Craig Wilson & Jamie Lithgow
James Giles chose this one, a match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka from ECW’s Heatwave PPV in 1998.
Craig Wilson: Quite pleased that James opted an ECW match. It was always a promotion that fascinated me – much like most wrestling fans that lost interest in the WWE or WCW. That said, it wasn’t easy to see much of it with Bravo showing only highlight shows on Sky TV and the only other option being videos. I had a few ECW videos but never had, or even borrowed, Heatwave 98 so this match is new.
Tanaka v Awesome was quite a lengthy feud. Spanning the best part of a decade and taking in two continents – starting in Japan and ending when Awesome left ECW for his ill-fated run in the WCW.
This bout was Tanaka’s second PPV appearance for ECW – his first coming in a victory over Doug Furnas at the Living Dangerously event. This match also marked the last match of Awesome’s second stint in the promotion before returning to Japan only to return to America again to win the ECW title over Taz and Tanaka at Anarchy Rulz in 1999.
Anyway, this match came about after Awesome, for want of a better phrase, awesomely powerbombed his arch nemesis over the top rope and through a table. As the men are introduced, the commentators point out that Tanaka can take a lot of punishment. That leads me to suspect this might be a lengthy match with a number of bumps. In the end I’m proved right when Tanaka sends Awesome through a table and then finished Awesome off with a tornado DDT onto two chairs.
Can’t say I really got into this match. Don’t get me wrong, for a big guy Awesome is agile enough but I’ve always thought he came across as quite lumbering and he was never a superstar that I got into. I read someone on line refer to him as a bigger Brutus Beefcake and whilst am not sure I’d agree with the assessment, it is amusing enough.
As you would expect, Awesome utilises a basic big man offence of slams, suplexes and clotheslines here. This one is pretty much a squash until Tanaka hits Awesome with a chair shot to the head. While Awesome is able to hit a nice enough looking tope, it comes across as lumbering, despite his agility, due to facing a much more agile superstar in Tanaka.
Tanaka may have absorbed a power of abuse here, including a series of very brutal looking chair shots but there is a level of expectation here that he’ll make up for Awesome previously putting him through a table and he duly does with the pretty sick looking second rope DDT onto a pair of steel chairs for the 3 count.
In this series I hope there are more ECW matches to review. I just hope that they are better than this plodding, and somewhat obvious, bout.
Jamie Lithgow: I must hold my hands up and confess to having never seen this match before nor do I know a great deal about Masato Tanaka’s career. I have however seen their wild brawl from the WWE produced One Night Stand in 2005, which obviously took inspiration from this bout.
The first thing that struck me when watching this match was why Mike Awesome hadn’t already signed a WWE or WCW contract by this point? He was 6’9” and 295lbs with wealth of experience and unbelievable athleticism. The guy had WWE superstar written all over him, which is sad because when he eventually did make it to the big two he didn’t come close to reaching the heights that he should have.
Anyway, back to the match and wow, what a start! To the untrained eye you could mistake these two guys for WWE performers, they look the part, but they certainly don’t wrestle like it. Within the first 2 minutes, Awesome performs a top rope back elbow, a slingshot shoulder block and an insane suicide dive to the exposed concrete floor. Not your typical punch, kick, rest hold you would see from a man this size in WWE at the time. After that flurry the fans are hooked, they know that this is the sleeper match on the card. What follows the opening flurry is, to be quite honest, standard ECW fair but done in ways you wouldn’t expect and by wrestlers you wouldn’t expect it from. I mean Tanaka nails Awesome with a chair on the entrance ramp, but he runs the full length of the ramp to deliver it. Awesome continues to fly around the ring and delivers a second suicide dive, fair enough, but the man is the same size as Kane!
If I’m being totally honest this is a fairly standard match, but with a few wee tweaks that we’re not used to seeing which turns it into a fantastic match. The brawling is hard hitting, probably due to both having worked in Japan most of their careers. Tanaka’s no-sell off a German Suplex is brilliant in terms of telling the story of not just the match but their whole feud, as Shane Douglas on commentary says “he refuses to be hurt”.
This truly is a brilliant brawl, Mike Awesome is a machine while Tanaka just won’t give up and both men play their parts to perfection. This is a great match made even better by the fact that prior to the opening bell half the crowd think it is just a card filler; boy do they get a surprise! You will struggle to find a more hard-hitting 12-minute brawl than this, cracking match.
As an aside, one other thing I noticed while watching this match is the risks that both were taking with their health. As I said Mike Awesome performs two suicide dives onto a concrete floor; there are no mats, just cold concrete. The chair shots that Tanaka takes are hard enough to bend the chair, and totally unprotected. I guess it’s just testament to how much each performer trusts the other, but it still made me cringe.
You can read all previous ‘Matches from History’ here.