Friday, June 11, 2010

NJPW G1 Climax 1992

Before we begin, a brief history lesson:

In 1991, Ric Flair was the NWA Champion but his boss Jim Herd decided that WCW needed to be more like the WWF in terms of gimmicks that appealed to kids, and that Flair, a distinct link to the past needed to freshen up his image (namely to get a hair-cut, an earring and a name change to Spartacus. No, really.) Flair understandably balked at the idea, fell out with Herd (who he hated anyway) and bolted ot the WWF without ever dropping the NWA title (Flair had posted a bond on the actual possession of the belt and Herd refused to cough up, instead choosing to slap a gold plate that read 'World Title' over the old Western States Heritage Title belt and award it to the winner of a Lex Luger/Barry Windham match). The NWA meanwhile opted to strip Flair of the title now that he was under contract to the non-NWA affiliated WWF, thus forever shattering the lineage NWA World Heavyweight Title.

WCW then revoked it's NWA membership before Herd was fired and replaced with Kip Allen Frey. Frey himself only lasted a few weeks before WCW brought in old-school thinking former Mid-South/UWF cheif Bill Watts to balance the books. Watts re-opened WCW's relationship with the NWA, which at the time was still looking to crown a new NWA champion (as well as NWA World Tag Team Champions). With New Japan Pro Wrestling also affiliated to the NWA, it seemed like the perfect choice to award the winner of New Japan's already established G1 Climax tournament the NWA World Title, whilst WCW took the NWA Tag Team Title tournament (which ran over the course of the 19th Clash of the Champions and the 1992 Great American Bash events).

So we have participation from both New Japan (Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, Tony Halme, Scott Norton, Bam Bam Bigelow, Shinya Hashimoto, Kensuke Sasaki, Super Strong Machine, Hiroshi Hase) and WCW (Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, Jim Neidhart, Terry Taylor, The Barbarian, Ravishing Rick Rude), and we're under single elimination rules as opposed to the traditional G1 Climax round-robin format.

Things kick off with every wrestler in the tournament being introduced along with some officials for the unveiling of the trophy and the title belt which follows a brief history package detailing the lineage of the NWA Title and the reasons for it being held up. Jack Brisco, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair are all name-checked. The ceremony and the lighting set-up remind me of a big-time boxing fight for some reason, and just adds to the atmosphere and importance of the tournament.

Masahiro Chono vs. Tony Halme

Tony Halme gained later fame as Ludvig Borga, evil environmentalist in the WWF, and even later fame as a singer, boxer and television presenter in his native Finland. Here he's presented as a Road Warrior/Cyborg-inspired shoot fighter with the cut-off gloves boxing stance. And he lives up to his gimmick by punching Chono. A lot. And the crowd absolutely hates it and boos him with increasing fury every time he does it. It's a pretty weird match as Chono gets pretty much nothing from the off and gets dumped outside, all the while just getting pounded on by Halme. You know, I find it kind of interesting that despite being Finnish and working in Japan, Halme tends to favour the English language by shouting "FUCK!" a whole bunch of times. I guess you can get away with stuff like that in foreign countries.

Anyway, the crowd continues to boo as Halme continues to punch whilst Chono attempts to make his comebacks and teases some submission spots, before he finally catches Halme on the mat and submits him at 12:20 with the STF.

This actually had a very MMA kind of feel to it with Halme as the puncher and Chono as the wrestler just trying to hang in there long enough and take the repeated body shots from Halme whilst hoping to get that elusive chance to grab a hold on Halme, knowing that Halme wouldn't have the spirit in him to refuse the submission. On the other hand, it was a lot of punching and booing and Halme shouting "FUCK!" and not much else.

Keiji Mutoh vs. Barry Windham

Windham was looking a little pudgy here which wasn't a good sign (his weight gain not-so-unusually coincided with his in-ring decline) but he was still rocking it through 1992, and his opponent was Mutoh (of the orange wrestling tights variety, not the face-paint and mist-spitting version) so I was expecting good things and good things I got. Unfortunately, while watching it I couldn't help but think that if only this had been '87 Windham and '89 Muta we'd not have had good things but great things, and that was probably the saddest part about this match to me. I think the thing about Windham was it came so effortlessly to him that by the time he'd lost that youthful fire that made him catch fire in the '80's, he really did just look like a guy who wasn't putting in the effort.

Like I said though, Windham in 1992 could still rock the house and though this didn't reach the heady hights of Windham vs. Flair or Muta vs. Sting, it did it's job in a neat and tidy 10:17 when, after an earlier tease, Mutoh hit the power elbow, the handspring and the match winning moonsault to advance.

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Scott Norton

I think Bigelow is one of those guys who sits comfortably alongside the likes of Arn Anderson, Ted DiBiase, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts etc. who could quite concievably have been a World champion but never quite made it for whatever reason (some guys never needed the belt, some guys just came along at the wrong time when there was already an established champion etc). I mean, here you've got a 300+ pound guy with a bald head covered in tattoos and flames all over his tights, who can do a cartwheel and a moonsault and possess the ability to have great matches with a variety of opponents (The Steiner Brothers, Rob Van Dam, Bret Hart, Taz) and yet he never got a serious look in as a title contender. I can only assume it was a combination of "right place, wrong time" and the fact he really never stayed in any one place for too long that led to him always being an upper card guy rather than the top guy.

Bigelow again gets to showcase that ability of working with a variety of opponents here in a decent little big man match, with a basic power vs. power effort that never outstays it's welcome. With his ribs taped up, Norton finds himself in the unfamiliar role of underdog here, and a primo bladejob just furthers his cause, really getting the fans behind him. The fan support and an apparent adrenaline rush give Norton what he needs to complete an unlikely comeback and he finishes Bigelow at 8:16, the shortest match of the entire tournament. Post-match, Bigelow calls for help for the bloodied Norton before bolting to the WWF.

Steve Austin vs. Arn Anderson

The battle of the Dangerous Alliance, and a battle between two established heels so naturally they shake hands pre-match to a nice round of applause. An interesting side-note to this match is that Austin and Anderson apparently spent the night previous on the town getting absolutely plastered on sake and naturally felt worse for wear here resulting in a below-par match. That's not to say it's a bad match of course; Anderson and Austin have such high standards that a below-par match for them can still be a pretty decent match.

Here they kick things off with some fine mat work and the occassional high spot (usually something off the ropes) before going back to the headlocks, hammerlocks and reversals. I'd be remiss in not point out that Austin looks utterly terrifying when staring at the camera during a headlock, sort of like a cross between a serial killing Nailz-cum-Waylon Mercy. Anyway, the wrestling continues as things build to...more mat wrestling and reversals. Just when you're expecting the pace to pick up, they keep things nice and easy before Austin takes the pin at 8:58 with the Stun Gun (though it seemed like he couldn't be arsed bumping on it initially).

Like I said, an under-par match for these two can still be a decent match, and this was a decent match but it just never seemed to get out of third gear and turn into the storming classic that it was threatening to do.

- And that ends the first round, at least as far as the commercial tape is concerned. I've no idea why the bottom half of the bracket didn't make the cut, instead being limited to black and white stills of the winners but to fill you up on the rest of the developments, Kensuke Sasaki pinned Jim Neidhart in 8:20, Shinya Hashimoto pinned The Barbarian in 11:29, Ravishing Rick Rude pinned Super Strong Machine in 11:54, and Terry Taylor took a bye directly into the quarter finals due to an injury suffered by Hiroshi Hase.

Koji Kanemoto & Osamu Nishimura vs. Hiroyoshi Yamamoto & Satoshi Kojima

Kojima is the future unified IWGP and Triple Crown champion looking really young. Yamamoto is the future Hiroyoshi Tenzan, he's got a sort-of skinny TAKA Michinoku kind of look going on. Nishimura I'm only familiar with through a match he had in ECW against Al Snow. Kanemoto's an ass-kicker. WCW officials Bill Watts and Dusty Rhodes are sat together in the crowd for this one.

Nishimura is so skinny but his interaction with Kojima is pretty fun and I can imagine a singles match between those two being worth a look. Yamamoto tries to be the commanding force in there but something isn't clicking. It's decent but it's not particularly great or interesting. At times it looks like a cross between your standard catch-as-catch-can match and a UWFI style worked shoot but it's all a bit messy until Kanemoto comes in and kicks some ass allowing Nishimura to pin Kojima. He celebrates it like he's just won a title.

I'm not really sure why this was here, other than perhaps New Japan just wanted their future stars to be featured.

Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) vs. Jushin 'Thunder' Liger

I was really looking forward to reviewing this one until Benoit went and slaughtered his family and himself and some 3 1/2 months later I still don't feel particularly interested in re-watching any of his work. This is somewhere between **** and ***** for those that need to know.

Terry Taylor vs. Kensuke Sasaki

As an aside, Dusty Rhodes and Bill Watts are again in the crowd but no longer sitting together. Not that I'm trying to stir it or anything.

Anyway, I'd previously seen this one on the G1 Climax Hyper History release and was pretty looking forward to it based on that. Sasaki isn't quite the worker he'd become, still in his early-90's luminous cycling shorts and pre-Hellraisers phase. Taylor's at about the end of his WCW run, not even working as The Taylor Made Man here.

I always wondered why Taylor never went to Japan to escape the Red Rooster stigma but I think he was too big to be a junior and too small to be an effective heavyweight and his lack of hard-hitting moves are another strike against him. He's still a useful performer though, and Sasaki was a pretty solid worker at the worst of times. Without a quality opponent to bring either guy up to the next level however, it never really begins to get interesting and is kinda just there. My train of thought veers away from the action a couple of times until Sasaki begins his comeback, at which point the crowd finally gets into it. You know, this match has shown me what clipping can do for a match, as the last couple of minutes here are pretty exciting and I can see how the cut-down Hyper History version would make you think this was going to be pretty great. As it is, it's kinda dull until the crowd gets into Sasaki's firey rally towards the end, and he wraps it up with a weird hiptoss roll-through into a pin.

Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Shinya Hashimoto

Shinya Hashimoto has always been a curiosity to me. I first became familiar with him through pictures and articles in mark magazines and was intrigued with the fact he seemed to be a top player in New Japan despite looking like a tubby Elvis Presley. I'd read about how his size and look were decieving and that when it came time to go, Hashimoto could really deliver, kind of like a 90's version of Samoa Joe but throughout my years of wrestling fandom I've somehow managed to miss his most lauded matches and still wonder what it was that made him so great. I mean, I can understand the appeal he has based on his physique and his big round head and sideburns but I've yet to come across anything of his that showed anything more than flashes of what might be.

This match was kind of like that. Just based on his look alone, Hashimoto is a guy I really want to like. I'm sure it was a big part of his enduring popularity - he looks like a bit of a couch potato (albiet a fairly fit one) so perhaps theres hope for the rest of us. But beyond a couple of nice moves here and there, this is just a match. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to make me sit up and go "You know what? This guy is actually fucking great".

Madusa ends up distracting Hashimoto (drawing some serious heat from the crowd in a country where interference is a rarity rather than the norm) and Rude ends up taking it with a nasty-looking spike DDT from the top. Afterwards, Hashimoto heads backstage in disgust and won't talk to anyone before burying his heads in his hands and crying like a man who's just been robbed blind. And you know what? I actually empathise with him. He WAS just robbed of his shot at the NWA World Title and I demand he seek vengeance! His body language here was just stunning and I'm starting to understand why so many people loved the guy. It was because they REALLY loved the guy. He's your neighbour. He's your uncle. He's your buddy at the bar, and he's a man's man who just got screwed over. I believe in you, Hash!

Steve Austin vs. Keiji Mutoh

This was shocklingly dull until Mutoh started busting out the Muta. Once they actually kicked it into gear (dropkick, handspring elbow, fighting on the floor) it really picked up. Mutoh missed a handspring elbow attempt on the outside and crashed into the steel railing around ringside which led to the heat segment from Austin. Unfortunately though, Mutoh seemed to blow the ending as he slipped off the ropes as it looked as if he was headed up for the moonsault, and rather than just carry on, he decided to work it as if he was exhausted and duly fell outside the ring. It wasn't such a bad idea in theory only once Austin dragged him back in, Mutoh recovered right away to score a back breaker and get what ended up being a somewhat anti-climactic moonsault for the win.

Cut out the first six or seven minutes worth of chinlocks and avoid the blown moonsault and you've got yourself a hell of a match. Otherwise it's about ***1/4

Masahiro Chono vs. Scott Norton

So the rest of this review is being written about 3 1/2 years later as my zest for updating this blog waned like a casual fan's interest in watching WWE after Triple H won the World title one too many times. It might account for a change in writing style - but it could be an excuse for saying I'm no longer creative enough to come up with much more than a couple of lines about each match, such is the case here.

I think Norton's kind of underrated in his role, and Chono's Chono but this just sort of laboured along and the big tip off was the crowd. I'd switched to cataloguing some Quantum Leap DVDs that had just arrived and at no point did I hear the crowd going crazy enough to make me really start taking notice. As an aside, I'd just watched a really good Takao Omori vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi match from Day 1 of the 2009 G1 Climax tournament, so I was maybe holding this match up against that one and this just felt flat by comparison. Still, I loved Norton's very believable selling of the injured ribs and and Chono taking the winning pin off a crucifix roll-up from an abdominal stretch. Very psychologically sound, but pretty dull.

The Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner) vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Keiji Mutoh

This feels like a re-match of sorts, The Steiners having famously beating Sasaki & Hiroshi Hase to win the IWGP tag team titles at the Starrcade '91 in Egg Dome card the previous March before having dropped the straps to Hase & Mutoh on November 5th, 1991. Hase & Mutoh themselves lost the titles to Big, Bad and Dangerous (Big Van Vader & "Crusher" Bam Bam Bigelow) on March 1st, 1992, who in turn dropped the straps on June 26th to...The Steiner Brothers. Now we've got Mutoh & Sasaki challenging for the gold.

So this isn't quite as blistering as the fabled Steiners vs. Hase & Sasaki Tokyo Dome match, but it's really good. I mean, c'mon, it's the Steiners in 1992, of course it is. What's interesting is the Steiners clean house early before Mutoh & Sasaki get the heat, working as de-facto heels (switching off behind the referee's back) despite the crowd being totally behind them. And just at the point I'm noticing this, Scott decides he's had enough getting beaten up for one day and kills the heat on the hot tag by DDTing Sasaki out of nowhere, suplexing Mutoh and just rolling over to tag in big brother Rick, more-or-less ruining all the work done up to that point. To add to the confusion, Rick and Scott switch heel and start to get the heat on Sasaki but it doesn't last long before the whole thing breaks down into four guys destroying each other with every big move they've got, Scott's Frankensteiner on Mutoh not even finishing the match, but rather his top rope DDT (again to Mutoh).

I know some people complain about the tag team 'formula' but there's a reason for it as this match felt a little bit disjointed and not the all-time classic it could have been, although the crowd was red hot for the action. And so, despite my criticisms, I do have to say the action was hot and heavy, the crowd heat was up, the anticipation was there - this was a really good match, just not quite a great one. ***3/4

Trivia time - The Steiners would lose the belts on November 22nd, 1992 to Scott Norton & Tony Halme, while Sasaki & Mutoh would win the titles a bunch of times but never as partners.

Shiro Koshinaka & Kengo Kimura vs. Shinya Hashimoto & Osamu Kid

Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Kensuke Sasaki

Masahiro Chono vs. Ravishing Rick Rude


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