Masakatsu Funaki vs. Tatsuo Nakano
July 24, 1989
Hakata Star Lane
For a match that wraps up in under 10 minutes, there is a lot do it.
Funaki is wrestling his fourth match for UWF 2.0 and already has losses to Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Yoji Anjo, plus a DQ loss to Bob Backlund on his record sheet. Nakano came up through the original UWF and while by no means a star, is positioned as both the veteran and fan favorite against Funaki. There is very much an “our guy” versus “this other guy we are unsure about” vibe from the fans throughout.
The match has excellent heat form the start. Just that total anticipatory shouting and yelling type of heat. Hakata Star Lane only holds a few thousand fans (and it shows) but man, those fans made a lot of noise. An awesome big fight atmosphere that is made even more remarkable by the fact that these fans just sat through a 30 minute draw between Mark Rush & Minoru Suzuki. You would never know that this match was coming of the heels of a 30 minute draw and was positioned second on a five match card by the crowd reaction.
They take advantage of that anticipation by going at it right away and cutting a remarkable pace. This is a brawl in every way possible. They throw hard kicks and slaps in a reckless but still skilled manner. There is almost no separation between the two wrestlers, save for few times the times when one is trying to answer a ten count and a couple of timeouts for the doctor to check on Nakano. The doctor looks at Nakano because he gets a busted up and has his nose bloodied early. The blood adds another dimension to the match and heat, as blood tends to do. Nakano and Funaki had a better pro wrestling brawl by staying in the ring and not using any weapons than most guys who lean on those gimmicks do.
The mat work is overall very good. They were able to take the intensity from the standup stuff and transition it the ground, which is not always easily done. There was a real struggle and stiffness to the mat portions of the match, with both guys constantly in motion trying to counter and escape. There are shoot style matches that have higher level submission attempts and escapes, but given the intensity they were wrestling with it didn’t make an ounce of difference. They fell into the somewhat common shoot style trap of getting tied in dual leg locks, but got out of it quickly without losing any of the momentum they had built.
In fact, they only gained crowd momentum as the match wore on. As hot as the crowd was at the start, they only got louder in throwing their support behind Nakano. One the blood starting flowing, the crowd threw all their weight behind Nakano by chanting his name and screaming during his comebacks. Nakano lifting his fist towards the crowd after the doctor decides that the match can continue was a great moment and only served to get the crowd even more behind him. Funaki jumped right back on top him after that. Funaki never allowing Nakano to gain much space was a big factor in the match working as well as it did.
Nakano’s low-to-the-mat suplexes are great. I loved how he teased one signature snap suplex only for Funaki to half-block it in this really realistic manner. Funaki didn’t just put on the breaks or get on a knee like you would normally see. Rather, it came off like he was holding his weight back as much as he possibly could, but still ended up being driven halfway into the mat on his head. When Nakano pulled off the same suplex cleanly later in the match, it got a big reaction.
I could see the argument that they could have used a couple more high level near-submissions for Nakano near the end, but the ones they had felt like more than enough. It would have been difficult for them to draw more heat for a near-victory than what they were already drawing. The finish felt like it came at just the right time, plus Nakano milked it just long enough before giving up that it had time to sink in. It is a cliché, but this was one of those matches where both winner and loser came out looking strong.
My first thoughts after watching this was “that’s what some people think Ishii matches are” and “that’s what Ishii matches should be.” I am not picking on Ishii or at least I don’t intend to. But this was a hard hitting, super intense brawl of a match that never let up and got there without burning through a bunch of stuff or going long. I read a lot of people talk up matches from Ishii, Sekimoto and the like because they gravitate towards matches where two guys take a lot of punishment and go down swinging. That is fine, but matches like this are an example of how that can be done without resorting to no-selling, burning through moves, or going long. A match like this is potentially appealing to a far wider offense because it doesn’t do those things, while keeping the positive elements (drama, intensity, the feeling of a throw down brawl) of an Ishii-type bomb fest.
Awesome match overall and probably one of my favorite sub-10 minute matches of all time. It is quick, heated, and hits almost all of the right notes.