Into the Indies 05.17.11: Filling in the SMASH-Hole
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies, the column that is all about doubling back.
As I noted in last week’s column, I2I took a somewhat unplanned month-long hiatus recently so that I could focus on a guest run writing Ask 411 Wrestling. We returned last week to take a look at Okinawa Pro Wrestling. What I completely forgot about before focusing on Okinawa was that, prior to the hiatus beginning, I had actually started a two-part review of the November 12, 2010 show from Tajiri’s SMASH promotion but never actually brought it to a close. This week, we’re going to tie up that loose end and take a look at the second half of SMASH 11, which for some reason features more hot dog-on-Tajiri action.
Those of you interested in reviewing what took place during the first half of the card can click here to read the April 5, 2011 edition of I2I. However, the main thing that you need to know for the time being is that this show was built around a main event featuring Tajiri wrestling the seventy-six year old Gypsy Joe in a singles match. Yes, a seventy-six year old man in a singles pro wrestling match. Good luck beating this one, Ric Flair.
Match Numero Cuatro: Minoru Suzuki vs. Akira Shoji
This match was set up on SMASH’s last shown when Akira Shoji, a regular member of the SMASH roster and former shoot fighter for companies like PRIDE, challenged another wrestler with a shooting background to come face him in his new home promotion. The challenge resulted in Minoru Suzuki signing Shoji’s open contract. Suzuki, currently a freelance pro wrestler who is primarily aligned most closely with All Japan Pro Wrestling, goes all the way back to shoot-style wrestling company the UWF and was one of the founders of MMA group Pancrase in addition to having a strong catch wrestling background.
A Greco-Roman knuckle lock gets us going, and, before long, the wrestlers head to the mat for a fairly routine sequence of headlocks, headscissors, and cradles. Shoji looks for a cross arm breaker out of that, but Suzuki is able to prevent his arm from being straightened out and eventually slips away from his opponent’s grasp. Both men return to a vertical base thereafter and start throwing chops. When Shoji realizes that he’s not going anywhere with those, he turns to leg kicks and forearms. However, he gets a little bit too close to the ropes, where Suzuki catches him with a tarantula-style triangle choke until the referee breaks it up. The match spills out on to the arena floor, where Suzuki whips Shoji into some chairs and also chokes him with the furniture.
Eventually Minoru tires of the floor and deposits his opponent back into the ring, firing off some boots for various two counts. Suzuki goes for a key lock and manages to hold on to it for a while, eventually transitioning into a cross armbreaker which Shoji escapes courtesy of the ropes. Suzuki stays on him, though, whipping Akira into the buckles and planting the sole of his boot into Shoji’s face. The octopus hold is Suzuki’s next trick, and eventually he turns it into a pinning combination for two. At this point Suzuki sets up for one of his big finishes, the cradle piledriver, but Akiro Shoji reverses it into a back body drop and hits two big lariats to swing the pendulum in his favor. Shoji makes an error when he tries for a back body drop, though, allowing Suzuki to catch him in a rear naked choke. Shoji slips out quickly, but Suzuki manages to reapply it twice. On the third application, Akira tries the old counter where you essentially do a somersault and roll out of the hold, but Suzuki has it well scouted and shifts his weight so that, instead of the hold being broken, Shoji just gets grounded. In a tactical error, Minrou releases the hold as the referee is checking Shoji’s arm, opting instead to go for a cover. It only gets two.
Things now appear to go from bad to worse for Akira Shoji, as he is placed in a seated position on the mat and forced to endure a SICK running Yakuza kick from Suzuki. Shoji starts to fire up, but he’s caught in the rear naked choke one more time. Having been softened up as a result of that hold, Akira Shoji falls victim to the Gotch piledriver and is pinned.
Match Thoughts: I’ve watched Shoji for several years now in HUSTLE and SMASH, and, in a way, he almost reminds me of how William Regal fits into WWE at present, in that both guys are good wrestlers in their styles but have difficulty finding opponents who match up well with them because so few other people in their respective companies wrestle the same style. As a result, it was a good idea on paper to bring somebody like Suzuki to SMASH for this match, since he’s much better suited to go after Akira in Akira’s style as opposed to a KUSHIDA or a Lin Bairon. Unfortunately, because this match was third from the top as opposed to being the main event, I don’t think that the wrestlers wound up getting an opportunity to go as hard or as fast as they potentially could at a higher level on the card. It was still technically good for what it was and there were a couple of unique, fun to watch spots given the wrestlers’ less-than-conventional backgrounds, but overall it wasn’t really anything that I need to see again anytime soon. **1/2
Match Numero Cinco: Hajime Ohara vs. Michael Kovac
This is another match building off of events that took place on the last show. As people who have either been following SMASH themselves or have been following it through this column may recall, Hajime Ohara was one of the top young stars of SMASH from its inception, but, after a losing streak, he turned on the company and aligned himself with Finnish wrestler Starbuck and his Fight Club Finland promotion. Michael Kovac, meanwhile, is an Austrian wrestler who has been active in Europe since the early 1990’s. He was brought in on the last SMASH show to be a new top heel, and he cemented that position by laying out Starbuck. This match is meant to be Ohara attempting to gain revenge for his new mentor, ostensibly turning back face in the process, though he is still aligned with the FCF in SMASH faction.
It’s a lockup to start, with Kovac maneuvering Ohara into a position where he can showboat a little bit and throwing him down to the mat. From there, Ohara is caught in a surfboard-style submission, but he escapes quickly and comes back with some forearms that take the Euro off of his feet repeatedly. Eventually Kovac is forced to leave the ring to catch his breath. When the action returns to the squared circle, big Mike blocks a monkey flip and turns it into the good old Face Eraser, which bloodies up Ohara’s lip. Hajime tries to get back on his game with a cross body block, but Kovac catches him and hits an F5 variant before tying up Ohara’s arms and forearming him across the chest. Kovac tries to follow it up with a lariat, but Ohara ducks and catches his opponent unawares with a German suplex. Kovac took a really nice looking bump on that one. Ohara stays on his man with a high kneelift/Northern lights suplex combination, with the second move earning him a two count.
At this point Ohara looks for a brainbuster and the two men fight over whether the move will connect for a while, with the Japanese wrestler ultimately getting the better of things and hitting the maneuver. Kovac recovers and goes back on the offensive with an interesting looking sequence of rolling short-arm clotheslines. Somebody in WWE needs to steal that move immediately. Kovac starts unloading with European uppercuts, but Ohara grabs his arm off of one of the moves and uses it to roll Kovac back into a crucifix for two. A single-leg dropkick for Ohara hits, as does a huge double sledge to the face. It only gets two despite a huge reaction from the crowd. Kovac starts hulking up a bit after taking the move and looks for a pumphandle suplex of sorts, but Ohara elbows out. He doesn’t elbow out the second time, and we see that the move is actually a pumphandle slam turned into a facebuster. It gets two. Ohara is fighting from underneath now, and he’s got great firey underdog facials in doing so. Unfortunately for him, his fire is put out pretty quickly by a HUGE lariat from Kovac. That leads into a Gory bomb variation, which earns a three count for Kovac in his SMASH debut.
Match Thoughts: Even though he’s been around for quite some time, this was my first time seeing Kovac in action. Truth be told, he wasn’t that bad. In fact, he was probably just as good as if not better than a lot of the guys who are currently on the WWE roster when it comes to a non-Japanese heavyweight style. Ohara showed some great fire here as well in the role of the underdog babyface who ultimately lost but showed the fans that, in losing, he had the chops to be a major player. My only real complaint about the match was that it seemed like it was too soon to put Kovac in a bout like this if the idea really is to put him over huge as a monster heel. (And, presumably, that is the goal.) It felt like he needed some quicker squash matches against wrestlers lower on the card so that they could better establish the fact that he is so dangerous. That way it would mean more for Ohara to be fighting back against him. As it was, it seemed odd for people to care so much about Ohara fighting the odds against this wrestler because we didn’t really have any history to make us believe that the odds were stacked against Hajime. Technically solid all-around but probably could have used more development to build up the emotion behind the match. **
Match Numero Seis: Tajiri vs. Gypsy Joe
And here is your main event. This is part of a series of matches being promoted by SMASH as the “World Legend Revival,” bouts in which wrestlers from a different era will be brought back in order to have their skills showcased one more time. Gypsy Joe is the lucky legend here, and, as noted above, he clocked in at SEVENTY-SIX YEARS OLD at the time of this match. He had been wrestling for just a hair under fifty years at this point, with plenty of experience in Puerto Rico, the southern United States, and in the old JWA in Japan.
As soon as he comes out from the back for his entrance, you can tell that Joe is definitely moving like a seventy-six year old man with a pronounced limp. There’s a very loose lockup early on, and it almost looks ridiculous for Joe to take Tajiri back to the corner as he does. The wrestlers trade hammerlocks, after which Joe begins just blatantly choking Tajiri, which is ignored by the referee. Despite that advantage, Joe is still taken down by a headlock takeover, which he ultimately escapes. Tajiri takes his man down again, this time into a standing toe hold, though Joe reverses into a headscissor and transitions into a cross arm breaker attempt. Tajiri blocks it and eventually rolls into the ropes, at which point the two wrestlers are made to stand up and attack one another from a vertical base.
Gypsy Joe gets his younger opponent into the corner again and gives him an open-hand chop across the chest, and Tajiri responds in kind. Eventually the two men are slapping each other as hard as they can until Joe breaks up the sequence with a quick right to Tajiri’s private parts. Again, the referee ignores it. I guess he needs every advantage that he can get. After recovering, Tajiri applies a half Boston crab for a bit but voluntarily lets go of it and tries for a chinlock, which results in Gypsy going to the ropes and rolling outside. Once there, another chop war breaks out, which Tajiri wins before ramming Joe’s head into the post three times in the safest manner possible. (Not that I’m complaining.) The septuagenarian barely sells it, and he’s also up pretty quickly after Tajiri whips him through a row of folding chairs. When Joe employs the same strategy against Tajiri, it gets a pretty decent “Gypsy Joe” chant from the fans in attendance.
Eventually the wrestlers make it back to ringside, where Tajiri throws Grampa Munster face-first into a chair that is set up at one of the corners. Again, Joe shows very little in the way of ill-effects, grabbing the chair himself and bringing it into the ring. He eventually throws it down voluntarily, at which point the referee hands it to Tajiri for reasons that I can’t understand. Tajiri brings the chair down over Joe’s head, not once but twice, and Joe reacts like nothing happened before growling in Tajiri’s face. Three more chairshots over the head ALSO do nothing. Sweet Jesus, I hope that chair was somehow gimmicked, though it sure didn’t look like it. Seconds after the last chairshot fails to do anything, Tajiri blows green mist in Joe’s face and schoolboys him to earn the three count.
After the match, a tight camera shot of Joe’s bald spot shows that he’s been busted open pretty badly by at least one of the chairshots to the head. Ugh. The veteran gets on the microphone after the bell and says that, sooner or later, he will come back to Japan after learning some new tricks and training more, at which point he will beat Tajiri. He closes by telling the Japanese fans to “drive safely going home.” I’d guess most of them used mass transit to get to the venue, but that’s besides the point.
In another interesting point, post-match press conference footage of both Joe and Tajiri is shown after cutting away from the ring. Joe speaks in English, which is subtitled, and the subtitles contain both the words “TAJIRI” and “SMASH” written in the English alphabet, despite the fact that Joe didn’t say either of those words in the promo. What tomfoolery is this, Japanese subtitlers?
Match Thoughts: I went into this match thinking that it probably wouldn’t be any good technically but that I would come away liking it because it would be a fun tribute to Joe or because there would be plenty of amusing wackiness. However, I have to say that, in a rare misfire for SMASH, I walked away pretty disappointed. There is always going to be something unrealistic about a man of Gypsy Joe’s age going toe-to-toe with a man who is in his thirties, but there are also some somewhat believable ways that you can have him get in some offense despite the age difference. However, they didn’t go with that here and instead pretty well had Joe wrestle like he was Joe in the prime to the extent that he’s still athletically capable, which was just too unbelievable to work, both in terms of him overpowering Tajiri at points and taking chair/post shots which would crack any senior citizen’s skull. Even apart of the realism issues, I was not a fan at all of Joe taking five unprotected chairshots due to the very real danger that it posed to him, especially in light of the ridiculous amounts of concussion research that have come out recently which show that such shots are not a good idea for young men to be taking, let alone men who could be great-grandfathers. This was simply not my cup of tea, and I can’t imagine many other people enjoy it either, unless for some reason they are big-time fans of Joe. DUD
This was one of the weaker SMASH shows that I’ve watched. Things started off promisingly enough with a solid performance by the rookie Yusuke Kodama followed up by a very good midcard joshi match. However, after that, the tag match featuring some of the company’s top young stars wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been, nor was the Suzuki/Shoji match. Watching Kovac’s debut was interesting insomuch as I got to see what he could bring to the table, but it would be underwhelming without its context. Then, in the main event, we got something that completely missed the mark and, at least in my eyes, failed to be what it was trying to be. On the whole, I would still say that I’m a SMASH fan because I generally like their roster and find their production of shows to be top notch compared with other indies, but this show was missing the couple of very good matches that usually allow the SMASH product to be a total package of entertainment.
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See you all next week!