Wrestler of the Day – December 23: Orient Express

We’ll continue our stretch of tag teams with the Orient Express.

Side note: I had this one scheduled for earlier in the month but I realized having Japanese heels on December 7 might get me in some trouble.

Now this one is actually a combination of two teams who are kind of stepbrothers in a way. We’ll be starting with AWA tag team Badd Company, comprised of Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond. Here’s a match from the CWA (Memphis) on October 10, 1987.

Badd Company vs. John Paul/Ed Mattox

Tanaka rolls Mattox to the mat to start and sidesteps a dropkick. A kick to the ribs brings in Diamond as the regular team starts their back and forth tagging. Diamond misses an elbow and it’s off to Paul, who is quickly catapulted into a chop for the pin. Total squash.

Here’s an actual AWA match at SuperClash III.

Badd Company/Madusa Micelli vs. Wendi Richter/Top Guns

Ok quick recap here. Richter was the second biggest face in the WWF regardless of gender but left because of various issues. She recently beat Madusa for the AWA Women’s Title. Badd Company, the AWA tag champions, are more famous as Tanaka and Kato (Paul Diamond here, minus the mask) of the Orient Express in the WWF a few years later. All titles are on the line here as per the usual stipulations. The Top Guns are Derrick Dukes and Ricky Rice, both of whom suck. They’re the faces here. Oh and Badd Company/Madusa have none other than Diamond Dallas Page as their manager.

Richter gets a huge pop so Page, with hair longer than Shawn Michaels in 96, makes fun of Richter for getting a fluke win for the title and introduces his own team. Everything goes insane at first and genders have to match in this one. The good guys clear the ring and the Top Guns hit a double back elbow on Tanaka. Mike Enos, a future kind of star in the AWA and the guy that was in the ring when Hall jumped the guardrail in 1996, is the referee for some reason. He’s not a known wrestler yet but that’s him.

Ok now we’re down to sanity with Tanaka and Dukes in there. Dukes really likes to work on the arm. Long headlock goes on as the girls yell at each other. Dukes hits a dropkick and let’s try that headlock again. Diamond comes in and actually doesn’t get destroyed as Dukes plays face in peril for a bit. Diamond misses a charge in the corner and it’s off to the girls. They do the usual girls in the 80s stuff here that isn’t all that interesting or, you know, good. Everything breaks down again and Tanaka accidently kicks Madusa so Richter can pin her.

Rating: D+. Another pointless match here as they just did their thing for awhile and the guys meant nothing. I don’t think Rice was ever even in the match. The girls didn’t mean anything at this point but then again they didn’t for a long time. This went nowhere at all and was way too short to be anything of note.

Tanaka was brought over to the WWF in 1990 to be part of the tag team the Orient Express with Japanese veteran Akio Sato. Here’s one of their first matches in the company on March 19, 1990.

Orient Express vs. Demolition

Both teams do quick promos which are nothing special at all really. We’re in MSG again. Demolition used to be managed by Fuji so there’s some heat there. This is 2 weeks from Mania apparently. Stalling to start until we get down to Smash vs. Tanaka. It’s nearly a comedy bit to start as Tanaka keeps getting caught by punches and shots from Demolition after thinking he had escaped.

Kaito comes in and the stalling begins again. There’s the double teaming to take over and the Express takes over for all of 6 seconds. Back to Demolition with Smash using power to control here. It’s weird to see the faces dominating this long into a match. Double backdrop sends Tanaka flying. More double teaming takes over again, this time for a full 15 seconds. No the best way to start us off here for the Express.

Since it worked so well the first two times they double team again but this time with a cane shot to the back of Smash which actually works. In other words Fuji managed to do what his men couldn’t do in two tries. It’s weird to see these teams against each other for some reason. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them fight before. Hayes goes into a lecture about history and wars between the Japanese and the British for no apparent reason.

The crowd isn’t incredibly into this to put it mildly, mainly due to the Express having about a grand total of zero chance in this. Demolition realizes they’re one of the most successful teams of all time and starts hammering away. Off to Axe who hammers away on Tanaka until everything breaks down. They set for the Decapitator but Fuji interferes. Salt goes into Axe’s eyes and the fastest ten count ever ends this. Wow that was a terrible ending.

Rating: D+. Wow this was pretty bad. Was there ANY reason to give the win to the Orient Express here? The crowd seemed to hate it to put it mildly, so what was the point? Boring match too with Demolition never being in any danger it seemed. I don’t really get this one at all.

Here’s the start of their most famous WWF rivalry from Wrestlemania VI.

Orient Express vs. Rockers

Jannetty and Tanaka start things off and the Rockers take over with their usual speed stuff. Double teaming sends the Express out to the floor before things settle down a bit. Mr. Fuji hooks the top rope, sending Marty out to the floor. Back in again and Jannetty escapes a backdrop and makes the tag off to Shawn. A double superkick puts Tanaka down so it’s off to Sato. Tanaka kicks Shawn in the back and the Rockers are in trouble again.

A gutbuster gets two for Tanaka and a big kick to the face puts Shawn down again. Sato hits a top rope knee drop and it’s off to a nerve hold. Shawn comes back with a big old clothesline and a diving tag to Marty. Things speed up and we get some heel miscommunication. A big backdrop puts Tanaka down but Fuji breaks up the double fist. Marty goes after him and gets salt in the eyes for his efforts. He stumbles into the barricade and that’s a countout.

Rating: C+. Decent tag match here which would be topped by about a mile at the Rumble. These guys needed more time than this and a better finish to be awesome so this one was just ok. The Rockers would start getting awesome in a hurry after this with nearly two years before their famous split. The Express would only have a handful of PPV matches ever and this is the most recent that I’ve seen.

We need to establish the team a bit more though so here’s a match on Wrestling Challenge, July 8, 1990.

Orient Express vs. Hercules/Jim McPhearson

Hercules is about to hook up with Paul Roma as Power and Glory. Sato jumps Hercules to start so the power man casually gorilla presses him down. Seriously he barely looked like he was trying. A superkick drops Hercules though and McPhearson comes in to eat a superkick of his own. Tanaka adds a few kicks of his own before Sato plants Jim with a Batista Bomb for the pin.

Here are some REAL Americans vs. two evil Japanese men at Summerslam 1990.

Orient Express vs. Nikolai Volkoff/Jim Duggan

Duggan and Volkoff sing God Bless America and get jumped in a twist on the old foreigners’ gimmick. We start with the small Tanaka trying to match strength with Volkoff. Vince: “That wasn’t too bright.” Piper: “Yep, real dumb.” You can’t make it any simpler than that. Sato kicks away at Volkoff a bit but it’s hot tag to Duggan who cleans house and finishes Tanaka with the three point clothesline. This was nearly a squash.

The team was involved in a Survivor Series elimination match at Survivor Series 1990.

Alliance vs. Mercenaries

Nikolai Volkoff, Bushwhackers, Tito Santana

Sgt. Slaughter, Boris Zhukov, Orient Express

This is during the Iraqi Sympathizer period for Slaughter and the idea here is military themed. Before the match, Slaughter tells Gene about having a Thanksgiving dinner with the Mercenaries and not having to be inconvenienced by being in the desert. That’s better than being in the Army and eating K-Rations right? This was a pretty edgy angle at the time. Stupid but edgy. This interview is in the arena with the Mercenaries’ music playing. That must be a pretty dull period for the crowd.

The Bushwhackers torment Boris to start and the flying forearm from Tito eliminates him in about 20 seconds. Sato comes in and is accidentally superkicked by Tanaka. The Battering Ram puts out Sato and it’s 4-2 inside of two minutes. Tanaka comes in and the forearm from Tito makes it 4-1 in less than 2:15. Volkoff pounds on Slaughter with his usual stuff but gets punched in the face for his efforts as Slaughter takes over.

After a long beating, Slaughter eliminates Volkoff with an elbow. There were about three minutes of beating in between there but there was absolutely nothing of note to talk about. The Bushwhackers double team Sarge for a bit but Slaughter beats them down and gutbusts Luke for an elimination. A clothesline takes out Butch about 30 seconds later and it’s one on one.

Tito immediately dropkicks Slaughter into the post and things speed up with by far the two most talented guys in the match in there. Tito hits a top rope forearm for two and stomps away even faster. Piper is trying not to curse and Slaughter slams Santana’s head into the mat. A neckbreaker and backbreaker combine for two on Santana.

After some more beating, Tito gets a quick forearm attempt but hits the referee by mistake. The forearm hits the second time but General Adnan (Slaughter’s manager/boss) hits Santana with the flag and Slaughter puts on the Camel Clutch. The referee saw the flag though and it’s a DQ win for Tito.

Rating: D-. Well that…..happened I guess. They went through seven eliminations inside of eleven minutes and the match was awful. Basically this could have been Slaughter vs. either Volkoff or Santana and gotten the same payoff. I have no idea what they were going for here, but my guess is that they had nothing else to fill in fifteen minutes with (the show only runs two hours and twenty minutes and we’ve got the ultimate dumb filler to go).

NWA fans will appreciate this one from Superstars on January 5, 1991. Here’s where the two teams come together: Sato decided to leave American wrestling and go back to Japan, allowing a masked man named Kato to fill in the spot. The man under the mask: Tanaka’s old Badd Company partner Paul Diamond.

Mulkey Brothers vs. Orient Express

The Mulkey Brothers, Randy and Bill, are best known as cult favorite jobbers from the NWA. Kato chops away at Bill to start before kicking him a bit low. The Express hits Haas and Benjamin’s jump over the partner onto Bill’s back before Tanaka chops Bill so hard that he (Tanaka) flips over. Back up and Kato superkicks Bill into a German suplex to give Tanaka the pin. That’s a standard Mulkey Brothers match.

From two days later on January 7, 1991.

Mr. Fuji/Orient Express vs. Legion of Doom

We play hide the foreign object for a bit with Fuji and then it’s off to Kato vs. Animal. Guess who does better in this case. Kato runs away a lot as the crowd is mostly silent here. The LOD throw Tanaka as high as anyone I’ve ever seen. This is one of those matches where stuff is kind of happening but nothing is going on if that makes sense. In short, it’s rather boring indeed.

All LOD so far as the Express hasn’t been able to get anything going at all. Hawk sends Kato to the floor and just stands there as he gets back in. Double teaming FINALLY slows down Animal a bit, including some salt into the eyes. Here’s Fuji who shoves Animal and leaves. The heel offense ends in about 20 seconds via a double clothesline and it’s off to Hawk. Crowd is pretty dead here. Doomsday Device ends this dominance quickly.

Rating: D-. Total and complete squash here as I think everyone expected. No point at all in having Fuji out there but they were trying to up the drama from zero to about .00001 or so and it didn’t work at all. The Express hardly ever won anything but they would get a bit better, especially against the Rockers. Bad match.

Now we get to the main event for this team at the 1991 Royal Rumble.

Rockers vs. Orient Express

The Express are Kato and Tanaka. Kato is a white guy named Paul Diamond in a mask pretending to be a Japanese guy. Shawn gets jumped to start and hit with a big double backdrop. Marty dropkicks Kato to the floor and superkicks Tanaka down as the Rockers take over. The Rockers hit stereo suicide dives to take the Express (popular names for tag teams no?) down on the floor.

The crowd is LOVING the Rockers here because they’re AMERICAN! Jannetty and Kato start things off with Kato getting caught in a headlock. Things speed up already and Marty controls with a headscissors on the mat. That gets turned into a backslide for two for Jannetty and we have a standoff. Marty makes the Express collide with each other before working on Tanaka’s arm.

Shawn comes in off the top with another shot to the arm but Tanaka comes back with a kick to the face and a chinlock. We get an overly complicated running the ropes spot which results in the Express having their heads rammed together. It’s still Tanaka vs. Shawn here and we go from a chinlock to a sleeper by Shawn. Marty tries to come in for no apparent reason, allowing Kato to blast Michaels in the back to give the Express control for the first time.

Everything breaks down and we get multiple do-see-do sequences, finally resulting in the Express being rammed into each other and being sent to the floor. Shawn busts out a kind of prototype 619 before the Rockers dive on both members of the Express in a cool spot. Back to Kato vs. Marty and we hit another chinlock. Shawn comes back in for a vertical suplex but Tanaka breaks up a monkey flip by guillotining Shawn from the apron.

Tanaka comes in and we get the World’s Greatest Tag Team spot of Tanaka jumping over Kato’s back to land on Shawn’s back as Shawn is draped over the ropes. A shot to Shawn’s throat keeps him down and it’s off to the nerve hold. Things slow down a lot as Kato comes in to chop away. A superkick puts Shawn down again (how appropriate) but he comes back by slamming Tanaka’s face down into the mat.

The place is really getting into the Rockers here as Kato takes his belt off. The Express tries to clothesline him with it but Shawn dives onto the belt to ran both Express members into each other. Hot tag brings in Marty to clean house and a powerslam gets two on Kato. Tanaka breaks up a backslide attempt so Shawn trips up Kato to retaliate. Everything breaks down again and Tanaka breaks up the Rocket Launcher. Kato slingshots Marty into a Tanaka chop and Jannetty is in trouble. They load it up again, but Shawn blasts Tanaka, allowing Marty to counter the slingshot into a sunset flip on Tanaka for the pin out of nowhere.

Rating: B+. This would have been a masterpiece if they had cut out a minute or two of the chinlocks. Still though, this follows the Nitro formula to the letter: take four small guys, give them a long time, get an exciting match. That’s the perfect choice for an opener and it worked well here. The Rockers would continue to be awesome for the rest of the year until splitting in December in the famous Barber Shop incident.

And now for the Main Event V on February 1, 1991.

Legion of Doom vs. Orient Express

Did the Express ever win a major match? If they did I certainly don’t remember it. Animal and Kato start us off. Kato was Paul Diamond from the AWA that was very good in his time. LOD is MOVING out there for once. This is a very fast paced match and a nice change of pace for the usually dominant faces. Fuji throws salt at Animal and takes him down. Hawk comes in and beats everyone up badly and the squash is on. Doomsday Device ENDS Kato for the win.

Rating: B-. VERY energetic match here the whole five minutes which isn’t something you often hear about the LOD. The Express bumped like crazy pinballs on speed for Animal and Hawk and the result was a rather entertaining match. It’s not very good, but it’s one of those matches where it’s about the insanity and that worked well here.

Let’s try the same formula again in London on April 24, 1991.

Orient Express vs. The Rockers

This is from London. No entrance for the Express here, but this should be absolutely awesome. Fuji goes after the Rockers with the cane before we get going. The Rockers say they’re going back to the locker room and come back with a surprise. I’ve seen this before as the commentary is very familiar to me. This is likely a tape I rented a lot when I was a kid and watched it about 100 times or so.

The surprise is Andre the Giant. Well that works I’d think. It’s so weird with this commentary as I don’t remember watching this match in a long time and yet I can almost quote the commentary before it’s said. Granted there are a lot of shows I can do that with but you get the idea. Everyone gets in there at once and it’s kind of sloppy. I remember a classic between these teams at the 91 Rumble so this should be good.

Jannetty and Kato in the ring at the moment. Kato is a masked man if that helps you visualize things. This is after Wrestlemania as the Nasty Boys are the tag champions. The Rockers dominate the early part here which is rather weird. Marty comes in so I’d expect a good amount of time will pass before Shawn is in again. Marty totally misses a dropkick and it looks terrible.

I guess you could blame it on the time switch or the jet lag or something, but given the time it might be due to a heightened level of alcohol on the faces’ part. Scratch what I said earlier as here’s Shawn again. Shawn of course shows off a bit and we go back to an armbar. I’ve never gotten how heels can get away with switching when the referee’s back is turned and he’s just fine with it. Why can’t faces get away with stuff like that?

Roddy asks Vince something about an airline and Vince avoids it like he would avoid a Benoit sign. That was odd. This really isn’t much of a match at all. Andre has more or less done nothing at all out there either and it’s hurting the match a bit. At this point none of the tag guys mean anything so Andre is the star attraction here. When he’s weak, it makes things a bit pointless.

Marty is literally almost falling into the ring reaching for a tag which doesn’t connect. The Express does the World’s Greatest Tag Team’s double team move on the ropes. You’ll either get that or you won’t since I don’t want to explain it. Shawn takes out both of the Express guys and there’s the hot tag to Jannetty. Andre stops Fuji from interfering and pokes Kato with the cane. Double fist drops end it.

Rating: D. REALLY bad considering who was in there. This was a watchable match, but considering the classic they had at the Rumble, this was weak as hell. It was really just a long controlling sequence by the Express and then the Rockers making a very fast comeback before Andre did the real damage. That was all he did in the entire match and it just never worked at all. Bad match, all things considered.

One last go at the 1992 Royal Rumble.

Orient Express vs. New Foundation

It’s Owen/Neidhart as the Foundation here. Owen and Kato start thing off here. All four guys look like they’re in pajamas here. Owen takes him down to the mat by the arm before climbing up the ropes (not in the corner mind you but just the ropes) to backflip into the ring for an armdrag. A rana puts Kato down and it’s off to Neidhart vs. Tanaka. Tanaka gets run over as well, so here’s Owen to beat him up.

Tanaka gets caught by an enziguri and it’s back to Neidhart. The Express gets clotheslined down by Jim and Owen adds a double cross body for two. A spinwheel kick gets the same for Hart so Kato tries to come in sans tag. The distraction lets Fuji hit Owen with the cane to finally give the Express control. Tanaka hooks a chinlock as this isn’t exactly as fast paced as last year’s opener.

Owen gets to do Bret’s chest to the buckle bump before charging into a superkick in the other corner for two. After Kato comes in and does nothing, here’s Tanaka again for a headbutt to the abdomen. A chinlock goes nowhere but a headbutt gets two on Owen. Neidhart gets the tag but the referee doesn’t see it of course. The distraction allows Fuji to put the cane on the corner and Owen’s shoulder goes through it in a loud crunch.

It only gets two though as Owen gets a leg over the rope. Kato channels his inner Anderson with a hammerlock slam before it’s back to Tanaka. Owen finally escapes and things break down for a bit, resulting in a double clothesline for two on Hart. A superkick to the chest doesn’t put Owen down, but Tanaka jumping over Kato to land on Hart’s back does. Hart comes back with a dropkick to take out both members of the Express at once. There’s the hot tag to Neidhart and house is cleaned. Owen dives onto Kato before a Rocket Launcher gets the pin on Tanaka.

Rating: B-. Decent match here but it felt like they were trying to do the same match that worked so well in 1991. The problem was the Express wasn’t anything that good anymore and the team was gone almost immediately after this. Either way, the match wasn’t bad and it’s fine for an opener. The New Foundation never quite did anything until 1994 when Owen was a heel.

This is a really underrated combination. They went from a dominant tag team towards the end of their AWA run and then became a team that could have a good match against a string of competition in the WWF. With the Rockers, Legion of Doom, Demolition and the Harts around though, where in the world are they going to fit in?

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