NJPW SUPER POWERS CLASH (Satellite Fight)
IWGP Title Tournament 1st Round
Masa Chono vs. Big Van Vader 2:04 of 5:52. Chono had aspirations of standing up to Vader, but it was quickly apparent he was two Musketeers short of having a prayer. The monster gaijin easily overwhelmed him, KOing Chono with a lariat then giving him a diving body press for good measure.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Vladimir Berkovich 4:51. Fujinami did an excellent job here, adjusting his style to fit into Berkovich's comfort zone while still maintaining the pro wrestler vs. amateur wrestler concept. Essentially a mixed style match with Fujinami doing kicks, suplexes, and submissions and Berkovich working the clinch game. Within the context of the time period and the general knowledge of shoots, the match was more or less credible, with the couple of pro wrestling moves such as the leg pick and standing dropkick theoretically working because Berkovich was a noob who was still trying to get over the fact you could be down for three, much less get used to all the new techniques available. Berkovich showed potential because he was willing to let Fujinami make the decisions and dictate the positions. He'd basically just try for the techniques he's a master of, and see if Fujinami went for it or countered.
Victor Zangiev vs. Buzz Sawyer 3:56. I never understood why NJ decided to give Hashimikov the title run rather than Zangiev. Zangiev was simply a great athlete, one of those naturals who probably could have excelled in any number of sports. Extremely nimble and had a great arsenal of suplexes, Zangiev more importantly understood the transition game well. He didn't merely deposit his opponent on the mat, he went right into an arm bar. I always liked Buzz Sawyer, but I thought Zangiev was pretty clearly the better wrestler here, and this was with minimal time in the dojo and in practically his first match.
Shinya Hashimoto vs. Riki Choshu 3:41. One reason NJ has long been the most successful promotion in Japan, sometimes in the world, is they understand how to use leagues and tournaments to both elevate wrestlers and keep them strong. Every league can run flukish results, but NJ picks their spots and follows them up by putting the victor in important matches, even if they go on to lose them all. Hashimoto had been moving up the ranks since he returned the previous July, but this win over the legend in front of this many people really put him on the map. It was by no means the greatest win, as he rather sloppily countered the sasorigatame into something of a small package, but his run to the finals somewhat made up for it. The match itself was rather forgettable, not that it was bad but simply too short for these two, who win by bludgeoning each other until someone can no longer answer the bell. Hashimoto pissed Choshu off by twice slapping him instead of rope breaking, so Choshu returned the favor with short elbows when Hashimoto was in the corner. This is the sort of nice early stuff you get from them to build to them pounding the hell out of each other, but they had to go in another direction because they are too tough to have one knock the other out so quickly.
Non Tournament Match: Masa Saito vs. Wakha Evloev 5:28. Evloev did a pretty good job, showing some nice throws and generally being competent. Started out as a judo match, but Saito was no match, so he started roughing it up, using lariats and headbutts. Evloev didn't know what hit him, but quickly stabilized and surprised Saito back with a flying headscissors to set up the submission win.
IWGP Title Tournament Semifinals
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Big Van Vader 14:37. Simple match. Everything was very well done, but there was nothing particularly deep or difficult. It was something of an odd match, in that although Vader dominated the first half as expected, he wasn't using his power to do so. In fact, it was Fujinami who had almost all the throws, but that was the majority of his offense, as Vader kept him close, tying the more dynamic fighter up and grounding him as if it were a shoot. Fujinami finally had an opening, hurting Vader's arm with an armbar. Though Vader did a nice job of selling this throughout the match and the next one, the immediate result was this prompted him to open up, nearly knocking Tatsumi out with a lariat. Vader began giving Fujinami distance so he could use his weight and power, but this allowed Fujinami to evade and get a hope armbar. However, when Vader caught Fujinami's diving body attack it was the beginning of the end. ***1/4
Victor Zangiev vs. Shinya Hashimoto 7:28. Zangiev was once again very impressive. He throws as fluid a suplex as you'll ever see, just a superb arch. He's also quick, aggressive, and doesn't like to waste time. I didn't particularly care for his overexaggerated head bob selling, but that was about it. Zangiev was tossing Hashimoto all over, putting on a suplex clinic. Hashimoto eventually got so frustrated he hocked a loogie at the Russian, who was probably thinking that was all Hashimoto had. I enjoyed the match, but I wasn't impressed by how they got from this point to Hashimoto's victory. The transition to the finish was just crude, and the finish itself came way too suddenly to really be believable. I mean, Zangiev was trapped in the figure four too long, if anything, my problem is the match was essentially laid out so he lost the moment Hashimoto went on offense. **1/4
Non Tournament Match: Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Salman Hashimikov 2:26. One can hardly call this a match. Bigelow gave Hashimikov his initiation to puroresu, giving him a standing dropkick when Hashimikov requested a pre-match handshake, a forearm to the back when Hashimikov tried for the single leg takedown, and an enzuigiri when Hashimikov picked his leg. This would have been a nice lesson on the way the pro game works, if they actually attached a match to it. Instead, they just ended it when Bigelow was, in turn, caught off guard by the suisha otoshi. DUD
IWGP Title Tournament Final: Shinya Hashimoto vs. Big Van Vader 9:47. This match was a bit of a letdown after the two semifinals, which were more heated and intense. It had a lot of potential, but didn't really fulfill it, and I think got kinda goofy by the end, though not to the point of being ruined like Hashimoto/Zangiev. Hashimoto was clearly the underdog, but he was coming into the final in much better condition. He is one of the few guys who can reasonably be expected to stand toe to toe with Vader, especially with Vader having to make as many adjustments as possible to protect his injured arm. Vader got off to a good start, but the match turned as soon as Hashimoto found the bad arm. Hashimoto sought a Kimura, but even after knocking Vader off the top with a spinning kick that resulted in Vader's foot getting caught in the ropes, he couldn't get it. I thought the booking broke down here, as it was ridiculous to have Hashimoto not even be competitive slugging it out with Vader. Hashimoto would even kick the bad arm, and Vader would still just lay him out with one blow! I realize they were putting over Vader as extra super dominant, but in the end, Hashimoto was only competitive because Vader had a bad wing, and even that and a weird slow count by Lou Thesz on the finisher didn't make a difference. **1/2
World Martial Arts Heavyweight Title Match, Ishu Kakutogisen: Antonio Inoki vs. Shota Chochishvili R5 1:20. I rarely enjoy NJ's clumsy attempts at shoots because they always seem at war with themselves. On one hand, they are trying to limit what they can do so they'd be more realistic, but on the other they are trying to entertain, so the result tends to be that diversity goes out the window and they simply replace it with a bunch of spots of the same variety. Tonight's effort was particularly clumsy, as Shota didn't know how to take and Inoki is so steeped in the pro wrestling mentality that his storytelling and selling killed any illusion of reality rather than enhancing it, as he was making such an effort to do. Georgian Chochishvili was the 1st Soviet judo champion, capturing the gold medal in the Half-Heavyweight division at the 1972 Olympics. They took the ropes down for this "shoot", so the ring was essentially just a large platform. They were allowed to continue on the ground, trying for a submission, but were stood up no matter what after 20 seconds. Inoki didn't wear a Gi, so in theory it was much more difficult for Chochishvili to throw him, and in fact Inoki had the first suplex, a UWF style not so smooth backdrop. Nothing else happened in the first round, but I kind of preferred that to all the preceeding rounds where throws were a dime a dozen, particularly the second round, which was a loop where Shota would immediately throw Inoki and go for an armbar. Inoki fought with one arm from the 3rd round on, holding the other behind his back, which bent sort of like Quasimodo, to show it was "dead". He was desperate, so he fired up and suddenly Shota just stood there and allowed him to hit every sort of glamorous quasi shoot style move in the book, doing a lame job of selling them to boot. Inoki even connected with his enzuigiri, but then the throw into armlock loop resurfaced and Inoki was ultimately saved by the bell from Shota's choke in the third. In the fifth round, Shota gave up following with submissions because he was either bored of trying for the armbar or figured Inoki was so close to out of it he had a better chance of getting a 10 count KO, which soon worked. I give Inoki credit for jobbing to Chochishvili to give the Russians all sorts of credibility that would allow a full Japan vs. Russia program, but this suplexfu was only marginally more credible than the admittedly fake matches. *