Kawada vs Sekimoto, Z-1 title, Z-1 1/1/10. The crowd is not up to the usual Korakuen standards, which hurts. The thing I like about this match is the distinctly Kings Road flavor of strike exchanges and transitions.
Ohtani vs Kuniyoshi Wada, Lock-Up 1/17/10. Retirement match for Wada. Who is Wada you ask? Um... he's a dude whose notable accomplishment is getting battered by Ohtani in his retirement match.
Nagata vs Ishii, Lock-Up 1/17/10. In 2006 these two hated and stiffed each other, which was nice, but Ishii didn't even last 10 minutes one-on-one. This time around he's got more big-league experience and is better able to go strike-for-strike.
Hidaka & Sawa vs Usuda & Yoshikawa, Yoshikawa retirement match, Battlarts 2/7/10. Fight Yoshikawa! Fight you glorious bastard! Don't you die on me!
Shuji Ishikawa vs Danshoku Dino, DDT title, DDT 2/11/10, JIP. Dino goes balls-out, literally and figuratively. But the champ is not unprepared...
Sekimoto & Y. Sasaki vs Okabayashi & Shinobu, BJPW 2/13/10. There was pretty much no way I wasn't going to like this. It isn't the sort of overwhelming match they could have had at Korakuen, but it's still a very solid effort.
Shuji Ishikawa vs Sekimoto, DDT title, Union 2/28/10, JIP. The reason why Sekimoto doesn't have a broken neck is because he doesn't have a neck to break.
Masato Tanaka & Mochizuki vs Hidaka & Sawa, Z-1 3/2/10, slight clipping. Lots o' ACTION and HITTING. The first half is uneven due to several restholds, but the second half is sprint-y and the crowd gets nice and hot. "Lean and mean" Tanaka shows his versatility here, looking right at home in a junior spotfest after having dropped his '90s bulk.
Nakanishi vs Tanaka, NJ Cup 3/14/10. Nakanishi is ON POINT with his chops, and Tanaka does an admirable job of overcoming the size gap. I clipped out a couple minutes in the middle; you won't miss it.
Sekimoto & Y. Sasaki vs T. Sasaki & Kobayashi, Big Japan 3/19/10. Yoshihito brings the HATE! Abby Jr brings the EFFORT! Korakuen Hall brings the REACTING TO STUFF! At first, this looks like it'll be standard fare until THE SASAKIS EXPLODE~. Then Abby is all "I WILL SCHOOL YOU WITH TECHNIQUE" and I am thoroughly stoked. Lots of great exchanges and nifty details. Abby's strike selling is so good. Abby deliberately going to suplexes for impact in the second half shows that he gets it. K-Hall luvs Abby and YOU luv Abby if you have a soul. I pegged this as the best match from Japan in 2010. That is a minority opinion to say the least, but I remain firm in saying that there's a lot to love if you're willing to give Abby a slight benefit-of-the-doubt when it comes to execution.
Tanahashi vs Naito, NJ Cup, NJ 3/20/10. I saw their match five months earlier first, and I regret it because this really sets things up for Naito as someone who can hang with the big names. Not only is he competitive with Tanahashi, but he does so while using Tanahashi's own tactics!
Sekimoto & Y. Sasaki vs K. Hashimoto & Takumi Tsukamoto, BJPW 3/22/10. I'm not entirely sure how it came to be that a non-televised Big Japan midcard match with an obvious result became more interesting and rewarding to me than your average big show main event, but here we are. They bring the effort while keeping it simple.
T. Sasaki vs Kawakami, BJPW 4/1/10. At first this seems like a rather run-of-the-mill singles match, with the underdog getting some offense and a nice nearfall. But then when you'd get the "veteran comes back easily and wins" part, Kawakami instead keeps plugging away with his elbow smash, and...?
Sekimoto & Y. Sasaki vs Shuji Ishikawa & Okabayashi, BJPW 4/1/10. A big tag for Shin Kiba, and after about the 5 minute mark they deliver a big match performance! There's a reason why a rematch was done at Korakuen in July.
Sekimoto vs Hoshino, BJPW 4/3/10. A solidly worked small-show singles match. Hoshino, currently a hardcore division fall guy, is actually better-suited to 'Strong BJ' style.
Y. Sasaki & Sawa vs K. Hashimoto & Takumi Tsukamoto, BJPW 4/3/10. I figured this would be reasonably enjoyable 'vets vs young lions' action, and indeed that's what it is!
Marufuji vs Liger, IWGP junior title, NJ 4/4/10, JIP. I do enjoy Liger splatting Marufuji with straightforward impact moves. It's a nice contrast to Marufuji's overly esoteric moveset.
Sekimoto vs Takanashi, DDT title, DDT 4/4/10. Sekimoto is Mr. Indy. Takanashi is scrawny and third-tier within DDT. It's the size AND rank mismatch that make this such a good underdog story. That and some big ole headbutts at the end.
Hashi vs Nohashi, Futen 4/24/10. On paper this looks like it would be Hashi against his opposite. The anti-Hashi, if you will. But that is not the case, and in fact Nohashi tries to beat Hashi at his own game: headbutts. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them. And then more after that.
Ikeda & The Sato Brothers vs Ono, Suruga & Moriyama, Futen 4/24/10, JIP. I'm not a fan of the Satos on offense, so I clipped out the Sato-heavy early part. The finishing run is all Ikeda, as he takes some wicked punch combos from Ono and then must contend with a fired-up Moriyama.
Usuda & Hikaru Sato vs Mashimo & Yamamoto, Kana Produce 4/29/10. Some nifty spots in this, but what really makes it worthwhile is the home stretch. Yamamoto, the obvious loss post, keeps getting in shots and holds on the stalwart Usuda. At first it seems like token jobber offense, but he keeps plugging away...
Negro Casas vs Liger, CMLL Middleweight Title, NJ 5/3/10. Casas busts out a wide variety of swank technical moves. I wasn't a fan of his at all coming in, but by the end I was rooting for him!
Nakamura vs Makabe, IWGP title, New Japan 5/3/10. Takes a little while to get going, but an unexpected development (and some high-impact moves) is enough to make this worthwhile. Oh and THE BEST VIDEO QUALITY OF ALL TIME. (Still true as of March '12)
Sekimoto vs Ibushi, DDT title, DDT 5/4/10, JIP. Sekimoto and Ibushi do that thing they do.
Kenny Omega vs YOSHIHIKO, DDT 5/5/10. In the same vein as YOSHIHIKO's match with Ibushi.
Sekimoto & Y. Sasaki vs T. Sasaki & Miyamoto, Big Japan 5/28/10. This matchup turned out to be quite good in 2008, and it's still good today. The Sasakis go at it, and Sekimoto nukes lil' Miyamoto a couple times.
Ito, Kobayashi & Shadow WX vs Kasai, Numazawa & Takeda, DM, Big Japan 5/28/10, JIP. Abby and Takeda go at it in a darn good finishing run.
Hashi vs Rui Hyugaji, Futen 5/30/10. Hyugaji is a young-ish wrestler from MPro who knows he's gotta bring it. Hashi can still bring it when given the opportunity, and he does so here. It goes under 10 minutes but they cram plenty of action in there.
Takeshi Ono & Takahiro Oba vs Kengo Mashimo & Manabu Suruga, Futen 5/30/10. Suruga used to wrestle as Manabu Hara. Ono is a shoot-style veteran who started in Battlarts. Oba has an unusual, caveman-esque clubbering approach to things. Lots of hard hitting and such being that it's Futen.
AKIRA vs Yoshihashi, Super Juniors, NJ 5/30/10. A smart, focused match that results in a young lion looking really good. Plus a rib-crunching finish!
DDT 5/30/10. A full episode covering the one-day annual singles tournament, with the winner getting a title shot. Continuity! Storytelling! The hardway cut of the year! DDT just keeps on keepin' on.
Y. Sasaki vs Kazuki Hashimoto, BJPW 6/16/10. 'Rookie punishment' matches rely on having a veteran who can dish out punishment and a rookie who shows fire in response. This match has both and thus is effective!
Necro vs Y. Sasaki, hardcore match, Big Japan 6/25/10. Necro towers over Yoshihito, which more than makes up for his flabby frame. Although Sasaki grew up in FMW and has spent years in Big Japan, I'd have to give Necro a significant edge in brawling. Both of them give a good effort considering that it's an indy house show being taped for a tiny DVD audience. Better nearfall run than one expects from a Mecro match.
Ikeda vs Moriyama, Futen 6/27/10. Good follow-up to their battle at the end of the April 6-man. Moriyama is overmatched in almost every way, but uses smarts and a never-say-die attitude to make this interesting.
Necro & Miyamoto vs Shuji Ishikawa & Hoshino, Big Japan 6/27/10. Ishikawa and Hoshino look like brothers but as near as I can tell are not. As you might expect this one is all about Necro. A tad bit too much wandering around outside the ring, but it pays off in a major way.
Y. Sasaki vs T. Sasaki, Big Japan 6/27/10. A heated, hard-hitting hatefest stemming from the May tag with them on opposite sides. One of the very rare instances of fans at Korakuen Hall not matching the intensity of the wrestling.
The DDT crew tries to get HARASHIMA ready for Sekimoto. DDT, the fed that has rampaging homosexuals and blow-up dolls, does the best Pure Sports Build of 2010. BELIEVE IT.
Solar vs Negro Navarro, Ultimo Fiesta 7/19/10. Lucha libre maestros go at it, and they have a ton of tricks to treat us with.
Sekimoto vs HARASHIMA, DDT title, DDT 7/25/10, JIP. The rest of DDT's top names couldn't stop Sekimoto, so HARASHIMA is the last line of defense. Does he have enough in his arsenal to overcome the size difference, or will Sekimoto's big moves put him down before he gets the chance?
Ishikawa vs Tsubakichi, Battlarts 8/8/10. The usual Battlarts stiffness, plus several extra-nifty submission grabs by Ishikawa.
Tanahashi vs Naito, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/8/10. Naito is young yet, and in his first year as a heavyweight he's already won the tag titles and made it into the G-1. He hangs with Tanahashi on the mat, and in the middle as they work each other over, and yet not long into the finish you still get a sense like Tanahashi is ready to go home any minute. Thus, the fans expect things to end quickly for Naito, yet he keeps fighting and giving Tanahashi trouble. At the start of the tour Naito got a fluke win over IWGP champ Makabe, but a win here would be far more meaningful. Just how far can he push one of New Japan's pillars?
Nagata vs Shiozaki, NJ G-1 Climax 2010. These two are able to dish out some dandy exchanges and sequences considering that this is a first-time meeting.
Nagata vs Takahashi, NJ G-1 Climax 2010. Nagata gets surprised by the youngster's strength early, and hammers him quite a bit in retaliation. Does young Yujiro have what it takes to beat one of the company's biggest names and get a career-making win at Sumo Hall?
Sekimoto & Mammoth Sasaki vs Yoshihito Sasaki & Okabayashi, BJPW 8/29/10. Hard-hitting, as 'Strong BJ' has come to be known for. Drags a lil' in the middle but the home stretch is dandy.
Sekimoto, Y. Sasaki, K. Hashimoto & Takumi Tsukamoto (orange tights) vs Okabayashi, Shinobu, Kazuhiro Tamura (lil guy) & Masato Shibata (tubby guy), BJPW 9/15/10. Fast-paced, action-packed, and topped off with some nasty lariat bumps. Strong BJ: the most reliable thing in 2010 Japan!
Hidaka vs Sawa, Z-1 juniors tournament, 9/19/10. Battlarts in Zero-One! Hard shots a-plenty, and Hidaka does some nasty work to the body.
Sekimoto, Y. Sasaki & Kawakami vs Okabayashi, Kazuki Hashimoto & Takumi Tsukamoto, BJPW 9/19/10. Lots of stiff shots, including Kawakami's reliably hard elbows. A wonderful underdog dynamic in that Oka's team is far less accomplished than Sekimoto's. Most of all, a breakout performance from the semi-mohawked Hashimoto. This one is a 2010 highlight!
Yujiro Yamamoto vs Tomoya Sato, Battlarts 9/26/10. I'll admit, I initially skipped this match because I hadn't yet become a fan of Yamamoto. Now that I am, I was able to appreciate how good he is. Tomoya Sato is a D-level indy wrestler, which gives Yamamoto the rare opportunity of being the higher-ranked person in a match, and he excels at it. Sato certainly doesn't come out of this looking like a random scrub who was used as cheap filler for the card. Also of note: the finish name includes the word "pillow".
Sawa vs Kyosuke Sasaki, Battlarts 9/26/10. Sasaki is tailor-made to be an opponent for Sawa. He's short, spunky, athletic, is willing to trade punches and headbutts, and he's got a solid shoot-style pedigree. They had good interactions before and I'd been hoping to see a singles match. Well, here it is!
Mashimo & Madoka vs Hashi & Suruga, Futen 9/26/10. I thought Hashi might do okay in Futen, but he wound up being a 2010 puro highlight thanks to his quick hands and hard head. Both members of the K-Dojo team will learn to respect the dome.
Ikeda vs Ono, Futen 9/26/10. Quite the sub-5-minute war, with plenty of huge strikes and tricky counters crammed in.
Nakamura vs Goto, NJ 10/11/10, JIP. Some nifty exchanges and solid nearfalls in the second half of this one.
Nagata & Kanemoto vs Shiozaki & Aoki, NJ 10/11/10. The hate is more focused in the first half than it is in the second, but boy oh boy is it hateful in there.
DDT 10/24/10. Featuring:
-Omega & Antonio Honda vs Keisuke Ishii & YOSHIHIKO, which is... a YOSHIHIKO match.
-Ibushi vs Hikaru Sato, which is the biggest match of Sato's career to this point and a big breakout for him.
-HARASHIMA vs Dino for the DDT title, with some innovative body part work from the champ.
Ikeda & Oba vs Mashimo & Hashi, Futen 10/24/10. Some downtime and goofy moments bring it down, but the extended Ikeda vs Hashi finish more than makes up for it. HARROWING.
Mashimo vs Hashi, Futen 11/14/10. If you saw what the two of them did in Futen-of-'10, you know to expect a lot of hard-hitting and generally solid shoot-style from two non-shoot-stylists. They don't disappoint.
HARASHIMA vs Hikaru Sato, DDT Title, DDT 11/14/10. Lots of tricked-out junior/shoot-style counter wrestling. Sato showed what he can do against Ibushi, and he follows up with another fine performance here.
Hikaru Sato & T. Matsunaga vs Dick Togo & Yasu Urano, DDT 11/17/10, JIP. I didn't do the clipping! The Sato vs Togo parts are quite good and do a lot to set up their title match.
Hikaru Sato vs Dick Togo, DDT Title, DDT 11/28/10. Sato worked so hard to get the title, and he doesn't want to end up with just a 2 week reign out of it. But Togo has far more title match experience (especially in DDT), and he's got the skills necessary to counter Sato's hybrid MMA trickery.
Hashi vs Suruga, Futen 12/19/10. Their last match ended with Hashi caving in Suruga's skull. Has Manabu learned how to deal with the adamantine cranium of doom, or will he be headbutted into oblivion yet again?
Sekimoto vs Hidaka, heavyweight title, Zero1 1/1/13. Guest selection by DylanWaco. A strange dynamic on paper leads to one of the best and most dramatic second halves of 2011, egged on by a HOT Korakuen crowd that gets behind heavy underdog Hidaka who delivers an excellent performance that brings the best out of Sekimoto who delivers most of the time regardless, and of course comes up big here too. Both men look like a million bucks while it's happening and when it's over. Says something about this match.
Sekimoto vs Okabayashi, BJPW 1/2/11. While not quite as good as the '09 match, it works in the same way: a straightforward power battle. Okabayashi shows some growth from the last time as the finishing run progresses. As they ready themselves to advance on All Japan, the question is whether the bald juggernaut can finally top his teacher.
Nagata vs Suzuki, NJ 1/4/11. Slaps and facials to please the Tokyo Dome crowd. They definitely work this like their expressions will be shown on a big screen, and in that way it's unique among pretty much every Japanese match I've seen. And I've seen a LOT.
Yuki Ishikawa vs Kawakami, Big Japan 1/17/11. The Battlarts/Big Japan relationship might not make any sense from a stylistic standpoint, but they did business off-and-on over the years. Kawakami gets an opportunity to showcase his wrestling fundamentals and striking against a mat wizard and lord of heavy-hitting. Yuki is an overwhelming favorite, but Kawakami demonstrates that he has enough firepower to give the old man a real fight; this isn't going to be a straightforward squash.
Omori vs Okabayashi, Big Japan 1/17/11. This could easily have been a dull, through-the-motions heavyweight bout. Omori is slumming it on a Big Japan house show; why bother bringing his A-game? Well, for one thing he can't afford to be shown up by Okabayashi, which would certainly be possible given Okabayashi's recent form. For another, Okabayashi hits REALLY HARD, and Omori has too much pride not to hit REALLY HARD in return. Thus we have a very rare thing: an Omori match notable for its stiffness. I included the post-match interviews so you can see the welts. Plus, we get a really good finish! Okabayashi is a miracle-worker.
Yoshino vs Fujii, Dream Gate title, Dragon Gate 1/18/11. You will notice the lack of Dream Gate matches on my site. There is a reason: the vast majority of them do not contain DON FUJII. He brings everything he's got, leading to a searingly hot finishing run at the oven that is Korakuen Hall.
And now for something a bit unusual: an unpaid advertisement for a show. Futen's January 30th, 2011 event is available for $3 from Daniel of puroresu.tv. Daniel, who helped my last server move, is good people. Futen shows are expensive to get from Japan, but well worth a couple greenbacks. Eventually I'll post matches from the event, but if you want to see it NOW, email email@example.com.
Dick Togo vs Antonio Honda, DDT title, DDT 1/30/11. This was supposed to happen in December, but Togo got hurt. Honda won a match to become interim champion. The video package sets up how huge this match is for Honda, and they both leave it all out there. Honda gives a career performance and Togo is at his best. I won't go into all the positive aspects of why this is good, just trust me. Complete match; no commentary.
Soya & Sanada vs Sekimoto & Okabayashi, All Japan 2/6/11. Big Japan invades, resulting in the kind of intensity and action that I think has been sorely lacking from AJ since Kawada left. Soya and Sanada are the All Asia tag champs, and even if it's non-title they don't want to go down!
Sekimoto, Okabayashi & Kawakami vs Y. Sasaki, Shinya Ishikawa & Masashi Ohtani, Big Japan 2/12/11. Masashi is in just his third match and is understandably a bit green. He takes his lumps like a man, and if anyone can give lumps it's those three. Kawakami vs Ishikawa is interesting since both of them rely so much on having nasty elbow smashes.
Dick Togo vs HARASHIMA, DDT title, DDT 2/27/11. The King of DDT championship continues to produce the most reliably good matches in Japan. This one has plenty of neat spots/counters and they build to a hot hot finish. It helps if you know the background of HARASHIMA's title win and loss in 2010.
Hidaka vs Takafumi Ito, Int'l junior title, Zero1 3/6/11. A few years back, Ito beat Hidaka in a shoot. He transitions quite effectively to pro-style and busts out some great shooty counters.
Chono vs Daichi Hashimoto, Zero1 3/6/11. Huge heat for Daichi's entrance. He's still a teenager and thus can't hope to match his father's aura yet, but he does very well for a debut match.
Togo vs Ibushi, KOD title, DDT 3/27/11, some clipping. Dick lets it all hang out. Um... maybe I should rephrase that. Ibushi has all the Dick he can handle? NO! Ummmm... they have a really big match with some really big spots and nearfalls? Yeah, that's it.
Nagata vs Hama, All Japan Champions Carnival 2011. Hama might be morbidly obese, but he's got heavy hands and a willingness to throw his considerable weight around. The night before, Nagata got KOed and Hama tapped to a leg submission. Thus it makes sense that both of them have the most effect along the same lines.
Akiyama & Hashi vs Soya & Fuchi, All Japan 4/13/11. Fuchi is STILL GOING at 57 years old! God bless him. He's endlessly sympathetic in his role as the overmatched old man. I was also interested in how the Hashi vs Soya matchup would go, since Hashi is a freelancer and thus 'unprotected' but isn't going to be any sort of pushover after his wars in Futen. Ah, but the real question is whether Soya can hang with Akiyama...
Ohtani & Daichi Hashimoto vs Masato Tanaka & Kakinuma, Z1 4/16/11. Zero-One's top wrestlers pair up with its top prospects, and each matchup brings something to the table. I hope Kakinuma continues to get the spotlight alongside Daichi, because he's got a lot of promise.
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Hama & Soya, All Asia tag titles, BJPW 4/28/11. You know during the entrances that this one will be special. Korakuen Hall is a-rockin', and the Dai Nihon faithful are riled up in support of the home team. Great Kojika is on hand to do ceremonies, being a multi-time holder of the titles. Hama is on the young side, and very much on the morbidly obese side, but he has enough presence and ring smarts to be 'the heavy' in a match with three powerhouses. This goes a couple minutes too long considering how much weight everyone is carrying, but the crowd heat, the action, and the big finish are enough to make this a 2011 highlight.
Bernard & Anderson vs Kojima & Maff, New Japan 5/15/11. NJ invades the former ECW Arena! Maff, a long-time fan of puro, takes it to the big man as best he can. This was the best match of the weekend, and sadly it took place on the one show I missed. NOTE: I will take this down if they do an English-language DVD release.
DDT episode with the first two rounds of the KOD tournament, 5/21 & 5/29/11. A couple exciting 'star vs underdog' matches, and the clipping is such that the episode goes by very quickly.
Kanemoto vs Hayato, BOSJ '11. These two had much-loved matches before, but I just couldn't get into them. The reason I enjoy this iteration is that they cram lots of fire and tricked-out counter wrestling into ten minutes. Something I think pretty much anyone can enjoy!
Y.Sasaki & Shinya Ishikawa vs Kawakami & K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 5/27/11. For as much as I've enjoyed the 'Strong BJ' division over the last couple years, I was skeptical about this. Kawakami as a team leader? No Sekimoto, Okabayashi or Shinobu? But it works, thanks to the non-stop intensity of Yoshihito and the spunk of wee Hashimoto.
Ito, Kobayashi & Shadow WX vs Miyamoto, Isami & Kankuro Hoshino, DM, Big Japan 5/27/11. The light tube matches got really same-y over the years, so this one mixes in a few other bits of carnage. The main reason I'm hosting it is for Hoshino, who has been the division's punching bag over the last couple years. Here he's given the spotlight, and good ol' Korakuen senses that this isn't going to be a run-of-the-mill 6-man.
Tanahashi & Nagata vs Goto & Nakanishi, NJ 5/29/11. A New Japan heavyweight tag I really like! Why do I like it? Well, it's compact, energetic, and in front of a hot Korakuen crowd. There's several quality strike exchanges. Nakanishi's goofy charisma shines. Did I mention that it's at Korakuen?
Dick Togo & HARASHIMA vs Dino & KUDO, DDT 6/4/11, JIP. Togo has freshened up whatever he's involved with this year, and that includes Dino's schtick. Dick bids farewell to Shin Kiba 1st Ring, and Dino bids farewell to Togo's dick.
Suruga vs Takeshima, Battlarts 6/19/11. Takeshima is the final Battlarts trainee. As a young lion it is his duty to get beat up and try his best to make a fiery comeback. The fact that he's been going a year and a half means that he actually DOES make a fiery comeback.
Ishikawa vs Sawa, Battlarts 6/19/11. Their final match. In true Battlarts form they struggle on the mat and blast each other in the face when standing.
Kikutaro vs Kamen, Bikkuri 6/26/11. The oft-repeated comedy matchup returns with some new wrinkles. Kamen is strangely aggressive at times, but not in the right way...
Sekimoto, Okabayashi & Shinobu vs Y. Sasaki, Shinya Ishikawa & Kawakami, Big Japan 6/27/11. Shinobu and Yoshihito have been known to go nuthouse on each other in the past, and they do so again here. What makes this different from the past is the BIG finishing run between the two of them.
Shingo vs Tozawa, Dragon Gate 7/17/11. Tozawa returns after taking the US indies by storm, and the lessons he learned lead to my favorite DG match in some time. All the action you'd want, but with a lot more fire and focus than one normally gets from the promotion.
Mashimo vs SEIKEN, Futen 7/18/11. I don't know who SEIKEN is, but he certainly does not have the size to out-strike the rather thick Kengo Mashimo. Sadly for him, SEIKEN is a kickboxer-y guy. He tries, but Mashimo kicks really, really hard...
Ishikawa & Sawa vs Ikeda & Suruga, Futen 7/18/11. I was somewhat let down in that there aren't two or three boatloads of stiffness and hatred in this. However there is at least *one* boatload, which is enough to put this well ahead of the vast majority of professional wrestling matches.
Okabayashi & Kawakami vs Hama & Nakanoue, All Japan 7/18/11. Hama vs Oka continues to be a really good pairing, and Nakanoue is effective as the young lion doing his best against the hated Big Japan invaders. Okabayashi has a huge upside if one of the big promotions decides to snatch him up. I like the use of Kawakami because it means either team can win, but Kawakami isn't such a scrub that he's out of place.
Shuji Ishikawa vs KUDO, DDT title, DDT 7/24/11, JIP. First half was mostly body part work that doesn't much factor into the finish. I was skeptical when DDT booked this as the main event at Sumo Hall, but they deliver the kind of big event closing run one would hope for.
Okabayashi & Shinobu vs Y. Sasaki & K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 7/25/11. More of the Yoshihito vs Shinobu feud, plus Oka throwing his weight around and K-Hash being his spunky self. Lots of fun without taking up a lot of your time!
Ito & T. Sasaki vs Kobayashi & Kankuro Hoshino, Big Japan 7/25/11. Hoshino won the May main event but fell short in a title match against Ito. He gets the spotlight at the end once again in this, as the question of whether he can avoid a return to jobberdom lurks just beneath the surface. The latest bit of weaponry is a pile of mini cinder blocks, and it adds a new wrinkle to the match.
Tanahashi vs Makabe, NJ G-1 Climax 8/7/11, JIP. For the nth time, the start of the match is pointless limb work so I lopped it off. The closing run features effective teases of their top rope finishers mixed in with a bevy of suplexes to keep you guessing. This is one of the few Tanahashi matchups that isn't played out, which I think is a lot of what makes it interesting.
Tanahashi vs Yano, New Japan G-1 Climax 2011. Let's see: I don't like most Tanahashi matches, and I dislike ALL Yano matches... and yet this one works. What could the difference be? Perhaps a little place called KORAKUEN HALL. Well, that, and Yano going all-out with every heel trick in the book plus a new finisher in the hopes of upsetting the champ. Tanahashi fans: trust me, Yano doesn't drag him down. Non-Tanahashi fans: trust me, this isn't his usual match.
Nakamura vs Naito, New Japan G-1 Climax 2011 final, JIP. Naito, who had a couple big wins before this year's G-1 but not many, is a HUGE underdog against shoulda-won-the-tournament-years-ago Nakamura. Naito lost his first three matches and swept the rest, including a quick win over Tanahashi earlier in the night with a unique cradle. Nakamura, by contrast, lost the night before and barely survived Minoru Suzuki to reach the finals. A hot crowd cheers on Naito as he tries to pull off the big one, but watch out, the Bomba Ye lurks around every corner!
Y. Sasaki & K. Hashimoto vs Shinobu & M. Ohtani, Big Japan 8/20/11. Ohtani is the weak link in more ways than one but he does try, and the other three are spiteful enough to make it work. This initially looked like it might be the end of the Sasaki/Shinobu feud, but thankfully the hatred survived their decision to team up.
Ishikawa vs Takashima, Battlarts 8/21/11. Takeshima is vastly more competitive than I was expecting. As in, he only gets about 78% schooled, rather than 95%. Some beefy, Battlartsy striking in this one, capped off with a SWANK~ finish.
Ishikawa vs Kawakami, Battlarts 8/21/11. They faced off in Big Japan in January, with Ishikawa winning. Similar dynamic to the Takeshima match from earlier, only Kawakami is better able to defend himself on the mat and actually win some standing exchanges. Much 'bigger' finish than I was expecting, and Kawakami really gets a chance to look good. Given that Ishikawa isn't 100% fresh coming in, Kawakami actually has enough firepower to pull off the upset.
KUDO & HARASHIMA vs Sanshiro Takagi & Sawa vs Hikaru Sato & Michael Nakazawa vs Isami Kodaka & Ken Ohka, Campsite match, DDT 9/26/11. Another year, another hour of fun in the outdoors. Ibushi randomly runs in to lob fireworks at everyone and everything. There's a special indy sleaze guest star afterwards who brings a lot of heat. To say that a wrestling promotion couldn't do this in the US would be a wild understatement.
T. Sasaki vs Kobayashi, DM title contendership series, Big Japan 10/9/11. Part of a three-person round-robin to determine who gets the big year-end title shot. Rather than a set number of bouts, it's "dogfight", meaning someone needs to win two in a row. Sasaki won his last match and can wrap it up here, so neither man can afford to lose. The two of them started the series in August, with Kobayashi winning. This continues to be the most consistent matchup in Big Japan's signature division, so if you liked their previous wars you should enjoy what might be their last.
Suwama & Kai vs Akiyama & Marvin, All Japan 10/10/11. AJ's singles champions face NOAH stalwarts. There's something to enjoy about every matchup. Marvin is a bit more intense than usual; Akiyama is always good in interpromotional tags; Suwama has finally obtained the aura of a Triple Crown champ. Let's hope for a lot more AJ vs NOAH.
Mochizuki vs Tozawa, Dream Gate title, Dragon Gate 10/13/11. Tozawa showed a lot in beating Shingo at Kobe World Hall, but does he have what it takes to hang with (and/or beat) DG's resident badass? Answer: yes. Yes he does. Plenty of good action, better pacing and transitions than typical DG title bouts, and the seamless Gaora clipping leads to almost no downtime.
Sanada & M. Soya vs Sekimoto & Okabayashi, All Asia tag titles, AJ 10/23/11. The first four matches between the teams were split, 1-1-2. This is a rare rubber match that's the fifth rather than the third in a series. Lots of clubbering and action throughout, leading to a big finish.
Suwama vs Akiyama, Triple Crown, AJ 10/23/11, JIP. The initial chunk of the match was dry and dull. They manage to overcome that and deliver a closing run worthy of the championship's prestige. Suwama's presence has greatly improved, but can the All Japan phenom of the '00s handle the phenom of the '90s?
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Kobayashi & Takeda, tag league, BJPW 10/23/11. YOUR annual 'Abby Junior all-effort workrate extravaganza'. Takeda is good as well, but I'm all about the world's least probable sling blade. The dude is about 3% worse execution away from making the whole thing fall apart but he threads the needle in my opinion. Then again I can often tolerate '90s Baba. Oh and those Sekimoto and Okabayashi dudes are in this.
Hidaka & Minoru Tanaka vs Usuda & Yamamoto, Battlarts 11/5/11. Battlarts guys who left and broke out against Battlarts guys who didn't. Hidaka and Tanaka go back to their roots, and the result is a match with loads of tricked-out matwork and sharp striking. A match for shoot-style fans, but not ONLY for them.
Ishikawa vs Ikeda, Battlarts 11/5/11. I'm not entirely sure how to describe this. You know they're going to brutalize each other, especially since this is the Battlarts farewell. That is what happens. I'd prefer a different finish, but I'll take that rather than them having a dragged-out 35 minute affair for the sake of trying to be 'epic'.
Tenryu, Suwama & Suzuki vs Sasaki, Kojima & Kea, Tenryu Project, 11/10/11. Suzuki is a jerk, and everyone else throws a ton of chops. Pretty much what you'd expect, though I was pleasantly surprised because so many 'dream' tags end up with guys going through the motions. Here we get a lot of color; not blood, but rather their pride and personalities. Suwama steps up as the strongman-in-his-prime member of his tandem, continuing a run of good showings. The big matchup is Tenryu trying to survive the bludgeoning of Sasaki; you might recall their interactions in a September 2009 NOAH 6-man. So anyway, this All Triple Crown match delivers.
Nagata vs Ishii, New Japan 11/12/11. I'm one of the few people who really enjoyed their 2010 bout. This one has the same strong points (strikes, Ishii-as-underdog) while cramming all the action into half the time. The result is a very complete match in under ten minutes that the crowd really gets behind.
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Suwama & T. Soya, RWTL '11, All Japan 11/19/11. There's so much here that's tailor-made for me. Korakuen Hall, check. Interpromotional, check. Everyone has a clearly-defined role, check. One of those roles is an underdog, check. Lots of strike exchanges, check. Good structure, check. Hot ending run and a satisfying finish, check. Soya debuted earlier in the year against his brother and was injured in the debut, causing him to miss some time. So he's got well under a year of experience, yet has no trouble holding up his end of things. Suwama continues a great autumn, and Team Big Japan continues to show that they were deservedly dubbed the Japanese team of the year.
Y. Sasaki & Shinobu vs T. Sasaki & K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 11/22/11. Yoshihito and Shinobu have been an 'odd couple' team, often fighting each other as much as their opponents. That would tend to point to this match being about whether T-Sas and K-Hash can overcome Hashimoto's young lion status and win thanks to having better teamwork. Instead, the match is all about HASHIMOTO and his bad attitude. Why can't guys in New Japan and NOAH show 5% of his fire...
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Suwama & T. Soya, All Asia tag titles, Big Japan 12/18/11. With the location changed, the roles shift. This isn't a heat-fest like the April A.A. defense, but it's still in line with the plenty-good match these teams had four weeks earlier. Young Soya adapts well, Suwama is aggressive, and once again we get the right finish. Plus it sets up a singles match to kick off '12.
Suwama vs Sekimoto, All Japan 1/2/12. Simple moves, good pace, strong finish, and it goes just the right length. These two bring out the best in one another.
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Akebono & Hama, All Asia titles, All Japan 1/3/12. The ne-plus-ultra of "irresistable force versus immovable object" matches. These teams met twice in '11, with the ex-sumos taking both. Sekimoto and Okabayashi barely survived against Hama & Manabu Soya; how can they possibly down roughly half a ton of humanity? Perhaps the answer is "they can't".
Bernard & Anderson vs Tenzan & Kojima, tag titles, NJ 1/4/12. Good/solid throughout, with a bigger finish than we'd normally get from a Bad Intentions match. It's on the short side for a tag title match at Tokyo Dome, and I think that helps.
Tanahashi vs Suzuki, IWGP title, New Japan 1/4/12. At first I wasn't even going to watch this, because Suzuki in 20+ minute singles matches isn't my thing, and I'm bored with the Tanahashi title match formula. However, because the match was broadly praised, I gave it a chance. Thank goodness for that! They avoid the Tanahashi formula, and Suzuki brings his best effort. Clear story that works with their kayfabe strengths against each other, several clever spots, and very good finish.
Ikeda & Ono vs Mashimo & Sato, Futen 1/22/12. Someone grabbed this from a Japanese streaming service, which is why the framerate and size are kinda small. I find it still looks good if you stretch it out. A shame we don't have this in better quality, because it's yet another epic tag war. Metric tonnes of stiffness, and it would have made my best of the year list had it surfaced in time.
Sai, Ueda & Daichi Hashimoto vs Sekimoto, K. Hashimoto & M. Ohtani, Z1 2/1/12. Zero1 gets into the Big Japan action/invasion market, and business is good. 'Other Ohtani' is still green and might never get good but he can absorb stuff. Sai and Sekimoto are effective as the big men on campus. Both of the young Hashimotos shine and are the reason this rises to the level of YOUR attention.
Sekimoto, Okabayashi & K. Hashimoto vs Akebono, Hama & Nakanoue, Big Japan 2/2/12. Strong BJ versus SMOP, you should now be familiar with. Once more it's K-Hash who just BRINGS IT and has the charisma to make you want to stand up and cheer (or boo). I hope this kid sticks around.
Nagata & Wataru Inoue vs Kono & Minoru Tanaka, All Japan 2/3/12. Kono and Tanaka joined Masa Funaki to create the oddly-named 'Stack Of Arms' stable. At NJ's Dome show, Funaki and Nagata went to war after the end of a tag. That Nagata vs SoA heat translates in a really intense bout here, most notably between Nagata and Minoru. All Japan recently started being booked by Shuji Kondo and I must say I approve of his interpromotional focus. Certainly didn't get matches like this from 2004-2009.
Mutoh, Akebono & Hama vs Sekimoto, Okabayashi & Y. Sasaki, All Japan 2/3/12. This is as much 'interesting' as 'good'. Mutoh doesn't get put in the ring much with bruisers, and no he doesn't show any fire, but it's still really fascinating to watch him get pasted by a Yoshihito Sasaki lariat. When Mutoh isn't in, you get the Size vs Power matchup that has worked since before my parents met at the Royal Palm bar in Ithaca, NY.
Akiyama vs Omori, Triple Crown, All Japan 2/3/12. The first TC match at Korakuen Hall, between two pre-split trainees. Akiyama is good, Omori is okay, Korakuen is GREAT.
Dino vs Honda, DDT title, DDT 2/19/12. I'm not sure if it's more "interesting" or "good". It's a mash-up of the great Togo/Honda match from a year earlier, with standard Dino spots. If Dino had good punches it might be a MOTYC, but he doesn't, so it's not. But it's still probably Dino's career match, and it makes me want to see more Honda matches against capable opponents.
Sekimoto vs Okabayashi, Strong Climb tournament, Big Japan 2/26/11. We've seen them become a highly effective team, but will Okabayashi's growth over the course of 2011 enable him to beat his partner (and trainer)? Only one way to find out: watch the match!
Sato, Ueda & Craig Classic vs Okabayashi, K. Hashimoto & Tsukamoto, Zero1 3/2/12. Craig, who wrestled a lot as an opening match guy in Big Japan in the '00s, is perfectly comfortable doing the Strong BJ style. K-Hash *again* brings the goods, and Ueda does as well. Oh and hey it's another Okabayashi match on my site.
Sasaki & Nakajima vs Ohtani & Daichi Hashimoto, Zero1 3/2/12. A bit on the long side, but I can't blame them too much given that it's all about highlighting the future of puro (Daichi). Ohtani is almost comically ineffective throughout, forcing Daichi to stand alone against as hard-hitting a tag team as you can find. Sasaki vs Lil' Hash is the core of the match, as Hashimoto absorbs a man-sized beating and keeps going. The kid might be lacking in terms of his frame, but he *gets it*.
Okabayashi vs T. Soya, All Japan 3/4/12. Nothing fancy, nothing overblown, just two really solid wrestlers having a really solid match. If you enjoy their tag interactions, you'll enjoy this.
Nagata vs Kono, All Japan 3/4/12. Follow-up to the fun tag in February. The match is strike-based, which fits the tone they set in the tag, and Nagata goes for my favorite of his moves that he hardly ever uses. The real highlight is post-match. Trust me, MUST-SEE.
Okada vs Naito, IWGP title, New Japan 3/4/12. This is getting a lot of hype. Although I don't consider it a ****3/4 match like some have tagged it, they do a hell of a lot right, and both look like they belong in the main event scene (especially Naito). Lots of smart, creative work. Korakuen helps, of course.
Puroresu Finish Collection 8. The endings of Kobayashi & Inaba vs T. Sasaki & Takeda 2/2/12; Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Akebono & Hama 2/11/12; Kobayashi vs Takeda 2/26/12; Y. Sasaki vs Shinobu 3/20/12.
Sekimoto & Okabayashi vs Suwama & T. Soya, All Asia tag titles, All Japan 3/20/12. Along the same lines as their two prior bouts, only compressed and tighter, not to mention at Sumo Hall.
Y. Sasaki vs Sami Callihan, Strong Climb Tournament semi-final, Big Japan 3/26/12. With the "Strong BJ" gents having become popular on the US/Europe indy scene, these two have had the chance to fight around the world. Sami comes in with a 2-1 lead, and he beat Sekimoto in CZW, so he's more than comfortable going toe-to-toe with Yoshihito. The crowd responds well to Sami despite this being his Korakuen debut, and hopefully he'll return for future tours.
Sekimoto vs Bad Bones, Strong Climb Tournament semi-final, Big Japan 3/26/12. A solid Sekimoto-style match, made better by Bad Bones' personality. He wins Korakuen over in a not-too-long bit of time.
Sekimoto vs Y. Sasaki, Strong Climb Tournament final, Big Japan 3/26/12. They've faced off twice in Big Japan, both times at house shows, and both times they clearly 'held back'. Now I'm glad they did, because this match pays off YEARS of waiting to see what the top 'Strong BJ' names will do against one another. All the hard-hitting action you can ask for.
Y. Sasaki & Shinobu vs Shuji Ishikawa & Irie, Big Japan / Union 3/29/12. Every so often I daydream about running an indy show in Japan, and this is the sort of thing I'd book. No, it's not a MOTYC, but it's straightforward and enjoyable thanks to hard work and an interesting matchup. Sasaki and Shinobu won the Big Japan tag titles at a house show, and come in as champs (though this is non-title). Ishikawa and Irie are considerably larger, and have more than enough firepower to pull off an upset. Short-ish length ensures steady action, and all of them bring the goods, which they can all be relied on to do.
King of Chop Tournament 1, Dragon Gate 4/19/12. It might seem odd that the first chopping tournament takes place in DG, but it's very fun regardless. Lots of unpredictable results. In the opening rounds, each wrestler gets 3 chops. They can ring the bell to give up, and otherwise the crowd chooses by applause. If the crowd is tied, they go to extra chops. The final is ten chops each.
Okabayashi vs T. Soya, Champions Carnival, All Japan 4/21/12. As with the March version, it's top young stars delivering with the cameras on. What the rematch adds is a bigger finish, and a sense that Takumi is maybe not so overmatched anymore.
Sato & Daichi Hashimoto vs Sekimoto & Kazuki Hashimoto, Zero1 4/24/12. The young Hashimotos, who took it to each other in February, take their rivalry to another level. Kazuki is FANTASTIC in this, both as a snot-nosed punk and as a punching bag. Sato and Sekimoto are effective as the leaders but generally let the youngsters have the spotlight.
Sekimoto & Big Van Walter vs Y. Sasaki & Okabayashi, Big Japan 4/28/12. WXW's Walter is a good fit for 'Strong BJ': a no-frills power-style wrestler who has no problem trading hard strikes and throwing bombs. This is also interesting because the other three all have something to prove. You have Sekimoto trying to avenge his loss to Sasaki; Sasaki trying to maintain momentum; and Okabayashi hoping to hold up his end against his fellow All Asia tag holder.
Nagata vs Kono, Champions Carnival, All Japan 5/4/12. I bought several discs with CC 2012 matches that didn't air on TV. Most of them were wrestled "small"; minimal effort, minimal heat, and no sense of accomplishment when it was over. This stood out from the rest, probably because these two know how to throw down with each other. Nagata beat Kono twice in March, but Kono has the size and the skill set to change that result. Good action, it goes the right length, and it ends when it should.
Takanashi vs Hino, DDT title, DDT 5/4/12. Takanashi won the title with DDT's version of 'Money in the Bank'... and he gets the bestial Hino as his first challenger. The match is along the same lines as Sekimoto/Takanashi, only Takanashi is two years older and wiser than before. Can his wiles and speed enable him to avoid Hino's big powerbomb?
Suwama vs Kea, Champions Carnival final, All Japan 5/7/12, JIP. Kea, representing Baba's era, tries to top young ace Suwama. He digs out some trademark pre-split moves and gets Korakuen's backing in the process, but that doesn't necessarily mean he has enough in the tank to topple the phenom.
D. Hashimoto & Yokoyama vs K. Hashimoto & Tsukamoto, Zero1 5/16/12, slight clipping. Hashimoto-on-Hashimoto violence continues! I love that the two of them are good enough to lead their squads with less than 5 years of combined experience.
Goto vs Ishii, IWGP Intercontinental Title, New Japan 5/20/12. I don't think Ishii really *earned* the title shot based on the previous tour results, but that doesn't mean you can count him out. Ishii has the raw firepower and toughness to win most any singles match, and Goto at times relies too much on brute force while ignoring technique. The crowd roots for Ishii because Japan Loves Underdogs. I root for Ishii because I love guys who don't screw around. You, however, are free to support Hirooki Goto.
Kenou vs Hayato, Tohoku Jr. title, Michinoku Pro 6/3/12. Having failed to enjoy several acclaimed Hayato-in-MPro matches, without having anything strongly negative to say, I had a feeling that I'd go straight from "eh" to "that rocked!". Sure enough, I loved this. Well-paced, well-executed, lots of quality exchanges and sequences, several neat spots that felt organic, struggle-for-control throughout the body of the match, and a big finish, all in front of a hot crowd. A Japanese singles MOTYC right here.
King of Chop Tournament 2, Dragon Gate 6/9 & 6/10/12. Good in the same way as the first, and I think the wrestlers "get" it more because there are way fewer crappy chops. Still unpredictable even if you saw the first one. I don't agree with the crowd's choice in the final but The Customer Is Always Right.
Daichi Hashimoto vs Kazuki Hashimoto, Zero1 6/14/12, clipped. This they clip by half to make room for Ueda vs Some No-Name Gaijin. Oh well, better half a glass than none. Strikes, hate, more strikes and more hate. I like Daichi's desperate chip shots while on the wrong end of things, and Kazuki's usual Kazuki-ness. Finish seems a bit strong given the lack of impact moves in the match, but you can't deny that it's a convincing and appropriate ending.
Okada vs Tanahashi, IWGP title, New Japan 6/16/12. Okada shocked the world by not only winning the title in a massive upset, but also very quickly becoming good enough in-ring to merit a headliner status. This works similarly to Okada/Naito, although a touch behind in terms of quality. Both men focus on a body part, both men have some creative attacks and counters, and both men mix things up enough to keep things interesting. Can Tanahashi become the first man to avoid falling to the Rainmaker? Will Okada dethrone Tanahashi as company ace?
Ishikawa vs AKIRA, Kana Pro 6/17/12. These two can work the MAT and sell the effects of said matwork quite well. I doubt many people could wrap their brains around this pairing on paper, but I knew that as intelligent, well-trained veterans they could make it work.
Sekimoto & M. Ohtani vs Shinobu & Shinya Ishikawa, Big Japan 6/21/12, JIP. Man alive is the Sekimoto/Shinobu stuff GREAT, and the crowd eats it up appropriately. The other two are just sorta there, but the footage we get to see is almost a Sekimoto vs Shinobu singles match, so that's not such a bad thing. I'd love to see Shinobu in a bigger promotion with a juniors division so that he wouldn't always look pitifully undersized. Plus, he deserves a larger paycheck and a brighter spotlight.
Y. Sasaki vs Okabayashi, Big Japan heavyweight title, Big Japan 6/21/12. Sadly, the first half drags quite a bit. I recommend skipping to the 10 minute mark of the file. Last third makes this very worthwhile, and the last minute or so is nuts.
Tozawa vs Doi vs Yoshino vs Shingo va YAMATO vs Hulk, #1 contenders elimination match, Dragon Gate 6/24/12, JIP. Over-the-top counts as an elimination. The first third was overly contrived, but did demonstrate that none of the regular partners (Tozawa/Hulk, Shingo/YAMATO, Doi/Yoshino) can trust each other. The second two-thirds is an all-action sprint, which is why I'm hosting it. Go Tozawa go!
Tenzan & Kojima vs Ohtani & Tanaka, Zero1 7/8/12, JIP. Ohtani's 20th anniversary match. I wasn't expecting much considering how much steam Tenzan has lost in the last five years, but they do deliver a big finishing run. What put it over the top for me is that the person I expected to win didn't, and the person I expected to lose didn't. But I won't tell you who either of those are...
Ibushi & Omega vs Dino & Yoshihiko, DDT 7/27/12. I'm not sure what it says about Dino that I'm glad his partner got most of the time in this. WARNING: slight nudity in the first minute. The match is a continuation of what Ibushi and Omega have done previously with Yoshihiko, so this is either the best or the worst of professional wrestling depending on your taste.
Suwama & Hayashi vs Kono & Tanaka, All Japan 7/29/12. Suwama and Kono GO OFF on each other, getting more and more pissed until they can't control themselves. Kaz and Minoru are just sorta 'there', which holds things back, but the seething hate between Suwama and Kono makes this worth checking out.
Ohtani vs Shiozaki, Fire Festival, Z1 8/5/12. A de facto semi-final. Ohtani has so much PRIDE and he's fighting for HIS FANS against that little invading PUNK. Yeah, that's all well and good, let's all admire Ohtani's spirit. Let's also remember that if he stands in front of Go too long he's going to get the flesh on his chest peeled off one layer at a time by chops. How much punishment can Ohtani take, and how much can he dish out? I think we're all familiar with Ohtani's underdog routine, but the confidence Shiozaki displays in response is also really important. He *gets it*.
Tanaka vs Shiozaki, Fire Festival final, Z1 8/5/12, JIP. The big finish! Can Tanaka defend the honor of Zero1 against someone he matches up especially badly against? I mean, Tanaka is fine against guys on the level of Hirooki Goto, Makabe, and Ohtani (all former juniors), but Shiozaki is a different kind of beast; he literally might not have enough in him to keep Go down. The opposite is very much NOT the case.
Suwama & Kondo vs Kono & Kanemoto, All Japan 8/12/12. Continuing from where the tag two weeks earlier left off. Kanemoto and Kondo bring a little more than the juniors in the first go-around, but this is still 99% about the heavies.
Ohtani & D. Hashimoto vs Ishii & Takaiwa, Ribera Steakhouse Produce 8/26/12. Ribera Steakhouse is a famous haunt for pro wrestlers in Japan, and I think they probably did this in conjunction with Akebono, who wears their name on his tights. I will dub the latter duo Team Meathead, because, well... they're meatheads. The fact that they're involved, along with Lil' Hash, tells you what this match will revolve around: striking and bombs.
Akiyama vs Masa Funaki, Triple Crown, All Japan 8/26/12. They dispense with the feeling-out process and go right for the kill from the start. This could easily have felt like a letdown considering the brevity, but the end result certainly works.
Funaki vs Suwama, Triple Crown, All Japan 9/23/12, JIP. Much like Suwama's match with Akiyama 11 months earlier, this dragged in the first half and picked up nicely in the second. Some beefy exchanges and tense near-finishes.
Okabayashi & Shinobu vs Double Hashimotos, Big Japan tag league, Big Japan 9/25/12. Daichi and Kazuki Hashimoto have learned to cooperate after a lengthy feud. Putting these four in a match is a recipe for me to enjoy it, and they also added the booking twist of NOT having the 'fall guy' take the fall!
Shuji Ishikawa & Shadow WX vs Ito & Tsukamoto, tag league, light tubes & "hammer" DM, Big Japan 9/25/12. Tsukamoto has decided to go hardcore and is a young lion, so Korakuen is alllll about him. As am I.
Okabayashi & Shinobu vs Y. Sasaki & Sekimoto, tag league, Big Japan 10/8/12, JIP. Tag champs versus Strong BJ's top two! No, I don't know why they clipped this, especially given that the episode has many minutes of worthless filler. But some is better than none, and they deliver a big finish.
Sakuraba & Shibata vs Makabe & Wataru Inoue, NJ 10/8/12. I love how obvious it is that Saku could crush Wataru like a bug if this was anything resembling a shoot. Much like with Fujita in 2004, that adds a certain tension to EVERYTHING he does, because anything whatsoever can finish. Plenty of heat, good work/shoot balance, and they keep it compact. If only it wasn't Wataru...
Tanahashi vs Suzuki, IWGP title, NJ 10/8/12. They had a REALLY good match in January and proceed to top it here. Good technical wrestling that builds to a lot of drama in the last third without much downtime. Meltzer gave this five stars, which I think is a bit much, but I would place it ahead of the last three matches he rated that high.
Sakuraba & Shibata vs Makabe & Wataru Inoue, NJ 11/11/12. Much like the first match, so if you enjoyed that one grab this too.
Okabayashi & Shinobu vs Miyamoto & Kodaka, DM, tag league final & tag titles, Big Japan 11/24/12. Okay, so a match with Okabayashi and/or Shonobu being involved at all times is a plus. Korakuen is a plus. A DM with a focus on a couple big spots rather than constant ultraviolence is a plus. A hot finish that ends when it should is a plus. Add it up and see for yourself!
Kobayashi vs Ito, DM title, Big Japan 12/9/12, JIP. Clipped down to the big finish. If you know these two, you know exactly what that means.
El Generico vs Kenny Omega, DDT title, DDT 12/23/12. An all-Canadian main event! I admit to being very skeptical going in, because I tend to feel like both of them are overly predictable. In this case there's a lot more build, struggle and teasing than usual, meaning that the big moves have that much more behind them. If you enjoy either of these two, definitely grab this.
Tajiri vs AKIRA, WNC title tournament final, WNC 12/27/12. Really solid technical bout. AKIRA, especially with his post-2000 style, meshes well with Tajiri's hybrid Japan/US sensibility. A pity the promotion never took off.
Tenryu, Morishima, Takayama & Suzuki vs Nagata, Kojima, Tenzan & Nakanishi, Tenryu Project 12/29/12. 62 year old Tenryu returns after a year off following major surgery. We get another all-star 8-man like the year before. Not only are they all former 'major promotion' champs, but 7 of them have had multiple title reigns. Tenryu is clearly at the end of the line here and I hope he hangs up the boots soon, but there's enough action and energy from the others to cover for him.
Kanemoto & Tanaka vs Kondo & Hayashi, All Asia tag titles, All Japan 1/3/13. Kanemoto and Tanaka won a decision match after the belts were vacated by Akebono/Hama. In contrast to the superheavyweight battles that characterized the title matches in recent years, this is a straight-up junior-heavy spectacular. Kondo and Hayashi challenged for the belts twice in 2012 and beat Kanemoto and Tanaka during a junior tag league. Both teams have plenty of skill, weapons, experience and cardio. Who will emerge victorious at Korakuen Hall?
Nakamura vs Sakuraba, IC title, New Japan 1/4/13. So, so well done. It's a very organic match that mostly stays shoot-style but adds several nifty wrinkles. Great crowd reactions to every big moment.
Kanemoto & Tanaka vs Hiroshi Yamato & Hikaru Sato, All Asia tag titles, All Japan 1/26/13. Sato used his success in DDT to land some appearances in All Japan, most of which involved fighting Yamato. Having earned each others' grudging (VERY grudging) respect, they decided to go after the Junior Stars tandem. Despite being far less accomplished, they have enough toughness and ability to be competitive. But there's a big gap between 'competitive' and actually winning; are they really capable of pulling off such a huge upset?
King Of Chop Grand Final, Dragon Gate 1/27/13. Three of the four King Of Chop winners from 2012 face off. Sadly, KoC #3 and #4 weren't taped, and the first winner was in Mexico so he isn't available, but additional King Of Chop content is better than nothing. They go back and forth in direction to keep things even, and there are plenty of big shots. Shorter to watch than KoC 1 and 2 because it's just the final.
Ohtani vs K. Hashimoto, Zero1 2/3/13. Ah, K-Hash. So spunky. There's something appropos about Ohtani having to handle a direspectful young junior heavyweight. Hashimoto has the right idea when it comes to starting things off, but methinks he might have taken the taunting a bit too far...
Tanaka vs Ishii, NEVER title, New Japan 2/3/13. NEVER is a sub-brand focused on young lions and midcarders. They held a 16-man title tournament in November, with Tanaka winning. He beat Ishii in the semis. This time it's a main event, and since it's headlining at a sold out K-Hall you KNOW the crowd is on fire for Ishii. Lots of action and bombs and hitting; it's the match you expect from these two tough-guys. I'll add that there's a brief video glitch at an unfortunate time, causing us to miss a big spot about halfway through.
Shingo & YAMATO vs Kness & Arai, Dragon Gate 2/7/13. So out of all the 'epic' title matches and spotfests in recent Dragon Gate, I choose to post a match like this. How come? Simple: it's got a clear story, established roles, reasonably good structure, steady build, oh yeah and it's an underdog match at Korakuen. Kness and Arai are washed-up part-timers who managed to win a pair of singles matches against Shingo and YAMATO a month earlier. Now that they don't have the element of surprise, how can they possibly overcome a team with youth, size, and firepower on their side?
Sekimoto, Y. Sasaki & K. Hashimoto vs Soya, Hama & Nakanoue, Big Japan 2/8/13. On the short side, and not as big as previous episodes of the feud, but it's a solid use of ~10 minutes if you're a fan of interpromotional matches in Korakuen.
Sakuraba & Shibata vs Goto & Inoue, New Japan 2/10/13. Similar to the tags with Makabe, only the Shibata vs Goto exchanges are much better. It's a crying shame Shibata was doing MMA so long but at least he's still in good condition and hasn't lost his spark.
Tanahashi vs Anderson, IWGP title, New Japan 2/10/13. Karl Anderson, now the top gaijin by default due to Bernard leaving, has been hit-or-miss in big matches. Fell short twice against Okada in the second half of the year, failed to win the tag titles at the Dome show, and lost to Tanahashi in the last NJ Cup semis. Ah, but that's the rub: Tanahashi is the one big name Anderson seems to know how to beat. First came a shocking upset in the opening night of the 2010 G-1; then came a win on the last night of the 2012 G-1 to send Anderson to the final. Not only does Karl have a variety of Gun Stuns (Ace crusher) at his disposal, but there's also a couple gaijin tribute finishers up his sleeve. Is all that enough for him to become the first full-time gaijin in over a decade to win the title?
Aoki vs Yamato, All Japan 2/23/13. NOAH talent quasi-invasion! Aoki gets to be a badass again! A bunch of NOAH fans have infiltrated Korakuen Hall! Somebody up there loves me.
Kojima vs Ishii, NJ Cup round 1, New Japan 3/11/13. Opening match in the tournament. The formula for an Ishii upset is simple: Ishii on his best day, Kojima on his worst. Only it's NOT Kojima's worst day. Kojima targets Ishii's neck (which is hard because he doesn't really have one) and cuts him off at several crucial moments. So not only does Ishii have to beat a larger, stronger, more accomplished opponent who uses the same style, but he also has to do it despite reeling from damage much of the time. And what venue do we run underdog matches in, class? Yup.
Goto vs Ishii, NJ Cup round 2, New Japan 3/17/13. WAR ISHII~~. Their match last year was quite good, and now Ishii is a much more credible threat. Can he manage another upset?
Nagata & Nakanishi vs Sakuraba & Shibata, New Japan 3/17/13. Two of New Japan's most legit (Nakanishi was an amateur star) take on the MMA invaders! I'd love to see Nagata against either of the opposing side in singles.
Kanemoto & Minoru vs Kotaro Suzuki & Aoki, All Asia tag titles, All Japan 3/17/13, JIP. I was initially skeptical about changing the All Asia belt style from hoss-fests to junior bouts, but it seems to be working well enough so far. NOAH's top junior team from recent years INVADES~ to tangle with one of the all-time best junior tandems!
Funaki vs Suwama, Triple Crown, All Japan 3/17/13, JIP. In typical Big Match Suwama style, the first half is really boring and the second half is high-end action. Flows nicely from their 2012 match and really feels big-time when they get going.
Sugawara vs Jack Anthony, NWA & international junior titles, Zero1 3/31/13. Sugawara is normally pretty bad, but Anthony's British-style technical wrestling takes up most of the time and makes this worthwhile.
Tanahashi vs Okada, IWGP title, New Japan 4/7/13. Tanahashi won the last two meetings, including three months earlier at the Tokyo Dome. Okada bounced back to win the NJ Cup thanks in large part to his new submission hold: the Red Ink, a modified STF. Lots of style, lots of smarts, lots of trademark move teases, and lots of drama towards the end. I think this is solidly their best effort. If you've enjoyed their title bouts over the last year or so, definitely give this a watch.
Masa Funaki vs KAI, Champions Carnival, All Japan 4/18/13. KAI, who spent most of his career as a bland junior, has upgraded himself to heavyweight. And on the opening night of the carnival he draws the most legit guy ever to participate in the tournament! ...yay! But in his favor is the fact that Korakuen <3 Underdogs. Yes, that should be enough to overcome deadly strike combos and joint-ripping submissions! Right? Right?! (note: quite possibly not right)
Shiozaki vs KAI, Champions Carnival 2013 semi-final, All Japan 4/29/13. KAI comes in with a heavily-welted chest, and he's wrestling Go Shiozaki. So it really sucks to be KAI. Except... he's done a lot of growing over the course of the tournament. Is he ready to pull off a win over the man once pegged to be NOAH's future ace?
Goto vs Shibata, New Japan 5/3/13. Just the kind of heated match YOU want from Shibata, though clearly designed to set up a rematch so there is an upper bound to it.
Tajiri vs Koji Doi, WNC 5/11/13. Interesting that this is the same venue Battlarts used in its final years; it looks very different due to the camera location. Strong carry-job from Tajiri, as he guides an 18-month pro to a really solid match.
Sekimoto, Okabayashi, Shinobu & K. Hashimoto vs Y. Sasaki, Shinya Ishikawa, Kawakami & Madoka, Big Japan 5/27/13. Solid, compact match with an unexpected result.
Tajiri vs Shinya Ishikawa, Dradition 5/29/13. A battle of Big Japan-trained technicians. Well, Tajiri might not necessarily be thought of as a technical wrestler, but he sure as hell is in this one. I especially enjoy the duelling arm work throughout.
Katsuo vs Ryotsu Shimizu, Dragon Gate 6/2/13. I ignore the "MOTY" matches Dragon Gate pumps out, but post a match between a guy who got cut and a rookie who has an anime cop cosplay gimmick, in a dark match with a 5 minute time limit. Why do I do so? THIS match has doughy guys smacking each other in the mouth because they have a chip on the shoulder.
Okabayashi vs Kawakami, #1 contenders tournament final, Big Japan 6/5/13. Okabayashi beat Y. Sasaki in his semifinal, while Kawakami adopted the Emerald Frosion as his new finisher. This is a huge opportunity for Kawakami to show that he's progressed beyond "soild young lion" status, because he's taking on someone who has tangled with the best in several promotions. Okabayashi is so, so good in this, plus Kawakami always seems to deliver at Shin Kiba.
Okabayashi & Kawakami vs Ueda & Obata, Zero1 6/11/13. Solid match in the standard Big Japan vs Not Big Japan vein. I love how hard the Zero1 fans have to try when countering "Dai Nihon" chants. The main flaw here is length, but it's a semi-main so the goal is to give these four some spotlight, and it's not THAT long. I continue to think Okabayashi is the most consistent wrestler in Japan, and this is a good example of that, because he's not facing impressive opposition.
Goto vs Shibata, New Japan 6/22/13. Rematch with all the hate and hitting of the first bout, along with a much more satisfying finish.
Okada vs Makabe, IWGP title, New Japan 6/22/13. This takes a few minutes to really get going, but I like the theme of Okada's slickness and athleticism against Makabe's toughness and power. As usual, a June show in Osaka has tons of heat for a halfway-decent finishing run, and this one is well above "decent". Can Makabe score a huge upset and regain the title, or will Okada do what he failed to a year ago and defend the strap into the summer?
Shinzaki, Fujinami & Otsuka vs Choshu, Hyugaji & Nohashi, MPro 6/30/13. Shinzaki's 20th anniversary match. In a somewhat unusual turn of events, this is made noteworthy by Shinzaki's selling. Choshu even adds a good amount despite his limitations; his wrecking-ball demeanor compensates for the lack of size on his team.
Teioh & Shinobu vs Shinya Ishikawa & Jack Anthony, Big Japan 6/30/13. Anthony brings some British-style, Teioh and Shinobu have a lover's spat, and Shinya Ishikawa is kinda just there. Undercard fun, no more, no less.
Sekimoto vs Kawakami, Strong BJ title, Big Japan 6/30/13. This is a career performance from Kawakami and a hell of a match, with way more drama than one would expect and a shockingly nasty bump.
Shuji Ishikawa vs Takeda, DM title, Big Japan 6/30/13. Two guys who worked their way up from the lowest-of-the-low indies thanks a strong work ethic and the ability to dish out serious violence. It's a good pairing and the best DM title bout in a while.
Irie vs Okabayashi, DDT title, DDT 7/21/13, JIP. Irie rose through the DDT ranks reasonably quickly and wrested the title from Kenny Omega. Okabayashi won a title shot in the sort of convoluted way that only DDT can do, the details of which don't really matter. The winner gets to headline DDT's biggest show of the year, which would easily be a career match for both of them. The first third didn't really go anywhere so I lopped it off; the rest is good in that sort of "an Okabayashi match" way.
Sekimoto vs Shinobu, Strong BJ title, Big Japan 7/26/13. Just looking at the pairing you know it's a David vs Goliath match, and it goes down in a way that plays to both of their strengths. Not amazing, but solid.
Tanahashi vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 2013. I so enjoyed Tanahashi vs Yano from 2011 because it featured Yano delivering a career performance in front of the rabid hardcore fans at Korakuen. Now you have Ishii, who doesn't need a career performance to outshine Yano, in the same role? And you make it the main event? This, ladies and gentlemen, is why New Japan is the top promotion in Japan. Great booking, wonderful matchup.
Shibata vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 2013. Real talk: coming in, there's really no way that this match isn't good. These two are not going to sleepwalk and chinlock their way through it. Still, this could have been merely "okay" or "decent". It's not. It lives up to EVERY BIT of the expectations one could have for Shibata vs Ishii. They knock the tar out of each other, they show fire, they get the already receptive Osaka crowd way into it, and they deliver a finishing run that has a *perfect* balance of feeling consequential without going overboard when placed in the middle of the card. To paraphrase The Man: if you don't like Ishii yet, learn to love him, because he's the best thing going today.
Okada vs Makabe, New Japan G-1 Climax 2013. Works in many of the same ways as their title match. The body of the match is distinct, it's more compact, and they deliver another good closing run. Plus: Osaka Prefectural Gym continues to BRING IT for this show.
Nakamura vs Ibushi, New Japan G-1 Climax 2013. You might notice that there aren't a ton of recent-years Nakamura and Ibushi matches on the site, especially compared to their popularity. In Nakamura's case, I have a hard time getting over his moveset, which seems to lack a certain 'oomph'. In Ibushi's case, he can be a bit focused on getting his spots in. This match manages to play to both of their strengths and FAR exceeds expectations. Nakamura looks like a killer because of the size difference, and Ibushi fights like mad to prove himself in a main event against one of the top stars in Japan. A great conclusion to a great show.
Makabe vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 2013. At this point, Ishii is out of contention and Makabe can't afford a loss. Makabe is almost a perfectly bad matchup for Ishii: bigger, stronger, and using pretty much the same style. But this is the Year Of Ishii, and every time you think a match is going to head towards a cookie-cutter finish with the big star winning, he finds (or makes) an opening to come back. Builds into something big despite not going especially long.
Mochizuki & Tozawa vs Fujii & Arai, Dragon Gate 8/23/13. A match based on grumpiness, strikes, and big-time suplexes is a match I can get behind.
Sekimoto vs Madoka, Strong BJ title, Big Japan 8/27/13. As with the Shinobu match, there's no attempt to make Madoka come across as anything less than a huge underdog to the muscle monster. Both men do some intelligent body part work alongside the size vs speed theme. Better than I expected!
Okabayashi vs Kondo, Wrestle-1 10/6/13. Okabayashi is short for a heavyweight. Kondo is strong for a junior. The result is an either-man-can-win power battle. Kondo is a Goldberg fan, and Okabayashi has a certain Japanese Goldberg look to him. The question: who, in fact, is next?
Shibata vs Ishii, New Japan 10/14/13. Not quite as good as the first go-around, but they do spend pretty much the entire time hitting each other really hard, and at the end of the day that's all we ask of them.
Sakuraba vs Nagata, New Japan 10/14/13. Rematch from July, in which Sakuraba beat Nagata with a cross-armbreaker. I really enjoy the organic feel to how it goes down, similar to the Sakuraba/Nakamura match.
Okada vs Tanahashi, IWGP title, New Japan 10/14/13. Their G-1 bout two months earlier went to a 30 minute draw. This proceeds mostly along the same lines as the rest of their series: limb work, lots of teases, progression through their long list of trademark moves, and a dramatic last third. What stands out to me is the way Tanahashi wrestles: like a challenger rather than an ace. He's the one taking the initiative more, and Okada does a lot of reacting rather than dictating. This can mean only two things. Either Okada overcomes and fully overtakes Tanahashi as ace of the promotion. Or, Okada has lit a fire and pushed Tanahashi to improve enough to reclaim the throne. Which is it?
Tajiri vs Taka Michinoku, WNC title, WNC 10/31/13. Tajiri's first group (Smash) closed and was re-branded as Wrestling New Classics. This battle of super-athletic '90s juniors who made good in the US takes place mostly on the mat. Good technical work throughout, really showing how they matured and adapted to the ravages of time. Also, considering how much time they spent as undercard wrestlers, they really know how to wrestle a main event title match.
Kenou & Hayato vs Shinzaki & Sasuke, Michinoku Pro 11/4/13. Last in a year-long series of shows celebrating the promotion's 20th anniversary. This is worked in a very deliberate, 'big match' style, and they mostly pull off what they're going for. The top young guns try to down the company's stalwart leaders. Shinzaki, a heavyweight, has tended to be somewhat separate from the company's juniors. When he does get involved he's usually dominant. Can the skill and stiffness of Kenou and Hayato overcome the durability of their elders, or will experience trump youth?
Kanemoto & Nakanoue vs K. Hashimoto & Kawakami, Big Japan 11/4/13. Why did it take this long for someone to put Kanemoto and K-Hash in the same ring? Better late than never I suppose, and they do deliver on the sort of natural hatred that could power a city if properly harnessed. More please!
Shibata vs Honma, NJ 11/9/13. Those of you who are partial to Honma might notice a distinct lack of him on the site. I'm not linking his matches with Yamakawa or Masato Tanaka that many have praised. I'd say my main beef with him is structure. He executes well, he's willing to take punishment, but when his matches go around 20 minutes long he loses me. Thankfully this match is WELL under 10 minutes and is essentially non-stop tough-guy clobbering. Maybe Shibata has something to do with that?
Tanahashi vs Ishii, NJ 11/9/13. Good in the same way as the G-1 match. I would hope that is endorsement enough. If not, go watch the G-1 match.
Sato & D. Hashimoto vs Kawakami & K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 11/22/13. It's funny, Sato is so vanilla and forgettable the vast majority of the time, but throw him in an interpromotional match and he grows a personality. The Hashimotos have personality enough already, and I shouldn't even have to mention where the match takes place, so this is a good one.
Fujiwara vs Mochizuki, Tokyo Gurentai 12/4/13. Held under UWF rules. Compact and pretty darn stiff. Old Man Fujiwara can still take a hard shot and return fire, but does he have enough in the tank to beat a much more physically capable opponent?
CIMA vs Shisa, Dragon Gate 12/7/13. They count down rope breaks, and if either uses a 5th they lose. Mostly an exhibition of llave-style mat work, which in theory plays to Shisa's strengths. Although CIMA has long been the face of the promotion, Shisa has had his number on occasion...
Shinzaki vs Hayato, MPro 12/13/13, JIP. I clipped the opening portion, most of which was filler legwork. The second half is a very interesting continuation of the November dream tag. For ages, Shinzaki has existed in his own semi-separate continuity, always beating the company's juniors one-on-one but never leading to anything because they never had a title he could contend for. Now that his vulnerability has been exposed in a tag, will Shinzaki hold up against the toughest junior challenge he's faced in 20 years, or will Hayato finally break the streak?
Akiyama, Takayama & Momota vs Sasaki, Fujiwara & Super Tiger 2, Rikidozan Memorial 12/16/13. Good heat, good pace, and a good story. Considering that Momota was doing old man comedy matches over 20 years before this, he still has a decent amount in the tank.
Kanemoto vs K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 1/2/14. When I saw that this is a thing that happened, I thought, "well there's a match I'm probably going to enjoy." And I did, so I'm posting it. If you are familiar with their respective oeuvres, I suspect you will be enjoying this as well.
Goto vs Shibata, New Japan 1/4/14. Goto's return from injury, and a conclusion to their heated rivalry.
Okada vs Naito, IWGP title, New Japan 1/4/14, JIP. The first half lagged a bit, but they pick things up in the home stretch. Their 2012 title bout was a breakout performance, but Naito isn't at the point where a competitive showing does much for his career. Only a win will do. Okada, meanwhile, fell short at the Dome the year before. Who wants it more?
Nakamura vs Tanahashi, IC title, New Japan 1/4/14, JIP. Voted into main event status by the fans, this has a much "bigger" finishing run than previous IC title matches. After years of constant title bouts between the two of them, this is their first big match since 2011, and the first involving new-attitude Nakamura. Will Tanahashi continue his streak of Dome-closing victories, or will Nakamura fend him off?
Mochizuki vs T-Hawk, Dragon Gate 1/12/14. I don't even bother watching 99% of Dragon Gate matches, but this one I checked out based on one thing: King of Chop. T-Hawk's chops and selling (!!) were top-notch, and I figured Mochizuki might want to stand in the pocket and see who's tougher. The winner is mostly us. I actually feel bad for T-Hawk, who wasn't sold for enough in King of Chop and is mostly no-sold by Mochizuki. Still worth watching as probably the stiffest Dragon System match I can think of. Yikes.
Ishii vs Okabayashi, Legend 1/13/14. So... this match happened. I'm not going to say it's an amazing MOTYC, because it's not, but at the same time there is really no scenario where this match at Korakuen Hall doesn't result in goodness. Whoever booked this is paying attention.
Okada, Nakamura & Ishii vs Tanahashi, Goto & Naito, New Japan 2/2/14. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a 6-man tag is usually only as good as the weakest link in the match. When you have an obvious fall-guy or two with really cruddy offense, the likelihood of a standout match becomes next to nothing. Here, we get an 'all-star' 6-man to set up singles matches later in the tour. Everyone can go, and everyone DOES go. Take that and put it in front of a packed Korakuen Hall, and you've got the company's best 6-man in ages.
K. Sato & Shuji Ishikawa vs D. Hashimoto & K. Hashimoto, Big Japan 2/7/14. Double Hashimotos are such a fun underdog team. Ishikawa and Sato are effective in the goliath role. Even though this is Big Japan and Zero1 wrestlers mixed together instead of fighting each other, it works.
Naito vs Ishii, NEVER title, New Japan 2/11/14. Oh man. The crowd in Osaka is just LOSING IT for Ishii, willing him to win. He's had several big wins in recent years but always comes up short when gold is on the line. Naito, meanwhile, is coming off winning the G-1 and getting the Tokyo Dome title shot. Still, Ishii has a real chance at getting the company's #3 belt, and he delivers yet another clutch performance.
CIMA vs Shisa, Dragon Gate 2/20/14. Rematch from December, held under special, submission-oriented rules. Can Shisa follow up his strong showing, or will CIMA assert himself?
Tanahashi & Naito vs Nakamura & Ishii, New Japan 3/6/14. As with the 6-man the month before, a proper all-star tag from New Japan really feels big. It helps that they're at a mid-sized venue rather than some random mid-tour spot, so the crowd anticipates something significant. A continuation of two rivalries, and any result will be interesting.
Okada vs Ibushi, NJ 3/6/14, JIP. Heavyweight champion versus junior champion! Athleticism is what defines these two, and the first half was somewhat lacking there. The second half delivers considerably better than their 2013 match in DDT, and the crowd gets really into it.
Ishii vs Naito, NJ cup round 1, New Japan 3/15/14. Ishii looks to maintain the upper hand in their feud, but Naito has too much talent and pride to ease off. I like the occasional flashes of anger Naito has at the crowd's support for Ishii. I think Naito really 'gets' heavyweight wrestling more than Mutoh, who rarely shows fire or a violent streak. Ishii brings out the best in everyone.
Ishii vs Naito, NEVER title, New Japan 4/6/14. I don't know why, in The Year of Our Lord 2014, people would do live stream caps at such a low bitrate. That said, it's watchable, and the match is in line with their first two battles. Ishii is the best in Japan by a lot right now.
Ishii vs Kushida, NEVER title, New Japan 4/12/14. New Japan visits Taiwan! Kushida visits "getting the crap beat out of him by Ishii"! Interesting to see Ishii in the big dog role after years spent on the other side. Kushida is solid as the overmatched upstart.
Ironman Title battle royal, DDT 4/29/14. Sanshiro Takagi, the 999th champion, has threatened to seal the title. Poison Sawada JULIE, the now-retired creator of the title, has delved into his mind-control snake power to have the other wrestlers target Takagi. The match is pretty much there to set up the post-match, which features the most mindboggling result in DDT history. Which, by extension, means wrestling history.
Ishii vs Honma, NEVER title, New Japan 5/3/14. Honma has been wrestling like a less-thick version of Ishii lately. In theory, styles make fights, but can two dudes whose movesets mirror each other have an interesting clash? Yes, for one reason: the underdog story. As with the Kushida match, Ishii knows how to be the bigger man despite having gotten over working from underneath. Plenty of heat, plenty of stiffness, and that patented Big Match Ishii finish.
Ishii vs Ibushi, NEVER title, New Japan 5/25/14. Junior champion vs heavyweight champion is interesting on paper, but often leads to an anticlimactic result. Ah, but junior champion against a secondary heavyweight champion... that can be competitive. Especially when the junior champion is decently taller and has a big arsenal. Can Ibushi overcome Ishii's ferocious spirit, or will brute force win the day?
Yokosuka vs T-Hawk, King of Gate 2014 final, Dragon Gate. T-Hawk continues to bring the CHOPS and the SELLING. I see a lot of people touting Susumu lately, but Make Mine T-Hawk.
Miyamoto & Kodaka vs Shuji Ishikawa & Sato, tag titles, Big Japan 5/31/14. Miyamoto and Isami have been indy tag aces for a bit, but they face a daunting task. Big versus little is a timeless story and this match delivers that dynamic very well. All it takes is one big move from the big guys to put the champs in PERIL~.
Liger vs Kushida, New Japan BOSJ '14. Another good showing from Kushida, especially in his selling. Liger is in an interesting point where he can lose a couple times a year but stay credible, such that those losses always seem like a major accomplishment for his opponent. That said, he wins more than he loses, and Kushida has his work cut out for him.
Ricochet vs Kushida, New Japan BOSJ 2014 final. Ricochet comes into this fresh off a (brief) run as Dragon Gate champion. Kushida comes in with a lot of heart and an effective armlock. Hard to believe Ricochet and Seth Rollins are headliners considering where they started. Another fine outing from Kushida.
Shibata & Goto vs Nagata & Honma, New Japan 6/21/14. Much like Ishii, Shibata continues to impress with his commitment to violence. Honma is also winning me over with a commitment to effort after years of half-assing it. Seriously, he's a huge talent and I have no idea why he sandbagged for over a decade, but better late than never. Nagata is effective in short bursts and mostly lets Honma have the spotlight on their side. I'm very glad Honma got into the G-1, because he earned it after performances like this.
HARASHIMA vs Sasadango Machine, DDT title, DDT 6/29/14. Sasadango Machine is Muscle Sakai, and his trademark is the use of Powerpoint slides. This match was set up through their version of Money In The Bank, and Sasadango lays out the facts. His finisher will drain at least 35% of HARASHIMA's energy, so if he does it three times, we'll have a new champion!
Sekimoto vs Shinobu, Strong Climb tournament, Big Japan 6/30/14. On one hand, Shinobu gave it his best shot and couldn't take out Sekimoto a year ago. On the other hand, Korakuen has been the site of some big upsets in round-robin tournaments, so there's no telling what will happen. This one starts slow but ends well.
Shibata & Goto vs Tanahashi & Naito, New Japan 7/4/14. All-star tag, though at times it almost feels like a handicap match with how little Tanahashi is in. Poor Naito gets bullied, especially by Shibata, but he does return fire at times. And let's not forget that just because Goto and Shibata have been teaming for a bit, that doesn't mean they're going to roll through the bout unscathed.
Kojima vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 7/23/14. I wonder how long Ishii will seem like a massive underdog against established headliners like Kojima. Ishii beat Kojima over a year before this, and racked up several big wins afterwards, yet it still feels like he's got a huge mountain to climb. Doesn't help that Kojima is such a bad style matchup for him as a bigger, stronger chops-and-lariats guy, and that Kojima beat Ishii in last year's tournament. Who wins the rubber match?
Sekimoto vs Shuji Ishikawa, Strong Climb tournament final, Big Japan 7/26/14. Big dudes, big bombs, and in a rather small amount of time. Man, does Sekimoto ever eat some nasty shots...
Ishii vs Honma, New Japan G-1 Climax 7/26/14. Works along the same lines as their first match. At a certain point I thought "okay, clearly they're going for a smaller finish because it's during the G-1", but then they proceeded to kick things into high gear. I'm so glad Honma got into the tournament, and he's fortunate Ishii paved the way.
Styles vs Naito, New Japan G-1 Climax 7/26/14. In many ways this feels like a title fight. Naito comes in with a cut, and heel champ Styles attacks it with gusto. This adds much more tension and drama than we'd have if they worked a match around their respective athletic abilities. Very strong finish. And all this for a semi-main event!
Tanahashi vs Shibata, New Japan G-1 Climax 7/26/14. Shibata roughing up Tanahashi was fun in 2006, and it continues to be fun 8 years later. Features a jaw-droppingly dramatic strike that I can't possibly do justice to. Even the ref is blown away.
Ishii vs Gallows, New Japan G-1 Climax 7/28/14. Big vs little is such a classic wrestling story, and Ishii's dwarf-like stature makes him perfectly suited for it. Gallows is darn good on his end as well, with some well-timed cut-offs and solid control throughout. Very efficient and effective as a show opener.
Tenzan vs Goto, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/1/14. Tenzan is in a weird place. Everyone knows he's mostly broken down, the new generation of headliners are better-looking and better athletes, yet he still has the firepower to take anyone down if the stars align just right. Korakuen loves an underdog, and Tenzan is definitely an underdog against Goto in 2014. Can they will him to victory, or will Goto's tournament success overcome a game Tenzan?
Styles vs Suzuki, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/1/14. This one is fascinating. Heel champ Styles takes on the leader of New Japan's #2 heel stable in Suzuki. Considering that we're in Japan, and how effective Styles has been in as a heel in the company, one expects him to be the antagonist. Nnnnnope. Suzuki brings the EVIL and Styles becomes sympathetic. Good match with broad appeal and a strong finish. New Japan really out-did themselves with this tournament.
Nakamura vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/1/14. Oh mannnnn. You've got: 1) A 'brother vs brother' stablemate battle; 2) Ishii vs 'top star' at Korakuen in the main event, like the epic a year earlier against Tanahashi; 3) A thrilling finish, complete with a look of REGRET on the face of the winner before the end. Ishii rules so much.
Styles vs Archer, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/3/14. AJ continues to bring the versatility. This is another heel vs heel match in which he has the more sympathetic role. Now it's a "big vs little" matchup, and AJ definitely makes Archer look like a monster, including some enormous bumps. It probably helps that they are both TNA refugees.
Shibata vs Honma, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/3/14. Their respective roles are well-established at this point, and both bring the goods. Honma looks fine despite taking an absolutely horrific bump at the end of his previous match, so clearly he's made of sterner stuff.
Shibata vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/6/14. They don't quite live up to the epic slugfest of the year before, but this is still Shibata and Ishii and it's still a slugfest, so you're going to watch it.
Nagata vs Ishii, New Japan G-1 Climax 8/8/14. For years, the Nagata matchup was Ishii's bread-and-butter. They just tee off on each other every time. Somehow, the recent Ishii Miracle Run hasn't included a slugfest with Nagata. Until now.
Makabe & Honma vs Goto & Ibushi, New Japan 9/5/14. Ibushi returns from the injury that kept him out of the G-1. Meanwhile, he faces Honma, who took his place in the tournament. That makes for an interesting dynamic.
Mashimo vs Tonai, Kaio Tournament final & Strongest K title, K-Dojo 9/14/14. In a rather unique setup, the promotion did a 16-man tournament over the course of two back-to-back shows. Mashimo, who came in as champion, defended the title throughout. Mashimo is in his 5th title reign and won the tournament last year, so he is a massive favorite. Lots of quality, focused technical wrestling here.
Akiyama vs Miyahara, Royal Road tournament, All Japan 9/15/14. Akiyama vs Upstart Punk is one of those can't-miss matchups, and thankfully even the rotting husk of All Japan can't change that. They had a match just a few months before this, which Akiyama won. Is Miyahara going to give the old man trouble this time around? He better not if he knows what's good for him.
Kanemoto & K. Hashimoto vs Shinobu & Asahi, tag league, Big Japan 9/23/14. Good crowd, good pace, solid match. I'd like to see what they could have done with a few more minutes added to the finish, but that's a small quibble for a midcard bout.