Patrick Eire Retro Wrestling Matchguide: 1970-1975

The retro matchguide now finds itself in the early 1970s. The early 1970s saw big changes to the wrestling landscape in Japan. Antonio Inoki founded NJPW in 1972. Then AJPW was founded by Giant Baba and the sons of Rikidozan in the same year. In 1973 the JWA shut its doors and the Japanese wrestling landscape changed forever. The early 1970s is a bit of a dark period in American wrestling as very few matches from that time are accessible and none of them are written about here. Thankfully though thanks to the relationship between NWA and AJPW we still get to see some of their top stars in action such as Jack Brisco and The Funks. NJPW also attracted some of the most renowned grapplers in this period including Karl Gotch, Lou Thesz and Billy Robinson. In this article, I will give detailed recommendations on 6 matches from the era listed in chronological order. I will also provide some honourable mentions. You may also notice that I have added information on where to watch these matches. A link to a Youtube playlist that I have curated with all the listed matches will be provided. Let’s start with some honourable mentions.


1. Antonio Inoki vs Dory Funk Jr, JWA NWA World Champion Series - Day 6, 02/08/1970

My star rating: 3.75

Cagematch: 7.45

Where to watch: Youtube


2. Monster Roussimoff vs Strong Kobayashi, IWE The 4th IWA World Series - Day 34, 06/05/1972

My star rating: 3.75

Cagematch average: 8

Where to watch: Youtube


3. Jack Brisco vs Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW New Year NWA Champion Series 1974 - Day 8, 30/01/1974

My star rating: 3.75

Cagematch: 7.91

Where to watch: Youtube


4. Jack Brisco vs Giant Baba, AJPW NWA World Champion Series 1974 - Day 8, 02/12/1974

My star rating: 4

Cagematch Average: 8.00

Where to watch: Youtube


Youtube Playlist Link:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqNaOMFObvYOO_MEgQQJYpsDHA4KYtJTl



6. Antonio Inoki vs Jack Brisco, JWA Summer Big Series - Day 12, 05/08/1971


In March of 1971, the great Antonio Inoki won the NWA United National Title in Los Angeles California beating John Tolos. Five months later Inoki would make his first title defence against Jack Brisco in his native Japan. This was actually the first singles title of Inoki’s career but make no mistake he had already established himself as one of the top technical wrestlers in Japan at this point, having a pair of classic matches with Dory Funk Jr in the years prior. Jack Brisco was emerging as one of the top technical wrestlers in the USA himself at this point. Debuting in 1965 he would go on to become one of the most successful wrestlers of the 1970s becoming a two-time NWA World Heavyweight champion. Brisco had a very strong amateur background and that was evident in his professional wrestling matches. He predominantly used the figure four leglock as his finishing move. He was once described by Lou Thesz as “One of the toughest and most highly skilled wrestlers of the last 50 years” which should tell you just how respected he was.


This match pitted two of the most proficient technical wrestlers of the 1970s against each other in a best two out of three falls match and what followed was unexpectedly a technical wrestling classic. The match starts with some fast-paced and really physically intense grappling as both men struggle to gain the advantage. In the early stages, Brisco is largely focusing on the arm of Inoki with Inoki mainly targeting the leg of Brico. I can’t state enough how aggressive the grappling looks and feels. Both men do an excellent job at making it feel like a real struggle to gain the advantage. Inoki switches tactics and goes for the head of Brisco, trapping him in a headlock and then a head scissors. When Brisco finally breaks free he hits a shin breaker and focuses on the leg of Inoki before latching on his figure four. Unluckily for Brisco however, Inoki is too close to the ropes and is able to escape. You can see Brisco getting more frustrated as the match goes on and he tries to use the ropes for additional leverage but the referee is sharp and prevents him from getting a sustained advantage. At one point Brisco gets so frustrated that he starts ramming the head of Inoki into the turnbuckle pad but Inoki is able to get free and puts Brisco in a Boston Crab which the crowd love. After the first fall, there are some great near falls both ways with Brisco using a backslide and Inoki a sunset flip. After the second fall, the intensity rises as Inoki begins to chop Brisco on the back of the head and proceeds to stomp his head on the mat. This was a technical classic between two of the all-time greats at this genre of a wrestling match. If this sort of grappling is up your street then I’d definitely recommend checking it out.


My star rating: 4.25

Cagematch: 8.75

Where to watch: Youtube



5. The Destroyer vs Mil Mascaras, AJPW Giant Series - Day 3, 09/10/1973


In 1972 Giant Baba departed the JWA and set up All Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Rikidozan’s two sons. AJPW soon became the largest promotion in all of Japan and would remain so for over two decades. The Destroyer wrestled many high-profile matches for the JWA in the 1960s against the likes of Rikidozan and Giant Baba. In 1972 he followed Baba to AJPW where he would stay for over 20 years. The Destroyer was one of the first foreign names to achieve real success in Japan and that is reflected in the fact that he was the first ever American wrestler signed to a Japanese promotion. During his second reign as United States Heavyweight Champion, The Destroyer would have what is possibly the most famous match of his AJPW career when he defended his title against Mil Mascaras. Mil Mascaras is one of the greatest stars in lucha libre history and he has been described as the first international Lucha star. In 1973 he made his AJPW debut and soon challenged fellow masked wrestler The Destroyer for his US championship in a best two out of three falls match.


This match is expertly crafted between two highly accomplished wrestlers. The opening stages are heavily mat-based as both men grapple for position. Quite surprisingly The Destroyer is wrestling a clean match up to this point and not employing any of his usual underhanded tactics, observing several clean breaks. Mascaras is able to frustrate The Destroyer by trapping him in a head scissors on multiple occasions, causing the tension to slowly rise. Suddenly the pace picks up and Mascaras is able to win the first fall with a flying headbutt. The Destroyer is a more technically skilled wrestler now compared to when he first arrived in Japan and there are some really nice technical exchanges after the first fall. The Destroyer finally snaps and refuses a clean break by punching Mascaras in the ropes. The Destroyer repeats this trick but Mascaras is able to lock The Destroyer in a full nelson which nearly causes The Destroyer to quit. The Destroyer eventually escapes and hits a really nice monkey flip. He now focuses on the leg of Mascaras intending to make him submit to the figure four. Mascara avoids The Destroyer's first attempt at applying the hold but is unable to avoid the second. Mascaras does an excellent job of selling the figure four, possibly the best I’ve ever seen and eventually, he submits tying the contest. The tension between the pair is now at its highest as Mascaras must overcome the champion on one leg. There are some great near falls and a clever finish to close the match. This is possibly the best match of both men’s legendary careers and also in my opinion the first classic in AJPW history.


My star rating: 4.25

Cagematch: 8.39

Where to Watch: Youtube



4. Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi vs Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz, NJPW World’s Strongest Tag Team Match, 14/10/1973



Antonio Inoki was fired from the JWA in late 1971 as a result of planning to take over the promotion. Subsequently, he founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. In the first ever main event in NJPW history, Antonio Inoki would face Karl Gotch for the first time, beginning a rivalry that would last several years. In 1973 we saw a special tag team match in that rivalry pitting the team of Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi against the team of Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch. At this point, I believe Antonio Inoki to be the best wrestler in Japan. His partner Seiji Sakaguchi was also a very dependable wrestler. He never achieved much singles title success but he had a strong background in judo and was a gifted technical wrestler. To this day he remains employed with NJPW as an advisor. Lou Thesz is 57 years old at this point but remains in excellent physical condition for a man his age. Barring a singles bout very early in Inoki’s career this was his first meeting with Inoki in what was a dream matchup at the time. Karl Gotch is 49 years old himself at this point but like Thesz is still in excellent shape. This may be after Gotch’s prime but I believe it is the best match of his that made tape as very little of his career did, unfortunately. Gotch would go on to have a huge influence in shaping the professional wrestling style in Japan leading him to be known as the “God of Wrestling” in the country. This match has the best Japanese wrestler and his very dependable partner vs two of the most highly respected grapplers of all time. A dream matchup and it did not disappoint.


The match was fought under the best two out of three falls stipulation. It began with a reasonably slow pace but as you would expect it was a technical clinic. Karl Gotch is simply a joy to watch in this match. Gotch was from Belgium and the style he learned in Europe was highly appealing and in my opinion the most advanced form of technical wrestling at the time. His sequences with Inoki are particularly great. Thesz was arguably the best of his generation but by the 1970s his style was a little outdated in comparison. The match is very well-paced and excellently crafted. Again it is particularly worth watching because of the interactions between Gotch and Inoki. It is really fantastic wrestling. I believe this to be the greatest tag team match ever at the time quite comfortably.


My star rating: 4

Cagematch: 8.33

Where to watch: NJPW World


3. Dory Funk Jr vs Jack Brisco, AJPW New Year NWA Champion Series - Day 5, 27/01/1974


In July of 1973, Jack Brisco defeated Harley Race to win his first NWA World Heavyweight Title. Brisco’s first NWA World title win was initially scheduled to be over Dory Funk Jr. However Dory claimed to get injured in a truck accident and missed the booking. Race then later beat Dory for the belt before quickly dropping it to Brisco. The legitimacy of Dory’s injury was questioned at the time, nonetheless, the Funks and the Briscos would feud all throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s. There was no love lost between two of the finest wrestlers the NWA had to offer. While very little of their work in the US made tape, luckily this AJPW bout did.


The World Title match was contested in a best two out of three falls as was customary at the time. This is two of the finest wrestlers of the 1970s doing what they do best for an hour. It starts off with a slow pace with a lot of mat wrestling. There are brilliant spurts of fast-paced action in between the rest holds. The match features tense technical wrestling but stays clean throughout. As time goes by the intensity ratchets up and we see more strikes and near falls. You’ll find better matches than this in the 1970s but this is still worth watching in my opinion if you are a fan of the style.


My star rating: 4

Cagematch: 7.89

Where to watch: Youtube



2. Billy Robinson vs Verne Gagne, IWE World Championship Series - Day 9, 20/11/1974


We stay in Japan but head over to International Wrestling Enterprise for our next match. While this match happened in IWE it was actually for Gagne’s AWA World Heavyweight Title. The AWA was owned and founded by Verne Gagne in 1960. Gagne was very old school in his wrestling views and believed that all wrestling should be mat based and that wrestlers should have a strong amateur background. Gagne was 48 years old here and in the midst of his 9th, AWA World Heavyweight Title run but make no mistake he could still go. As a result of Gagne’s views, the AWA attracted many of the world’s top grapplers, one of these such men was Billy Robinson. Robinson was an English man and is now considered to be one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time.


This match to the surprise of no one was a great technical wrestling contest. It was a best two out of three falls match. It starts with a great collar and elbow tie-up before Gagne gains control of the arm. Robinson does a fantastic job of convincingly trying to find a way out of the hold but Gagne remains in control. When Robinson eventually attempts his signature butterfly suplex Gagne has it scouted and is able to evade. At one point Gagne gives Robinson a few taps on the head, riling him up and drawing him in for a shoulder tackle off the ropes. Robinson later attacks the leg of Gagne which Gagne sells brilliantly. After the second fall, it is still either man’s match as there are some great near falls leading to a dramatic finish. A great technical wrestling match between two of the best.


My star rating: 4.25

Cagematch: 7.90

Where to watch: YouTube



1. Bill Robinson vs Antonio Inoki, NJPW Toukon Series II 1975 - Day 41, 11/12/1975



In 1975 NJPW is 3 years old and Antonio Inoki defeated Tiger Jeet Singh to win back the NWF Heavyweight Championship, the belt that served as the top championship in NJPW at the time. Inoki successfully defended his title against Lou Thesz before making his second defence against Billy Robinson. Billy Robinson was incredibly well-respected all around the world. The Manchester native had amassed a reputation as one of the best technical wrestlers of all time. Robinson vs Inoki was a dream match between perhaps the two finest wrestlers of their generation and now it was finally happening. It was billed in Japan as “The Match Between the World’s Top Two Technicians.” The best 2 out of 3 falls contest was preceded by a ceremony of sorts at the beginning featuring Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch. The Japanese and British national anthems were both played beforehand. The pre-match presentation was amazing. The match felt like a big deal before the bell even rang. It was clear that a legendary wrestling match was about to take place between two of the world’s best and that is exactly what happened.


The match heavily featured mat-based grappling as one would expect and who better to deliver it than Inoki and Robinson? There are some great counters as the intensity slowly rises as neither man can get a clear advantage. When both men get caught in the ropes Robinson doesn’t observe a clean break but instead slaps Inoki. They get caught in the ropes again but this time Robinson hits a belly-to-belly suplex which sends both men over the top rope and onto the floor. You can feel the intensity rising. When both men are back in the ring Robinson attempts his signature butterfly suplex but Inoki can get to the ropes. Robinson would attempt this move many times but Inoki was always able to get to the ropes. We see a few near falls as Inoki kicks out of a backbreaker followed by a neckbreaker later on. Inoki cinches in his famous Boston Crab but Robinson is able to fight out of it. Billy Robinson then catches Inoki in a backslide to secure the first fall and sets the champion on the back foot. You can really feel the urgency in Inoki’s movements now as he attempts to score a fall to retain his championship. He hits a brainbuster but Robinson kicks out. Then Robinson is finally able to hit his butterfly suplex for the second fall but Inoki is in the ropes. You can see the frustration on Inoki’s face as he struggles to score a pinfall or submission over Robinson. He can feel his championship slipping away as the clock is ticking on the one-hour time limit. Suddenly Inoki hits a butterfly suplex of his own but Robinson manages to kick out. Inoki is running out of time as he desperately tries to hold on to his championship.


On this night Antonio Inoki and Billy Robinson wrestled for an hour and on that night they took pro wrestling to a level it had never reached before. In my opinion, this was easily the best match of all time at the time. This match is the peak of the 1970s technical wrestling style. It is widely considered to be the best match of both of these legendary wrestlers' careers. The first true classic wrestling match.


My star rating: 4.75

Cagematch: 9.36

Where to watch: NJPW World