I’ll get this out of the way up front: I’m not exactly a fan of remakes. Attempting to improve something that most people think is fine as-is usually results in the creation of something indefensibly stupid (like that 2002 remake of Rollerball) that will make everyone feel terrible about themselves (like how anyone who paid to watch that 2002 remake of Rollerball felt). This is especially true when the people remaking something completely miss the point of what they’re remaking, and decide to take out all the parts with social commentary and replace them with explosions and sideboob (You get the point).
So I guess it goes without saying that when All Japan Pro Wrestling attempted to recreate Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama’s PRIDE 21 encounter during a professional wrestling match last Sunday, I wasn’t exactly a fan. The fact that it happened during a tag team match also featuring Masayuki Kono and Keiji Mutoh didn’t exactly help things for me. Two things before we go any further – yes, fellow wrestling nerds, Keiji Mutoh used to be The Great Muta and no, I didn’t know he was still alive, either.
Things start off fine, as Don Frye cuts a totally insane promo for the bout (obviously) and then everyone makes their way to the ring. And then the actual match starts, and everything completely goes to shit. Masayuki Kono and Keiji Mutoh demonstrate how an MMA fight would look if one of the participants could barely move after spending nearly thirty years as a professional wrestler and the other participant tried to slow down enough to make his partner look agile. Seriously, you may just want to skip to the 8:16 mark of the video.
Frye and Takayama give the crowd an extended hug, some light shoulder punches and sloppy suplexes that vaguely resembled their PRIDE encounter the same way that Celine Deon’s cover of “You Shook Me All Night Long” vaguely resembles something a person with a soul and a personality would enjoy. Their original encounter was so incredibly dramatic and awesome because it was all very real, despite looking like something straight out of professional wrestling. Their kayfabe recreation, where even the dimmest fans in the audience knew that it was fake, never had a chance at being more than a rest period for Kono and Mutoh.
This wasn’t exactly twenty minutes of lucha libre, but you wouldn’t know it by how badly all four men gassed out by the end. But at least we were given Don Frye stomping on Masayuki Kono until he let go of what sort-of resembled an armbar, so, you know, there’s that.