Wrestling History Lesson

By Sean Orleans

Yesterday, as many of you sat around a table with family and gave thanks before stuffing yourselves full of high caloric garbage and parking your asses on the couch to watch “pro football” to kill time before you could go and trample your fellow man at big box stores that evening for the latest overpriced bauble, yours truly was studying as always.  You don’t get to be the smartest man in wrestling by resting on your laurels.  No, my task is to learn. To assimilate information.  To make myself more knowledgable than everyone else.

Sure, I’m already smarter than most (probably you), but that doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibility to educate the wrestling public on the finer points of the sport by showcasing fantastic contests.

Such is the case tonight.  While everyone looks for a one-of-a-kind deal on this day, I present to you–FREE OF CHARGE–the 2003 Match of the Year: Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa.  These two won Match of the Year honors in 1997 and 1998 for their singles bouts in All Japan Pro Wrestling.  This third encounter would be contested under Misawa’s Pro Wrestling NOAH promotion.

To understand  how crazy these two men were in performing the array of moves you’ll see below, consider this: at the time of this match, Kobashi is 35 and his knees are shot; Misawa is 40 and his back and neck are in a bad way.

The next time you’re hanging out with your buddies and downing beers, and one of those knuckleheads looks at wrestling on the TV and says, “that ain’t too hard,” pull up this match and let them see what these men do to each other.  Man’s game, folks.  Man’s game.

Wrestling History Lesson w/ Sean Orleans

“Hey Sean, who’s your favorite wrestler ever?” is a question I’m often asked during down time at our MMWA events at the South Broadway Athletic Club (next card on Saturday, September 14–hint, hint).  My mind is flooded with possible answers, but more often than not, I focus on one man: Dean Malenko.

The Iceman.  The Man of A Thousand Holds.  Whatever clever nickname you wish to ascribe him, Dean Malenko was just friggin’ great at the pro graps.  He could stretch you, out wrestle you, counter you, overpower you, or use his quickness to confuse you.  He was not a tall man (5’8″), nor built like some cruiserweights (all cardio and flips, little strength), but the man could flat out go.

So many modern wrestlers want to get on the mic and blah blah blah.  I don’t care what you’re saying; you’re boring me!  Dean Malenko?  He almost never talked.  Watch his entrances.  The dude was like a walking statue coming to the ring.  Sometimes the only thing he’d do is grab at his wrists.  Man was all business before, during, and after a match.

When historians write about the great cruiserweights of the 90s and early 2000s, I have a fear they’ll forget Dean Malenko because he: a) never wore a mask (well except for that ONE TIME), b) rarely–if ever–got on the microphone, and c) was never LOUD.  He was a quiet warrior of the ring.

Companies may talk about how they want a nice looking guy who gets on the microphone and yada yada yada the fans, but wrestling companies need guys like Dean Malenko.

Here he is near the height of his “powers,” taking on Ultimo Dragon (another all-time great cruiserweight) at WCW Starrcade 1996.

A sad fact for me (and probably many of you reading): this match is now old enough to have a driver license and nearly old enough to vote.  It’s probably trying to grow a mustache but it looks like dirt on its upper lip in the mirror.

Wrestling History Lesson w/ Sean Orleans

I was at the South Broadway Athletic Club’s training facility yesterday and engaged in a brief chat with some of the guys while they were working out and honing their craft, when I heard one man there say one of the most egregiously awful things I’ve heard in years.

I was discussing Japanese wrestlers and touting the combined flash and effect their maneuvers had on opponents.  I cited the Great Muta’s elbow drop as one example, only to have hot shot rookie Da’Marius Jones pipe up with, “Who’s that?”

Confused, I responded, “Great Muta.  Face paint.  The mist.  Greatest practitioner of the shining wizard.  Japanese legend.  Muta?”

“Nope.  Never heard of him.”

After they revived me at ringside, I sought out to find videos demonstrating just why the Great Muta is arguably the best wrestler to emerge from Japan.  And that is a very short list: Muta, Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Jushin Liger, KENTA, and that’s about it.  I’m not an old fart, people.  Far from it.  And it’s not like Da’Marius Jones is all that young.  I could maybe forgive him if he was, say, eight or nine years old.  That’d just be a case of poor parenting.  But to make it this far in life and to be a professional wrestler and have no clue who the Great Muta is…I mean…uh…GAAAAAH!

I’m calm.  I promise.

Look, here are some videos to enjoy:

1. The Great Muta’s debut in the NWA/WCW (by the way, Gary Hart belongs on any Mt. Rushmore of greatest managers)

2. In 1992, Muta had a bout with longtime nemesis Hiroshi Hase for New Japan that would become legendary in tape trading circles and give birth to the term the “Muta Scale,” which measures the amount of blood a man loses in a match.

3. Here’s Muta in October 1996 wrestling the seemingly immortal Jushin Liger (dude moves like he doesn’t age):

4. Muta channels his inner Jack Sparrow with his entrance attire in this match, which took place in August 2007:

5. And lastly, here’s a match from January 2012, in which Muta wrestles in a 6-man tag bout:

So to those of you who don’t know about the Great Muta (and I’m looking in your direction, Da’Marius) I have only one thing to say:  GET. YOUR. HEAD. RIGHT.

Wrestling History Lessons w/ Sean Orleans

We return to Japan for this installment of Wrestling History Lesson and it’s a doozy.  Here is the 1992 Match of the Year: Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi versus Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas for the All Japan Pro Wrestling Tag Team Championship, in Kikuchi’s hometown of Sendai.

Some important points to take away from this bout:

1. Kroffat and Furnas (the CanAm Connection) disprove the notion that big, muscular men are mere bruisers incapable of technical wrestling.  One of them nails a FrankenSteiner in the match; a FrankenSteiner, foks.  How these guys didn’t dominate in North America is beyond me.

2. Kenta Kobashi is an absolute god in the wrestling ring.  If you don’t spend the 20 minutes of this match marveling at his ring generalship and then spend your free time this week tracking down his greatest matches on YouTube (including his appearances stateside), well I don’t know if we can be friends.

3. The crowd.  My god, this crowd.  Japanese wrestling fans are typically quieter than most fans.  They like to carefully observe and save their cheers and applause for the beginning and ending of a match, rarely breaking out in cheers during a contest.  Not this bunch of rabid fans.  I’m sure it helped that the match took place in Kikuchi’s hometown, but this crowd is the epitome of what a wrestling audience should be.  The fans here lose their collective minds several times throughout and it ultimately makes watching the match more enjoyable.  Yes, the match would still be great even if the fans sat on their hands for most of it, but their keen interest and boisterous pops shows how an audience can almost will a great match out of great wrestlers.

Until next time, knuckleheads.

Wrestling History Lessons w/ Sean Orleans

Last time, I asked what region of wrestling you wanted to see represented in the next ‘Wrestling History Lesson’ and–unsurprisingly–the United States got the most votes.  So I went deep into my wrestling think tank for this one and considered dozens upon dozens of classic matches: chain wrestling, grappling, catch wrestling, high-flying, tag bouts, gimmick matches, you name it.

And late one night after consuming a nice, tall Bloody Mary, it hit me: Ric Flair vs. Harley Race in a steel cage match for the NWA World Title, from the original Starrcade.  This year is the 30th anniversary of that match.  If that doesn’t make you feel old, then you’re a better person than me.

So much to love about this one: yet another chapter in the Flair-Race rivalry, Gene Kiniski as the special guest referee, Gordon Solie on commentary (“SU-PLAY!”), and of course, Harley Race’s facial hair and afro.

Ron Swanson WISHES he had that mustache/chops combo.  I heard that afro once beat Bruiser Brody in a falls count anywhere match in the old Dallas Sportatorium, but I digress.  Enjoy the match, knuckleheads; be prepared for a return trip abroad next time we go to the vault!

Wrestling History Lessons w/ Sean Orleans

Why do I keep going to All Japan Pro Wrestling for my history lessons?  Is it the fact the legends of the sport always go to Japan to ply their craft?  Maybe it’s the respectful audience?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I don’t think you’re ready to see some “British wrestling” just yet.  Soon enough.  In the meantime, enjoy Mexican wrestling hero Mil Mascaras taking on Ricky Steamboat and his STUPENDOUS arm drags from August 1981 (in a 2-out-of-3-Falls bout).

Special note: Why don’t MMWA refs have red or orange slacks like these Japan refs?  I gotta bring this up to Mr. Casta and Mr. Miller at the next meeting…

Wrestling History Lessons w/ Sean Orleans

Today’s trip into the vault is from April 1983 between two genuine Texas toughies: Terry Funk and Stan Hansen, in All Japan Pro Wrestling.

Don’t know who Stan Hansen is, kiddos?  Let me put it to you like this: if you put Terry Funk against a tyrannosaurus rex, Funk would let the T-Rex eat him and say he’s got the dinosaur right where he wants him (and Funk would be right).  Stan Hansen would walk up to the T-Rex and lariat the giant lizard into extinction.  Which may or may not have happened anyway.  Some fossil records have not been fully analyzed.

But I digress.  Enjoy the match, knuckleheads.