Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blue Justice: Yuji Nagata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura (New Japan 2005-2007)

Hey yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

She had so much love on her face, I couldnt see the tears!
Never got a chance to give Steel Panther a huge shout-out for most excellent time two Fridays ago in Hampton Beach. If you love heavy metal, if you love to laugh or if you just love to look at boobs the don't miss the four most bitchin rockers of the new millennium when they come to a venue near you. Also, I can't go without saying that my boy, LeBron, the personification of Love looks to prove that Love will triumph once again over those Purveyors of the False Truths, the San Antonio Spurs. A Victory for the Heat is a Victory for Love. If this does not make sense, then look the Letters of Martin to the Haters & Hypocrites right here on Riding Space Mountain!

When we left New Japan in 2004, it was a dismal, bleak state of affairs. Even though, the future of showcase in 2005 Dome Main Event, the rest of the card was littered with business as usual like jobbing out Ace, Yuji Nagata in an "MMA" match against Ron Waterman. Tanahashi and Nakamura just were not ready for the grandest stage in Japan and delivered an uneven match. The rest of the year saw dwindling attendance at the Dome as the focused was placed on the returning Satoshi Kojima (All Japan's Triple Crown Champion) feuding against his ex-partner IWGP Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan. After that debacle, New Japan brought in Brock Fuckin Lesnar in between his football foray and MMA gig. You will be hard-pressed to meet a bigger Brock mark than me, but this one fell right on its ass. Brock winning the IWGP title in the Dome drew a record low 10,000 people compared against just nine months before where they drew 46k. Not only that this was not the badass Brock that has been ripping up the WWE ring churning out classic after classic, but a totally unmotivated Brock delivering stinker after stinker. It was absolutely dire for New Japan when the unexpected occurred. Antonio Inoki the man who founded New Japan in 1972 was ousted.

It is unclear to me when, but Inoki was bought out by the video game company, Yuke's and Inoki's influence dwindled until he left sometime in 2006 and went on to found a new wrestling/MMA company, Inoki Genome Federation, which recognized Brock Lesnar as their first champion. Brock becoming increasingly difficult to work with was stripped of the IWGP Championship in July of 2006. These simultaneous departures breathed new life into New Japan. They refocused on being a pro wrestling company. Perish the thought! Yuji Nagata was given the vote of confidence as the Ace of New Japan and did not need to worry about randomly facing a shoot fighter. He could just focus on good fundamental pro wrestling. He delivered his work to date looking more confident and sure of himself than he ever did prior. He had an excellent contest with Giant Bernard that immediately created a new monster gaijin. He worked a long, solid match with Koji Kanemoto in the 2006 G-1 Climax proving he could work on top. In 2007 as the IWGP Championship, he had his best performance so far of this project in a chaotic bloodbath with Togi Makabe, a must-see for any wrestling fan. In parallel, the vanguard of the next generation were coming into their own as Hiroshi Tanahashi the first IWGP Champion of the post-Inoki era cemented himself as the leader of this new generation by defeating arch-rival Shinsuke Nakamura in a great match that seemed like an auspicious start to a new era. Attendances and great matches/feuds were not just going to be revived overnight, but 2006-2007 laid the foundations for the Renaissance of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The Stabilizing Force in New Japan in 2006-2007


1. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 02/27/00
2. GHC Heavyweight Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 03/01/03
3. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Budokan 04/25/04
4. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - All Japan 05/26/00

5. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Keiji Mutoh - Budokan 6/8/01
6. Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi vs Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka - NJ PPV 12/14/00
7. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Tokyo Dome 07/10/04

8. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshinari Ogawa – Budokan 11/01/03
9. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 12/23/00

10. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Ohtani & Takaiwa vs Kanemoto & Minoru - NJPW  6/25/00
11. IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada - 10/00 Tokyo Dome Non-Title
12. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata vs Togi Makabe - NJPW 07/06/07
13. Keiji Mutoh vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival 04/01
14. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Akira Taue - NOAH 09/10/04
15. Toshiaki Kawada vs Naoya Ogawa - Zero-One 12/14/03
16. IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Minoru Tanaka vs Takehiro Murahama - NJPW 4/20/01
17. Shinya Hashimoto & Takashi Iizuka vs Naoya Ogawa & Kazunari Murkami - Tokyo Dome 01/04/00
18. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Tamon Honda - NOAH 04/13/03
19. Genichiro Tenryu & Masa Fuchi vs Toshiaki Kawada & Nobutaka Araya - AJPW 6/30/01

20. Kenta Kobashi vs Takao Omori - Champions Carnival Final '00
21. Akira Taue vs Yuji Nagata - NOAH 6/6/03
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - NJPW 12/10/06
23. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada vs Shinya Hashimoto - AJPW 02/22/04
24. GHC Tag Team Champions Sterness (Akiyama & Saito) vs Burning (Kobashi & Honda) - Budokan 6/6/03
25. GHC Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 07/27/01
26. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yuji Nagata - Budokan 9/12/03
27. New Japan (Liger & Minoru ) vs. NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 4/7/02
28. GHC Tag Champions Akiyama & Saito vs Kobashi & Shiga - NOAH 10/19/02
29. Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen & Taiyo Kea - Budokan 07/23/00
30. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Kensuke Sasaki - 01/04/00
31. Genichiro Tenryu vs Toshiaki Kawada - Vacant All Japan Triple Crown 10/28/00
32. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hiroyuki Ito - U-Style 08/18/04
33. Yuji Nagata vs Koji Kanemoto - NJPW G-1 Climax 08/12/06
34. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Minoru Suzuki - Budokan 01/08/05
35. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax '04
36. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival '00
37. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - NOAH #2 08/06/00
38. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Minoru Suzuki vs Yuji Nagata - Tokyo Dome 01/04/07

39. Genichiro Tenryu vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan - Vacant IWGP Championship 02/15/04
40. GHC Champion Yoshihiro Takayama vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 09/23/02
41. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Vacant GHC Title 04/15/01
42. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 07/07/02
43. Yuji Nagata vs Giant Bernard - New Japan Cup Finals 04/30/06
44. U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuyuki Fujita - Vacant IWGP Championship 6/04
45. IWGP Champion Yuji Nagata vs. Yoshihiro Takayama - Tokyo Dome 05/02
46. Kiyoshi Tamura vs Tsuyoshi Kohsaka - U-Style 02/04/04
47. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Vader vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 2/27/00
48. All Japan Triple Crown Champ  Toshiaki Kawada vs Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW 11/03/04 Non-Title
49. IWGP Jr Tag Champions Kanemoto & Minoru vs Liger & Makabe - NJPW 9/12/00

50. Keiji Mutoh vs Yuji Nagata - Sumo Hall 08/12/01 G-1 Climax Final
51. Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan - G-1 Climax Finals 08/17/03
52. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Champions Carnival '00
53. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Budokan 02/17/02
54. Mitsuharu Misawa & Akira Taue vs Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama - NOAH #1 08/05/00
55. New Japan (Liger & Inoue) vs NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 2/17/02
56. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Liger & Minoru vs. Kikuchi & Kanemaru - NJPW 8/29/02
57. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Giant Bernard - NJPW 06/18/06 Vacant IWGP Championship
58. Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama vs Yuji Nagata & Naofumi Yamamoto 
59. Sterness  vs. Burning 8-Man Tag - NOAH 08/03
60. Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi - AJPW 01/17/00
61. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 02/24/02

62. Yoshihiro Takayma vs Osamu Nishimura - G-1 Climax Semifinals
63. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax Round Robin
64. SUWA vs Dragon Kid - Toryumon 08/24/00 Hair Vs Mask
65. GHC Tag Champs Misawa & Ogawa vs Saito & Inoue - NOAH 9/10/04
66. NWA World Heavyweight Champion Shinya Hashimoto vs Masato Tanaka - Zero-One 3/02/02
67. Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Tokyo Dome 10/08/01
68. NJPW(Liger, Minoru , Makabe) vs Osaka Pro(Delfin, Murhama, Tsubasa)-NJPW 12/14/00
69. Toshiaki Kawada vs Vader - AJPW 2/17/00
70. Shinya Hashimoto & Yuji Nagata vs Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama - Zero-One 3/2/01
U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - Tokyo Dome 01/04/05

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

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


Leaders of the New Generation

U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - Tokyo Dome 01/04/05

Tanahashi defends his vanity title against Nakamura in the main event of the 01/04 Dome show in the last NJPW Dome show to draw over 40k. Incidentally, nine years later they main evented this past Dome show and drew 35k together. More things change, the more they stay the same. Even though the main event is a major shake-up from the usual Inoki-ist fare at the time, the undercard featured an "Ultimate Royale" Tournament, which was most likely a faux-MMA tournament where Ron Waterman went over Nagata?!?!?! Also there was the usual Chono old person match where he took on Riki Choshu and Tenzan in a triple threat match. While Tanahashi and Nakamura were clearly the future (they just main evented the 2014 Dome show, which did 35k), New Japan was still taking baby steps towards its current product. Just like New Japan was testing the waters, Tanahashi and Nakamura were still get acclimated to the main event scene in this uneven affair.

I would say Tanahashi or Nakamura were pretty even at this point of their careers (I don't know if a gap ever really formed between the two, but looking forward to finding out). Both are terribly inconsistent, but you can see there is enough good in each one to know that once they pull it all together that they could carry a promotion. What is also interesting is that you see a slightly different style emerging from this match that is clearly different than NOAH, but also a departure from traditional New Japan Strong Style. New Japan has always focused on matwork and strikes with each star having just a handful of spots (slams, suplexes etc...). Even before this match settled with matwork typical of a New Japan match. They each hit the other with an early suplex, which seemed oddly NOAH. It did not really fit with the rest of the match, but the match was such a hodgepodge that nothing really fit. The matwork was more in the vein of 80s style matwork that you find opening a Flair match: amateur ride and wrangling for positioning rather than MMA-style matwork. Then Tanahashi totally no-sells a superplex. Not like Luger no selling a Flair move because Luger is a badass. Tanahashi acts like the move literally did not happen. He just brushes it off. It was so friggin' weird.

I have watched Tanahashi matches before, but outside of his spots I do not really remember how he wrestles the body of his matches. I was very pleasantly surprised how he worked his control segment on the back. A babyface working a control segment is in my opinion the hardest segment to work and often gets labelled as heel in peril. There is a difference to me from heel in peril and a babyface control segment. A heel in peril resembles a face in peril with extended selling and wear down, but with a heel on the receiving end. I feel Tanahashi was working  a match closer to how you would see Backlund would with a clear strategy and looking to close in on a victory. It feels like Tanahashi is building towards a victory rather than the heel gaining command and going into the heat section. I feel like I am not doing a very good job explaining it. It is like the better sports team just gaining the advantage in a game and never really giving up the lead. Nine times out of ten, the babyface is the better wrestler than the heel, but the heel cheats or uses roughhouse tactics to compete. However, wrestling also nine times out of ten tells the story of how the babyface has to overcome the odds even though on paper he is better. Thus this is an interesting wrinkle to actually reflect a sporting contest in a more meaningful way. Of course, I don't know if Nakamura is really a heel here, I know he is by 2006, but if this is just face vs face chock it up to Nakamura just having better heel charisma for why I think that way. Long story, short, I dug Tanahashi's back work.

Another odd thing about this match is that it felt oddly slow. It is not like they moved slow. Tanahashi wiped himself and Nakamura in a wicked dive and Nakamura has some really bursts of acceleration of his flying cross armbreakers, but even between moves it was really plodding. The match story became that only way Nakamura could compete with Tanahashi was through these flash submissions. Tanahashi controlled 75% of the match, but could not put Nakamura away. At first Tanahashi is able to withstand the submissions and even get his own dragon sleeper, but Nakamura countered that by using the ropes into his own dragon sleeper in the only spot of the match that gets a pop. This was HHH/Brock Wrestlemania 29 levels of silence. Nakamura does get to showcase his offense briefly and I just love how he puts his unique spin on everything. Nobody does a powerbomb or a moonsault quite like that. He is a very weird guy. Ambrose should watch more Nakamura, if he does not already. Nakamura misses a knee drop to end his offensive spurt. Tanahashi slaps him a couple time to draw the nose-to-nose and you know end game is coming. Tanahashi hits a powerbomb, but Nakamura locks on the triangle choke, Tanahashi escapes to get a dragon suplex. Nakamura gets a cross armbreaker out of nowhere and Tanahashi sells it well to know he is finally in trouble. The sleeper nearly renders Tanahashi unconscious when he looks to break it, Nakamura quickly switches to the cross-armbreaker to win.

I liked the basic idea of the story: Tanahashi controls the majority of the match, but Nakamura hangs on with flash submissions. Tanahashi lets him linger and eventually bites him in the ass. Still the execution was just off. It felt slow, cold and uninteresting. I think Tanahashi works on top just fine, but just did not have a commanding presence at the time. Nakamura working from underneath worked in one regard because the flash submissions were an interesting hook, but he was not very good at selling. The beginning was pretty awful or boring. Things did get better after Tanahashi started to work on the back, but they were still a ways a way from delivering a classic. ***


Yuji Nagata vs Giant Bernard - New Japan Cup Finals 04/30/06

The trick with Bernard/Albert/Tensai is if you respect his size as a booker and as an opponent then he does have some value as a monster heel. However, he will not be able to get himself over through his own efforts. He is a mediocre wrestler in just about every way that just happens to be quite large. So if a company (WWE) or his opponent treats him like shit, there is no overcoming that. This is just my thesis after two New Japan matches with him. Both are better than anything in WWE, but it is not because Japanese water turns Bernard/Albert into a super worker it is because he is treated with respect by his opponent and the promotion. He had only been with the promotion for four months and they booked him to win the New Japan Cup to face Brock Lesnar at the May 3rd show for the IWGP title. Now part of that maybe to give Brock a familiar opponent, but even after the Brock departure Bernard was pushed to the the consequent IWGP Title Tournament Final, the semi-finals of the G-1 Climax and a IWGP tag champion. He was positioned as a strong monster gaijin. In turn, Nagata and Tanahashi treated Bernard as a credible monster worth overcoming rather than an oversized jabroni. 

The interesting twist in this match was that Nagata was able to wound the monster, but Bernard was able to overcome the injury and secure the victory. It illustrated that even Nagata best arm work was not even enough to topple this new monster thus instantly establishing Bernard in the upper echelon of the New Japan scene. Nagata established early that he was going to hit and run with a focus on the arm. Bernard is not really good at the wild swing-miss-where'd he go spots. He was entertaining at the "Gimme my damn arm back" spots when Nagata would go for armbars. This shine is significantly shorter than really fun Tanahashi one as Bernard squashes Nagata like a bug with his size. The resulting heat segment is pretty pedestrian though Bernard has one of the better worked full nelsons I have ever seen. At some point, they show Scott Norton and I mark out. I don't know why I did, but I did. They had a lazy transition to Nagata's comeback as Bernard starts to slap Nagata and this wakes him up. Nagata rattles off his bombs like the exploder before applying a deep cross-armbreaker and then an armbar to give this match a hook: can Nagata put away the injured Bernard or will Bernard overcome his bad wing through sheer brute force. Bernard hits a quick big boot and follows up with a Vader Bomb and Baldo Bomb, but then he can't finagle a powerbomb due to his injury. This affords Nagata the opportunity to hit three Shining Wizards...KICK OUT! I am sure Keiji Mutoh was thrilled with that. Wrist-clutch Exploder! KICK OUT! I am sure Jun Akiyama was thrilled with that. Nagata is tapped out of energy and just does not look he has enough to get him to the finish line. There is an epic struggle of Bernard trying to hit a powerbomb before finally pulling it off and only getting two. He hoists him up for the lame Rikishi style tombstone piledriver to get the win.

I was actually very surprised at the finish as I thought Nagata was higher than Bernard on the NJPW totem pole, but it is those kinds of victories out of the gate that build a new wrestler into a credible threat. I like the inverted story with the monster having an injury to overcome and the underdog having to combat his own exhaustion to try to put away the big man. In this battle, it just took too much out of Nagata to overcome Bernard's size advantage. Bernard did some really nice selling of the arm to out over his own struggle. The first half or so of the match was pretty useless, but once Nagata injures Bernard's arm it gets a whole lot better. Comparatively, the Tanahashi/Bernard rocked at the beginning and went off the rails. As the cliche goes, it is all about how you finish so I have this one a little bit ahead and thus in my mind it is Albert/Bernard's best all time match. ***3/4

Bob Sapp vs Albert SHOWDOWN~! This I got to see!

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Giant Bernard - NJPW 06/18/06 Vacant IWGP Championship

One of the common talking points was that once Albert went to Japan to become Bernard he magically became a great wrestler. Having never bothered watching his puro output, I had high expectations for Lord Tensai, but he was the same plodding, mechanical Albert. Having watched this match, it seems more like a case Bernard was given better opportunities to have good matches rather than actually getting better. I would say this is the best individual Tanahashi performance. He worked really well underneath the whole match and made Bernard look like Goliath. How desperate he was to avoid any contact from Bernard early and how he sold each blow really made Bernard into a credible giant. I liked the catch me if you can beginning. You know once Bernard can just wrangle this little bugger he would put him out. Bernard removes the turnbuckle pad, but Tanahashi slide by it and there is some good struggle over who is going to hit it first before Tanahashi finally cracks his skull against the unforgiving steel. Tanahashi is bloodied, but not beaten as they tease the countout finish. Tanahashi did a good job mixing in his hope spots and selling for Giant Bernard. At this point, I thought it was a really well-done David vs. Goliath because of how well they respected the size differences. However, in the finish stretch, Bernard felt like got a whole lot smaller. He was grabbing quick pinfall attempts like a powerslam off the ropes or a desperation Baldo Bomb (as called by the announcers). Tanahashi was able to hit a German suplex. The finish proper did reconnect the match back to the first half with Tanahashi being able to pin Bernard via Sling Blade (first two no-sold) so he had to resort to sending Bernard into the turnbuckle that Bernard had exposed (O what a world what world!) and then was able to get the pin.

I don't mind Tanahashi German suplexing Bernard. How many times has that happened in Vader matches after all. It is just that during that 5 minutes that proceeded the actual finish it felt like two equal-sized wrestlers trading moves, which was a disconnect from the earlier established story. I really liked the match up until comeback, but also loved the finish. Any person Bernard size could have wrestled this match all he brought to the table was that he is a larger than average wrestler. Tanahashi wrestled really well underneath, but just could not put together a complete match...yet. ***1/2


Yuji Nagata vs Koji Kanemoto - NJPW G-1 Climax 08/12/06

Nagata has really come into his own as the New Japan ace in these interim years of 2006-2007. He is not on par with Choshu or Hashimoto and few are, but he is wrestling more confidently and decisively. There were times like in 2001 Mutoh match where he would take Mutoh down and just not have a clue what to do like Dan Severn in an early UFC fight. Here and later in the Makabe fight, Nagata takes charge and ownership of the match. Now Kanemoto is no slouch and someone I need to explore more, but is a very good junior heavyweight.

Since weight classification means more in Japan than in America, Nagata works on top most of the match similar to how I have seen Tanahashi work and similar to a Bruno or Backlund where the "better" wrestler is actually "winning" the majority of the match. Nagata gained his advantage during the opening matwork sequence when he was able to grab an arm and apply short arm scissors and a deep armbar. For pretty much the rest of the match, Nagata would hone in on that arm for a cutoff or pressing an advantage. Kanemoto sold this really well immediately and realizing the trouble he was in would fire off a couple quick hope spots like a roundhouse kick to the head, but Nagata would respond with these home run shots by coming up swinging and never letting Kanemoto land combinations. Again, Kanemoto would have an opening by hitting a dragon leg screw and following up with dropkicks to the knee, but Nagata had taken so much out of him that Nagata was able to cut off a suplex attempt and suplex him out on the floor and then an Exploder onto the floor. Make no mistake about it, Nagata was not just no selling these hope spots, he sold the roundhouse kick for an 8 count and sold the knee once he finished his rally for a minute or two after. He was fighting through the pain and taking advantage of Kanemoto's weakened state.

Now we arrive at my problem with that match. At around this point, Kanemoto sells too much and what I mean is that he looks so beaten to a pulp that it seems impossible for him to make a comeback. I would say that ends up hurting the finish. Kanemoto finally hits a combination of a jumping knee, facewash and senton, but Nagata catches him with a super exploder and a Shining Wizard for two. If that was the finish then I would rate this match a lot higher. Kanemoto had his last gasp and Nagata finally had enough of this and demolished him with two huge moves. Instead the match goes on for another 5 superfluous minutes. We move into the submission trading section of the match with Kanemoto's heel hook and Nagata's crippler crossface competing for dominance. Now they trade bombs with Kanemoto getting his wicked pretty moonsault and Nagata hitting a back drop driver and two brianbusters. Then I hear the time announcement. I roll eyes. They run through some small packages, which is smart and Nagata grabs a pitch perfect cross-armbreaker, but time expires.
I have no problem with a draw finish, but it just did not jive with this match. Instead of making, Kanemoto look string hanging with Nagata, it made Nagata look like a chump for not being able to take out Kanemoto when he kicked his ass for 75% of the match. If Kanemoto did not die halfway through and instead kept struggling and fighting like a Steamboat maybe I could buy it. The first 75% of this was great and was the best Nagata has looked. Like I said, they had a perfectly fine finish with the super exploder and Shining Wizard, but the extra 5 minutes and draw finish just felt forced. ****

Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama vs Yuji Nagata & Naofumi Yamamoto 
NJPW 10/09/06

YOSHI TATSU~! So finally I review a wrestling match involving the most famous Japanese wrestler in America of the past decade! I always wondered if he ever had any good puroresu matches before he came Stateside.  I guess this is best match of the bunch, but he really has nothing to do with why this match is so good. This is one of my favorite genre of matches: Top Face & Overmatched Rookie versus Two Main Event Heels.  Miyamoto & Shiga crush this performance in performing the same role as Yamamoto in their tag matches, but this match has Minoru Suzuki and Takayama as the heels, which gives it a unique wrinkle. Suzuki is one of the few heels that can carefully toe the line about adding levity to his matches and still be a total badass. I loved him avoiding Nagata, pegging Yamamoto on the apron and promptly tagging out. Also another bitchy heel move that needs to be stolen is counting along with the ref while he counts back an interfering babyface tag partner. Yet another hidden highlight was when he was holding Nagata in the corner and Takayama came in with the big knee on Nagata he sold the move and the crowd loved it. Takayama is made for these matches where he is the cocky bully that is kicking some hapless chump's ass. What didn't help Yamamoto's case was he bull rushed early and then did Takayama's one foot cover that's a no-no and he got pulverized for that. My biggest complaint was that while Takayama and Suzuki put a new wrinkle on this match they did not really kick the shit out of the kid as much as they could. Nagata was actually pretty good as the top babyface eager to get involved and finally did open a can of whoop-ass. His slapfest with Minoru Suzuki was one of the best of its kind. Nagata looks to finish off Takayama, but Yamamoto wants to exact some revenge so Nagata obliges. Where this match really falters in comparison to the Miyamoto & Shiga matches is that Yamamoto does not get that big false finish that makes you think "Holy shit, the kid is going to pull it off". Instead, he eats a knee lift and an Everest German while Suzuki detains Nagata. It was not as hot a finish as the build was giving them. It is always a joy to watch Suzuki and Takayama work, but the babyfaces fail to get the above just a fun match. This has an outside shot at the Top 100. ***1/2 

How come whenever she walks by I just have this burning desire to listen to Queen?

IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - NJPW 12/10/06

What a difference two years makes! This is a vast, vast improvement over there very uneven Dome '05 main event and the first real indication that New Japan is turning things around from the Dark Ages of Early 00s Inoki-ism. I do not know the exact timetable, but I am pretty sure that Inoki has been ousted or will be by year's end. I remember Brock was the first champion of the Inoki Genome Federation (which is oddly still around and has just signed Shinya Hashimoto's son). This change over in power has refocused on the company on pro wrestling, a novel concept, but as we have seen from Vince Russo sometimes wrestling companies forget they are wrestling companies.

I remain impressed with Tanahashi's ability to energetically work on top when it so much easier for a babyface to work underneath. He does so with vulnerability as he does a great job selling the ribs in the middle portion of the match. Nakamura has developed a lot and is not just relying on flash submissions, but is varying his offense and seems more sure of himself. In the beginning as expected, Tanahashi bests Nakamura on the mat and I really liked the one spot where Tanahashi goes for the sunset flip and Nakamura back rolls out. Any wrestling fan at this point just expects Nakamura to dropkick Tanahashi in the face. Except Tanahashi rears back and avoids him thus he ends up getting a nearfall on Nakamura. It is neat little spot at the beginning. As in a lot of 00s puroresu matches, the struggle of a suplex signals a critical point in the match as Nakamura is able to hit a front suplex and follow that up with knee lifts to the ribs. A great spot during this fantastic rib work (Nakamura on point and Tanahashi sells beautifully) is Tanahashi is able to create separation looks to dive onto Nakamura ala Dome '05, but wary of  this Nakamura rushes back in and spears Tanahashi right in the injured ribs.That is some good pro wrestling right there. They use the dragon sleeper reversal here again and it does get a good pop so like the tombstone reversal I see its value. I am disappointed a forearm exchange is the transition to Tanahashi's control segment. It is so cliche by this point. Tanahashi hits Sling Blade to cement his advantage and works a pretty good control. Nakamura traps him in a flash triangle where Tanahashi's arm drops twice, which was a pretty heated nearfall. Nakamura kicks out at one on Sling Blade. I think a well-timed one count can be pretty effective tool ala well-timed no selling. That one count was not well-timed. Tanahashi's High Fly Flow eats knees leaving him prey for Landslide, but that only gets two. Tanahashi blocks the Super Landslide attempt and defeats Nakamura with the impressive combination of a powerbomb, High Fly Flow and Tiger Suplex.

I do not all the intricacies of New Japan booking at this point, but this match seemed pretty definitive in defining their future roles. Tanahashi was going to be the ace of his generation and was being set up to wrestle current Ace, Nagata, whom he ultimately vanquish in a changing of the guard. Nakamura would his Tenryu to his Jumbo or Kawada to his Misawa, the number two who will get the title and run with it, but never be the Ace. From a kayfabe point of view, Nakamura does not seem to be able match Tanahashi's firepower. He worked the ribs well, but really could not get the job done. Then he had to rely on his two big bombs: a flash submission and his Landslide, but it was too little too late. Tanahashi demonstrated his dynamism being to work effectively in control and underneath. The finish stretch needed to be built a little better, but baby steps and this was a great body of a match with a good finish. ****


AJPW Triple Crown Champion Minoru Suzuki vs Yuji Nagata - Tokyo Dome 01/04/07

Nagata against a dickish heel that busts him open is always gold. Nagata would have been great in the South in the 80s. Suzuki doing the Burt Reynolds laying down on the ramp with the titles and saying "Come get me, big boy" was awesome. Suzuki is an absolute ass to start and suckers Nagata into the ropes.  Where Suzuki is able to apply a triangle choke and then on outside he smashes a chair over his head to bust him open. Suzuki doing Burt Reynolds pose again in the ring with all ringside photographers taking pictures. Suzuki goes for the kill with the chair, but people are trying to  stop him and Nagata is able to kick the chair back into Suzuki's face. The playing field has been levelled and now Nagata is going open a can of whoop ass. I loved this opening, but the rest of the match was too uneven to rank among the best Nagata matches. Besides the slapfests, it was the loooooooooooooong time between spots. I am not one to usually complain about this, but when a hiptoss out of an ab stretch has a 45 second before next contact I am going to zone out. Nagata had a bit more fire against Makabe and Murakami. Suzuki does well playing the overmatched heel but times his comebacks well with the sleeper and piledriver. Nagata is too blinded by hatred to pin Suzuki after a wicked back drop driver and pulls him up. Suzuki is able to knee Nagata in the head and applies the sleeper. Nagata goes for the armbreaker to get out as before, but does not have enough strength. Nagata passes out and in a great finish to an uneven match.

Minoru Suzuki is very entertaining to watch, but I have yet to see him really knock it out of the park. The Mutoh & Kobashi matches, which are thought were better than this were hosed by his opponent's idiosyncrasies. Here Nagata could not match his own level hatred that he could tap into against Murakami & Makabe. It is a great layout, but falls a bit short on execution. ****


IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata vs Togi Makabe - NJPW 07/06/07

I don't know if Makabe banged Nagata's wife or owes him money, but Nagata came out of the gate guns blazing. It set the tone for the rest of the match. This was not going to be a wrestling match; this was going to be a fight. It was one hellacious fight. Makabe had made the transition from junior heavyweight to heavyweight and in addition bleached his hair and joined Great Bash Heel, which to the shock of no one is a heel New Japan stable. I love the matchup between the Ace and a pure heel brawler because you get so many technically proficient title matches. It is always a great change of pace to watch a violent Japanese brawl. Especially since Nagata's biggest problem is that he is so, so dry. He exuded real hate in this match and you felt that he wanted to destroy Makabe. Makabe for his part went balls to the wall heel using every dirty trick and just being a general asshole. Right off the bat, he tries to duck out the ropes to stall and Nagata ain't having any of that and Makabe straight away goes for the eyes, but Nagata will not denied. That hot opening establishes everything you need to know about these two. Nagata is willing to fight fire with fire brawling in the crowd and chairshots, but the ref keeps getting in his way and he ends up wearing a chair for a collar around his neck, always a nasty visual. Makabe busts out scissors and rips Nagata's forehead open. I'm sold, I love this match! Makabe works the cut and sends Nagata to the wolves and a melee ensues with the Young Boys attempting a save. While Makabe is complaining about the ref's count, Nagata fires up and hits these HUGE elbows. These are fuckin Misawa-level elbows and Makabe is covered in blood. I am a sucker for the double juice! Nagata looks to rip Makabe's arm off and when he makes the ropes the ref has to tackle Nagata off him. This is intense! GBH is in and it is mayhem! Nagata beats them back. Makabe hits a low blow on a back drop driver attempt. He hits a German and Death Valley Driver, but only gets two! Makabe flips the crowd off and wraps his arm in the chain, but the ref sees it and won't count. That ref has some big cajones to stand up to this lunatic. A chair is discreetly slipped in (I had to rewind to catch it) and Makabe piledrives Nagata on it. When the ref sees the chair, he flips the fuck out and bounces against the mat. This ref deserves a cut of the gate he is working overtime to put this whole shebang over. Makabe misses King Kong Knee Drop triggering the finish stretch. Back drop driver and Makabe kicks out at 1 and beats on his chest. Nagata kicks his head off twice and then hits a back drop driver to polish him off. 

No. 1 in this blog with a bullet
I love chaos, violence and brutality. This matchup had it in spades. Everyone including the ref had their roles down pat. This is the best that Nagata has ever looked as the New Japan ace. He was fighting for pride and the championship. Makabe was such a low-down heel. There was such urgency and struggle throughout. This along with Kobashi/Ogawa has been one of my favorite finds from doing this project. I need to rewatch it again to finalize my rating, but I am going err on the high side and go ****1/2. Reviewing the list, I am downgrading to ****1/4, but I am going to rewatch anything ****+ so this is still very much in flux as I am just using star ratings as a guide and this is my first time ever using them.


I set lofty expectations for myself with 4 blogs in 4 days and only fell one short, which is pretty damn good for me. I am one match away from finishing Steamboat in '94 and also should have Dangerous Alliance parts 5 &6 up climaxing with the Wargames '92 match. LETS GO HEAT!

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