NJPW Tadakai no Wonderland ~Chosenshi Gekiko Hen~ #741
Manabu Nakanishi vs. Mike Enos 9:14. Enos was among NJPW’s most tolerable heavyweight gaijins of the mid 1990’s because he was unselfish and a hard worker. He did his best to work with his robotic no-charisma bore of an opponent, making it passable. It wasn’t pretty, but considering the lack of flexibility it was well executed. *1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match: Sabu vs. Black Tiger 15:44. Liger breaking his ankle on 9/24/94 should have necessitated the much awaited second Wild Pegasus run as IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, as none of the other veterans could carry the younger wrestlers the way he could. I don’t have a problem with their choice to give Koji Kanemoto his first reign because, even if he wasn’t quite ready, greatness was very clearly in his future. However, Benoit was the one who was really capable of bringing it out, as displayed by their excellent match on 3/13/95 and great one on 9/25/95. Instead, the transitional wrestlers to Kanemoto were Norio Honaga, a quality wrestler and good company man who was hardly the great a 3 time champion would imply, and Sabu, a US indie darling that wasn’t technically sound or proficient enough to even warrant consideration for the Best of the Super Junior tournament. These choices were simply making Koji look that much less ready, particularly Sabu, whose title win over Kanemoto on 5/3/95 is a top candidate for the worst IWGP Junior title change ever.
Black Tiger would have been another good choice to hold the title. His great performance was enough to turn this into half a match, executing his offense that didn’t require much if anything from Sabu on a level Sabu could only imagine, and even doing a very good job in spite of Sabu on the stuff that required a decent amount of cooperate. This match really shows the difference between major and minor league wrestlers, as we can see that Sabu essentially works independently of his opponent. Either he’s on offense or they are, but there’s no real development, they just give or take, setting each other up for single moves but not really advancing beyond that into the realms of chaining holds or working back and forth counter laden sequences to get to the same point. This just wasn’t the junior heavyweight wrestling we have come to expect, and I don’t mean the tables and chairs, which like anything else can be a plus or a minus. I don’t mean that Sabu actually beat a fan up before the match, even if he was kind of asking for it by stealing Sabu’s turban as he was walking to the ring. Back and forth submission work is one of the elements that sets the New Japan juniors apart, but this matwork was an utter disgrace. Sabu actually had to take a rope break on a scorpion that wasn’t even turned over and his offensive contributions were a chinlock and front facelock! Sabu was so lacking in anything usable early on that they had to kill time, turning Sabu’s diving leg pick into a comedy spot where they’d try to distract each other to pull it off. In the end, all they could do was run around and hope Sabu didn’t miss his spots too badly. Sabu only debacled one spot beyond recognition, but it’s more that his offense isn’t performed to the level of credibility. For instance, he wins with his Arabian press, which is a really cool move except his knees so obviously took the entire impact of the moonsault it’s laughable that Guerrero was unable to kick out. **1/2
UWA World Junior Heavyweight Title Match: Koji Kanemoto vs. Gran Hamada 13:07. Wily veteran Hamada was a good opponent for Kanemoto even if it made for a shorter match since he’s more of a tag specialist than someone who has the offense for a 20 minute singles war. That’s not a bad thing with Kanemoto, who is a bit of a spot merchant anyway. Koji really brought the offense in this one, not only adding spectacular moves but displaying eye opening athleticism, body control, and crispness in his execution. Hamada always does everything well, he wouldn’t improperly execute the cross armbar finisher the way Koji did, but he’s simply incapable of reaching the heights Kanemoto can when he’s on like he otherwise was. Hamada is a bit old school and lucha oriented in the submission portion, too content to grab an appendage, but the lucha background also provides the benefit of making his running sequences better than most. They largely did Hamada’s match with Kanemoto instilling his dickishness wherever applicable. He was in Hamada’s face before the match began, and wound up dropkicking him before the bell. Though there was some decent interplay, I thought they could have done more with the idea that, belt or not belt, Hamada wasn’t going to let the young punk get away with disrespecting him. Generally, the match was better than expected with the somewhat low rating being a product of finishing about 5 minutes before expected without kicking into the final gear. ***1/4