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[2000-10-09-NJPW-Do Judge] Toshiaki Kawada vs Kensuke Sasaki

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IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada - 10/00 Tokoyo Dome Non-Title


Even though All Japan was gutted by the formation of NOAH. The fact All Japan retained Toshiaki Kawada was enough to make the New Japan vs All Japan feel like a big deal at this October Tokyo Dome show. One thing that I picked up on rewatch was that crowd actually threw shit at Kawada during his entrance. It was that sort of visceral reaction that really sets the tone for this match. It is not about titles. It is about pride. The two biggest puroresu companies finally clashing. This is the match that should be about egos, machismo, bravado, and posturing. That what it delivers in spades a spectacle of two surrogates fighting the battle for Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba trying to win honor and glory not just for themselves but their promotion and in a lot ways their family. This match reflects that. It is not a championship match with respect. It is not violent hate-filled brawl. It is two men taking each other's best shot and seeing who stands last. With all the moving pieces, Mutoh to All Japan, Hashimoto's Zero-One and Sasaki & Kawada as freelancers we see a lot of these matches because this is how Dream Matches are performed in Japan. It is not Gaijin vs Native. It is not veteran Native vs young lion. It is two superstars clashing and it is a style that leaves a lot to be desired. It can come off as more of a ritual than a match sometimes. It is like a game of bloody kunckles, you are trying to outlast your opponent and win in a very specific fashion. It is not logical because rituals are not logical. It comes off like the old practice of dueling. It is how a man wins honor.


The match starts off with a hotly contested lock-up. Steve Austin just got finished telling me a shitty lockup is a great way to start off a shitty match. Well if the converse is true then this match is going to rock. Sasaki lands an early cheapshot with a closed fist to Kawada's head, who does that perfect jelly leg sell. He asks the ref "Did he just do that?". I absolutely love next segment as they try to grapple each other in gritty and sloppy fashion. It feels like a real fight two warriors jockeying for position. Then they kick it into the part of the match I expected. They just start chopping and slapping the shit out of each other. Kawada stands in front and literally dares him to hit him. These were monstrous chops dangerously close to the throat. Kawada ends the ritual with a closed fist, the ultimate cheap shot in Japan.


This begins the Kawada heat segment, which is actually pretty restrained. He hits Sasaki hard, but there is a level of arrogance to it that Kawada is very good at projecting. Kawada fails to put him away with a back drop driver (the only head drop of the match), enziguiri or the stretch plum. This is the best selling I have seen so far from this era as they are really putting over the toll of the moves by the space between the stretch plum and this powerbomb attempt. He gets back dropped out of his powerbomb attempt. He misses a kick and Sasaki evens the match with a wicked clothesline. Sasaki begins his babyface comeback that does not feel that energetic, but more like his own heat segment. He does that weird armdrag thing I saw him do against Tenryu. Lariat only gets two. He puts Kawada in the Scorpion Deathlock twice, but can not render a submission. What may make it feel like a heat segment is that Sasaki is really selling his exhaustion and thus is not moving as fast during his comeback as you normally would see a babyface. Sasaki breaks the second Scorpion out of sheer exhaustion. That is really tremendous. Sasaki just lying face down while the ref taps him is a great visual.


They go back to the bread and butter. They just start hitting lariats on each other. Each on are on jelly legs, Kawada does this great sell where he kind of stumbles and then gets hit. It is not logical, but it is a display of honor. Sasaki crushes him with a lariat the plum of sweat off Kawada is impressive. All Japan delayed sell allows Kawada to get a big boot rendering it even once again. Double clothesline. Sasaki gains an advantage, but in his exhaustion collapses on a simple suplex attempt. Kawada takes advantage with repeated enziguiris that rock Sasaki, now Sasaki channeling Misawa swats Kawada with a lariat to the leg. As he revs up, the New Japan crowd begins to cheer and Sasaki runs straight into Kawada's enziguiri and just like that Kawada is victorious.


This is an amazing war of attrition that took me three times to get. The first time, I actually thought match was abrupt. I was not paying attention to the selling at all. I was just watching the striking and thought it was weird there were no suplexes. The second time, I thought it was underwhelming because I could not piece together the transitions and once again not to the selling. Sometimes, I get stuck in this offensive mindset. Now, I see the War of Attrition. It is not abrupt at all; the match could have ended five minutes earlier. This was a war and they were selling it that way. The battle for honor not just for yourself but for your company and how they wove that through. To me, this is your ultimate "Can I take your best shot match?". There is no weakening of a body part to avoid your opponent's best shot. In fact, they welcome his best shot. It is not smart wrestling. It is really fucking stupid wrestling. But then again Pride is a really fucking stupid thing. ****1/2

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I like me some Tenryu/Sasaki but this was better. I vividly recall seeing this back in 2001 as I was being introduced to puro. It held my interest through the brute force of the stiffness, but I only thought it was good. Being more familiar with them, the style, and the backstory adds so much. I have this #3 for 2000, which makes it a cinch for the top 25. I suspect it will finish in the 15-25 range. Amazing that this probably won't be my #1 Sasaki match for the decade...

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This was working for me up until the 1 count off the stretch plum. The lariat contest strikes me as pretty ridiculous. The finish is good, but I've seen it cap off far better wrestling matches. It's not that I'm missing the subtext there, just the way they did it seemed off to me. Then again, maybe with more Sasaki matches I'll warm up to the guy and have a rewatch.

 

Edit: After the Kawada/Fuchi tag against NJPW, this match takes a dive for me. Nagata was fighting just as hard for NJPW and bothered to fall down and do a late kcikout for a Kawada lariat and stretch plum. Big match =/= you don't nned to sell the other guys' big moves. Kawada/Tenryu suffers from the same problem in a more minor way.

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In a decade of overwrought dream matches this is one of the few that holds up. It's more New Japan than All Japan and that works for me because I'd rather not deal with Sasaki kicking out of a million suplexes and powerbombs in an attempt to work a "king's road" match. The lariat contest works for me because that's pure Choshu, someone who influenced both wrestlers. Not the MOTY but a match that'll easily make my ballot and probably do pretty well.

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I liked this match before, but I love it now. I like how it was not so much hatred, but pride that was at stake. In wrestling, it is all too common for things to quickly become a personal hatred, but in real life that does not necessarily. I love how wrestling is an exaggerated form of real life, but it is refreshing that these are just two badass wrestlers wrestling for pride and the pride of their company. They are going to throw some closed fists and it is going to get heated, but this is about who is the best: Kawada or Sasaki and All Japan or New Japan. They play to each other's strengths perfectly. Sasaki is that powerhouse, but he can get duped into Kawada's game and when Kawada unloads that roundhouse close fist he does not let up. My only complaint is that I just don't buy into the Stretch Plum as a finish in 2000 and if he had some other weapon to milk drama that really would have sent this to the next level. Sasaki's comeback was awesome. The crowd backs me up because they did not care for the Stretch Plum, but they were on their feet for the Scorpion Deathlock. The lariat battle was a perfect way to end a match that was all about pride. Who blinks first? Kawada with that jelly leg selling makes you believe that he won't win this one, but he has that one last gasp. Still Sasaki looks locked into win, but it is how own momentum that costs him the match. The cherry on top is that Sasaki vacates the title because he does not deserve to be champion if he is not truly the best in the world. Great booking and a great match in Japan 2000s that is more rare than it should be. Shocking this is not even my pick for best New Japan match of the year or best Kawada match of the year. If only rest of the decade was as good as 2000. ****3/4

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Between the Dome, the All Japan and New Japan rosters in the corner and the heat this came across like a truly titanic dream match. Goliath vs. Goliath. Even if Sasaki didn't have the same rep and history, he felt like Kawada's equal on this night. The initial lockup is one Steve Austin would love and it certainly set the stage here. Tenryu might throw my favorite punch in wrestling, but no on sells a devastating punch like Toshiaki Kawada. Absolutely love how he slowly collapses. Come to think of it, I've definitely seen Tenryu pull something similar so perhaps that's where he picked it up. The operating space here is really noticeable -- they're always in each other's grill, never allowing much breathing room. Whether its Sasaki rushing to the mount or corner work, there's no circling or letting anyone gather himself. Basic kicks to the leg and chops are so stiff and weighty, and the stakes so great, that it feels like this could end at any time. Each man goes for his finisher only to have it blocked, before Kawada finally secures this one with a big kick.

 

It felt appropriate that this ended after an accumulation of damage from this war rather than any sudden bomb. This was no dominating victory as both are dead on the mat afterwards with Kawada needing Fuchi & Team AJ to help out. Pretty great. Not my MOTY but close, and presumably a top 15-20 candidate at worst for the decade.

 

****1/2

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The NJPW World version of this has some fun front matter - Masa Fuchi (current All-Asia tag team champ!) comes out and talks for a while, then Riki Choshu comes out and they shake hands. But then Chono busts in and acts very disrespectfully, to the point that Fuchi throws a hat at him.

 

No entrances, unfortunately. I remember Kawada's trip to the ring being something special.

 

The match . . . well, the philosophy is interesting. The new All Japan is going to be less about head drops and more about hitting dudes really hard, which I'm all for. If only that didn't involve those idiotic "now hit me and then I'll hit you and we can show our fighting spirit" spots that have plagued wrestling ever since. I hate that shit.

 

Other than that, you have some fumbling and rolling around that is neither interesting nor realistic and some good exchanges. Sasaki's clotheslines are lousy (as are Kawada's), but his kicks are surprisingly good.

 

There's some very intricate psychology here, which prefigures the Kawada/Tenryu Triple Crown match later in the month: Kawada doesn't respond well to getting punched right in his damn head (from a kayfabe standpoint; Kawada's the best punched-in-his-damn-head seller ever).

 

Would this get four stars from anyone if it weren't a landmark interpromotional match in front of a molten hot crowd? The Tenryu match had the same philosophy and head-punch psychology and was much better.

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This is how you do big match, clash of the titans wrestling. The Dome crowd which had been mediocre at best was molten here and the action led from a tense collar and elbow and headlocks into a WAR with both men emptying out the arsenal on one another. Kawada didn't win as much as he survived. I love the ending moments of him hitting the kick, almost collapsing for the pin and the image of Fuchi on the outside confirming that it was indeed 3. It was a surprise finish but not surprising at all in one moment. I will also defend the stretch plum spot as Kawada had been rehabbing the move throughout 2000. Sasaki giving up the belt afterwards is emotional and a fitting moment. I think this match cements that Sasaki has arrived for me. I absolutely thought he belonged in the ring here with Kawada and deserved to share the spotlight. This was one of the most anticipated matches for me in 2000 and it didn't disappoint at all. ****1/2 (9.1)

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I kinda hate the term "banger of a match" but when it fits, it fits. Sasaki isn't interesting when he's trying to find his way out of a paper bag on the mat but when he's clobbering and chopping and throwin' bombs, he's pretty great. Kawada trying to work a side headlock and then Kensuke bam-bams his way out of it, blocking the gamengiri and straight punching Kawada in the face. Best part of the match for me was when Sasaki starts to get the better of him Kawada with the slaps, and Kawada socks him in the face! I didn't have a problem with the one count off the Stretch Plum because it was almost like a knee-jerk reaction to the ref's hand hitting the canvas. The dueling lariats are whatever but I liked the finish, with Kawada landing these enziguris that won't take Kensuke off his feet and Kensuke's finally able to lariat an attempt down, only to run into the biggest enziguri kick of them all to end the reign.

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I wonder if Kawada, in his wildest dreams, ever thought he'd be wrestling against the IWGP champion in a Dome show match? Surely not at the beginning of the year. When you think about it, it's surreal how this match came about. There's actually a part of this match where Kawada smiles. I don't think I've seen him smile in a wrestling match ever. It's right before a nearfall but who knows what the real reason was. The point is that the match feels different. It's special and it's worthy of an interpromotional bout. Personally, I thought it was one of the best matches of the year. I would put it alongside Villano II vs. Atlantis, Satomura vs. Aja and Cactus Jack vs. Triple H as far as MOTYs go. What I realised when I watched this was that it didn't matter how much I knew about the bout or if I knew the outcome, I was hooked as though the bout were happening in real time and the crowd's reaction fueled my own interest in the match. The crowd is pro-Sasaki but there are Kawada fans as well and the Sasaki fans respect Kawada the same way that Rafa fans respect Federer. This isn't Federer/Nadal but it was important at the time since AJPW vs. NJPW was that one inter-promotional feud the fans had been starved of. Work-wise, Kawada was the better worker but Sasaki was having the better year. I thought they were even for the most part. Sasaki was no slouch at this point even if he wasn't as naturally talented as Kawada. There was dumb, dopey shit in the match and the finish wasn't epic by any stretch of the imagination but it wasn't meant to be the conclusion of the feud. The finish was the first act turning point in what ideally was a three-act story. But it sure was good for a NJPW inter-promotional feud. NJPW could have easily buried Kawada as was their wont but they made the right call here. A very memorable bout.

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I wonder if Kawada, in his wildest dreams, ever thought he'd be wrestling against the IWRG champion in a Dome show match?

 

Lucha fan Freudian slip.

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This was pretty memorable, although I don't think it was terribly interesting in the way that it got there.  This starts with a lot of promise and the tension is completely palpable.  Kawada constantly trying to take down Sasaki and finally wiggling free to control him with a headlock was really great, so was Kawada later ending the strike exchange with a cheap shot punch to repay Sasaki for earlier.  Should also note that Kawada's sell of the punch was a thing of beauty, slowly crumpling to the ground against his will.  When Sasaki takes back over and grounds Kawada with a headlock I kind of lost them because I thought they had an interesting story going of Sasaki being more dominant and physically overwhelming and Kawada being more resourceful to hang in there.  Now maybe I'm reading into the match my own way too much, but Sasaki deciding he also had to ground Kawada just felt like an off note to me.  From there it just kind of becomes a war of attrition and that works fine enough, but it lacks much to set it apart or really be something different.  The finish, though, was great and felt like a huge deal.

 

***3/4

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Sasaki has a massive power advantage over Kawada, but that's not going to stop Kawada from giving it his all. This was a big meat and potatoes fest with strike exchanges made for the Tokyo Dome. I'm usually a huge fan of Kawada's selling, but I thought his selling to Sasaki's closed-fist punch was a little much personally. I'm not sure about the finish either, as I felt like it came out of nowhere. This might be a dream match, but don't go into this expecting a Rock vs Hogan! ★★★★

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