review by Moe Lakser
Date: June 17th, 1996
Hi, My name is Moe Lakser. I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling for about 15 years now and been watching puro for about five years. I’ve considered doing stuff like this for awhile, but time has made it difficult. But, having a possible reward at the end of this has helped me get to it and do a review. Stylistically, I prefer the styles of Mike Campbell and Chris Coey, focusing on both in-ring and out-of-ring psychology and story to make their arguments. Star rating wise I tend to be more easy-going than them, more like Stuart of Puroresufan.
Skydiving J is one of the most important events in Junior wrestling history and was the catalyst for the J-Crown angle that would carry the NJPW Junior Division to its height in 1996/97. It’s a pretty astounding idea to have eight title matches making up a whole card, and led to some issues, but it’s full of good wrestling.
Int’l Jr. Tag Title: El Samurai & Norio Honaga vs. Yuji Yasuroka & Lance Storm (c)
Right from the opener the problem with this concept is clear. Having every match as a title match automatically designates certain titles as being lesser than others, and the jobbers of the champions become pretty apparent in this card. Still, starting with the tag match is a good choice.
Surprisingly, the expected roles are reversed in this match. One would think the secret to victory for the indy guys would be team work against two former IWGP Jr. champs. Instead, the challengers seem to have the better teamwork, while Yuji plays Ricky Morton and Storm plays the monster with enough power to overcome the opponents. Too bad Storm never got to take advantage of this kind of push.
The action is pretty consistently back and forth, but because no one ever controls for too long and because the roles are so vague, the fans have few chances to really get behind anyone. Furthermore, since the near falls are so few in the match, it comes across even quieter. Still, the match sticks to its story well. Honaga and Samurai try and keep Yuji isolated and Storm out of the picture and use some big moves to get the win, but Storm always sneaks in at the last second to save. Once he’s tagged in. it’s all offense for the champs despite the best efforts of Samurai and Honaga to work together. In the end, Samurai is able to get rid of Yuji, but Storm still pulls it off and comes out looking both smart and strong, even though he wins with a rollup. It’s a good opener, solid, but unspectacular. I just wonder why they didn’t switch the roles of the teams. (13:29, **½)
NWA Jr. Title: Shiryu vs. Masayoshi Motegi (c)
And here we get the first of the jobber title matches, as the guy who lost in the first round of both J-Cups takes on the #4 member of Kaientai. Still, that wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t so bloody boring at doing anything. Shiryu (Kaz Hayashi) had yet to really develop that great badass persona he uses today, but his spots are really nice (including an amazing dive) and he does show attitude at times. Had he worked with someone decent, this might have at least been fun.
Motegi, however, is completely useless. He has good ideas, and a decent moveset (he didn’t even bust out any of his “rolling” moves in this match) but he is – quite simply – a screwup. He messes up the Backdrop off the apron, slips and slides all over the place and even blows the big ending so that it looks ridiculous. It doesn’t help that they don’t really try to tell a story, they just go back and forth with sloppy stuff, then exchange some near falls (to good pops) and then Motegi wins. The least they could have done was given us a Shiryu victory so we wouldn’t have to watch more Motegi, but oh well. (11:51, *½)
WWA Jr. Title: Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs. Gran Hamada (c)
This is another of these jobber title matches, as Takaiwa is a rookie and Hamada isn’t considered top rank. However, unlike the previous match, these two keep it simple and work a good story, which makes it really enjoyable, if unspectacular. Takaiwa is bigger, stronger, and has more of an attitude than Hamada, which makes for a neat chemistry, because he is still, after all, just a rookie. Hamada uses his speed and mat skills to counter Takaiwa’s power, and is mostly successful.
The cool thing about the mat work is that it isn’t flashy. Hamada uses simple holds, but Takaiwa has no escape but the ropes. Takaiwa tries to ground and pound Hamada and work similar holds but Hamada always has an answer. He will either wiggle to a neutral position, counter, or in one fun case, he starts chopping at Takaiwa, which frustrates the youngster and leads him to break the hold for some stomping. In fact, I don’t think Hamada uses the ropes to escape all match, despite being on the receiving end of several submission holds.
The end of the match is far from overwhelming, but makes sense. Takaiwa shows he isn’t as inexperienced as he looks and counters a Hamada rana to a powerbomb, then the DVD and cross-arm suplex. However, once those come up short he finds himself on the defensive with really nothing left to throw out there. One mistake later, it’s a Hamada Tornado DDT and good night. Sadly, some sloppiness hurts this down the stretch (12:04, **¾)
Vacant UWA Jr. Title: Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinjiro Ohtani
Now the fun really begins. Amazingly, the shortest match yet is also the best. It’s so weird seeing Saku like this, so straight-faced and no signs of charisma. Ohtani had an amazing year in ’96, but seemed to always come up short. He had a couple chances to claim this belt (most notably in an amazing match with El Samurai) but never could pull it off. Now, however, here he is finally facing someone he can take, and he can taste the title.
Saku may be young and inexperienced, but there’s one thing Ohtani forgets: even a green kid can kick your head off and take a title. This match begins with a bang as Saku attacks Ohtani and kills with a German and some kicks and it never slows down.
Everything they do is so solid. Ohtani looks completely out of it for a good five minutes and seems to just be buying time, and he puts over Saku’s offense wonderfully. Saku is no slouch in the selling department either.
Essentially, Ohtani finds himself doing everything that favors Saku. There are lots of submissions, strikes and mat work. While Ohtani is good and keeps up to an extant, this kind of stuff is not the kind of thing that can assure him a victory, and every time he tries anything “pro-style” – even an irish whip – he can’t get it done. Finally, he throws it all out there, hoping to win it in a flurry. Even though his first attempt fails and almost loses him the match, the second try works. Saku might have great kicks, but he is no Lyger or Samurai in terms of big match experience and toughness. It’s a good match, with a hot crowd, but the lack of time and real drama keeps it from greatness. (8:13, ***¼)
CMLL Jr. Title: TAKA Michinoku vs. Super Delfin (c)
This match is an absolute blast to watch. It doesn’t have as much story or smart character work like the previous match did or other matches on the card will have, but it makes up for it with really fun action. TAKA takes it to Delfin right away and outsmarts him, hitting his beautiful corkscrew quebrada. From there, the back and forth mind games commence. When TAKA works the leg, Delfin counters, when TAKA fakes a dive, so does Delfin. They even exchange being pricks to each other.
When TAKA finally loses it and goes into full bastard mode, it seems like the match should pick up, but his leg work lacks energy, meaning or selling on the part of Delfin and it becomes just a prelude to the near falls. But what near falls they are!
The near falls are made great by two things. First, they work them really well. Delfin shows his higher status by hitting impact moves, while TAKA tends to use counter holds, except for the eventual Michinoku Driver. Both men just time their kickouts so well and make it all feel very special. The falls are helped by the second factor: that no one had gone all out yet on the card, so the crowd believes it can end any time, which makes it that much more tense. It the end, Delfin shows his status and wins, mostly because he links two great moves together. It’s not the deepest story, but everything necessary comes across really well. (16:09, ***½)
Int’l Jr. Title: Gran Naniwa vs. Ultimo Dragon (c)
This may be my least favorite Ultimo match ever. It’s amazing that seven months earlier, Liger gave so much more to a younger, less experienced and less established Naniwa. The roles are simple: Naniwa can’t keep up with Ultimo in any way, so he relies on cowardice and cheap tactics to gain control. However, every time he gains that control he either screws it up (like the pointless Figure Four) or Ultimo craps on it (like him countering said hold in about two seconds). The fans get some laughs out of Naniwa’s antics and even give a good pop on the Tiger Suplex, but Ultimo never gives him anything else and never sells anything as dangerous. So, in the end this comes off as a really long and boring squash, with Ultimo ending it with the worst closing sequence of his career. Well, here’s for the laughs. (13:59, **)
British Commonwealth Title: Jushin Liger vs. Dick Togo (c)
This match, like the previous one, comes off as a squash for Liger, but is about a hundred times more intelligent and enjoyable. The psychology of this match is just so solid. They start out by testing each other’s ability to be a prick on the mat, and amazingly, Togo comes out on top. He then proceeds to beat Liger at the fast paced game and goes medieval on his stomach, including a disgusting double stomp from the ropes. All this prompts Liger to completely lose it and return the rage ten-fold by destroying Togo with a German Suplex, a Power Bomb, and then – in a flash back to his treatment of M-Pro star Great Sasuke at J-cup ’94 – he rips Togo’s bandaged arm to shreds.
The next six or seven minutes are all just Liger destroying Togo, but there a few things that make it better than Ultimo manhandling Naniwa. First, Liger is the best prick in the business and makes sure to include plenty of strutting and taunting. Second, Liger is being this vicious because he got beat out early. Togo showed he could keep up with Liger, but simply pushed him too far, so like a wounded animal, Liger is glad to return the pain (he even hits a vicious stomp from the ropes to the arm). Finally, as a wounded animal, Liger has a weakness and anytime Togo comes back, it’s by working the stomach. All this creates at least an illusion that Togo has a chance.
The main flaw in the match is that the end lacks drama. Simply, Togo doesn’t have enough in his arsenal to keep up with Liger, so he wastes his only over finisher – the Top-Rope Senton – early and then only has a rollup or two to have any chance after that. Meanwhile, Liger has an unlimited repertoire of holds, not to mention working the arm like a bastard (including his best-ever integration of the spot of ’96, the dropkick to the arm while it’s holding the ropes). So, in the end, Togo ends up getting mauled and is clearly not in Liger’s league. Still, the story, psychology, intensity and heat (until the end) of the match more than make up for that flaw. (15:57, ****)
IWGP Jr. Title: Black Tiger vs. Great Sasuke (c)
I would consider this match to be the polar opposite of the Delfin/Taka match earlier. While that match was simple, but used good chemistry to pull off a great ending, this match is full of great ideas, smart work and psychology, but is lacking that familiarity and ends up falling a bit flat.
Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) is coming off of his Best of Super Jr. win less than a week before. Not only did he beat the previous 4 years winners (Benoit and Liger) back to back, but in beating them, he also overcame the man Sasuke took this title from (Liger) and the guy Sasuke never beat (Benoit). Therefore, there’s no reason for Tiger to fear Sasuke, and watching him stalk, corner and taunt the champion is an absolute joy. Sasuke is game for the story as well, as you really get the feeling that he is tentative about taking on someone who is so hot at the moment.
The great thing about the match is how they work using the past. Tiger uses all the strategies that have worked against Sasuke in the past. He overwhelms him with power (even attacking him during a breather on the floor) like Benoit did and frustrates him on the mat like Liger did. Sasuke, for his part, is more than happy to show Tiger what he showed Liger on 4/29, that he has evolved and can play those games. Once again, however, Tiger is one step ahead, as he lays a brutal assault on Sasuke’s arm (even adjusting his Hilo so he lands on it) and then later working the leg, all of which is sickening, intense and full of awesome Sasuke selling.
For Sasuke’s part, he shows that he has done research as well. The best example is his use of the sleeper that gave Benoit a fair bit of success in the Super Jr. semifinal. Tiger’s selling is spot on, and Sasuke keeps to it, but doesn’t work it quite like Benoit. Still, he knows it won’t be enough, and as soon as it seems to be failing, he goes all out with a crazy dive and attempts at big moves.
The problem here is that the big moves never really come. They completely ignore the limb work after a few minutes, and then go back to it, but of course there’s no reaction at that point. They also try all sorts of fancy sequences, many of which mess up, and before you know it, it’s over and proves nothing, as Sasuke wins with one counter like he would have in ’94. Sasuke doesn’t look strong and it’s hard to believe that Tiger lost to something so simple at this point. These guys had so many great ideas and tried to work it all well. It’s too bad they never had more matches to develop more chemistry and precision, but in the end, this isn’t the stand out, blow-away match this card needed as a finale. (16:55, ***¼)
Final Thoughts: The aftermath of the card is of the most significance, as Liger challenges all the champions to a tourney that will unify eight belts and they all agree. With only one title change and one decision match, and no big surprises, this isn’t a must-have. But it is loads of fun and a rare event where everyone is given a similar amount of time to show their stuff and stand out, which helps separate the men from the boys. Overall, a really fun event with a couple of standout matches that simply make all the more clear why 1996 was a great year for Juniors. Recommended with ease.