Retro Review: The WCW / NJPW Supershow I (& The NWA Title Controversy!)

WCW Japan Supershow logo

Welcome to my Retro Review of the inaugural WCW / NJPW Supershow, held in the Tokyo Dome on March 21st, 1991.

The WCW / NJPW Supershow, or Starrcade ’91 as it was known in Japan, was the result of the two companies rebuilding bridges after Ric Flair bailed from their February 1990 Tokyo Dome show at the last minute, where he was supposed to face The Great Muta, after the ‘Nature Boy’ was dissatisfied with New Japan’s proposed payment for the match. From 1991, however, NJPW and WCW would have a relatively fruitful relationship , with Masa Chono becoming the NWA World Champion in 1992, a WCW vs. NJPW league taking place at Starrcade ’95, and even the formation of an nWo Japan during WCW’s peak.

The main event of the WCW / NJPW Supershow, pitting IWGP Champion Tatsumi Fujinami against NWA Champion Ric Flair, was marred in controversy, however. NJPW wanted Fujinami to go over on his home turf and win the NWA belt, but WCW worries that Fujinami would not be a draw on American soil. And so, as we shall see, there was a classic Dusty Finish to the match which, according to the records, drew a lot of heat from Japanese sports media at the time.

But enough prelude: let’s get into the Dome and into the action!

A quick note: I am reviewing the WCW PPV edition of the show that removed some matches and clipped other matches. The whole show with the original Japanese commentary is available on NJPW World.  As a trade off, however, the American version is fascinating in how commentary tries to put over the Japanese presentation and rules for wrestling, as this still would have been very new to a lot of American viewers at the time.

Welcome To The Tokyo Dome

We open up with shots of the Tokyo Dome, and it always impresses me how damn big the place is. From there, Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone, our American commentators for the evening, give a brief rundown of some of the matches as well as giving us a glimpse of the press conference for the show—with Barry Windham very happily digging into the buffet!—before sending us to the ring. There’s no hanging around here—and I like it!

Flyin’ Brian Pillman, The Z-Man, and Tim Horner vs. Takayuki Iizuka, Kuniaki Kobayashi, and Shiro Koshinaka

At the start of the match, Jim and Tony drop in the rules again; yes, helpful for the American audience not aware of the Japanese differences and the NJPW rules, but what’s that I hear? Over-the-top-rope throws do not earn a disqualification in Japan—but will in the main event, which is under WCW rules? Hmm, do you think that’s going to come into play somehow?

That aside, this was a really good little match and a fine opener to the show. I was surprised to see the Americans dominate as much as they did, but as the Japanese team got the victory here, strategically to keep the crowd happy I’d assume, that’s fine. Quick tags were the order of the day as Pillman, Zenk and Horner kept up a quick pace and isolated Lizuka early on. Double team moves were also the order of the day, with Zenk and Horner hoisting Lizuka up for Pillman to collapse him with a flying clothesline and flying elbow. The audience was impressed by a Flyin’ Bryan crossbody to the outside, but there was noticeable laughter from the audience when Tim Horner hit a strange move that was like a flying crossbody into a splash but ultimately looked like a moonsault gone pretty wrong. Oops.

That was the only negative thing I can say about this match though, and even that didn’t bother me. All six men ended up fighting in the end until Lizuka nailed Horner with a stunning dragon suplex to earn his team the 1-2-3. Really good opener.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Akira Nogami

In less than 12 months after this match, Jushin Liger would begin his series with one of the men in the opener, Brian Pillman, with their Superbrawl II PPV match breaking new ground for what wrestling on American soil could look like. Before that though, this would be WCW fans’ first glimpse of Liger, resplendent in green and gold for this show. JR drops an interesting tidbit: Liger’s favourite move at this point is the top rope DDT, something he learned from watching American tapes of the Steiner Brothers. Cool!

JR puts this over as a grudge match, as Nogami is the former Junior Heavyweight Champion and hadn’t wrestled in Japan for 12 months since he lost the title. He wouldn’t fare much better here, with Liger starting off fast and furious, sending Nogami to the outside and nailing him with a beautiful somersault from the top to the floor. A second dive attempt was countered nicely with a dropkick by Nogami as Liger was mid-dive. Liger sold the bump, collapsing in a heap on a tombstone piledriver attempt. Nogami worked the leg but Liger counted a figure four attempt into a cradle, so Nogami went back to his dropkick game. Liger evaded a top rope dive but was limping. Yet he managed to power through and landed a powerbomb and a sitting powerbomb for a near fall. No matter; a stiff clothesline dropped Nogami and allowed Liger to hoist him the challenger up on top of the post for the top rope DDT for the win.

A very short but certainly a sweet match. Liger always was magical, and Nogami was a good foil here.

Arn Anderson & Barry Windham vs. Masahiro Chono & Masa Saito

Arn and Barry are two of the all-time great Horsemen and were an underrated team (check out their street fight with Doom at Starrcade ’90!) JR says this is Arn’s first time wrestling in Japan, which initially sounds hard to believe but does make sense as the NWA’s previous partnership was more with AJPW and I’m not aware of any Arn matches there.

It was cute to see the big, bad Horsemen show deference and respect, listening to the referee and shaking their opponents’ hands like a precursor to the Code of Honor. I liked the respect. As you might expect, this was a rough, rugged match and was all the better for it. Both teams jostled for the advantage early on but couldn’t get the edge over the other. Chono and Barry Windham worked some nice suplexes and mat work, a Windham DDT earning the Horsemen a brief moment of respite until Chono threw Arn off the top and then nailed him with a flying shoulder block before attempting the STF.

Here’s where the American heel work really came into play though, as Windham ran in to break up the submission move, earning the first real boos of the evening from the NJPW crowd. A dropkick to the outside and tope to Windham on the floor were astonishingly crisp but a Windham double axe-handle to Chono, who had Arn in an abdominal stretch, earned the heels an advantage and more boos from the crowd. Arn and Barry really knew what they were doing with the Japanese audience here.

Saito tagged in and was beat down before hulking up and knocking Arn down with a series of strikes before dropping both Arn and Barry with Saito suplexes. Things broke down as all four men fought in the ring and as the referee tried to get Chono out, it allowed Windham, the illegal man, to hit a big lariat on Saito for Arn to get the cover and the pinfall for his team.

Another really enjoyable match, with Arn and Barry bringing some American heel tactics into the Japanese ring and actually getting them over. Good stuff.

The Big Cat vs. El Gigante

Before the match, JR and Tony took us to look at a Japanese concession stand in a bizarre example of ‘oh look, aren’t people different?’ JR noted that people buy sushi at stands in Japan rather than hot dogs like in America, but I noticed the gentleman at the counter was buying a Coca-Cola. I notice JR didn’t mention that…

Anyway, Big Cat is the artist that would become better known as Mr Hughes by the end of the year, while El Gigante gets a massive pop as he makes his entrance. Japan has always had a thing for big men—look how popular Andre was there—and Gigante looks genuinely happy about the response he was getting. He never got that in America! The cheers he got from the NJPW audience simply for bowing and for climbing up on the apron were astonishing.

Gigante actually showed off some enthusiasm and speed, giving the audience a glimpse of his basketball footwork. A big body slam dropped Cat, who went to the eyes in return. A series of punches to the mid-section had no effect, however, whereas Gigante’s clubbing blows certainly made an impact. The giant man worked the crowd masterfully before suplexing the Cat—they were begging him to do it by the end! One big boot and massive Claw later and Gigante was victorious.

Not a great wrestling match by any means, but a fun squash and fascinating to watch for how over Gigante was and how motivated he seemed.

WCW World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers vs. IWGP World Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki

This was a winner takes all match, with JR mentioning that the Steiners were also the US tag team champions at this point and so could have three sets of belts if they won here. The NJPW crowd were super-hyped for this one. The Steiners already had an amazing reputation by this point, and Hase and Sasaki were over like crazy with the home crowd.

Bless them, neither team let the audience down. The opening exchanges between Scott and Hase went from Scott working Hase’s legs to slow him down to dropping Hase on his head with a suplex that drew a big gasp from the crowd to Hase evading Scott and nailing a hard back kick to the head before hitting a running clothesline to send Scott to the outside.

Scott didn’t like that, so Rick and Sasaki went at it instead, Sasaki’s big power slam, bulldog and massive clothesline making Rick look like a rag doll, which you never saw very often. Scott returned fire with some brutal suplexes on Hase (only slightly undermined by Scott telling the crowd to “eat them apples”). Rick dumped Hase in the corner upside down before hitting a Steiner Line. This is the hottest the crowd has been all night; they cheer for Hase to get back up and gasp at Scott’s suplexes, of which a belly-to-belly earns a two count. Rick takes it a step further, hitting the belly-to-belly suplex from the top rope this time, Hase only being saved by Sasaki breaking up the pin.

The Steiners, however, made the mistake of ducking down, allowing Hase to smash both brothers with big T-Bone suplexes before making the tag to Sasaki—to an explosion of noise from the audience. Sasaki superplexing Hase onto a prone Rick was a crazy sight, and the follow-up Northern Lights suplex from Hase earned him a very near-fall.

Hase and Sasaki attempted the top rope bulldog, a Steiner speciality, but RIck broke it up and the Steiners landed their own top-rope bulldog, crunching Sasaki into the mat. Scott, sensing the kill, pulled down his straps and nailed Susaki with a Frankensteiner and moments later it was The Steiners who were being presented with trophies and, more importantly, the IWGP Tag Team belts in what was very much a historic moment. The Steiners would go on to be two-time IWGP World Tag Team Champions and, either side of their WWF run, would contest some classic matches in NJPW rings. Both teams shook hands afterwards.

This was, simply put, just an excellent tag team encounter. The Steiners were one of the best, if not the best tag team in the world at the team, and Hase and Sasaki gave them a hard-hitting fight, which was surprisingly fast-paced and saw a massive exchange of bone-rattling suplexes which, in all honesty, is right up my street. A genuine classic; if you only watch one match from this show, watch this one!

The Great Muta vs. Sting

As I’ve written before, Muta was one of Sting’s greatest rivals, the pair having tore it up in NWA rings all over America in 1989. Now, two years later, Sting would face the man who took the TV title away from him on his opponent’s home soil. Needless to say, the NJPW crowd were psyched for this one and who can blame them?

Muta started things off quickly, attacking Sting at the bell with a flurry of offence and even going for the Moonsault within the first minute to attempt an early finish. Sting was having none of it and just simply stood up to avoid the move. The Stinger attempted to do his version of hulking up, where he seemed impervious to pain, but a spinning kick to the head soon changed Sting’s mind on that and a springboard crossbody to the floor by Muta put the pressure back on The Stinger. Muta ended the sequence with a flourish, spraying red mist into the air like a warning sign to Sting to not play around.

Rather than take the hint, Sting played to his strengths—literally his physical strength, as he press slammed Muta to the floor in a lovely spot before throwing his own body over the ropes, landing on Muta with a kind of tope, which looked stunning. JR, of course, takes the opportunity to confirm this is legal, but won’t be in the main event. We get it, JR, we get it.

A series of headlocks and front face locks were broken up by a smooth criss-cross sequence. Sting broke free by driving Muta’s head into the mat before dumping Muta across the guard rail outside and viciously ramming him into the turnbuckles. Muta countered the Scorpion Deathlock by grabbing the ropes and took Sting down with an elbow to the head. Sting moved out of the way of the handspring elbow but found nothing but turnbuckle himself when he attempted the Stinger Splash.

Sensing the end of the match, Muta went for that gorgeous moonsault of his again but Sting got his knees up. A press slam went wrong, but Muta’s obsession with the moonsault did him wrong, as Sting dropkicked Muta, forcing him to crotch himself across the top of the turnbuckle. My eye’s watered on Muta’s behalf. A belly-to-back from the top earned Sting a two count but he missed a top rope elbow. Simultaneous dropkicks saw both men crash to the mat together, allowing Muta to get his own near-fall with a cradle.

This time, however, Sting felt like he could smell blood and went for the Scorpion Deathlock again, Muta forcing the break with the ropes. Perhaps out of frustration, Sting sent Muta again into the guard rail, but back in the ring, Muta spewed forth the green mist before nailing a springboard crossbody for the hard-earned 1-2-3. Sting wasn’t satisfied with that, splashing Muta in the corner after the bell before locking in the Scorpion Deathlock while both men’s seconds pushed and shoved and attempted to separate the pair.

Wow. You know, their Great American Bash ’89 clash was great, but this one might have been ever better. While it never felt like they were going 100 miles per hour, they wrestled at a brisk pace, rest holds were kept to a minimum and there was a good story being told about each man obsessing on using their finisher to seal the deal and it actually working to their detriment, with Muta having to cheat in the end to win. It didn’t quite beat the Steiners-Hase & Sasaki match, but it’s certainly the second best match of the show.

Title vs. Title: IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Tatsumi ‘Dragon’ Fujinami vs. NWA World Heavyweight Champion ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair

We get both men’s national anthems before hand, which really sold the big fight feel for this match and sold it as a genuinely big main event. Flair was very serious during the introductions and referee introductions, and I always liked the fact Flair would treat his appearances in Japan so seriously: it always made a nice contrast to how he presented himself in the USA.

This was a slow burner of a contest to really sell the gravity of the occasion. Fujinami got the best of Flair in the opening moments, overpowering him and using his strength until Flair nailed a belly-to-back suplex and began to work the leg. Fujinami soon returned fire with the Scorpion Deathlock, and I like that commentary played up the fact that Flair knew what that felt like because Sting had put him in it. A camel clutch and a hard clothesline followed but Flair cut him off with an atomic drop. Note that they teased the rope issue that will be pivotal in the ending by having Flair about to be thrown off the top rope by Fujinami, only to slide down over the rope onto the apron.

Of course, even a serious Flair is still the dirtiest player in the game and he threw Fujinami over the guard rail before stomping him on the apron and not allowing him back into the ring. Back in the squared circle, the pair exchanged some really hard chops before Flair took control again with a knee and a butterfly suplex. Flair began to get frustrated as Fujinmai kept kicking out of his pin attempts, allowing Fujinami to slam him from the top rope to the mat before Fujinami dropkicked Flair to the floor and gave him a taste of his own medicine on the guard rail.

The crowd were ecstatic as they saw that Flair was bleeding. Fujinami worked on the wound with some hard fists, and it was funny to see the ‘Nature Boy’ do the Flair Flop during such a serious match. Fujinmai got a near fall with a beautiful kick to the back of the head before backdropping Flair and clotheslining him for another near fall–the crowd really thought that was it. Back to the strikes and blows, and both men were getting tired but not so tired that Fujinai couldn’t drop Flair with two massive fists. A roll-up earned Tatsumi a very near fall as did a belly-to-back suplex. The crowd were eating out of their hands at this point.

Out on the floor, the pair exchanged some blows before Flair accidentally caught referee Bill Alfonso with a forearm, knocking him out. Fujinami got a backslide while the crowd counted to three. If that wasn’t controversial enough, Fujinami then backdropped Flair to the floor. That’s fine by NJPW rules but a DQ by WCW rules. With Jim Ross going made on commentary, Fujinami suplexed Flair back in the ring before Fujinami rolled him up for the 1-2-3! New champ! Or was there? As Jim Ross and Tony disputed the rules and who the official ref was, Fujinami celebrated with his seconds as the crowd went wild. Streamers were thrown, a trophy was presented, and I must say, Fujinami looked good with the Big Gold Belt over his shoulder.

So a happy way to end the PPV if you were in Japan, but Tony didn’t half attempt to put a dampener on things by complaining about the controversial decision, and Ric Flair made his feelings known by storming the press conference and overturning Fujinami’s table before grabbing the Big Gold Belt and being dragged away by Barry Windham and Arn Anderson. That, at least, was quite a dynamic end to the show, with Fujinami seeming genuinely perplexed and Flair selling his fury well.

In truth, the controversy was silly and was down to politics, as well as setting up a rematch on American soil at the inaugural Superbrawl, but when it comes down to it, this was a very, very good main event, with a hot crowd, genuine tension at points, some vicious strikes and a great closing streak as the pace picked up and Fujinami looked like he could genuinely beat Flair without the controversy. A great main event and a lot better than their Superbrawl rematch, this one is definitely recommended.

Final Thoughts

The inaugural WCW / NJPW Supershow was a great show from top to bottom. Although this was a truncated version for American Pay-Per-View, it was full of great action from top to bottom, with many enthusiastic performers, no match overstaying its welcome, and some genuinely hot, must-see encounters including The Steiners vs. Hase and Susaki and Flair vs. Fujinami. The Japanese and American talent worked well together and there were no real clash of styles. The booking was fair and relatively even in terms of wins between the New Japan and WCW wrestlers and I came away from the show wanting more—and I’ll be making an effort to find the matches not on the American version of the show!

All in all then, a very good show that deserves to be more widely seen, and a success for both NJPW and WCW, with the companies putting on two further supershows on Japanese soil in 1992 and 1993, both of which were the very first January 4th Tokyo Dome shows for Japan, starting off a tradition that remains to this day with Wrestle Kingdom.

Essential viewing.

Leave a Reply