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

Other than the flagship that is The Lapsed ROHbot, there’s nothing available from any promotion in April 2002 that provides enough to warrant its own chapter on this journey. For the first time, it’s all being thrown together, similarly to the initial Prologue of this lapsed timeline that looked at 2001 and early 2002.

This is The Lapsed Journeyman: Road to “A Night of Appreciation.”

Before reviewing any matches, there’s some news to mention in order to ensure The Lapsed Lion King of Sports timeline remains uninterrupted.

Yuji Nagata captured the IWGP Heavyweight Title on April 5 from the failed Inoki-ism experiment known as Tadao Yasuda to close out NJPW’s Toukon Special (event name according to the IWGP Heavyweight Title’s Wikipedia page.) In the post-match, NOAH’s Yoshihiro Takayama attacked Nagata, destroying the new champion as well as Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsushi Takemura.

Our first match would otherwise be under The Lapsed Navigation name, and it continues the crossover of NOAH and NJPW talents.

Jushin Liger & Minoru Tanaka vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Encountering Navigation 2002 Day 16
April 7, 2002 – Tokyo, Japan

For a lengthy discussion of this match and storyline by WH Park and Alan Counihan, here’s Thunderstruck #23 courtesy POST Wrestling

The Xbox and Halo advertisements all over the ring certainly stand out for a company that’s been struggling to find its box-office groove.

The match starts abruptly as this is an immediate brawl going outside, and the atmosphere is just as hot as the classic involving Wataru Inoue a couple months earlier. Kikuchi’s early Kimura Lock on Tanaka is a great false-finish just two minutes into this, the crowd totally buying into it. I absolutely adore Kikuchi keeping it locked for the five-count too, pissed off about Tanaka’s antics after the mentioned classic match.

Liger is a complete dickhead, no-selling Kikuchi’s strikes and showing a heel side I didn’t know he convincingly had in him. His body language on a Seated Cross Arm Breaker is also sensational, as is his spat with the referee.

That arm breaker submission sets the stage, as the New Japan tandem work on Kikuchi’s left arm and shoulder relentlessly, cutting the ring in half on him. Kikuchi’s attempt to no-sell and absorb Tanaka’s kicks is excellent, finally going down when he’s struck in the head for a near-fall. He blocks a LIger Bomb attempt, back-dropping the Hall of Famer to finally make the hot tag.

Liger evades Kanemaru’s trademark low blow, countering with one of his own, causing commotion with NOAH stars at ringside and even shoving one of them off the apron. Kanemaru eats another low blow moments later in the form of Shattered Dreams from the cocky Tanaka. The heat and hatred in this just off-the-charts.

Kanemaru’s comeback attempt is fiery but unsuccessful, getting cut off by Tanaka, who goes for a cocky pin via one foot on the chest. Kikuchi is tagged in and tackles both New Japan stars, just going for punches in a true sign of hatred. All of his offense is so simple, exactly as it should be for this story – punches, forearms, and corner chokes.

Kanemaru gets the upper hand moments later, forcing Tanaka to get headbutted in the groin by Liger via a drop toe hold. The crowd’s reaction is tremendous when Kanemaru rips Liger’s mask, as is Liger’s angry retaliation.  He’s so pissed that he even kicks out at the one-count after Kanemaru’s moonsault, just filled with too much emotion and adrenaline.

Kanemaru and Liger trade Brainbusters, both needing to make a tag. The fresher Tanaka outmatches Kikuchi until Kanemaru makes the save, only for Liger to help Tanaka double-team Kikuchi. What an absolutely brilliant false finish too, as Tanaka locks another arm breaker on Kikuchi’s left side before a hot rope break.

Meanwhile, Liger keeps Kanemaru at bay and drops with a Piledriver on the floor! Tanaka gets the arm bar locked on Kikuchi’s left side, and Liger keeps the damaged Kanemaru away from making the save. Kikuchi’s struggle to escape is masterful, finally collapsing for the submission without actually tapping.

There’s a post-match interview segment that becomes a brawl. It loses some points when Kanemaru obviously hits a worked strike to Liger. The media also gets a board shoved on them by Liger, who’s conducting himself verbally in a completely dickhead fashion. This is glorious.

Not the all-time classic of the February 17 tag, but this was just great storytelling and a worthy successor to that match, with Tanaka bringing additional personality compared to Inoue. I’m ready for Round 3! ***3/4

In the main event of this sold-out event that drew 12.000 (according to The Observer), the shocking decision was made to have Yoshinari Ogawa dethrone Jun Akiyama for the GHC Heavyweight Title, and to do so in less than five minutes! That doesn’t sound promising, but NOAH needs top stars, even if this feels like an inorganic version of Kofi Kingston’s historic, career-defining moment 17 years later.

We stay planted in Tokyo for what would otherwise be a part of The Lapsed King’s Road. It’s time for the main event of AJPW’s second-ever PPV event, and it’s a rematch of an acclaimed classic from 2001. In this case, though, the title has been vacated as of March 28 due to Toshiaki Kawada suffering a knee injury.

Vacant AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
Keiji Mutoh vs. Genichiro Tenryu
AJPW Grand Champion Carnival
April 13, 2002 – Tokyo, Japan

After a couple of minutes of stalemates, Tenryu gets enough advantage after a leg lock and headlock to hit Mutoh’s trademark Shining Wizard, drawing a good reaction from the crowd as he mocked him. Back in the ring, Mutoh took over, forcing Tenryu outside to eat a slingshot dive. Mutoh follows that up with his own Shining Wizard, and Tenryu is clutching his right knee afterward.

Pissed about Tenryu using the Shining Wizard, Mutoh stays on the offensive outside, placing Tenryu in a cross arm breaker and dropkicking him. Mutoh keeps Tenryu outside, dropkicking him out of the ring.

It’s clear by this point that Mutoh is targeting Tenryu’s left arm, having softened it moments earlier with the arm breaker submission outside. Tenryu teases a comeback, only to eat a second Dragon Screw and find his left arm being targeted by Mutoh again.

Tenryu manages to cut off Mutoh’s Handspring Corner Splash, clotheslining him in the back of the head. After some control by Tenryu, he gets caught off-guard with a Hurricanrana from Mutoh, but doesn’t let him maintain much control, scouting a Dragon Screw attempt.

Tenryu drops Mutoh with a Top Rope German Suplex (and it looks much safer than it sounds on paper), but Mutoh scouts Tenryu’s top rope elbow drop after eating it earlier in the match. Both are too fatigued to gain any real control; Tenryu even tries blocking a Shining Wizard, but it still connects enough to knock him down, and Mutoh just keeps delivering them for a near-fall.

Tenryu gets the upper hand, not being deterred when Mutoh initially blocks his clothesline attempt. However, Mutoh scouts an apparent Brainbuster, cutting it off as both are exhausted. Mutoh pulls out a Pele Kick, which is surprising for someone not too familiar with his career.

Tenryu evades Mutoh’s Top Rope Moonsault, only to eat a Saito Suplex moments later. When Mutoh goes for it again, Tenryu gets his knees up, clotheslining Mutoh for a hot near-fall. With the Tokyo crowd fully alert, Tenryu finishes Mutoh off and claims the Triple Crown with a Brainbuster. Sadly, the included video ends right at the finishing bell, not showing any of the celebration.

Good match that could’ve live up to Mutoh’s title loss to Toshiaka Kawada a couple months earlier, but is a worthy addition to what looks to be an appealing rivalry. ***1/2

This day isn’t over! We now fly around the globe and head over to the City of Brotherly Love for a dose of That Lapsed Ultraviolence. Will this promotion finally hit the incredibly low bar of being superior (rather than equal) to IWA-MS, or is it still to be branded as the co-redheaded stepchild of this lapsed journey?

The following event is available on the Highspots Wrestling Network.

CZW A Higher Level of Pain
April 13, 2002 – Philadelphia, PA
I Quit Match
Greg Matthews vs. Danny Rose

Matthews is best-known as a standout contestant on the inaugural season of Tough Enough. I best remember his final moment that season; after being forced out near the end due to three herniated discs, and lead trainer Al Snow had very strong positive words to say about him to the remaining contestants.

In fact, this match is centered around that show, as the commentators explain that at a previous event, Rose had been shitting on the reality TV content program, to which Matthews was brought in and took exception, winning his in-ring debut over Rose. In Rose’s pre-match promo, the fans even boo the mention of Matthews and Tough Enough! Rose says for “Harvard Chris” to come out for an ass-kicking.

Very fitting that Matthews uses Alien Ant Farm’s cover of “Smooth Criminal” as his entrance theme for the reasons mentioned. This entire pre-match is bringing back so many lapsed memories of early 2000s MTV!

Matthews is clearly green, but sells his beating well as Rose dominates early. He’s definitely paying his dues here, even taking an open chair shot to the head, which I’m sure he regrets. As Rose continues dominating, the crowd is fully behind him, and now I’m starting to see why so many ROHbots viewed this audience with such strong disdain. Unless it’s the Briscoes or Reckless Youth, I can’t fathom rooting for any CZW regulars over someone that had given his body and suffered so much in pursuit of a WWF contract, earning the respect of those who had earned spots in the industry’s top company.

Matthews gains control and shows some good heel mannerisms in front of this crowd that certainly includes quite a few outcasts. He cuts off a comeback attempt by Rose, appropriately dropping him with a Snow Plow, then asks “What does everybody want?”

Rose regains control with yet another open chair shot to the head of Matthews, then gives the Tough Enough alumnus a piledriver on the same chair. Moments later, Rose applies a Boston Crab, which is a tremendous submission finish thanks to the mentioned injuries of Matthews, who has no choice but to tap out.

Not an all-timer by any means, and that wasn’t the expectation. In what may have been the best match in the career of Matthews, he did a very good job here antagonizing this immature audience. His post-match promo is really good too, as he’s pissed he has to wrestle in this shit-hole rather than being in WWF developmental. I’d be pissed working in front of this audience too after being introduced to this business through the big leagues. ***1/4

CZW Tag Team Titles Shot Match
Backseat Boyz vs. The H8 Club

The H8 Club are the tandem of Nick Gage and Nate Hatred.

The Boyz stall outside the ring, delaying the opening bell for some time. As for the H8 Club, while they’re definitely indy in their presentation, they seem to have an effort and charisma into how they carry themselves to stand out, and with the right minds guiding them, I could see them being molded into an act worthy of a much grander stage than this rinky-dink promotion. In fact, I hope that there’s a match somewhere on this lapsed timeline in which they’re pitted against the Natural Born Sinners; a program between the two bad-ass tandems would fucking gravy on top.

The contrast between these two teams is something I really appreciate, as the Boyz are such pretty boy pussies against the much more aggressive H8 Club. Gage really feels like CZW’s answer to Homicide, and not a poor man’s version either, thanks to his intense no-selling and aura of danger that he brings towards his chickenshit opponents.

A few minutes into this, the Boyz take a powder and stall with a promo in which they claim they’re leaving, but it’s a ruse as Johnny Kashmere goes under the ring and hits Gage from behind with a baseball bat to the left knee. He also then spits “rubbing alcohol” in Hatred’s face, allowing the Boyz to get control. Good for the Boyz – their opponents let them just talk shit instead of staying on the aggressive. The H8 Club should’ve been smarter than that.

Hatred teases a potential hot tag, but the ring is cut in half on him. His eyes continue to be attacked to cut him off, and his adrenaline rush-induced comeback attempt is ruined by his partner Gage, who foolishly enters the ring and distracts the ref. This allows Kashmere to hit a weak shot on Hatred’s back with the baseball bat, keeping him and Trent Acid in control.

Hatred manages a comeback, giving Acid a Super Release German Suplex. This leads to the hot tag, and Gage REALLY pops the crowd when he gives Acid a Choke Slam Backbreaker. Kashmere then finds himself double-teamed, watching Acid get cut off with a Pop Up Spinebuster. The crowd is totally behind the H8 Club here, just like the ROHbots here in Philly have been for the comparable Sinners.

The H8 Club introduces a plethora of weapons, including a barbed-wire board. Acid saves Kashmere from being suplexed onto it. Gage is saved from eating the T-Gimmick on it. The board then gets placed on seated chairs in the ring. Acid gets dumped out, then Kashmere gets dumped onto the board to the crowd’s delight.

But as the CZW chants break out, Acid knocks down Hatred with a Yakuza kick. Any chance to recuperate is gone though, as Gage drops Acid with a Brainbuster on a chair. With Kashmere out of the equation, this leaves Acid prone to eating a Fire Death Drop from Hatred, followed-up by a Frog Splash from Gage for the finish, resulting in a standing ovation!

The crowd is totally behind the H8 Club in the post-match, and deservedly so as the Boyz are down on the mat amidst the weapons. This was a hell of a CZW-style match, the very best that it can be, and that’s not a backhanded compliment.

It’s time to get both of these teams to ROH, and hopefully Gabe Sapolsky has his eyes on them to be programmed against the Sinners and compete for the inevitable tag titles in the company. While these tandems aren’t finished products, there’s a LOT of potential here, and I’d love to see them have the chance to become properly polished. They work their asses off, they’re willing to take big bumps, and they’ve all got some personality. Time to bring them into the flagship of the underground. ***3/4

With such positive energy coming out of that match, I now make it official – CZW has surpassed IWA-MS on this journey, no longer sharing the honors of being one of its redheaded stepchildren!

And speaking of IWA-MS, it’s time for a little Lapsed Midwesterner appetizer to close this out. We now head to Dayton for a three-way match made available thanks to Colt Cabana, as he and WWF-contracted Eddie Guerrero challenge CM Punk for the biggest prize in the company, just two days before Eddie will be challenging Rob Van Dam for the WWF IC Title on PPV!

IWA-MS Heavyweight Title Match
CM Punk © vs. Colt Cabana vs. Eddie Guerrero
IWA Mid-South (event unnamed)
April 19, 2002 – Dayton, OH

Some of the fans try taunting Eddie with RVD chants, but he doesn’t acknowledge them at all, which is surprising. Before the match begins, Punk’s manager Dave Prazak lobbies Eddie to consider him as HIS future manager in WWF, which Punk isn’t thrilled about.

Punk powders early, leaving Cabana and Eddie to show some very good chemistry. It’s a shame we didn’t get a chance to see them collide a year or so after this, as Eddie’s “Lie, Cheat, Steal” persona would’ve been VERY interesting paired off against an all-time great comedy wrestler like Cabana.

Despite having previous in-ring experience together, I don’t find Punk that interesting when against Eddie. But when Eddie gets control on both, his mainstream, world-traveled polish shines greatly against these two underground Chicago natives. That should be no surprise in a three-way too; not only did he win the title from Punk in this type of match, but he had plenty of experience in the big leagues in this match type as well in WWF.

Punk gains control by using a shoelace on Eddie, which the ref issues a five-count for. That’s certainly not what I’d expect in this federation, but whatever. That control is very short-lived, with Eddie eventually left in the ring with Punk to renew their recent history. That doesn’t really go anywhere substantial though, much like Eddie’s previous matches involving Punk and IWA-MS.

With Eddie outside thanks to a Superlex, the Second City Saints renew their rivalry. Cabana shrugs off Punk on his Reverse Rana attempt, gets control quickly enough for a Split-Legged Moonsault near-fall.

Punk goes for the Pepsi Plunge, only for Prazak to betray and crotch him! Prazak tells Eddie to go for the kill, which he does with the Frog Splash. The crowd doesn’t react to any of this booking whatsoever. It ends with Cabana winning the title, suddenly pinning Punk with a Small Package when Eddie wasn’t looking.

A match that was nothing special whatsoever, with a booking moment that didn’t get any reaction at all, but it did show some potentially very good chemistry between Cabana and Eddie.

In the post-match, Eddie isn’t thrilled about the result, but Ian Rotten puts him over, getting the crowd to break out in Eddie chants as Prazak straps the belt around Cabana’s waist. This doesn’t feel the slightest bit epic like Eddie’s appearance in ROH.

Punk is pissed about the loss and gloating about Eddie, quoting the Raven nevermore by saying “What about me?” As he does this whining, Rotten thanks Eddie for honoring this booking just two days before his PPV match. Rotten grants Punk a rematch for the title in two weeks, and it’ll be a 30-Minute Iron Man match. I’m sure hoping they improve upon their previous one months earlier. Prazak tells the crowd to cheer for Cabana, only to get rejected for being a bandwagoner, then eats a Powerbomb from Punk.

Yeah, this federation is still very much the redheaded stepchild and looks to be for the foreseeable future.

Two days later at Backlash 2002 in Kansas City, Eddie pulls it off, dethroning Rob Van Dam for the IC Title! He then defeats Jeff Hardy the following night on Raw in St. Louis, which means he’ll bow out in ROH as WWF IC Champion.

But we close with news from Japan – on April 25, NJPW President Tatsumi Fujinami made a public acknowledgment of Riki Choshu’s resignation, ending a relationship spanning nearly three decades.

That wraps up this road to A Night of Appreciation, which is just two days away on the timeline. What will Eddie Guerrero have to say in his final match on the underground? Can AJ Styles make a phenomenal first impression in ROH? Will Donovan Morgan live up to the positive reputation he has with promoters, but has yet to actually show on this lapsed journey?

See you VERY soon with the next chapter of The Lapsed ROHbot!