Mike Reviews – NJPW Skydiving J (17th June 1996)
By Michael Fitzgerald on 17th July 2021
Well Hello There!
I’ve been meaning to sit down and watch this one for a while. Back in 1996, New Japan decided they would combine a bunch of Junior Heavyweight Title’s into one big Super Title called the “J-Crown”.
That would come later in the year in a big tournament, but in the meantime they held this show to essentially set the stage by having the main players in the eventual J-Crown tournament compete on a big show in an effort to get all the belts established and get the fans suitably jazzed at the prospect of seeing them unified.
This is an eight match show with seven of the bouts being singles matches for the various Titles, with one additional tag team match featuring Lance Storm. I’ve been trying to get my grubby mitts on this show for years, so I’m glad I get to finally watch it.
The event is emanating from the Nippon Budokan on the 17th of June 1996
WAR Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles
Champs: Lance Storm and Yuji Yasuraoka Vs El Samurai and Norio Honaga
Storm is someone I imagine most of you will have heard of due to his runs in ECW, WCW and WWE. Yasuraoka ended up leaving the business when he was still quite young, but he did manage to get a pay per view match with Rey Mysterio Jr in WCW before doing so. El Samurai is very much the Dennis Irwin of the New Japan Junior scene, in that he’s regularly a 7/8 out of 10 and a real workhorse, but was never going to be the top guy. Honaga worked for both New Japan and All Japan over the years before becoming a referee in 1998.
I’m going to refer to Yasuraoka as Yuji during the review because I can never get the spelling of his surname right and it’ll save me some frustration, but I mean no disrespect. I can only imagine a Japanese person even attempting to SAY my surname let alone spell it. They’d probably tear their hair out and I wouldn’t blame them! There is a lot of really good action in this one, with Yuji getting worked over on the mat by the challengers to start, only to find his way back into things by turning up the speed dial.
Storm gets to show off his incredible vertical leap at one stage with a Stinger Splash attempt, but Honaga manages to move and he ends up eating turnbuckle as a result. We of course get some dives at some point, because they’re probably contractually mandated on this event, with Yuji getting a delightful TAKA Michinoku-like no hands plancha to start us off. Yuji actually is an interesting guy to watch, as he mixes in high-flying with a keen submission style, which tends to keep his opponents on their toes.
Honaga is probably the least interesting of the four when it comes to his move-set, but he’s by no means a bad wrestler or anything and it’s sometimes a good thing to have a less flashy guy in there as it makes the hot moves being done by the other wrestlers stand out more. Samurai and Honaga bust out the old Faces of Fear back body drop into a power bomb spot at one stage, which Honaga follows up by piledriving Storm out on the floor. Hey, the New Japan guys aren’t mucking about here!
Yuji keeps getting up from all the punishment thrown his way and eventually tags out to Storm, which leads us into the near falls with both teams getting close to picking up the win. The near falls are done well and the crowd are into the match, appreciating the action. Storm and Yuji have done a good job getting themselves over with the crowd and the finish is right out of the southern tag wrestling playbook, as it looks like the challengers have foiled the Champs big double team finish, only for Storm to catch Honaga with a roll up for the flash pin-fall victory.
WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: STORM & YASURAOKA
A darn good opening contest, with solid wrestling and a responsive crowd
Storm and Yuji get a nice trophy to go with their belts.
We get a promo from the victors backstage following that, but storm doesn’t say anything.
NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Masayoshi Motegi Vs Shiryu
By the looks of things the belt was being used primarily by Wrestle Yume Factory at the time, with it being vacant since 1988 until Motegi won it in the August of 1995. Motegi is never someone I’ve been especially excited about, and he was mostly used as fodder in the Super J Cup tournaments of this era. Shiryu would eventually go on to greater fame under the name Kaz Hayashi, but he was still quite young here and working under a hood for places like Michinoku-Pro.
This is worked on the mat quite a bit, but it’s quite sloppy in places, mostly down to Motegi if I’m being honest. It never really feels like it gets going, but Shiryu looks decent for a guy with just four years in-ring experience at the time, and he does some nice spots, including a Jun Akiyama like flying knee off the apron at one stage. Motegi makes a hash of trying a back suplex off the apron in reply but does manage to get it on the second attempt. He adds a belt shot out there, which causes the crowd to boo.
Shiryu gets the crowd back onside by landing on his feet on a German Suplex attempt and then following with an insane running flip dive to the floor. That was a fine bit of high-flying there I must say! We get some near falls following that, with Shiryu getting a series of moves but Motegi is able to kick out. One of the moves was a beautiful moonsault, where it almost looked like Shiryu was hanging in the air, so majestic it was. Sadly Motegi is the one who will being going into the J-Crown tournament, and he gets some near falls of his own before finishing with a botched gut-wrench suplex off the ropes.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: MASAYOSHI MOTEGI
Motegi was kind of useless here, but Shiryu was really good and dragged him kicking and screaming to something watchable, getting himself over in the process
We get a handshake following that. Hopefully Motegi was thanking Shiryu for getting him through the match.
Both men cut promo’s backstage following that.
WWA World Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Gran Hamada Vs Tatsuhito Takaiwa
According to CageMatch the WWA belt came from Federacion Universal De Lucha Libre, with Japanese Wrestling Legend Hamada defeating Villano IV for it at Korakuen Hall in 1993, seemingly to make it the property of Michinoku-Pro up until the J-Crown was finally disbanded in 1997. Takaiwa is a notable Junior Heavyweight from this era, with one of his claim to fames being that he came up with the multiple power bombs into a Spicolli Driver move that you can give to your created wrestlers on No Mercy for the N64.
They do some solid mat wrestling to start, working holds and selling it all well. Both of these guys fall into the same category to me, whereby I’m not a huge fan of either but I can appreciate what they both bring to the table and I’ll always be pleased to see them in there with a wrestler I like as you can normally be assured of a good match. Takaiwa does almost kill Hamada with a powerslam at one stage though, but thankfully Hamada is able to tuck his head enough in order to avoid a fatality.
It’s mostly a back and forth match, with both men having stretches where they control things, and the action is a mix between them applying holds and throwing snug strikes at one another. Takaiwa doesn’t back down against his more experienced foe, which earns him some respect from the crowd who appreciate his impetuous nature. It’s not the most exciting match in the world, but its solid work for the most part and it comes across as two men actively trying to out wrestle one another, which is a credit to both men’s intensity and execution.
We do of course get some high-flying eventually, as Hamada gets a nice body press over the top rope down to Takaiwa on the floor and then follows up with a flying shoulder to the floor from the top rope for good measure. They’ve built this one well actually, as they started it on the mat, moved up to strikes and are now firing off high spots, including a Hamada rana off the top for a near fall. Both men get a chance to win it with some big moves, with Takaiwa getting two counts from both a sit out powerbomb and an elbow off the top rope.
Spicolli Driver and a German Suplex look to give us a new Champion, but Hamada manages to kick out and the crowd is getting into this now. It’s kind of a textbook example on how to build a match actually. Somehow Takaiwa ends up bleeding from the mouth, which isn’t surprising considering some of the bombs getting thrown, and Hamada eventually finishes it with the Stratusphere and a swinging DDT off the ropes.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: GRAN HAMADA
It started slow but they stuck with it and built up to the bigger moves, and the result was a good match where the fans got progressively more into it as it went on, which is kind of the point at the end of the day
We get a handshake and hug following that, as Takaiwa has earned the respect of Hamada with that performance.
UWA World Junior Heavyweight Title
Shinjiro Ohtani Vs Kazushi Sakuraba
Ohtani had been climbing the New Japan Junior ranks ever since debuting, with his ring style mixing in shoot elements and high-flying seamlessly to make him one of the very best in-ring performers of the era, which when you see the level of guys competing around this time is pretty darn impressive. Sakuraba wasn’t a top star at this stage in his career and it would take him going into PRIDE and doing the “Gracie Hunter” gimmick to really get over the line as a mainstream superstar. At this stage he was a good hand from shoot-style company UWFi, well respected amongst the hardcore contingent but not a household name.
By the looks of things the UWA belt was another one from Mexico that Gran Hamada brought over to Japan in 1995. Sabu won it to integrate it into New Japan and then it had gone to both El Samurai and Koji Kanemoto, but it’s been vacant since May 96 and this is the show when someone finally wins it again. Hamada would appear to have taken it back to Michinoku Pro following the disbandment of the J-Crown and it returned to its native Mexico in 1999.
This one starts hot, with Saku getting some kicks and a release German Suplex to send Ohtani rolling to the floor. Ohtani manages to beat the count back in, which leads to both men fighting for submission holds on the mat. If shoot-style isn’t really your thing then there’s a chance you won’t enjoy this, but if you’re an admitted BattlArts mark like I am then it will likely tickle your taste buds as both men are very good at working that style and they both sell the other’s attacks and holds really well.
Some of the submission teases are excellent, with the crowd having kittens at points thinking that Ohtani in particular is seconds away from tapping out due to his awesome facial expressions really getting across how much jeopardy he’s in. Ohtani even starts frothing at the mouth in a sleeper at one stage, which you’d think would be grounds for the referee to stop it, but he lets it keep going, because Japan I guess.
Saku does the awesome spot of refusing to take an Irish Whip at one stage, because he’s a shooter and thus doesn’t take traditional wrestling moves like that. I love stuff like that, as it kind of breaks the fourth wall in a weird way but isn’t all in your face about it. Ohtani starts throwing slaps from the apron and gets his trademark springboard missile dropkick before following up with a Dragon Suplex and a sleeper hold to pick up the win.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SHINJIRO OHTANI
If shoot-style isn’t your thing then this might not rate as highly for you, but I love that stuff and I like how they mixed in it with more traditional pro-wrestling stuff throughout the match itself. Plus, I’ve always been a fan of Ohtani’s work so I’m kind of biased
Ohtani shakes hands with Saku following that and then celebrates with his new belt.
We get some promo’s, with Saku glum over defeat whilst Ohtani is happy to have won.
CMLL World Welterweight Title
Champ: Super Delfin Vs TAKA Michinoku
CMLL is one of the longest running wrestling companies ever, with them still running shows in Mexico to this day. I have similar feelings to Delfin as Scott did for Gedo back in the day, i.e. I think he was over pushed in relation to the level of his talent and I’ve never really cared for his matches. TAKA was still quite young here but was starting to develop more ring presence after kind of just being a crash test dummy for Eddie Guerrero to fling around in the 1994 Super J Cup.
They start this one hot as well, although this match is more about high-flying than shoot-style, as TAKA goes flying out onto Delfin almost from the opening bell with an Asai moonsault. TAKA seems a lot more comfortable in his own skin here compared to his J Cup appearance a couple of years prior, and he’s got a decent cocky sneer going on. Delfin does an okay job selling in the early going whilst TAKA gets the better of things, but a problem for him was always that his selling could be spotty.
TAKA takes quite a lot of the match actually, which I wasn’t expecting to be honest, as you’d think Delfin would want to use this arena as a chance to hot dog and show how great he is, but he’s given TAKA quite a bit to be fair to him. Delfin does eventually make the comeback and gets in his trademark taunt, which the crowd enjoys. I just hope he doesn’t end up winning the match with his crappy Delfin Clutch move.
Delfin works TAKA over for a bit now, with TAKA selling it well, but it isn’t really going anywhere and they’ve slowed down the pace when it looked like we were about to go into a hot finishing sequence. TAKA regains control and continues to look good, with his offence having a nice snap and his mannerisms being on point. The crowd has cooled off a bit though because of the way they’ve structured it. Contrast with the Hamada/Takaiwa match, where they started slow and kept building and building into a hot finish. Here they’ve gone start-stop-start-stop and the crowd heat has suffered as a result.
TAKA wakes everyone up with another fantastic dive, as he’s really been the star of this match, correcting course by jumping from one rope to another before doing the big no hands plancha. Delfin follows with one of his own, as it looks like they’re finally kicking this one into a higher gear. We get some near falls back inside following the two dive spots, with Delfin getting a series of increasingly more high impact moves, only for TAKA to counter the crappy Delfin Clutch into a pin of his own for two in a great near fall.
TAKA tries to end it with the Michinoku Driver, but Delfin slips out, only for them to then sadly botch a victory roll. They go back into the pinning hold reversal sequence though, with the crowd responding to it despite the initial botch. TAKA keeps coming with some hot moves, looking like a star in the process, and Michinoku Driver is hit successfully this time for two. Delfin won’t be denied though and gets a German Suplex before rolling through into a Tiger Suplex for three.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: SUPER DELFIN
This one didn’t really do it for me, as the match never really felt like it built that well and I just can’t really get into Delfin’s work. TAKA looked really good for the most part though and was the best part of the match by far. From looking at other reviews online most people tend to give this much higher ratings, but that’s why art is subjective I guess
TAKA applauds Delfin on the way out.
We get the requisite promo’s following that. Delfin sounds way more knackered than TAKA does. Sasuke congratulates Delfin on his win.
WAR International Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Ultimo Dragon Vs Gran Naniwa
WAR was the company created following the demise of the SWS, with Dragon being the biggest star of their Junior division. Naniwa has a fun crab themed masked man gimmick but he sadly passed away in 2010. He does a number of entertaining moves, such as a crab walk on the ropes before leaping off with a flying move, which I believe Claudio Castagnoli lifted for his own arsenal at one stage.
I always thought the music they dubbed in for Dragon on these shows was weird, as it’s a song about a couple who are sneaking off to have an affair behind their partners’ back and how one day their secret will come undone. Just odd that they decided to give that song to the masked Bruce Lee inspired bloke. It’s a catchy enough tune, but it doesn’t suit Dragon whatsoever.
Naniwa starts this one hot by going after Dragon right at the bell and trying a rana, only for Dragon to roll through it. They do the RVD/Lynn styled counter sequence and it’s really good, with smooth work from both men, and then follow that up with some work on the mat. I remember Scott once saying that there was something a bit antiseptic about Dragon’s style and I kind of get what he means. The execution is on point but there’s something missing too.
Naniwa for instance isn’t as polished or as slick as Dragon, but he has a likability and charisma that Dragon doesn’t for whatever reason. His rougher edges add to his charm almost, whereas Dragon’s clinical style limits his in my opinion. Anyway, after working on the mat for a bit Dragon takes over by getting the Asai moonsault and then a series of high impact moves back inside the ring to gain control of the bout. Naniwa sells this part of the match well and the crowd gets behind him to make a comeback.
Naniwa manages to get a cannonball off the apron and then follows with a diving cross body to the floor from the top rope. It looks like they botch a Tornado DDT back inside, but they cover it well enough and get the crowd back with a great near fall off a Naniwa Tiger Suplex. Dragon timed that kick out like the veritable third bowl of porridge. More near falls follow, with both men having a chance to win it and the crowd is getting into it.
Naniwa gets flung off the top to the floor at one stage and Dragon follows with a flip dive to the floor, as they’re really upping the ante with the high spots now. Naniwa manages to kick out of the follow up power bomb back inside, and then counters another one into a rana for a near fall of his own. Dragon tries to reply with a rana of his own off the ropes, but it takes them a couple of go’s first, and La Magistral ends it after.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: ULTIMO DRAGON
Match was okay but there were a few notable botches where they didn’t appear to be on the same page. Some of the near falls were very good though
Naniwa is helped to the back by TAKA and Funaki following that whilst Dragon looks unhappy celebrating due to the botched nature of the finish.
We get a reasonably long Dragon promo backstage following that.
Michinoku-Pro British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Dick Togo Vs Jushin Liger
Togo is of course the manager of EVIL these days, but back then he was the powerhouse grappler of the M-Pro company. Liger should hopefully be familiar to you all with even a passing knowledge of the grapple game seeing as he’s a recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee. His anime entrance music is thankfully left intact here, which didn’t always happen on these home releases, notably on the 1995 Super J Cup.
Togo plays up to being a Heel in this one, as was his usual MO at the time, and it gives the match a bit of a different dynamic to some of the previous bouts we’ve already seen. We get some nice work on the mat and that leads to Togo soup canning Liger out to the floor before following with a TOPE SUICIDA and a DDT on the concrete, just to be a jerk. Liger sells all of this really well, and it’s fun to see two guys embracing the Face/Heel dynamic like this in what has mostly been a pure wrestling show up to this point (Motegi did hit someone with a belt earlier on to be fair).
Liger soon makes the comeback and sends Togo into orbit with a release German Suplex. That looked fantastic, and Togo smartly sells it bit time. Liger gets Togo back for his earlier snide behaviour by going after his bandaged left arm with some arm breakers before trying for a Kimura, but Togo is able to make the ropes. Liger goes uber mean at one stage by heading up top and stomping on Togo’s out stretched arm, with Togo doing the big sell job as a result.
It’s funny as Togo started this match as a disliked villain, but Liger is doing such a number on his arm that he’s actually starting to draw sympathy. Togo’s selling has been absolutely excellent it must be said, some of the best we’ve seen all night. Togo keeps coming though and gets a fabulous Tope Con Hilo to a downed Liger outside the ring at one stage, only to then have his follow up rana attempt countered into a Liger Bomb, which looked all kinds of OOOF!
Liger adds another Liger Bomb, this time onto the concrete in revenge for Togo’s earlier DDT out there, and tries the Kimura again back inside, which means they haven’t ignored all the arm work at least. Togo uses a mule kick to get himself back into things and heads up top for his trademark back senton splash, but decides he wants another and hits it again for two in a good near fall. Togo heads up for a third, but Liger moves this time and dropkicks the arm in a vicious spot before going to the cross arm breaker, which Togo only survives by getting his feet on the ropes.
This has been a great match, with lots of fine offence and plenty of top selling, and the crowd has been into it. The finishing stretch is really good, with both men getting some near falls and the ante getting increasingly upped with bigger moves, including Liger getting both a normal and elevated Fisherman’s Buster’s. Togo somehow survives those, but he’s been sufficiently weakened that the Shotei can put him down for three.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: JUSHIN LIGER
This was a great match but it would have been nice if the finish had been an arm submission to pay off all the work to the body part. As it was it was still a fantastic effort from Togo, who sold consistently throughout and was the star of the match for me, even though Liger won
Liger celebrates following the win but he wouldn’t end up winning the J-Crown tournament itself due to needing surgery for a brain tumour. He still competed but did a quick pin fall loss to Dragon to eliminate himself early.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: The Great Sasuke Vs Black Tiger
Sasuke of course made himself into a major star in the inaugural J Cup in 1994, so New Japan brought him back for more shows and eventually put the Junior belt on him. Black Tiger was a recurring character in New Japan with different people portraying the character each time. At this stage it was Eddie Guerrero under the hood, but other men to wear the mask include Rollerball Rocco, Rocky Romero and Takaiwa. Black Tiger had won Best of the Super Junior in 1996, so this was a Title shot as a result of that victory.
They work it on the mat in the early stages, with Tiger targeting the shoulder and Sasuke trying to put Tiger away with a sleeper. It’s executed well for the most part, with Tiger’s grappling being a tad more technically sound than that of Sasuke’s. Interestingly Tiger and Wild Pegasus had a very good match where Pegasus kept putting him in sleepers and this match has a bit of a similar vibe with Sasuke going back to it constantly.
Tiger switches tact and goes after Sasuke’s legs instead, with Sasuke selling that well and the crowd being into the tactical battle. A big part of Sasuke’s offence is throwing kicks, so taking out his legs isn’t the worst strategy and when he tries to kick his way back into the match Tiger is ready for it and catches the leg so he can go to a takedown. Sasuke eventually manages to shrug it off though and suplexes Tiger out to the floor before following with his insane flying kick from the top rope to the floor.
That was just pure body breaking pain for Sasuke, as Tiger couldn’t really catch him in any meaningful way so he just had to clatter to the floor. Tiger regains control again back inside by countering another Sasuke flying attack into a suplex before going back to the mat with an arm bar, as it seems like Tiger’s strategy is to ground his more high-flying opponent, which is a solid game plan and has given the match an interesting core storyline to build on.
There have been some moments where their timing hasn’t been quite right, but they’ve powered through and covered them well for the most part, and they’ve never lost the crowd either. Tiger busts out the Splash Mountain Bomb for a near fall, and you can hear a crackle in the air as he tries it again from the top rope, only for Sasuke to turn it into a rana OUTTA NOWHERE for the flash three count in a match where Tiger was kind of dominating.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: THE GREAT SASUKE
This was a battling win for Sasuke and the match was good. It did feel like there was a higher gear it could have potentially kicked into, but the story of Tiger having decent success with grounding Sasuke only to get caught when he tried a big flashy move of his own was a neat little twist at the end
Tiger gives Sasuke a handshake and then all of the Champions head into the ring for a photo-op. Liger grabs a mic and seems to lay down the challenge for the J-Crown itself, which leads to everyone putting their belts into the centre of the ring.
We get a promo from Sasuke backstage, with one from Liger as well.
This wasn’t the blow away show that I was personally expecting coming in, but it was a solid effort with some very good matches and nothing you could really say was bad. Super J Cup 1994 is probably the better show if you want a sample of how good the Junior Heavyweight scene was in Japan at the time, but this show still has some good stuff on it and I doubt it’ll disappoint if you’re already a general fan of the scene. I have the J-Crown tournament on a VHS somewhere, so if I can find it I’ll review it down the line as it has a couple of absolute crackers on it if my memory serves correctly.