NJPW: Jun Akiyama vs. Yuji Nagata (January 4, 2002)

I want to try to review all the Wrestle Kingdom main events while they’re free on New Japan World.

This is interesting. This match is for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, which is Pro Wrestling NOAH’s top title, not New Japan’s. Research shows that this was supposed to be Nagata against IWGP champ Kazuyuki Fujita, but Fujita got hurt. Also, this match happened shortly after Nagata’s infamous shoot fight with Mirko Cro Cop (where he got his head nearly kicked off).

Akiyama hits Nagata on a break, and Nagata doesn’t take kindly to that. He sends him packing to the outside for a spell. They trade exploder suplexes. Nagata piledrives Akiyama twice, and the fact that Akiyama isn’t stretchered out is kind of weird to someone who’s been watching a lot of CWF Mid-Atlantic wrestling recently. Akiyama ends up paying Nagata back in spades by first DDTing him on the rampway and then tombstoning him on the ringside floor (on mats, but still).

Akiyama works on top for a while, which is as it should be considering Nagata’s recent MMA loss. Akiyama puts him in a crossface, and Nagata decides to pay that back later by using a crossface variation where he turns Akiyama’s head the other way, which look much more painful.

Akiyama puts Nagata in a choke from his guard, which has MMA callbacks, but the best spot is when Nagata gets free from a wrist-clutch exploder and hits the Cro Cop head kick for a nearfall. Smart bit there.

Nagata has the crowd believing in him, but Akiyama won’t tap to the armbar and kicks out of the back suplex hold. Akiyama hits Emerald Fusion (or Flowsion or whatever) and a head-targeting exploder before he’s finally able to get the pin with a wrist-clutch exploder.

Winner – Jun Akiyama

Rating – Good

Good stuff, but I can’t help but wonder how molten the crowd would have been had Nagata miraculously beaten or at least looked good against Cro Cop. Or, you know, not had that fight at all, Inoki!

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