Inoki vs Brisco

Not a hurricanrana, not a moonsault to be seen in this 1971 match in Japan, pitting future NJPW founder Antonio Inoki (28, 6'3", 240#) against Jack Brisco (29, 6', 234#), who was then a rising star in the NWA. It all must seem terribly plodding now to anyone under 50. Even I am struck by the slow pace, though it reminds me of why pro wrestling first caught on with me: the prolonged and grinding man-to-man body contact I could find nowhere else. It represented a form of masculine engagement that is both intimate and aggressive. It resonated with my young proto-gay self, still entrenched in fundamentalist religion and consternated self-loathing.

I would have to play hurricanrana and moonsault video in super slow motion for it to have a tenth of the sensual tug I get from these GIFs, which are themselves abbreviations of the 33-minute struggle. If you can stand the wait, the slow-burn action does build and accelerate ... in jolts and stammers ... climaxing in a panicked tapout finish. (Not even porn, no porn I know of, has such Boléro-like foreplay.) But the endpoint of each acceleration is yet another locking together of human bodies, an impossible knot of muscle and bone, accompanied by gasps and moans that the Japanese commentators and fans never drown out.

I have used the analogy before, but this, like other matches that crawl under my skin, is like raw film footage of wild animal survival. The way Brisco lunges after Inoki is predatory, like a lion determinedly tearing away at a zebra, never stopping till the victim has no more will to resist, so savage, so exhilarating and frightening at the same time it's like a hard punch to the chest. I don't get chills like these from 21st-century wrestling, some of which I enjoy immensely. The new lords of the ring are better built, better looking. There are more varied and fantastical characters. But the action is also a tiny bit studied, ironic, theatrical, and sanitized. It no longer feels like I am watching something dangerous and real (and of course I'm not, not real anyway, nor was I in the early '70s). The new, vitamin-enriched wrestling has no ... bite.


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