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Puroresu Love: NJPW Ultimate Crush – 5/2/03

December 30, 2009 | Posted by Mike Campbell
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Puroresu Love: NJPW Ultimate Crush – 5/2/03  

May 2, 2003

New Japan returns to the Tokyo Dome for a night of pro wrestling and also some MMA. Ken Shamrock returns to pro wrestling, and Manabu Nakanishi makes his MMA debut! Chono challenges Kobashi and Takayama and Nagata unify the IWGP and NWF Titles!

Hiroyoshi Tenzan . . . puts spunky Hiroshi Tanahashi in his place.
Enson Inoue . . . makes Kazunari Murakami bleed buckets, and I love it!
Kenta Kobashi . . . has one of his best big match performances of the year with Masahiro Chono.

HIROYOSHI TENZAN vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI (#1 Contender’s Match for the IWGP Heavyweight Title)
Remember the days when it was expected for Tenzan to go over Tanahashi? This doesn’t set the world on fire or anything, but it’s an adequate opener, although the crowd heat is such that you can hear a pin drop in the Dome. At first Tanahashi tries to match up with Tenzan in the striking department by trading chops, and it goes nowhere. Tanahashi then finds some smarter ways to get in offense, such as playing possum so that Tenzan climbs the corner for the moonsault, allowing Tanahashi to powerbomb him off. When he’s not able to do his German suplex, Tanahashi stuns Tenzan with his jumping head kick and then does the suplex. But it’s clear that Tanahashi doesn’t have the offense in him to put away Tenzan, and when Tenzan is able to withstand the German suplex and the Dragon sleeper, all Tanahashi has left to fall back on are flash cradles. Tenzan adds a couple of his own nice touches, such as when he modifies the Buffalo Sleeper to focus more on Tanahashi’s arm, and Tenzan countering Tanahashi’s flying body press into the TTD was the perfect way to put away the spunky up and comer.

I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that this abomination actually happened, or that, after this wretched performance, Shamrock was actually invited back to NJPW and had an even worse match with Josh Barnett the following year. This is fine when Ken is willing to do nothing and Iizuka do his stuff like the Blizzard suplex and grounded sleeper, but Ken isn’t willing to that too often. Ken tries to work a lot of the match like an actual MMA match, which isn’t very exciting to watch, it’s great for inside the Octagon, but it doesn’t do anyone any favors here, and, Shamrock should know better since he’s got experience in a pro setting. Shamrock tries over and over to do an MMA style ankle lock, which always ends with Iizuka following the momentum and getting to his feet. Finally, after what seems like forever, Shamrock gets the armbar takedown and segues into a pro style ankle lock and Iizuka taps out. Why Shamrock was even brought in is beyond me, NJPW could have run an Iizuka/Nagai grudge match. It couldn’t have been any worse and it at least had some backstory to it.

As nice as it was to hear the usually dead, for junior matches, Tokyo Dome crowd making some noise, this is mostly forgettable. Most of the good stuff comes from Lyger and Kanemoto alternating between craftiness and grumpiness. Lyger outsmarting Tiger Mask to save Koji from Tanaka’s ankle lock, Koji losing his mind and bombing Tanaka with punches, and, of course, Lyger’s brainbuster on the ramp to take Tiger Mask out of the match so that Koji can finish off Tanaka. Beyond those instances there isn’t much else of note. The only thing notable thing from Tiger Mask is a heel hook to Lyger, which is made by Lyger’s selling. Koji countering the Dragon screw to an ankle lock was nice, but the ankle lock itself is killed as far as being a credible finish with the way Tanaka and Kanemoto treat it. There’s zero as far as a real story or structure, they seem to just be doing whatever comes to mind without any regard for building the match or telling a story. It looked at one point like Lyger and Kanemoto were going to get to work over Tiger for a spell, but, just as it seemed to be starting to warm up, Tiger started blowing off Koji’s kicks and walked over and tag. It’d have been nice to see Tanaka either getting unmercifully decimated or trying to beat the odds and get the win after Tiger is taken out, but Koji just casually hooks his arms and finishes him with the Tiger suplex without any thought.

After three whole wrestling matches, we take a break to placate Antonio Inoki and his ideology of pro wrestling being a legit sport, by having five MMA fights. They won’t be covered here, but if you really want to know about them here’s the review on 411 MMA.

Why couldn’t Iizuka and Shamrock do something more like this? They don’t bother with trying to make the match look UFC legit, they just potato the ever-loving tar out of one another, and for that, I thank them. Murakami bleeds all over the place, and Enson keeps pushing the ref out of the way so he can keep on pounding him. Murakami actually makes a bit of a comeback and locks Enson in a Triangle choke and then a juji-gatame, and, of course, won’t break when Enson gets the ropes. The ref breaks them up, and Enson keeps on punching and Murakami keeps on bleeding and the fight is finally stopped. There’s much fun to be had watching this, especially after the lack of real intensity and hate, but this isn’t good in any way, it’s just rather hateful and brutal.

This very well may be the best Kobashi singles match of 2003, although that doesn’t really say too much, considering the mediocre efforts of Kobashi/Misawa and Kobashi/Nagata. Although it’s not strictly the main event, this has the atmosphere and big match feel that a Dome main event ought to have. There are tons of moments peppered throughout the match to give that larger than life vibe. They have the ‘butting heads like two bulls’ standoff to start, and there are big spots like Chono’s dive to the floor and Kobashi’s attempted powerbomb on the floor that Chono turns into a hurricanrana. There are several cutaways by the camera to show the NJPW and NOAH wrestlers just staring intently at the action. There’s a powerful moment toward the end when Kobashi is killing Chono with half-nelson suplexes causing Tenzan to intervene and try to put a stop to the onslaught, and he even seemed to be considering throwing in the towel.

There’s more than just atmosphere to this though, Kobashi’s work is almost unusually smart. Kobashi favors the lariat and Chono has a long history of neck problems, so it’s obvious how this is going to play out, but Kobashi isn’t at all lazy about it. Early on (after their mandatory chop battle that never accomplishes anything) Kobashi grabs a headlock on Chono and refuses to let go. Chono is unable to shoot Kobashi off, and Kobashi eventually takes Chono to the ground with it. They spend about five minutes working the headlock, but not once does it get boring nor is Kobashi lazy about working the actual hold, it’s quite similar to Tenzan’s Anaconda Vice. Later on, Chono has some success with his Yakuza kicks, but he manages to swoop in and hit a Giant Baba jumping neckbreaker drop to regain control. Kobashi utterly kills Chono with repeated half-nelson suplexes leading to the aforementioned Tenzan intervention. Kobashi’s first lariat doesn’t connect too well, so Kobashi picks up Chono and finishes him off with a proper lariat. Kobashi is also willing to make Chono look good, his selling of Chono’s Yakuza kicks is great, and, considering how NOAH treats submission holds, it’s refreshing to see Kobashi look in such genuine peril from the STF and then the Butterfly Lock.

As good a performance as this is, it’s still not great, because Kobashi and Chono get a bit too cute at times and drag things down. The most glaring moment is something that started off well enough. Kobashi hooks up Chono for what would have been the first half-nelson suplex, but Chono quickly reverses and hits a backdrop suplex. That’s fine by itself, but Kobashi does the same, tired, ‘Fighting Spirit’ act to no sell it. Chono does a second one, this time dropping Kobashi flat on his head, and Kobashi is still the first one up. It’s three more backdrops from Chono to keep him down. Chono is no prince himself, he’s on his feet before you know it after the first half-nelson suplex, and he’d already had his neck worked over. As nice as it was to see Kobashi respecting the STF and Butterfly Lock, it wasn’t a long term thing, because as soon as he was out of the Butterfly Lock Kobashi was on his feet and throwing chops. Thankfully, their silliness is somewhat spread out, so they don’t have a huge effect on the match quality, but it’s too bad that Chono and Kobashi couldn’t go all the way and put on a great match to go along with the great atmosphere. ***1/2

YUJI NAGATA © vs. YOSHIHIRO TAKAYAMA © (IWGP and NWF Heavyweight Titles)
Hey, this actually isn’t too bad. Nagata and Takayama both get chances to look good, and do what they can to take advantage of them. At first Nagata looks to chop down the big tree that is Takayama, but he doesn’t have too much luck with that. Takayama tries to wear down Nagata with big moves, primarily his knee strikes, and Nagata is good at showing how much they’re taking the wind out of his sails, especially that short flurry of them that Takayama does in the corner. But, just when things start to look bleak for Takayama, Nagata grabs his arm and snaps it over his shoulder, and now it’s Nagata’s turn to have fun, and, like Nagata, Takayama is also good at showing how Nagata’s strategy is paying off. Nagata also, smartly, shows that he’s using the arm to try to get him other places, such as the second rope exploder, and there’s an especially nice moment when Nagata is trying for the Nagata Lock III and Takayama keeps fighting it off, so Nagata starts hitting the prone Takayama in the back of the head, but Takayama doesn’t relent and Nagata doesn’t get his hold. Then, just to come full circle, when things start looking a bit bleak for Takayama, Nagata charges into one of his big knee strikes, complete with a full flip from the bump, to save the day for Takayama.

Just like the Kobashi match, despite a pretty good performance from the most part, this isn’t without flaws by any stretch. Takayama is far too over reliant on the knee strike. Yes, it’s his primary weapon so it makes sense to use it when he can, but there’s no sense of variance to them. You know when Misawa is elbowing just to elbow and when he’s doing an elbow to try to finish the match. Takayama doesn’t bring that to the match, and by the time he hits the final big knee strikes and plants Nagata with Everest German suplex to unify the titles, the crowd is surprised because there was no real sign that they were building to a finish. There’s a couple of instances where they appear to be trying to do an ode to Takayama/Frye from PRIDE, where they exchange punches and slaps. It’s something that’s certainly fitting for this type of show, but, the crowd couldn’t care less and it didn’t have any purpose to the match. Between their storytelling and little things, like Takayama not using his left arm after it worked over until he absolutely had to, this is still a pretty good effort, but it’s quite a step down from what two guys in far worse physical shape were able to pull off in the semi main event. ***

The 411: The only big (huge is more like it) negative is the Shamrock debacle, which I’m sure we can thank Inoki for. But, between the two heavyweight title matches and the bloody grudge match, there’s enough good to go around.
Final Score:  7.8   [ Good ]  legend

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