Monday, April 14, 2014

Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye: New Japan 2003-2004

Hey yo Studmuffins and Foxey Ladies,

"You had so much love on your face, I could not see the tears." - Steel Panther, Bukkake Tears. Buy the new album, All You Can Eat blows Balls Out out of the water and on par with their badass debut, Feel the Steel.

Best American Heavy Metal Band of the 21st Century

The height of Inoki-ism did not produce many classics, but it sure did produce some crazy ideas. Pro wrestling cards full of shoot-fight matches with pro wrestling main events, Masa Chono versus Chyna, Bob Sapp as the IWGP Champion! The IWGP title picture tells the entire story of this time period. They pushed Yuji Nagata to moon as their ace having him break Hashimoto's title defense record. At first, the booking does make sense, they have the Bleach Blond & Bad Giant of Japan, Yoshihiro Takayama, hot freelnacer and MMA credentials break Nagata's historic reign. They build up Tenzan by having him win the G-1 Climax in  a match that I think is overrated, but does feature an amazing selling clinic by NOAH's Jun Akiyama. Given that they had run through Sasaki & Nagata and lost Kojima to All Japan, why not try Tenzan, but after that things get screwy.

They cut Tenzan off early to have young lion, Shinsuke Nakamura win the title and had him defeat Takayama to unify the IWGP and NWF titles. Given the lack of results of the then current generation I can see why it is tempting to push the younger generation (Nakamura and Tanahashi), but there is such a thing as too much too soon and that is what happened with Nakamura. Tanahashi was better handled as they basically gave him a vanity title U-30 (under 30 years old), which established he was the flagship of the upcoming generation, but lack of experience was holding him back. As I saw in the excellent Fujita match, Tanahashi was very popular and knew how to work a match that got him over as a young lion with fighting spirit, but no match for the badass shooter, Fujita. I did think it was interesting that Fujita was wearing Team Inoki tights and wrestling as a heel. Could Inoki have been so self-aware that his MMA fighters were clearly the heels in a pro wrestling promotion?

Back to Nakamura, who ended up having to vacate the title only to have Tenzan win it over Tenryu. This match was much better than G-1 Climax match featuring blood, grouchy Tenryu and an energetic Tenzan performance. It turns out that I heard that Nagata got legitimately knocked out, which altered the booking plans for the title. Again, Tenzan turns around to lose the title to the returning Kensuke Sasaki (much like Hashimoto and Mutoh he did not like the direction of New Japan. So he and Riki Choshu departed to try to start their own promotion, but it failed), who quickly dropped it to Bob Fuckin Sapp. This is the apex of Inoki-ism. It is of course only fitting that he vacate the title because he lost a shoot fight to Kazuyuki Fujita. Fujita would win the IWGP title in the aforementioned match with Tanahashi. Tenzan repeated as the 2004 G-1 Climax winner with the standout match being between Sasaki and Takayama, who just went to war against each other. It was a return to days of 90s Strong Style with two Titans just always moving forward with the winner being one who could the other just much harder.

Bob Sapp is ICHIBAN~!

As 2004 drew to a close, Sasaki won the title back from Fujita only to lose to Tenzan. Jesus, if you are going to give him two G-1 Climax wins and three title reigns, how about a reign with some substance. During this time, Toshiaki Kawada was finally having his much deserved long Triple Crown reign (10 years too late) and went on a New Japan tour to defend against Tenzan. In the meantime, he was able to have a great bout against shoot-style influenced Katsuyori Shibata that allowed Shibata to shine against the veteran. In the ultimate veteran move, Kawada beat him by knocking him out with a closed fist. The longest IWGP title reign since Nagata's long one was 185 days by Yoshihiro Takayama and there were 10 champions and 2 vacancies in 2003 and 2004. That is dying days of WCW numbers.

Still, I did enjoy the matches that were recommended from New Japan because of how stylistically different they were. Besides the one match that featured a NOAH wrestler, all the matches were a tidy 15 minutes or less. Did NOAH have a classic under 25 minutes during time period? I don't think so. These were hard hitting affairs that focused on strikes leading to one of two bombs or submissions before the finish. It was just  a much more minimalist style that did not reach the highs of NOAH (Kobashi was on fucking fire hard for anyone too). It was still very enjoyable and I hope that everyone takes to watch the matches especially since they do not take up too much time. BOM-BA-YE!


1. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 02/27/00
2. GHC Heavyweight Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 03/01/03
3. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - All Japan 05/26/00

4. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Keiji Mutoh - Budokan 6/8/01
5. Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi vs Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka - NJ PPV 12/14/00

6. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 12/23/00

7. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Ohtani & Takaiwa vs Kanemoto & Minoru - NJPW  6/25/00
8. IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada - 10/00 Tokyo Dome Non-Title
9. Keiji Mutoh vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival 04/01
10. IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Minoru Tanaka vs Takehiro Murahama - NJPW 4/20/01
11. Shinya Hashimoto & Takashi Iizuka vs Naoya Ogawa & Kazunari Murkami - Tokyo Dome 01/04/00
12. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Tamon Honda - NOAH 04/13/03
13. Genichiro Tenryu & Masa Fuchi vs Toshiaki Kawada & Nobutaka Araya - AJPW 6/30/01

14. Kenta Kobashi vs Takao Omori - Champions Carnival Final '00
15. GHC Tag Team Champions Sterness (Akiyama & Saito) vs Burning (Kobashi & Honda) - Budokan 6/6/03
16. GHC Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 07/27/01
17. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yuji Nagata - Budokan 9/12/03
18. New Japan (Liger & Minoru ) vs. NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 4/7/02
19. GHC Tag Champions Akiyama & Saito vs Kobashi & Shiga - NOAH 10/19/02
20. Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen & Taiyo Kea - Budokan 07/23/00
21. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Kensuke Sasaki - 01/04/00
22. Genichiro Tenryu vs Toshiaki Kawada - Vacant All Japan Triple Crown 10/28/00
23. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax '04
24. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival '00
25. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - NOAH #2 08/06/00

26. Genichiro Tenryu vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan - Vacant IWGP Championship 02/15/04
27. GHC Champion Yoshihiro Takayama vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 09/23/02
28. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Vacant GHC Title 04/15/01
29. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 07/07/02
30. U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuyuki Fujita - Vacant IWGP Championship 6/5/04
31. IWGP Champion Yuji Nagata vs. Yoshihiro Takayama - Tokyo Dome 05/02
32. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Vader vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 2/27/00
33. All Japan Triple Crown Champ  Toshiaki Kawada vs Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW 11/03/04 Non-Title
34. IWGP Jr Tag Champions Kanemoto & Minoru vs Liger & Makabe - NJPW 9/12/00

35. Keiji Mutoh vs Yuji Nagata - Sumo Hall 08/12/01 G-1 Climax Final
36. Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan - G-1 Climax Finals 08/17/03
37. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Champions Carnival '00
38. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Budokan 02/17/02
39. Mitsuharu Misawa & Akira Taue vs Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama - NOAH #1 08/05/00
40. New Japan (Liger & Inoue) vs NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 2/17/02
41. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Liger & Minoru vs. Kikuchi & Kanemaru - NJPW 8/29/02'
42. Sterness  vs. Burning 8-Man Tag - NOAH 08/03
43. Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi - AJPW 01/17/00
44. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 02/24/02

45. Yoshihiro Takayma vs Osamu Nishimura - G-1 Climax Semifinals
46. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax Round Robin
47. SUWA vs Dragon Kid - Toryumon 08/24/00 Hair Vs Mask
48. NWA World Heavyweight Champion Shinya Hashimoto vs Masato Tanaka - Zero-One 3/02/02
49. Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Tokyo Dome 10/08/01
50. NJPW(Liger, Minoru , Makabe) vs Osaka Pro(Delfin, Murhama, Tsubasa)-NJPW 12/14/00
51. Toshiaki Kawada vs Vader - AJPW 2/17/00
52. Shinya Hashimoto & Yuji Nagata vs Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama - Zero-One 3/2/01

53. Toshiaki Kawada vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 06/06/01
54.  Naoki Sano vs Minoru Tanaka - Battlarts 01/30/2000
55. Dick Togo vs Tiger Mask IV - M-Pro 08/25/02

56. GHC Tag Team Champions Wild II vs Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito - Budokan 9/23/02

Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan - G-1 Climax Finals 08/17/03

This is the tale of two performances: the cold, mechanical Tenzan and the expressive selling of Akiyama. I really thought this was the one of the best individual performances from  Akiyama in basically carrying Tenzan to a great match through selling and bringing Tenzan's offense alive. Tenzan reminded me a lot of Demolition in this match. Everything made sense, but it was delivered so mechanically and without passion (there were brief moments of fire) that I was often disinterested. Nonetheless, the crowd was really 100% behind Tenzan and given that they had run through Nagata and Sasaki, you might as well give Tenzan a shot. The beginning of the match was brutally boring and I really was fearing for the worst. As much as I bitch about Kojima, I was like give me a Kojima trainwreck over the incessant chops and stomps. There really was no sense of struggle. It felt like Akiyama was just letting him do offense to him. The test of strength was the spot of the beginning.

The match finally picks up when Akiyama hits a jumping knee and the announcer name drops Jumbo Tsuruta, which was cool. Akiyama does his textbook neck work with a barrage of knees to the neck, which always enjoyable and interesting even if Tenzan is the most boring wrestler ever. Akiyama hits a delayed piledriver, but only gets two. Akiyama goes for the Exploder on the apron to mercy kill this match, but Tenzan backdrops him so his upper back catches the apron. OW! This was at the halfway mark of the match and at this point I was ready to shit all over this, but the second half really salvaged the match and I can appreciate why it is highly recommended.

Tenzan is laser focused on the midsection of Akiyama with stomps, chops, diving headbutts, backbreaker, suplexs. What really makes this all special is how Akiyama is selling and really writhing in pain. You put someone else in this role and this match would be the most boring fucking thing ever. Akiyama is making Tenzan look way better than he is. Give Tenzan credit he is building towards his moonsault, which Akiyama musters up enough strength to powerbomb him. Akiyama is able to get a knee lift and a Exploder, but Tenzan backdrops out of a second to put on this ugly as fuck half-nelson/chinlock that looks painless. He hits a gutbuster and then his moonsault. I cant describe how awesome Akiyama's sell is. He is visibly in so much pain while being covered, but still kicks out. I hate to be the asshole that fantasy books, but this match would be so much better if Tenzan had just went up top and hit another moonsault and won. Of course, this being early 00s Japan, Akiyama hits two Exploders to level the playing field and now we hit the home stretch where we depart from the first 3/4 of the match. Akiyama gets the guillotine choke and the elbow to the back of the head. However, the wrist-clutch can not polish off Tenzan. Tenzan hits a Back Drop Driver and a headbutt to the midsection (WAHOO! Callback) to set up the top rope diving headbutt for two. Lame late match chopfest ends with Tenzan spiking Akiyama on his head via scoop piledriver. Tenzan locks in the Anacoda Vice (as called by the announcers) and when Akiyama gets up he throws him down in it to a big pop. The ref calls it awarding Tenzan his first G-1 Climax.

The biggest problem with this match was length. Length is not Tenzan's strength. The whole home stretch killed the great story they were telling just hit on the usual Japanes tropes before finishing. They could have run the midsection story early -> run through Akiyama's offense, but he cant hit the Exploder because he is so much pain -> big finish with two moonsaults as the finish. Instead, we get a boring as hell and perfunctory 18 minute, an interesting Tenzan control segment because Akiyama is a wrestling god and a NOAH home stretch. I recommend it for the Akiyama selling clinic and not much else. ***1/2

Jordan Carver is ICHIBAN~!

Genichiro Tenryu vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan - Vacant IWGP Championship 02/15/04

Incidentally, Tenzan and Kojima both have their best singles matches against Tenryu. Leave it to Mr. Puroresu to get even better match out of Tenzan than Akiyama by keeping it short and staying on offense. Tenryu starts the match with a terrific kappo kick and digging his nails so deep into Tenzan's forehead that he bleeds (most likely a bladejob, but great way to set it up). Immediately, I am already more into this match than the Akiyama match. There are too many chopfests overall, but as far as chopfests go they are pretty entertaining because Tenryu and Tenzan are different than most wrestlers who engage in this macho behavior. Tenryu has his nasty high chop and punch. Tenzan has his Zinedien Zidane headbutt and double chop. Tenryu bodyslams Tenzan off the apron and here comes the onslaught:  Spider German, Enziguiri, Norther Lights Bomb and the worst powerbomb ever. That is up there with the Hashimoto wipe out as the funniest botch. Tenzan meets Tenryu with a big lariat triggering another strike exchange. I have to say I was digging the Zidane headbutts. Tenzan wraps him up in the Anaconda Vice, which won him the G-1 Climax, but Tenryu gets the ropes. One last Tenryu hope spot in the form of a backslide before Tenzan headbutt to midsection -> spikes him with a scoop piledriver -> a diving headbutt secures him his second IWGP Championship.  Short, bloody and action-packed now that is a recipe for success for any match. I never expect blood in NJPW/NOAH matches so when it happens it is always a nice treat. Tenryu came out early and just pressed his advantage and eventually Tenzan weathered the storm turned the tide in a strike exchange and unloaded his arsenal to win. It may have just been the blood, but Tenzan's performance seemed way more passionate. So far the best non-NOAH match from 2003 & 2004. ***3/4


U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuyuki Fujita - Vacant IWGP Championship 6/5/04

I love polarizing figures so much and I don't think there is a more polarizing figure in wrestling today than Hiroshi Tanahashi. New Japan fans claim he is turning out 5 star classics at a rate that has not been seen since the heyday of All Japan in the 90s. While his detractors assert that the matches are overrated and when they are good he is just being carried like the biggest piece of luggage in the business. I have not really watched a Tanahashi match since about 2010,  but I enjoyed his matches with Nagata and Nakamura. That is where the memory ends I just remember liking them, but nothing specific. I look forward to watching Tanahashi progress during this project and once this is done I plan on continuing right through the present day in Japan with a very specific focus on Tanahashi. Here we begin as he returned from being stabbed in real life by ex-girlfriend TV reporter and has been given this vanity title that represents he is best of the youth movement at the time. Bob Sapp (not so surprisingly did not have any nominated matches) was the previous IWGP champion, but lost to Fujita in a shoot fight thus vacated his pro wrestling belt. I love Japan and Inoki. I don't know if there was a tournament or if it was just decided that these two were the top contenders. It makes sense that Fujita would get a crack at the title and Tanahashi as the other heavyweight singles champion makes sense. Fujita, who surprisingly did not have any other nominated matches besides this one, is a legitimate shoot fighter. Like Sakuraba, he is one of the few pro wrestlers to have an above .500 winning percentage in MMA. Thus the match exploits the obvious difference between the two opponents: Fujita the shoot fighter versus Tanahashi the consummate flashy pro wrestler. It is a very similar dynamic to Lesnar/Cena from 2012.

After watching a bevy of Kobashi matches, it was nice to watch some New Japan for a change of pace. You could not get much different from a NOAH match than this match. Clocking in at 12 minutes or so with limited suplex and highspots, this felt so refreshing. Fujita was merciless in using his superior amateur skills to quash Tanahashi at every turn and just unloaded with some of the best knee lifts I have ever seen. I have no idea why Tanahashi kept going for double leg takedown when Fujita, a known amateur wrestling expert would just pancake him and go to town. I would not go so far as to say this was a squash like we have seen from Hashimoto in previous matches. They mixed in enough cool spots to show Tanahashi's fighting spirit and his quickness advantage such as Tanahashi almost getting the flash victory at the outset on a roll through on a double leg and catching a kick turning it into a dragon leg screw into a dive. I also liked at the beginning when Fujita just missed a kick to the head and Tanahashi sells the close call. It really put over Fujita as a badass.  There is no denying that Tanahashi was very over with the crowd. I thought it was interesting that Fujita donning the "Team Inoki" tights was the clear heel and wrestled very heelish. Inoki strikes me as someone who is very un-self-aware, which part of the charm so it seems weird for him to push his beloved legit shooters as heels. Anyways, that is a tangent to be explored later, since Tanahashi is in a lot of ways the equivalent of a pretty boy babyface like a Martel or Morton, I thought it was very important that he did get moments to stand toe-to-toe with Fujita with a nice elbow and that Fujita at least sold his subpar slaps. The finish sees Tanahashi have one last gasp with the Sling Blade and a running small package, but after that Fujita just saps all his energy with an standing arm triangle choke. After this, he is easy pickings for the smiling, cocky Fujita who kicks his head off and we get the knockout finish tease. Fujita kicks his head off again and this time the ref mercy kills this contest.

This match is clearly different from the highly intricate New Japan matches of today as this was a bare bones match with a spunky Tanahashi trying to survive the remorseless shooter, Fujita. Each played their role excellently and sold for each other really well. Fujita is not someone I have ever heard widely praised in a pro wrestling context, but I thought he was really good in this setting. Was this his career performance? It was very good for what it was and will probably be the best match for its short length, but lacks the firepower and extended story of the other excellent matches so it tops out in my book at ***3/4.

Future was bright for New Japan

Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax '04 

WAR! What is it good for? Well my entertainment of course! Takayama continues his reign as the top freelancer in Japan. Sasaki has had quiet years since his explosive 2000. Of the interim generation between Three Musketeers and Tanahashi/Nakamura etc..., Sasaki is my favorite by a good margin over Nagata, Tenzan and Kojima. He is hard hitting and explosive. He is not a thinking man's wrestler. He is just a bulldozer. The winner of this match is the one was going to hit the other harder, no frills, just really stiff strikes. They start off with tests of strength that shows how even this is with Takayama winning one with a fireman's carry and Sasaki winning a top wristlock battle. Takayama scores first with a big knee lift. Takayama throws his weight around to control the short and stout Sasaki. Sasaki fires back the only way he knows how with some vicious lariats. His strategy throw Takayama into something hard and lariat the shit out of him. The eventual strike exchange happens, but this one is especially stiff. Holy fuck those lariats and Takayama takes them like a man. Each men ends up on one knee from the ferocity of these strikes. With slobber dripping from his face, the Bleach Blond & Bad Giant of Japan kicks Sasaki's head off, but the subsequent knee lift did not get the job done. The Power Warrior hits an enziguiri and an awesome cross body from the top to the floor to the retreating Takayama. The crowd is pumped and Sasaki calls for the Northern Lights Bomb and hits it. BUT KICK OUT!!! I totally bought that false finish. Takayama big knee lift in the corner, dragon suplex and Everest German gives Takayama his only win of this G-1 Climax. I have enjoyed how different New Japan has been than NOAH in this time with their short, but impactful matches. I thought this one really exemplified Strong Style with his no frills, straight forward badass match. Who ever hit who hardest was going to win? The Bleach Blond & Bad Giant of Japan hit just that much harder on this night. ****


AJPW Triple Crown Champ  Toshiaki Kawada vs Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW 11/03/04 Non-Title

The announcer informs us that both men are DANGEROUS~! repeatedly. I believe Kawada is on this tour because at the end he is going to defend against Tenzan as he finally in the midst of his big Triple Crown reign a decade too late. Shibata is a legitimate shoot fighter, but does not have the record of Fujita or Sakuraba. At this point, Shibata was just a New Japan young lion (firmly positioned behind Tanahashi and Nakamura as a prospect).

I may have spoke prematurely when I declared Tanahashi/Fujita as the best short match of the project. The story of this match is that Shibata kicks hard, but Kawada punches harder. Shibata catches Kawada unawares by bullrushing him. He posts him on the outside when Kawada tries to escape and they tease a countout finish, Shibata wins a fiery elbow war with a well-timed slap triggering one of those pitch perfect Kawada sells. Shibata then busts out Stretch Plum and Kawada Kicks, which pisses off Kawada. Kawada kicks his ass and then dumps him on his head with a back drop driver. Shibata blocks a kick and is able to win another furious elbow war, but cant put him away with a sleeper. One last vicious elbow war this time with kicks and slaps flying, Kawada wins by knocking his ass out with a sweet right. The ref admonishes him, but the damage has been done and Kawada drops a knee on his head to get the academic three. I loved the use of elbow/slap/kick exchanges. It was not just a segment of macho pissing, it was the match. Shibata's gameplan was the best defense was a great offense and Kawada was more than happy to oblige. It all ends when the crafty veteran says enough of this shit and just knocks him the fuck out with a closed fist. It does not last long enough to contend for a truly great position and I would put Tanahashi/Fujita a little ahead because I enjoyed Tanahashi's babyface performance that much more. In terms of 8 minutes of absolute ass-kicking, it does not get much better than this. ***3/4


In 2003-2004, New Japan was short and sweet, but it has since resurrected itself into internet darling promotion under the leadership of Tanahashi, Nakamura and Okada. I look forward to charting the progress going forward. I have Shield Part 2, Kobashi Part 2 and a Steamboat '94 on the docket. Everybody shout heavy metal is back!

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