Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue faced each other in an all-out, ****1/4 bloody brawl at Korakuen Hall. Before Kawada and Taue formed a tag team, they had an intense rivalry, with their interactions in singles, tags and six-mans always standing out because of how much they hated each other. All Japan did not run short brawls like this with their top talent very often, which made this stand out even more for being unique.
Naoki Sano, who quietly had a great wrestling career, took on Jerry Flynn at a PWFG show in Yokohama in a **** match in front of a hot crowd. Sano made his name working as a pro-style heel in the feud with Jushin Liger in 1989-1990, but he showed his versatility by working the shoot-style at a high level as well.
JWP held a card at Korakuen Hall which featured one of the best matches of the interpromotional era of Joshi when Mayumi Ozaki and Dynamite Kansai faced Takako Inoue and Yumiko Hotta in a ****1/2 encounter. The match was an incredible combination of wrestling, brawling, heat, stiffness, matwork and execution and nicely positioned everyone involved for future matches in both JWP and rival AJW.
Jim Cornette cut a great promo setting up a match between Terry Funk and The Bullet (Bob Armstrong wrestling under a mask after falling out of power in SMW) where if The Bullet lost, he would be required to unmask, kiss Jim Cornette’s feet and leave SMW forever. However, if The Bullet won, Bob Armstrong would once again be the SMW Commissioner. In a funny touch, we learned that Mama Cornette, the Maris Crane of wrestling, was on the SMW Board of Directors. Also on the show, James Mitchell, in his earliest persona as Daryl Van Horn, hyped the incoming Prince Kharis, who we could say much more about. Mitchell had a bigger audience when he took on roles like James Vandenberg (manager of Mortis and Wrath in 1997) or the Sinister Minister in ECW, but this one was my favorite. He called the Bible a “stupid book of fairytales” in his promo, and if an obnoxious Atheist cannot get heat in America’s Bible Belt, then professional wrestling has failed us as a concept.
Bret and Owen Hart cut a promo on WWF Superstars in reaction to the 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty winning the WWF World Tag Team Titles from The Quebecers on Monday Night RAW. Bret regretted that they would not have an opportunity to challenge for the belts, but he was also congratulatory; meanwhile, while Owen was more disappointed. Bret and Owen continued building up their break-up and feud with Bret telling everyone that he wanted to devote the rest of his career to teaming with Owen and that he would stay out of singles competition from there forward.
Steve Austin had yet another good *** match on WCW Saturday Night, this time against his former tag team partner Brian Pillman. For those who like matches where a wrestler works on a body part, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here when Austin targets Pillman’s arm and shoulder. After Pillman scored the upset win, Austin and manager Col. Rob Parker attacked Pillman and attempted to put him in a chicken suit until Dustin Rhodes made the save. The show did a 2.5 rating, continuing an upward trend for WCW television ratings at the time.
In a fun prelude to the Royal Rumble pay-per-view where the 1-2-3 Kid and Bam Bam Bigelow would find themselves on the opposite side of a match to crown new WWF World Tag Team Champions, the two squared off on Action Zone in a fun ***1/4 match that nicely played up the size difference between the two. The show did a 1.3 rating.
Another Billionaire Ted skit aired on Monday Night RAW. This time, the WWF whined about WCW signing away their stars by saying it fit Ted Turner’s business model of buying old assets and repackaging them as new assets, like when he colorized the movie Casablanca. They also took more shots at Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, specifically poking fun at Savage for starting in wrestling in the 1970s, ironically, much like their own WWF World Champion at the time, Bret Hart. Also on the show, the WWF continued to dip their toes into more adult themes with Sunny in a bathtub doing a spot for Monday Night RAW and Vince McMahon conducting a fascinating interview with Goldust. While interviewing Goldust, Vince claimed that most men were homophobic and Lawler said, “He’s here, he’s queer, get used to it!” in reference to Goldust on commentary. Goldust and Razor Ramon later had a fun brawl that spilled outside the arena and into the snow. The show did a 2.4 rating. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.
WCW Monday Nitro aired live from Miami, FL. The best match of the show was a familiar one to WCW fans, as Ric Flair defended the World Title against Sting. The finish continued the Sting-Luger self parody storyline with Luger clearly hitting Sting with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone, only to be warned of this by Hogan and Savage and respond by saying, “I need to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I’m gonna go talk to him and make sure!” When Sting left the ringside area, Hogan tore into Savage for losing his match with Luger earlier in the evening, coming across as an overbearing jerk. Remember that Hogan was baffled by the jeering crowd response he was starting to receive almost every week. Segments like this did not reverse that trend at all. Also on the show, the Four Horsemen, spearheaded by Arn Anderson, and Dungeon of Doom made a pact to stick together, which was risked when Brian Pillman got a little too excited and started yelling at Sullivan’s group. Arn responded by slapping him in the face. The show was headlined by Hulk Hogan vs Meng and did a whopping 3.5 rating in WCW’s first ratings victory over the WWF of 1996. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.
GAEA held a show at Korakuen Hall where Las Cachorras Orientales (Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda), more commonly referred to as the LCO, faced Meiko Satomura and Sonoko Kato in a ***1/2 match. The match was a total war with great selling and lots of action and blood.
Kevin Nash took special pride in harassing The Giant on Thunder. He attempted to provoke Giant into hitting him, as Giant was prevented from touching Nash before their scheduled match at Souled Out. Nash walked to the ring casually sipping a cup of coffee before throwing it in Giant’s face. Also on the show, Rey Misterio Jr. defeated Juventud Guerrera to regain the WCW Cruiserweight Title in a ***1/2 match.
All Japan held a strong card in Yokohama, which contained the first ever Vader vs Kenta Kobashi singles match. The match did get some love but I thought it was underwhelming, which was unfortunate because these two should have had great chemistry. The real show stealer for me was a ****1/4 undercard match between Yoshinari Ogawa and Masahito Kakihara. Ogawa was not exactly loved by most hardcore fans at the time, perhaps because he was nothing like any of the top guys in All Japan, but hindsight proves that he should have been adored, as he stepped up in a big way as Mitsuharu Misawa’s tag team partner. Ogawa was the lowest ranked guy in six-man tags for years and usually took the fall in big matches instead of the real stars. He had a turning point near the end of 1998 when he developed an increasingly desperate persona and Misawa gave him his seal of approval.
Roland Alexander’s All Pro Wrestling, which was heavily featured in the film Beyond The Mat, held a card in San Jose, CA, that included one of the most talked about indy matches of the late 1990s when Mike Modest faced Christopher Daniels in a ***1/2 match. The match served as a prototype of the independent wrestling boom that began when ECW and WCW folded two years later, and was also voted the third best U.S. indy match of the decade by the readers of Deathvalleydriver.com in 2001. I personally would not have it quite that high, but the match is very good and worth seeing, especially in comparison to most indy wrestling happening at the same time which was rarely fundamentally sound, much less good.
In The “To Watch” Queue:
Atsushi Onita & Sambo Asako vs Mr. Pogo & The Gladiator (FMW 01/15/91)
Atlantis, Felino & Emilio Charles Jr. vs Blue Panther, Black Warrior & Dr. Wagner Jr. (CMLL 01/15/99)