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[2002-01-04-NJPW-Wrestling World 2002] Kensuke Sasaki vs Naoya Ogawa

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I've seen a lot of Inokiism stuff, some of it it good, some of it is weird, inexplicable and beyond ratings, I fully expected this to be chaotic and unconventional but the match ended up being absolutely amazing as well. The first thing that came to mind with the length is the Ikeda-Ono match, but this one is just better and I don't think it's close even. Saying this would be hailed as a MOTYC by the crew that pimps Futen and Battlarts if it had happened that would almost be instinctive but also undermine everything this match was. It was more than that. It was a pastiche of the Futen violence, the morality, stable wars and art of the no finish (best showcased in the 80s wrestling everyone loves so much) and real life politics blurring the line between reality and pre-determination. If you haven't seen it I urge you to watch the match with an open mind. If you have, I'd urge you to rewatch it since 2002 was a long time ago, you're distanced from the impact of the match on the business side of things now, and also your taste has probably changed, I don't think I've seen a single person talk about this *match* since I started discussing prowres online, so it's not exactly like it's been mandatory watching for now. The rest of the review includes spoilers and I think it's better to watch it without reading them, but suit yourself.



When Kensuke knocked Ogawa in the beginning of the match it was not only a wonderful moment of violence, but also incredibly symbolic. We had seen Ogawa in positions of peril-but it was the first time someone had done something so shocking and so direct as to just smack him and start mounting on him. It was a true moment of peril-one after which it only made sense his stablemates would run into the ring. That and it was before the bell making it illegal. The next couple of minutes are as tense as any match I've ever seen, and really sophisitcated and simulatenously barbaric. The violence of a takedown, a throw, a punch and a kick are all well known, but displaying that well in a worked environment can be tricky and they absolutely nailed it. I remember hearing Jim Cornette saying something about how a criteria for a perfect match included everyone believing it was real-which sounded silly coming from him-but I don't think there's a match that's as good at that as this one that didn't turn into a real fight. And when Ogawa started shoot kicking Kensuke you even start questioning that-the images of the 1999 incident are just too visceral to ever be forgotten. But here Kensuke recovers, and goes after Ogawa, and hits him and throws him and makes him retreat, which is analogous to a count out victory over Andre, even if the scoreboard may have had it as a no contest. ****1/2

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I remembered watching this before I think simply because it was in related for another match and the dislike bar had me intrigued so I gave it another look before saying anything here. Sasaki flipping the script on Ogawa to open it is indeed huge. Every time Hashimoto faced Ogawa he had to figure out some way to get on the attack early. With this it's so jarring and shocking to see somebody completely eat up Ogawa like that. Similar to how Brock shoving Goldberg down at Survivor Series felt like a big deal. What makes it work even more is that Ogawa sells it so well (something he's always done well in any matches from this period) that it feels like a major moment. Even better is his response STO that he hits after the ringfilled brawl ends followed by him laughing at Sasaki and egging him on. He and Murakami just got it when it came to presenting themselves as these insane shooters who could destroy anybody. The sort of drama and unpredictability that creates is just unreal. And like you mentioned, the second Ogawa started kicking Sasaki in the head followed by the ref shove I immediately started fearing the worst. Happy Sasaki "won" the whole thing I guess by forcing Ogawa to run away after getting in a German plus lariat. Enjoyed this, maybe not on a MOTYC level but it's something I'd return to so that's good enough for me.

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I love Ogawa as much as anyone, but this should have been an angle to set up their Dome match and not the dome match itself. The brief flashes where they fight were great: Kensuke headbutting and punching out and pummeling Ogawa, who came back just as dangerous as always and kicking Kensuke like a dog is the stuff an epic match is made of. However this was like 2 minutes of wrestling and another 2 minutes of guys in tracksuits jumping in and out of the ring. Kensuke blindsiding Ogawa while like 20 dudes were pummeling in the corner was cool. But yeah, as a setup this would have been great, as their only match it was just a disappointment. Better than Ikeda/Ono my ass.

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This was an intense of flash of awesome, but Jetlag nailed it by saying this was played out more as the angle to build a big match rather than a proper match itself.  Incredibly heated and compelling while it lasted, but its tough to feel satisfied by what was maybe three minutes of actual action that seemed geared to whet your appetite for something else.  

After wrapping up NJPW in 2000-01 its clear that I've underrated Sasaki historically.  Really looking forward to watching him throughout the rest of the decade as he's a lot more versatile than I thought and very much seems a forgotten name throughout NJPW's run over this last decade.

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