Watched some of the New Japan/NOAH feud from 2002 over the last couple weeks, so that's the theme this week. For the most part I stuck to talking about the juniors side of it since I covered a chunk of Takayama's stint in New Japan not too long ago. Liger and Kikuchi smack each other in the face a bunch and it's awesome.
Jushin Liger & Wataru Inoue v Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (NOAH, 2/17/02)
Liger and Inoue are INVADING and I loves me some invading in my pro-wres. Liger acting like a fucker is always the good stuff too. Inoue has these really REALLY smug facial expressions when Kikuchi's elbowing him dead in the face and I find myself praying to God Kikuchi murders him. Kikuchi is just so very deeply pissed off here and the crowd are all about willing him to fight for the name of his company. He's wearing tights with a giant NOAH logo plastered across the ass which I find tremendous. The NJ lads control the lion's share of this, but any time Kanemaru and Kikuchi (especially) get fired up things are pretty much off the charts. I mean, Liger and Inoue are really fucking good at being dickheads and working the home team over, especially Liger who just exudes this aura of contempt, but any time Kikuchi snarls and hauls off with those ridiculous elbow smashes... man is it beautiful stuff. I haven't seen any of this NOAH juniors v New Japan juniors stuff in about 5 years. I loved it at the time and I get the feeling I'm gonna love it now, although I suspect it'll be for different reasons (not so much about the cool shit they're doing as opposed to the hate and animosity and Kikuchi being king of grump mountain).
Kenta Kobashi & Mitsuharu Misawa v Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata (NOAH, 2/17/02)
I'm not the big Kobashi fan I was, say, 5 years ago, but I was just loving every single thing he did in this. I've seen this a couple times now and I still don't *love* love it, and I thought the NOAH/NJ juniors match was better with all the hate and INVADING and such, but for someone that generally has some trouble sitting through 30+ minute matches from this decade, I had no trouble sitting through this. Every match-up here works on some level, but whenever Kobashi got in there I got giddy. There's a spot in the initial Kobashi/Akiyama pair-off where Akiyama hits a dragon screw - this is Kobashi's return after a big knee injury - and Kobashi pops up smiling, slapping the knee like he was never gone. The Kobashi/Nagata exchanges are stiff as Hell and loaded with hate, too. Great spot towards the end where Kobashi's trying to set up Akiyama for one of his big bombs and Nagata comes in from behind and blasts him with a kick to the knee. Totally awesome cheapshot. I'm kind of conflicted, though. I was watching it and thinking it was taking a little while to really get going, but then I check the time and see they're 17 minutes into it... so... what the fuck? Does build to a great climax and there's a good Kobashi-in-peril stretch. Far more stuff that I liked than stuff that I wasn't so hot on, anyway. I'd probably still have this somewhere around my top 10 for the year.
Jushin Liger & Minoru Tanaka v Tsuyoshi Kikuchi (NOAH, 4/7/02)
This starts with Liger running up the ramp so he can shotei Kikuchi dead in the face and then he spits on some dude in the crowd, so I'm in love with it right from the jump. Liger was one of my three favourite wrestlers of all time a couple years ago. I've since went way off a lot of the juniors stuff and don't find myself digging as much Liger as I used to, but man alive is he the fucking best as an invading piece of shit. Liger and Kikuchi just rule it so so hard at bringing the inter-promotional HATE and violence. Kanemaru is a guy I generally don't care for in the slightest, but THIS Kanemaru is all good with me. In the 2/17 match he pretty much went and fucked the rules and would punt people in the nuggets because he's fighting for NOAH and New Japan are evil. There's a great spot in this where he gets the hot tag and comes in house o' fire, then Liger hooks him from behind and Kanemaru tries to mule kick him in the stones. Liger sees it coming, steps out of the way, waits until Kanemaru turns around and then punts HIM in the balls. Crowd are outraged. Then Tanaka hangs him up in the corner and kicks him in the dick. Crowd are outraged. The pop for Kanemaru giving Liger and Tanaka a taste of their own medicine is AWESOME. I haven't watched any Tanaka in ages, but he was a blast in this. Liger's just a straight up machine full of hatred and bad intentions, but Tanaka will act like a little asshole and chip in with sneaky cheapshots and crowd taunting. Inoue was basically working exactly like Liger in the 2/17 match where he was full steam ahead trying to break Kanemaru's arm and stiffing the daylights out of Kikuchi. Inoue brought the ass-stompery, Tanaka brings the douchebaggery. 90% of what I've seen from Wataru Inoue has been a giant chore to sit through, but he owned it in the February tag and I actually preferred him in that to Tanaka here, even if I'd definitely take Tanaka over Inoue just about any other time. I thought the 2/17 tag was better because it was so much more about visual, intense hatred, where as this had more douchey, weasley hatred. Both are immensely fun, but I liked the former more. Still, this was the shit.
Koji Kanemoto v Makoto Hashi (New Japan, 8/29/02)
Heck of a match. Kanemoto is the home town boy here but he's still Kanemoto and acts like a total fucker regardless. Kanemoto going roman on some motherfucker and repeatedly kicking the tar out of them is number one and the best so I was obviously gonna dig this because he goes total roman and kicks the tar out of Hashi on a few occasions. He acts like such a dick at points that the crowd wind up getting right behind NOAH's Hashi and Hashi responds by throwing a bunch of nasty headbutts. Finishing stretch is also really tight and compact; there's not a ton of nearfalls or anything, and the finish sort of coming out of nowhere like it did was great. Looked pretty fuggin' brutal.
Jushin Liger & Minoru Tanaka v Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (New Japan, 8/29/02)
Rubber match in the Liger v Kikuchi tag series and I thought this was right there with the 2/17 NOAH tag. I prefer that one by a little because I thought the hatred and intensity was cranked up to 11 while this had it sitting a bit lower, but to Hell with it because this is still a great freaking match. Liger and Tanaka are on home turf and don't seem to give a shit because they're as dickheaded and acting like the same couple of assholes they were in the last NOAH match, and the crowd wind up rooting for the invaders as a result. Countless great moments of inter-promotional contempt, but my favourite might be Liger trying to break Kikuchi's cross arm-breaker on Tanaka by kicking him in the face, and when that doesn't work he goes and bodyslams Kikuchi's own partner on top of him a bunch of times. There's a lot of Liger stuff that I don't feel like going back and watching again because I know it won't be my cup of tea anymore, but this is the kind of Liger I can watch all day and keep finding things to love. Your hot finishing stretch is hot and doesn't get ridiculous at any point, and to me these Liger/Kikuchi tags really were the pinnacle of tag wrestling in Japan in '02. The whole NJ juniors/NOAH juniors feud was great.