NJPW Young Lions Cup Night One, March 8th, Tokyo Korakuen Hall
Black Cat and Enrique Vera vs The Cobras
This is my first time in Korakuen as part of the crew. You have to love the Korakuen crowds. Hard core fans. My kind of people. Black Cat and Enrique Vera are both under six feet tall, so the sight of Shunji Takano towering over them made them natural under-dogs. On the other hand, the hard core fans love Shunji’s brother George, AKA The Cobra, a lot. So, we got the strange spectacle of one member of a tag team being booed while the other was cheered. The Cobra took a great Quebradora Backbreaker from Vera for a near fall, but came back to win it with his Tombstone variation.
The Strong Machines vs Mr. Pogo, Kendo Nagasaki, and Umanosuke Ueda
The crowd’s loyalties weren’t nearly so torn in this one. Pogo, Nagasaki, and Ueda just cheated like crazy, even tearing SM#3’s mask up a bit. Eventually SM#1 got the hot tag and took some revenge on the heels before putting Ueda down for the count with the Majin Fusha Gatami.
YLC Round 1 - Steven Regal (AWA) vs Naoki Sano
The first match of the first round of our Young Lions Cup. Sano and Regal just tore into each other from the opening bell. Sano threw kick after kick and Regal answered back with a flurry of stiff European Uppercuts. Then they took it to the mat where they seemed to be legitimately trying to stretch each other. There were some nice counters and reversals and Sano caught Regal in a dangerous-looking Lotus Hold Can Opener. Regal made it to the ropes, however, and once the wrestlers were back on their feet the young Brit took over, nailing a Double Underhook Suplex followed by a Bridging Belly-to-Back for the pin.
YLC Round 1 - Masa Chono vs Hirokazu Hata
This match was basic, solid chain wrestling with Chono on offense for the majority of the eight minutes, wearing Hata down and eventually transitioning from a Stepover Toe Hold into a Sleeper Hold that put Hata away.
YLC Round 1 - Owen Hart (MACW) vs Shunji Kosugi
The young second-generation Canadian only started training seriously in 1983, and he has had just a few months of experience working for his father in Canada and for Max Crabtree in England. In the ring against a fine carpenter like Kosugi, however, he looked like a seasoned veteran. The two worked a technical match that would have made Karl Gotch proud, trading holds and counters for almost fifteen minutes. Hart took the match with a gorgeous Northern Lights Suplex, bridging to hold Kosugi down for the pin.
YLC Round 1 - Keiichi Yamada vs 2 Cold Scorpio (MACW)
I gave these two the green light to go out there and steal the show, and they drove the crowd into an absolute frenzy with over fifteen minutes of non-stop fast-paced action. Both men bumped like crazy as they flew in and out of the ring. Yamada showed real flashes of the truly *GREAT* wrestler that he is destined to become, and the young American was with him every step of the way. Scorpio almost won by count-out after nailing Yamada with an insane Corkscrew Plancha, but the NJPW dojo graduate beat the count and then took the match after nailing Scorpio with three consecutive Abisegeri Kicks. After taking a moment to recover, the two wrestlers met in the middle of the ring for a show of mutual respect while the crowd showed their appreciation.
Tatsumi Fujinami, Kengo Kimura, and Shiro Koshinaka vs Canek, Dos Caras, and Fishman
Following their somewhat disappointing performance in the Tag Festival finals, Fujinami, Kimura, Dos Caras and Canek approached me to ask for a second chance. After discussing it with Yuka and consulting Doriya-mon’s Good Advice Doll I offered them a chance to wrestle a six-man tag on Night One of the young Lions Cup and – if that went well- an opportunity for a re-match on the Final Night.
Later, word got back to me that Inoki was furious that I had made this booking decision. He never said anything to me directly, and I never heard anything from any of the people that I know I can trust… but, still, I felt a lot of pressure as this match was about to start. There was a chance that, if they performed poorly again and Inoki was unhappy about it, I would have to face the consequences of his anger. The tension actually got to me, and I went backstage to avoid watching the match unfold.
From the dressing room, I listened to the crowd. They were quiet at first, but eventually there was scattered cheering and applause and a few people here and there calling out their favourite wrestler’s name. The crowd noise continued to build and around the 20-minute mark I could hear them stomping and cheering loudly. I popped back inside in time to see Canek and Kimura brawling on the floor and Koshinaka Holding Dos Caras back as Fujinami locked in the Dragon Sleeper and squeezed down on Fishman.
Yuka ran to my side. “They did well,” she told me, “Look at Inoki.”
He was smiling.