Tales from WAR

November 19, 2009

I wrote the following for my “Storm Front” article for “Fighting Spirit” Magazine, back in May, and it is being reproduced with permission from Uncooked Media Ltd.

As promised last month, I’m going to look back at my days working in Japan for a few stories to share with you this month on the Storm Front. I loved working in Japan and was fortunately enough to make 26 or 27 trips to Japan during my career. I first trip to Japan was in October of 1990 for FMW, and my last trip was sometime in 2003 with WWE. The bulk of my work in Japan however was for Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion.

I started with WAR in November of 1995 as a last minute replacement for an injured Japanese wrestler named Orihara. WAR was a fantastic company to work for and I was booked on pretty much every tour the company ran from that tour forward. I did a total of 24 trips to Japan with WAR from November of 1995 thru January of 1998. I logged a ton of frequent flier miles, gain an invaluable amount of experience and had some of the most fun of my career.

I view my time in Japan with WAR much the same way as I do my time in ECW. I view this as a magical period where all the stars were in perfect alignment, so to speak. It was the right opportunity, with the right company, to wrestle with the right people, at the absolute perfect time in my career. I was at a stage in my career where I was really ready to step up and improve as a worker and WAR provided me such a great platform to do so. I grew every bit as much as a worker in WAR as I did as a character and performer in ECW. I worked with so many great people and learned so much during this time that I could likely tell you a thousands stories, but since I’m limited to just these two pages I’ll have to pick but a couple favourites.

One of my biggest thrills in Japan was getting to work with the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama. I was always a big fan of the Japanese Junior Heavyweight style and the feud between the Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask was legendary. In my eyes those two guys started it all and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get a chance to work with either one of them. On December 13th 1996 at the Tokyo Sumo Arena, half of that dream became reality, when Yuji Yasuroka and I defended our WAR IJ Tag Team titles against The Original Tiger Mask and a WAR regular named Mochizuki.

Working with a legend like Tiger Mask was such an honour, but an honour like this can also be a bit frustrating. I viewed this match as a once in a lifetime opportunity and wanted to have the best match possible. That being said, I assumed Sayama didn’t view this match with such great importance and I had to extend him the utmost respect when putting together our match. We were taking the pin fall on his partner, so Sayama’s involvement could be as big or as little as he wanted it. When we were putting the match together he had very little to say. I offered several times to do things that would highlight him in the match but he just quietly sat there saying, “No problem, is okay.” Sayama was the same age then as I am now, but looked a little out of shape and heavy, so I assumed he just didn’t want to do anything in the match and was just going to phone in his performance. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While the great Tiger Mask may not have wanted to bother laying out a bunch of spots, he in no way phoned it in. If the extra weight slowed him down any I don’t know how Dynamite ever kept up with this guy. He was so quick and so crisp it was amazing. He didn’t lay out a bunch of stuff because he didn’t need to; he was so damn good he just got his stuff in anyway and it was awesome. The match itself was not a classic or even one of my all time favourites, but the time I spent in the ring with Tiger Mask was fantastic. Taking the tombstone pile driver and subsequent head butt off the top rope from the legendary Tiger Mask was both a joy and an honour.

Another great honour I had in Japan was participating in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Skydiving J Event. This event took place in Budokan Hall and featured every Junior Heavyweight Champion in Japan defending their title in inter-promotional matches. There were eight matches in all with Yasu and I again defending our IJ Tag Titles, this time against New Japan’s El Samurai and Norio Honaga in the opener. The Main Event of the show was Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) challenging the IWGP Junior Champion The Great Sasuki.

This was without a doubt one of the coolest and biggest shows I was ever a part of. It was also the only show I ever worked where I was the biggest guy on the show. I was at my career heaviest for this show; I was coming off a shoulder injury as well as hitting the point in my life where I needed to start watching my diet in order to lean out so I was a bit heavy. I peaked at 228 lbs for this show, which was quite large for a junior heavyweight. Ironically I started watching my diet right after this show and cut down to 215 lbs and was quickly told by Tenyru that I looked too big now and would be bumped up to Heavyweight.

Like the Tiger Mask match this was not a great match, but it was a solid one that I am proud of. I found the NJPW guys a little uncooperative in putting the match together, which I think was do to the fact that I was scoring the pin fall and they resented putting over a smaller company’s foreign talent. They were still professional just not overly enthusiastic.

The highlight to the match for me was the finish, which I put together. Rather than just hitting a signature move and scoring the pin, I wanted to have all four of us involved in the finish. Yasu and I had a regular finisher where I would power bomb our opponent and Yasu would hit him with a top rope dropkick at the same time. In the match we set up for this move but Samurai raced around in time to grabbed Yasu’s foot to prevent him from hitting the drop kick. Honaga then countered my power bomb with a Hurricanrana, which I managed to roll though on scoring the sunset flip type, roll up pin. This could not have been timed better or done smother and it got a great reaction from the crowd. The finish worked so well a couple of the photographers at the show complimented me on what they thought was the best finish on the show.

Till next month, Arigato and Sayonara.
Lance Storm