The first step towards putting the IWGP puzzle back together.
The backstory: After failing to make it in the NFL, Brock Lesnar went to New Japan Pro Wrestling to make some money. New Japan immediately put the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on him. He defended it a few times before running into “visa issues” and not returning to New Japan. They stripped him of the title, but he didn’t give the belt back. Hiroshi Tanahashi won a tournament to become the new champion, but you just know that whenever a champion doesn’t lose a belt, there’s a perpetual asterisk hanging over the next champ’s reign.
About a year later, Antonio Inoki got Lesnar to come back to Japan for this match with then-TNA Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle. It was title-for-title, and the winner would become the official champion of the Inoki Genome Federation., represented by Lesnar’s IWGP belt.
Now, the match: You do remember that these two wrestled in the main event of Wrestlemania 19, right? Well, while it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that match, I think I can safely say that the rematch is not on the same level. First, there’s no babyface/heel dynamic. The most heelish thing done is Angle attacking Lesnar before the bell, but that happens a lot in Japan, so no one cares. Second, the crowd isn’t that invested. Why should they be? They don’t have the connection with these two big foreigners that the WWE fans had at ‘Mania. They “Ooh” and “Aah” at the suplexes, the throws, and the nearfalls, but I doubt the winner really mattered to anyone in that crowd.
Of course, I usually wonder if the IGF ever matters to people in IGF crowds.
Regardless of its inferiority to its predecessor, this is still an enjoyable match. There isn’t much psychology; basically, one guy is on offense until the other turns the tables and takes control. But it’s still worthy of the title of Suplex City, and that’s a plus. Both guys kick out of each others’ finishing moves. They botch an attempt at reversing an F-5 into a DDT. Lesnar tries to put the ankle lock on Angle. Angle wins with his second ankle lock attempt (and Brock taps out surprisingly quickly).
It’s fun. It’s not amazing. It’s still worth watching.
Angle would go on to defend the IWGP belt at one other IGF show before going back to New Japan and dropping it to Shinsuke Nakamura, unifying the two versions of the belt once more.
Up next: Bruiser Brody!
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