NJPW Retro: Toukon Shidou (2006 January 4 Dome Show) [Lesnar vs. Nakamura] Review, by Alex Podgorski

NJPW Retro: Toukon Shidou (2006 January 4 Dome Show) [Lesnar vs. Nakamura] Review, by Alex Podgorski

I was inspired to review this show after reading John Canton’s review of the 2020 Royal Rumble. As he described the main event men’s Rumble match and mentioned Shinsuke Nakamura being in the ring with Lesnar, it reminded me of something. When that happened last year, I heard chatter from people wanting to see a singles match between Lesnar and Nakamura. And being the wrestling fan that I am, I laughed to myself and thought, NO. YOU. DO. NOT.

That’s because that match-up did occur, fourteen years earlier, at one of New Japan’s annual January Tokyo Dome Shows. Before it was called ‘Wrestle Kingdom’, that show went by different names. In 2006, it was called ‘Toukon Shidou’. I don’t know what that means, but I’m guessing it means something related to ‘fight’ because NJPW have used the word ‘toukon’ a few times before.

Anyways, this is the 2006 edition of NJPW’s January Dome Show. The main event was the much-hyped title match between then-champion Lesnar and NJPW’s ‘super-rookie’ Shinsuke Nakamura. The question everyone wanted to be answered was, would they deliver in the hallowed Tokyo Dome?

NJPW Toukon Shidou in Tokyo Dome – January 4th, 2006

They announce the attendance with 31,000 in attendance, which is less than the previous year’s event, but still much higher than the following year. That’s the problem with these Inokism-era events. They don’t lead to immediate drops in attendance, but gradual fan abandonment over time. That’s why in one year NJPW’s Dome show would go from 31,000 fans to barely 18,000 a year later.

There are eleven matches on this card. As with many Dome shows, this one includes wrestlers from other companies. This year, they’re from Pro Wrestling Zero1, a company formed by former NJPW ace Shinya Hashimoto after he left the company earlier in the decade.

Ryouji Sai vs. Naofumi Yamamoto

Sai is from Pro Wrestling Zero1 while Yamamoto would later become Yoshi Tatsu in WWE.

An extended forearm exchange starts the match. Yamamoto kicks Sai out of the ring, and Sai’s Zero1 buddies get into a tussle with Yamamoto’s fellow NJPW rookies at ringside. Sai returns to the ring and holds Yamamoto in the corner, and then tosses the referee away when he orders Sai to let go. Sai lands a few kicks to the chest but Yamamoto takes him down and applies a leglock, and soon after so too does Sai. They trade slaps while locked in each other’s leglocks until Sai gets a sudden advantage then rolls to the ropes. It takes a while for both of them to let go, and once they do they have a little kickboxing exchange that Sai wins. Sai follows with a sleeper, then applies a bodyscissor in the middle of the ring. he tries to choke Yamamoto out and then tries for a cross armbreaker, but Yamamoto gets to the ropes quickly.

Sai lands some standing kicks then charges, but Yamamoto blocks his running kick and Irish whips him. Sai avoids a dropkick by holding onto the ropes, but Yamamoto ducks Sai’s running kick and lands some kicks of his own. He goes for a backdrop, but Sai rolls into a leglock and then transitions into an ankle lock until Yamamoto gets to the ropes. Sai charges but walks into a stomach kick, followed by a running kick from Yamamoto for a two-count. Yamamoto climbs the top rope but Sai cuts him off with a kick and lands a diving double foot stomp for a two-count. Another running kick gets Sai another two-count. He lands a backdrop suplex for the pin after about eight minutes.

Winner: Ryouji Sai

Analysis: *3/4 Slightly disappointing match. There wasn’t much to expect going into this, given that Yamamoto was something of a rookie. He and Sai wrestled a VERY basic match without much in terms of complexity. They tried to pack some intensity into this short sprint of a match, but it never really reached that level.

Six-Man Tag Team Match: Gedo, Jado and Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs. Badboy Hido, Kintaro Kanemura and Masato Tanaka

Hido, Kanemura and Tanaka are all outsiders from various smaller promotions and like to focus on hardcore wrestling.

A chaotic brawl all over the place starts the match. Tanaka sets up some tables and Hido dives off the top rope onto Liger through a table within the first twenty seconds. The camera also shifts to Jado, who has also been driven through a table.

In the ring, Gedo flips Kanemura off afte4r eating some chops then tosses him out of the ring. He kicks a charging Tanaka out of the corner and lands a diving hurricanrana and then a running one, before getting clotheslined by Kanemura. The ref gets distracted by a now-recovered and furious Liger as Hido tags in and kicks Gedo in the corner. Hido argues with and shoves the referee (again with this shit?) following a chinlock and tags Tanaka. Tanaka and Hido land double-team elbows on Gedo for a two-count. Tanaka lands a hard running clothesline in the corner followed by a type of camel clutch, then tags Hido back in. Hido slams Gedo and lands a springboard splash, but misses a lionsault and tags Kanemura, who lands a Neutralizer and a clothesline for two as Gedo’s partners save him. Gedo gets triple-teamed with consecutive running clotheslines, then Tanaka lands a fireman’s carry into a Rock Bottom for two.

Tanaka slams Gedo and goes for a flying splash but Gedo gets his knees up. Kanemura cuts Gedo off before he can tag his partners and Hido charges for an aided clothesline. But Gedo kicks Hido and low blows Kanemura, then lands an inverted STO on Hido and tags Liger. The crowd pops big for Liger as he cleans house with shotei palm thrusts. Ligerbomb. Tanaka kicks out. Liger goes for a dive but Hido cuts him off allowing Tanaka to land a superplex. Tanaka lands a sloppy clothesline on Liger against the ropes, followed by a second one for a two-count. Tanaka charges but Liger lands a shotei, then Liger clotheslines him and lands yet another shotei in the corner and tags Jado. Jado clotheslines Hido, ducks a barbed wire baseball bat from Kanemura and drops him with triple German suplexes and does to suplex Hido but Hido low blows him. Hido charges but Gedo kicks him at the apron, allowing Jado to land a clothesline to the back of his head.

Jado locks in a crossface that goes on for a bit until Tanaka breaks it up. Jado goes for another German on Hido, but Hido counters into a roll-up for two, and then Jado counters that into his own roll-up, also for two. Tanaka lands a big clothesline as one of the outsiders’ friends in orange jumpsuits distracts the referee. Hido grabs a wooden board and cracks it over Jado’s head and pins but Jado kicks out at one. Jado knocks two of them down with clotheslines but Tanaka cuts him off. Tanaka lands his Diamond Dust (diving Stunner) finisher and Hido lands a diving splash, giving his team the win after ten minutes.

Winners: Badboy Hido, Kintaro Kanemura and Masato Tanaka

Analysis: *3/4 This was a nothing multi-man match that the crowd absolutely did not care about. It opened with chaotic brawling, but the heat died down in less than a minute. Nothing, not even Tanaka and Hido randomly kissing each other on the lips, got any reaction from the crowd. The sole exception to this was Liger’s fifteen-second shotei spree, but that too led to nothing. There was no sense of structure here, with all six guys interfering and staying in the ring for long periods without the referee having any control.

Tatsuhiko Takaiwa and Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru and Tiger Mask IV

Takaiwa and Minoru start things off with a technical exchange. Minoru goes for an armbreaker early and then both guys do the ‘double leglock’ spot that we’ve already seen at least once. Takaiwa gets to the ropes and they trade chops. A shoulder tackle from Minoru leads nowhere so he charges and blocks a clothesline. Then Takaiwa ducks a clothesline and charges, sees Minoru leap-frogging and catches him in midair for a powerslam. Ishii tags in but Minoru rakes his eyes immediately and tags Tiger Mask IV (TM4 hereafter). TM4 lands some martial arts kicks and leapfrogs over Ishii, then holds onto the ropes to avoid a dropkick. Ishii catches a charging TM4 with an overhead suplex, then slams him and drops and elbow for a one-count. Takaiwa tags in and applies a single leg crab but TM4 reaches the ropes quickly. TM4 lands some sudden kicks and tags in Minoru, who snapmares and kicks Ishii then puts on a chinlock.

Takaiwa wrestles his way out and into a hammer lock and goes for a suplex but Minoru blocks with a low blow. TM4 tags back in but Takaiwa carries him to his corner and tags Ishii. They land double-team shoulder tackles and Ishii puts on a double-arm stretch. TM4 flip kicks out and kicks Ishii in the corner, then goes for a top-rope double-arm suplex but Ishii fights out. Ishii misses a diving elbow drop but drops a charging TM4 with a powerslam and tags Takaiwa. Takaiwa lands some chops and Irish whip TM4, but TM4 counters a back body drop into a flip kick. TM4 follows with a standing moonsault knee drop that looks like it almost misses Takaiwa completely for a two-count. He slams Takaiwa and goes for a top-rope dive but Ishii holds him in place. Takaiwa goes on the attack but TM4 slaps him down and dives. But Takaiwa catches him and drops him with a Death Valley Bomb. Finally a nice counter.

Takaiwa goes for a powerbomb but Minoru dropkicks him from behind. He dropkicks Ishii and goes to kick Takaiwa but Takaiwa counters into another DVB and charges at TM4 with a lariat. TM4 counters into a crucifix pin for a close two and counters a powerbomb into a sunset flip for another two-count. He appears to go for some electric chair move but something goes wrong and both guys just stand there looking awkward. Takaiwa gets his bearings and lands a Doomsday Device with Ishii on TM4. Ishii tries to hold Minoru on the ropes but Minoru breaks away and saves TM4. Takaiwa lariats TM4 but he kicks out. TM4 ducks a clothesline and goes for a Pélé kick but misses Takaiwa almost completely. Both Minoru and Ishii tag in. they dodge each other’s attacks until Minoru lands a standing dropkick.

Ishii escapes a waistlock and charges but gets dropkicked on his knee. Minoru kicks at that leg but Ishii counters into a backdrop suplex for two, followed by a bucklebomb. He whips Minoru into another corner and Takaiwa clotheslines Minoru. Takaiwa then lands a two deadlift powerbombs and on the third lift transitions Minoru to Ishii who lands a big suplex. Ishii pins but TM4 saves his partner. Ishii and Takaiwa go for some corner double move but TM4 cuts them off. Takaiwa clotheslines TM4 out of the ring and charges with a lariat, but hits Ishii by accident. Minoru counters a clothesline into a release dragon suplex and then roundhouse kicks both opponents. Missile dropkick/German suplex combo by TM4 and Minoru. TM4 dives through the ropes to keep Takaiwa at bay. Minoru lands a backdrop and a kick to Ishii’s head for the pin and the win after twelve minutes.

Winners: Minoru and Tiger Mask IV

Analysis: **3/4 This was a slightly above average tag match. They worked hard here but there were some sloppy bits as well, mostly from TM4. It really picked up after Takaiwa’s first DVB, and from there it led into a fun little tag match. It wasn’t anything mind-blowing; just average. For NJPW’s biggest show of the year, I was hoping for something better.

Twelve-Man Tag Team Match: Hirooki Goto, Hiroshi Nagao, Osamu Nishimura, Takashi Iizuka, Tatsumi Fujinami and Toru Yano (NJPW) vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Kamikaze, Kohei Sato, Riki Choshu, Takashi Uwano and Yoshihito Sasaki (Zero1)

The video I got for this had no ring introductions, so it was impossible for me to tell who was who beyond a few obvious people. I was able to identify Yano, Choshu and Fujinami by their faces, but everyone else was hard to distinguish. Half of them looked almost identical with their short haircuts, monochrome black or white boots, and nondescript black trunks. It was basically the live-action version of someone playing a WWE video game with only created wrestlers, except no work had been done on any of those CAWs and all that was left was the base templates.

To save time, here are some key highlights of the match:

  • Riki Choshu got put into the sharpshooter, which was funny considering he invented that move
  • There was lots of chaotic brawling and stomping throughout the bulk of the match
  • There was A LOT of teaming up on one guy with the referee barely able to maintain control of the match. I swear, the theme of this show might as well be ‘the referees are powerless since the wrestlers will toss them aside if they disagree’
  • Tory Yano mocked Choshu by putting someone in the sharpshooter and Choshu immediately answered with a lariat
  • Fujinami looked surprisingly good for the 50 or so seconds he was in this
  • Lots of guys landed random moves on each other like dropkicks, German suplexes, moonsaults, lariats, and so on
  • The match ended after some rookie absorbed a lariat from Choshu, only for Choshu to land a second one and then one of his teammates landed a bridging German suplex for the win after twelve minutes.

Analysis: ** A harmless match, but nothing really good. It was the kind of clusterf**k you’d expect when you throw so many people into a short match. It was all over the place in terms of story, with only a handful of key things happening per above. This is the kind of WWE match where they throw as many people into a match as they can just to get them on the card. But no one really got to shine here beyond Yano for eating a Choshu lariat and whoever was the guy that ate the pinfall.

Black Strong Machine and Hiro Saito vs. Akebono and Yukata Yoshie

Yes, this is the same Akebono that had that terrible ‘sumo match’ with The Big Show at WrestleMania 21. Sorry for putting that image back into your heads. Also, Yoshie was a guy that NJPW really wanted to push as a future top guy alongside Tanahashi, Nakamura and Shibata. But even though NJPW did everything they could to try and get him over, those things never panned out and Yoshie would leave NJPW shortly after this match.

Akebono and Black Strong Machine (BSM hereafter) start. BSM lands some running shoulder tackles that do nothing and Akebono sumo presses him into a corner. Saito tries to interfere but Akebono swats him down as well. Akebono slams BSM and goes for a running splash but Saito trips him. BSM and Saito take turns landing sentons onto Akebono, which leads to a two-count and Akebono throws BSM off of himself. Akebono clothesline both of them and tags Yoshie, who lands some basic moves and sits down on BSM for a pin until Saito kicks him.  Saito tags in and lands a DDT on Yoshie after beating him up in the corner.

A running senton gets Saito a two-count and he applies a rear chinlock, then tags BSM who lands some elbow drops for a one-count. Saito tags in again and they double head-butt Yoshie, but Yoshie counters an Irish whip with a body block and tags Akebono. BSM tags in too and he tries to lift Akebono and fails. He tries landing some hard strikes but Akebono is completely unfazed. Saito comes in and the two of them try to suplex Akebono, but he counters and double suplexes both of them, but poorly.

He does the Big Show ‘stand-on-their-chest-against-the-ropes’ spot pm BSM and then on Saito, then lands a crappy hiptoss on BSM and pins but Saito breaks it up. He tags Yoshie and holds BSM up for a double-team charge, but BSM ducks and Yoshie ends up running into Akebono and then literally bounces off of him. Keep in mind that Yoshie weighs over 300 pounds. BSM and Saito take turns clotheslining Yoshie in the corner and BSM lands another DDT, then Saito lands another senton. BSM holds Akebono back as Saito pins Yoshie but he kicks out. Saito goes for a German but Yoshie backs him into a corner. Then he and Akebono to simultaneous butt squishes in the corner. Yoshie whips Saito into BSM in the corner and lands a running body block, then the monstrous Akebono does the same. That gets a surprising pop from the crowd (because, sumo, I guess).

Yoshie slams Saito and misses a running splash, and Saito lands another senton, but Akebono lazily stomps on him to break it up. BSM kicks Akebono’s leg, then he and BSM double back suplex Akebono, just barely getting him into the air. They do the same to Yoshie and Saito lands a diving senton this time as Akebono lands a black hole slam on BSM. Yoshie kicks out of Saito’s pin and Akebono lands a chokeslam on Saito, allowing Yoshie to land a top-rope body press for the pin and the win after about nine minutes.

Winners: Akebono and Yukata Yoshie

Analysis: -* Terrible, dreadful, abysmal match. Point blank, this was awful. Nothing happened in this match. Saito and BSM were horribly limited given the athleticism (or in this case, severe lack thereof) of their opponents. Yoshie did nothing but basic strikes and splashes, while Akebono was basically a wall of flesh. And the worst part was that Akebono did more impressive things in this match than Yoshie, like the black hole slam and the double suplex. Yoshie was supposedly the guy New Japan had thought of pushing, but he played second fiddle to Akebono here. As for their opponents, they kept relying on boring sentons and interference spots. There was no interesting story or even remotely exciting action here. This was easily the worst New Japan match I have seen thus far.

Yuji Nagata vs. Kazunari Murakami

For anyone curious, Murakami is a shoot-style wrestler and former MMA fighter with a 5-4 record. Poor Nagata, he just can’t seem to have enough luck to face an actual pro wrestler in a pro wrestling match.

The bell rings and Nagata rushes Murakami into a corner. He stomps away and even pushes the ref away when he tries to interfere. Soon after, they start trading strikes and Murakami out-strikes the wrestler and then stomps the hell out of Nagata in the corner. Nagata dodges some standing and grounded kicks and lands an Exploder suplex. Then it’s Murakami’s turn to dodge a running kick to the head, leading to a standoff. Nagata tries to catch Murakami’s leg but he just knees Nagata in the face. Murakami follows with an extended ground-and-pound that goes into the ringside area, and he even pushes the referee away and fights off a Young Lion that tries to break it up. he continues his assault with brutal kicks to Nagata’s chest and drops him with one punch that appears to briefly knock Nagata unconscious. Nagata gets to the apron slowly but Murakami knocks him back down. Nagata gets back to the ring at the count of eighteen and Murakami rushes him. Murakami lands a ton of strikes to Nagata in the corner and Nagata looks like he’s out of it. Murakami judo throws Nagata and lands a running kick for a two-count. He follows with a hangman chokehold, standing on the ropes as he chokes the life out of Nagata. The ref keeps getting in Murakami’s face, but Murakami doesn’t care.

Murakami lands more stiff shots as Nagata gets up, then Nagata catches his leg and lands a running kneelift in the corner. Nagata drops him with a big boot and applies his Nagata Lock II armbar. This goes on for quite a bit and the referee has to basically force Nagata to let go, even after Murakami reaches the ropes. Nagata gets some revenge for earlier with brutal kicks of his own that send Murakami out of the ring. At ringside, Nagata lands multiple knee strikes to Murakami’s head then gets into a brief tussle with some people whom I think are Murakami’s crew. Nagata tosses Murakami back into the ring and Murakami’s bleeding hard. Nagata lands a flurry of head-butts and knee strikes to Murakami’s head. Running yakuza kick and a brainbuster from Nagata. Followed by another punt to the head. Nagata pins but Murakami gets his foot on the rope. Murakami makes a desperate attempt at a comeback with punches but Nagata shuts him down with a Backdrop suplex. A second backdrop suplex from Nagata gets him the win after thirteen minutes.

Winner: Yuji Nagata

Analysis: **3/4 This was okay but nothing too exceptional. It felt like a styles clash and not in a good way. Murakami did nothing but judo throws and MMA strikes, leaving Nagata to do the bulk of the actual pro wrestling and storytelling. The match came across as incredibly stiff, and I think Murakami got busted open the hard way. That made the match slightly better, but I still think Nagata should’ve been wrestling against a pure pro wrestler instead of a hybrid fighter like Murakami.

Shinjiro Otani vs. Koji Kanemoto

They do ring intros and Otani has a katana with him for some reason. A stiff slap fight ensues as the bell rings, then Kanemoto dropkicks Otani’s left knee. He dragon screws Otani’s right leg and applies a leglock on his left leg. Okay. Otani gets in a leglock of his own at the same time and crawls to the rope to break the hold. Kanemoto lands a KENTA rush but walks into a wheel kick. Otani follows with a release dragon suplex and a powerbomb, then asks the ref to see if Kanemoto can continue. Otani starts kicking and stomping on Kanemoto (having apparently recovered from the legwork already) and Kanemoto slowly powers up. They trade chops until Otani kicks and stomps Kanemoto into the corner and then mocks him and taunts the fans to get behind Kanemoto. Otani lands multiple facewashes followed by two Samoa Joe-style running ones.

He continues to mock Kanemoto in the corner until Kanemoto starts firing up with chops. They trade slaps and Otani rakes his eyes. He goes to whip Kanemoto into the opposite corner but Kanemoto collapses in the middle of the ring. Kanemoto gets whipped into a corner and eats a yakuza kick, but then starts firing up again. Otani charges but walks into a standing jumping elbow and a kick to the head. Kanemoto tries to capitalize but walks into a Backdrop suplex.

Kanemoto pushes Otani into a corner to escape a dragon suplex and then lands a belly-to-belly on a charging Otani, followed by a Falcon Arrow. He goes for a diving move but Otani dodges. Otani goes for a German but Kanemoto counters into a leglock. He keeps it in for a while until Otani reaches the ropes. Kanemoto lands his own martial arts combo followed by a rib breaker and a moonsault for a close two-count. Two more hard kicks get Kanemoto another two-count. Now it’s Kanemoto’s turn for the facewash flurry. He charges for a second running one but Otani cuts him off. German suplex. Springboard dropkick. Spiral powerbomb. Kanemoto kicks out and then catches Otani off guard and puts him back in the leglock. Why bother when he’s clearly not selling? Anyways, Kanemoto transitions into an ankle lock and then grapevines the leg. Otani struggles but eventually reaches the ropes. Kanemoto stomps on that same leg and charges but Otani lands an enzuigiri. Kanemoto resists a dragon suplex, so Otani charges for a yakuza kick. Kanemoto blocks it. bridging Tiger suplex. Otani narrowly escapes. Both men get up slowly, Otani lands some very stiff forearms. Bridging dragon suplex. Otani gets the pin after 10:47

Winner: Shinjiro Otani

Analysis: **3/4 Extremely disappointing match. I had heard great things about both guys, how they were technical marvels in the same vein as Daniel Bryan, Kurt Angle or Chris Benoit. But this match showed none of that. While the action was good, there was no flow to this match. Kanemoto’s biggest moments involved leg submissions, which Otani didn’t sell at all. And some of the moves and sequences they did here had been used in earlier matches with the same effect (or in this case, no effect), leading to senseless repetition. Though Otani told a good story of being arrogant in the face of Kanemoto’s attacks, they could’ve cut a lot of stuff out and saved time if he was going to no-sell so much anyway.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata

The bell rings and Shibata lands an explosive flurry of martial arts strikes. He pushes the ref down as he punts Tanahashi in the back, sending Tanahashi out of the ring. Tanahashi rushes back in and eats more hard kicks but fires back with a dragon screw leg whip. Shibata no-sells it so Tanahashi dropkicks him, which Shibata also no-sells. They meet in the centre of the ring and Shibata dares Tanahashi to hit him, which Tanahashi does. Shibata wins the strike exchange (because, duh) and starts stomping on Tanahashi’s head like a jerk. Tanahashi tries to fire back with forearms in the corner, but Shibata no-sells and they pull each other by the hair.

Shibata gets Tanahashi in the corner and kicks the shit out of him once again, and follows with a brutal running dropkick. Shibata whips him into a corner but Tanahashi elbows out and goes for a crossbody, but Shibata knees him in the gut in midair. Shibata boots Tanahashi off the apron and the ref starts counting. Tanahashi makes it in and answers Shibata’s charge with a flying forearm and goes for a standing senton, but Shibata dodges and lands a stiff kick combo for two. They trade sleeper holds until Shibata gets one in, and takes his sweet time letting go when Tanahashi reaches the ropes.

Shibata lands another high kick on Tanahashi and follows with a Backdrop Driver! Painful landing for Tanahashi. Shibata pins for Tanahashi kicks out, so Shibata follows with a dragon sleeper. Shibata releases the hold and goes for a running kick, but Tanahashi catches his foot and lands a German suplex. Tanahashi lands a diving shotgun dropkick that sends Shibata careering across the ring, followed by a running dropkick in the same corner. He follows with a single underhook suplex and then charges, but walks into a big slap from Shibata.

They trade stiff slaps to the jaw and Tanahashi goes for an enzuigiri, which Shibata answers with another punt to the back. They trade stiff strikes again. Bridging German suplex. Shibata kicks out and then escapes a Dragon suplex. Tanahashi ducks a clothesline and applies a sleeper. Then into a dragon sleeper hold. Shibata counters into a front chancery, followed by a running punt to the chest for two. Tanahashi answers a kick to the face with a slingblade. Shibata escapes a dragon suplex and a roll-up, and then kicks Tanahashi hard in the head. Tanahashi barely kicks out of a pin. Shibata lands many hard kicks but Tanahashi starts firing up and fighting through the pain. One kick to the head drops Tanahashi and the ref asks him if he can continue. The ref starts counting and Tanahashi gets up at nine, so Shibata lands more hard kicks to the head. That’s enough for the pin and the win after twelve minutes.

Winner: Katsuyori Shibata

Analysis: ***1/4 Fun little strong style fight with both guys playing different roles. Shibata was the tougher obnoxious d**k that took Tanahashi’s attacks and ignored them, and then dished back brutal punishment on his opponent. Meanwhile, Tanahashi was believable as the underdog fighting against to survive Shibata in any way he could. This match actually had drama and a deep inner story, which is way more than what can be said about everything that preceded it.

Manabu Nakanishi vs. Giant Bernard

Bernard wins the first lock-up and they trade control against the ropes. Bernard goes for a cheapshot but Nakanishi ducks, applies a headlock for a while and then charges for a shoulder tackle. Bernard doesn’t move (because, GIANT) and then they trade shoulder tackles until Nakanishi goes down. Bernard head-butts Nakanishi in the corner until he slumps down and then tosses the ref aside. He gets the ref’s case as the ref warns him froma prone position, looking completely ineffectual. Bernard lands come corner punches and then Nakanishi chops him against the ropes. Nakanishi charges for a clothesline, but has to stop himself and redirect himself because Bernard’s clearly out of position. Bernard goes over the rope and out of the ring and drags Nakanishi out by the feet. He tries to whip him into the ringpost but Nakanishi counters, sending Bernard into it instead.

Back in the ring, Nakanishi lands some hard strikes and goes for a German but Bernard reaches the ropes. He goes for a scoop slam but Bernard slams him instead and lands a body splash for two. Bernard follows with a big corner clothesline but Nakanishi cuts him off on the second one with a spear. Nakanishi clotheslines Bernard this time and lands some more running strikes and then drops a charging Bernard with a double ax handle for two. Nakanishi somehow manages to get Bernard into the torture rack but can’t hold him long enough and Bernard escapes.

They trade chops to the chest and Nakanishi charges, but Bernard cuts him off and drops him with a Chokebomb for a close two-count. Bernard goes for a Vader bomb in the corner and Nakanishi rolls out of the way, but Bernard still manages to land on top of him. Something went wrong there. They both get up and chop each other again, until Nakanishi gains control and somehow lands a Bridging German suplex for two. Nakanishi charges for a lariat but Bernard bicycle kicks him. Bernard goes for a powerbomb but can’t get Nakanishi up, so he lands a clothesline followed by a Vader Bomb onto Nakanishi’s face for the pin after about ten minutes.

Winner: Giant Bernard

Analysis: * Sloppy match. This just didn’t work. They tried to tell the story of Giant Bernard being a Vader-like monster, but that failed. Vader was incredibly nimble and actually had good timing, which wasn’t seen here. There were several moments where one or the other was out of place for something, exposing the match and hurting its flow. And while Bernard tried, he couldn’t replicate the magic that Vader had. Everything he did looked basic and uninspiring. The only really cool moment was seeing Nakanishi hoist the 350-pound Bernard into his shoulders.

IWGP Tag Team Championship Match: Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan [c] vs. Shiro Koshinaka and Takao Omori

Koshinaka and Tenzan start things off by no-selling each other’s kicks. Tenzan takes control with some chops and kicks until Koshinaka snapmares him and lands a…I guess, hip press? Omori and Chono tag in and they have an extended headlock segment. This goes on for a while until both men take turns kicking and no-selling each other. Tenzan tags in and he and Chono stomp Omori on the ropes. Omori no-sells Tenzan’s attacks and tags Koshinaka, who applies a chinlock and takes forever to let go after a ropebreak. Koshinaka smashes Tenzan’s face into Omori’s boot and tags Omori back in. they trade running attack with neither man moving until Tenzan lands a shoulder tackle and some Mongolian chops. Omori fires back with some forearms and uppercuts, then dropkicks Tenzan out of the ring. Omori gets Tenzan onto the apron and after a back-and-forth tease, lands an apron piledriver on Tenzan. Omori walks up the entrance ramp and charges with a big ax bomber lariat onto Tenzan. I have no idea how neither guy has been counted out yet.

Back in the ring, Omori and Koshinaka double shoulder tackle Tenzan to the mat. Koshinaka tags in and lands a Russian leg sweep for a one-count then lands some knee lifts. Some boring brawling follows and Omori tags back in. he applies a camel clutch on Tenzan but Tenzan bites his hand. Omori goes for a full nelson but Tenzan fights out and wheel kicks a charging Omori. He tags Chono, who knocks both opponents down and lands a top-rope diving shoulder tackle onto Omori. He lands a Manhattan drop followed by an STF as Tenzan keeps Koshinaka at bay. But not for long as Koshinaka tosses the referee away and breaks up the hold. Omori fights back with an abdominal stretch and then tags Koshinaka, who lands some head-butts but then walks into an abdominal stretch from Chono. Chono rolls into a pin but Koshinaka kicks out. Tenzan tags in and clotheslines Koshinaka and hits some corner strikes. He lands a diving bulldog for a one-count followed by a superplex, but Koshinaka gets up immediately. Tenzan charges but Koshinaka leapfrogs over him and goes for a monkey flip, Tenzan sees this and goes for a dive, but Koshinaka dodges it.

Omori comes in and knocks Chono off the apron. Koshinaka German suplexes Tenzan and Omori lariats him as well. Top-rope diving hip attack from Koshinaka. Tenzan kicks out. Running hip attack this time. Tenzan kicks out again. Omori tags in and lands some kicks, then he and Tenzan reverse each other’s waistlocks. Omori regains control with a swinging neckbreaker, then he clothesline Chono allowing Koshinaka to powerbomb him. Back-to-belly piledriver from Omori. Tenzan barely kicks out. Omori lands a to-rope knee drop. Tenzan kicks out again. Omori charges for a lariat but Tenzan answers by heat-butting Omori’s arm. Interesting choice of offense. Tenzan charges but neither of them goes down. They both charge and miss each other with kicks. Chono and Koshinaka tag in and Chono drops him with a kick. He and Tenzan land a double flapjack on Koshinaka. Chono whips Koshinaka into a corner and then Tenzan into Koshinaka, then Tenzan whips him into Chono’s boot. Koshinaka kicks out of a pin, so Chono holds him in place as Tenzan lands a diving head-butt. Shining yakuza kick from Chono. Omori breaks up the pin. Tenzan tombstones Omori and Chono backdrops Koshinaka. Koshinaka kicks out and withstands two yakuza kicks from Chono. Koshinaka dodges a third one and gets two off a roll-up. Koshinaka charges but Chono answers with another running boot to the face. Chono gets the pin and the win after 19: 28

Winners and STILL IWGP Tag Team Champions: Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Analysis: **1/2 Another disappointing match that went too long and had plodding action that didn’t justify the match’s length. Everything came across as overly-simplistic and actually rather weak-looking, especially from Tenzan and Chono. Then again, I guess that was to be expected from Chono and Tenzan considering one of them had multiple major surgeries and the other was held together by scotch tape and paper clips. I also had higher expectations from Omori since he had worked in All Japan in the late 1990s and had some decent matches there. But he was nowhere near that level here and seemed to put in half the effort.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar [c] vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Lesnar charges Nakamura with punches and then takes him down after catching his leg on a kick. Lesnar lands some shoulder tackles in the corner but walks into a kick as he charges Nakamura in another corner. Nakamura avoids a powerslam and lands some hard kick but Lesnar no-sells them. Nakamura ducks a clothesline and lands an enzuigiri but again Lesnar barely moves. He clotheslines Nakamura and they trade forearms, but then Lesnar catches Nakamura and suplexes him like a ragdoll. Nakamura avoids a vertical suplex and goes for a German but Lesnar elbows out. Nakamura tries to regain control by countering a clothesline into a crucifix or an armbar, but Lesnar catches him and falls backwards in a slam.

At ringside, Lesnar drives Nakamura back-first into the apron then tosses him back into the ring. Nakamura kicks Lesnar off the apron and lands an awful dive through the ropes that looks like it hurts Nakamura more than Lesnar. They brawl ringside but Lesnar just manhandles Nakamura and drives him back-first into the ringpost. Nakamura avoids an elbow drop and applies a sleeper, but Lesnar rams him into a corner to escape. Nakamura tries something, anything, to take Lesnar down but Lesnar won’t budge and lands knee strikes. Lesnar charges into the corner but Nakamura kicks him and locks in a Minoru Suzuki-style rope-hung armbar. After letting go, Nakamura lands a diving knee strike and a single German suplex. Cross armbreaker by Nakamura. Finally something happens. But no, Lesnar powers out. Clothesline. F-5!…wait, sorry, wrong company. Verdict! Lesnar pins Nakamura after about nine minutes.

Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion: Brock Lesnar

Analysis: *1/4 That was weak. Talk about a shitty, disappointing match. Nothing interesting happened. Lesnar just went through the motions and clearly seemed completely unmotivated and Nakamura was powerless to change that. Lesnar completely no-sold Nakamura as an opponent and made him look like small fry in comparison. Nakamura just bounced off Lesnar here and there, looking like he never stood a chance. There was no excitement or story in this match, nothing for fans to sink their teeth into. Nakamura gained nothing from being in the ring with Lesnar and Lesnar didn’t showcase his talents that much. Even in his worst WWE matches he shows glimpses of either his explosive speed, incredible power, or legitimate grappling skills. Here, Lesnar didn’t show any of that. It was as if he didn’t give a shit about this match, his opponent or the symbolism of the venue. After seeing this match, I’m not surprised that Nakamura, a man raised and trained on the importance of the hallowed Tokyo Dome, cried after this match ended.

 

Five Stars of the show:

  1. Hiroshi Tanahashi – he looked good as the valiant underdog trying to survive Shibata’s merciless onslaught
  2. Katsuyori Shibata – he was pretty good here in his role as the no-nonsense kickboxing machine
  3. That’s it
  4. No one else
  5. Nope, no one at all

Best Match on the card: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata (***1/4)

Worst Match on the card: Black Strong Machine and Hiro Saito vs. Akebono and Yukata Yoshie (-*)

Show Rating (out of 10): 1.5

This show was absolutely horrible, just the absolute nadir of New Japan’s January 4 Dome show history. The 31,000 or so people in the Tokyo Dome were straight up robbed of their money. The matches were filled with plodding action, chaotic brawls, and ineffective refereeing. I’m amazed none of the matches ended in disqualification and that the refs were ok with being thrown around like useless props. The only worthwhile match on the card was Tanahashi/Shibata, and that wasn’t as good as the matches they’d have later down the road. Everything else here ranged from disappointing (Otani/Kanemoto, Chono/Tenzan/Omori/Koshinaka, Lesnar/Nakamura), to nonsensical (the six- and twelve-man tag matches) to the downright unwatchable (Bernard/Nakanishi, Akebono/Yoshie/Saito/BSM). It was as if everyone aside from Tanahashi and Shibata decided to phone it in and just collect their paycheck.

I can only think of two reasons why anyone would watch this show. First, for the novelty of seeing Lesnar in a New Japan ring. Second, for historical purposes and to see from what depths Tanahashi had to drag New Japan to bring it where it is now.

Thanks for reading.