Zero1 Fire Festival Finals
July 30 2017
We’re in Korakuen Hall for the final night of Fire Festival action. Because Zero1 choose to put the Fire Festival in the middle of G1 I never have time to watch the whole thing. I wish they’d stick it somewhere else in the year so I can get behind it properly. Who goes against the G1 with another tournament anyway? Madness.
Chris Orndorff vs. Hartley Jackson
Orndorff the bastard child of Paul Orndorff and Chris Benoit up against big beefcake Hartley Jackson. An extra from a Mad Max film that’s not been made yet. The match is a sprint with Jackson using his size and Orndorff responding with pluck and guts. Jackson picks off the smaller opponent in under ten minutes. Samurai TV managed to clip it down by half but I don’t feel like I missed much.
Final Rating: NR (clipped)
Yoshikazu Yokoyama vs. LEONA
LEONA, the fucking punk, was in Fire Festival. He even beat Obata. Yokoyama is the guy with the Elvis gimmick. He cares more about his hair than winning matches. This is what wrestling was like in the 50s. LEONA’s tactics include cheeky roll ups on the hirsute rebel and ruffling Yokoyama’s hair. LEONA is a long way off being a decent wrestler but he’s made leaps and bounds from the clumsy catastrophe he was a year ago. His movements are still very deliberate but he seems to have realised his limitations. This match isn’t clipped but it’s under six minutes and they fuck the finish; LEONA rolling Yokoyama up but failing to get his shoulders down for the count.
Final Rating: *3/4
Shinjiro Otani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs. Hideki Suzuki & Keisuke Okuda
Okuda is an IGF boy, out to prove himself in the wider world. The last time I saw him was in IGF taking a pasting off Yuki Yamamoto in a 26 second long shoot. Otani is a surly old bastard and he is not impressed by Okuda’s shoot credentials (0-2 record). After some early success Otani decides to treat Okuda like a young boy and beat the fuck out of him. At one point delivering boot scrapes to the punk while he’s standing in the corner. Otani & Takaiwa have a habit of kicking the shit out of kids. Suzuki decides he needs to motivate his youthful partner so he jumps in there to break a pin and punts Okuda in the spine. It’s the Katsuyori Shibata school of motivational encouragement. You’re doing badly? It could be worse, you could be wrestling me. *Punt*. The match is fifteen minutes of Okuda getting his ass handed to him by two old men and his churlish tag team partner. Young boys being ‘shown the business’ by miserable old men is one of my favourite things about Japanese wrestling. It’s Hardcore Holly vs. Matt Cappotelli multiplied many times over. Suzuki gets a brief run and Okuda wants back in so Suzuki accepts the tag by slapping him in the face. You are a worthless piece of shit until you prove otherwise! Okuda trying to go after Otani is beautiful. Go on kid! You’re going to die but it will be a gorgeous death. Otani eventually gets sick of this kids bullshit and suplexes him on his head for the pinfall victory. I very much enjoyed this. Okuda played his part and the veterans showed him the error of his young boy ways.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: Suzuki walks in, shakes hands with the other team and leaves Okuda lying face down on the mat. Takaiwa takes pity on the poor lad and helps him to the back.
Video Control takes us to…fucked if I know. Ikuto Hidaka’s wife is upset with him for some reason.
They have a load of kawaii ornaments. Then Hidaka goes and gets a job cooking satays while a knock-off Star Wars theme plays. Is this DDT? What the hell am I watching? The boss cook is Tetsuhito Takaiwa and he’s displeased with Hidaka’s work. Is this an alternate timeline?
NWA International Lightweight Tag Team Championship
Ikuto Hidaka & Takuya Sugawara (c) vs. Kotaro Suzuki & Sean Guinness
Everyone here is a decent wrestler at the very least. The result is lots of junior action and excitement. Plenty of dives and everything is fluid and exciting. There seems to be some sort of angle concerning Hidaka, which I don’t understand. I tried asking him what the deal was on Twitter but to no avail. Instead I can only enjoy the match on one level; that of a speedy junior tag, which is relentless. Loads of counters and both teams are out to one-up the other. Guinness handles himself well, in an environment that is tough to just drop into. Kotaro leads the action for his team but whenever Guinness slides in there it’s fine. They run a lot of false finishes, courtesy of double teams and Kotaro trying to blitz Hidaka. They do a solid five minutes of fake-out finishes before Hidaka flukes a roll up and pins Kotaro for the champs to retain. This was really solid. The wrestling was excellent throughout. Hidaka is past his best but proved here that he can still go.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: A mysterious masked assailant takes out the champions. Due to the slender figure I briefly think it’s Hidaka’s wife. It’s SUGI. He wants Kotaro Suzuki. Meanwhile Takaiwa and Okuda show up to challenge the tag champs. It’s all going on!
James Raideen, Kenoh & Super Tiger vs. Kohei Sato, Shogun Okamoto & Daiki Inaba
Kenoh popped over from NOAH to be in the Fire Festival. Okamoto had a great Fire Festival and only missed out on the final by one point. Kenoh finished fourth, right behind Okamoto. Inaba placed sixth, Super Tiger seventh, Sato eighth and Raideen a disappointing ninth, only besting LEONA. Contrasting fortunes and all these lads have wrestled each other recently. The only FF competitor not involved is Yuko Miyamoto. He was otherwise engaged wrestling for Big Japan and FREEDOMS in a double header. Which raises the question – what would have happened if he’d finished in the top two? Oddly enough Miyamoto drew with both finalists. After the pleasing speed of the previous match this seems strangely pedestrian. Kenoh gets all fired up, readying himself for a title challenge. This means him going toe to toe with the much larger Sato. If he’s to be a credible title challenger he needs to be able to match wits, and kicks, with big Kohei. Elsewhere there are meat collisions such as Raideen vs. Okamoto, which is a lot of beef. The general theme of the contest is big lads kicking each other and throwing each other around. It’s a solid 15 minutes of entertainment. It comes to a crashing conclusion when Raideen takes a backdrop driver from Shogun. Is Raideen on his way out or something? Poor showing in Fire Festival and a loss that part-time Zero1 guy Super Tiger could have taken. Very weird.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Fire Festival Final
Masato Tanaka vs. Yusuke Obata
This is a bizarre choice as the final. Obata won last year but Zero1 refuse to pull the trigger on him, in spite of this career-defining victory. Tanaka is the incumbent Zero1 champion, so if he wins there is no logical challenger! We ignore that and plough into a steady stream of elbows and chops. This is going to be a manly contest. They don’t limit themselves to the ring though and brawl all over the building, Obata smashing Tanaka through a table in the process. Obata is basically over with the Zero1 fanbase but they’re delaying his title win for reasons. Maybe it’s because every other Japanese promotion copied NJPW and put the strap on their young buck destined for greatness (Miyahara in AJPW, Nakajima in NOAH, Takeshita in DDT). If Zero1 cut Tanaka’s run short they’d be copycats. Tanaka feels he has to justify his spot and indeed show the younger man that you have to be fucking great to be a main event star in Japan. Just being good won’t cut it. So he puts Obata through the wrangler, with strikes, extracurricular violence and stretches.
Obata’s ongoing theme is that he has to work hard to be on Tanaka’s level. This includes the big table spot and a dropkick off the apron where Tanaka is sat in a chair. The chair decides to defy physics and just slide along the floor with the dropkick recipient proudly remaining upright but desperately trying to sell.
HAHA, beautiful. pic.twitter.com/8asHwXcFkl
— Arnold Furious (@ArnoldFurious) August 20, 2017
Obata gets all fired up and completely no sells a superplex, for shits and giggles. Tanaka, the Don of Not Selling Shit, takes exception and starts no selling everything. Obata switches to desperation tactics. Cheeky roll ups, running knees and hitting the ropes. The latter gets him clocked in the jaw with Sliding D. Obata becomes the first man since Shibata’s horrific head injury to do a shoot headbutt. The clunk noise is sickening. There will always be men prepared to risk their own lives for art.
Japanese lads still doing shoot headbutts I see. pic.twitter.com/zax7kjFtLY
— Arnold Furious (@ArnoldFurious) August 20, 2017
Even with this sacrifice he still can’t put Tanaka away. Obata does more harm than good to himself and after trying to exchange headbutts, with TANAKA and his diamond hard noggin, the Sliding D puts Obata away. Interesting to note that if the match had a time limit of 30 minutes, like the group matches, it would have been a draw. Tanaka getting the pin ten seconds after the half hour. Whether that was intentional or not it’s hard to say but the match was awesome.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Kenoh shows up so Tanaka has some sort of challenger going forward. I’m not sure why though. Tanaka beat Kenoh in the blocks. Okamoto or Sato would make more sense.
I always enjoy Zero1, even if the booking makes very little sense. Takaiwa deciding to tag with his opponent for reasons. Kenoh challenging for the title because he lost? Raideen being jobbed out. Hidaka having this massive weird angle and then nothing happening in his match. Tanaka winning the Fire Festival as champion, thus eliminating the big blow-off title match. It’s strange stuff. But the wrestling is good and you need to see the main event. Obata is great right now and swiftly becoming one of those ‘best kept secrets’ for a promotion no one watches.