Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi
January 9, 2015
Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi were allotted five minutes of match time as part of the weekly Friday Arena Mexico card. With 3,000 spectators in attendance that night, the arena was at less than 20% of its maximum capacity. There was a good chance the match would not even make television. In fact, it was skipped over for CMLL’s Fox Sports Mexico program, only showing up weeks later as part of the promotion’s Lucha Azteca show that airs on Azteca America network.
The two young wrestlers would have been forgiven if they “took the night off” and mailed in a five minute lightning match full of cursory mat work and basic rope running spots. Instead, they packed all that they could into their five minute allotment. The match stood out because it was far more physical and interesting than might have been expected given the surrounding circumstances. It is a good example of a two wrestlers working harder than the conditions might dictate and producing an unexpectedly quality match as a result, which can turn an otherwise normal match into a memorable one.
Much grief is given to wrestlers who have earned a reputation for “taking a night off” and not much praise is given to those who work hard even when the stakes are not very high. Quality professional wrestlers like Jumbo Tsuruta and Bret Hart have come under fire for dialing back in certain circumstances. Dave Meltzer wrote in 2003 that “. . . . his [Tsuruta’s] reputation was that he was a lazy worker unless there were TV cameras.” Meltzer went onto describe a conversation he had with Mick Foley concerning his March 26, 1991 match versus Jumbo.
“He [Foley] said when he worked singles with Jumbo, Jumbo only wanted to do three moves, didn’t want to give him anything, and only worked to work 5 to 6 minutes (and that was a TV match).”
The implication from both statements is that a wrestler should work hard regardless of circumstances. Jumbo should have worked equally hard whether the cameras were on or off. At age 40, he should have work as hard against a young Mick Foley working his first All Japan tour as he did against Mitsuharu Misawa in a Budakon Hall Triple Crown title match three weeks later.
That is misguided idealism. Pro wrestling is such a physically demanding profession that wrestlers dial back on occasion out of necessity. It is difficult for me to find fault with a wrestler like Jumbo who saved his best stuff for the highest profile situations, assuming that is indeed what Jumbo did. Instead, we should praise the occasions – like this match – when two wrestlers do go all-out in a less high profile situation.
To be fair, Kamaitachi and Dragon Lee did have some incentive for working hard in a five minute match in front of a mostly empty arena. As the third match from the top on the card, their burgeoning feud was given higher placement than usual. Nonetheless, the intensity and physicality they packed into the five minutes was still impressive given the other circumstances.
They bypassed the standard lightning match opening mat work in favor of a stiff slap exchange that ended with a dual knockout on high kicks. When Kamaitachi got Dragon Lee in the corner with the match still well shy of one minute old, he aggressively laid into him with kicks to the head. Lee hit a trio of stiff drop kicks before landing a wonderful straight tope on his opponent outside the ring. All of that went down in the first minute of the match.
They kept the intensity level up for the final four minutes. They hit the ropes hard and every strike connected squarely. Dragon Lee took an over-the-top-rope dropkick by bumping right on his neck. For an encore, he took the beginnings of a spin bump on a lariat and landed right on his neck. Not to be outdone, Kamaitachi took a German suplex right on his lower head/neck area. There was some heated mask pulling as well, which led to the finish. Kamaitachi rolled Lee up, took his mask completely off, and was able to get the pin fall as Lee was more concerned with covering up his face than kicking out. The fun ending completed a five minute whirlwind of a match.
In all of the relevant ways, Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi’s match was reminiscent of a match between Raven and Kaz Hayashi from March 20, 1999 on WCW Worldwide. After a series of re-introductory vignettes that aired in prior months and before forming his team with Saturn, Raven was not doing much. Kaz was almost entirely relegated to C-show and jobber duty at that time. Yet for whatever reasons, the two wrestled an energetic sub-5 minute match that was as good as it was unexpected. Like Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi, Kaz took some big time punishment that was well out of line with the importance of the match. The most memorable spot of the Raven/Hayashi match was Kaz wiping out on a somersault plancha after Raven had moved out of the way. The match is fondly remembered today for being unexpectedly great and brutal given the context. That is not too far off from how I view Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi.
Under different circumstances (like if it were on a bigger card and a feud ender) the match might not get much of a second look. However, it is one of those legitimately good matches that came off even better in knowing that the two wrestlers went full-tilt in a situation that probably did not deserve that kind of effort. It is understandable when wrestlers take nights off, but it just makes it that much more fun when they go in the complete opposite direction.