wrestling / Video Reviews

The Enlightenment 07.05.04: Jack Brisco Vs. Shoehi Baba

July 5, 2004 | Posted by J.D. Dunn

Thank you and welcome back to the Enlightenment, wherein we shed light on wrestling that you may not have seen.

Before I begin, let me plug some things.

Mike Campbell’s name has become synonymous with great puroresu writing, and if you don’t go read him right after me then all the kids at school will say you smell.

Tayo Adesanya’s Mainstreaming continues to rock teh mic like a vandal. I don’t know much about music, but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.

• Last, but certainly not least, is the resurrection of Wrestleline. Much like the Chicago Bulls of the mid-1990’s, Wrestleline.com was once the pre-eminent force in its genre and one of my first must-read sites. Scott Keith, CRZ, Rick Scaia, and a host of others made up one of the most-respected staffs on the internet. In late 2001, the plug got pulled by CBS Sportsline and Wrestleline was no more.

Now, in 2004, Denny Burkholder has brought it back and, much like the Chicago Bulls of today, is rebuilding with some of the finest young writers around. Sean Swift, Jeb Tennyson Lund, and the mysterious-but-strangely-familiar “Technician” have all contributed.

Thank you, Denny. Without you and Wrestleline, I probably wouldn’t be boring the crap out of people today.

The Darkness is Spreading.

Bradshaw is champion. The internet is big with the fire and the brimstone, but there are ways that this can be a positive thing:

A) Eddy challenges him to a Mexican Death Match and regains the title in his style of match. Not only is this good booking, it teaches people not to take Eddy for granted.

B) Bradshaw “buys” Smackdown and fires Angle who then turns face and we get a battle over what it really means to be an American — self-sacrifice or mindless jingoism.

C) Brock Lesnar fails in his attempt to become an NFL’er and pops up one day to F5 the living crap out of the champion.

But, more likely, we’ll get Bradshaw vs. Hardcore Holly at Summerslam.

Onward…

Well, owing to the fact that most of us weren’t even born yet, I think it’s excusable if we let this match fall through the cracks of our must-see matchlists. There’s no excuse for you now, though.

Jack Brisco (brother of current WWE stooge Gerald Brisco) was in his first reign as champion here having ended Harley Race’s first run. He was quick, technically proficient, and brash. His matches against Dory Funk Jr. are legendary for their cerebral cat-and-mouse that make Flair vs. Steamboat look like ECW spotfests.

Shoehi Baba, on the other hand, was quiet, stalwart, and honorable. No one would ever accuse him of being a high-flying speed merchant, nor would he ever win trophies for his technical wrestling aplomb. But he knew how to work smart. Whereas other “giants” in the industry either tried to rely solely on size (Andre the Giant, Giant Gonzales) or tried to work smaller than they were (Big Show, John Tenta), Shoehi Baba actually used his size to his advantage by utilizing moves that fit in with his body type.

Baba ceded from the Japan Pro-Wrestling Alliance (JWA) and formed his own federation — All Japan Professional Wrestling. Still, it failed to live up to the success of his former tag team partner, Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Professional Wrestling. Baba’s new federation was in dire need of credibility — credibility that couldn’t be gained from importing old American stars like Fritz Von Erich or Dick The Bruiser.

Baba and his federation needed a win. Something that would show the world that All Japan Professional Wrestling was here to stay. Baba needed the most prestigious title in the world — the National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship.

• National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship: Jack Brisco vs. Shoehi Baba (2 out of 3 Falls — 12/2/74)

First Fall: Baba forces him into the ropes and they each give a clean break. Baba pulls him to the middle and tries to push him down to the mat with an armbar. Brisco sits out at tries to go behind but Baba holds on and goes right back to the armbar. This is no stalling armbar either, this is a legit attempt to drive a man’s face into the mat via his arm. You can count the number of “wrestlers more technically capable than Jack Brisco” on exactly one finger (Dory Funk Jr. if you were wondering) so he knows how to work. He delivers a drop toehold into a side leglock.

Already we see the individual strategies develop. Baba is offensive-minded going after the arm in preparation for the wakigatame (Fujiwara armbar). Brisco’s moves serve a duel role in destroying the vertical base of “the Giant” and setting up for Brisco’s patented figure-four. Baba tries to push him away with his free foot and, after three attempts, he finally succeeds. Baba gets a headlock off a collar-and-elbow tie-up. It doesn’t last long as Brisco deftly pushes him forward to the mat and slips out the backdoor, right into a legbar. Baba uses his free foot crooked in front of his own arch to give his leg the strength it needs to break the hold. You don’t see that kind of subtle mechanics anymore (and rarely then).

Brisco immediately covers hoping to catch a quick fall. Baba bridges over into his own cover but Brisco is able to alternate, keeping one shoulder off the mat at all times. Baba lets him up but only in order to stretch him out into a surfboard stretch — when you have a leg as long as Baba’s bracing against your back and pulling on your arms, that is pain! Brisco tries to power out of it, but power is not his game. Baba uses the momentum to swing it right back around and maintain the hold. The champ decides that to get out of this hold he’s going to have to “dance with what brought him,” so to speak. He begins running around the ring in a circle forcing Baba to keep up with him if he wants to maintain the hold. Brisco’s intent is clearly to run Baba into one of the turnbuckles but Shoehi is also a deceptively intelligent wrestler. He merely lets go of Jack’s arms and Brisco runs his shoulder straight into the steel ring post. Baba hits a huge flying dropkick and the Side Russian Leg Sweep (one of Baba’s finishers). ONE, TWO, THREE! Winner of the First Fall: Shoehi Baba.

Second Fall: The fact that Baba beat the champ in the first fall speaks volumes. Of course, strategically it is to be expected. Brisco’s game should be to extend the match as long as possible and let the big man wear himself down. The announcers show the TV audience how beautiful the NWA World Title is and what an honor it is to carry it. Brisco comes out passively trying to avoid Baba, but it doesn’t work. The challenger pounces on him with a swinging neckbreaker. Brisco runs again and manages to tie Baba up against the ropes. This time there is no clean break — Brisco *has* to keep his title by whatever means necessary.

He rams Baba in the mid-section over and over again like driving a football sled for the Oklahoma Sooners. Brisco backs away, but only to measure the giant for a series of punches to the stomach. The vicious and calculating side of Jack Brisco is emerging as it seems Baba’s victory in the first fall only served to awaken a sleeping giant of his own. Brisco rides the big man down into a rear chinlock. This provides a bit of a respite for Brisco who has to be reeling from that first fall despite his successes here. Brisco lets go long enough to drop the hammer with a pair of elbows on Shoehi’s chest. They get a two count from the referee. The two men trade punches with Shoehi winning that exchange. Again, Brisco’s going away from what he excels at and it’s costing him. Baba whips him into the ropes and hits a big boot.

Now it’s Baba’s turn to drop the hammer with an atomic drop that sends painful spasms up the spine of the defending champion. Brisco reels on the canvas in a precursor to “the Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s extraordinary grimaces of agony. Baba makes a similar mistake to Brisco’s, however, as he tries to outwrestle him with a side headlock. Brisco is able to loft the bigger man up for a Backdrop Suplex and he bends the giant’s legs into his trademark figure-four leglock. Baba holds out as long as he can before the pain becomes too much and he concedes the second fall to the champion. Winner of the second fall: Jack Brisco.

Third Fall: The first two falls took only about 23 minutes, so there’s no real danger of going the time limit here as there was with Dory Funk Jr. and the Destroyer. Brisco comes out cautiously stalking the gimpy challenger. Baba limps around the ring trying to shield that wounded limb from any single-leg takedown attempts. Brisco backs him into the ropes and the killer instinct again surfaces as he does not break cleanly and instead drops his knee down on the upper thigh of Shoehi Baba. The ref admonishes him and Jack simply struts away with a confident smile on his face in even more foreshadowing of the Nature Boy. Baba returns to the middle of the ring, again trying to protect the weakened leg. It’s futile really.

Brisco dives across the ring’s surface and returns with his prey like a vulture. Baba is put flat on his back and Brisco stretches out the hamstring in anticipation of another figure-four. Shoehi uses his only protection, the uninjured leg, to push the champion away and into the turnbuckle pad. Now Baba is fighting back and that’s the only thing that will save him. He must keep Brisco on the defensive so that he cannot go after that leg. Baba seemingly makes an error in judgment by delivering a knee smash to Jack’s head. He winces and clutches at the top of his thigh. Still, the pain is only temporary and an NWA Title reign would mean immortality for the Giant Baba and pride for the people in Kagoshima that night. He delivers another. Again, the pain is great but not so great as the thought of facing the fans without that title belt strapped around his waist. He pulls Brisco to his feet and delivers the Russian Leg Sweep! The ref pounds the mat once, raises his hand, pounds the mat a second time, raises his hand again, and Brisco’s leg extends to the bottom rope — his black wrestling boot providing a reprieve for the native Oklahoman and the possibility to turn things around. And that’s just what he does.

Baba tries for a third knee smash but Brisco grips the leg before the challenger can drive it down. Instead, Brisco lifts it up and brings the shin crashing down onto his own leg in a sadistic kneebreaker. Baba rolls away, codling the wounded leg in his hands. The air suddenly goes out of the fans in the arena as it appears that they may have to wait for their young star Jumbo Tsuruta to take the next plausible crack at the NWA Champion — and that could be years. Neither man is really able to capitalize on their situations for a moment. Baba is wobbly as he tries to get to his feet. Brisco smells blood. He bounces off the ropes in anticipation for a clip of the leg but, out of nowhere, Baba takes a step toward him and hooks his neck in a vicious neckbreaker drop. The ref pounds the mat once, twice, and this time there are no ropes to provide a reprieve — three. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Champion — Shoehi Baba. ****3/4

Final Thoughts: First, this is the best Baba match I have ever seen, beating out the matches with Jumbo Tsuruta and The Destroyer. This is one of the best matches I’ve ever seen period in terms of being able to build a storyline and take the fans on a roller coaster ride. Baba appeared seriously poised to take the title near the end before Brisco got that kneebreaker out of nowhere. Everyone thought it was over after that but Baba dug deep and ended it with one of his many finishers — the neckbreaker drop.

Second, by winning the NWA Title, Shoehi Baba became the first Japanese wrestler to hold that title and would be the only Japanese wrestler to do so until Tatsumi Fujinami nearly twenty years later. Unfortunately for Baba, he would lose the title just seven days later to…Jack Brisco.

Wrestling would take a turn in the eighties, however. The days of in-ring product standing alone would fade away, only to be replaced by episodic weekly television. No one was a better provider of that than one Bill Watts of Mid-South Wrestling.

But, that is a different story.

The falcon has spoken!

J.D. Dunn

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J.D. Dunn

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