The SmarK Rant For The Best Of Japan 2002 – Volume 6

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

– And we wrap things up here after a grueling week of reviewing puro! Thanks to Rob Hunter of www.goldenboytapes.com for providing these and expanding my knowledge of the Japanese wrestling scene by even a little bit, and thanks to y’all for reading, and hopefully I won’t be crazy enough to try this again for the Best of Japan 2003 set

– Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi v. El Samurai & Masayuki Naruse. We’re back to NOAH now, 9/23/02. Jushin Liger is accompanying Samurai here so we know who is EVIL~! Hint: Liger spits on the fans on the way to the ring. Kikuchi is just crazy over as a babyface. He exchanges kicks with Naruse to start and they take it to the mat, as Naruse grabs a headlock. He starts kneeing the ribs, until Kikuchi takes him over to relieve the pressure. The partners run in to break things up, but counteract each other, leaving Naruse in control (and his feet on the ropes). Samurai DDTs Kanemaru on the ramp to keep him out of the equation, but Kikuchi fights off both invaders until getting hit by his own partner by mistake. Naruse tries a high axe kick, which is blocked, but Kikuchi’s arm is caught in the process and he’s taken down with a triangle choke. Kanemaru breaks it up, but Samurai takes him out again and Naruse hangs on with an armlock until Kikuchi makes the ropes. Naruse just kills him with knees in the corner and leaves him in a daze, then starts with the kicks to the head instead of the knees. Kikuchi keeps fighting up and slugs him down with a running elbow, and makes the tag to Kanemaru. High dropkick for Naruse and the heels collide, allowing a rollup for two. Moonsault misses and Naruse spears him, as Samurai tags in for the first time. He dives onto Kanemaru with a tope suicida and rubs the boot in for good measure while Liger converses with the referee. Naruse assists by laying in the high kicks, and back in they go. Samurai chokes Kanemaru out on the ropes and pounds him in the corner, then follows with a corner clothesline as they head up. Top rope rana is blocked, however, and Kanemaru follows him down with a jumping DDT and makes the hot tag to Kikuchi. He elbows Samurai in the corner and tosses him into the middle of the ring for another running elbow that knocks him out, and Kanemaru comes back in to hang Samurai in the Tree of Woe and dramatically dropkick him in the face. He slingshots out of the ring, legdropping Samurai on the apron on the way down. That’s NUTS. Back in, a senton gets two. Kikuchi misses a charge, and keeps charging until he gets a lariat out of it. Now THAT’S persistence. Samurai reverses a suplex into the inverted DDT and a hammerlock, but Kikuchi blocks it. Kanemaru breaks it up anyway. Naruse comes in, but walks into a dropkick from Kikuchi, and Kanemaru misses a Lionsault. Naruse gets a capture suplex for two. German suplex gets two as Samurai & Kikuchi brawl all over the place. Kanemaru goes low and gets a brainbuster, allowing him to go up with a perfect moonsault for two. Back up again with a flying DDT that gets two. Had my hand on the stopwatch for that one. A ROLLING BRAINBUSTER gets the pin at 14:32. Holy crap on a crutch. ****1/4 Kikuchi & Kanemaru are like the Baskin-Robbins of tag wrestling right now, with 31 flavors of AWESOME thanks to Kikuchi’s amazing selling and facial expressions.

– GHC Tag team titles: Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikioh v. Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito. Saito starts with Rikioh and it’s the battle of the pudgy tough guys. They slug it out with slaps and both stand their ground until Saito gets a clothesline to put Rikioh down. Some chest and back kicks on the mat, but Rikioh takes him down and stomps away. Rikioh pounds him in the corner with shoulderblocks and they fight over a lockup until the ref steps in and separates them. Some really insanely hard slaps are exchanged and Rikioh pounds away like a mofo on the mat, and Morishima comes in with more of the same. Saito takes the beating like a man and fires back with his own, and then kicks the leg out and brings Akiyama in. Morishima chops away on him, to no avail, and then stomps the crap out of him in the corner and chokes him out with the boot. Jun fires back, however, and it’s a duel of manliness. Morishima goes down first but they keep slugging it out with super-stiff shots until he goes down again. Akiyama hits the chinlock and drops some knees on the throat, and adds a couple of punches there, too. Saito stomps him down again and continues the punishment in the corner, allowing Akiyama to bring him to the apron for a guillotine kneedrop. Back in, Saito hits the chinlock, and Akiyama comes in with a pair of elbowdrops and a fistdrop off the middle rope. Elbowdrop gets two. Back to the chinlock, and Saito comes back in and works the back over with CLUBBING FOREARMS. Morishima comes back with a Bossman slam, however, and Rikioh sneaks in with a cheapshot before tagging in for real. Brawl outside as he whips both Saito & Akiyama into the railings and stomps on Saito. Back in, that gets two. Elbowdrops (HARD ones, not the usual “slap the mat on the way down” wussy type) follow, and Morishima comes in with a Sullivan stomp and surfboards Saito. They double-team him and another double-stomp from Morishima gets two. Rikioh comes in with a double-stomp from the second rope (and this is a 250-pound guy, not Spike Dudley) and a big splash for two. Saito trips him up and gets the hot tag to Akiyama, and it’s a crazy slapfest between him and Rikioh, and Akiyama gets the high knee. Another one in the corner is blocked, however, and Morishima comes in again with a missile dropkick. Corner clotheslines follow, but a lariat is blocked. Inverted Rock Bottom gets two for Morishima, however. The Takeshis tee off with corner clotheslines and get a Doomsday Device, but Akiyama reverses a backdrop driver for two, and hooks a guillotine choke. Rikioh breaks it up, but gets sent into the corner and disposed of. Back to Morishima with a high knee and Exploider for two. Another one is blocked, and Morishima chokeslams him. Rikioh comes in and gets caught with a backdrop suplex by Saito, and a leg lariat gets two. German suplex gets two. Rikioh pops up with a lariat and gets a corner splash, then bearhugs Saito and rams him into the turnbuckles. Another bearhug, but Akiyama breaks it up, then pays the price by getting dropped on his head by Morishima. He quickly hits him with an Exploider, however, and everyone is out. Rikioh gets a lariat on Saito and a powerbomb for two. Another lariat is no-sold by Saito, and he gets an enzuigiri, as everyone is out again. They clothesline each other and get nowhere, and then Saito gets another enzuigiri for two. Akiyama deals with Morishima outside and Saito gets a Shining Wizard for two. It’s comeback time, as he gets another enzuigiri to finish Rikioh and win the titles at 22:47. The Takeshis are too slow and plodding for my tastes, but this worked well enough. ***1/4

– GHC title: Yoshihiro Takayama v. Mitsuhara Misawa. In retrospect, it’s weird that getting hammered into a bloody pulp by Don Frye turned out to be the spark that turned Takayama’s career completely around. They do a bit of shoving to start and have a staredown, then exchange elbows until Misawa takes him down. Takayama quickly goes for an armbar, but Misawa wisely makes the ropes and we’re back up again. Takayama batters him with elbows and a WICKED high kick against the ropes that sends Misawa sprawling to the floor for shelter, and he heads back in after recovering. Misawa takes him down by the leg and starts working on that, but Takayama makes the ropes. Test of strength, and Takayama takes him to the corner and then kills him with knees and hits the chinlock. He turns it into more of a neck crank and gives him some boot. They exchange high and low kicks, and Misawa is out of his element there and quickly goes down like a Cro Cop opponent. Misawa takes a breather and they start again, as Misawa opts to throw elbows instead of kicks, and that works better. He goes up to the middle, but Takayama boots him in the face (from the MAT) and sends him to the floor. That’s crazy. Takayama whips him into the railing and then boots him in the face, sending him right over the railing in a good bump. Back in, Takayama gets two. He stomps away and cranks off another stiff kick to the chest, and a baseball slide that has Misawa down and clutching his chest. Back to the test of strength, but Misawa suplexes out of it and works a headlock, playing to his strengths rather than getting into a power battle with the monster. Takayama makes the ropes, so Misawa chinlocks him, but that allows Takayama to knee him from a sitting position. Misawa gives him one of his own and Takayama is temporarily downed. Misawa keeps throwing knees and elbows while Takayama is stunned, which looks to be a smart move. Takayama dumps him onto the ramp, however, and follows with a slingshot stomp, but walks into an elbow. Misawa elbows him back into the ring. They slug it out as Misawa dropkicks him out, and follows with a tope suicida. Very nice. Another elbow off the apron knocks Takayama through the railing, and they head back in again. Misawa goes up but lands right on a high kick, his luck having run out. Takayama has the balls to tease a Tiger Driver, but instead gets a bridged double-arm suplex, which gets two. I’m surprised no one has tried that before. He boots away, but Misawa catches his foot and takes him down with elbows, but now Takayama catches HIS arm and armbars it. Misawa ducks the big kick and catches the foot on a second attempt, taking him down again, but he doesn’t move in. Two elbows and a german suplex get two. Tiger Driver is blocked, but a second try hits for two. Misawa goes up with a frog splash for two. He cranks on the neck and gets two. Tiger suplex is blocked and they slug it out, elbow v. kick, but Takayama whiffs at a critical point and Misawa gets the elbow for two. Takayama absorbs another elbow and throws a high kick for two, however. He goes for the Tiger Driver again, then opts to knee Misawa into pate in the corner instead. He even throws a dropkick in the corner! I didn’t know he had it in him. Shining Wizard gets two. German suplex gets two, as Misawa falls on the ropes to break. He goes to the center to try again, but Misawa elbows out and gets a suplex of his own. He keeps firing away with elbows, but tries a tombstone and Takayama falls over on him for two. Bad spot. Takayama takes him down but misses a kick, and they slug it out until Misawa gets the elbows for two. Sensing the end, Misawa pounds his face with elbows, but Takayama catches his leg in a kneebar and forces him to make the ropes. Misawa keeps coming and Takayama is running out of gas, so Misawa hits him with another elbow for the pin and the title at 23:53. What the hell was the point of making Takayama look like the unbeatable monster against Ogawa and then just jobbing him right back to Misawa again? I really liked the storyline of Misawa adjusting the way he had to bring Takayama down and outlasting him until he couldn’t keep up any longer, however, and it was a great match. ****1/4

– Takashi Iizuka v. Osamu Nishimura. Ooooo, this should be interesting. Iizuka gained a small bit of notoriety in the US in 1991 at a WCW PPV, getting the shit kicked out of him in wholly unprofessional manner by the Steiner Brothers in what was a disgusting effort on their part against a poor kid on his first US PPV. They work the knucklelock to start and Iizuka takes him down for one. He starts on the arm with an arm wringer, which gives Nishimura the chance to reverse out of it, and it’s a clean break in the corner. They exchange headlocks and work the mat a bit, getting nowhere. Back to the corner, another clean break. Iizuka gets a cravat and works on Nishimura’s neck for a bit, then takes him down for two and works a headlock. Nishimura does the awesome bridge spot and holds it, then monkey-flips him and they start again. Back to the knucklelock and back to the corner, and this time the break is less clean, as Iizuka is hesitant to let him off. He goes for the arm but can’t take Nishimura down, and soon finds himself wrapped up and rolled up for one. They jockey for position on the mat and Nishimura gets a hold of his leg and turns it into a bow-and-arrow. That gets one. He goes to a headscissors, but Iizuka fights out and turns it into an anklelock, and a heel hook. Nishimura makes the ropes. Iizuka smartly stomps on the knee to keep up the pressure, but gets beaten down with forearms. Nishimura takes him down with a headlock and Iizuka reverses to a leglock. Interesting variation of it, too, as he stretches the leg over his head. They fight over that for a bit, as Iizuka turns it into a more standard kneebar while Nishimura gets an anklelock at the same time. The battle of wills is a draw, as they both decide to roll to the ropes and let the referee break it up. Nishimura suddenly goes nuts with low kicks to his knee, and Iizuka responds in kind. Nishimura sweeps the legs to take him down, and they start over again. Back to the lockup and Iizuka rolls him into a leglock, but Nishimura reverses to his own and turns it into a figure-four. Iizuka escapes and gets a half-crab, but Nishimura powers out and into the bridged Indian deathlock. Nice sequence. Iizuka escapes and gets a backdrop suplex, and pounds on Nishimura’s neck. Neckbreaker is reversed into a backslide for two by Nishimura. Small package gets two. Iizuka gets another backdrop suplex, and they fight for a suplex until Nishimura rolls him up for the pin at 24:14. Good long mat-based match. ***1/2

– Bob Sapp v. Manabu Nakanishi. This is my first real exposure to the Bob Sapp phenomenon. Bob is one scary looking dude. Bob hammers on him to start and gets a powerbomb, and Nakanishi bails. The crowd is just nuts for the guy. Nakanishi sells it like he’s dead, laying motionless on the floor for as long as possible before stumbling back in again. He takes Bob down and hammers him on the mat, but gets caught in a choke and Bob fires back. 5 referees stream in and try to pull Sapp off, but he’s a RAMPAGING BLACK MAN! He finally releases on his own and no-sells a high knee. He overpowers Nakanishi and shoulderblocks him, then clotheslines him to the floor. Bob’s posing and facials are just awesome. They brawl outside and Nakanishi gets a desperate sleeper, but Bob casually picks him up in a Torture Rack and tosses him in like a baby. Back in, Bob slugs away, and fights off a suplex, but Nakanishi racks him out of nowhere. Bob punches out of that and Nakanishi sells big. He recovers and goes up for the flying chop, then calls for crowd support by stomping, which Bob interprets as being for him, and recharges himself. That’s so funny. Bob is more charged and throws a standing dropkick, which sends Nakanishi to the floor, again acting like he’s just been shot, and it’s a countout at 6:26. Sapp dances afterwards. Why has Vince not thrown every dollar he has at this guy? Silly, harmless fun. *1/2 Bob’s post-match press conference is included, with such quotable lines as “Everything I do has a purpose – TO HURT!” Picture Ahmed Johnson, but comprehensible.

– IWGP title: Yuji Nagata v. Kazuyuki Fujita. Nagata feigns some kicks to start and sprawls to block a takedown attempt, and they fight over that for a bit and start again. Fujita takes him down this time, but Nagata quickly backs off for the ropes and fights him off. He comes back with a facelock and some knees to the head, but Fujita shakes him off and we start again. Nagata throws some low kicks, but gets taken into the corner and pounded with knees. Nagata throws an overhead suplex to take him down and goes for the arm, but Fujita fights him for position. Nagata gets a guillotine choke, but Fujita beats him down on the mat and they both end up in the ropes. Nagata bails and gets some advice from Yoshihiro Takayama, and back in he fires off a T-Bone suplex and starts kicking. Fujita comes back with a very unlikely rana and they brawl outside. Back in, Fujita with a half-assed spinebuster which sets up a legbar. Fujita goes to a side-headlock, but Nagata makes the ropes. He comes back with a Spinkick and a cross-armlock, which he turns into a triangle choke when Fujita fights out. Fujita then pummels him to escape THAT, and drops some really nasty knees on the kidney area. Nagata takes a breather and comes back for a slugfest, but Fujita destroys him with knees in the corner and he’s out cold. He fights back with a high kick that staggers Fujita, and gets two. Backdrop driver gets two. Another pair of backdrops , and a third one, bridged, finishes at 12:55. I still don’t buy Fujita as a serious contender to anything just because he got lucky in Pride a few times. **3/4

– GHC Junior title: Yoshinobu Kanemaru v. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. The Megapowers of AWESOME collide. Kikuchi attacks and they slug it out with elbows and Kikuchi gets a leg lariat, but whiffs on a pescado. Kanemaru baseball slides him and follows with his own pescado. They brawl outside and Kikuchi ends up in the first row, and Kanemaru puts him on the railing, then jumps on his back and stomps on his head. Gotta love that. Back in, Kanemaru hangs him in the Tree of Woe and dropkicks him, then chokes away. That gets one. He hits the chinlock and Kikuchi immediately starts rolling to escape, but Kanemaru hangs on. See, now that’s a good chinlock spot because there’s stuff HAPPENING. He switches to a headscissors, but Kikuchi makes the ropes. Kanemaru fires away in the corner, but Kikuchi is having none of that and unloads with elbows before walking into a sleeper. Kanemaru takes him down and turns it into a camel clutch while twisting the neck. Slingshot senton gets two. Corner clothesline and he goes up for a flying DDT that gets two. They head out to the ramp and Kikuchi comes back with a rolling vertical suplex out there. And it’s not like there’s a ton of room to move out there, either. Back in, that gets two. Another rolling vertical sequence gets two. Kanemaru gets tossed again and whipped into the railing, and Kikuchi steps on his face. Ah, sportsmanship. Back in, Kikuchi rolls him up for two, and holds the leg in a Brock Lock after doing the move. Kanemaru makes the ropes, so he goes to a Boston Crab and Kanemaru has to drag himself to the ropes again. Kikuchi pulls him back with a camel clutch that turns into a neck crank, and that gets two. Running elbow in the corner, but Kanemaru hits him with a dropkick and goes up for a flying headscissors. He goes up and hits knee on a flying splash, and Kikuchi fires off elbows in the corner and they slug it out on top. Kikuchi hooks his foot on the second rope and does the Tenryu release superplex, but misses a kneedrop, and Kanemaru misses a moonsault. Very cool. They slug it out again and Kanemaru goes down from an elbow, which gets two. They block each other and Kikuchi slugs him into the corner and gets an enzuigiri and inverted suplex for two. Rolling germans get two. Kanemaru comes back with a clothesline and a brainbuster, and goes up with a moonsault that gets two. Brainbuster gets two. He puts Kikuchi on top for another one, and that finishes at 16:55. Well, I should hope so. Really fun match, as these two work as well together as you’d imagine. ***3/4

– GHC tag team titles: Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito v. Kenta Kobashi & Kentaro Shiga. Kobashi talks Shiga into letting him start against Akiyama, but Jun kicks him off the apron anyway. I see who the heels are gonna be. Akiyama gives Kobashi an elbow in lieu of a clean break, but Jun grabs a headlock. Kobashi throws some chops and dodges a high knee, and it’s a stalemate. They go for the test of strength, which Kobashi wins with a suplex. Into the heel corner, where Saito comes in and pounds away, but Kobashi fires back with chops. They exchange those and Saito goes down, allowing Shiga to come in and stomp away in the corner. He makes a run at Akiyama, who calmly steps aside. Shiga slugs away on Saito, but that’s a mistake and Saito kills him with elbows. Shiga comes back with a running elbow, however, putting Saito down. High kick from Saito reverses that trend, however. Akiyama comes in and he’s all dismissive of the kid and stuff, so Shiga goes after him in the corner, which Akiyama treats like a mosquito bite. They get into a slap war and Shiga loses that handily and goes down. Akiyama tosses him to the ramp and tries to suplex him off, but Shiga DDTs him onto the railing instead. Kobashi then heads over and pounds him, as Shiga times a tope suicida perfectly and hits him on the fly. He gets another DDT onto the railing from the apron, and then a third one. Back in, Shiga gets two and stomps away. Akiyama is dead weight and Kobashi can’t even whip him, so he covers for two instead. Delayed suplex (very delayed!) gets two. Abdominal stretch, and Shiga comes in with a kneedrop and legdrop for two. Rollup gets two, but Akiyama reverses it to a crossface. Kobashi makes the save. Saito brings Shiga down with high kicks and tosses him, and introduces him to the post. Back in, delayed suplex gets two. They work Shiga over in the corner a bit, but he fights back, so Saito gets a lariat for two. Akiyama gets the high knee and they slug it out, which puts Shiga on the apron. Saito pounds on him outside and sends him into the front row. And the post. Akiyama adds a guillotine kneedrop on the apron, and Akiyama gets two. He keeps adding kneedrops in the ring and Saito comes back in with a high kick and a powerbomb for two. Saito fires off the high kicks and steps on his head, but Shiga finally fights back on them, only to get beaten down again by Saito. Akiyama comes in and smacks him around in the corner and goes for a suplex, but Shiga finally comes back with a lariat and makes the hot tag to Kobashi. He slugs it out with Akiyama and gets the spinning chops in the corner, then the running knees and a DDT for two. Akiyama gets a high knee, which is no-sold, and they block each others finishers before Akiyama takes him down with an STO and brings Saito back in. Axe kick gets two. German suplex is blocked, but a second try hits. Kobashi comes back with a lariat and Shiga comes in from the top with a missed high cross, but goes after Akiyama outside anyway and wins that battle. Back in, he and Kobashi double-team Saito with a backdrop suplex/bulldog combo and Shiga gets two. Capture suplex gets two. Bulldog gets two. German suplex gets two. Saito gets an enzuigiri, however, and brings Akiyama back in. He tussles with Kobashi and they reverse until Akiyama gets the guillotine choke. Shiga breaks it up. Exploider gets two. Kobashi comes back with the half-nelson suplex, and another one gets two. Lariat gets two. Kobashi sets up for the Burning Hammer, but Saito stops him and gets an enzuigiri. Shiga comes in with a lariat on Akiyama for two. They slug it out and Shiga gets an Exploider for two. Cheeky. Akiyama comes back with a big boot, but gets caught in an abdominal stretch and then an STF. Saito breaks it up, but Kobashi takes him out with a sleeper while Shiga holds Akiyama in a Tazzmission. He releases and gets two. Tornado DDT is blocked by Akiyama with a superplex, which gets two. Guillotine choke, but Kobashi breaks it up. The champs double-team Kobashi and then go after Shiga, as Saito gets a high knee, but Shiga cradles Akiyama for two. Close. Jun gets the lariat and Exploider for two. Thought that was it too. Fisherman’s buster ends it at 31:11. Started slow, but built to some quality NOAH head-dropping action and hot near-falls in the second half. ****

– IWGP Junior title: Koji Kanemoto v. Bas Rutten. They charge each other and Koji takes Bas down and hits him with some knees and a leglock to start, but Bas makes the ropes. Rutten throws some high kicks that miss and grabs a facelock that turns into a guillotine choke, and he adds some knees while doing it, but Koji escapes with a dragon-screw and dropkicks the knee. He takes Bas down with a headlock and they work off that, with Bas trying a cross-armlock but Kanemoto reversing to a leglock. Bas makes Koji’s ankle do really painful-looking things to escape, and they work on the mat for a bit, and exchange choke attempts, with each doing some really slick reversals to escape. Bas ends up with a bodyscissors, but Koji escapes and they trade kicks before going back to the mat again. Bas throws some quality shots while Koji guards, and then he goes to a heel hook, forcing Kanemoto to make the ropes. He kicks the knee out and goes to a kneebar, and they fight over that, with Bas in control on top. He goes for a triangle, but Koji comes back with a bit of ground-n-pound and tries his own triangle choke, which Bas counters with a powerbomb. Kanemoto bails. Back to the apron, but Bas kicks him down again. Back in, Bas takes him down with a fireman’s carry and works the ribs, then slams his head into the mat for two. A heel-clicker to the head gets two. That takes some athleticism. Standing dropkick and some more rib-pounding gets two. Shining Wizard and he lets the ref count, but Koji is up again. They slug it out with palmstrikes and Bas misses a kick, allowing Kanemoto to get a heel hook for the submission at 10:12. And it was just getting really good, too! Super-fun match with Bas getting into his secret identity as a pro wrestler again. ***

– IWGP title: Yuji Nagata v. Masa Chono. Chono gets a pair of boots to start, as does Nagata, followed by an enzuigiri for two. Another one misses, as does Chono’s attempt. Nagata grabs a facelock and they work on the mat for a bit, as Nagata controls with a hammerlock and gets two. He stays on the arm, but Chono reverses and they get nowhere. Into the corner, but Chono takes him down with a leglock and turns it into a rear chinlock. Nagata brings him to the corner and smacks him in the mouth to escape. They do the test of strength next and Chono takes him down with a headlock, and pounds away in the corner. They slug it out, won by Nagata, and he takes Chono down with a facelock, into a sleeper on the mat. Back to the chinlock, and he overpowers Chono and chinlocks him again. That turns into a headlock, which Nagata grinds on with gusto. Chono finally reverses to a headscissors and Nagata goes for a cross-armlock, and they both back off. Chono starts battering him with headbutts in the corner and stomps him down, so Nagata fires back with high kicks until Chono drops in the corner. Big boot in the corner and they head up top, but Chono blocks a superplex. Nagata tries it again, and this time he gets it, but Chono won’t stay down and fires off a Yakuza kick. Chono goes up with a flying shoulderblock and gets the STF, then decides to punch him in the head a few times in the name of fair play. He releases and Nagata backs off, feigning a high kick, and they do the test of strength, which Chono immediately breaks by using a cheapshot. Neckbreaker gets two. Chono takes him down into a headscissors, which Nagata escapes from into a side headlock, and they work off that on the mat. Chono controls with a side headlock and almost turns it into a submission hold, but Nagata keeps rolling him over for two. Nagata finally breaks and applies a triangle choke in unique fashion, but Chono makes the ropes. Nagata starts throwing kicks to the leg, and that seems to do the trick, as Chono goes down, and Nagata gets a stepover toehold and works on the knee. He adds a facelock, but Chono powers him over and somehow turns it into a heel hook, forcing Nagata to make the ropes. Back to the knee goes Nagata, however, kicking away until Chono drops, and he wraps the knee around the post and does a poor man’s ringpost figure-four. Back in, he hammers at the leg with more kicks and goes back to the toehold, which then logically becomes an STF. Nice one, too. Chono makes the ropes, however. Nagata stomps away and gets a Russian legsweep into the NagataLock. And he didn’t even salute before doing it! Chono appears to be in some difficulty, but he fights his way to the ropes. Nagata dropkicks the knee and we’re clipped to him applying a figure-four. Chono fights him off, so Nagata stomps the knee again, and then starts throwing high kicks, which Chono fights off. Two more of those suckers is enough to put him down again, however, and it’s another NagataLock, this time with a SALUTE~! And now I’d say Chono is boned royally. Just my amateur assessment. Chono gets all manly, however, and yells back at Nagata while fighting the pain, before finally making the ropes. Enzuigiri puts Chono down, but only on one knee. Big boot and he’s out to the apron and staggered. Nagata kicks him in the face to send him to the floor. He grabs a sleeper from the apron, however, and drags Nagata out there like the Creature from the Black Lagoon or something. They brawl on the floor and Chono piledrives him through a table, which is a distinct change from the mat-wrestling flavor of the match leading up to that spot. The count gets to 18 before Nagata makes it back in, and Chono drags him out again and they brawl in the aisle amidst a sea of photographers. Nagata gets an Exploider. The count on both gets up to 19 before they both make it in. Nagata gets a pair of enzuigiris to put Chono to his knees, and a Northern Lights suplex gets nothing, as his back is too hurt to bridge. He kicks Chono down again and gets some knees to the head, but walks into a leg lariat. Chono boots him down and gets a Yakuza Kick, but Nagata is PISSED now and Chono doesn’t have the juice. Another one just grazes him, but a third brings him down. He shakes it off, however, so Chono puts him down again and applies a facelock submission hold. When that doesn’t work, he goes to an abdominal stretch, then releases and tries a camel clutch. STF, and Nagata has nowhere to go, but he keeps fighting until he can reach the ropes. Chono goes up with a flying shoulderblock, and another one, and ANOTHER one, and that gets two. Back up again, and this time Nagata brings him down with a top rope Exploider! Both guys are understandably winded, and Nagata gets a high knee in the corner for two. Crossface, but Chono fights it off long enough to make the ropes. Exploider, but Chono pops up with a Yakuza kick and a Shining Black, and he dragon-screws him into a figure-four. Lariat and Scorpion Deathlock follow, and we’ve GOTTA be getting close to the time limit. He releases and opts for the STF instead, really grinding on it. Nagata makes the ropes, however. They slug it out and Nagata gets an Exploider for two. Another try is blocked by Chono, who DDTs him, and they exchange high kicks. Chono goes down first, but Nagata does the old “pass out and headbutt his crotch” spot. Chono fires off an enzuigiri, but Nagata gets a leg lariat for two. They exchange kicks again, but now Chono dropkicks the knee and gets two. Nagata gets an abdominal stretch, into an Octopus, but time is running out. Rollup gets two. Another rollup gets two. Chono gets a small package for two, reversed for two. Backdrop suplex gets two for Nagata. Cross-armlock and time expires at 60:00. How about that. Props to both guys for doing that long, as it was a well-paced, smartly-worked match, although not exactly a thrill-a-minute joyride. ****

– At this point there’s Satoshi Kojima v. Hiro Hase and Great Muta v. Genichiro Tenryu from the October 27 AJPW show, but the tracking is so bad that both are unwatchable, so we have to skip forward to the next match, I’m afraid.

– Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & HEAT v. Koji Kanemoto, Gedo & Jado. HEAT is a badly-disguised Minoru Tanaka. Why? It’s Japan, who knows. He starts with Koji and gets a dropkick to escape an arm-wringer. Kanemoto takes him down with a leglock and goes to work on the knee. Gedo comes in and hits the chinlock, but gets put in the face corner and Liger comes in with a hiptoss. Senton gets two. Gedo bails, so Liger baseball slides him and TM gets some shots in on the floor. Back in, Liger grabs a facelock and Mask comes in to stomp away. Dropkick gets two, but Gedo claws him and brings him into the evil corner, where Jado chops away and chokes him out. We get some mask-ripping and TM gets tossed, where Koji & Gedo do their dirty work, and Jado hits the chinlock back inside. Gedo chokes away and slugs him down, and Koji gets some low kicks to further punish him. They slug it out and Koji kicks him down again, and grabs an anklelock. Jado with a suplex for two. Backdrop suplex gets two. Gedo chokes away, but his german suplex is countered, and Liger comes back in with a palmstrike. Powerbomb gets two. Another one is interrupted by a cheap shot from the apron, as Jado comes in with a corner clothesline and a superplex, which gets two. Crossface follows, but Liger makes the ropes. Liger charges and hits boot, but comes back with another palm and goes up for a diving headbutt, which misses. Jado goes back to the crossface until TM breaks it up. Liger comes back with a brainbuster to eliminate Jado at 10:06. Next, HEAT puts Gedo in a cross-armlock and starts working the arm, then drops a suspiciously-familiar kneedrop on the arm. He and Tiger Mask double-team Gedo, and TM gets a high kick in the corner into a powerbomb for two. Tombstone and Tiger suplex get two. Heel miscommunication and the Tiger Suplex again gets two. This time TM tosses Koji and allows HEAT to deal with him, but misses a moonsault and gets powerslammed by Gedo. Flatliner gets two. Koji gets a Falcon Arrow, into a Gedo frog splash for the pin at 13:27. So now we’ve got Koji and HEAT left, apparently, as I guess the winner of the fall is taken out of the match, too. Koji kicks HEAT down and gives him a high kneelift in the corner, and goes up for a moonsault, but misses. HEAT dropkicks the knee and they brawl outside. Back to the apron, HEAT fires away with low kicks to the knee and goes up with a missile dropkick that sends Koji out again, and he follows with a pescado. Back in, HEAT fires off knees and Koji’s own knee collapses, so HEAT stomps on it and gets a high kick for two. He walks into an overhead suplex, however, and they reverse until Koji kicks the knee out again and anklelocks him. HEAT reverses to an anklelock of his own, but so does Koji, turning it into a heel hook this time. HEAT makes the ropes. Koji whiffs on a moonsault and HEAT dropkicks the knee and spins into a heel hook (might as well wear a sign saying “MINORU TANAKA” after that), and he keeps pulling Koji away from the ropes, but he finally makes it there. Koji headfakes him with some rights and then hits an enzuigiri in a nice sequence, and gets a Falcon Arrow for the pin at 23:15. This was more of a good Tanaka-Kanemoto singles match than a six-man, but either way, it worked. ***1/4

– Taka Michinoku, Kaz Hayashi & Gran Naniwa v. Dick Togo, The Great Sasuke & Jinsei Shinzaki. Shinzaki is better known to most as Hakushi. This is celebrating Michinoku Pro’s 10th anniversary. Taka offers a handshake and then attacks Sasuke, and it’s on, as everyone throws highspots and Taka gets dumped and hit with the Asai moonsault by Sasuke. Kaz gets a headlock on Togo and they fight over the shoulderblock, but Kaz kicks him down instead and starts throwing chops. Togo DDTs him and bails after getting dropkicked. Taka goes with Sasuke again and they slug it out with chops but Taka goes to the eyes. Next up, Naniwa tries against Sasuke and they criss-cross into a Sasuke elbow that sends him out but he fakes the highspot and instead brings Shinzaki in. He grabs a headlock on Naniwa and overpowers him, and hits the chinlock. Naniwa comes back with a bulldog and the CRABWALK ELBOW~!, but it misses. Shoot. Shinzaki then does his own goofy move, the ropewalk, but slips and crotches himself. That never happens to Undertaker. The crowd forgives him, however. Next up, Togo and Taka, as they slug it out and Togo clotheslines him out of the ring. Sasuke goes with Hayashi, and gets a leg lariat, but YOU CAN’T POWERBOMB KAZ. Well, you can, but not in this specific instance. Shinzaki sends him into the corner a few times and goes up with a pump splash that gets two. Back to the ropewalk for another try at it, and this time he actually makes it around the ring. Sasuke drops a fist and Togo comes in with chops and a low blow. A REALLY hard one. In fact, MY voice dropped an octave on that one. It gets a two count. Sasuke comes in and jumps on the arm, but Kaz powers him into the corner and brings in Naniwa, who chokes away. Another CRABWALK ELBOW~!, and this one actually hits and gets two. Taka comes in and it’s like old times, as he and Kaz double-team Sasuke with a camel clutch and dropkick to the face. Well, except Naniwa wasn’t a part of Kaientai DX, but that’s a minor point. They work him over with kicks in the corner and step on his face, and Kaz gets a backdrop suplex for two. Taka arrogantly kicks him down and gets a seated dropkick for two. Naniwa comes in for a triple-team, with everyone hitting elbows in the corner, and gets two. Sasuke comes back with a quebrada on everyone and makes the hot tag and it breaks down, as everyone fires off the highspots outside and generally goes crazy. That leaves Shinzaki alone in the ring, so he cannonballs onto the heels with a somersault plancha. So it’s Kaz and Togo in the ring, as Kaz gets a handspring elbow, but Togo kicks him down and gets a rollup for two. Crossface, but Kaz makes the ropes. Togo’s Pedigree is reversed to a rollup by Kaz for two, but Togo DDTs him for two. Kaz comes back with the Eye of the Hurricane for two. Sasuke tries next, but misses a charge and gets sent into the turnbuckles. Kaz tries a rana off the top, but Sasuke blocks, and Kaz finishes the move and gets two. Next up, Naniwa and Sasuke, as Naniwa goes up, but gets caught by Sasuke. He gets a rana anyway for two. Powerbomb is reversed to a rana by Sasuke, however. He goes for a quebrada, but Naniwa catches him with a backdrop suplex and a powerbomb for two. Shinzaki makes the save and goes up with the flying shoulderblock, for two. Powerbombs for everyone! Funny sequence. Taka ends up as the final victim, and that gets two. Togo Pedigrees Naniwa and Sasuke goes up for the swanton, which gets two. Powerbomb is countered by Naniwa and gets an enzuigiri and gets rid of the other faces. Sasuke gets a moonsault press on Taka for two. Octopus, but Naniwa breaks it up. Sasuke goes up with a missile dropkick on Taka and the Fire Thunder Bomb, which gets two. Taka takes him down with a crossface, but Shinzaki saves. Taka goes up, but jumps into a Sasuke dropkick, only to come back with a spinkick. Running kick in the corner and a high kick gets two. Sasuke reverses out of a suplex and gets a spinkick of his own, and the Fire Thunder Bomb finishes at 21:28. Great, old-style MPro crazy six-man, and a great way to end the Best of Japan 2002 set. What more can you say? ****1/2

– Bob Sapp v. The Great Muta. We seem to have one more bonus match here. This is from the Wrestle-1 show. Muta sprays red mist and goes for the knee, getting the dropkick and dragon-screw, but Sapp powerbombs and him and drops an elbow. Corner clothesline and he pounds away with shoulderblocks and then beats him into the corner and chokes away. The ref pulls him off, allowing Muta to springboard off the ref with a Shining Wizard and clothesline them both out. They brawl down the aisle, as Muta hits him with a chair and hauls him back in again for a power elbow. Cross-armlock, but Bob powers out with a slam and shoulderblocks him out of the ring. He follows with a pescado (!!!) and drops some elbows on the floor. Back in, Sapp clotheslines him twice and goes for a powerbomb, but Muta uses the green mist to stun him, and the Shining Wizard to knock him down. Bob is all “Not yet!” so he hits another one, and only gets one. He adds a moonsault, and gets two. Another Wizard is blocked by a spinebuster, and Sapp dropkicks him and GOES UP?! Diving headbutt finishes at 6:28. This was quite the spectacle, I’ll give it that. I’m tempted to add an extra star for Sapp’s post-match dance party, but that’s more of a Dean thing. Muta, ever the showman, sets off some pyro before taking his leave. *1/2

The Bottom Line:

Well, boys and girls, we laughed, we cried, we gave out some snowflakes, but the Best of Japan 2002 set has come to an end. Overall, highly recommended, because there’s something for everyone here, and you should really at the very least get acquainted with Bob Sapp before Vince snaps him up.

Don’t forget to pick this up at www.goldenboytapes.com, on either VHS or DVD, and I’ll see you in the funny papers.