Andy PG Does Japan, Volume 1!

So a little backstory: two weeks ago I was in a bit of a funk at work and a couple of the Late Night Puro Crew was talking about their favorite matches. I said “I know y’all like to put playlists together, can you let me know the next time so we can watch together?” Turned out that was all the motivation Lawrence Talbot (esteemed board member) needed, and he said he’d love to do it that night after SmackDown. He asked what sort of stuff I wanted to see, and I just said let’s have variety… then I came back an hour later and made a request of one particular match that I’d always wanted to see. He found it and included it, alongside a wonderful collection of past and present puro and joshi.

While watching with him, I told him this was the kind of thing I could get a fun review column out of. And it wouldn’t be fair for me to tease him this long without delivering, would it? So after some delay, here is my recap of the six matches on the list.

A word of warning: I have never studied Japanese and have no idea what the announcers are talking about, so a lot of context of the match may be lost on me. And a word of warning to you: not every move has the same hierarchical position in Japan that it does here in the States. For example, a superkick is a big deal when it connects in an American match and can usually steal a two-count; Japan doesn’t think much of it. Nor are they that impressed by piledrivers compared to the US. However, do a hard enough clothesline and Japan will be convinced the match is over. (So if you’ve ever wondered why Okada does a Tombstone before the Rainmaker, there you go.) I’m pretty sure this speaks to the legendary status of Shawn Michaels, Jerry Lawler, and Stan Hansen respectively; it’s like how the DDT was a high-level move for years after Jake Roberts retired.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: By request, videos have been added!

Okay, let’s get started, and what better way to start than with the match I wanted:

WWF vs. All Japan: Randy Savage vs. Genichiro Tenryu

This is from April 1990, and Randy Savage is in full Macho King glory. I believe this is the same card – or at least the same tour – as the famous Hogan/Hansen match that some consider Hulk Hogan’s best ever. When Tenryu came over in 1991 for WrestleMania, Gorilla Monsoon said he was “the most popular wrestler in the land of the Rising Sun”, and given this reaction I’ll buy that. Tenryu throws his jacket at Savage during entrances, so clearly he gets this sports entertainment thing a bit.

The ref has a little trouble telling Sherri to leave once the bell rings as Savage and Tenryu exchange, let’s say pleasantries. Savage does his rope-run fakeout and dares Tenryu to open the offense, and a shoving match causes Savage to take the shirt off and get to business. Savage controls early with elbows and punches, but a whip is reversed and Savage bails before he can get hit. Sherri says that was smart as she yells at the front row. Savage returns while spitting at Tenryu, then leaps in and poses as the two try to find an opening. Tenryu has NO IDEA how to handle Sherri screaming at ringside.

Savage with an eye rake and they fight over a suplex, but Tenryu catches Savage going out the back door and chops him into a gooey paste to a HUGE pop. Sherri distracts Tenryu, and Savage takes over with an axhandle and some choking. He rolls him back to the middle and punches him hard, but Tenryu comes back with a lariat for two. Savage stops a back body drop with a kick, but he charges into a second one, this time flying out of the ring. Tenryu follows with a plancha (who knew?) and both men are down on the outside.

Tenryu is up first and stalks Savage, but Sherri gets a cheap shot. Tenryu no-sells and gives chase, only for Savage to knock him down and throw him into press row. Sherri gets in an argument with some of the bigwigs at ringside as Savage nearly throws Tenryu into a light post. Back in, Savage finger twirls to HUGE heat. Hard whip to the corner, but a charge eats boot and Tenryu gets the enzuigiri to stop Savage in his tracks. He can’t follow up, and Savage gets a clothesline for two (see what I said earlier?).

Savage goes ground-and-pound (and choke), then shoves the referee who tells him to stop that. Savage covers for two as the ref doesn’t even threaten a DQ. Shoulderblock follows for two. Tenryu grabs the ropes on a whip to stop himself from coming back, but Savage clotheslines him down anyway and chokes him with his boot. Sherri slaps Tenryu with the ref distracted and hides behind a corner as Savage comes off with the inside-outside diving axhandle. Standing elbowdrop on the stage and he distracts the ref again as Sherri knocks Tenryu over the guardrail.

Savage follows and gives Tenryu a kneelift before punching him back to ringside. Sherri with the SIZE SEVEN OF DOOM as Tenryu tries to return, then Savage throws him in and goes up top. A diving axhandle follow for two. Savage slams Tenryu down and adds a kneedrop for two. He goes up for the finish, and the big elbow… gets two to a big pop. Savage rakes the eyes and goes up top again as the crowd rallies Tenryu, and this time Tenryu catches him coming down.

Powerbomb is teased, but Savage backdrops out. (The crowd was READY for that powerbomb.) Diving crossbody by Savage, but he can’t cover, tweaking his leg on the landing. That’s all Tenryu needs to land the enzuigiri, and the Powerbomb ends it at 10:49. Sherri throws a temper tantrum in the ring as Tenryu leaves. Probably the worst match of the set, but the crowd level was off the charts and made up for it. ***1/4

Wrestle-1 Championship: Daiki Inaba (champion) vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima

This is from January of this year. Nakajima at the time is one-half of the GHC Tag Champions, and believe it or not I had been shown a match of his earlier in the week and immediately loved him. Sadly, Wrestle-1 folded as a result of the pandemic, but Nakajima is still tearing it up in NOAH. Inaba has yet to be picked up by a major promotion, instead being a “freelancer”, which is Japanese parlance for “indy darling”. (Okay, not really, but the concept is the same: he’s a guest for just about anyone who will book him.) And we are in the legendary Korakuen Hall for this one, in front of a sellout crowd of… well, hundreds. It’s not that big a building – feels like the ECW Arena of Japan, minus the violence.

Nakajima encourages the crowd to cheer for Inaba as they circle… and Nakajima goes to the apron to try to get under Inaba’s skin. Nakajima ducks a lockup, but Inaba forces a headlock. Nakajima throws him off and boots him, but misses a pump kick and Inaba comes back with a forearm smash. Nakajima recovers to give Inaba a Kitchen Sink-like leg strike and Inaba bails. Nakajima follows to the apron for a running soccer kick to Inaba, and Nakajima is not impressed. He throws Inaba in and gives him the MVP Drive-By in the corner, then does a boot choke and Tranquilo pose in the ropes combo that Shinsuke Nakamura ABSOLUTELY needs to steal now.

He gets a second one soon after. Inaba stops a cross-corner whip and fires off a forearm, but Nakajima boots him and does another Drive-By into Tranquilo. And another, as the referee is desperately trying to pull him off. Nakajima with a couple of soft kicks to Inaba to wake him up, and Inaba’s forearms can’t wipe the smile off his face. Nakajima with a knee strike and roundhouse kick, but Inaba comes back with a diving tackle and enzuigiri. Charging forearm in the corner, then like 20 more from Inaba just to make sure Nakajma gets the point.

Facewashing follows, with the crowd encouraging him to go faster and faster. Guys, I think he’s mad. Broski Boot follows, then a Cannonball. Fisherman’s buster gets two for Inaba. Inaba goes up, but Nakajima slaps him in the corner and follows. They exchange shots and Inaba nearly gets knocked off to the floor before pulling himself up, only to take more punishment. Inaba headbutts Nakajima back down, but Nakajima pops up with a spin kick to the perched Inaba. Finally, Nakajima hooks the superplex and delivers as Inaba crawls for distance.

Nakajima floors him with a high kick for two. Inaba with a forearm that Nakajima laughs off, but Inaba keeps firing and they get into a slugfest. Nakajima wins that exchange and just keeps Inaba dizzy with more forearms whenever Inaba charges. Nakajima finally has enough and delivers forearm after forearm to Inaba’s jaw to the point that they tease a KO. Nakajima, somewhat bemused as Inaba crawls to him and pulls himself up, helps Inaba up and gives him a Saito suplex. Inaba’s on spaghetti legs, and after a weak forearm, Nakajima gives him another Saito suplex. Then another, following up with a soccer kick for two.

Nakajima tries a brainbuster, but Inaba blocks and gets an Octopus Hold out of desperation. Nakajima breaks and gives Inaba three superkicks for his trouble, then laughs at Inaba being half-dead before… wait, Inaba gives Nakajima the brainbuster instead for a double down. Three straight enzuigiris stagger Nakajima, and Inaba hooks the arms for a tiger suplex with bridge for two. He wants another, but Nakajima escapes and ducks a clothesline to blast Inaba with a standing enzuigiri.

Inaba is OUT and the referee checks him, but Nakajima wants to hurt him more and hits him with seated kicks back and forth, ending with a running PK for a very close two. Now, the brainbuster connects – with about a seven-second hangtime – and Nakajima gets the pin and the title at an official time of 13:48. I haven’t seen a Japanese wrestler be this much of a dick in the ring while being entertaining since Shinjiro Ohtani.

And to top it off, Nakajima treats the Wrestle-1 title like trash, chucking it aside when awarded it. Inaba was clearly in over his head and Nakajima treated him like he was beneath him. It felt like Cena/Lesnar in that regard. ***1/2 Nakajima even pretends to extinguish a cigarette on the title (what a total glorious dick move) before taking the mic. Shotaro Ashino is NOT happy with the disrespect and confronts him. But I have no idea what they’re saying so let’s move on.

JWP Tag Team Titles: Cutie Suzuki and Mayumi Ozaki (champions) vs. Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda (challengers)

The challengers are also known as Las Cachorras Orientales – hey, I know Spanish, that means they’re the Bitches of the East! Anyway, this match is from March 1994. Suzuki is the babyfaciest babyface that ever babyfaced according to those who know joshi. Ozaki and Suzuki are the underdogs here, in large part because LCO are bigger, stronger, and give fewer flips about the wrestling rules. There are pre-match interviews here, and it’s so refreshingly different to hear wrestlers talk rather than promo.

Shimoda and Suzuki start, and they just glare at each other. Shimoda offers a test of strength and tries a cheapshot, only for Suzuki to be ready and flip her into a German suplex. The partners both ook the legal women on a criss-cross as we get a hostage standoff, but the referee frees everyone. Shimoda goes to the hair on Suzuki and kicks her in the corner as both women do boot chokes. Ozaki’s seen enough and pulls off Shimoda, so Mita throws Suzuki across the ring and steps on her throat.

LCO do a double-team pose boot choke – very lucha there – before mita gets a series of snapmares into a bodyscissors. She adds a blatant choke, then rolls Suzuki over for a camel clutch. Shimoda in with a diving chokeslam for one, and she tosses Suzuki across the ring again. Boston Crab try, but Suzuki starts to power out so Shimoda releases and kicks her around. Finally, Suzuki comes back with a middle rope clothesline and Ozaki is in to give Shimoda a hearrfelt powerbomb for…one.

Everyone goes to the floor as Ozaki gives Shimoda a suplex on the entrance ramp. Mita piledrives Ozaki on the floor, but Ozaki bounces right back up and slugs Mita down. Hey, who does she think she is – Road Warrior Hawk? Ozaki is in the ring and waits for Shimoda to get on the apron before kicking her and throws her around. Shimoda clings to Ozaki’s leg, so Ozaki with a Steiner Recliner with double underhook, then a Fujiwara armbar. Suzuki comes in and wraps Shimoda’s arm around the top rope as the champs give LCO a taste of their own medicine.

Back to the armbar, but Shimoda’s in the ropes. Disarmer try now, with Suzuki using Shimoda’s hair for leverage (which is kind of out of character for her, but that’s how mad she is). More stomps to the arm and back to the Disarmer, and Ozaki gets an armbar on the other arm. Suzuki with an armwrench, and Ozaki comes in with a Blockbuster for two. Shimoda off the second rope with a bodypress, and now Mita’s in to give Ozaki an airplane spin.

Mita with a series of Polish Hammers to follow, then a slam for one before she pulls Ozaki up for a piledriver for two, Suzuki saves. Mita goes to a sleeperhold with bodyscissors, and Ozaki is barely responsive at this point. Shimoda in, and LCO get a double big boot to Ozaki before Shimoda delivers three piledrivers in a row. It gets two, and Shimoda tries to strangle Ozaki with a rear choke. Ozaki is fading, but she gets her foot on the ropes.

Mita in, and she gets a hanging choke while standing on the middle rope. Whip into a sleeper by Mita, but Ozaki keeps the arm up and will keep on fighting. Mita wrenches the sleeper in, and Ozaki almost fails the arm test before Suzuki makes the save. Shimoda tags in, but Ozaki catches her with a Sling Blade and it’s hot “tag” Suzuki (they’re stretching the tag rule here).

Shimoda stops her momentum with a Baba neckbreaker and goes up top, getting another diving chop for two. Mita in now, but Suzuki blocks a tilt-a-whirl try and falls on top for two before climbing Mita with an Octopus Hold. Mita breaks it and falls into the ropes, so Ozaki gets a backdrop suplex for two. A running boot and she just tries to stomp Mita’s brains in. Mita catches her coming off the ropes with a fireman’s carry slam (kind of an inverse FU), but Ozaki takes Shimoda down off a whip and LCO get knocked to the floor. Ozaki and Suzuki do stereo sentons and drag Shimoda in, getting splashes from opposite corners. Ozaki gets two.

Suzuki tries a full nelson, but Mita ducks so Shimoda can lariat Suzuki. In the chaos, Suzuki goes up, but her missile dropkick misses. She recovers to throw Shimoda for two. Ozaki dives onto Shimoda but eats the boots, and Shimoda with a tiger suplex for two. Ozaki returns the favor for two. Powerbomb by Ozaki and she goes up, but Shimoda no-sells to follow. Suzuki holds her back, and Ozaki with a twisting cannonball for two. Shimoda catches Ozaki in a Bossman slam, but Mita can’t hold the Ventura Body Vice. Ozaki with a Victory Roll for two. Ozaki whips Mita, who knocks Suzuki off the apron and the champs get dumped. Mita then alley-oops Shimoda to the top rope for a springboard plancha onto both! Mita then follows with a tope onto all three.

Back in, Mita gives Ozaki an electric chair into a Shimoda kneedrop, but Suzuki dropkicks Shimoda and Ozaki is back up with a tiger suplex to Mita for two. Ozaki slams down Mita, and in succession Suzuki with a flying double stomp, then the champs with a double flying double stomp, Shimoda saves. Suzuki with a sunset flip for two. Mita tags in Shimoda off a whip, who does a choke dive onto both women and German suplexes Suzuki for two. Shimoda brings Suzuki up, and a superplex gets two. VERY close near fall. Suzuki catches Shimoda with a dragon suplex off a missed lariat for two.

A diving knee strike misses, and Mita comes in to block a dragon suplex try and cradle Suzuki for two. Ozaki tries to stop Mita, and the champs get a double Hotshot. Doomsday Device gets Suzuki two, somehow. Another dragon suplex, but despite Ozaki’s best efforts, Shimoda saves. Suzuki dives at Mita, who catches her into two straight Death Valley Drivers (as Shimoda holds Ozaki and makes her watch) for the pin and the titles at 20:37. Basically everything after the part I called a hot tag was a crazy spotfest. Once I stopped looking for the traditional US formula and watched this for what it was, I realized I was way undervaluing this on first viewing. ****1/4 In the media scrum backstage, Suzuki seems to be seething as Ozaki explains what went wrong. But the real fun’s in the ring, as LCO keep stopping the formal presentation until the emcee just hands them the trophy and walks off.

GHC (NOAH) Heavyweight Title: Go Shiozaki (champion) vs. KENTA (challenger)

Shiozaki is the most decorated man in NOAH, holding the big gold a record 4 times and tag gold 7 times. KENTA is, well, KENTA – or Hideo Itami if you’re like that. This match is from 2011, but I’m having a hard time narrowing it down further. Kenta Kobashi – the man who trained both men – is at ringside. And if there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that Kenta Kobashi is a god of wrestling. Let’s just say I’ve been told both men live up to his legacy quite well, so we are in for a treat if that’s true.

They lock up, and Shiozaki backs him into the ropes and gives a clean break. Another lockup, and KENTA slaps Shiozaki rather than return the favor. Shiozaki is angry and a slugfest erupts, with Shiozaki winning with a big chop. Shoulderblock follows, but KENTA blocks the chop and gets a knee strike. Shiozaki ducks an overhead blow and we reset. Both men jockey for position, with KENTA escaping an arm-wringer attempt and getting a waistlock. They exchange arm wringers, and Shiozaki goes to a hammerlock.

KENTA with a drop toe hold, but Shiozaki regains the arm and keeps the pressure. KENTA drops Shiozaki to a leg lace, but Shiozaki goes back to the arm as he escapes. KENTA with forearms, but Shiozaki returns with chops and neither man sells the other until KENTA slaps the taste out of Shiozaki’s mouth. Shiozaki is so disoriented from it he can’t even keep his legs on a whip, and the ref gives him a standing eight-count. KENTA, though, doesn’t let him get up and gives him a facewash in the corner.

Uppercut from KENTA and he fires off kicks to the gut. Knee to the head follows for two. KENTA goes to a CHINLOCK… but unlike a US chinlock, they’re fighting in this one. KENTA lets go to kick Shiozaki, who fires up and wants more before returning fire with a big chop. Now Shiozaki slaps KENTA silly, then slams him down and comes off the middle rope with a kneedrop for two. He sets KENTA up on the apron and lands a running knee before returning and getting two. KENTA goes for a forearm, then a spin kick, but Shiozaki is unfazed until he runs into the Kitchen Sink from KENTA. A second one follows as Shiozaki bails, and KENTA follows to kick him some more.

KENTA then throws Shiozaki into the guardrail. Back in, it gets two. KENTA kicks away on Shiozaki in the corner, stomping a mudhole but being prevented by the referee from walking it dry. He pulls Shiozaki out for another roundhouse kick, but Shiozaki catches it into a dragon screw. KENTA bails, so Shiozaki follows with an axhandle. KENTA eats guardrail and is staggered, so Shiozaki chops… the leg? Sure, why not. He follows by dropping KENTA’s knee on the apron and coming back in. He looks for a kneebar, but KENTA stops it with slaps.

Shiozaki regroups and gives KENTA a brain chop to keep him down. More chops and elbows, these on the back of the neck, then a sliding knee to a downed KENTA. Forearm to the back of the neck as Shiozaki is wasting no moves. DDT by Shiozaki follows for one, so Shiozaki gives KENTA three big air kneedrops for two. Siozaki with a lariat for two, and he works the neck with a chinlock of his own. (Again, it’s not the US half-sleeper chinlock, but a camel clutch hold.)

Shiozaki adds another chop to the neck, then one to the chest in the corner. KENTA reverses a corner whip, but eats boot. He recovers with a powerslam as Kobashi has retreated up the bleachers. KENTA with more crazy kicks and a big boot in the corner as Shiozaki is down. KENTA checks his leg to make sure it’s fine. He mounts Shiozaki and pounds him with forearms, then returns the favor of a DDT for two. STF by KENTA, but Shiozaki makes the ropes. KENTA tries a German, but Shiozaki elbows out before catching a high kick to deliver an Exploder. Blind charge hits the boots, but Shiozaki recovers with a brainbuster for two.

KENTA rolls outside as Shiozaki goes up, and Shiozaki delivers a diving shoulderblock inside to outside. He gets KENTA ready for another drive-by knee, but KENTA avoids this one and catches a returning Shiozaki enough to throw him into the guardrail. KENTA throws Shiozaki into the front row and DDTs him on the concrete. KENTA then goes up, but Shiozaki rushes him and meets him. Shiozaki teases a superplex to the floor as the crowd freaks out, but KENTA blocks and shoves Shiozaki to the apron. KENTA then pounds Shiozaki to the floor and dives at him, but Shiozaki catches and gets a fallaway slam into the guardrail!

Shiozaki appears to want a countout as KENTA gets to his feet, but as KENTA is halfway in the ring, Shiozaki meets him with a knee strike and picks him up. Shiozaki and KENTA fight over a suplex (with KENTA on the apron), and Shiozaki muscles KENTA in only for KENTA to block it. Both men try lariats, with Shiozaki’s effort caught by KENTA into a gogoplata. Shiozaki escapes but runs into a proper lariat that JBL would be proud of. KENTA goes up top, and a missile shotgun dropkick staggers Shiozaki to the corner. KENTA follows with a forearm, then a Finn Balor shotgun dropkick to a seated Shiozaki. Martial arts flurry and a leaping knee gets two.

He looks to get Go 2 Sleep, but Shiozaki elbows out and delivers a rolling shotei to KENTA for two. Crowd loved that. Slam by Shiozaki and he goes up, but the moonsault is avoided and KENTA dropkicks the back of Shiozaki’s head instead. KENTA with the Orton DDT out of the ropes, then a fisherman’s buster for two. Good lord these men are tough. Shiozaki elbows out of another GTS and exchanges strikes with KENTA, but KENTA slaps him silly and tries a discus lariat only to spin into a superkick and Northern Lariat by Shiozaki. He wants one more lariat, but KENTA catches him with Go 2 Sleep for a very close two.

KENTA gives him another one, but it’s still two. KENTA with roundhouse kicks, but Shiozaki powers up and delivers a lariat for the double down. KENTA is up first, but he gets caught with a lariat and slam. Shiozaki nails the moonsault this time, but on the landing KENTA grabs the arm and twists him into the LeBell Lock! Shiozaki makes the ropes, so KENTA kicks him hard in the face and does the Bossman Straddle in the ropes.

Shiozaki stops him with another lariat, and the Go Flasher (a variation of Kobashi’s Orange Crush into a uranage) somehow only gets two as the crowd is eating it all up. Shiozaki tries a backdrop driver, but KENTA fights out of it and slaps Shiozaki over and over. Shiozaki stops it with a lariat for ONE, then another for two. The announcers are freaking out! Now Shiozaki hooks KENTA’s arm to be safe and delivers the PUMPHANDLE BACKDROP DRIVER OF DEATH, and that’ll end this at 27:37! This was art. ***** Just two guys beating the hell out of each other until they were weak enough to give the other the finisher, but when that didn’t work, it was the first to go to the Extra Death finisher to get the win. What’s not to love?

AJPW Triple Crown: Kento Miyahara (champion) vs. Jake Lee (challenger)

Miyahara is the closest thing Japan has to a Rock or Hogan, in that he’s not this workrate machine, but he has charisma to make up for it. Lee, meanwhile, is a Korean wrestler who does martial arts. This match is from January 3 of this year, as Miyahara looks to catch the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa for most career title defenses. Miyahara is also a prodigy, winning the Triple Crown at age 27 – earlier than anyone ever. And hey, you ever seen old school AJPW matches where half the canvas is blue and half is red? Here, they literally have a red corner and a blue corner like something out of UFC.

Also, I’m pretty sure this match is single-handedly keeping the streamer industry in business. Just saying. It’s a damn flood.

Both sides just stare at each other to start, and the crowd is rabidly behind Kento (who flashes some Rock-like glances to the crowd as a contrast to the stoic Lee). Lee with a quick headlock, but Kento pushes him off with a boot, so Lee gets a shoulderblock but misses a PK as we get a reset. A long lockup follows, with the two eventually making the ropes, and after some reversing and re-reversing, Lee gives a clean break (but not before patting Kento on the stomach). Kento is furious and takes it outside, where he goes around the post and back in to pose when whipped into the post. Lee returns and boots a posing Kento in the face. Serves him right.

Kento heads outside as Lee waits. Kento hesitantly returns to the ring and we circle again. Lee gets a waistlock, but Kento picks the single-leg and goes to a leglace. Lee reverses to a head and arm trap, but allows Kento an opening to escape. A cover gets nothing and both men fall in the ropes. Lee backs off only to kick Kento in the back, but Kento drop toeholds Lee into the middle rope. A drive-by dropkick misses and Lee soccer kicks Kento to the floor. Lee picks Kento up outside and shrugs off a forearm before rocking Kento with one of his own.

Now Kento eats post as Lee walks Kento around the ring, kicking him and slugging him into the crowd – no guardrails here, by the way. Lee with a bunch of strong kicks, but Kento ducks down to get a fireman’s carry and drops Lee throat-first on the handrail of the bleachers! Kento mugs for the camera and walks back to the ring as Lee checks to make sure he still has all his teeth. Kento then remembers to bring Lee with him, but Lee kicks away on Kento. Kento stops everyone’s momentum with a headbutt, then another as Lee is getting the worst of it.

A running boot staggers Lee around the ring – the referee isn’t even bothering to count – and both men goozle each other. Lee stops it and forearms Kento, but pauses to be patronizing and gets another headbutt. Back in the ring, Kento covers with one foot to piss Lee off. It works – Lee pops up and fires away with forearms only for ANOTHER headbutt to slow him down. The two fight over a suplex, so Kento drapes Lee on the top rope and gives him a kneelift and running dropkick. (In theory; it looked like he missed badly, but the camera angle covered. To be fair, he’d have had to kick Lee’s head.)

Yet another headbutt in the corner, then a big boot. A cross-corner whip, but Lee sidesteps a charging Kento straight into the ringpost shoulder-first! Lee walks around to Kento on the outside and delivers high kicks to the chest, then assures the ref he’ll bring it to the ring. Indeed, he throws Kento in and covers, getting two. He then tosses Kento again, landing a knee to the gut and more powerful kicks. Now Kento’s checking his mouth, but Lee grabs him and asks the crowd to clear out a bit as he fires more kicks.

Lee waits for Kento to return – the crowd clearout went nowhere – and chokes Kento away in the corner. Kento tries to forearm out of it, but Lee shrugs them off (even trying to show Kento where to hit for full effect) before whipping Kento in and kicking his head off for two. Lee toys with Kento, stomping away, but Kento ducks a lariat and kicks out Lee’s leg before getting a dropkick to the side of the head for a double down. Both men are up in opposite corners, and Kento races in for a flying forearm.

Lee blocks a Northern Lights attempt, so Kento headbutts him and goes up, only for Lee to boot him off the top rope to the floor! Lee encourages the fans to chant for Kento, then runs the apron and kicks Kento again. Lee goes back inside per the ref’s instructions as Kento is looked over on the floor. The ref counts Kento – as does Lee – but Kento’s up at 8. Lee sarcstically applauds before grabbing Kento on the apron and delivering three stiff knees to the head. He picks up Kento’s body at this point and teases a piledriver on the apron (NO! NOT THE HARDEST PART OF THE RING!), but Kento fights out, separates himself, and kicks Lee. Now Kento tries the piledriver, and after a long struggle, he succeeds!

Both men fall to the outside, where Kento picks himself up to roll in and Lee appears to be out cold. Lee is awakened at 7 as the ref sees if he can stand on his own, while Kento waits like a rabid dog. When Lee rolls in, a running Raven knee in the corner gets two. He tries a Shining Wizard, but Lee catches it at the literal last moment. He shoves Kento off, gets booted, and rebounds to give him a front enzuigiri before they both collapse. Never change, All Japan, with your wacky “don’t sell until after the big move” self.

They get to their knees and slug it out as they stand, with both men rocking the other with forearms. Lee wins this and gives more knee strikes to floor Kento. He then wipes his feet of the dust on Kento and taunts the crowd chanting for him. Lee even offers to let Kento get up, which offends Kento to the point of getting nose to nose. Lee lands a forearm shot and kicks Kento down again for that before picking him up to his knees by the hand and kicking him in the face some more. Running PK by Lee, but Kento pops right back up. Another, and Kento rolls to his feet as we slu it out again. This time, Kento blocks the kick and delivers a brainbuster before spitting at Lee.

Guys, I think we made him angry.

Kento with a knee to the back of the head, a German suplex, and a Shining Wizard in rapid fire for two. He wants another German, with Lee elbowing out to stop him and landing the Kitchen Sink and a DDT for two, with Kento having to use the ropes. Lee wants a Saito suplex, but Kento falls on top for one. Shining Wizard to the back of Lee’s head, and a German suplex with bridge, gets two. It felt like the ref may have hesitated on that last beat to bail the tired wrestlers out. Kento goes for the German Trap (double arm trap German – his finisher), but after a long fight for arm control, Lee escapes and gets a knee to Kento’s head.

Shining Wizard and Doctor Bomb gets two for Lee. Lee pulls down the kickpad so you know he means business, and when Kento’s up… he meets Lee with a flying knee. Lee shrugs it off and gets the Shining Wizard anyway for two. Another Shining Wizard, but Kento dodges and catches an O’Connor roll with bridge for two… before he falls into Lee’s waiting arms on a rear choke! It becomes a full sleeper as they stand, and they even check Kento’s arm for full effect. Lee sees it won’t get the KO, so he switches to a dragon suplex and a roundhouse kick for a very close two. Saito suplex gets two. Lee was sure that was it. He tries covering again, still two.

Lee grabs Kento’s arm and wants to end it, dragging him to his feet for another Saito suplex, but Kento flips out of it (almost) and gets the arm trap… Lee holds his ground and breaks, but a roundhouse misses, and Kento gets a flying knee. Lee’s out on his feet and only knows enough to fight the arms being trapped, but he can’t do it forever. He fights off the trap attempt, but Kento gets another knee to the head and finally the German Trap slams shut for the pin at 31:04.

I can see why someone (such as Meltzer) would think this a match of the year contender, but there was so much stalling early on and gaps between moves where neither man would pursue. It felt like the two had a 20-minute match planned and were told to go 30 at the last minute, so they added sequences and stalling that went nowhere. Hey, it’s still a good main event and had the big fight feel with the crowd into it… I just would’ve liked something tighter. ***1/4 After the match, Kento is helped up and a fellow wrestler puts the belt around his waist before German suplexing him to signal his intent to be the next challenger.

STARDOM Championship: Momo Watanabe (champion) vs. Jungle Kyona (challenger)

Watanabe is the new ace of STARDOM now that we stole Io Shirai. She’s defended the title 10 times in a row, and #11 would be a new record for a single reign. Standing in her way is the ever popular Jungle Kyona, always a bridesmaid in Stardom and never a bride. She pushed Watanabe to the limit in an earlier defense, and now they rematch in Kyona’s hometown. Kyona’s dad is even one of the flower presenters. With all this on her side, Vince McMahon would be salivating at the chance to job her out.

Code of Honor to start. Lockup, and Kyona backs Momo into the ropes before giving a clean break. Momo with a headlock, and a series of stalemates on shoulderblocks ensues. Kyona knocks over Momo, who pops up and kicks Kyona, who pops up as well and the two are nose-to-nose. Kyona wins a forearm contest, but she runs into a dropkick. Snapmare and soccer kick by Momo follows, getting one. Momo and Kyona block each other until Kyona catches Momo’s kick and gets a dragon screw. She then works the leg – the right leg, because Japan don’t play by your rules – including splashing the leg and wrapping it around the middle rope.

She then dropkicks the knee of Momo, who clings onto the bottom rope to stop the onslaught. Kyona drags her away and works the leg some more, getting two. Hammer throw, but Momo sends Kyona to the apron on a blind charge. Momo then tries to kick Kyona through the ropes, but that’s a very bad idea as Kyona catches the leg and drops it on the middle rope. Back in, it gets two. Kyona with a kneebar, but Momo makes the ropes. Kyona kicks the leg out of Momo’s leg a few times before getting kicks to the back and a Broski Boot in the ropes.

Kyona runs into a dropkick, then a running one in the corner, as Momo’s leg only hurts when she’s not on offense apparently. A seated dropkick follows for two. Momo with a stiff kick to Kyona (with the bad leg – sloppy), then she forearms Kyona down after some more kicks. Okay, it’s pretty clear all the leg work’s gonna mean nothing here.

Momo stomps a mudhole in Kyona in the corner, then picks her up. Kyona weakly swings at Momo and is booted down for her trouble. Another kick and Momo just throws Kyona down for two. Second rope missile dropkick by Momo sends Kyona out of the ring, but Kyona catches Momo’s running apron kick and gives Momo the Kevin Owens Apron Powerbomb! (Note: the ref can be heard counting here, but in Japan, referee countout counts are both faster-paced and require a 20.)

Back in, and a Ventura Body Vice into a backbreaker allows Kyona to get a Boston Crab. Momo makes the ropes. Momo then kicks Kyona away and gets a soccer kick to flatten her. Spinning Rock Bottom from Momo gets two. Momo goes up, but Kyona meets her there. After a long slugfest, Kyona gets a T-Bone superplex on Momo! She clotheslines the back and goes up, and it’s a splash to the back to set up the Sharpshooter! After a long crawl (during which she almost breaks the hold), Momo makes the ropes.

Kyona fights for a Karelin lift, but Momo turtles to stop it. Kyona picks her up for Plan B but gets roundhouse kicked. Meteora by Momo misses, but she catches a Kyona clothesline attempt into a cradle for two. Hook kick by Momo, and now the Meteora connects, for two. Kyona with a lariat out of nowhere for one. They knock each other silly with forearms for a double KO. The ref has the count over the PA system, but they’re both up enough at 9.

Momo charges with double knees to Kyona, then a second rope Meteora, and one more off the top, but it’s still two. Crossface chickenwing by Momo, into a tiger suplex (Momo can’t bridge from the bad back). Momo tries another, but Kyona rolls out and slugs Momo into the corner. Corner clotheslines and Kyona lifts Momo up, and the Muscle Buster (which has Kyona already thinking of how her title reign will go) only gets two much to her dismay.

Powerbomb try by Kyona is reversed to an Air Raid Crash for two. Kyona stops Momo and tries a sliding lariat, but Momo catches her in the crossface chickenwing! Kyona’s almost out, but she fires herself up and makes the ropes. Kyona escapes a dragon suplex and catches Momo in a pop up powerbomb for two. Kyona goes up top, but the Superfly Splash misses and Momo gets a half-nelson suplex for two. Hook kick gets a very close two as Kyona’s refusing to stay down. So Momo pulls out her death card, a pumphandle half-nelson suplex with bridge, and that gets the pin at 21:22 to set the record.

Whether you liked the finish I guess depends on which lady you wanted to achieve her dream – personally I wanted the hometown girl to win so I was a bit disappointed. Plus, Momo ignoring five minutes of leg work was pretty bad. But the drama was off the charts and the finish was crazy good, so I can’t be too angry. ***1/2 After the match, Momo takes the mic, and HEY! SUBTITLES! WOOHOO! She thanks the crowd for being there as she set the record, noting it was the toughest in her title reign so far. She then allows Kyona, who is near tears, to go ahead and address her fans. Geez, Momo, read the friggin room.

Kyona, who normally at this point would probably want to crawl in a hole, says she is sorry for her failure. She says the cheers allow her to keep getting back up, no matter how often she loses. She asks Momo to keep winning so that Kyona can be the one to end that title reign, and she promises to return to Nagoya as champion. Okay, Stardom has to pay that off down the line. You don’t dangle that and not come through.

Well, that was tons of fun! A nice variety of stuff, men’s and women’s, big-time and small-time, yesterday and today. Overall, I gotta say that was an awesome playlist. Thanks for putting it together, Lawrence, and at some point down the line we’ll do this again some Friday night as Andy PG Does Japan continues! Thanks for reading, everyone!