In Search of Five-Star Matches: Part Three
If Part Two (be sure to check out Part One also) was the story of Flair and Steamboat having one of the best series in wrestling history, Part Three is the story of Jumbo Tsuruta having one of the best runs in the historiy of the business. Between the match with Tenryu that defines Triple Crown Title matches and the elevation of Misawa and Company, Grumpo Tsuruta shows what being a true veteran ace is all about (HHH could take pointers). There is more Flair greatness in here as well as the forces of nature that are Bull Nakano and Jushin Liger. This batch of ten was a ton of fun and has me on a roll. It would have been done sooner but a Netflix vigilante named Daredevil got in the way.
21) 6/5/1989 Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu AJPW
This is one of few matches that It is hard to believe that could get jammed in between all the awesome Flair work from 1989 and still have a credible argument for match of the year. Both these guys dip in and out of my top five of all time depending on the day you ask me. They start with crazy strikes and Tenryu hits a bridging German. Tsuruta applies a headlock until Tenryu chops him in the corner. Tsuruta hits a bulldrog and applies a cobra clutch. Tenryu gets up and dodges all kinds of Tsuruta offense before eating a knee. Tsuruta goes back to the cobra clutch before taking it outside and throwing Tenryu into the guardrail. Tenryu gets rolled back into the ring where he clotheslines Tsuruta to the floor and then hits a flying bodypress off the apron. Tenryu takes control and works Jumbo’s leg including some smart punches to the side of the knee. Tenryu mounts him and throws crazy elbows and kicks. They’re on their feet and Tsuruta fires back with a belly-to-belly suplex and goes back to the cobra clutch. Tenryu gets the rope break and then takes a knee-strike followed by elbows. Tsuruta goes for a powerbomb but takes a backdrop. Tsuruta is back up and applies an abdominal stretch. They exchange holds and Tenryu lays in chops and headbutts sending Tsuruta to the floor. Tenryu hits a lariat for a near-fall. Tsuruta fights back with strikes and hits a running knee in the corner. Tsuruta picks up Tsuruta for a back suplex but Tsuruta kicks off the turnbuckle to modify it. Tsuruta hits a crazy lariat and then hits a running neckbreaker and a bulldog to show what a big Dustin Rhodes fan he is. Tsuruta bodyslams Tenryu and hits three knee-drops off the top rope. Tsuruta hits a Thesz Press for a near-fall and then does another knee to the head. Tsuruta struggles his way into a back suplex on Tenryu. Tsuruta goes for another Thesz Press but Tenryu hot-shots him on the top rope. Tsuruta hits a dropkick and then hits a knee-strike off the top rope. Tenryu dodges another knee, hits an enzuiguri and gets Tsuruta in a small package. Tenryu goes for a powerbomb but Tsuruta bakdrops him into a pin attempt. Tsuruta hits a lariat and goes for a belly-to-belly but Tenryu trips him up. Tenryu bodyslams Tsuruta and then misses an elbow off the second rope. Tsuruta misses a running elbow and Tenryu hits him with a lariat. Tenryu hits an enzugiguri and a powerbomb for a nearfall. Tenryu then struggles his way into a powerbomb and pins Tsuruta to become the second Triple Crown Champion. This is an absolute classic of a match that never gets old. It’s a wonder how much someone can get over winning a title without cashing in a briefcase or using interference. This is as much of a five-star match as you can get.
22) 11/15/1989 Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (“I Quit” Match, NWA Clash of the Champions IX: New York Knockout) NWA
Flair chops Funk so hard early he knocks him out of the ring. Flair mercilessly chops Funk in and out of the ring. They brawl in the ring and Funk gets Flair down and kicks him in the head. Funk controls Flair with punches and hits him with the microphone. Flair fires back but Funk keeps punching him and yells “Bring me that microphone” and yells at Flair to ay “I Quit”. Flair hits an inverted atomic drop but Funk hits a rolling neckbreaker. Funk starts slapping Flair who fights back with chops in the ring and outside. Flair takes Funk back inside and yells at him to quit. Funk fights back and hits a rolling neckbreaker and taunts Flair about his neck. Funk goes for a piledriver and implores the referee to ask Flair if he quits. Funk gives Flair a piledriver followed by a legdrop. Funk then gives Flair a piledriver on the floor. Funk hits Flair in the head with the microphone. Funk hits Flair with elbows to the head in the ring and they spill to the floor again where Funk slams Flair on a table. Funk sets up the table but Flair runs Funk’s head into it. Funk tries to escape but Flair tackles him and throws him face-first into the table. Flair crotches Funk on the guardrail. Flair drops a knee on Funk’s head and shortly after hits an inverted atomic drop. Flair starts working Funk’s leg and Funk does some top-notch selling. Flair hits chops and punches and then kicks Funk in knee. Funk escapes and limps up the aisle where Flair tackles him and works the leg on the outside. Funk is on the apron and Flair suplexes him inside. Flair goes for the figure four but Funk fights him off. Funk tries to suplex Flair into the ring but Flair suplexes Funk onto the apron. Funk is throwing wild punches as Flair chops away at him. Flair applies the figure four leglock. Funk flails around says his leg is breaking before saying “Yes I Quit!!!” It is hard to believe how much these two were at the top of their game in 1989. Five stars all the way.
23) 1/31/1990 Jushin Liger vs Naoki Sano NJPW
It’s always fascinating to see Liger when he was the young star of wrestling. And of course it’s always great to see Sano. Liger agrees as he slaps him right off the bat and then hits him with a flurry of shotei palm-strikes, a leg lariat and a dive off the apron. Sano fights back and then takes Liger outside, whipping him in apron and then giving him a piledriver on the floor. Sano takes him back inside for a tombstone and starts ripping at his mask. Sano beats Liger around the outside of the ring dragging him by his ripped mask. Sano gives Liger a humping piledriver and a legdrop in the ring. Liger is laid out with his mask hanging off and his face quite exposed. Sano punches away at Liger and gives him a superplex. Sano hits a spin-kick and applies a Boston Crab with Liger getting a rope break. Sano gives him a vertical suplex and then what in later days would be called a pedigree. Liger is bleeding as he makes a comeback including a flying a headscissors, dropkicking Sano to the floor and then hitting an awesome tope con giro. Liger gives Sano a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker in the ring and puts him in the Romero Special. Sano escapes and then puts Liger in an octopus hold. Sano gives Liger a fisherman’s suplex and then a bridging German suplex for a near-fall. Sano applies another Boston Crab and Liger gets to the ropes again. Sano gives him a full nelson suplex for another near-fall. Liger clotheslines Sano over the top rope. Sano comes back and hits a lariat followed shortly by a dropkick in the corner. Sano hits a spin-kick but misses a second one and Liger hits a flying headscissors. Sano gives Liger a high backdrop to the floor and then hits a plancha. Sano takes Liger inside and gives him an arm-capture suplex. Sano gives Liger a superplex but Liger twists and lands on top. Liger goes for a powerbomb but Sano counters into a hurracanrana. Sano delivers a tiger suplex and Liger gets his foot on the ropes. Sano goes for a German suplex but Liger counters into a lateral press. Liger drops Sano on his head with a German Suplex. Liger hits a Liger Bomb and then nails Sano with a tombstone. Liger hits a shooting star press and gets the pin. This was a great match that I would possibly rate just below five stars. Given the context of the time however, with the dives not being overdone in wrestling and being done really well here, as well as this being the earliest shooting star press I can think of, it would get the full snowflake treatment. Everyone knows Liger is awesome but it is fun to see how awesome Sano was and he is someone whose career warrants further examination.
24) 6/8/1990 Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta AJPW
I assume many people reading this article are familiar with this legendary match, but to recap, Misawa had recently unmasked after years of wrestling as Tiger Mask II. Jumbo Tsuruta had recently lost the Triple Crown title and was an all-time legend by this point. This is the definitive old generation vs new generation match. The fans are chanting “Misawa!!!” right away as the two lock up. Jumbo goes into grumpy mode and gives Misawa a stiff bodyslam. Misawa avoids a knee-lift from Jumbo and hits a dropkick. Jumbo responds with a big boot and a lariat and Misawa takes another nasty bodyslam. Misawa counters a back suplex and throws Jumbo to the outside where Misawa hits a missile dropkick off the apron. Misawa starts hitting Jumbo with elbows to the head and hits a tope. Misawa controls Jumbo inside with elbows and knees. Jumbo stretches out Misawa who reverses and applies a surfboard. They continue to struggle for the surfboard position. Misawa applies a hammerlock and Jumbo throws elbows at him. Misawa slaps Jumbo a couple times but ends up taking a knee-lift to the face. Jumbo applies an abdominal stretch but Misawa reverses it. Jumbo gets to the ropes and hiptosses Misawa to the floor. Jumbo throws him into the guardrail and takes him back inside. Jumbo gives Misawa a double-arm suplex and applies a sleeper. Jumbo throws Misawa in the air and drops him face-first on the mat. Jumbo tries it again but Misawa counters with a dropkick. Misawa hits a missile dropick and starts throwing elbows again. Misawa gives Jumbo a gut-wrench suplex. Misawa bodyslams Jumbo and gives him a frog splash. Misawa hits a lateral press but Jumbo catches him and guillotines him on the top tope. Jumbo gives Misawa a piledriver and shortly after hits a Thesz Press. Jumbo drops a knee on Misawa and hits a dropkick. Jumbo boots Misawa in the face and goes to the second rope. Misawa tries to stop him but takes a knee to the face. Jumbo bodylams Misawa and goes to the ropes again where Misawa stops him and attempts a superplex. Jumbo punches him off, hits a flying knee and then gives Misawa a powerbomb. Misawa blocks a double-arm suplex attempt and catches Jumbo in a backslide. Jumbo rolls outside and Misawa hits a dropkick through the ropes and goes to the top rope and hits a plancha. Misawa starts kicking Jumbo in the ring, avoids a lariat and gets Jumbo in an O’Connor Roll. Misawa hits a spin-kick and goes up top and does a splash but Jumbo gets his knees up. Jumbo goes back to the trusty bodyslam and applies a Boston Crab. Jumbo starts hitting Misawa with lariats. Jumbo lifts Misawa for a back suplex but Misawa kicks off the top turnbuckle to counter the momentum. Misawa gives Jumbo a German Suplex. Misawa goes for a double-arm suplex but Jumbo backdrops him into a pin attempt. Jumbo hits Misawa with a running knee-lift. Jumbo whips Misawa into the ropes and Misawa jumps off the turnbuckle but takes an elbow to the head. Jumbo then attempts a knee-strike but ends up in the ropes when Misawa moves. Misawa goes for a vertical suplex but Jumbo counters with his own attempt. Misawa floats over and goes for a German but Jumbo twists into a bodypress. Jumbo attempts a pin but Misawa rolls him over and gets the pinfall. This is one of the best elevating performances you will ever see. Misawa was made here and became the star of the 1990’s and the loss only added to the legend of Jumbo Tsuruta. I love this match and five stars barely does it justice.
25) 9/30/1990 Mitsuhara Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada vs Akira Taue and Jumbo Tsuruta AJPW
It’s easy to miss that this was rated five stars. It was tucked in when Dave reviewed a later match in 1991 and said it was being compared to this and that this was a five-star match. Misawa slaps Tsuruta in the face a few times. They both do a number of elbow-strikes. Kawada tags in and he and Misawa double-team Tsuruta with elbows. Kawada works a headlock until taking a back suplex. Taue tags in and hits a lariat and then a rolling neckbreaker. Kawada fights back and lays in some kicks. Misawa runs Taue’s head into the ringpost on the outside. Kawada hits Taue with a headkick inside and Misawa tags in and exchange more elbows with Taue. Tsuruta tags in, hits the knee-strike and applies a sleeper. Tsuruta whips Misawa into the turnbuckles and Misawa hits a flying headbutt. Kawada tags in and kicks away. A busted open Taue tags in and applies an abdominal stretch. He bodyslams Kawada and applies a Boston Crab. Tsuruta tags in and applies a toehold but Kawada kicks his way out. Kawada hits a ton of elbows but Tsuruta throws him outside. Kawada comes back in and takes knees to the gut from Tsuruta. Kawada gets thrown outside by Tsuruta a couple of times in between taking more shots to the gut. Tsuruta bodyslams him in the ring and applies a Boston Crab that is broken up by Misawa. Taue tags in to bodyslam Kawada and drop an elbow. Taue puts him in a bearhug and tags in Tsuruta who does another bodyslam. Tsuruta applies a figure four that is broken by a Misawa legdrop. Misawa and Taue get into a fight and trade strikes. Kawada is up on the inside and hits Tsuruta with a lariat. Misawa tags in and hits a dropkick and a senton. Misawa takes Tsuruta outside and runs him into the ringpost. Back inside, Kawada tags in and hits a rolling kick before Taue tags in and dropkicks him. Kawada lays in the kicks and knees to Taue’s head and Taue fights back with forearms and tsuppari slaps. Taue hits a back elbow and Misawa tags in and stomps away on Taue and hits a senton. Kawada gets Taue outside and runs him up the aisle and into the entrance-way.
This match needs a paragraph break. Taue returns to the ring for a faceful of Kawada Kicks. Kawada hits a leg lariat and he and Misawa hit a double suplex and a legdrop/senton combo. They hit a double dropkick on Tsuruta. Kawada and Taue are on the floor and Taue rolls in for a strike exchange with Misawa. Kawada and Misawa hit a leg lariat/spinkick combo. Misawa takes Taue to the floor and Taue fires back with a big lariat. Taue hits Kawada with headbutts inside but takes knees and a kick to the head. Kawada suplexes Taue and Misawa hits him with a frog splash. Kawada goes for a powerbomb but takes a backdrop from Taue. Tsuruta tags in and goes wild with a jumping knee on Kawada and a dropkick and a back suplex on Misawa. Tsuruta whips Misawa into the turnbuckle and Misawa tries a jumping headbutt but gets tossed to the mat. Kawada tags in and takes a dropkick and a powerbomb from Tsuruta. Taue tags in, bodyslams Kawada and drops elbows. Taue hits an eblow-drop off the top rope. Kawada fires back with a backdrop driver. Misawa tags in and gives Taue a back suplex and a reverse neckbreaker. Kawada tags in and gives Taue a brainbuster. Misawa is back in and hits a back-kick. Tsuruta tags in and hits a huge lariat. Kawada tags in and takes another big lariat. Tsuruta gives him a boot to the face and applies a Boston Crab that transitions into a single leg crab. Tsuruta applies a sleeper. Kawada gets out and tags Misawa who hits a flying shoulder-block off the top. Kawada tags in and hits a top-rope moonsault onto a standing Tsuruta for a two-count. Tsuruta fights back and tags Taue who hits a Russian legsweep, a flying elbow and a piledriver. Taue throws Kawada outside and hits a tope suicida. They’re back inside and Misawa tags in and tries to suplex Taue who gives him a DDT. Taue hits a Samoan Drop and an atomic drop into a boot by Tsuruta. Misawa blocks another atomic drop but does a bridging German that is broken up by Tsuruta. Kawada then holds Tsuruta for a flying shoulder from Misawa. Kawada bearhugs Taue for a flying elbow by Misawa. Taue rolls up Kawda or a two-count and they trade small packages. Misawa is in and hits a Tiger Driver on Taue. Tsuruta breaks it up and then takes a number of rolling kicks from Kawada. Tsuruta gives Kawada a double-arm suplex and a rolling neckbreaker. Taue puts Kawada in a Boston Crab again but is stopped by Misawa. Taue hits a running neckbreaker. Taue and Kawada trade tsuppari slaps and strikes. Misawa gives Taue a Tiger Driver but Taue is in the ropes. Misawa hits a back-kick and bodyslams Taue. Kawada comes off the top with a knee-drop as the bell rings to signal the forty-five minute time limit expiring. This was match was great but falls a little short of five stars for me. The ending stretch was great but some of the set-up wasn’t as great as you see in the upcoming six-man tags with these guys. It is incredible to see how great Taue was in 1990 and if he, Kawada and Misawa are three of the four pillars of All-Japan then Tsuruta is the foundation.
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