Friday, 23 March 2012

Six of the Best; Bus Man's Holiday

So we have established that the Six where worthy main eventers in the UK, so what made them so special not just to us but fans around the world? Well, their ability to change styles as time demanded, their unique characters, but their base instincts for adapting to a wrestler and adapting to an audience. They where all incredibly gifted workers, and they could make matches with anyone but when they had the right opponent, they could change wrestling history. One man was the equal to three of the six and bested them more often than not in his homeland Japan. This episode looks at three of the Six and three of their matches with Satoru Sayama. It has to start of course in New Japan. Well Madison Square Garden in 1982. This was a rare Stateside defence of the WWF Jnr. Heavyweight title, the most prestigious Junior Heavyweight title in the world at the time so without further ado, Howard away you go.

This is not their best match, but in a feud that lasted three years its hard to pick just one. This one had the most effect though, the audience was not NJPW regulars, it was the biggest audience in the world in the worlds most exposed wrestling market. Perhaps most importantly it was the audience of one, Vince MacMahon Jr., that was most impressed, telling Dynamite later that it was the “greatest match he had ever seen”. This was at the height of their feud and they knew each other so well they could put together a five star classic in seven minutes. The near miss kick out from Dynamite tells the story in itself, they where both that close. Dynamite doesn't really come off as the viscous heel he portrayed in Japan, there are elements of it there though. Having watched so much of his British stuff lately, you get the feeling it was just his style, never, ever back down. Not really breaking the rules as trying to run right over them. Sayama of course is Sayama, his aerial style honed in Mexico, his mat work honed in England, his striking honed in Japan, NJPW spent a lot of time perfecting him as wrestler and it shows. The WWF Jnr. Title would be his for the taking once Tatsumi Fujinami moved up to heavyweight, and as that was he who Dynamite had been chasing in his early NJPW forays he took the chase to Tiger Mask. The result was genius and brought together the perfect mix of styles, Dynamites submission versus Tiger Masks strikes and their more or less equal aerial majesty. The effect was breathtaking. It single handedly gave Jnr. Heavyweights a voice outside of the UK for the first time since Danny Hodge was NWA Light-heavyweight champion, and more importantly attracted the top stars from around the world to the hottest Jnr. Division on the planet. Including . . .


Mark Rocco did not have the same Japan connection that Dynamite did, Rocco came by way of the Crabtree's, eager to get shot of him after he had unfortunately split somebody open the hard way and caused a ruction with ITV. Meanwhile NJPW where expanding the Tiger Mask Universe. The original Tiger Mask was an Animé character. A masked Japanese Pro who wrestles as a heel in the US, but turns face at the bequest of his son in Japan. His arch nemesis was Black Tiger, so if it worked once in cartoon form . . . All we need is a guy who can work a similar style and go just as hard as Dynamite. . . hello is that Lancashire? Rocco had a very successful run as Black Tiger, which culminated in a WWF Jnr. Title reign in a tournament title for the vacated belt. We shall get to that in a second. As Dynamite spent a lot of time tending to Calgary and had some injury worries, Black Tiger filled the hole of top heel in the division. His heel-ish ways transferring well in what is more or less a direct transfer of his match style. What made things better for him there was no Mount -Evans rules to hold him back. This was Rocco with the breaks off. The flipside of that is though that as a heel if half the heel-ish things you do are now legal you have to up the volume elsewhere to get the heat, add in the mask which hide his facial expressions and therefore half his charm and it could have been real trouble. Much like Chris Jericho found out a few years later when NJPW tried to introduce Super Liger. Rocco though proved his worth, enough that when Sayama and even Dynamite moved on he become the chosen one.


So how did Mark become the chosen one? Surely with two class acts like Dynamite and Tiger Mask, the two hottest properties in town you don't let them go do you? Oh yes you can. Thanks to this kick, Akira Maeda was out of a job. What he did next was form a company that not only changed wrestling but the whole aspect of martial arts world wide. They formed a seed that would become MMA as we know it, as well as having a long lasting effect on the wrestling business. Maeda's issues in New Japan stemmed from a reluctance to put new men at the top of the card by then booker Ricki Chosu, he was also not fond of the NJPW Strong Style that was the companies mainstay. What Maeda wanted to do was to work an environment that supported a more realistic mat game, something stiffer and more like wrestling used to be in its original incarnation, this shoot style would become the original Universal Wrestling Promotion of Japan. His wrestling masters at NJPW would not allow such a thing to happen so with perhaps the most direct resignation letter in history (a kick to the face on national TV) he was let go and he took several young NJPW regulars with him, including Sayama. This left Dynamite as the top dog (if you will pardon the pun) and he went on to win the vacated title. Sayama for his part actually tried to persuade Dynamite to go with him, but Dynamite saw the risk and staid where he was until someone came calling. That someone would be Giant Baba, with a briefcase full of money and a guaranteed tour fee. Dynamite seeing how strong All Japan had become, seeing his greatest opponent leave and realising his high impact style maybe better suited to All Japan and its regular income decided to up ship and move taking Davey Boy with him. This left the new UWF in a hole, Dynamite was Tiger Mask's, now for contractual reasons Super Tiger, best money making opponent. But who could excel at a more mat based style with, no aerials and no pin falls, who could take a lot of punishment and make others look great while getting himself over? Hello is that Lancashire again? We seem to need a Mid-heavyweight shooter with a string track record of mat wrestling. Marty Jones? That will do nicely.

Marty actually doesn’t have to change his style that much, aside from not having to run the ropes, it is pretty much what you would expect to see him do in Croydon. Les Kellet never hit this hard though. Sayama is clearly trying to kick through brick walls, but the match itself is a good set piece of give and take one-upmanship the kind that Jones excelled at with Mark Rocco and Dave Finlay. He even tries the power lock but has to settle for an Indian death lock, but notice how the crowd turn to him through the match, only ever a face, he had no bother in getting the crowd on his side with one well placed stiff slap and his clear submissions advantage.

Of course with Tiger and Dynamite gone it left an even bigger hole for NJPW. It was filled by, you've guessed it, Mark Rocco who won the vacated title and began a series with the Cobra that continued the momentum that Dynamite and Tiger Mask had started. These matches sum up what could be achieved by British wrestling at the time, the ability to adapt had come from many different catch weight contests from international competitors in different towns all over the country. Put them in a mask, change the rules, give them the biggest audience in the world and they could prove they where the best.

Have a good time till next time grapple fans.

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