by Philip Overby
Returning to Korakuen Hall in Tokyo after my last New Japan visit in 2009 made me feel like coming home. For some reason, Korakuen’s intimate environment lends itself to the best wrestling shows. The crowds are lively, the wrestlers interactive to a greater degree, and the brawls are wild. This ZERO-1 show was no exception.
I’d say the show was close to being sold out and the crowd was alive for the whole show. My previous experience with ZERO-1 at a show in Koriyama, Fukushima, was similar. They offer a premier show that rivals anything the major promotions are putting on. Anyway, on to the show!
0. (Dark Match) Shito Ueda vs. Nick Primo
After doing a little research, I found out that Primo is actually former WCW wrestler Prince Iaukea’s son. I’m not sure if this is his first tour with ZERO-1 but he works in Florida primarily. Ueda is a ZERO-1 regular. As a warm-up match, they got the crowd into the match early. Lots of stiff strikes from the beginning and chops in the corner. Ueda hits a corner splash and bulldog then Primo hits a version of an Angle Slam. Trading body slams. Primo hits a big body splash off the top rope. Ueda comes back with a lariat that Primo answers with a discus clothesline. Northern lights suplex for a near-fall from Primo. But Ueda ultimately proves to much with a gut-wrench powerbomb (Doctor Bomb)
WINNER: Ueda with a sit-out Doctor Bomb.
Thoughts: Match was solid and got the crowd warmed up a bit.
1. Kenta Kakinuma vs. Steve Corino
Kakinuma wore bright pink gear, which definitely stood out from the traditional black tights I saw a lot of. Corino came out wearing his Mr. Wrestling III tights and a guy in the front row is waving an American flag. That made me laugh a bit just because of the randomness. Corino asks for a handshake to start off, but Kakinuma breaks the Code of Honor by blasting Corino with a forearm.
This match had some good moments, mostly with Corino shouting out random Japanese phrases to the delight of the crowd. My favorite was when he said “break onegai shimasu” or “break, please!” Others included “atama ii” (smart) and “mo ichido” (one more time, after a chop). Lots of old school from the King of Old School including choking with his wrist tape and eye gouging. The crowd seemed to enjoy his heel antics. Kakinuma had some impressive suplexes and throws as well including both fisherman and German suplexes. Corino proved too much for young Kakinuma however, and hit two Northern Lights Drivers (Old School Explusion?) for the win.
WINNER: Corino with the Northern Lights Driver.
Thoughts: Corino seems to have a great time in the ring and it shows through his combination of old school antics, shouting Japanese, and toying with his less experienced opponent. Despite his blatant cheating, the crowd seemed to love Corino anyway. Kakinuma must be a newer roster member as he was seen cleaning up the ring later after the intense Necro Butcher/Masato Tanaka brawl.
2. Semi-final Tenkaichi Jr. Tournament-Munenori Sawa vs. Susumu Yokosuka
This is my first time seeing Sawa and I can see why a lot of people love him. His Lingerie Mutoh character seems to be popular as I saw them selling T-shirts after the show. Of course he wasn’t using this character but was still very over with the crowd. He reminds me of a Colt Cabana type character in that he does comedy but is also regarded as a serious in-ring threat. Susumu is from Dragon Gate and has some strong offense right off the bat.
Susumu works over Sawa’s leg, neutralizing his kicks. Hitting a basement dropkick and a knee-breaker, he then looks on a figure-four. The crowd is strongly behind Sawa. Even chanting “Sawa!” loudly. Sawa reverses a powerbomb and hits a variation of an enzigueri on Susumu’s hand. Ouch.
A springboard elbow in the corner and a flurry of chops from Sawa pumps up the crowd. Susumu gets a series of suplexes (exploder and german) and then hits a huge avalanche exploder! The ring rocks!
Sawa locks in an Octopus Hold which isn’t something I’ve seen in years, and Susumu forces the break. Trade chops, flurry from Sawa and a Pele’ kick.
A trio of lariats from Susumu but Sawa gets an armbar. Locks the fingers and Susumu taps! Big pop from the live crowd. Sawa looks like the fans’ favorite here.
WINNER: Sawa with an armbar
Thoughts: Sawa is super-over. The fans absolutely love him.
3. Semi-final Tenkaichi Jr. Tournament-Mineo Fujita vs. Fujita “Jr.” Hayato
Background information on Hayato is that he trained with famous Japanese K-1 fighter “Kid” Yamamoto. He seems to have a heavily MMA influenced style with lots of kicks. He throws a kick early. Both dodge a series of strikes before they chain into a leg lock by Hayato. Hayato has no eyebrows and it makes him look really creepy.
Mineo dragon whips Hayato off the apron. Unique offense there. He then goes for a diving senton. The crowd goes wild! Korakuen really makes the experience seem so much more intimate and the big spots really stand out more. The crowd is split on support of the competitors.
This match has loads of kicks. It’s hard to keep up with. Suffice to say, they are kicking the crap out of each other. Gut-wrench suplex and an arm-lock from Hayato. Mineo works out and manages a back suplex and a heel hook. It’s in deep and the crowd is firmly behind Hayato to break. He breaks. Japanese crowds really love rope breaks.
Mineo reveres a German suplex by flipping out and then gets speared by Hayato anyway. A series of stiff running knees in the lower corner knocks Mineo for a loop. Hayato tries for The KID (his guillotine choke). Mineo gets out a tries a series of Lucha-libre style pins.
Hayato fires back with a kick to the back of the head and variant of a gut-buster. A head-butt that makes a sickening thud and Hayato catches Mineo in a floating version of The KID. Mineo passes out and the crowd cheers Hayato strongly.
WINNER: Hayato with The KID (guillotine choke)
Thoughts: Impressive match. Mineo still looks strong in defeat and Hayato looks like a bad ass.
It will now be Sawa vs. Hayato in the finals.
4. Kohei Sato, KAMIKAZE, and Yoshikazu Yokoyama vs.
Shinjiro Ohtani, Shito Ueda, and Daichi Hashimoto
Daichi and Yokoyama start off, trading forearms. KAMIKAZE tags in and everyone foot-chokes KAMIKAZE in Ohtani’s corner. Crowd seems to like that. Crowd is sort of weird during this match. They don’t really know who to cheer for.
Ueda locks in a rear chin lock and head scissors. Sato in. KAMIKAZE and Sato trade slaps. Ohtani in. He seems to be getting mixed reactions. They cheer certain offense from him, but boo other things. Weird. Ohtani won’t break a chin lock. Sato gives some stiff kicks when he gets out.
Yokoyama in and forearms to Ohtani. He keeps giving forearms and keeps trying to body slam Ohtani. Ohtani blocks it every time, much to the delight of the crowd. Ueda in and hits a spine-tingling back kick to Ohtani. Boston crab from Ueda on Yokoyama. In a funny series of moments, Daichi rushes in to cut off KAMIKAZE and Sato but they just stand there on the apron doing nothing. The crowd seems to enjoy that. So he does it twice.
Ohtani stomps Yokoyama’s head while he’s in the Boston crab which pisses off the crowd. They can’t make up their mind if they like Ohtani or not.
Lots of fast action, knees, kicks from everywhere. And a suplex from KAMIKAZE. Daichi hits many kicks and KAMIKAZE hits an enziguri. Sato kicks the crap out of Daichi, which seems to be an ongoing theme. They like kicking Daichi hard.
Ohtani clears out the others, and hits his signature face wash that gets a big pop. “Mo ichido” chants. He does it again. Sato big kick and German suplex then a knee lift. Yokoyama takes over hitting forearms and a yakuza kick.
Daichi then gets powerslammed, takes a flipping knee, and a moonsault. Yokoyama just starts attacking everyone suddenly even Sato. Daichi hits a shining wizard then locks in a triangle choke on Yokoyama. However, he gets up and hits a DVD on Daichi for the win. I’m surprised, as I was sure Ohtani’s team was going to win.
WINNER: Yokoyama with a DVD on Daichi. I guess the ongoing theme is that they are testing Daichi to see if he matches the ability of his famous father Shinya Hashimoto.
Thoughts: Interesting to have Yokoyama get the pin on Daichi. Would have thought this match would have ended differently. Good action throughout though and the crowd being fickle with Ohtani was an interesting development.
It’s revealed that Daichi will face Hiroyoshi Tenzan on October 2nd.
5. Wrestling is Drug: Masato Tanaka vs. Necro Butcher
Necro comes out to Faith No More’s “Epic.” Fitting music. Necro seems to have that elusive Bruiser Brody charisma that the Japanese audience loves from the foreign brawlers. The crowd is really into him even though this is his first tour of Japan (I think.) Tanaka comes out and starts swinging a chair. They have a chair clash and pieces of the chair fly out into the crowd! Luckily no one is hit. (They are those really cheap chairs as the seats break out easily.)
They go outside and start the famous Necro “sitting chairs and punching each other” series. I’m sitting right there. Tanaka falls backward in his chair. Both are bleeding already. Fans are chanting “Necro!” Wow.
Back body drop in the stands. That has to hurt. This is such a wild brawl that it’s hard to see what’s going on. A stack of chairs is set up and there is a suplex into a stack of chairs. Ouch, again.
Tanaka splashes Necro through a table. More blood. Necro takes the broken table he was just driven through and pummels Tanaka with the splintered half. Then he sidewalk slams Tanaka onto a stack of chairs. Crunch. This is just non-stop violence.
Body slam from Necro onto the stack of chairs. Goes for an elbow drop and just slams his elbow into steel as Tanaka rolls out of the way. Tanaka hits a tornado DDT onto the chairs and body slams him into the chairs. These chairs are being utilized to the fullest. A propped table in the corner gets exploded from a DVD from Necro. Both lie motionless for a moment.
Tanaka takes a chair and stands it up, then gives Necro an Ace crusher onto top of the back of the chair, ramming Necro’s throat.
And…Necro gets a small package. That cracked me up.
Necro then punches through a chair to a huge pop from the crowd. They are really loving Necro’s offense here. Gets a nice looking tiger bomb. Superplex onto the stack of chairs and a big splash from Tanaka. Necro is dazed, Tanaka wedges a seat-less chair over Necro’s head and hits the Sliding D (a low lariat to a sitting opponent) to knock Necro unconscious. 1-2-3. That match was insane.
WINNER: Tanaka with the Sliding D.
Thoughts: I definitely see Necro returning as he was probably the second or third most over guy on the whole show. Crowd loved him.
6. Ikuto Hidaku, Takafumi Ito, and Kaijin Habu Otoko vs.
Super Crazy, Takuya Sugawara, and Robby Heart
This match features the losers of the previous rounds of the Tenkaichi tournament. Super Crazy looks to be in good form. He had a couple in the stands that kept cheering for him and he would wave to them in acknowledgement. This match was hard to follow so I’ll just list the highlights.
-Habu hits everyone with the snake tail dangling from his mask.
-Super Crazy dives over the ref to hit a senton on everyone. He stands right in front of me and soaks up the chants.
-Ito gets an armbar out of nowhere .
-Habu double-legged missile dropkick. And an awesome springboard tornado DDT to boot.
-Habu frogsplash on Sugawara!
WINNER: Kaijin Habu Otoko with a frog splash on Sugawara.
Thoughts: There was so much fast paced action it was hard to keep up with. Good showcase specifically for Kaijin Habu Otoko from Okinawa Pro. He was super-over with the crowd. Robby Heart reminds me of a younger CM Punk with his offense. Super Crazy looked awesome and seemed to enjoy being there.
7. Tenkaichi Jr. Tournament Finals: Munenori Sawa vs. Fujita “Jr.” Hayato
Crowd seems more behind Sawa here. Hayato hits some early kicks and they trade leg locks. Chain wrestling splits the crowd now. Many “Hayato” and “Sawa” calls from various places. Not any chants so much, just random calls from all over. They trade slaps and kicks, but Hayato gets the best. Both are wobbly.
Appears that Sawa gets a kimura. Kicks from Sawa. The ref starts a count on the downed Hayato. Sawa gives a Muta-esque elbow drop and Hayato answers with a shining wizard. Reverse DDT from Hayato, kicks on Sawa, eniziguri. Sawa is getting hammered. Mix of cheers for both again.
Hayato hits a back suplex and then a dragon screw on the rope! That has to give some rope burn. Sawa gives a Pele’ kick, Hayato comes back with kicks. Both down. Ref starts a double count. Fans whipping into a frenzy.
They seem to square off with who can hit the hardest. They hit a variety of strikes, headbutts, and knees. Hayato hits a running knee in the corner. Hayato’s knees rival just about anyone I’ve seen. They look rough.
Hayato hits a German suplex, then they start going for submissions. Hayato escapes the Octopus hold and Sawa escapes The KID. Shining wizard and running knee from Sawa. Another attempt of The KID from Hayato. Sawa is in trouble. Half-nelson suplex from Sawa dumps Hayato on his head. Sawa winds up a punch and decks Hayato in the face. Locks in the Octopus hold again. Hayato taps out quickly. The crowd seems surprised by the sudden finish, yet they cheer Sawa’s victory.
WINNER: Sawa with the Octopus hold
Thoughts: Sawa looked great throughout the final two matches and Hayato looks like a tough rookie to beat. Match seemed to end suddenly, but still awesome.
Sawa and Ikuto both look emotional after the match as the other members of the tournament all gather in the ring. Sawa receives a bunch of different checks and certificates and they set up the “dragon balls” on this table. They milk the reaction for Sawa as they ask him what his wish is.
Apparently he wishes for his last BattleArts show to be sold out. This gets a decent reaction but it seems the crowd was hoping for something bigger. Overall, this show makes Sawa look like a big star and also helps Hayato look like a future contender as he looked very impressive. He reminds me of a KENTA type of figure. Explosive, serious, and able to wear opponents down with a flurry of strikes. Look for bigger things from him.
Overall Thoughts: The show was pretty awesome. I almost had a front row seat so it gave the show a bigger feel for me. Had a lot of good action and plenty of crowd pleasing matches. I’d like to check out more ZERO-1 in the future as this is my 2nd show of theirs.
2. Necro Butcher
4. Yoshikazu Yokoyama (after winning the match)
5. Kaijin Habu Otoko/Super Crazy (both were very over in their match)
1. Shinjiro Ohtani (which surprised me because the fans kept going back and forth)
2. Steve Corino (which was more like “funny” heat)
Those were about the only two that received boos throughout the night. ZERO-1 seems to focus more on the ability of the wrestlers than the heel/face dynamic, so sometimes it’s difficult to cheer or boo specific people.
Well, that’s all! Looking forward to my next show in October! Not sure what it will be yet. Until next time!