At 47, he didn’t look like much. Every movement was stiff, his body performing like an old man’s, labored and awkward. His hairline was even slightly receding, as if to confirm this decline was no illusion.
His wrestling moveset was the final straw, a remnant of the previous decade. Without context he appeared to be just another gaijin, a foreign wrestler slightly out of his element in a sport that was changing quickly by the minute.
But, even though he didn’t look like much, Mark Lewin mattered.
A star since his teenage years in Australia, Lewin made it big all over the globe before finally coming to Japan for the first time in 1973. There he went to the finals of the Champion’s Carnival against the legendary Giant Baba and remained a main event star for much of the decade, famous, not just for his matches, but for marrying a Japanese beauty.
Those credentials still meant something in a country that revered its elders. But, by the end of the night on September 11, 1984, it was clear Mark Lewin was the past.
Nobuhiko Takada, then 22, was the future.
That was the story of their match at least, one that took hold, despite the bout’s relative lack of artistic or athletic merit. On the surface it was a throw-away match on the midcard of a fledgling promotion. Digging deeper, it becomes clear it meant much more.
“His loss to Nobuhiko Takada via submission was a key match in the first UWF when they changed styles. Takada at the time was not considered a star while Lewin had been a main eventer for more than a decade,” Dave Meltzer wrote in the December 4, 2017 issue of the Wrestling Observer. “In Japan, protecting the superstars was strong, so when Takada made Lewin submit, not only was it one of the first major wins of Takada’s career, it was meant to show that UWF wasn’t the fake pro wrestling that the other groups were because a superstar like Lewin lost to one of their young shooters.”
For the first time it was apparent that Takada, once the prized prospect in New Japan’s dojo, was still very much a star in the making. Just as clear was something more profound—if a star, no matter how well established, wanted to thrive in the UWF era, he’d have to bring it a little harder than Mark Lewin did.
The sport of wrestling in Japan had changed. You could either change with it or be left in its wake.
Results (Via http://www.prowrestlinghistory.com)
September 11, 1984 in Tokyo, Japan
Korakuen Hall drawing 3,300
- Jerry Olski pinned Mach Hayato.
- Mach Hayato pinned Richard Charland.
- Kazuo Yamazaki pinned Jack Snuka (11:11).
- Rusher Kimura & Ryuma Go beat Pierre Martel & Pierre Lefebvre (14:18) when Kimura beat Lefebvre.
- Nobuhiko Takada beat Mark Lewin (8:40) via submission.
- Yoshiaki Fujiwara beat UFO (13:50) via submission.
- Super Tiger beat Akira Maeda (18:55) via submission to win a tournament.
Match 1: Kazuo Yamazaki vs. Jack Snuka
Yamazaki vs Jack Snuka was definitely the oddest match on paper that we’ve discussed so far, and honestly by the standard of what we’ve seen so far the match kind of stunk for the first half, with some really awkward moments of Yamazaki trying shoot style spots and Snuka not quite knowing what to do. The moments when they were just out there doing a traditional match were fine though and I enjoyed when Snuka would do some flashy arm drag or something and Yamazaki would just counter back with a basic shoot hold.
The thing I got most out of this is seeing just how much Yamazaki grows as a wrestler, to me he’s one of the great unsung shoot style heroes, never talked about with the reverence of a Maeda or Super Tiger but he was pretty much the perfect amalgamation of both their philosophies of shoot style by the time he hits his prime.
What is interesting about all three of the matches we are reviewing this week, is that we are still early enough in the UWF experiment that the UWF guys are not forcing outsiders into wrestling their matches.
When we get to UWF V2 and later feds like UWFI, RINGS and PWFG outsiders were coming in and being forced to adjust.
Here Yamazaki was working a Jack Snuka match. I like Jack Snuka, who had a long run as Cocoa Samao, matches, and I enjoyed this. I especially liked Yamazaki throwing karate shots and Snuka countering with Polynesian wrestler strikes. Fun but basically inessential match.
Man, this match was really kinda weird. I’m not sure what else it was supposed to be, but that’s what it was.
Jack Snuka seems like a really strange fit for UWF, especially in September when they really were sorta getting their act together, stylistically. Kazuo Yamazaki will always be one of my favorite wrestlers and he completely nails this style of wrestling, but it was odd seeing Yamazaki working this beautiful, fluid shoot style while Snuka was doing sorta goofy pro wrestling moves.
Eleven hundred Polynesian wrestlers in the world and UWF hired Cocoa Samoa. I’m not asking for Haku or anything, but… ok, I am asking for Haku.
Fairness to ol’ Jack, though, he can work his way through an arm drag-arm bar-head scissor sequence just fine. I mean, Yamazaki is taking him to school on the mat, sure, but Snuka at least looks like he’s been in a class room before, if you follow me.
I got my hopes up a little bit when Yamazaki sold a shinbreaker like he just had some Yakuza debt collectors come for his knees. Snuka works the leg a little bit, too, but Yamazaki comes back with kicks and, yeah, we’re not doing that kind of psychology here.
Speaking of psychology, Yamazaki just got the better of a headbutt sequence with a Polynesian wrestler. I can’t decide if I should be offended by that or not. My genuine confusion is alleviated by a gorgeous German from Yamazaki and, yes, shoot style should have kept pinfalls. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Match 2: Mark Lewin vs. Nobuhiko Takada
Two seconds in and Lewin is throwing Takada into the guardrail. Yeah, Tamura/Han this ain’t. (Though Takada does work the same aikido-ish wristlock throw Volk Han would come to love.) Lewin is clearly not at home with the shoot(ish) style, but Takada is perfectly willing to work some other bullshit around him, including a World of Sport-esque roll-through-the-wrist-lock spot we’ve all see a million times but I don’t recall Takada ever doing.
I always forget Takada started off as a top pro-style juniors guy. This match reminded me.
Lewin is perfectly at home with some traditional heeling. He beats Takada down a little, traps him in a corner, throws him to the floor and plays a little king of the mountain. For his part, Takada shines as the babyface fighting from underneath.
This is where I always thought he was superior to Maeda. Maeda was a great badass babyface when he wanted to be, but I always felt he needed the shoot style to really shine. Takada could’ve been Takada anywhere at any time. Change his name to Nathan Thomas and he could’ve been a top guy in Memphis or Dallas without a hitch.
This listing caught me sorta off-guard. Mark Lewin, as in Mark Lewin? But he’s here and he brings the kind of heat that helps to get a young, plucky Nobuhiko over as a huge babyface.
We’re seeing less of a struggle for moves sorta situation like we saw with Fujiwara around this time, but Takada is still working a Super Tiger-inspired hybrid style by finishing with a missile kick into a wrist lock. I forgot how big of a deal Lewin was and was sorta shocked at how over his sleeper hold finisher was with the crowd, because let me tell you, they went NUTS when he went for it on Takada.
This was a trip! I’m actually a massive Mark Lewin fan, as pretty much any Australian born fan of wrestling history should be, and I will also defend Takada to the death as being pretty much the ultimate badass. So this was a little bit of a dream match was actually pretty damn good!
This had none of the awkwardness of the Snuka/Yamazaki match, in equal parts because Lewin can actual get pretty technical when needed and Takada can work a more traditional match as good as anybody when he needed to.
This one was really the best mix of proto shoot and traditional we’ve seen yet in my opinion, some really nice grappling exchanges and Takada winning with the wrist lock, while also hitting missile dropkicks and taking Lewin power spots. Very nice match.
This was interesting but ultimately a failure.
I liked how Lewin jumped Takada at the bell with real aggression, but Takada is the least flexible of the UWF natives and while I imagine Maeda or Fujiwara would have been able to do something fun with Lewin, this was pretty dull.
Takada just breaking out dropkicks instead of really trying much shoot stuff made it even more forgettable. This doesn’t play much of a role in telling a story of stylistic progression.
Match 3: Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. UFO
The UFO is one of those guys that was mixed up in the early UWF that didn’t quite fit in, although that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t entertaining. Before watching UWF, I’m not sure I’d seen much Bob Della Serra outside of a few scattered “Karl Steiner” matches in NJPW that took place after his UWF run. He works like a pretty standard, gaijin heel here and it makes for a fun match-up against the always-cranky Fujiwara.
This plays out like a pretty standard gaijin heel vs. native star kind of match that you’d see in the 80’s, just that the native star is a younger Fujiwara. Fujiwara had to go to the well of using his headbutts to stop the onslaught of chokes, slaps and punches only to finish him off with a pretty gnarly arm crank. Think a manjigatame without the leg thrown over the head.
This was Della Serra’s last appearance as the UFO and last match with UWF, which helps to mark the UWF’s move towards a more shoot-oriented style that doesn’t rely on dastardly foreign heels anymore.
I mean, at least not as much.
Now we’re wrestling. I can say with confidence I have never seen The UFO before, but he’s exchanging armlocks with Fujiwara like he’s The Destroyer or something. We’re in mid chess match when the clipping hits, and we come back to The UFO complaining about, I assume, Fujiwara’s head (“he’s got rocks in there or something!”).
Now Fujiwara is a guy who can take a hint, so he absolutely wrecks The UFO’s shit with headbutts.
Action slows down on the back half. The UFO is, early impressions notwithstanding, no Destroyer. Fujiwara’s selling keeps this thing above water. It’s not quite a one man show, but this is definitely a Fujiwara carry job.
Odd finish as Fujiwara looks like he’s going for his namesake waki gatame, can’t quite get it, and steps over into something like an Octopus hold/juji gatame hybrid. I don’t want to tell Mr. Fujiwara his business, but I’m not a fan.
The best part of these reviews, watching Fujiwara fustigate hapless victims with a seemingly endless variety of holds, and it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that The UFO had no hope here.
We’re only a few weeks into this project and we’re running out of wordage to accurately convey just what a masterful pro wrestler Fujiwara was and still is. Every little thing he does is so carefully thought out to add to the match. This was hardly his greatest bout but he was still so absolutely mesmerizing that I have to recommend this one just for him.
UFO is the least of the three gaijin we see this week, and as much as Fujiwara might try, he can’t do much with him, though it is fun to watch Fujiwara try to work something interesting out of UFO’s time killer loose chinlock.
I kind of liked the finish with Fujiwara throwing a big headbutt to the belly and locking on kind of a standing armbar for the tap. I have watched more Fujiwara matches then probably anyone on earth, and this was safely in the bottom. Nothing more to see here, let’s move on to better things.