Wednesday, 21 February 2018

UWF 15/04/1990 - FIGHTING AREA (23/31)

15th April 1990
Hakata Star Lanes, Fukuoka
att. 4000

A brief extract from the Maeda text that arrived in my possession some time ago:
- He's a big one for an easterner innee Harold?
- I'll say. Bit of a prick too.
- You what?
- He kicked Giant Haystacks so 'ard last night his balls were swollen like an aubergine.
- What's an aubergine?
- Weird vegetable. Big and purple. Like a marrow. Tastes of nowt.
- Christ.

Rest in peace to the RealHero Archive, that repository of wrestling from Japan. You provided a good service to a hardcore of maybe 150 nerds though some of us still managed to gripe about the extensiveness of your coverage. But as one door closes another opens. The discovery of a full 1990 UWF show means that slowly, surely, and pleasantly, we can join the dots of this incredible tale.

Since we here at KSS left you in October I sense that the world is increasingly ready for the re-dawning of handsomely-presented shoot-style: not only have the collected blogworks of TK Scissors, Kingdom of Shoot, and Hybrid Shoot (see right panel) fleshed out the inner workings of the style of yore, a number of things have occurred. Minoru Suzuki has risen near the top of New Japan, wiry shooter Masahito Kakihara won the New Japan Rumble - played in by the glorious tones of the UWF theme, a second Tetsujin shoot-style event occurred in Liverpool with triple the audience of the first event in 2015, the UFC has continued to circle the drain with its gaudily-presented and spectacle-free spectacle, while noted 'real fighters' Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler, and Matthew Riddle continue to make in-roads in the world of fixed fighting that looks more like a fight (well, Rousey is yet to match up with anyone, but I BELIEVE IN YOUR JUDO).

Of course, right now, this remains a niche concern and Volk Han remains un-WONHOF-ed. And though the physics-defying world of PWG-style balleticisms and slightly contrived weapon/barricade/apron spots performed by lifelong wrestling fans influences the main matches of New Japan and WWE, the grumpy expertise of well-trained athletes using tried and tested waza seems to offer a delightful corollary. Onward! Upward! The Long UWF never died!

We left the year of 1989 (not quite reviewed in completeness) with Akira Maeda arguably at his most imperial: unbeaten in the calendar year and headlining the first ever show at the Tokyo Dome against Dutch judo veteran Willy Wilhelm.

The overriding blog philosophy now is: to hell with order, we shoot our shot when shows become available. We skip ahead a few months, past shows at the Budokan, in Osaka, and Minamiashigara, to land in the cramped bowling alley-cum-ring sports venue of the Hakata Star Lanes in Fukuoka (the southern Korakuen in many respects). A training montage of familiar faces including a fairly filled-out Tatsuo Nakano and a moustachioed Nobuhiko Takada opens things up prior to a long-ish interview with the handsome Masakatsu Funaki. He is pensive and speaks in staccato bursts.

A parade (dry ice, synth bass, searchlights, ring announcer shaped like Klaus Nomi, ****1/4) of tonight's fighters reveals that tonight's action will be based around the original six of UWF, the additional three fighters introduced by Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and one foreign guest. Curiously, prior to this, there is a brief but worthy demonstration of the skills and rules of UWF by two trainees that I cannot indentify. This alone causes the fans to whoop and OOOOH and celebrate harder than a lot of stuff I've seen on major wrestling TV shows of late.

If they saw my face / Could I still take a bow?

The night of fighting opens with the apparently loved cruiserweight battler Shigeo Miyato against the lanky kenpo enthusiast Bart Vale. Wisely Vale spends the opening keeping Miyato at leg length, threatening with these arcing and gymnastic leg thrusts that seem too graceful to be threatening kicks. Miyato backpedals a little and then cockily motions to Vale to come at him. Vale complies but Miyato's strategy fails him, as a takedown attempt results in getting kicked. Fans are jacked for this.

When Miyato catches a kick shortly after, they explode more. Vale enziguris with his standing leg and the crowd burst again. These people don't care about winners, they just want to see goddamn shoot-style opening matches and I think I understand them more than I have understood any audience at any time.

Bart Vale might never trouble the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, nor will people take to writing letters about him to the Observer, nor harassing Dave Meltzer on Twitter (a medium at which he is probably in the bottom 1%, down there with your Cernoviches and your Isabel Oakeshotts and your Phil Greaveses) about Vale's whereabouts, but he is a totally competent dude and I'd like the history books to stop judging him as one of the weird failures of this style when in fact this style is so totally nascent that far from being a failure he is one of those pioneers who got scalped or just had a rival pioneer land somewhere richer; John Cabot to Ken Shamrock's Christopher Columbus.

These two are having an entertaining match while I am writing live but not always blow-for-blow. Turn your speakers up and absorb the crowd's enthusiasm and their basic but dramatic stuff will live with you. Miyato looks for ways to counter Vale's legs with submissions, sometimes Vale surprises Miyato by having a ground counter of his own too. Vale unleashes terrifying headkicks and Miyato eats mat. Miyato hits his contractually-obliged rolling sole butt (I like this move less and less and especially when against a guy whose legs are wider than his torso).

There is a false finish when Miyato tries to judo Vale, but his ippon seionage attempt is countered by a sick choke that Miyato fights hard to get out of. It grinds Miyato down ahead of the finish shortly thereafter that is absolutely brilliant and ridiculous: Bart Vale hoists Miyato up for a fucking BORDER TOSS and then follows in with a camel clutch for the win. Miyato raises Vale's hand after the bell and rightly bloody so.

OOOOH SHIT FUJIWARA TRAINEES AND FUTURE PANCRASE FOUNDERS COLLIDE as Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki face off and what the heck are both of these guys wearing? Funaki appears to have gone full Lou Thesz while Suzuki is in long white boots and blue trunks, an aesthetic disaster for one so famously excellent on attire.

They make up for it by grappling the hell out of each other in the first 30 seconds using the energetic style of reversals and roll-throughs that UWF has seen since Fujiwara and his boys turn up. It's fluid, it's sexy, it's smooth. Suzuki drop seionages Funaki and gets into top control, then side control, then Funaki seems to get out, and the fans are like OMG what is THIS, and I am here to say in 2018 that friends this is an exhibition an EXHIBITION of grappling.

In stark contrast to Vale-Miyato, a good portion of this match is on the ground, fighting for position. On being stood up after a rope break, Suzuki shoots a leg and the fight returns to the ground momentarily, then up, then back again. There's a callback to the opening series of rolls where Funaki countered Suzuki's dominance with an attempted knee-bar, only with the names reversed.

A catcaller from the audience gets a series of big laughs. No idea what he said. Seemed like even Suzuki thought it funny whilst trying to force Funaki's hands apart. The momentum dips but the intensity doesn't as Suzuki rides Funaki's back like a tortoiseshell, threatening the neck and arms.

There's a pedagogical point to this match I feel. After another series of dips and rolls and grappling, the ending comes out of nowhere as Funaki grabs a lighting leg hold that Suzuki yelps and taps out of quicksmart to lose just after the 8 minute mark. Such endings would be the hallmark of Pancrase, though these would allegedly be real fights. Here it throws the crowd somewhat, though they do not reject it. Neither do I.

Akira Maeda takes on Tatsuo Nakano in match three. I won't spoiler it by saying exactly what happened but the spiritual rebirth of Nakano occurred in this very hall on the last UWF visit. Perhaps this is why Maeda steps down a peg or two, to capitalise on the corona of the new underking. The crowd are bananas before the first contact.

Maeda controls the portly Nakano, who is shorter and lighter, at the offing. But this man Nakano is a reborn warrior of thug style. He goes after Maeda, who offers impassive resistance and occasionally a couple of stinging reminders of who the boss is, time and again. The crowd, all the while, NA-KA-NO! NA-KA-NO!

The legs of King Maeda seem to stretch all the way across the 20ft square to repel Nakano but he will not relent. Maeda then unfurls the knees that murdered young Kiyoshi Tamura into a year on the sidelines, before wheelbarrowing Nakano over into an armbar. But still Nakano will not relent. He will not yield. When he escapes and punts Maeda in the head the crowd spontaneously combusts.

Maeda goes forward again with those knees, those nightmare knees, at once remorseless and biting. Nakano goes down and you exhort him to stay there and think of Tamura (and Nakano is no Tamura) but this man Nakano is an idiot and a hero and he chases Maeda across the ring and tosses him in revenge and mounts him with unfussy slaps and a rough choke as everyone in Japan cheers his name.

On the failure of this gambit, Maeda seeks revenge and nearly gets it with a choke that Nakano makes the ropes to escape. Nakano tries to catch Maeda napping but instead he plays himself. Maeda German suplexes the puggish one out of his boots but miraculously Nakano ends up rolling through and catches the boss flush for a knockdown.

A kick flurry is exchanged mid-ring as everyone in Asia has a collective aneurysm, before Maeda captures a leg, suplexes the man who owns it, and then cinches in a kneelock that Nakano taps from. Maeda holds Nakano's hand up at the end of the match in possibly the first glimpsing of Maeda's charitable side. Great match! Under eight minutes. They don't pay Maeda overtime.


This card, moving at a fine pace, hits match four as Yoji Anjo takes on the charming Nobuhiko Takada. The two met in Nagano last year in a fine but perfunctory bout, unsurprisingly won by Takada. With a crowd as ravenous for action as this maybe these two excellent craftsmen will crank it up a hair.

It's a slow open and it takes fully 45 seconds for the two to make contact. Anjo is smaller and slighter, but quicker, so he circles and looks for the opening in Takada's stout armour. There's a tentative grab here and a stinging kick in return, each guy reminding the other what fates could befall.

Takada tries to rope-a-dope Anjo by leaning into them and attempting to use his karate at range to fend off his swarming opponent. But Anjo is undeterred and he just gets in the mix and leg sweeps Takada and is unlucky to have his larger man basically fall on top of him and take control and grab for a kneebar. Anjo gets to the ropes.

Takada backs up again to the ropes but Anjo is just like no way man you are not doing this by diving low and sweeping him again. Takada falls awkwardly and the segment is broken by the referee. Anjo chases Takada hard on resumption, kneeing in the corner and suplexing the much larger Takada, who again cleverly uses momentum to roll through and take control sufficiently so that Anjo needs to break it on the ropes.

This story of Anjo charging and Takada cleverly and brutally rebuffing somehow is the story of the first half of the match, told with a pro-wrestling clarity and a shoot-stylist's technique. Which is to say: very pleasing.

Eventually Anjo makes headway unfettered by Takada's mighty comebacks, but he can't make them count. Takada dopes Anjo once again using the ropes, catching a kick and turning it into a mighty suplex whose follow-through sees Anjo wobbling his way through a knockdown.

Things get electric and real for both men with strike exchanges that see knockdowns and rolling sole butts that look GOOD and hard knees and all kinds of whooping from the non-partisan crowd. Takada kicks beefily and maybe Anjo has good stuff too though I must say wearing purple leopardprint does lead to -2 kick power in the mind's eye (and actual eye) of the viewer.

The last few minutes are a mindwhirl. There's stuff on the floor that feels like an ending and then brutal and brilliant strike flurries and desperation knockdowns that are completely the stuff of pro-wrestling (arguably the biggest stick to beat Takada with, he is a dramatist more than a fighter, he is nearer the fake world, but he is also consummate at it!) but to be honest I love the variety we've had tonight and I wouldn't change a thing. 

The strikes eventually wear little Anjo out. As he hits the mat face down, Takada applies a Chickenwing from on top and Anjo has nowhere to run. Top stuff. 

The main event is particularly exciting (on paper) to me as the two upper midcard gateway wrestlers Kazuo Yamazaki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara appear in a main event you think they have a reasonable chance of actually winning for once. Think of this, modern fan, as Jericho vs. Benoit, as Ishii vs. Shibata, as Takayasu vs. Yoshikaze, workraters elevated temporarily to a place befitting their workrate but perhaps not their stardom.

A handshake first. The refined Yamazaki backs up and then scuttles all the way across the ring a la CM Punk in UFC (he too is wearing Reebok brand attire on his lower half) and is met with a similar result as one Phil Brooks met as his opponent, the wily and violent man of catch wrestling Yoshiaki Fujiwara, nearly rips his leg off. Restart. Rethink.

Beyond that the first six minutes are really good. Both men show real gumption and inspiration. We haven't seen the stuff that either man does on this show yet, not that I am going to list it all. The reversals have personality, the psychology is clear, and the styles of each man show strengths and weaknesses. Sure, Yamazaki is younger and has hard kicks and an incisive manner on the ground, but Fujiwara is ruthless and smart and has written Danaher-esque charts on how to best cripple a man from any position. With the intensity of crowd spurring them on, we're in for a good one.

It's stuff like this that makes Fujiwara so great and so game-changing. In a fight or martial arts contest, if someone is trying to work on your leg but the other one is free, you can use it to fend off rather than just let them work on you and look for an attractive counter that makes people go OOOH. Fujiwara grinds his forearms into chins and ribs to open guards and defences. 

But also Yamazaki's great early innovation in UWF comes to the fore - defending strikes. This may sound like no big deal but at the Tetsujin show I went to just 3 weeks ago, there were a great many straight-up roshambo strike-for-strike exchanges. The lingua franca of shoot-style as regards this particular predicament has been cemented by this great man. And as suchI fear that modern attempts to replicate this style have taken a little more from strong-style, a dramatic retelling of the real fight, using real techniques and real emotion, but not actually entirely real physics and reactions. Defending against moves does make things look realer, which also means sometimes they look uglier, coarser, rougher, and today's worker, I aver, is more concerned with the .gif than the technique. But I digress.

While I'm rambling and talking shit (I was once told on a date that I talk too much, it was kind of true) these two deeply underrated masters of their craft are building up the tension. No one appears dominant, unlike Takada-Anjo, where the former always seemed a likely winner. There's a cool bit where Fujiwara backs up to play possum, but Yamazaki scouts it and hits a great stamping kick through Fujiwara's grasp. 

Fujiwara spins and leaves his opponent in the corner and drills him with palm strikes. Yamazaki defends, grabs for a suplex and tosses Fujiwara over. This leads to the conclusion, as Fujiwara gets up and Yamazaki high kicks him back to earth for a full ten count. Fujiwara was getting up at 10, but did not make it all the way.

Fujiwara shows Yamazaki some respect and to be honest it's about time someone here did! A closing montage sees Yamazaki being helped to the dressing room, exhausted, before being plonked down in front of a press conference. He looks out across the room, tired, in an unfamiliar situation, of winning in a UWF main event.

Great show! Good to be back!

NEXT!: no idea.