Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies, the column in which lucha libre and puroresu can come together and coexist in the beautiful hybrid known as lucharesu.
This week, we delve in to the wacky world of Okinawa Pro Wrestling. However, before we start looking at any matches from the company, we would probably be best served by examining its history . . . and that history begins with a man by the name of Super Delfin.
In the late 1980's, the man who would become Super Delfin joined the New Japan Pro Wrestling dojo alongside a class of trainees that also included the future Jado and Gedo. However, that entire class was not well-received for reasons that were no fault of their own, essentially leaving the young man without a home promotion. Originally he worked under the name Monkey Magic Wakita, making his in-ring debut in Amsterdam of all places before returning to his home country and working in a variety of different independent promotions before finally making a group known as Universal Lucha Libre his home. ULL was the first promotion in Mexico to heavily feature a Mexican style of wrestling as opposed to wrestling as it had traditionally been presented in the United States or Japan. It was after wrestling in ULL for several months and splitting his time with various Mexican promotions that Monkey Magic's style began to change significantly to the point that he was practically a luchadore himeslf. It was decided that a new look and a new name were needed to fit the new style, and, thus, Super Delfin (the Japanese word for "dolphin") was born.
In 1993, Delfin left ULL and joined the promotion in which he would gain his greatest degree of fame, Michinoku Pro Wrestling. Delfin was in M-Pro during the company's hottest period, joining the main babyface unit of the promotion in its wars against uber-heel stable Kaientai DX. During his time with Michinoku, Delfin would also periodically leave the country to do tours with CMLL, at the time the largest and longest running professional wrestling promotion in Mexico. (Though no longer the largest promotion, it remains the longest running not just in Mexico but, arguably, in the entire world.) However, after a certain period of time, it became apparent that Delfin was never going to be a full-time wrestler in Mexico and that he was never going to go past a certain point in Michinoku Pro. In order for his career to keep moving forward, the man/aquatic mammal needed a change of scenery.
He ultimately decided that the best move for his career would be to return to his home prefecture of Osaka and begin running his own wrestling promotion, creatively named Osaka Pro Wrestling. Osaka Pro also known as O-Pro would be based around a hybrid of lucha libre and Japanese wrestling, much like Michinoku Pro. However, Osaka Pro wound up being much more colorful than M-Pro, with brightly colored characters and even more over the top gimmicks. The promotion was also much more localized than Michinoku was, running almost exclusively in the city of Osaka, whereas other larger companies in Japan tend to tour nationally if not regionally. Though it has never moved beyond being an independent promotion, Osaka Pro has survived and run shows regularly since 1999, which is a major accomplishment for any indy group in any country. Over the years, Osaka Pro has helped to launch the careers of popular comedy wrestler Kikutaro and Dragon Gate competitors Magnitude Kishiwada and Gamma in additon to being an occasional stop on the independent tours of some of Delfin's old running buddies, including TAKA Michinoku, Dick Togo, and Jinsei Shinzaki.
However, controlling a local wrestling company in Osaka wasn't quite enough for Delfin. In late 2008, he surprised many by announcing a WWE-esque "brand extension" of the company with the introduction of Okinawa Pro Wrestling, a promotion that would follow a business model similar to Osaka Pro Wrestling with the obvious exception that it would be based out of Okinawa and not Osaka. Delfin also ceased appearing on Osaka Pro shows to make Okinawa Pro his in-ring home. In setting up the new promotion, Delfin recruited numerous wrestlers from across the independent scene and repackaged them with new gimmicks, many of which are related to local culture in Okinawa.
Today we will be taking a look at one of Okinawa Pro's earliest television efforts, a show from January 10, 2009. Before we get in to the action, though, let's take a look at the motley crew of wrestlers that comprises the company's roster.
Kaijin Habu Otoko Kaijin's gimmick and look is similar to that of CHIKARA's Ophidian, as both are wrestling snakes. This guy has been around the Japanese indy scene for quite a while under various gimmicks, most recently as ZERO in Osaka Pro. Over the years he has also been Super Demekin and Super Dolphin, the evil impostor of Super Delfin.
Shisaou Shisaou has also been around the block a few times. He started out as Michinoku Pro young boy Kazuya Yuasa before becoming GAINA, a top heel for Osaka Pro. He is now Shisaou, a character based on the Shisa, a lion/dog/dragon creature from Japanese folklore.
Goya Mask Goya Mask is another one of the veterans of the roster, having been an active pro wrestler since 1995. He was previously best known as Asian Condor in companies like W*ING, but his new gimmick is plant-related as opposed to bird-related. My understanding is that "Goya" is a type of gourd that is popular in Okinawa.
Agu Agu might actually be familiar to a small number of fans in the United States. He is also known as Pro Wrestling KAGEKI's Dragon YUKI, and, under that name, he had a brief tour of CHIKARA in 2007. Now he's a wrestling pig, and let's just say that he's got the gut to fit the gimmick.
Captain "Churaumi Pirate" Zack Zack is former indy wrestler Roberto Tanaka, who is now doing a gimmick that, at least based on the design of his mask, as based on Johnny Depp's character in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Don't ask me why he's Captain "Churaumi Pirate" Zack and not "Churaumi Pirate" Captain Zack. It is my understanding that, just a few months ago, he declared that he was leaving Okinawa Pro and the pirate gimmick behind.
Golden Pine Golden Pine, a personified pineapple, is actually Masato Inabe. Inabe has only been wrestling since December 2007, when he made his debut under his real name as part of the El Dorado roster. I do not know why he departed suddenly to become a tropical fruit.
Mil Mongoose Young wrestler Tomoya Kikunawa is now Mil Mongoose. The name makes it obvious what his gimmick is, and his gimmick makes a feud with Kaijin Habu Otoko a given.
Kamuriwashi Yoko, Menso~re Oyaji, & Kijimuna These three are wrestlers whose true identities, as far as I know, remain unknown. Presumably they are younger guys getting their first real break in Okinawa Pro. Yoko plays the role of a bird with an Afro who has a boxing background. (There's a sentence I never thought I would type.) Oyaji's gimmick is hard for me to pin down, but he wrestles in a Hawaiian shirt and has glasses and a mustache painted on his mask. He also has a velcro patch on his forehead, and he will have different props stuck to the patch in different appearances. Usually attached to his head is some sort of food item, similar to Curry Man. Finally, Kijimuna wears an all red bodysuit and mask, presumably making him some kind of demon.
With that overview out of the way, let's get to the action.
The show actually starts with about thirty minutes of promos and skits. Of course, I do not speak a lick of Japanese, so we'll see how much of this I can actually understand.
Up first, Shisaou and Mil Mongoose are at a car rental agency. The employee who greats them acts like it's not unusual at all for him to loan out a vehicle to a giant rodent and a red dragon-lion-thing. However, they eventually leave without a vehicle, meeting up with Agu at a different rental establishment.
Apparently everybody got the car that they needed, because we cut to an opening video package set to an American nu metal-esque song which shows us plenty of in-ring highlights and introduces all of the characters that inhabit Okinawa Pro.
Captain "Churauami Pirates" Zack cuts a promo. I'm unable to pick up a single word of it.
Now we've got Kamuriwashi Yoko, Menso~re Oyaji, and Shisaou in the ring, wearing their masks and street clothes. Shisaou even has a trucker cap on sideways over his mask, allowing one of the "horns" on his head to stick out the back. Brilliant. The three are apparently here to make their musical debut, as Yoko and Shisaou have small guitars. The bird and the dragon strum away, while Oyaji graces us with a song that gets the crowd clapping along. This goes on for quite some time, to the point that they probably would have completely lost an American crowd with the same performance.
When that wraps up, we cut various Okinawa wrestlers in what appears to be an outdoor market. Mil Mongoose stops to point out some snake wine, which I can only imagine that he approves of. Meanwhile, Super Delfin, the head honcho of the company, shows us around a hotel, which I assume is handing out some money to sponsor the promotion. Okinawa Pro Cribs, anybody?
Shisaou arrives at a hotel as well, and I'm beginning to wonder why the concept of a combined pro wrestling show/travelog never took off in the United States. That certainly appears to be exactly what they're doing here. (Vince McMahon, if you steal this idea and use it for ECW, you will be my new hero.) Eventually half of the roster winds up at a butcher, which leads to some disturbing humor involving Agu and piggy cannibalism.
The skits end with Oyaji and Kaijin Habu Otoko hanging out in a bar, which appears to be a thinly-veiled commercial for Okinawa Pro merchandise.
Hey, the skits are over! Let's get to some rasslin'!
Match Numero Uno: Kamuriwashi Yoko vs. Menso~re Oyaji
Wow, from bandmates to opponents at the drop of a hat. Who would have guessed it? Yoko goes for a high kick right off the bat, but Oyaji ducks. Yoko responds by winning out on a Greco-Roman knuckle lock, but Oyaji quickly slips out of that and kicks off a series of quick reversals on the mat. When that comes to an end, the wrestlers exchange chops at mid-ring with Yoko eventually tiring of that and landing a kick. He shoots Oyaji in to the ropes. The Big O looks to respond with a rana, but Yoko does a carthwheel to avoid being taken over. Oyaji will not be denied, though, as he grabs a beverage of some sort from his corner and drinks it before grabbing his opponent's arm and walking across the top rope. He continues to enjoy his drink while doing so, eventually leaping off the ropes with an armdrag that sends Yoko to the floor. Big Bird does not do much better when he reenters the ring, as he gets dropkicked by Oyaji and then chopped repeatedly in the corner. Oyaji misses when he winds up for the last big strike, though, setting up Yoko's own chop series. The avian athlete follows up with a double knee strike in the corner and a vertical suplex, but it only gets two. Yoko then positions his opponent in the corner and grabs a boxing glove, winding up and hitting him low not once but twice. Again, it only results in a two count. Yoko applies a chinlock to wear Oyaji down a bit more, but a rope break is eventually forced. The two wrestlers do a very fast exchange involving rope running that culminates in Oyaji hitting a wheelbarrow bulldog and a slingshot missile dropkick for two. Immediately after that, he applies the Octopus and rolls through in to a cradle, but that also cannot put Yoko away. The bird responds with two big kicks, a double stomp, and a running kick to the back, but Oyaji is also still kicking out at two. More brutal boots from Yoko follow, and then he runs up the ropes to kick Oyaji in th head while he's in the corner. Oyaji fires back with a moonsault bodyblock but still can't finish him off. Oyaji looks to follow it with a rana, but Yoko blocks and turns the move in to a TKO. A Falcon Arrow (an appropriate move for a wrestling bird, I guess) also can't bring the match to an end. Yoko decides it's time to bust out the big guns and grabs his boxing glove again, but he takes too long winding up and gets caught in an Oklahoma roll. Yoko is out at two, but he's off balance just enough for Oyaji to get a victory roll style pin immediately thereafter. The two wrestlers shake hands after the match.
Match Thoughts: Again, I'm not certain as to the backgrounds of these two wrestlers, but it appeared from watching them here that they are relatively inexperienced but coming along nicely for relatively inexperienced wrestlers. They fired off several complicated moves at a fairly impressive pace, albeit not quite at the pace of something like a Dragon Gate or CHIKARA match. Of course, some bits of the performance were a little rough around the edges: Some moves didn't quite look right and you could tell that, as a result of others, the wrestlers were having difficulty controlling themselves and were winding up in parts of the ring that they didn't intend to wind up in. However, all in all, I would call this a good competitive effort from two relative unknowns. They have a bit of room to improve, but they're already doing better than young wrestlers in many other promotions. **
Match Numero Dos: Goya Mask (c) vs. Agu vs. Kijimuna for the MWF World Junior Heavyweight Title
Agu uses his size to dominate early, plowing down Goya with forearms and a scoop slam. Kijimuna tries to ambush the piggy but is shoulderblocked and hiptossed down before being tossed over the top rope. Kiji skins the cat and comes back with a rana but gets dropkicked by Goya Mask and caught in a drop toe hold. That sets up an Indian deathlock of all things, and Agu runs in to apply some kind of odd inverted crossface chicken wing to make it a three-way submission spot. Kijimuna grabs the bottom rope, which forces a break of all of the holds in play. Kiji rolls out of the ring for a breather, leaving Goya and Agu to exchange strikes and then armdrags. This all culminates in a big backbreaker by the porker, and, as he chokes Goya in the corner, I come to realize that he has a curly tale hanging off of his velour wrestling gear. Awesome. The World's Strongest Slam sets up a rolling senton by Agu, but Kijimuna makes the save and goes to work on the weakened Goya Mask. Kiji hits a double knee strike in the corner and then goes to work with his version of the Bronco Buster. A fisherman suplex gets a two count for the red . . . thing . . . but he cannot keep up his momentum as Agu pulls him out of the ring under the bottom rope. As those two brawl on the floor, Goya Mask follows them out with a tornillo pescado, and he picks Kijimuna to bring back in to the ring. Goya hits a back elbow and a sweet leaping double stomp, though Agu sneaks in and tries to steal his pin off of the latter move. An Agu chop disables Goya briefly, and the squealer hits a chokeslam on Kijimuna before applying a dragon sleeper. Goya breaks the hold with a slingshot senton on to Kiji and looks for a vertical suplex, only for Agu to break up the move. Agu then spears Kijimuna, but he can only get a two count. A Michinoku Driver by the pig produces the same result, and then Goya catches him with a slingshot double stomp and a dancing legdrop of some sort. Those moves only lead up to a two count. The veggie unloads with some fists after that, but he's caught on a cross body attempt. Kijimuna dropkicks Goya Mask as he is being held and legsweeps Agu for a two count. He follows up with his versions of the Codebreaker and the Killswitch, but the two WWE finishers are not enough to put the pig out to pasture. Kiji heads to the top rope, but Goya cuts him off, and the two masked men battle on the turnbuckles. Eventually Agu gets back to his feet and joins the fray on the second rope, simultaneously backdropping both of his opponents down to the mat. The pig hits a muscle buster on Goya Mask, but it only gets two. Agu is caught out of nowhere with a top rope sunset flip by Kijimuna, and that also only musters a two count. Seconds later, Goya Mask retakes the advantage, taking his two opponents down with a headlock/headscissors combo. Agu gets a top rope cross body block from the plant, followed by a lungblower from Kijimuna. However, before Kiji can capitalize on his offense, Goya kicks him in the chest and pins him to retain the title.
Match Thoughts: Given the fact that at least two of the wrestlers here had significantly more experience than the two men in the opener, you would expect it to be significantly better. However, the opener was so surprisingly good that this was only marginally better. I will say that it was nice to have somebody with Agu's size in the match, as generally in these lucharesu promotions there are no real heavyweights, and having one in a match like this gives it a little bit of a different dynamic and allows it to stick out from the rest of the card. It breaks up the standard lucha libre spots with some power moves that are more cmmon in the American wrestling world, which is a nice change of pace. In a way, Agu was almost the perfect foil for Goya Mask, who at this point in his career clearly understands what it means to play a bit of an underdog high flyer. Kijimuna didn't add much to the match, but he also didn't detract from it, which I suppose is a bit of a backhanded compliment. ***
Match Numero Tres: Super Delfin, Captain "Churaumi Pirates" Zack, & Mil Mongoose vs. Kaijin Habu Otoko, Shisaou, & Golden Pine
Zack and Pine kick things off, with the pirate shooting for a leg and the fruit denying him before getting a double leg of his own. The two oddly costumed men then proceed to do a bit of legitimate AMATEUR WRESTLING before exchanging pro-style armbars that Pine comically oversells. Armdrags are traded, and we've got the typical "pop up to the crowd's applause" spot before Mongoose and Kaijin tag in. They run the ropes and avoid each other's offense, a trend which ends when Mil hits an armdrag and a rana for two. He then rolls out to the floor, causing a lucha tag to Pine and Delfin. The Okinawa Pro head chops away at his employee, but the Golden one seems to have some difficulty actually returning the shots. The two move in to the early stages of a test of strength, but Pine only grabs one hand and tries to run the other over Delfin's crotch. Ah ha, so he's not just a wrestling pineapple . . . he's a GAY wrestling pineapple. How did I not see this one coming?
Delfin fends off a kiss and some cuddling by hitting a dropkick that sends Golden Pine to the floor. That brings in Shisaou, who is met by Zack. The mythical creature controls with power-based offense, though Zack eventually knocks him off of his feet and out of the ring to bring the Pine back in. Delfin returns as well, and he gives Goldie a snap suplex for two. Zack and Mil then hit a double dropkick on Golden Pine, who rolls out of the ring and begins molesting a fan in the front row until Zack kicks him free. Goldie is rolled back in to the ring where Delfin is waiting, and the wrestling sea mammal knocks him back to the floor and in to the lap of another fan. Mil cuts Pine lose and again throws him in to the ring, where Delfin drops an elbow for two before tagging in Zack.
The seafarer unzips Pine's singlet to add some sting to his chops but gets caught with a butt butt from the tropical wrestler. This sets off a six man brawl, with the Kaijin/Pine/Shisaou trio being mandhandled in front of the fans, including Zack doing an odd move in which he runs the entire length of the arena before hitting a back elbow on Shisaou. Unfortunately, a version of the move that he intends for Pine misfires and hits Mil Mongooose, resulting in the fruit taking the small mammal in to the ring and catching him in a leglock. Eventually Goldie tags in Kaijin, who gets a suplex and a senton for two. Shisaou helps his partner double team the Mongoose with a shoulderblock, and Shisaou stays in to work over Mil with a Boston crab. Eventually Mil makes the ropes, but he can't avoid Shisaou's second rope elbow drop. That is quickly followed by a fireman's carry slam from Golden Pine for two, after which Pine unleashes the hip attacks to set up a rudo double team as Shisaou begins giving Kaijin a piggyback ride and then drops on to Mil with a splash. Shisaou tries to follow it with a powerbomb, but Mil kicks away and lands a standing tornado DDT to set up the hot tag to Zack.
He is briefly a swashbuckler a-fire, but Golden Pine cuts him off and sets up the real comeback by Super Delfin. Delfin DDTs Shisaou to set up a missle dropkick by Zack, who then hits an x-factor and a basement dropkick on Kaijin for two. Zack runs in to a boot but no-sells it and gives the snake a rana off of the rop rope for another nearfall. Kaijin gets back on the offensive with a kneelift to the head, an enzuguiri, and a roll of the dice for a close nearfall. Those two men clear out of the ring after that series of spots, allowing Mil and Pine to hit the ring for a swanky satellite headscissors and a 619 from the Mongoose. Goldie responds with a DDT and a dropkick to the head before hitting a wacky variation on the Yoshi Tonic that I've never seen before in my life. He then tries for something out of a fireman's carry, but Mil turns it in to another rana for two. The men fight over a waistlock, and, before long, we've got a chain of all six men doing standing switches on one another. It looks sort of homo-erotic. The chain of standing switches turns in to a chain of men low blowing each other, and, before long, everybody is piled up in one corner except for Shisaou. He tries for an avalanche, but all five of the other wrestlers move and he hits the turnbuckle. The technicos each grab a rudo and try to run them in to each other, but the collision has a bit more force than expected and all six wrestlers collapse in a heap with just about everybody being pinned in some way by somebody else. The referee, realizing this, starts a count, but all six men kick out at two.
After that bit of craziness, Zack, Mil, and Kaijin are left in the ring, with the pirate hitting a DDT on the snake to set up a Yoshi Tonic from the mongoose for two. Delfin joins his team in the ring, and, after a couple of kicks by his comrades, he gives Kaijin a tornado DDT and puts him in the Delfin clutch. Golden Pine makes the save, and he grabs the crotches of both Mil and Zack en route to taking them down with a double clothesline. Zack is isolated with Shisaou and Pine, eating a Final Cut from Goldie and a powerbomb from Shisaou, though Mil makes the save at two. The Mongoose eats an inverted atomic drop but comes back with another satellite rana. Kaijin cuts off his momentum with a knee to the back of the head and a diving kick to the face, though they only get two. The snake heads up to the top rope, hitting a frog splash for a nearfall. Shisaou takes over on Mil in the ring, powerbombing him again. This time, it is enough to end the match.
Match Thoughts: The athletic aspects of this match were all well planned out, timed, and executed, and you could tell that almost everybody involved would be capable of putting on a perfectly acceptable straight wrestling match if called upon to do so. However, there was also a fair amount of comedy involved, and, though I am by no means opposed to comedy in pro wrestling, in this particular instance it felt like the bout couldn't decide if it wanted to be a serious match or a comedic affair, and the fluctuation between the two extremes made the whole thing feel a bit disjointed. Perhaps if the opening stages of the match had focused on comedy while the latter stages morphed in to more serious action things would have flowed a little bit better, but the oscillating back and forth definitely hurt the flow here, albeit not enough to drag the match down to being anything less than an average six man tag team affair. **3/4
I mainly watched this episode of Okinawa Pro's television show out of curiosity. I had heard about the relatively new promotion and its crazy gimmicks, and my main goal in taking a look at it was to see for myself all of the zaniness that I had heard about. If, after reading this review, you have the same level of curiosity that I did, I would recommend checking the show out. There are some unique aspects of it which are worth seeing if you in fact enjoy seeing wrestling shows that are different for the sake of being different. With that being said, though every match on the card was entertaining enough to the point that I was never turned off during the course of the hour, there was nothing that was so good that I could recommend going out of your way to see this show or watching it if you do not have the same curiosity that I described above. It's a show worth watching for the sake of giving something different a shot, but I can't see it becoming a "must watch" for any wrestling fan who already has a fair number of shows that he or she regularly watches.
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!