5-Star Match Reviews: Kawada and Fuchi vs. Nagata and Iizuka – NJPW’s The 2nd Judgment!

This is something of a lost treasure in pro-wrestling. Were it not for some dedicated internet fans I wouldn’t’ve even known that this match existed. It’s such an obscure match that most wrestling fan sites that talk about New Japan and its 5-star matches completely omit it. And yet, the Wrestling Observer rated this match 5-stars when it first came out. Oddly, it never got any real fanfare, especially since it was the only wrestling match in 2000 to reach that level. Now, over twenty years later, we get to look back at this hidden gem.

Today we look back at the All Japan vs. New Japan tag match between AJPW’s Toshiaki Kawada & Masanobu Fuchi and NJPW’s Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka from December 14th, 2000.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

By mid-2000, the wrestling landscape in Japan had changed significantly. Mitsuharu Misawa had taken 95% of All Japan’s roster to form his own company, Pro Wrestling NOAH. For the second half of the year, NOAH began operations, but they struggled due to a lack of national attention and a late-night TV slot. New Japan continued to implode under Inoki’s nonsensical MMA obsession, sending their popularity on a downward spiral that would continue for several years.

By the end of the year, All Japan was in dire straits. Their roster was almost gutted completely, and they were struggling to remain active with the few wrestlers still there. The only major star AJPW had left was Toshiaki Kawada, who stayed with All Japan instead of following Misawa to NOAH. To keep AJPW afloat, Giant Baba’s widow and then-company booker Motoko allowed the remaining wrestlers to compete in cross-promotional feuds that wouldn’t’ve happened under her late husband’s control because he was such a staunch isolationist.

There are four interesting wrestlers in this match. Masanobu Fuchi is an AJPW lifer who spent most of his career in multi-man matches and getting pinned. Toshiaki Kawada is a legendary performer with the most vicious kicks in the entire business. Yuji Nagata was an excellent technical grappler and submission specialist who, in subsequent years, would become famous for carrying New Japan on his back during its darkest days. And Takashi Iizuka was a perpetual lower midcarder who, like a lot of NJPW wrestlers, dabbled in MMA around the turn of the century. So not only was this a rare match that brought All Japan and New Japan together, but it was also destined to be a true dream match, as Kawada and Nagata were considered identical wrestlers to one another.

There is also another story at play here as well. Kawada was embroiled in a feud with Kensuke Sasaki, who had been NJPW’s world champion at the time. He accompanied Nagata and Iizuka to the ring and watched from ringside. Two months earlier, Kawada beat Sasaki in a big non-title singles match; and Sasaki was so frustrated with this loss that he relinquished his world title. Both he and Kawada entered a tournament to crowd a new IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which was to culminate at Wrestling World 2001. So here, not only was Kawada looking to beat up someone he saw as a pretender (Nagata), but he also wanted to send a message to Sasaki should they meet in the finals for NJPW’s world title.

The match

Iizuka and Fuchi start things off. Fuchi stalls intentionally to annoy Iizuka. Some quick chain grappling ensues until Iizuka goes for an early sleeper but Fuchi gets to the ropes. Iizuka keeps it locked in Fuchi gets to the ropes but Iizuka reapplies it seconds later. That forces Kawada into the ring to break up the hold but Iizuka holds his ground against the All Japan legend. Nagata also comes in and boots Fuchi, who escapes to ringside following yet another sleeper attempt.

Fuchi gets back into the ring and Iizuka rushes him. That leads to a technical exchange and Iizuka tries different grounded submission holds but Fuchi keeps escaping. That technical grappling goes on for a bit until Iizuka tags Nagata and the crowd erupts. Fuchi eats a bunch of stiff kicks to his calf and tags Kawada and the arena erupts in cheers. An excellent technical exchange ends in a standoff. Kawada goes to taunt Nagata by stretching but Nagata rushes him and kicks him as hard as he can. The ref pulls Nagata out of the corner, which allows Kawada to boot him down. Kawada unleashes brutal kicks and chops of his own. Nagata tanks them like a boss asks for more. Kawada’s rage turns to open mockery as he rubs his boot in Nagata’s face. STIFF elbow exchange. Nagata drops Kawada, but he bounces back up and lands a yakuza kick. Kawada lands some step-kicks to a prone Nagata’s head. Nagata gets up and answers with a brutal high kick to the back of Kawada’s head. Kawada sinks to the mat like he has lost control of his legs. The guy’s delayed selling was just tremendous.

Iizuka and Fuchi tag in and go back to brawling. Fuchi lands a knee crusher and starts working over Iizuka’s leg. He applies an STF that does tons of damage until Iizuka grabs the ropes. Fuchi does a clever move where he places Iizuka on two ropes in the corner, stands on his throat and knees, and stretches him in two different ways. They always come up with creative stuff in Japan.

Kawada tags in and locks in a brutal single leg crab and stomps the hell out of IIzuka’s face as he tries to resist. Iizuka reaches the ropes, so Kawada pulls him back and sinks even deeper on the submission hold and then turns it into a torture crab by lifting Iizuka until he’s vertical. Kawada then transitions into a bow-and-arrow hold and Fuchi cheap-shots by choking Iizuka further with his foot. This is how heel tag teams should operate. Iizuka tries to right Kawada and Fuchi one-on-two but gets booted down for his efforts.

Fuchi tags back in and goes for his own single leg crab but Nagata can take no more and kicks the hell out of him. In response, Kawada rushes Nagata and gamengiri kicks Nagata so hard he falls out of the ring. Fuchi crotches Iizuka on the rope as Kawada punishes Nagata ringside. Kawada tags in and soccer kicks Iizuka as Fuchi crotches Nagata on the steep ring barricade. A jumping knee strike to the head gets Kawada the first two-count of the match.

Fuchi tags in but Iizuka makes another attempt at a comeback. he briefly gets Fuchi in a sleeper in another corner but Kawada’s quick to save his partner and boots Nagata off the apron. The All Japan double boot Iizuka in a corner and Kawada knocks Nagata down yet again. That’s followed by a huge yakuza kick in the corner by Kawada. Fuchi pins but Iizuka kicks out.

After some foot chokes, Fuchi tags Kawada, who applies a Boston crab but Nagata breaks it up. Fuchi tags back in and backdrops Iizuka for a two-count. Fuchi goes for a vertical suplex but Iizuka resists and counters into one of his own. Kawada tags in but Iizuka fires back with all he’s got left. Big forearms to both Kawada and Fuchi. Sleeper hold on Fuchi. Kawada checks on Fuchi as Iizuka rolls to and tags Nagata. Nagata and Kawada go at it trading elbows. Yakuza kick by Kawada. Nagata stays standing. Kawada drops him with a lariat and pins. Nagata kicks out.

Twenty minutes have passed as Kawada goes for a Dangerous Backdrop but Nagata elbows out. Nagata fires back with three jumping enzuigiris in a row and a bridging German suplex for two. Nagata lands more brutal kicks to Kawada’s chest. Kawada answers with a leg sweep, some brutally-stiff step kicks, and a vicious hook kick. But he’s still not done. Dangerous Backdrop Driver! Nagata kicks out. Stretch plum submission hold. Kawada wrenches Nagata’s weakened neck. Nagata tries to crawl to the ropes but Kawada pulls him back. Nagata starts fading. But here comes Iizuka to make the save. Kawada goes for a desperation pin but Nagata escapes.

Kawada goes for a powerbomb but Nagata resists. He tries again and kicks Iizuka as he tries to save his teammate. Nagata literally kicks his way out of another powerbomb attempt and kicks Kawada’s leg as he charges. Nagata’s fully fired up as he demolishes Kawada’s main kicking leg with calf kicks of his own. Nagata Lock! Nagata applies his own version of the Figure-4 leglock. Kawada crawls to the ropes. Nagata pulls him back. Fuchi punches Nagata right in the face. But Nagata doesn’t relinquish the hold. Fuchi comes back in and hits even harder, forcing Nagata to let go.

Nagata tags Iizuka who rushes in and knocks Fuchi off the apron. Iizuka kicks at Kawada’s now-badly-damaged knee and Kawada desperately lands kicks of his own. They go kick-for-kick until Iizuka lands an Exploder suplex and then applies an ankle lock. Meanwhile, Nagata rushes a charging Fuchi and locks him in the Nagata Lock. Both All Japan wrestlers are trapped in submission holds. The crowd’s cheering wildly as Kawada writhes in pain. Iizuka keeps repositioning himself to make it harder for Kawada to escape. Kawada punches Iizuka out of desperation but Iizuka doesn’t let go. But Iizuka runs out of gas to keep the hold and lets go.

Iizuka goes to lift Kawada up for a suplex but Kawada can’t even stand. Iizuka has to deadlift Kawada up for a German suplex but Kawada escapes and lands a desperation enzuigiri out of nowhere. Fuchi tags in and hobbles about and dropkicks Iizuka’s knee.

Two minutes left.

Fuchi lands a pair of Backdrop suplexes and pins but Iizuka kicks out. He applies a chinlock in the middle of the ring as Kawada kicks Nagata down and puts him in the stretch plum. Iizuka tries to crawl to the roes to escape Fuchi so Fuchi rolls him over and reapplies the chinlock.

One minute left.

The crowd chants for Iizuka as he and Nagata fight to stay conscious. Iizuka struggles and struggles untul he reaches the ropes with his foot. Fuchi goes for another backdrop but Iizuka elbows out and knocks Fuchi down.

Thirty seconds left.

Both Kawada and Nagata tag in and rush each other with a barrage of strikes. They proceed to elbow, kick and slap the ever-loving s**t out of each other.

Twenty seconds left.

Nagata blocks a gamengiri. Kawada blocks an enzuigiri. Nagata jumps up off a big boot and knocks Kawada down.

Ten seconds left.

Nagata locks in a cross armbreaker. Fuchi stomps on Nagata’s head to make him let go but Iizuka cuts him off before he can do any real damage. Kawada rolls out of the submission hold. Both men get to their feet ready to keep fighting. But the bell rings. Time has run out.

Match result: 30-minute DRAW

Post-match, the audience chants for more but the ref reiterates that the match ended in a draw.


That was an ASTONISHINGLY good match. I can’t believe it took me this long to see it. It really was a ‘hidden gem’ and it’s likely most wrestling fans wouldn’t even know it ever existed. I’m really glad to have seen it and I think you, dear reader, will enjoy it just as much as I did, for the following reasons.

That match featured something that New Japan’s audience was very much unaccustomed to: a match with a clear and classic good vs. evil dynamic. Kawada and Fuchi brought King’s Road to New Japan and included with that was more of an emphasis on brawling and layered storytelling. For the first time in a long time, there was a clear face-vs-heel dynamic with the heroic local heroes taking on the outside invaders. Yes, New Japan had done that story to death over the years. But Kawada and Fuchi brought their style of wrestling to New Japan and used it to maximum effect.

Kawada and Fuchi came in with a game plan: they isolated the much less experienced Iizuka and kept Nagata at bay. Fuchi was never a big star but he was in his element here as a methodical limb destroyer. He wrecked Iizuka so badly that it became very likely he would tap out or give up at any moment. That was one of the hallmarks of All Japan’s King’s Road style: sometimes keeping things simple worked better than overcomplicating things. That’s what happened here. They used simple submission holds to gradually weaken Iizuka to the point that he basically became a warm body. That allowed Kawada to focus on his real reason for being there: destroying Nagata to send a message to Sasaki, who was ringside and who was feuding with Kawada at the time. The interactions between Kawada and Nagata were phenomenal. These men were basically two sides of the same coin. They wrestled in similar, kick-and-martial-arts-focused styles and loved to suplex their opponents. Whenever they fought, it brought the intensity up to eleven. They had minimal interactions overall, but when they did fight they hit each other hard and caused the audience to erupt in cheers.

Those explosive encounters coupled were buoyed by Iizuka’s match-long story of survival. Whenever he survived one more, either Fuchi or Kawada knocked Nagata away which both made it harder for Nagata to create a sustained comeback and also prolonged Iizuka’s suffering. So by the time they reached the twenty-minute mark, the match was already at its peak. All the wrestlers had to do was hit the payoff, and they did so with gusto. The last ten minutes was basically an extended superstar comeback by Nagata with him turning the tables on Kawada and trying to submit the All Japan ace. But Kawada was as stubborn as he was stiff and refused to lie down and die, which got the crowd to cheer fort him as much as they cheered for Nagata and Iizuka. Even Fuchi, whose entire role was to play the cold-blooded yet underhanded heel, got some cheers. That led to a fantastic closing sprint between Nagata and Kawada as the two bigger stars got an extended standing ovation as they hit each other with everything they had as their time started to run out.

All of that being said, the match’s abrupt ending really ruined things. It looked like Kawada and Nagata were more than ready and willing to keep going after the bell rang out. And if you look closely, you can see Kawada looking frustrated as he gets up. Even the fans seemed to be cheering for the match to continue but the referee didn’t do that and reinforced the draw decision. I understand that it made sense given the larger story at play at the time – All Japan ‘invading’ New Japan – requiring draws in the build-up to the big clash at the January 4 Dome show weeks later. And yet, it was deflating all the same.

Imagine if during the fabled Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels ironman match from WrestleMania XII, after the full sixty minutes the show ends with a draw, leading to Bret retaining. Sure, WWE would’ve made bank on a justifiable rematch. But that kind of decision would’ve also sucked the life out of the arena and deflated the atmosphere, no matter how logical it might’ve been. That’s the impression I got here. Things reached such an intense fever pitch towards the closing moments, only for the bell to sound. Normally I don’t mind draws as decisions, but in this case, the deflating conclusion overshadowed the logic behind that decision.

Final Rating: ****3/4

Had the match gone into sudden-death overtime and featured a clear winner, I think this match would’ve been even better. This match already had so much great wrestling and intense storytelling going for it that it still holds up well over twenty years after it first took place. I really think it comes close to being one of the best tag matches of all time and quite possibly the best tag match in New Japan’s history.

The only reason most people might not even know about this match is because of outside events that overshadowed it. NOAH was the talk of the Japanese wrestling scene at the time, New Japan was heading towards a downward spiral that would last years, and All Japan was believed to be on death’s door. Those occurrences were much bigger talking points than this match. It’s a shame, really. This was and still is tremendous, and I’m glad someone took the time to upload it otherwise it’s been forever lost to time.