AJPW: After Exodus
Giant Baba died on January 31, 1999. Mitsuharu Misawa became president of the company. In May of 2000, Misawa was voted out of power by the executive board of the company. Weeks later, Misawa would resign from his position on the board, along with Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue, Mitsuo Momata, Kenichi Oyagi, and Yoshihiro Momota. The next day, Baba's widow, Motoko Baba, released a statement deriding Misawa for his actions. On June 16th, 24 out of 26 of AJPW's contracted native wrestlers joined Misawa for a press conference to announce what would be known as Pro Wrestling NOAH. Days later, NTV decided to end its broadcasts of AJPW shows. More members of AJPW's front office defected, and NOAH was given AJPW's former TV time slot of nearly 30 years.
In July, Motoko Baba announced the return of Genichiro Tenryu (who had been banned from the company after leaving to form SWS), and the majority of NOAH's roster would have their final AJPW matches. Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi were the only wrestlers left with the company. However, AJPW quickly formed an alliance with NJPW which helped prop AJ up in a time of need while also attempting to undercut Misawa's upstart NOAH. In 2002, Keiji Mutoh would defect to All Japan, where was he was made the president of the company, with all remaining Baba stock being transferred to him. This collection of matches covers the first few years after Misawa's exodus.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Masanobu Fuchi 7/1/00
Fuchi had been in AJPW since 1974, and was arguably the top junior in the company since Misawa dropped the Tiger Mask II gimmick. He'd basically been stuck in the comedy openers for years at this point, but the company was now forced to attempt to push him up the card. This is his big test to see if he can rise to the occasion to keep the company afloat. Kawada is now indisputably the top guy in AJ. I mean...obviously. These are the only two left. Fuchi takes a beating, but gives chops and boots back that he might not have tried even a year prior against one of the top guys. Desperate times, and all that. Kawada kicks the shit out of Fuchi's bird legs. This is very slow, and at least 80% of the match is Kawada chopping and leg kicking. But Fuchi won't stay down. Also, his chest is bleeding from the chops. Kawada wins with a powerbomb. I don't know about this. Felt like a snuff film. The silent crowd, the dark and dingy arena, Kawada just abusing this old dude who hadn't been in a match like that for a good 7 years. It was strange. It certainly felt less like "We're rebuilding and Fuchi is important" and more like "Kawada is pissed and you're the only guy left for him to beat up. Sorry.".
Toshiaki Kawada/Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen/Maunnakea Mossman 7/23/00
There is a lot of backstory to this. Tenryu, who was personally recruited from sumo wrestling by Baba, was publicly banned from ever returning to AJPW after he left in 1990 to form SWS. At the time, he was one of the top stars, and Kawada was a member of his Revolution stable. Just a few days after NOAH's first shows were announced, Makota Baba announced Tenryu would return. Then you have Hansen, who jumped to AJPW from NJPW in 1981, and stayed with AJ for the next 20 years. Part of Misawa's direction of AJPW as president was to de-emphasize any and all gaijin, which included the now near the end of his career due to a back injury Hansen, and completely stalling out the push of Mossman, who was better known later as Taiyo Kea, who was Hawaiian, but also one of Baba's last trainees.
Basically, there is a lot of shit going on here. Tea and Kawada start the match just fucking blasting each other with boots and chops and knees. Tenryu's first actions in AJPW in a decade get a huge reaction. Of course, he goes right after Hansen. Just two old, flabby dudes beating the shit out of each other. Both are 50 at this point. Stan really shows it, as he looks to be in agony and bad shape. Tenryu looked old even as a rookie. This is not the Stan Hansen you're used to, but he still has a few bombs left. He's past the point of really bothering to sell, in that he looks like he's selling just walking, so fuck it. Kawada and Kea bring the "workrate" as it were, but this shit is all about Tenryu and Hansen. Stan is very limited, but awesome in this. He knows he's old as shit and completely broken down, but that isn't going to stop him from doing as much as he can to beat the shit out of Tenryu. The chops in this match are so fucking brutal. Tenryu throws some of the hardest chops I've ever seen in wrestling in this. Kawada eventually pinned Kea with a brutal powerbomb. This was SUPER dope. First off, Stan was incredible. For being as limited as he was physically, everything he did was tremendous in this match. Kea had a GREAT showing of himself, and it is no surprise at all that he ended up being a major star in AJPW after this. And it is super dope without even taking into consideration all of the backstories leading into this.
Masahiro Chono vs Masanobu Fuchi 9/2/00
Here's where shit starts getting weird. NJPW's top heel invades AJPW. The rest of Team 2000 sits at ringside for the match. Fuchi is obviously over matched, but he's not only fighting for personal honor, but Baba's honor to defend his home promotion. Accordingly, the heat for this match is at least 3 times what it was for Fuchi/Kawada. The first lock up of the match had more of a reaction than the entirety of that match. Fuchi gets PISSED at a slap and starts throwing bombs, a backdrop, and tries to get the win immediately with a front facelock. And almost does. That would have been DOPE. Crowd would have exploded of Chono tapped. Chono is on his Memphis stalling shit. He's also cheating and constantly arguing with the ref. Chono clearly was not expecting this kind of fight and resolve from Fuchi. Fuchi, when he wants to be, is such a cunt. And here, he wants to be, and does so by literally walking on Chono's face. It takes multiple Yakuza kicks and STFs (and a T2000 distraction) to keep Fuchi down. Like...5 or 6 kicks. While this wasn't technically the greatest match, it was executed perfectly, with a super hot crowd, and it did 100% more for Fuchi to be taken seriously in the upper card than having Kawada beat the shit out of him for 20 minutes to a silent crowd did.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Keiji Mutoh 4/14/01
An absolute dream match, made possibly only because NOAH was a threat to both AJ and NJ. This interpromotional angle eventually ended with Mutoh jumping ship and ending up as president of AJPW, then leading his own exodus of talent to form Wrestle-1 in 2013. Japanese wrestling is weird. Kawada is the only member of the vaunted Four Corners Of Heaven that Mutoh ever had a singles match against. I don't think Mutoh ever even had a singles match against Aikiyama. He had recently debuted his "ProWres Love" persona, which brought about a shaved head, goatee, and the debut of the Shining Wizard. Then you consider how different the NJ/AJ styles were and you have the makings of a weird match. It's weird seeing Mutoh try to get into full on strike battles. It's so unlike his typical match. Mutoh's game plan is to just work holds. Kawada does not cooperate. Kawada opens up on the back of the head/neck of Mutoh, which seems like it should be the base for the rest of the match. I mean, 80% of Kawada's big moves focus on the neck, so Mutoh might be fucked. I doubt Kawada has had a match like this for years. It is strange. They don't mesh very well. Or, more accurately, their styles don't mesh very well. The match becomes far more engaging when Mutoh goes on the offense, even though 80% of it is low dropkicks. It took three Shining Wizards to put Kawada down for the count. Didn't really live up to the dream match potential, but that's a risk you run sometimes. The respective styles just didn't work well together, and the crowd had a hard time staying energized for Kawada kicking Mutoh, then Mutoh grabbing a hold back and forth for 15 minutes. It got better when Mutoh went on offense, but he also did the same one or two moves repeatedly, and the crowd kind of got lost again. They came alive for the finish, though.
Arashi/Kendo Kashin/Nobutaka Araya/Satoshi Kojima vs Kazuhiko Ogasawara/Masato Tanaka/Ryouji Sai/Shinjiro Otani 2/23/03
An interpromotional 8 man tag? Sounds hateful. Can't wait. Disregard that that only one person on the AJPW team actually made their name in AJPW, and even that was debatable. The Zero-1 team at least has two guys that actually started there. This is really Z1/FMW/NJ vs NJ/WAR in an AJPW ring. Otani RELISHES at being the invading heel. He fucking loves it. Fucking lol at the karate dude on the Z1 team trying to do anything to Arashi. Kendo seems really up to throwing hands at anyone he can find on the Z1 side, even if they aren't in the match. Man, I still vividly remember Kendo coming in for the ROH Super J cup knock off and being absolutely terrible. I didn't realize until this second that I'd like to see a Kojima/Tanaka singles match. LOL at the AJ team doing face washes to Otani. Maybe you shouldn't have been such a cunt. Don't sleep on that dragon suplex that somehow ended with Kojima landing on his face, though. Oh shit, a Doomsday 3D from Otani/Tanaa. Kojima wins with a lariat on Sai to win the match for AJPW.
Keiji Mutoh/Kaz Hayashi vs Satoshi Kojima/Jimmy Yang 3/22/03
JUNG DRAGONS EXPLODE! By this point, Mutoh was in control of the company and bringing in former WWF/WCW talents to fill the roster. Kojima followed Mutoh to All Japan in 2002 due to disagreeing with Inoki's focus on shoot fighters at the top of NJ cards. The Dragons begin the match. Lol at these little kids saying shit pissing Muta off so much that he went out and mean mugged them. Then threatened to leave the match because fans were chanting for Kojima, but then got the crowd cheering for him so he agreed to continue the match. Lol. Just having fun out there, Maggle. Interesting choice to have the juniors doing holds on the mat. My favorite part of these types of matches are usually one of the juniors getting demolished, but putting up a big fight. That doesn't really happen in this match. Juniors are pretty even with the heavyweights, and the juniors also wrestled the same as the heavyweights. Kojima's lariat arm becomes a big focus about half way through the match. Kaz has two big botches in the finishing sequence, which would have had both members of the team missile dropkicking Kojima in the arm from both sides, then Mutoh locking on an arm bar to win. Instead, Kaz slipped off the ropes AND missed his recovery standing dropkick. Mutoh hit his, gave Kaz shit, then won with an arm bar.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Shinya Hashimoto Triple Crown Championship 2/22/04
Another dream match, and these dudes seem like they'd mesh a lot better than Kawada/Mutoh. The AJPW Kawada finds himself in now is even more different than it was after the exodus. NJ invasions, new gaijin everywhere, an entire change in booking philosophy and style. Kawada is now the lone man upholding the tradition of what AJPW used to be. He's also facing another of the Three Muskateers, who, like Misawa, had left his home promotion under bad terms to form his own company. Everyone is here to see one thing. It doesn't take long. After the first real strike exchange, Kawada is bleeding form his ear. Hashimoto tees off on Kawada's legs and continues to just destroy the right leg for quite a while. Kawada does a very shitty back drop, which sees Hashimoto land on his heavily taped up shoulder. At least they have targets, now. Ah fuck, BRAINBUSTAAAAH. Christ. This just pissed Kawada off, who starts throwing Misawa elbows. And all that does is piss Hash off, who then kicks Kawada full force in the face. Shit is getting heated now. The Zero 1 team throws in the towel as Hashimoto is trapped in stretch plum. This was much better than the Kawada/Mutoh match, for pretty obvious reasons. These had styles that meshed far better. Although if we're being honest here, Kawada is definitely past his prime by this point. I would say he was probably right at the tail end of his prime when the split happened, and 3 1/2 years of carrying the company on his back had taken its toll on him.
Satoshi Kojima vs Giant Bernard Triple Crown Championship 10/18/05
Giant Bernard is Albert/A-Train/Tensai. He joined AJPW in March, joining the Voodoo Murders stable, which was essentially the proto-version of the Bullet Club: A heel stable of mostly gaijin, bringing an American style flare to Japan. They feuded with RO&D, another stable almost entirely of gaijin talent from America. Says a lot about where AJPW is when a Triple Crown match features a midcarder from WWE and NJPW mid carder. Which is not to say these guys aren't good, but imagine something like that before the NOAH split. Albert has the obvious size and power advantage, so Kojima will have to rely on his speed. One thing I've always enjoyed about puro is that dudes don't work out for aesthetics. They work out to be able to do what they need to do. Kojima is thick as fuck, but doesn't look like he's out there to show off his abs, ya know? Albert is really an ideal gaijin for Japan: Huge, ugly, can go, very loud. Albert gets mad, throws the ref, and opens up on Kojima with a chair. A few lariats later, Kojima wins. Title retained. Decent enough. Nothing mind blowing, but a perfectly reasonable monster heel invader vs native (in that he's at least Japanese, not AJ native) title match.