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Friday, July 16, 2010

New Japan 80s Top 30 Countdown! Match #25

Match #25: Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Vader, 4/24/89

April 24, 1989 had to be one of the most awesome nights in wrestling history. This show produced three matches that made this set, all of which made the top 30, all of which made my top 20, and two of which made my top ten. This was one of them, earning the #9 spot on my ballot for it's classic, perfectly executed take on the old "gutsy hero fighting overwhelming odds" storyline. Yeah, Fujinami had beaten Vader before, but c'mon, it's Vader. Unless it's late-90's WWF, he always represents overwhelming odds. He also typically represents a big, bad, evil motherfucker who will smash you into a pulp and use your skull as a novelty beer stein when hosting parties at the White Castle of Fear. Vader ain't nothing to fuck, and when he rolls into town, you stay the fuck away, because he won't think twice about caving your face in just for fun.

But that's what makes this match unique. You see, this bout, for the most part, is built around Vader the sportsman. He's stripped of his usual associated pageantry (including, sadly, the awesome helmet ritual), and one moment aside, he's not being overtly heelish. Hell, he even shakes Fujinami's hand and the start of the match. You'd think this might be a strike against the match, but it's not. Vader may be playing by the rules, and he may not be showboating much, but it's still a wrestling match, and he's still well within his right to beat the ever-living fuck out of Fujinami. Which he does. Almost immediately, in fact - it takes but a few seconds for Fujinami to grab a side headlock, and for Vader to turn it into a brain rattling backdrop. And that's the beauty of this match. It's your classic Vader bout stripped down to it's bare essentials. He delivers a massive beatdown, the opponent hangs tough, he sells the comeback without looking weak. It's something he does better than most wrestlers ever, and it goes on full display here.

Vader delivers a big headbutt and an open-hand chop, but he makes the mistake of trying to put Fujinami into his own side headlock, and Fujinami counters with his own backdrop. It's not as impressive as Vader's, but that's kinda the point - Fujinami is still in a weakened state, Vader is still fresh, but he did show that he could catch the big man by surprise, and that he won't go down without a fight. Vader is undeterred, continuing to control the match, but Fujinami would counter a vertical suplex into one of his own. Vader's still quick to his feet, but so is Fujinami, who delivers a big dropkick that send the monster tumbling backwards over the top rope to the floor.

With both men having taken some lumps, they find themselves back on equal footing. Vader goes for a test of strength, but sneaks in with a drop toe hold, which was pretty interesting to see. He works a deathlock for a bit before they end up in the corner. And well, being cornered by Vader isn't a situation you want to be in. He lays in some hard shots to Fujinami's face, but Fujinami ducks one and starts laying in a few of his own. He fights out of the corner, staggering Vader, before closing in to start the armwork that will be the focus of his offense for the rest of the match. Vader tries to shake him, managing to knock him off and deliver a belly bump at one point, but a tackle attempt just leads to him eating a hiptoss and Fujinami going right back to work on his arm. Vader tries to escape again, but ends up eating another, bigger backdrop from Fujinami, who sinks in the top wristlock even deeper. Watching Vader's slow burn here is impressive. Again, I am kinda used to him being angry from the get-go. Here he's a guy doing his job and starting to lose his cool ("GODDAMMIT!"), and it's a place I'm not shocked he can go to, but you don't see him go there often.

Finally, he works his way to his feet, and turns the wristlock around into a big ipponzei. He smacks Fujinami around before whipping him off the ropes and delivering a big Choshu-style lariat. Fujinami's sell of the move is pretty great, as he looks like he's just out on his feet for a few moments after taking the hit, staggering around before collapsing in a heap. Vader drags him back up, looking for another lariat, but Fujinami grabs the ropes when he gets whipped, and back body drops Vader to the floor when he charges in. But he's still stunned, and Vader is quick to regroup, grabbing him by the feet and dragging him outside.

This is the point in the match where Vader does seem to go into full heel mode, at least briefly, proclaiming "Welcome to your last [unintelligible]!" before posting Fujinami. Once they get back into the ring, it looks like Vader has the edge, but Fujinami starts throwing kicks to the injured arm, culminating in an enzuigiri to the arm, and then another to the back of his head, flooring the big man. Fujinami gets back to work on Vader's wing, and again, Vader is finding it tough to shake him off. He manages to whip him into the corner and hit a big Vader Attack, but when he tries to do the same in the opposite corner, Fujinami dodges, and Vader stumbles out into an armdrag. He makes it back to his feet, but eats a dropkick and a bodyslam that looked impressive even on a set with two matches where Andre the Giant got slammed.

Fujinami is on a roll, and says "screw the arm...I'm putting him away NOW!" He climbs to the top rope, but when he leaps off Vader catches him in mid-air, backpedals across the ring, and drops him with a hotshot. Both men end up on the outside, where Vader posts Fujinami again, and charges in for a lariat. But Fujinami dodges, and Vader ends up wrapping his already hurting arm around the cold, hard steel. Fujinami grabs Vader's arm and slams it into another post, before sending him on a ride into the guardrails. Once they're back in the ring, Fujinami sinks in a Fujiwara armbar, hoping this will finally be enough to take Vader down. It's awfully close, but Vader reaches the ropes. As he pulls himself back to his feet, he headbutts Fujinami hard, and then whips him off the ropes for a back body drop. He telegraphs it, and Fujinami leaps over it, looking for a sunset flip, but it's nothing doing, as Vader drops his 400 lbs. bulk down on Fujinami's sternum, and then runs off the ropes to deliver a big splash that brings Fujinami's night to an end.

This was fantastic. Fujinami was awesome as the double-tough native stalwart gutting his way through the pain while looking to take out Vader with his wits and wrestling skill. Vader's performance may have been reduced to it's basic elements, but that's really what we watch him for, isn't it? He gets in the ring and beats people up. He knows how to show weakness, and he's not afraid to do so, but you never forget that even after all the punishment his arm took, all it takes is one (or two) big moves for him to put Fujinami's lights out. This was Monster Brawling 101, and it ruled.

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