Into the Indies 05.10.11: Okinawa Pro Three-dux!
Posted by Ryan Byers on 05.10.2011
I2I returns to 411mania with a look at Okinawa Pro Wrestling, featuring wrestling birds, snakes, dolphins, fruits, and even a human being or two!
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies, the column that is the answer to the question that nobody asked.
Those of you who look forward to reading this column every Tuesday morning have probably realized that it's been missing for the last several weeks, largely due to the fact that my time was monopolized by filling in for Matt Sforcina on Ask 411 Wrestling. Unfortunately for I2I fans, it's Ask 411 that brings the bigger hits to the website, so when Matt goes out of town it is that column that I have to devote my time to.
Anyway, when I started thinking about bringing my short I2I hiatus to an end, I began to think about what promotion I wanted to kick things back off with. I decided that it had to be something light, something fun, and something that embodied the athleticism and off beat sense of humor that first drew me to the Japanese independent scene in the first place many years ago.
Looking at what was available to me, I felt that nothing fit the bill no better than a little bit of Okinawa Pro Wrestling. A sub-brand of Super Delfin's Osaka Pro Wrestling, we've already look at Okinawa twice during the history of this column (once here and once here) and each time it's been an interesting show filled with over-the-top characters and some veteran wrestlers who are actually capable of putting on darn entertaining matches. I've talked a fair bit about the history of the promotion and key members of its roster in the prior two columns on the company, so I will leave those to speak for themselves if anybody wants a little bit more insight regarding exactly what Okinawa Pro is and where it comes from.
For this column, though, we will just dive headfirst into the January 15, 2011 show of Okinawa Pro Wrestling, held at the same venue that I don't know the name of which seems to play host to almost every Okinawa Pro show.
Match Numero Uno: Super Delfin vs. Kijimuna vs. Taipan
Delfin is, of course, the founder of the promotion and a veteran of the mat game, somebody who had seemingly fallen off of the professional wrestling radar for several years (working backstage with his promotions) before finally popping up again just recently. I hadn't seen him in competition in quite some time until a month and a half ago when I got around to watching the Gran Naniwa tribute show. Kijimuna is Australian wrestler Dingo Cannon, who somehow got imported to Japan to work for Osaka/Okinawa. I just recently learned that he maintains an English language blog about his treks through Japan here. Taipan is a muscular Caucasian wrestler who I had never seen before. Upon doing some research, the only information I was able to find about him is that he is a former tag team partner of Dingo, so I'm guessing some favors were called in to get the guy a bit of work in Japan.
Kijimuna and Taipan lock it up in the early going, but the big man immediately overpowers his opponent and follows up with more of the same. Kiji tries to convince Delfin to enter into an alliance with him, but neither man's chops are effective against the relative giant. In a comedy spot, the referee winds up chopping Taipan as well, and he does sell that one, rolling out to the arena floor in "pain" to the delight of the crowd. Delfin and Kijimuna begin wrestling each other with their opponent out of the ring, and they do a pretty basic highspot before Delfin takes his opponent down with a clothesline. Taipan returns to the ring and trips Kijimuna, followed by an awkward bit in which everybody just lays there. They play it off as miscommunication between Taipan and Delfin, who are now attempting to work together. The duo eventually succeeds in taking Kijimuna down with a back elbow, but they do a really exaggerated take on the old "fight over the pinfall" spot. The wrestlers then take turns hitting corner attacks on Kiji, but Taipan rolls up Delfin with a schoolboy after he connects with a Stinger splash. It only gets two, and, immediately after Delfin kicks out, Taipan pretends that he didn't do it and was instead busy asking the referee to check his boot laces. When Taipan tries the same trick again, Delfin is this time able to put on the brakes and catch him in the act, though Taipan pretends that he was laying on his back on the match not to schoolboy Delfin but rather to do some mid-match situps.
More miscommunication follows, as Delfin asks Taipan to slam Kijimuna so that he can climb the ropes and hit some high risk offense. Taipan connects with the slam but does it so far away from the turnbuckles that Delfin has climbed that it is of no help. Then, when Deflin succeeds in convincing Taipan to "re-slam" Kiji in a more convenient part of the ring, Taipan inadvertently stands in the way of Delfin's offense. Unsurprisingly, Kijimuna recovers amidst all of this and schoolboys Taipan, though Delfin breaks up the cover at two. Kijimuna takes over at this point, hitting both men with the same dropkick and sweeping Taipan's leg en route to hitting him with a rolling senton for two. Kiji follows up with a swinging neckbreaker and a series of kicks to the chest, but Taipan no-sells them and breaks a butterfly net over Kijimuna's back. I'm not entirely sure what a butterfly net was doing at ringside. Taipan takes his man down with a lariat and covers, but he pulls Kiji up at two. A massive press slam and an elbow drop connect, again for two, but this time Delfin makes the save.
The three wrestlers all try for German suplexes, but this leads to a chain of low blows in which Delfin is the last man standing. He also drop toe holds Kijimuna's head into Taipan's nether regions, setting up a tornado DDT on Kiji which gives the bookerman the win thanks to his Delfin Clutch.
Match Thoughts: Just a straight up comedy match here, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I was a little bit disappointed in that I always enjoy seeing what a new wrestler can do and I didn't really have that opportunity here with Taipan given that he was just yukking it up, but that's hardly something that you can blame the match for since it was put on in the greater context of the show and not purely for my amusement. If you evaluate it that way, it obviously clicked with the folks who wre in attendance and also came off well on television since there were enough unique spots that even a frequent comedy match viewer like me walked away feeling like he hadn't seen it all before. **
Match Numero Dos: Eisa 8 vs. Kaijin Habu Otoko
This is a bit of a youth vs. experience matchup, as Kaijin has been around for close to a decade in various indy promotions under different gimmicks and has recently gotten some bigger league exposure in the ZERO1 junior heavyweight division, while Eisa 8 (whose true identity is unknown) is a younger guy who most likely only has a couple of years under his belt.
The wrestlers exchange hammerlocks as soon as the opening bell rings, and then they turn to armbars. A headlock and pop-up laden highspot follows, and the crowd gets into it when both men return to their feet. After the standoff, Eisa tries to take Kaijin down with shoulderblocks and just can't quite get it, though a dropkick gets the job done and sends the snake man out to the floor. Kaijin takes the advantage back on the inside, slingshotting himself into the ring and hitting a shoulder to the gut to set up a half Boston crab. Eventually Eisa makes the ropes, but Kaijin stays on him, whipping the younger wrestler with the several foot long "tail" that protrudes from the back of his mask and applying a camel clutch variation. Eisa tries to fire back with strikes, but Kaijin goes to the eyes, hits a kneelift in the corner, and then connects with a brainbuster for two.
Mr. 8 is tossed out to the arena floor at this point and sent face-first into a wall to set up a thrust kick to the chest. A snap suplex on the floor also follows, and poor Eisa 8 is just getting murdered here. Kaijin rolls back into the ring and leaves Eisa to his own devices as far as beating the referee's count is concerned. Eisa does it, and he hits a desperation shoulderblock after avoiding more offense from the snake. A version of the fame-ass-er gets two for Eisa, and he applies the crippler crossface literally the second Kaijin kicks out of the pin attempt in a pretty kickass spot. Kaijin tries turning the crossface into a rollup pinning combination to score a quick win, but Eisa rolls back over at two. Eventually Kaijin makes the ropes to break the hold, but Eisa keeps on the offensive, burying two knees into his opponent's gut . . . though he misses a second attempt at the same move.
Kaijin senses that the leg has been weakened, so he hits a Ric Flair kneecrusher and applies the figure four leglock. Eisa tries to reverse the pressure but it fails, so he rolls in the other direction in order to make the ropes. Kaijin continues to rain down him with brutal offense, hitting a leaping enzugiuri and then a running knee strike to Eisa's bad wheel before following up with a variation on the dragon screw. Kaijin now slaps on an ankle lock, but Eisa crawls to the bottom rope on his hands and knees. Once the hold is broken, a forearm battle breaks out, which Eisa wins and uses to set up an Ace Crusher. Now the young wrestler rallies the fans and heads up to the top turnbuckle, burying a double knee strike into his opponent's belly for . . . TWO!
More forearms from Eisa connect, but he makes the mistake of hitting the ropes and running straight into a lariat. Kaijin follows up with a SWANK leg grapevine/hammerlock DDT, but it only gets a two count. A fisherman's buster also can't put Eisa away, so Kaijin heads to the high rent district. There he hits a five star frog splash, and that's enough to put Eisa down for three.
After the bell, Eisa 8 is frustrated and slaps Kaijin across the face, apparently earning a degree of grudging respect from the snake man.
Match Thoughts: This is one of those matches that you look at on paper and think will be perfectly acceptable but then it comes out of nowhere and winds up being significantly better than what you expected. The last time I saw Eisa, he seemed like a pretty rough around the edges high flying wrestler who could stay it his current level just as easily as he could improve. Granted, that was several months ago, so he's had a little while to grow, but it still blew me away just how much he had grown in a seemingly short time. Kaijin, meanwhile, is perfect in his role as the veteran heel who helps younger wrestlers work their way up the ranks, and having matches with him consistently is probably why a guy like Eisa is getting so much polish so quickly. Not an all-out classic, but probably one of my biggest surprises in terms of match quality so far this year. ***
Match Numero Tres: Mil Mongoose & Yanbaru Kuinna vs. Ultra Mango & Guruken Driver
Well, we've got some new faces here. Mil Mongoose has been around since the beginning of the promotion, but the other three have not . . . unless they're under new gimmicks. Yanbaru Kuinna is the first woman who I have seen competing in Okinawa Pro, and she's under a mask that is supposed to be reminiscent of a bird local to the Okinawa island. I had heard reports that joshi wrestler SENDAI Sachiko had been wrestling a few matches in Okinawa Pro a little bit ago, but I'm not entirely sure that the woman in the ring here is Sachiko. Ultra Mango, though I don't know who is behind the hood, is doing a gimmick which somehow combines tropical fruit and Japanese super hero Ultraman. Finally, there's Guruken Driver, who I really can't figure out. He's just a dude in a fairly generic lucharesu costume.
Mil and the Driver start things off for their respective teams, and it's well-executed yet basic mat wrestling to start us off. The spot ends with both men missing dropkicks, at which point they tag in their respective partners. Kuinna actually gets off the first bit of offense with an armdrag, but Mango quickly shoulderblocks her down and out of the ring. That gives us another tag, and Mongoose and Driver do a ton of fast-paced stuff off the ropes, with Mil capping off the sequence with a dropkick and tagging out to Kuinna, who puts the boots to Guruken. She makes another quick tag to the Mongoose before doing much of note, though, leaving Mil to drop a slingshot elbow for two. Driver catches him off guard with a spinning back kick and tags out to Mango, who chops away and hits a slam for two. There's another trade to Guruken Driver, and the wrestlers team up for a double back elbow on the mongoose. Driver also drops a knee for two and applies some sort of leglock.
Mil makes the ropes and there is a tag to Mango, with the fruit hitting a devastating running crotch shot to Mil's face in the corner. He tries to follow with more of the same, but Mil avoids it, catches his man with a rana, and makes the hot tag. Driver trips the bird girl up in order to cut off her momentum, but it backfires as she instead takes both he and his teammate down with a double facebuster and covers Driver after a missile dropkick, earning a two count. Kuinna follows with a Sky High for another nearfall, but driver catches her off the ropes and connects with a bridging snap suplex to get two for himself. A brainbuster also gets two as Mil Mongoose saves.
Mango is in to meet the Mongoose, but he is dropkicked in the face for a nearfall for the snake-killer. A rana nets the same result, so Mil switches to submission tactics and applies La Mistica. Mango manages to reverse it into a slam almost reminiscent of a Kudo Driver, following with a Vader Bomb for two. Driver reenters the ring, and he and Mango team up for a piggyback corner attack on Mongoose, which gets even sillier when the referee joins the pile for the same move, though the additional weight causes it to be executed in slow motion. In a really bizarre comedy spot, the three men try the move a third time, but, this time around, instead of standing there to be hit by it, Mil runs out of the corner and jumps on the pile, causing all four men to collapse into a heap.
Kuinna rejoins the action at this point, and a battering ram spot goes awry, sending all four wrestlers down to the mat. They're all counted down but all kip up at the same time. Driver catches Kuinna with a schoolboy at this point, turning it into a kneebar before she even has a chance to kick out. She goes on the offensive immediately after escaping the pin attempt, laying out both of her opponents with big boots and then teaming up with Mil for a drop toe hold/619 combo, which Kuinna caps off with another big boot to Ultra Mango's face. It only gets two. A German suplex from Kuinna also gets two, with Driver making the save. Seconds later, Mil Mongoose connects with a Yoshi Tonic on Ultra Mango, and that's enough to put the match to bed.
Match Thoughts: The action we got here wasn't bad. Mango was a proficient wrestler and was having some fun with his gimmick, and, though a bit generic, the Gurken Driver was perfectly competent. Mil Mongoose, meanwhile, has developed to the point that he's one of the highlights of the promotion after being a bit clunky in the early matches of his that I watched. There were really only two negatives to the match from where I sit. The first is that they REALLY went out of their way to keep Kuinna out of the action. Don't get me wrong, if you've got somebody in a match who isn't up to par with the other competitors, that is a good idea. However, here they almost took it too far, going to the point that it was almost a distraction watching just to see how quickly they would get her out of the squared circle the next time around. The second negative was the comedy towards the end. As indicated by my review of the opening match, I've really got no problem with comedy in wrestling, but it was REALLY out of place here. The wrestlers were doing a fairly straight match and it was building well, but then they hit the comedy spot out of nowhere, and it really took the thing off the rails. The same spot would've been fine in the opening, but it was completely out of place where it landed. This still wasn't enough to make the match into what I'd call a bad one, but it did take it down a notch. **1/4
Match Numero Cuatro: Shisaou vs. Menso-re Oyaji for the Okinawa Pro Title
And here we are with the maaaaaain event. The last time I reviewed an Okinawa Pro show, it also featured Menso-re Oyaji gunning for the company's top championship, though at that point the titleholder was Kaijin Habu Otoko. Now the belt is around the waist of Shisaou, another of the promotion's veteran performers who has been around since the mid-1990's under a variety of different gimmicks.
Shiasou, who has quite the size advantage, takes Menso down early but gets out maneuvered on the mat and placed into a side headlock. The champion rolls out of it and we come to a stalemate, followed by a top wristlock, where the larger wrestler gets the advantage before unloading a few big chops. Oyaji shows that he's not out of it by connecting with a dropkick and a version of the ace crusher, the latter of which results in Shisaou rolling to the floor for a breather. Menso meets him on the apron when he tries to reenter the ring and connects with a couple of big forearms, though the champ weathers them and chops his man down before sweeping his leg. This gets Oyaji to roll out to the floor while Shisaou goes into the ring and waits for him. When he gets back into the squared circle, the challenger is dominated with more chops and a FAT Kevin Sullivan-esque double stomp.
Now the champion goes to the chinlock and pauses momentarily to forearm his opponent in the side of the head, which is the prelude to a running back elbow in the corner. Oyaji finds himself placed into a Boston crab, though he makes it to the ropes relatively quickly. He reels off some kicks to the big man's chest, but they are no-sold and Oyaji is lariated back down. That move sets up a second rope diving elbow by the champ, as the crowd begins an "Oyaji" chant. This fires up the fan favorite, as he gets off some chops of his own and even his own double stomp to earn a nearfall. Now Menso lands a few kicks which are more effective than his last round, though Shisaou still fights through them until the challenger hits an enzuguiri and attempts the Don Jardine rope walk. Shisaou blocks the strike as Oyaji comes off the ropes, but Menso takes him down and out of the ring with another move, setting up a TOPE SUICIDA~!
Both men stay down for a little bit after that move, though it is Oyaji who returns to his feet. He assists Shisaou in getting back to the ring, shooting him into the corner and hitting a back elbow, followed immediately by a second rope double stomp. Oyaji runs back up to the top and connects with a cross body, getting himself another two count. Menso tries to apply an abdominal stretch, but Shisaou powers out of it and armdrags him, though he doesn't block Meno's follow-up Side Russian legsweep. Oyaji transitions into a crucifix-style submission for a bit and snaps off several kicks to Shisaou's chest once the hold his broken.
The champion blocks a superkick, though, and seizes the opportunity to connect with a dragon screw leg whip and yet another lariat. It gets two. A lariat to the back of the head sets up a HIGH ANGLE GERMAN to Oyaji, but he still manages to escape the bridge before the three count. Shisaou heads up to the top turnbuckle now, but Menso intercepts and pulls him off with the DVD! Rather than going for the cover, Oyaji tries for Sliced Bread #2. Shisaou blocks it but doesn't block when Oyaji hits a German suplex of his own, which ultimately sets up a superkick and Sliced Bread for TWO. Menso heads to the top rope again, missing a double stomp but landing on his feet (duh) and hitting the ropes. Poor choice there, as it just results in him getting hit with another lariat. Chop battle number three breaks out when both men get back to their feet, this time with Shisaou winning and hitting a short axe bomber before going up for a FAT MAN MISSILE DROPKICK~! It gets two. Shisaou's next trick is the last ride powerbomb, but Oyaji slips out of it. He doesn't slip out of getting hit with yet another lariat . . . and one more on top of that when he gets back up to a vertical base. However, he still manages to kick out of a pin attempt at two, AND he kicks out of a last ride which SPLATS him against the mat when that move connects. Finally, last ride number two keeps Oyaji's shoulders on the mat for a count of three and allows Shisaou to extend his title reign.
Match Thoughts: This was another very entertaining match in the vein of Eisa 8/Kaijin from earlier in the show with a larger veteran wrestler taking on a smaller, less experienced wrestler. Of the two, I preferred this match, largely because Oyaji has a bit more experience than Eisa at this point, and he's wrestled at least one other "big" singles championship match, i.e. the one that I mentioned earlier against Kaijin. As a result, you could tell things like his timing and his execution of moves popped just a little bit more than Eisa's and the result was a highly entertaining little product. I also appreciated the fact that, since I've last seen him, Oyaji has also taken the time to improve his look, as he's started to get leaner and build more muscle tone whereas previously he could have just been any man out of the audience. He also has much more professional looking gear these days. Overall, I am enjoying what I see of his progression, and, though his gimmick is completely wacky, he wouldn't be out of place on the undercard of most major US independent groups. This was a fine second major effort for him, and a fine main event for a show of this level. ***1/2
Okinawa Pro shows really don't pop up in English-speaking circles too often. However, in the rare events that they do, you should ABSOLUTELY go out of your way to track them down if you're a fan of companies like CHIKARA or other lighter-hearted wrestling products. They have a small yet loyal and talented crew of wrestlers who meld well together because they are constantly wrestling one another and a unique in-ring style that continues the lucharesu tradition that Delfin was one of the founders of and adds another level to it by throwing in numerous spots out of the WWE playbook. There is an innate charm about pro wrestling featuring very athletic wrestlers with insane characters in a smaller venue, and the charm absolutely comes out through the television screen and reaches you as you're watching it. No, it's not an All Japan show from the mid-1990's with **** bouts up and down the card, but it's good, solid professional wrestling that will get you through ninety minutes and leave you with a smile on your face.
Looking forward to the next installment of Into the Indies? Keep an eye on 411's Twitter accounts, and you just might see it pop up!