Meltzer’s Classics: Kaientai Deluxe vs Super Delfin, Gran Hamada, Tiger Mask IV, Gran Naniwa and Masato Yakushiji (10/10/1996)

More bad screenshots.

We recently watched the Dragon Gate match that, arguably, introduced lucharesu to a broader audience in America, so this ten-man tag feels like a natural follow-up. For Dragon Gate were far from the first company to blend lucha and puro (there is a reason for the proliferation of masks in Japanese wrestling), and they weren’t even the first to use it to put together wild multi-man tags. In fact, we’re heading back to 1996, where Great Sasuke’s Michinoku Pro was doing something surprisingly recognisable to a modern day audience.

And the fact it’s recognisable is perhaps its biggest weakness. Much like the Dragon Gate six-man in ROH, the passage of time has not been kind to this. It’s a spotfest, as from start to finish men roll in and out of the ring, each getting their chance to show off a bit before stepping aside and letting someone else have their moment. It’s fun, at times ridiculous and an effortless watch. However, there is nothing here that blows my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all hella impressive, but it’s the kind of impressive that I am numb to in 2020 and, as it passes the half hour mark, it’s also far too fucking long.

And yet, it feels almost unfair to watch this match through 2020’s eyes. Yes, nowadays, this isn’t that impressive. Thirty-two minutes of stuff quickly begins to blur into one homogenous blob, and I found myself struggling to pay attention. But then you have to remember that in 1996, the only way a Western fan would have seen this is if it dropped through their mailbox, a wee treat from a tape trading pal and something so unlike anything they’d ever seen before.

For while in 1996 WWE had moved away from the land of the giants, the childhood dream headlined WrestleMania that year, and WCW had introduced the world to their cruiserweights, this is still far removed from what fans would have been used to. It has that wild, uncontrolled element that, in my opinion, all the best lucha has. At one point, Delfin ends up sitting next to a nice Japanese lady in the second row, having tumbled from the ring. On top of that, no-one ever takes a break, the action spiralling from spot to spot, no need for selling or storytelling. It’s a competition between ten people to see who can do the coolest thing as much as it is a wrestling match.

In other words, it was Dave Meltzer fodder, for if his adoration of PWG has taught us anything, it’s that he loves people doing cool shit. I also imagine that if I’d been the right age when this dropped through my door, I’d have felt the exact same way. It’s cool shit, and everyone has a weakness for cool shit.

I feel a bit like I’m repeating myself from that ROH/Dragon Gate review, but this is a match of its era, and what makes it impressive is that it happened about ten years before its era was supposed to be happening. Did I enjoy it? At times, but honestly, no, not really. Can I see why it got all the praise thrown at it? Of course, it’s cool shit.

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