Korakuen Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
KO-D Openweight Championship
For our still ongoing re-watch of 2000’s US Indies, we watched quite a few matches involving wrestlers that were not necessarily the big stars of that genre and era. These matches were hyped or recommended at the time they occurred by somebody (usually Phil Schneider, currently of Segunda Caida/DVDVR fame) but you always go in wondering if the match is going to be genuinely good or simply “better than expected” good. There was probably a mixed bag of results between those two options (and maybe a couple of matches that just weren’t very good at all) during that project. I think its natural to go into some matches with that sort of skepticism. I won’t be blamed for questioning the true quality of 2000/2001-era Elax versus Dixie matches (for the record, they were by-and-large pretty good).
That’s my long-winded way of pointing out that sometimes matches seem good because they are unexpected and it takes time to sort out which ones fall in that group and which ones are just good on their own merit. I am not sure yet which group HARASHIMA vs. Takanashi falls into after a first watch, but I liked it a whole lot. So much so that I am going to squeeze it into the January/February re-watch group and give it another look.
The opening minutes are your basic, but very well executed, feeling out and opening mat work minutes. It has hopefully become evident by now in my writing that I value good opening foundation work like this, which is why I mention it so often. I am a bit of a DDT novice (what I have watched 2014 wise hasn’t done much for me) so admittedly I probably dug this part a bit more because it was unexpected, but to keep with the theme of the opening paragraphs, I am not so sure it wasn’t also strong work on its own merits. Both guys fight over leg and arm holds while continually jockeying for position. It is just the kind of foundation setting hold exchanges that is right up my alley.
They transition out of that opening period about 5 or 6 minutes in. HARASHIMA works a headlock for a little while which Takanashi eventually escapes out of kicking off a quick sequence that appears to be heading towards a standoff. Instead, Takanashi does forward rolls all around the mat before settling in the center and turning himself into a ball Johnny Saint-style. The ball has its usual desired effect on both HARASHIMA and the crowd – the guy in the front row rocking a plaid blazer, white t-shirt, and gold chain combo goes into hysterics over it – with Tananashi transitioning into some arm work (he began working the arm in the opening period). I loved all of this.
HARASHIMA takes over shortly after and just brutalizes his opponent for several minutes with stomps, kicks, and all sorts of brutal offense that looks like it kills the slender Takanashi. For those that look for these sorts of things, HARASHIMA is awesome here favoring his arm for a little while even while on offense until slowly shaking it off. Takanashi makes a short-lived comeback once again targeting the arm, mixing in some painful-looking arm bars with more traditional ways of working that particular limb. He also keeps going to the roll ups to good-effect. The pacing is very good in that Takanashi’s offense is all arm-focused or pinning combos so this match never gets all that close to “too much” territory.
HARASHIMA takes over again with a dropkick that Takanashi takes a BIG neck bump on which rivals the one Ibushi took off of an Okada drop kick in their March 6th match.
The near fall section of the match is good for much of the same reasons mentioned above about the pacing. They don’t do anything all that big and the innovative moves they pull out work well and don’t seem out of place. They get a few strong near falls along the way, with the match wrapping up about when it should have (it is about 19 minutes long overall). HARASHIMA kills Takanashi dead with a pile driver delivered from the side that spikes Takanashi right on the head; just brutal looking.
Takanashi looks like an emaciated homeless man. HARASHIMA – despite being almost 40 – is a nondescript babyfaced Japanese wrestler in appearance. The match takes place in a promotion known for bizarre gimmicks, even stranger angles, and a whole lot of comedy. So maybe all of that worked to make this an unexpectedly good match that isn’t actually as good it seemed on first watch. I am not so sure that’s the case . . .