Introduction - Over the past few months I've reviewed shows that I consider quintessential to my journey as a wrestling fan. So let's talk about the time I got into puroresu by complete accident!
The year was 2007, I was at the local Gamestop perusing the bargain bin of PS2 games, but one caught my eye. The game? Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. Banking on a wrestling game I'd never seen before, I bought it. What followed was a total information overload of puroresu history, an overload that I would spend 10 years slowly piecing together. No joke, the only people I recognized were the copyright free versions of D'Lo and Bull Buchanan, And as this is a joint NJPW/AJPW show from that period, I think this was the best show to put under the microscope to see, as always if it holds up.
-Welcom to Tokyo Dome! New Yer Funny Waltz-
Masanobu Fuchi, Ryusuke Taguchi and El Samurai vs Akira Raijin, Kikutaro and Nobutaka Araya - DUD
Just as a quick aside, HOORAY! ENGRISH MATCH NAMES! I DEMAND THIS AT WK14! Also it's super weird knowing that Kikutaro and Kawada are on the same card.
Ryusuke and Raijin start off with some tackle/drop down and elbow exchanges. Ryusuke looks like a starter Pokemon, not yet evolving into what he would become in current times. We get Kikutaro vs Fuchi. Kikutaro does his own rope break count on Fuchi's unclean break, and THE REF SLAPS HIM. EXCUSE ME. We get another ref interjection and by this point I'm just over this match Kiku just low blows the ref and I'm over it. Ryusuke's team wins
-Artistic Tag Team Battle
JADO and GEDO vs Tokyo Gurentai (Mazada and Nosawa Rongai) - 6.5/10
Jado and Gedo jump the babyfaces at the bell. Gedo stomps the shit out of Nozawa on the outside while the other two are in the ring. Mazada is built like a brick shithouse, so Jado does a great job getting over the size and strength disparity by bumping around like a boss. Some disgusting chops and a clothesline, and the other two guys tag in. Gedo moves really fast and it's genuinely impressive. the heels get some tag team moves in on Nosawa and then double team Mazada. The heels work Nozawa's eyes, and he screams like he's being murdered. There's finger biting and spitting, and the heels are really getting over as gnarly bastards. The hot tag comes when Nozawa dodges a Poetry in motion, superkicks Gedo, who's on all fours, and collapses. This was a cool spot. Mazada finally tags in. German Suplexes must be his best move as he hits about four of them in different situations. Mazada locks in a Crossface, and I like how they tease the tag team finish where the illegal partner of the guy applying he hold blocks his illegal opponent in a corner, but Gedo breaks out and breaks the hold. Gedo dropkicks the ropes to crotch Nosawa which was cool. Jadosomehow counters a tombstone into a BRUTAL looking spike tombstone, with the fluidity of hitting a Tornado DDT which looked scary as all hell. One of the babyfaces distracts the ref with a piece of wood that somehow broke off of the ring, allowing the other to hit a low blow. on Gedo. Meanwhile Jado eats a top rope powerbomb/Superfly Splash combo for the pin.
This was a tag match that went a bit too long, but had enough fun flourishes to be above average.
-Rockin' Your Hearts of Fucking Outlaws-
G.B.H. (Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) vs. RO&D (Buchanan, D'Lo Brown and Travis Tomko) - 7.25/10
Can somebody make sure "Rockin' Your Hearts of Fucking Outlaws" goes on my tombstone when I die? Also, HOORAY, serious, sake-swilling Yano! I'm over the moon already.
Tomko breaks a clothesline by breaking them apart with his hands, Red Rover style. Makabe and Tomko trade chops, and it occurs to me that Tomko is one of the underrated, terrifying big guys in wrestling. They grab the arm and tag Buchanan. He teases old school, but does an INCREDIBLE leaping lariat to an interfering Yano. Buchanan and D'Lo have the heat on Togi until we get the hot tag to both Ishii and Yano somehow, which leads to some terrifyingly stiff lariats on D'Lo for a two. Yano attacks D'Lo on the outside with a chair, but D'Lo fight back when they try for a double team move on the ramp, but Makabe ends up slamming him on the ramp anyway because fuck you and your shit D'Lo. D'Lo tries to fire back but ends up in the ring in the GBH corner. Yano and D'Lo brawl for a bit, and we get a GORGEOUS missed moonsault from D'Lo. GBH continue to beat the shit out of D'Lo. D'Lo makes the hot tag to Tomko who runs wild. Tyson tags D'Lo back in for the Sky High, which only gets a two. D'Lo makes his own comeback and tags in Buchanan. Buchanan runs wild, and teases the chokeslam's even cooler, bigger cousin, an off-the-top rope claw slam but sadly for the world at large it's broken up. Buchanan no-sells this for long enough to take a Powerbomb/Top rope clothesline combo from GBH which gets a two after D'Lo breaks it up. It's broken down into a six way now. We get a wacky, botched claw-STO for a two. Yano chucks a chair into Bull's back while Togi hits a lariat for the win.
This was just as wacky as the previous match, but it reminded me about everything I love about the gaijins.
Voodoo Murders (Giant Bernard, Ro'z, Suwama and Taru) vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Naofumi Yamamoto, Riki Choshu and Takashi Iizuka - 3/10
This breaks down into a brawl immediately, Suwarma and Manabu are on the ramp, while Choshu is working over Taru. Choshu and Taru are the legal men. Choshu hits a lariat and the crowd erupts into applause. The babyfaces proceed to kick the shit out of Taru until he gets a low blow on Yamamoto. Taru tags in Rosey. Yamamato tries to fire back with martial arts, and it looks like it's staggering the big guy, until it cuts him off. Bernard tags in. He looks and sounds like a killer. Now it's Suwarma's turn to kick poor Yamamoto's ass. The heels cheat to kick the defenseless man's ass. Taru terrorizes the commentary team and so we miss Yamamoto's (failed) comeback. Now the heels are choking him in their corner. We get a triple team scissor kick to the dick by the heels. Yamamoto FINALLY gets his big break and it's a botched slingblade. He tags Choshu, who cleans house, who tags in Manabu, who ALSO cleans house.. Torture Rack to TARU, and to Ro'Z, for about three seconds, but Manabu is a moose for being able to do that. Now Iizuka is in and sleepers TARU but Ro'Z breaks it up. Suarma and Iizuka have an exchange that makes me want to see a match between the two. Same with Yamamoto. Yamamato takes a scary looking Last Ride-esque Powerbomb which the faces break up. We get a Manabu/Bernard strike exchange which honestly makes me wish the match had just been this. Now Yamamoto is being beat up again, but he's hulking up. ...but then Suarma just hits a suplex for the win.
10 of this 17 minute match was a snuff film and Yamamoto was the star. I'm sure you can find better matches featuring everyone here with significantly more satisfying payoffs than this.
Kaz Hayashi, Koji Kanemoto, Taka Michinoku, Tiger Mask and Wataru Inoue vsC.T.U (Jyushin Thunder Liger, Milano Collection A.T. and Minoru) and Voodoo Murders ("brother" Yasshi and Shuji Kondo) - 2.5/10
Booker Riki Choshu has buried the Juniors so hard they don't get a cool match title or even a name key. We start with a cool comeback from Inoue to the two Voodoo Murders after they jump him. Crazy takedowns and power moves between him and Shuji, Lots of dives, and then the heels get the heat on Taka with Liger hitting a pop up low blow which might be the most needlessly theatrical move in wrestling. The heels quadruple team Taka, but Taka fires back with a strong style exchange with Yasshi. Eye pokes, and a double testicle claw. They do a "fall down into an accidental groin headbutt," spot, which is completely unnecessary. TAKA and Milano have some nice exchanges. Taka gets murdered with five running moves into the corner by all the heels. Kanemoto tags in and then Hayashi, which gives us some nice flips and exchanges with Minoru. It seems like we get the big feud here but other people tag in and just do moves. The camera has now decided to choose the worst angles for dives, either on the opposite side of the ring or pulled back so far you might as well be in the crowd. Tiger Mask, who has been treated like a bit player beats the guy from All Japan to win. What did this accomplish?
This DID NOT need to be a 10 men tag. I reckon Kaz and Minoru could've put on a classic but instead this basically gets the treatment that a particularly competitive Divas Match would have in WWE around this time.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Shinsuke Nakamura - 8/10
This doesn't get a goofy match name, but the guys getting their own name keys and boxing style intro makes this feel like a big deal. This is relatively early into Nak's post excursion main event push, but you can tell just from the way he walks to the ring he's a big deal. They edited out Kawada's entrance, which is upsetting because I'm always down for The Four Pillars, and their theme songs.
The guys World-of-Sport wrestle around a bit. One thing I like is that during this sequence the commentators speak in hushed tones, which really added to the presentation. Strike exchange, which Kawada wins, but takes control with a head lock. I like how this match almost has a worked martial arts feel to it. Nak gets one knee up which incapacitates Kawada briefly. Both guys do the leg lock spot where they're both working each other's legs. Kawada responds to a rope break by kicking the shit out of Nak, which prompts Nak to stand up and hit kicks of his own. Nak is slow to break an armbar. Nak heels out by stomping on Kawada's arm. Kawada is seething so hard sweat is flying off of him. Kawada pounds the shit out of Nakamura. Nak is defiant as he gets up, but Nak takes him down again. You can see Nak moving around his legs to try and work a submission out of this mount Kawada has him in, which he does and gets an armbar, Nak works the arm with kicks after a rope break. The two trade clotheslines, but Nak wins out. Kawada fires back with his wackier kicks for a 2. Neck crank/dragon sleeper looking submission by Kawada. After a rope break, Kawada responds by being the shit out of Nak with strikes and reapplying the hold. I don't think I've ever seen a submission transition into a pin. Kawada applies an armbar and Shinsuke sells like dismemberment is occurring. Kawada hits more kicks because he is Kawada. Kawada does more stuff, and then the guys trade back suplexes with each guy no selling an insane amount of scary looking suplexes. They trade strikes in the corner. Nak blocks a lariat by hitting a CRAZY armbar, almost like if La Mistica lead into a regular armbar and was less theatrical. Kawada gets the rope, and Nak drags Kawada to the center of the ring, only for them to trade armbars. This was a cool sequence. Nak gets stomped out of a triangle but refuses to give up control of the arm. Kawada locks in a triangle after taking a powerbomb but Nak converts into a pin, and the kickout results in a double down. Kawada does an excellent job looking like he's fighting a Death Valley Driver while he's up in the move. Nak spends the next few sequences desperately hitting strikes, while Kawada's are more measured. Kawada hits an Enzuguri on a running Shinsuke which looks wild. Now Kawada seems desperate to put Nak away. Kawada hits a Kawada bomb, and we're meant to believe that Nak strong style powered out before 1, but it kind of looks like Kawada slipped out of it. Nak kicks out of a Brainbuster. He dodges some kicks, but runs straight into one, like when someone runs into a door that's swinging out, for the three.
This match was....unique. It never got into the "Kicking out of multiple finishers" gear you'd expect out of big puro match, and Nak spent more than half the match fighting from underneath but you know what? It worked. The story was that Nak had potential, and hung with Kawada, a huge wrestling legend, with flourishes of potential, but he's not there yet. This was one of the most expertly told "loser looks good in defeat" stories I've ever seen.
Triple Crown Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Yuji Nagata - 9/10
My rip of this show has some skipping/distortion issues with this match in particular, but from what I can tell Suzuki wrestles like an unhinged madman, doing running, leaping strikes in the corner, and using a Tarantula style armbar to work Yuji's arm. Suzuki works the arm and slams Yuji head first into the corner post. Suzuki hits a disgusting unprotected chair shot to the head on Yuji. Yuji's pissing blood out of his forehead, and tries to get back in the ring, but gets booted out and stomped on. Suzuki teases another chair shot but gets it kicked into his head, allowing Nagata to fire back.. Now Minoru is bleeding and gets a Brainbuster outside the ring. Nagata kicks ass but Minoru locks the sleeper in which Nagata escapes and gets back to the kicking. Nagata's eyes nearly roll in the back of his head while applying an armbar. Nagata is screaming as he wrenches. Nagata kicks Suzuki some more and looks furious as he does. Suzuki lands on his stomach from a backdrop and hits a knee. We're now trading Junkyard Dog headbutts and slaps. Suzuki wins out, and we get the Gotch Piledriver for a double down and a two count. Nagata fires up but Suzuki cuts him back down., Octopus stretch now. Nagata powers out. We get some dope shots over a sitting Suzuki's shoulder at a bleeding, sneering Nagata. We're trading slaps now, and I don't like that we're going back to this. Anyway, Nagata lays out Suzuki with a knee, and we get a Brainbuster and a Backdrop back to back. Nagata yanks Suzuki up at 2. Nagata nails a kick, but Suzuki comes back up, slapping Nagata and screaming. Now THIS is a slap sequence I can get behind. Nagata hits him one time though and it's clear Suzuki is just punch-drunk and got lucky. DISGUSTING looking kick to the head by Nagata. Suzuki rakes Nagata's eyes on a backdrop, and transitions a sleep into a rear naked choke. Nagata tries to fight but is choked out for the win.
This felt like a goddamn Dragonball Z fight, with people brawling in ways you never thought possible powering up out of the depths of despair and the hero laying the stank on the beatdown. But, Goku didn't win this time, Frieza did, and that's fucking awesome.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Taiyo Kea (w/ TAKA Michinoku) - 4.75/10
Auxiliary research for this review reveals that Kea had lost the Triple Crown 4 months earlier to Suzuki and had won World's Strongest Tag League with Taka. This almost reeks of 2010's WWE booking, where you would lose the WWE Championship and magically be a contender for the World Heavyweight Championship, but I guess if you want to do a cross promotional battle with clean wins, you wouldn't want to do Suzuki vs Tana, so Kea is literally the next best guy.
Boxing style intros for these guys too, and the more of these we get, the closer I get to rescinding my point about the goofy match names. It just kinda makes the undercard look goofy next to the serious acts. Kea starts the match by breaking a rope break cleanly, but with fire and force behind it. I dug this a lot. They trade headlock takeovers, and kipping out of head scissors. This was a bit too goofy for me. They do stuff, and Tea tries to ape Kawada's enzuguri but it looks like shit, to the point where Tana decides to just stop selling. Kea dumps Tana on the apronto block a suicide plancha, that was cool. Kea hits a superkick, removes the outer mats, and drops Tana with a TKO 34th on the concrete. I feel like I'm watching a Kevin Steen match from when I didn't like him, and felt like he was doing whatever he wanted. Keo does a Thinker pose while Tana crawls back into the ring. Tana fights an apron suplex, but Kea Dragon Screws his leg in the ropes (one of my top five favorite spots) and suplexes him in. Kea works Tana's back. Tana blocks a Vader Bomb, but Kea goes right back to the back with a Superplex. Tana fights back with a botched Missle Dropkick. Tana is hitting botched Kawada enzuguris and a German that gets the least believable two and a half count in history. Kea gets more believeable two and a halves after moves, but at this point I'm beyond disinterested. Kea misses an Enzuguri and that's Tana opening...until it's not, and Kea hits a DDT immediately after.. Tana fires back up, and they trade big moves, inclluding Kea throwing a Half n' Half Suplex that could've killed Tana. For some reason we're getting a double down spot, despite the fact that Tana is rolling around and sitting up. They trade slaps and wacky Kawada enzuguris, and Kea still can't hit it well. Tana spends a lot of time in his "Mortal Kombat dizzy animation" which took me out of it TKO out of the powerslam looks cool. The referee does a hilariously theatrical flip from his back to his stomach to sell the 2 1/2 count that follows. Tana fights back, including a Dragon Suplex that Kea sells like he's actually mangled. High Fly Flow and Tana retains
I feel like they were trying to tell the story of Nakamura vs Kawada, with the opposite outcome, where the young guy won against the old guard despite fighting the odds. Unfortunately this brought back a lot of Reigns vs Orton from Summerslam 2014 memories, where one guy kicked out of everything, hit his move and won, and everything up to that was going through the motions. This is one of the worst Tanahashi matches I've seen.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono - 7/10
As said in my Crockett Cup review, I adore me some Kojima, ESPECIALLY when TenCozy is involved. Kojima looks like a Gurren Lagann character with his orange gear and matching sunglasses.
If Muto was a Tekken character, I'd accuse the person playing him of spamming the kick button. Dropkicks for everyone! The crowd being into it makes a potentially bad spot a good spot. Muto and Tenzan trading moves is one of the few instances in which I enjoy this spot, because why wouldn't both of these top guys look good at all times, at least to start. Kojima eventually stuns Chono with strikes, and the momentum is TenCozy's, but Chono tags out to Muto, who gets the momentum because he is Muto, We get a duel submission spot from NWO Japan which is pretty neat, and now they have to momentum, working Tenzan's recently Figure Four'd leg. Chono is an asshole, slapping Tenzan and stomping his leg outside the ring. . Tenzan does his Mongolian Chop and tags in Kojima. This super tepid hot tag pops the crowd, which was great. Kojima does his crazy chop spot on Mutoh, and other moves. Kojima straight up no sells a Shining Wizard which further proves why he rules and works Muto's leg, hits some hard forearms in the corner and hits a Frakensteiner. Muto dodges a lariat and tags in Chono, who jumps in with a top rope shoulder block, Chono ends up in the opposite corner and knocks Tenzan off the apron because he knows what he's doing. Kojima fights back, and more hard strikes. Kojima tags in and more momentum swings. Tenzan hits a spinning wheel that looked like it potatoes Chono. Chono bumps oddly for Tenzan's set up for the Anaconda Vice, and Muto breaks it up. TenCozy hits a wacky cutter/ face crusher combo, as well as a wacky move that combines a lariat with Tenzan's Vice setup. We get a TenCozy double submission spot. TenCozy hit a weird Snapshot style manuever where Tenzan spins his hips hitting, it looks janky. Mutoh uses the ref to stepladder into a Shining Wizard to break up another wacky TenCozy double team. Now everyone's hitting their indvidual strikes. and eventually the older guys fall to TenCozy. In a nice little flourish, Tenzan breaks his own pin because he sees Muto about to be intersected by Kojima. We get our second big 2 1/2 count kick out in this near 20 minute match Muto counters a big boot into a Dragon Screw while being held open by Kojima. A cool inversion on the usual miscue. Muto Chono fight back despite a TenCozy We get the same duel submission spot, except NWO Japan trades partners for the submission win
Of the four "important" matches on the card, this one ranks second lowest behind the IWGP title match, but I still would say this is an interesting case study of doing more with less. The selling point of this match felt like when WWE trots out a legend, where the story of the match is "isn't it neat to see these wrestlers wrestling?" From that standpoint, I could see why this is the main event. It should be noted that the four guys put on an incredibly simple match that had enough flourish to keep the flow interesting.
Nagata vs Suzuki ruled, as did Nakamura vs Kawada. The main event serves as an interesting case study, and the GBH vs RO&D defied "New Japan undercard" standards Other than that, this show a skippable, schizophrenic hodge-podge of a mess. I'll be putting WK2 on the back burner for now, as prospect of a "NJPW vs TNA" sounds even less appealing.