Quebrada Pro Wrestling, Puroresu, & Mixed Martial Arts Reviews by Mike Lorefice

UWA World Light Heavyweight Title Match: El Samurai vs. Shinjiro Otani
1/21/96 Tokyo Korakuen Hall
from NJPW Tadakai no Wonderland ~Chosenshi Gekiko Hen~ #796 8/6/02

Matwork has long been a staple of junior heavyweight wrestling, but so rarely has it been more than a means to a beginning, a manner of wearing the opponent down to simply lead into the high spots. On endless occassions we've screamed about the early body work ultimately being meaningless because the second they stood up, they started hopping around as if nothing happened, and if we're lucky, they eventually threw in a token ode to the early portion, which may have been more luck than anything else. I mean, if you have enough high spots, sooner or later one or two of them are going to hit an area you weakened in the first half.

El Samurai vs. Shinjiro Otani is about as good an example as you'll find of juniors doing the opposite. Prompted by the more paired down technical matches they'd been doing during the NJ vs. UWF-I feud, Samurai & Otani decided to try putting the highspots at the service of the body work instead of having them be separate entities, or, at best, having the body work serve them. Though I say that, one of the most impressive aspects of the match is how organic it feels, how unforced all their submissions and moves to the injured area - Samurai's knee and Otani's arm - actually came off. That simply speaks volumes for the level they were working on, as the match always seemed fresh, creative, and spur of the moment. They are very decidedly telling a simple and tremendously focused story, and yet because they wrestle with such amazing fluidity, transitioning with the highest level of speed, logic, and general technical excellence, spots such as Otani evading Samurai's German suplex with a quick go behind into his own, but Samurai spinning out into a Kimura appear to be a sudden stroke of genius rather than another deliberate decision to do another arm spot. This set up a later spot where Samurai powered out of a Dragon suplex and did a go behind into another German suplex attempt, but Otani rolled into a kneebar.

Though stylistically very uncommon, the match never comes off as a theme match or any kind of special gimmick. Otani and Samurai don't change their essence or even scrap many of their highspots. In fact, they only deviate from their signature moves in obvious ways designed to add to the story they were telling. You still get Samurai's diving headbutt, but directed to the injured arm. You still get Otani's swandive missile kicks, but directed them at the front and back of Samurai's knee. In other words, you got the best of both worlds with the signature moves, but with these great moves actually adding to the very foundation of a logical match.

In the end, it's not the most spectacular match they ever worked, but their high quality selling and excellent focus on the body parts wasn't at the cost of the excitement by any means. On the contrary, by making us believe in their injuries they instilled a heat, an intensity, a danger, and a meaning into almost everything they do. In short, the match was riveting because they gracefully wrestled with a purpose, and it actually got far more heat because seeing that purpose, the hardcore Korakuen fans reacted to spots they normally wouldn't believe heavily in as well as the old staples.

The armbar finisher is probably a move Samurai has never won with before or since. However, because Samurai had been trying for this and other arm submissions and this time the setup was excellent with two highspots perfectly directed and sold by Otani as well as the audiences knowledge of just how deadly an armbar is, or at least can be when the wrestlers make an effort to make submissions meaningful, the heat on it and reaction to it were excellent. It was the perfect culmination to this particular match, a match where for once they saw something through from start to finish rather than deviating from the path to entertain or to win with a highspot just because it's established as their finisher.

Despite its uniqueness, it won't surprise me if a lot of people don't feel this match is considerably better than any number of others from an era when this group of juniors was regularly wrestling on an extremely high level. It’s not a blow away match or an obvious superhuman effort to have a match of the year. If you ignore the context of what they did, I wouldn’t even say Samurai & Otani were even more on today, but they were fully in sync and able to attain an uncommon level of eloquence. 22:17. ****3/4


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