by Jeremy Cundiff
2. Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke from WWF In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede (1997)
Thank you for your bandwidth. Last week, you asked me for a great match you had never seen and I gave you Sid vs. Vader. For those of you who didn’t run screaming, this week I’ll be rewarding you for your loyalty. And if you’re just tuning in, this is the second of six installments where I dig up classic matches that nobody remembers seeing. Today, we go from 1996 in the WWF to 1997, and it’s going to look like a whole new world. For those of you who don’t remember…the first image is the WWF in 1996.
Then came 1997…
This was only a nine month period, by the way. Within another nine month period, we would have practically a new company, as everything from the Raw theme to the WWF logo itself would change drastically. I got to say that to a young kid like me who spent his entire childhood watching the old red, white and blue roped product, only to hit junior high and see the WWF grow up with you, turning from a family-friendly cartoon into a cutting-edge rock music video…I really don’t care how badly I am butchering English grammar. The WWF was fucking unrecognizible from one side of the transition to the other, and I got to have a front row seat for the greatest time to be a wrestling fan. It really was another Golden Era.
But not everything was a resounding success back then. For every Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind and D-Generation X…you have Brawl For Alls, Billy Gunn King Of The Rings and you have WWF Light Heavyweight Championships. Not all of it worked. One day I’ll rip the Brawl For All out of its own rectum in a separate article, and I know someone else will already have the ‘biggest disappointments of all time’ covered somewhere down the road. But out of all of those things I just mentioned, the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship should have not only worked…it should have flourished. It was the hardest of the three to fuck up.
In the summer of 1997, the WWF and WCW were on a hot streak that was so hot, we’re still finding pieces of molten metal to this day from the trail that the business left during that period. Every time we see Ryback squash somebody, a piece of history flies off into the crowd. One of WCW’s biggest draws was one of its smallest…its cruiserweight division. Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero are the two who acheived the most success outside of WCW, but it’s not like they had a bunch of scrubs to work with: Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, Psychosis, Juventud Guerrera, Alex Wright, any Mexican luchador you can think of who wasn’t signed long-term to AAA or CMLL, and many more. And while two 240-pound men can put on a mat wrestling clinic, and pack it with tons of drama and action…let’s face it. There are things a smaller wrestler can do that the big boys just got to give up and go home on. And these men would follow up such high-flying offense with a power move to equal. Chris Jericho would powerbomb your ass, pick you up off the ground, powerbomb you again, then bounce off the ropes and hit you with a springboard moonsault. You know…I think Kurt Angle is one of the best of all-time, but I don’t see him pulling off a springboard anything. (Well, given his track record wth the 450, I predict that if Kurt Angle tries to springboard anything, he will just headbutt his opponent so hard they shit themselves.)
Naturally, when your competitor is doing something different and making money at it…you have to do the obvious and copy the bastard, or come as close as you can to copying him without breaking the law. So Vince McMahon did the smart thing, and introduced the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship. Vince then did the dumb thing and booked the worst fucking tournament ever to crown the inaugural champ. This tournament was the worst of all time. At least until Survivor Series 1998. Want proof? Let me give you the first round brackets. Aguila, known better as Essa Rios, defeats Super Crazy in a botchtastic clusterfuck of a match I remember watching live on Monday Night Raw while Jim Cornette, on commentary, blasted the fuck out of it because both guys were sloppy as piss. While some people like to call him an old fogey set in his ways, you couldn’t argue with him watching this match. It was pretty bad. The rest of this thing? Eric Shelley over Scott Taylor, Brian Christopher and Flash Flanagan. Jerry Lynn was advertised to be in one of the opening matches, but something tells me the weed wore off right before the pen in his hand touched the paper because he never did show up for that first round match. Way to add prestige to your brand new title by having one of the best talents in the division ditch your tournament before the first round.
Oh, and Devon Storm lost to the eventual winner, Taka Michinoku. Taka Michinoku…now there is a man with some talents and abilities. A man that, honestly, you could watch walk into a new company in a foreign country, win a belt, and not question it because let’s face it, the guy can wrestle. But nobody in the WWF knew that. Only one of those guys had ever stepped foot in a WWF ring before this tournament in Scott Taylor, and he was perennial enhancement talent up to this point.
Well, I take that back. Two of them. Because in July, Taka Michinoku made his WWF Debut against…THE GREAT FUCKING SASUKE. That’s right. Pick the brick up that just fell from under your chair. Taka Michinoku wrestled Great Sasuke on a WWF pay-per-view. In 1997. But wrestled isn’t the word for it, more like kit-foo’d.
And that was this match. Kicks, kicks, flying kicks, flying moves, grappling, holy shit slap, kick, slap…and then they stopped playing around, and began to really tear into one another. At one point I wondered if maybe one of them owed the other money, or if Taka ate the last piece of sushi at lunch, possibly Sasuke screwed his sister and this was a precursor to the Val Venis pee pee angle…I don’t know, I just want to know why these two got in the ring, worked for two minutes, then mutually agreed that they would begin to stiff and shoot until either they died or the FBI sent riot troops to protect the crowd from the shockwaves when these guys hit each other. I thought I saw the ring ropes themselves cower in fear at some of the kicks Sasuke was landing.
Look this match up. I won’t post .gifs or stillshots of this match (other than the one above) because they won’t do it justice. No matter how high the quality or the framerate, I cannot articulate this match to you with neither words nor pictures. Stiff, stiff, stiff. No restholds necessary for these two, despite going fifteen minutes. Plenty of dives to the floor. Taka does a springboard plancha to the outside and gets so much airtime on his jump, I thought he was going to check a faulty lightbulb while he was up there. He had to have died a minimum of three times in this match, and still kicked out on rigor mortis alone. After it’s all over, Taka eventually does the job to Sasuke…who poses briefly, and then it’s back to the locker room and back to reality for the WWF fans.
Daniel pointed out to me that yes, these two did have a second match on Raw the next night after this match. Strangely enough, Taka lost yet again making me wonder who was supposed to win that belt in the first place. If it was Taka, making him lose his first two matches really hurt the credibility of the title in my opinion, particularly in such good matches. Taka needed to have a match of this caliber where he WON. They just needed to pay Sasuke whatever they needed to pay him to job this match. If they had, perhaps the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship would have been so much more prestigious that instead of the afterthought that the title had become (in less than two years, Gillberg would be your damn LHC) it might have gotten the dignity it deserved. This match should have been the showpiece for the WWF’s Light Heavyweight Division. If you had told the 12 year old me watching this match that there was an entire division with titles just for guys this small who did this stuff, I’d swear to never watch a heavyweight match again until the next week on Raw.
So…why don’t people remember this match? Because it was Calgary Stampede, a throwaway show with only one match: the ten-man tag featuring The Hart Foundation versus the makeshuft tandem of The Legion of Doom, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and Steve Austin. The only reason this shit even sold tickets and pay-per-view buys was the fact that it took place in Calgary and the place went apeshit for the Harts. They also went apeshit for this match as well. I think this match was a treat for the smart fans of Canada, and possibly the smart fans in America as well. If this pay-per-view had taken place in, say, Pittsburgh or Kansas City…I highly doubt we would have gotten such a good match. This pay-per-view was meant to put the Harts over and make everybody a ton of money for going black and pink for a day. A lot of stuff got overlooked, including the WWF Championship itself.
A smart man would have paid The Great Sasuke whatever he asked for to do the job to Taka. I don’t know if the plan was for Taka to become the first LHC all along, but if it was, they did a shitty job of making us think he was a credible champion right out of the gate with this match. He made us believe he was a tremendous wrestler and he would never give up, that he had a fighting spirit and was somebody we all should rally behind. But those are qualities of a championship CONTENDER. Those aren’t qualities of somebody you want to put the belt on initially. If this was the route they wanted to go, they needed to put the belt on the only other person they seemed to give a shit about pushing in the Light Heavyweight division…Brian Christopher. Problem was, he was a half-ass worker from Memphis who, quite honestly, couldn’t hang with the Japanese or Mexican workers or even the American high flyers. If you don’t remember, he was Jerry Lawler’s son, and they all but told you this on TV because fuck it, had to get him over somehow.
So this thing was kind of doomed from the start, as they had to make everyone look like a credible contender all at once, and there’s only one belt you can give to a guy. Nobody knew who these guys were, and all they knew is they were good, but when we saw them the first time they got beat. Some more effort into pushing who you had, or at least going out and paying the money for a little bit more, could have went a long way. Oh well, at least we got to see a kick ass cruiserweight puro match in the WWF. And that’s awesome with me.
Next week…I’m not sure what you’re going to get, but whatever it is, rest assured it’ll be awesome. It’s a surprise. Hey, maybe you could leave comments and suggestions to me as well. I like to incorporate other people’s opinions into my work, it’s how you become a better critic. I’m also curious to see what people think of my work so far. So please drop me a line. We have a comment button for a reason. I’m Madman Szalinski, and in the words of Jim Cornette…”if you wanna know what a guy looks like with bald hair, tell me first so I can book him in a hair match and sell some tickets, k? Thank you, fuck you, bye.”
Photos 1-3: youtube.com