Hello and good day. An idea pitched to me several months ago by a user, planted the seed for what we will look at today. I wanted to restrict this to five matches so it doesn’t blow out of proportion, and my belief is that I have chosen the best to represent Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka.
For those unaware, ECW featured one of the most intense rivalries in American wrestling history with Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka. For those who never saw the original ECW, you may have only witnessed their last match together at the One Night Stand 2005 PPV. If you’ve never seen any of their matches before?? Well, you’re in for a treat! Although first, it’s important we begin with a little backstory.
While trained in America, Mike Awesome quickly found his way to Japan early in his career and remained for years as “The Gladiator”. Over the next five years from 1990, he went on to win almost every title Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) had to offer. Meanwhile, Masato Tanaka debuted in 1993 and competed in several deathmatches, which is where he picked up his scars and nickname “Dangan”. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they first crossed paths, but the earliest I could find was a tag team match at the 6th Anniversary Show in 1995.
Following the short-lived retirement of FMW legend Atsushi Onita, the promotion shifted away from deathmatches and focused on wrestling. The Gladiator stepped in as Hayabusa’s arch rival and by the end of the year, claimed their top prize named the Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship. After picking up an injury he was made to vacate, but was quick to regain it a few months later upon returning in May ’96. He dominated FMW for the rest of the year and became a double champ by defeating Kanemaru at the Year End Spectacular. This is when he & Tanaka’s feud truly began, as they battled over the double championship.
The Gladiator retained in their first bouts and continued dominating. After becoming the longest reigning double champ in FMW history, they worked one more time at the Fall Spectacular: Kawasaki Legend in September ’97. On a card also including Onita, Hayabusa, Terry Funk, Vader and Ken Shamrock, Tanaka was successful in dethroning The Gladiator and claiming the double championship. He lost the title 100 days later to Mr. Gannosuke, but by this time… their rivalry had crossed the Pacific Ocean and found its way to ECW while they continued working for FMW.
ECW Heatwave 98′
Joey Styles refers to Mike Awesome as a ‘monster’. While I cannot find a date, commentary says he lost to Tanaka in ECW not long before this. Styles says their rivalry started back in ’94, but it’s not easy to find anything confirming that. If so, the competition had already been brewing for a few years. The crowd is quiet to begin with, but they soon pop after Awesome calls Tanaka a “motherf**ker”. Awesome has incredible strength and athleticism, while Tanaka is known for his unrelenting toughness.
The first dive of the match from Awesome! Expect a few more in this series. He’s really ahead of his time flying around like that. Tanaka no-sells a release German Suplex and powerslams the big man to get the ball rolling. He introduces a steel chair and takes an extra long run down the entrance way; which Awesome sells awesomely. The ECW fans want tables, but instead, they get chairs and begin a Star Wars-like duel. Tanaka wins this, but soon ends up thrown in to the rowdy audience. Awesome nails a truly insane springboard from the ring to where Tanaka is in the crowd… “Oh My God!”
Back in the ring, an Awesome Bomb only gets two. Tanaka takes three chair shots to the head but refuses to stay down. Running release bomb followed by Awesome setting up a table on the outside. He jumps off the turnbuckle and hits Masato again with a chair but doesn’t pin him. Awesome picks Tanaka up to finish him on the outside twice, but he wriggles free both times. Tanaka picks Awesome up and throws him over the top rope, crashing through the table below! “HOLY S***!” After kicking out, Tanaka hits the Roaring Elbow! He finishes Awesome with a tornado DDT on to steel chairs.
ECW November To Remember ’99
After being away a while, Tanaka returned in the Summer of ’99. Awesome came back in September, quickly claiming the ECW World Championship at Anarchy Rulz in a triple threat against Tanaka and defending champ Taz. Fifteen months after their previous encounter, they would meet again in this title match. They begin with some typical back-and-forth, til Tanaka flies through the air, knocking Awesome down on the outside. Tanaka quickly introduces a chair, but it’s lost among the brawling.
Back in the ring, Awesome throws Masato with a belly-to-belly, then clotheslines him to the outside. Awesome Dive! They repeat the same springboard spot from the previous match, but it’s still impressive. Awesome comes off the top turnbuckle, smashing Tanaka full force in the skull with a chair. Tanaka no-sells it! And another! He isn’t human. Masato gets the chair from Awesome, throws it to him to catch, and hits the chair with the Roaring Elbow! The crowd pop after Tanaka flies through the air and crashes a chair on to another chair, placed conveniently over Awesome’s head.
Tornado DDT on to the chair… but the champ kicks out! Tanaka tries again but gets bombed instead. Awesome hits a strong Alabama Slam. Tanaka fights back and they’re on the ring apron… sitdown Awesome Bomb through the table!! “HOLY S***!” all around. Awesome sets up a table in the ring, but Tanaka gets up and tries to superplex him through. He does it! But it’s only two. He signals for the Roaring Elbow, but he misses and gets a release suplex and a clothesline. Awesome Frog Splash! Still only two. Awesome Bomb from the top turnbuckle!! 1-2-3. And STILL the ECW World Heavyweight Champion.
ECW on TNN – December 17, 1999
I had the full match lined up, but for some reason it was taken down. Here are the highlights for this match which aired on December 24th. The ECW World Championship match was meant to take place the following week, but Cyrus (aka Don Callis) persuaded Paul Heyman to let them go and give the fans what they want to see. They fight hard on the outside of the ring, and the champ uses his power and flying maneuvers to gain the advantage. He delivers an Awesome Bomb through a table, and a Frog Splash, but Tanaka’s still tough enough to kick out!