“It used to be better.” – The Lapsed Fan Pro Wrestling Podcast
For a full accounting of the buzzworthy chaos in the weeks leading up this historic event, please refer to the first edition of The Lapsed Lion King of Sports – https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2020/08/03/the-lapsed-lion-king-of-sports-njpw-wrestle-world-2002/
One day, I will review the true glory days of AJPW in the late 20th Century and the first several months of 2000. For now, the timeline remains intact. In order to do NOAH and NJPW justice throughout the 2000s, it’s become crystal-clear after the events of early 2002 that AJPW must be part of the equation. The entire major league ecosystem of puroresu must be spotlighted.
There could come a time when other puro companies are included on this journey, such as DDT or Dragon Gate. It’s not 100% certain, and it may be years into this timeline should that occur. But for now, we chronicle the leagues in the Far East that generated Hall of Famers left and right.
When taking into consideration that Ring of Honor was born on February 23, 2002, it couldn’t be denied that the perfect starting point for AJPW on this journey was staring right at me. Happening literally just several hours after ROH’s debut event concluded, the company that dominated the 1990s would now finally make its move to PPV on February 24, 2002, just weeks into a game-changing, earth-shattering shakeup as well. That certainly takes precedence over The Lapsed Midwesterner that was supposed to have been next.
The Lapsed King’s Road may at times be an inconsistent chronicling of 2000s AJPW, similar to what The Lapsed Lion King of Sports is likely to be for NJPW at the time as well. Blame that on the lack of proper cataloging, as well as the fact that while AJPW may have gone on to achieve some creative resurgence, it never came close to being the en vogue top dog that it was many years earlier. But the best effort will be made into chronicling everything that mattered and was interesting.
As usual for the puroresu region of this lapsed journey, we start with some Observer tidbits of interest:
“They are starting a Tenryu vs. Muto angle with Tenryu complaining that Muto won’t be working a full schedule. Tenryu said that Muto isn’t working this tour and noted that in 1984, when Riki Choshu jumped in a similar situation, once he showed up, he worked every day (actually not true, Choshu did an angle for his debut, like Muto, although a hell of a lot more powerful one, and then was off until the final day of the tour and started full-time the next tour)” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated February 18, 2002)
“Nobody knows what the television situation is. All Japan is under contract to GAORA until the current TV season ends in March. GAORA is a unique station in that it is on satellite and on most basic cable packages in Japan, but cable and satellite penetration is far more limited. However, GAORA (which also airs GAEA and I believe Michinoku and Toryumon) is also a regular UHF station in the Kansai region of Japan which includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. They haven’t renewed the deal. The only network that seems to have interest in All Japan is Tokyo TV, which is the smallest of the six major networks, but since the season starts in six weeks, the feeling is if something was going to happen, it would likely have to be announced right away” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated February 25, 2002)
“The debut of Keiji Muto as a member of All Japan Pro Wrestling, as opposed to being a New Japan wrestler holding their Triple Crown, and the rematch with Toshiaki Kawada that has been avoided for nearly 11 months, brought a sellout crowd of 16,300 fans to Budokan Hall for the company’s first-ever PPV show on 2/24.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated March 4, 2002)
Now we get to the PPV itself.
In the undercard, Kaz Hayashi made his AJPW debut, saving Kendo Ka Shin in a post-match mugging, only to get rejected by him. If Hayashi doesn’t come out of this cleanly beat Ka Shin at every turn, then just fucking shoot me.
Satoshi Kojima’s AJPW Debut
Satoshi Kojima vs. Genichiro Tenryu
This may as well be my intro to Kojima, and he immediately has a standout charisma, plus an intensity as Tenryu walks the entrance apron ramp. There’s also an electricity in the crowd during the pre-match intro, which sets high expectations for this historic match as the crowd chants for Kojima at the start.
Tenryu plays mind games early, not giving a receipt and doing a clean break instead on a lockup that reached the ropes. This appears to work perfectly, as this is all Tenryu early until Kojima delivers some forearm strikes. Tenryu powders and pays for it, eating a suicide dive from Kojima that hit precisely and explosively, yet was far safer than the overexposed suicide dives of today.
With the action returned to the ring, this allows Kojima to be in control until Tenryu turns over a head-scissors and delivers an elbow drop. He gets a damn good pop when chopping the downed Kojima. Tenryu throws in a bit more outside for good measure, putting Kojima in a foul mood upon entering the ring again. The Hall of Famer remains in control though, backdropping Kojima on a headlock attempt. He seems determined to just humiliate Kojima in his debut, but gets cut off with an Ace Crusher finally.
Kojima follows that up with another Ace Crusher, this time from the apron onto the padded floor. However, Tenryu made a good attempt to block it, and Kojima appeared to hit it more like a kneeling Stone Cold Stunner, a wise decision for his backbone I’m sure. Tenryu attempts a comeback once on the apron, only for Kojima to chop-block his right knee, making it a target for the debuting star.
After hitting a flying elbow drop, Kojima finds himself in Tenryu’s control again, falling prey to a chop, Enzuiguri, and lariat. Tenryu applies some submissions that I’m not familiar with, each time Kojima cutting him off with a kick to the head. But the former IWGP Heavyweight Champ is too focused, striking Kojima from behind and hitting a Release Top Rope German Suplex (not as devastating as it sounds), but staying hooked in the ropes and crunching up to hit a flying elbow drop of his own.
Tenryu continues being an asshole with slaps and kicks to the face, and Kojima finally has enough, hitting a Seated Scoop Slam Piledriver that doesn’t get as much of a pop as I’d hope. He pulls out Xavier’s X-Breaker finisher just hours after the era of honor began, then goes for a running lariat, only for Tenryu to block him and plant him with a Brainbuster.
When they both get up, Kojima lands a lariat first, cutting off Tenryu from hitting another one. Kojima hits yet another one for a dramatic near-fall. I wonder if JBL ever got around to watching this gem. They have a strike exchange and Tenryu is just brutal with his chops, knocking Kojima down in the process. The chopping assault continues as they have another strike exchange, and once again Kojima falls to the chops. I’d love to have seen Tenryu vs. Chris Benoit for the chops alone.
They have another dramatic near-fall, this time when Tenryu hits a Powerbomb pin on Kojima. There’s a fighting spirit attempt from Kojima, but he immediately collapses and falls victim to another Brainbuster for the finish. A damn good story told here with Kojima getting humbled by the legend, and rematches might be a good idea down the road. Rating: ****
AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
Keiji Mutoh © vs. Toshiaki Kawada
There’s no completely proper upload of the main event, so both Dailymotion videos are being included.
- Video #1: Remastered quality, Mutoh’s entrance shown, post-match activities shown, but the match is clipped by at least a few minutes
- Video #2: Match is shown in its entirety, but the video is strictly bell-to-bell and quality is inferior
I don’t recall seeing Kawada before, so expectations are extremely high.
For whatever reason, Kawada’s entrance isn’t shown on any streaming video site. Mutoh’s entrance though is definitely larger-than-life, albeit short.
Muto has defeated Kawada in their only previous singles encounter, taking place 10 months prior to this historic match.
It starts with slow mat-work with Mutoh appearing to target Kawada’s left arm. Kawada manages to apply a Bow-n-Arrow Stretch, but Mutoh immediately escapes and powders. It doesn’t finally heat up until they exchange signature moves, waking the crowd up with sudden Enzuiguris, Shining Wizards, and Mutoh hitting a Cartwheel Elbow in the corner, followed up by a Bulldog.
Kawada has a hope spot, blocking Mutoh to win a suplex battle, only to eat another Shining Wizard and take a powder. Mutoh poses for the crowd before stepping outside to dish out more. It almost sounds like he says “motherfucker” when Irish Whipping Kawada into the guard rail and then going for a chair, which the ref doesn’t allow.
Mutoh changes his focus to Kawada’s right knee, perfect to take out so much of his trademark offense, then delivers another Shining Wizard. Kawada takes control, using his hurt right leg to deliver blows (and still selling the body part.) If Kawada’s not using his right leg, he’s hitting backdrop drivers on the champion. Mutoh deadweights Kawada on a Powerbomb attempt, then surprises him with a Hurricanrana to regain control, targeting Kawada’s right knee again Kawada wins a strike exchange, hitting a rolling kick and having to be pulled off by the referee.
When Kawada goes for a leg takedown, he gets cut off with a knee strike. The champion returns to his focus on Kawada’s right knee, hitting Dragon Screws and applying a Figure Four Leg Lock that would make Ric Flair proud. Kawada has absolutely fantastic selling of the pain, his face in agony as he absorbs it. The challenger turns it over, putting the knee pain on Mutoh. It seems pretty clear that Mutoh spent time watching Flair’s rivalry against Ricky Steamboat during his time in NWA/WCW, as this battle is fantastic.
Kawada targets Mutoh’s left knee and hits a Booker T signature, the arm twist hook kick. Mutoh relies on the always-trusty Shining Wizard to cut off Kawada though, then hits Kawada’s right knee with basement dropkicks. Kawada tries his best to remain on his feet, struggling until he just can’t anymore. The struggle continues with Kawada attempting a comeback, only to fall prey to the Shining Wizard once again.
Mutoh hits a Top Rope Moonsault and it’s obvious his knees are in bad shape by now, taking a moment to go for the pin as the crowd’s electricity heats up.. Yet again after that, Mutoh goes for the proven Shining Wizard.
However, as both get up, Kawada has the advantage, delivering Enzuiguris and a Brainbuster as the Tokyo crowd is rocking. Mutoh manages to back-drop Kawada and then block a boot attempt, hitting a Dragon Screw and blocking another Enzuiguri, but eats a clothesline from Kawada. Despite his right knee pain, Kawada plants the Powerbomb pin on Mutoh for a near-fall, taking a page out of Tenryu’s book from the prior match. The crowd is completely glued to these two warriors.
Kawada goes for it again, but Mutoh keeps deadweighting. Instead, he hits another Enzuiguri, then hits Mutoh with a Saito Suplex (complete with unnecessary head-drop), and Mutoh uses his brief adrenaline to hit another proven Shining Wizard, leaving both on the mat in exhaustion. Kawada gets the advantage with more Enzuiguris, and goes for another Powerbomb. Since Mutoh keeps deadweighting, Kawada takes a page out of Kevin Nash’s book from Souled Out 1998, needlessly dropping Mutoh on his head. Unlike WCW, that’s just a near-fall though; I’d have called an audible and made that the finish for realism, no matter how dramatic it was to keep going.
Kawada returns to his same moves, this time successfully hitting a proper Powerbomb and putting all his weight on Mutoh to reclaim the Triple Crown to the crowd’s delight. That was a nice acknowledgment of Kawada’s desperation and weakened right knee, giving everything in this moment and had it failed, having nothing left to put Mutoh away. Simple and outstanding drama here, and a HELL of an intro to Kawada for me. Rating: ****1/2
Highly recommended double main event for quality and historic purposes, and I’m really interested in seeing what all the key players have in store coming out of this, especially the teased Mutoh vs. Tenryu program prior to the PPV.
One last Observer tidbit:
“The official announcement that Muto, Kojima, Kashin and Kaz Hayashi had signed came at a press conference on 2/26. They were doing the angle up through 2/24 that they were free agent outsiders even though everyone knew better. Even though Muto lost, he said he was happy about the Kawada match because everyone praised it so highly and said that he would end his career in All Japan.” – Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Dated March 4, 2002)
I don’t know for sure when the next time edition of The Lapsed King’s Road will come, but I’ll make sure it’s certainly worthy of being #lapsed for.
See you soon with the March 2002 edition of The Lapsed Midwesterner, as Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, Jr. both debut in IWA-MS to hopefully elevate their colleagues’ games. Will that be the case, or will IWA-MS (along with CZW) continue to be the redheaded stepchildren of this lapsed journey?