NJPW Fighting Spirit 2004 N1
January 28, 2004
While I’m looking at HUSTLE I thought I might as well watch New Japan from the same year for context. My history with NJPW is that I watched it quite a bit in the 1990s, although I preferred AJPW. I also watched it in the early 2000s until the weird shoot style stuff drove me away in 2002. I got back into it a few years after this when Nakamura and Tanahashi were ruling the roost.
Naofumi Yamamoto vs. Akiya Anzawa
Yamamoto is Yoshitatsu before his WWE career. He was in NJPW for six years before his WWE defection. He’s about 18 months in at this point and naturally wrestles like a Young Lion. Anzawa is from the same class. He only lasted a couple of years before retiring to be a personal trainer. He’s not very good. He was a judoka but you’d never know it because all he does are very basic pro wrestling moves and he’s not good at them. The match feels really long at 7 minutes, which is a bad sign. Boston crab finishes and Yamamoto manages it without falling over.
Final Rating: *3/4
Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Tiger Mask IV
Gooch is a young lion with black trunks and no personality. It’s really difficult to relate him to the wrestler he’d become. I’ve never really liked this Tiger Mask and he clearly doesn’t give a fuck here. The match is so tedious. Tiger Mask makes rope moves look boring here. It’s staggering. Camel Clutch finishes. Tiger Mask’s music kinda sounds like “fuck off Tiger”. Appropriate.
Final Rating: *1/4
Hirooki Goto vs. Heat
Heat is Minoru Tanaka with a crap mask. Goto is about a quarter step above young boy here. He is completely unrecogniseable. This is much closer to being a good contest than the last two matches. Goto goes after Heat’s arm and it takes Heat stepping it up for the tide to turn. Heat continually goes after the taped left leg and taps Goto out in seven minutes. Tidy.
Final Rating: **1/2
Harimao’z (Katsuyori Shibata & Mitsuya Nagai) vs. Toru Yano & Wataru Inoue
Harimao’z. Where they put Shibata under a mask and teamed him up with a bunch of scrubs. Gee, I wonder why he quit? Yano looks pretty similar but fresh faced and 40% more handsome. Inoue is going through his heart throb phase. The Harimao’z gimmick just kills Shibata and he’s stuck under the mask doing a lot of nothing. The match is really botchy and bad. Yano is horrible. I love Yano’s shtick that he developed over time but he’s a straight wrestler here and he’s not good at it. Harimao’z double team Inoue for the win.
Final Rating: *1/2
Why would you put Shibata under a mask?
Jushin Liger, Koji Kanemoto & El Samurai vs. Gedo, Jado & Katsushi Takemura
Now we’re fucking talking! A motivated Kanemoto is a thing of beauty. He’s just coming back off a minor injury absence. He spends a solid chunk of this match beating up all three of his opponents and taking no shit. Kanemoto then gets picked off for heat but makes his own save and beats all three up some more before casually tagging out to Liger. What a man. Samurai ends up in with Gedo and pins him with the Gedo Clutch for shits and giggles. Kanemoto wrestled most of the match, which is why it was so good. Liger was hardly in and Samurai only made it in at the finish. Good match but I could have lived with either a more competitive match or stronger opponents for Kanemoto & Company.
Final Rating: ***1/2
New Japan Rumble
The January Tradition! First two are Nakanishi and Nagata and they’re both so young and mobile. This is by pinfall or over the top rope. Nagata rolls Nakanishi up for the first elimination. They’re joined by Blue Wolf and Osamu Nishimura. Blue Wolf was an interesting guy. The first Mongolian wrestler to come through the NJ Dojo but he only lasted five years. A lot of the wrestlers in this are old guys like Hiro Saito and Tatsutoshi Goto. Of the guys in their prime only Nagata, and to a lesser extent Nishimura, are any good. Shinya Makabe gets a good reaction for entering and he’s at least fit and mobile, which is a big step up for this rabble. Tadao Yasuda is greeted by a hostile crowd and is backed up by the entry that follows him; Makai #1 (Super Strong Machine). This is luckily the ass end of the Makai Club. Last man in is Masahiro Chono to a hero’s welcome. He brawls with all the bad guys but gets unceremoniously dumped by Yutaka Yoshie (the Flying Pink Tank) on a splash off the ropes.
FINAL FOUR: Tadao Yasuda, Makai #1, Yutaka Yoshie & Shinya Makabe. They gang up on Yasuda and get rid of him before Makabe dumps Makai #1. I’m surprised they ended up with two babyfaces but the New Japan Rumble has never made any sense to me. The future Togi picks up the win with a lariat after a scary as fuck looking Brainbuster. Most of this was a mess but Nagata was good at the start and Makabe was good at the finish.
Final Rating: **1/4
U-30 Openweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Masayuki Naruse
Naruse had a lot of potential but he retired a couple of years after this. This is a belt that Tanahashi held for the vast majority of its existence. As a tool to get him over it worked. It’s very weird to watch an inexperienced and raw Tanahashi run through moves that don’t really suit him. The match is structured as a back and forth, as any great match is, with Naruse coming much closer to winning for the majority of the run time. This is especially apparent near the end where Naruse hits the back fist for a dramatic near fall. He goes to the well with a second attempt, which is ducked and Tanahashi finishes with the Dragon Suplex. Tanahashi had the skills to be a big star but it wasn’t as readily apparent as it would be years later when he was on top. He just doesn’t carry himself like a big star. The pieces hadn’t quite fallen into place.
Final Rating: ***1/4
New Japan in 2004 was a nightmare. They were just coming out of the darkest days of Inokism and the show wasn’t terrible but the lack of established talent is palpable. It would take years to get into a better place. I’ll be keeping tabs on them alongside HUSTLE as I move forward. Suffice to say this opening gambit didn’t fill me with hope about the rest of the New Japan run 2004-2008. The next show I’ll probably look at for NJPW is King of Sports (March 28, 2004). A major PPV where they drew 10,000. Headlined by Kensuke Sasaki vs. Bob Sapp. Some of the headline acts New Japan would go to over the next year or two is…interesting. Things wouldn’t really settle down until Tanahashi saved the promotion from itself in 2006. I wasn’t watching at the time so it’ll be interesting to go back and look at these events as they unfold.