Recap by Ryan Clingman:
It has been ten years since Satoshi Kojima made the jump to All Japan Pro Wrestling to carve out a path for himself as not only a strong tag team and mid card worker, but also as a main event calibre wrestler. He was set to face Genichiro Tenryu for the Triple Crown in Osaka. The result of the meeting was a match that is often times over looked, but is a near classic nonetheless.
The crowd adored the feisty babyface Kojima, through the chop battles, nearfalls and strike exchanges. The match consisted of many stiff and often times harsh strike battles and a series of intense near falls towards the finish.
Kojima was more of a powerhouse for much of the first portion of the match, but then became the opposite as the match wore on. There were also some unexpected moments, ranging from a flying pescado to Kojima surviving what must have been in the vicinity of five brainbusters.
Tenryu at the time and to a large extent in the years to follow was still viewed as a very big star and in fact he was the man chosen to hold the championship when the NOAH talent exodus occurred in 2000. Kojima, in his early thirties at the time hadn’t been established in the division, although that quickly changed.
The crowd was unbelievably hot for the match, so hot in fact that at points the camera actually switched to shots of groups in the crowd after big spots, something that isn’t regularly done in Japan. Tenryu, who was the second ever All Japan Triple Crown champion in history, basically played the part of the grizzled veteran determined to hold onto his championship and he did so to an amazing degree.
One of the match’s biggest strengths, but also one of its weaknesses were the nearfalls. Tenryu laid Kojima out with brainbuster after brainbuster, but couldn’t put Kojima away. The nearfalls added a new layer to the match and its narrative, but in the last few spots it bordered on insanity. However, thanks to the work of both men the crowd stuck with it, building in intensity up until the crescendo.
Don’t get me wrong though; these were not tasteless nearfalls, as the way they were executed added to the match’s two main stories. The one was that Tenryu was unable to put Kojima away with his brainbuster and finally had to resort to the powerbomb to get the win. The second was the fact that both men were so exhausted towards the end that they couldn’t make it to the pin – perpetuating nearfalls.
Through the way that the match was worked, together with its length and nearfalls, Kojima was not hurt one bit by the loss and frankly he came off looking better in many ways. The match itself holds up to an incredibly large extent, which makes it even more of a shame that many people don’t remember it that way.
As for why the match isn’t put up there with the likes of recent matches that weren’t necessarily definite five star matches, but were close to that level such as Undertaker/Shawn Michaels I don’t know. However, if you want to see an expertly crafted story, painted before your eyes by two men at the peak of their craft, look no further.
Thoughts from TJ Hawke:
This was an incredible match that I recommend everyone go out of their way to see. I’m not a puro buff myself, so almost every puro match I watch is a history lesson for me, and this classic was no exception. While these two *may* have gone a little overboard with the finishers towards the end (and it also would have been nice if the early limb work lead to something meaningful down the stretch), this match was everything you would want from a big main event. Check this match out.
Match Rating: ****1/2