I'm doing a mixed up March type thing so I'll be getting back to JWP 1991 next week. For this week, I wanted to follow up on another little project Muto's AJPW. This covers 2001-2011. As you may know, I did a look at AJPW in 2011 sometime ago and was really impressed. It's not the Baba era but has its charm and quality wrestling. That along with post Muto AJPW made me question my preconceived notions about the 2000's All Japan. Generally speaking, I think most people skip over it entirely except for a couple matches like Hashimoto vs Kawada in 2004. I guess I'm speaking for myself...until now. So I have a very cherry picked list to see if there's something there that I'm missing. Make no mistake, the majority of the under card matches are crappy looking... heck even upper card matches don't look great either. 2001-2004 which I'm glancing at this post is really asking for cherry picking. The company at this point really looked to be relying on the draws of Kawada, Muto and guys he brought with him like Kojima and Kaz Hayashi as well as Tenryu and the big beefy guys he brought with him (who we won't see any of here). Then of course inter promo stuff with Zero One (essentially Muto working with other NJ defectors Hashimoto & Otani). Other than that the rest of roster were journey men wrestlers from the US & Japan, friends of Muto like AKIRA, and guys past their prime like John Tenta, Mike Rotundo and in some ways Dr. Death Steve Williams. Anyhow, I'm trying to use the Gaora YouTube page as much as I can but not everything I am looking for is on there. I'll share the links for Gaora where I can so you can enjoy as well. Let's go!
Toshiaki Kawada vs. Keiji Muto (04/14/2001): This was a great match that built off of Kawada attacking Muto's neck and Muto going after K's knees and arm. They didn't do anything earth-shattering but dammit it worked. This was a keep it simple stupid big match. If you're watching this in comparison to AJPW from a year earlier then I can see being let down. But in 2023, this stands on its own two feet. There's a great story, excellent selling, and explosive, meaningful action. Honestly, I really dug the neck out of this match. It was so easy to watch. A very good beginning!
Genichiro Tenryu vs. Keiji Mutoh (06/08/2001)
Absolutely great match that played to both guys' strengths and weaknesses. Choice highspots, surprises and competitive spirit - it again was simple but effective heavyweight big match wrestling. I think this may have been better than the Kawada match above due to the familiarity between Tenryu & Muto.
Keiji Mutoh vs. Toshiaki Kawada (02/24/2002)
What makes this match work as it goes on it Muto's legitimate knee problems. So we've got two guys with leg problems (and are getting older). That said, they are more familiar now and go for a more complex match and it works fantastically. They go for it and it is a classic! It's not as brutally stiff at every turn from Kawada but it shows that he's way more than stiff kicks and chops. Muto does his thing kinda like Flair but like Flair if given an excellent opponent, you get an excellent match. That's been the case so far but here they go that extra mile. Both put on an excellent performance.
Genichiro Tenryu vs. Satoshi Kojima (07/17/2002) : This is one that's gotten talk in the past. A battle between youth and age. Fire vs experience. I loved it! I'm A fan of both guys so watching them go toe to toe for a half hour or so was a real treat. The fans were loving this as well. Nowadays or in the last decade you'd see stuff like this but it would be about machismo and/or hulking up but here they really sold the toll the fight was having on them. Again, Tenryu had his leg kicked in and can't bounce back from that. Kojima has been in some tough fights but these big time matches against living legends is how he's going to get him name in the record books. He's got to get chopped, punched, kicked, dropped on his head...and still get up and get angry. With all of that baked in along with WAR style that Tenryu brings and demands of his opponents, this is a classic match to me.
Taiyo Kea & Satoshi Kojima vs Masato Tanaka & Shinjiro Otani (12/06/02): RWTL final match I believe. It's a really good match but I'm not too strong on the outcome. I think Kea got hurt legitimately during the early portions and it was almost a 2 on one fight. I don't think they were going for this as the story or as some homage to the 1988 RWTL final. Because the outcome didn't really make 100% sense however I do think the closing portion was extremely badass. I mean Kojima vs Tanaka is worth your time and its only about 20 minutes long as Gaora shows a bunch of pre and post match fluff.
Toshiaki Kawada & Masanobu Fuchi vs Keiji Muto & Satoshi Kojima (04/12/03): Kawada's return match after the 02/2002 match above. His knee got injured again then. So you know that's fair game in this matchup. The fans even boo Muto when he goes after it. But this is not the story of the match as they don't really belabor that point. This is a nice change of pace. The knee is bugging him but not taking him out completely so you're rooting for him to stay in the fight. You're really rooting for Masa Fuchi too..don't ever count out Fuchi Dammit! Lots of great action with excellent timing and selling. This was a great match... near classic stuff to be honest. Slight joined in progress and perhaps one small clip in the Gaora footage below.
Shinya Hashimoto VS Satoshi Kojima (06/13/2003): What an absolutely stiff match Hashimoto fought. You could hear his kesagiri chops! He even chopped Kojima's arm so hard you could hear it! Koji was no slouch either but man alive Hash was just laying it in. And it was a simple match that didn't have a big story within the match but was elevated by Shinya's intensity and Koji knowing he had to match it or get destroyed. It is weird seeing basically two NJ wrestlers fighting for the AJPW Triple Crown. But these two really embody the physicality of AJPW. A great match! One I don't recall hearing about.
Toshiaki Kawada vs. Takao Omori (07/18/04): A really neat story match as Kawada hurts his own knee on a knee drop. What's interesting beyond that is Omori doesn't make this a Muto match and go ape shit after the leg. He instead sees it as an opportunity to beat Kawada on his own terms. Omori knows (in a way) that Kawada's kicks are hurting him with each one he throws. If Takao can punish the leg and even force Kawada to use the kicks, it will give him time find an opportunity unload his Ax Bomber lariat and Ax Guillotine Driver. This was Kawada wanting to tell a story, Omori was eager to tell that as well. Kawada sold the story just about all of the way to the end even collapsing on a kenka kick doing a back & forth segment. In some ways you couldn't tell this was 2004 or that Omori was with Zero One. It was a real turn back the clock AJ fight that built wonderfully into a nearly classic match. I've heard its better than the more talked about Misawa vs Kojima match from the same show.
This has been pretty awesome so far. I do understand why people may have been disappointed at the time. It is more like NJPW of the 90's than AJPW. But that makes sense doesn't it? I would maybe say it's a bit of a hybrid. Like every promotion in the early 2000's, it was a transitional period of time. That is apparent here but the known quantities, your stars can still be depended on. Kawada, Muto, Kojima, Tenryu still bring the goods. And I'm no Muto devotee. Probably should have opened up with that but if there's any skepticism in my reviews, I wanted to say that Next time, I'll be looking at 2005-2010.