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[1999-05-03-NJPW-Strong Energy] Genichiro Tenryu vs Keiji Muto

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This was really great. It had a nice slow build and Tenryu looked better than he has looked in a long time. I loved his think-on-his-feet switching of the powerbomb into a stun gun and also cutting off Muto’s handspring elbow with a hard chop to his back. About halfway into this, Muto gets an opening to start working on Tenryu’s knee and applies a figure four, which is put over as a death move by Tenryu as he has a long, dramatic attempt to reach the ropes. This makes sense since Muto once used that hold to submit Takada at the Tokyo Dome. Tenryu gets in a powerbomb, but it was more out of desperation than anything, and it takes a while before he can even get the strength to go for a cover. Really great last 10 minutes too, which lots of bomb throwing and well-timed kick outs, and Tenryu putting over his knee damage for the duration. Tenryu does a top rope rana and even seems shocked himself, which gets an amazing nearfall.

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Great match, the kind of match that gets better and better as it goes on. Tenryu is mostly in control in this match and the openings Mutoh gets are when he goes after the leg. Mutoh's kicks to the leg look great and Tenryu does a good job selling the knee. Tenryu's hurricanrana spot really is great. Ending is awesome as Mutoh had been taking a lot of punishment but by going after the leg was able to open up enough room for him to hit one big, match-ending shot: a nasty moonsault where he lands knee first on Tenryu. Great crowd heat too that really makes this feel like a big deal.

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This really started off slow but got better as it went on. Man I love surly Tenyru just punching Muto in the face. I liked how Tenyru was going for a powerbomb but muto gets out of it and hits him with a knee. Good match for all the reasons you guys said.

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I'm amazed at the chemistry these two had later on in their career. I think the 2001 match is well known but this was almost as good. Muto somehow feels motivated and put together more vs. Tenryu than anyone else. The work around the back spring elbow and avoiding the powerbomb was great stuff and the victory from Muto felt well deserved at the end. This match really took me by surprise with how good it was. ****1/4

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I appreciated the early restraint as they slowly built it up in a traditional manner. The outsider had the best of the opening 10m. Mutoh fought back with a 5m period of leg work. Then Tenryu began hitting finishers to set in motion 10m of stretch. It was certainly compartmentalised, but well structured overall. There was a real world title atmosphere, helped along by either result being a realistic possibility. At times there were shades of an IWGP title classic. The problem was that both men were physically well past their peak. That led to sloppiness and held the level back from where they wanted to go. Still a commendable effort.

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God damn that balding spot on Muto. Good match which was interesting due to Muto not yet having turned into the Shining Wizard spammer. Instead he spammed Figure 4 leg locks. Still, Tenryu carried this nicely. The opening technical work was actually good and then Tenryu just beat the hell out of Muto. Loved the spot where Muto tried his handspring move and got just chopped in the neck. Tenryu busted out a few unusual moves like a fucking Spider Suplex and an extra messed up version of his shitty brainbuster to drill Muto into the mat. Should have been a little more reliant on strikes than big moves in the last couple minutes as Tenryu just doesn't have a big enough moveset for that type of stuff, plus I was a little annoyed with Muto's popping up, but they kept things exciting and did the big move extravaganza very well. Extra-nasty finish too and this is easily one of the better Muto singles.

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There are a few ill-timed dead spots here that hold this back from being a top-5 MOTY type match, particularly Muto blowing his counter to the power bomb and then meandering into the figure four where the crowd dies off. Still, everything else about this was a blast, especially Tenryu unleashing all kinds of new offense. His reaction to his own top-rope Frankensteiner was pure gold. I *knew* Tenryu wasn't walking out of this with the IWGP title but they still had me biting on a few near-falls, and it's hard to ask for much more out of a dramatic closing stretch than that. This went 25:37 and probably could have stood to get cut down to about 20, but this remained one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

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