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Charles (Loss)

[2002-06-07-NJPW-Battle Zone] Yuji Nagata vs Kensuke Sasaki

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This isn't nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. That said, it's not even a top ten Nagata singles match so it's not going very high either. This is an archetypal late 2000s Japanese main event but slightly less bloated.

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IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata vs Kensuke Sasaki - NJPW 6/7/02

 

I am more glad this exists then I am about how it was executed. The two biggest NJPW stars of the early 00s clash for supremacy. I am partial to Sasaki, but I understand given Inoki's preferences why he choose Yuji Nagata: Super Counterwrestler Extraordinaire. Besides the fact that Nagata has the charisma of a potted plant, what bothers me is Nagata tends to do all this counterwrestling early, but then always ends up finishing with suplexes and kicks. Contrast that to Minoru Tanaka, who uses his other offense to set up his counterwrestling and look how much more invested the crowd is in his submission wrestling. Not to mention that Minoru Tanaka is just a more entertaining and charismatic wrestler. Nagata matches tend to be very disjointed and this is not much different. I like Sasaki, but he is someone who is more of a follower than leader. So when Nagata or Kobashi is leading, then his matches tends not go too well.

 

Early on, they spend a lot of time on the mat, which is a nice change of pace from NOAH. Sasaki does admirably holding his own, but overall I would say Nagata wins the early portion with a stepover toehold. Nagata gets a bit cocky and starts kicking Sasaki repeatedly so Sasaki responds with a slap and Northern Lights Bomb. Nagata powders. I love that about Japan. It is an excellent way to hit a big move, but protect it. Sasaki starts using power wrestling to set up for lariat, but Nagata kicks the lariat arm. Nagata is not really building to anything just hitting some signature moves. Sasaki is able to lariat his knee while he is on the apron. Sasaki does well to use this as an opening to hit a power move, work holds on the knee like the Scorpion Deathlock, but Nagata just won't sell it. Nagata kicks lariat arm. Nagata runs through suplexes and head kicks to polish him off.

I enjoyed the change of pace in the beginning compared to NOAH, but they did not follow through in any interesting way and ended in a similar fashion. Oh well.

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You can't call this a bad match but you can hardly love it either. The opening is okay like a poor mans BattlARTS match. They do some matwork and mix in stiff shots. The second half had some good ideas but never really grabbed me because it felt like your stereotypical japanese big match with neither guy adding any character. Also, both guys went back to offense too easily. Nagata catching Sasaki with surprise high kicks was cool but him basically no selling back to offense and burying Akiyamas finishers (prick) didn't do much for me. Kensuke when he is not wearing MMA gloves or in there with an all time great also continues to do very little for me.

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