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Furious Flashbacks: New Japan Starrcade ’91 in Tokyo Dome

January 30, 2015 | Posted by Arnold Furious
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Furious Flashbacks: New Japan Starrcade ’91 in Tokyo Dome  

NJPW Starrcade ’91 in Tokyo Dome

 

21st March 1991.

 

Antonio Inoki, like Vince McMahon, was never one to rest on his laurels. Having pulled in massive crowds for the big two Dome shows in 1989 and 1990, he wanted to do so again in 1991 and felt his best chance was cross-promotion. If he worked with another company, Inoki could create dream matches in a New Japan ring. The promotion in this case was WCW. The result was a resounding success, commercially at least, as 64,500 attended. The show was headlined by Fujinami, New Japan’s ace, against Ric Flair, the NWA/WCW top star heel. I’ve seen the biggest matches before (main, Steiners, Liger) and was enamoured with the Steiners vs. Hase & Sasaki match, which Meltzer also loved. However the rest of the card is new to me. Let’s check it out with New Japan World.

 

Blond Outlaws (Hiro Saito, Norio Honaga & Tatsutoshi Goto) & Super Strong Machine vs. Animal Hamaguchi, Kantaro Hoshino, Kengo Kimura & Osamu Kido

 

Blond Outlaws are working heel. Kimura is a former sumo who’s worked for New Japan since 1972. He, Hamaguchi and Kido are basically the ‘old guys’ who get booked in the opening match. A Japanese tradition that remains to this day. Hoshino is REALLY old. Animal is literally leaving after this show to join WAR so it’s a little odd he got booked. Regardless of how you slice it all the babyfaces are past their sell by dates. Hoshino seems to enjoy himself and Hamaguchi is pretty animated for a guy who’s leaving. The match would be best served as a brisk demonstration of the plucky antics of the aging stars followed by a swift conclusion. This being Japan they get 12 minutes, which is far more time than they need and after the first few minutes the Blond Outlaws just recycle heat, switching the victim. Eventually they get around to the hot finish and the crowd get excited. Super Strong Machine accidentally batters Goto with a lariat and the old timers score the upset win. This plodded along, in no hurry to get where it was going. Not an ideal way to open a big show. It turned out ok though, considering the age of the participants.

 

Final Rating: *3/4

 

Brian Pillman, Tim Horner & Z-Man vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi, Shiro Koshinaka & Takayuki Iizuka

 

This has the hallmarks of a hot opener and probably should have gone on first but they do love their veteran matches in Japan. WCW’s juniors are a mixed bag and no one else is on Pillman’s level but the NJPW guys are all solid. Horner must have impressed someone because New Japan booked him on the tour later in the year and his first match was Muta! Pillman seems to enjoy himself, chopping away at Iizuka and throwing in flying effortlessly. Pillman & Zenk even throw in some good double teaming. Pillman is the guy who wows the crowd and every time he comes off the top rope they’re ready to gasp. Considering he was coming off War Games (on Sting’s team) WCW kinda forgot he existed for a few months after this. Another potential star-making turn from Pillman lost on WCW’s office. New Japan should have tried to snap him up on a talent exchange. Koshinaka clears him out and Horner gets picked off with a dragon suplex for the WCW Young Lions loss. Iizuka the man getting the unlikely pin. The standard here was really good and Pillman in particular dazzled.

 

Final Rating: ***1/4

 

Scott Norton vs. The Equalizer

 

Norton had started working for New Japan late in 1990 and Inoki had a serious hard-on for him. He was beating New Japan regulars in squashes so fucking Evad Sullivan has no chance. Norton gets serious love for pulling Equalizer up on a cover but botches the resultant powerslam for the win. Dave Sullivan sucked so this was terrible but the crowd admired Norton for his efforts. He’d end up as a regular in NJPW until 2006.

 

Final Rating: DUD

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:

Jushin Liger (c) vs. AKIRA

 

AKIRA was formally Akira Nogami but is blatantly introduced as AKIRA here and has scary clown facepaint on. If I’ve learned one thing from Finn Balor it’s when you put on the facepaint, you mean business. Liger counters this by wearing GREEN and slapping the shit out of Nogami from the bell. Liger ends up playing the role of dominant champion, foreshadowing his veteran and heel work later in his career. They work in a few spots that are ahead of their time. At one point Liger hits a pescado and AKIRA kicks him out of the air. North America wouldn’t see that level of spot-work until the Monday Night War. But then Liger always was an innovator and ahead of his time as the King of the Junior Heavyweights. Another great Liger asset was his commitment to selling, something juniors have failed with ever since. Here he picks up a shin injury on that dive and spends the rest of the match hobbling on one leg, sometimes holding the ropes to support himself. Like Bret Hart, he constantly reminds the crowd of the injury. It’s all so believable. From there they go into the near falls but as Liger goes for a Tombstone his leg gives out. A complaint about modern wrestlers is an injury rarely results in someone not being able to hit a move, merely selling after hitting it. Liger knew how to sell. He has to modify everything. When his leg won’t hold he switches to a lariat from a power move and finishes with ‘leg not required’ DDT OFF THE TOP! A master-class from Liger. Perhaps not his best spot-work but the big spots in this really meant something and everything had a logical flow. In the end, Liger, even with one leg, was too clever and too good for AKIRA.

 

Final Rating: ****

 

Arn Anderson & Barry Windham vs. Masahiro Chono & Masa Saito

 

Saito was more of an office guy at this point in his career and he’s starting to deteriorate as a worker. He’s pushing 50 and whenever he’s in there the match struggles a bit. Nobody seems that eager to force the pace either and Windham in particular is disappointing. Arn bumps around for Chono and is a pro, as always, but Barry doesn’t contribute too much. I imagine 10 minutes of Chono vs. Arn would be pretty cool, TV title style. Arn & Barry’s double team skills come to the forefront toward the conclusion and they hit Saito with a surprise lariat for the win. It’s one of those spots where the bad guy holds the good guy in place for a clothesline and it’s inevitably countered. Only here Arn ducked to ensure Saito still got hit. Good finish, ok match.

 

Final Rating: **1/4

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship:

Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki (c) vs. The Steiner Brothers

 

Hase & Sasaki only won the titles two weeks before this show. They beat Saito & Super Strong Machine. They are the 15th champions. This being 1991, the Steiners are out of this world good. Scott, at this point in his career, could, and probably should, have been pushed hard as a main event. Hase has to play the role of ‘guy Scott destroys’ only he finds unusual counters to almost everything Scott tries. Then you’ve got Rick vs. Sasaki, which is the Power Battle! Sasaki is the weak link in his team but he just hits power moves and gets popped and all is right with the world. The Steiners don’t seem to like that much, although they take the bumps just fine, and go back to finding ways of killing Hiroshi Hase. Scott has a good time throwing Hase around, not always with Hase’s co-operation and it almost becomes a game of one-upmanship between the two Steiners. Rick’s effort; a release German suplex with Hase landing on his neck. Rick has a jolly good laugh about that. Hase doesn’t let himself be totally dominated and hits a few comeback spots, including an overhead belly to belly on Scott. The Steiners could take bumps just fine but they were always at their most ridiculously entertaining when destroying people. They might be my favourite Jobber-Killer team, ever. They even mash powerslam-happy Sasaki and Scott finishes with the Frankensteiner for the straps. This wasn’t a total destruction but Hase spent 90% of the match getting hit with suplexes. If you love the Steiners, which you should, then this match is for you.

 

Final Rating: ****1/2

 

El Gigante vs. Big Cat Hughes

 

This would be one of those ‘WCW matches’. Hughes is better known as Mr Hughes and only started in the big leagues the previous year. He’s pretty vanilla but wouldn’t get any better. El Gigante would later become Giant Gonzalez. He’s a freak (7’ 6” tall) and can’t wrestle for toffee. Common sense prevails and the match is only 2 minutes long. Gigante blows a jumping sidekick really badly and finishes with the BRAIN CLAW!

 

Final Rating: DUD

 

Doom vs. Big Van Vader & Bam Bam Bigelow

 

This is just after WCW realised Vader existed and he worked Wrestlewar in February. He’d continue working both promotions until July 1992 when WCW decided to make him champion. This is a match of contrasts as Vader & Bigelow are brilliant and Doom (Ron Simmons & Butch Reed) are frankly mediocre wrestlers. At times it felt like Bigelow was cheating at pro-wrestling because he works like a junior here but as soon as he misses a flying move he just dismantles Doom with power instead. It’s just not fair! Doom work heat on Bigelow regardless of this because otherwise they’d have to pick off Vader and that’s not happening. Bigelow even wins this segment of the match by proving he can play face-in-peril. Is there anything the Bammer can’t do? When Vader does get the hot tag, Butch Reed immediately shows why as he can’t convincingly bump Vader. It’s ugly. Vader literally hits one move; a big splash and that’s the match over. They could have saved a lot of time and just had Vader do that after 2 minutes. Good showing from Bigelow though. Simmons & Reed get into a brawl after the match and would never team again. They’d end up working the house circuit for two months before Simmons won a cage match to blow the feud off at Superbrawl. A fairly typical mini-feud if ever there was one.

 

Final Rating: **1/2

 

Sting vs. Great Muta

 

It’s no secret that I don’t like Muta and never have done. At least his style was suitably exciting in 1991 and Sting has a grounded enough style, combined with a bit of excitement, to offset that. Muta can’t help himself though and manages to botch a monkey flip, a move that traditionally is only ever botched by the lowest of the low. They do a tidy job of showing familiarity and dodging each other’s attacks or blocking moves, like Sting getting knees up on the moonsault or Muta switching his weight on a gorilla press to fall on top. They work around each other’s moves with cheeky roll ups inserted and it becomes a decent match. Sting eats the Green Mist and a crossbody finishes. After Muta’s early flub they got a half-decent rhythm going although it felt like neither guy was leading the match. The familiarity stuff carried some weight though.

 

Final Rating: **3/4

 

Riki Choshu vs. Tiger Jeet Singh

 

This is for a bizarrely entitled “No Disqualification No Referee No Count Out Greatest 18 Club Title”. I’m not even sure how you win. Presumably by knock out as there’s no ref to count any pins. Tiger Jeet Singh is a piece of shit and one of the worst wrestlers of all time. I’ve never seen a match of his that cracked into positive snowflakes and I’m not even kidding about that. He always had a load of heat but it was more ‘get out of the ring’ heat than heel heat. Because it’s Tiger this is one of the worst matches that New Japan have ever put on. Tiger does a lot of cheating, which is basically just resting in “choke” holds and both guys bleed. That’s the entire match. It is garbage. A half-hearted lariat to the back of Tiger’s head finishes.

 

Final Rating: -***

 

IWGP Championship:

NWA Championship:

Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Ric Flair

 

Fujinami is IWGP champion coming in. Flair is the NWA champion. Both titles are on the line so unless it’s a draw, which is what usually happens, a title must change hands. However because of inter-promotional politics it’s not going to be pretty. It’s important to realise that while the NWA title is on the line here the WCW title is NOT. So basically when Flair loses the NWA title, the WCW title stays in place around his North Carolinian waist. I’m not sure the NJPW fans understand this or the bullshit that comes with working with WCW but here we are. They start with back and forth until Flair takes the leg. Flair’s effort levels are mixed during this match. Either he figures Fujinami can’t keep up with him or he simply can’t be bothered to bring his A game to a match that is outside his main territory. Or he’s pissed off that he’s jobbing. Any way you slice it this is not what you’d call a great Ric Flair match. It doesn’t even make much sense as he works the leg a bit then goes to brawling, then chops and then starts bumping around again, then he goes to the neck. It’s all very scattershot and reminds me of my least favourite ‘big match’ Flair performances. It’s not a bad match but for Flair and the main event of a Dome Show it’s an underachiever. Flair has been accused of working the same match with everyone and that’s the case here as he runs through his match and Fujinami just slots into the babyface role. Flair’s bumps and even his bladejob feel at odds with the story Fujinami is trying to tell. The finish is so annoying too with Fonzie taking a great bump off Flair only for Fujinami to roll Flair up THREE TIMES for visual pins. Tiger Hattori has seen enough and jumps in to count the FOURTH one and Fujinami wins the NWA title. Protective booking on the finish is a little irritating and they basically just ran through the standard Flair match but it worked well enough.

 

Final Rating: ***1/2

 

Tangent: This might be the last time the NWA title was actually a relevant prop in the pro-wrestling world. From here Flair won the belt back in America but would leave for the WWF soon afterward and the title would fall into the void. It took the NWA about a year to figure out what to do and had a tournament for the title, which was won by Masahiro Chono, as New Japan was now the biggest promotion to acknowledge the NWA’s existence. WCW would get involved again with the title and first Barry Windham then Ric Flair would hold the belt in the early 90s before WCW started ignoring the NWA again late in 1993. So the NWA held another tournament and this time Shane Douglas won…and threw the belt down! Thus ECW overtook the NWA as an entity and the belt languished in obscurity until TNA took the title onboard when their weekly PPV’s started in 2002. The arrangement with TNA lasted five years before they got too big for the NWA title and discarded it. All that began here!

 

 

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You can also follow me on Twitter @ArnoldFurious

 

7
The final score: review Good
The 411
Compared to the two previous yearly Dome shows, this is a winner. You’ve got four good matches here. Starting with the juniors 6-man, which was a good showcase for Flyin’ Brian. Liger & AKIRA is a strong junior singles match with Liger demonstrating his ability at both selling and coming up with ludicrous spots and sewing these two disparate concepts into one glorious match. Steiners vs. Hase & Sasaki is probably best watched on this card as it allows the action to shine, in the midst of a less than enthralling undercard, sandwiched between a nothing tag and an El Gigante squash. Finally you’ve got Fujinami vs. Flair, which is better than some bizarre Inoki vs. kickboxer gimmick match. The only real disaster is the Choshu vs. Tiger match and anybody who’s ever seen Tiger Jeet Singh knows full well what to expect from his matches. I’d say this was the best Dome show to this point.
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