July 20, 2002

Here’s a show from the backwards days of All Japan under the Mutoh regime. Backwards in the sense of putting on mostly terrible shows, but still selling out the buildings left and right. Nowadays Mutoh puts on a more consistently fun product, but can’t fill the houses as well. Such is life in wrestling though.

Kaz Hayashi . . . has been evidently watching some tapes of Keiji Mutoh in his younger days.

Dos Casas and Mil Mascaras . . . look like the next All Asia and AJPW World Tag Title holders.

Taiyo Kea . . . takes the fight to Tenryu and gets the Budokan rockin’ and rollin’.


The way this is worked is understandable to a degree. For as long as these two have been working together it’s obvious that Miyamoto is going to show progress and gradually have more and more success against Fuchi until he finally wins. Miyamoto does show that progress here in the ways he can counter and escape Fuchi’s backdrop, and surprise Fuchi with a Juji-gatame and make him the one screaming in agony for a change. Miyamoto even slaps Fuchi not once but twice, when the ref calls for a break. Miyamoto doesn’t show much as far as game plan or focus goes. His goal is simple and straightforward. Show Fuchi that he’s had enough of being his tackle dummy and that he’s ready to fight and move up the card. Where this falls short though is that as nice a job as Miyamoto did in telling his half of the story, Fuchi doesn’t fully compliment it. The handshake at the end, as well as Fuchi’s clean break instead of returning the favor for the slaps certainly do that. As does the ending with Fuchi using a cutback cradle to outsmart Miyamoto, but Fuchi on offense is the same old Fuchi, using submissions designed to stretch and make him scream, instead of win the match. Even in loss this does look like a graduation of sorts for Miyamoto and he does only look like he’s a match or two away from finally winning. Fuchi being the same old Fuchi more often than not, is the only real negative.


Must see” is a term that gets used a lot when it comes to wrestling. Time and history has shown that it doesn’t always imply simply a great match. Look no further than Foley/Taker HIAC or Mutoh/Shinzaki from 4/96 to see evidence of that. This match certainly isn’t great, but the work is so surreal at times that it carries the match and makes it something that should definitely be seen. Kaz wearing the short orange tights and white boots looks exactly like a Mini-Me Mutoh from his New Japan days. Kaz also mixes in some of his usual moves, with Mutoh’s trademark stuff from his pre skinhead days. Some of the work does look a big ugly, due to the size difference. But the mere fact that Hayashi is doing a backbreaker and moonsault to the man who made that spot famous is cool enough. Hayashi’s impression is almost perfect as well. He even does the two steps before the bulldog after the handspring elbow in the corner.

Mutoh as Kokushi isn’t quite as lazy as Mutoh as Muta, he’s not shy about laying around and doing as little as possible. But he does bring a few cool spots and doesn’t completely rely on brawling on the floor, prop shots, and green mist. Mutoh lets Hayashi get in a good amount of offense including several near falls. His selling could have been better, and would probably have leant credence to thinking that Hayashi could pull off the upset. The walk across the guardrail spot by Mutoh was impressive as hell, and to their credit, they went with a finish that actually made sense in the context of the story, with Hayashi using all early-Mutoh type offense and not getting the job done, he tried a Shining Wizard and came up short, and Kokushi hit one for real and quickly finished him with the powerbomb. Mutoh’s selling, ugly offense from Hayashi, and almost no offense from the man who won, all keep this from being great. Even the most devout Mutoh fan in the world couldn’t argue that. But the simple aura of watching Mutoh wrestle himself in a sense, makes this a match that should definitely be seen.


Yang and Hijikata keep this from being completely unbearable. Okumura wasn’t too bad, except he was seemingly clueless about the concept of selling, popping up after a big German suplex from Hosaka and shrugging off Hijikata’s kicks. Yang’s plancha into the guardrail was a truly sick moment, but he ultimately failed to really make it matter, by getting up first and then throwing Hosaka into the ring. How hard would it have been to sell it huge, let Hijikata lay a few kicks into it, and work a story around it? Thinking on your feet is supposed to be a hallmark of good workers. Hijikata is his usual fun self laying in the kicks, including a brutal one to the side of Yang’s face. Yang and Hijikata don’t really interact with each other all that much, which is odd considering Yang’s pre match promo was basically Yang saying that he knew he could beat Hijikata because he’d worked with him so many times. But Hijikata comes out on top in nearly every exchange have. Sure Yang gets the win by pinning Hijikata after hitting Yang Time, but it was only after Yang hit a missile dropkick from behind when Hijikata was fighting with Okumura, and after Okumura had softened up Hijikata with a brainbuster.


The clipping done here isn’t a big deal seeing as Honma’s entire control segment was mostly him and Aijima trading off kicks and punches. Honma’s keylock was a nice moment and could have easily served as a catalyst to take the match in a different direction, but instead Honma and Aijima continued to exchange strikes as though nothing had happened. Things get better when Aijima goes on offense. Aijima shows a game plan of sorts and uses his strength to wear Honma down, to possibly put him away with a big lariat. Honma getting control back by targeting the knees was nice and makes up a bit for the good keylock spot going to waste. With Aijima’s knees hurt, Honma seizes the moments and uses his blockbuster to put him away. It’s cool to see Honma actually win, but it’d have been nice if Honma had made the most out of the whole match and shown why he’s considered one of the better workers in AJPW.


Like Mutoh’s previous match, this is more about spectacle than an actual match. As both a spectacle and as an actual wrestling match, it manages to be better than the other match. The only really “bad” part of the match is thanks to Mutoh. When he gets in there with Abdullah, Abdullah does something that’s both odd and smart at the same time. Knowing that Mutoh has yet another match to work tonight, instead of bloody him up with the spike, he spikes him in the knee. Abdullah, Hamada, and Naniwa all take turns pounding away at Mutoh’s knee. With Mutoh down and hurt, Abdullah does the running elbow drop. Mutoh then totally blows everything off kicking out, jumping to his feet, and rolling to the corner to tag. Okay then.

That one part aside though, this is shockingly watchable. Naniwa and Hamada both work with the two Mexicans and sell like mad for them. They look like they could enter AJPW full time and have no problem sweeping their way through the whole roster and holding all the titles. The Flying Cross Chops draw huge pops of course, and Naniwa sells them like death. Even the usually immobile Abdullah takes a double FCC and gets knocked backwards. It makes almost scratch your head and ask yourself if you’re watching a show from 2002 or 1972. The trios format of the match is part of what makes it so watchable. Mascaras and Casas are both obviously well past their primes, but they both quickly tag in and out so they don’t get too tired and start to drag down the match. Casas pinning Naniwa came completely out of nowhere though, it seems like the idea was to put over how quickly or easily the Mexicans could get the win, but it comes off feeling rushed. Nonetheless, this being as good as it is, is quite a surprise and it’s almost a sad indictment of the current AJPW roster that two old Mexican legends could put on such a watchable match, while the rest have trouble hitting that level.


Given the talent of everyone in this match, this goes a bit too long, but it manages to get the point across loud and clear. The WAR team as actual wrestlers aren’t nearly as good as their opponents, but Ka Shin can’t get along with his teammates, and that’s what allows the WAR team to get ahead in the match. Ka Shin having problems with his partners is nothing ground breaking, but it’s nice to see it actually have a meaning here, instead of just being done for kicks. The actual work is quite bland, and the only one who really stands out at all is Nagai. But the story itself is what carries the match. When Anjo and his team aren’t bickering with each other, they’ve got things well at hand. But there are several occurrences where an easy advantage is washed away because of a simple blind tag, or mis communication.

It’s telling enough how good Team WAR is, when they can only get things under control when their opponents start to argue and they can only maintain control by keeping the action in their corner. The second they try anything else, is when they lose control. They give Ka Shin quite the triple thrashing, but as soon as Araya gives Ka Shin an Irish whip to a neutral corner, Ka Shin takes control back with the hanging choke. In addition to being obviously better workers than their opponents, Anjo’s team also knows how to get the crowd into the match, despite the relatively dull work going on. It’s odd though that the story never really has a conclusion. Ka Shin and Anjo don’t do anything to indicate they’ve made a truce, it’s more just Ka Shin doing what he can to help Nagai hold back Araya and Arashi so that Anjo can do the Upper 200 to finish off Hirai. It was fun for the story involved, but it needed someone other than Nagai to bring decent work.


Clipping the Honma/Aijima match was tolerable, clipping this match is a godsend. Next to nothing is shown other than the eliminations and based on the little that we are shown, it’s probably better that way. The purpose of the match is obvious, to give some life to the tag title division by giving Kronik (who’d won the AJPW World Tag Titles only three days earlier) some potential challengers. The only team who really doesn’t look like potential Tag Champions is Smith and Hines, and indeed they’re the first team eliminated, when Smith is pinned after the double chokeslam from Kronik. Adams and Clarke are taken out soon after by Doc courtesy of the Doctor Bomb, to give the Varsity Club a legit claim to a tag title shot. Barton and Steele really put Rotundo through the ringer too, and finally get the win after a Barton Cutter to have their own claim at a tag title shot. One match, two future World Tag Title defenses set up. And thankfully only about five minutes of it was shown. Thank you, GAORA.


It’s got a pretty cool and simple finish, but aside from that this is what could be expected given that it’s between Mutoh as Muta and Kojima as Muta. There is a heavy emphasis on theatrics and spectacle and not so much on the wrestling side of things. Moments like the dual Green and Orange mist, and the business with the broom were funny, but didn’t do anything to take the match anyplace fun. The main portion of the “work” of the match was Mutoh working over a cut on Kojima’s head, which is fine as far as a focus goes. But being Muta he doesn’t work it over in the most interesting of ways, and then he tosses out random spots for near falls. Kojima isn’t any better either. He uses an equal amount of uninteresting work, and totally blows off the Dragon screw, twice, in a row. The ending is set up by Kojima hurting his arm, when he blocks a Shining Wizard, and then hitting the lariat to aggravate it. Kojima follows that up with attempting another lariat while Mutoh is holding a chair. Why anyone would try doing that move, with your arm already hurt a bit, and with the target holding a chair. You’ll have to ask Kojima because he’s the one who did it. Mutoh’s Shining Wizard using the chair was a cool visual, and it’s used to put Kojima down and let him fall prey to the Juji-gatame, so at least they went with a simple and somewhat smart finish. It’d just have been nice if the road to the simple and smart finish was equally smart.


Watching this with the benefit of hindsight makes this a bit sad to see. Kea’s huge win here wound up meaning nothing. Kea’s next major match was him getting quickly squashed and dispatched by Goldberg, and his Tag League and Tag Title win got reduced to an afterthought thanks to his knee injury. The actual work here isn’t anything special, but it’s offset by how well Tenryu and Kea play their respective roles and in the process get the entire Budokan rallying behind Kea to finally score a pinfall on Tenryu. While this is no Misawa/Jumbo, Flair/Sting, or even CM Punk/Roderick Strong in terms of making a mid-carder look like the next main eventer. It’s still good enough to standout on this card, and wash away the memories of the match it’s got to follow.

Neither of these two employ a great array of actual wrestling moves, so exchanging lots of chops, kick, jabs, etc. is expected. What’s unexpected though is how well they both put over the strikes. Kea is always knocked for a loop with one of Tenryu’s jabs, and Tenryu is at first a little taken back with the fire Kea is showing, but as Kea starts getting more and more aggressive, it’s Tenryu who starts to get knocked for a loop. Tenryu’s control segment doesn’t really amount to much more than Tenryu torturing Kea the same way Fuchi does to the green boys. But Kea’s selling and facials make it fun. Whether it’s Tenryu being cocky by virtue of his previous wins over Kea or just that fact that he’s Triple Crown champion. Tenryu’s offense is more designed to hurt Kea, than to win. The transition that gets Kea on offense was a good idea in theory, but executed wrong. As far as Kea taking advantage of Tenryu in a precarious position, you can’t find a better time than when he’s tied up in the corner, but that doesn’t excuse totally blowing off a Spider German suplex, which could have been easily blocked or countered and had the same result.

Tenryu putting over the way Kea’s kicks and chops slow him down, as well as Kea doing an awesome job as the fired up young gun, winds up getting the crowd massively behind Kea, as opposed to the sold out Budokan being dead when he entered. They also attempt to make up for the boneheaded transition earlier when Kea went on offense. Tenryu Irish whips Kea, but ducks too early and gets the jumping DDT, to keep the fans going. Tenryu surviving the Hawaiian Smasher and then reeling off his brainbuster and powerbomb was bit out of nowhere, but kept the crowd going because it looked over for Kea. The only real way they could have improved that would have been if Tenryu did a lax cover, because all this really does it throw out Tenryu’s big moves for no reason. Kea is one step ahead and instead of devaluing the HS, he debuts the H50 to get his biggest singles win yet. The crowd reaction, and the ring boys carrying Kea around all make this seem monumental, and it was as far as this show goes. The fact that the great moment was wasted, and similar great moments with Kea looking to have been elevated also getting wasted, only serve to make this a little sad. ***1/4

Conclusion: The main event is good, and there’s some fun on the undercard. But like a lot of AJPW shows from this time period, there is plenty of bad to go with the good. If you’re specifically interested in this time period, then this is the show for you. For everyone else though, it’s only mildly recommended.