NJPW Ultimate Crush II – 13th of October 2003

I’ve had this one in my tape library for about 14 years but have never bothered to sit down and watch it all the way through, mainly because I really went off New Japan during this era and was instead mostly watching NOAH. I was looking for something to review so I thought we’d set the way back machine to 2003, when the New Japan product was pretty awful. It’s amazing to watch shows like this and see how far the company has come since these darker days.

This show took place during a period in New Japan where Antonio Inoki was obsessed with shoot fighting and was filling New Japan shows full of judo, K1 and PRIDE guys. His booking was getting increasingly erratic and it wasn’t leading to success at the box office. This show actually has three legitimate shoot fights on it, as well as an appearance by Hulk Hogan and a big 5 on 5 elimination match.

This event is emanating from the Tokyo Dome on the 13th of October 2003

Opening Match
Eleven Man Battle Royal for the Vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Featuring Masahito Kakihara, Gedo, Jado, Masayuki Naruse, El Samurai, Heat, Jushin Liger, Koji Kanemoto, Tiger Mask IV, Katsushi Takemura and a mystery man

According to Wikipedia, Tiger Mask IV was the champion but the belt was made vacant specifically so it could be contested in this match. Why New Japan would decide to do that and why Tiger would even agree to it are beyond me, as there doesn’t seem to have been any specific controversy to require such an action. This is actually Royal Rumble style rules, with two men starting and more people coming down after timed intervals.

#1 is Kakihara whilst Naruse is #2

Eliminations occur by pin fall, submission or getting chucked over the top rope to the outside. Both these men work a shoot style, as was in vogue at the time, and do some nice chain wrestling with a shoot styled edge to it. Neither man gets a clear edge as El Samurai comes out at #3. The shooters immediately team up to work Samurai over, even going so far as to each grabbing a leg and cinching in dual leg locks. Samurai gainfully survives in the hope that the next entrant might come to his rescue, and he’s in luck as #4 is his frenemy Jushin Liger.

Liger runs wild with Shotei palm strikes and then goes to a camel clutch on Kakihara whilst Samurai locks Naruse in a Boston Crab. The masked men stay on top of the shooters as Gedo appears to be #5. He comes down to the ring with Jado and the mystery man and all three of them start destroying everyone in the ring. The ref is apparently fine with this and just lets them get on with it. The mystery man comes off the top rope with a suspiciously familiar looking back senton splash onto Naruse and whips off his mask to reveal Dick Togo!

Okay, Togo, Gedo and Jado as a trio definitely makes sense, although I’m scratching my head at why all three were allowed to come out together like that. Naruse is pinned by the back splash and he’s outta here. Heat (Minoru Tanaka) strolls down to the ring as #8. Heat was an attempt from New Japan to create another masked hero character, but everyone kind of knew it was Minoru Tanaka under the mask and it really didn’t go anywhere and Tanaka was back under his real name by 2004.

I’d love to say that Heat comes in a house of fire (because I’m exceedingly childish and cheap puns are like oxygen to me) but he instead just hits one dropkick before slapping a chin lock onto Samurai. He looks miserable in the outfit to be honest, no wonder it didn’t get over. Why would people care about the Heat character when even the bloke playing him couldn’t be arsed? Everyone kind of meanders around, with the heel trio of Jado, Gedo and Togo doing lots of choking and punching.

Koji Kanemoto and his awesome “Bring it Back” music is #9. Sadly that theme doesn’t appear to be up on YouTube, but it’s a really cool rock song with hilariously terrible lyrics. Anyway, as Kanemoto comes down to the ring, Heat and Kakihara both go to kick Samurai but he ducks and they end up kicking each other in the face. This allows Samurai to steal a pin on Kakihara to eliminate him. Tanaka catches Samurai in an arm bar not soon after and he taps out.

Liger continues the quick fire eliminations by hitting Heat with a Shotei and pinning him, with Samurai also piling on top WrestleFest style to ensure he doesn’t kick out. Tiger Mask IV is entrant #10 but he gets jumped by Takemura on his way down to the ring, again with no intervention from the officials who just leave him to it. Man, New Japan was even more lawless back then than it is now, and that’s saying something!

Takemura pummels Tiger outside the ring and then throws him inside where he continues to work him over. Jado, Gedo and Togo focus on Liger and Kanemoto whilst Takemura beats on Tiger. Liger mounts a comeback and sends Gedo out over the top to eliminate him, but is soon dumped out himself by Takemura. Battle Royal eliminations in Japan are like buses, you wait hours for one and then three come at once!

Takemura hits Tiger with a moonsault but Kanemoto decides to break it up, as Tiger is essentially the last man left in the match even remotely close to an ally. Heel miscommunication sees Jado giving Togo a clothesline, which frees up Kanemoto to help Tiger eliminate Takemura with a kick combo. That leaves us with Tiger, Kanemoto, Jado and Togo. Tiger and Kanemoto work together to wear down the heels, and the match has got a lot more watchable now they’ve got the contestants down to a manageable number.

Jado and Togo get back in control of things though and Togo hits Tiger with the senton from the top, but Kanemoto is able to break the pin at two. Tiger and Togo end up fighting on the apron, where Tiger kicks Togo off to eliminate him, but before he can get back inside the ring Takemura drags him down off the apron to eliminate him as well. I used to hate when the computer would do that to me on WWF No Mercy!

Thus our final two are Kanemoto and Jado. They got at it whilst Tiger and Takemura fight out on the ramp. Togo distracts the ref, which allows Jado to hit a belt shot for two. Kanemoto heads up top with a moonsault to the back and then applies an ankle lock to Jado, but Takemura comes back to break that up. Jado goes for a crossface but Kanemoto counters back to the ankle lock and scissors the legs this time. Jado taps out but the ref is distracted by Takemura, which allows Gedo and Togo to come in for a sneak attack.

This is some primo cheating from the heels here, although it really is making the ref look like an utter goof. Kanemoto manages to fight Togo and Gedo off but the distraction allows Jado to reapply the crossface and Kanemoto is forced to tap out and give the title to Jado

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: JADO
RATING: **1/2

This was a big mess in the opening stages but was fun once it got down to the final four. The heels openly flaunting the rules with no repercussions was pretty head scratching though and it made no sense that they were constantly allowed to get away with it. The stuff at the end wasn’t as bad as they were actively distracting the ref before cheating, but Gedo, Jado and Togo all being allowed into the match at the same time made a mockery of the whole thing. Perhaps there was an explanation in the commentary for it that I missed?

Post-match the heels continue to beat down the faces and even unmask Liger and Samurai. Jado wouldn’t be champion for long and ended up dropping the belt to Heat in December. I’m still unsure why they made poor Tiger Mask IV vacate the belt for this cluster truck, but hey-ho.

Match Two
Yutaka Yoshie Vs Blue Wolf

Blue Wolf was New Japan’s attempt at creating a Mongolian superstar. They decided to go with the name Blue Wolf for him because his real name, Dolgorsürengiin Serjbüdee, didn’t exactly roll off the tongue and his brother had used the name “Blue Dragon” in the past. He didn’t particularly take New Japan by storm and ended up leaving the latter half of the 00’s. Yoshie was a graduate of the New Japan dojo whose main claim to fame is that he once held the IWGP Tag Titles with a young Hiroshi Tanahashi. He bummed around the mid card before also leaving around the same time Wolf did.

New Japan had an Under 30’s title during this period, and this is a contention match for the title. Yoshie tenaciously works a headlock to start but it isn’t long until both men are trading forearm strikes. Wolf gets the better of that exchange and then tries for a cross arm breaker on Yoshie, but Yoshie is able to get out of it. The match stays mostly on the mat, with both men going for holds.

It’s not long before the strike battle starts up again though and Yoshie gets the better of it this time before squishing Wolf in the corner with a pair of bronco busters. Yoshie’s considerable girth made that look particularly unpleasant. Wolf replies with a big lariat and then manages to T-Bone suplex Yoshie in an impressive feat of strength before applying an ankle lock. Yoshie is able to make the ropes to break that and then flattens Wolf with a Thez Press for two.

This match has been absolutely fine but also pretty basic and the fans don’t appear to be particularly enthused. Yoshie continues to use his size by hitting a big splash, but Wolf is able to kick out at two. Yoshie heads up top (?!) but Wolf stops him and then brings him down with a superplex. With Yoshie stunned from the big move, Wolf delivers a pair of stiff lariats before hurking the big man up into a Jackhammer for the three count.

WINNER: BLUE WOLF
RATING: **

Mechanically fine but both of these guys were mid card for life and the crowd knew it. I can understand sticking this on the undercard of a Korakuen Hall show, but it wasn’t going to get anything from a Tokyo Dome crowd, which was made up mostly of casual fans who were there to see the stars.

Match Three
TOA Vs Shinya Makabe

Makabe would of course go on to change his name from Shinya to Togi and eventually win the IWGP Heavyweight Title. He was still an undercard guy here and had actually been mixing mostly with the junior heavyweights in the early stages of his career. TOA was a New Zealand kickboxer from K-1 who found himself a spot on the roster due to Inoki’s fascination with legitimate fighters.

TOA wastes no time throwing punches at Makabe but Makabe rights back with shots of his own and actually floors TOA with a spear. TOA replies with a clothesline and actually drops a leg for two before going to a front face lock. Makabe is able to counter out of that with a vertical suplex but TOA is able to block another spear, by just not bumping, and then floors Makabe with a punch. It looked like he was supposed to deliver the punch before Makabe actually went for the spear but got the timing wrong.

Makabe bails outside to recover from the punch before putting TOA in a single leg crab back inside. TOA makes the ropes to break that and no sells a couple of lariats before Makabe muscles him up into a back suplex. TOA throws a few more punches to knock Makabe down for a seven count from the ref. TOA unloads with more punches from the mount before following up with a slam to pick up the win.

WINNER: TOA
RATING: *

This was pretty sloppy and it looked like they were definitely having communication issues, which isn’t surprising given that I’m not sure TOA speaks Japanese. I can see what they were going for here by having TOA pretty much run through Makabe, but he looked way out of his depth. He definitely wasn’t ready to be working in front of this many people for a major company.

TOA does a version of the Haka post-match to get across how scary and Kiwi he is, before going over to check on Makabe. He then grabs a mic and lays out an open challenge, which appears to be answered by a guy I don’t recognise. They have a pull apart which is broken up by officials and Young Lions, including a young Ryusuke Taguchi. I’m confused by that, is TOA supposed to be a face or a heel? He acted like your standard monster heel during the match but he checked on Makabe after it was over and slaps hands with the fans on his way to the back.

Match Four
Tadao Yasuda Vs Osamu Nishimura

The pre-match video package for this would seem to suggest that Nishimura cut a bunch of promo’s mocking Yasuda and this is the blow off. Yasuda was yet another example of Inoki’s shooter obsession, as he was little more than a mid-carder who managed to essentially fluke his way to a couple of victories in MMA. Impressed by this, Inoki decided to have him win the IWGP Heavyweight Title, despite him being nowhere near good enough to be a main eventer. Nishimura was a very technically sound 12 year veteran at this stage in his career and apparently still wrestles now according to Wikipedia. In fact, he is currently the holder of the prestigious New Korea Pro Wrestling Association World Title, so good for him!

Nishimura cuts another promo before the match, which again seems to be mocking Yasuda as it gets a big laugh from the crowd. If any Japanese speakers would like to enlighten us as to what was said in the comments section then please feel free. Yasuda is pensive to start, despite having a notable size advantage over Nishimura, and stalls outside the ring. This goes on for a while until Yasuda finally comes in and hammers away on Nishimura before chucking him outside for his seconds to work him over. Another quick trip to the internet reveals that Yasuda was actually the leader of a heel faction called “Makai Club” during this time. Apparently they were a bunch of MMA influenced wrestlers who all worshiped Antonio Inoki. Inoki was happy to indulge them I’m sure…

Anyway, after giving him a kicking the Makai Club send Nishimura back in, where Yasuda goes for a punch but Nishimura ducks it and applies a sleeper before transitioning to an abdominal stretch. Yasuda breaks out of that with a mule kick but Nishimura blocks another kick with a dragon screw and drops a knee from the top before going to a figure four leg lock. Yasuda’s manager distracts the ref, which allows one of the Makai Club to come in with a frog splash to break up the figure four. I really can’t be bothered with this nonsense right now.

Yasuda goes out of the ring to attack Nishimura’s seconds, which distracts the ref and allows his manager Kantaro Hoshino to come in and attack Nishimura. Nishimura easily fends him off and locks in an abdominal stretch, but the Makai’s come in to rescue Hoshino and then drop Nishimura with a spike piledriver. Yasuda comes back in and pins the out cold Nishimura with one foot.

WINNER: TADAO YASUDA
RATING: DUD

This was utterly abysmal and pretty much just Nishimura getting battered by the Makai Club whilst the ref ineffectually just flailed around.

Post-match the Makai’s try to attack Nishimura but his second comes in with a kendo stick to chase them off. I’m afraid I don’t recognise him and can’t find confirmation of his name online. Again, if you know who it was then please feel free to share.

We now get an extended period of the commentators recapping what already happened in the previous matches on the card and then get some promos for the upcoming shoot fights. It looks like they put this in to give them time to set up the ring for the Ultimate Crush fights.

Match Five
Ultimate Crush Rules
Osami Shibuya Vs Khaliun Boldbaatar

“Ultimate Crush Rules” essentially means Vale Tudo/MMA rules with three rounds of five minutes. I tried to get more information about any core differences between these rules and the rules we’re all used to in UFC, but I came up empty handed sadly. I assume it’s just PRIDE rules, seeing as Inoki had his finger in that particular pie in its early stages, which means soccer kicks to a grounded opponent are legal. This fight is a legit shoot as far as I’m aware so I won’t be rating it or anything, just recapping what happens. Boldbatar is a Mongolian judo practitioner whereas Shibuya is a bit of a journeyman fighter whose current record is 38 wins, 34 losses and 17 draws, with his last fight taking place in 2010. At the time his record was 28-28-13. He had just beaten Toru Yano in his previous outing according to www.tapology.com

Round One
Boldbaatar takes Shibuya down right from the off and gets the mount. Shibuya tries both a triangle and an arm bar whilst in the guard, but Boldbaatar is able to get out. Shibuya tries to lock in a kimura, but Boldbaatar fends him off with relative ease and takes him back down to the mount again. Boldbaatar tries to work himself into a good position but Shibuya manages to fend him off. Shibuya closes out the round by doing his best Inoki impression of lying on his back and kicking away at Boldbaatar’s legs. I’d say Boldbaatar probably won that round.

Round Two
Shibuya tries a stand up battle, but Boldbaatar isn’t having any of that and keeps grabbing hold of him before taking him back down to the mount position. Towards the final minutes of a rather dull round, Shibuya is finally able to get a take down and unloads with some punches before taking Boldbaatar’s back and choking him out with just 13 seconds left in the round.

WINNER: OSAMI SHIBUYA BY SUBMISSION

I wasn’t especially digging that fight but Shibuya managed to snatch the win in a contest he was probably going to lose had it gone to the judges, so I’ll give it a pass just for the surprise ending.

Match Six
Ultimate Crush Rules
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka Vs Ricardo “The Mutant” Morais

The pre-match video for Ricardo, complete with Godzilla styled music, makes him look utterly terrifying. Just imagine that Craig Marduk from Tekken was an actual real person and you wouldn’t be that far off. The man is an absolute beast and well deserving of his nickname. This kind of makes me think that Kohsaka is the poor chump they’ve handpicked to donate his body to get Ricardo over. However, a trip to the internet reveals that Kohsaka has had quite a varied MMA career, working in both PRIDE and UFC along the way, so he’s certainly not a tomato can. Prior to this fight Kohsaka had a record of 24-15-2, whilst Ricardo was 9-2-1.

Round 1
We go straight to the mat, with Ricardo working the guard like the good Brazilian he is, and that goes on for a while. Kohsaka throws some punches from the mount and tries to work his way through the guard. That goes one for about three minutes before Ricardo gets back up and then takes it back down to the mat with him now in the mount. The ref stands them up for the last thirty seconds of the round, at which point Ricardo goes for a low kick and catches Kohsaka right in his prized plums. OUCH! Ricardo will probably get deducted a point for that. Kohsaka thankfully manages to get up following that. Ricardo knocks him down once more and unleashes some punches and kicks but Kohsaka survives the round. I think Ricardo probably won that round, provided they didn’t take a point off him.

Round 2
Kohsaka is able to successfully take Ricardo down and then looks to break through the guard. Ricardo is able to switch to side control before going to a mount of his own, but both men end up the ropes and the refs reposition them. Ricardo throws some hammer blows from the mount but doesn’t get a clean hit with any of them and Kohsaka is able to escape before going back to his own mount. Kohsaka throws some punches from there. Ricardo’s face starts to swell up a little bit from this but you never sensed he was in any real danger of being finished. It was probably enough to give Kohsaka the round though.

Round 3
More of the same, with Kohsaka getting the mount and throwing punches until the ref stands them up. Back down we go, as Kohsaka continues to rain down punches on Ricardo, but he can’t finish him. Ricardo manages to get the mount but delivers a head butt to Kohsaka whilst down and earns himself a yellow card as consequence. That’s probably going to cost him the fight unless he can finish Kohsaka in the final two minutes of the round. He is unable to though, as Kohsaka goes back to the mount and holds him down. Kohsaka does get side control and throws some knees, but he doesn’t have enough time to really go anywhere with them and the fight limps to its conclusion. Not surprisingly, Kohsaka gets the unanimous decision.

WINNER: TSUYOSHI KOHSAKA BY UNANIMOUS DECISON

Pretty dull fight to be honest, but I think the result was fair. You could maybe argue that Ricardo won round one but Kohsaka just about edged round two. Ricardo ended up costing himself any chance he had of winning it due to that stupid head butt in round 3. He was probably going to lose the round anyway though. This was disappointing as they clearly set this up with the intention of Ricardo getting a win but Kohsaka had the right strategy to neutralise him and ruined everyone’s plans.

Just one more shoot fight left now

Match Seven
King of Pancrase Openweight Title
Champion: Josh Barnett Vs Yoshiki Takahashi

Takahashi wins points by coming out to “You Spin Me Round” By Dead or Alive. Takahashi was coming into this match off the back of a seven fight winning streak. Barnett was 16-1-0 at this stage in his career, with the lone loss being to Pedro Rizzo at UFC 30. He’d beaten Yuki Kondo on the 31st of August 2003 to win the Pancrase Title. They actually play both men’s national anthems prior to the bout. As Japanese wrestling crowds are far kinder than their American equivalents, both anthems are respectfully observed.

Round One
Both men stand to start, with Barnett eventually getting hold of Takahashi and bulling him into the corner. Takahashi tries to fight out, but Barnett shrugs off his punches and delivers some knees from the clinch. However, he accidentally catches Takahashi low with one of the knees and the ref breaks it up. It’s not as nasty as the Kohsaka low blow from earlier though and Takahashi is soon back up. Barnett is nice enough to apologise about the knee at least. Barnett once again grabs hold of Takahashi and targets him with knees and punches to the gut in the corner. Takahashi is able to hold out until the end of the round, but I’d say Barnett won that one rather easily.

Round Two
Barnett takes Takahashi down and gets his back before softening him up with some punches. Takahashi manages to counter and switch to the mount, but Barnett is happy to work the guard and works Takahashi into a triangle for the submission victory.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: JOSH BARNETT BY SUBMISSION

Fight of the Night for me, as Barnett gave a masterclass and never looked like he would lose. Both men show respect to each other afterwards in a nice bit of sportsmanship.

Right, that’s the MMA portion of the show out of the way, let’s have some more wrestling!

Match Eight
¥2,000,000 Bounty Match
Kazunari Murakami Vs Katsuyori Shibata

Shibata was a mere four year pro at this stage, and wasn’t yet the star he would go on to be before his horrible self-inflicted injury against Kazuchika Okada. Murakami reminds me a bit of Low Ki with his bald head and general sour demeanour. He’d already defeated Shinya Makabe in a ¥1,000,000 Bounty Match back in September, so he upped the money here for this match. He’s another member of the Makai Club and has brought them out with him for this match.

Shibata attacks Murakami as soon as he gets in the ring, but the ref pulls him off and Murakami sports him a murderous glare before unloading with some shots and chucking him outside to the Makai Club. Shibata gets sent into the ring post outside by one of the Makai’s and comes up bleeding. Shibata gainfully keeps fighting back inside, but he’s soon overwhelmed and gets beaten down in the corner before being kicked out of the ring by Murakami.

Murakami really doesn’t need the Makai Club to help him here, he’s doing perfectly fine on his own. Shibata drags himself back inside, where Murakami promptly kicks him down again. Shibata can barely stand and is bleeding like a stuck pig, so much so that Murakami gets his blood all over his chest whilst pummelling him. That’s pretty gross actually. Murakami continues to hammer away and the ref decides to stop it.

WINNER: KAZUNARI MURAKAMI
RATING: I can’t really rate that to be honest. It wasn’t much of a match, but it was remorselessly brutal whilst it lasted and made Murakami look like an absolute beast.

The Makai’s help Shibata to the back, despite busting him open during the match. No, I don’t get it either. Apparently he was in the group at one stage, so maybe he joined up with them following this match?

Match Nine
Masahiro Chono Vs Hulk Hogan w/ Jimmy Hart

Ah yes, I remember this. Hogan had left WWE back in the summer of 2003 and was currently courting TNA at the time, with the plan being for him to face Jeff Jarrett at the first ever Bound For Glory. They even went so far as to have Jarrett smash a guitar over his head during a press conference at this show. The deal fell apart however and we would have to wait a few years longer to be “treated” with The Hulkster rocking up to the Impact Zone.

The main motivation for Hogan here was that he was going to get a big payoff to work a match in front of a huge crowd, whilst New Japan and Chono got a big name for a Dome show that was failing to capture people’s imagination. Hogan comes out to Voodoo Chile here rather than Eye of the Tiger, which is a bit of a shame. He’s of course super over with the crowd, most of them casual fans who probably came expressly to see him.

Hogan and Chono lock up to start before Hogan shoves him away and poses because…

Thanks, Cenk.

Anyway, Chono unloads on Hogan with some punches and kicks in the corner, but Hogan replies with a big corner clothesline and then stomps a mud hole. Rumours that he then walked it dry are currently unsubstantiated. Hogan works through his usual array of back scratches and eye gouging, talking plenty of smack to Chono in the process, but he runs into a boot in the corner and actually takes a bump off a Chono punch. Chono boots Hogan down with a Yakuza Kick and The Hulkster bails to the floor to recover.

Hogan goes to a front face lock back inside and transitions that into a takedown and a hammerlock. Wow, Hulk Hogan doing some technical wrestling, you didn’t see a lot of that during this era. Hogan slams Chono and goes to drop an elbow, but Chono moves and heads up top. Hogan recovers and slams him off, but when he goes for another slam Chono lands behind and applies a sleeper hold. Hogan fights out of the sleeper but runs into a drop toe hold. Chono goes for the STF, but Hogan fights him off and takes the fight outside.

Hogan blasts Chono with a chair outside the ring, but ends up taking a trip to the ring post. Chono goes for the STF back inside but Hogan is too near to the ropes. Hogan hits Chono with a blatant low blow, as I struggle to work out whether he’s trying to be a face or a heel in this match. The ref doesn’t DQ him for this, because New Japan. Back outside we go, where Hogan suplexes Chono on the floor and tries to take the count out victory. He’s trying to work heel here surely? He simply has to be; otherwise he’s being the worst baby face I’ve ever seen.

Chono manages to drag himself up onto the apron, only for Hogan to clothesline him off to the floor, with Chono taking a Nestea Plunge in the process. That was actually a call back to a very famous match with Antonio Inoki back in the 80’s, where Hogan clotheslined Inoki off the apron and won via count out when Inoki supposedly swallowed his tongue. The finish was always supposed to be clothesline off the apron of course, as this was an era where Inoki basically didn’t do clean jobs to anyone, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story eh?

Chono manages to get up from the clothesline, so Hogan follows him out and batters him around ring side for a bit. Chono has finally had enough of this mother lovin’ gaijin in his mother lovin’ Dome however and bashes Hogan with a chair before choking him out with his own weightlifting belt. Back inside, Chono whips away at Hogan to a big pop from the crowd, as Hogan now tries to sell like a sympathetic baby face after being an absolute dick heel for most of the match. Chono comes off the top rope with a shoulder block, but Hogan kicks out at two.

Another top rope shoulder block gets Chono another two count, as Hogan shows his usual resiliency. Chono goes to an abdominal stretch but Hogan reverses to one of his own before turning it into the pinning hold that always seemed to be his behind finisher on the THQ/AKI games for the N64. Chono delivers a Russian Leg Sweep and goes for the cover, which is Hogan’s cue to kick out and start Hulking Up. The Japanese crowd know exactly what’s coming a play along with it, even shouting “You!” when Hogan points at Chono.

Hogan goes through the usual routine and hits the big boot and leg drop, but Chono actually kicks out at two. Hogan goes for the Axe Bomber clothesline (His actual finish in Japan) but Chono dodges it. Chono lays out Jimmy Hart and then locks Hogan in the STF. Hogan seemingly passes out in the hold, only to Hulk Up again whilst Chono mugs for the crowd. One Axe Bomber later and hot dog, we have a wiener!

WINNER: HULK HOGAN
RATING: ***

This was about as good a straight wrestling match as you were getting from Hulk Hogan in 2003. Even Chono was physically falling to bits at this stage so it wasn’t a bad effort for him either. Hogan gets given a trophy at the end of the match for some reason and goes through the usual posing routine as the Japanese crowd politely clap along. So Hogan gets to wrestle at the Tokyo Dome, gets paid a lot of money AND also gets to beat one of the companies top stars clean in the middle? That’s why he’s the smartest man in wrestling Brother!

Main Event
5 Vs 5 Elimination Match
Team Inoki – Yoshihiro Takayama, Kazuyuki Fujita, Bob Sapp, Minoru Suzuki and Shinsuke Nakamura
Vs
Team New Japan – Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and Seiji Sakaguchi

This is a Survivor Series style match, with the added stipulation that you can be eliminated by being knocked out of the ring as well. Takayama was the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion during this time, having beaten Nagata for it on the first Ultimate Crush show back in May 2003. Sakaguchi was a long time business associate and tag team partner of Inoki, which gives some spice to him being on the rival team. He was actually 61 at the time of this match.

This is an incredible collection of talent in one match. Most companies would kill for an upper card like this, which makes it all the more damming that business was sliding downwards. Sapp’s hilarious promo in the video package, where he threatens to swat Team New Japan like flies, is fantastic. I’m shocked WWE never tried to make it financially worth his while to come over to them. It would have taken a lot of money to get him away from his cushy gig in Japan of course, but DAMN did this man just ooze charisma from every pore!

Kenji Sakaguchi, Seiji’s actor son, is here to corner his dad in a nice moment. This was so early in Tanahashi’s career that he wasn’t even using High Energy as his entrance music yet. Even at such a young age he has a natural star presence. Tenzan was actually the top man on the New Japan side at this stage after coming off a G1 Climax win earlier in the year and he gets to be the last person to come out before Sakaguchi. I was a BIG Tenzan mark during the time of this show and he was probably my favourite wrestler in the entire company, so I was buying the push at least!

Nakamura as the super serious shooter here really highlights the complete left turn his character took to get where it is today. Suzuki was just as scary 15 years ago as he is today, with the added terror of him being more physically agile. I’ve never seen the appeal of Fujita and whenever he got pushed up the card it was an instant turn off for me. He just has this constant look on his face that he was almost ashamed to be doing pro wrestling. Contrast that with Sapp, who is clearly jazzed to be here and is milking the moment for all he’s worth.

Tenzan was actually going through a phase here where he’d lopped off his famous mullet in an attempt to project a more serious main event aura, but it was a mistake in my opinion. Yes, the mullet looked a bit silly, but it was at least something distinctive that made Tenzan stand out from the rest of the pack. It turns out that Sakaguchi has brought a Judo Gi for Sapp, who happily puts it on and starts out with him. Sakaguchi actually takes Sapp down a couple of times with some judo throws to a big pop, but ends up getting squished with a splash in the corner.

Takayama comes in and stomps away on Sakaguchi in the corner. Sakaguchi tries to fight back but takes a knee in the gut and a leg drop from Takayama. Team New Japan piles onto Takayama briefly before the ref restores some order. Nakamura comes in for a go with Sakaguchi and manages to take him down, but Sakaguchi fights back with a slam and then hits an atomic drop. Fans are just eating all of Sakaguchi’s old man offence up here, but he gets locked in a triangle by Nakamura. Nakamura wears Sakaguchi down with the hold and then kicks him out of the ring to eliminate him. I can see that being the preferred method of elimination for quite a few of these guys actually.

Tanahashi and Nakamura go at it in one of their many battles against one another, with Tanahashi getting the better of things with a running forearm. In comes Nakanishi for some clubbing, but Nakamura is able to batch his leg and tags out to Suzuki. All of team Inoki apply a submission hold to one of Nakanashi’s limbs in a funny moment before New Japan run over to break it up. Nagata and Takayama go next, with plenty of stiff kicks being thrown. Tenzan takes on Suzuki next, with Tenzan unloading with Mongolian chops before Takayama comes in to rescue his partner. Nakanashi and Sapp are in next, with Sapp hitting a big slam before tagging in Fujita.

This match has been literally all action, with constant tags and no real defined heat segment. Fujita and Takayama double up on Tenzan, but he fights back and tags in Tanahashi, who gets a brief bit of offence before being getting kicked to bits. Tanahashi ends up the heels corner and gets worked over by Team Inoki before managing to sneak a tag to Nagata. Nagata and Nakamura have a great segment where they kick and suplex the fudge out of one another, which ends with Nagata getting a wrist clutch exploder and tagging in Nakanishi, who flattens Nakamura with a lariat and then hits a bridging German Suplex to pin him. So we’re now even at 4 Vs 4.

Fujita now gets worked over by Team New Japan, which causes Sapp to charge in for the rescue before flattening Tenzan with a shoulder barge. Tenzan fires back with Mongolian chops, which actually makes Sapp tag out. After Tanahashi gets beaten up in the Inoki corner again, he makes the tag out to Nagata, who comes in to go at it with Fujita. Fujita actually hits Nagata with a pretty nice Frankensteiner before delivering some knees on the mat until Tenzan comes in for the rescue. Quick tags continue to abound, with no team getting a real prolonged advantage. Tanahashi gets beaten up once again, but he manages to catch Fujita with a small package out of nowhere to score himself a big upset pin fall. Fans give a big surprised pop for that. Team Inoki are now down 3-4.

Tenzan and Takayama go to a knuckle lock and fight like the manly men they are, which ends with Tenzan getting a clothesline and a brain buster for a one count. Yes, you read that right, a ONE count!! Tenzan keeps bringing the Mongolian chops, but Takayama replies with knee strikes and delivers a double underhook suplex before locking in an arm bar. Nagata breaks that up, so Takayama throws some kicks at Tenzan instead, but Tenzan catches one of them and hits a dragon screw followed by a diving head butt from the top rope for two. Oh well, at least he finally got as far as a two count eh?

Tenzan Driver (Modified Tombstone) would appear to be all she wrote, but Takayama kicks out once again. Tenzan goes for the Anaconda Vice but Takayama fights him off and delivers the Everest German Suplex, which causes Tanahashi to come in and break up the resulting pin attempt. Tenzan catches Takayama with a spinning wheel kick to the face and tries to knock Takayama out of the ring. Takayama holds on, so Tenzan locks in a standing version of the Anaconda Vice to try and make him pass out, but Sapp comes charging over to break it up and ends up accidentally knocking both men out of the ring to eliminate them. I’m actually fine with that as the brief sequence between Takayama and Tenzan was very enjoyable and them both going out that way leaves something on the table for a rematch whilst also making Sapp look like a big scary man. It’s now 2 vs 3.

Suzuki is surprisingly understanding about Sapp eliminating their partner like an overeager Alsatian trying to great visitors to the house. Sapp and Nakanishi go at it now, with Nakanishi actually muscling Sapp up into a slam, but Sapp fights off the Argentinian Back Breaker and goes for a sleeper. Nakanishi is able to power out into the Argentine however but can’t apply it for very long and puts Sapp down before delivering some stiff lariats. Sapp shakes those off however and steam rolls Nakanishi over the top rope with a football tackle. Ha ha, that was brilliant! So that leaves us with Sapp and Suzuki Vs Tanahashi and Nagata.

Tanahashi weathers some Suzuki strikes and delivers a big slap followed by a German Suplex. Tanahashi goes for an O’Connor Roll but Suzuki counters it to a sleeper a cinches it in. Tanahashi is able to make the ropes, but he’s been worn down heavily by the move. Nagata comes in to try and help, but Sapp hits both of them with a double lariat. Tanahashi gets a desperation roll up on Sapp for two but Sapp slugs him down and hits a gigantic powerbomb to pin him. This means Nagata is now on his own against both Sapp and Suzuki.

Nagata unloads with some kicks to Sapp and finally manages to knock him down with an enziguri. He tries for an arm bar but Sapp easily powers out and delivers a big body slam for two. Sapp is absolutely exhausted here, but he’s still able to muscle Nagata up for a powerbomb for two before wisely tagging out to Suzuki. Suzuki demands the ref count Nagata down, but he keeps pulling himself back up to his feet. Suzuki locks in a sleeper and tenaciously holds on as Nagata tries to get out of it. Nagata is finally able to make the ropes and Suzuki has to break the hold. Suzuki delivers a standard piledriver (This must have been before he started doing them Gotch style) and then applies the Inoki Octopus Hold. Nagata refuses to tap out and passes out in the hold, so the referee decides to just stop the match. Wow, actual responsible reffing in New Japan in for once!

WINNERS: TEAM INOKI (BOB SAPP AND MINORU SUZUKI SURVIVING)
RATING: ****

This was an excellent match, with constant action and hard work from everyone involved. You got the impression during this that everyone kind of knew the show had been a stinker and they wanted to at least end it on a strong note with a good main event. The booking was actually pretty decent as well, as Tanahashi and Nakamura were both allowed to eliminate Fujita and Sakaguchi respectively, Tenzan and Takayama got to wet peoples appetite for their upcoming title match and Sapp got to look like an absolute monster. Big thumps up to this match, I really enjoyed it!

Tenzan and Suzuki jaw with each other on the mic and the fight starts up again as this isn’t over between the two factions. Once it all gets broken up, Team Inoki gets presented with another pointless trophy in a string of them tonight and leaves without further incident.

Final Thoughts

This show really highlights why New Japan’s business was crumbling at the time. The show is full of head scratching booking decisions, really short unsatisfying matches and generally lousy shoot fights. When you contrast what New Japan was doing Vs Pro Wrestling NOAH, it was no surprise that NOAH were kicking their backsides both critically and commercially at the time. Inoki may have liked the idea of shoehorning shoot fights and gimmicks into the show because he felt it would make his company look more “legit”, but most New Japan fans wanted to see actual wrestling on a wrestling show and turned away from the product in droves.

Tenzan did end up winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title in November but his reign lasted all of a month before he was defeated by Nakamura. Nakamura was showing good promise but he was no way near ready to be the IWGP Champ and his win pretty much destroyed Tenzan’s momentum as a top guy. It actually made me really resent Nakamura for years, something which only intensified when he started feuding with Tanahashi. As if to make things worse, Inoki’s obsession with shoot fighting saw him book Nakamura in a legitimate shoot fight whilst champion and, despite winning the fight itself, Nakamura suffered a serious injury and had to forfeit the title. Inoki continued to make disastrous booking decisions until he was finally forced out of the company in 2005. Hiroshi Tanahashi won his first IWGP Heavyweight Title in 2006 and the rest, as they say, is history.

This show is really bad. The under card is underwhelming at best and terrible at worst. The shoot fights are completely out of place on a wrestling show and aren’t especially thrilling fights either. Hogan Vs Chono is decent enough and the main event is excellent. As far as I know they haven’t uploaded the main event to NJPW World, and they really should. It’s really the only reason to watch this show. You can purchase this show for $9 from Slam Bam Jam if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it.