Seeing as we’re just under a week away from Wrestle Kingdom 14, I thought I’d do a recap of one of the earlier New Japan Tokyo Dome spectaculars from 1996, as I happen to own the DVD for it.
I honestly can’t recall when I bought this or even where I got it from, but I think some of the matches from this are on New Japan World if you want to check them out. It looks like a rip of the official Japanese release, so that probably means they’ll dub out a lot of the entrance themes with wacky in house music. Hey, New Japan didn’t become the biggest wrestling company in the world in the mid 90’s by spending loads of dosh you know!
The 1996 event was built around guys from the UWFi group coming in to face New Japan guys, as well as one of the big matches on the countdown to Antonio Inoki’s retirement as he took on Vader. Vader was, I think, a WWF guy at this stage, or at the very least was on his way to the WWF in time for the Royal Rumble, so this was one of those occasions where Vince McMahon decided to be accommodating for whatever reason and let him work the Dome show.
I’ll look to have reviews for both nights of 2020’s Tokyo Dome event, hopefully quite soon after they happen as both shows fall on weekends this year and it’ll be in the morning time over here in the UK, so I should have enough time to watch them baring some kind of issue.
Anyway, less wittering from me, let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!
The event is emanating from the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on the 4th of January 1996 in front of a worked crowd of 64,000 (It was probably closer to 53,000. Thankfully I doubt the Mania III 93k truthers will care that much to make an issue of it)
Calling the action are Japanese commentators. I haven’t got a clue what they’re saying but they are awesome nonetheless!
The matches might be out of order to how they actually happened as New Japan liked to sell these videos broken up into two parts on separate tapes, in what was either a way to ensure they could fit all the action in or just a cunning way to get people to pay twice as much for one show. This meant that sometimes they’d spread the big matches across both tapes, which meant occasionally they wouldn’t be in order.
We open up with everyone arriving at the show. Pretty much everyone is wearing a suit, as this is Japan and all, with Riki Choshu bucking the trend by showing up in a baseball cap and a T-shirt. Even Jushin Liger is suited and booted, whilst wearing his mask and carrying his entrance gear in with him. Nobuhiko Takada arrives in a shirt and blazer combination, as this was sadly before he decided to start dressing like M. Bison/Vega (depending on your region) from Street Fighter.
We get a cool intro to the show with a musical track that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Dynasty Warriors video game.
Yuji Nagata, Shinjiro Ohtani and Tokimitsu Ishikawa Vs Kenichi Yamamoto, Kazushi Sakuraba and Hiromitsu Kanehara
This would be New Japan Vs UWFi, with Sakuraba being a name well known to fans of PRIDE due to his “Gracie Hunter” gimmick. I’m shocked that Yuji Nagata would be all fired up to fight people invading New Japan. Ishikawa would eventually go on to become Kendo Kashin and get a sizeable push in the Junior Heavyweight ranks by being a heel jerk who put people in arm bars. There’s a surprisingly good success rate for people using that gimmick actually.
Ohtani just gives the UWFi guys a death stare during ring introductions and it’s fantastic. Both teams go for more of a shoot style approach here, going for strikes and MMA styled submission attempts over the traditional pro-wrestling style of running the ropes and doing spots. The building clearly isn’t full yet, but the crowd who is there watches intently enjoying the grappling and popping when the guys in the match throw slaps or kicks.
All six men are mechanically sound, so the wrestling itself is solid, with Ohtani bringing some good character stuff into it by being an absolute jerk to the invaders. Ohtani is always a guy whose stuff I’ve really liked and a big reason why I first really got into Japanese wrestling was because I enjoyed watching the 90’s era junior heavyweights like him, Liger, Eddie Guerrero and El Samurai.
Kanehara seems to be positioned more as the star of the UWFi team, which is interesting as Sakuraba ended up being a huge star thanks to his MMA exploits but he wasn’t really on that level star wise as a pro-wrestler prior to that. It’s funny how PRIDE not only made Sakuraba’s career but also essentially ruined Nobuhiko Takada’s once it was clear he couldn’t really hang with legit top level fighters in actual shoots.
Sakuraba eventually tries a dropkick and a sharpshooter on Ohtani, which gets an audible reaction from the crowd to seeing one of the UWFi guys actually do some more traditional pro wrestling. When he can’t get the hold he instead goes to a more regular shoot styled arm bar, but Ohtani is able to fight him off and brings in Nagata for an underhook suplex. Nagata actually gets the mount on Sakuraba and slaps him around, but Sakuraba flips him off and fights back.
There is not what I would consider a traditional heat segment, although there is a period where New Japan enjoys a relatively long period of control on Sakuraba, but he’s always competitive and they eventually let him tag out to Kanehara without much objection. They actually do the ten count gimmick at one point when Yamamoto gets a flurry of kicks on Nagata, but Nagata answers the count and then quickly suplexes Yamamoto before tapping him out with an arm bar.
WINNERS: YUJI NAGATA, SHINJIRO OHTANI AND TOKIMITSU ISHIZAWA
This was good meat and potatoes solid wrestling here, with all six guys clearly knowing how to work this style and also how to throw in the odd pro wrestling move to pop the fans. If shoot style isn’t really your thing then you might find it a bit dull, but I enjoyed it for what it was.
We get some post-match promos after this, focusing on Yamamoto and Nagata mainly, as they were the ones that decided the fall. Ohtani is all smiles now that the war is over.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Koji Kanemoto Vs Jushin Liger
Kanemoto had gone to his real name after a less than thrilling run as the third Tiger Mask. It was ultimately for the better as removing the Tiger Mask gimmick allowed him to engage his resting bitch face and just become a hard hitting jerk, which not surprisingly got him way more over as it was more in line with his actual personality. Fancy that eh? Liger is wearing a cool half blue/half red outfit here, making him look a bit like Gill from Street Fighter III: Third Strike (Which is an absolute bastard of a game difficulty wise by the way. It’s merciless!)
We actually get a handshake to start, which leads to both men trying to get the better of one another in a technical wrestling battle. Kanemoto is the first to deliver a strike, kicking Liger in the face with a calf kick, and then sends his opponent outside for a cross body from the top to the floor. Kanemoto gets a missile dropkick back inside the ring, as he clearly isn’t getting paid by the hour tonight!
Kanemoto continues to work Liger over back inside, with the usual kicks and slaps he was known for. You always know it’s a big match when Kanemoto cranks the “bastard-meter” up to 11. Liger doesn’t just sit around and take it however and starts fighting back, getting a lovely Mexican Surfboard Stretch that Kanemoto sells big. The momentum now switches a few times, with both men playing their roles well, as Kanemoto keeps acting like a prick whilst Liger bravely keeps struggling to find a way to get some sustained offence.
Liger spends a long while in a figure four, but is eventually able to get to the ropes to break the hold, earning him a ripple of applause from the Tokyo Dome crowd. Kanemoto keeps going for submission holds but Liger keeps fighting back and eventually gets a forward rolling kick in the corner before setting Kanemoto up top for a super rana, which gets him two. Liger gets a foursome of fisherman brain busters next, as Kanemoto has clearly annoyed him, which gets a two count from the ref.
A straight vertical brain buster comes next, but Kanemoto is once again able to kick out, so Liger drops him on his head with a release German Suplex and then sends him outside for a top rope cross body to the floor as payback for earlier. They tease a count out after that, but Kanemoto makes it back in at 19, so Liger sets him up for another super rana. Kanemoto blocks it this time though and gets Liger with a spin kick before heading up top for a twisting senton.
Kanemoto doesn’t cover however and instead goes up for a moonsault, which Liger rolls out of the way to avoid and then sets Kanemoto back on the top rope for a big fisherman’s buster for two in a great near fall. Liger heads up top for what looks to be the Shooting Star Press, but Kanemoto cuts him off and tries to bring him down with a superplex. Liger fights that off to send Kanemoto down to the mat, but when he tries a splash Kanemoto gets his legs up and then gets a super rana off the top followed by a cocky cover for two.
Sit out powerbomb from Kanemoto gets up a moonsault, but Liger is able to kick out to a big pop, as the notoriously difficult Tokyo Dome crowd seem to finally be getting into the Junior Heavyweight Title match, which wasn’t always a guarantee during this era no matter how good the match was. Kanemoto gets a release Tiger Suplex and then heads up top for another moonsault, but Liger kicks out once again. Kanemoto decides to try the twisting senton again, but Liger dodges it and gets a La Magistral for a close two count.
Kanemoto gets a nice vertical suplex and heads up to the top rope again for a cross body, but Liger catches him on the way down with a Shotei palm strike and gets a pair of sit out powerbombs for a pair of near falls. A third powerbomb looks to end things, but Kanemoto kicks out again as the crowd are with this. Liger gets an incredible twisting moonsault styled move from the top rope and that finally is enough, as Kanemoto stays down for three.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: JUSHIN LIGER
The lack of heat for the first half or so was a bit distracting but they had most of the Dome by the time they got to the near falls and the action itself was really good. Something tells me Liger is going to get way bigger pop for doing way less this year though, which is a good thing.
A shot of a bunch of stern older Japanese men on the front row with their arms crossed whilst all the younger fans behind them are clearly ecstatic to see Liger win is pretty hilarious actually. The generational gap in all its glory. Liger gets given the Title belt and a trophy post-match and seemingly shares some words with Kanemoto, who decides to play to the crowd rather than just leave.
Following the match Kanemoto doesn’t want to do a post-match promo and instead walks away from the camera into the dressing room. Liger, exhausted from his bout, heads to the interview area to give his thoughts.
Hiromichi Fuyuki w/ Jado and Gedo Vs Yoji Anjoh
This would be Wrestle Association R (WAR) Vs UWFi. Anjoh might be known more to those of you who have been reading Scott’s Wrestling Observer recaps as the guy who went to the Gracie’s gym to prove how tough UWFi was and got his butt whipped. This is something Fuyuki, Gedo and Jado reference when they do the “Gracie Train” down to the ring. Anjoh was actually in WCW Vs The World on the PlayStation under the name “200 Wins”, which was a play on his real nickname of being “200 Percent”. I remember him because he would actually get booed when he did his taunt, which didn’t happen for every wrestler on that game.
Fuyuki, Gedo and Jado triple team Anjoh to start, but Anjoh fights back by kicking Fuyuki to the outside of the ring. Fuyuki tries a different tactic by offering a handshake, but Anjoh is having none of that and attacks him some more. This really feels like a Heel Vs Heel battle, but the crowd seems more into Fuyuki because Anjoh is just that darn dislikeable. Fuyuki’s main form of offence seems to be delivering head butts whilst yelping, which the crowd seems to dig for whatever reason.
Anjoh goes low to block a German Suplex and then attacks both Gedo and Jado. This allows Fuyuki to get a low blow of his own however and then gets a laugh by trying to tape Anjoh’s mouth shut. Anjoh’s was known as a big mouth, so this is something the crowd appreciates. Fuyuki puts Anjoh back inside for a lariat, which gets him a two count. When he tries it again however Anjoh is able to catch him with a Fujiwara arm bar, which gets broken up by Gedo and Jado. The referee just stands around letting all this happen like an absolute goof, and Fuyuki gets another lariat for the pin.
WINNER: HIROMICHI FUYUKI
This was pretty awful, with Gedo and Jado both interfering at will whilst the referee just let them. I assume having all the run-ins was the concession to get Anjoh to agree to do the job?
WAR and UWFi brawl following the match, with Anjoh selling the match winning lariat for all of about ten seconds. Anjoh at least clocks the ref post-match, which makes sense, whilst Yoshihiro Takayama with black hair and much thinner physique yells at Fuyuki on the mic as he leaves.
Anjoh thanks Takayama for coming to his aid following the match and then storms off. Fuyuki is gassed beyond all measure in the interview area, but seems in high spirits over his win. Not bad for 7 minutes of work at one of the biggest shows of the year eh?
Riki Choshu Vs Masahito Kakihara
This is more New Japan Vs UWFi. Kakihara actually has Lash Leroux’s generic WCW theme here dubbed over whatever his actual music was. Kakihara would eventually move on to All Japan when UWFi folded, but sadly he never got a particularly big push as Giant Baba thought he wasn’t big enough, despite being very talented. Choshu is one of the biggest stars in Japanese wrestling history and famously jobbed from New Japan to All Japan in the 80’s before eventually jumping back. One of the things he’s most known for is when Akira Maeda gave him a sickening unprotected kick straight to the face, which ironically led to Maeda getting fired and starting up the original UWF.
Kakihara goes right after Choshu to start, peppering him with strikes, but Choshu essentially shrugs it off and then outright refuses to bump off a dropkick. Choshu works over Kakihara with knees and kicks to the gut, controlling him a front face lock. Choshu continues to be an unprofessional jerk, shrugging off even more of Kakihara’s offence and just slugging him down. Sorry but this would be like Bill Dundee refusing to sell anything for Rey Mysterio Jr or something. Just because Choshu is thicker body wise doesn’t mean he’d be able to just no sell all of this stuff from Kakihara. Height wise there’s barely anything in it.
Choshu eventually tires of slapping Kakihara around and tries for the Scorpion Deathlock, but Kakihara fends it off, so Choshu just starts suplexing him around instead. Kakihara manages to duck a lariat, but Choshu just gets back in and gets another suplex before killing him with a lariat and going to the Scorpion Deathlock for the submission win.
WINNER: RIKI CHOSHU
This was an Undertaker destroying The Alliance in 2001 level burial, as Choshu made Kakihara look like the jobbiest jobber who ever jobbed because he was in a position of power and could.
Kakihara is carried to the back by his colleagues whilst Choshu looks almost bored in his post-match interview.
IWGP Heavyweight Title
Champ: Keiji Mutoh Vs Nobuhiko Takada
Takada was the UWFi’s biggest star and would eventually go on to be the original face of PRIDE before his lack of real fighting prowess caused him to get beaten one to many times in shoot fights. Mutoh had already beaten Takada prior to this, which was the first real sign that things weren’t going to go all that well for the UWFi invaders. Still, this would give them a chance to have their top guy win New Japan’s top belt and inject a little bit more of life into the feud until it finally bit the dust. Interestingly Eric Bischoff saw how over this whole feud got at one stage and it gave him the first inkling to try it in WCW as well, which led to the nWo forming later in 1996.
We actually get a handshake to start, showing that sportsmanship isn’t entirely dead. Things are cagey to start, with both men working mostly on the mat. It’s kind of a middle ground between shoot style and traditional technical pro wrestling, and it’s done at a somewhat deliberate pace. You can tell that both men are trying very hard to make it look realistic, and it has the feel of a classic NWA Title match that someone like Dory Funk Jr would have when he was in there with someone who had some amateur wrestling or legit fighting credentials.
Eventually Takada tries to finishing things with a Kimura, but Mutoh keeps fighting it and won’t let him apply it fully, so Takada tries to transition to a cross arm breaker instead. Mutoh fights that as well, as the submission holds themselves are definitely over as the crowd gets antsy any time it looks like Mutoh will get locked in one. Mutoh eventually starts getting back into things with the Power Elbow and a back suplex. Mutoh actually manages to get the moonsault, but rather than making a cover he instead goes for a cross arm breaker of his own. He manages to the hold applied fully, but Takada is near enough to get his feet on the ropes to break it.
Takada fires back with a back suplex of his own and goes his trademark knee bar move, as the crowd is just molten for everything and they’ve barely done anything. That’s good pro wrestling! Takada keeps throwing kicks, with Mutoh teasing catching one for a Dragon Screw. The crowd pops for that showing they are one step ahead, and indeed Mutoh does eventually catch one before transitioning to the figure four leg lock. The crowd is going nuts now, over a simple figure four, and Takada is eventually able to drag himself to the ropes to break the hold.
Mutoh stays on the leg of Takada and goes back to the hold, but Takada is able to fight it off this time and goes back to his knee bar, causing Mutoh to roll to the ropes. Takada gets a good old fashioned judo throw next and locks in a cross arm breaker, but Mutoh is able to make the ropes and we’re back to square one again. Takada kicks Mutoh back down again though and locks in the hold once again, with Mutoh eventually submitting to give Takada the Title.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: NOBUHIKO TAKADA
This will not be for everybody, as I can see some getting really bored by the early mat wrestling sections, but I’m in to this style of wrestling so I was digging it. It really is a testament to how well they managed to get over submissions during this feud though, as the crowd was going nuts with practically every submission tease and it led to the match having a fantastic atmosphere as a result.
Takada and the UWFi guys celebrate big time over managing to capture the IWGP Title, especially as they’d had their arses kicked in the Choshu match. Mutoh slinks to the back dejected, but Shiro Koshinaka wants a match with Takada. Takada calls Shinya Hashimoto into the ring however and the two men face off to set up a future Title match. Koshinaka isn’t happy however and wants his shot, setting him up to be in Title contention down the line. Kensuke Sasaki also throws his name in the hat, as New Japan sets up the rest of the year quite nicely with one promo segment. There’s a reason business was doing so well during this era.
Takada gets doused in beer by the UWFi guys backstage before towelling down and doing a serious promo about being the new Champ. Meanwhile, Mutoh is depressed about losing and walks away looking sad.
That’s it for Part 1. Whilst I put disc 2 into my laptop maybe you could entertain yourselves with some free form interpretative jazz?
There, are you appropriately jazzed? Nice, let’s move on to Part 2!
Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan arrive, with Tenzan rocking a James Bond styled tuxedo whilst Chono is all in black. Shinya Hashimoto shows up looking like he just came out of a 17 hour shift at a cardboard box factory wearing one of the worst grey suits I’ve ever seen. Vader shows up in shades and a baseball cap that helpfully has his name on it in case he gets lost. Kensuke Sasaki looks like he’s auditioning to play Professor Plum in the Japanese version of Cluedo in a super ugly purple blazer.
We get another awesome Dynasty Warrior sounding bit of music to more clips from the show.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan Vs Satoshi Kojima
Oh Tencozy, why must you break my heart like this? Tenzan and Kojima were both still essentially mid carders here but they were both gaining momentum due to being good workers and you could tell that eventually they would move up the card.
Kojima immediately jump starts things by attacking Tenzan with his own Mongolian chops before sending him outside for a suicide dive. Things settle down a bit back inside, as both men work a headlock and then no sell the others shoulder tackles. Tenzan gets the dreaded Mongolian chop, from the second rope (Goodness me Tenzan, are you trying to KILL him?), but then he misses a spinning wheel kick and Kojima connects with one of his own.
Kojima manages to control things for a bit with holds like a single leg crap and a sleeper, but Tenzan slugs his way back into the match, which leads to both men trading strikes in the middle of the ring. Tenzan wins that battle and works Kojima over for a bit, but Kojima soon fights back as the momentum continues to swing back and forth. Kojima eventually drops Tenzan on his HEAD with a release German Suplex (Seriously, OUCH) and then mule kicks his way out of trouble when Tenzan tries his own.
Kojima clearly seems to think it’s better to do unto someone else before they do unto you. Kojima actually gets D Lo Brown’s Sky High powerbomb before heading up top for an elbow drop for two. A moonsault from Kojima follows, but Tenzan is once again able to kick out. Kojima heads up again, but Tenzan stops him and then brings him down with a Samoan Drop for two. Tenzan delivers his own moonsault next, but Kojima kicks out again as the crowd is warming to this battle and getting into the near falls. Tenzan heads up and gets the diving head butt, and that’s enough for the win.
WINNER: HIROYOSHI TENZAN
Decent match for the early on the card slot it clearly seemed to be in (People were still filing in as this was going on). This would probably be a good choice to show someone who was new to Japanese wrestling but was familiar with American wrestling, as both these guys were always good “bridge” wrestlers due to their slightly more Americanised styles.
Kojima is unhappy at Tenzan getting some sly stomps on him following the three count and clotheslines him to the outside before throwing some punches until people step in to separate them.
Kojima yells at the camera backstage, clearly unhappy. Tenzan is comparatively serene whilst he gets interviewed, calmly giving his thoughts.
Shiro Koshinaka Vs Masahiro Chino
Koshinaka was the leader of the Heisei Ishingun group at this time, who sort of positioned themselves as a group separate to New Japan. Chono and Koshinaka had been battling one another quite a lot during 1995, so this was supposed to bring things to a conclusion.
Koshinaka attacks right from the bell and sends Chono to the outside with a butt-butt, oh wait, sorry, “Hip Attack”, how silly of me. I mean, he definitely hit Chono in the face with his arse like, but okay, we’ll call it a Hip Attack if it helps you sleep at night. Chono shrugs that off and gets back in to jaw with Koshinaka, as I think the usual thought I had whenever I watch something from this feud which is ponder just who we were supposed to root for exactly? I mean, Koshinaka is an essential outsider who wasn’t above underhanded tactics whilst Chono was quite literally trying to present himself as some kind of organised crime boss with his ring attire and character. Kind of feels like a tossup at best right?
Things settle down for a bit Koshinaka working some holds, but Chono goes to the eyes to break that and both men trade Yakuza Kicks and Hip Attacks until Chono goes down low and then heads up top with a diving shoulder tackle for two. Chono gets a reverse DDT and then locks in the Step-over Toe-hold Face-lock, but Koshinaka refuses to tap so Chono turns it into more of a choke before cinching in the face-lock part again. Koshinaka still won’t tap however and then drags himself to the ropes to break.
Chono decides to send Koshinaka outside the ring and removes the ringside mats so he can powerbomb Koshinaka onto them. Koshinka fights that off however and goes for a powerbomb of his own, but Chono goes to the eyes to stop that and throws Koshinaka into the ring post. Back inside Chono heads up again, but Koshinaka cuts him off and brings him down with a superplex. Koshinaka gets another Hip Attack but a distraction from Chono ally Hiro Saito allows Chono to catch Koshinaka with an inverted atomic drop.
Koshinaka keeps coming however with a German Suplex for two before following up with a Hip Attack from the top rope (That’s a great height to get hit by a bottom from) and then gets a powerbomb for two. Undeterred, Koshinaka just gets an inside cradle and that’s enough for the pin.
WINNER: SHIRO KOSHINAKA
Bit of an odd finish that really. I’m not sure why they couldn’t just take it home after the powerbomb. The match was lacking a bit in heat and felt very much like one of those WrestleMania matches where it’s intended just to get some guys some time out there on the biggest show of the year in a match that doesn’t really matter all that much, kind of like that time they had Kurt Angle and Kane randomly wrestling one another at Mania X-8 because they didn’t really have anything for either of them to do and they wanted to get them on Mania somehow.
Chono refuses to do an interview post-match, whilst Koshinaka gives his thoughts on things and is clearly agitated at Chono’s behaviour.
Shinya Hashimoto Vs Kazuo Yamazaki
Hashimoto sadly passed away in 2005 whilst Yamazaki is a commentator these days. Yamazaki is also what I’d class as a UWFi guy, but they don’t seem to be counting this match as an official battle in the series for some reason. A quick stop to Wikipedia reveals that Yamazaki had already jumped back to New Japan in 1995 of his own accord, so he was technically on the New Japan side in the feud. Hashimoto’s whole act was that he was New Japan’s big tough guy (An aura which kind of took a battering when Naoya Ogawa beat him up for real in a match once) so giving him a match with another credibly promoted tough guy in Yamazaki seemed like a good fit for him on this show.
Both men start out as they mean to go on, as they throw kicks at one another and try to lock in some submission moves. In an interesting moment, Hashimoto actually bails out at one point after Yamazaki has targeted his left arm to get the blood flowing in it again, so Yamazaki calmly targets it again once he gets back inside the ring. Hashimoto actually gets some throat thrusts to bring himself back into things, positioning himself as the subtle heel here as Yamazaki was beating him cleanly.
Stiff kicks are traded and both men try to gain control over the others left arm, with neither really succeeding until Hashimoto is able to jolt Yamazaki’s arm with an arm stunner. Hashimoto tries for a brain buster, but Yamazaki lands behind and locks in a sleeper, which due to his UWFi background and the fact submissions had been empathised during this storyline actually leads the crowd to buy it as a possible finish.
Hashimoto doesn’t tap and makes the ropes, so Yamazaki locks the sleeper back in and then transitions to a cross arm breaker. Hashimoto powers out of that with a slam, so Yamazaki kicks him in the head to drop him to a knee and then starts throwing some more kicks. Hashimoto puts a stop to that with a big slap and then delivers a brain buster to pick up the three count.
WINNER: SHINYA HASHIMOTO
I dug that actually, as Yamazaki controlled things for most of the match with his submission skills but they got over the story point that Hashimoto could end it with the brain buster if he could just get enough time to deliver it, and then paid it off with him getting it at the end when it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to. The crowd was with this and everything looked believable and Hashimoto made Yamazaki look like a threat.
Yamazaki sells the brain buster more as momentary head drop that caught him out rather than a big devastating killer move, which is weird to see but I get what he’s going for. He’s not no-selling, he’s just selling it in a different way. To be fair, he does slowly walk away afterward selling his head and neck, so it’s not like he just shrugs it off.
Kensuke Sasaki Vs Hiroshi Hase
Hase and Sasaki had been a popular tag team but eventually had gone their own ways when Sasaki had started tagging with Road Warrior Hawk as one half of The Hell Raisers. Hase had actually been elected to parliament in July of 1995 and was only wrestling sporadically by this point. These days he’s actually minster of sport in Japan according to Wikipedia, which is pretty impressive.
This is a power vs finesse battle, with Sasaki being bigger and stronger but Hase being more experienced and more technically proficient. That being said, Sasaki holds his own in the technical wrestling aspect of the bout, even though it’s clear that Hase is the superior technician of the two. Eventually things turn into more a striking battle, which Sasaki does better at by slapping Hase down to the mat.
Hase manages to reply with a nice Russian Leg Sweep and then gets a Sambo Suplex before heading up top with a missile front dropkick and a nip up. The Giant Swing looks to come next, and it does. It’s a decent one too, although Hase collapses after it, clearly not used to this much exertion in his day job at this point. Sasaki fights off another Sambo Suplex and gets a nice judo styled takedown before getting a really impressive running dropkick for a guy his size.
Sasaki goes to a Scorpion Deathlock next and manages to apply it, mugging for the crowd whilst cinching it in. Hase refuses to quit however and pulls himself to the ropes to break the hold. Sasaki goes for an Indian Deathlock next, but Hase is able to counter it into a calf crusher, so Sasaki fights out and goes for a powerbomb. Hase shifts his weight however and gets a Northern Lights Suplex for two, but when he tries a Dragon Suplex Sasaki is able to fight him off and get a Sambo Suplex of his own for two.
Sasaki tries to go to the Stranglehold Gamma, but Hase fights that off and goes to his own version of a Step-over Toe-hold Face-lock, but Sasaki gets to the ropes to break. Sasaki fights off another attempt but Hase keeps coming, although it looks like both men are getting pretty tired now and things are getting a bit sloppy as a result. Sasaki gets a powerslam and then follows up with a pair of lariats. He doesn’t go for the pin though and instead gets the Northern Lights Bomber to put Hase away.
WINNER: KENSUKE SASAKI
Didn’t really do that much for me as it felt like it dragged and both men didn’t really have the stamina to go the length they needed to. It felt like two guys trying too hard to have a great epic match when a good solid one would have done instead.
Sasaki gives Hase a cape of some kind post-match and Hase does an in-ring promo for the crowd.
Both men do a side-by-side post-match interview in the interview area, and Sasaki seems quite moved by the whole situation, actually crying at one point. Clearly that match meant a lot to them.
Inoki Final Countdown Fifth Contest
Antonio Inoki Vs Big Van Vader
The original debut of the Vader character happened against Inoki, where Vader destroyed Inoki and almost caused a riot in the process. Seeing as Inoki was doing a countdown to his retirement here it made sense to bring Vader back for a match, especially as WWF commitments might have soon made it impossible. Inoki actually gets a woman playing the harp for him before coming down to the ring to a monster pop.
This whole countdown thing was a pretty genius bit of marketing actually, as every time they decided to announce one it immediately made whatever show it was on seem more important. It’s kind of what WWE could have done with Ric Flair’s retirement tour in 2008 if they’d actually put some proper planning into it and had allowed Flair to really sell it.
Vader shows himself to be a complicated personality, by holding the ropes for Inoki only to then slap him once he gets in. That seems merely to entertain Inoki though, so Vader body slams him right from the off to get across the story of the match, that being Vader is going to muderise Inoki and Inoki is going to just absorb it and make superman comebacks, because he’s Antonio Fucking Inoki!
Vader takes the fight outside and slams Inoki onto a table before throwing the table onto him. Vader clotheslines Inoki as he tries to get back in, which serves only to anger Inoki and he locks in a sleeper from the apron in response. Vader fights that off and we then get the moment this match is probably most known for, as Vader gives Inoki the mother of all German Suplexes, dropping Inoki right on his fooking head and seemingly killing him.
Amazingly Inoki is still alive following that, although Vader doesn’t really seem to care either way and throws Inoki onto the entrance ramp that goes right up to the ring on this show. Inoki manages to back body drop Vader back into the ring and then delivers a big knee drop from the top rope. He’s busting out all the big stuff tonight folks! Inoki gets the enziguri, but Vader rolls outside so that he can’t be pinned.
Inoki follows Vader out and then kicks him over the guardrail into the commentary area, where he adds a shot from a steel chair to send Vader collapsing into the front row. This serves only to piss Vader off and he throws everything around before coming back to the ring adorned with a crimson mask. Inoki works the cut with punches and then gets another enziguri before locking in the Dis-Arm-Her.
Vader manages to fight his way to the ropes however and both men just start slugging at one another, as this is an ugly fight in the best way possible. Vader actually goes to a rear naked choke, but Inoki doesn’t quit so he lets go and then drops Inoki with some punches. Vader folds Inoki up with a vicious choke slam, but Inoki does the old Inoki kick out of just raising his arm long enough to break the count with zero fanfare.
Vader goes for a powerbomb, but Inoki (who now seems to be bleeding) slips out, only to miss the follow up enziguri. Vader goes to a Dragon Sleeper, but Inoki knees his way out, so Vader slams him down instead and heads up to the second rope for the pump splash, which gets two. The heat for all of this is fantastic, as these are two guys the crowd clearly sees as stars and they are likely all legit worried that Vader might kill Inoki. Case in point, Vader heads up top and gets a big moonsault, but Inoki STILL manages to kick out in a feat that seems to push the bounds of believability, but fair enough.
Vader continues just destroying Inoki but misses a charge in the corner, which allows Inoki to slam Vader and then apply an arm bar for the clean submission win to pop the crowd. Normally I’d roll my eyes at something like that, but Vader was coming in for a one shot and the crowd clearly wanted to see superman Inoki, so it made sense to give them what they paid to see.
WINNER: ANTONIO INOKI
Heck of a brawl with a great crowd and some genuinely great near falls. This really shows the difference in both booking philosophy and working style from someone like Inoki and, say, Mitsuharu Misawa for instance. Misawa would have probably taken that German Suplex on the head and then been subsequently battered for 5 more minutes before finally succumbing after a valiant effort, whereas Inoki had himself make the big comeback and win. I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other, but it does highlight a core difference in the New Japan and All Japan booking philosophies.
Inoki and Vader shake hands post-match.
A quick trip to New Japan World shows that they do indeed have all the matches from this show uploaded. I’d strongly suggest checking out Liger/Kanemoto and Vader/Inoki as they were both great matches that pretty much any wrestling fan could enjoy.
Mutoh/Takada and Hashimoto/Yamazaki might be more of a required taste, just because of the focus more on gradual submission attempts and patient mat wrestling. I personally enjoyed those matches but I could completely understand why others might not.
Overall the show wasn’t really on par match quality wise with what you’d expect from a big Tokyo Dome show these days, but there was still some decent wrestling to be found and, even when the matches themselves weren’t great, the crowd was in to pretty much all the big names and that meant there was a decent atmosphere for the most part.