Super Grade Jr. Heavyweight Tag League
review by Mike Campbell
I was requested to do this review, and I try to be nothing if not accommodating. Fans of tag team wrestling and of NJPW juniors rejoice, because this is the best of both worlds, jack! The only thing missing is Lyger (broken leg), but we’ve still got Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero in their primes, and a tag team consisting of Chris Benoit and Shinjiro Ohtani!
Tokimitzu Ishizawa... gives the world a sneak peak of what to expect when he dons the mask to become Kendo Ka Shin
DEAN MALENKO/TOKIMITZU ISHIZAWA vs. YUKI ISHIKAWA/SHOICHI FUNAKI
At first this looks like some kind of faux MMA sort of match. It was all about the mat game, with all four wrestlers getting to show their prowess on the mat, and everyone gets in at least one nice counter. It was technically fine, but extremely short on excitement. Then Ishizawa found the anger that turned him into Kendo Ka Shin, and this started to rule the earth. Ishizawa snaps like Ken Shamrock and starts to put the boots right to Funaki’s head, and Funaki doesn’t stay down, he gets right back up and tries to hand it back. The two senior members of the teams follow suit and this turns into an angry and hate-filled affair. Malenko and Ishizawa focus on Funaki’s knee for a bit, Dean even whips out a legbar counter that’s straight out of the old AKI engine N64 games. Dean also gets in a cool spot where he tries to whip Ishikawa into the ropes but Ishikawa puts on the breaks, so Dean dropkicks him. It seems really simple, but the timing was perfect, it was just done so fluidly. The only thing lacking here was a strong selling performance from anyone, but that comes with the territory with the shootstyle vibe that they were going for. The leg work pays off when Funaki taps to the Texas Cloverleaf. This was great fun when they were showing attitude, but the first half was so dull, that it’s not much more than that.
EL SAMURAI/FLYING SCORPIO vs. MASAYOSHI MOTEGI/KAMIKAZE
As great as El Samurai is, he can’t work for four, he puts in a valiant effort, but he’s got too much working against him. Scorpio is too busy showing off his flips to help with the match. Kamikaze badly blows a Frankensteiner, so expecting anything from him is futile. And Motegi only has a good dive (to kick off a dive sequence) and a Lucha inspired armdrag to offer. So yeah, Samurai is on his own. He does a good job, considering what he’s got to work with. He lays a decent sized beating on Kamikaze, including a nasty Thunderfire powerbomb, and when Motegi and Kamikaze get an extended control segment, Samurai’s selling and the close near falls really makes it seem like they’re about to put him away. The real kicker is that after carrying the entire match on his back, Scorpio gets the glory when he puts away Kamikaze with the 450. The dive sequence that Motegi started was the only time that Scorpio’s flying and flipping around actually looked like it fit into the match. I can only assume that Lyger’s injury caused the teams to have to be reshuffled, because Samurai deserved better.
SUPER DELFIN/TAKA MICHINOKU vs. GRAN HAMADA/NORIO HONAGA
There are some things to like about this, but a good bit of this is just meandering and dull. Honaga and Hamada show some flashes of it, but they’re not the grumpy veterans you’d expect them to be, and Delfin and TAKA don’t look like the spunky babyface foils. In fact, the most heelish spot of the match is from Delfin and TAKA, when they put Honaga in a tree of woe and then step on his groin. Another surprising thing is that Delfin spends a good portion of this on the apron, considering that he’d made it to the finals of the annual super junior tournament that year it seems like he should look like TAKA’s only hope, but that’s not the case, TAKA does just fine without him, handling Honaga (The IWGP Jr. Champion at this time) with ease.
The wrestling itself is just sort of there, nobody seemed to have any sort of idea where to take the match, so they just do whatever comes to mind, without any apparent direction. There’s a fun heel moment early on when Honaga escapes a TAKA chinlock by biting his thumb, and Honaga works over the hand and thumb area following that, but it doesn’t wind up meaning anything. There’s also a brief point when it looks like Delfin is going to step up and try to assert his position in the match, but Hamada stops him dead in his tracks and rocks him with a headbutt. It’s not a TAKA match without at least one breathtaking dive (which wound being a fake out), and a nice spot where Delfin hits a vertical suplex and TAKA springboards in with a big splash. But its just work being done for the sake of doing it, and there’s nothing for storytelling or any meaningful exchanges between any combination of them to make the match anything more. The closest that this comes to having anything like that is the intensity shown by Hamada, in the form of head headbutt to Delfin, the slap he gives TAKA to break the abdominal stretch, and the final stretch where Hamada plants him with a powerbomb and backdrop to finish him off. And considering how spread out those three moments are, it’s more likely a coincidence than anything else.
WILD PEGASUS/SHINJIRO OHTANI vs. BLACK TIGER/GREAT SASUKE
Is this match from New Japan in 1994 or the NWA in 1987? This is structured exactly like your run of the mill tag match between The Rock ‘n’ Rolls and The Midnights, with Sasuke getting the Morton treatment, which is one of the last things one would expect out of a match between these four. But the style of match they go with isn’t what’s the most pleasantly surprising thing to find, that honor goes to the way all four of them work to bring Ohtani up to the level of the men he’s in the ring with. At this stage in 1994 Ohtani was barely a two year pro, he’s participated in the Super J-Cup, and the last two super juniors tournaments, but had very little success to show for it. Ohtani is paired off with the winner of the J-Cup, and wrestling the other J-Cup finalist (who even scored a pin over the almighty Lyger) and a foreigner who has a successful and historical gimmick. So it looks for all the world like Ohtani is the odd man out, and he’s perceived as the guy who can only lose for his team or the guy who’s only way to victory is by riding the coattails.
However, perception and reality are two different things, as Ohtani shows here. Yes, Ohtani certainly does step up, but he does require some help from Benoit. One of the first big spots of the match was a trademark Sasuke spot, his swan dive to avoid being taken over when Benoit dropped down to throw him with his legs. But Benoit isn’t deterred and gets right to his feet and nearly takes off Sasuke head off with a lariat. Ohtani doesn’t take the hint though (the hint being to just keep on trucking when something unexpected happens), and when Ohtani gets his chance to wrestle Sasuke he winds up on the wrong side of a nasty roundhouse to the head. Ohtani doesn’t get his own eye-for-an-eye revenge spot with his springboard dropkick like you might expect, but he does wind up getting one over on him in a very different way. At one point, Sasuke gets Ohtani into the surfboard hold, one of the more commonplace spots in Japan, usually the idea is for the underdog to struggle and fight to get out and keep getting denied, until he finally reverses the hold. But Ohtani finally learns from Benoit and instead of getting deterred, he breaks it with a dropkick before Sasuke can apply too much pressure.
After Benoit’s big powerbomb to Sasuke, Benoit and Ohtani both start to dish out the punishment and this is another occurrence of Ohtani trying things his own way without much success and then taking a cue from his partner. One of the first things that Ohtani does is put Sasuke in a half crab hold, it’s hard to fault Ohtani for it too much because it’s always been the staple hold of the NJ young boys. But it doesn’t have much effect here, and Sasuke doesn’t appear to be in real danger from the hold, and Eddie strolls on in and breaks it up with an eye poke. Ohtani then switches gears to the more high impact stuff that Benoit does, like a powerbomb and a big jumping tombstone and gets some heated near falls. Benoit and Ohtani show some teamwork as well with an Ohtani spin kick into a Dragon suplex and an Ohtani dropkick aiding a Benoit powerbomb.
While the selling that Sasuke does certainly helps get the message across, it’s hard to give Sasuke too much praise for it, because all he really does is lay there like a sloth. Considering the stuff that Benoit and Ohtani are doing to him he probably should be damn near dead. The near falls are quite heated thanks to the abuse that Sasuke is willing to take, and Eddie’s ability to break up the pins at seemingly the last nanosecond. In that sense, the finish almost takes away from the match. Benoit and Ohtani attempt some sort of Doomsday Device type move, only for Eddie to pull Ohtani off the top, and it allows Sasuke to get a surprise cradle on Benoit for the upset. Considering that Sasuke seemed to be inches away from death, it’s odd that he was able to score the win without any real assist from Eddie. There were certainly worse ways that they could have gotten from points A to B, and Sasuke’s win over Lyger in the J-Cup was similar in the vein of Sasuke snatching victory from the jaws of seemingly sure defeat, so it’s not entirely unprecedented. The real irony though is that after Ohtani made several errors that he was able to correct, Benoit’s single error wound up costing them the match. ****
A bunch of still photos show the results of the rest of the tournament, the results don’t show anything especially shocking, aside from Scorpio and Samurai finishing so low (sixth place out of eight teams). The end result has four teams tied for first place at ten points each.
WILD PEGASUS/OHTANI vs. DEAN MALENKO/TOKIMITZU ISHIZAWA (Semi Finals)
The growth of Ohtani continues! There isn’t enough shown here to see exactly how good it might have been. The Benoit/Malenko exchanges are as good and as crisp as you’d expect of them at this point in their careers. The real story here is Ohtani showing his own worth to the team. There’s a great spot when Ohtani blind tags in and gets a near fall on Malenko with a sunset flip while he’s trying to grapevine Benoit’s legs for the Cloverleaf. Ohtani shows that he isn’t able to hang with Malenko and Ishizawa on the mat, as evidenced by the fact that both times he tries, he winds up in leg bars and Benoit has to save. But he’s able to hang with them in other ways, there’s a good example of this when Malenko tries to knock down Ohtani with short-arm lariats, Ohtani stays on his feet after two of them, and then he ducks the third attempts a Dragon suplex. Dean had the leg bar counter ready, but Ohtani still made his point. Ohtani makes the point again (this time getting the win for his team) after Benoit saves Ohtani from Ishizawa’s Oklahoma Roll into leg bar, Ishizawa tried for the move again, only for Ohtani to cradle him for the three count. Ohtani wasn’t just following Benoit’s lead this time, he was showing, on his own, that he can fend for himself.
BLACK TIGER/GREAT SASUKE vs. GRAN HAMADA/NORIO HONAGA (Semi Finals)
Honestly, I think this the most disappointing match of the whole tape. It’s nothing overtly bad, but it’s basically a combination of what both teams showed in their earlier matches. Hamada and Honaga, once again, don’t go all out with their nastiness, and there isn’t any real sense of urgency to what they do. It’s not that Honaga and Hamada didn’t have *anything* to do, they did plenty, they just didn’t seem to do much that mattered, and it’s telling with how dead the crowd is, and how big they react when the match does look to be going somewhere. A prime example of this is when Honaga started working over Sasuke’s leg, and the fans started getting into it. Honaga puts on a figure four, and Eddie breaks up with the eye poke. The leg is forgotten about and the crowd goes back to being dead.
Eddie and Sasuke have enough things that they can do to help offset that, but they don’t do very many of them, and Sasuke just seems content to let the veteran team control the action. Eddie and Sasuke’s dual slingshot senton spot was great, and Eddie has a couple of cute counters to some stuff that Honaga tries, and Eddie rolls though Hamada’s rana for the win. It’s reasonable to assume that Eddie and Sasuke wouldn’t need the same big guns that they’d need for Lyger or Benoit, but they needed to bring more to the table, especially if Honaga and Hamada weren’t up to the task.
WILD PEGASUS/SHINJIRO OHTANI vs. BLACK TIGER/GREAT SASUKE (Finals)
Wow. These teams do not like each other. Eddie whips Benoit with his cape and Benoit takes his head off with a lariat, Ohtani and Sasuke join in the brawl and it’s on like neck bone! They brawl all over the floor and Eddie beats Ohtani within an inch of his life with a chair. This is structured differently than their previous match, instead of Sasuke taking the bulk of the abuse, it’s more equal with all four wrestlers getting their chance to shine. Ohtani continues proving himself by being able to hang with Sasuke and get in his fair share of offense, including a great moment where Sasuke gets Ohtani on the mat and tries to tap him with a leg bar, only for Ohtani to catch him sleeping and trap Sasuke in his own leg bar. Ohtani and Sasuke also have a nice sunset flip/jackknife near fall exchange. Ohtani and Sasuke do the bulk of the heavy lifting in the form of taking punishment and selling like they’re about to die, and Benoit and Eddie bring the intensity and nastiness. Benoit’s anger when Eddie breaks up the pin after his big powerbomb is something to behold.
One could argue this as a spotfest, and honestly, they wouldn’t be totally off the mark with that comment. Benoit and Eddie in particular pepper the match with a fair amount of big moves, but the difference is that all the big moves dished out are given respect. Unlike, say, a big match with Yoshinobu Kanemaru, with head drops and bombs galore, and almost zero selling of them. It once again gets to the point that without Benoit and Eddie making saves and breaking up pins, Ohtani and Sasuke would be done. There’s quite a few instances here where they play off the previous match. There’s an especially nice moment, when Eddie locks Ohtani in a Scorpion Deathlock and then taunts Benoit, in retaliation for Benoit doing the same thing in the earlier match. Ohtani also goes back to the single crab hold, but learns his lesson from Eddie’s eye poke and does it closer to his corner. Benoit and Ohtani hit a Doomsday dropkick, and Eddie and Sasuke gets a nice revenge spot with a Doomsday senton a bit later.
Not even the botched attempted finish can put a damper on this. Ohtani had taken a huge beating, so it’s more than feasible that he was unable to hit the rana all way. In addition, Eddie had been showing a knack for good counters, so the powerbomb out of the rana plays into that as well, so it’s not like the spot going wrong killed their momentum. If anything, I think it added to it, because it was now the second time that the spot had gone wrong, and this time around Benoit made sure that they wouldn’t lose the match because of it, by taking out Sasuke on the floor. Ohtani isn’t to be denied though and he just scoops up Eddie in a Dragon suplex for the win. Ohtani no selling the powerbomb is as close this comes to having anything really blown off, and it’s more than forgivable since it was just a blown spot anyway. And again, it actually adds to the match with Ohtani stepping up and showing how much he wanted to get the win and prove himself. ****1/4
Conclusion: There are only two reasons to hunt this down, but they’re two damn good reasons. The other matches certainly dispel the myth that the NJPW juniors could just crank out awesome matches without batting an eyelash, but when they were on, they were on! Highest recommendation to pick this up!
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