Happy Wednesday Everyone!
This week we’ve got three matches from New Japan World as we look at the BVD Cup, which was a four man tournament held between Antonio Inoki, Gerard Gordeau, Sting and Tony Palmore at the Tokyo Dome in January 1995.
Ostensibly it was little more than an excuse to put Inoki over by having him beat some non-regular New Japan guys, but it ended up being a less than smooth operation owing to both Gordeau and Palmore having little or no experience competing in worked matches, meaning they were thus wildly out of their element, leading to some very…”interesting” bouts to say the least.
Gordeau had actually done Pro Wrestling before this, working for the original UWF as well as the RINGS promotion. He was better known for competing in Vale Tudo and UFC events though and Pro Wrestling as at best a side hustle and not one he put especially much effort into perfecting. He’s a tall 6 foot 5 Dutchman and I think he’d probably be the favourite were this an actual shoot under MMA rules
Inoki was one of the biggest stars in the history of Japanese Wrestling. He formed New Japan in the March of 1972 and quickly built a reputation for defeating fighters from the world of real combat sports. By taking on the likes of Leon Spinks and Willem Ruska, Inoki was able to say that his New Japan promotion was on par with the likes of boxing, judo, karate etc when it came to legitimacy. These worked matches with real fighters weren’t always the most exciting bouts to watch from an in-ring perspective, but they normally had good heat and that was a big reason Inoki kept persisting with them and why he also got obsessed with bringing shooters into New Japan in the 00’s.
Palmore was a World Champion kickboxer, although his peak years had been in the 70’s and he was past his best by the time this Tokyo Dome showcase came along. Unlike Gordeau, Palmore had absolutely zero experience of doing worked Pro Wrestling matches and thus he would be the most difficult guy to work with in the tournament.
Sting really seemed like the odd one out here as he never had any sort of a rep as a shooter and he’d never really been booked as a legit butt kicker whilst over in Japan either. He’d always been the exuberant bleached blond American who would wrestle the American Style opposite the Japanese wrestlers. He was very much a Pro Wrestler and was only ever promoted as such during his trips to Japan, so the fact he found his way into this tournament seemed really weird because it wasn’t even remotely close to his wheelhouse.
The tournament took place at the Tokyo Dome on the 4th of January 1995 as part of the New Japan Battle 7 event.
Sting Vs Tony Palmore
Sting has a look on his face that seems to say “What on Earth have they booked me for here?” as he probably thought he was going to come to the Tokyo Dome and do a Pro Wrestling match but now he’s got to do a worked-shoot with a dude whose never had to do one of those before and is clearly pulling his punches and kicks because he doesn’t know how to work them.
You can even see Palmore visibly nod to Sting at points as if to say “I’m going to try and hit you now, make sure you move”. The punches and kicks for Palmore honestly look horrible and Sting really doesn’t seem to know what the heck to do with this guy. The rare occasions they actually do some wrestling, such as Sting getting a hip toss at one stage, it doesn’t look too bad.
Unfortunately though the majority of the match is Palmore throwing his terrible kicks and punches whilst Sting does his best to sell them and try to put together some semblance of a wrestling match. The crowd is pretty quiet for it as well outside of them boing when Palmore hits Sting with probably his best punch of the match whilst Sting is already down on the mat and the ref is trying to count.
Eventually the crowd starts getting a bit restless so Sting decides it’s time to take it home as he catches one of Palmore’s kicks and quickly moves him into the Scorpion Deathlock for the submission win. The crowd did at least react for that but I think they knew the match sucked and were showing refreshing restraint in holding back. In America that match would have got booed out of the building.
Nothing against Palmore but he was like a fish trying to fill out an income tax form here and Sting really had no clue how to get him through the match. In Sting’s defence though, he had zero experience working this sort of style or with getting shooters through a worked contest so I’m not really sure what more could have been expected out of him here
With that result Sting moves on to the Final and will face the winner of the next bout
Semi Final #2
Antonio Inoki Vs Gerard Gordeau
This match actually has a story to it because Gordeau semi-knows what he’s doing, whereby Gordeau mostly throws leg kicks at Inoki to injure his lower body so that Inoki is carrying a bum wheel into the Final. Gordeau’s leg kicks actually look decent and make some nice noise, so the match isn’t anywhere near as bad as the previous one was because it actually looks believable and, unlike Sting, Inoki knows what to do in one of these matches in order to sell the worked-shoot aspect.
It’s not especially exciting to watch or anything like that, but it works as a match at least, which the previous one didn’t in any way. I’m probably a bit more tolerant towards it because I used to watch BattlArts back in the day so I’m easier on the worked-shoot style than perhaps others would be. All I would say is that it perhaps would have been nice to see a bit more stuff on the mat.
One thing about Gordeau is that he doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the occasion as much as Palmore was. He knows what he’s there to do and he understands what the purpose of the match is and what he needs to do in order to make it work, so he’s a lot more relaxed about it and the match flows way better. The crowd seems far more invested in this one too because the strikes actually have some oomph to them. Inoki eventually goes to his regular finish in one of these matches by catching his opponent with a submission move OUTTA NOWHERE for the tap out.
WINNER: ANTONIO INOKI
This was actually watchable at least and it served its purpose of giving Inoki another big win over a shooter whilst also giving his match with Sting a hook for later due to his leg getting punished
Thankfully they spare us from having to watch Palmore and Gordeau playoff for third place.
Antonio Inoki Vs Sting
The story here is pretty straightforward; Inoki’s leg is absolutely bushed from that previous match so Sting targets it with submission holds in an attempt to pick up the victory whilst Inoki tries to hang on long enough that he can spot an opening and catch Sting out. It’s not an especially exciting match or anything like that, but it makes total sense and both men play their respective roles well.
Whether they needed to give it nearly ten minutes can be debated, as they could have easily told the same story with 5-7 minutes, but it didn’t offend me or insult my intelligence or anything like that. A lot of it is Inoki lying around on the mat selling that he’s in a lot of pain whilst Sting works his way through every leg based submission move he knows.
I suppose you could argue that they focus too much on the realism aspect that they forget to actually try and make the match fake enough for it to be entertaining, but that was regularly a problem with Inoki as he cared more about trying to make his matches look like a fight than he did about having slick Pro Wrestling matches that were clearly Pro Wrestling. I guess he just really didn’t want to break the illusion.
As per usual with Inoki matches, the finish comes OUTTA NOWHERE after Inoki has spent a large chunk of the match on the defensive, as he slips out of a Sting powerslam attempt and lands behind where he locks in a sleeper hold. Sting goes out from that and Inoki is declared the winner.
WINNER: ANTONIO INOKI
I think Dave Meltzer either gave this a DUD or minus stars, which seems positively bonkers to me. Yeah, the match wasn’t that exciting, but it told a story, made sense and Inoki did a really good sell job in order to try and get the story over. They absolutely sacrificed some of the entertainment aspect in the pursuit of storytelling and realism, which I totally understand might turn some people off, but there’s no way you could say this match had zero value or was actively bad. It was overly long and mostly on the mat, but it was basically fine. Two stars seems perfectly reasonable in my book
Sting and Inoki make nice following the bout with a handshake and Inoki gets a nice trophy for winning.
Outside of the disaster that was the Sting/Palmore match, this tournament was kind of just “there” really. I honestly would have either just booked Inoki Vs Sting in a singles bout or outsourced someone from one of the worked-shoot groups to fill Sting’s slot in the tournament so that they had someone who knew the style who could maybe help get Palmore through that Semi-Final. New Japan wasn’t officially working with UWFi yet, but surely there was someone on the indie scene or in WAR that they could call up to do this? Heck, if they wanted someone from WCW then could have always got someone like Craig Pitman in, as he’d done actual shoot fighting as well as Pro Wrestling. He wouldn’t have had the name power Sting had, but he would have suited the whole gimmick they were going for better.