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[2001-01-04-NJPW-Wrestling World 2001] Toshiaki Kawada vs Kensuke Sasaki

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Another good but not great NJPW match. Being a rematch and the finals of a one night tournament they cut to the chase when Kawada rushes Sasaki at the bell. This is pretty much one big finishing stretch and as a result it's fun but ultimately feels incomplete.

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Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada - IWGP Championship Finals Tokyo Dome 01/04/01

 

I had watched this before and remember it being pretty good, but I was really impressed this time around. They really captured the urgency to end this match early because they both had previous matches that show. Kawada comes out flying with a jumping kick to the head and back drop driver. The match is a war where both wrestlers were trying to use their strikes (lariats versus kicks) to set up their big bombs. Sasaki draws blood with a vicious lariat and Kawada is not afraid to let his kicks fly. I loved how Sasaki actually tripped on Kawada on his follow through on a clothesline. Kawada kicking someone in the head just never gets old. Kawada's powerbomb does not get the job done and the end is nigh. I like Sasaki's Boston Crab because it looked uncooperative that Kawada was not letting him get a deep one and Kawada made the ropes. They smash into each other with lariats and Kawada sell coming off that lariat was so friggin amazing as he sort of collapses away from Sasaki. Kawada had been able to hit a jumping kick to avoid a German Suplex, but on this suplex he just doesnt have enough energy to get the ropes and goes flying onto his head. LARIATOOOOO! Sasaki only get two, but then finally gets the Northern Lights Bomb to secure the victory. Sasaki is so good friggin' good at these sub-20 minute wars. He is a great powerhouse and Kawada makes him look like a million bucks. It is also a great blowoff to the New Japan vs All Japan feud. It is not as good as the 2000 classic because they don't attain the same gritty uncooperativeness but still a really good, hard hitting match. ****

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This is better than their match from the 2000 Dome show. It's an urgent sprint, which makes sense considering the stakes and that this is neither man's first match on the night. Both look focused - they get this over as an Important Match.

 

And then they just beat the hell out of each other. Kawada makes Sasaki's lousy clotheslines look as good as they can. And I don't want to take away from Sasaki - he's great here. Kicks hard, slaps hard, and his body language when he can't wait to hit the NLB and put Kawada away is perfect.

 

They resisted the urge this time to take turns hitting each other and yelling. They worked this like a fight they wanted to win.

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Found my old notes on this:

Eh! sorta a letwdown but it was stiff at times

Kawada wasn't up for another killer match tonight. He was bleeding from the nose after a stiff lariat. Re-watch: This is better on the re-watch but still both men worked smarter matches in the evening and worked a better match on the 10/9/00 show.

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Like mentioned above, this was one prolonged finishing stretch with some stiff shots, including the lariat that busted Kawada open, but Kawada made Sasaki look like a champ. Loved his collapse into one of the final lariats and the visual of the blood leaking out his nose -- he really sells a beating. Fun match but I enjoyed their 2000 match more.

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Very boring and dull almost untill the end. Sasaki really sucks. But I enjoyed the end, i like the fact that Kawada is bleeding from the nose. He sells very well. I alose like the fact that he hangs to the rope to avoid being suplexed by Sasaki. Sasaki is good at the last moments when he suplexes his opponent.

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This was a decent end to a one-night tournament but not a memorable match. There wasn't a single moment that stood out, not even the finishing stretch where Sasaki put Kawada away, and if you're familiar with Kawada's career you'll know that he was involved in some of the most memorable finishing stretches of all-time. The match lacked the atmosphere and electricity of their first meeting, and while they didn't rush things, they never really paused to let the magnitude of the bout sink in. The bout was competitive without being intense and hard fought without being taxing. In other words, it wasn't next level, which in most cases is what fans like me are looking for. 

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Given the tournament as an entire watch,  this resonated more for me and felt like a great extended sprint. We saw them work an epic style main event in October and I liked them trying something different and going for broke here.  There is minor nitpicks like I wish Kawada would have went after the arm more and really Kawada kind of should have won overall but this was a routine NJPW went back to in invasion feuds and this followed the Muto vs Takeda playbook from 1995 and 1996. Overall, a brutal, stiff slugfest and Sasaki gets his groove back by winning. ****1/4 (8.3)

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This was awesome.  Sasaki slowly withstanding Kawada down the stretch and overcoming him has such a palpable energy, worthy of a climactic ending.  Kawada of course sells brilliantly and keeps trying to disdainfully assert himself with strikes but Sasaki outguns him in the end to cap off match of the night.

***3/4

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