NJPW Young Lions Cup Final Night, March 23rd, Fukuoka Sports Center
Akira Nogami vs Dave Taylor
Dave Taylor has shown real flashes of talent and potential in his short time in New Japan, and he has helped our younger wrestlers in their development and growth. Unfortunately, with the massive influx of talent that is coming soon we simply have no room for him on our roster going forward. This match was sort and sweet, a chance for Taylor to say goodbye to our fans. After a few minutes of back and forth action, he put Nogami away with a Float-over Butterfly Suplex. We wish him well in his future endeavours.
Masa Chono and Keiichi Yamada vs Hirokazu Hata and Shunji Kosugi
Another short showcase match. Going forward, Hata and Kosugi will almost certainly be stuck doing jobs in the lower card. They are both good pro wrestlers, but there will be too much talent above them in the hierarchy. Chono and Yamada are being groomed as future stars, so in the future they will be given more opportunity to look good in the ring. Knowing this, Chono and Yamada sold for Hata and Kosugi for most of this match, giving them one more chance to shine a little. The finish, though, was never really in doubt. Kosugi had Chono in position for the Oklahoma Stampede, but Chono slipped out, shoved Kosugi into the ropes, and caught him coming off with a boot to the face, then finished him with the STF.
Special Guest Referee Yoshiaki Fujiwara: Rick Steiner and Naoki Sano vs Masakatsu Funaki and Steven Regal
Inoki promised to find a referee who could keep these bad-asses in order, and I have to say he absolutely succeeded. This match was witheringly stiff, but Fujiwara made sure it stayed clean. He went so far as to slap Sano right in the face when he refused to break a hold. Sano looked like he was going to return fire, but Steiner came into the ring to hold him back. Imagine a situation where Rick Steiner is the voice of reason: that was this match. After fourteen minutes of strikes, suplexes, and submissions, Regal caught Sano in a Fujiwara Armbar and earned not only the victory but also a respectful handshake from the guest referee.
Pat Patterson, Ray Stevens, Umanosuke Ueda and Tatsutoshi Goto vs Sting, Owen Hart, 2 Cold Scorpio, and Kantaro Hoshino
There is a pretty good chance that this will be the very last time that Patterson and Stevens appear in a Japanese ring as active wrestlers. A lot of our older fans have fond memories of the veterans as energetic cheating blonde heels that they loved to hate. This match was a chance for our fans to enjoy their antics one last time and also for Ray and Pat to pass a bit of the torch to our own blonde cheating heel duo on their way out. It was clear that Ueda and Goto got a huge kick out of tagging with the classic heel team, and Sting, Owen, Scorp, and Hoshino all had a blast bumping and selling for them. They, in turn, bumped and sold for Sting a little bit (it turns out Sting will be sticking around in Japan for a few months to get some experience). The Blonde Bombers still looked good in there, using body language and facial expressions to get even the most basic manoeuvres over with the crowd. In the end, Hoshino did the honours, getting pinned by Stevens after a Double Diving Knee Drop.
Young Lions Cup Final Match: Shinya Hashimoto vs Keiji Mutoh
In five or ten years’ time, if all goes well, this will be a headlining match in any arena in Japan. I have to say, it was a fitting end to our Young Lions tournament. The boys skipped right over the usual mat-work and spent the first five minutes of the match going toe to toe in the middle of the ring. Unsurprisingly, Hashimoto came out on top of the strike exchange, which allowed him to take control. For the next six minutes, he just tossed Mutoh around the ring with power moves. Mutoh showed his resilience by refusing to be pinned and came right back at Hashimoto with seven minutes of high-speed, high-risk offense. After knocking Hashimoto down with a series of Dropkicks, Mutoh went to the top and tried to finish the match with a Backflip Splash, but Hashimoto rolled out of the way at the last second, which knocked the wind out of Mutoh and gave Hashimoto time to recover.
As both men were struggling to their feet, Hash threw a powerful Overhand Chop to knock Mutoh down, and then absolutely crushed him with a spike DDT followed by a Vertical Drop Brainbuster to get the pin and win the Young Lions Cup.
After the match, an announcement was made that Hashimoto would be allowed to choose any wrestler on the roster to be his partner, and that they would be given the opportunity to fight for the Tag Team Titles in Tokyo on April 26th.
Hashimoto immediately responded that he chose Keiji Mutoh to be his tag team partner.
Tatsumi Fujinami, Seiji Sakaguchi, and Strong Machine #1 vs One Man Gang, Great Kokina, and Anoaro Atisanoe
I feel like Atisanoe learned a lot about being aggressive and relentless in the ring from watching and working with The Islanders during our Tag Festival. This match was a chance for him to learn more about being a big monster heel, by working with two of the very best in the business at playing that role. As you might expect, the first twelve or so minutes of this match were an absolute clinic in big-man offense and selective no-selling. Then, things got out of control and all six men started fighting inside the ring. That built up to a huge high-spot where Sakaguchi picked up One Man Gang, Strong Machine picked up Kokina, and Fujinami picked up Atisanoe. The simultaneous Body Slam moved the ring about four feet, and got the crowd rocking (in polite Japanese fashion). The Japanese team tried for the Triple Pin, but all three men got tossed out of the ring by the big men’s high-powered kick-outs. That led to more brawling, and eventually to Atisanoe facing down with Fujinami one on one in the ring while the other four men battled on the outside. Atisanoe got Fujinami up in position for a Samoan Drop, but Fujinami hooked his arms around Atisanoe’s neck, slipped out the back, and transitioned into a Dragon Sleeper. Trapped in the middle of the ring with no way to escape, Atisanoe was forced to submit. Fujinami offered him a handshake after the match, but Atisanoe slapped his hand away and stormed off to the back with his giant friends.
IWGP Tag Titles First Defense: Canek and Dos Caras © vs Antonio Inoki and “X”
Inoki’s mystery partner wore black trunks and boots and a plain black mask and was about the same height as the company ace, with a slightly stockier but still athletic build. He fought with a very stiff and realistic style, throwing many different kinds of kicks and tossing the champions around with various suplexes.
The Lucha Libre Legends clearly had more experience working together as a team and though Inoki and his partner kept the pressure up from the opening bell, Canek and Dos Caras were able to use quick tags and sly team-work to stay on even footing with the challengers for over twenty minutes.
As such, the ending kind of came out of nowhere. Canek threw a slow-ish kick at the mystery partner’s midsection, but the masked man caught Canek’s leg and tossed him overhead with a nasty Capture Suplex. Inoki flew across the ring and took Dos Caras down to the floor as Canek struggled to get back to his feet. While Caras and Inoki battled on the outside the mystery man peppered Canek with a flurry of kicks to his legs and chest then finished him off with a High Roundhouse Kick to the head.
There was an elaborate ceremony afterward where Inoki and his partner were awarded the Championship belts, and then Hashimoto and Mutoh were presented as official challengers for the titles.
It seemed like a fitting end for what could very well be the last-ever show fought under the banner of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
But… that wasn’t how it ended. As the ceremony was concluding, Adrian Adonis stormed the ring accompanied by Umanosuke Ueda, Anoaro Atisanoe, Siva Afi, Mr. Pogo, Kendo Nagasaki, a very large bald man with a ball of flame tattooed on his head, and a raw-boned blonde-haired gaijin wrestler wearing black trunks, kneepads, and boots and a big red pad on his right elbow… Bah Gawd! That’s… that’s Dick Murdoch! All of the heels were carrying chairs or other weapons.
The giant with the tattooed head went right after Hashimoto, screaming “I am the real Young Lion! You are nothing!” Adonis and Murdoch went after Inoki, yelling that they deserved the title shot. Ueda and Pogo took Inoki’s partner out of the ring and started tearing at his mask… it looked like the man under the mask might be Akira Maeda, but it was hard to be sure with all that blood. Atisanoe waffled Mutoh with a chair and Afi kicked him while he was down. Nagasaki stood guard with his kendo stick at the ready... So our final NJPW show ended in a chaotic, bloody brawl rather than a formal ceremony… maybe that’s more appropriate?