Back in the mists of wrestling time, the AJPW Real World Tag League during the 1970s and 80s stands out as an exciting treasure of quality, yet one that always feels somewhat out of reach. I remember reading about the big Japanese tournaments when I was much younger, using several of the dedicated New Japan and All Japan wrestling sites to pour over tables of G-1 Climaxes, Champion Carnivals and World Tag Leagues. However, even in the world of Youtube and Dailymotion, footage feels more sporadic than it should be – that, or I’m just clearly looking in the wrong places.
Looking back, it is clear to see why I was excited by the prospect of the Real World Tag League. The names just leapt off of the page. Even in the 1981 version of the tournament, where there are a reasonable selection of names I’ve no knowledge of, teams involving wrestlers such as Genichiro Tenryu, Baron Von Raschke, Larry Hennig, Harley Race, The Sheik, Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta don’t even make the finals of the event. Year in, year out, some of the biggest, meanest and best in wrestling would turn up to show their best in the land of the rising sun.
Considering the quality of the Japanese wrestlers entering, they didn’t have it all their own way. Indeed, in the first four tournaments, the Funks had equalled the best Japanese team, Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta, in winning two tournaments. The potential for a best out of 5 decider was there, but for the arrival of one other team from the US – Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka – a team that was always going to put this initial oligopoly to the test.
Indeed, it was the two American teams who ended up contesting the final. A double countout had seen neither Baba and Tsutura nor Brody and Snuka come out on top, whilst The Funks had fought the Japanese team to a time-limit draw earlier in the tournament. By my research, rather than the final being a final, it was the last match of the whole tournament, with either team potentially able to win. Brody and Snuka were on 10 points, Baba and Tsuruta on 11, The Funks also on 11. Anything other than a win wouldn’t be good enough for the team of Brody and Snuka.
Just by watching the ring entrances, Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka were an enticing prospect. As a man who watched late 80s VHS copies of WWF Wrestlemanias, the Jimmy Snuka of the early 80s is a frightening concept. Rather than the shuffling parody, cheap pop that he became, the guy blended power and athleticism into an attractive package. Accompanying him to the ring was Brody, a man who looks like Damien Sandow as much as Luke Harper (the popular opinion), another man who surprises with the amount of athleticism he posseses within a rugged, powerful physique. This is the first full match I’ve ever watched of Brody – his percieved style not really interesting me for whatever reason – and I was genuinely looking forward to the prospect. To top it off, Stan Hansen resided in the corner, ready to get involved if the action in the ring broke down.
Even The Funks are a surprise. My peak wrestling viewing never encountered Dory Funk Jr. in any way, shape or form, whilst the admittedly entertaining carcass of Terry Funk bumping about an ECW and WWF ring was the main opportunity I’d had to see the man from El Paso. I’d managed to rectify that somewhat in the last few years, enjoying Terry in Memphis and the NWA as a whole, but never in Japan. Dory Funk Jrs run in 1984 NWA (….see 1984 Year in Review posts….) hadn’t exactly excited me, if I’m honest.
Unsurprisingly though, the match is gold. Any match that is flagged up as the best of the decade shouldn’t really surprise me, but having an opportunity to see a prime-era version of Terry and Snuka, whilst also seeing Brody and Funk Jr. bringing the fire, makes the match eminently watchable.Funk may be a fair way from his ‘middle aged and crazy’ period, but he is already at least a little unhinged, never more happy than when he is going toe to toe with the big brawler Brody. Terry’s selling is also completely on-point, making the Funks de-facto babyfaces, even though the Japanese crowd can’t help but be impressed by the team of Brody and Snuka.
There were two moments of ‘Oh yeah, now I remember…..’ as I watched the match. Firstly, Dory Funk Jr. is hugely over – the fans seemingly loving nothing more than a technically sound, balding, Western Grandpa. The second surprise came when Funk Jr. wrestled Snuka to the floor and slapped on the spinning toe-hold. A move that is all but extinct in modern wrestling gets a huge pop, a legitimate belief that if Brody doesn’t get into the ring to stop it, we could be looking at a third Funk Real World Tag League victory.
The core of the match sees Brody and Snuka controlling tempo, with the odd big spot thrown in. It was never going to be balls to the wall action, but each big spot is built nicely to, allowing each big spot to stand alone and be an important part of the match. A Snuka springboard splash into the ring is a particular highlight, only to be outdone by Terry Funk nailing a flying body press to the outside. Unfortunately, this begins the downward spiral that would ultimately cause the Funks victory.
Terry and Brody brawl at ringside, heading into the crowd. Brody gets the better of Funk, but all this seems to do is enrage Terry, who makes it his singular goal to force his first down Brody’s throat. Another tumble to the outside leaves Funk vulnerable, and a huge Stan Hansen lariat puts him out of the match.
From there, Dory is in danger – yet, he still fights back, kicking out powerfully from several pin attempts and even locking in another spinning toe-hold. The numbers game ends up being too much though, and a Brody knee to a downed Dory is enough to give Brody and Snuka the Real World Tag League.
Not content for this to be the end, a brawl breaks out before the presentation of the trophy can take place, Hansen throwing his weight around against the fallen Funks. To a large pop, Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta hit the ring to clear off the tournament winners, busting Hansen wide open in the process. What is most notable about the aftermath of the match is the fire of Tsuruta, hitting anything that moved.
As a match, this sets or moves the bar of my expectation for every wrestler involved. Either they showed more than I’ve ever seen from them (Snuka) or they impressed on a first viewing (Brody). Well worth a watch – no thrills, just good old fashioned wrestling.
Next time on The Wrestling Classic, I will be looking at the world of the Cruiserweight as a young wrestler from the UK collides with one of the best masked wrestlers to enter the puroresu ring.