“It used to be better.” – The Lapsed Fan Pro Wrestling Podcast

Jun Akiyama, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Kentaro Shiga, & Akitoshi Saito vs. Takuma Sano, Mitsuharu Misawa, Yoshinari Ogawa, & Naomichi Marufuji
NOAH TV Taping
August 15, 2001 (Airdate: August 17, 2001)
Akita, Japan

Marufuji dominates Kanemaru and gloats, so he gets a low-blow for his trouble, and each team decides to triple-team the other’s legal man. For the next 10 minutes or so, it’s standard good stuff, nobody really gain an advantage until Kanemaru unintentionally headbutts Ogawa in the groin.

Ogawa eventually evades Akiyama on a top rove move attempt, resulting in Akiyama getting the ring cut in half on him. Misawa and crew target Akiyama’s left leg, but Akiyama evades a basement dropkick from Marufuji, dumping him out to get triple-teamed outside. Akiyama has enough to drag Marufuji into the audience and scoop slam him.

Marufuji eats numerous scoop slams, including a high angle one from Akiyama for a near-fall. Akiyama’s team targets Marufuji’s torso overall, front and back. Ogawa makes the saves after some big moves, allowing Misawa to come in for the hot tag. Akiyama vs. Misawa is by far the hottest matchup for the crowd.

Shiga eventually finds himself getting quadruple-teamed. I appreciated that as the match breaks down, the legalities are adhered to. For all the struggles of this company a year into its existence, it’s still ran by actual big-leaguers. Marufuji eats a bunch of moves before getting saved, and after kicking out of a Tornado DDT, finally taps out to an arm submission from Shiga. Good stuff overall but no effort was made to tell a deep story to make this anything memorable. Rating: ***1/2

“The main event on the [NJPW] 10/8 Tokyo Dome officially will be Keiji Muto & Hiroshi Hase vs. Yuji Nagata & Jun Akiyama. If it was in a building like Sumo Hall or Budokan Hall, this on paper could be match of the year calibre. They should have a great technical match and it does involve All Japan, New Japan and NOAH all in one match so that’s a big deal, but to me it’s not a match that will sell enough tickets to pack a Dome” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated August 27, 2001)

“They are intent on at least attempting to put the younger guys over. On the 8/27 Korakuen Hall show, they headlined with Takeshi Rikio & Takeshi Morishima & Daisuke Ikeda vs. Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi, with Akiyama the only one of the six who would have been an established star from the All Japan days. Michael Modest & Donovan Morgan were also given a win over Misawa & Marufuji when Modest pinned Marufuji. On 8/28 at Korakuen Hall, Akiyama & Saito & Shiga beat Vader & Modest & Morgan in the main event” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated September 3, 2001)

“Jun Akiyama retained the GHC title in his first defense over Tamon Honda on 9/5 in Morioka before 3,100 fans in 17:58 with a front guillotine submission while Yoshinobu Kanemaru retained the GHC jr. title pinning Satoru Asako in 23:27 after a brainbuster. Early reports indicate the main event wasn’t good, which is hardly a shock… Tour ended on 9/9 at Differ Ariake. No big climax since Morioka was the main show on the tour. Main angle on the final night was to set up Akiyama vs. Vader for the GHC title soon. Vader & Too Cold Scorpio beat Akiyama & Kentaro Shiga in the main event, and after the match, Vader grabbed Akiyama’s belt and threw it into the crowd

They will be holding their first ever tag team tournament from 10/6 to 10/19 to crown the first GHC tag champs, and next spring will create their final championship, the GHC jr. tag titles. Storyline is that the company’s top tag team, Yoshihiro Takayama & Takao Omori, claim they won’t be teaming up because Takayama is a free agent and refuses to

This group talked last week with APW promoter Roland Alexander about sending Takao Omori and Takeshi Morishima to the King of the Indies in Vallejo, CA on 10/27 and 10/28 while Alexander was also interested in Marufuji. Because of the timing aspect of getting all the paperwork done, it may not get done. Omori has far more size than anyone in that tournament and is a very good worker. Morishima is also bigger but has a bad body for U.S. wrestling (Misawa’s theories on wrestling is that ability comes before bodies). Marufuji would have the best shot of the three of getting over because he’s the most spectacular

Modest, who still has only done one pinfall loss in two tours (the singles match at Budokan to Ogawa) is now really over doing a trademark spot where he wrestles almost like a mad dog relentlessly, then out of nowhere, pauses, switches character and does this goofy smile and sticks this thumb up for the crowd. The spot is so over that in the magazines even Vader and Misawa are copying it” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated September 17, 2001)

We now head back to Zero-One for another gem involving NOAH talent.

Kentaro Shiga & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa & Tatsuhito Takaiwa
Zero-One Fire Festival 2001 Day 3
September 15, 2001
Tokyo, Japan


The most interesting matchup early on is between Shiga and Hoshikawa, as they strike each other like there’s a legitimate grudge or point of pride to prove. However, when Kanemaru and Takaiwa took their battle outside, they heated up with a brief chop battle, followed up by Takaiwa applying a Half Crab and grinding the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion’s face.

Shiga and Hoshikawa again take turns stiffing each other, obviously influencing certain talents that would become big names on the American underground scene. The NOAH team establishes itself shortly after that as the default heels, with Kanemaru trying to use the ropes for extra pin leverage and using his wrist tape to choke Hoshikawa. What dicks.

This naturally turns into the NOAH team cutting the ring in half on Hoshikawa, but he manages to make a comeback before it gets out of hand and makes the tag to Takaiwa. Kanemaru tries cheating again, grabbing Takaiwa’s tights on a pinfall attempt. Takaiwa hits a Tornado DDT and about a minute later evades Kanemaru’s trademark low-blow kick, hitting a lariat for a near-fall.

Kanemaru scouts the lariat, successfully hitting his low-blow kick, but Takaiwa drops him with a Powerbomb before tagging in Hoshikawa. He’s got his whereabouts back, as does Takaiwa to keep Shiga at bay outside. Shiga saves his partner after an awesome double-team kick/Powerbomb combo and takes Takaiwa out with a Tornado DDT on the apron ramp.

Hoshikawa finds himself alone, prey to double Top Rope Splashes, further exerting himself with a kick-out, but Takaiwa saves him on a Bridged German Suplex. Hoshikawa is tremendous playing underneath here, going for a desperate schoolboy pin before falling prey to Shiga’s Tornado DDT and follow-up Juji-gatame.

In the post-match, although I don’t understand the majority of Takaiwa’s Japanese language, he calls out Kanemaru, aggressively referring to him as “champion” and gets kicked in the nuts for his trouble. I’d have much preferred with Takaiwa getting the win over Kanemaru here to set up the title match, but I’m still interested to see it.

A very good match that had Takaiwa gone over Kanemaru, likely would’ve been great. Hoshikawa proved to be a wonderful face-in-peril and these teams would be worthy of facing each other again for any championship in the game. Considering the roles played here, such a rematch would likely be extremely heated and I welcome that. Rating: ***3/4

“Kenta Kobashi had yet another operation on his right knee on 9/6 and got out of the hospital a few days ago. The operation was to remove three screws put in the knee from a previous operation. I’ve long since lost count of how many operations Kobashi has had, but the plan is for him to return in January. It’s really sad, because there is a chance he is going to end up in a wheelchair as a relatively young man

NOAH has committed sending Omori and Morishima to the King of the Indies tournament in Vallejo, CA and the only hold-up is whether APW can get the visa work done in time to put it together. That will likely be confirmed one way or another within the next week” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated September 25, 2001)

“The visa hurdles seem to have been cleared for Takao Omori and Takeshi Morishima and possibly Masamichi Marufuji from NOAH to work APW’s King of Indies tournament on 10/27 and 10/28 in Vallejo, CA. It’s now up to NOAH to finalize the deal” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated October 8, 2001)

We now head to the Tokyo Dome for a cross-promotional main event, an appetizer of sorts for what’s to come in the next chapter of this lapsed journey.

Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata vs. Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Mutoh
NJPW Indicate of Next
October 8, 2001
Tokyo, Japan

Also available on NJPW World – https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00158_1_1

Although this match is being over-promoted for a stage like this, it’s exactly what the GHC Heavyweight Title needs since NOAH hasn’t done anything to establish itself as having majesty yet. The stadium, the entrances, the ramp production, to also have AJPW-branded stars in this, all of it is a shot in the arm, as is the caliber of these legendary participants.

The crowd pops when Akiyama decides to start with Mutoh, which is again exactly what NOAH needs from its representative and top champion. Nothing really happens for nearly 10 minutes until the former IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions target Akiyama’s left leg, getting heat on him. Akiyama manages to counter with his own submission on Hase’s left leg to continue targeting it.

It heats up with Nagata getting tagged in, and watching him work submissions with Mutoh is a thing of beauty. His right leg gets targeted, and the crowd is absolutely all in on Hase giving him a giant swing. This has been such a pleasant palette-cleanser from the dry NOAH and I didn’t even know I needed one going into this.

Nagata doesn’t let Mutoh cut the ring in half on him, cutting off leg work with an Enzuigiri to tag in Akiyama. No way is Mutoh letting Akiyama give him an Exploder off the apron, instead giving the GHC Heavyweight Champion a Dragon Screw on the right leg to begin targeting that body part. The crowd pops big when Mutoh cuts off Akiyama with a knee to the face and takes down Nagata with a Dragon Screw as well before applying the Figure Four Leg Lock on Nagata while Hase keeps Nagata out of the equation.

After Akiyama reaches the ropes, Mutoh keeps up the attack with some Moonsaults. Akiyama blocks the Shining Wizard though, having enough adrenaline to hit an Exploder but not to go for the pin. Both tag their partners in and it’s good stuff that keeps the crowd with every move, getting really heated during a slap exchange.

Hase eats some kicks and crouches down to evade Nagata’s Enzuigiri, and Mutoh uses his partner to deliver an elevated Shining Wizard, only to then eat a Shining Wizard from Akiyama, who then eats a Rock Bottom from Hase to leave all four down on the mat.

Hase makes the mistake of hitting a Northern Lights Suplex and going for it again, but Akiyama cuts off Mutoh to let Nagata apply a Crippler Crossface for incredible crowd heat. The reaction is stellar when Hase reaches the ropes. But once Akiyama hits an Exploder on Hase and Nagata follows up with a Backdrop Hold, that signals the end even with Hase kicking out at one. Nagata hits another and that’s it, Hase having exerted his final energy in that kick out.

Not an all-time classic, but this was a great main event to build up Nagata and Akiyama for their obvious singles showdown in the future. The crowd was totally into this as well, with an underlying buzz not seen in NOAH since Akiyama’s big rematch the year before against Kenta Kobashi. Rating: ****

“Yuji Nagata’s [in-ring NOAH] debut will probably be next spring. They wanted to debut him on the 12/9 Ariake Coliseum show but it looks like it’ll be difficult since it would be in the middle of the New Japan tag tournament”

Muto and Misawa have had some secret meetings as they would like to do a dream match in 2002. Muto has been wanting the match since the early 90s, when it was politically impossible due to the All Japan/New Japan situation at the time, since Muto has for years believed he and Misawa were the two best workers in the business, although neither is what they once were today due to all their injuries. In their talks, they’ve found a common frustration with the current scene, hating the changes due to the shoot revolution so to speak. Both think the style they grew up with is what pro wrestling should be and the worked shoot thing is killing the art form of pro wrestling. Both are hoping they’ll be able to hype this up to where it would be like the Baba vs. Inoki match they wanted to see when they were growing up as fans that never happened. Both are willing to put the other over cleanly, so they may do more than one match and their goal seems to be that their program would put the momentum back in the favor of “good pro wrestling” away from the current momentum which is in the direction of “shoot.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated October 22, 2001)

Unfortunately, the acclaimed semifinal match from the GHC Tag Team Titles tournament between Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Sait and Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa isn’t available to stream anywhere. Akiyama & Saito advanced to the final, with the result below.

The action returns to the green ring, paying off the teased title match in Zero-One the prior month.

GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title Match|
Yoshinobu Kanemaru © vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa
NOAH Navigation Tug of War Day 10
October 19, 2001 (Airdate: October 29, 2001)
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan

They have an excellent opening sequence. Takaiwa grabs Kanemaru’s hair and puts him down with a crowd-popping lariat for a near-fall. Although Kanemaru has enough to kick out, he’s dead weight. Pissed off after last month, Takaiwa shoves down the ref, so Kanemaru goes for an uppercut low-blow and Brainbuster for another hot near-fall, which he can’t believe wasn’t the finish. Perhaps he belongs in WWE over the past several years with that kind of reaction to a near-fall.

The champion keeps up the heat outside, hitting Takaiwa with a knee strike, driving him down on the guard rail. Kanemaru wins a strike exchange inside, dazing Takaiwa and dropping with a DDT. and gets dazed again with another strike once back up. After some submissions, Kanemaru opts for a blatant choke to maintain control.

Takaiwa breaks a Camel Clutch and applies one of his own, illegally fish-hooking Kanemaru and also crossfacing him before going for a leg lock submission, not allowing a clean break when the champ reaches the bottom rope. This leads to Takaiwa targeting Kanemaru’s left leg some more, but Kanemaru uses his wrist tape moments later to choke Takaiwa, which the ref picks up on.

Takaiwa retaliates by using the same wrist tape to choke Kanemaru, dragging him outside with it. Neither sustains much damage from the choking, and Takaiwa gets a major advantage when he plants Kanemaru on the floor with a Death Valley Driver. Back in the ring, Takaiwa refocuses on Kanemaru’s left leg, applying a Figure Four Leg Lock.

Kanemaru shortly regains the heat, but gets cut off by a Manhattan Drop when he tries turning a Tornado DDT attempt into a Guillotine Choke. Although Kanemaru isn’t outwardly selling his left leg, he struggles to hit a Corner Powerbomb on Takaiwa before managing to make it happen. This doesn’t damage Takaiwa that much, as he evades a low-blow kick that leads to a hot sequence, including a lariat, multiple Powerbombs, and a Death Valley Driver attempt that Kanemaru turns into his own DVD. They exchange kick-outs at the count of one, even after Takaiwa delivers a Brainbuster. This is honestly becoming just like so many indy matches, in which there’s no real selling, just bombs being thrown to pop the crowd..

Kanemaru doesn’t sell his left leg at all when he does a backflip off the rope. He hits a low-blow, Super Brainbuster, and regular Brainbuster, but Takaiwa gets his foot on the bottom rope at the count of two. At least Takaiwa didn’t kick out, especially at the count of one. Then they continue doing big moves, no real story being told as the crowd heats up.

Kanemaru kicks out of another DVD, and it’d have meant a lot if that was the finish since Takaiwa had his left leg hooked, the very body part that had been targeted earlier. They finally end this glorified spot-fest when Takaiwa hits a Super Michinoku Driver of sorts to win the title.

Not a fan of what this turned into, as the best part of the story was at the beginning and then they didn’t organically build off it that much, if at all. A great match isn’t defined by crowd-popping bombs; great matches can be centered around that kind of structure when it has the organic in-between stuff to truly elevate them, such as selling and telling a story that leads to a crescendo. This didn’t have that, as they abandoned a terrific narrative that very few matches begin with in favor of just doing big moves, and continued abandoning other potentially terrific narratives along the way too (such as Takaiwa damaging Kanemaru’s left leg.)

If there’s a genuinely positive takeaway, this should at least open the door for Takaiwa to rematch with Naomichi Marufuji after their Zero-One gem, and my holiday wish is for that to be a title change should it happen before the end of 2001.

“Vader & Too Cold Scorpio became the first GHC tag team champions beating Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito in the tournament finals on 10/19 in Yokohama on the final night of the tour before 4,000 fans. Not selling out the mid-sized building had to be a mild disappointment. From what we were told, the match wasn’t good, mainly consisting of Vader destroying Saito. The idea behind it made sense, as Vader went over like a monster in a one-sided mach, including pinning GHC heavyweight champ Akiyama after a choke slam, to build those two up for the probable main event on 12/9 when they have the 12,000 seat Ariake Coliseum booked for their last big show of the year. Tatsuhito Takaiwa of Zero-One won the GHC jr. title pinning Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 17:35 with a form of a Michinoku driver which keeps their thing alive which is good since Takaiwa’s matches in NOAH and Zero-One against Kanemaru in tags have been hot.

Michael Modest is out of the King of Indies tournament on 10/27 and 10/28 in Vallejo that he was originally booked to be a major part of. My impression is with his Japan deal going so well, he doesn’t want to risk himself over a relatively small (as compared with what he earns in Japan) payoff. He got a slight concussion in his last APW match with Donovan Morgan before the tour and they went home early because he was nauseous and he and promoter Roland Alexander had words, although it’s not a matter of heat and the two are in contact. The injury may have been a wake-up. He just felt that he was so banged up by the NOAH style that his body needed a rest, and he was booked to do four matches in two days and they wanted and the fans would be expecting high quality matches out of him and his body may not be up for them and he has to look at it as a business decision as he only makes $225 working APW shows, which is good money for indies, but feels he wouldn’t be able to perform at the level Alexander expects from him in the tournament doing classic hard style matches. Tony Jones will replace him. The old-timers confirmed as attending the weekend events are Nick Bockwinkel, Dick Beyer (who was hospitalized this past week but was still planning on coming in), Don Manoukian, Fritz Von Goering, Pepper Gomez, Paul Diamond, Red Bastien and possibly Kinji Shibuya

The final big show of the year on 12/9 at the Tokyo Ariake Coliseum will feature Jun Akiyama vs. Vader for the GHC title, most likely Takayama & Takao Omori vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa (not announced, but good shot that Takayama & Omori will win the tag titles on 11/30 in Sapporo and defend them here) and a GHC jr. title defense as Masamichi Marufuji gets a shot at the winner of an 11/25 match in Nagoya. The 11/25 Nagoya match has champ Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, which would be a big mistake to put Kikuchi over, plus Takaiwa vs. Marufuji has potential to be a great match.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated November 5, 2001)

“Kenta Kobashi showed up at the offices and talked to the press for the first time in months on 11/8. He is 237 pounds, down from about 270 when he was last wrestling. He said he would wrestle with a slim body, but wouldn’t be losing any more weight because he doesn’t want to be a junior heavyweight” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated November 19, 2001)

“First major show on the tour was 11/25 in Nagoya which drew 4,600 fans at the Aiichi Ken Gym… Tatsuhito Takaiwa pinned Tsuyoshi Kikuchi in 20:47 with the death valley driver to retain the GHC jr. title. Takaiwa defends on 12/9 at the Ariake Coliseum against Naomichi Marufuji, which will likely be a hell of a match. They are throwing around hints that Jushin Liger, Koji Kanemoto and El Samurai of New Japan would like to challenge the winner for a title match” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated December 6, 2001)

“The big show of the week was 11/30 in Sapporo before 4,800 fans, which is less than half full at the Doritsu Sports Center for the tag title change where Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa beat Vader & Too Cold Scorpio in 16:35 when Ogawa pinned Scorpio after a back suplex. The change was totally expected, since they want three title matches for their year-end spectacular on 12/9 at the Tokyo Ariake Coliseum, and with Jun Akiyama vs. Vader as the main event, Vader had to lose the tag title.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated December 10, 2001)

I’m getting my desired rematch, and it’s the last big event before Xmas? This sounds like a great way to bring the in-ring portion of the year to a close.

GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title Match
Tatsuhito Takaiwa © vs. Naomichi Marufuji
NOAH Navigation in Raging Ocean Day 14
December 9, 2001
Tokyo, Japan

The match starts heavy as Takaiwa immediately lands a lariat and a Powerbomb chain, dropping Marufuji on the apron ramp. This man means fucking business, but Marufuji scouts another Powerbomb, desperately countering with a Hurricanrana and follow-up Superkick before collapsing from the damage he’d just taken. Now this is some quality selling right from the get-go, with Marufuji struggling to reach the ring and the less-damaged Takaiwa being in control again once he does.

Marufuji has to be desperate again to get in position to dropkick Takaiwa, but it’s just a hope spot as the champion has so much less damage so far. Marufuji is outstanding fighting from underneath, reversing a leg lock submission and dishing out strikes, but one lariat from Takaiwa and the champ’s back in control yet again. Takaiwa is in so much control that it feels some modern-day Brock Lesnar matches and I love it.

Marufuji finally comes back when they go outside, cutting off the champ and hitting another Superkick, then dropkicking him off the apron to set him up for a splash outside. Unfortunately, Marufuji has hurt his left leg, perhaps selling some of the work from earlier and making it mean more than I expected. That appears to be the case as Takaiwa blocks a suplex attempt, reversing it to have Marufuji get dumped outside and hurt that body part again on the way down.

Back in, Marufuji has a hope spot, looking to cut off the champ and hit a top rope move, only for Takaiwa to chop block him on the left leg, deliver two Flying Elbow Drops on it, and apply a Figure Four Leg Lock. This is some fantastic storytelling that should pay off with a hot crowd at the end. Marufuji fails to reverse the submission as Takaiwa has also been stomping to apply more pressure before the challenger eventually gets a rope break.

Marufuji finally comes back by landing on his feet when Takaiwa tries what appears to be a Super German Suplex. Marufuji sells his left leg, telling the story of him gutting through it as the champ sits in Tree of Woe position, eating a basement dropkick and Van Terminator; Marufuji collapses, unable to try a pin. He pulls out a Missile Dropkick to finally go for a pin, continuing to sell that left leg before a short-arm clothesline attempt is countered by Takaiwa via a Bridged Straightjacket Suplex for a near-fall.

They have some hot near-falls, the crowd clearly glued to this as I expected. Takaiwa hits a Super Death Valley Driver but gets cocky, choosing not to let that be the finish. He hits a Straightjacket Powerbomb chain and follows up with a lariat for another hot near-fall. When Marufuji looks to make a comeback, he can’t fully hit a dropkick , but spikes the champ with a Super Hurricanrana.

Another superkick plus a Shirnaui gets a kick-out at one from Takaiwa, which shocks the crowd. He catches Marufuji coming off the top rope, planting him with a Corner Powerbomb and applying a Scorpion Deathlock. He mistakenly goes for it again, as Marufuji surprises him with a Small Package for a near-fall, but manages to hit another lariat, both of these being hot near-falls.

Takaiwa fucks up big time when he places Marufuji on the top rope, perhaps aiming for another Super DVD. The challenger pulls out a Super Shiranui and goes up top. After briefly having to maintain his balance (due to his left leg damage), he hits a Shooting Star Press to win the title and the crowd is delighted.

They mutually bow afterwards, shaking hands, and Takiwa hoists Marufuji up to give him his spotlight before leaving. The crowd is totally into Marufuji for his post-match promo too. This was the perfect way to end the year for this division, blowing away their great Zero-One encounter 8 months earlier, and serving as the in-ring highlight of every match featured in this chapter of the journey. (Note that the acclaimed tag title tournament semifinal between Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito and Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa couldn’t be found to stream online.)

What a great finish to the in-ring portion of this 2001 retrospective, and I am SALIVATING at the thought of Marufuji getting more singles matches now that he’s champion. This title has the chance to reach the peaks of its parallel divisions previously seen in WCW and NJPW. Rating: ****1/2

As stated, that’s the end of the in-ring portion. We wrap up this very lengthy bad boy with the remaining newsletter tidbits of interest, including a game-changer for the King of Sports.

“Pro Wrestling NOAH ended its year with one of the biggest shows in its history, featuring two title changes on 12/9 drawing a sellout of 12,000 fans to the Tokyo Ariake Coliseum.

Jun Akiyama debuted a new move, called a neck and arm bridge, to pin Vader in 17:16 to retain the GHC title in the main event. Yoshihiro Takayama & Takao Omori won the GHC tag titles from Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa in 20:31 when Omori pinned Ogawa with the axe bomber. While No Fear is the most charismatic tag team in the company, and probably the only tag team in wrestling that at this point a major promotion be built around, the result is something of a risk. Takayama is facing Semmy Schiltt in the main event of the 12/23 Pride show in Fukuoka, and there is a very serious risk he can get blown out of the water, which would make the promotion look bad if he didn’t at least put up a competitive fight. They also changed the junior heavyweight champion with Naomichi Marufuji, the company’s hottest younger wrestler, capturing the title from Zero-One’s Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 22:10 with a shooting star press finisher. While it was no secret the junior heavyweight division at some point was going to be built around Marufuji, he’s only 22 and Takaiwa has been an established star for years and this is quick for mainstream Japanese promotions to elevate. Reports we got were that the junior heavyweight match totally stole the show.

The company’s next big show is scheduled for 2/17 at Budokan Hall with Yuji Nagata likely debuting as the major focus of the show, either teaming with or opposing Akiyama

We just got this at press time, so all the info we have is that IWGP champ Kazuyuki Fujita will be out of action for at least six months due to a torn achilles tendon suffered in training while in the mountains on 12/11. This screws up both the 12/31 show as well as the 1/4 Dome show. This is a huge blow in particular to the 1/4 show since his title defense against Yuji Nagata was scheduled as the main event, so this is a major blow to the show.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated December 17, 2001)

Looking forward to Nagata’s debut after the great main event from Indicate of Next. But before getting excited about that…

“There have been hints that the 2/24 Budokan Hall show would be headlined by Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi, although that seems foolish to put Kobashi in a match where he’d have to go all out on his first match back. Akiyama talked about wanting to form a tag team with Kobashi once again after doing a singles match

November attendance averaged 2,525 per show, a substantial 28.6% increase over the 1,964 at this time last year. October averaged 2,117. However that’s partially due to running larger buildings as last year they sold out 53.8% of the shows as opposed to 37.5% this year and 30% last month. The TV show in November averaged a 1.50 rating. They had no TV at this time last year, but November ratings had to be a disappointment since October averaged 2.23

The Jun Akiyama vs. Yuji Nagata match on 1/4 was made into a GHC heavyweight title match, which is really weird when NOAH’s world championship is made into the main event on New Japan’s biggest show of the year. Not only that, but to make things “authentic,” they are sending Joe Higuchi to the show to be the witness. Higuchi, one of the two or three most famous referees in history, is actually more associated with the glory days of All Japan, and he left with everyone else when NOAH was formed, although he’s long since retired as far as being a referee. They may also use a NOAH referee, similar to when they used All Japan’s Kyohei Wada as referee when Muto defended All Japan’s Triple Crown against Scott Hall in September.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated December 31, 2001)

Now that last paragraph is some absolutely fantastic news for the GHC Heavyweight Title! I can’t think of a more positive piece of news to end this retrospective, that 2002 will immediately kick off in the grandest fashion possible for a belt that badly needs it. And it only further solidifies a decision I’d made long ago about the next chapter in this lapsed journey.

Before sharing that decision, my assessment on the statement that “it used to be better” is… ultimately leaning towards agreeing. For all of NOAH’s problems throughout 2001, at least there were still some proven headliners, there was hope with the new blood, and there was some very interesting cross-promotional stuff to save the day to a degree. That’s better than what can be said for the promotion over the past decade or so.

As for my decision, we are inching closer to the return of The Lapsed ROHbot, the flagship of this entire journey. But before that happens, it’s now finally time for me to hop on the bandwagon that so many have wanted me to hop on for years. It won’t be the current glory period that started nearly a decade ago though; this journey’s calendar enters 2002, which means I’m covering the dark ages of what eventually becomes hands down, THE most acclaimed wrestling promotion of the 2010s.

After serving a gem of an appetizer in this particular chapter, it’s now time to truly dig in to have a real meal; while entire events won’t be covered or get the same thorough attention as other federations for the time being, some cherry-picked gems will get their proper due. The time has arrived to expand this journey’s spotlight and gradually get to know so many of the iconic and legendary names that would go on to dominate the 2010s.

It begins with the grandest annual stage in all of puroresu. It’s January 4. It’s the Tokyo Dome. It’s NJPW Wrestling World 2002, and thanks to Senor Lariato’s absolutely incredible list – we’ve got some gems lined up, including the GHC Heavyweight Title headlining!

See you soon with the first edition of The Lapsed Lion King of Sports.