The thing about seeing American pro wrestlers in Japan is that you never know what kinds of crazy match-ups could take place. The Undertaker once wrestled both the ace of New Japan and a guy that tried to out-do him at being a wrestling zombie.
Vader left WWE in shambles and went on to have one of the best matches of his career less than six months later. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle concluded their match series not in WWE, but in an obscure promotion called IGF. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Once again I’ve found five matches involving current and former WWE wrestlers competing in Japan. But this time I’ve done something slightly different. Two of the matches I’ve found involve the same wrestler: Scott Hall (RIP). Though most of his career has been stateside, I’ve managed to find two interesting matches of his that took place after his tenure in WCW. How good were they? Read on to find out…
5. Shinya Hashimoto vs. The Great Oz (Kevin Nash) – May 17th, 1992
Background: Before coming to WWF/E and becoming Diesel, Kevin Nash wrestled in WCW as (The Great) Oz. Yes, he was a ripoff of the character from The Wizard of Oz. A character that was from a book published in 1900. This came from the same guy that thought Ric Flair should shave his hair and become Spartacus. Early 1990s WCW was insane. Anyways, WCW still had a partnership with NJPW and Oz found himself wrestling in singles competition against Shinya Hashimoto, one of New Japan’s fabled ‘Three Musketeers’ that would go on to carry the company for the rest of the decade.
The match: Hashimoto gets a headlock in and goes for a shoulder tackle but Nash doesn’t budge. He tries again but Nash remains unmoving. On a third tackle, Nash gets a boot up and Hashimoto goes down. Nash follows with a corner clothesline and some punches but Hashimoto fights back with punches and calf kicks. That angers Nash so he kicks Hashimoto’s head in and Hashimoto goes to the floor to recover. Hashimoto returns and does a sloppy headlock takeover. He starts working over Nash’s arm, hits some standing armbreakers, and then does a judo arm throw on his much-larger opponent. Hashimoto locks in a cross armbar but Nash reaches the ropes for a break.
Hashimoto chops Nash’s chest and lands a slam/elbow drop combo for a two-count. Nash somehow gets up before Hashimoto and lands punches and a clothesline for a two-count of his own. Nash applies a chinlock but Hashimoto elbows out. He runs to the ropes but Nash leapfrogs, lands a gut punch and a facebuster for a two-count. Another slam/elbow drop combo gets Nash another two-count so he applies another chinlock. He follows with a backbreaker for another two-count and locks in a standing full nelson until Hashimoto gets to the ropes. Nash lands some punches in the corner but Hashimoto does the laziest no-sell power-up I’ve ever seen. They do another lock-up eight minutes into the match and Hashimoto bitchslaps Nash in the corner. They lock-up again and Hashimoto ducks a clothesline and hits a spinning wheel kick for a two-count. He hits some stiff middle kicks and another spinning wheel kick for another two-count. They mess up an Irish whip of all things and then Nash sends Hashimoto into the ropes. But Hashimoto counters with a running DDT for yet another two-count. Running snap DDT. Hashimoto pins and gets the win!
Winner after 9:23: Shinya Hashimoto
Review: Whoever thought this was a good idea should be flogged. This match just sucked. There was just no chemistry between Nash and Hashimoto. Their styles just didn’t mesh well. Nash always excelled at being the monster that threw smaller guys around and had them bounce off of him. He had no business trading stiff strikes with a walking cannonball like Hashimoto, who probably outweighed Nash in this match even though he was more than a foot shorter. There were some clearly blown spots and miscommunications throughout the match. Hashimoto seemed to have no strategy in place and just wasted time until he decided to get into a tough guy contest with Nash that literally went nowhere. And even though Nash did some unexpected things like a leapfrog and some running moves, they were all for nothing since they didn’t lead to anything. It seemed like neither of them had any ideas that stuck and just did random moves until Hashimoto hit his finish out of nowhere. You can’t blame only one wrestler here; both of them were equally disappointing.
Final Rating: ¾*
4. Scott Hall vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW, September 9th, 2001
Background: Scott Hall had toured Japan many years earlier, but in 2001 he managed to find steady work there. New Japan decided to capitalize on his status as an ex-WCW star and a founding member of the NWO, which still existed to some degree in New Japan. Masahiro Chono had converted those NWO guys into his new stable Team 2000, but many elements of the NWO, including the presentation, remained largely the same. Here, Hall took on a still young rookie named Hiroshi Tanahashi. You might’ve heard of him as possibly the greatest professional wrestler still active today. But this match was a full eight years before he truly became the ace. Here, Tanahashi hoped to have his big moment against a far stronger and more experienced veteran.
The match: Hall offers a handshake before the bell but Tanahashi declines. The bell rings and Hall pokes Tanahashi’s eye and laughs at him. Hall plays some mind games and then easily overpowers Tanahashi into an armlock. He lands some shoulder thrusts and grapples into an over-the-shoulder slam. Hall applies an armbar and slaps Tanahashi’s head mockingly. He toys with Tanahashi by switching between various armlocks without any resistance whatsoever. Hall chops Tanahashi in the corner and lands a fallaway slam. He locks in an abdominal stretch and pulls on both one of Tanahashi’s legs and his hair. Hall locks in a sort of STF and then places Tanahashi on the top turnbuckle. He follows with a super back suplex and then teases the end. Hall drops Tanahashi with the Razor’s Edge. But before pinning he grabs a microphone. He looks at the hard camera and says, “Hey, Muto Keiji. If you ever step in the ring with Scott Hall, this is gonna be you –”. But as soon as he ends his speech, Tanahashi rolls him up for a pin. One, two, three! Tanahashi pins Scott Hall with one move!
Winner after 4:20: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Review: Basically a longer – and to be honest, less exciting – version of Razor vs. 1-2-3 Kid from many years earlier. This was basically a glorified squash match with Razor dominating Tanahashi without any effort. Tanahashi provided no resistance and was basically a warm body after taking that Razor’s Edge. But instead of pinning his opponent, Razor inexplicably decided to cut a promo on Muto, only to be pinned with the lightest of roll-ups. Clearly New Japan tried to copy what WWF/E did with Razor/Kid but it was far less believable. Tanahashi didn’t have a fiery comeback or land any impressive move to win; he just hit a roll-up and that was enough for Tanahashi to pin a wrestler that was both much bigger and heavier than him and that was 100% fresh. It made Hall look incredibly weak and made Tanahashi’s win look cheap. And even though the win had the same parameters as Kid’s on paper, this wasn’t the match that made Tanahashi’s career by any stretch of the imagination.
Final Rating: *
3. AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship Match: Keiji Muto [c] vs. Scott Hall – NJPW G1 World 2001, September 23rd, 2001
Background: This match has a bit of a complex background. Back when the NWO was at its hottest, another offshoot was created in Japan called ‘NWO Japan’. Led by Masahiro Chono, NWO Japan lasted much longer than the original and its two splinter entities NWO Wolfpac and NWO Hollywood. After WCW closed, Scott Hall managed to find work in New Japan for a bit. Upon arrival, he found that NWO Japan was gone, having merged into Chono’s new stable called Team 2000. Hall managed to earn a title shot, but not for New Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight title. It was for All Japan’s Triple Crown Heavyweight title, which was held by Keiji Muto. Muto, a.k.a. The Great Muta, was a pivotal player in New Japan’s working relationship with All Japan that saved All Japan from closing for good. Muto had dream matches with top guys from All Japan, including a victory over Genichiro Tenryu that saw Muto win the Triple Crown. So in this match, Muto was this sort of in-between wrestler. He was still a New Japan wrestler at this moment in time, but was representing All Japan against a wrestler from WCW who was somehow representing New Japan. Clear as mud, right? Also, somehow Hall got this title shot despite losing to Tanahashi two weeks earlier.
The match: Before the bell rings, Hall interrupts the traditional belt ceremony and holds up all three belts making up the Triple Crown. The crowd boos Hall loudly as he desecrates what is still considered a sacred title and title ceremony.
Hall flicks his toothpick at Muto but Muto spits it out to the floor. They trade armlocks and Hall lands some shoulder thrusts but Muto quickly grapples out and goes for Hall’s leg. Hall kicks Muto away and waistlocks him but Muto counters into an armlock and a hammerlock. Hall gets a ropebreak and then starts hammering Muto with forearms. He sends Muto into the ropes but Muto rolls to duck a clothesline and hits a dropkick. Hall tries to power out of a side headlock but Muto keeps it locked in. Hall elbows out and slams Muto but misses an elbow drop. There appears to be an awkward exchange as Muto headlocks Hall to the mat and lands his trademark flashing elbow drop. Hall powers Muto to his feet and escapes his headlock with a rebound back suplex. Hall lands some simple punches and applies a sleeper. Hall throws Muto to the floor and starts smashing him into the barricade. He throws Muto back into the ring and locks in an abdominal stretch but Muto powers out. Muto goes for another flashing elbow but Hall rolls away. Hall whips Muto into a corner but misses a corner clothesline. Muto takes that opportunity to hit a dropkick to the knee (DTK). That’s followed by two more and a dragon screw leg whip. Muto locks in a Figure-4 leglock. Hall’s buddy Chono tries to push the rope closer to Hall but the ref keeps him at bay. Hall eventually gets a ropebreak so Muto lands a rib breaker and goes to the top rope for a moonsault. But Hall gets up and cuts him off. Super back suplex connects. Hall pins but only manages a two-count. Hall hits a chokeslam but only manages a two-count again. Hall charges for a clothesline but Muto hits first with another DTK. Muto follows with another rib breaker and a successful diving moonsault. One, two, Hall kicks out. Shining Wizard by Muto. Hall staggers and hits a desperation clothesline. Both wrestlers collapse. The fans chant for Muto. Hall hits first with corner chops, a corner clothesline, and a fallaway slam. He pins but once again Muto kicks out. Hall goes for the Razor’s Edge. Muto escapes and lands a wheel kick. That’s followed by a corner Shining Wizard. One, two, Hall kicks out again. Muto lands one more Shining Wizard for good measure. One, two, and three! Muto retains his title!
Winner and STILL AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion after 15:14: Keiji Muto
Review: That was about as good a match as one would expect out of a post-WCW Scott Hall. He didn’t do much here; but given his physical condition, how could he? And yet, he was disciplined enough to keep things serious and treat this match as actually important. He did a solid job of getting heat before the bell and actually had one or two halfway-believable near-falls. But there was one problem: no-one bought the idea that Hall could win. He wasn’t a New Japan regular, nor was he part of any major All Japan storylines. He came across as a placeholder. And while Muto did wrestle circles around him, it just wasn’t that dramatic or compelling of a match. Ultimately, this match is more of a novelty than it is compelling. But hey, at least Hall could say he challenged for the most prestigious title in the world and he wouldn’t be lying.
Final Rating: **3/4
2. Black Tiger II vs. Wild Pegasus – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Tournament Semi-Final Match, July 13th, 1995
Background: Black Tiger II is Eddy Guerrero and Wild Pegasus is Chris Benoit. For consistency’s sake I’ll be referring to them by their WWE names in this review. Both of them had toured Japan many times over the years, including in the previous year’s famous Super J Cup Tournament that Benoit won. A year later, both of them were in the BOSJ, which was basically a round-robin version of the Super J Cup.
The match: Both wrestlers trade clean breaks on the ropes and have tense standoffs early. Some solid mat wrestling ensues until Benoit counters a headlock into an armdrag. Eddy hammerlocks Benoit and grapples into a double-arm submission hold while pushing his head into Benoit’s back. Benoit fights to his feet and counters the hold on Eddy but Eddy kicks out, leading to another stalemate. Eddy drop toeholds Benoit and applies a chinlock, then transitions into a camel clutch. Eddy follows with a Gory Special submission hold and then converts that into a spinning backbreaker for a two-count. then he lands a snap powerbomb but that also gets two so he lands a pumphandle backbreaker followed by a slingshot senton for another two-count. Benoit fights out of a chinlock and sends Eddy into a corner. Benoit charges but Eddy flips over top of him. Multiple standing switches. Benoit eats turnbuckle and then Eddy lands a diving headscissor takedown. Benoit reverses an Irish whip. Eddy ducks underneath him but runs into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Benoit pins but only gets two. Back suplex by Benoit. Eddy kicks out. Benoit locks in a Figure-4 neck lock. Eddy wrestles into an armlock and traps both of Benoit’s shoulders for some quick pin attempts. Benoit bridges out and then lands a counter headscissor of his own. Eddy runs the ropes and goes for another headscissor but Benoit throws him off. Eddy lands some kicks and suplexes Benoit to the floor. Then Eddy lands a top-rope dive onto Benoit.
Back in the ring, Eddy lands a British Bulldog running powerslam followed by a Frog Splash for another two-count. He applies another chinlock but Benoit fights out and sends him into the ropes. Benoit leapfrogs and then goes for a monkey flip but Eddy counters by stomping Benoit’s head. Eddy attempts another apron suplex but Benoit blocks and suplexes Eddy. But Eddy lands behind him. More quick switches and counters. Benoit tries a back suplex. Eddy lands behind him and succeeds with the apron suplex. But this time they both tumble to the floor. Benoit gets up first. Suicide dive through the ropes.
On the apron, Benoit hits some punches but Eddy hits back and lands a diving hurricanrana for two. Eddy follows with a Backdrop suplex and then teases the end. Black Tiger Bomb/Splash Mountain. Benoit kicks out and then counters a corner Irish whip. He military presses Eddy over his head and drops his gut onto his knee. Now Benoit lands a nasty snap powerbomb of his own. One, two, Eddy kicks out. Bridging dragon suplex. Eddy kicks out again. Benoit goes for a hip toss. Eddy counters into a victory roll for another two-count. Eddy blocks a powerbomb and lands a Brainbuster. One, two, Benoit kicks out. Eddy tries a top-rope Black Tiger Bomb but Benoit escapes and tries to cut Eddy off. Eddy hits first with a boot and lands a diving tornado DDT. One, two, Benoit gets his foot on the ropes. Eddy goes for a top-rope hurricanrana. Benoit blocks and lifts Eddy up. SECOND-ROPE DIVING TOMBSTONE PILEDRIVER! Christ, what a move. One, two, three! Benoit gets the win and advances to the tournament finals!
Winner after 16:37: Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit)
Review: As expected, Eddy and Benoit delivered the goods here. This was a great technical match that was nowhere near the kinds of craziness we’ve come to expect from ‘junior heavyweights’. This was more scientific and competitive as opposed to being a high-flying spot-fest. The match had its share of cool dives and high-flying, but all of that stuff still felt balanced. It really felt like an extended stalemate without either wrestler really maintaining control for long. Control changed in the blink of an eye yet the match was easy to follow. There were some dead moments at first and some exchanges led nowhere, but things really kicked into high gear after Eddy’s dive to the floor. The ending was particularly crazy with Benoit spiking Eddy with one of the most dangerous moves I’ve ever seen. And thankfully, that was the end of the match. Not just because that move was so dangerous but also because going beyond that move would’ve been both pointless and deflating. It was the right crescendo on which to end the match and it made Benoit look like an absolute killer and Eddy like a tough sonofabitch.
Final Rating: ****
1. Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer – G1 Climax 2019
Background: The 2019 G1 marked the first time that the annual tournament would have at least one show in the United States. New Japan had tried to make inroads into the American market several times but nothing ever really took off. They tried again with this show, which boasted a roster full of fan favorites and another rare singles match between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. But before those two legends could fight in the main event, the tournament needed a solid opener. And what better way to kick off the tournament than a David vs. Goliath match-up between Ospreay and Archer.
Some fans might remember Archer from his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stint in WWE as Vance Archer. He was around during the dying days of WWECW and spent most of his time competing with lower-tier guys like Trent Beretta, Matt Hardy, and Chris Masters. After leaving WWE, he would go on to have a much more successful career as a tag team alongside Davey Boy Smith, Jr. as both The Killer Elite Squad and as members of Minoru Suzuki’s Suzuki-gun stable in New Japan and NOAH. KES disbanded a month before this tournament started and Archer was given his first big singles push.
The match: Archer rushes Ospreay but Ospreay hits first with a standing Spanish Fly! The bell rings as Archer rolls to the floor and Ospreay hits a diving corkscrew moonsault from the top rope to the floor. The crowd’s already giving him a standing ovation as he throws Archer into the ring and hits a springboard 450 splash. One, two, Archer kicks out. To say this is a hot start would be an understatement.
Ospreay starts chopping Archer in the corner but Archer suddenly no-sells. He walks towards Ospreay, absorbing chops and forearms like they’re nothing. Ospreay hits hard, but Archer hits harder and drops him with a brutal forearm of his own. Archer charges but Ospreay ducks and Archer falls onto the apron. They trade forearms until Ospreay pulls a Marufuji and lands a springboard dropkick that sends Archer to the floor. Ospreay goes for the Sasuke Special Space Flying Tiger Drop. But Archer dodges and chokeslams Ospreay onto the announce table.
Archer tosses Ospreay back into the ring effortlessly and hits a big shoulder tackle. he pushes his knee into Ospreay’s head and chops his chest hard as the fans chant for Ospreay, to which Archer responds ‘Ospreay ain’t s**t’. A short-range clothesline gets Archer a two-count and he kneels down to let Ospreay hit him. Ospreay can only manage a light tap as Archer lands his own version of the Undertaker’s Old School, which gets loud applause. No surprise given that both ‘Taker and Archer are Texans and this match is taking place in Dallas.
Archer applies an armtrap chinlock/neck crank and threatens the referee with his Iron Claw. He follows with three high-speed tackles into the corner and gloats in front of the still pro-Ospreay crowd. Ospreay tries hitting some forearms but Archer tanks them and demands for more. Ospreay answers with a surprise boot. Archer fires back with a stiff elbow and a corner clothesline. He sends Ospreay into the ropes…only for Ospreay to handspring and hit an enzuigiri. Archer gets up first and charges a corner but Ospreay gets a boot up and lands another enzuigiri. Ospreay follows with a top-rope 619 and a Phenomenal Forearm for a two-count. Ospreay goes for his Stormbreaker finisher but Archer elbows out. Ospreay ducks another clothesline and lands a step-up kick/enzuigiri combo. They crisscross and Ospreay flips over Archer and lands a high kick. Ospreay tries another one but Archer hits a Monty Brown-style pounce and Ospreay goes flying across the ring. Archer follows with both a bucklebomb and a release powerbomb and then kicks Ospreay to the floor. Powerbomb onto the apron. Still not done, Archer drags Ospreay up the ramp and goes for another powerbomb. But Ospreay counters with a Code Red/Yoshi Tonic. Finally, the referee starts counting. He gets to fifteen as both men head towards the ring. Ospreay reaches the apron but Archer pushes him aside from behind. Archer makes it in at eighteen. The referee reaches nineteen. Ospreay springboards into the ring and dropkicks the side of Archer’s head. That’s followed by a shooting start press. One, two, and thr – no, Archer barely kicks out. Corkscrew kick to Archer’s head. Ospreay goes for the Os-Cutter. Archer powers out and goes for a back suplex. Ospreay lands behind him, ducks a clothesline, and then connects with his Os-Cutter finisher. One, two, and th – no, Archer kicks out.
Ospreay tries the Stormbreaker but can’t lift Archer up so he resorts to Kawada kicks to the head. Ospreay teases his Hidden Blade elbow smash but Archer counters into a Blackout inverted crucifix powerbomb attempt. Ospreay blocks a corner charge with a boot and goes to the top rope but Archer cuts him off. Muscle Buster by Archer. One, two, another kick-out by Ospreay. Blackout connects. Archer smashes Ospreay to the canvas with all his might. One, two, and – NO, Ospreay kicks out at 2.99! Archer signals for the claw. Iron Claw hold applied. Archer sinks his fingers into Ospreay’s temples. Ospreay tries fighting back and gets a ropebreak. Archer waits until the last possible moment to release the hold.
Archer pulls Ospreay to the top rope and goes for a diving chokeslam but Ospreay elbows out. Archer lands some punches and goes for that move but Ospreay counters into a diving Spanish Fly. Ospreay pins but Archer kicks out. Archer blocks the Stormbreaker again so Ospreay lands more Kawada kicks. Ospreay tries again. He gets the much-heavier Archer onto his shoulder but Archer escapes. Chokeslam, no, Ospreay flips over. High kick/hook kick/ripcord hook kick combination. Ospreay goes for a top-rope Os-Cutter. Archer cuts him off and locks in a full nelson on the top rope. Ospreay breaks his grip and head-butts him off the turnbuckle. Ospreay prepares for some dive but Archer hits first with a running kneelift. Super Blackout from the top rope. Archer signals the end. Iron Claw locked in. Ospreay passes out. The referee counts one, two, and three! Archer beats Ospreay in his home state
Winner after 18:16: Lance Archer
Review: If Archer had any other smaller opponent that actually knew how to sell consistently and wasn’t just obsessed with getting all his s**t in, this match would be very close to five stars. Archer was simply awesome here. He was such a great monster heel here. He was vicious, unrelenting, overtly villainous and convincing in his role. He played the role of Goliath perfectly and even surprised a few people with some sudden bursts of speed. However, Ospreay was his usual unbelievable self. There’s something about how Ospreay does his transitions that is simply irksome. He would spend several minutes getting worked over and eating painful and debilitating moves only to do his trademark ‘flippy s**t’ and string together wildly unrealistic maneuvers seconds later. He just can’t grasp the concept of doing things ‘gradually’ and building things up to a crescendo. It’s either one extreme or another with him and it makes his matches ridiculous and exaggerated. He comes across as more of an acrobat than a combat athlete. And even though the crowd reacts loudly to what he does, he wrestles in a way that’s unsustainable. I’ve reviewed some Ospreay matches before and for the most part I’m more interested in seeing how his opponent wrestles than how he wrestles. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Ospreay’s selling was just as unrealistic as his offense. He took so many high-impact bombs and dangerous-looking slams, only to not only kick-out but move at full speed. What he did just wasn’t believable and came across as too exaggerated. But I guess some fans really like his style, even if it does make suspending disbelief borderline impossible.
Final Rating: ****1/2