The SmarK Rant For The Best Of Japan 2002 – Volume 3

The SmarK Rant for the Best of Japan 2002 – Volume 3

– I started this one a couple of months back and got about 65% done, when my well-documented computer problems zapped my entire writing archive, including the report I was working on at the time, and left me rewinding the tape to the beginning to start all over again. And in the case of the first match on the tape, watching it twice is a very tough thing indeed

– Mitsuhara Misawa v. Masa Chono. Big crowd heat for this one. Chono gets a big kick off a headlock right away, and a roundhouse, but Misawa elbows him down and it’s a stalemate. They go for the test of strength instead and Misawa works on the arm, but Chono takes him down with a rear naked choke, albeit one that’s not sunk in very well. He works a chinlock from there, but Misawa elbows out and kicks him down, for one. Now Misawa goes to the chinlock. Ah, the thrill of the style clash. Chono headbutts out of it. Whew. I was worried for his safety there. You know the match is slow when I not only have time to make sarcastic remarks, but comment on the fact that I’m making sarcastic remarks. Misawa elbows him down and and surfboards him! Whoo! 6 minutes gone, man, breath deeply, try to stay awake. FOCUS ON THE GOAL. Misawa goes to a front facelock as I stop to ponder the true meaning of Christmas and end up having time to recite the 12 Days of Christmas while doing so. Chono stomps on the leg in the corner and slugs away on the prone Misawa, perhaps annoyed by all the forced Christmas merriment in the malls this year. Of course, it’s May 2002 when this match is taking place, so that tends to shoot that theory down somewhat. They do another test of strength and Chono takes him down and works a wristlock. I stop to wonder if it’s New Year’s already, but it’s only 9:18 gone and not threatening to pick up any time soon. Chono gets two and keeps on the arm. They slug it out in the corner and Chono runs into a boot, setting up a Misawa missile dropkick that puts Chono on the floor, and a diving somersault off the ring apron that follows. Back in, Chono pounces up top and comes in with a flying shoulderblock, and starts doing alterations on the ring. This week: Trading Spaces goes to Japan! High kick on Misawa gets two. Elbow gets two. He tosses Misawa and they head out to the ramp, where Chono piledrives him on the ramp. Misawa fights back with an Emerald Frozen on the ramp and they lay around for a while, then head back in. They trade elbows and Chono drops first, so Misawa keeps pounding on him, but Chono comes back and kicks out the knees. Spinning toe hold turns into a figure-four, which I hate because the two moves might look similar, but they work on different legs – the figure-four affects the STRAIGHT leg, not the bent one. Misawa fights out and they slug it out, with both going down. They trade high kicks and Misawa gets the abdominal stretch. Chono reverses, but Misawa escapes with a Russian legsweep and lariat, which gets two. Over 20 minutes and the most exciting series has involved an abdominal stretch. Running elbows and Chono goes down, setting up a Tiger Driver for two. A sleeper hold gets two. They exchange high kicks and this time Misawa goes down. This sets up the STF as the announcer goes nuts like Jim Ross watching Steve Austin giving stunners to the entire Oklahoma Sooners football team while drinking BBQ sauce and beer. Misawa, hero to millions, fights to the ropes. He goes to the apron and fires away with elbows from that position until Chono drops, and another one gets two. Chono comes back with a powerbomb attempt that Misawa turns into a sloppy rana. Then they do the same sequence again, except reversed. Oooo. They slug it out and time winds down and expires at 30:00. Yay. Nothing really WRONG with the match outside of the insanely long running time, but nothing good about it either. **

– Tiger Mask IV v. Ikuto Hidaka. From Michinoku Pro. Well, this should be faster-paced if nothing else. Hidaka gives Mask a clean break off a lockup to start, and then kills him with a backdrop suplex. Another one sets up a cross-armlock, but TM makes the ropes. Hidaka stomps him out of the ring and tries to follow with a highspot, but Mask kicks him off the apron to block. Back in, Mask fires off a spinkick and monkey-flips him off a criss-cross, and follows with a missile dropkick that sends Hidaka scurrying. Back in, Mask kicks at the knee and quickly figure-fours it. Hidaka makes the ropes. TM switches to a hammerlock-and-leglock combo instead, but Hidaka makes the ropes again. TM keeps on the leg and suplexes him to block a leg lariat, then puts him down with a series of low kicks. Enzuigiri gets two. Dick Togo finally turns the tide by tripping him up from the outside, and Hidaka spits water in his eyes and superkicks him. We get some good old-fashioned mask-ripping going to rile up the crowd, and Hidaka pounds away in the corner. A baseball slide to the head and he pounds away, setting up a neckbreaker for two. Mask blocks a bulldog attempt with a rollup for two, and takes him down with a legbar. Hidaka makes the ropes again. He slugs TM down and then goes to the knee, setting up a german suplex into a legbar. That’s kind of a silly sequence. Mask makes the ropes, so Hidaka springboards in with a dropkick to the knee and rolls into a heel hook, but Mask makes the ropes before he can sink it in. They slug it out and Hidaka catches him with a powerbomb for two. He goes low and tries a german, but TM rolls through it, only to walk into the heel hook in the center of the ring. He makes the ropes, but Hidaka takes him down with a sleeper and gets the hooks in. Mask rolls them to the ropes. An attempt at a Tiger suplex is reversed by Tiger Mask to his own, which gets two. They fight up top and Mask goes for a DDT, but gets shaken off. So he crotches Hidaka instead and brings him down with a double-arm suplex from the top, and a standing moonsault for good measure, but it only gets two. He opts for a Tazzmission out of the pinning position, but Hidaka fights up, so he drops him with a suplex out of that position, and a Tiger Suplex to finish at 15:07. Really great finishing sequence and a solid match. ***1/4

– Keiji Mutoh, Kaz Hayashi & George Hines v. Taiyo Kea, Mitsuya Nagai & Shigeo Okamura. Everyone on Mutoh’s team looks and dresses like him. Creepy. JIP as Kaz gets stuck in the heel corner and pounded by Nagai, but he fights back and takes him down with a sleeper. Mutoh (the real one) comes in and drops the power elbow, setting up a sleeper of his own. Now George Hines comes in and works him over with a headscissors on the mat, but Nagai reverses to a bow-and-arrow. Hines falls on top for two. He gets double-teamed for two, however. Kea slugs it out with him and goes for a suplex, but gets taken into the other corner and Kaz comes in and works on the leg. Kea goes to the eyes to break and gets some nasty chops, but Kaz returns fire. Okamura dropkicks him for two, but Mutoh comes in with the dragon-screw, figure-four combo. Nagai breaks it up, but Hines stays on the knee with a spinning toehold. An oddball kneelock, for lack of a better term, inflicts more damage, and a belly-to-belly suplex gets two. Hines kicks away at the knee and gets his own figure-four, but the very grumpy Taiyo Kea breaks it up. Kaz stays on it and gets a backdrop suplex to set up an Indian deathlock variation, but Okamura makes the ropes. Back to the Mutoh corner, as the real deal comes in and dropkicks the knee, into the dragon-screw and now an Indian deathlock of his own. Okamura makes the ropes. Back to dropkicking the knee, and a vertical suplex, but Okamura comes back with a DDT and makes the tag to Kea. He elbows Mutoh in the corner into a northern lights suplex for two. High kick, low kick, enzuigiri and a german suplex, but Mutoh does the delayed sell and hits him with a Shining Wizard before collapsing. Hayashi comes back in against Nagai, and takes him down with an Eye of the Hurricane and a german suplex for two. He goes up, but gets caught coming down with a high kick and Nagai kicks the snot out of him, into a bulldog that sets up a Fujiwara armbar. Mutoh comes in to break it up, but can’t, and Kea takes care of him with a figure-four. Hines finally breaks up both moves. Okamura comes in with a missile dropkick on Mutoh that gets two. He tags out to Hines, who promptly walks into a lariat that gets two for Okamura. They slug it out and Okamura gets a dragon suplex for two. DDT gets two. Everyone is in and it’s BONZO GONZO as Hines gets a Stone Cold stunner (ironic considering that he shaved his head and grew a goatee to look like MUTOH) into a Sharpshooter, but now Team Mutoh cleans house on the heels and Hines drops Okamura with a Michinoku driver for the pin at 20:44. Kind of a weird and fun match, for sure. ***

– GHC Light Heavyweight tournament final – Yoshinobu Kanemaru v. KENTA. They fight over a lockup to start and Kanemaru gives the clean break. He works a wristlock, but KENTA gets his own and takes him down with an armbar. They work off a headlock and Kanemaru gets a flying headscissors and sends him out to the floor, following with a pescado. Back in, that gets two. We hit the chinlock and Kanemaru works the neck and drops a leg for two. Back to the chinlock, but KENTA fights out, only to walk back into another one again. Nice to see them using a bit of psychology instead of just slapping a resthold on. Neckbreaker gets two. Kanemaru takes him down with a headscissors. They slug it out and Kanemaru drops him with an elbow, but KENTA comes back with a backdrop suplex and dumps him. They fight to the ramp, where KENTA POWERSLAMS him off the ramp, to the floor. Jeepers. Back in, a backdrop gets two. Lionsault gets two. Into a Boston crab, but Kanemaru makes the ropes, and then grabs a sneaky inside cradle for two before getting blasted down with a lariat. They head outside and KENTA slams him on the concrete, which gets two back in the ring. Kanemaru comes back with a powerslam for two, and a SICK german suplex. Backdrop suplex gets two. He blocks a suplex and lands on the apron, but tries springboarding back in and gets dropkicked in the knee for his troubles. KENTA drops him with a faceplant powerbomb and goes up with a flying DDT. Kanemaru comes back and drops him on his head with another suplex to retaliate. Well, these guys sure mean business today. KENTA comes back but misses a moonsault, and gets rolled up for two. Falcon Arrow gets two. They head up and Kanemaru tries a superplex, but KENTA blocks with a running powerbomb for two. Frog splash gets two. Brainbuster gets two. Another one is turned into a rolling version, which gets the pin and the title at 16:01. Some really sick bumps and good stiff action there. ****

– Jushin Liger v. Koji Kanemoto. From the Best of the Super J tournament. Koji works the arm to start with a wristlock, but Liger takes him down to escape. They take it to the mat and Koji goes for the leg, but Liger reverses to an armlock, and Koji reverses that to a leglock and then kicks away at him. They slug it out, won by Liger, and he snapmares him into a kick to the neck, and goes back to the leg. He hooks him in a crazy leglock/double-underhook submission hold, but Kanemoto casually turns that into a toehold to break. And now he starts on Liger’s leg, working it with a spinning toehold, but Liger takes him over for one. Back to the leg as Koji kicks it, kicks it like a dog Tony, before Liger has enough of that and takes him down with a dragon-screw. We hit the chinlock as Liger regroups and Kanemoto monkey-flips him off a criss-cross and goes back to the leg again, this time grabbing a kneebar. You know, that’s incredibly painful in real life and I’m kinda surprised someone hasn’t worked it in again as a submission finisher. Hell, it worked for Repo Man! He switches to a heel hook, but Liger makes the ropes amidst his screams of pain. I always find it interesting how totally different the junior style in Japan of today is, with lots of submission-based MMA stuff, as compared to the Benoit/Liger dominated 90s stuff, which was based on high-flying and dangerous moves. However, no matter how realistic it gets, there’s always that one gulf that exists between wrestling and MMA: In any real MMA fight, any of the moves slapped on to wear down the leg will result in an INSTANT submission, and wrestling just can’t seem to shake the temptation to have someone fight out of them. Back to the leg with more stiff kicks, and he grabs a leglock, but Liger again makes the ropes. Liger comes back and slugs away, but Kanemoto takes him down with a short-arm scissors. Stay on the leg, dude. Liger makes the ropes again, so Koji tries a suplex off the apron to teach him some respect, but Liger blocks and sends him into the post, then puts him on top and superplexes him off. PALM-STRIKE OF DEATH gets two. He suplexes Kanemoto from the apron to the floor, and follows with a dive that is nearly missed because of the replay. Powerbomb on the floor (which looked pretty nasty) and Kanemoto appears to be dead. However, he is quickly upgraded to “alive” and he crawls back into the ring at 19. Running Ligerbomb gets two. If that was Matt Morgan doing it, he’d be dead now. I mean, sitting out seems to be deadly enough in the WWE, but RUNNING? Frog splash gets two. Rings of Saturn but Koji makes the ropes, so Liger charges into the corner with another palmstrike, but Koji was PLAYING POSSUM~!, and takes him down with another heel hook. Liger makes the ropes, however, but has trouble getting up again. They trade suplex attempts, but Koji kicks him in the face and goes up with a perfect moonsault and an anklelock, and Liger has no choice but to tap at 17:17. Good selling from Liger, most of the way. Some of these MMA-influenced junior matches are starting to get a bit cookie-cutter, though. ***1/2

– Minoru Tanaka v. El Samurai. This is the other semi-final from the BOSJ tournament. Samurai attacks him on the entrance and hits him with a tope suicida before the bell even rings, and lays him out on the floor, then sends him into the post. Back in, Samurai pounds him in the corner and they go up, and Samurai brings him down with a rana for two and works the arm with a cross-armlock. Back in, Tanaka suckers him into a couple of kicks and suplexes him to set up the kneedrop, for two. That’s another thing no one does anymore – the Randy Savage style jumping kneedrop. Everyone does the lazier Ric Flair-style rolling one now. Samurai reverses the pin attempt into a Fujiwara armbar, however. He hammerlocks the arm and works it over on the mat, but Tanaka catches him in a triangle choke out of nowhere, until Samurai makes the ropes. Tanaka now starts going after his arm, dropping a knee on it and cranking on it until Samurai is forced to bail and regroup. Back in, Samurai gets a corner clothesline and tornado DDT, but Tanaka no-sells it, only to get rolled up for two. Samurai clotheslines him down again and goes up with a missile dropkick, and that gets two. Back up, but a diving headbutt misses and Tanaka uses the crazy flying armbar to take Samurai down, but he makes the ropes. High kicks, but Samurai blocks with an inverted DDT. Tornado DDT gets two. A top rope rana is immediately reversed to a sunset flip for two. They fight up top and Tanaka shoves him down, but like Richard Marx, he keeps coming back and finally gets a superplex for two. Reversal sequence leads to Samurai DDTing him and going up with the flying headbutt, which gets two. Samurai clotheslines him, but Tanaka stays up and gets a high kick, then reverses a rollup attempt and holds on for the pin at 13:03. ***1/4

– IWGP tag titles: Masa Chono & Hiroyoshi Tenzan v. Manabu Nakanashi & Osamu Nishimura. The match is clipped to Chono pounding away on Nishimura on the mat, for two. Half-crab, and he brings in Tenzan, who stomps on his knee and gets a leg lariat for two. Chono comes in with a high kick and they both head up, as Chono hits a diving shoulderblock and Tenzan follows with a diving headbutt, and gets two. Back up they go, but Nakanishi comes in for the save and the champs get slammed off the top, as Nishimura gets two on Tenzan. Nishimura comes back with the abdominal stretch, but Chono breaks it up. He whips Tenzan into Nishimura with a corner splash, which sets up a Yakuza kick as he staggers out, and then Tenzan drops down with a headbutt for two. Double submission holds follow on the challengers, but they break free. Now Chono gets an STF on Nishimura while Tenzan uses a Scorpion deathlock on Nakanishi. Everyone makes the ropes. They double-team Nishimura with a shoulderblock that gets two for Tenzan. Finally he staggers over and makes the hot tag to Nakanishi, and he’s a house of fire, overpowering both champions with shoulderblocks. Chono attacks him and they double-team him, but he spears both guys and drops Chono with the backbreaker. Torture Rack for Chono and he’s fading fast, but Nakanishi drops him with a gutbuster instead. He tries the german suplex, but Chono goes low to break. Everyone gets laid out with high kicks or spears as the case may be, and they’re all out. Tenzan recovers first and stomps on the challengers, but runs into a brick wall with Nakanishi and gets suplexed. Chono tries with a high kick and a double-team attempt, but they can’t get him over on a suplex, and he suplexes both of them for two! Why wasn’t he that cool in WCW? German suplex on Tenzan gets two. The knee appears to be hurt on the move, however, showing the chink in the armor. He gets tossed from the ring and tended to, while Nishimura takes his boots off? Tenzan hauls Nakanishi back in and goes for the knee, and Nishimura opts to go barefoot, so I guess he’s really pissed. Anyone with insight, please share. He tags in and forearms the crap out of Team 2000, but gets caught with an atomic drop from Chono. He comes back with a spinning toehold and a figure-four on Tenzan, but Chono drops an elbow to break it up. Nishimura slugs away on Chono until he drops, and gets two. Indian deathlock (bridged, because he’s awesome), but Tenzan breaks it up. Tenzan slams him and drops a headbutt for two. He slugs him down in the corner and brings him down with the knee to the neck, which gets two. Team 2000 works him over at will, but heel miscommunication leaves Chono flattened by a lariat, and now Nakanishi is BACK and ready for the tag! His leg is all wrapped up and he chop-blocks the heels until it’s a level playing field (that’s so awesome) and puts Chono into a spinning toehold, while using a clawhold on him! This guy rules. He does the same deal with Tenzan while Nishimura takes care of Chono, but Tenzan fights out of it. Chono gets rid of Nishimura and takes Nakanishi down with a dragon-screw, and things are looking bleak. Another one sets up a stepover toehold into a front facelock (kind of an inverted STF), while Tenzan holds Nishimura down with the Buffalo sleeper. Nakanishi tries to escape by putting Chono into the claw from the ground, but apparently leverage doesn’t work from that position. Tenzan goes low with a headbutt and uses a leglock on him, but Nakanishi powers himself to the ropes. They stay on the leg, as Chono gets a Russian legsweep and keeps doing it until Nakanishi stays down. It takes four of them. And even then he gets up again. Some people never learn. A fifth one gets two. Tenzan hammers him down again, but Nakanishi won’t stay down, so Tenzan hits him in the leg for two. Nakanishi fights back, but again Tenzan hits him in the leg, so Nakanishi hits him in the face and draws blood. Nishimura finally tags in and rolls up Tenzan for two. He dropkicks Chono, five times, as apparently Chono is just as stubborn as Nakanishi. Nakanishi comes back in and chops Chono until he falls, for two. More chops, and down Chono goes again, for two. STF for Chono, but Tenzan breaks it up and tags himself in. He hammers Nakanishi, but gets nowhere. Nishimura comes back in and knocks him silly with a forearm, but Tenzan evens the odds by going low a few times, but he’s losing blood and unable to see. He tries a desperation suplex for two, but Nishimura bridges out and backslides for two. The blood loss is starting to affect Tenzan, and Nishimura gets the abdominal stretch as the crowd starts to sense something happening. Tenzan breaks and moonsaults him, for two. Tombstone piledriver gets two, as Nakanishi saves. Chono comes back in, but gets rolled up for two. Nakanishi hits him with a high knee and a german suplex for two, as Tenzan dives in for the save. Now Nishimura comes back in with a sleeper, and he puts the hooks in, but Tenzan saves again. Chono gets a desperation Yakuza kick for two, but Nakanishi saves. Backslide gets two for Chono. Small package gets two for Nishimura. Nakanishi comes in with a corner clothesline, and Nishimura dropkicks him into the corner, but Chono kicks the leg out from Nakanishi and Tenzan gets a leg lariat for two. Yikes. Nakanishi blocks the Tenzan Driver and dropkicks him for two. Rollup gets two, and it’s a draw at 37:11 aired, although it was a 60:00 draw. Dammit! No one is satisfied, obviously, and the challengers want more time, but no go. Too bad the full match doesn’t exist. ****1/2

– Best of the Super J finals: Minoru Tanaka v. Koji Kanemoto. Tanaka gives a semi-clean break to start, hitting a high kick on his way back, and they reverse until Koji rolls him up for one. They slug it out and Koji kicks the back and gets the kneedrop for two. Koji grabs a wristlock and lays in some kicks on the mat, then tosses him. They brawl outside and Koji sends him into the railing, and they head back in. Jumping knee to the head and a suplex, but Tanaka blocks it and gets his own, sending Koji to the floor. They fight out there, this time won by Tanaka, and Koji milks the count a bit before heading back in. Tanaka gets a suplex for two. Stiff kicks to his chest follow, but Koji stays up, so Tanaka lays in the high kicks until he’s caught with a dragon-screw. Kanemoto grabs a heel hook, but Tanaka makes the ropes. He fires off kicks to the knee and spins into another heel hook, but Tanaka makes the ropes. Kanemoto goes up for a moonsault, but misses, and Tanaka smacks him with a high kick and goes up. Missile dropkick gets two. Half-nelson suplex gets two. Into a cross-armlock, but Kanemoto makes the ropes. Tanaka uses more high kicks, and takes him down with the flying armbar into the armlock, but he stops to go kick Gedo in the face. Back to kicking the shit out of Kanemoto’s arm again, in absolutely brutal fashion, and Kanemoto runs into a knee, but snaps off another heel hook out of nowhere. Tanaka makes the ropes. He comes back with a backslide for two, but Koji blocks a clothesline with a Flatliner and crossfaces him. He makes the ropes. Tanaka comes back with a roundhouse kick and the flying armbar, but Kanemoto makes the ropes. He comes back with another crossface to block a high kick Tanaka fights out, so he goes to a Tiger Suplex and gets two, and then hooks a dragon sleeper. Tanaka kicks him in the face to escape, so he grabs the free leg and anklelocks it, then goes up with a moonsault for two. Back to the anklelock, but Tanaka again makes the ropes. He gets a quick rollup for two, however. Backslide gets two. Kanemoto casually kicks him in the head and finishes with a dragon suplex at 14:12. You knew the end was coming sooner or later. Good but not spectacular. ***1/2

– Yoshihiro Takayama v. Manabu Nakanishi. Uh oh, it’s the battle of the surliest dudes on earth. Nakanishi gets a quick chop to start, and Takayama returns the favor. They do the test of strength, which should prove interesting, and it’s a battle of who can make the most intense face. Neither guy is willing to go down, and Takayama finally suplexes out of it. Nakanishi grabs a headlock and they decide to fight over shoulderblocks now, and it’s a battle of brick walls. Nakanishi finally clotheslines him down and goes for the german, but Takayama blocks and they take it to the mat. Nakanishi takes him over and headbutts him against the ropes until he falls, then chokes him out. They exchange chops, which goes badly for Takayama, and Nakanishi slams him and goes up for a flying chop. Takayama kicks him in the throat to slow him down, but he keeps chopping. Finally Takayama tosses him and they fight on the ramp, but Nakanishi just keeps chopping. Takayama kicks him down to stop the onslaught, but Nakanishi chop-blocks the leg and bulldogs him. He just keeps destroying him with chops and they head back in, as Nakanishi keeps throwing stiff kicks and chops. Takayama finally fires back and they slug it out, but Takayama catches his arms, so Nakanishi suplexes him and keeps stomping away. Double-arm suplex gets two for Nakanishi. More chops, but Takayama just stands there and takes the spear, and Nakanishi bounces off like a ball bearing on cement. They brawl outside, and Nakanishi ends up eating railing a few times. Takayama lays in the kicks for good measure. They do a closeup of Takayama’s chest, and it’s SICK. Now he starts firing back and drops him with a high kick, then hooks in a front facelock. They slug it out while on the mat, but Takayama is up first and dropkicks him into the corner. He fires off high kicks while there, but Nakanishi won’t go down. Eventually he does, so the ref counts him. He keeps fighting back up, however. Takayama with the double-arm suplex for two. He goes for the arm with a keylock, but Nakanishi makes the ropes. Nakanishi comes back with a stepover toehold and clawhold, but Takayama turns that into a triangle choke. Nakanishi makes the ropes. German suplex is blocked with a sideslam, but Takayama blocks a rollup. They slug it out again and Nakanishi gets a Thesz Press for two. Lariat sets up a german suplex which gets one. Another one is blocked, so he opts for the Torture Rack instead. Takayama manages to headlock him while in that position and brings him down with a bulldog. He lays in the kicks and the ref counts Nakanishi again. Another kick gets two. German suplex gets two. He tries more high kicks, but Nakanishi stays up, and they end up hitting each other with high knees. The spear still doesn’t work, and Takayama hits the groggy Nakanishi with a Shining Wizard of all things for the pin at 17:47. That was quite the crazy stiff power match. ***3/4

– IWGP title: Yuji Nagata v. Kensuke Sasaki. They fight over a lockup to start and end up in the corner, and Sasaki takes him down with a fireman’s carry and they work off a headlock. Nagata tries for the cross-armlock, but Sasaki blocks and tries for the leg, and they fight over that. Both end up in the ropes, and we start over. Nagata takes him down with a sleeper, but Sasaki breaks via an anklelock, so Nagata rides him over and they fight on the mat before breaking it off and starting over. Nagata starts kicking the leg and fires off a pair of high kicks, but Sasaki takes him down with a neck crank. Nagata escapes a suplex attempt and tries the Nagatalock, but Sasaki makes the ropes. Nagata takes him down and crossfaces him, into a chinlock, but Sasaki gets a cross-armlock and holds off Nagata’s attempts to escape. He works on the neck with a submission move, but Nagata goes to a heel hook to escape and keeps working on the leg. Sasaki pusses out and makes the ropes. Nagata kicks him down again for two. Finally Sasaki decides to be a man for once and exchange high kicks with Nagata, but that also makes him STUPID, because he gets killed before slugging him in the face and suplexing Nagata to take the heat off. Yuji bails, as Bas Rutten lends him some moral support. Back in, Sasaki kicks him down and then takes him down with a judo throw that gets two. Powerbomb gets two. He comes off the ropes and gets CRANKED with a high kick from Nagata, however, and both guys are out. Sasaki recovers first, but Nagata kicks him in the head again and puts his lights out again. I think we’re onto something here. Nagata gets two. They slug it out in the corner, with Nagata kicking him in the head real good, and he follows with a running high kick in the corner. Exploider gets two. Leaping DDT sets up a crossface, but Sasaki makes the ropes. Nagata kicks him in the head a few times to send him to the floor, and hits an Exploider out there. High kick puts him down, but when Nagata climbs onto the apron, Sasaki clips him from behind. Back in, they head up to the top, and Sasaki gets a superplex for two. Lariat gets two. Sasaki figure-fours the legs and they yell manly epitaphs at each other while Sasaki holds the move, but he releases and opts to keep kicking at the knee instead. Nagata drops and Sasaki gets the Scorpion Deathlock, but Nagata powers over to the ropes to break. Sasaki hits another pair of lariats and gets two. Another try is blocked by a high kick, and they exchange blows like that until Nagata gets an Exploider for two. Enzuigiri and backdrop driver get two. Sasaki snaps off a powerslam for two, however. Another lariat is blocked with a belly-to-belly, which gets one for Nagata. They slug it out and Nagata goes to the kicks again, and a backdrop suplex finishes the job at 22:44. Well, I normally hate Sasaki, but he was game for getting his head kicked in here, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. ****

– Magnum Tokyo v. Masaaki Mochizuki. They exchange some quick stuff to start and Mochizuki takes him down and works on the leg with a kneebar, but he makes the ropes. Mochizuki pounds him with kicks and works him over in the corner, but Tokyo comes back with a sick DDT off the top, onto the apron, to the floor. Back in, Tokyo works him over with knees and bulldogs him out of the corner, and goes up with a missile dropkick that gets two. Mochizuki comes back with a kick to the back, but Tokyo’s pals come in and triple-team him, which allows the heel team to do the same, and it soon it’s a big schmoz. Finally, order is restored, and everyone is a little worse for wear. Tokyo charges and hits boot, and Mochizuki gets a missile dropkick for two. They exchange suplex attempts and Mochizuki gets a dragon suplex for two. Tokyo tries a german, but Mochizuki lands on his feet and goes up. Tokyo follows him but bumps and grinds too long and gets knocked off. He snaps off a rana anyway, and a backdrop suplex gets two. Viagra Driver is escaped, and they exchange high kicks and both guys are out. They slug it out and Tokyo wins with an enzuigiri, but Mochizuki gets one off the top and a lariat gets two. That’s a neat variation. Tokyo gets the moonsault kick and another enzuigiri, and the Viagra Driver gets two. Lariat gets two. To the top, and the Shooting Star Press finishes at 9:07 (12:36 according to the graphic, so I guess it was JIP or edited). Usual Toryumon stuff here. ***1/4

– Minoru Tanaka & Tiger Mask IV v. Koji Kanemoto & AKIRA. AKIRA starts with Tiger Mask and they block each other’s offense until TM legsweeps him down. Tanaka comes in with the high dropkick, but AKIRA hammerlocks him and brings in Koji, who happily stomps away on Tanaka’s head and spits on Tiger Mask. Tanaka comes back with a spinkick and suplex to set up the kneedrop, but Kanemoto takes him down for a spinning toehold. AKIRA comes in for the double-team and they work the knee over, and AKIRA tries a leglock, only to have it reversed to a heel hook by Tanaka, and back to the face corner we go. TM comes in with a dropkick and gets two. Butterfly suplex gets two. He hits the chinlock, and Tanaka comes in with a kneebar. AKIRA makes the ropes. Tanaka keeps stomping the knee, but AKIRA fires back with an enzuigiri and Kanemoto comes in to keep up the abuse. Kneebar, but TM makes the save. Koji charges and hits boot, and Tanaka gets a quick missile dropkick and brings Tiger Mask back in, with a missile dropkick of his own. High kick in the corner and Kanemoto appears to be limp, so Tiger gives him a Tiger Driver for two just to make sure. To the top, but a moonsault misses and Koji gets an overhead belly-to-belly to take over. AKIRA comes in with a flying clothesline and gets two. German is countered by TM, and he gets a standing moonsault for two. Tanaka comes back in, but whiffs on the dropkick, then recovers and gets another one before getting waffled from behind by Kanemoto. He appears to be YOUR face-in-peril, but quickly rolls through into a heel hook on AKIRA as Tiger Mask fires off a dive on Koji outside. AKIRA chooses the path of least resistance and kicks Tanaka in the nuts for two. Crossface, but Tanaka makes the ropes. Leg lariat gets two. The heels double-team him, as AKIRA gets a flying splash for two. Tanaka comes back with a victory roll for two, thus making it an ironically named victory roll. Heel hook in the middle, but AKIRA makes the ropes. Tanaka walks into an enzuigiri, which gets two. Tanaka rolls him up for two. AKIRA comes back with an inside cradle for two. Another crossface, but it’s a draw at 20:00, although I only had 13:32 by my watch. Must have been more editing. Good fun junior stuff regardless, although Tiger Mask seemed a bit outmatched. ***1/4

– Blue Wolf, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kenzo Suzuki & Kensuke Sasaki v. Yutaka Yoshie, Osamu Nishimura, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata. Yoshie hammers on Tanahashi to start and overpowers him, but they slug it out until Tanahashi gets a forearm to knock him down. Yoshie slams him, but a charge is blocked with a dropkick, and Blue Wolf comes in. He wants Nagata. It’s his funeral. He tries a wristlock, but gets kicked off by Nagata. Powerslam and he tries a toehold, but Nagata counters out of that, too. Yuji cranks on the neck and works the arm, and they slug it out. Wolf goes down first, to no one’s surprise. Nagata kicks him right in the chops a few times, but gets suplexed. The heels do a quick beatdown in the corner and Wolf gets an anklelock out of it. Suzuki comes in with an attempt at a boston crab, but Nagata escapes, so he elbows him down and they slug it out. Nagata kicks him in the face to end that threat and brings in Nishimura. Suzuki casually slams him and tries to walk away, but Nishimura hangs on and wrestles him to the mat, holding an armbar. He grabs a chinlock, but Suzuki powers out. Nakanishi comes in and naturally that brings in Sasaki and they immediately lock up like a pair of rhinos in the African sierra. Neither guy can intimidate the other, so they exchange chops, HARD ones, and yell a lot. All they need is a barbeque and Maxim and it’s the manliest match ever! They keep colliding and keep not moving, until finally they both go down from clotheslines. Nakanishi recovers first, but walks into a powerslam, but he’s OKAY. They circle again, and Sasaki blinks first, tagging out to Tanahashi. Pussy. Yoshie makes him pay for it, pounding the crap out of him and putting him in a Liontamer, but the other heels break. Powerslam gets two. Vertical suplex gets two. Nagata comes in and cranks on the arm, as this dude is clearly out of his league. Crossface, but Tanahashi makes the ropes. Nagata kicks the everloving sweet Jesus out of him in the corner, but the kid fights back. He gets a flying forearm and brings Sasaki back in to bail out his team. Sasaki clobbers Nagata and gives him some of his own medicine with the kicks, but Nagata returns fire, so Sasaki opts for brawn over brains and clotheslines him down again. Judo throw gets two. Nagata catches him with an Exploider and brings Nishimura back in, and he gets the abdominal stretch, but Sasaki immediately counters to a cross-armlock. Sasaki & Blue Wolf get stereo powerslams on Nagata & Nishimura, and Suzuki charges into the corner with a knee on Nishimura. Nishimura suckers him in on another charge, however, and takes him down into the bridged Indian deathlock. Tanahashi breaks it up. Nakanishi gives him what-for, however, and it’s stereo spinning toeholds for the heels, into stereo figure-fours. Nakanishi comes in all legal-like, and clotheslines Suzuki and Blue Wolf, then goes for the Rack, but it’s broken up. So he puts Yoshie in the Rack instead, and tosses him onto various heels in a funny spot. He gets the Rack for real on Suzuki, then tosses him at the other heels. The crowd eats it up. Yoshie comes in with a splash on Suzuki for two. He goes up with a pump buttsplash for two. Corner splash, but Suzuki manages a spear and gets Sasaki back in there to bail them out again. He goes up top with Yoshie and superplexes him for two. Yoshie comes back with a powerslam for two. Spinebuster gets two. Tanahashi comes in and fruitlessly chops away on Yoshie, but it does allow Suzuki to sneak in with a backdrop suplex while he’s distracted. Sasaki flattens him with a lariat and a brainbuster gets two. It’s BONZO GONZO with bodies flying everywhere, and Sasaki finishes Yoshie with another lariat at 24:22 (although again, my watch says 19:41, so there’s some judicious editing going on here). Fun stuff, with Sasaki saving the day by pinning the weak link on the face team despite three weak links of his own. ***1/2

– IWGP Junior title: Minoru Tanaka v. AKIRA. Some feeling-out to start and AKIRA flips out of a wristlock, as does Tanaka, and they showboat for each other. AKIRA catches him with a dropkick and stomps away, into a figure-four. Tanaka eventually makes the ropes after much struggling. AKIRA now has his target, however, and he works the injured knee over in rather sadistic fashion. Tanaka fights up and AKIRA kicks the knee right from under him again, and keeps yanking on it. Spinning toehold into another figure-four, but Tanaka forces them into the ropes again. AKIRA stays on the knee in impressive fashion, but Tanaka escapes a suplex, only to get kicked in the knee again. Good strategy. Tanaka bails, and AKIRA makes his first mistake by trying a tope suicida, which misses, but he manages to DDT Tanaka on the floor regardless. They head back in and AKIRA stomps away on him, opting to let the referee count. He decides to go for a german suplex, which Tanaka counters, but AKIRA rolls him up for two. STF puts Tanaka in some difficulty, but he makes the ropes. AKIRA goes up, but gets caught, and they slug it out as Tanaka keeps coming. After three tries, AKIRA dives for a high cross, but Tanaka dropkicks him in mid-air and goes for a german suplex but AKIRA goes low and DDTs him for two. Back to the top, as a flying splash gets two. He tries a dragon suplex, but Tanaka uses the crazy flying armbar to take him down and get the cross-armlock. It’s too near the ropes, however. They slug it out on the mat and AKIRA dropkicks him and goes up again. Flying splash hits knee and Tanaka uses a VICIOUS high kick to the face for two. AKIRA gets pissed and charges in headlong, and gets suplexed for his troubles, for two. Both are down, but AKIRA gets an enzuigiri for two. They reverse off a suplex attempt and Tanaka gets a victory roll for two. Small package gets the pin to retain at 13:47, although yet again the listed time is five minutes off, at 18:22. Maybe I’m stuck in a temporal loop or something. Great selling from Tanaka here. ***3/4

– IWGP Junior tag titles: Minoru Tanaka & Jushin Liger v. Koji Kanemoto & AKIRA. Koji starts with Tanaka and they exchange wristlocks. Tanaka dropkicks out of it, and they take it to the mat. Koji grabs a kneebar, but Tanaka fights his way to the ropes. He gets taken to the heel corner and AKIRA takes him down with a leglock, and they fight over that until they both make the ropes. Liger comes in and works the arm, but AKIRA reverses, and it’s a stalemate. Liger takes him down, into a bow-and-arrow, but he releases and opts for a leglock instead. Tanaka comes in for the double-team, and a snap suplex and kneedrop get two. A cross-armlock is escaped by AKIRA and reversed to an Indian deathlock, and Kanemoto comes in and kicks Tanaka down. They take turns battering him in the corner, and work on the knee. Some quick tags allow them to batter the knee, and they keep on that track for a while. AKIRA tries a boston crab, but Liger breaks it up. They hang Tanaka in the tree of woe and dropkick the knee in turn, while Liger gets more and more annoyed. They keep double-teaming the knee in their corner, mercilessly working it over while taunting Liger on the outside. Koji kicks him down and pulls the kneepad off for better effectiveness, and keeps stomping the crap out of it. Back to the corner, Koji drops him with a kick to the gut and a high knee in the corner. A blind charge hits boot, but Tanaka whiffs on the missile dropkick and lands on the bad knee. Ouch. He finally comes back with a dropkick, and makes the hot tag to Liger. It’s a pair of palmstrikes and a Ligerbomb for Kanemoto, and he goes up. Frog splash gets two. They fight over a suplex, but Koji knees him in the face and goes up with a moonsault, which misses. AKIRA bats clean-up and dropkicks Liger to save the day, however. Tags abound as Tanaka comes back in to deal with AKIRA, and he dropkicks him a couple of times, while still selling the knee. Heel hook, but Kanemoto breaks it up (and flips off Liger). AKIRA comes back with an enzuigiri, but Tanaka catches another heel hook, and this time Liger takes care of Kanemoto. However, he fights free and breaks it up again, so Liger tosses him and follows with a pescado. This allows AKIRA to go low and crossface Tanaka, while Masa Chono cheers him on. Tanaka makes the ropes. The heels double-team him, as AKIRA dropkicks him to set up a flying splash for two. Enzuigiri (dramatically sold) gets two. He goes up and misses another flying splash, as Liger comes back in and cleans house, and everyone dropkicks everyone. AKIRA charges Tanaka and misses, and gets rolled up for two. Butterfly bridged suplex gets two. Tanaka brings Liger back in, but he gets dropkicked in the knee himself. Kanemoto goes up with a corkscrew senton, and anklelocks him, while AKIRA figure-fours Tanaka. Liger reverses to a heel hook, however, forcing Koji to make the ropes. Overhead belly-to-belly by Kanemoto, and he holds Liger while AKIRA gets a missile dropkick, giving Kanemoto two. Moonsault and anklelock look to finish with Tanaka predisposed outside, and he turns it into a heel hook for good measure, but Tanaka finally fights in and breaks it up. Liger uses the POWER OF THE PALM to strike him down, but only gets one. Another one out of the corner sets up a superplex, which gets two. The heels do some double-teaming, but Liger palmstrikes Koji for two. Brainbuster and he’s dead meat at 22:41. Last 10 minutes or so of this were INCREDIBLE, and the first 10 minutes were like something out of the Andersons v. Rock N Rolls playbook. Tons of believable finishes if need be, too. ****1/2

– Ikuto Hidaka v. Naohiro Hoshikawa. Hoshikawa kicks him down to start, and they slug it out. Hidaka sends him out with a headscissors, but misses a pescado, and Hoshikawa hits him with a dive of his own. They brawl outside and Hoshikawa hits him with a leg lariat into the railing, and back in they go. Hoshikawa kicks him down and works on the leg. They slug it out and Hoshikawa gets the worst of it, allowing Hidaka to stomp on his head a bit. We hit the chinlock and Hidaka baseball slides his head, and follows with a dropkick for two. He pounds away in the corner and goes to the leg with a spinning toehold, and they fight over the leglock. Hidaka slugs away in the corner and blocks a charge with his boot, and wraps him up in the corner with a sort of Tarantula. He tries a suplex off the apron, but Hoshikawa uses a high kick to block, and then charges and misses. They brawl outside, and Hidaka escapes a suplex and DDTs Hoshikawa on the floor, using the apron as a springboard. Crazy corkscrew senton off the apron follows. Back in, Hidaka springboards in with a dropkick for two. Neckbreaker gets two. They slug it out, but another springboard attempt by Hidaka is blocked with a dropkick. Hoshikawa gets a leg lariat for two. They slug it out and fight for a suplex, which results in Hoshikawa getting a Northern Lights suplex for two. Double-underhook submission, but Hidaka makes the ropes. Hoshikawa goes up and they slug it out, allowing Hoshikawa to try a powerbomb, which Hidaka reverses to a tornado DDT for two. Hoshikawa comes back with an enzuigiri. He charges and gets caught with a kneecrusher by Hidaka, who follows with a springboard dropkick to the knee. German suplex into a leglock, but Hoshikawa makes the ropes. Hidaka stays on the knee, and powerbombs him for two. Heel hook , but Hoshikawa makes the ropes. He comes back with an enzuigiri German suplex gets two, but the knee gives way. He goes up with an enzuigiri from the top and another german suplex, and this time he lifts the bad leg and puts the force on the good one. Still gets two. He kicks away at Hidaka, who goes low and takes him down with a complex rollup that gets two. Another enzuigiri off a missed clothesline for Hoshikawa, and he goes up with a missile dropkick for two. Yet another enzuigiri finishes at 15:42. The enzuigiris got a bit repetitive there and the match felt a bit clinical and detached, but the work was solid. ***1/2

– Dick Togo v. Tatsuhito Takaiwa. Takaiwa charges and slugs Togo out of the ring to start, and powerbombs him on the floor. Togo, however, is not so easily bested, and he slugs him down and retrieves a table. He puts Takaiwa’s leg on it and smashes it with a chair. Now that’s quality scientific wrestling! Back in, Togo dragon-screws the leg and figure-fours him, but he makes the ropes. Togo stays on it, splashing the knee and working it over with a dropkick. Figure-four, but Takaiwa makes the ropes. He fights back, but Togo is all “Is THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT, BITCH?” and kicks him in the leg again to end the rally. Heel hook, but Takaiwa makes the ropes again. Togo hangs him in the corner and dropkicks the knee, and starts chopping. Takaiwa is up for that game, however, and returns fire. Togo takes him down with another heel hook (Dick Togo: Submission specialist?), but Takaiwa makes the ropes. Togo gets a SUPER tornado DDT off the ropes, for two. He got hangtime on that sucker. Brainbuster gets two. He goes low and an Oklahoma roll gets two, and Togo rolls right into a crossface off that, but Takaiwa powers him into a death valley driver. Double powerbomb follows, but Togo ain’t done with him yet. Pedigree (Uh oh, Togo better not show his face in the US again) and Togo gets the senton bomb for two. He grabs a chair, but the ref takes it away, and gets bumped by Takaiwa as a result. Takaiwa grabs the chair, but Togo dropkicks his knee to stop it and grabs it from him. TOP ROPE PEDIGREE, on the CHAIR, and he puts the chair on Takaiwa’s knee and comes off with a senton bomb but it misses. Michinoku Driver on the chair puts Togo’s lights out, but he’s got enough juice to block a suplex, only to fall victim to an STO that gets two. Takaiwa powerbombs him into the turnbuckles and they go up, which results in a top rope DVD to end it at 12:55. Well that was quite the private little war. There was some crazy stuff in here, but the match itself wasn’t all that spectacular. I don’t like the chairs getting involved like that either. ***3/4

The Bottom Line:

Volume 3 brings us two good, long tag team matches, an ornery slugfest between Nakanishi & Takayama, and Sasaki actually not looking like a pile of shit against Nagata. Oddly enough, the matchlisting on the website is wrong, as the match order at the end differs slightly, and it’s missing a Ryo Saito v. Genki Horiguchi match while adding Liger/Tanaka v. Kanemoto/AKIRA and the two Zero-One matches.

You can check out my review of the first two volumes on 411, and of course please rush out and buy the Best of Japan 2002 at www.goldenboytapes.com, on either video or DVD, as a Christmas present to yourself, before best of 2003 comes out!

More coming soon. Assuming I can remember to do it.