Inoki Era: IWGP Heavyweight Championship Part 1
Antonio Inoki vs Masa Saito IWGP Heavyweight Championship 6/12/87
This is the first match to crown an official IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Before this, there were tournaments to determine an IWGP Champion, but it was basically a KOTR championship. This is the first match when it becomes an official, regularly defended championship. The easiest way to explain it is that the G1 Climax before 1987 was for the IWGP Championship. Even that's not accurate, but whatever. I question having a dude coming up on his 30th year and the other on his 25th facing off in this match instead of younger stars, but whatever. This was before the the 3 Musketeers were top stars, the UWF thing was just starting, and Vader wasn't around yet. The top gaijin were in All Japan and the US and these two were about as NJPW as they come. Inoki starts with a koppo kick that sends Saito to the floor. This is really the battle of TMFs. Maeda and Fujinami are on color. Perhaps they should be in the match instead. Who am I to question Antonio Inoki, creator of the round robin worked MMA battle royal? At this point, Inoki was in his 27th year of wrestling. For reference, Undertaker was in his 27th year of wrestling when he faced HHH at WM27 and Ric Flair was doing the nut house/president of WCW angle during his 27th year. Where as Taker and Flair aged in dog years, Inoki barely aged at all between 1972 and 1996. Saito controls the mat game. He's so stout and strong, not unlike Oddjob (the most devious and dangerous of all Orientals). Inoki is able to power out of a Boston crab. KNUCKLE ARROWS. Headbutt battle. Saito wins it. I guess. Inoki should have used a chinbutt. If he had had a long career in the US, I'm sure that would have been a signature move of his. Saito is basically wrecking Inoki. Keeping him tied up on the mat, headbutts, lariatos, ramming him repeatedly into the turnbuckle latch. Multiple Saito suplexes. He hits a big lariatooo that sends Inoki flying off the apron. I'm sure this was playing off the Hogan/Inoki match that ended in the same way. Another Saito suplex. Inoki kicks out! The next one is reversed and Inoki gets a quick pin. OUTTA NOWHERE! New champion! Well. That's kind of bullshit. He got REKT the whole match and then gets the win on a pretty flimsy reversal. After the match, Riki Choshu grabs the mic, gets pissed, challenges Inoki to a fight. I believe Inoki accepts and also appears to shit talk Maeda, who is in the ring along with a host of other wrestlers and young boys. Maeda says something. Fujinami screams something.
Vader vs Masahiro Chono IWGP Heavyweight Championship Tournament Match 4/24/89
This is a tournament match to crown a new champion. Which I didn't realize until after I watched the match. Oh well. Vader dominates Chono. He hits a super awkward suplex. I don't know if he threw Chono too hard or what, but it was strange. Chono hits the shittiest German suplex of all time which hurts him more than Vader since Vader landed on his fucking face. Vader then hits a lariatoooo. Vader hits a superfly Splash for the win. This is basically a squash. It's only like 6 minutes long.
Shinya Hashimoto vs Keiji Mutoh IWGP Heavyweight Championship 12/10/93
The two best Musketeers face off for the top title. I am down as fuck for this. And so glad that it is Mutoh and not Muta. Even though I'm going to refer to him as Muta for most of this. Hashimoto is the defending champion coming into this. Pretty standard feeling out process. Hashimoto is no joke on the mat despite being a fatty. The feeling out lasts for like 10 minutes, with Muta eventually being in control on the mat. He focuses primarily on the leg. Hash bails to the floor and fires himself up. When he gets back in the ring, he kicks the shit out of Muta. Muta responds with headbutts. Hash responds with his own headbutts. Muta locks on a short arm scissors, which sadly doesn't lead to a Backlund Lift. I think he's the only guy that does a short arm scissors and it never leads to that. It makes me sad. Hash is able to break the hold only to get put right back in it. Muta keeps the focus on the arm. Somehow Hashimoto's nose has been busted open. Hash gets up, kicks the shit out of Muta, and then goes to work on his arm. Hash ain't going for the handspring elbow and kicks Muta out of the air. Back drop driver. German suplex. Muta blocks a DDT and spears Hash into the corner. Super frankensteiner! 2 count. You can't keep a good fatty down. Even the perfect moonsault can't keep him down. A second one misses but Muta lands on hiss feet. Face crusher. Hash hits a SHOOT bulldog to get things back into his favor. Brainbustaaaah! 2 count. Fans are hot as shit for this. DDT. After like 5 tries, Hash finally hits the spinning heel kick. Running jumping DDT puts Mutoh down. Title retained. I liked this, but it was pretty slow. It suffers from the 90s NJ heavyweight big match formula: 10 minutes of feeling out, 10 minutes of mat work focused on one body part, 5-8 minutes of big action at the end.
Big Van Vader vs Stan Hansen 6/12/90 IWGP Heavyweight Championship
HOSSES. Gaijin HOSSES. Vader starts the match by removing his match. Let's you know shit is personal. And it is, since the last time they had a match, Hansen knocked Vader's eye out of socket. Stan hits a back drop early on after a first attempt was blocked. Then he just boots Vader in the face. It made the announcer laugh. Vader responds with a lariatoooo and splash. Western Lariatoooooo. It sends Vader for a loop. He responds with one of his own. This is a match where Hansen works as both underdog face and wily veteran, while Vader works as Vader. Vader really knocks the shit out of Stan. Even more than what is normal for Vader. I'm just waiting for Stan to really fire back. I mean, I have seen Stan knock the dog shit out of folks before. And guys who didn't hit him nearly as hard as Vader has. A couple of chair shots bust Vader open. That's a start. Snap suplex on Vader! Was there a Benoit/Vader match at some point? I bet that would have been rad. Western Lariato is countered with a lucha roll up. From Vader. Vader Attack. Things break down in the Impact Zone and momentarily head into the crowd. The announce table is upended and used as a weapon. Vader tries a splash against a post only to get hit with another lariato, which he recovers from before Stan can. Stan brings his rope into the ring and the match gets thrown out. If you like husky gentleman knocking the shit out of each other in a foreign land, this is the match for you.
Kensuke Sasaki vs Genichiro Tenryu IWGP Heavyweight Championship 1/4/00
Tenryu is the defending champion. Sasaki is finally breaking out as a top guy. Has Tenryu ever not looked like a surly old cunt? He starts the match by throwing the ref out of the way and hitting a lariato. Chop battle. Jesus. Sasaki's chops are brutal. And right in the throat. Why is JJ Dillon at ringside? WCW representative? Kensuke is having none of Tenryu's shit. Straight right knocks Tenryu on his ass. These dudes are hitting each other way too hard in the face and throat for a fake wrestling match. But it's dope. The story of the match seems to be "Fuck you, I'm going to punch you in the face". I'm okay with that. It is among my favorite stories in wrestling. They fight over a suplex, which Kensuke hits. Lariatoo. Chops and punches everywhere. Enzuiguri! Tenryu is too old for that getting chopped shit. He ain't about that life. Spider German suplex from the old man. Falling elbow drop. 2 count. Tenryu calls for the powerbomb and connects. Kensuke kicks out. Would you rather get hit by Tenryu or Akira? Northern lights bomb from Tenryu. Still can't put Kensuke down. He then tries a super frankensteiner which is countered into a powerbomb. Kensuke hits his own super frankensteiner. So many sumo slaps to the face. Of both men. Northern lights bomb from Kensuke. He can't make a cover and instead does another. New champion! This was fun as fuck. They knocked the DOG SHIT out of each other. That's often all I need in a match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Keiji Mutoh IWGP Heavyweight Championship 1/4/09
I'm sure all the torches at the entrance ramp aren't symbolic or anything. Mutoh, the ace of the 90s, against Tanahashi, the ace of the 2000s. And there is a ton of Mutoh in Tanahashi. Sometimes it is uncanny to see the similarities in movements between the two. Not terribly surprising since Mutoh helped train Tanahashi. Mutoh is the defending champion here. There are a lot of stories going on. Tanahashi looks nervous as shit, too. A lot of mat stuff to start out. Mostly a feeling out process, but also showing of their similarities and familiarity with each other. Basically, Mutoh is facing his younger, faster clone. With knees that work. And hair. Speaking of knees, that's what Tanahashi focuses on. Mutoh counters a dragon screw with a surprise shining wizard and then hits a dragon screw of his own. Then one off the apron. Shining wizard against the guard rail. This match really points out how big Mutoh is. Tanahashi is a big dude and Mutoh looks like he's a solid 4-5 inches and 50 pounds bigger. Dragon screw on the guard rail. That was more of a ball screw than anything. Mutoh keeps the focus on the knee in the ring. So now no one has knees to work with. They start trading basement dropkicks, which is kind of ridiculous, but whatever. I like that Mutoh focuses on the leg that will be straightened in the figure four, which is something Ric Flair never did. The bent leg doesn't hurt in that move. All the pressure is on the straightened leg. Corner wizardooo. Then a series of standard ones. Tanahashi blocks the last one to hit a grounded dragon screw. Dragons and wizards everywhere. Slingblade. Frog splash! Tanahashi hit his knee hard on the impact. He's able to hit multiple Slingblades, though. The 8th Shining Wizard can't put Tanahashi down. Muta springs to the top in one leap, but then slips off the ropes trying I assume a basement dropkick. He goes back to the figure four instead. Tanahashi almost wins with a frankensteiner OUTTA NOWHERE. I like seeing all the young dudes who are now a big deal in NJ at ringside cheering on Tanahashi. Pretty hot finishing sequence with Tanahashi hitting the dragon suplex, slingblade, and frog splash, then missing the second frog splash, Muta hitting a shining wizard, missing the moonsault, and Tanahashi hitting two frog splashes for the win. New champion! This was essentially Shining Wizard Mutoh vs 90s Mutoh. So if that sounds like something you'd like to see, you'd probably like this match. Kind of interesting to see that Tanahashi hasn't changed his game at all in 6 years. Same moves, same spots, same order almost.