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NJPW: Wrestling World 2002 (Tokyo Dome, 1.04.02)

August 31, 2002 | Posted by Jake Metcalfe

New Japan Pro Wrestling has been, for nearly it’s whole existence, the most popular federation in Japan. It was founded by Antonio Inoki at the same time as AJPW was founded by Giant Baba, and, while the latter federation concentrated its whole into the traditional wrestling values, NJPW put the onus equally between angles, characters and wrestling ability. In recent years, however, NJPW has lost focus, and Inoki has gained a new fascination with the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Because of this, Inoki tried, and keeps trying, in vain to merge the worlds of pro wrestling and shoot fighting. This did no one any favors, as mixing the real fighters with pro wrestlers only served to make the wrestlers look weak and the shooters to have no real competition for their fighting skills. Inoki continued to book shooters to go over pro wrestlers in scripted matches, and for pro wrestlers to fight in unscripted battles against trained opponents they didn’t have a hope of beating. The worst mistake of this era was booking NJPW’s biggest wrestler, Yuji Nagata, in a shoot fight against Mirko Cro Cop, an experienced MMA fighter. Nagata lost the fight in an obscenely short time of 21 seconds, which resulted in him losing all credibility with the Japanese fans. This stupidity caused the audience to turn from NJPW in droves, and this, their biggest show of the year, is not even close to a sell out. This is an interesting show though, as it could be considered a low point for NJPW in terms of drawing power. Let’s take a look at how it unfolds…

Perhaps I should explain the current story within New Japan before we start. Within the company at this time there is the regular New Japan Army, which means all the regular New Japan wrestlers, and Team 2000, a section of the roster which has separated itself from the others and formed a heel group. Team 2000 are led by Masahiro Chono and include, at this moment, Tenzan, Kojima, Giant Silva, Giant Singh, Koji Kanemoto, AKIRA, and various others. The show kicks off with a funky opening sequence and an introduction for each match on the card, all done in a really cool manner. Each match also has a ludicrous name attached to it, which we shall be exploring throughout.

Strong Style Neo Creation: Masahito Kakihara & Masayuki Naruse vs. Wataru Inoue & Katsuyori Shibata

Rookies in the house! The first portion of the match sees each man pairing off with an opponent, feeling each other out in terms of strikes, and then taking it to the mat. The wrestlers here do some damn impressive matwork, despite their rookie nature, all quick reversals with no one getting the upper hand. Naruse ends this on Shibata with a leg grapevine, which is sold well, and him and Kakihara start to control matters. They really kick the hell out of Shibata, and Kakihara manages to get a couple of sweet snap suplexes mixed in before Shibata makes a show of fighting spirit and tags Inoue. Naruse takes a nice lariat for 2 and a lovely throwing suplex which segues into the single leg crab! Inoue lets him go and beats him down before Naruse uses technical skill in the form of a dragon screw and both guys tag out. Shibata goes to work on Kakihara with a gorgeous leg lariat, but he gets too cocky and Kakihara breaks out the moveset with an axe kick and a sweet standing enzuiguri for 2 Ѕ! Naruse pops in to get some TEKKEN OFFENCE in on Shibata and Kakihara waits for him to stand, but misses the rolling slap and nearly succumbs to a flash rollup. Shibata tries a german, and finally gets one with help from Inoue for 2 ѕ! Shibata tries a dragon suplex, but decides it’s too early for that in a nice touch and goes back to the german suplex… but Kakihara reverses into the leg grapevine that was used earlier on Shibata, and Inoue has to make the save to prevent the submission! Good and surprising continuity from the rookies there. Inoue takes control after being tagged in, and him and Shibata do some great double team offence, finishing off with stereo single leg crabs on the other team! They let them go and Inoue hits Kakihara with some strikes before locking in the rolling strangle hold gamma while Naruse is kept occupied by Shibata! Kakihara nearly has to give up, but Naruse gets free and makes the save. Naruse hits a great high kick to put Inoue down, but gets taken out with an STO from Shibata. This buys Kakihara enough time to draw some fighting spirit and he nails the KAKI-CUTTER on Shibata to take him out! He picks up Inoue and nails the ROLLING PURO SLAP… but it only gets 1! Inoue desperately tries to draw some strength from somewhere, but it’s no good as he gets hit with the KAKI-CUTTER for the pin!

That was good stuff, they packed a whole load into the 11 minutes given to them. The matwork at the start was really great, quick stuff that had the added bonus of looking very real, which all great matwork should. They picked up the pace in a well controlled manner after that, and everyone got in some nice shots on each other, finally hitting their specialties with good timing to finish. All these guys could be break out stars, but it was Kakihara who really stood out with some great kick based offence, a lovely finisher and an ability to work the crowd which none of the others possessed. Overall, an impressive opener… 58%

Destiny Target: Minoru Tanaka & El Samurai vs. Koji Kanemoto & AKIRA (Team 2000)

I’d just like to state that the heels here are immediately placed in my favor as both exude huge charisma on the way to the ring, Kanemoto especially acting like a true arrogant heel. Tanaka calls out Kanemoto to start, he wants to get his hands on him, and Kanemoto accepts the offer with a great arrogant smirk. Kanemoto offers a test of strength, and Tanaka goes to accept it, but gets booted in the gut and lobbed to the outside to allow AKIRA to land a tope suicida! Samurai tries to attack Kanemoto but the heel gets evil on him, wrenching at the mask before tossing him to the outside and getting the match underway properly against Tanaka. See, this is what I love about puroresu compared to the current American product. Good old heelish tactics like these still work because wrestling is treated as being real over in Japan still, in America things like this just don’t work because the audience is so jaded and knows everything’s a work. Kanemoto brings the strikes to Tanaka and beats him down numerous times, mixing in a second rope twisting senton for good measure, and always taunting Samurai in between moves. AKIRA is tagged in and attacks Tanaka’s leg with a variety of holds, good variation there, before tagging back out to Kanemoto, who also works on the leg in a very heelish manner. He picks up Tanaka, just to take him down with a little kick to the leg, for example, and knees Tanaka in the head while keeping his eyes fixed on Samurai. AKIRA comes in and locks in the figure four leg lock, with Kanemoto protecting him from a save by Samurai. Kanemoto is tagged back in, and tries for the tiger suplex, but Samurai saves and holds him in position, allowing Tanaka to hit him with stiff kicks using the healthy leg. Tanaka charges, but Kanemoto gets free from Samurai and hits a belly-to-belly! Kanemoto smirks at the crowd and arrogantly asks for applause before holding Tanaka in position for AKIRA, but Tanaka moves just in time and AKIRA nails Kanemoto with a missile dropkick! Samurai deals with AKIRA while Tanaka goes to stiff kick Kanemoto, but Kanemoto catches one of the kicks so Tanaka tries to roll through into a leg grapevine… but there isn’t enough strength in the weakened leg and Kanemoto reverses the reversal into an ankle lock! Great matwork! Tanaka sells it to hell as Kanemoto switches into a leg grapevine, but Tanaka will not give up, and shows great spirit by making the ropes! Kanemoto looks at him with almost disbelief as Tanaka rolls to the outside, allowing Samurai to attack Kanemoto and throw him to Tanaka on the outside. Tanaka holds the heel in place and Samurai charges, but it’s the heels turn to move just in time, and Samurai nails Tanaka with the tope suicida instead! AKIRA deals with Samurai before throwing Tanaka back in to Kanemoto. Tanaka takes the lame slam and Kanemoto salutes the crowd before hitting a moonsault for 2 ѕ! Kanemoto charges, but is met with a STIFF dropkick to the knee, and Samurai makes the hot tag with a diving headbutt! Samurai gets a trio of seated dropkicks to the face, and puts Kanemoto up top to hit the ‘rana, but Kanemoto rolls through on the pin attempt, getting 2 ѕ! Samurai charges, but Kanemoto waves his finger at him and hits another belly-to-belly, as if to say ‘did you not learn the first time I did this?’. Samurai tries to attack, but gets caught with a leg lariat and the TIGER SUPLEX, only for Tanaka to make the necessary save! AKIRA is tagged in as a nearly completely fresh man, and nails Samurai with a nice leaping lariat for 2 Ѕ, followed with the BIG SPLASH for 2 ѕ! He tries for a german, but Samurai reverses and tries for his own, but he takes the LOW BLOW! AKIRA tries for the german again, but Samurai reverses and thinks better of trying for his own german this time, instead switching into his REVERSE DDT and another diving headbutt for 2.9! Tanaka is tagged in and tries a leg lariat, he misses but lands on his feet, misses a dropkick, but lands one on his second attempt! AKIRA gets his own dropkick, and Kanemoto deals with Samurai while AKIRA hits a standing enzuiguri for 2.9! Kanemoto hits a Michinoku Driver II allowing AKIRA to hit another BIG SPLASH for 2.999! AKIRA tries another attack, but Tanaka leaps for the MINORU SPECIAL!! AKIRA sells it like a champ, Kanemoto can’t save as he is being accosted by Samurai, AKIRA can’t quite make the ropes for a while, but he eventually does to a loud applause! Tanaka tries for a german, but AKIRA reverses it and gets one of his own… but Tanaka lands on his feet only to get trapped by Kanemoto on the apron. AKIRA charges, but gets shoved into Kanemoto on his own momentum and Tanaka gets a flash rollup for 2.999! Samurai deals with Kanemoto on the outside while Tanaka attacks the arm with stiff kicks. AKIRA gets a few chances to come back, but Tanaka is too quick for him, and gets a back slide on the weakened arm for the win!

Excellent stuff here. The heels were superb, especially Kanemoto, whose heelish mannerisms are just awesome to behold. Tanaka was also very impressive, the perfect junior face with lots of flashy moves and quick reversals. Samurai was the only guy here who couldn’t really keep up, he’s getting on a bit now, and he was never the most exciting junior wrestler NJPW had. Indeed, it was Samurai who provided the match’s only real low point with a dull portion of offence somewhere in the middle that killed the crowd. He was lucky that Tanaka has the ability to come in and eradicate any loss of heat, otherwise this could have been a disaster. Overall, this was a great, quick, match, with a super hot finish that made sense in the context of the bout. Only the shortness of the opening section and the portion of Samurai’s offence in the middle holds this match back from a higher rating… 72%

Post match, Kanemoto beats up on Tanaka before Tanaka taunts him about the win. I assume this was a bit of a heat up angle for a future singles match. See, why doesn’t WWE ever build up feuds on pure hatred?

New Year Rival’s Tag Match: Kazunari Murakami & Yuki Ishikawa vs. Kenzo Suzuki & Hiroshi Tanahashi

Two former BattleARTS guys (Ishikawa & Murakami), and therefore, semi-shoot wrestlers, against two young lions with a whole load of potential. There seems to be some hatred between Tanahashi and Murakami, but Tanahashi starts off against Ishikawa and they do lots of decent shoot style matwork, Ishikawa always using his experience to get the upper hand and attack the leg. Tanahashi goes to his strengths with a couple of strikes and a dropkick before taking it back to the matwork with a scissors sleeper. See, that’s just basic wrestling stuff, using your strengths against a guy who can clearly beat you at the matwork, but you don’t see it often these days. Once again, Ishikawa rules Tanahashi on the mat because that’s where his experience lies, and he attacks the legs, showing technical skill. Simple, but excellent stuff. Kenzo tags in, but Ishikawa maintains the advantage yet makes the mistake of trying pro wrestling on Kenzo with strikes and a german attempt, but Kenzo reverses it and gets a BRUTAL release german, dropping Yuki directly on his head. Kenzo tries to take it to the matwork, and, once again, gets overpowered in that area and Ishikawa tags to Murakami, who is very over with the crowd. He unleashes the shooter strikes on Kenzo, but Kenzo comes back and puts Murakami in his guard. Bit against the psychology of the match that Kenzo is able to do that, but there you go. Kenzo folds Murakami’s arms around and tries to lift him for the powerbomb, but he doesn’t have the strength and they sort of fall over. Oops, match was going just fine up until then. Murakami comes back and takes Kenzo down in reply, but the ropes are made. Kenzo fires back with a trio of suplexes, first a harsh exploder, second a pulling german and third a normal suplex, good stuff! Kenzo shoves Murakami into his corner with no respect and tags out to Tanahashi who screams at Murakami to bring it. Kenzo tries to shove Murakami into the middle of the ring, but Murakami just stands, looks VERY annoyed with Kenzo, and HITS Kenzo with a stiff back hand, screaming at him to leave him alone. Good stuff, this match needed some emotion. Tanahashi goes right to work with another pulling german suplex, and knocks down Murakami again to lay in some punches. Murakami reverses and gets BRUTAL with a flurry of fists to the head! Tanahashi gets right back up though and they go at each other, just throwing their fists and feet at each others bodies! Tanahashi has no technique though, and Murakami is blocking as well as punching, and this shows when Murakami gets a kick to the leg to knock Tanahashi to one knee, and then a hugely STIFF kick to the face for the KO victory!

A good opening salvo of matwork, with Ishikawa guiding the young lions through some nice sequences, followed by an emotional finish gets high marks from me. The matwork even worked with the finish as the early leg work on Tanahashi resulted in his leg being weak and open to Murakami’s attacks, resulting in the KO. There was problems, however, with Kenzo seeming inexperienced, unconfident, and not ready to work this style of match, although he threw some nice suplexes. Murakami also isn’t as technically sound as Ishikawa, with not a lot of variety in his act, but he did play his role very well and brought emotion to the table. Overall, a nice little worked shoot style match with some clever stuff… 66%

Breakthrough The Jr!!: Jyushin ‘Thunder’ Lyger, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask IV vs. The Far Eastern Connection

LYGER IN THE TOKYO DOME! Sorry, but I love Lyger. The FEC are a juniors heel group, and a semi-member of Team 2000, featuring three of the most accomplished heel juniors of all time; Dick Togo, Gedo and Jado. Lyger starts off against Jado and they do some smooth stuff with Jado seemingly getting the upper hand and being cocky, but he gets tossed outside and takes the baseball slide allowing chaos to erupt in the ring. The heels get tossed and Sasuke & Lyger do a stereo pescado spot! Back in, Lyger gets a snapmare and a lovely rolling senton before tagging to Tiger Mask, who brings the stiff kicks and the gorgeous dropkick to the table. The faces get a little heelish on Jado, which is interesting, before Sasuke comes in and works the chinlock. Jado escapes with an eye rake and Gedo comes in, bringing the swifty punches to Sasuke, but taking a big spinning heel kick followed by a springboard elbow. Sasuke dumps him to the outside and pulls out the quebrada! Always nice to see, and Gedo got bent around the barrier for extra stiffness! Back in, Lyger gets tagged and unleashes an early powerbomb on Gedo before heelishly hitting the chinlock. Togo makes the save and Tiger Mask comes in to get beaten on by the heels. Togo stomps the hell out of him after being tagged in, and gets a STIFF dropkick to the head! Tiger Mask uses his speed to escape with a couple of lucha arm drags, a dropkick to the knee and finally a chickenwing crossface to ground Togo. The faces start getting quick tags to each other, working on Togo’s leg with a variety of matwork and generally being pretty heelish actually. It’s Tiger Mask who fails the face team and gets caught by the heels to allow them some control. Jado beats him down, and Togo comes in, managing to stop a comeback with a lovely 3D for 2 Ѕ. Gedo gets in some really harsh shots before putting Tiger Mask in the heels corner and distracting the referee, allowing Togo to try and remove the tiger mask! He fails, however, and the heels continue with the Kaientai DX-esque triple team offence, except slower. Togo does a nice little spot where he makes Tiger Mask look completely weak in a heelish manner, before just pushing him over and watching him fall. However, directly after he just goes to a sleeper, slowing the pace down some more. This portion of the match is suffering in the hands of The FEC, although they play good heels, they have very basic movesets, and there is only so many punches, chinlocks and sleepers you can watch really. Togo works in the sleeper for ages until Lyger saves, but Tiger Mask still takes a powerslam for 2 ѕ. Gedo tags in and gets his swifty superkick for 2.9, followed with a harsh DDT for another! Togo comes back in, and does more good heel stuff by taunting Tiger Mask with allowing him to get a tag, but of course doesn’t really allow it. Whip, but Tiger Mask ducks the lariat and hits a SWIFT reverse enzuiguri before making the hot tag to Lyger! Lyger breaks out the SHOTEI on all the heels, before isolating Togo and hitting him with a belly-to-belly and the frog splash, but the save is made! Sasuke is tagged in, and waits for Togo to stand before nailing a rolling neckbreaker from the top for 2 ѕ! He goes up top again and nails Togo with a missile dropkick for another 2 ѕ before Togo dumps Sasuke off a reversed springboard moonsault press and punches him only to get dumped on to the ramp. Sasuke runs and leaps over the ropes with a senton atomico, but it misses and Sasuke hits the ramp with a clatter! Togo ducks a lariat and nails a RELEASED GERMAN ON THE RAMP!! That was horrible, Sasuke landed right on his head! They do a slow motion replay and that is the most brutal thing I think I’ve ever seen! Back in, Jado uses a tiger driver as a set up move (way to kill a finisher), and Gedo follows up with the FROG SPLASH! Gedo shoves Sasuke into position and Togo comes off the top with the FAT ASS SENTON BOMB! Both faces make the desperate save as they knew it would be all otherwise, but Gedo and Jado deal with them and put them back outside. The heels continue to work on Sasuke, whipping him into the corner and hitting him with a variety of strikes before killing him with the FEC SUPERBOMB! Jado puts him in his crippler crossface! The other two faces are being held back, Sasuke is about to tap, but Tiger Mask comes out of nowhere and makes the save! Sasuke continues to get killed, but reverses a charge with a handspring elbow smash and makes the hot tag to Tiger Mask! High cross body on Jado, slam, and a STANDING MOONSAULT STOMP! Jeez, I’ve never seen that one before! Tiger Mask goes up and hits the diving headbutt for 2.9, but the heels grab him when he tries to run, and Jado levels him with a lariat. Gedo comes in, and tries a german, but Tiger Mask flips out of it and hits a moonsault kick to the face! Slam, the moonsault misses, but Tiger Mask lands on his feet and hits the TIGER SUPLEX for 2.999! Lyger comes in with a RUNNING LYGER BOMB for 2.9999! He tries for the brainbuster, but Gedo reverses and the heels do a lovely triple team spot where they bounce Lyger back and forth between superkicks and finish off with a Jado lariat! The faces deal with Togo and Jado, but Gedo gets the GEDO CLUTCH back in the ring for 2.9! Lyger reverses a whip with a SLAP though, and hits the SHOTEI followed with a BRAINBUSTER for the pin!

That was a great 20 minute juniors tag match. The faces were as awesome as you would expect, with all their small shortcomings covered up effectively. Lyger, although I love him, is getting on a bit, and is slowing down his game quite a bit, but he covered it up well by only coming in to make the hot tag and hit his finishers to pop the crowd. Sasuke, also, is getting on a bit, and is a bit of a shadow of his former self, but that was covered up too by the fact that he spent the whole match getting beaten upon and taking supreme bumps. Tiger Mask IV is awesome on all fronts though, and might be the smoothest junior wrestler I’ve ever seen. The FEC are a good heel group, but as I say, their faults were not as well covered up, as their mid-match offence is a little slow. Lets just say they aren’t exactly KDX when it comes to multiple team offence. They do play good heels though, and this match needed that, although it could have done with more heelish stuff and less aimless punches. Overall this was mostly exciting all the way through, with great offence for the most part, smooth work and a well constructed flow… 80%

Well the show has been quite good so far, although the crowd hasn’t been too into it. I fear that the next few matches will take a step down, as this is where the Inoki-isms and giants start to play a part.

Fight In Strange!!: Manabu Nakanishi vs. Giant Silva (Team 2000)

Nakanishi has come a long way since last year, and is now considered one of the top faces in NJPW, with a new look and a bit of re-training. Silva is the better of the two giants in terms of wrestling ability, and has never been beaten. Nakanishi wants Silva to attack him and get things started, so he pushes the giant, but it only results in Silva pushing him into a corner and mauling him there. Silva misses a corner charge and Nakanishi stomps away at the legs before getting dumped to force a stand off. They stare each other down and lock up, which Silva, of course, wins and slams Nakanishi before stomping him and throwing him out of the ring. Silva teases a plancha, which would have been hilarious, but instead lands on his feet on the outside and beats on Nakanishi some more. The littler guy fires back with a series of chops, but gets beaten down once again. Back in the ring, Silva hits a massive suplex, but misses the elbow drop. Nakanishi grabs a sleeper and rolls backward, creating the scissors round Silva’s waist! Silva almost gets out on sheer strength, but Nakanishi kicks him to remain with the upper hand. Nakanishi hits a lariat, but it’s to no avail so he tries for the argentine backbreaker! The crowd goes crazy for the attempt! Can Nakanishi lift Silva? Not this time, as Silva elbows out of it and lifts Nakanishi with a gutwrench for a vast powerbomb! The giant press gets 2 ѕ! Silva argues with the referee, which allows Nakanishi to hit him in the back with a jumping knee and follows up with a crowd pleasing lariat, sending Silva out to the floor! Nakanishi taunts Silva to get back in the ring, and he does so to be greeted with a flurry of punches and the ARGENTINE BACKBREAKER! Nakanishi lifts Silva! The crowd goes mental! It doesn’t last long though, as the effort forces Nakanishi to drop Silva and they both tumble out of the ring in a heap! Nakanishi recovers first and goes up top to land a PLANCHA to the outside! Well, no one was expecting that from him! Nakanishi rolls back into the ring, but the referee counts Silva out of the ring and rings the bell, giving the win to Nakanishi!

This was quite a hard contest to rate as, although it was certainly a match, it seemed to be more of an exhibition to show some of the power of Silva, and a lot of the progression of Nakanishi. It was pretty entertaining though. I don’t mind the giants as much as some others, they are big guys and they play giant characters accordingly. They probably don’t need them on the programs, but they don’t do much harm by being placed in matches like this. So, Silva was ok for a giant, and Nakanishi was good, carrying the whole thing very well with bags of charisma. There was an ok story told as well, but nothing special certainly… 35%

Post match, Silva gets his heat back by beating the hell out of Nakanishi and hitting the chokeslam before storming off in a rage at his first ever defeat. He also cuts the only English speaking interview after leaving the arena, saying that he doesn’t consider this to be a loss, and that he won today.

Now it’s time for the Antonio Inoki segment of the show, and the owner of NJPW walks out from the back, wearing a big recycling bin on his back and a huge Eskimo coat. Odd choice of accessories there. He brings the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Fujita, out to the ring in a wheelchair, as he broke his leg a bit ago, and he forfeits the belt to Inoki to be decided later in a tournament. Inoki then introduces Tadao Yusuda, known to the internet as ‘lurch’ due to the terrible performances he would put on after this show and for the rest of the year. Yusuda is dressed in a suit and has a briefcase, and some NJPW guys try to lift him on their shoulders before dropping him by accident. Yusuda then, presumably, announces that he will challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Title very soon before Inoki gets back on the mic to do his final, crowd pleasing, words; “ICH, NE, DAN… SAAAAA”.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Kendo Ka Shin vs. Daijiro Matsui

Ka Shin plays a bit of a heel persona, and hands over his belts to the official in a very arrogant manner. Matsui is just another bland shoot guy pushed way too high by Inoki’s aging mind. This match making seems ludicrous to me when you have guys like Minoru Tanaka, Jyushin Lyger and Koji Kanemoto on your roster, why aren’t those supremely talented guys competing for this belt? They circle each other for a bit, and Ka Shin does some decent cowardly heel stuff, by backing into the ropes, and bailing to avoid fighting. Back in, he continues to try and back away, but Matsui catches him in a hold eventually, but Ka Shin wriggles free like the slimy heel he is. Ka Shin sees his way into the match, and offers a handshake to Matsui, who of course takes it and gets kicked in the leg by the heel… but he no sells it?! What the hell was the point of doing that and then no selling it? Matsui beats Ka Shin into a corner and brings him out again with a good headlock on the mat, punching away, trying to work a shoot style match. Ka Shin works the headlock to a vertical base, and lifts Matsui up to crotch him on the ropes. That was the worst crotching ever, as Matsui just sort of fell off and into the ring. Ka Shin beats him around on the outside, but Matsui never really sells anything and Ka Shin gets railed. Matsui goes back in and desperately tries to heat up a dead crowd while Ka Shin recovers. Matsui then does the worst aerial sequence ever as he tries a pescado but messes it up, and so covers up with a tope suicida that completely misses… but he doesn’t even sell missing the thing despite going splat on the floor! That was just dreadful, beyond bad. He does some more shooter stuff before they go back in the ring, and Matsui locks on quite a nice STF variant, but Ka Shin makes the ropes. Matsui does more aimless brawling stuff before Ka Shin mounts a come back and tries a rolling jujigatame, but Matsui isn’t playing game and they just end up faffing on the mat. Matsui tries to lift him for a powerbomb, but instead nearly kills him by falling on him. Yet more aimless brawling follows and the referee gets bumped!? That was the most contrived referee bump EVER, this is why the Japs shouldn’t try sportz entertainment, it just doesn’t work most of the time. The lack of referee allows Ka Shin to do his over the rope choke spot, followed by a victory roll to retain the belt.

That was absolutely horrible, I challenge anyone to find a worst IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title match. Ka Shin looked ok I guess, with some decent acting stuff at the beginning, but he didn’t really do enough for me to judge. Matsui was just horrible, really, really awful. It’s like he knew the theory of how to work a match, but had no idea how to apply it to a real world situation. He wasn’t communicating with Ka Shin, sold literally nothing and has nothing good on offence except a few well executed submission moves, which, of course, went nowhere. If this was a shoot, or even a worked shoot, I could accept it sort of, but Ka Shin wasn’t working that style of match. I’m disgusted by this… 7% for Ka Shin’s attempt at build in the early going and Matsui’s good execution of holds.

Translate Trading… Pure Pro-Wre’s Love: Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase (BATT) vs. Tatsumi Fujinami & Osamu Nishimura

The idea for this looks to be an old school match, with everyone but Mutoh always wrestling a very old school style. Hase and Nishimura start off with a lengthy feel out process which segues seamlessly into Hase trying some submission holds. Once we have established Hase as the more experienced on the mat, Mutoh is tagged in and they do a bit more feel out stuff allowing Fujinami to come in. Barely any feel out stuff here, and the two veterans go into a really nice series of standing reversals until they end up on the mat. Hase comes back in after Mutoh separates, and him and Fujinami do a patented puroresu test of strength spot, with Fujinami seemingly stronger, but Hase more technically able. They go to the mat, and Fujinami gets an arm lock, adding pain by rolling Hase on the mat. Good stuff there, these veterans can still go. Nishimura comes in and continues the arm work, but Hase outclasses him on the mat and swiftly tags Mutoh. He brings the strikes and downs Nishimura for the POWER DRIVE ELBOW! Mutoh starts some quite good legwork on Nishimura actually, as he seems to be putting the effort in today. Hase comes in and does a nice reverse STF followed by a really innovative abdominal stretch on the mat, but Nishimura rolls him over and tags Fujinami. A big knee from the top rope precedes a dragon screw and some more leg work. Nishimura comes in and puts Hase in a really nice bow and arrow lock before continuing the leg work and tagging back out. Fujinami takes it to strikes with a PURORESU SLAP, but gets shot off a headlock and nearly overpowered, but thinks better of it and takes Hase down for a 2 count. Fujinami gets in more strikes and another PURORESU SLAP (and my god, it is one of the best slaps ever), before Hase gets a desperation legsweep and THR BIG GIANT SWING! Yay! Thirteen swings later, Hase shakes off the dizziness and hits a backdrop, but Fujinami rolls over and lands on top of him for 2 ѕ! Mutoh and Nishimura come in and they battle with strikes, Mutoh’s dropkicks to the knee winning out in the end and he hits a dragon screw! Nishimura gets a desperation kick to Mutoh’s knee, which Mutoh looks offended by, but it doesn’t phase him and the leg work on Nishimura continues. Mutoh goes for the shining wizard, but Nishimura reverses really swiftly into a cobra twist! Mutoh hip tosses out of it and beats Nishimura down to grab an abdominal stretch of his own, but Fujinami comes out of nowhere with a SHINING WIZARD off Nishimura’s knee to Mutoh!! Most contrived move ever, right there. Nishimura goes up and drills Mutoh with a missile dropkick and a german suplex for 2 ѕ, when Hase makes the save! Nishimura basically knocks out Hase, looking really strong in the process and hits another german suplex for 2 ѕ. Oh, come on Mutoh, give him a little more than that, it should have been a really, really near fall. Hase kills Nishimura with a harsh STO, but gets killed himself with a Fujinami backdrop! Fujinami tries a dragon suplex, but it’s reversed into a northern lights suplex by Hase, who bridges, despite not being the legal man. The referee wont count the pin, so Mutoh does a SHINING WIZARD off Hase’s bridge to Nishimura!! He follows up with a standard shining wizard, and that gets the win!

This was a solid old school match with a decent matwork and feel out portion at the start, and good build towards the end. The finish wasn’t very prolonged, however, and felt more like an exhibition for the veterans finishers than anything else. If Mutoh could hit his own finisher, it might help, but the best shining wizard tonight was performed by Fujinami. Everyone looked decent, I like Nishimura’s potential, and this was a good exhibition match, but not really anything more… 37%

Be In The Ring!!: Kensuke Sasaki vs. Naoya Ogawa

Ogawa is the most over shoot wrestler in NJPW, easily, and the crowd are really hyped for this match. In fact, this is probably the major draw of this entire show for a lot of fans in the audience. The commentators are going mental, the crowd are louder than they have been all night for someone not called Inoki, how can they mess this up? They stare down at each other before the bell rings and Sasaki headbutts Ogawa lightly, resulting in a massive punch based fight ending up with Sasaki pummeling Ogawa on the floor! Murakami jumps in from the outside and separates the two fighters, resulting in a huge invasion of the ring from NJPW guys and other shooters, all picking fights with each other! The bell rings, they hook up, and Ogawa hits the STO! He gives Sasaki a stiff kick before getting up, and they head into a feel out punching section. They keep ending up in the ropes, but neither guy gives a clean break, so Ogawa dumps Sasaki and tries for a jujigatame! The ropes are made, but Ogawa certainly doesn’t give a clean break, and kicks Sasaki before pushing the referee down! He mauls Sasaki, despite him being in the ropes, and Manabu Nakanishi decides he’s seen enough, and runs in to try and break it up, only to get taken out of it by Murakami and once again the whole ring erupts in chaos! NJPW guys are flying around, as well as other shoot guys and officials! Everyone’s focused on Nakanishi and Murakami, no one notices when Sasaki catches Ogawa and hits a german suplex, followed with a shooter killing LARIAT! Ogawa and Murakami flee to the outside, Sasaki follows for a bit, and tries to attack, but gets held back by a mass of people! A pile of Zero-One guys restrain Ogawa from the ring, and Sasaki climbs back in to take the win by count-out.

Count-out?! A count out victory after all that? Screw you, Inoki, that was probably the worst decision that could have been made. I’m just going to run down the post match events before rating this one.

Sasaki tries once again to run after Ogawa and attack, but is held back again by a pile of people and forced back to the ring. He gets on the microphone and starts berating Ogawa, which the crowd respond to with huge cheers, thinking that the match will be restarted. When Ogawa turns and walks out of the arena, and Sasaki also leaves the ring, it starts to sink in to the audience that this was all they were going to get and the crowd heat just disappears completely. I mean, the crowd just DIES. The more they realize that they aren’t going to get a match out of this, the more they hate it, and they actually start to boo this whole thing. Now, you don’t hear that from a Japanese crowd very often, and when you do, you know there is something really bad going on.

This whole segment was just a train wreck, and it started with so much promise as well. The early sequences in the ‘match’ were great, instilling lots of emotion and making this seem important, even the big run in before the bell was well done. If they had given the fans an actual match, worked shoot or shoot, they would have really enjoyed it probably, but no. Instead, they make a decision that results in Ogawa looking like a complete coward, pissing off the crowd no end for the rest of the night and doing no favors to anyone, at all. Disastrous… 8% for some great looking moves and emotion before the awfulness started.

Internal Trouble Of Team 2000: Satoshi Kojima & Hiroshi Tenzan (Team 2000) vs. Masahiro Chono & Giant Singh (Team 2000)

Case in point; the crowd is still booing the last ‘match’ to death as the entrances are being done, this is how bad that thing really was. Chono & Singh’s entrance video, however, is awe inspiring, and Chono’s BIG BLACK COAT rules all. This ‘internal trouble of Team 2000’ started, as set up in the video package at the start of the show, when Chono became annoyed with Tenzan & Kojima because of a long series of bad losses they suffered. Tenzan starts out against Chono, and beats him down with strikes, including the mongolian chops, until Chono fights back with a yakuza kick and beats Tenzan down a little. Tenzan tricks him out, however, and fakes a run before turning down and leveling Chono with a lariat! That was cool. Tenzan gets in a few more shots, but runs into a boot, and Chono beats him down until Kojima manages to tag in. Chono sees that Kojima is too prepared for him, and so tags out to the giant. Kojima becomes, as you would expect, the giant’s whipping boy for a while, getting beaten down and having his offence no sold. SINGH’S A HOSS, BY GAWD! Tenzan tries to interfere, but Singh gets him in a side head lock. Kojima tries to save, but he gets a side head lock for his troubles as well, however, this allows for Tenzan & Kojima to hit a double backdrop suplex! Well that was a contrived set up, but it was nice. Singh fights back, of course, and lariats them both down. He lifts Tenzan into a suplex, and Chono comes off the top with an elbow drop, making a nice combination. Chono tags in properly and hits a FUNKY yakuza kick on Kojima for 2 Ѕ, and a stiff looking piledriver for another. He deals with Tenzan and charges, but gets caught with an atomic drop and a dropkick to send him into the corner. Chops, and Kojima whips him for the corner lariat, following up by going up top, but he misses the elbow drop. Chono hits another nasty yakuza kick for 2 ѕ and goes to the STF. Hmm, that’s Chono’s submission finisher and it has no heat at all. Tenzan makes the save, and Chono deals with him, but it gives Kojima enough time to recover and block the next yakuza kick, turning it into a diamond cutter! Tenzan tags in an unleashes the moveset with mongolian chops and a samoan drop for 1. Tenzan clocks Chono around with more strikes and slams him for a lovely double team headbutt / slingshot elbow combination, Kojima getting another stomp in before satiating the referee. Tenzan and Kojima hit their 3D, and Singh becomes occupied with Kojima while Tenzan hits a diving headbutt for 2 ѕ! A lariat gets another 2 ѕ and Tenzan goes to the buffalo sleeper, but Singh saves. Tenzan charges with a leg lariat, but Chono reverses with a leg lariat also, resulting in the shins meeting! Tenzan charges, but meets an atomic drop on the rebound! That was a good couple of spots actually, with Chono doing things Kojima and Tenzan had done to him earlier, showing things that Kojima and Tenzan have learnt from Chono, their mentor. Singh tags in and no sells Tenzan, even the mongolian chops, and gets a cool sit-out chokeslam! He kills Kojima with a nodowa otashi, and back to Tenzan for a powerbomb, and then sort of stands around waiting for something to happen. Giant Silva comes up on to the apron, and tries to help Singh with a double choke, but it backfires, and Singh collides with Silva in the single worst heel miscommunication spot ever. This results in Kojima hitting THE LARIATOOO, and Tenzan basically rolling Singh up for the pin, although it was slightly messed up.

Well that was reasonable. Tenzan and Kojima are excellent wrestlers, with loads of charisma and plenty of cool moves. Chono is also still going very strong and can really pull out the stops when he wants to, like here. So, their stuff with each other was pretty cool, if simple, but it was when the abysmal Singh came in when things went a little awry. I don’t really mind giants being booked to destroy their smaller counterparts in the ring, as long as they don’t mess it up, but Singh is just awful, frequently just standing there and not knowing what to do with himself. He also messed up the finish, which was really the icing on the cake. Some decent stuff, but it was mostly ruined by the big lummox… 31%

GHC Heavyweight Title: Jun Akiyama vs. Yuji Nagata

The GHC Heavyweight Title is the main belt defended in Mitsuhara Misawa’s NOAH promotion, and has been held by Akiyama for some time proceeding this show. Nagata’s heat is pretty low due to the whole Mirko Cro Cop nonsense, which wont help this match. They start off with some good test of strength feel out process stuff, and end up in the ropes, but Akiyama is a punk and so doesn’t give a clean break, resulting in Nagata STIFF KICKING the hell out of him and forcing him to bail! Akiyama sells the pain on the outside, and is hesitant to re-enter the ring. Once he does, Nagata rushes him, takes him down with a headlock and they head into a really cool and quick series of reversals on the mat. Nagata gets the upper hand and puts on a few reversals before settling on a sleeper with scissors. He keeps switching the holds, ending up with Akiyama in a well worked jujigatame, but Akiyama works it into a pin, forcing the break, and stomps Nagata, unwilling to go at it with him on the mat. Nagata responds in kind and they elbow smash each other around until Nagata gains control with a high kick and hits the EXPLOIDAAA! Akiyama no sells and hits his own EXPLOIDAAA followed with a jumping knee to the face! Both guys take time out to sell, Nagata in more pain than his opponent. Akiyama tries another exploder, but Nagata counters it with a headlock, sold well by Akiyama, and Nagata switches it into AKIYAMA’S FRONT FACE LOCK! Akiyama manages to wriggle his way to the ropes, finally, but Nagata doesn’t immediately let go, being prepared to break the rules a little to win and prove himself. Nagata keeps right on the attack with a great piledriver, and tries for another, but Akiyama denies it and they exchange strikes again, Nagata getting the upper hand and finally hitting that piledriver for 2 ѕ! Nagata gets all heelish and cool with seriously STIFF kicks to Akiyama’s neck! Akiyama gets whipped into the corner, but ducks the lygerkick and takes Nagata to the ramp to try for an exploder off the stage! He can’t quite get it, however, and DDT’s Nagata HARSHLY on the ramp! Akiyama takes him around the ring and nails the tombstone on the concrete! Akiyama is a PUNK baybee! He refutes the referee’s wishes, and pulls Nagata back into the ring to hit a ROUGH piledriver in revenge for 2 ѕ! He continues the attack on the head with a couple of strikes and the most energetic chinlock spot ever, but the ropes are made. Nagata is whipped and Akiyama nails the JUMPING KNEE on the rebound! He tries for a german, but it’s denied, and Nagata manages to fire off a belly-to-belly suplex from a charge! He tries for an exploder when he’s managed to capitalize, but Akiyama reverses it into the NAGATA LOCK II! The ropes are made, but Nagata sold his own hold really well! Akiyama stomps away, and whips him into the corner for the jumping knee. He goes up top, but collides with a STIFF kick on the way down and Nagata covers for 2 ѕ! Jumping DDT, and Nagata locks on his very own NAGATA LOCK II! Nagata determination to get the submission and prove to everyone how good he is is clearly evident on his face, but he can’t quite get the job done, and Akiyama just manages to make the ropes! He tries to lock the hold back on, but Akiyama denies it and they exchange PURORESU SLAPS while staggering about the ring! Nagata gets the upper hand, but walks into a BRAINBUSTER off a charge for 2.9! Akiyama signals for the end, and locks on his FRONT FACE LOCK that Nagata stole earlier! He keeps it on until he thinks he’s knocked Nagata out, and then covers… for only 2.999! Akiyama signals for the end once again, and tries for the exploder 98, but Nagata elbows his way out of it and KICKS HIM IN THE FACE off a charge for 2.999!! Nagata tries in desperation for the jujigatame, and finally locks it on! The ropes are made, however, but Akiyama is dead, and Nagata hits a standing enzuiguri followed by the BACKDROP PIN for 2.9999! The commentators have a mental fit! Nagata misses the second enzuiguri, and Akiyama dumps him with EMERALD FROSION!! Both guys stand, looking completely dead, but Akiyama springs to life first and hits an EXPLOIDAAA for 2.99999! He waits for Nagata to stand and despite some resistance, drills him with the EXPLOIDAAA 98 for the win!

That was great! It was two of the great young prospects having a quick, energetic battle full of big moves and great moments. Nagata was simply superb here, showing huge determination at all times, and putting maximum effort into everything that he did, including the selling of holds and the adding of emotion. Akiyama was only slightly less amazing than Nagata, executing everything really well and showing a great punk attitude. The story of the match was slightly limited, they weren’t going for deep rooted psychology here, but the tale of Nagata needing to prove himself was enough, and the emotion that this added was huge. Indeed, after the match, Nagata gives a tearful interview backstage, disappointed in himself, which really completes the story of the match. Perhaps I can better communicate just how good Nagata was in this match by saying that you really start to care about Nagata’s quest to prove himself during the course of this match, and the crowd in the Tokyo Dome, who barely cared to start with, were cheering for Nagata towards the end. Overall this was a simple, but well executed match, with massive levels of emotion, youth and energy… 84%

Overall

This show is something of a mixed bag, with some great matches, but also a lot of really terrible ones. There is a lot of good stuff to start off with, thanks to the juniors and a couple of good shooters, and the main event was fantastic, but the goofiness with the giants, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title match and the whole Sasaki / Ogawa mess nearly spoilt the whole show. Overall, then, this show is worth it for the few great matches here, and, although it’s not an essential tape, the main event is worth the asking price alone.

Jake Metcalfe

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Jake Metcalfe
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