Flashback Friday: Hiroyoshi Tenzan versus Yuji Nagata, IWGP Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarterfinal, 1/4/01

Last week, I began Flashback Friday’s most ambitious undertaking yet when I decided to tackle our first full show — Wrestling World 2001. As I explained, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki vacated the title on October 9, 2000 following a non-title loss to All Japan Pro Wrestling star Toshiaki Kawada. At the annual January 4th Tokyo Dome show, a new champion would be decided in a six-man tournament. In the second of two quarterfinal round bouts, rising stars Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yuji Nagata would clash to see who would advance to the semifinals.

Before we go on, here are the Wrestling World 2001 matches we’ve already covered:

Kensuke Sasaki versus Satoshi Kojima


JANUARY 4, 2001


Yuji Nagata threw a warning kick to start, then attempted to lock knuckles with Tenzan, only to grab him around the torso and back him into the corner. Tenzan spun around, putting Nagata in the corner, but the future “Mr. IWGP” grabbed a front facelock. Tenzan escaped and backed off, and the two locked up in the center of the ring. Nagata got a waistlock, but Tenzan spun out into a wristlock, then transitioned to an armbar. While Tenzan held the arm, Nagata grabbed him around the waist. Tenzan tried to switch to a front facelock, but Nagata quickly grabbed a wristlock. He tried for a crossface chicken wing, but couldn’t get it locked on fully, so he grabbed both of Tenzan’s arms and locked them behind his back. He then transitioned to a seated armbar before dropping to the mat and attempting to scissor Tenzan’s arm, but Tenzan grabbed Nagata’s leg and wrenched it between his knees.


Tenzan didn’t have that hold for long — Nagata wrapped his leg around Tenzan’s head, then tried to apply a cross arm-breaker. Tenzan blocked the hold by clasping his hands, but Nagata was able to break the grip and apply full force. Tenzan howled, then got to his feet and slid out of the painful maneuver. After hovering over Nagata, the multi-time IWGP Tag Team Champion let his foe get back to his feet. When both men were standing they locked knuckles, only for Tenzan to start firing kicks into Nagata’s midsection. Tenzan followed up with chops and Nagata retaliated. Soon, they were trading forearm strikes. Nagata hit three in a row, but Tenzan fired back with a headbutt and felled his foe with a Mongolian chop.


Tenzan stomped Nagata, then nailed him with another headbutt and a chop to the back of the neck. He then clawed at Nagata’s face before applying a rear chinlock. Nagata fought up to his feet, grabbed Tenzan around the waist, and threw him over his head with a belly to belly suplex. Tenzan got to his feet and cautious approached Nagata, then went to lock knuckles with him. It was a ruse, however, and Nagata kicked Tenzan in the face. Nagata covered him for two, then applied a side headlock (with Tenzan’s arm scissored between his legs for good measure). Tenzan fought up to his feet, so Nagata hit him with a clubbing forearm, then kicked him in the chest until he fell back to the mat. Nagata covered again, but Tenzan kicked out before the referee could begin the count.


Nagata stayed on Tenzan, applied a short arm scissors and squeezing his head between his legs. Tenzan partially slid out of the hold, but Nagata kept his grip on the arm as his opponent got to his feet. Tenzan broke out with a shot to Nagata’s midsection, but the former Greco-Roman fought back with knee strikes and kicks, staggering Tenzan. Nagata followed up with a snapmare, then kicked Tenzan hard between the shoulder blades. Nagata then dropped to the mat and applied a leg grapevine, wrenching the knee of Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Tenzan tried to kick Yuji Nagata in the face to force him to release it, but it was only when he got to the ropes that the hold was broken.


Nagata pulled Tenzan back to the center of the ring, then wrenched his leg. After a couple of kicks to the hamstring, he applied a toehold, twisting Tenzan’s foot and forcing him to writhe on the mat. He released the hold to drop a knee on Tenzan’s leg, then simply kept his knee pressed in, but Tenzan backed Nagata off with an eye rake. Now Tenzan took the advantage, kicking Nagata, snapmaring him to the mat, and nailing him in the face with an overhand chop. Tenzan dropped an elbow on Nagata and covered, but only got a one count.


Tenzan sat Nagata up and applied a rear chinlock. He clawed at Nagata’s face before reapplying the hold, then broke it to strike his foe with an elbow. He followed up with a forearm, but Nagata came back with a headbutt. They traded forearms, and Nagata (who threw in a slap for good measure) seemed to get the upper hand — until Tenzan came back with a Mongolian chop. Tenzan fired off a second, but Nagata blocked it and fired off a spinning back kick that caught Tenzan in the head, flooring him.


Nagata stomped Tenzan, then pulled him to his feet and backed him into the corner with three hard kicks to the chest. He followed up with some rights and lefts in the corner, drawing an admonishment from the referee. He whipped Tenzan across the ring to the opposite corner and charged in after him, but Tenzan bounded out with a lariat that took Nagata down. As Nagata got up, Tenzan hit the ropes and fired off a spinning heel kick that sent him back down. Tenzan covered, but only got a two count.


Finally having taken the advantage, Tenzan stomped Nagata, then pulled him up, hit him with a Mongolian chop, whipped him to the corner, and followed in with a lariat. He hit Nagata with two more in the corner, then climbed to the top turnbuckle and gave his opponent the calf branding. He got a near-fall off the cover, then scooped Nagata up and bodyslammed him to the canvas. Tenzan climbed to the top rope, but Nagata got to his feet and cut the multi-time IWGP Tag Team Champion off with shots to the gut. He then climbed the ropes himself and took Tenzan over with a belly to belly superplex.


Getting back into control, Nagata hit Tenzan with two hard kicks to the chest, then floored him with a jumping enzuigiri to the back of the head. Nagata pulled Tenzan up and took him over with a northern lights suplex for two, then grabbed a heel hold, but Tenzan got to the bottom rope. Nagata stomped Tenzan, then when he got up, he kicked him twice in the left hamstring. He followed up with a kick to the chest, but Tenzan caught it and raked Nagata’s eyes. Tenzan hit another Mongolian chop, then whipped Nagata to the ropes. Nagata ducked under a lariat attempt, rebounded, and took Tenzan to the mat with a Thesz Press for a one count.


Tenzan got up and ran to the ropes, but when he came back, Nagata caught him in the leg with a kick. Nagata then grabbed Tenzan’s leg, pulled him to the center of the ring, saluted, and applied the Nagata Lock (inverted figure four leglock). Tenzan lost his strength as Nagata wrenched the hold, but he refused to give up, eventually managing to pull himself over to the bottom rope.


Nagata got up first and stomped Tenzan’s leg before kicking him in the face. He then grabbed the standing Tenzan by the foot, but Tenzan raked his eyes and hit a Mongolian chop. Nagata responded with a forearm and Tenzan went for another Mongolian chop, but Nagata blocked it and began kicking Tenzan in the knee. He ran to the ropes, but on the rebound, Tenzan caught him with a Mountain Bomb. He stomped Nagata, then picked him up and drilled him with the Tenzan Tombstone Driver. Feeling the momentum, Tenzan climbed to the top and came off with a diving headbutt that found its mark. He made the cover, but Nagata kicked out after two.


Tenzan tried to apply the Buffalo Sleeper, but Nagata kicked him in the head to escape. Tenzan collapsed back to the mat and Nagata crouched, waiting for him to get to his feet. When he did, Nagata caught him in the left hamstring with a dropkick, then tried to reapply the Nagata Lock, but Tenzan kicked him low. Tenzan stomped Nagata, then gave him a Mongolian chop, but the Togane native fired back with a blatant low blow. Nagata immediately rolled Tenzan up, but he kicked out after the two count.


Tenzan got to his feet, but Nagata charged in and kicked him in the hamstring. A second kick dropped him, and Nagata reapplied the Nagata Lock. Tenzan struggled as Nagata positioned himself as close to the center of the ring as possible. Still, Tenzan determinedly tried to pull himself to the ropes, and in the struggle, Nagata lost the hold.


Nagata pulled Tenzan up and fired off several quick kicks to his hamstring, then forearmed him in the face twice. Tenzan fought back with a chop, and the two traded forearms, chops, and Mongolian chops. Tenzan nailed Nagata with a headbutt, but Nagata came back with a slap across the face. Nagata ran to the ropes, but came back straight into a Mongolian chop. Tenzan scooped Nagata up and gave him an Original Tenzan Tombstone Driver (sit-out Tombstone). He then climbed up top, hit Nagata with a moonsault, and scored the hard-earned three count at 16:45.


This was a great match. First of all, as good as Yuji Nagata still is today, he was good in a different way back then — more strong-style, less of an all-rounder, unparalleled either way. Tenzan also fought like an absolute beast, taking every bit of punishment Nagata could dish out and firing back with everything he had. The strikes and holds were crisp and the selling was top-notch. An incredible, hard-fought contest like this in the quarterfinal round of a title tournament gets the belt across as the most important thing in the world, but even judged by itself, this bout was excellent. ****


That’s all for this week! We’ll be back next Friday with junior heavyweight tag action — Koji Kanemoto and Minoru Tanaka versus Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Shinya Makabe! Yes, that’s Togi!



One response to “Flashback Friday: Hiroyoshi Tenzan versus Yuji Nagata, IWGP Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarterfinal, 1/4/01

  1. Pingback: Flashback Friday: Minoru Tanaka and Koji Kanemoto versus Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Shinya Makabe, 1/4/01 | King of Sports·

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