BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #48 - FROM THE VAULT: Taka Michinoku vs the Blue Blazer, 11/28/98
Full disclosure - I have been laid up with COVID for the past 48 hours, so for a guy like me, who can't stand sitting down longer than five minutes, this has been torture.
However, I have been able to do something I haven't done in quite some time: watch old 1990s wrestling.
Currently, I've been caught up watching the "New Generation" of the WWF in the middle portion of the 90s, and what I've seen, I've loved. Of course, once I get bored of Peacock and the commercials, I switch over to YouTube and type in matches of wrestlers I haven't seen or heard of in ages. The rabbit hole I dug myself down leads to this article for today.
The first name I sought out: the Blue Blazer.
I believe every wrestling fan knows by now that the Blue Blazer was Owen Hart.
The initial vision of the Blazer came from the fall of 1986, during a meeting Bret Hart had with Vince McMahon. According to his critically acclaimed autobiography "HITMAN: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling", Bret pitched Owen to the owner of the WWF, in which Vince responded that Owen was "too small, that he could only be a babyface and that he had no room for another babyface". Bret countered that there weren't any current masked performers on the roster, and that "Owen could be the WWF's version of Tiger Mask", which could lead to a lot of merchandising for the company.
Although his try-out the following month in Rochester, NY did not work out well, the WWF revisited the idea by the Summer of 1988. Owen, by this point, had become a hot commodity outside the United States. He became the crown jewel of his father's Stampede Wrestling rebirth, as well as a standout for Max Crabtree's Joint Promotions in England. Furthermore, Owen became the first non-Japanese talent to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship on May 27, 1988 from Hiroshi Hase. He gained recognition in 1987 as Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Rookie of the Year.
After going back and forth between names such as the Blue Lazer and Blue Angel, Owen Hart as the Blue Blazer made his official debut on WWF television on the September 11, 1988 edition of Wrestling Challenge, defeating cult icon George South. He wore a blue singlet, matched with tights, alongside a blue mask with red trim. Following that up would be a bedazzled blue cape, adorned with feathers and a huge eagle on the back. To a younger me, watching my old man's video cassettes, the Blue Blazer truly looked like a superhero.
Over the next year, the Blue Blazer never rose past the lower-midcard, but he definitely made his impact felt. In six minutes, he nearly stole the show with Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania V. The Blazer put on a quick, but stoic performance against the Million Dollar Man on the March 11, 1989 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event. His team at Survivor Series 1988 (Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake, Sam Houston, "Jumpin'" Jim Brunzell, and the Intercontinental champion the Ultimate Warrior) won their match in the opener. For prosperity's sake, the Blazer defeating "Dangerous" Danny Davis on the April 16, 1989 edition of Wrestling Challenge signified the last match of the disgraced referee's career, as WWF President Jack Tunney finally reinstated him on a probationary basis a month later after his indefinite suspension in 1987.
In June 1989, the Blazer left the WWF. However, as we all know, Owen Hart would return once again, and become a major player in the World Wrestling Federation during the "New Generation".
Heading into the Fall of 1998, Owen had done it all in the WWF, including winning the 1994 King of the Ring, three Tag Team championships, two Intercontinental championships, a European title, and THREE Slammy Awards. The man was a well-versed, well-respected professional wrestler.
So when I learned that Owen "retired" shortly after an injury he had given to Dan Severn with the sit-out tombstone piledriver on the September 28th edition of Raw is War, I was shocked to see the Blue Blazer made his return almost immediately.
The Blazer was solely involved with non-wrestling segments until two weeks after Survivor Series 1998. The whole time, it was played up like Owen and the Blazer were one in the same, while Owen denied it categorically. In fact, on the Sunday Night Heat an hour before "the Deadly Games Tournament", the Blazer flew down to the entrance way on a wire contraption, until he got tangled up and was beaten like a Piñata by "the Lethal Weapon" Steve Blackman.
Eerie in hindsight.
Eventually, the Blue Blazer, played by Owen, was scheduled to wrestle on a Shotgun Saturday Night in his unofficial "return" to the WWF rings.
His opponent: Taka Michinoku.
Taka Michinoku, by November 1998, was in the middle of a rut.
Becoming the first ever WWF Light Heavyweight champion, a lot of pressure was put on the 24 year old prodigy from Japan. He had successful title defenses at No Way Out in February against Pantera and WrestleMania XIV with Aguila, but by the summer, the Light Heavyweight division was on the backburner. Turning heel with Kaientai in July did little to spur excitement from the fans.
In October at Judgment Day, Taka lost the title in an upset to Christian in the latter's debut match on television. Now with no championship, Taka really got lost in the shuffle, primarily performing on Shotgun Saturday Night.
Now on the November 28, 1998 edition of Shotgun, Taka had a chance to redeem himself in a match against an original WWF high flyer.
The Blue Blazer vs Taka Michinoku - FROM THE VAULT!
For a four minute match, this was loaded with action.
One of my all-time favorite transitions is how Owen or the Blazer would transition out of an arm wringer. He would roll, then shift, and then headstand back up into his own arm wringer.
The Blazer would be on the offensive early on, mixing American high-flying with Lucha. However, once the masked man went to the top rope, he put on his cape, signifying it was really time to fly. The Blue Blazer truly mixed comedy with serious wrestling in this match.
Finally, the final minute was Taka's. Throwing a tornado DDT, followed by a spinning heel kick, the Blazer rolled out to the floor, trying to survive. Then with grace and style, Michinoku delivered an epic Asai Moonsault, wowing the crowd!
Taka went to the air one too many times, telegraphing a flying front dropkick, which the Blazer side-stepped. One SHARPSHOOTER later, Taka tapped out, and the real Blue Blazer won his return to the ring, escaping up the ramp as fast as he came down it.
I loved this match. Both performers had a chance to shine and make the most of their time. I definitely watched it three or four times in a row.
It made me realize how much I missed the glory days of the Attitude Era, how raw and talented Taka already was, and most of all, the greatness of Owen Hart. Owen truly was one of a kind, and the testament to him to make the Blue Blazer work, even in 1998, shows his gift as a performer both in and out of the ring.
To this day, I own the Jakks Pacific Blue Blazer action figure released in 1999. It is a cherished possession and I will always relish that I had a privilege to see Owen at his very best.