Screw the Rules

Nicholls and Sugiura start slugging it out immediately. Then the two partners jump in for an obviously choreographed but still thrilling interference, Haste clotheslining Sugiura, and Tanaka clotheslining Nicholls. That squares Haste off against Tanaka while the two legal wrestlers are on their backs. The action flies out of the ring before a semblance of order can be reestablished.

Each of these wrestlers is, if not a heel exactly, a bit of a thug. The rules don't mean shit to any of them. The ref clearly warns Shane Haste (6', 220#) to stop jerking at Takashi Sugiura's hair, but Shane pretends not even to be aware of what his left hand is clutching. Then he basically bludgeons Sugiura (5'8", 196#) against the corner ropes, taunting him for not staying up on his feet and fighting back. He doesn't stop when Takashi is on the mat, semi-conscious at best. The ref has to physically pry Shane off.

But don't pity Sugiura and Tanaka. Given the opportunity, Masato Tanaka (5'9", 187#) subjects Haste to abuse that's equally merciless, stretching his nostrils, clawing his eyes. Sugiura reaches in and pulls Shane to the turnbuckle by his hair. He tags in, and Tanaka pins the Aussie to the corner with the bottom of his boot to the face. Once in the ring, Sugiura repays the corner bludgeoning, blow by brutal blow, till Haste is on his butt, face gone slack from the rapid-fire punches.

Try as he might, the ref is powerless to enforce fair play and sportsmanlike conduct. These guys don't mind getting their hands dirty and relish the thought of hurting their opponents in the worst ways imaginable. This is "theatre of cruelty" in its literal, raw essence.  By the 14-minute mark both wrestlers in the ring have knees of jelly, but they keep blasting at each other with their fists.

Sugiura and Tanaka both have faces chiseled out of leather and sandpaper. I can't recall a tougher looking tag team, not since 1980 anyway. Tanaka takes on both of his opponents at once--but then so do all four wrestlers at one point or other. Nicholls and Haste have prettier faces, though they are hardly inferior in brutality. At times Mikey Nicholls (6', 227#) reminds me of Roderick Strong in his meticulous grooming and unabashed barbarity. When the crazy lights up his eyes, his sexiness quadruples. 

As intensely as the match begins, the mayhem escalates as the match grimly wears on. The violence becomes more inventive, more spectacularly high-risk, and even weirdly balletic. Flagrant double-teaming, simultaneous brawls in and out of the ring, tight two-counts, and a vigorous bit of housecleaning at the end that's pure screaming excitement. I only wish I could have been on the front row for this one.

(Watch the full 22-minute armageddon here on YouTube.)


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