I’ve recently picked up some New Japan shows from their “dark period” in the 00’s, and this Tokyo Dome event was one of them, so I’ll be chopping it up and reviewing it over the next few weeks in my regular Wednesday slot here on the Blog of DOOM. I’ll probably separate it into three parts as the show has nine matches, but I’ll be flexible with that and amend it if and when I need to.
New Japan Pro Wrestling was pretty much on its arse from about 2002 to 2006 until Hiroshi Tanahashi won the top belt and rescued them from disintegration. The issues were myriad, with Antonio Inoki’s scattershot stop-start booking being the biggest, along with a fascination of signing up guys from MMA and pushing them over all the regular roster members, whether they could actually work or not.
Even though this was a pretty miserable period for the company I’ve always been kind of fascinated by it, and because 2003ish was when I first really became aware of New Japan this era holds the slimmest slice of nostalgia for me as well. At the very least we should get a few good matches here if the line-up is anything to go by, so let’s watch the first three matches!
The event is emanating from the Tokyo Dome on the 14th of May 2005. There are apparently 35,000 people in there according to CageMatch.com, but New Japan regularly used to lie about attendances during this period because they were so embarrassing after a certain point that they needed to try and save face. Indeed, things were getting so bad that at one stage there was genuine conversation about no longer running The Dome anymore.
I do like the classic New Japan theme they play at the start here. I wonder if they no longer have the rights for that these days? We get the rundown of the card, in English, from a guy who sounds like he’s trying to do an American accent.
Osamu Nishimura and Yutaka Yoshie Vs Togi Makabe and Toru Yano
Nishimura is a veteran grappler who has worked all over the world and is known for being a bit of a technical wizard. He retains the traditional old school look of black trunks and boots that you’d see from the likes of Inoki and Fujinami. Yoshie is a big husky feller who could work when both motivated and in there with the right guy, but he never became a big home grown star for the company, and eventually would leave in 2006. Makabe and Yano are still part of New Japan’s roster to this day, although Yano was doing a slightly more serious bad ass gimmick during this period.
Makabe and Yano are using “Black Betty” as entrance music here, which I can’t hear without thinking of Adam Pearce. The cover version of “Immigrant Song” that Makabe would go on to use suited him far better. Yoshie is so big here that he’s walking around like he’s Giant Haystacks or something. It’s kind of jarring to see Yano working as a serious Heel wrestler without any of the comedy antics or mannerisms that he’s known for today. Makabe and Yano immediately jump their opponents and brawl with them outside of the ring for a bit.
Nishimura gets worked over back inside the ring, and he sells that well, with his cries and yelps echoing in the near silent Tokyo Dome. That’s just got to be plain unnerving if you’re one of the wrestlers. Eventually Nishimura gets in a flurry on Yano and its hot tag Yoshie, as he squishes both heels in the corner with his ample derriere. Nishimura comes back in with a knee drop off the top onto Yano, but Makabe lariats him and that allows Yano to get a Brain Buster for three.
WINNERS: MAKABE & YANO
Just a match really. Nothing wrong with it, but it wasn’t especially thrilling. Yoshie was barely involved and looked like he could barely move when he was
Yano’s theme plays seeing as he won the fall, and it’s the same theme he still uses today.
Minoru Suzuki Vs Alexander Otsuka
Both of these men have shooting backgrounds, with Suzuki working for Pancrase whilst Otsuka worked for BattlArts. I believe Pancrase had legitimate shoots in it, whereas BattlArts was always a worked promotion that tried to present itself as a shoot, but please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that front. Otsuka did compete in real shoot fights, but most of those were for PRIDE. He didn’t win that often but he did fight a lot of top guys, including Anderson Silva.
Suzuki of course has his “Kaze Ni Nare” song, whilst Otsuka comes out to a love ballad of some kind, so the entrances alone eat up about 4-5 minutes here. The crowd doesn’t even sing along with Suzuki’s entrance song, the ingrates! Once the match starts its Shoot-Style, which basically means they work it more like an MMA fight as opposed to a traditional pro wrestling match. If that isn’t your jam then you probably won’t like the match, but I happen to quite like it as a style and have enjoyed me some BattlArts over the years.
Otsuka does well in the opening exchanges but then makes the mistake of mocking Suzuki, which leads to Suzuki killing him with a series of knees and kicks. Otsuka sells it all really well, but Suzuki likely isn’t holding back so he probably has no choice. Otsuka decides to Pro-Wrestle things up a bit with a rana and some suplexes, with a delayed German Suplex getting two in a good near fall. Suzuki eventually proves too much for him though and puts him out with a sleeper before following up with the Gotch Style Piledriver for three.
WINNER: MINORU SUZUKI
They didn’t get a lot of time, but they used it well and had a fun match. It was mostly Suzuki destroying Otsuka to be honest, but Otsuka sold it well and got some spots of his own in before eventually succumbing
Suzuki cuts a promo into the camera on his way back following the victory. Otsuka gets a nice round of applause whilst leaving, and he earned it with the kicking he got there.
The video package for the next match features a dance version of “Song 2” by Blur, which is an odd one I must say.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Champs: Koji Kanemoto and Wataru Inoue Vs Hirooki Goto and Minoru Tanaka
Kanemoto is one of the all-time greatest workers of the New Japan Junior Heavyweight division, with silky technical skills and smooth high-flying mixed in with some devastating strikes and submissions. Inoue was pretty much a career mid-carder, but he could work and hold his own with the bigger stars. Goto is a Heavyweight these days and is one of New Japan’s most famous “nearly men” due to how many times he’s failed to win the big one. Tanaka is another guy from BattlArts and likes his Shoot-Style, being one of the best practitioners of that style. He’d previously been masked super hero “The Heat” but now he’s back to being his usual surly self.
Goto and Tanaka are actually part of “CTU”, which has nothing to do with Jack Bauer but was actually the name of Jushin Liger’s Heel Junior Heavyweight faction from this period (Yes, Liger was a Heel, and a darned good one actually, although deep down I think everyone still wanted to cheer for him). Kanemoto’s “Bring It Back” entrance theme is brilliant and still one of my favourites from New Japan in the 90’s and 00’s. Goto gives Kanemoto the big stink eye before the match starts, which likely won’t end well for him. Just a hunch.
Indeed, a big story point of the match is the younger Goto trying to go toe to toe with his more experienced opponents, and invariably getting battered in the process. At one point Inoue even holds Goto in a camel clutch position so that Kanemoto can just tee off on him in brutal fashion. Class I think we’ve learnt a very important life lesson which is not to screw around with Koji Kanemoto. Learn that lesson well, because it might save your life. Eventually Minoru has to bail his partner out by dragging Kanemoto to the floor and getting in some cheap shots.
Kanemoto gets worked over for a bit after that but eventually manages to tag out to Inoue, who gets a flurry before getting caught in a Goto triangle choke. Inoue powers out of that though and it’s back to Goto getting creamed by the Champs, with Minoru trying to sneak attack them as and when he can. Minoru is doing an admirable job of subverting the usual babyface role of being the veteran wrestler trying to carry the less experienced rookie through a match against far more experienced opponents, and playing it as a Heel instead. It helps that he’s a great worker of course.
Eventually even Minoru takes a kicking from the Champs too, but rather than go for the win Kanemoto instead drags Goto in for a face wash before soup canning him out of the ring for a bodyslam on the floor. This allows Minoru some time to recover and we get a submission battle back inside as a result, with Minoru going for the arm bar whilst Kanemoto goes for the ankle lock. Both men manage to get their holds applied at certain points, but neither ends up tapping and the match continues.
The finishing stretch is executed well, with Goto continuing to mostly get destroyed whenever he comes in, but he’s too tough/stupid to stay down. Both teams have moments of miscommunication and the crowd is getting into the match now, which is something the Juniors could find difficult to achieve sometimes when wrestling at The Dome. Inoue holds Minoru in a face lock on the ramp so that Kanemoto can work over Goto unimpeded, and he looks to have it won with the ankle lock but Minoru manages to counter to a Brain Buster out on the ramp before breaking up the hold in a great submission tease spot.
Goto gets some near falls on Kanemoto, with Kanemoto timing his kick outs great and the crowd really biting on the possibility that Goto might defeat the veteran. Eventually Minoru catches Kanemoto with a couple of kicks and that allows Goto to get the Yoshi-Tonic for the three count and the belts. Wow, they got me there as I felt for sure the finish would be Goto eventually getting killed, but they bowled a Yorker instead and had him get the win.
WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: CTU
Minoru is pretty gracious and gives his partner his props following that, letting him celebrate with both belts before collecting his. It’s strange they’re giving the Heel stable such a heart-warming moment, but that’s New Japan in 2005 for you I guess.
Well that will do us for the first part of this review. The first two matches were okay but not really “Dome worthy” in my eyes. That Junior Heavyweight tag match was great though and it really kept me guessing throughout.
If you enjoyed this then join me for Part Two next week!