They say man was formed in the image of his creator. So too, the wrestlers of the UWF.
Their deity, Kamisama, was neither loving, nor forgiving. He was gruff, brutal and unsparing, a submission master who demanded discipline and daring from all who would train under his tutelage.
His name was Karl Gotch and he was the God of Wrestling.
In August of 1984, he followed many of his most promising students into the unknown, seeking a new way to present his beloved sport on the professional level.
In some ways, of course, it was not an evolution, but a return to the old ways. But regression is not the UWF story.
This wasn’t pure catch-as-catch-can wrestling. And it never would be.What would come over the next decade was something unique, a combination of that European grappling, Asian striking arts and the warrior spirit so important in Japanese martial culture.
It was both old and new, a beautiful combination of the what once was and what might be in a better future.
Super Tiger vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara (9/7/1984)
I knew this weeks show was going to be a barn burner when it opened with eye of the tiger and the arrival of the GOD OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING Karl Gotch! The following montage of him delighting in the mutilation of poor baby Takada really set the mood for the rest of the tape.
SUPER TIGER (No more inferior Tiger gimmicks) vs Gramps Fujiwara, hell yeah I’m all about this! I believe this is the first of their many classic wars and I don’t think they ever had a match that was below **** and this one had the added bonus of Gotch being in the house to see his best student absolutely mess up Sayama.
We’re really getting into full shoot style mode now! Fujiwara did a cheeky little atomic drop but until the home stretch when they started busting out some bigger moves, it was otherwise it was all super stiff strikes and these boys stretching the bejebus out of each other and Fujiwara was not playing around in that regard, locking in a very nasty double wrist lock early that got some very audible cries of pain from Tiger.
This was just a nonstop display of cool shit including probably the coolest shoot style piledriver ever, and if the words shoot style piledriver don’t make you want to watch a match you better check your pulse.
My precious Tiger dad was really on the backfoot for most of this match, getting in a few sweet kicks and a SAVAGE tombstone. Its weird seeing him still trying for top rope diving headbutts in the context of shoot style but at the risk of sounding like a tiger mark, I think the diving headbutt actually works because its not unrealistic flippy shit but its still incredibly highrisk as we saw here with him missing and gramps quickly taking the advantage back with a beautiful Gotch piledriver.
The following moonsault Tiger tried though looked really weird and out of place but it did lead to the crowd getting really behind him so it accomplished its job. Overall I can’t recommend this classic highly enough. Tiger got a massive win and the show of respect from gramps and really made it clear he’s one of the major stars of the revolution.
-Jacob Millis (@IQWrestler)
This was the opening match of their series, and it was really interesting to watch the different way they approached each other and the style they were working. This was part of the way there, but they haven’t gotten their all the way. We had Tiger still going for top rope moves, although he isn’t hitting them. Both times he tries, Fujiwara moves, which suggests that a different kind of wrestling was going to be needed. They still are doing piledrivers, but at least Fujiwara’s actually is a counter out of a triangle choke, kind of a incubatory Hughes v. Newton spot.
It wasn’t just the style that is different, Fujiwara really controls this match way more then their others. Fujiwara really is a heavyweight against a junior, Tiger’s stuff comes in flurries, while Fujiwara is on top for most of this.
They are really great flurries, and Fujiwara is a master at selling a surprise knockdown, I love how he does this slightly delayed crumble on a kick to the head, it takes a second for the message from his brain to get to he legs. Still the way Fujiwara approaches him, there is none of the tentativeness of later matches, he just walks Tiger down, and counters a lot of his offense, punishing him with brutal body shots.
Tiger is the scrappy underdog junior heavyweight which is completely counter to the way he is perceived later, and really the way he was portrayed in New Japan, although they never had him match up against heavyweights.
I think this match went a long way in establishing him as a peer to Fujiwara and Maeda, and the finish run of big kicks and the chicken wing you can tell sort of shocks the crowd.
Pro wrestling, throughout its televised history, doesn’t tend to look or act very realistic. It’d be fair to say that it was more “realistic” earlier on, but it was still about the high drama. Fujiwara and Sayama put on a match that looks pretty damned real within the confines of pro wrestling rules. Fujiwara attempts an armbar, only for Sayama to roll inward to relieve the pressure and ultimately find himself in a loose triangle choke. Not the Shin’ya Hashimoto-style one, one that would actually hurt.
This journey into shoot style has thus far been about exploring the evolution of the style, with this match being a shining beacon of why grappling in pro wrestling at times left much to be desired. Everything looked painful, but damn if that chickenwing didn’t look particularly painful.
One of the hallmarks of a great shoot style match is that I find myself looking for escapes and counters that the wrestlers should try in the middle of basic holds. A few minutes into this one, Fujiwara grabs a standing side headlock and I see Sayama shift his feet a little and think “is he going to hit the suplex out of this?” He didn’t, which sort of makes it better, like he was testing out a theory, didn’t like what he saw, and switched gears. A few seconds later he smacks the taste out of Fujiwara’s mouth and we’re good to go.
It’s your basic striker vs grappler match in a lot of ways – Sayama is the more dynamic kicker and will, as mentioned, slap a man silly, while Fujiwara is more of a “hey, what if I stuffed your ankle into your ear or turned your head completely around?” sort of fellow, but Fujiwara’s not above a vicious headbutt or high velocity open hand of his own, and Sayama certainly knows his way around the mat. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but neither is one dimensional.
Fujiwara is one of the best “little things” wrestlers of all time. He has great execution of great moves, but understands that it’s what’s between the moves that matters. The delayed stumble sell of a kick to the head is something he’s thrown out in probably a hundred matches, but the slow motion fall from vertical to horizontal after a Tiger Tombstone… who does that? How can a man will gravity to quarter speed for dramatic effect? Whatever fell sorcery he’s tapped into, it makes an amazing visual.
There’s some stuff to quibble with in this match, like how no one in Japan has ever sold a piledriver worth a damn, or maybe they shouldn’t spend two minutes in a figure four leg lock like a knockoff Ric Flair match. But if I have to sit through that to get Tiger bouncing around like Bruce Lee while Fujiwara tries to cut him off, or to see Fujiwara advancing on a cornered Sayama like a Terminator, I’ll take it.
Super Tiger vs. Akira Maeda (9/11/1984)
Any match between these two is worth watching, with this one being no exception. The push-and-pull of their stylistic clashes which led to backstage clashes helped to make this match memorable in its own right. Watching Sayama it’s clear that he’s comfortable with the matwork and he’s even more comfortable throwing strikes, while Maeda still doesn’t quite look like he’d be able to cut it in a kids’ martial arts class with some of his kicks.
The matwork between the two was compelling, but in a different way than Fujiwara and Sayama’s matwork was. Fujiwara has this rough rigidity in everything that he does that makes everything seem like a struggle that ends with one man incapacitated while Maeda’s matwork is still a bit more fluid and relies on his body language to help tell a story. He’s willing to get cranked in a hold or apply a hold for longer while he makes facial expressions or is kicking his legs around.
Essentially, Fujiwara is more no-nonsense, which showed in his match with Sayama, while Maeda is more of a showman, which along with Sayama’s showmanship, leads to a lot more in the way of crowd chants and anguished screams.
But who isn’t up for some high-drama pro wrestling, right? I’ve always loved Sayama’s moonsault into a double wristlock. When these two start really going at it you can feel the crowd just coming alive and the finishing stretch is just really a thing of beauty.
The Maeda in my head is mostly late model 90s Maeda, the one who’s a little broken down and can’t quite keep up with the Tamuras and Hans of the world. (Though at least smart enough to recognize it and bump himself out of the main event picture.) This mid 80s model, switching from kick to takedown counters to savage matwork with aggressive speed and fluency, is something to behold. Not to go all Bill Simmons on you, but when I was in college I watched Grumpy Old Men and saw 50-something Ann-Margret for the first time. Attractive lady. A couple years later I’m flipping through channels, catch five minutes of Once A Thief and my eyes about bugged out of my head. Same effect.
Neither Sayama nor Maeda is a performer with the subtlety or precision of Fujiwara. They don’t have it and they don’t need it. This isn’t the study in contrasts that the first match is. This is two dynamos going at it, each compelling the other to move a little faster, hit a little harder, just to keep up.
Does this mean a few things don’t look as clean as they could? Sure. Kicks and throws whiff a little, and some counters are just sloppy tangles of limbs. But the hits (like Maeda’s amazing footsweep counter to a Tiger high kick) are worth the misses.
From classic to classic! We get the rivalry that started JMMA, Sayama vs Maeda! Tiger was over so huge, getting cheered even over the ACE Maeda. This was a totally different dynamic than Tiger/Gramps because Akira wasn’t hesitant at all to strike, going a little old school Kwik Kik Lee in classic Maeda smart ass style before Tiger once again gets a nasty double wrist lock…why do they hate Sayama’s arms so much? Whereas it felt like Gramps totally outclassed Sayama in the grappling, this one felt much more even with the two trading identical counters.
For me the highlight was the pair throwing some of the most savage kicks we’ve seen in UWF so far. Tiger again gives up his advantage by missing another top rope move…it’s almost like UWF were trying to say that flashy worked moves don’t work, weird right?
Maeda totally got the fans back when Tiger put him in real trouble with a DWL late in the match, the crowd was very hot for this one and for good reason.
I don’t think it was as outright intense as the Tiger/Gramps match but a much better back and forth match for sure.
-Jacob Millis (@IQWrestler)
Interesting to see the differences between Maeda working Tiger and Fujiwara working him. Maeda seemed much more weary of the Tigers kicks, as he spent much of the match trying to ground him. Even with the big size difference Tiger was treated like a knockout artist. Maeda is really more of a guy who is dramatic big match wrestler, then a mat artist so we didn’t get much wizardry, but it nicely set up the finish of the match.
We are still in 1984, so we are still getting moonsaults and octopus holds, so the end wasn’t purely shootstyle, but it was pretty exciting with Maeda deciding to respond to big kicks with a nasty leg sweep,
and then putting on an octopus which Tiger was able to counter with a backdrop and a crossface.
We set up Tiger nicely as the white whale as he continues his New Japan undefeated streak into the UWF by knocking off both of the top dogs.