The SmarK Rant For The Best Of Japan 2002 – Volume 5

The SmarK Rant for the Best of Japan – Volume Five

– Down to the nitty-gritty as I see if I can do two more volumes before the new year. However, I’m not gonna watch any Japanese wrestling for a while after this set is done. Everyone’s got their limits, and 24 hours straight of puro is pretty much mine. Please, remember to hit www.goldenboytapes.com to pick up the epic 36-hour, 6 tape Best of Japan 2002 set which I am dutifully reviewing for you (in either VHS or DVD, check the site for prices) in order to make my marathon puroresu sessions worthwhile.

– Yuji Nagata v. Osamu Nishimura. Another G1 Climax match, as Nishimura seems to have nothing but draws in the 2002 edition. Nagata grabs a facelock to start and gives Nishimura a clean break. He goes for the arm with an arm wringer and works on that, but Nishimura reverses to a hammerlock and takes him to the mat. He does some vicious-looking bridging while holding it, but Nagata counters with a suplex out of it and we start again. Full-nelson from Nagata and he turns it into a cravate, and they go into the test of strength. Nishimura takes him down with the armbar, and Nagata escapes. Nagata gets an abdominal stretch out of a lockup and keeps cranking on the neck, but Nishimura goes behind on the mat and controls, so Nagata attacks the knee a bit and starts working on that. Nishimura counters with a short-arm scissors, but Nagata turns that into a pinfall attempt and Nishimura has to give it up. Back to the lockup and they do some mat-wrestling, like actual amateur mat-wrestling, and Nagata goes to the headlock. Knucklelock, but Nishimura does the bridge to block it and suplex out for two. Nagata tries his own bridge, but can’t get up, and Nishimura gets a headlock. Nagata counters to an armbar, but Nishimura bridges out of it. Nagata eschews subtlety and fires off a few kicks to throw him off-balance, so Nishimura surfboards him, but Nagata keeps fighting until he makes the ropes. He gets a suplex, but can’t cover because Nishimura is in the ropes. He goes back to cranking on the headlock on the mat, which switches to a Fujiwara armbar, but Nishimura makes the ropes and bails. Back in, Nagata goes for the kicks again, but Nishimura is ready and he throws some forearms in return. Two can play at that, however, and they throw down until Nagata tries a high kick and gets dragon-screwed as a result. He bails and Nishimura follows and dumps him on the announce table. Back in, Nagata gets posted and Nishimura goes to town on the knee. He grabs a leglock and then takes him down with a kneebar. We’re at 20:00 so I’m betting on another draw. Figure-four, but Nagata reverses. He makes the ropes to break the hold, but Nishimura goes up, so Nagata follows him up, but Nishimura brings him down and dropkicks the knee to set up a spinning toehold. Nagata nails him, however, and gets the Nagatalock. Nishimura makes the ropes. Nagata stomps away in the corner, but Nishimura tries a bulldog, which Nagata reverses to a backdrop suplex for two. Up top for a Super Exploider, which gets two. Crossface-chickenwing, but Nishimura makes the ropes. Butterfly suplex gets two. Nishimura cradles for one, and the german suplex gets one. Nagata quickly counters to a crossface, however. Nishimura makes the ropes, and gets the abdominal stretch. Another one, and this time it’s the Octopus. Sleeper, but Nagata reverses, and takes him down with another crossface. He’s only got 90 seconds left to hang on. He manages to make the ropes with seconds left. Rollup gets two, and Nagata reverses for two and grabs a cross-armlock, as it’s a draw at 30:00. Another fairly blah match with some sweet mat-wrestling leading up to a hot finish. ***1/2

– Masa Chono v. Hiroyoshi Tenzan. This is the semi-finals of the G1 Climax. Lockup to start and Chono grabs a headlock, which Tenzan counters out of. Another try, and this time Tenzan headbutts him in the gut. Test of strength and Tenzan grabs a headlock, but Chono gives him a cheapshot against the ropes, which Tenzan returns in kind. He stomps Chono down and starts hammering with the chops and stomping away. He grabs a facelock, but Chono pounds him in the corner. Tenzan fires back, so Chono bails, and Tenzan threatens a highspot before thinking better of it and letting Chono regroup. Back in, Chono takes him down with a single-leg and a rear naked choke, but Tenzan escapes with a jawbreaker and goes for the leg. Chono blocks a kick, however, and takes him down with a leglock and an armbar before Tenzan makes the ropes. They fight over the lockup again and Tenzan goes to the eyes and cinches in a chinlock, then continues pounding him down. Corner clothesline gets nothing. More abuse and he gets a headscissors, but Chono wriggles free. Chono takes him down out of a lockup and Tenzan reverses for some ground n pound, and drops a knee low. Chono bails and Tenzan again teases us with a highspot, but changes his mind. Back in, he stomps away at the knee, but Chono rolls out of a leglock. They take it to the mat and Chono goes for the arm and puts Tenzan in his own Buffalo Sleeper, but Tenzan claws his eyes and pulls himself to the ropes to break. Chono goes up and gets caught by Tenzan, and he brings him in with a superplex. Chono no-sells, so Tenzan offers him a kick to the face and a double-underhook submission move. Samoan drop is blocked, however, and Chono comes back with the same submission move, and Tenzan is unable to shake it free. He finally suplexes out and gets the Buffalo Sleeper, but lays back and Chono gets two as a result. Not bright. Tenzan gets a lariat for two. He goes up and the diving headbutt allows him to go up AGAIN, but this time it misses by a mile. He goes back to the Buffalo Sleeper, however, before Chono can mount a comeback, but gets his eye poked and has to break. Tenzan Driver gets two. Another sleeper, but Tenzan makes the ropes. Tenzan tries a cross-armlock instead, and Chono leverages out and gets the STF. He releases before Tenzan can make the ropes and goes up, and the flying shoulderblock gets two. Tenzan comes back with a leg lariat and a lariat for two. Another try is blocked with a Yakuza kick, but he won’t go down. In fact, he gets a Northern Lights Suplex, but Chono takes him down with another STF. He’s near the ropes, but still taps at 22:38. I still don’t buy Chono as the juggernaut of the tournament, but then he’s a booker, so what can ya do? ***

– Yoshihiro Takayama v. Osamu Nishimura. This is the semi-finals of the G-1 Climax for 2002. They work for a takedown to start, but Nishimura backs him into the ropes. Clean break, naturally. Another try and this time Takayama brings him to the ropes, and he breaks clean. Feel the love. They fight over a knucklelock and Nishimura goes behind, and they reverse off that until Takayama gets a facelock and they head to the ropes. Not so much of a clean break from Nishimura this time. Takayama quickly grabs a facelock, pushes him to the ropes, and then returns the cheapshot. Okay, now we’re even. Takayama goes for the arm with a hammerlock and works it into a wristlock, into an armbar, as Nishimura winds himself in a circle to reverse and takes him down to the mat with a hammerlock. Good technical wrestling there. Takayama tries to headlock him to escape, but Nishimura flips himself over and bridges out back into the hammerlock, drawing appreciative “Oooohs” from the crowd. And me. Takayama reverses the armbar, but Nishimura headscissors him down. He reverses to the headlock as we’re channeling Flair-Windham matches now, and they work off that. Takayama knucklelocks him again and Nishimura bridges out and reverses, but Takayama also bridges and powers back up. Masa Chono joins us at ringside to watch. Nishimura grabs a headlock and now Takayama does the headscissor reversal and hangs on, forcing Nishimura to try to counter. He does the old headstand out of it and backs off. I really enjoy seeing guys turning it into a chess match of move and counter-move sometimes. You just would never see that sort of match in the WWE or even TNA. Takayama grabs another headlock, but Nishimura works him down to the mat and grapevines the legs, into an Indian deathlock. He bridges for the added pressure, but Takayama then COUNTERS by grabbing the neck and cranking him down to the mat, into a facelock. That’s so nice. They do a bridge-reversal sequence that’s just beautiful, and Takayama ends up with a wristlock. He works that into a cross-armlock, making sure to position himself between Nishimura and the ropes, but Nishimura bridges up and flips over and out of the move. Holy crap. Back up again, Nishimura goes behind and surfboards him, but Takayama reverses, only to have Nishimura follow through and reverse back again. He goes to the ropes to break. They go back to the lockup and Nishimura takes him down with a fireman’s carry and works for the armlock, taking a short-arm scissors instead. As you might expect, Takayama does the Backlund counter and powers him up to the top, and then starts kicking the crap out of him. Well, it was only a matter of time. Takayama charges and hits the post, so Nishimura starts unloading the forearms and heads up with a flying kneedrop to the leg. Figure-four! Takayama gets all pissed off and makes the ropes, but Nishimura hauls him back to the middle and starts with a spinning toehold into another figure-four. See, I can’t advocate that psychology because the toehold and the figure-four put pressure on different legs, but it LOOKS neat. Takayama reverses, but Nishimura stubbornly rolls him back over again. So this time he makes the ropes, and Nishimura forces the ref to break up the hold himself. That’s another nice touch. Nishimura starts kicking the leg, but now Takayama is just pissed off and he suplexes him twice and gets two. Takayama goes to a crossface chickenwing, but Nishimura makes the ropes. Another try, but Nishimura reverses to a sleeper, so Takayama flips him out of it and takes him down with a headlock. Nishimura makes the ropes to escape. A suplex is reversed to the abdominal stretch, and then the Octopus, and Nishimura takes him down to the mat and stretches him. Takayama elbows out of it, and charges in with a knee to the gut that gets two. He backs off and charges again, but walks into a rollup that gets two for Nishimura. German suplex gets the pin for Takayama at 22:38, however. He was hanging on the mat with Nishimura all the way. Great match as a result, although the finish seemed a little sudden and the match almost seemed too SHORT. ****1/2

– Yoshihiro Takayama v. Masa Chono. This is from the next night, oddly enough, and it’s the finals of the G-1 Climax. Chono charges in with a Yakuza kick, but Takayama calmly backs off and takes a swing with a kick of his own. They head into the corner off a lockup, and Takayama gives him the cheapshot. No scientific stuff coming here. They do the test of strength and Chono retreats to the ropes, and then starts hammering on him against the ropes. Takayama goes behind and they fight over an armbar until Takayama turns it into a sleeper and then kicks him in the back. Back up, and Takayama grabs a facelock, but Chono reverses to his own and cranks on it. Takayama calmly puts him on the top rope to escape, and then bitchslaps him down to the floor. Back in, Chono takes him down and goes for a choke, but Takayama fights out. Takayama pounds him in the corner, but Chono returns fire, and they slug it out until Chono drops first. They exchange headlocks and Takayama headscissors him down again, so Chono makes the ropes. Takayama stomps him while he’s down and then kicks him in the face for good measure. Another kick and he goes for the one-foot cover on Chono, and gets two. They slug it out and Chono elbows him down by sheer force of willpower, but Takayama gets up again. Takayama kicks him down and drops an elbow or four, and gets two. Chono takes him down with a single-leg and wallops on him, and then works on the neck with a submission move. Takayama backdrops out of it, but Chono goes right back at it. Takayama backdrops out again and goes for the german suplex, but Chono fights free and gets the Octopus. Takayama backdrops out and drops him with a vicious knee to the gut. He charges out of the corner with another knee that staggers Chono, and the german suplex gets two. Another charge ends up with both guys on the floor, and Chono kicks him against the railing. Back in, they simultaneously high kick each other and both guys are down. Takayama knees him in the gut a couple of more times, and gets two. Knees to the head send Chono into the corner and he just keeps throwing them until Chono drops. Brutal. Chono takes the 9 count, so Takayama hits him with a high knee and gets two. German suplex, but Chono escapes and gets a leg lariat out of nowhere. He takes Takayama down with a drop toehold and gets the STF. It’s looking more like a choke than a crossface, but Takayama manages to pull himself to the ropes. Chono lets him up and then kicks him in the face until he falls, but he keeps getting up! Another kick, he won’t fall. Finally he goes down and Chono gets two. Chono gives him a pair of Yakuza kicks, and he goes down again for two. Back up again, and now Takayama is PISSED. Another pair of kicks to the face finish him at 20:23, however. Phil Schneider called this his MOTY, but I liked the pure wrestling of the Nishimura match better. Damn, Takayama is one tough motherf*cker, though. ****1/4

– Dick Togo v. The Great Sasuke. Now, is this the original Great Sasuke or the other guy who stole his identity? Togo has his ribs all taped up, but he’s still man enough to attack Sasuke before the bell. Sasuke kicks him in the ribs and he bails, so Sasuke follows him out and drags him to the back for a trip to meet Mr. Wall. Back in, he stomps on the ribs and grabs a facelock, then headbutts Togo down and armbars him. I’d stay on the ribs personally, but that’s why he’s the GREAT Sasuke I guess. Back to the ribs, and he fires off a spinkick that sends Togo out, but gets yanked off the apron before he can hit a moonsault. Back in, Sasuke grabs an armbar again, which I guess makes sense because it’s stretching the rib muscles out, and keeps kicking the ribs. Snapmare and half-abdominal stretch on the mat really puts the hurt on Togo, but he makes the ropes. Back up and it’s a full abdominal stretch this time, but Togo makes the ropes again. Togo fights back from his knees, but gets stomped down again and Sasuke gets a wristlock. They slug it out, as Sasuke keeps hitting the ribs, but Togo grabs a sleeper, forcing Sasuke to elbow him in the ribs to break. Well that’d work. Sasuke boots him against the ropes and charges, but gets backdropped out. Back in, Togo whips him into a ladder and gets the crossface, but Sasuke makes the ropes. Back to it, back to the ropes again. They trade near-falls off small packages, and Togo blocks a piledriver and then dodges a quebrada for two. Sasuke dropkicks the ribs for two, however. Spinkick to the head and a powerbomb get two. He sets up a ladder on the top rope and dives off with a senton, but misses and Togo gets the pin at 14:20. I don’t really see what was so great about this, but it was fine, I guess. **1/2

– Dick Togo v. Tiger Mask IV. They both miss a dropkick to start. Togo goes for the arm, but gets dumped and TM whiffs on a pescado. Back in, TM springboards in with a dropkick and fires off a kick to the back, then surfboards him. Togo comes back with a figure-four, but Mask slugs out of it. Togo holds onto it, however, forcing TM to make the ropes. Togo wraps the knee around the post and works on it with a chair, in and out of the ring. He undoes a turnbuckle for good measure and kicks TM in the knee to keep him at bay, then rams him into the exposed steel and does some mask-tearing. Crowd doesn’t like that. He grabs a cable from under the ring and sends him into the post again, then stomps the crap out of him in the ring and whips him into the corner with the cable. That’s nasty. Out of the ring and it’s the old hanging trick, and he hits him in the face with a chair while he’s hanging, just to show who’s the Dick. TM grabs the chair and nails him with it to escape, however, and sends Togo into the steel, but loses the chair and gets walloped with it again. He trips up Togo to get it back and a standing moonsault follows. Back to the chair, as he nails him and applies a sleeper, allowing Togo to blade discreetly (although you can see him drop the blade and ref pick it up), and TM holds the sleeper. Togo fights out with a backdrop driver. They slug it out and Mask spinkicks him down, but Togo goes low to block a tiger suplex. He gets the crossface, but Mask makes the ropes. KICK WHAM PEDIGREE and Togo goes up, but gets crotched and brought down with a butterfly superplex that gets two. Tiger suplex gets two. They head back up and TM goes for a Tiger Superplex, but Togo uses the power of his huge butt to knock him off, only to get dropkicked on the way down. Another try at the tiger suplex is blocked, but a backslide gets two. Togo snaps off a DDT for two. Another Pedigree and the crossface for Togo, but Mask makes the ropes. Suplex is reversed to a heel hook by TM, as Togo’s blood has all been absorbed by his wrist bands. Don’t ask me why I notice stuff like that. Togo tries an enzuigiri, but Mask blocks, and they slug it out until Togo gets a Flatliner for two. To the top again and Togo delivers a dangerous looking top-rope Pedigree for two. Another Pedigree and he goes up with a senton bomb for the pin at 14:47. Super intensity and pace. ****

– Masayuki Naruse v. Takehiro Murahama. Murahama takes him down and they quickly reverse on the mat, not able to get anything. They exchange some kickboxing stuff and go back to the mat, with Murahama trying for a cross-armlock but settling for a leglock instead. He goes into a kneebar and Naruse makes the ropes. They slug it out and Murahama takes him down again with a guillotine choke, but Naruse reverses to a german suplex and starts throwing knees to the mid-section, as they fight for an armbar. Back up and they trade spinkicks, but neither guy can gain the advantage. Naruse finally goes down for a nine count, and Murahama goes NUTS on him with fast kicks in the corner, which gets two. He hits the chinlock and goes for another kneebar, but Naruse makes the ropes. He comes back with a guillotine and some ground-n-pound, and holds onto a rear naked choke on the mat. Murahama makes the ropes and bails, and back in they exchange high kicks to no avail. Murahama gets a slap against the ropes and fires the high kicks and starts using the knees, but a high kick to the face gets two for Naruse. Back to the sleeper again, but Murahama reverses to an armbar and Naruse bails. Murahama follows with a somersault plancha (kind of out-of-place for a shoot-style match, but whatever floats your boat) and they head back in as Murahama gets a judo throw and tries for a kimura. He opts for a cross-armlock instead, but Naruse makes the ropes. He comes back with a suplex for two. More high kicks, but a third one is blocked, so Naruse turns it into a triangle choke by wrapping his legs around Murahama’s head and taking him to the mat. He makes the ropes. More high kicks, but Murahama fires back with his own, until Naruse sweeps the legs and gets what I believe is the NaruseLock. Kind of like the NagataLock. Murahama makes the ropes. Murahama comes back with a leg lariat for two. Suplex is blocked, so he adds another high kick and gets a brainbuster for two. They fight over a german and Murahama gets another brainbuster for two. He holds on with a kimura, but Naruse makes the ropes. So now it’s a chickenwing, into a small package for two. Naruse uses a spinning backhand blow to knock him out again, however, and both guys are down. They exchange some stiff shots and Murahama gets a mean pair of high kicks to knock Naruse down, but he fires back with his own and takes him down for an anklelock. Murahama makes the ropes and they slug it out, as a rollup gets two for Murahama and it’s a 20:00 draw. Good strong shoot-style action with crazy hard kicks. ***1/2

– IWGP Junior tag titles: Jushin Liger & Minoru Tanaka v. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Now THIS is what I’m waiting for. I think I already did this one the Schneider comp, but it’s a ***** match, so what the f*ck. Liger has his Satanic all-red suit here. Big brawl to start and Liger beats the shit out of Kanemaru on the mat and chokes away, as everyone brawls out. In the ring, Tanaka misses a dropkick, but Kikuchi misses a leg lariat, and Tanaka hammers him with chops. Kikuchi goes for the leg with low kicks and takes him down with a kimura, but Liger breaks it up. Sort of, as he kicks away and Kikuchi just glares at him. That’s badass. Kikuchi finally breaks it off on his own and then grabs a headscissors, but Liger again comes in and kicks away to break, to no effect. He finally slams Kanemaru on Kikuchi, but he still can’t break the move up. Three times finally does it. That’s so awesome, and best of it, it’s FUN. Wrestling is supposed to be fun. Kikuchi drags Tanaka back to the corner and Kanemaru comes in and puts him in the Tree of Woe, baseball sliding him in the face and holding him in place for a guillotine legdrop from Kikuchi. Back in, Kanemaru gets two using the ropes. Kikuchi comes in with a snap suplex that gets two. Sideslam, as he just holds Tanaka and mouths off to Liger, for two. Kanemaru comes in for the double-team, as they clothesline Tanaka and Kanemaru goes up with a frog splash for two. Camel clutch and he ropes the tape across his face for good measure, and Kikuchi comes back in as I start to wonder who the heels are going to be tonight. He taunts Liger by holding Tanaka close, and then kicks him off the apron. Mean! I love it! Tanaka comes back with a snap suplex and kneedrop, and gets a cross-armlock, but Kikuchi rolls him over for two. Kanemaru blocks a possible tag, however, and Kikuchi rolls up Tanaka for two again before falling victim to another cross-armlock. Kikuchi makes the ropes, and Tanaka is finally able to get Liger in, as he tosses Kikuchi and Liger powerbombs him on the bare concrete. The champs work Kikuchi over outside and that seems to answer who the crowd will be cheering for here. Kikuchi gets posted and he’s out cold on the floor, so Tanaka fires off kicks at him, none of which have any effect. Back in, Liger drops a knee on the apron and gets a camel clutch in the ring, really cranking on it. Tanaka STEPS ON HIS FACE for added leverage. Now THAT’S a heel! They double-team Kikuchi and Tanaka gets a half-crab, and they keep pounding on him in the heel corner, and Tanaka lays in the kicks. That gets two. Liger gets a delayed piledriver for two. He stomps away like a madman and Tanaka adds his own, and a high kick gets two. Cross-armlock (wisely positioned away from the ropes) as Liger keeps rolling them back over again when Kikuchi counters. He finally makes the ropes, however, but Tanaka won’t break. The ref pulls him off, and Liger’s palmstrike in the corner is blocked, as Kikuchi fires back with elbows and drops him. Hot tag Kanemaru, who gets a quebrada for two. He goes up and misses a moonsault, and Liger kicks him down, allowing Tanaka to come in with a heel hook. Kikuchi breaks that up, and they trade german suplex attempts before Kanemaru knees Tanaka down and gets an inverted powerbomb and a jumping DDT for two. Moonsault gets two. Suplex is blocked by Tanaka, and he gets the flying armbar in the middle of the ring, but Kanemaru makes the ropes. Tanaka goes low to block a suplex, but so does Kanemaru. It’s one of THOSE matches, I see. Kikuchi and Liger tag in, and Kikuchi treats Liger like his bitch, hammering him in the corner, but Liger comes back with a Ligerbomb for two. Kanemaru whips Tanaka into Liger, but gets suplexed on his head, and Liger takes Kikuchi down with a palmstrike before getting elbowed down by him, and everyone is down. Liger misses a charge and Kikuchi rolls him up for two. Another charge and he gets the palmstrike, and they head up for a Liger superplex. That gets two. Another brainbuster gets two. Kanemaru brawls with Tanaka outside, as Kikuchi gets a german suplex for two, and then hangs on with the rolling germans for two. Tanaka dives in to make the save, but Kanemaru drops him with a brainbuster, leaving Kikuchi to finish Liger with a Blue Thunder bomb at 22:24 and win the IWGP Junior tag titles, finally. As usual from these four, an absolutely spectacular tag team match and a completely flawless one. *****

– Kaz Hayashi v. Jimmy Yang. Yang is of course Tajiri’s backup these days. Kaz takes him down but Yang reverses and it’s a stalemate. Kaz wrestles him over for two and starts chopping, and Yang fires back. Kaz seems to be in a foul mood today. He grabs a headlock and overpowers Yang with a shoulderblock, then gets a 619. More chops and he blocks an irish whip by getting a handspring elbow and a hiptoss. He slugs away in the corner, but Yang comes back with a leg lariat and a springboard dropkick. He clotheslines him out and follows with a tope con hilo. Back in, Kaz hiptosses him to the floor and follows with his own version. Gotta love oneupsmanship. Back in, Yang tries a superplex, but Kaz blocks and tries a high cross, which Yang blocks with a dropkick. He pounds away in the corner and takes him down for a ringpost figure-four, but can’t do the move. Back in, he opts for a nice simple headscissors instead, and they fight over a suplex until Kaz gets it. Yang gets a backslide for two, but Kaz rolls him up for two. Kaz bridges out of a pin attempt, but Yang backdrops him for two. Kaz suplex gets two. They slug it out with chops and Kaz gets an enzuigiri, so Yang replies with a leg lariat and a lariat for two. To the top, but Kaz crotches him and tries a rana, but Yang blocks with a powerbomb from the top for two. Good sequence. Yang goes up with Yang Time, but doesn’t get much of it, and a drop suplex allows him to try again. Time time it hits, and he gets two. Kaz catches him with a kimura however, and Yang has to make the ropes. Yang comes back with a DDT and they go up, but Kaz gets a top rope Emerald Frozen for two. Yikes. Eye of the Hurricane finishes at 13:59. Well, that wasn’t the kind of match for people who love selling and psychology, but I don’t think that was the point. ***1/4

– Genichiro Tenryu v. Hiroshi Hase. Talk about the over the hill gang. I’m assuming (hoping) this is at least non-title. Hase gives him a clean break to start, but Tenryu takes him down and slugs away with chops. Hase takes it like a man and fires back with his own, so Tenryu punches back and delivers more. Hase reverses a whip, but gets elbowed down, and comes back with a uranage. He tries a lariat, but walks into another elbow. Hase grabs a headlock and hangs on tenaciously, getting two. Tenryu tries a backdrop suplex to escape, but Hase hangs on. He chops Tenryu down and goes back to the headlock, but this time Tenryu uses a backbreaker to get him off and tosses him. They brawl outside and Hase meets the railing, but comes back with chops. This only annoys Tenryu, who sends Hase into the post, and back in drops an elbow for two. Headscissors, but Hase rolls him over and turns it into an Indian deathlock. They slug it out and exchange slaps, and Hase goes down first. Tenryu gets a corner clothesline and goes up, but misses an elbow and Hase pulls out the GIANT SWING~! Tenryu elbows out of a suplex attempt and tries a powerbomb, but it’s reversed to a rana and Hase dropkicks him down and gets the uranage and a northern lights suplex for two. Tenryu comes back with a DDT and brainbuster for two. Powerbomb gets two. He slugs away, but Hase starts shoulder-blocking the knee and headbutting him. After about 20 of them (no shit) he finally lets go and chops Tenryu down. Hase goes up, but Tenryu is too stubborn to stay down, and follows him up for the superplex. That gets the pin at 14:32. That was kinda anticlimactic, because it just seemed like they were getting going. ***

– Masaaki Mochizuki, Dragon Kid & Jimmy Yang v. Magnum Tokyo, Darkness Dragon & Susumu Yokosuka. Big brawl to start as Tokyo battles with MM on the ramp and sends him into the post. Into the ring, he gets a seated dropkick and does some dancing, but MM kicks him on the mat and they trade dropkick attempts for the stalemate. The Dragons go next, as Kid flips over Darkness and gets an armdrag, but gets clotheslined. Flying headscissors pulls the mask right off, but Darkness gets it back on again and takes Kid down for some pounding. He pulls off Kid’s mask while Kid pulls off his, and they end up putting the wrong masks on! Funny stuff. Another takedown and they switch back, and tag out. Yang goes with Yokosuka, who grabs a headlock and they criss-cross into a Yang dropkick. Leg lariat and Yokosuka bails, so Tokyo wants in. He offers a handshake and then turns on Yang, pounding away in the corner. Kid comes in and stomps on Tokyo’s knee, and a kneedrop gets two. That brings in Darkness Dragon, who chokes Kid out in the corner and brings him over for a triple-team. A double-hiptoss sets up a seated dropkick from Tokyo, and Darkness gets a snap suplex for two. Yokosuka elbows him down and Tokyo slams him down, as the heels take turns dropping elbows and legs, and he gets two. Another triple-team sees Darkness & Yokosuka with a double-delayed suplex, posing for each side of the crowd, and a submission hold from Tokyo. Darkness misses a running elbow in the corner, and MM gets the hot tag, as it’s BONZO GONZO and Yang dropkicks two people out and follows with a tope con hilo. In the ring, Dragon Kid gets a flying headscissors on Yokosuka and gets a flying rana to the ramp. Back in, Yang gets two on Tokyo, and gets a corkscrew senton for two. Tokyo gets a moonsault kick and a bulldog for two. The heels try a double-team, but Tokyo gets tripped up and Dragon Kid comes in with his spinning submission hold on Yokosuka. Darkness comes in with a brainbuster that Kid turns into a stunner for two. Darkness with an enzuigiri and a powerbomb for two. Kid with another submission, but Darkness counters to one of his own until it’s a big brawl and it gets broken up. The heels take turns teeing off with clotheslines in the corner on Kid, and Yokosuka gets a powerbomb for two. He goes up, but MM kicks him off, but gets kicked in the head by Darkness and put on top. Tokyo brings him down with a rana and Yokosuka gets a leg lariat for two. Powerbomb attempt is reversed by MM, and he hits Darkness off the apron with a kick, allowing Yang to come in with a kick in the corner, setting up MM’s enzuigiri, and Kid finishes Yokosuka with the rana at 13:47. Good Toryumon action, although a little short. ***1/2

– Kenta Kobashi, Kentaro Shiga, KENTA & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi v. Jun Akiyama, Akitoshi Saito, Makoto Hashi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru. This is an elimination tag match. Kobashi starts with Akiyama and they exchange shots. High knee from Akiyama and his team takes turns with shots on Kobashi in the corner and then everyone comes off the top with splashes, which gives Akiyama two. Exploider is blocked and Kobashi chops back in the corner and fights off his team, then calls his own team in for some quadruple-teaming action. It’s a four-on-four stalemate and everyone backs down. Akiyama brings in Saito, who trades chops with Kobashi and gets the best of it. Saito throws high kicks and absorbs more chops, then hits a leg lariat to knock Kobashi down. Hashi comes in, but gets chopped down by Kobashi. We’re clipped to Akiyama getting worked over in the Kobashi corner, as Shiga holds a sleeper until he makes the ropes. He drags him back for a guillotine choke and gets two. He slugs away, but Akiyama ignores him. They slug it out and Shiga boots him down, but gets booted down in return. We’re clipped again to Kobashi and Akiyama holding stereo delayed suplexes on KENTA and Hashi, and Kobashi wins the battle of wills and gets two. Shiga comes in and fights with Hashi for a suplex, but gets suplexed himself. Akiyama comes in with an elbow and cleans house, but gets suplexed by Shiga. DDT, and a tornado DDT, and Shiga holds on for a third DDT and gets two. He hangs onto the arm and it’s a cross-armlock, but Kanemaru breaks it up. Kikuchi comes in and gets a pair of leg lariats in the corner, and a snap suplex, but Akiyama holds on and gets his own. Jumping knee and Jun goes up, but KENTA holds his leg and Kikuchi brings him down with a superplex, but misses a headbutt. Akiyama brings in Saito, who gets a running elbow in the corner, but Kikuchi powers him over with a german suplex for two. They slug it out and Saito gets a lariat for two. Kikuchi fights off all four guys but Akiyama gets the Exploider and Saito gives him a high kick and a backdrop driver for two. Enzuigiri gets the pin and Kikuchi is gone. Clipped to Kobashi holding a boston crab on Kanemaru, but Akiyama hammers on him to break it up, only to get elbowed by Kobashi. Kobashi gets a backdrop suplex for two. KENTA (not to be confused with Kenta) comes in and kicks Kanemaru down into another boston crab, but he comes back with a knee to the gut and tosses KENTA. Hashi drops a headbutt off the apron and whips him into the railing, as Team Akiyama does some dirty-work on the outside and Kanemaru guillotines him on the apron. Akiyama adds a kneedrop on the apron, and we’re clipped to Hashi missing a kneedrop and getting choked out by Shiga to be eliminated. Clipped again to Kanemaru missing a quebrada, as Shiga gets an enzuigiri and brings in KENTA, who heads out and whips Akiyama into the railing. Missile dropkick gets two on Kanemaru. They slug it out and KENTA gets a rana into a cross-armlock, but Kanemaru gets a backdrop suplex and goes up with a splash for two. Back up, a moonsault gets two. KENTA small package gets two. Kanemaru lariat gets two. Brainbuster gets the pin to eliminate KENTA. Clipped again to Shiga hitting Akiyama with high kicks until he drops, and an STF. It turns into a choke, but Kanemaru breaks it up. Kobashi comes in with a sleeper on Akiyama into a suplex, for two. Kobashi & Shiga get a sort-of Doomsday Device on Kanemaru to get rid of him, and another suplex gets two on Akiyama. Everyone brawls in the ring as Kobashi blocks an Exploider, but another try works, except that Kobashi pops up with a lariat for two. They slug it out and the spinning backhands put Akiyama in the corner, but Kanemaru saves him from anything bad. He goes low on Kobashi and gets a jumping DDT, but Kobashi fights off both Saito & Kanemaru, only to fall victim to a leg lariat from Saito. Akiyama comes back with the knee in the corner and an Exploider, but Kobashi is still coming. Another Exploider, and he’s up again. Saito adds an enzuigiri and now he drops. Lariat gets the pin and it’s over at 50:11 (25:42 shown) because when the captain is pinned, match is over. Would have liked to see the full match, but this was pretty cool. ***3/4

– GHC title: Yoshinari Ogawa v. Yoshihiro Takayama. Who the f*ck is Ogawa and why is he the champion? Oh well, I’m guessing that won’t last long. Ogawa attacks to start and ducks a kick, getting a rollup for two. He pokes the eyes and a shoulderblock gets nothing as Takayama tosses him off like nothing. Takayama pounds him on the ropes and boots him down, adding a kick to the face and the back on the mat. He hits the chinlock and then kicks him down again, and hammers on the back. High kick gets two. Ogawa fights back, but Takayama knees the crap out of him in the corner. The ref puts the count on Ogawa, and Takayama gets a butterfly suplex for two. He casually steps on Ogawa’s face and grinds his heel in, and tosses him to the ramp. They slug it out and Takayama puts him down and gets a running kick to the face, then backs off and lets him recover, obviously having things well in hand. Back in, Takayama keeps pounding him into a belly-to-belly suplex that gets two. Back to the chinlock, but Ogawa makes the ropes. They slug it out, which goes pretty badly for Ogawa, but Takayama misses a charge and Ogawa finally gets some offense, hanging him in the Tree of Woe and choking away. He wrap’s Takayama’s arm around the post and works on that, and back in he stays on it with a hammerlock on the mat. He keeps working on the arm and takes him down with an armbar, but Takayama makes the ropes. Back to the arm with a short-arm scissors, but Takayama casually powers him up and puts him on the top. Ogawa hangs on and rolls through, however, and Takayama goes to the ropes. Ogawa stomps away on the arm and gets an enzuigiri, then DDTs him for two. Dropkick puts Takayama on the floor, where they brawl a bit, and Takayama ends up hitting the post. He comes back and sends Ogawa into the post, then makes the stupid mistake of charging him and misses by a mile, running into it. Ogawa gets a backdrop suplex on the floor and heads back in to recover. Back in, he gets a backdrop suplex and then runs him into the corner to setup another one, which gets two. Yet another one gets two. Cross armlock, but Takayama fights it and makes the ropes. Rollup gets two. Takayama has finally had ENOUGH and just knees him viciously in the face to set up the german suplex, which gets two. Time to update your will, kid. Ogawa is toast and Takayama goes for another knee, but Ogawa gets a rollup for two. He blocks a suplex with a rollup for two. Another rollup gets two. He’s so gonna die. Another suplex is easily blocked by Takayama, and he just kills him with a knee for two. German suplex, goodbye, we have a new champion at 16:50. Gotta admit, although the result wasn’t in much doubt, it was fun seeing Ogawa fighting as an underdog to retain his title and giving Takayama all he could handle. ***3/4

– Brother Yassini, Yossino & Milano Collection AT v. CIMA, Don Fuji & Yoshikazu TARU. This is T2P, with the crazy six-sided ring. CIMA slugs it out with AT to start and gets the better of it, hitting a suplex, but getting taken down with a crazy submission move by AT. Everyone brawls outside and back in, TARU pounds on Yassini in the battle of Japanese Dudes With Dreadlocks. They slug it out while a brawl among the seconds erupts on the floor, and Yassini gets a rolling submission move, only to get pounded down by TARU. Yassini comes back but walks into a boot and hits the floor. AT comes in and trades chops with Fuji, who overpowers him, but AT gets an enzuigiri. He goes for a pretzel-like pinfall, but Fuji bails, and it’s Yossino going with CIMA. CIMA gets a flying headscissors, but Yossino gets a Tarantula, so Fuji grabs him and drops him on the railing outside. TARU fights off both Yassini and AT, and now people start moving over to the normal, four-sided ring. Crazy MAX beats on AT over there and CIMA chokes him out as the announcers seem just as confused as I am. The ref casually counts them all and tells them to come back to the six-sided ring. CIMA kicks Yassini down and they triple-team him, as two of them hold him upside down and TARU hits a scissors kick on his exposed crotch. OUCH. Back to the proper ring, they continue pounding on AT, and CIMA spinkicks him down. It’s a three-way brawl, however, as they do a terribly complex criss-cross pattern and the T2P reps get running elbows in three corners. Yossino fights off a powerbomb from Fuji with an armbar-like submission move, and escapes a chokeslam with a spinning bulldog and a triangle choke. TARU breaks it up, but Yassini catches him with a lariat and springboards in with a splash for two. TARU blocks a pumphandle and gets a tree slam for two. He pounds on Milano AT , and CIMA comes in with a backdrop suplex for two. Fuji gets a lariat on Milano for two. Fuji picks him up, but AT gets an enzuigiri. CIMA comes in and ducks one, but AT dropkicks him and gets a suplex and quebrada to set up a kimura that looks really painful. And in fact, he taps at 15:09. T2P is just too weird, I can’t get into it. ***

– Mask v. mask, 2/3 falls: Darkness Dragon v. Dragon Kid. They do the criss-cross to start and Darkness gets a clothesline, but charges and hits boot. Kid with the spinning headscissors to put him on the floor, and he follows with a moonsault. Back in, Darkness comes back with a Shining Black and brainbuster for two. They go up and Darkness rips at the mask and hangs him in the Tree of Woe, then wedges a chair against him and dropkicks it. Kid bails and gets attacked by Magnum Tokyo, and they toss him back in. Darkness uses the dreaded pointed stick to dig into his forehead, and stomps him down, then rips at the mask some more. He hangs Kid in the Tree again, but misses a baseball slide and lands on the floor, allowing Kid to pull himself up to the top and follow with a dive. Nice spot. Back in, he gets two. He gets tripped up from the outside, allowing Darkness to hit him with a pescado, but I believe Kid beats the count, and both are counted out at 6:40, leaving it at one-fall match. He takes it out on Kid, getting a slam for two. Blind charge misses and Kid gets a rana that puts Darkness on the floor, and now Kid rips at the mask. They brawl on the floor and the heels set up a table, but a powerbomb is reversed and Kid bulldogs him through the table. Back in, Kid gets whipped into the corner, but springs in with a stunner and a double-jump moonsault for two. He spins into the submission move, but Darkness spins him into his own, and now his cohorts run in and destroy the referee, so the secondary one has to step in. Kid goes for a rana, but Darkness blocks with a powerbomb, which Kid reverses to a rana for two. And now Tokyo runs in and destroys the SECOND ref, so a third ref comes in. And he appears to be an evil ref, judging by the neck brace. Enzuigiri from Darkness and a brainbuster get two. Kid comes back with his own enzuigiri, and they reverse until Darkness gets a powerbomb for two. The heels protest the count. Another brainbuster is reversed to a stunner, but the heels lay out THIS ref before he can count the pin. And now they go after Dragon Kid, triple-teaming him as the ref recovers and counts two. Tokyo lays him out with a lariat and Yokosuka powerbombs him, and Darkness still only gets two. Darkness gets hit with a tray by accident and Kid gets the rana for two. He goes up, but gets knocked off and Darkness brings him down with a headscissors, and gets a brainbuster for two. The heels go crazy now, yelling at the ref about the count, as Darkness puts Kid on top again and tries a superplex, which Kid blocks and counters with a bulldog off the top. The ref starts counting both guys down, and now the heels come in and start beating on Kid again, not even being subtle about it, but the ref turns on them, fighting them off with the drink tray, and drawing a big pop. Kid goes up with the rana for the pin at 19:47, and Darkness Dragon loses his mask. Tons of fun, almost ECW-ish in execution. **** Kid goes to unmask him, but he goes low and takes the mask off himself. They still hug afterwards, though.

– IWGP Junior title: Koji Kanemoto v. Tiger Mask IV. I take it I missed Tanaka doing the J-O-B, so it must have been a real stinker. This is an oddball match in that Koji Kanemoto was Tiger Mask III, which makes this the only singles match between former and current Tiger Masks that I’m aware of. They exchange kicks to start and Tiger gets a mule kick and a headscissors, then fakes the highspot as Koji bails. They fight over a suplex on the apron and TM kicks him down, but Koji fights back in and chases him out. They do the test of strength and Koji takes him down and kicks the back, for two. He hammerlocks Mask on the mat, almost in a kimura, and works on the arm before switching to a kneebar. He takes him down with a leglock and pulls at the mask, thus upsetting the ref. Knees in the corner put TM down and he keeps trying to unmask him, then goes to a chinlock while trying to pull the mask off. What a dick. He slugs him down and they exchange shots, but TM gets a high kick, pissing off Koji, and they slug it out on the mat. Koji goes for a heel hook, but TM makes the ropes and takes him to the top for a butterfly superplex. That gets two. TM slugs away, but gets kicked in the knee. He comes back with a dragon-screw to put Koji on the floor, and he follows with a tope suicida. Back in, Koji stomps him down and gets a corkscrew for two. TM comes back with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for two. Koji wins a battle for a backslide and gets two. Tiger tries a high kick, but Koji takes him down with a legbar, but TM makes the ropes. He works on the knee with a spinning toehold and a figure-four. TM makes the ropes. Back to the middle, and Koji tries again, but it’s reversed for two. Koji goes up and misses a moonsault, and TM goes for a tiger suplex, but Koji reverses to a german suplex and anklelocks him. Nice sequence. He turns that into a heel hook, but TM makes the ropes. Koji misses a moonsault and TM gets his namesake suplex for two. Standing moonsault, but Koji grabs his leg on the way down and hangs on with another heel hook. He makes the ropes again. TM escapes a suplex, but takes an enzuigiri. Falcon Arrow and another heel hook in the center of the ring seem to leave Tiger Mask with nowhere to go, and he taps at 17:40. He wasn’t really that much of a threat, so I’m assuming this is here more for historical purposes. ***1/4

The Bottom Line:

With a ***** tag match here and a really great 2/3 falls mask match backing it up, plus some G1 Climax goodness with Takayama, this is a strong tape and one that makes the set worth picking up.

While I’m at it, I’m often asked by newcomers to the Japanese wrestling scene “What are good tapes for beginners to pick up”, so I put the question to Rob Hunter, who runs the GoldenBoy Tapes site that provides these very sets. Here’s his take on it:

“Kind of ignoring the smaller promotions to start, these are some essentials
in my opinion, this ended up longer than I had intended, feel free to
truncate. The best advice I can give to a beginner is to pick one or two
feds, one time period for that fed, and get accquainted with that first
before branching out anywhere else. The Best of 2001/2002/2003 sets are
actually pretty good for this as they focus mainly on All Japan/NOAH/New
Japan for the most part. Anyway, In no particular order:

New Japan vs. All Japan Tape Set – This covers the first half of the NJ/AJ
feud of 2000/2001, with an amazing match between Kawada and Sasaki from the
Tokyo Dome in October 2000, I actually had it close to five stars upon first
viewing, didn’t hold up so much on future viewings but still I would have a
problem with anything below about **** for it. Also includes what you (and
I) gave ****3/4, the Kawada/Fuchi vs. Nagata/Iizuka tag match from December,
as well as the Kawada/Sasaki rematch for the IWGP belt from January 2001,
which you semi-enjoyed.

New Japan PPV: June 6, 2001 – Three ***1/2+ matches, with Nagata making an
IWGP Challenge against Kazuyuki Fujita (Meltzer said ***3/4 if I remember
correctly), Kawada facing Tenzan (I loved this, ****1/4, can’t remember what
you gave it), and the 40-minute Mutoh vs. Hase match (around ****).

New Japan G-1 Climax 2001 Package – A great tournament, the best G-1 in
years, awesome ****1/2 final (Nagata vs. Mutoh), lots of awesome stuff
during two, especially in block B (I think it was B) with
Nishimura/Tenzan/Kojima/Lyger/Chono/Mutoh.

New Japan G-1 Climax 2002 Package – Another great G-1, wtih an awesome
final stage of Tenzan/Chono, Nishimura/Takayama, and then about ****1/4 or
so for Chono/Takayama in the final.

New Japan Complete Edition – Volume 2 – Available on DELUXE DVD! – Includes
a 60-minute Nagata vs. Nakanishi IWGP Title match, and is the only tape that
the 3/23/03 Kanemoto vs. AKIRA Jr. Title match exists.

New Japan G-1 Climax Tournament 2003 – I should have the Deluxe version up
on the site within a week, contains a few undercard Josh Barnett matches as
well as every match from the tournament uncut. Possibly the best G-1 ever,
with breakout performances from everybody. Only downfall was Nakanishi,
upset after two big shoot losses, not putting in a great effort. Otherwise,
it’s incredible, Akiyama has a breakout tournament, Yutaka Yoshie puts in an
awesome showing, finally showing great potential after so many medicore
years.

All Japan PPV: February 24, 2002 – I recall Meltzer raving about this show,
****3/4 for Mutoh/Kawada and ****-ish for Tenryu vs. Kojima, plus a good
Taiyo Kea vs. Mitsuya Nagai match. The rebirth show for All Japan, although
unfortunately things wouldn’t last.

All Japan vs. New Japan 2001 – One of my favorite tapes ever, with Mutoh
vs. Kawada (**** or so, from 4/01), and Tenryu vs. Mutoh (****3/4, Match of
the Year, from 6/01), plus Kawada vs. Kojima, Nagata and Makabe against
Kakihara and Nagai, plus more good stuff). An awesome followup to the New
Japan vs. All Japan tape from before.

All Japan Excite Series 2000 – Available on DELUXE DVD! – Kobashi vs. Vader
for the Triple Crown, ****1/4-ish, plus Misawa vs. Akiyama in Akiyama’s big
coming out match, about ****1/2. Plus a ressurection from Steve Williams,
who busts out good performances in tag matches and against Kobashi in a
singles. The last really classic All Japan tour.

All Japan, circa 1990-1999 or so – literally, pick anything here and there
will be a ****+ match with some combination of Kawada, Kobashi, Misawa,
Taue, or Akiyama. Most contain a really good Triple Crown match, and then
sometimes a Unified Tag Title defense. In particular, you need:

Champions Carnival 1995 Tape – Contains all the previously mentioned five in
various combinations, plus a sixty-minute match involving these five plus
their mentor Giant Baba in a six-man tag match, also with a legit *****
final between Misawa in Taue. Probably the greatest Champions Carnival
ever, quality wise, which says a lot.

NOAH – It sounds greedy on my part, but literally every show on the site
from 2003 is worth your money, NOAH has become the king of the supershow
this year. There is a legit ****+ match, often two and sometimes three, on
every one of the following shows:

– 1/10 (Akiyama/Saito vs. Ohtani/Tanaka and Chono/Misawa vs. Kobashi/Taue)
– 1/26 (Lyger/Kanemotovs. Kanemaru/Kikuchi in the sort-of finale to the
NOAH/NJ juniors feud)
– 2/08 and 2/09 (Differ Tag Scramble with all sorts of teams from other
promotions, breakout night for MIKAMI, who reminds you of a good Jeff Hardy)
– 3/1 (Misawa vs. Kobashi! *****!)
– 4/05 (awesome GHC Tag Match with Marufuji and Morishima against Akiyama
and Saito)
– 4/13 (Tamon Honda’s best match in history, a GHC Title challenege against
Kobashi)
– 5/14 (45-minute Captain’s Fall Match with Team Kobashi vs. Team Akiyama)
– 6/13 (GHC Tag Title, Kobashi and Honda challenge Akiyama and Saito, plus
Taue’s greatest match in years against Nagata. An aside here, I loved the
2003 storyline with Honda. Here you’ve got a guy who debuted in 1992,
around 40 years old now, falling so short of all his potential (he was a
great amateur) for so long, and then finally busting out awesome
performances with help in various forms from Kobashi)
– 9/12 (GHC Jr. Tag Title Match, plus Kobashi vs. Nagata, over thirty
minutes)
– 11/01 (Kobashi vs. Ogawa in a sleeper hit, and a thirty-minute GHC Jr. Tag
Title Match with Juventud Guerra and Ricky Marvin challenging Marufuji and
KENTA)
– 11/30 (Up soon, has Nagata and Tanahashi facing Kobashi and Honda for the
GHC Tag Titles)

Best of Jushin Thunder Lyger Complete – Lyger’s career before the 1996
surgery, so many awesome matches
Best of Japan 2001

Best of Japan 2002 – Along with the soon to be released 2003, these are
great starting points, as they cover just about every fed and, for the most
part, don’t contain any of the undercard filler found in other tapes

Best of Chris Benoit in Japan – Lots of stuff that I don’t have up
elsewhere, great matches and for somebody just getting interested in things,
it’s fun to have Benoit around as a reference point

Toryumon PPV: July 2001 – Great show from Toryumon, their first major
success story, with lots of stuff from the usual crew. A good intro to
Toryumon.

New Japan Super J-Cup 1994 , J-Crown Tournament 1996, Super J-Cup 1995 – All
three are obviously essentials, some of the greatest matches in history on
all three.”