NJPW King of Sports
March 28, 2004
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Ryogoku Kokugikan for a big old PPV from the Kings of Sports. 10,000 on hand.
Makai Club vs. Shinya Makabe, Blue Wolf, Toru Yano & Yutaka Yoshie
Oh, the horrors of the Makai Club. Thankfully almost at a conclusion here. The mostly masked men here are Super Strong Machine, Katsuyori Shibata, Mitsuya Nagai and Ryushi Yanagisawa. This is a fairly typical eight man waste of time. The one little curio is seeing Serious Yano be all serious. It doesn’t suit him at all. Even under a mask Shibata is great, hurling himself into spots despite having a shooter gimmick to fall back on. Yano gets kicked in the head and that’s it.
Final Rating: **1/2
Katsushi Takemura vs. Tiger Mask IV
Four is showing a lot of attitude here. It doesn’t make him anymore interesting as a wrestler but he has a decent line in staring. The only way to make Tiger Mask IV interesting would be to have him be managed by Joe Exotic. He so rarely shows any fire. It’s a common complaint that I have about myriad Japanese wrestlers that they spend 90% of their career not giving a fuck. It doesn’t help that this match is botch heavy. The “Tombstone” is garbage and they even re-do the spot. Takemura wins me over by hoofing TM right in the fork and claiming, erroneously, that it was the “inner thigh”. He then shreds the Tiger Mask and chokes him out with wrist tape. It feels like things are finally happening but Takemura fucks it all up by botching a tope. TM still doesn’t fire up and wins with a crucifix. Jesus fucking Christ. Fuck off Tiger.
Final Rating: *3/4
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship
Jushin Liger (c) vs. Masayuki Naruse
Liger beat Sugiura for the strap at the January 4 show and has been defending it in New Japan ever since.
It’s a bit strange that he’s got a NJPW challenger here rather than a NOAH challenger, which created these super hot crowds during this storyline. This crowd isn’t super hot and indeed they almost try to avoid reactions with mat based work. Naruse looking to grind out the win. It does make sense at least with Naruse targeting Liger’s bum wheel and constantly countering into leg holds. I don’t really rate Naruse. He was a perfectly fine wrestler but that’s it. He also fought in MMA (this era really is ridiculous for that) and retired from MMA in 2004 and wrestling in early 2006.
The match definitely picks up but it had better as it’s nearly 20 minutes long. Naruse is far better off as the underdog, taking a beating and kicking out of Liger’s more varied offence. It doesn’t help that Naruse is so submission based. So everything he does has to slow the pace of the match. Naruse also angers me by getting a sleeper and just lying there on his back, pinning himself. The referee is no help by not counting it but fuck’s sake lads. There are rules to adhere to here! Liger has finally had enough at that point. Shotei. Brainbuster. Good night jobber. This was too long for what they had planned and Naruse didn’t win me over at all. It is Liger though so it is still good.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Heat (c) vs. Koji Kanemoto
Heat, Minoru Tanaka under a bad mask, beat Jado at the end of last year to win this belt and is in the midst of a long title run. This is his fourth defence. He’s already bested Chris Daniels and Bryan Danielson.
I find it hard to put into words how much I love Koji Kanemoto in his prime. I like Minoru just fine but Heat? Fuck that guy. With both Shibata and Tanaka, putting a mask on them made them less interesting. This match is very weird. Heat gets kicked in the head and flip bumps off the apron for no reason. Then Koji vaults over the top rope, for no reason, and hits a dragon screw that they botch.
Things don’t improve either. They do a high kick duel with a double KO that absolutely stinks. They rescue matters slightly with some ok mat work and submission counters. It’s during this part of the match that they pull the crowd in and you can hear audibly how into it they are. Heat targets the arm while Kanemoto goes after the leg. Suddenly I’m aware that they’re doing near falls off roll ups right into submission attempts and I’m totally into it. Heat traps Kanemoto with the armbar and that’s the submission win. Holy shit, this got really good toward the end but I cannot ignore how bad it was for half of the run time. The last five minutes feels like it dropped out of a four star+ match.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Josh Barnett vs. Mitsuya Nagai
Why is Nagai on the show twice? Fuck off. Are we supposed to pretend he wasn’t out here earlier in the Makai Club? T-Shirt Mode Barnett turns up too. So they lay around in leglocks for a few minutes. Then it goes batshit crazy and they fucking wail on each other with kicks but Ken Shamrock runs in for the DQ. What the fuck? What is happening?
This would lead to Shamrock vs. Barnett at the big Nexess show in May.
Final Rating: *
U-30 Openweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazunari Murakami
This is “live” but elsewhere because New Japan is bad at building cages quickly. Oh, the irony. I’m watching this to avoid empty arenas and this match has no fans.
It has no referee either and you can only win via KO.
The match ends up an absolute blood bath with both guys bleeding heavily. Someone runs in while I’m looking the other way and I have no idea what’s happening. Murakami ends up unresponsive on the floor and that’s the end of this. This is a weird experimental match that should be watched but the cold environment and strange rules hurt it badly. Incredible scenes of bloodshed though.
Final Rating: **1/2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura came into NJPW hot in 2002 and they made a point of turning him into a super rookie, rather than have him work his way up through the standard young lion system. They put the IWGP strap on him his second year in the biz and he’s not long lost it. This is a nice little rehab win over Tenzan for him. They have an odd recent history where Nak beat Tenzan for the belt and when Nakamura had to give up the belt due to injury Tenzan won the vacant title but he’s already lost it to Sasaki. Tenzan aged into a good veteran because all his best spots (Mongolian chops basically) didn’t require him to move much. In his prime he was basically the same guy only with a better engine. They work hard at this match. Tenzan is especially solid. They have a terrific finish where Nakamura slips out of the Anaconda Vice and finishes with an armbar. A perfect demonstration of Nakamura’s mat based strengths in the early days versus the battling main event stylings of Tenzan. Really solid pro wrestling here.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Murakami is out here, still bleeding from the cage match, to fight someone. The rest of the Makai Club talk him down and I’m pretty sure he passes out from blood loss. ^ Images the precede unfortunate events.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama (c) vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Manabu Nakanishi
This is Suzuki’s first return to NJPW after a lengthy run as a shooter in Pancrase. Tenryu is ‘exploring his options’ after the collapse of Choshu’s World Japan. I’m happy to report he’d become a regular for HUSTLE. I’ve never been a fan of Tenryu and seeing him in this flashback form finally gives me a chance to enjoy his work. The spectacle of him and Suzuki just slapping each other and the cheeky grin from Suzuki when he immediately tags out? Marvellous. I could watch shit like that all day long sirs.
I want to adore this match but let’s face facts here; Nakanishi isn’t on this level. Most of his spots go wrong and he’s only useful when leathering Takayama in strikes duels. Suzuki absolutely bullies the poor goofy bastard. I love how Tenryu gets progressively more surly and irritable as the match continues. At one point punching Suzuki in the eye after he deemed a cover disrespectful. Suzuki’s response? He chokes out Nakanishi, pins him with one foot and spits on the corpse. Ahhhh. This fucking ruled. I need more of these interactions.
Final Rating: ****
Masahiro Chono vs. Yuji Nagata
Chono was always a cool looking guy but Nagata has always been one of my favourite workers and I easily side with him here. It’s not even close. You can tell from Chono’s movements that he’s clearly not got long left as a top tier wrestler. This match feels like a passing of the torch as Chono tries to stiff Nagata with kicks but soon finds himself on the receiving end and taking a real beating. Chono resorts to cheating but is incapable of hiding any of it from the referee. The bit where he uses the ring bell hammer is the worst because he even rings the bell before hitting Nagata in the shoulder. That would be a disqualification.
I don’t want to launch into a tangent but anyone who cheats in front of the ref isn’t cool, they fucking suck at pro wrestling. Hide the cheating. Make it an art form, you lazy fucking pricks.
The match just falls apart after that. Nagata gives up and Chono decides to take it out on the referee, like a moron. Chono’s performance goes completely down the drain. He’s so bad in the last couple of minutes and Nagata submits him.
Final Rating: *1/2
Kensuke Sasaki (c) vs. Bob Sapp
What would 2004 be without The Beast? Bob Sapp got himself incredibly over out of nowhere and rose to the top of the Japanese wrestling scene. His rise is the stuff of legend. He was on the books in WCW when the WWF bought them out in 2001 but he was never used and got over the following year in MMA.
His popularity was so great he walked into pro wrestling in Japan and this is only his NINTH MATCH. It’s only his second singles match in New Japan. Can you imagine anyone getting a push that quickly now? It worked though. Sapp was over huge here. His charisma is through the roof. The crowd reactions for everything shows that the sudden push worked.
Makai Club gets involved. Sasaki ends up busted open. Akira Hokuto runs them off! The crowd is so into all of this. It feels like the booking really landed. It’s all designed to protect the inexperienced Sapp. Sasaki hits him with the belt wrapped around his arm on a lariat and that feels like it could be a credible finish. Sapp gets lost and Sasaki has to have a chat with him. Beastbomb and Sapp manages to lift Sasaski’s shoulder off the mat on the finish. I have no idea what he was doing. Sapp wins! Sapp wins! They did a good job of smoke and mirrors here hiding Sapp’s actual level of ability and it was stunt booking. It should have cemented Sapp as a star but instead exposed how unprepared he was for the spot he was forced into.
Final Rating: **
Post Match: Sapp announces he has no affiliation with Makai Club. He’s K1!
Nakamura then shows up to challenge Sapp. They really should have had Nakamura beat Sapp. What actually happened was he lost an MMA fight to Kazu Fujita and quit. So this is not only his title winning match but also his second to last match in New Japan until 2013 when he came back to tag with CHAOS at Wrestle Kingdom. Wrestling!
Holy shit, this was a wild ride. The tag titles match was obviously great but 2004 was a hell of a year for NJPW being outright bad. I look forward to how this all plays out. Next up is Nexess, the big May PPV. Unless I feel the urge to watch a smaller show in between.