Mike Reviews – NJPW Nexess VI – Part Three (Matches 7-9)

Konnichiwa!

It’s time to close out this New Japan review, as we watch the final three matches from the Nexess VI show at the Tokyo Dome from May 2005.

This week we’ve got Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Jushin Liger, Masahiro Chono and Mistuharu Misawa all involved in some matches, so hopefully we get a good mixture of match quality and star power.

The event has been pretty so-so thus far, and hasn’t really felt “Dome Worthy”, so I’m hoping we at least get a strong closing stretch at the very least.

The event is emanating from the Tokyo Dome on the 14th of May 2005

Match Seven
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Champs: Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs Kendo Kashin and Manabu Nakanishi

Nak and Tana were a team here, but they would eventually be better known as rivals and had many a classic match with one another. They’d actually Main Evented the Dome against one another in January 2005 for the IWGP Under 30 belt, which Nakamura won and promptly vacated, leading to the belt being liquidated. Kashin and Nakanishi are good workers but it probably would have been a bigger and better match if they’d swapped out Kashin for Tenryu, as he was teaming on and off with Nakanishi during this period.

The video package would seem to suggest that Kashin and Nakanishi were in a stable with Yuji Nagata and Kazuyuki Fujita at the time of this show, which isn’t a bad collection of guys actually. The challengers actually do the Gracie Train down to the ring as well in a funny touch. Tana was the current holder of the New Japan Cup as well at this time, so you could see that he was starting to get more and more of a push so it wasn’t completely out of nowhere when he finally won the top belt in 2006.

Kashin shows off his usual anti-social attitude by ripping up the declaration prior to the match. Kashin and Nakamura start us out and the wrestling is really good, with lots of nice stuff on the mat and some slick counters for good measure. Nakamura didn’t really have much of a personality yet outside of “Young Guy who is good at MMA”, but that kind of makes sense as to why he was tagged up with Tana, as he was already starting to show some of his future Rock Star persona. He clearly has some female fans in the crowd, who start shouting for him the second he tags in.

Tana and Nakanishi do a bit together and it’s decent as well in its own way, with more of a focus on stuff like knuckle-locks due to both men being the more muscular member of their respective tandems. Nakanishi always seems so incredibly uncoordinated, but he manages to make it work for him somehow. He has a certain charm to him that makes up a bit for his plodding nature, and he’s capable of having good matches when it there with the right kind of opponent.

The challengers do some double team spots on The Champs, but also have a couple of moments of miscommunication that the fans are amused by. In a nice touch they actually do some of the double team moves that we saw them practicing in the pre-match video package, which is a fun way of paying that off. The crowd react to the spots as well. The Champs manage to survive that part of the match though and get themselves back into it, with Tana doing a super impressive hot tag segment.

The finishing stretch is good fun, with Kashin and Nakanishi poaching their partners’ trademark submission moves, as Kashin puts Nakamura in a Torture Wrack and Nakanishi puts Tana in an arm bar. The crowd really starts getting into the action as well, especially when the challengers fire them up prior to doing stereo lariats. Some of the action is a little sloppy (mostly from Nakanishi) but it has good energy to it and all four guys are clearly working hard. Nakamura gets a chance to show some fire at one stage and he does very well.

The Champs do some double teaming of their own at one stage with a double Saving Grace on Kashin, but Nakanishi is able to break up the count at two. Eventually things break down with Tana and Nakanishi fighting outside whilst Nakamura and Kashin go at it inside. Nakanishi and Tana get back into the ring and Nakanishi goes for his Torture Wrack into a TKO move on Tana, but Tana’s stray leg catches Kashin in the face. Tana slips out of the move and sends Nakanishi to the floor before following with a TOPE SUICIDA, whilst Nakamura finishes Kashin back inside the ring with an arm bar.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: NAKAMURA & TANAHASHI
RATING: ***3/4

There was an occasional moment of sloppiness, but overall I really enjoyed that and thought it was a strong match, especially once they hit the finishing stretch. Kashin and Nakanishi not being entirely used to tagging with one another and making mistakes was a good story, and you could have conceivably gone either way with it as they could have worked through it to win or ended up losing because of it, which was the finish we got

The Champs celebrate following that whilst the challenges storm off.

Match Eight
Masahiro Chono and Jushin Liger Vs Mitsuharu Misawa and Tatsumi Fujinami

Now this is a match that feels Dome Worthy!

Chono and Misawa have worked one another at The Dome before, but in reality they brought Misawa in here because NOAH was a much hotter company than New Japan was at the time so they were hoping that booking Misawa would help with the ticket sales. Yes, Pro-Wrestling NOAH was once a bigger and more successful company than New Japan was. Liger is in full Heel Battle Liger black attire here, although he retains his cheerful anime entrance music. It’s always so odd to me to see New Japan fans chanting “MI-SA-WA” to his entrance music, but then again there could be a fair few casual fans in there that came specifically just to see him.

Fujinami starts out with Liger and actually looks pretty good, working at a decent clip for a bloke his age. Of course these days he’d probably be wrestling for the GHC Title if he worked for NOAH, which has somehow managed to become a version of World Japan that doesn’t suck. Chono and Misawa do a bit after that, and you can feel the crackle in the air as they go at it. To be honest though, I’m more interested in seeing Liger and Misawa go at it because that’s a combination I don’t think I’ve ever seen together before.

Chono and Misawa’s section is good, with Misawa getting the better of things from a technical perspective so Chono has to cheat by doing things like eye rakes and whatnot to hold his own, which is a decent story and the action is solid. Liger and Misawa do get to go at it, and it’s mostly a slug fest actually, which I wasn’t expecting, but it’s good nonetheless and neither man holds back. Liger even manages to heave Misawa up into a Liger Bomb at one stage, before slapping the crap out of him straight after. Misawa fires back with his traditional elbow strikes and Liger sells them fantastically.

Misawa and Fujinami run wild at one stage and send the Heels bailing to the floor, but eventually Fujinami gets cut off and worked over in the Heel corner. Chono even does a crazy dive to the floor at one stage, bonking his head on the railings outside the ring in the process in a scary situation for a man with a history of neck problems, but thankfully it doesn’t seem to hurt him that much. Fujinami sells this section of the match well, and eventually Misawa has seen enough and comes in without a tag to send Chono outside the ring for a dive of his own.

Fujinami gets a monster pop for getting a superplex on Liger and then follows with a dive of his own off the apron. Man, these four guys are WORKING here brother! The only downside is that we don’t get much of a finishing stretch, as Fujinami wears Liger down with a Dragon Sleeper before rolling him into a pinning hold for the three count whilst Misawa deals with Chono.

WINNERS: FUJINAMI & MISAWA
RATING: ***1/2

I enjoyed that but it also felt like it had another gear that they could have kicked into. It was good action though and the crowd loved all of the wrestler’s traditional trademark spots. If you aren’t as big into nostalgia as I am then it might not rate as highly for you, but I loved watching these four legends go at it and it enhanced the match for me, which I would still argue was a mechanically well worked one

The winners get trophy for some reason there, even though it was just a tag match with nothing but pride on the line.

Main Event
IWGP Heavyweight Title
Champ: Satoshi Kojima Vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Kojima and Tenzan used to tag prior to this but Kojima jumped from New Japan to All Japan, winning the AJPW Triple Crown of Titles in the process. New Japan had booked an IWGP Vs Triple Crown bout back in February 2005 with a really clever ending, where it looked like they were going to have Kojima and Tenzan go to an hour broadway only to have Tenzan get knocked out “for real”, thus meaning that Kojima won the IWGP Heavyweight Title in the process and got to hold both Titles. This bout is Tenzan’s rematch, as he looks to win the belt back for New Japan.

This one certainly has the “big fight feel” that all the kids like to talk about. Kojima looks like such a douche in his Edgar Davids styled orange shades. Both of these guys are great “gateway” wrestlers if you’ve only ever watched American wrestling but want to give Japanese wrestling a try, as they work in a western inspired manner but still retain that Japanese flavour to what they do. Tenzan from 2003-2005 in particular is almost the perfect guy to get into if you want to see if Japanese wrestling is for you.

The start is pretty bonkers, as Kojima fires off two Koji Cutters (Diamond Cutter/RKO) but Tenzan shrugs it off and sends him to the floor before following with a dive. However, after that high octane start we then go into both guys trading holds on the mat and wrestling one another patiently to try and find an opening. It’s a bit jarring to be honest, even though the wrestling itself is decent. If you ignore that wacky bit at the start though, then they’re doing the traditional slow build here and executing it well.

The technical wrestling builds to then trading strikes with one another, and that is very good as well, especially when Tenzan fires off some of his traditional Mongolian Chops as the crowd hisses along with him. Tenzan delivers some big body shots, which is another example of them setting something up in the pre-match video package and then paying it off in the match itself, as there was a section in the video where we saw Tenzan sparring with a boxing coach and throwing some bombs. Say what you want about New Japan during this period, but they could still tell a story when they just focused on the serious wrestling aspect of the promotion.

The match continues to be a tug of war, with both men trading momentum and running through their trademark big moves, such as Kojima coming off the top with an elbow drop and Tenzan later coming off them with a diving head butt. They’re telling the story of the two men being evenly matched and doing it well, and both men’s offence is looking good too. The match itself has built well also, again if you ignore the odd bit at the start, as they’ve moved on from mat wrestling, to strikes, to firing off bigger and bigger moves as the match has worn on. What do you think Alan?

Kojima manages to survive both the Anaconda Vice and the Tenzan Tombstone Driver, and fights back with a wacky submission hold of his own that looks a bit like a Kimura, but Tenzan is able to make the ropes to break the hold. The crowd hasn’t been making a tonne of noise but you can tell that they’re watching intently and they do pop for the big moves, especially when Kojima lariats Tenzan in the back of the head and they tease that they’re going to do the knock out finish once again. Tenzan sells that spectacularly, as does Kojima actually when he realises he might have Tenzan on the ropes.

Tenzan won’t stay down though and the crowd is into the drama of him surviving against the odds and overcoming his previous defeat. Seeing New Japan get something like this so right only makes it all the more maddening when you think of all the nonsense they also did during this period. Kojima also gets to do some big kick outs, including from a Tenzan Moonsault, but Tenzan SPIKES him with another Tenzan Tombstone Driver and that’s enough for the three count after a hard hitting collision.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: HIROYOSHI TENZAN
RATING: ***3/4

This perhaps needed a bit more time so they could REALLY bust out all the big Dome moves and drama, but it was still a darn great wrestling bout with some excellent storytelling thrown in. The bit at the start seemed really random and didn’t really play into the match going forward, but once they settled into the gradual slow build and then started throwing BOMBS at one another the match got really good. Take out the wacky bit at the start and give them an extra 5-10 minutes to make it even more epic, and this match could have been ****+

Kazuyuki Fujita storms the ringside area following the match, and he would end up defeating Tenzan for the belt before dropping it to Brock Lesnar later in the year in Brock’s first New Japan match. Fujita even gets into the ring and slams Tenzan. The crowd is pretty cold for the angle to be honest, as Fujita had been Champion the previous year and it hadn’t been a good reign, ending as it did with Fujita essentially pinning himself in a sleeper because he didn’t want to do business with Kensuke Sasaki. Tenzan’s constant stop-start push did quite a bit of damage to him and he was never really able to break out as The Ace of the company as a result.

In Conclusion

The last three matches were all of the calibre you’d want for a big show, so they helped bail the show out somewhat, but this still didn’t really “feel” like a Dome show outside of a few fleeting moments. It’s easy to see why NOAH was winning the promotional war at the time, especially as their Dome show later in the year featured Kenta Kobashi Vs Kensuke Sasaki in a match that blew away everything on this show and felt like the epic big Dome showcase that this show didn’t really have. The Main Event was the closest they got, but it didn’t quite break that barrier in my opinion.

Did you like this format or splitting a bigger show up into more easily digestible chunks? Would you be interested in me reviewing more Japanese shows from this era in this format? Would you like me to go back to reviewing territories in the Wednesday slot? If I watched some classic ROH from 2002-05 would you be interested? Lemon Curry?

Let me know either in the comments or shoot me a line at [email protected]