Into the Indies 04.27.10: HUSTLE Gets SMASHed
Posted by Ryan Byers on 04.27.2010
In the wake of HUSTLE's demise, Tajiri and several of his compatriots form a new wrestling promotion featuring a variety of matches and a guest appearance by Tommy Dreamer! Will it have the legs that HUSTLE didn't? Time will tell, and it all begins with our I2I review of the debut show of SMASH.
Long-time readers of this column will recall that I was a pretty big fan of Japan's "fighting opera" HUSTLE and that several editions of I2I featured the hyjinx of Generalissimo Takada, Monster Bono, Magnum TOKYO, Razor Ramon Hard Gay, Monster C and the other miscreants who populated the promotion's landscape. As a result, I was not happy at all when it became clear this past fall that the promotion would have to close its doors due to financial difficulties. We took some time to mourn but ultimately moved on and found other sources of professional wrestling wackiness, like Big Japan, DDT, and, our new favorites, the Lard Warriors.
Then, a new beacon of hope appeared on the horizon. Several of the individuals who had important roles in HUSTLE towards the end of its run as a promotion announced that they were not going quietly into the good night. They announced that they would be forming a new promotion and calling it SMASH.
The announcement of SMASH's formation gave us a rare site: Metrosexual Tajiri
However, SMASH was to put a bit of a twist on the traditional sports entertainment company. Instead of promoting only professional wrestling shows, the braintrust behind the group decided that they were going to promote shows in three different genres: professional wrestling, mixed marital arts, and kickboxing. Though, near as I can tell, it has yet to promote its first MMA or kickboxing show, SMASH made its professional wrestling debut on March 26, 2010 in Tokyo's Shinjuku FACE before 600 fans.
Former ECW, WWE, NJPW, and HUSTLE star Yoshihiro Tajiri has been placed in charge of SMASH's professional wrestling operations, and between his connections with the American professional wrestling scene, the crew of former HUSTLE wrestlers who are now looking for regular work, and the ties to the Mexican wrestling scene of former HUSTLE and current SMASH star Hajime "REY" Ohara lead to the SMASH matches that have been announced featuring one of the most eclectic rosters in professional wrestling history With a roster as bizarre as the one that I was seeing for the first card, I absolutely knew that I had to check out the premire.
Let's see what TAJIRI and crew were able to put together for SMASH's introduction to the professional wrestling world . . .
Match Numero Uno: TAJIRI vs. Mentallo
Mentallo, despite the fact that he has a name and a look reminiscent of a lucha wrestler, is actually a Canadian indy guy who trained under veteran wrestler Vance Nevada and had a few shots with CMLL a year or two ago before it became apparent that they weren't going to book him regularly, at which point he headed back to the Great White North. This is being billed as a "World Tryout Match" for him, presumably meaning that he's getting the opportunity to earn more bookings based on his performance here.
Traditional mat wrestling starts us off, including Mentallo busting out a handstand to escape Tajiri's headscissors, followed up by a Greco-Roman knuckle lock. The Canadian unleashes some kicks from that position and uses those strikes to set up a springboard armdrag that sends the Japanese Buzzsaw out of the ring. Mentallo follows him to the floor with an Asai moonsault and tosses his opponent back to the squared circle, where he hits a high cross from the top. The younger wrestler walks into a Tajiri kick, however, which gets the WWE veteran a two count. Tajiri follows it up with another big kick to the head, this one sending Mentallo slumping into the ropes and eventually slipping in between them to fall to the arena floor. He manages to climb back to the ring but is hit immediately with a backdrop driver from Tajiri, who stays on his opponent with a chinlock and a Rude Awakening.
The former ECW TV Champion busts out a Boston crab, only to have Mentallo make the ropes. The Canadian attempts to fire back with some chops, but he's cut off and kicked across the shoulder blades before Tajiri goes back to the chinlock. Mentallo tries to make the stereotypical US babyface comeback, but he's kicked in the head as soon as he elbows out of the hold. He barely meets the referee's ten count and starts exchanging chops and then forearms with Tajiri. Headbutts follow, and Mentallo catches his opponent with a dropkick, back elbow, and lariat as he runs the ropes. Mentallo's next trick is a leaping enzuguiri in the corner, which sets up a unique Northern lights suplex variation in which he does a headstand instead of bridging. Mentallo then connects with a Finlay roll and immediately kips up after hitting the move, springing to the second rope for a moonsault press. It gets two and Mentallo attempts to Irish whip Tajiri, but that backfires as the Buzzsaw hits his handspring elbow. Tajiri looks for the Buzzsaw Kick, but Mentallo ducks it and connects with a German suplex for a nearfall. Mentallo heads to the top rope for a moonsault press from that position, but he misses. That allows Tajiri to get in a spinning heel kick and then the Buzzsaw kick, which ends the match.
Match Thoughts: This was a sub-ten minute match, but it was a heck of a little sub-ten minute match. For the first half or so, Mentallo seemed like a competent but unspectacular hand, but, as the match wore on, he busted out more and more interesting offense and went back and forth with Tajiri more and more quickly in exchanges where absolutely nothing was screwed up. He didn't immediately make the impression that he was an awesome professional wrestler, but he DID in this one match transform himself from a guy who I had never heard of to a guy who I absolutely want to see return to SMASH and get more bookings in promotions in which I will be able to follow him. This was a great way to establish a wrestler that the vast majority of the fans probably had not heard of before, and, even absent that factor, it was a very good opener, giving the crowd just enough to get them excited but not so much that they wouldn't be burned out for the rest of the show. **3/4
After the bell, Tajiri calls out a young woman, who, if I'm not mistaken, is a new trainee of his by the name of Lynn Byron who will be debuting on an upcoming SMASH show. He puts her through a few drills, including walking around the ring on her hands and taking a couple of bumps before they spar, with Lynn getting the upper hand on a couple of highspots, including her version of the old Tiger Mask dive fakeout.
Match Numero Dos: Meiko Satomura vs. Shuri
Shuri was formerly known as "Karate Girl" or KG in HUSTLE. In that promotion, she primarily wrestled men or her fellow HUSTLE trainee \(^o^)/ Chie, as other women were not regularly brought in for her to compete against. SMASH is taking a different tack, though, as for this show they have secured the services of Meko Satomura to act as Shuri's opponent. Satomura, for those of you who are not familiar with her, is a long time All Japan Women and GAEA wrestler who is currently training her own crew of wrestlers in a promotion known as SENDAI Girls.
At the start of the match, the two women feel each other out with attempts at light kicks before locking up. Satomura maneuvers Shuri back into the corner and pulls her out with a headlock, eventually taking her down to the mat in the hold. That sets up some garden variety counter-wrestling between the two women, culminating in an STF by Satomura. Shuri makes the ropes, so Meiko switches to a version of the Indian deathlock. The ropes are made again, but Satomura stays on Shuri's leg with a series of kicks. Her next trick is a running forearm smash in the corner, followed by a series of elbow drops. Shuri blocks an attempt at a backdrop driver and kicks her opponent across the back of the head, then looking for a cross arm breaker. Satomura turns it into a pinning combination, forcing Shuri to relinquish the hold or lose the match. Shuri chooses the latter option, and Meiko tries to catch her in a flying armbar of sorts. Unfortunately for the joshi legend, her ring positioning was off, so Shuri is in the ropes as soon as the hold is fully applied.
Satomura stays on her woman with a slam for two and heads into a rear naked choke, which Shuri sells like an almost-certain match ender as she frantically dives for and eventually finds the ropes. The SENDAI boss sets up for another forearm in the corner, but Shuri catches her with a swinging rana from that position and gets a two count before unloading with more kicks and a jumping knee smash. The former KG tosses her opponent out of the ring at this point, kicking her in front of the fans but ultimately being decked by Satomura and hiptossed on the pretty black mats. A series of kicks across Shuri's chest result in her screaming in pain and rolling back into the ring, but that was probably a poor move, as Satomura follows her with a SLINGSHOT DOUBLE STOP and then a HANDSPRING KNEE TO SHURI'S HEAD. Meiko is FEELING IT tonight. All of that leads into a relatively weak backdrop suplex, though it's still enough to get a two count for Satomura. Shuri still manages to get to her feet and trade kicks with Satomura, and a big kick from the legend both wins the sequence and sets up another nearfall. Meiko's frog splash also gets two, as Shuri bridges out. Meiko pulls her opponent to center ring for a slam but gets caught in an inside cradle for two. A schoolgirl from Shuri leads to the same result, and, with Satomura off guard, Shuri is able to catch her with the cross arm breaker. After a hell of a struggle, Satomura barely gets her right foot over the bottom rope to force the break. She is greeted with a flurry of palm strikes from Shuri when she returns to her feet, though the HUSTLE trueborn's big kick misses, allowing Meiko to hit one of her own. That sets up the rear naked choke, which Shuri again sells and fights like certain death before ultimately passing out.
Match Thoughts: For a woman who has very little "true" joshi puroresu experience, the style seemed to fit KG like a glove. There are many joshi matches these days which feature the theme of "young wrestler versus hardened veteran," with the hardened veteran dominating for the majority of the match with the young wrestler getting hope spot after hope spot until she either scores the surprising upset or gets crushed when the odds catch up with her. The problem with a lot of those matches is that the inexperienced girls are quite inexperienced, leading to matches that feature solid performances on one end but unspectacular outings on the other. KG was able to bring a different dynamic to this genre of match, as she has significantly more matches under her belt than a traditional joshi competitor who has the same number of months in pro wrestling, is much more polished than somebody Satomura would be having the same match against in SENDAI, NEO, or a similar group. We need more Shuri in women's professional wrestling, and we need it now. Go out of your way to see her in this one. ***3/4
Match Numero Tres: Akira Shoji vs. Leatherface
Well, this one is a weird clash of styles. Shoji, despite being a comedy character recently in HUSTLE, is still primarily known for his days as an MMA fighter in PRIDE. Leatherface, on the other hand, is former WWF wrestler CORPORAL KIRSCHNER, exiled to Japan after a falling out with Vince McMahon, having been a garbage wrestler in various low-level Japanese indies ever since. I have no clue why he was booked on this show in 2010, though it probably has something to do with the fact that both he and Tajiri were working for IWA Mid-South in the mid and late 1990's.
Leatherface, just like the good old days, enters through the audience with a gimmicked chainsaw that spews sparks, scaring the hell out of a good number of fans. Shoji tries to take the fight to the monster before the bell, ambushing him with a double axe handle before the men wind up attempting to choke the life out of one another. Unsurprisingly, the fight spills out ot the arena floor, where Shoji is introduced into the ring post and stabbed in the forehead with a spike by Leatherface. Needless to say, this bloodies him up. Leatherface hits a baseball slide kick on his opponent as he attempts to reenter the ring and then goes to the floor again. Shoji meets the post once more and is hit with a chair, though a second chairshot attempt results in Akira countering and hitting one of his own. 'Face responds quickly by whipping his man into the guardrail and following up with another chair, and now things spill back into the ring. Shoji hulks up and hits a judo throw off of a Leatherface kick series, and then the former MMA fighter catches his man with a pair of axe bombers and a vertical suplex for two. Akira attempts to apply a cross arm breaker, but in an odd spot, Leatherface grabs the referee with his free hand and throws him into Shoji. Despite the official being bumped, Shoji manages to get a two count off of a sloppy-looking crucifix, and he almost gets a submission victory when he applies a crossface. Leatherface makes the ropes, though, and he also gives Shoji the Flair beal off of the top rope for a two count. Leatherface's powerbomb connects quickly thereafter, and he heads to the top rope to hit a very weak splash for three.
Match Thoughts: I was watching Leatherface/Corporal Kirschner matches in 1995 and his already seemed to be breaking down, resulting in him not being that great of a wrestler aside from the fact that he played his movie monster gimmick well. It is now fifteen years later, and he is now fifteen years older and more broken down. I don't mind having him on a show from time to time as a nostalgia act for long-time indy fans, I don't see him having anything other than an awful match anytime soon. DUD
Match Numero Cuatro: TAJIRI vs. Tommy Dreamer in a hardcore match
This is set up by a fun little video package, which basically tells the story of Tajiri learning of Tommy Dreamer's WWE release and immediately contacting him to ask if he would come to SMASH for a match. Dreamer accepts and cuts a brief promo indicating that, even though he and Tajiri are good friends, he will be victorious here. The background music for the package, Coldplay's "Clocks" suggests a return to their ECW roots for both men.
Speaking of ECW roots, Dreamer is out to Alice in Chains' "Man in the Box," though the ECW t-shirt he is sporting comes from WWE's version of the product. A series of "stalemate" spots begins the match to establish each man's familiarity with the other, and it is Dreamer who breaks out of that mold when he gets his boot up off of a Tajiri corner attack. Dreamer tries to apply his own version of the Tarantula, but Tajiri blocks it and knocks Tommy down to the floor with a handspring variant on the Kappo kick. The two men brawl at ringside, with a Tajiri suplex attempt being reversed into a post-shot by Dreamer. This leads to Tommy finding a trash can full of weapons conveniently placed in the crowd, and the plundah is thrown into the ring. Before we reenter the squared circle, though, Tajiri gets hit with a trash can lid and then a crutch for good measure. The Buzzsaw responds with a lid shot of his own, setting up the posting of Dremear and the introduction of a Singaporean cane into the match. Tommy is caned in the head on a couple of occasions, which Tajiri tries to use as the setup for a suplex on a table. Dreamer blocks it, though, shoving his opponent off of the furniture and into a nearby wall.
At this point, the Innovator of Violence returns his opponent to the ring and begins working over his crotch, first slamming an unidentified object into it and then placing a garbage can over Tajiri's family jewels before nailing the lid with an electric guitar. Tommy looks for his second rope elbow but misses, allowing Tajiri to catch him with some lid shots for a two count. A cookie sheet is kicked into the abdomen of the Heart and Soul of ECW, causing him to roll out to the arena floor. Tajiri takes advantage of his opponent's predicament by pulling a table out from under the ring and setting it up . . . and this is a Japanese table, not its weaker American counterpart. A weakened Dreamer uses the table to pull himself up to his knees, but, in a sick spot I don't think I've ever seen before, Tajiri dropkicks the edge of the table, sending its other edge into Tommy's face. Tajiri looks for his handspring elbow after that, but, in another unique move, Dreamer counters by picking up a mop and swinging it like a baseball bat into Tajiri's back in mid-move. The cookie sheet is then liberally slammed into Tajiri's head, but he does a mini-hulk up and kicks the weapon back into Dreamer's face before placing him in the Tree of Joey Lawerence. Then, in a move right out of Dreamer's own playbook, Tajiri baseball slides a trash can into Tommy's face for a two count.
Tajiri's second rope moonsault press connects as well for another two, and now he's got a crutch. He tries to climb the ropes with the weapon, but Dreamer crotches him and places his head in a trash can before dropkicking it, giving Tajiri a receipt for the spot that he ripped off only seconds earlier. Dreamer tries to follow with a Spicolli Driver, but Tajiri blocks it and hits some kicks, only to have his sequence cut short by Tommy's low blow. That sets up a piledriver from Dreamer, but it only gets two. The table is once more set up at mid-ring, and Tajiri is placed upon it. Unfortunately, one of the legs gives way, so Dreamer has to do some repair work. He takes a moment to keep Tajiri at bay by slamming the furniture against him . . . but it falls apart a second time when Tajiri is placed upon it. Eventually Tommy, the ever-resourceful wrestler, pulls a fan in from ringside to hold up one end of the table and intimidates the referee into holding up the other, allowing him to give Tajiri a superfly splash through the wood. That and a Dreamer DDT are not enough to put the SMASH promoter away, though. A Spicolli Driver onto a garbage can and then a second DDT onto the remnants of the table do the trick.
Match Thoughts: I have reviewed some ECW nostalgia matches in this column and in other 411 columns in recent years, and they never do anything for me. The hardcore "you hit me with a weapon, I hit you with a weapon" style was done so frequently on national wrestling television in the United States from about 1998 through about 2004 that I feel like I've seen every possible variant on such a match, making each subsequent bout in the style I see come off as derivative. For some reason, this match avoided that trend and came off as a fun, light-hearted affair as opposed to a dreadful rehash of a dead formula. I think that a big part of that had to do with the fact that Dreamer and Tajiri seemed to go out of their way to integrate more standard indy puroresu into the bout instead of relying solely on the weapons and crowd brawling. There were even a few spots here that I don't think I've ever seen before, which is saying something given the number of hardcore matches, Tommy Dreamer matches, and Tajiri matches that I have seen recently. It's not a blow away classic, but it's a fun bout and probably the best Tommy Dreamer match that I have literally seen in years. Now I just might go and check out what he's recently done in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA. ***
Match Numero Cinco: KUSHIDA vs. Hajime Ohara
These two were essentially the young up and comers of HUSTLE during its dying days, with Ohara being the hot young heel and KUSHIDA, a protege of Tajiri, being the hot young babyface. It appears that SMASH has decided to book the two of them in exactly the same roles for the promotion's first main event.
It's a forearm flurry to start, followed by an extended KUSHIDA headlock. Ohara is eventually able to escape the hold, eventually taking his opponent down with a forearm and going into a rear naked choke. KUSHIDA slips out of the move rather easily, but Ohara still manages to stomp a mudhole in his opponent in the corner, ultimately choking him against the ropes. KUSHIDA powers out of that and shoves Ohara away by his foot, getting an armdrag and a rana that send the Dragon Gym product down to the floor. KUSHIDA chops away at Ohara among the fans, then maneuvering Hajime back into the ring and dropkicking him in the face off of a cartwheel. KUSHIDA works a chinlock for a bit, then positioning Ohara in the corner for a double knee strike. Hajime reverses a whip into the opposite set of turnbuckles and gives KUSHIDA a hiptoss when he rebounds off of them, after which he blatantly chokes his opponent with his boot. When the ref forces a break, Ohara hits a SNUG forearm and various other strikes to get KUSHIDA down to the mat. A crossface in the ropes and a dropkick to the back follow, and it's beginning to look like KUSHIDA is in a world of hurt.
The two men begin fighting over a brainbuster, with Ohara ultimately winning and connecting with the move. It gets him a two count, after which he goes into a backbreaker submission. KUSHIDA punches his way out of that hold and tries to mount a comeback with a high cross and a dropkick, but both moves miss. Dropkick attempt number two connects for KUSHIDA, though, sending Ohara down to the floor and leaving him open for a SWEET tope con hilo for which KUSHIDA ran the length of the ring apron before leaping up and over the turnbuckles and ringpost in the corner. The Tajiri trainee returns his opponent into the ring and immediately hits him with a top rope body press for two, then connecting with a roaring elbow and a standing moonsault for another nearfall. KUSHIDA plants his man with a bakcbreaker and tries for a moonsault off of the top, but it's blocked and he is powerbombed by Ohara. REY's next offensive attempt is also blocked, though, leading to KUSHIDA hitting a wacky, indescribable slam and a moonsault press for two.
KUSHIDA runs into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, setting up a fisherman buster from Ohara for yet another nearfall. Hajime then looks for a Gory special, but KUSHIDA flips out of it and gives him a slap across the face after an insane series of counters. More counters lead into a German by Ohara, but KUSHIDA no-sells the immediate effects and gives his man a dropkick to the back of the head. The two wrestlers milk a double KO spot for a bit with both eventually getting to their knees and trading strikes. Ohara breaks the monotony, catching KUSHIDA with a backbreaker out of a Gory special position and then applying the Tequila Sunrise. KUSHIDA kicks his opponent off with his free leg and hits his version of his mentor's Buzzsaw Kick for a close two count. A DRAGON SUPLEX also won't get the job done for KUSHIDA, so he gives Ohara his AWESOME rana to a kneeling opponent. You have no clue how much more devastating a huricanrana looks when delivered to a kneeling opponent until you've seen it for yourself. That move is the perfect setup for the Skytwister Press-esque maneuver that KUSHIDA uses to get the three count seconds later.
Match Thoughts: There are talented young wrestlers in many promotions these days. However, the said truth is that, in the majority of those promotions, talented young wrestlers are pushed into the background, either because of a perception that they can't draw as well as their more seasoned counterparts or because of outright ego plays by the established stars. SMASH, however, does not appear to be one of those promotions. Ohara and KUSHIDA do not necessarily have the same name value as Tommy Dreamer or Tajiri or even Meiko Satomura, but they are approaching the level where they are just as good in the ring, and it was awesome to see them get the spotlight in order to showcase that fact. These men did not look out of place at all headlining an independent professional wrestling show in 2010, and, aside from the fact that they're junior heavyweights, with the right build this match also would not have looked out of place in the main event of most non-independent professional wrestling shows. Bravo to KUSHIDA, bravo to Hajime Ohara, and bravo to the powers that be in SMASH for having the faith in them and the common sense to allow them to be the focus of the promotion at this early stage of its existence. ****
After the bell, KUSHIDA attempts to cut a promo, but he is jumped by LEATHERFACE of all people. Tajiri and Tommy Dreamer run in for the save, with Dreamer dispatching 'Face thanks to a few Singaporean cane shots and a DDT.
One of my favorite things to have on a professional wrestling show is variety. I can't stand cards in which it feels like all of the wrestlers have been told to go out there and wrestle the exact same style or shows on which every match feels as though it came out of the same cookie cutter. That's one of the big reasons why I loved SMASH. Aside from the opener and the main event, I don't think that you could say that any two matches on the show were the same style of professional wrestling. Instead, you had a high flying Japanese junior heavyweight style in the main, a very solid joshi match in Satomura/Shuri, a highly entertaining hardcore brawl in Dreamer/Tajiri, and a wacky nostalgia spot with the appearance of Leatherface. This is, with no exaggeration, one of my favorite top-to-bottom shoes that I have ever reviewed for this column, and I would strongly recommend that anybody reading check out this card if you get a chance, particularly if you're somebody who wants to get into Japanese professional wrestling but needs a couple of familiar names and a little bit more of an Americanized style on the card to help you make the transition. I'm looking forward to seeing what the company can do in the coming months, especially in light of the fact that they've got this guy lined up to act as Tajiri's next opponent:
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!