Looking Back Puroresu Reviews

DVDVR 1001 Matches #2: Akira Maeda vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW 6/12/86)

To those uninitiated the much respected website Death Valley Driver Video Review is putting together a list of 1001 matches to see before you die called the DVDVR 1001. This is my project where I am reviewing every match in the DVDVR 1001, continuing with #2,

This is a Block B Match in the 1986 International Wrestling Grand Prix League.

It’s important to understand the dynamic of this match, because without said dynamics the story being told is completely lost. Tatsumi Fujinami is essentially Mr. New Japan at this point. He is the representation of everything nice and swell about New Japan Pro Wrestling. More than anyone else, even Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu, he exists to the young fans of New Japan as the stalwart of Strong Style. His opposite is Akira Maeda, the young star of the invading Universal Wrestling Federation. He’s a shoot stylist, who was once a promising New Japan young boy. He left, and now he has returned to take down New Japan and show the true power of the UWF and shoot style.

That’s the dynamic of the match, and it explains why from the word go the crowd is super-hot. The crowd’s enthusiasm never dampens, they grow more invested the longer that Maeda beats the life out of Fujinami. I hesitate to call this match a squash, because Fujinami has enough offense to avoid that label I believe. At the same time, man, does he ever take an ass kicking in this contest. That’s the story of the match, to coincide with the larger dynamic of UWF versus New Japan that had been taking place since the beginning of 1986.

The story plays out in the form of Fujinami making a huge mistake and paying for said mistake. At the beginning of the match Fujinami attempts to grapple with Maeda. He enters into Maeda’s realm, is outclassed, and Maeda proceeds to control ninety percent of the match moving forward. The key moment comes when Fujinami first makes a fired up comeback. He feeds off of the crowd, displays great emotion, runs the ropes, hits a Clothesline, etc. He’s pro wrestling again, and that is when he is able to better stand up to Maeda. The crowd buys into this hook, line, and sinker. They love their pro wrestling hero using pro wrestling to stand up to the fallen shoot fighter.

Maeda keeps to his gameplan though. He sparingly engages in pro wrestling, instead he Kicks when Fujinami wants Suplexes, and he grapples for submissions when Fujinami wants space. There’s even a sequence where Fujinami attempts to draw Maeda to the outside. Maeda will have none of that however, he’s not here to brawl in a pro wrestling match, but to use his shoot style to win a pro wrestling match. It’s all done so effortlessly, yet conveying a sense of struggle from both men the entire time. Fujinami comes across as the hero who will not allow New Japan to topple as long as he draws a breath. Meanwhile Maeda is the trained assassin who is bereft of the fiery emotion of his foe but is more than capable of taking him part by using his style.

The ending is problematic, very problematic in fact. Maeda misfires with a Rolling Koppo Kick and opens up a gusher on Fujinami’s forehead. The double knockout finish that follows appears hastened, because it is, and illegitimate. It’s a blemish upon an otherwise pristine display of professional wrestling. The crowd dies at the finish, maybe because of how sudden it is, but maybe because their hero has been denied his chance to overcome the beating of a lifetime.

That one sequence aside, this is fabulous professional wrestling. Fujinami is always game, and I’m quickly discovering that I have vastly underrated Maeda in my wrestling watching lifetime. Maeda brings the destruction, Fujinami brings the fire, and the crowd brings the heat that fuels both gentlemen. Would have loved a better ending, but even with said ending this is an excellent piece of business that deserves its storied reputation.

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

About the author

Bill Thompson

I am the almighty Bill Thompson, father of a little girl, husband to an awesome wife, a paramedic/firefighter, and a fan of the Chicago Cubs. I've been writing about wrestling for some time now. You can find me writing about great matches at Blue Thunder Driver, or matches people have suggested I watch at Random Match Generator. I write about free matches legally available to watch online at Free Pro Wrestling and am a contributor to the Cubed Circle Newsletter. I'm also the Senior Writer for the magazine/website The Tag Rope. I'm happy to be on the Wrestling with Words ship, and have I mentioned I am a fan of the Chicago Cubs? Cause I am, like huge, as in they are my #1 priority. Just making sure we're on the same page...

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