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HTQ takes on the Best of Japan in 2002

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For fun, and to spark debate, I’m going to be watching all the matches on the Best of Japan 2002 - Complete Edition tape set, that you can find at Highspots. It’s a 13-tape set of 86 of the best matches in Japan in 2002. I’ve watched the set once, so I’ve already rated the matches, but for this venture I will be giving a new rating, and I shall also list some of the key moments and spots in each match. The recaps won’t be too in-depth; there are 86 matches to go through, and if I went into too much detail I’d never get finished in a timely manner. However, I will give enough notes so that, hopefully, a lively and intelligent debate will be sparked.


For a couple of the matches, such as Osamu Nishimura vs. Manabu Nakanishi from the G1, the tape set has the clipped version, but if I have the complete version of the match in question, then that is the version I shall be recapping and rating.


This is how Volume One looks:


Yuji Nagata vs. GHC Heavyweight Champion Jun Akiyama (1/4/02)


Darkness Dragon/Genki Horiguchi/Susumu Mochizuki vs. Kennichiro Arai/Super Shisa/Ryo Saito (1/20/02)


Mitsuharu Misawa/Yoshinari Ogawa/Takuma Sano/Naomichi Marafuji vs. Jun Akiyama/Akitoshi Saito/Yoshinobu Kanemaru/Makoto Hashi in an elimination match (1/20/02)


Ryo Saito/Takayuki Yagi/Anthony W. Mori vs. Milano Collection AT/Stevie Tsujimoto/Masato Yoshino in a best 2 out of 3 falls match (1/23/02)


Koji Kanemoto/Gedo/Jado vs. Jushin Liger/Minoru Tanaka/Masahito Kakihara (1/25/02) 


Wataru Inoue & Jushin Liger vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (2/17/02)


I’ll review the matches in Volume One, list the matches in Volume Two, review those matches, and then do the same thing for each of the subsequent volumes.

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No junior 6-man from the 1/4 dome show? No Nishimura vs. Tenzan? You got jipped man tongue.gif


I have the goldenboytapes version of this. I'm not gonna watch all of the matches because I dont have the time, but I'll watch the bigger ones for each volume and do a counter review to your own. This volume will probably be Akiyama vs. Nagata.

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No junior 6-man from the 1/4 dome show?

I have the complete 1/4 show on another tape, so I've seen that match.


Yuji Nagata vs. Jun Akiyama – New Japan, January 4th 2002


This match saw Akiyama defend NOAH’s GHC title against Nagata in the main event of New Japan’s annual spectacular at the Tokyo Dome.




I really liked the initial grappling these two did. It really felt like a feeling out process.


Nagata sends Akiyama out of the ring with a blow to the jaw, and Akiyama is great at selling it by holding his jaw, trying to massage feeling back into it and with a look as if he just got hit by a good blow and needs to be more careful.


When Nagata is on his back on the mat, Akiyama stomps on him, which prompts Nagata to get to his feet and an exchange of forearm blows takes place. This ends with them giving each other exploders, and Akiyama follows his up with a shining wizard, and Nagata is down and teases an early TKO.


Nagata soon fights back, and puts Akiyama in Akiyama’s own front neck crank finisher.


Akiyama teases giving Nagata an exploder suplex off the entrance ramp, but Nagata blocks it, and Akiyama responds by DDT’ing Nagata on the ramp, which he does so by grabbing Nagata in a front facelock and jumping off the ramp. For a comparison, Benoit DDT’d Angle on the ring apron the same way in their Rumble match in 2003.


Akiyama quickly follows this up with a tombstone on the ringside mats, so he’s really pulling out the heavy artillery early.


When Nagata tries to make a comeback with an exploder suplex, Akiyama counters this by taking Nagata down with a Fujiwara armbar and then puts Nagata in his own crossface finisher.


Akiyama comes off the top rope for a big forearm blow, but Nagata counters by kicking Akiyama hard in the arm. He follows that up with a northern lights DDT and then puts Akiyama in the crossface.


Akiyama even pulls out Misawa’s Emerald Frosion move.


Akiyama hit an exploder on Nagata, which saw him drop Nagata as if doing a wrist clutch exploder, but Nagata kicked out. Akiyama followed up with a proper wrist clutch exploder suplex to get the pinfall.


Rating: ***1/4


The match was good, and there was nothing really wrong with it, but for some reason there just wasn’t a whole lot of heat until late into the match. I guess that could be put down to Nagata getting killed by Cro Cop just four days earlier, but it could also be just as much down to this match not being a big thing for the casual fan in Japan, and they make up a lot of the crowd at this big Dome events.

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Darkness Dragon, Genki Horiguchi and Susumu Mochizuki vs. Kennichiro Arai, Super Shisa and Ryo Saito – T2P, January 20th 2002




These guys move so fast and so fluidly, no matter if they’re on the mat, in the air, or wrestling in the ring. It’s amazing to watch.


One of the heels, Horiguchi, ties up Saito on the mat like he’s about to do the Muta Lock, but instead stands atop Saito and pretends like he’s surfing.


Super Shisa has a Shiryu-like mask on, with the feathered top, and the heels keep ripping at the feathers and even throw them into the camera.


One neat spots as Saito down by the heels corner and the heels take turns to tag in, bodyslam Saito, then tag right back out.


The heels stun Arai with a move, drag Saito in, double suplex him up into his partner, and this forces Arai to powerbomb his own partner, and Arai looks aghast.


Shisa does this great spot where he hits the ropes, backflips over them to the floor like Misawa does when he comes into the ring, and takes one of the heels over in a head scissors. You really have to see this one for yourself.


Shisa and Darkness Dragon have this battle over Shisa trying to use a natural bridge. Shisa snap mares Dragon over, jumps over Dragon to roll him up, but Dragon rolls backwards to a standing position, so Shisa does the same, and Shisa hits Dragon, I think, and snap mares him again and this time gets to roll Dragon up with the natural bridge.


Rating: ***1/4


My notes may make it seem like not a lot happened here, but that isn’t the case. There was so much going on in this six-man as the action never let up for a moment, and there was always something happening. This was very entertaining match, and while it isn’t an all-time great, it’s still one worth seeing just for the pure entertainment factor.


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Naomichi Marufuji, Takuma Sano, Yoshinari Ogawa and Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Makoto Hashi, Akitoshi Saito and Jun Akiyama – NOAH, January 21st 2002 (Elimination)




The match starts off with the heel team, captained by Akiyama, dumping all the babyfaces except for Ogawa out of the ring and the heels take turns working over Ogawa. Akiyama winds up hitting Ogawa with an exploder suplex, but Ogawa kicks out at one.


Marufuji is incredibly fast and fluid with everything he does; from aerial moves to wrestling, Marufuji moves with such grace and fluidity that it’s a joy to watch.


From time to time, Akiyama rolls to the floor to sell his left shoulder, which is all taped up, so he seems to have gone into the match with an injury.


#1 fall: Akitoshi Saito pinned Takuma Sano in 11:10 after a head kick, after the other three members of the heel team took turns to hit a big move on Sano.


They got heat on Marufuji and beat on him for a while, with Marufuji taking a Ricky Morton-like pounding.


#2 fall: Kanemaru pinned Marufuji in 19:25 with a backslide following a lowblow.


#3 fall: Misawa pinned Saito in 20:26 with a running elbow after Ogawa used his jawbreaker on Saito.


#4 fall: Akiyama pinned Ogawa in 22:19 after two exploder suplexes


#5 fall: Misawa pinned Hashi in 23:28 after a tiger driver


#6 fall: Misawa pinned Kanemaru in 24:55 after an Emerald Frosion


#7 fall: Misawa beat Akiyama in 27:14 by TKO with a reverse cross armbreaker on Akiyama’s injured shoulder.


Rating: ***


The rating makes the match sound worse than it is, because the match is fun to watch, and is a really solid affair that tells a good story. The only thing I would change is the booking, and I would have had all the heels beat up on Misawa at the start and have him eliminated first to surprise people, and I would have had Marufuji play the face in peril part at the end and wind up the winner.


The match is not at the level people will think it should be at, but don’t let that put you off from watching what is a really fun near-30 minute match.


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Takayuki Yugi, Anthony W. Mori and Ryo Saito vs. Stevie Tsujimoto, Masato Yoshino and Milano Collection AT – 2/3 falls, T2P, January 23rd 2002




This was in the six-sided ring.


Milano was putting all three of the babyfaces in some weird and crazy looking submission holds all night. These were the kind of strange looking holds you don’t normally see outside of Lucha Libre.


Milano is super fast in the ring. No matter what he was doing, whether it was putting on a hold, getting out of one, or moving around the ring; Milano was moving at lightning speed.


One spot saw the heels whip the babyfaces into different corners, and then take turns hitting all the babyfaces with various moves, so you see one heel hit one babyface, then sprint to another and hit him, and then spring to the other to hit him as well.


One crazy Milano submission has him take Saito up in a cradle piledriver position, but he ties Saito up in some crazy looking submission hold and just stand there holding him up.


In a twist, the heels win clean in two straight falls, with Milano pinning Yugi with a cradle in about eight minutes, and then eight minutes later Milano ties Saito up in another crazy submission hold and the referee eventually calls for the bell, even though I don’t think Saito tapped out.


Rating: **


I wanted to like this match, I really did, especially when I enjoyed the earlier T2P match, but it didn’t really do much for me. There were some crazy looking holds, moves and counters, but that’s all there was. There wasn’t much of a story, and I don’t think there was any selling at all. They just went from move/counter/submission to move/counter/submission, with nothing between them. The match is entertaining in a way, but it really isn’t worth seeing unless you’ve got some time to kill.


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Jushin Liger, Masahito Kakihara and Minoru Tanaka vs. Koji Kanemoto, Gedo and Jado - New Japan, January 25th 2002




With the heels in the ring before the babyfaces, they jumped the babyfaces at ringside, and got the early heat on Tanaka.


When the babyfaces were fighting back early, they put Jado in a triple submission, with Liger and Tanaka putting him in double leglocks and Kakihara putting him in a cross armbreaker.


With the heels back in control they worked over Liger’s left leg mainly, which was well done by all involved, but when Liger made his comeback, for some reason, he used a spinning backbreaker.


When the babyfaces made their big comeback, Liger piledrove Jado on the floor but it didn’t lead to anything, and Jado didn’t sell it for long either.


Kanemoto and Tanaka had a great looking sequence where they maneuvered from ankle lock into heel hold into ankle lock.


Tanaka plays a great babyface, as the heels really work him over but he just refuses to die.


Tanaka is in Kanemoto’s heel hook and flat out refusing to tap out when the bell rings and the 30:00 time limit has expired.


Tanaka, limping, demands the match continue, and Liger agrees, and they taunt the heels into getting back into the ring and the match continues.


Tanaka keeps refusing to die, but is eventually worn down and Kanemoto pins him after a moonsault.


Rating: ***


The match wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding either. There was nothing wrong with the match, but with being given over 30:00, it should have been a lot better. Still, it’s worth watching if you’ve got the time to spare and don’t mind just enjoying a good 30:00 match that, to be honest, won’t mean anything once it’s over.


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Jushin Liger and Wataru Inoue vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru – NOAH, February 17th 2002


Background: This was the first match in the New Japan Junior Heavyweight invasion of NOAH, which naturally saw Liger and Inoue get tremendous heat just from doing the most basic of moves.




Liger and Inoue came out first, and when Kanemaru hit the ring he had to be held back from attacking Liger and Inoue.


Liger, Kikuchi and Kanemaru all got superstar level reactions from the fans when they were introduced.


Almost everything Liger and Inoue did got booed and jeered and just about everything Kikuchi and Kanemaru did got cheered and applauded.


Early on, the Liger and Inoue threw Kikuchi to the floor and worked him over heel style and got a huge reaction for it.


The atmosphere for this was electric, and you could tell that the fans were super into the match.


At one point, the referee tried to pull Liger off of, I think, Kanemaru, while Inoue had him in a hold, and Liger seemed to kneelift the referee and the referee fell down and the fans booed him like crazy.


With Kanemaru down, Liger did a one-footed pin attempt and got jeered like crazy. Again.


When Kanemaru blocked a suplex attempt from Liger the crowd popped huge for it.


Even when Kanemaru lowblowed Liger the crowd still cheered they were so against Liger.


Liger was great with directing Inoue in the ring, pointing out when to block a save and when to knock one of the NOAH guys off the apron.


This match totally destroys the myth that masked wrestlers can’t show charisma, because Liger had so much heel charisma.


A great spot saw Liger stun Kanemaru with a forearm blow, and with Kanemaru dazed Kikuchi came in for the save and Liger sidestepped him and shoved him into Kanemaru, who hit a heel kicked Kikuchi in the groin without realizing who he was attacking.


During his comeback Kanemaru lowblowed Liger and again got big cheers for it.


The finish saw Kanemaru avoid a move from Inoue and hit him with a brainbuster to get the pin, while Kikuchi stopped Liger from making the save.


After the match, Liger and Kanemaru had to be held back, and there was incredible heat as the New Japan guys and the NOAH guys began arguing back and forth and there was a lot of pushing and shoving.


Rating: ****


This was a great match. The heat was really loud all through the match and the cheering and booing was almost deafening at some points. Everyone was on fire and the crowd were really into everything that everyone did, which made the match come across as something special. This is a match you should see, not just because it’s great but also because of a really hot and entertaining crowd.


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