Written by: Mike Campbell
SUPER POWERS CLASH IN TOKYO DOME
April 24, 1989
The mountain splashes into its fourth year! We’re celebrating by going back to when New Japan ran the Dome for the first time! The IWGP Title is up for grabs in a tournament with Japanese, Americans, and Soviets all gunning for the title. The debut of Jyushin Lyger, and an Inoki main event. Huge thanks to Kevin Wilson and to IVP Videos for providing me with the footage for this review.
Victor Zangiev . . . is the real Russian Nightmare, who needs a chain when you’re a Sambo master?
Jyushin Lyger . . . has a memorable debut on the biggest stage of all, but it’s memorably mediocre.
Antonio Inoki . . . gets utterly thrashed in one of his famous Different Style fights, much to my amusement.
A good number of the matches on this show are shootstyle matches, which is a style of wrestling that I’ve not seen a great deal of. For that reason, I’ll not be assigning ratings to any of those matches.
HIRO SAITO vs. NAOKI SANO (Young Lions Cup – Finals)
Matches like this are why I’m still watching wrestling after all these years of being underwhelmed or disappointed in various ways. This isn’t anything mind-blowing, but that’s part of its charm. Their work is fairly simple, but by the time the match ends, the crowd is totally into it, and this is the first of fourteen matches! Sano and Hiro both get their chances to control the action, and they both use the time well. Sano is a lot more flashy and than Hiro: look no further than the exaggerated jumping he does into moves, and somebody needs to steal that reverse enzuigiri yesterday, not to mention that Sano does several big dives to the floor. Saito is a lot more basic and simple, why bother with all that jumping around when a regular spine buster or hotshot will do the job just as well? There is only one altogether odd moment, when Sano cranks a half crab on Hiro that has him writhing in pain. Sano releases the hold to stomp his leg a few times before putting on a full crab, which Saito then powers out of to regain control.
There are also several moments where it seems like one of them will have the match in the bag, only for the other to pull out a surprise kick out and get a nice crowd pop. The best of these is when Saito plants Sano with the senton (which would go on to become his finisher of choice) for a near fall and then follow that up with a fisherman’s suplex for another surprising near fall. Despite Sano’s offense itself being more flashy, Saito winds up with the best looking spot, when he counters Sano’s attempted victory roll with a reverse electric chair drop. There wasn’t much build or drama leading to the finish, but that was the idea: Hiro powerbombs Saito and leans forward with the pin, only for Sano to flip Saito over and cradle him for the pin. It’s very common nowadays thanks to matches like RVD/Lynn with sequences of 1,000 counters. reversals, etc. but it seems innovative for 1989, and at the same time, it’s something I doubt we’d see either of them use today. ***
BIG VAN VADER vs. MASAHIRO CHONO (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Round 1)
This is too short to accomplish anything, but with an eight-man tournament plus another six matches on the show, it’s understandable that this is short. They show some nice intensity in the early moments, with Chono and Vader getting all up in each other’s faces and trading a few fists, but once the match starts proper, it’s a squash for Vader. Chono just isn’t able to get anything going his way, and when he does get in something, like his knee to the head to escape Vader’s Dragon sleeper, Vader one-ups him with something of his own. Chono didn’t seem to go into the match with any real game plan or strategy, as if he thought he could simply trade shots with Vader and win. The lead in to the finish is somewhat original, with Chono giving Vader a German suplex and hurting himself in the process, which allows Vader to stroll on over and pick up the pieces, and finish off Chono with a big slam and Vaderbomb. If nothing else, this makes Vader look like the dominant force of the tournament.
TATSUMI FUJINAMI vs. VLADIMIR BERKOVICH (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Round 1)
If you’re a fan of suplexes that look like shoot suplexes then this is right up your alley. Fujinami and Berkovich suplex each other a bunch, and it looks like there’s zero cooperation to the match, aside from their exchanges on the mat. The short length of the match works a lot better here thanks to the shoot vibe that it has, although Fujinami using pro spots like a dropkick and jumping enzuigiri takes away from that vibe a bit. The really weird part is that Fujinami’s pro spots wind up being his lead-in to the finish, which goes back to the shoot vibe in the form of a Triangle choke hold. If they wanted to be all shoot-like, that would have been fine. If they wanted to do a Pro vs. Shoot sort of match, that would have been fine. But they should have picked one and stayed with it, rather than going back and fourth.
VICTOR ZANGIEV vs. BUZZ SAWYER (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Round 1)
Imagine if the Soup Nazi was an ass kicking Sambo machine, and you’ve got Mr. Zangiev (I wonder if he has anything to do with the Street Fighter II character of similar name?). I’ve only seen a little bit of Buzz Sawyer’s work, mostly from watching NWA TV during my childhood, but I’ve heard many a wrestler in a shoot interview talk about how much of a prick he was. Consider this his comeuppance for all of that, as Zangiev owns him here. Sawyer bolts for the ropes as soon as Zangiev gets any sort of hold on him, while Zangiev only needs to bolt once, and can escape or counter Sawyer’s holds with ease. And just like the last match, Zangiev throws him to the mat with suplexes that look like there’s zero cooperation, and given that Sawyer’s belly to belly fails to take down Zangiev, while Sawyer falls on his ass doing it, there just might not actually be any cooperation. The finish is stupid, with Sawyer getting a two count from a German suplex and celebrating, only for Zangiev to give Sawyer his own German suplex for the three count. Even with the stupid finish, this was still mad fun to watch, and I advise anyone who’s a fan of shootstyle to hunt down some footage of Victor Zangiev.
RIKI CHOSYU vs. SHINYA HASHIMOTO (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Round 1)
Much like Vader/Chono, this is too short to do much, but they at least make it a fun sprint. Chosyu and Hashimoto start off strong and never stop. The match starts with Chosyu giving Hashimoto the FU! They slap and chop each other a bunch to show off their apparent mutual dislike for one another. Hashimoto’s DDT only gets a near fall here, Chosyu hits the Riki Lariat and attempts the Scorpion Deathlock, but gets cradled for a three count. All of the first round matches were quite short, but they each did their own job of characterizing each of the winners. Vader is the powerhouse, Zangiev is the shootstyle bad ass, Fujinami is the veteran who’s skilled enough to out-shoot the shooters, and Hashimoto is the young buck who looks like he’s in over his head.
BIG VAN VADER vs. TATSUMI FUJINAMI (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Semi Finals)
Where Chono fails, Fujinami succeeds. Instead of trying to go toe to toe with Vader, and getting squashed like a bug, Fujinami uses his wrestling skills to his advantage. It’s telling when the only thing that Vader can do from a technical standpoint is work a simple chinlock and a leg grapevine, while Fujinami looks like he’s trying to take Vader’s left arm home with him, in lieu of the IWGP Title, with the various armbars and arm submissions that he uses. Vader would have looked like the underdog here, if only he’d have sold the arm in the long term. He was great about making Fujinami’s holds look lethal, but those were the only times when it looked like Vader was in real trouble. But Fujinami does a lot more than just work the arm, he’s able to get Vader off his feet and bodyslam and suplexes him several times. The last minute or so looks like Vader completely lucks out, when he sits down on Fujinami’s sunset flip and then quickly finishes him off with a big splash. The only thing holding this back was Vader’s lack of selling. But at the same time, the fact that Vader quickly snatched the victory from the jaws of defeat puts him over just as much as the fact that Fujinami trying to amputate his arm puts over Fujinami. ***
VICTOR ZANGIEV vs. SHINYA HASHIMOTO (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Semi Finals)
Take the basic principle of both men’s previous match (Zangiev’s superior skills and Hashimoto coming through in the clinch thanks to a lucky break) and you have this match. Zangiev throws Hashimoto down time and again with suplexes, as if he had the nerve to complain about not getting bread with his Chicken and Stars. Hashimoto tries to fight back, but to no avail, Zangiev is easily able to block and escape his holds, including a fabulous moment when he does a head scissors escape, but first runs in a complete circle before doing the big flip and escaping.
What Hashimoto is able to figure out, is that while Zangiev is a suplex machine and can go on the mat with the best of them, he apparently doesn’t have the ability to withstand strikes. Hashimoto levels him with a couple of kicks to the body and Zangiev’s reaction is priceless. It’s not really ‘selling’ because there’s no exaggeration to it, but the combo of the pain and the sneer on his face tells the story. After the first kick they stare each other down and Zangiev looks like he’s plotting to kill Hashimoto’s entire family for daring to strike him. Hashimoto levels Zangiev with a couple of more kicks, and puts on a figure four to make the Sambo bad ass tap out to a pro submission. You wouldn’t expect shootstyle matches to feature storytelling, since, by nature, they’re supposed to look like legit fights, but this is a great example of how it can be successfully pulled off.
BIG VAN VADER vs. SHINYA HASHIMOTO (IWGP Heavyweight Title Tournament – Finals)
And we’re down to two: The powerhouse of the tournament, with a bad arm, against the young gun who made it to the finals thanks to a couple of lucky breaks. As expected, Hashimoto goes right for Vader’s arm, and this time Vader sells it, and he sells it good. Hashimoto doesn’t employ the vast armbar techniques that Fujinami did, he instead uses his kicks, which he’s already established as effective, and pro style submissions like the chickenwing armlock.
Not only is Vader good with his selling, but he’s also smart enough to avoid using the arm on offense. Hashimoto can be kicking away at the left arm, but Vader can put the kibosh on that in a heartbeat with a simple right-hand punch that looks like it just about kills him, and that’s what eventually does Hashimoto in. Vader tries to do a few things, but Hashimoto is able to go back to the arm to prevent it. It winds up leaving Vader with his fists and his weight, and Hashimoto just gets hit with one too many lariats and Vader gets the pin. The idea seemed to be similar to the Vader/Fujinami match, to make them both look good. It doesn’t work as well though. The main reason is that, despite the selling, Hashimoto’s work on the arm is like a crutch for him, rather than a genuine method of attack. And the finish makes that perfectly clear, with Vader not needing any real big guns to put him down, and Hashimoto not being able to do anything else to make it seem like he can luck out for the third time in a row.
We interrupt this nice little pro wrestling card so that Benny Urquidez and Shinya Asuka can have a kickboxing fight that goes to a five-round draw. I’m not reviewing New Japan Kickboxing, and to be frank, I couldn’t care less about this, so I fast-forward. If anyone is dying to know how the fight panned out, you can contact Kevin or IVP and get the show to see for yourself.
MASA SAITO vs. WHAKA EVELEOV
Using the term ‘styles clash’ to describe something usually implies that it doesn’t turn out very good, but that’s not the case here. They don’t switch between shoot and pro style like Fujinami did, Saito does his pro stuff, Whaka does his shoot stuff, and the match turns out to be a rather fun affair (like all of the Russians’ matches have). Whaka more or less spanks Saito. He throws him time and again and utilizes several jumping armbars and forces the grizzled vet to bolt for the ropes. Saito learns from Hashimoto’s match though, and he unloads a pair of lariats that drop Whaka like a safe, Whaka is either selling like mad, or Saito really let him have it. Saito follows up with the Saito suplex and then starts to unload with headbutts. Whaka finally blocks the headbutts and traps Saito in a jumping armbar (very similar to the Minoru Special) and forces Saito to give it up. This doesn’t have anything that shows as much personality as Zangiev’s sneer at Hashimoto, but it was still pretty fun, and the Pro vs. Shoot story they went with worked very well.
GEORGE TAKANO/SUPER STRONG MACHINE vs. SHIRO KOSHINAKA/HIROSHI HASE
When Takano and Hirata were working over Hase, this was fun, but there wasn’t anything else here, from any of the four of them, to take this to the next level. The two grumpy vets do an admirable job of killing young Hase, including Takano stomping three mud holes in him, and a great spot where Machine and Takano give him stereo diving headbutts, which was a nice revenge spot for Hase/Koshianka’s dual dropkicks from the top a bit earlier. All four of them want to work a fast paced match, but they take it a bit too much to heart, and they don’t do much to develop any themes. The only real theme is the Young vs. Old one going on, and how the vets are able to cut off Hase and heap abuse on him. But when Hase gets a break, even if for only a couple of minutes, he’s all refreshed and ready to go as soon as he’s tagged in.
The only big spot that Hase and Koshinaka have is their double dropkick. Hase attempts the Northern Lights several times and that’s what leads to his undoing. Machine blocks it and gives Hase the Devil Windmill Suplex for the win. Koshinaka gets to trot out the hip attacks for a decent pop and gets a near fall from a powerbomb. That they don’t get much offense isn’t bad, because the other team was carrying the match. But when you compare what they get to do, with what Takano and Machine wind up rolling out, and it’s a wonder that this goes almost twenty minutes. The match didn’t need to go longer nor did it need to be less lopsided, it just needed something more, be it more offense from the young gun team or the young gun team to do a better job with long term selling.
JYUSHIN “THUNDER” LYGER vs. KUNIAKI KOBAYASHI
Lyger’s debut could have been a lot better, but, all things considered, he wound up doing just fine for himself. This doesn’t even really feel like a match, more like an unveiling, or an exhibition. Lyger just rolls out spot after spot on Kobayashi, and most of Kobayashi’s offense is stall tactics to make the match go longer. Lyger doesn’t have any interest in selling anything for very long, it’s as if he’s worried that if he sells too much for too long that people will know that he’s human and will lose interest in him. Some of Lyger’s spots look ugly, such as the cross body press and the head scissors that Kobayashi wound up falling out of. Kobayashi heels things up a bit with a low blow, and Lyger is good enough to give his finisher a bit of respect by getting a rope break, but Lyger immediately finishes things off with a “Lyger suplex” (a Tiger suplex/backdrop suplex hybrid). This wasn’t very good at all, but Lyger would get pretty damn good pretty damn quickly.
CRUSHER BAM BAM BIGELOW vs. SALMAN HASHIMIKOV
As seems to a recurring trend here, this is too short to do much as an actual match. It does score major points in creating interest for a Vader/Hashimikov match (which would happen a month later). Bigelow’s work isn’t vastly different from what we’d seen out of Vader, aside from a couple of spots for Bigelow to show off his agility. Bigelow makes liberal use of clubbing forearm shots to the back, and Hashimikov crumbles beneath him with every shot. Hashimikov tries to take Bigelow down, but he’s too close to the ropes. Hashimikov goes for a leg, but gets hit with an enzuigiri. Finally Hashimikov just picks up Bigelow (with him screaming the whole time) and dumps him with a waterwheel drop and cradles him for three. Again, not much to see from a wrestling perspective, but afterwards, you know everyone was wondering what would happen if Salman and Vader went at it.
SHOTA COCHYASHVILI vs. ANTONIO INOKI © (World Martial Arts Title)
I’ve never been much of an Inoki fan, nor am I a fan of his worked shoot fetish. With that in mind, this is actually a bit of fun, just for how much Shota winds up putting the hurt on Inoki. In the first two rounds, Inoki scores a headbutt and a single throw, a backdrop suplex (or whatever its martial arts name is). Shota winds up giving Inoki at least half a dozen throws during that same time, and then puts on an armbar that causes Inoki to spend the rest of the fight with the arm at his side. Round 3 starts with Inoki trying to end it quickly but aside from some leg kicks, the stuff he does has no effect at all. Shota continues with the various throws and winds up winning by KO in round 5. I’d like to praise Inoki for allowing himself to be so thoroughly dominated here, but I’d guess that Inoki’s arm injury caused the booking here, and the fact that Inoki held the title for eleven years, and would win it back a month later doesn’t do anything to make me think differently.
Conclusion: Aside from a few bumps in the road, this is one of the most fun Dome shows that I’ve ever seen. Anyone who’s a fan of, or wants to check out, shootstyle should definitely check out the Zangiev and Whaka matches, definite recommendation here.