In Search of Five-Star Matches: Part 1

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I have been a loyal follower of the Wrestling Observer and Dave Meltzer for a number of years. There has been criticism of his use of star ratings over the years and especially of his use of the five-star match rating. Some people feel he uses it too often and some people feel it is not often enough. I personally take the baby bear approach on it. I am not the first to go back and review the matches he has rated five stars matches and I don’t know that anything I have to say will be more valuable than what others have done. But there is value in forming your own opinion and I do intend to consider the matches within their context and rate them in comparison to each other. I will also speak as to whether I feel the rating holds up. I hope people enjoy this and can at least assure you that I am enjoying completing it.

1) 4/21/1983 Tiger Mask I vs. The Dynamite Kid for the NWA Junior Heavyweight Title NJPW

I caught up with the TM vs DK series for the first time in 2001. I was blown away by how ahead of their time these two were, and this was at a time after a few years of watching the Mysterio generation. Eventually I watched most of the series as part of the DVDVR 80’s Project and was up there with the cool kids claiming that this stuff got overshadowed by the better matches with Tatsumi Fujinami, Gran Hamada and Baby Face. I love that stuff but do feel on viewing this revered match that opinions will come around, much like those who once thought it was cool to dog on Hogan in his prime defend him now as underrated. These two do great mat exchanges and business picks up with a cool spin-kick by Sayama followed by one of the better tope suicida’s you’ll see. Lots of cool submissions including Tiger working toward the Romero Special. He might not have invented it but it was not overplayed at the time. Dynamite keeps working on his tombstone as well, including after the apparent double-disqualification coming after TM hit another stiff tope that was just this side of JT Smith vs Mike Awesome. The referee re-starts the match. DK gets the tombstone right away followed by his career-shortening diving headbutt. Tiger Mask hits his own tombstone but then misses a pescado. They brawl on the outside and Kid does a suplex on the floor. Tiger Mask is back inside and Dynamite comes in with a broken bottle and headbutts the referee who tries to stop him, which is so crazy it is embarrassing to write. Undeterred, Dynamite returns with another broken bottle. Dynamite starts going after the mask and hits the referee with a back elbow. DK does a brainbuster and the permissive referee counts a pin attempt. They spill to the outside and Tiger Mask gives Dynamite a tombstone on the floor and Dynamite comes back with one of his own. They both get counted out, or disqualified, and the match is actually over. I don’t think this would get five stars in a modern context but it holds up really well and is cause for re-evaluation of this series. I think the five-star rating holds up here, especially in terms of the match’s importance to the business.

2) 12/05/1984 Kazuo Yamazaki vs. Nobuhiko Takada UWF

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about this one starting out. I figure it would be something that didn’t age well with the early jockeying for position with arm-work and leg-work seeming methodical. But the pace continued to escalate ever so gradually, with this limb-work being strategic and being offset amazingly by the rare but effective throwing of kicks. These get great fan reactions and Takada throws a huge slap a little past the halfway mark. Submission moves include a crossface chicken wing, Boston Crabs and a camel clutch, which I have always thought was an underrated hold. The two tombstones by Takada building to the finishing stretch could have seemed out of place but were credible in this context. They also do nice touches like using their legs to pin each other’s shoulders to the mat, which even if unsuccessful makes your opponent exert energy. There was a back suplex by Takada toward the end and they both started having success in applying the cross armbreakers they had been attempting the whole match. For the finish Yamazaki tries to apply a crossface chicken wing and quickly transitions into a German suplex for the pinfall win. Pretty epic stuff here and it feels like they were inventing MMA. Five stars for sure, both for importance and match quality.

3) 12/08/1984 Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody vs. Dory Funk & Terry Funk AJPW

Terry Funk and Stan Hansen are two of the best of all time so of course this would be good. It is essentially controlled chaos here and Dory plays Funk-In-Peril for most of the match. I do prefer other Hansen teams including with Terry Gordy and Dan Spivey but there is still something cool about Hansen and Brody. It is fun to watch Brody doing leapfrogs and dropkicks. I thought at first that the spot with Brody and Hansen hitting Dory with the table on the outside would be dated but they rammed his back with it three times and it was pretty stiff. The referee kept giving liberties until it spilled over too much at the end with Terry going nuts with a chain. This is a match that is helped with the context of being part of the Real World Tag League which would up its rating but I don’t think you could watch this and not at least have fun. I would not rate it five stars though and don’t think I would have even in context.

4) 3/09/1985 Tiger Mask II vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi AJPW

This holds up really well. It starts out with a flying kick from Kobayashi. They feel each other out for a bit building to a tombstone from Kobayashi. Tiger Mask Misawa fights back and flubs a piledriver but from there it’s all out action with fast kicks and suplexes. Kobayashi misses a tope suicida and TM then hits his own flying headbutt suicida. They build the pace really well in the ring and Tiger hits a cool superplex brainbuster. Tiger goes to suplex Kobayashi out of the ring but Kobayashi holds on and they tumble to the floor together. From there it’s a double-countout win. This same match wouldn’t rate as high today with that finish and ending as soon as it did but it was still great and in its context I can see how it had a huge impact. If it is not five stars based on that, it is at least close.  It sure would be better than Big John Studd squash matches that were happening in WWF at the time.

5) 8/22/1985 Lioness Asuka vs. Jaguar Yokota AJW

This is some next level stuff. I have never really watched a lot of 1980s Joshi and this match proves I’m an idiot. I know this is a gold standard match but these two are amazing. Yokota has probably the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen, to the point that I felt I knew exactly who she was from watching her. Asuka had such heat with the crowd all the way through the match. They did probably the best work I’ve ever seen with a figure four leglock, certainly for anyone outside of Flair. Yokota was very athletic with a hurricanrana and another attempt at one. Asuka seemed like a world-beater when she hit the jumping tombstone but Yokota bridged out, which she did quite a few times and it didn’t get old. The crowd was at a fever pitch by the end when Yokota hit a leg-capture German suplex for the win. This is wrestling at its best and is every bit of five stars. Meanwhile, in North America, wrestling was enjoying a surge in popularity thanks in part to Mr. T.

6) 1/28/1986 Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichrio Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu AJPW

All four men are an absolute force of nature in this match. Watching Tsuruta and Tenryu work over Choshu’s ribs and seeing Choshu’s selling of it can warm a wrestling fan’s heart. Yatsu gets a great hot tag and hits a nice dropkick. When Choshu returns to the ring he just unleashes on Jumbo and gets his Sasori-gatame (assist to google). Tsuruta and Tenryu take over on poor Riki again but everything eventually spills to the floor where Choshu and Yatsu rough up Jumbo by running him into the ringpost. Tenryu keeps running interference but Yatsu gets Jumbo inside for a sick piledriver. Jumbo perseveres and Tenryu makes his way in and starts in with his enzuiguris, which were and likely always will be the best versions of that move you will see. Yatsu and Choshu are working over Tenryu at the end and seem poised for a title win but Tenryu grabs a powerbomb on Yatsu for the quick pinfall and they retain the titles. Yatsu is so underrated and Choshu is a world-beater. Tsuruta and Tenryu are Tsuruta and Tenryu, which means even better than world-beaters so this makes for a great match that has Giant Baba mumbling with excitement on commentary after the finish. This is definitely a five-star match and the best I have watched of these so far.

7) 2/14/1986 Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (NWA Battle of the Belts 2) CWF

Any time I start to wonder if Ric Flair really is the best wrestler of all time, I watch a match like this and stop wondering. This is my first time watching this match which is embarrassing considering how great it is. Windham was one of the best challengers you could ever see on this night. The early section being dominated by Windham went to the limit of almost creating sympathy and then Flair cuts that off with a low knee. Flair takes over and starts his classic leg work. The match is back and forth from there and built amazingly with both guys getting color. Windham bookended sections of the match with big lariats. There is a referee bump with Bill Alfonso but it feels more like a signifier of intensity than cop-out booking. The match built to a crescendo that would have made for an amazing title change but Flair hits Windham with a bodypress and they both tumbled over the top rope to the floor. They both brawled on the floor and kept each other from re-entering and it was a double countout finish that felt just right. This was a fantastic match that feels like a blueprint for world title matches. It transcends any context and should be watched by anyone who hasn’t seen it, making it easily five stars.

8) 4/19/1986 Sheepherders vs. Fantastics (Bobby Fulton/Tommy Rogers) JCP

This is a match subject to much discussion as the footage is clipped and people are left to wonder what made it a five-star match. Many say it is just because Dave was there live for it. What one must remember is that The Fantastics were top-notch protagonists facing off against masters of territorial brawling who just happened to later become face-licking jesters. Even with the clipping, the build of this brawl is great and builds the hate to the point that both teams lost control and eliminated themselves from the tournament, missing out on the million-dollar payout. Also, one must wonder if with the way Jim Crockett Jr. was spending money at the time if that payout was actually legit. Regardless, I hope that WWE has full footage of this that they will release some day. I wouldn’t have put what I saw at five stars but it is some great brawling worth checking out.

9) 1/20/1987 Ric Flair vs Barry Windham JCP

This was a very fast-paced and incredibly well-worked match. I probably liked their 1986 match more but have realized that I have to put it in context of not knowing the result at the time. The pace was more consistent in this one and was more intense for longer with more strike exchanges. The finishing stretch for the time limit draw was pretty great, especially Windham’s final lariat for the last pin attempt.  I would say this definitely lives up to its hype and to the five-star rating.

10) 2/26/1987 Chigusa Nagayo vs. Lioness Asuka AJW

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as Asuka vs Yakota, it was still tremendous. It is hard to believe that this match is contemporaneous with the runs of Outback Jack and Hillbilly him in WWF. Asuka is an amazing talent and her giant swing is amazing to watch. Nagayo did a lot of submission work and there were some really great suplexes in the match as well. They were cutting a fast pace when they hit the time limit. The match got re-started and they started throwing kicks. Asuka did a couple piledrivers in this section of the match and a giant swing with Nagayo fighting from underneath. Time ran out again with Asuka in control at the time. Watching this in the context of their being two of the biggest female stars in history and members of the Crush Gals together adds tons of magic to this match but even without that it is amazing that they were warriors so ahead of their time. This is another match that lives up to the five-star rating.

Overall ratings:

1) 1/28/1986 Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichrio Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu AJPW

2) 2/14/1986 Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (NWA Battle of the Belts 2) CWF

3) 8/22/1985 Lioness Asuka vs. Jaguar Yokota AJW

4) 2/26/1987 Chigusa Nagayo vs. Lioness Asuka AJW

5) 1/20/1987 Ric Flair vs Barry Windham

6) 12/5/1984 Kazuo Yamazaki vs. Nobuhiko Takada UWF

7) 3/9/1985 Tiger Mask II vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi AJPW

8) 4/21/1983 Tiger Mask I vs. The Dynamite Kid NJPW

9) 4/19/1986 Sheepherders vs. Fantastics (Bobby Fulton/Tommy Rogers) JCP

10) 12/8/1984 Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody vs. Dory Funk & Terry Funk

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