10.16.2005

Truly, this is the definition. (Pro Wrestling)

Obviously, Japan is different than the United States. But amongst the things in common, the most recurring trend is professional wrestling. And back in the old days, in the days of Showa, it was exactly that. In the days of JWP, it was, at least with Rikidozan, a form of entertainment. But the values of combat were kept, and it was just as much about strength as it was fighting spirit. But it was not a pure business. In the United States, they began to move farther and farther away from this, towards the theatrical, but the drama and the passion and the spirit remained in Japan, taking precidence over all other factors.

On both sides of the pond, wrestlers of eachother's country were seen as evil. In the United States, none really got that far at all, but some were treated with respect starting in the 60s in 70s. Specifically, Giant Baba and other All Japan wrestlers, who, unlike Inoki, actually went to the US. In All Japan, too, American's finally began to be seen as equals and men of integrity, such as the Funk Brothers, Stan Hansen, and others in that vein. Not so much in New Japan, but I'm not here to bash the stupid, stupid things New Japan has done in the past.

I'm here to talk about the simplification of all of this; the pure contest between the seperate nations.

Nobuhiko Takada Vs. Bob Backlund
UWF-i, 11/7/91
"Starting Over, Chapter 2"

Bob Backlund was the last real WWWF champion. With a five year, dominant reign, after defeating "Superstar" Billy Graham for his well earned title, Bob was on a tear. Like many other wrestlers like Ken Patera and people in that vein, he seemlessly combined the brawling and showmanship of North American Style, but the technique that came with his immense freestyle background. He was also a pure soul, and one people could not help but get behind. This changed in the mid-ninties, when he became a crazy man obsessed with winning the WWF title from Bret Hart after claiming he never lost it to Iron Shiek (who lost it to Hulk Hogan, which started all that crap), but that's not the point.

Backlund had a tremendous series in Japan with Antonio Inoki. In their two matches, they technically traded the title back and forth in three days. Backlund lost it to Inoki, but Inoki was not proud of his victory, and he handed the title back to Backlund. In their rematch, however, Backlund won with his trademark Chickenwing Face Lock, becoming legitimate in the eyes of Japanese wrestling fans. When he returned in 1991, he was already a threat. One of the few men to put down Inoki had come back, and would be going against a top native.

On the other side of the pond, you have Nobuhiko Takada. Classically trained, and originally a New Japan trueborn, Takada was not much of a stand out until a couple of chance occurances, including a long feud with Shiro Koshinaka (ASS BASED OFFENSE~~) and Akira Maeda's two departures from New Japan Pro Wrestling to form the UWF. In the UWF, Maeda's dream version of pro wrestling, It was closer to the original vision than anything else currently in Japan; it was sport. One day, I will write a comprehensive essay on UWF, UWF-i, RINGS, and the other companies of this nature.

But in UWF, Takada was king. Of all the men to ever wrestle in the UWF, he was one of two (the other being the incomparable Volk Han) men to defeat Akira Maeda in his own game, and when the promotion folded, he formed his own, UWF-i. Union of Professional Wrestling Force International. This match was among the first main events in the promotion.

This match has no real background to speak of, other than Backlund's reputation and participation in the first shows of UWF-i to give it legitimacy, and Takada being the franchise star of the promotion. There's no drama, there's no lead-in story line, there's no anger...there is simply the spirit of competition.

Backlund has the ultimate triple threat on his side; height, weight, experience. But so did Maeda when Takada wrestled him. After introductions, they shake hands, the bell rings, and they're off. Contrast in styles is immediately evident. Takada has his hands raised, in classic shootwrestle style, and Backlund has his hands low, ready for a take down or grapple.

The match progresses brilliantly. Takada shows his striking strength, but is always outwitted when on the ground. Within the first five minutes, Backlund has hooked a pin cradle, and an abdominal stretch. All Takada's had so far was a momentary face lock, and a near application of a cross armbar. Despite the few strikes, the crowd is way into it, hushed when they're on the mat, cheering when they're on their feet.

Past the five minute mark, Backlund again shows his expertiest, turning another abdominal into a kneebar. When Takada gets out, he gives Backlund a similar scare, with a cross arm bar applied. After Backlund gets out, the grappling just gets more intense and complicated. If Takada cant get the chance to strike, he's going to submit him, but Bob is a tough task, and can read Takada very easily. Almost every time Takada sets up for one hold or specific takedown, Backlund not only has a counter, but a counter to Takada's counter. He's almost always on top.

It's when Backlund is able to apply the Camel Clutch, the same move that cost him the WWWF title, that things start to really heat up. The sstruggle for the ropes is immense, but Backlund eventually gets free. As he stands, his eyes race, and he reformats his plan, having a striking opportunity. After repeated leg kicks, he is able to apply a knee bar of his own, with relative ease. Backlund doesn't have such an easy time escaping, and for the first time, Bob is not only frustrated, but without a counter, and has to use the ropes.

Takada hovers as Bob stands, and quickly adds an exclamation point, with a few knees. That doesnt work so well, as Bob scores with a back drop suplex, interrupting a ten count to apply a Fujiwara armbar. At this point, not only is the crowd completely into it, they're on their feet for everything. Oddly, whenever one man is in a hold, no matter how snug or simple, they cheer for the man in the hold.

Bob sinks to Takada's level, and knocks Takada down again, with a straight elbow. But that's a mistake, and as soon as Nobuhiko arises, poor Bob is VERY quickly demolished with kicks and palm strikes, setting up for a back drop suplex, then getting knocked down again as he tries to stand. The favor is returned, and Backlund is spared from the ten count by an armbar.

Backlind calms down, and is able to go back to the wrestling, reversing the hold, and scoring a two count pinfall. Still too soon, though. They stay close to the ground, Bob on top until he tries to pin again. Takada then hooks a one legged crab. Bob is forced to use the ropes again, but Takada is on him as soon as he's up, rushing him with strikes, then taking him down with a hip toss, and applying another cross armbar.

In ambition, Backlund moves against Takada, trying to get him into the ropes, but is not able to get there, as Takada releases, and pulls him back, applying an achilles tendon. Backlund's control is over- this is Takada's match now. Bob's on his level, and Takada starts to go for the win.

By the fifteen minute mark, they're both tired, exchanging heel holds, arm bars, and harsh takedowns. Whenever Takada gets caught, he does everything he can think of to escape. When Backlund is captured, though, he's calm, cool, and knows just what to do, provided it's not in too deep. But all those deep armbars Backlund can't just slip out of take effect eventually, and he tires down.

Backlund's next big offensive rush, after being knocked down twice more, gets another offensive, sweeping with a head lock takedown, and catching the arm bar. Takada hits the ropes, and after a strike exchange, Takada is lobbed across the ring with a Butterfly Suplex, and caught in a Boston Crab. As he hits the rope, he's elbowed, and then placed in a sleeper. But that sleeper is only a transition, and the crowd just loses it as Takada is trapped in the feared Chickenwing Face Lock. He does not say die, however, and manages to drape one foot over the ropes. Takasa is alive, but man, Backlund is not about the fact.

Backlund hits the precursor to the Olympic Slam, and applies a tendon hold. Takada's no longer interested in wrestling; only victory. He sits up, and relentlessly axe kicks the arm. He's free, and after another massive strike barrage, and trips him, applying a tendon hold, then a half crab when that fails. Backlund's last strength comes, and he is able to flip Takada off, and run for a tackle. But Takada shifts instantaneously into the Kimura, rolling Backlund over, and tightening the most basic, yet easily most painful submission in the sport. And in that one tense moment, admist the screams of thousands, with the atmosphere at a fever pitch, with both men exhausted, yet struggling, with that agonizing hold on tight...

...Backlund blacks out.

And like that, in an instant, Takada has done it. 25 minutes of hard, hard work pay off, and Takada is the winner. Backlund is in utter disbelief, awakened by the bell, and yelling that he never gave up. The match is ruled a TKO, or technical knock out, and in the rebirth of UWF, Nobuhiko Takada stands tall among all other men, having now defeated another former world champion. The men then shake hands, and in the ongoing conflct of American and Japanese wrestlers, Japan takes a large victory.

You might ask why I chose to do an essay on this one match. It's simple. Aside from the nationalism, the fierceness of the fight, the fire in the men...it is the glorious perfection of man on man combat. It is the mixture of everything pro wrestling was supposed to be from the start, and today, it stands as a shining example amongst several similar groups and matches of what pro wrestling is.

A true contest of will that happens to have an end before it has a beginning. The good and evil, the white and black, the axis and allies are left up to the interpretation of the viewer, but at the end of the day, this is a pure contest, and artistic in execution.

If you were to ask me to define professional wrestling, I would cite this match. It is everything that I believe in within this, the most intense form of stage and art ever known.

Matches like this, are why I watch pro wrestling.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maeda was also beaten by Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and I don't think Volk Han ever worked in the second UWF unless some of their shows never made it to tape. Good review by the way. Have you seen Takada vs. Backlund from '88? I'm asking because I felt the exact same way about that match that you feel about this one.

10/17/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger MaSuTa said...

I'm not sure which Takada/Backlund it is, honestly. I searched for fourty minutes, and only found that matchup listed.

Volk Han beat Maeda in RINGS. Great match, but I was confused. It was really worried.

It's entirely possible that I just screwed this whole thing up.

10/17/2005 05:29:00 PM  

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