Introduction - I know I swore off Inoki-ism when I reviewed that mid 90s Tokyo Dome Show, but I couldn't pass up a show main evented by Chono vs Misawa. Then, looking at the rest of the card I realized, to my masochistic glee that the rest of the card is fucking dark sided. Random MMA fights? Chyna is a referee? LET'S FUCKIN' GO!
Opening video package and intro - Each match has its own subtitle but it's not translated to English, and the title matches just show which title is on the line. Some of the feud we're introduced to include:
-Chono having an emotional moment with Inoki, which gets its own accompanying sad music. Don Frye and Tadao Yasuda feuding because the latter showed up an hour late to a workout.
- Former NOAH top star Yoshihiro Takayama jumping the guardrail and swerving the crowd by beating up Yuji Nagata instead of shaking his hand, and then we get "The Score" by Emerson Lake and Powell, which I'll always maintain is New Japan's best intro song.
Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Kintaro Kanemura - 2.5/10
Kanemura is a fat deathmatch lad who has a table with him. He also does does bad J-Pop background dancer moves with his corner man to the tune of an Engrish cover of "Come out and Pllay" by the Offspring Sekimoto is a young boy
Kanemura can move surprisingly well for a big dude, doing fat guy huricanranas. Kanemura is also nice enough to give the youngboy a powerslam on the ramp to counter a "running down the ramp" spot that every No-DQ match in the Tokyo Dome had at this time Sekimoto takes a body splash through the table and after beating the 20 count, gets piece of the table to the ass for his trouble. Poor dude's just having a bad day. The young boy appears to be waiting patiently for a hip attack in the ropes to happen. Youngboy hulks up after an unprotected table piece shot, and gets a big ole lariat. Youngboy no-sells a low blow and hits a bunch of Germans. Kickout at 2 of a pinning powerbomb, but a big top rope senton nets the win for Kanemura.
This match had flourishes of promise. The youngboy has promise but he has a lot to learn at this pont, and Kanemura seems talented, but the unnecessary deathmatch spot makes this an opener that I would deem unacceptable.
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Wataru Inoue - 5/10
A young Shibata appears! Despite having debuted at the same time as Inoue, Shibata stiill has a young boy entrance, whereas Inoue has colored his hair and changed up his entrance.
We get some amateur style wrestling around and a standoff to start. Shibata gets a powerbomb out of an amateur necklift. Even here Shibata gets to demo the stiff strikes that would make him famous, which Inoue can barely answer against. Inoue fires back with an elbow and gets a Boston Crab, whichh he turns into a half-crab. A hip toss spot ends in both guys going over the top rope. Shibata gets the advantage when they re-enter with moves, and a rest hold. Inoue fights back and locks in a Figure Four. They try to do the "strikes in the figure four" spot but Shibata scrambles for the ropes midway through the spot. Inoue goes back to the crab which Shibata crawls to the ropes to break. Inoue gets a huge sidewalk slam and an armbar, which Shibata tries to block, but has to crawl to the ropes to break. Elbows and a spinning wheel kick by Shibata for a two. Now it's Inoue's turn to crawl for the rope. Shibata wins with a sleeper hold soon after.
It's amazing when you find an early match of a guy you really like, and you see flashes of the reasons why you like them. That aside, this was a competent match that was the slightest bit clunky.
Black Tiger & El Samurai vs. Shodai Tiger Mask & Tiger Mask IV - 3/10
Black Tiger is played by WCW's Silver King here. This isn't Tiger Mask IV's first appearance in New Japan, but he's still seven months away from being signed.
IV gets to show off with BT, and then Samurai/Shodai tag in. Shodai looks to be in good shape despite being a middle aged man at this pont. Samurai bumps around for Shodai, and Shodai gets to show off some his signature moves. The heels work over IV once he tags in. IV fucks up a kip up which, after the sequence ended, causes BT to do multiple kip ups for heat. IV gets to show off a lot of running kicks, and then tags in his teacher. Tiger Mask demos more of the greatest hits on El Samurai, including landing on his feet from a moonsault. Death Drop DDT off the turnbuckle and a subsequent pin gets broken up by IV. The heels worker over Shodai, who makes his own comeback long enough to tag in IV, who then comes back futher on the heels. IV back body drops Shodai into a big dropkick which was a cool spot, then does the Tiger Feint Flip himself. Diving Headbutt by Shodai gets a broken up two count. Samurai gets a Triangle Diving Crossbody on Shodai. Shodai gets worked over again but comes back. Shodai botches a Top Rope Frankensteiner which about necks BT. Strong style strike exchange which ends in a standing spinning wheel kick which barely connects, and because there's no momentum to it Shodai can barely sell it. IV tags in and forgets who he legal man is. The Tigers tag and trade flipping sentons. Shodai fires up on Samurai, but then BT tags in and makes his own comeback. IV does the fake out suicide dive onto BT, while Shodai reverses the DD DDT into a Tiger Suplex for the three.
This was a weird match. On one hand Shodai looked as good as ever, but on the other the match was very sloppy. The psychology was a mess, but at least we ended on the brightest possible moments, and for the most part the match was good.
Kaoru Ito & Momoe Nakanishi vs. Manami Toyota & Yumiko Hotta - 7.75/10
At present, Toyota is the WWWA World Single Champion, which is the top title in AJW, and is teaming with the lady she beat for it in Hotta. On the other side is the woman that would beat Toyota in July of 2002, (Ito), teaming with the woman would proceed her (Nakanishi)
At first, the heels , Ito and Nakanishi are able to take advantage of some early tag team miscues by the babyfaces, but the heels make mistakes in their own moves which allows the faces to capitalize. This of course leads to Nakanishi getting the shit kicked out her by Hotta. Toyota hits such a disgusting running dropkick into the ropes that they replay it. I like how Nakanishi moves while pinned to indicate she's struggling against it and failing. The heels take control with high flying but Toyota counters with her own high flying. The heels take control via attacking Toyota after a victory roll. Toyota overshoots a sunset flip, but is so fluid you'd be forgiven for thinking she meant to do it. Ito takes control, and her contribution to the universe seems to be chokeslams, because she does several, getting a two count on Toyota. The heels double team her some more, but she tags in Hotta. Hotta gets double teamed by the heels, and Nakanishi gets to show off her loud, obnoxious character before Hotta fights back. Ito gets to do some big lady moves before she's kicked by Vale Tudo bad-ass Hotta. Ito fights out of a Tiger Driver, and Hotta manages to avoid the following top rope splash despite being held in place. This allows Toyota to hit a Missile Dropkick. Toyota hold Nakanishi in place so she can't break up the pin Hotta has on Ito, but she breaks free and runs like a bat out of hell to break up the pin, which I liked. Ito breaks out of Toyota's octopus stretch with what looks like a shoot takedown which I marked out for. ROLLING CRADLE FOR A TWO. Ito tries to hit a powerbomb off of a missed moonsault but she collapses so they just do a running version of the catch powerbomb spot for a 2 1/2. Big German Suplex for a two. Heel miscue begets a Missile Dropkick on the outside. We miss a Hotta slam of some sort because the camera crew insists on going wide and they're righ behind one of the trusts. Moonsault off that slam by Toyota gets a 2 1/2. Faces hit a wacky Samoan Drop/top rope cutter move that Nakanishi bridges out of a 2 1/2. Ocean Cyclone Suplex gets broken up with an Ito Leg Drop. Heel victory roll gets broken up by Hotta. Missile dropkick powerbomb combo gets 2 1/2. Nakanishi gets straight punched and Brainbustered but Ito breaks it up! Ocean Cyclone Suplex gets broken up! Another Ocean Cyclone gets countered into a Rollup which was so fucked up it it looked like it spiked Toyota for the three! Nakanishi might have tweaked a knee on the finish, as it takes her a long time to stand up, and when she does she's assisted by Ito. I have no doubt this was used to set up the subsequent Nakanishi/Toyota title match.
This is one of the best matches all night. However there are a few things keeping it out of the '8' range. Firstly Hotta was barely involved, and I wonder if she was working hurt. Also, the finish of taking a finisher and then countering the same move with a rollup hurt the match for me. But that said, you can see why Joshi is as popular as it is, and it makes me excited to eventually review Big Egg Wrestling Universe.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
TEAM2000 (Gedo & Jado) (c) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Minoru Tanaka (w/ two unnamed Liger disciples) - 7.5/10
A bunch of guys, who I can only think are NOAH guys, come out to sit ringside Tanaka is the IWGP Jr Hvy Champion at this point. Liger is also accompanied by two similarly dressed guys.
The babyfaces dominate early until Gedo counters of a Liger armbar with a wacky leg crossing hold., which Gedo transitions into an arm hold, into a pin attempt. Gedo yanks Jushin up The trade "spinning out of knuckle locks spots but Liger takes control when Gedo can't counter out. Minoru tags in and gets control, but a cocky pin gets turned into an ankle lock, and the heels take over. The babyfaces take over, but Liger blatantly cheats throwing Jado's injured shoulder into the corner post. Research indicates that Jushin and Gedo were feuding and it shows. As I've said on previous reviews, Liger communicates anger and hatred better than most wrestlers. Liger works the shoulder as does Minoru when he tags in. Liger misses a dropkick and Gedo now uses the timekeeper's hammer, and the bell itself to work over Liger's leg. The heels pound Liger's leg into powder. Liger fights back and tries for a superplex which Gedo blocks at first but Minoru breaks up allowing him to hit it. Minoru tags in, gets off some flippy shit and dropkicks, as well as his floating kneebar, but then it breaks down into a four way, which leads to Jado having the opportunity to lock the crossface on Minoru, but Liger breaks it up. The legal men trade two counts. Liger/Gedo tag in, Liger gets a trio of 2 1/2 counts off of his signature moves, we get a babyface miscue false finish which leads to more double team false finishes for the heels A parade of big moves leads to a double down. Liger kicks out of the Gedo Clutch! Gedo gets double teamed but Jado breaks it up a 2 1/2. Liger hits a brainbuster for the win!
While this was certainly the closest we've gotten to a blood feud tonight, Liger's leg was never really addressed, and the guys really spent their finishers to where the pinfall didn't occur on the most impactful move.
Post-Match - Liger screams at the guys sitting ringside and a big brawl happens. Once they're taken away, they do the big title presentation I have no doubt the brawl lead to Tsuyoshhi Kikuchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru beating them for the titles a month later.
Inoki and Chono make their entrances for...
Tag Team Match (Special Referee: Kotetsu Yamamoto)
OH-Gun (Naoya Ogawa & Shinya Hashimoto) vs. TEAM2000 (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Scott Norton) - 4/10
Apparently ALSO invading tonight is Hashimoto's Zero 1 which is represented by owner Hashimoto and Ogawa.
Now THIS is a blood feud. Team2000 jumps OH-Gun at the bell, and Tenzan lays into Ogawa in the corner. Ogawa fires up with kicks when Katesu breaks it up, eventually stomping Tenzan into a prone position. We reset to tag in Hashimoto and Norton which results in two men made entirely of blubber trading chops, punches and slams. It's at this point I realized Yamamoto is doing a very nontheatrical count, which no doubt will hurt the drama of later nearfalls. We get an Ogawa, Norton exchange in which Norton has to immediately back him into his corner and have Tenzan cheat for him because Ogawa would expose the shit out of Norton if they had to do anything above a basic exchange. Hashimoto and Tenzan get their time together, and they're immediately doing strong style strike exchanges. Tenzan gets the better and then Hashimoto hits a backfist which Tenzan sells like he got shot, and Hashimoto is reminding me of the big fat schlubs that populated early MMA who got one lucky knockout and people thought they were the greatest fighters alive. Now Tenzan is back to no selling. Now Hashimoto is no selling. Hashimoto hits a sweep kick, and after going down Tenzan continues to no sell. It takes Hashimoto's scary DDT to keep Tenzan down. Ogawa tags in to hit an STO/Sweep combo, and now Ogawa is working over Tenzan. but Tenzan counters back with a punch to the balls, Mongolian Chop, and Northern Lights Bomb for a two. Norton and Hashimoto tag in, and Shinya goes for Scott's previously worked arm. The one gaijin in the match is made to look like a complete weiner by doing the strong-style no sell and then selling, audibly crying out when kicked. Shinya works the arm. Now it's Nogawa's turn to go full shooter and work Scott's arm. Scott fires back with the weakest punches and lariat in history, but the latter can at least be excused for selling. Cross arm breaker gets broken up by a Diving Headbutt by Tenzan which appears to have grazed poor old Katesu as he's kinda selling. Hashimoto tags in to make further mince meat of Norton until he arbitrarily decides to stop selling, powering his big fat ass all the way over for a powerslam, not falling with him at all. Norton hits increasingly slower running lariats for a 2 1/2 count. This turns into a four way, by which I mean the fatties fall down so that Nogawa and Tenzan can actually bump for each other. The Zero-One team hits a German Suplex/STO pin for the tamest three count in history.
This match was a 12 minute affair that could've gone half. The part where Norton was being worked over was the highlight, but there was a lot of early puro no selling at times where it made no sense to do that. Hashimoto did almost nothing, and quite frankly, Scott Norton got emasculated on live television.
Post-match - Nogawa and Tenzan have a heated exchange. Backstage Tenzan gets interviewed and Norton shoves right past him. Ouch.
OH-Gun press conference - Hashimoto cuts a subdued promo for having just beaten Inoki and Chono's hand picked team in the Tokyo dome. Nogawa gets more speaking time, presumably to address he and Tenzan. He sounds subdued but also heelishly confident. Hashimoto gets some mic time again and addresses Inoki, to which Nogawa butts in, and Hashimoto says more. They have to put the camera on Nogawa while Hashimoto audibly gargles and spits water, which struck me as funny.
Highlights of the match we just saw to "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi - Jarring
We get the usual DVD adverts and pimping of the next several New Japan shows, then a replay of the opening video package for some reason, which then leads to...
Manabu Nakanishi vs Bas Rutten (w/ Don Frye) - 6.75/10
Manabu jumps Bas at the bell, backing nearly hoisting him on the top rope as he peppers him with forearms. Bas responds by knocking Manabu down with one punch. F*cking Jesus. You can tell Manabu put some time in at the gym but he's no match for Bas until Manabu gets a slam and a Thesz press in. Manabu has Bas up for a Torture Rack, which prompts Bas to lock in a neck hold that he absolutely refuses to let go of, despite being slammed and evening f*cking shoot backdropped. Torture Rack backdrop finally releases the choke. They exchange standing strikes and get their opportunity to sell being out on their feet. At one point we get a kip up/leapfrog from Bas. Manabu tries to power out of the subsequent triangle but has to tap. Bas handstands to his feet after because his a machine
In my (very limited) experience with worked shoot fighting, this is the best I've seen. Nobody was transparently limiting what they could do as to not emasculate the other, and everything looked fluid.
Post-match - Don, Bas, and another guy give Tadao Yatsuda 20 seconds to come out and take turns counting him down, which leads to.
Tadao Yatsuda vs Don Frye (w/Bas Rutten) - DUD
Tadao jumps Don and kicks him out of the ring, he gets a slam and a two count, to which Don, presumably because he's got a Ramen order coming in 20 minutes, takes down Todao, locks in a figure four leg lock, and submits Todao. I'm glad a part timer (this was a one off appearance for Frye) making someone who's with the promotion for the long haul, look like a goober isn't anything new.
Tag Team Match (Special Referee: Joanie Laurer)
The Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner) vs. King of Hills (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kensuke Sasaki ) - 8.25/10
Chyna does Triple H's water spit muscle pose on the ramp. She's also reffing this match in her gear which looks so bush league it's embarrassing
The Steiners jump KoHs at the bell which lead to them being thrown out of the ring so The Steiners can do their pose. Kensuke and Rick start out, and it's immediate big suplexes and lariats with teases at signature spots. Tana tags in and gets the shit kicked out of him, Tana gets leapfrogged on a whip and, in a spot that I can't tell was planned or not, bumps into Chyna and falls down. Chyna muscle poses, and Rick asks "What are you doing?" Scott tags in and beats the shit out of Tana. Chyna interferes when Tana blocks a top rope suplex, and demands Scott come down. She forces him off, which allows Tana to get a missile dropkick. Rick starts talking shit to Chyna, and now KoHs clears the ring and mockingly does a variation on the Steiner pose. Scott asks Tana for a test of strength, which, of all people, why would you accept against him? Scott obviously wins and mouths off as only he can. Tana fires up but gets kicked back down. Tana gets a comeback but Scott takes control again and cheats. Steiner does his push-up elbow and mouths off to Chyna. Scott does a Belly to Belly but Tana kicks out at two. Rick tags in and tries some stuff with the same result. We get an Oklahoma Stampede spot which popped me. The brothers take turns bullying poor Tana. Rick takes Tana to Suplex City but Tana fights out after a third. Kensuke and Rick go strong style for a while until Kensuke starts aping Steiner offense including a Doomsday Steinerline. The Steiners fire back, with Scott hitting some top turnbuckle moves with Kensuke breaking them up every time. The top rope bulldog gets teased, but Kensuke interferes in a cool spot in which Tana counters into a hurricanrana just as Kensuke leaps up to meet Rick. They hit the bulldog and block Kensuke again so Scott can hoist up Tana for a suplex, then put him up in the tombstone position for as close as you can get to a Steiner Screwdriver without killing someone for the three.
I went in wanting to hate this match, but The Steiners played all the greatest hits, AND Tanahashi played the roll of a tough, if not lucky kohai with his senpai in his corner PERFECTLY. An established tag team like the Steiners having to cycle through literally all their offense, with Scott having to bust out the Screwdriver, cements Tana as a tough ass dude. This was awesome.
Post-match - Weird, and then just bad. Chyna press slams Red Shoes into the arms of Scott who f*cking EJECTS him from the ring. I can't call it "bad" because you can't have Chyna on your show and not have her body slam a dude, and it might as well be a ref if you're going to do it. She then gets on the mic and bitches about being disrespected, which adds heelish context to her chest bump with Tana. She challenges the Steiners who laugh her off. Six young boys get in the ring and then just leave, ending the segment. This leads to like two other matches, but did a piss poor job of it.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Yoshihiro Takayama vs Yuji Nagata - 10/10
Now THIS is how you want to do an inter-promotional title match, actually choose a guy who had been a top guy in pro wrestling as early as last year AND make him a threat to the champion. Takayama's entrance theme is "Sympathy for the Devil" by Rolling Stones which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time.
The guys start by basically having a worked shootfight, but it looks HEATED. When we reset, Takayama locks on to Yuji who manages to suplex a guy a whole head taller them him. Takayama gets a big boot and we reset with Yuji looking pissed the entire time. Takayama kicks out of a backdrop at one and goes right for a headlock which was fucking awesome. Takayama gets a big German kicked out of at one and then drops Yuji with a big kick. Yuji sells this by collapsing during an Irish whip. Yuji gets his ass kicked for several minutes until he can turn a big German and counter it into an ankle lock. Nagata, naturally, tries to work the leg until he gets a big Kitchen Sink knee from Takayama which Nagata takes an impressive flip bump from. Nagata blocks several arm submissions to which Takayama responds by just abusing the poor man with kicks. Big kicks, big suplexes, and rest holds aren't enough to keep Yuji down. Yuji is so beaten down that a soft push with his foot into the buckle causes Yuji to flop down. A sweep kick and a big kick to the head by Yuji causes a double down. Nagta locks in the Nagata lock which big man Takayama has to fight to get to the ropes for. They trade big suplexes on one another for two and a half counts. What follows next is one of the most heated strong style strike exchanges I've ever seen followed by a double down. This leads to yet another strong style strike exchange. Nagata starts no selling and dodging Takayama's kicks, which were his lynch pin earlier. Nagata gets the pin, falling the big man with an enzugiri of all things.
This reminded me a lot more of a penultimate fight scene from something like Rocky than a pro wrestling match, with the underdog falling his much bigger, much more ruthless opponent, and a lot of that is due to the men's selling and nack for telling a story in a puro match.
Post-match - We get the normal presentation of the belt and trophy. Don Frye comes in to start shit, but a big burly dude takes his shirt off slams Nagata and leaves. Now they tease a pull apart between Frye and Nagata, but Nagata leaves.
Yuji Nagata interview - Seems typically babyface.
We get more DVD adverts, and then we throw to
Masahiro Chono vs Mitsuharu Misawa - 6.75/10
This is the Misawa intro with "F*ck y'all *n*ggas wanna do?" in it which automatically makes it my favorite theme. Even funnier as how Misawa's brow furrows when he hears it.
Chono gets a Yakuza kick early and mouths off to Misawa which allows him to hit an elbow. What follows is a lot of rest holds and strikes with plenty of resets. Misawa suicide dives out which allows Chono to take control. Meanwhile the Team 2000 guys take the turnbuckle pads off and have a standoff with some NOAH guys. Chono takes Misawa to the ramp but he fires back. Strong style strike exchange which Misawa gets the better of because he is Misawa. Chono works the leg now. A figure four leg lock gets a rope break. Misawa gets to momentum but Chono fires back. The guys then trade signature moves until we get a time limit draw.
I honestly wish there was more to say about it. Clearly nobody wanted to do anything outside the box except cycle through their old spots, even if it did pick up in the drama department towards the end.
I'd recommend the IWGP title match, the Steiners/ KoHs match, the AJW tag match, and the Junior Tag Championship match. Stay away from the rest