then again, only this time Nakano takes a standing count before sinking to his knees, winded. 3-1 to Miyato.

A resthold is taken to build some space into the match and to get Nakano a chance to catch breath. When the match goes upright again there is an exchange of suplexes that are no sold. In a routine strike exchange, Nakano slips around Miyato's back and applies a sleeper and Miyato quickly taps. The finish comes out of nowhere, but the fans are delighted, as I am sure Nakano is after defeating Miyato at the fifth attempt.

Now I guess that match was actually the pre-show as some kind of majestic rock concert appears to be taking place in our beloved Dome. The ring is flashing up quite a lot and a laser show with lots of waveform laser effects is very much happening. Never has an 'orchestral stab' effect on a keyboard been quite so abused. This is some modern heraldry-type shit.

And yes yes that was the pre-show as we are now getting a parade of fighters. Some familiar faces and some not familiar in the slightest (we assume the perspective of a person who has watched only UWF and no later shoot-style or real fighting). But all are here in the spirit of shoot-style and as such are blessed.

Of course being the Dome each entrance takes a while but the presentation is quite an effort on UWF's part here. Each entrance has an inset bio that sits next to a short training montage of each. Each montage gives us an insight into the preferred martial art of each combatant. One of them seems to be an accomplished amateur wrestler, for instance. But just on the whole, this is magnificent. UWF at its best.

The oration is done by Akira Maeda, whose own entrance was met with a booming unbridled joyousness that would later greet the arrival of someone like Stone Cold Steve Austin: it is rich in both volume and delight.

A female voice echoes through the darkness and it is only my strange familiarity with what is happening here that I make an educated guess that she is explaining the Different Style rules that are in effect for most of the evening. I could explain them here but the real difference is: rounds, not continuous fighting.

Our first combatant on the main show is Changphuir Davey (I have used this name because a couple of sites did but I think we have a Macduff Roesch situation here. I will keep it as Davey as i. it says that on his entrance jacket and ii. that is how I wrote initially but his real name is Changpuek Kiatsongrit or, if you like, ช้างเผือก เกียรติทรงฤทธิ์). I have no idea as to the accomplishments in the fighting realm of Davey, only to say that he certainly looks the business as someone who could, as far as I know, be cosplaying as a Muay Thai fighter. He wears the mongkol, the traditional Muay fighter's headband, and just before the fight itself the ram muay music plays as Davey performs a brief version of the traditional wai kru dance. This is great.

(and after some research using his real name, he is revealed to have quite the fight record)

His opponent, Yoji Anjo, clad in purple leopard print and no boots for this evening, waits patiently and smugly in the corner. Davey removes his mongkol and a long and patient reminder of the rules in two different languages is undertaken centre-ring. Davey wears boxing gloves while Anjo does not.

I recently read that Muay Thai fighters are often reasonably awesome at grappling and have cardio that would make most people weep (edit: I read this on a muay thai site so maybe not the most reliable source but I can also believe it!) and the opening section at least tells me half of that could be true as Anjo leaps at Davey, who raises a knee to wind Anjo before tossing him into the corner and assailing him with slugs.

Anjo clearly didn't read whatever it is I read as his strategy seems to be to get close and take advantage of the reduced motor skills of a man wearing gloves. Which is a reasonable strategy for a man trained in catch wrestling by Yoshiaki Fujiwara. There are some silent passages and patient measuring up but the action is frantic when it does occur. Anjo tries to pounce and Davey just kills him instead and it is pretty great actually. End of round one.

Round two. Anjo catches a leg and Davey hops to the rope. Davey is smart and works near the rope, with the ocean of the ring in front of him in order to swing his elegant strikes, but with the safety of a rope break always within snatching distance. The pace is largely the same as in round one, though an extended ripple of excitement spreads through the stadium as Anjo nearly secures a facelock on a visibly-panicking Davey.

Anjo, being a mad bastard, trades strikes in round three. It sort of works as Davey switches to southpaw, winding up his educated left leg to attack Anjo through his lax defences. So far every round has been kinda the same: quietFRANTICSTRIKEGRAPPLEBREAKquiet but it's been a lot of fun.

Early in R4 Davey hits a ruinous rising knee to Anjo's midsection and then, a few seconds later, hits a pinpoint kick on the exact same spot. I wince even if Anjo does not. If Davey is pulling these kicks then he's a shoot-style natural. And if he's not then he just looks great. Either way, Maeda wins. Anjo seems to have abandoned his strategy in the main and is now banking on catching a kick. He nearly does late in the round and the crowd pop hugely. The round ends in a brawl broken up by the referee. Bah humbug.

Anjo looks as if he has been swimming such his the extent of his sweatiness. Davey bows at the start of the fifth round, so I guess this is the last one? The two pick up where they left off, in a great struggle on the ropes. They break and Davey dances across the ring and I truly mean he dances, it is the most graceful footwork I have seen on a fighter particularly in this context. Midway through my admiratory sentence Anjo finally gets Davey to the mat, although it is not a successful grapple attempt as he ends up on his back cowering from Davey's titanic punches.

The final minute contains some great sweaty strike flinging as a way of capping a fine draw. Davey and Anjo hug it out. Strangely there is a lot of booing at the conclusion of the match for reasons I am unsure of. The draw is officially announced and it is met with a mixed reaction. Fuck you guys. That was great.

Quebrada agree with me and not the crowd:
I expected this to be a work, but if it was they sure as hell fooled me. Incredibly intense. Kiatsongrit looks like he wants to injure his opponent with each shot. Anjo didn't have much luck doing anything to him because Kiatsongrit stayed so close to the ropes. He would wind up taking a few shots coming in so he could grap Kiatsongrit, but Kiatsongrit would keep hitting him and use the ropes to prevent the takedown. It was kind of monotonous, but so heated that it didn't bother me too much. Good fight.

Future UFC Heavyweight Champion Maurice Smith is seen in inset moments before his UWF debut. He speaks over the montage of him running to the ring and throwing shadowpunches:

I want to beat Suzuki with a knockout. Maybe it won't happen but I'll try my best to knock him out. He has a strong chin. But I'm gonna go for a knockout.

QUITE RIGHT MAURICE. Future King of Pancrase Minoru Suzuki, wearing a white headband that doesn't suit him at all because it makes him look like a shitty babyface when we know him to be the purest villain, runs to the ring in all white attire (which he would later callback in his Wrestle Kingdom bout with Kazushi Sakuraba).

Smith came to the ring without gloves but is now lacing a pair up as we see an inset graphic telling us that this is a 7 round contest, the first time I have heard of that upper limit being placed on a fight. Smith's cornerman is taking his sweet old time with these gloves. I hope Maeda shot on him later. Smith towers above Suzuki at the opening face-off before returning to slowcoach cornerman for a gum shield.

Smith ambles across the ring to commence the scrap. But what of his style, I hear you cry? Well, knowing not much, or at least pretending to for the affected ignorance I occasionally lapse into, Smith appears to be a kickboxer, possibly with some karate knowledge? Sport is amazing. Aesthetics make themselves known. I am not sure on the exact difference between Muay Thai and western kickboxing but Smith appears to be more of the latter, his hands held lower and much less involvement from his knees.

(and as it turns out Smith is extensively storied in both kickboxing and karate)

Not a great lot happens in round one until Smith smashes in a series of strikes near the end of the round. Suzuki tries to make his own quite impressive techniques in catch wrestling known, but Smith surprises with a smothering grapple of his own. The crowd gasp as if to say "who is this magnificent man?" but further examination is curtailed by the ring bell.

Round two sees Suzuki busting through with palm strikes but Smith lets the blows glance off and carries on undisturbed. Somewhere in this opening parry, Smith has bust Suzuki's nose. Generally there is less of an equitable feel about proceedings here: Smith dominates. Underlining this, he puts Suzuki flat on his back with a brusque middle kick for a 9 count. When the match resumes, Smith again dominates Suzuki in a grapple by dint of his sheer size, ending the round atop Suzuki with his hands locked around his middle.

Smith gets another count on Suzuki in round three, who starts to look like he'd rather be at home. Blood pours out of his nose. Smith overmatches him again, wrapping his burly arms around Suzuki in a facelock attempt. Suzuki is on top but getting the life choked out of him and it takes an impressive scuttle to the ropes carrying the weight of Maurice Smith to break things up. Suzuki tries to stand up but can't and the referee starts counting him as he sells the effects of the choke. Smith dings Suzuki on his nose again with a straight right. Suzuki slumps against the ropes and takes another count and is saved by the bell. This is a demolition job by Smith.

A quiet start to round four, as Suzuki tries to size Smith up anew. It seems to work for a second as Suzuki catches a Smith kick. The resulting melee sees the pair tangled in the ropes and Suzuki falls fully to the mat outside. At the restart Smith kicks Suzuki on those nose and then puts him back onto the now-familiar mat for a count. Suzuki tries to get up and wears an anguished expression before wearily falling down in defeat. A good, if nearly completely one-sided, match. Suzuki is carried tearfully to the back. This show is off to quite the start!

They would later face each other twice in Pancrase, splitting the bouts. And if you're wondering whether this lifetime of beating each other up left any enmity between the two, this picture from this week shows quite the opposite.

Another new face comes to us: Dick Leon Vrij! Vrij, who looks like The Sandman pre-divorce ie. a bleach blonde close-cropped hulk, cuts a promo that was either in Dutch or just completely unintelligible. Vrij eventually makes himself fully known in Maeda's later gambit RINGS (written about extensively by TK Scissors) but here he is merely a disciple of fellow Dutchman and one-time appearer in UWF Chris Dolman.

look it's best if you just ignore the spellings

His opponent is better known to us in UWF land - catch grandfather Yoshiaki Fujiwara. But someone has pressed C-left on his character select screen as he is wearing red and yellow kickboxing shorts and is completely barefoot and for Fujiwara this is a crazy and outright bad look. Particularly next to Vrij who is a comparative colossus. Vrij looms beefily, throwing high kicks and at first this looks like complete madness. But quickly Fujiwara asserts his genius, grappling the young Vrij to earth easily.

full murderstats

Later in the round Fujiwara throws a kick and Vrij catches it and attempts to murder the shit out of our resident murderer and god this is just a dynamic we do not see anymore isn't it friends? I thirst for it. Even as I watched today's New Japan show, which was very good, I just thought that part of the problem is that these guys work too well with each other. Intense UWF-ing has coloured my expectations.

Fujiwara is fanned by a flunky with an orange towel before seconds out - round two! Vrij throws a kick and Fujiwara hangs onto it before Vrij slips away. Fujiwara shoots low and turns Vrij over for something nasty and leglockish on his Achilles and Vrij taps immediately! Wild!

Fujiwara hangs on for ages after the decision and Vrij's cornerman runs in and shoves Fujiwara off Vrij angrily and, to be honest, not unfairly. The two fighters eventually make nice as Fujiwara's name rings out through the stadium like a demi-god as is right and proper in my honest opinion. FOUR GREAT FIGHTS OUT OF FOUR!

The fifth fight sees the return of the aforementioned Chris Dolman, who lost on debut against none other than Akira Maeda, so no shame there to be quite frank.

that is quite a fight record mate

Dolman speaks:

I fought last weekend in Amsterdam against Bill Kazmaier, big strong man from USA, and I beat him in the second round.
What more can be said except to FEAR THE DOLMAN. His opponent is Kazuo Yamazaki, who appears in a plum-coloured gi (edit: thank you to Twitter user @YourKingMob who tells me this is in fact a kurtka, as worn by sambo competitors). This proves to be more than merely ceremonial as he does not remove this ahead of the match, which will also be contested over 7 rounds of 5 minutes apiece, which again is a new thing to me but this is exactly the point of Akira Maeda if you really get down to brass tacks. Dolman wears his red gi with blue tracksuit trousers and light amateur wrestling boots and we have quite the visual scene here in Tokyo.

Dolman is much bulkier than Yamazaki and this size differential allows him to close Yamazaki down and hurl him. Dolman takes centre-ring as Yamazaki tries to skid around and throw kicks but this Dolman character just looms mercilessly, catching kicks and then following through on the mat, echoing the complete dominance of Maurice Smith earlier. Even worse for Yamazaki, Dolman isn't wearing gloves, and displays the advantages of being able to slip through paper-thin cracks in the defence by dominating Yamazaki on the ground mid-round. To say Yamazaki gets nothing in round one would be unfair, but it wouldn't be too far off either.

I just noticed that the referee here isn't Japanese. He speaks American-accented English. Has this been the case all evening? I do not know.

Dolman swigs water in the corner ahead of round two, sharing the same angry cornerman as Vrij. Yamazaki gets a glimmer of a chance by shooting low on Dolman but the Dutchman is no fool and he tumbles Yamazaki forward, using his momentum against him, and nearly ends it right there. When they stand up, Dolman throws a surefire ippon but perhaps wallows in his dominance too long as Yamazaki nearly triangles the hell out of him from his position considering the lights. The crowd go ape for this development and are palpably deflated when Dolman gets out. This is where a sense of pro-wrestling style 'reading the crowd' would not go amiss. Dolman takes much of the remainder of the round, smothering Yamazaki in a Roy Nelson-esque manner.

Round three of a possible seven commences with a foiled Yamazaki parry. Yamazaki comes hard again and Dolman secures a standing choke and then takes Yamazaki down to earth and with a cross armbreaker for a solid and dominant win. One must feel for poor Yamazaki, but he is not a man for navel-gazing. Yamazaki raises Dolman's hand in triumph, his plum kurtka all ruffled and ruined. FIVE OUT OF FIVE though I guess this was the least interesting but still completely good.

Another new friend in the Dome and this one wears a lovely white tracksuit top and he goes by the name of Duane Koslowski. We hear from the 1988 USA Olympic team member who was, as many have been, hammered by the great Aleksandr Karelin.
I will have to use my wrestling ability, which I have 12 years experience of, to overcome his karate to win this wrestling match.

Well said he! Koslowski has been booked against Nobuhiko Takada which has a lot of potential inasmuch as Takada on current form (1989) could get a good match out of a divan. In news that favours perhaps nobody in particular: the rounds system has been banished for this match.

Koslowski wears the skimpy USA singlet beloved of American amateur wrestlers who have competed for their nation (and why not?) whilst Takada deploys his classic black trunks and kickpads attire. We hear an American cornerman chipping in advice to Koslowski - "that's it, make him work buddy, good good!" - in a way that is a mite wearing. "The more you do the less you'll have to do" is something we hear before Takada kicks Koslowski full steam in the head for a hilarious knockdown.

On the restart Kowslowski finally unearths his amateur pedigree, rocking Takada with a suplex and near-complete armbar attempt. Takada rolls through and it is Koslowski who needs a rope escape to break out. A second one is required a minute or so later when a Koslowski leglock attempt is similarly foiled. A third attempt is made by our new arrival and it is a much better one as Takada scoots to the rope for a break of his own. As punishment, Takada gets up and hoofs in a grim kick, sending Koslowski down in stages for a near knockout. It's a great sell.

Koslowski rides Takada a little, favouring the gutwrenches beloved of that amateur sport, but given that Takada's arms are waving around in the breeze awaiting to be seized upon it seems like the wrong move. Koslowski gets a chance to rectify this mistake when Takada practically offers up a juji-gatame after being thrown and this time our Olympian makes no mistake, until he does and Takada rolls through. Koslowski hits the ropes a third time and this one counts as a knockdown. 3-0 Takada by my scorecard. Five, remember, is a TKO.

"USA buddy!" says the obnoxious cornerman and I like Koslowski but I am rooting for Takada to wreck him now. This very thing starts happening as Takada buries Koslowski with kicks for a fourth knockdown. He is not defeating Takada's karate very well is he?

Some centre-ring grappling occurs and Koslowski finally doles out some punishment, impressively suplexing Takada and getting the progression on the ground. But Koslowski is high on his own farts and his arm is loose. Takada seizes upon it and cinches in a cross armbreaker. Koslowski taps and the magnanimous Corinthian spirit of the USA is defeated centre ring by the professional Japanese. SIX OUT OF SIX!

Headlining this glorious affair is Wilhelmus Paul Karel "Willy" Wilhelm, a Dutch judoka of serious repute (medals at World Championships, do not fuck with). In a full white Mizuno gi he emerges, looking a little portly, but with the comportment of a martial arts pro (centred, full of gravitas). Wilhelm speaks and it is badly recorded but he thinks he will see what Maeda is doing before winning with an armlock.

ok ok that spelling error got me

God man beast emperor lord king brahmin Akira Maeda enters flanked by Tatsuo Nakano (wearing a gorgeous red UWF sweater). The atmosphere is king-sized. Wilhelm and Maeda stare out centre-ring like Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI (which was in this very year was it not?). 7 x 5 minute rounds potentially await this showdown of epic proportions.

Wilhelm charges first, backing Maeda up and then hurling him onto his back. The referee breaks them apart centre-ring which smells a bit bullshitty but maybe he threw him from within the ropes so maybe it was okay. Wilhelm twice more moves forward to grapple and Maeda backs off into the ropes. Frustrated, Wilhelm goes wrong, and Maeda ends up atop him and cranking on his neck. But Wilhelm does not panic and calmly makes the ropes.

Maeda attempts to out-judo Wilhelm but the Dutch veteran just collapses atop Maeda's attempt and attempts to make progress with groundwork. As judo it might make sense but as pro-wrestling it is a little aimless, partly because Maeda makes little attempt to sell the significance of what Wilhelm is trying out here. On standing the venerable Wilhelm taunts Maeda in a pro-wrestling style, goading Maeda to come forward. The stadium becomes unglued as Maeda flurries away rabidly. His enthusiasm isn't matched by talent and Wilhelm ends the round atop Maeda and threatening a full-service armbar.

Round two commences with Wilhelm using his huskiness to block Maeda. Wilhelm throws but Maeda scurries through and ends up on top. Maeda throws kicks, attacking Wilhelm's legs, and again the stadium explodes in joy. Maeda grabs Wilhelm's injured leg and applies a cross kneelock. Wilhelm performs the greatest act of selling in UWF history thus far, yelling in pain for a few seconds, before tapping out. Maeda wins lol and on such a stage as this it is a miracle.

Credits roll with a photomontage. That's your lot. See ya!

While perhaps this did not have one completely blow-away match, it did have seven really good ones and as such I have no hesitation in calling this the best UWF show to date.
Akira Maeda is left to dream of what could be.

"what if I did this...all the time?"

NEXT: a brief hiatus, but I think I'll buy the remaining shows before the year is out. Until then - watch Inoki's ISM show in a couple of weeks!


  1. This show has long loomed around much of the best Maeda material in the Observer so I was aware of it in that limited sense but this is the first æsthetic consideration of it I have encountered and so I thank you for it extra.

    Also: Willie Wilhelm arguably the greatest main event draw in professional wrestling history?

    1. one main event, one sell out. the numbers look good for Wilhelm. I am sure his lower draws in RINGS are because the people wanted to see main event judo and not midcard judo.

  2. I wait, diligently, for the next show.