Tokyo Ryogoku Kokugikan 20.7.2003
Attendance: ca. 8'500
1. WJ Strongest Tournament Quarter-Final Match: Shiro Koshinaka vs. Steve Williams - 6
2. WJ Strongest Tournament Quarter-Final Match: Kensuke Sasaki vs. Riki Choshu -5
3. WJ Strongest Tournament Quarter-Final Match: Dan Bobish vs. Kenzo Suzuki - 4
4. WJ Strongest Tournament Quarter-Final Match: Genichiro Tenryu vs. Takao Omori - 5
5. Masamitsu Kochi vs. Takashi Uwano - 4
6. Ichiro Yaguchi vs. Tomohiro Ishii - 4
7. WJ Strongest Tournament Semi-Final Match: Kensuke Sasaki vs. Steve Williams - 5
8. WJ Strongest Tournament Semi-Final Match: Kenzo Suzuki vs. Takao Omori - 4
9. Big Vader vs. Don Frye - 3
10. WMG Heavyweight Title WJ Strongest Tournament Final Match: Kensuke Sasaki vs. Kenzo Suzuki - 7
Move over King of the Ring as there's a new tournament in town! Opener was a lot of fun and much better than I'd anticipated. Shiro runs down and just takes it to Williams. I didn't remember Dr. Death being so good at selling but he's quite giving and generous in that department making Koshinaka look great. Williams busting out a tope suicida is worth buying this disc alone. Shiro has this great way of selling (even major things) by just blinking his eyes that reminds you of an old man on a bench squinting from the sun. The next match on paper gave me chills like the reveal in Catfish. It was pretty good with moments of fleeting greatness. Kensuke bullies Riki in the beginning until eventually Chosu tires of it and unceremoniously dumps him out on the floor like a discarded condom from the window of a passing limo. This had more stiff clotheslines than you can count. Chosu went down with dignity, fighting to stay afloat, he eventually succumbed to two consecutive brainbusters allowing Kensuke move on to the next round.
Bobish, for a guy in a red, white, and blue singlet, threw some of the nastiest, most meaty European uppercuts I've ever seen. Bobish, for the uninitiated, is like an even more preposterously jacked Scott Steiner, and while his selling was rudimentary, at least he was trying. Kenzo shows here why WWE signed him as he entered with a fur boa and a trashy girl on each arm like a total slimeball. He was real good throughout and I was glad to see him move on although he's got probably only the 9th best "Spear" I've seen. It's always a pleasure to see Tenryu, he's old and slow here, but still showed up to work and fight and that's what we got. Occasionally he'd just stiff Omori in the face and Takao's eyes would get wide like, "Holy shit! I'm in here with Tenyru!" This had some highlight reel stuff like a "back to belly" piledriver (we always called it a "Doomsday Piledriver" but it's basically the one Kazarian does) on the floor.
Next match started off a bit too dull and exhibitiony for my tastes. Two guys in short black trunks and short black hair. But, as it picked up, I got pulled more in, Kochi was the bigger of the two, one strike exchange saw him drill Uwano with a combo that Takashi sold with some truly inspired wobbly legs. Uwano did some real terrific vocal selling while in a crab. Uwano fought from behind but once he started rallying this actually felt more like it belonged and not just a tryout bout. Yaguchi looked like a mall goth Eric Embry. What Ichiro lacked in finesse he made up for in sheer brutality. Ishii spent the bulk of the match eating big moves like powerbombs. Ishii wasn't as physically big or inept as he seems nowadays doing a decent job eating stuff. This felt like the culmination of a feud or something and not just a random bout.
Sasaki and Williams on paper sounds cool as you've got one of the biggest heavyweight AJPW and NJPW stars of the '90's squaring off. Match moved at a pretty deliberate pace like the geisha Steve picked up later that night nursed her beer. Kensuke isn't the most dynamic seller, he's good here or there, clutching at his mouth after eating some shots, etc. but you've got to look hard and justify a lot in your head to buy him always eating such punishment. Williams seemed game but ended up tapping in the end and retiring to whiskey for the duration of the evening. Suzuki and Omori was plugging along nicely and looking like it might be the sleeper success of the tournament until a real abrupt quick finish halted it dead in its tracks. Only criticism was Kenzo botching a spot where he held Omori in a powerbomb but was supposed to throw him over his head where Takao would land on the turnbuckles but missed his mark by a couple foot.
Next bout sucked like The Last Airbender. It was a worked shoot more or less, but felt inauthentic, we've seen both Vader (in wrestling) and Frye (in MMA) hit people a lot harder. This seemed cooperative and insulting. Vader hit one nice big belly-to-belly throw, outside of that, no real highlights and the finish was putrid. I really liked the main event. It felt appropriately big and started with one of the longest collar and elbow tie-ups known to man. I couldn't believe it but Kenzo actually beat Kensuke in a chop battle. Sasaki's chest was battered and looked like roadkill. Suzuki also had an unbelievably awesome flying knee. I've got to say, Kenzo is probably the MVP of the show, I saw his entire WWE run, and plenty of his stuff in Mexico, but sadly I hadn't really seen any of his Japan stuff and now I plan on seeking it out diligently. Besides going toe-to-toe on ferocious offense with Kensuke, Suzuki also had tons of great facials and character moments. The match-ending lariat was a satisfying end to an overall pretty fun tournament.