Hi, everyone! It’s Friday once again, and you know what that means (aside from a three-day weekend for those of us in the U.S.) — Flashback Friday! We skipped last week, since we were covering Global Wars in Toronto, but we’re back with something special: for the first time, Flashback Friday is going to take on a full show! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I couldn’t be more excited! Granted, I’ll be splitting up the show match by match over nine weeks, but hey, I’m not a machine! So without further ado, let’s get started with the first match of Wrestling World 2001!
***WRESTLING WORLD 2001***
***IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL***
KENSUKE SASAKI VERSUS SATOSHI KOJIMA
JANUARY 4, 2001
TOKYO DOME, TOKYO, JAPAN
First off, some background for the show: After the mass exodus of All Japan talent to form Pro Wrestling NOAH, AJPW was in trouble. The bulk of their big stars — many of whom were recognized as the greatest wrestlers in the world — were gone, and replacing them would take time. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so Toshiaki Kawada — a longtime star for All Japan and one of the few men to remain with the company — was made the centerpiece of an interpromotional rivalry that would, it was hoped, be mutually beneficial to the “Big Two” of Japanese wrestling.
Kawada made a quick impact in New Japan Pro Wrestling. In his first match — at the Tokyo Dome’s Do Judge!! on October 9, 2000, a card with other AJPW representatives such as Steve Williams and Masanobu Fuchi — he defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki in a non-title match. The shame of the loss forced Sasaki to vacate the title, as he felt he needed to once again prove that he deserved it. Three months later, at the annual January 4th Tokyo Dome show, a six-man tournament was held to determine the brand-new IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The men involved? Former champion Kensuke Sasaki, New Japan legend Masahiro Chono, rising stars Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, and Yuji Nagata… and Toshiaki Kawada. With Kawada receiving a bye to the semifinals (along with Chono), would anyone be able to upset the invader?
Each man took the measure of his opponent as the match began, then they met up in the center of the ring with a powerful grapple. At an impasse, they broke the hold, but when they grappled again, Kojima quickly got a headlock — only for Sasaki to take him over with a backdrop. He tried to follow up with a lariat, but Kojima shoved him outside the ring. Kojima measured his opponent on the outside, then ran to the ropes, but put the brakes on, as Sasaki was out of position. The disappointed fans sighed, but their reaction turned to elation when Kojima actually did dive out, hitting the tope on Sasaki. Unfortunately, Kojima also cracked his head on the guardrail, and immediately began bleeding on the floor.
With blood dripping down from his left eye, Kojima dove back in the ring. Sasaki held his shoulder on the outside, then rolled back in. They locked up again, but Kojima immediately broke it up with a clubbing blow, then followed with a kick to the gut and an elbow to Sasaki’s injured arm. He applied a standing armbar, blood still dripping from his face. Sasaki managed to get to the ropes, but when Kojima broke the hold, he kicked him in the arm twice. Sasaki fought back with chops, knocking Kojima down, then kicked him in the face and chopped him again before taking him over with a vertical suplex. He covered, but only got a one count.
Sasaki snapmared Kojima down, then grabbed him tightly in a rear chinlock. Kojima got his feet underneath him and broke the hold with a jawbreaker, then hit Sasaki in the arm with a basement dropkick. He grabbed a standing armbar again, then stepped over Sasaki’s arm and wrenched it between his legs. Sasaki struggled in the hold, but couldn’t break it. Eventually, Kojima released the arm, then stomped on it. He kicked Sasaki, then snapmared him down, hit the ropes, and came back with a somersault senton. He covered Sasaki, but the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion kicked out before the referee got to the mat.
Undaunted, Kojima tried to apply a cross arm-breaker, but Sasaki kept his free hand on his wrist. Rolling Kojima onto his back, Sasaki was able to escape from the attempted hold, then step his leg between Kojima’s. With much effort, Sasaki was able to turn Kojima over into the Scorpion Deathlock. The younger star pushed up on his hands and tried to crawl to the ropes, but Sasaki pushed him back to the mat. Still, he had made progress, and he was able to reach out and grab the bottom rope.
Sasaki clobbered Kojima with a pair of chops, but Kojima fought back with two of his own. They traded hard chops until Sasaki knocked Kojima down, then pulled him up and hit a bodyslam for a one count. Sasaki grabbed Kojima’s arm, and when he got up, applied a wristlock. Kojima broke it with an elbow, then grabbed Sasaki’s bad arm and hit a falling arm wringer. Kojima then went back to the armbar, pushing down on Sasaki’s chest with his free hand to increase the leverage. Sasaki forced a break by getting his foot on the bottom rope, but rather than back off, Kojima placed his arm on the mat and stomped it viciously.
After pacing around the ring a bit, Kojima gave back to Sasaki and dropped an elbow on his arm. He covered, but Sasaki got his foot on the bottom rope after one. Kojima pulled Sasaki up, then slammed his arm into the turnbuckle pad. Kojima kicked and chopped Sasaki in the corner, then whipped him across the ring to the opposite turnbuckle and hit a jumping forearm (no “ICHAUZO BAKAYARO,” though). Kojima climbed to the top rope and hit the elbow drop, then followed up with a knee drop on Sasaki’s bad arm.
Pressing his advantage, Kojima pushed himself up to the second rope. Sasaki got up and chopped him, but Kojima caught his arm and forearmed it. When Sasaki staggered off, Kojima hit him with a missile dropkick. He followed up with a big kick, but Sasaki fired up, hit the ropes, and threw a lariat — which Kojima blocked with another kick. He followed up with another falling arm wringer, leaving Sasaki crumpled in pain on the mat.
Kojima pulled Sasaki up by the hair and began chopping his bad arm. Sasaki fought back with chops of his own, but Kojima’s did more damage, dropping the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion to a knee. When he got up, Kojima attempted a spin kick, but Sasaki caught it, lifted Kojima into the air, and powerbombed him. However, Sasaki’s arm was still trapped between Kojima’s legs, and as soon as he hit the ground, Kojima applied a cross arm-breaker. He wrenched the hold, but once again, Sasaki managed to get his foot on the bottom rope and force a break.
Both men got to their feet. Kojima ran to the ropes and rebounded, potentially looking for a lariat, but Sasaki caught him with a powerslam. Sasaki got to a knee and tried to work some feeling back into his arm, then caught the rising Kojima with a chop that backed him into the corner. Sasaki hit Kojima with a knee, then whipped him across the ring to the opposite corner, but Kojima didn’t bounce out for Sasaki to (presumably) hit him with a bulldog. Sasaki turned around and tried to lariat Kojima, but the younger star blocked it, then threw Sasaki’s arm into the turnbuckle pad.
Kojima, sensing that he was close to victory, pulled Sasaki up, whipped him to the ropes, and caught him with a Rydeen Bomb (sit-out spinebuster) for two. They got up slowly, and Kojima grabbed Sasaki by the arm. He yanked it down twice, but Sasaki came back with a short lariat. Sasaki waited for Kojima to get up, then ran to the ropes and rebounded with a lariat to his back. Sasaki hit the ropes again, ducked Kojima’s attempt at a lariat, and came back with a third. He tried to scoop Kojima up for the Northern Lights Bomb, but he wouldn’t budge. Sasaki kneed Kojima in the stomach, then almost got him up, but Kojima landed on his feet, then surprised Sasaki with a Michinoku Driver. He covered, but only got two.
Kojima pulled Sasaki up, then immediately took him back to the mat with a Cozy Cutter. He covered again, but Sasaki kicked out after one. Kojima got up, raised his fists, then hit the ropes. He came back with the Cozy Lariat, but only got a two count. He turned Sasaki over and applied another seated armbar. Sasaki maneuvered to the edge of the ring, getting his foot under the bottom rope, but instead of breaking, Kojima rolled back, getting a cross arm-breaker. The referee wouldn’t allow the hold, though, and had to pull Kojima’s hands off of Sasaki’s wrist.
Sasaki was slow to his feet, but Kojima immediately locked him in a standing armbar. He then grabbed Sasaki’s head and took him down with a falling reverse DDT. The cover got two, and both men slowly got to their feet. Kojima ran to the ropes and came back with a lariat, but Sasaki blocked it, throwing a lariat of his own into Kojima’s arm. Kojima grabbed his arm, then fired off another lariat that knocked Sasaki down. He covered, getting another two count.
Both men slowly got back up. Kojima ran to the ropes and came back with a lariat to Sasaki’s back. He then ran to the opposite set of ropes and tried for another, but Sasaki took him over with the Ipponzeoi (an over-the-shoulder armdrag/judo throw). Sasaki got up, stumbling, and hit Kojima with a lariat. Kojima didn’t go down, so Sasaki hit another one that did the job. He then scooped Kojima up, hit the Northern Lights Bomb, and applied a Boston crab. With nowhere to go, Kojima submitted, giving Sasaki the victory — and allowing him to advance in the tournament — at 16:33. However, the damage to Sasaki’s arm was done, and he’d have to carry it into his next match.
I really enjoyed this bout. It wasn’t a classic or anything, but it told a simple story. Kojima dominated almost the whole thing, working Sasaki’s arm over, and it was an injury the former champion would have to continuously overcome for the rest of the night if he was to reclaim his title. Kojima’s offense was nearly constant, but it never felt repetitive, nor did it look like it was in vain when Sasaki kept kicking out. As for Sasaki, the moves he hit looked particularly devastating and realistic. All in all, a great way to open the tournament. ***1/2
We’ll be back next week with more of Wrestling World 2001!