NJPW In The 1980s
Bob Backlund vs Stan Hansen WWF Championship 9/30/80
This is Stan's first WWF Championship shot in Japan, but certainly not his first crack at the title. He famously broke Bruno Sammartino's neck in Madison Square Garden in 1976 and would go on to have title matches against Pedro Morales and Backlund, then renewing his feud with Bruno in 1981. Bob is so much more SWOLL than he ever gets credit for. Similarly, the ref is way jacked for a ref. Stan tries for the lariat early, clearly not interested in letting this turn into a mat based match. Bob works the lariat arm, which is as solid of a game plan as you can have with Stan Hansen. Stan, surprisingly, takes it to the mat. Backlund lifts him like a baby and then they start brawling. Bob holds his own. Actually, more than his own, as he can do wrestling take downs at will as well as throw down. Every Backlund match I've ever seen has him do something I never would have expected, like a fucking TIGER KNEE. Hansen does some surprising things as well, like a leap frog and sunset flip. Being that this was 1980 and an inter-promotional title match, it had a non-finish. The two started brawling around ringside, using chairs, throwing fists. It was pretty rad. I thoroughly enjoy Bob Backlund matches. He might be the most idiosyncratic wrestler I've ever seen. He's just a weirdo. It doesn't mean his matches are always entertaining, but they are always interesting.
Tiger Mask vs El Solar 9/23/81
I feel some lucha fuckery is on the way. Tiger's mask is the coolest shit. Swag to the max. El Solar started in 1975 and was known for his mat skills. As of 2015, he was still wrestling, because lucha is crazy like that. Oh sweet, this has an anaconda vise in it. About 20 years before Tenzan started doing it. Solar appears to dislocate his shoulder, so he has the ref jerk it back in for him. I don't think it worked. Things get very awkward because this dude only has one arm and can't really do much. So Tiger Mask KICKS THE FUCKING SHIT OUT OF HIM FOR IT. Like 20 kicks in a row. You think he's done after the spinning back kick, but then he just keeps going and going. Some to the head, some to the bad arm. He gives no fucks. Tiger Mask wins via a standing kimura do the bad arm. What an awkward match. Two things get me every time about Tiger Mask: How unbelievably fast he was, and how guys are STILL stealing his spots pushing 40 years later. That dude's influence on junior style can not be overstated. Even crazier is that he was doing the spots back then better than most guys do them today.
Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant 5/27/83
Hogan would return to the WWF at the end of the year, and Andre was just slightly out of his prime, so this should be very interesting. Fans are chanting for Hogan before the match starts, and Andre is giving the ref all kinds of shit. Andre seems pretty pissed about the reaction to Hogan. So much so that he threatens to leave the match. I see a young Nobuhiko Takada at ringside. Andre is full on Zbyszko-tier in his stalling techniques. Hogan gets tired of it and chases him into the crowd to start the match. Andre begging off. So strange to see. The story seems to be that Andre doesn't want any of Hogan and uses his size to get submissions, but Hulk is strong enough that he can power out. Andre gets frustrated and the match ends up being thrown out when chairs and brawling come into play. Very strange match. I don't think I've seen an Andre match where he was the stalling heel who knew he was outmatched. I don't want to say he was working as a chickenshit heel, but he wasn't far from it. Hogan in 1983-1986 was the most over dude in both America and the US simultaneously. Crazy. And ever after 1986, anytime he'd return to Japan was like welcoming back a god.
Bruiser Brody/Jimmy Snuka vs Masked Superstar/Dick Murdoch 12/6/85
I've seen Snuka and Brody team together. They were pretty awesome. This is second most over WWF face Snuka, which was a different dude than the Snuka as part of the team that won the RWTL in 1981. Murdoch/Superstar were also WWF guys at this point, which is weird, as the WWF/NJPW relationship died out about 2 months BEFORE this match. Quite curious. Brody is NOT happy with the fans chanting for Dick/Superstar. But then they chant along with the HUSS HUSS HUSS stuff, so maybe they're just confused. Masked Superstar is Ax, if you are unfamiliar. The crowd is super into Dick Murdoch, who does the bulk of the work for his team. They also love Brody. I think what everyone wants to see coming out of this is a Murdock/Brody singles match. The place lights up for all of their exchanges. Murdoch surprises Brody and Snuka with dropkicks and is all around awesome as usual. There is a count out finish, but that was to be expected. Hopefully there was a Brody/Murdoch match I can find sometime. Brody is awesome. Murdoch is awesome. They should have an awesome singles match somewhere out there. IT EXISTS. Happened in 1985. I hope it is online somewhere.
Team NJPW vs Team UWF 3/26/86
Representing NJPW: Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Kengo Kimura, Umanosuke Ueda, Kantaro Hoshino. On the UWF side of things: Akira Maeda, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Osamu Kido, Nobuhiko Takada, Kazuo Yamazaki. On paper, the UWF seems to have the advantage here. For the briefest of history for this match: Maeda, Fujiwara, and Tiger Mask felt Inoki's original strong style was the only valid form of wrestling, so they left NJPW to form the UWF, with a focus on making their matches more MMA based than pro wrestling. Maeda and Tiger Mask couldn't get along and ended up shooting on each other in two matches, which led to the promotion fizzling out. Much of the roster would return to NJPW as invaders, engaging in a super hot angle that was the inspiration for the NJPW/UWFI feud in the 1990s, which is what was the inspiration for the nWo angle, while also allowing for legitimate MMA promotions to become viable in Japan.
Inoki and Maeda shake hands before the match, which seems weird in such a heated inter-promotional feud. Team NJ doesn't want Inoki to start, but who the fuck is telling Antonio Inoki what to do? The crowd is as hot just for the decision on who will start as just about anything in 2016. And Maeda starts for his team. Inoki actually gets schooled in the opening. This crowd is awesome. You know the Smackdown sound machine? Imagine that, but from real people. Just a constant dull roar with waves of noise crashing down after every move or strike. NJPW gets the first elimination of the match. Fujiwara evens the score. It appears that being sent to the floor also counts as an elimination in this. Fujiwara and Fujinami both go over the ropes at the same time, leaving a 3-2 advantage for UWF. OH SHIT Maeda is dragged out of the ring! Inoki is left against Takada and Kido. Inoki chokes out Takada. An enzuigiri KO's Kido. New Japan has won! This is super dope. 40 minutes of non-stop ass kicking, with a molten crowd that never gets tired. This has a lot of "motherfucker" moments. By that, I mean dudes getting sick of holds and just smashing a dude. It's wonderful. This is the only actually great match of this set, and the importance of this angle to both pro wrestling and MMA in Japan and America is hard to over-exaggerate.