The Art of Wrestling: Pro Wrestling Actually Matters
I decided some time ago that I was going to change the name of this column to celebrate my one-year anniversary of writing for Inside Pulse. I liked the name “The Beautiful Thing” since I really do consider wrestling to be a beautiful thing, but there were times when the column title awkwardly made it seem as though I consider myself a beautiful thing and other time where it just didn’t seem to fit the subject at hand. I think that the new column title, “The Art of Wrestling” is a more straightforward way of getting across what it is that I’m writing about.
I sincerely consider Pro Wrestling to be an art, even though I’m well aware of the pitfalls and limitations of approaching it that way. One of the great joys of writing this column has been getting to correspond with people all over the world who appreciate wrestling in a similar manner. The feedback I receive means a lot to me. It keeps me inspired, it has helped introduce me to many great matches and wrestlers that I might not have heard of otherwise, and perhaps most importantly, it has made it crystal clear that I am far from alone in enjoying the various aspects of the art of professional wrestling.
One of the many interesting people that I’ve been exchanging emails with lately is Andrew Riche, who was with his father at their home in St. Bernard Parish, LA, right next to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. I was pretty happy to get another message from him on Wednesday: Not only was he O.K., he even had computer access. In part, he wrote:
I watched Randy Orton versus Rey Mysterio on the past show and I didn’t even care if it was good or not b/c it was the first non-hurricane TV I had seen since Monday. I had a smile on my face watching it b/c I knew that life could go on, even without your home. I may have lost most of my belongings and my wrestling DVD’s and tapes, but that’s ok, b/c I still know in my mind and heart how good the matches were and how beautiful the “Beautiful Thing” really is.
At the risk of being maudlin, I appreciate Andrew letting me reprint that in this column, because I think it says more than I could ever hope to about how much wrestling can mean to us as fans. I’m sure that many of the people reading this have, at one time or another, found that wrestling can help carry them through a tough time. Most of us aren’t going through anything like what Andrew and his family are going through, but it still probably wouldn’t hurt to take some time this week to sit down and watch a great match or two.
The Best of Japan 2004
Once again, thanks to Rob Hunter and Golden Boy Tapes for putting this DVD set together.
Volume Three, Match One: American Dragon vs. Koji Kanemoto, BOSJ Semi-Final Match (6/13/04)
So Kanemoto, who seems to be fighting a rib, oblique, or hip injury, only made it to the semis because Lyger had to drop out due to a more serious injury. This adds significantly to the psychology and the story of the match, and Danielson and Kanemoto play off of it very nicely. The match is everything I’d hoped it would be; it’s full of mutual hatred and stiff strikes and clever mat work. Koji’s injury puts them on a more level playing field so the story is about anger and violence rather than being about the young foreigner trying to prove himself against the legend.
The crowd responds to Kanemoto with a passion that befits a man of his stature, but they also react to American Dragon right away. This is different from his earlier matches on the set, where he’d needed to win the crowd over. American Dragon just goes right after the injury, and the crowd hates him for doing that and they love Kanemoto for coming right back from it.
When I talk about American Dragon taking the boot scrapes representing everything that I meant when I named my column “The Beautiful Thing” you will either get it or you won’t.
Kanemoto takes the Super Backdrop Suplex like the man that he is, but Danielson can’t put him away. Koji goes after the knee and once again American Dragon sells it beautifully for the rest of the match. They do a Benoit vs. Angle series of submission reversals that has me giving them a one-man standing ovation in my living room. In the end, Am Drag taps out to a crazy knee hold/heel lock combo. Kanemoto goes on to the finals where he, appropriately enough, faces Tiger Mask IV.
Rating: Bajillion stars.
Volume Four, Match Six: American Dragon vs. U-30 Openweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi (10/24/04)
I can’t be objective about this match. It’s my favorite young North American Pro Wrestler against my favorite young Japanese wrestler. It’s the guy I consider the best in the world against the guy I hope will be the savior of New Japan. If there is any justice, some day we will all look back on this match as the legendary first meeting of these true masters of The Art of Wrestling.
Tanahashi, who is built like someone took an air hose to Chris Benoit and expanded him to about six feet and two forty, has 80s metal-style burgundy streaks in his awesome mullet. Am Drag looks a bit like Mirco Cro Cop, with his widow’s peak flat top. He heats things up right away, with a Sting-style suicide dive between the second and third ropes that sees him half collide with Tanahashi and half smash into the guardrail. One of the great guilty pleasures of Japanese wrestling follows, as you can clearly hear Danielson cursing loudly, then the ref asking if he’s all right. Dragon makes it back into the ring only to almost immediately get suplexed back out, where he smashes into the rail a second time.
American Dragon and Hiroshi Tanahashi have really strong ring chemistry. Everything either one does in this match looks great, and it is all crisp without being overly smooth. I’m guessing there’s a bond of shared Benoit or Dynamite fandom and perhaps more than a little mutual respect. Towards the end of the match, when they are presumably worn down, the action gets a little rough, almost sloppy, but in a very good way. It communicates a sense of struggle and desperation, which adds greatly to the drama of the build towards the finish. I don’t want to give away the ending because I’d guess that the majority of the people reading this haven’t seen the match yet.
This is well worth seeking out, it’s a beautiful match. I’d rank it as one of the many American Dragon bouts that I simply love watching, with the added bonus that (unlike the famous matches against Low Ki, Doug Williams, Paul London, Austin Aries, Homicide, and so on) I don’t have to listen to the ROH commentators.
Beast of NOAH 2004, Volume Three Match Two: Low Ki vs. GHC Jr. Hwt. Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru (9/10/04)
This is a pretty interesting match both by virtue of it being Low Ki challenging for a title in NOAH and because it’s Kanemaru’s 1st title defense after winning the belt back from Lyger. It’s also a good match to use if you want to show Low Ki’s big moves to a friend who hasn’t seen them yet, as he pulls out the Rolling Koppu Kicks, the Dragon Whip Shining Wizard (I’m sure there’s a different name for it, but you know what I mean), a regular Ki Krusher, a running Ki Krusher from the ramp into the ring, the Phoenix Splash, and some other fun stuff. I watched this match with some casual fans, and they loved it. I enjoyed watching it with them, too.
I don’t think it’s a match you’d want to watch too seriously, though. It’s pretty deeply flawed. Kanemaru doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in making Low Ki look good. The champ bumps for Ki’s big moves, and for his stiff strikes, but then he doesn’t sell them at all. He even goes so far as to kick out of the Phoenix Splash, even though the ropes were right there for him to use. The finishing sequence saw Kanemaru block an attempted Super Ki Krusher and counter into a Super Spike DDT for two, a Brainbuster for two, and finally a Tornado Brainbuster for the pin. That might look good on paper, but in actuality it came off as a little anti-climactic after seeing all of Low Ki’s explosive moves more or less blown off. Looking it up, I see that Black Tiger wrote pretty much the same thing in his review on Rolling Germans, so it’s not just me who feels that way. I think I enjoyed the match more than he did, though.
I’m Off To Watch Some Shoot Fights
Well, that’s three more matches from the set, so I’ve only got 85 left to go! I’m going to try and cover the whole Best of G-1 2004 sub-set next week, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull that off.
Someone wrote to ask me what I plan to write about once I run out of great matches. I have no shortage of ideas, but I’m not in any danger of running out of matches any time soon. Over the course of the summer I’ve acquired something close to a hundred wrestling and MMA DVDs, all of them packed with great action.
Now I’ve finished my column, I’ve done my workout, I’ve completed all of the jobs I needed to do today, and It’s just after 10. I’m not in an overly sociable frame of mind. I’ve already checked out Ditch’s column and the compilation reviews in the Games section, and I’m too tired to do any serious reading. I’ve already watched a ton of wrestling, including re-watching the matches that I wrote about this week and the ones that I want to write about next week. I need something to fill that gap.
Tonight, I’m going to enjoy one of my Death Valley Driver Video Review Shoot Comp DVDs. I find that shoot fights are just different enough from Pro Wrestling to be a perfect fit when I’m in the mood to be semi-passively entertained, but not in the mood for more Misawa, Hart, or Ohtani. I’ll go into much greater detail about that one of these weeks.
Thanks for Reading!