wrestling / Video Reviews

Puroresu Love: Battle Final 2003

February 25, 2005 | Posted by Mike Campbell

December 9th, 2003

Just like the Yokohama Dead Out PPV, this show comes courtesy of IVP Videos. For the amazingly low price of only $3.99. You read that right, all his DVDs are now only $3.99. The VQ is top notch and the service is excellent. The discs themselves look very professionally done, with thermal printing right on the actual disc.

It seemed like all was right in the world of New Japan. Longtime crowd favorite, Hiroyoshi Tenzan had finally captured what had avoided him for so long, the IWGP Title. Tenzan was his own man, no longer simply Chono’s sidekick. Tenzan hadn’t just won the title for himself, it was a victory for Pro Wrestling. The pro wrestler in Tenzan had taken down the Inoki style fighter and shooter in Takayama. The year 2003 was winding down to a close. 2003 had been a good year for NJPW. The NOAH vs NJPW junior feud had produced some great matches, and then the feud between Lyger, Kanemoto, Heat etc against the trio of Jado, Gedo, and Takemura had taken on its own life. The young guns like Tanahashi and Nakamura were pleasing crowds everywhere and there was already talk of how they’d be the top guys in NJPW in a few short years.

The good old rookie match. New Japan can have the bragging rights to having the best dojo system due to how many rookies the crank out of there every year. But really, how many actual great workers have they produced? IMO, the last was Shinjiro Ohtani, way back in 1992. The problem I see is that they’re throwing the rookies out with each other and neither of them is ready to take charge just yet, so its basically an extended sparing session. This match has its fun parts, but its nothing special. Taguchi works the arm with a few submissions, the triangle choke seemed to be out of nowhere though. The finish was Taguchi hitting a standing dropkick for the win, thus rendering the fun submission parts useless. Practice makes perfect, guys.

This is what I mean, instead of just throwing the two rookies out there, why not put one of them in a singles with Inoue so he can attempt to lead the match, while the other one takes the pounding from the two gaijin and gets himself some quick and easy sympathy heat? Its not that difficult to grasp. This is pretty fun, if a bit basic. Dragon is a pro wrestling freak of nature, much like Ohtani was. So he’s always on. Be it stretching Inoue out, or smacking him around. I can’t say as I’ve ever seen, or heard of The Shadow before, but looks competent if nothing else. Inoue plays the young boy in peril and then Goto cleans house, but his age catches up with him, and the youth and size of Shadow take over and finish him off with an impressive looking frog splash. It was fun for what it was.

Gedo and Takemura may not be too hot in the ring, but man, were they over as heels. When Tiger Mask is getting worked over, they’re all about brutalizing him, and trying to take the mask off and humiliate him. Its one of those instances where you can recognize that its not really good or anything, but still be able to appreciate it, for what it is. And then Minoru Tanaka ruins it for you. Heat totally kills the energy the heels had going for them, by dismantling the both of them, and exposing them as being nothing but hype and hate. The low blow, followed by the small package by Takemura fails to get any sort of response. Mostly because Tanaka just showed everyone that these two aren’t credible in the least. Seeing as Heat was on his way to taking the IWGP Jr. Title from their buddy Jado. It’s a bit surprising he didn’t go ahead and finish them off himself. Unless the idea is that either (a. Jado is the dangerous member (which is a hoot) or (b. This trio is so contemptible that Heat doesn’t even need to beat them and may as well give Tiger Mask a bit of rub.

This was actually pretty solid before the wackiness at the end kicked in. Yano played face in peril, with Wolf and Yoshie saving him, and dishing out some punishment of their own. The early stages had the Makai Club tearing his arm apart, but once its out sight, its also out of mind. Oddly enough, Makai I was the main person heaping the pain on Yano. Despite that with their RINGS experience, Nagai and Yanagisawa could have been laying in the stiffness and the submissions, which probably would have put more sympathy on him. Yoshie and Wolf are pretty much reduced to supporting roles. Giving Yano the win was fine, but at least build up to it. He took the pain and with Yoshie and Wolf stuck on the floor with Nagai and Makai I, he can make the comeback and pick up the win. Logical enough, but they seem to forget where he builds himself up momentum to get to the climax. The spear was a nice enough way to *start* the comeback, but it shouldn’t have been the whole comeback, and lead up to the finish. At least the rookies had the excuse that they’re rookies. But these guys should know better.

This could have been something special if it wasn’t so rushed. There are several mini stories that could have been used, but were never given the time to properly tell and finish, because they were only given eight minutes to do their thing. Suzuki is his normal cocky self, and Iizuka is business as usual. There is some hint of Iizuka getting fired up for the first time in ages, when he’s pelting Suzuki in the corner with forearms and all Suzuki does is grin. Leading Iizuka to only get angry and shoot them off even harder. One nice thing about this pairing is that Suzuki is in there with someone who can actually trade holds with him, and go on the ground, instead of his usually clueless opponents. This gives some fun stuff on the mat, with Suzuki hooking in his choke, and Iizuka knowing all the ways to get out of it. Which is one thing that this match could have benefitted with given more time. Watching Suzuki get serious finally, and go after Iizuka. One reason Suzuki is such a cocky bastard is because he pretty much owns all his opponents when it comes to the mat game. Unfortunately they have to hurry up and go home because time is running low, and Suzuki does finally cinch in his choke for the tap out. The ending sequence leaves a good taste in your mouth, but more time could have done a world of wonder for the match.

There are worse ways to kick off Makabe’s jump start to a solo career. The main problem is that for a guy who seems to think he’s ready to break out and be his own man, instead of simply Takayama’s #2, he doesn’t wrestle like it. Lyger has unlimited credibility. The man can job or get squashed by virtually anybody and he won’t lose a single thing. But Lyger spends a good portion of the match, controlling Makabe. Takayama is regulated to a supporting role at best, only coming in so he can do a few of his trademark moves and break up a pin or submission.

Much like the six man, the idea of using a comeback to start up a climax seems to be lost. Makabe is able to survive three of Lyger’s big finishers in the shotei, the Lygerbomb, and the brain buster. Then he ducks another shotei and hits his spear. That’s a fine way to begin his offense en route to winning. But instead of building it up with his own offense, or even having Takayama soften up Lyger with a knee kick or a suplex. Makabe just goes for the win with a German suplex. Wrestling does happen to be worked, and a win doesn’t really mean anything, if it wasn’t particularly good or memorable. It seems like someone needs to sit down with Makabe and let him know.

The beginning of the match establishes that Norton and Nakanishi are the hard hitting power men, while they’re respective partners are the technicians. Both pairings go to a stalemate when they’re pitted against each other. Beyond that, this never goes anywhere useful. Despite Nakanishi supposedly being the power man, Nagata is able to overpower Norton quite easily and lift him into a suplex. Conversely, Nakanishi is able to keep up with Barnett when he’s trying to take him to the mat. There is a hint of smart work from Barnett. He knows he can always get Nagata in trouble in the front neck lock. That’s always been Nagata’s Achilles heel, Tadao Yasuda exploited that en route to the IWGP Title. So Barnett goes to it, whenever he gets the opportunity.

Barnett and Nagata are both able to hold their own on the mat, but both of them would rather just play the Nakanishi and Norton game of hit hard. Only replace the chops for forearms and kicks. And then lay in a submission for a minute or so to get your wind back. Its pretty eye candy for the first little while, but then it gets so dull and old that you’re ready to scream at them to do something with a little bit of meaning. Even something simple like kick the knee and hook a leg bar. The ending at least had a bit of logic to it. Using a German suplex would use Norton’s size and weight against him, and also the jump kick/lariat he took could conceivably have knocked him silly. But the fact that its being mentioned as one of the few instances of logical and smart parts of this match, should tell exactly how this match is.

This is actually a very important hurdle for Tanahashi to clear, because he’s not the underdog this time around. Most of his big matches involve him being the underdog due to either size, or youth, and right now he’s got Marufuji beat in both of them. This gives Marufuji a bit of edge though, because he can wrestle the same way he always has. Tanahashi targets Marufuji’s back, using his simple array of moves, but with his size advantage he’s really throwing him around the ring. Marufuji’s body control kicks in here as well, because even a simple back body drop has him getting serious height and hang time. It’s a shame the back work never went anywhere though. It would have explained any problem Marufuji would have had using the Shiranui, instead of simply Tanahashi using his strength advantage.

Marufuji gets his advantages due to his speed, and the fact that he’s not having to change his style at all. Tanahashi may be the bigger guy, but he’s not that big a guy. So Marufuji more or less dive bombs right onto him. Marufuji side steps a charge, gets a surprise roll up and before Tanahashi knows what hit him, Marufuji is airborne with a dropkick to the face. One concept that Marufuji does thankfully understand, is building to a climax. When the dropkicks to the face get him the advantage, he doesn’t go for the kill. He starts small with the dropkick off the top, and then does the coast to coast, and then attempts the superkick to Shiranui. Making it count, and in the process, Tanahashi looks better for surviving it. Tanahashi does get some payback for the air raid attacks, when he does a little dive bombing of his own. Because it worked so well because Tanahashi wasn’t that much bigger, it’ll also be conceivable for Tanahashi to do it as well.

Its not a shock that this is the best match of the night, but its not flawless by any means. The aforementioned back work getting forgotten about, and Marufuji could have sold it better. The Shiranui block and counter spot is also really hard on the eyes. The Dragon sleeper could have been easily used to set up a final comeback tease for Marufuji. Marufuji is bent backwards with one arm around Tanahashi’s neck. It could have easily been the opportunity for a surprise attempt at the Shiranui. The ending lacks the logic and forethought that Marufuji showed in his control segment. After the ugly Shiranui counter, Tanahashi goes right for the Dragon suplex. Giving the challenger a few kick outs wouldn’t have taken anything away from the eventual win, and in fact it would have only served to make Tanahashi’s win be that much more hard fought and earned.

This would have been a perfectly fine match, had it not been for the most prestigious title in puroresu. The David vs Goliath concept isn’t particularly ground breaking. Anyone who’s been watching wrestling for any given length of time has seen it. Where the bigger buy beats the tar out of the smaller guy. Then he gets cocky and it bites him in the ass. Tenzan decides to make an example out of Nakamura to show that he’s the top dog. Tenzan lays a good sized beating on him too. Nakamura’s attempt at the triangle choke is a nice touch, but Tenzan’s escape is rather humorous, just pretty much throwing him off.

Nakamura does a great sell job here. He’s got a look of death on his face, and he looks semi conscious most of the time. Tenzan’s cockiness gets the better of him though, and instead of finishing him off, he wants to dish out more pain, and gets caught in an armbar, and has no choice, but to give it up. Had this been non title, New Japan could have used it to build to an eventual title match, which Tenzan would have been forced to take very seriously. Then use Tenzan’s win, to show that he understands what being the man is all about. Or use it show that Nakamura’s win here wasn’t a stroke of luck, thanks to Tenzan being cocky. Nakamura is light years away from being IWGP worthy, even in an era of diminished quality workers. Once you get past the initial novelty of his submissions, he’s got nothing else to offer. The theme of this whole show seemed to be disappointing, and the main event is just the icing on the cake. Title belts are props, every smart wrestling fan knows that. But that doesn’t mean the promotions needs to treat them as such, or that we as fans, want to see them treated as such.

Conclusion: Nothing needs to be seen here. Marufuji vs Tanahashi is the only really positive aspect, and even that’s not good enough on its own. Take a pass.


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Mike Campbell

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