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wrestling / Columns

Into the Indies 08.19.09: HUSTLE

August 19, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Byers

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies. Before we begin, I would like to take a second to thank everybody who took the time to compliment me on last week’s debut edition of this column. For those of you who may have missed that column, I would suggest taking a second to check out the first few paragraphs of it so that you can have an understanding of what this new column is all about.

Last week, I chose to kick off the column with a look at Michinoku Pro Wrestling, a promotion that I watched over a decade ago when my interest in Japanese indy wrestling was first piqued. This week, we’re doing something a little bit different and taking a look at a promotion that didn’t even exist during my first stint as a Japanese indy fan. This week, we’re taking a look at HUSTLE.

In 2004, mixed marital arts was all the rage in Japan, to the point that it had done significant damage to the business end of professional wrestling. Leading the MMA revolution in Japan was PRIDE Fighting Championships, owned by its parent company Dream State Entertainment. Yet, in ’04, Dream Stage decided that dominating the shootfighting market wasn’t enough for them. Somebody in DSE made the call to get involved in the professional wrestling business in addition to making their mark in MMA. The result was a wrestling promotion by the name of HUSTLE. The company’s first show was held on January 4, 2004, and the original concept of the promotion was to present supercards that none of the other major wrestling companies in Japan could, featuring a combination of wrestling’s top stars from the country, major unsigned names from the United States, top workers from the world of lucha libre, and even a few PRIDE fighters making rare pro wrestling appearances.

The first three shows alone featured Bill Goldberg, Mark Coleman, Mil Mascaras, Vader, Shinya Hashimoto, Dusty Rhodes, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and, in perhaps my favorite match from the early days of HUSTLE, All Japan Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada defending his title against Mick Foley in his Cactus Jack persona. However, by the latter half of 2004, it became apparent that the business model of doing serious supercards wasn’t going to work for HUSTLE. Things began to change, and they began to change quickly. In fact, they took a decided turn for the bizarre.

Rather than being yet another straight professional wrestling promotion, HUSTLE began to refer to itself as “Fighting Opera,” essentially a Japanese take on the “sports entertainment” type of wrestling used in WWE and latter-day WCW, focusing heavily on over the top characters and situations and only minimally on the in-ring performance of wrestlers. Over time, a primary storyline for the company evolved, with the evil Generalissimo Takada (shoot-style wrestler and former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Nobuhiko Takada) forming the Takada Monster Army. The Monster Army, which consisted of numerous “monster” wrestlers declared its goal of destroying professional wrestling, and it became the duty of the wrestlers who remained loyal to HUSTLE to save the sport. For quite a while, the lead man in the HUSTLE Home Unit was Razor Ramon Hard Gay, originally a comedian who became immensely popular in Japan for portraying a wild, stereotypically gay character before training to become a wrestler.

This week, we are taking a look at HUSTLE’s show from April 23, 2009. At this point in the company’s history, things were starting to look bleak for HUSTLE in their war against the Monster Army. Hard Gay had been stolen away by Generalissimo Takada and transformed from the fun-loving, wrestling-loving man he once was to the brutal, vicious Monster HG. Bono-kun, the childish alter ego of Akebono, was seemingly neutralized by the feminine wiles of Francoise, a member of the Army whose undergarments overwhelm the manchild’s prepubescent hormones at every turn. Tohsiaki Kawada, a long time member of the Monster Army as “Monster K,” was as dominant as ever. Wataru Sakata, a long-time fighter on the HUSTLE side of the war, had recently been embarrassed by the Monster Army and went in to seclusion as a result. Though former WWE wrestler Yoshirio Tajiri was a major coup when he first joined HUSTLE, he wasn’t quite enough to win the war with the other members of the group falling by the wayside.

However, there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon for HUSTLE. Magnum TOKYO, who had previously wrestled in the promotion under the bizarre gimmick of “Detective” Alan Kuroki, returned to the company under his original persona and went on quite a tear. He appeared to some to be the man who could finally aid HUSTLE in putting away the Monster Army for good. Would Magnum help HUSTLE make greater strides, or would he fall by the wayside like his comrades? The April 23 show began to give us some answers to those questions . . .



Match Numero Uno: REY Ohara & Minoru Fujita vs. TAJIRI & KG

Ohara is one of the more regular performers on the HUSTLE roster, a man who graduated from Ultimo Dragon’s Dragon Gym in 2004 and performed in Mexico for several years before returning to his native Japan. His partner, Fujita, is a junior heavyweight who has been in numerous promotions over the years before finally settling down with ZERO1 as his home promotion and occasionally appearing with groups like HUSTLE as well. Interestingly enough, he was a protege of Tajiri, who in this match is teaming with KG. KG is short for “Karate Girl,” and, frankly, that’s the only thing that I know about this woman aside from the fact that she appears to have some pro wrestling training.

KG begins the match with Ohara, catching him with a headscissor takedown early before he goes to work on the young lady’s arm. KG rolls out of a wristlock and attempts a satellite headscissors, but Rey cuts her off and turns it in to a side slam. That brings Tajiri in to the match, and the former WWE star works a headlock for a while before snapping off an armdrag and a springboard dropkick. Ohara has had enough and brings Fujita in to try his hand. He doesn’t fare much better than Ohara at first, getting caught in a bow and arrow submission, armdragged, and pinned to the mat in a crucifix for two. KG tags in for some kicks to Fujita’s chest, but he grabs her by the hair, pulls her back to the heel corner, and tags in Ohara. Rey dominates and shrugs off the woman’s forearms to hit a bodyslam. He gets caught by her knee while attempting to run the ropes, though, and that allows her to sneak in a dropkick. A stiff slap right to the face immediately kills KG’s momentum, and then the boots are put to her in a rather brutal manner. A running kick right in between the shoulderblades is the Karate Girl’s next punishment, after which Ohara gets even more slaps in. Rey screws up when he goes for an avalanche, though, running in to KG’s boot and setting up a rana from the second rope. That gives us our hot tag, and now both Tajiri and Fujita are legal. The Buzzsaw cleans house and hits a nice combination springboard armdrag/headscissors on both heels at once. Ohara cuts Tajiri off while he is attempting to run the ropes, but he can’t stay in control as KG runs in and gets backdropped up in to a DDT on Rey. She locks on La Mistica for good measure, but Ohara won’t tap and powers out, giving his opponent a brainbuster for two. He tries to follow up by running the ropes, but Tajiri is there to kick him in the kidneys. That sets up a lovely Yoshi Tonic by KG, and she gets the pin over Ohara.

Match Thoughts: Chances are good that, if you’ve watched professional wrestling for more than a couple of years, you’ve seen at least one tag team match exactly like this one. That’s not to say it was bad. It was just a formula match that contained absolutely nothing of note. Even though KG is a woman, she was not portrayed as being any weaker than any of the men in the match, as she may not have had the strength to match up with them but would still get in plenty of offense due to her speed advantage. Thus, the one factor that I thought might make this bout a little bit more memorable than the standard tag team affair was completely nullified. **


Match Numero Dos: A-Chan vs. RG

A-Chan is better known to long-time wrestling fans as Nobutaka Araya, a former sumo wrestler who turned pro and worked his way up through promotions like IWA Japan and WAR before finally landing a regular spot on the All Japan roster around 2000. He decided to retire from wrestling during the summer of 2009. His opponent here is RG or “Real Gay.” He is a Japanese comedian and friend/partner of the more popular Razor Ramon Hard Gay, brought in by HUSTLE to act as an HG compatriot. As you might imagine, the size difference between this former sumo and this comedian playing an effeminate gay character is large.

RG gets the crowd to chant his name and tries to feed off of their energy in chopping Chan, but the strikes are absolutely worthless. AC takes RG off of his feet with a single slap to the head and stomps away before hitting an atomic drop that sends RG leaping five feet across the ring. Chan then hits a headbutt to RG’s ass and an avalanche/lariat one-two punch for a nearfall. RG does manage to take his opponent off of his feet with a spinning heel kick, but a flying body attack fails to have any effect, while a second one is easily dodged. Chan gives the much smaller man a brainbuster, but, surprisingly, he kicks out. AC’s attempt at a moonsault misses, giving RG an opening. He tries to capitalize with a sunset flip, but A-Chan won’t go over and sits on RG’s chest. RG gives the crowd a sliver of hope quickly thereafter with a small package and then, out of nowhere, he comes off of the ropes for a rana that gives him the flash pin over A-Chan.

Match Thoughts: This was a pure comedy match involving only the most basic of spots, so I do not have much to talk about here. The match seemed to work because the crowd was fairly in to the RG character. Since I didn’t have that same connection, the battle didn’t do that much for me. Technically a DUD, but that’s fine given the context.

Before our next match, a pre-taped segment plays which is quite literally the most surreal, trippy segment that I have ever seen on a professional wrestling show. In fact, it may be the most surreal, trippy segment that I have ever seen on any television show. First of all, there is a parody of the iPod silhouette commercials which features Shiro Koshinaka dancing and throwing around stools. After that, we cut to live action Koshinaka sitting on a cartoon set and being interviewed by a cartoon woman whose head is shaped suspiciously like a fanny. As they converse, a GIANT, DISEMBODIED KOSHINAKA FACE floats through the background at a regular clip. From time to time, the conversation between the wrestler and the cartoon is interrupted by a still image of a stuffed bear.

I do not know whether this segment would be made better or worse if I could speak Japanese.



Match Numero Tres: Lance Cade & Rene Bonaparte w/ Francoise vs. Shiro Koshinaka & Bono-chan

Most of these men should be familiar to readers of the site. Obviously, Cade and Dupree are the former WWE stars of the same name. Koshinaka is a veteran Japanese wrestler, who spent many years in the midcards and upper-midcards of New Japan’s shows before going freelance and becoming a HUSTLE regular. Akebono is a former sumo champion probably best remembered by American fans as Big Show’s opponent at Wrestlemania 21. Once his run as a sumo came to an end, he began a professional wrestling and shoot fighting career in numerous promotions.

HUSTLE gave ‘Bono one of the more interesting backstories that a pro wrestler has ever had. Instead of being brought in as former sumo champion Akebono, he was introduced as a result of the Great Muta making a cameo appearance in HUSTLE. Muta, known for spraying mist in to the eyes of his opponents, sprayed mist in to the crotch of Yinling, a valet of the Monster Army. Somehow, Muta’s mist impregnated Yinling, and she gave birth to “Monster Bono,” (also known as Bono-kun), which in reality was Akebono sucking on a pacifier and otherwise pretending to have various infantile predilections. Eventually, Bono matured from being baby Bono-kun to the childish Bono-chan, and, in the process, he left the Monster Army to fight for HUSTLE.

As Bono is making his entrance, Lance Cade whips him with his chaps. That kicks off a four man crowd brawl, including Dupree being thrown through a row of standing chairs by Koshinaka. When the match returns to the ring, Koshinaka hits Dupree with a butt butt, which is one of his trademark maneuvers. (The Japanese call it a hip attack, but what’s the fun in that?) Dupree fires back with a Saito suplex, but Koshinaka no-sells it. Both men clothesline each other and then tag in their respective partners. Cade tries to take Akebono down with a shoulderblock and goes to the eyes when that fails, but Bono manages to shove the Cowboy off of him, setting up a big avalanche. Bono then whips Cade in to a Koshinaka butt butt, and the former sumo drops an elbow for good measure. Then, out of nowhere, Bonaparte’s manager Francoise enters the ring with her underpants in her hand and distracts Akebono. This allows Cade to put Francoise’s garter over Bono’s face, which renders him catatonic and allows Lance to hit a lariat and get the pin. I did not make that finish up.

Koshinaka is also gartered after the match, and the heels pummel him.

Match Thoughts: Like the prior contest, there was nothing to this at all, but at least there was nothing to it for the purpose of an angle being furthered. Everybody was where he needed to be when he needed to be there, and nobody screwed up any moves. That’s about all that you can ask for in a two or three minute match. *


Match Numero Cuatro: Monster HG vs. Magnum TOKYO

TOKYO starts off the match with an EXPLOSIVE tope suicida on to the entering HG and follows it up with a corner clothesline/bulldog combo in the ring. A missile dropkick is next from the Ultimo Dragon trainee, and that gets two. Monster HG blocks and Irish whip and hits a spinning heel kick followed by a vertical suplex for a nearfall of his own. The two men stare each other down for a bit before trading chops and forearms, with TOKYO ultimately ducking under one of HG’s shots and hitting his own takedown lariat. A SWANK high knee and jumping enzuguiri are next from Magnum, and, seconds later, he hits his patented Viagra Driver for the win. The Viagra Driver, for those curious, is an over the shoulder, sit-out piledriver.

Match Thoughts: Straight up squash, right here. If it weren’t for the over the top characters and Magnum’s rocking entrance with the dancing girls, this could have been ripped from an episode of WWF Superstars many years ago. 1/2*



Match Numero Cinco: Toshiaki Kawada and Punch the C vs. Natto Man & Kikkoman

I’m not certain where to even begin explaining the backstory for this match. I suppose it began with Wataru Sakata, a HUSTLE wrestler, being humiliated by the Monster Army. Feeling as though he had failed his fellow HUSTLErs, Sakata vanished from the ring for a period of time, not helping out when the Monster Army was getting the upper hand on the valiant babyfaces. Instead, Sakata would just sit in arena balconies, hiding in what appeared to be a large bed of reeds. Eventually, Sakata would return to the ring to make a save for his HUSTLE counterparts, but he did not return as Wataru Sakata, instead, he became the Hurricane-esque superhero NATTO MAN~!

“What does the name Natto Man mean?” you might ask. Well . . . natto is a Japanese dish made out of fermented soybeans, which many foreigners detest because of its strong smell (said to be similar to ammonia) and the stringy fluid that forms between the beans. As Natto Man, Sakata sports beaded strings hanging from his gear and mask meant to replicate the oozing beans. He is joined by Kikkoman, who is the super hero alter ego of Tajiri, named after a popular brand of soy sauce. Their opponents are Toshiaki Kawada, legendary All Japan wrestler of the early 1990’s and “Punch the C,” a character portrayed by NOAH wrestler Kentaro Shiga, who, for lack of a better description, is the living embodiment of the letter C. (Steve Corino played a similar character in the earlier days of HUSTLE under the name Monster C, though he is long gone from the promotion.)

Natto Man’s entrance video is just footage of a man stirring Natto. I saw that and thought it was awesome. Then things got even better. With the video done playing, the screen shot cuts to a plate glass window reading “HAIR SALON.” We find Natto Man asleep in a barber’s chair, and he is woken up by a hot towel being placed on his face. He then walks from the hair salon to the arena (which appears to be across the street), the whole time acting as though he is doing a pro wrestling entrance similar to Bill Goldberg’s. He’s even got his theme music playing. By the time he makes it to the ring, Tajiri (in his Kikkoman mask) is already there. Natto Man ascends the top rope to strike a pose but has a difficult time keeping his balance. When he finally comes down, he tries to attack his opponents before the bell with a dropkick, but they both sidestep him and he falls on his face. This clumsiness is a callback to the debut of the Natto Man character, when Sakata attempted to do a backflip and landed flat on his head.

In short: THAT. ENTRANCE. WAS. AWESOME.

When the bell does ring, C and Kikkoman begin the action. Punch dominates with headbutts early, and Tajiri quickly tags out. Kawada comes in as well, and the wrestlers exchange chops before Kawada tires of it and kicks Natto Man in the face several times. Natto barely sells it and stays on his feet for most of the kicks before dropkicking his opponent. Kawada fires back with a kick to the head as Natto Man tries to pick him up off the mat, and more boots abound from the former All Japan star.

Punch tags back in, and he and Kawada then start CLUBBERIN’~! on Sakata. (Clubberin’ be four fithteth on one man, Tony.) C kicks as the crowd chants his name, and he locks on an abdominal stretch to similar effect. Natto hiptosses him out of that and tags in Tajiri, he gets in his handspring elbow and a standing moonsault for two. A springboard hair beal of sorts is next from the Buzzsaw, and he follows it up with his version of the X-Factor before bringing Natto Man back in. Natto gives Punch a Tiger Driver, but Kawada makes the save and tags back in along with Tajiri.

All four men are brawling at this point, and the good guys get the advantage by hitting a double flying forearm on Kawada and then the same on C. Kikko and Natto then team up for a Poetry on Motion on Kawada, but Sakata slips and falls on his face. The two masked men hit their finisher at this point, which, no joke, consists of Tajiri misting Kawada and then Kawada tripping over the prone Sakata, who catches him in a rollup. That spot has won the team matches in the past, but, this time, C makes the save. He hits a head-droppy move that I’ve never quite seen before and gets the three count on Natto Man.

Match Thoughts: Great entrance aside, the match didn’t deliver all that much. Everybody appears to have been going through the motions and allowing their comedy characters to carry the bout for them, which is fine in some respects all though not necessarily fine for the poor guy who enjoys his comedy but wants to watch a quality wrestling bout to go along with it. Even Kawada, who I figured would give me something interesting to watch by being as stiff as he was in his glory days, disappointed a bit by lightening up significantly. All in all, I would say that the tag team opener to this show was a slightly better match. *3/4

Overall

HUSTLE is one of those wrestling products that you need to maintain certain expectations of in order to find it enjoyable. If you told a fan of Japanese wrestling who knew absolutely nothing about HUSTLE that he was getting ready to watch a professional wrestling card featuring Toshiaki Kawada, Tajiri, Magnum TOKYO, Minoru Fujita, and Koshinaka among others, you would likely have that person salivating, only to be disappointed with the final product. That’s because HUSTLE is not about presenting a traditional puroresu product with focuses on athleticism and presentation of professional wrestling as a legitimate sport. Earlier in the column, I compared the HUSTLE vision of Fighting Opera to the WWE vision of sports entertainment, but, after watching this show and thinking about it for a little while longer, I don’t think that even that comparison is valid. Instead of doing straight up American sports entertainment, HUSTLE is almost a parody of American sports entertainment. It does not take itself seriously at all, and it takes no other wrestling seriously at all either. If you approach the shows with the appropriate mindset and understand that some awesome wrestlers are going to attempt to appeal to you as comedians as opposed to attempting to appeal to you as wrestlers, chances are good that you are going to laugh enough times during the show to make a viewing worth it, much as I did here.


Looking forward to the next instalment of Into the Indies? Keep an eye on 411’s Twitter accounts, and you just might see it pop up!

http://www.twitter.com/411mania
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http://www.twitter.com/411moviestv
http://www.twitter.com/411music
http://www.twitter.com/411games
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See you all next week!

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