1) Ultimo Dragon v. Shinjiro Ohtani- 8
These two had an epic match at the Super J Crown tournament I reviewed some time back and this was just as good. If you want to see Ultimo work stiff, tune in! Not just the kicks this time, he got aggressive with his big moves at one point giving Ohtani a powerbomb that probably made him forget his mother's name. Also later on couple straight punches to the face lightened the mood. Ohtani was the conduit through which the fans were channeling all their excitement; he has this energy where he shows you he's not giving up and just as well his frustration for not getting the win. Probably one of the more expressive puro guys of that era. Dragon mistimed a few spots but it didn't hurt the overall scheme of things, esp. when he course-corrected one of them into a wild moonsault outside. Near falls have never looked better.
2) Satoshi Kojima/ Manabu Nakanishi v. Tatsumi Fujinami/ Osamu Nishimura- 4
If that last match was excitement personified (sound like a Gorilla-ism) this was DOA. Osamu worked the bulk of this and wasn't particularly interesting. I've seen him work hard before but here he had this preppy college guy hairstyle and never seemed like he was in trouble, as his comeback after the hot tag, to me, negated all the damage done. Nakanishi still sported hair and was even more limited. Tats got a nice pop but was just a spot guy here and not sure the agent on this one but it was quite bland.
3) Shiro Koshinaka v. Masahiro Chono- 4
I won't say this is the most technically sound match, in fact I know it's not and it's also not the cleanest in terms of execution but the neverending series of powerbombs between these two at the end kind of stoked my fires a bit so i bumped this up. Started out fast, but hit a tack strip in the middle and really slowed down so up and down momentum but a solid entry in both mans' careers.
4) Riki Choshu Gauntlet Challenge v. Kazuyuki Fujita, Yutaka Yoshie, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Takayuki Iizuka, & Jushin Liger - 4
I know this is a nostalgia match but the premise just seems to be out of wack with Choshu wanting to play Superman for one last night. Sure, he's earned it and is hurting no one's status here (except maybe Liger, who had to go on last and still couldn't win) but the booking felt short sighted and very Connecticut. Choshu finishes off his first three opponents with relative ease, as they kicked him around like a tin can for a few minutes then Boom, lariat, capiche. Iizuka, a name not uttered on this blog in some time, is the only one to beat Choshu in a confusing submission leg hold. Then properly, it's played as if Liger v. Choshu was the only match that really mattered; or at least what the fans wanted to see, and it had some good moments, some lariat near falls after being booked so strong in this gauntlet, Liger going all Billy Badass on him, but in the end, this was wrought with problems, and I think the issue lies with the match idea as a whole.
5) Kendo KaShin v. Koji Kanemoto- 4
As the 2nd half of this show gets started, you'll def. be seeing a theme of MMA heavily inspired action. This had a completely different feel than the opening juniors match, which I enjoyed. But, the level of execution and pulling the audience in was far different. This was just a submission match, Koji being worked over on a leg injury with Kendo sort of being one above him at every turn. Had a few good twists and the finish was pretty logical but this didn't feel anywhere near a match I would tell people they need to find.
6) Yuji Nagata v. Hiroyoshi Tenzan- 4
Anyone remember that old N64 game, WCW/NWO Revenge? Yuji was on it and was rocking the same golden tights he is here. He's nowhere near the level of performer he is now, just a bad ass kicker. Tenzan brings as much intensity, and violence as necessary but I think this shows he never had the level of showmanship that most of the NJPW top guys have had over the years as this feels like it would fit perfectly in the middle of an ROH show.
7) Don Frye v. Naoya Ogawa- 3
Intense stuff and Ogawa's takedowns were literally works of art, and give Frye credit for offering to take those in a worked shoot, he was getting thrown around like a stretchy doll you'd get out of the quarter machines. All the punches sucked though, from both guys and it's a huge stretch for Frye to make his stuff look weak. Crowd was eating it up but even here, during the MMA frenzy it feels short sighted as to the direction. The finish was a complete 360, which is logical in MMA but this one seemed too worked.
8) Dennis Lane v. Shinya Hashimoto- 1
Hash walking down the aisle was just intense; guy would have been awesome with a bit part in the Expendables; would have made stars Stallone and Statham look like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. This was over in less than 2 mins, not sure how worked or what this was but if it was, the finish was ridiculously dumb, reminded me of one of those boxing ppv's we'd get when I was a kid and the main event was over in 30 seconds. Hash gives him one tackle to the ground and he was injured.
9) Kensuke Sasaki v. Keiji Muto- 7
Muto is in another incarnation here, a thick 2 week beard on his face and sporting Hollywood Hogan's ring trunks. Sasaki is the man at this time and Muto knows that, what's great about watching him is he knows the exact right thing to do at every point in the match, whether it's how long to sell something, even when he hits a desperation move, he sells the damage he's taken and it makes that even more important. Again, huge MMA influence as they spend a good amount of time in the beginning working holds on each other, a high spot being Muto's figure four he builds up to.
This reminded me of the Cena-HHH bouts where everything is worked very simply, and it all works so well; Cena was a better performer at that point than Sasaki is here, as he gets lost a few times but Muto is leagues better at making this feel like the biggest match of all time than LeVesque ever was. A great big feel main event with two of the more well known puro guys so yeah, it's well worth a look.