Twenty years in the past at present, one of the greatest matches in wrestling history took place, and it might not merely be a crucial favourite, however would go on to outline an period that noticed many modifications in puroresu that few would have dreamed of some years earlier than.
In 23:24, Keiji Muto pinned Genichiro Tenryu to win All Japan’s Triple Crown. Whereas main interpromotional matches in puroresu among the many prime firms had begun the 12 months earlier than, simply after the Professional-Wrestling NOAH cut up from All Japan, to have one in all New Japan’s prime stars win the title outlined by Jumbo Tsuruta, Stan Hansen and Mitsuharu Misawa, was really a historic second.
And I might argue the truth that All Japan, in any case its ups and downs and subsequent exoduses, nonetheless exists and Muto not too long ago had a run with the GHC Heavyweight title, will be traced again to this match.
Only a 12 months earlier than, Muto went to america, not only for a run in WCW however for remedy on his knees as a result of he had injured them but once more in early 2000. However Muto additionally wanted a break from New Japan. By kayfabe requirements, Muto had a superb 1999. He received the IWGP Heavyweight title from Scott Norton on the January 4 Tokyo Dome present and held it for 340 days making 5 defenses. It was a superb however not nice reign. The situation of Muto’s knees was evident. And Muto’s bald spot on the highest of his head was changing into extra pronounced seemingly each tour. Coincidentally, the 2 finest matches of this reign had been in opposition to Genichiro Tenryu, a profitable protection on Might 3, 1999, and on December 10, 1999 when he misplaced the title.
Whereas his 2000 WCW run sucked (each due to his situation and the reserving), Muto had time to heal and radically rework his look and in-ring work.
The brand new Keiji Muto made his debut on the December 31, 2000 Inoki-Bom-Ba-Ye present teaming with Nobuhiko Takada to tackle Don Frye and Ken Shamrock. Muto got here out to the ring with a hood over his head, and eliminated it, to very large gasps from the group to disclose his bald head and goatee. Then got here the debut of the Shining Wizard. Clearly, Muto wanted a brand new finisher as a result of he wanted to dial again using the Moonsault to protect (what was left of) his knees. On the time, knees to the top of a fighter on the bottom was authorized in PRIDE, and that grew to become a serious a part of many fights. Whereas the fusion of MMA and pro-wrestling in Japan within the early 2000s rightfully has many detractors, the Shining Wizard was the good factor to return out of it.
Muto had returned to a radically modified panorama in puroresu in 2001.
Professional-Wrestling NOAH had shaped, and now All Japan and New Japan had been working collectively. Muto embraced the brand new interpromotional environment by competing on All Japan’s Stan Hansen retirement present on January 28, 2001. Quickly after that, he would type the interpromotional secure Unhealthy Ass Translate Buying and selling (BATT) with MMA fighter Don Frye, All Japan’s Hiroshi Hase and Taiyo Kea, Michinoku Professional’s Jinsei Shinzaki, and briefly Shinjiro Otani earlier than he left for ZERO-ONE in March. On April 14, 2001 Muto defeated Toshiaki Kawada at an All Japan Budokan present with the Shining Wizard which might arrange the Triple Crown match with Tenryu (and pissed off loads of hardcore followers in each Japan and the West who thought Kawada was being sacrificed for the sake of the All Japan-New Japan relationship).
“Mr. Professional Wrestling” himself, Tenryu was in the course of a late-career renaissance. The mid-to-late Nineteen Nineties noticed Tenryu take a step out of the primary occasions as he competed extra usually in New Japan in tag matches and WAR began to run fewer reveals. Tenryu roared again into essential occasions in 1999 in opposition to Muto and confronted Kensuke Sasaki for the IWGP Heavyweight title on January 4, 2000. He shocked nearly everybody, when in July 2000, Motoko Baba introduced he had signed a contract with All Japan within the wake of the NOAH exodus. Large Baba had vowed that he would by no means let Tenryu return, however Baba was gone and the corporate was in its darkest hour.
Tenryu received the Triple Crown on October 28, 2000 defeating Kawada within the finals of a match for the vacant championship.
Previous to the match in opposition to Muto, he solely defended as soon as, on March 3, 2001 in opposition to Taiyo Kea. Having already confronted Kawada for the Triple Crown, the corporate was brief on credible challengers making it all of the extra essential and inevitable that Muto got here into All Japan.
Now to the match.
The gang was buzzing as each males entered. It was a kind of matches the place you possibly can really feel it was an enormous deal simply primarily based on the entrances.
As a substitute of merely locking as much as begin, Muto instantly hit a dropkick to the knee, and one other one. Muto went for a Dragon Screw however Tenryu blocked it with chops. Tenryu then went for a Dragon Screw of his personal, however Muto received out of it with a Shining Wizard, then hit a Backbreaker after which went up for the Moonsault, however Tenryu rolled out of the best way. That is fairly probably my all-time favourite opening moments of a match. It instantly drew the group in and made them even louder and mainly mentioned that this 51-year-old man and this man with mainly no knees had been going to go balls to the wall on this match, so don’t look away.
Given the age/bodily situation of the individuals on this, there have been some sloppy-looking moments, however they ended up including to the match. Tenryu raised his leg to dam a handspring elbow into the nook and smashed his foot proper into the again of Muto’s head, and it regarded painful. And when Muto hit a pescado to the skin, he ended up touchdown knees-first into Tenryu’s head, which might play into the story of Muto attempting to put on down Tenryu.
Tenryu needed to point out he may hold with Muto. We received a Tope Suicida, dropkicks to the knee and a top-rope hurricanrana from the Triple Crown Champion, demonstrating that regardless of being over 50, he nonetheless had loads of gasoline within the tank.
Within the center portion of the match, each males went after every others’ knees with dropkicks, Dragon Screws and submissions. These spots received a number of warmth from the group, however you possibly can argue provided that not one of the work on the knees was offered within the closing stretch of the match that it was the most important flaw on this.
Nevertheless, that closing stretch was superb. Tenryu had the benefit, although Muto managed some hope spots like a Frankensteiner. We received the aforementioned top-rope Hurricanrana from Tenryu for a 2.9 depend. Tenryu then hit some closed fist punches and went for a Northern Lights Bomb, however Muto, as he was being lifted up, drove his knees into Tenryu’s head. Tenryu offered the knees like he had been hit within the head with a lead pipe. Tenryu nonetheless managed to rise up and land a pair extra punches however Muto retaliated with a Bicycle Kick and two Shining Wizard for 2 2.9 counts. Then Muto hit his backbreaker and Moonsault combo for the win and the Triple Crown.
There was no wasted movement on this match. Each transfer meant one thing and the group bit on every little thing. As Muto received older and extra damaged down into the 2000s, there was the criticism that he was spamming the Shining Wizard on a regular basis. Whereas that’s true, it’s not the entire story. Muto was susceptible to spamming the Shining Wizard virtually instantly after he launched it (see Muto vs. Kawada Arpil 14, 2001 for example). However right here it was used extra judiciously, and because of this, each meant much more.
After the match, Muto would proceed to have an unimaginable 2001. He made it to the finals of the G1 Climax in opposition to Yuji Nagata, and that October within the span of six, he and Taiyo Kea would win the All Japan World Tag Crew titles after which the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Crew titles. Muto and Kea would additionally win All Japan’s Actual World Tag League in December. With these accomplishments it’s no shock that he received 2001 Wrestler of the 12 months in Tokyo Sports activities and the Wrestling Observer. And Muto vs. Tenryu would win the Observer’s match of the 12 months.
Muto had confirmed that he may very well be a draw and generate consideration exterior of New Japan. And with the rising energy of Inokiism, Muto, Satoshi Kojima and Kendo Kashin would bounce to All Japan in January 2002. This bounce saved the corporate. It was seemingly that Motoko Baba would have wound up All Japan after the thirtieth anniversary. Muto ended up gathering buyers to purchase it from her after the thirtieth anniversary was celebrated in October 2002.
The persona that Muto pioneered in 2001, the bald head, the goatee, the Shining Wizard and the Professional-Wrestling Love branding has stayed comparatively unchanged all the best way as much as the current day. Muto utterly reinventing his persona and wrestling type would maintain him at or close to the highest of the cardboard in All Japan (and even at instances once more in New Japan) for the following decade or so. And with out that profession resurrection, it appears extremely unlikely that Muto would have been chosen to have his nostalgia run in NOAH at present.
I had at all times favored Muto, however I didn’t at all times suppose he was one in all my all-time favorites. I’m too younger to recollect his run as The Nice Muta in 1989 NWA, when many North American followers fell in love with him. However after watching his 2001 run in as shut as you possibly can have in real-time again then, he without end solidified his standing as one in all my prime ten best wrestlers ever. And whereas I used to be not notably keen about his latest run at the top of NOAH, it would take much more than that to get me to drop him from my all-time listing.
So take a while out of your day to observe this legendary match that was a part of a legendary run. It’s going to take you lower than 25 minutes to do it, and by the tip of it, it received’t even really feel like this match in opposition to two of the best wrestlers of all time went over 20 minutes.