The SmarK Rant For Best Of Japan 2001 – Tape #1


The SmarK Rant for Best of Japan 2001 – Tape 1.

– Yes, once again yours truly ventures back into the wild and wacky world of puroresu reviews, as I’ve been out of the loop since about 1997 and Mutoh actually winning Wrestler of the Year rekindled for curiosity for what’s been going on over there recently. So in exchange for an ad banner on theSmarks, Golden Boy Tapes ( sent me this 6-volume set, covering all the major matches from Japan in the past year. So if you like what you see here, I’d highly recommend heading over to and ordering yourself a set pronto. Each of these tapes is 6 hours long, and all the matches are complete. Video quality is excellent for the most part. Since they’re all so long it’ll take a while to cover everything, but I’ll make it my project for the next couple of weeks.

– By the way, if anyone has a really good recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce that they’d be willing to share, let me know. I’ve mostly been doing the standard “brown the meat, mushrooms, onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil, add thyme and oregano, add tomatoes and simmer for one hour” deal, but I feel like I’m getting in a creative rut with it.

– Standard disclaimers for those puroresu nuts reading who are already caught up with everything: I’m four years out of date with Japan in general and this is being written for casual readers who, like myself, are curious as to who’s who and what the styles are like. I am HEAVILY biased towards the NJ Junior style in general, and I’m not a big fan of the AJ heavyweights because I’ve traditionally found them to be a bit slow and lumbering outside of the Big Three. For everyone else, if you’re at all interested in the history and deeper psychology behind this stuff, of which I freely admit to my ignorance of most of the time, check out the always excellent, where can you also discover the work of Dean Rasmussan, the source of much of my material. Okay, so get comfortable, this is gonna take a while

– Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi v. Steve Williams & Mike Rotundo. This is the finals of the 2000 Real World tag league, which is AJPW’s big annual tag tournament. Doc and Kawada chop each other to start, and Kawada goes after the arm. Rotundo comes in and tries the same, but Kawada reverses and takes him down. Rotundo gets a headscissors and brings him into the corner via the mat, and Kawada slugs it out with Williams as a result. Doc wins that one. Williams goes for a kneebar, but Kawada kicks away from it and starts with the awesome high and low kicks that have replaced punching in Japan. Cross-armbreaker, but Williams makes the ropes. Kawada starts with the high kick for both Varsity Club guys, and Doc bails. They brawl, and Kawada gets the better of things. Back in, Kawada goes to a toehold, which Rotundo breaks. Kawada just destroys both guys with the high kicks and gets two on Williams, but a suplex turns the tide for the gaijin. Rotundo drops some elbows for two. Cap’n Mike is looking pretty good here, actually, for a 70 year old. Legdrop gets two. Abdominal stretch, but Kawada escapes. Double-team gets two. Doc drops some elbows for two. Kawada comes back with another high kick for two, but Williams starts pounding on him and Rotundo goes for the samoan drop before Fuchi finally comes in and stops that with a high kick. He backdrops Rotundo for two, and then no-sells Williams’ shots before backdropping Rotundo again and doing a weak-looking sleeper that the crowd still pops for. By the way, please be aware that when watching puroresu, the term “backdrop” refers to what I usually call a “backdrop suplex” in US wrestling lingo. The move known in the US as a backdrop (the back bodydrop) isn’t really done in Japan as much as the US, hence “backdrop” refers to the suplex only. Okay? Big brawl erupts and Kawada puts Williams in the Stretch Plum submission (think of a dragon sleeper while twisting the neck) while Fuchi holds his own sleeper until Rotundo makes the ropes. Fuchi backslides him for two, but gets hit with a lariat. Doc comes back in to slug Fuchi down, and two short-arm clotheslines get two. Oklahoma Stampede gets two. Kawada fights off both heels, but a Dudley neckbreaker ends that. Samoan drop into a Hart Attack on Fuchi gets two. Second-rope powerslam by Williams, but Kawada breaks it up. So they toss him and give him a spike piledriver on the concrete. That oughtta learn him. Back in, Fuchi is dead, but they waste too much time making their triangle symbol (why it is a triangle if there’s only two guys?) and only get two. Doctorbomb gets two. Another powerslam from the middle gets two, as Kawada comes back to life and saves. They toss him again, and Williams finishes Fuchi with the backdrop driver at 21:27. That was quite the performance by Fuchi, who is older than dirt but still in shape. **1/2

– Takehiro Murahama, Super Delfin & Tsubasa v. Jushin Liger, Shinya Makabe & Minoru Tanaka. And it’s the Mirror Universe Liger, as he’s apparently gone evil on us and switched to a black suit. Tanaka starts with Murahama and gets taken down into an armbreaker, but reverses it to a kneebar. Tanaka is quite the cool motherf*cker, having seen some other stuff from him prior to this. Tanaka & Murahama just MURDER each other with leg strikes. Tanaka follows with a suplex and kneedrop for two, and he wants Delfin, DAMMIT. Then he tags out, of course, once Delfin is in. Makabe comes in and Delfin dropkicks him, but gets speared. Tsubasa comes in and gets tossed, and Liger baseball slides him. Back in, elbow and chops wear him out Liger overpowers Tsubasa, but takes a headscissors and bails. Back in, the heels work Tsubasa in the corner, and Tanaka dropkicks him. Delfin comes in with a snap suplex and Tsubasa hotshots Tanaka, then hangs onto the man while Delfin dropkicks him. Now THAT’S a cool double-team. Senton gets two for Delfin. Tanaka gets abused in the corner and Delfin hits a swank released butterfly suplex. Delfin & Tsubasa double-team Tanaka, and Murahama finishes the sequence with a dropkick. He misses a charge and allows Tanaka to bring Liger in, however. Backbreakers abound, but he misses a charge and Murahama gets an enzuigiri, then Delfin lures the others into the corner for a whuppin’. A TRIPLE DROPKICK gives Liger a case of the limbertail, and they start unloading the highspots hot and heavy. Back in, Murahama gets two. Leg lariat gets two. He unloads with hard kicks and works Liger’s arm, and a brawl erupts. A hammerlock on Liger turns into an armbreaker, but he makes the ropes. Liger reverses a suplex into a powerbomb, and Makabe tags in and gets a powerslam on Delfin for two. Rolling germans get two. Dropkick misses and Delfin gets a DDT on Makabe that sets up a german suplex for two. Tornado DDT and palm strike get two. Tanaka then comes in and pulls off one of his signature spots – he throws a leg lariat, misses, and adjusts in mid-air to land on his feet. It has to be seen to be believed. Tsubasa misses a charge on him and gets kneebarred, but comes back with a leg lariat for two. Top rope rana gets two. Corkscrew splash gets two. Back up, but Tanaka dropkicks him coming down and goes up with a missile dropkick and a suplex for two. Everyone is brawling as Tanaka finishes with a cross-armbreaker at 16:49. Felt more like 5:00. ****

– Masa Fuchi & Toshiaki Kawada v. Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka. Now we’re getting into the NJ v. AJ stuff. Iizuka’s only appearance of note statesite featured him getting the absolute living bejesus beaten out of him by the Steiner Brothers at Wrestlewar ’91. Iizuka starts with Fuchi, and mindgames result. Fuchi slams him and they work off a headlock before Iizuka grabs a sleeper and a brawl erupts. Iizuka pounds him into an armbreaker and they do some matwork. Nagata comes in and lands the kicks, so that draws Kawada in. They take it to the mat and neither can get the advantage. Nagata goes back to the kicks, so Kawada teaches him the REAL way to kick a guy in the face. You’ll note that punches are dead in Japan – it’s all elbow strikes or high kicks now. Slugfest is a push, so Kawada kicks him in the face a few times. Nagata follows suit and they tag out, with nothing settled. Yet. Iizuka and Fuchi slug it out, and Fuchi goes after the knee and into an STF. Iizuka makes the ropes, so Fuchi hangs him in the corner and steps on his throat. Ornery old bastard, isn’t he? Kawada comes in with a half-crab on Iizuka (stepping on his face to convince him to turn over) turns it into a bow-and-arrow. Iizuka gets feisty again, so Kawada kicks him in the face. Fuchi gets his own half-crab. Nagata comes in to break it up and gets his ass kicked. Iizuka gets dumped, allowing Kawada to put the beats on Nagata in the meantime. Back in, Kawada drops a knee on Iizuka for two. Every time poor Yuji climbs on the apron, they knock him down again. Iizuka gets mercilessly double-teamed in the corner, and Fuchi steps right on his face to set up a Boston crab from Kawada. What an asshole. I love it. Fuchi gets a backdrop for two. Iizuka reverses another try at it, but can’t tag. He fights off Kawada, but stops to put Fuchi in the sleeper instead of tagging. Finally, hot tag Nagata, and it’s a MONSTER showdown with Kawada. Slugfest and Kawada gets a forearm for two. Kick, but Nagata counters with THREE enzuigiris and a german suplex for two. More kick, but Kawada unloads with his own, and a sidekick. Backdrop driver gets two. Stretch Plum, but Iizuka breaks. Powerbomb, but Iizuka stops that, too. Nagata immediately kicks Kawada in the knee and hooks the Nagata-lock. Kawada can’t make the ropes, so Fuchi tries to break, but he’s still groggy from getting nailed by Nagata. Finally Iizuka comes back in and knocks the old guy out again, and goes back to Kawada’s leg with a kneebar. Kawada can’t make the ropes, and Fuchi is all tied up with Nagata. He finally fights out but can’t stand up, so he gives Iizuka an enzuigiri and collapses, before tagging Fuchi. Fuchi goes back to Iizuka’s knee and gets a backdrop and backdrop driver for two. Sleepers in stereo, but Iizuka makes the ropes. Iizuka knocks Fuchi down and Nagata comes back in, but takes the kicks from Kawada before getting all fired up and slugging it out with him. They block each other’s enzuigiris and Nagata goes for the kill with an armbreaker but time expires at 30:00. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! Kawada & Nagata exchange glares as if to say “Fuck you, bitch, let’s DO IT!” but sadly David Bix informs me that no singles match to settle the score was ever forthcoming. This was basically your standard heel-face tag match featuring INCREDIBLY stiff shots from everyone, Masa Fuchi working his ancient ass off, Iizuka bumping like a maniac and a whole lotta awesome from Kawada & Nagata that sadly didn’t lead anywhere. Still, this is a must-see friggin’ classic tag match. Out of curiosity, I went to check to see if it placed in the WON awards, and it came in third, which is about where I’d put it for the year. ****3/4 If nothing else, GET THIS MATCH.

Kenta Kobashi v. Jun Akiyama. From Tokyo in Dec. 2000, and this is from NOAH. Kenta pounds him down, and blocks a knee, only to get dropkicked. I’m thankful that Kobashi finally ditched the day-glo orange tights for something a bit cooler. They exchange chops, and Akiyama is out of his league there. Test of strength sees Akiyama pull out an amazing move where he rolls backwards, somehow defying the laws of medical science which say his shoulder joints shouldn’t be able to do that, and thus turns Kobashi’s hands around. Jun turns it into a suplex. He grabs a rear naked choke, but Kenta is in the ropes. Kenta gives him a spinning backhand and they head out, where Jun gets the better of him. Back in, Akiyama elbows him in the corner and follows with a high knee. Out again, and Jun gets a DDT on the rampway and then hits him with a running elbow that has a 25-foot headstart on it. Kenta comes back with a delayed suplex onto the rampway, and a DDT where Kobashi drops down beside the ramp while running Jun’s head into it. Back in, Kenta guillotines him on the 2nd rope, and gets a STIFF DDT for two. How do they TAKE those bumps? Kenta hits the chinlock (with a twist, literally) that gets two. Kobashi tries another DDT, which turns into a choke instead, and then he changes his mind and just suplexes him from that position, using only Akiyama’s neck for leverage. These guys are nuts. Akiyama comes back with a high knee, but Kobashi goes with the momentum and Akiyama crashes into the corner, allowing Kobashi to go back to the neck crank. Jun suplexes out, but Kobashi hangs on. He gets a few near-falls. Akiyama escapes a suplex and dropkicks the knee, but can’t capitalize. Kobashi no-sells a clothesline, but Jun gets an Exploider (“head-and-arm Tazzplex”) and Kobashi bails. Akiyama follows him out by dropping a knee on his extended arm (ouch!) and then rides the arm down into the railing (OUCH!). So now Kobashi’s arm is useless, and back in Akiyama smartly goes the armbar, and starts cranking on it. Harsh. Kenta makes the ropes, but Akiyama pounds away on the arm in the corner and goes from a cross-armbreaker into a short-arm scissors. Again, the ropes. They head out, but Akiyama uses the railing again for an assist, and starts to work the arm over again. Kobashi suddenly gets pissed and hits a half-nelson suplex, but the arm is too weak to powerbomb him. He tries the spinning backhand, but you guessed it, his striking arm is the weak one, so he suplexes Akiyama onto the ramp, right on his HEAD, instead. Those head-bumps are insane. Jun appears to be legally deceased. Back in, Kenta STILL can’t get the arm strength for the powerbomb, but finally guts it out and gets two. Suplex -> Diamond Cutter gets two. I’m not sure if that has a Wacky Japanese Name or not, but it looked cool. Lariat is done with the bad arm so Akiyama blocks it, and kicks him down for the double KO. Kobashi goes up, but Akiyama pops up and powerbombs him down. Both out, but Jun gets a high knee first and they go to the apron for (to quote David Bix) “the big video game move”, but Jun can’t fire off the Exploider from the apron. So he opts for a running elbow from the apron instead. He DOES get the Exploider on the floor, and he’s all “No, YOU are the one who is the deceased!” Jun drags him back in like he was Kevin Nash on a bad hair day, and DDTs him. To the top for a flying forearm to the back of the head, and the Exploider gets two. Crowd wants a Kenta Komeback. Running knee sets up ANOTHER Exploider for two. They head up for a top rope version, but Kobashi elbows loose and they both tumble down. Kenta lariat gets two. HE’S PISSED, MOTHERFUCKER! But his arm still hurts, and that’s why he rules. Psychology: Learn it, love it. Another lariat gets two. The arm is getting worse and doesn’t have much left. Akiyama fights back one last time, but Kenta nails him and uses the ropes to assist with the BURNING HAMMER~! (Luger’s torture rack into a Death Valley Driver), which finishes at 35:58. Great comeback! In the esteemed words of Faarooq DAMN. ****3/4 Check out the stones on Kobashi to sell an arm injury convincingly and consistently for almost half an hour.

– IWGP Heavyweight title: Toshiaki Kawada v. Kensuke Sasaki. This is the finals of a tournament for the belt. I’m rapidly becoming a Kawada fanboy seeing this stuff. Kawada unleashes two enzuigiris and a backdrop to start, for two. See, that’s why he kicks ass. Screw the lockups, just kick him in the head. He kicks away and tries a powerbomb, but Sasaki escapes. Kawada kicks him down again for two. Sasaki comes back with a lariat and they no-sell each other until Kawada blinks first and sells. Another lariat gets two. Kawada gets another enzuigiri, but gets powerslammed. He comes back with a german suplex and a lariat to put Sasaki down, and they slug it out. Kawada kicks him down and drops a pair of knees for two. Stretch Plum gets two. The short kicks to the face kill Sasaki dead, but he still can’t powerbomb him. Finally, he gets it for two. No go on the second try, as Sasaki reverses to a Liontamer. Kawada powers out, and gets an enzuigiri. Sasaki won’t sell. Old habits and all that. Sasaki with the german suplex, lariat and the Northern Lights bomb for the pin at 10:28. Pretty anti-climactic finish. **1/2

– Elimination match: Taiyo Kea/Mohammad Yone/Mashito Kakihara/Mitsuya Nagai v. Toshiaka Kawada/Masa Fuchi/Shigeo Okamura/Nobutaka Araya. These are different rules, as it’s basically a series of tag matches, with the loser of the fall being replaced by the next guy in line for the team. Good enough?

– Mohammad Yone & Mitsuya Nagai v. Nobutaka Araya & Masa Fuchi. JIP with Araya working Yone’s leg, but Nagai gets a chinlock. Fuchi works the arm but Nagai reverses to a legbar. Fuchi counters with a toehold, but Nagai breaks and knees him down and out. Yone gets some shots in. Back in, Fuchi tags Araya, who gets a corner clothesline, but Nagai reverses to a Herb Kunze armbar. Yone follows suit. Nagai goes to a cross-armbreaker, but Fuchi breaks it up. Yone gets a leg lariat, and goes up for a legdrop that gets two. Araya DDTs him and gets a samoan drop and lariat for two. He goes up and finishes with a Big Fat Moonsault at 8:23. Pretty solid. **1/2

– Araya & Fuchi v. Nagai & Kakihara. Kakihara kicks Araya out of the ring, so Fuchi tries. He gets worked in the corner by Nagai, but takes him down and pounds away. Araya beats on Nagai outside, and back in Fuchi uses the Atomic Noogie to inflict damage. Araya gets a leg lariat for two. He can’t get a powerbomb, however. Fuchi kicks away and Araya tries a suplex, but Nagai reverses and brings Kakihara in, who then follows with a big kick for two. Sharpshooter by Kakihara, but Fuchi breaks. Fuchi gets a backdrop and his sleeper, but Nagai breaks. Double-suplex and double-armbreaker for Fuchi, but Araya pulls Nagai off. However, that leaves Kakihara hanging on and Fuchi submits at 8:46. **1/2

– Kakihara & Nagai v. Araya & Okamura. Kakihara kicks away at the leg, and Okamura goes for the head. They fight out, where Okamura gets a DDT on the floor, for two. He gets a headscissors, but Kakihara makes the ropes. Nagai comes in and gets double-teamed by Okamura & Araya. Araya goes up, but Kakihara prevents a moonsault by suplexing him down for two. Nagai kicks at Araya, who elbows back as it turns into slugfest, but Nagai suplexes him for the pin at 3:59. *

– Kakihara & Nagai v. Okamura & Kawada. Okamura slugs it out with Kakihara and grabs a kneebar, but gets lured into the corner, where Nagai gets his own. Kakihara & Nagai beat on him outside and Kakihara baseball slides him and then unleashes a series of axe kicks. Back in, it gets two. Nagai gets a legdrop for two and hits the chinlock. Butterfly suplex gets two. High knee sets up a double-team, and a Hart Attack gets two. Kakihara misses a charge and gets suplexed, hot tag Kawada. They trade kicks won by Kakihara! Huh. Kakihara rolls into an anklelock and Nagai drops a leg for two. Kawada gets the enzuigiri, but walks into a leg lariat. He comes back with a lariat for two and the Stretch Plum, but Kakihara breaks. Back to it, though, and the submission is inevitable at 8:09. Good energy in this one. ***

– Okamura & Kawada v. Kakihara & Taiyo Kea. Taiyo Kea is the Artist Formerly Known as Maunukea Mossman, and he’s bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dustin Rhodes these days. Kea & Okamura slug it out, but Kea gets a rana and tosses him. Back in, Kea gets two. Abdominal stretch rollup gets two. Kakihara gets an anklelock, dead center. Okamura makes the ropes. Kea elbow gets two. He goes to a bodyscissors and gets two. Double suplex gets two for Kakihara. Spinkick is blocked, and Kawada comes in, only to get bitchslapped down again. Man, is this Pick On Toshiaki Day or something? They proceed to trade slaps before Kawada falls victim to an axe kick and an STO. High kick puts Kakihara in his place again and Kawada gets a running version to set up Okamura’s Exploider and german suplex, which get two. Taiyo Kea comes back in with a high kick series and a running elbow. Leg lariat gets two. Tornado DDT gets two. He goes up with a pump splash for two. Back up with a Money Shot for two. Powerbomb gets two. Hawaiian Crusher (TKO into a Diamond Cutter) finishes Okamura at 8:58, which gives the whole shebang to Team Taiyo Kea, because I guess it has to be 2-on-2. Kawada was barely even involved, as the whole thing seemed more like a showcase for Nagai & Kakihara. Pretty good overall, if a bit longish. ***

– All-Japan Unified tag title: Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi v. Taiyo Kea & Johnny Smith. You might think there’s such a thing as too much Kawada on one tape, and you’d be grossly mistaken. Smith & Fuchi start, and Fuchi gets two backdrop suplexes right off the bat, and Kawada comes in for his own. It gets two. Fuchi gives one to Kea outside, just for fun. This guy is way more ornery than Terry Funk. Kawada smacks Smith around, just for being British, and tosses him out for more suplexage. Smith is getting WHUPPED, Kawada-style. Back in, Fuchi gets two and goes to a crab, and into an STF. Smith makes the ropes. Kawada drops a knee for two, and goes to his own crab. Fuchi tries an abdominal stretch, but Smith reverses to a crossface chickenwing and tags in Taiyo Kea. He gets a dropkick for two. Kawada hammers his leg and gets an enzuigiri, then tosses him. Kawada kicks more ass on the floor and back in he hammers on Kea with a high kick, allowing Fuchi to work on the leg. Fuchi bends Kea’s leg to his neck in a way that shouldn’t be possible for those with testicles. Kawada keeps on the leg and goes to a half-crab and they work him over in the corner. Kea finally fights back, but Fuchi takes him down to prevent any tags that might have crossed his mind. Kawada kicks away and gets a back kick and a suplex for two. Fuchi gets a backdrop, and then decides he likes it so much that he’ll add THREE more. That gets two. Kawada kicks Smith down to prevent him from getting a tag. Kea takes a lariat for two. Powerbomb is stopped, but Fuchi kicks him in the face and Kawada hits a backdrop driver for two. Shoulda just taken that powerbomb, Taiyo. Stretch Plum, but Kea makes the ropes. Fuchi covers him for two, but Kea blocks another suplex and gets a fisherman’s suplex for two. Hot tag Smith. Running elbows for everyone! Suplex and he goes up, but misses a missile dropkick. Fuchi gets a Thesz Press for two. Sleeper, but Smith makes the ropes. Smith gets a lariat for two to comes back, and an inverted DDT for two. Taiyo Kea comes back in and chops away, but Kawada distracts him and allows Fuchi to sneak up with a suplex. Kea no-sells that, because he’s all good and pissed off, so Kawada starts battering him and a brawl erupts. Smith backdrops Kawada and they double-suplex Fuchi, then Kea hotshots him. Sure, beat up on the helpless old guy. Smith backdrop gets two. Kea goes up for a Money Shot that gets two. Kea is one pissed-off Hawaiian, brah, and he kicks Fuchi’s ass and finishes with the Hawaiian Crusher to win the titles at 23:52 and complete the comeback. That was quite the righteous asskicking they took there. ****

– Silver King, Dr. Wagner Jr. & El Samurai v. Koji Kanemoto, Minoru Tanaka & Tatsuhito Takaiwa. Silver King is looking pretty buff here. Takaiwa & Wagner start, and they trade wristlocks. Takaiwa clotheslines him, but Wagner gets a dragon-screw and Silver King pounds away. He gets caught in the wrong corner and kicked into oblivion by the shooters. He superkicks Tanaka to fight out, but misses a dropkick. Samurai comes in and stomps Tanaka, then drops the leg for two. Tanaka suplexes him and gets a kneedrop, allowing Koji to kick away. Falcon Arrow, but the Wagners beat him up in the corner. Silver King gets a tilt-a-whirl slam, but misses a charge. Koji dropkicks both of the Mexican contingent and gets a belly-to-belly on King. Takaiwa & Samurai go next, and slug it out. Takaiwa hotshots him and Tanaka gets a suplex for two. Dropkick allows Koji to hammer Samurai with knees and kicks. Tanaka & Kanemoto double-team him with kicks, but Takaiwa gets caught in the Mexican corner and double-teamed in spectacular lucha libre fashion. Wagner hooks the Rita Romero Special, and Samurai gets an inverted DDT and a pair of seated dropkicks. Takaiwa comes back with a lariat, but a powerbomb is reversed to a DDT by Samurai. He goes up and misses, and Tanaka gets a dropkick. Enzuigiri into an anklelock on Samurai, but Wagner breaks. Samurai DDTs Tanaka and Silver King makes himself felt with a spectacular double-jump moonsault. Headscissored cradle gets two. Tanaka one-ups him with a jumping armbar takedown, and Koji suplexes Wagner for two. Big brawl sees everyone hit their highspots, and Koji ranas Wagner for two. Wagner gets a lariat and Silver King gets a missile dropkick on Koji, but he goes back to the anklelock on Wagner. Koji goes up with a splash, but Wagner DDTs him and gets his own from the top. Razor’s Edge gets two. Samurai gets a top rope inverted DDT and King hits three moonsaults, for two. Takaiwa dumps King, and Wagner no-sells a dropkick but gets moonsaulted by Kanemoto for the pin at 14:52. Just a tremendously fun spotfest. ***3/4

– IWGP title: Kensuke Sasaki v. Shinjiro Ohtani. Just to show that a good storyline transcends language, the video clips that set this up make it pretty clear that Ohtani has snapped and decided that he’s had enough of being just a junior heavyweight. And man is he on the HHH diet or what? Ohtani attacks before the bell and goes for the arm, stomping it in the corner. To an armbar, and back to the corner for more punishment. He runs into a kneelift, however, and Sasaki starts pounding him. Ohtani goes back to the arm to stop that. Two armbreakers set up the springboard dropkick to the arm, which in turn sets up a cross-armbreaker. He seems confident in himself. Sasaki slaps the smirk right off his face and gives him some knees and a suplex for two. Ohtani responds with a spinkick and goes back to the arm. Sasaki overpowers him again and a powerslam gets two. But Ohtani dropkicks the arm, and Sasaki is screwed again. They trade chops and Ohtani puts him down with a high kick, but Sasaki dumps him. Back in, another dropkick to the arm, and a second, lead into a crossface cobra hold. It’s looking bad, but Sasaki rolls into the ropes. He gets a judo throw and lariat from behind, but Ohtani is MANLY. Another lariat gets two. Okay, maybe not so manly. Ohtani reverses the Nortern Lights bomb back into the crossface, and this time it takes longer to reach the ropes. They slug it out and Sasaki gets a lariat, powerbomb, and it’s buh-bye via the NL Bomb at 15:09. Solid story but Sasaki isn’t exactly Steve Austin. ***1/2

– Naomichi Marufuji v. Naohiro Hoshikawa. This is from Zero-One, which is both the silliest and coolest name for a promotion I’ve heard in a long time. Hoshikawa was kicking around Mpro for a while, so I’ve seen him around before. Wristlock sequence goes nowhere. Hoshikawa grabs a headscissors, escaped by Marufuji. Hoshikawa unload the kicks, and they battle to a stalemate. Marufuji gets a dropkick, but Hoshikawa starts kicking. Seated dropkick, but Marufuji gets an insane corner elbow and a springboard elbowdrop for two. Very Muta-tastic there. He hits the chinlock and drops an elbow for two. Hoshikawa kicks him down again, but gets dropkicked out. Marufuji does a highspot tease, and then suplexes him in, but Hoshikawa comes in and kicks him out, and follows with a tope suicida. Back in, it gets two. Elbowdrop gets two. He uses the low kicks and works the arm. High kick in the corner puts Marufuji down for an 8 count. I dunno why, but they have a count when you’re down over the PA, as well as an out-of-ring count over the PA. Plus REALLY bizarre, vertigo-inducing camera angles. It’s wacky stuff, I tells ya. Hoshikawa keeps kicking in the corner and gets dropkicked for two. Hoshikawa gets dumped awkwardly and Marufuji follows with a somersault tope. Back in, a missile dropkick with the PHAT hangtime gets two, yo. Rollup gets two. Hoshikawa’s kicks are blocked with an Exploider. Frog splash gets two for Marufuji. German suplex gets two, but Hoshikawa reverses the pin into a submission move. Marufuji makes the ropes. Hoshikawa kicks him down and gets a front leg lariat for two. Northern Lights suplex gets two. German suplex is escaped, but Hoshikawa hits him with an enzuigiri instead and gets two. He heads up for a top rope enzuigiri, which gets two. Yikes. Superplex is blocked by Marufuji, and a rollup gets two for him. Superkick and an inverted Acid Drop get the duke for Marufuji at 16:04. That was like two cruiserweights building an AJ-style (as opposed to AJ Styles?) match with all the big moves coming at the end. Bravo. ****1/4

– Jun Akiyama & Mitsuhara Misawa v. Shinya Hashimoto & Yuji Nagata. Still with Zero-One for this. Nagata & Akiyama start and trade mat stuff. Nagata starts on the arm and suplexes Jun, who takes five. Nagata takes him down with a facelock and chokes him out, but switches to a standing armbar and works that appendage for a while. Nagata fires away with kicks, but Jun slugs back and gets a forearm. Nagata suplexes him into the next country, so Misawa wants a go. Nagata gives him a leg lariat and BLASTS him with high kicks. Holy CRAP did someone piss in Yuji’s cornflakes or something? Misawa uses the Power of the Elbow to come back. The spinning clothesline sets up a chinlock, and Jun comes in for a piledriver, and it gets two. High knee misses and Nagata tries the figure-four, but Misawa stares him cold. Hashimoto comes in and sends Akiyama scurrying with kicks. He stalls for a bit, and back in where Hashimoto just starts pounding the living shit out of him. I guess everyone has PMS in this match. However, Jun is a MANLY MAN, and he’s all “bring it on, BEEYOTCH!” and Shinya just can’t bring enough to satisfy his need for punishment, so he tags out to Misawa. He starts throwing the elbows, but Shinya wins that battle easily enough. Nagata tries next, suplexing Misawa for two. He pounds away, but Akiyama comes in and they unload on each other. Holy CRAP. I’m cringing just watching this stuff. Nagata gets an Exploider on Akiyama, but he’s all “Hey, dickhead, THIS is how you do that!” and Nagata is down. Crippler Crossface, but Nagata makes the ropes. Nagata hooks the Larryland choke, but when Shinya comes in, he’s greeted by a suplex for two. Akiyama’s one-foot pin attempt is priceless. Misawa comes in and gets swatted down. CHRIST he’s using some major firepower out there. Seriously, Shinya, take an anger management course or something. Nagata comes in and kicks the green right off of Misawa’s tights, but Misawa elbows back and gets a Tiger Driver for two. Again, but Nagata reverses the move into an armbreaker! Enzuigiri and backdrop suplex get two. Shinya destroys Misawa with kicks, and a DDT gets two. Big elbow gets two. DDT gets two. Is this the end of Misawa? Akiyama runs interference, distracting Hashimoto, and Misawa gets a shot in from behind and a backdrop finishes at 19:10. Whew, my ribs hurt just watching that. ***1/2 Then, a HUGE pullapart brawl erupts when Ogawa jumps onto the apron and yells something at Misawa that David translated for me as “Misawa, you’re a huge pussy, so FIGHT ME.” And that’s the end of THAT chapter.

The Bottom Line: Just about everything outside of the subpar Varsity Club match is pretty much a must-see here, for one reason or another. And I haven’t even gotten to the reason I got the tapes yet Mutoh.

Check out to pick this one up, and I’ll be back later this week with the second part!