Yoshihiro Takayama v Osamu Nishimura (New Japan, 8/10/02)
Yeah, this was great and probably in my top 5 for the year. Takayama comes in and plays Nishimura's game of going at it on the mat like it's 1972 and not 2002. I love 70s style mat wrestling and it's a reason why I like a lot of the Nishimura singles matches I've seen semi-recently, so seeing a monstrous ass kicker like Tak come into Nishimura's house and play his game was great. Takayama's not a 70s style mat wrestler at heart, though, and soon enough gets frustrated and fed up because he's getting nowhere fast and just starts thumping Nishimura with kicks in the corner. Nishimura getting all "So we're doing THIS now are we?" and throwing forearms at his chin was awesome. From that point on it's basically Takayama trying to steamroll Nishimura with strikes or choke him out while Nishimura is busting out figure-four leg locks and the octopus stretch to combat it. Great moment and nearfall where Takayama charges in with the knee and Nish counters it into an octopus stretch roll up. Final couple minutes have plenty of drama even though they never resort to any bomb throwing for nearfalls. I guess the simple synopsis of this is that it's a 'retro technical wiz v Godzilla' match, but that doesn't really do justice to Takayama's character performance. It's more 'retro technical wiz v Godzilla playing retro technical wiz's game... then Godzilla remembers he's Godzilla and tries to crush retro technical wiz'. I haven't watched the NOAH match vs. Misawa yet, but I'd put this a step behind the Nagata match from May as the best Takayama match of the year. What it also does is add to his case as the best in the world that year. I've got the old man Tenryu bias, but the variety of stuff Takayama had that year is crazy and it'll be interesting to see how Tenryu compares when Goodhelmet drops that Tenryu set (soon, hopefully).
Yoshihiro Takayama v Masa Chono (New Japan, 8/11/02)
So this is probably the best Chono match of the decade and has plenty of heat, but maybe I should've watched it at a time when I wasn't 100% down on Chono. I've watched a decent amount of Chono matches over the last couple weeks and I can't say I've really enjoyed him once. The guy is just dull as dishwater to me. I was never the biggest fan to begin with, but at this point I can't think of any reason to watch him unless Fuchi's punching him in the nose. But this is 2002 and Takayama is invading and is in the final of the New Japan G1 Climax so it has that going for it right off the bat. In fairness, I thought Chono was fine here. He was perfectly acceptable as fired up New Japan stalwart defending his home turf against the meanest, toughest Power Rangers villain imaginable. Takayama absolutely mauls him with kicks and knees at points and Chono is pretty great at eating and selling it all and making me feel sorry for the guy. I watched the match against Hashimoto from the '91 tourney a couple days ago and I thought he was at his most interesting there when he was getting kicked in the lungs. The amount of punishment he takes really makes the comeback seem that much bigger. Takayama was such a beats in '02 and this only adds to his case as the best in the world that year.