The Face in the Window
Colin Joynson v Kendo Nagasaki
Huddersfield, 2nd August 1978
This was not an outstanding bout.
There were a mere 382 seconds of action and neither wrestler showed much of the clout that we had been accustomed to over the years. Nevertheless, our many clear recollections of them in more gripping actions ensure both remain firm Heritage favourites.
There are so many interesting circumstances surrounding this match, however, that it is worthy of preservation through a mention here in Armchair Corner, for historical value alone, if not exactly for edge-of-the-seat excitement.
Kendo Nagasaki’s career spanned over 40 years, depending how you look at it. Some may say he isn’t done with yet, at the time of writing in 2010! An undeniably enigmatic figure, denied television coverage for his first seven years, then wreaking havoc at halls nationwide and dispensing mouth-wateringly fleeting glimpses of his mysterious features in a handful of special televised bouts. He had a ceremonial 1977 Christmas unmasking followed by less than a year’s ring activity without wearing any mask at all. He switched between promoters, had various retirements, and would only make his next televised appearance after this Huddersfield match-up with Colin Joynson fully 9 years later. Yes, Nagasaki was off our screens for 9 whole years – and yet the enigma and mystery remain. Still today he wears his mask to public appearances, and still today there is mystery about his identity.
If you are looking for a logical sequence of events, look away now. This is professional wrestling, where 3 months forward planning was generally as much as most could manage. We pinch ourselves to understand if this erratic series of events really happened.
These six minutes of action represent a Window in the middle of Nagasaki’s main masked career. And this Window has within it a clearly visible Face for us all to study. 14 years of mystery were blown away, albeit not completely. What would Nagasaki have to offer with the in-built mystery removed?
After defeats over Roger Wells, Judo Pete Roberts and erstwhile tag partner Rex Strong, this was Nagasaki’s fourth and final televised bout unmasked. He had started his unmasked career just four months earlier, wrestling clean to Wells’ villain. Nagasaki had always been popular, and he sought to grow that popularity as a blue-eye. But something didn’t quite click with the clean unmasked Nagasaki, devoid of mystery, yet unwilling or unable to be the wronged goody being mercilessly mauled and mistreated, only to gain victory from the jaws of defeat, à la Viedor.
In fact, after his maskless victories over Strong and Wells, Nagasaki reverted to villainous type, and felt more at home in opposing the popular Super Destroyer and, today, the Bulldog.
So we have this round and a bit of villainous maskless Nagasaki to savour. Fascinating to watch as he displays all the mannerisms we know so very well from his masked performances: bowing before the bout; shielding his ears from deafening booing; cowardly arching up backwards away from danger. Full credit to the wrestler for maintaining an emotionless face at all times and never lapsing to a smile; less credit to Kent Walton for failing to mention the eyes that Nagasaki had clearly worked hard on to achieve a menacing look. We can also level the criticism that the commentator and manager had not colluded at all to create a story about the really rather strange tattoo on Nagasaki's head. A clear case of lost opportunities.
Maskless Nagasaki was seeking a role. Joynson very generously played a wholly backseat part and allowed Nagasaki to lead and create whatever heat he could, either on the attack or on the receiving end. If truth be told, the writing was already on the wall, and this was only a supporting bout for the European Middleweight Championship on the same card in which Mal Sanders would strip Mick McManus of the belt.
In terms of action, there wasn’t a great deal to mention. Mind you, there’s nothing fans enjoyed more up and down the land than a painful looking base-of-the-spine knee-drop performed from great height on a rule-bender. Nagasaki and Joynson worked perfectly together here, with Joynson hoisting his opponent way back over his shoulder for a beautiful arc of a journey around to his knee, from which Nagasaki rebounded satisfyingly at 45°.
Colin Joynson had been notable down the years for making so many opponents look skilled at delivering backflips. In reality it was Joynson who positioned himself perfectly to fly high, high to the lights and come down with an almighty ring-wrecking crash. No Colin Joynson bout would be complete without one of those, and here, right, it constituted one of the few action highlights.
The shortness of the bout and the absence of Nagasaki specials such as his kamikaze Crash left us wondering whether he may have been carrying an injury. The end came swiftly in the second via that submission move he had perfected in Canada, the Rack.
This was a very verbal affair both before and afterwards. Impeccable MC Neil Sowden had given his all in the introductions, defiantly calling this an “international heavyweight bout”. George E. Gillette, too, displayed his usual excellent microphone skills, but this fan felt his camp garb, including beret and parasol – in Huddersfield! – to be an annoying and unnecessary distraction, particularly at a time when wrestling was having to work hard to remain a credible spectator sport.
Joynson exited invisibly and Tony St Clair, the British Heavyweight Champion, appeared to lay down a challenge to Nagasaki with the title at stake. Gillette accepted on Nagasaki’s behalf, not especially whole-heartedly it must be said, and if we want to be very picky, it was an acceptance in contradiction of the emcee's earlier bold introduction. It was almost as if all involved knew this challenge would not lead to anything and, reminiscent of the failure to launch a few years earlier of the Nagasaki & Kung Fu tag-team, the whole thing just seemed to fizzle out.
Nagasaki struggled, therefore, to find his way without the mask, and the fans struggled in a similar way to know how to react to him. When the mask went back on, everyone felt much happier. Nagasaki recaptured the mystery and the fascination that he might one day be unmasked, and a majority of fans wiped from their memories that they had ever seen his face.
The action itself in this bout left little lasting impact. But as a Near Death Experience it was most very definitely intriguing. Nagasaki had wondered about the life beyond, without a mask. He peeped here into the abyss before returning to the day-to-day normality of a masked existence.