JUN AT HEART: At 51, Akiyama remains the master (June 13, 2021)

On My Screen This Week

Jun Akiyama may be the smartest professional wrestler in the world. The now 51-year-old was a prodigy in his debut year of 1992 in All Japan Pro Wrestling, but 30 years on he has adapted his style to expertly to portray himself as a veteran who has seen and done it all, with wisdom now his greatest asset.

It’s not as if his opponent in this KO-D Openweight title bout, Harashima, is a spring chicken. At 46 years old, he's a 20-year veteran, and has had a score of modern classics with the likes of Konosuke Takeshita, Kota Ibushi, and Masato Tanaka down the years. Though they had wrestled each other in a dozen-or-so tag affairs in the last six months, this multi-promotional Cyberfight card played host to the first singles encounter between Akiyama and Harashima.

Early on, Harashima is clearly intent on attacking Akiyama’s chest, dropping Akiyama’s torso down onto his knee before applying an innovative submission hold, pulling back on his opponent’s neck while driving a knee into his chest. If anyone is going to break down the other slowly, however, it ought to be Akiyama, who rebounds with a piledriver on the floor as a way to buy himself some time, before hitting a DDT on the ramp and getting some revenge on Harashima for his earlier chest attack by striking with a brilliant running knee. With a back suplex off the second rope onto this hard ring, it appears that the master has truly taken over.

After a guillotine choke leads to a near-fall for the former two-time Triple Crown champion, Harashima does get back into the match just at the point where it seems it might start to get repetitive. He hits a poison ‘rana and a huge knee strike, although he crashes and burns when he attempts a Meteora-style knee drop from the top rope.

At this point, a creative finish from Akiyama really would’ve put the seal on a quality encounter, but after a superb near-fall from an exploder, it was a simple guillotine choke that put Harashima out.

Still, with the finish coming as somewhat of a surprise, this ended up an enjoyable battle that proved that Akiyama still has a lot to offer, especially when paired with a spectacular opponent. (***)

  • Terry Funk vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW; April 23, 1983)

This is an unusual match in many ways, but what an unusual match, as it includes Stan Hansen on a tear throughout All Japan, as he sets his sights on Giant Baba’s PWF World heavyweight championship. His latest victim is none other than Terry Funk, a legend of the scene and a former three-time winner of the World's Strongest Tag Determination League (later Real World Tag League) tournament.

This had every right to be an epic clash of the titans, but it actually turns into something both much less, but also much more. Essentially, Hansen runs through Funk in a totally unexpected manner, with Funk never backing down but being crushed like… well, there is no modern day equivalent to this chaos.

That’s because the pro wrestling-style violence of the match is off the charts. Funk has to evade his fellow Texan in the early going, reaching out with stiff jabs after Hansen slaps him around, hard. Funk’s first big punches get a huge pop from the crowd and, what’s more, they look like they are connecting for real, and hurting the man known as “The Lariat”.

Hansen only has violence and torment on his mind here, and continues his attacks even when a break is called with Funk in the ropes. Hansen’s strikes are brutal: knees, chops, and punches that put Funk in an underdog position like you’ve never seen of him before.

Let’s be clear: this next-level pro wrestling brawling, and nearly 40 years on, the impact of the blows will still stun you as a viewer.

As the bout continues, Funk briefly gets Hansen in a position to lock on his famous spinning toe hold, but when he does, Hansen uses his knuckles to deliberately bust him open, with long spatters of blood covering Funk and Hansen alike. Funk’s evasion of the Western Lariat is thrilling, leading to him getting the spinning toe hold back on, but referee Joe Higuchi lingers in the way for just a second too long, and gets knocked out of the match.

With no referee to decide a winner, Hansen sees an opportunity to simply cause damage, crotching Funk on the top rope before taking the tag rope from the turnbuckle and attempting to hang him. Funk is helpless as he comes close to losing consciousness, his face a crimson mask, and he appears in real peril until his brother, Dory Funk Jr., belatedly arrives in his schoolteacher clothes to make the save.

It would’ve been much more effective had Terry been the Funk brother to run and make the save, but he was too busy putting in one of the greatest selling performances of all-time, in what really was more of an angle than a match.

Do not call yourself a conscientious wrestling fan unless you’ve seen this slice of classic action, and then reconsidered just how believable the genre can be. (****)

  • Bruno Sammartino & Tito Santana vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage & Adrian Adonis (WWF; July 12, 1986)

Although the WWF’s “blue bar” steel cage had been in use since Hulk Hogan fought King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania II, there was no chance that anything other than the classic mesh cage would be used for a bout involving Bruno Sammartino. At 51 years old here, the former two-time - and 11-year! - WWWF champion wasn’t about to make production changes to the type of match he’d previously had with The Sheik and, on literally dozens of occasions, George “The Animal” Steele.

As you’d also expect from this period, this is a Tornado match, meaning that there are no tags, and everyone battles in the ring at the same time, although the over-the-top-or-through-the-door rules persist. Sammartino immediately pairs off with his rival Savage, while Adonis does his best to steal the show with some big bumps, including one that the director misses when Adonis is crotched on the top rope.

Despite Adonis’ best efforts, this is basic stuff, but it is well performed, as both teams try to wear their opponents down to the point that they cannot stop them exiting the cage. Things really heat up when blood is introduced to the mix, after Savage javelins Santana into the mesh and Santana rather obviously blades. This leaves it to Sammartino to save the day for the babyfaces, which he continues to do with big fists that are still thrown with a lot of zip.

Eventually, Adonis scales the cage but, rather than choosing to climb out, turns around and attempts to hit Sammartino with a splash off the top, which he makes a mess of as he considers how to protect both his opponent and himself. When Adonis and Savage collide thereafter, Santana is already halfway up the cage having foiled Savage’s attempt to escape, and Sammartino scoots quickly to the door, allowing the babyfaces to get a victory that ought to have been more definitive, but was hamstrung by the rules. (***)

In the long history of pro wrestling, has there ever been a wider gap between appearance and ability than that of Sid “Vicious” Eudy? Vicious strides to the ring for this WCW title match to a significant number of cheers thanks to his remarkable visual charisma, but once he engages in battle with Sting, he shows that he’s not in the champion’s league when it comes to actually performing the match.

This bout is, in fact, significantly worse than I remembered it. Despite the charisma of both men, there’s nothing in the way of big fight feel here, and their layout of the match is deeply flawed, with Sting getting the better of Vicious far too early and easily, working on his arm sloppily while Vicious sells it unconvincingly. It would have been better to allow Sting to shine in the opening moments of the match, but for Vicious to stand up to it more than he did, instead of immediately proving that the challenger’s bark was worse than his bite.

Overall, the match is so poorly delivered that you’d swear Vicious has forgotten their locker-room conversation and has had to be led through this by the hand. In between visibly communicating with his opponent, he delivers an awkward headlock takeover, a couple of clotheslines, and a powerslam, although on the latter, Sting does most of the work in throwing himself into the move. In what is surely an attempt to amuse himself, commentator Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) states, “I have never seen Sid so ready!”

Not even a finish from Eddie Graham’s most prized notebook would’ve saved this bout, but what could have been a clever ending is badly botched anyway. As Jim Ross begins to panic about the amount of broadcast time left, Vicious’ Horsemen buddies Ric Flair and Arn Anderson arrive to distract Sting, who chases them away. Moments later, he appears to arrive back and attempt a slam on Vicious, but crumples under his weight and is pinned. As Vicious conspicuously fails to launch into a championship celebration, however, Sting arrives from whence he came, with a rope around his wrist, and amidst utter confusion, referee Nick Patrick counts another fall, this time Sting pinning Vicious with a small package.

“It looked like Barry Windham or someone!” is all Jim Ross can muster to explain proceedings, which are made only somewhat clearer by a replay that shows Sting coming face to face with someone (it was in fact Windham) dressed exactly like him, the latter hastily leaving the ringside area.

Had the production had the air time to make this work, it could've added a layer to the storyline of the Horsemen's desperation to take the World title back from Sting, who had taken it from Flair at The Great American Bash, having himself been ousted from the Horsemen in February.

Alas, this match instead failed on every conceivable level, although eight months later, Vicious was in the midst of a monster push in the WWF. But not even Vince McMahon could make Sid Eudy the star that his look suggested he would be. (DUD)

  • Gary Albright & Sabu vs. Kenta Kobashi & The Patriot (AJPW; November 29, 1996)

Watching Sabu charge to the ring for this Real World Tag League match is a reminder of just how thrilling he was in the early and mid-'90s, with his unique team with Gary Albright adding to the anticipation here.

Considering the participants, there's a surprising amount of feeling out in the beginning, and Sabu doesn't get to shine with any of his trademark moves before Kenta Kobashi and The Patriot begin to work him over. When Albright gets his opportunity, he hits a beautiful belly-to-belly suplex on Kobashi, and then lifts him up for what the crowd believes is a backdrop driver, only for the move to disappointingly come out as one of the safer variety.

It’s at this point that Sabu finally gets to take over. He strikes with a vaulting legdrop on Kobashi, and takes him over with a hurricanrana from the top rope. On his third high-risk move, however, he runs out of luck, crashing into the guard rail when he leaps off Albright’s back, into a springboard off the top rope into a dive to the floor.

This puts the babyfaces at a momentary advantage, although The Patriot is conspicuously quiet throughout the match, and appears to be avoiding using his right arm when he is in the ring. Indeed, as soon as he’s in, he’s back out again when Sabu springboards to the top rope, and takes him down with a spectacular ‘rana on the floor.

With the crowd up and sensing a conclusion, Albright gets nasty with two released German suplexes on Kobashi, and a Dragon suplex that puts him down for the fall.

This is a fine match, but you get the impression that there was a lot more to give in grander circumstances. (***)

On My Podcast App This Week

Two of wrestling Twitter’s most pleasant individuals, Alan Counihan and Allan Blackstock, come together behind the PWTorch paywall to chat about one of the greatest feuds in pro wrestling history, Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko. This is a typically laid back look at a blood feud that culminated in a massive fight at Shea Stadium in August 1980, and is a mellifluous, educational listen that can be enjoyed at any time.

There was a lot for Jim Cornette to talk about this week, enough that it took him a monstrous four hours and 45 minutes to break it down on the Experience. It’s a Jake Roberts-heavy episode, as Cornette and Brian Last discuss the Dark Side Of The Ring episode on Roberts’ family and the gruesome, abusive behaviour of their father, Aurelian “Grizzly” Smith. There’s also a review of Roberts’ appearance on the WWE Hidden Treasures TV show, discussion of the recent round of WWE releases, as well as - hilariously! - some conversation about NFTs and what they actually mean.

Benno, JP, and Gareth routinely bring a dose of British humour to a maddening U.S. wrestling scene, and do so again here with this review of Double Or Nothing. The AEW pay-per-view had plenty for them to cheer about, and a main event that begged for wisecracks, making this one of the few listenable reviews of the show that weekend.

Investigative journalist David Bixenspan has researched and written a lot about The Ultimate Warrior, including for me at Fighting Spirit Magazine. In the aftermath of the Warrior documentaries on A&E’s Biography and Vice TV’s Dark Side Of The Ring shows, Bixenspan chats with Post Wrestling’s John Pollock to examine some of the biggest talking points of Warrior’s life, in a detail from which even the most ardent Warrior fan can learn.

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