Toshiaki Kawada Vs Kensuke Sasaki (09/10/2000 NJPW)
Heavyweight slugfests are pretty much a staple in All Japan these days, amongst certain wrestlers, yet it’s in this setting that the style particularly fits. While the formation of NOAH, and the departure of many top stars, created a major upset within AJPW’s business, arguably without such a move, we would never have been witness to the cross-promotional fallout that took place following the faction split. As such, and on the heels of All-Japan peer, Fuchi, making a challenge within the New Japan ring, Kawada would call out NJPW’s ace in Sasaki – forming one of the biggest dream match-ups to have ever come about. Not only was it ace Vs ace, but it was, also, company Vs company for the right to claim the throne of Japanese wrestling. These two weren’t going to wrestle a technical match, nor would they focus on any particular strategy or focus on specific weaknesses or parts; it was all about taking as much offence as one could until someone couldn’t go on any longer. With a sold-out, 64,000 strong crowd behind them, both men proved that a modern direction nor the heavy-talent of NOAH was needed to capture the pure essence of Japanese wrestling.
Toshiaki Kawada Vs Gen'ichiro Tenryu (28/10/2000 AJPW)
To be fair, he did have two big roles within the space of this month to allow for the matches he had but, to his credit, Kawada was still on fire in both and more of the reason why two phenomenal matches came so close together. The story of Tenryu’s return to AJPW, following having left a younger Kawada’s side mid-feud against Tsuruta, and the story of role model vs emulator were intertwined so beautifully here. The vicious kicks of Kawada, which have brought on victory over countless others before, would be met with Tenryu’s contempt almost as if the old man was disgusted in how light Kawada worked. It would be a reaction that would cost him, in a sense, when Kawada busted his nose and, thus, painted his face in crimson blood in the process. I’m dismayed, though, in Tenryu’s leg work leading to literally nothing. I’m not one to expect the finish to come as a compliment to said work, but I do expect the continuity to maintain some level of believability. It was obvious that Tenryu applied his submissions as a means of negating Kawada’s kicks yet, almost as soon as Kawada freed himself, he was back to using his legs. Still, in the larger picture, it was but a drop in the ocean.
Kaoru Ito & Momoe Nakanishi & Nanae Takahashi Vs Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda & Kumiko Maekawa (23/11/2000 AJW)
It would be hard for any match to follow the previous two, but this match was fucking shit, regardless. I’m not sure of how the rules work in this promotion but they’re most certainly at odds with those of what I’m used to. For one, I didn’t know you could interject yourself back into a match once you had escaped the cage. Even so, surely you’re still flagged as having escaped so when you return to aid your team mate, and they escape, you win? To be fair, the weird re-entry rule is weird, but the surrounding means is fine under that circumstance. Fine doesn’t make their work any less bad, though. Aside from the chaotic (and not truly in a good way) start, once the escapes start this match loses all sense of logic. Surely if you’re three-one up, you’d choose rather to focus on knocking your solitary opponent out and escaping together rather than one at a time? Doing so just leaves your opponent open to make a comeback, as was evident here. The babyfaces were always going to win, however, and I couldn’t truly believe anything else. Play it up how you want, when she made the surprise re-entry to aid the escape, she basically dominated all three members. I may be using a lot of pronouns in this write-up but it’s all due to not wishing to even research who each member was. They were all terrible, and I do not wish to see them, again. I mean, those abysmal chair shots, jeez-fuck.
Kazunari Murakami vs Yuki Ishikawa (26/11/2000 BattlARTS)
Wait, I thought professional wrestling was meant to be fake. Evidentially not. Murakami must be composed of 80% hatred and 20% PRIDE~! if the stare-down before the match begins is anything to go by. His bludgeoning offence is, also, evidence of this. If anything, though, this match is indicative of the fact that wrestling does not need to be much else than an emulation of a realistic fight to succeed at what it does. It also lays as proof that you do not need to work a specific structure in delivering a believable win, considering the reality of grappling. Ishikawa, despite being bloodied and dominated, would gain control with the grasp of a wild kick by Murakami, allowing him to throw on a winning sleeper.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima Vs Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Nagata (22/11/2000 NJPW)
If I never have to see this type of match, again, it’d be too soon. The penchant for no-selling was laughable and so, too, was the set-up for a lot of the moves. None more so than the leg-hook roll into a pin on Tenzan . Kojima also finds himself in a figure four that makes The Miz look like a technical wizard. Rubbish tail-end, to boot, and this is another match that I cannot help but wonder how it ended up on this list.
Minoru Tanaka Vs AKIRA (10/12/2000 NJPW)
I’m truly upset that this match was JIP and that the remaining 10 minutes is lost as what we got was absolutely stunning. The leg work and fast-paced action were about as much fun as I’ve had in any of these matches through the year. This was an absolutely stellar performance from both men and a quick dip that everyone should make, even if they are not participating in the project.
Jushin Liger, Minoru Tanaka & Shinya Makabe Vs Super Delfin, Takahiro Murahama & Tsubasa (14/12/2000 NJPW)
I should probably rewatch this before the project is finished as I was pretty distracted going in. Still, I was enamoured by the heel work of the Osaka squad and how they isolated Tanaka throughout. Just when you thought the faces could make a comeback, one of the heels would pounce out of nowhere and only make you realize the comeback was feigned only to lull the faces back into their hands. It’s because of this that we’re treated to a great FIP comeback once the tag is made that only helps the match ebb itself out in remarkable fashion.
Masa Fuchi & Toshiaki Kawada Vs Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka (14/12/2000 NJPW)
Who needs a “healthy and functioning” roster when a promotion has Fuchi and Kawada absolutely dominating the world with their performances? The great performances didn’t stop with the AJPW stars, either. The specialty of this match is in how well both Nagata and Iizuka stepped up to the plate in creating a cross-promotion war worthy of the legacy they all brought. There’s a final moment where Nagata hangs with Kawada in delivering believable strikes and kicks, and when he gets the better of the toothless punisher the victory feels natural even despite the reluctance I’d feel in reading that without having seen it. The stars of the show, though, are the All-Japan mainstays with Fuchi delivering the badass old man role as perfectly as ever. The difference in talent lies pretty obvious at times (their nuances in their holds, for instance) but one should, perhaps, expect that looking at the name-listing. It’s still comparable to noting the difference between platinum and gold, however. All four men had large shoes to fill, coming straight off the previous Osaka Pro/NJPW match, but they certainly allowed those expectations to drive them to surpass their limits. I’ve seen this heralded as five stars, Meltzer ranks it as the third best match of the year (on a global scale) and DVDVR had this as their number one puroresu match for the year. My own expectations, now placed highly above the normal reach of talented workers, were equally met and, thus, disappointment was not found this day. It’s every bit as good as the hype.
Jun Akiyama Vs Kenta Kobashi (23/12/2000 NOAH)
What a way to close the year. With NOAH building themselves up as the next big promotion in the fan’s eyes, a 12,000 strong audience packs in to watch the two lead stars duke it out in the “first” big-time NOAH main event. Of course that’s indicative of the match going long but that’s no slight on its quality. Over half-an-hour of these two is, of course, never enough. This wasn’t as good a performance as his match against Misawa, but Akiyama continues his roll of greatness in just about everything he brings. His cocky mannerisms are second-to-none, here, and I smirked when he had to relinquish a submission only to lightly tap Kenta’s neck almost as if to say “I’ve got your number, old man”. Kenta’s arm-selling, as expected, delivers in spades, too. The combined chemistry, thus, epitomizes why both wrestlers are so well respected for their craft. Their flow is perfect, and they manage to believably shift control between each other at the exact moments it’s needed to keep the match piqued. Not to mention it also helps that they aren’t scared of killing each other with high-impact moves; most especially the use of Kenta’s Burning Hammer. Ultimately, this is a very fine end to the 2000 set, and a very fine addition to this list of great matches.