Thursday 6 December 2012

DVD Retro Project: Part One By Shaun Nichols

A few weeks back I came across some old video listings from tape traders that I used to use many years ago. I was always interested in trying to find tapes from promotions all over the world. For example I must have been one of the first UK wrestling fans to have seen ECW's Ultraclash 1993 which was featured in the Superstars of Wrestling magazine (the forerunner to Power Slam). For the record the show certainly does not stand the test of time but fun if you want to see a Headhunter throw someone through a wall.

However the idea that as fans we could actually get to see ECW, SMW, USWA, NJPW, AJPW and FMW was an exciting idea especially when WWF and WCW were not exactly hitting the creative highspots in the early 1990's. Enter the world of tape traders who would then send you a list of their videos and a world of viewing opportunities were there for the taking.

Some tape traders were obviously better than others, with I think Rob Butcher standing out and I remember being sent a 60 page video list with full match listings with some stuff I had heard and some stuff I hadn't. To aid you in what you might actually buy were the occasional match rating in brackets with the name of Dave Meltzer attached to add credibility.

Shockingly tape traders were charging £7 a tape which seems now to be completely insane when you can order pretty much anything on either DVD or download for a fraction of the price today. But and this may come from a feeling of nostalgia I quite miss carefully going through the various video listings and working out what to buy or trade next. It was a time when it seemed that if you didn't buy the latest set of ECW Hardcore TV or Best of Japan then you really weren't such a big wrestling fan after all.

Today obviously things have changed, you only have to look at the exhaustive DVD catalogue Stuart has amassed and the vast amount of that is just the title of the show rather than the actually listings.

What this rather rambling set up is leading to is actually a DVD review, it would be nice if other contributors wanted to join in and maybe share in their thoughts of older or classic shows that they haven't watched in years or that may have gone unnoticed by most of us.

I'm starting with Best of NJPW in the 1990's Disc 1. The set is actually in total a 5 disc set which was created after members of the death valley driver board voted for the favourite NJPW matches. The set as a whole is very much dominated by junior heavyweight matches featuring Liger, Benoit and Sasuke among others. Thirteen of the twenty matches fall under this category, however in part one there is more of a mix of styles.

The Review

20. El Samurai vs. Shinjiro Ohtani (UWA Title 29/01/1996)

I never thought that Samurai was that great a worker but rather that he was fortunate to be around in a period where there was so many talented wrestlers to work with. This is a really good example that showcases that Samurai is better than I previously gave him credit for. Ohtani is the challenger here and brings great intensity and a desire to win. In the early stages Ohtani has an ankle lock on Samurai, Samurai tries to escape by basically kicking Ohtani in the face numerous times without success. This nicely illustrates the importance of the match and also that there is going to be more mat wrestling than you would expect.

A lot of it is down to a battle between Ohtani's ankle lock against Samurai's cross armbreaker. Samurai dominates the majority of the match which works well because Ohtani's outstanding springboard offence here focusing on Samurai's knee with pinpoint accuracy need to be saved for the big comeback spots. Frantic kickouts and attempts to make the ropes in the final minutes sends the fans on a rollercoaster journey until Samurai finally prevails with the cross armbreaker for a devastating loss for Ohtani. ****1/2

19. Big Van Vader vs. Stan Hansen (Superfight 10/02/1990)

This was quite the match back in the day because it gives the impression that neither man is willing to co-operate with the other. Of course this was a period when NJPW (represented by Vader) and AJPW (by Hansen) were both big and successful promotions in the own right. Vader is at this point the IWGP Heavyweight champion. Simply put this is just two big men having a brawl around ringside while back in the ring they trade big chops and lariats. Neither man gets to stay on offence for any great period of time, during the match it appears that Hansen thinks Vader was working too stiff, so he thumbs Vader's right eye. Vader's mask comes off during the match and his eye was very badly swollen.

The match ends in a double count out when the referee finally gives up trying to get them back in the ring. In many ways this match shouldn't really rate any higher than ** because purely from a technical point of view there isn't a lot to get excited about. However that wouldn't take into account the intensity of the match, the fans reactions to what they were seeing or for that matter the historical context of seeing a NJPW vs. AJPW stars battling it out. ****

18. Great Muta vs. Hiroshi Hase (14/12/1992)

The famous bloodbath match where Muta really does wear the crimson mask. The early part of the match sees Hase getting the best of it. Muta starts by trying to intimidate Hase and uses his mist but finds himself hit by a great dropkick. Hase is just out wrestling him, Muta heads to the outside where he skulks about looking for weapons and throwing chairs into the ring. Hase meanwhile just lays in the ring relaxing waiting for Muta to return.

Muta returns and distracts the referee and attempts to use a spike on Hase, Hase gets the spike and busts Muta good and proper. Muta really does get covered in blood and every time he's on the mat all you can see is blood dripping onto the mat. Hase just dismantles him but can't get the pinfall and as time goes on he becomes more frustrated. Muta who started as the heel starts to get the fans behind him when he gets the occasional comeback. This is a fine example of getting a lot out of very little but benefits from great psychology. Muta finally gets the win after hitting a moonsault at the second attempt. ***3/4

17. Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono vs. Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki (IWGP Tag Titles 01/11/1990)

The final match of the DVD and what a way to finish, Muto & Chono are defending, and the future Power Warrior is looking for his first title belt. The early stages make it clear that Sasaki isn't quite as good a wrestler as the other three but his strength enables him to compensate. The fans really do also help this match a lot because they react really big to everything. At the halfway point Chono as Sasaki in his finisher the STF and if you didn't know that that there was another 8 minutes to go you would easily believe that you were witnessing the finish.

The final few minutes are just insane with all four guys breaking out all the big moves but being continually thwarted by an opponent coming out of nowhere to break up the pin. The difference is that this is really done to perfection so all the dramatic kickouts and saves just continue to build to the final moments where Hase gets the win and the titles with his Northern Suplex. It would have been so easy for them to take it too far like so many ROH or PWG matches do but thankfully they didn't do that, just an awesome match. ****3/4

As you can tell by my listings if I had chosen my top 20 NJPW matches of the 1990's then they wouldn't have been in that order and I wouldn't have either Muta vs. Hase or Vader vs. Hansen in there although they are both very famous matches. The tag match really was a lot of fun and I think everyone should go out and see it. The full 5 disc set is available from numerous DVD sites just do a google search and then choose where you want to buy it from.

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