Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pro Wrestling ZERO1 10 Years & A Rebirth (10th Anniversary Show) 3/6/11

Pro Wrestling ZERO1 10 Years & A Rebirth (10th Anniversary Show)
March 6th, 2011
"Sumo Hall" Ryogoku Kokugikan, Ryogoku, Japan
Attendance: 8,000-13,000 +/-

So here's something new in my review canon, a ZERO-1 show. I've been a fan of this promotion for several years now and was more than happy to take a look at their 10th anniversary show this year, featuring the wrestling debut of the late Shinya Hashimoto's son, Daichi Hashimoto.

We open the show with Shinjiro Ohtani coming out to welcome everyone to the ten year anniversary show for Zero-1. Afterwards we see an excellent video package highlighting the history of the promotion and the contributions by stars such as Shinya Hashimoto, Masato Tanaka, Shinjiro Ohtani, and Ryouji Sai.

NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Title Match
Craig Classic
© vs. Munenori Sawa

Classic is a longtime staple of the Florida independent scene in the United States before getting booked by Zero-1, while Sawa is one of the very best junior heavyweight freelancers in Japan today, usually to be found in the BattlArts promotion. Both guys start off in pure shoot style, slapping and striking away at one another with fists and kicks in the corner. They trade leg-holds on the mat and Sawa get's a rope break. Back on the mat they trade forearms briefly. Sawa sends Craig to the floor with a forearm, but Classic cuts off his tope attempt with a forearm and then delivers a tope suicida of his own to Sawa on the thinly padded floor. Sawa nails him with a spinning enziguri for a two count, and a leg lariat nets him the same result. Classic applies the Brock Lock briefly but Sawa gets the rope break. A pair of German suplexes get Classic another near fall before Sawa starts getting fired up and nails him with a Shining Wizard. They spend a lot of time trying to apply an octopus lock on one another, but in the end Classic simply pins Sawa with a roll-up at 11:47. This was a fun opening contest here between two very talented junior heavyweights just getting to do their thing to get the show started. Lots of great mat and counter submission wrestling between these two. ***

Fujita "Jr." Hayato/Shota Takanashi/Kenta Kakinuma/Diamond Konley/Nick Primo vs. Shiro Koshinaka/Shito Ueda/Yoshikazu Yokoyama/Zuffa/Buffa

For those unfamiliar with Fujita Hayato, you're in for a treat if you're watching this show. Which you totally should be. This is a pretty crazy random eight man tag here and I have to admit I'm not familiar with Yokoyama, Ueda, Takanashi, and Kakinuma. Everyone else I recognize from reading or sight. Yes, there's really a wrestler named idea if it's a rib on the UFC or not. As you might expect it's utter chaos from the bell with all eight men brawling in and out of the ring immediately. Hayato and Koshinkaka exchange strikes in the spotlight momentarily before brawling to the floor. Things settle down into a regular tag match eventually, but not a particularly memorable one. Hayato comes back in eventually to kick all kinds of ass before Koshinaka gets the hot tag and goes all Dusty Rhodes on them with ass bumps off the top rope and into the corner. The whole team gets a chance beating up on Hayato in the corner briefly. Zuffa and Buffa do some nifty double team work that leads them into a wacky eight man suplex spot that they nearly botch. As if we hadn't filled our quota of tower of doom spots, they do another one out of the corner of the powerbomb/superplex variety while a few spare bodies take out whoever's left standing with planchas on the floor. Buffa hits a 450 splash for a two count and everyone brawls to the floor again. Kakinuma grabs Buffa and delivers a German suplex for the win at 11:02. This was absolutely wild, I had low expectations for such a random gathering of workers on what looked like a filler spot on the card, but everybody worked really hard and they went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver a fast paced, high-flying and entertaining contest. ***

NWA International Lightweight Tag Team Title Match
Takuya Sugawara/Kaijin Habu Otoko
© vs. Minoru Fujita/Mineo Fujita

Zero-1, much like many lucha libre promotions, seem to suffer from the "way too many fucking titles to keep track of" syndrome. God bless the NWA, they're still trying aren't they. Lots of brawling to start before things settle down with Mineo and Otoko doing a nice leapfrog/leg lariat sequence. The Fujita boys team up on Otoko for a bit but wind up getting double-clotheslined. Mineo flips out of a German attempt and sends Otoko to the floor with a headscissors before leaping out after him with a somersault plancha on the outside. Back in the ring Mineo gets a near fall on Otoko. Otoko responds with some suplexes and an ankle lock, which Mineo breaks up with an enziguri. Sugawara and Minoru tag in and Sugawara hits an ace crusher for a two count. Sugawara hits a nice moonsault off the top rope for another close pin on Minoru. A refreshed Otoko tags back in but gets quickly put down by the Fujita boys again. Mineo nearly wins the titles with a senton off the top but the ref's pin count get's broken up. Sugawara grabs a metal box of some kind and threatens to use it but the ref takes it out of his hands....and then hits Minoru with the box! Otoko finishes Mineo off with a frog splash off the top at 15:26. This was a rather chaotic match and the finish seemed to come out of nowhere, but most of the action was fairly engaging. Nothing special though. **½

ZERO1 International Jr. Heavyweight Title Match
Ikuto Hidaka
© vs. Takafumi Ito

Hidaka is another longtime veteran and staple of Zero-1, and has helped solidify the promotion's junior heavyweight division as one of the best in Japan over the last decade. Ito is a veteran Pancrase shoot fighter, so this is an intriguing little match up. If you weren't aware, Japanese promotions love to book wrestlers against legit MMA guys in worked wrestling matches. Ito tries a quick headlock to start but it's broken up quickly. Ito has a crazy fighting stance going on right now, and each man trades a waistlock with each other. Ito grabs Hidaka into a clinch and then takes him to the mat. They wrestle into the ropes and then begin exchanging slaps on the outside floor. Hidaka hits a nice running knee strike but Ito grabs his leg and tries for a leg lock. He tries a rear naked choke but Hidaka grabs the rope. Ito delivers a sweet victory roll much to my surprise before grabbing Hidaka's arm and rolling into a cross armbreaker submission. Hidaka escapes and locks on a deadly figure four for an extended period before hopping right back up and walking into a rear naked choke from ito! Hidaka nearly gets choked out but manages to get a foot on the ropes. Tiger suplex from Hidaka doesn't manage to put Ito away so he tries to out-strike him as both men trade a seemingly neverending flurry of kicks and strikes. Hidaka clearly takes the upper hand from here, evading strike attempts from ito and then putting him out for good with a few deadly spinning kicks to retain his title at 11:18. This one started a bit slow and awkward and I was unsure of how Ito would mesh with Hidaka, but they quickly established a hectic pace and by the time we got to the ultra stiff strike exchanges at the end, I was sold. These kinds of MMA vs. pro wrestling matches are always fairly good if worked right, and this is a pretty good example of that. ***

NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Title Match
© vs. Atsushi Sawada/Steve Corino

Corino is supposed to be a surprise partner for Sawada, but the crowd doesn't seem very shocked to see him. Corino made a big name for himself in this promotion over the last ten years, so it's nice to see him return here before he decides to ultimately retire for good. Sato and KAMIKAZE are immediately attacked by Corino and Sawada before they can even get into the ring, and we're off. Sawada and Corino take the upper hand rather quickly, taunting the crowd while putting the boots to KAMIKAZE in the corner and tossing a chair in his face while the crowd boos them to the high heavens. Things settle down into a more standard match with Sawada and Corino trading quick tags and isolating KAMIKAZE in the midst of an epic beatdown. Huge DDT from Corino and he keeps playing to the crowd, which is surprising considering the style he works when he's in the States. Corino fights off a pissed off Sato and rolls KAMIKAZE up for a close near fall. A discus lariat won't put KAMIKAZE away either, so Sawada hops in to double-team him with Corino. Northern lights bomb won't do it either, so Sato jumps in and starts handing out German suplexes like candy. Delicious, neck-breaking candy. The referee in this match is apparently heel by the way because he refuses to count a clean three count for a rejuvenated KAMIKAZE at first, but after a few slams a moonsault from Sato he has no choice but to count the three so the champs can retain at 14:12. This was a strange match, half old-school Southern tag formula and half new-school Zero-1 trickery. Corino looked fired up and this flew by for the most part, but it was never terribly exciting. **½

Just to put over how big of a show this is and how big a deal the debut of young Daichi is tonight, the ring announcer next introduces none other than Keiji Mutoh himself to join the commentary booth for the big debut match. To hype Daichi's debut we get a heart-string pulling video package highlighting how important tonight is for Daichi and the connection he and his father had with one another. Pretty big shoes to fill for the kid, but it's hard not to like him as soon as you see him and what he's all about.

Daichi Hashimoto vs. Masahiro Chono

This is the big selling point to this whole show here as the 19 year old son of the late legendary Shinya Hashimoto makes his debut tonight in Zero1, the promotion his father founded ten years ago. And what a debut opponent he has in his un-official "uncle" Masahiro Chono, who along with Mutoh and Daichi's father were a legendary trio known fondly as the Three Musketeers. Big pop for Daichi and we've got a serious "big match" atmosphere going on right from the bell. Daichi is cautious to start and quickly gets taken down with a shoulder-block in his first real exchange with Chono. They exchange wristlocks and come to a dead-lock in the ropes, where Daichi suddenly slaps Chono in the face! Who does this punk kid think he is?! Daichi lays in some huge kicks into Chono in the corner and the referee has to break it up as the young Daichi has clearly found his confidence and lays another huge kick into Chono for a near fall. Chono responds with a spinning heel kick of his own and sends Daichi out of the ring, where he gives him a cradle piledriver on the thinly padded floor! Shinjiro Ohtai and Ikuto Hidaka among other Zero1 wrestlers are on the floor to support Daichi and are able to get him back in the ring before the count of twenty. Unfortunately Chono immediately meets him with another big cradle piledriver back in the ring, but miraculously he kicks out and fires off a few more spin kicks. Daichi applies a deep rear naked choke to little success so he goes back to a pair of spinning heel kicks again. Chono responds with a pair of Shining Wizards and a huge headbutt before locking on the STF hold! Daichi is able to withstand the pain briefly before Chono really cranks away at it and the young Hashimoto has to tap at 13:04! After the match Chono gets on the mic and calls Mutoh into the ring with them and they shake hands and pose for photos as a trio. This was one hell of a pro wrestling debut for the young Daichi as he was made to look like an elite wrestler from the get-go, though one that was still obviously raw and unsure of his strategy in the ring. The simple rookie mistakes put Daichi away against the veteran Chono, as it should be, but for a while he brought a ton of fire and intensity into the building the likes of which I haven't seen since his late father passed away. He's got the signature lightning-fast kicks just like his dad too. Great debut for Daichi and a hell of a little match in it's own right. ***½

After the match we get the full press conference post-match interview deal backstage with Daichi, Chono, and Mutoh. After a short Q&A we cut to the commentators, who run down the rest of the card.

Masato Tanaka vs. Yuji Nagata

If I had a nickel for every time these two have faced off over the last few years, I'd have quite a few nickels. Both of these guys are middle aged and still in better ring shape than half the wrestlers you'll ever meet. They start with some basic feeling-out holds in the early going (headlock, legscissors, wristlock, etc). The fight spills to the floor and Tanaka gets sent into the steel post and then knee-dropped onto a nearby table. Back in the ring both men begin trading forearms and knee strikes, an exchange which Nagata wins soundly. Nagata goes to work on Tanaka's leg now with a spinning leg-lock. Both men trade forearms again and Tanaka starts to find some momentum. He tosses Nagata face-first into a table at ringside and then sets Nagata up on it so that he can dive off the top rope with a huge splash on Nagata through the table! Tanaka brings him into the ring but Nagata is riught back up on his feet, meeting Tanaka at the top rope before Masato flips over him and plants him with a sunset flip powerbomb. He follows up with a frog splash, but Nagata kicks out at two. Spinning slingshot suplex from Nagata on Tanaka and Nagata is right back in it. Tanaka responds with a huge brainbuster, but Nagata fires right back with a brainbuster of his own! Both men trade boots and Nagata hits an exploders suplex for a near fall. Tanaka hits the Diamond Dust and follows up with a lariat and running elbow, but Nagata fires right back up. Exploder suplex off the top rope from Nagata followed by a running knee and a Saito suplex, but somehow Tanaka kicks out this time. Tanaka rolls through a suplex attempt but winds up in a nasty armbar from Nagata, who's so intense and insane that his eyes roll into the back of his fucking head while he rips away on Tanaka's arm like a Gracie. Nobody has better intense facial expressions in the business today than Yuji Nagata. Big lariat from Tanaka and a pair of sliding elbow shots is enough to finally put Nagata away at 18:22. Just another great little chapter in the neverending rivalry between these two men. These are two guys that just have intense chemistry together, so every time they go out there they wind up delivering the battle you expect from them. Good stuff. ***½

ZERO1 World Heavyweight Title Match
Daisuke Sekimoto
© vs. Ryouji Sai

Sekimoto is best known as the undisputed ace of Big Japan Pro Wrestling these days, but he works in so many other promotions that it's sometimes easy to forget that. He won the ZERO1 World title back in the fall of 2010. Sai immediately gets into my good graces by using the Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright" as his theme music (speaking of which, wouldn't "Americana" from that same album make a great theme song?), but he's already a former ZERO1 World champion and he's been a huge part of this promotion over the last decade so he's a serious threat to Sekimoto's title. Basic headlock and shoulder-block exchangers to start off and Sekimoto stretches Sai out early with the old bow and arrow submission. He slams him next and tries a half Boston crab briefly. They trade chops and kicks back on their feet but Sekimoto lifts Sai into a torture rack momentarily. Sai finally starts firing off some offense with a suplex and knee strikes, but he walks right into a running lariat and a towering German suplex from Sekimoto for a close two count. Pele kick from Sekimoto and a brainbuster get him another near fall. Sai manages to superplex Sekimoto, but he gets his shoulder up at two. A Blue Thunder bomb and a double-stomp off the top rope net Sai another close two count, but Sekimoto fires back with a deadly stiff lariat. An everest German suplex from Sekimoto nearly puts Sai away, but again Ryouji kicks out and fights back. Another double stomp results in another Sekimoto kick out. A third double-stomp however is enough to put Sekimoto away and give Sai the title at 14:50. While not quite the epic main event level match I was hoping for, this was still a hard fought and fun title match that sees one of the backbones of the company kick start a second World title reign to bring Zero1 into their second decade of existence. ***

Yoshihiro Takayama
vs. Shinjiro Otani

Oh yes, now this is how you cap off a supercard of sorts. I'm a massive mark for Takayama and Otani (or Ohtani, however the hell you want to spell it) is a legend in his own right (not to mention the acting president of the company). Lock-up to start and both men have a clean break. Takayama works a side headlock for a bit and then switches to forearm strikes, which Otani quickly breaks up. Takayama ties him up in the tree of woe position in the corner and then slams several knees into him. Takayama fires some kicks off into Otani but they only seem to energize him as he goes into Otani-Hulk mode. Spinning heel kick from Otani allows him enough time to deliver his infamous boot face-wash spot in the corner, complete with skipping and a missile dropkick to cap it all off. Giant back drop suplex from Takayama and he slaps on a sleeperhold. Takayama nearly pins him with a big German suplex, but Otani gets his foot on the ropes and fires back with big chops and a low spin-wheel kick. Palm strike and Otani manages to German suplex the huge Takayama three times in a row, but still the big man kicks out. Otani knees Takayama so hard in the face that it appears he may have possibly broken his nose as blood begins running down the face of Takayama. Both men trade straight up stiff jab punches and Takayama delivers another towering German suplex to a now bleeding Otani to win at 16:16! This one took a little while to get going, but once it did it kicked into just the kind of sick ultra-stiff contest you'd expect from these two in a big match situation. Takayama helps Otani up after the match and shakes his hand to cap off the contest. ***¼

After the match Otani gets a standing ovation and he grabs a microphone. I don't speak Japanese, but the basic gist of what he does is reflect quickly on the ten years of Zero1 so far and promise to continue to build Zero1 as the best promotion in Japan. Afterwards Daichi Hashimoto and the rest of the roster return to the ring for some photoshoots before we cut backstage to a brief post-show press conference/Q&A session with a tearful Otani. Finally we close out the show with a quick video package highlighting the late Shinya Hashimoto and his son Daichi one last time.

Bottom Line: This was simply an excellent show from start to finish in terms of consistent quality of wrestling through-out. Nothing ever dipped below the **1/2 star range and nearly every match seemed to hit into three star territory at some point or another. There were no blow-away match of the year candidates, but there were several engaging and entertaining undercard matches with some of the exceptional young talent in Zero1 alongside the incredible debut of what appears to be a new bonafide mega-star in modern Japanese wrestling in Daichi Hashimoto. As an anniversary show this worked excellently to highlight all of Zero1's strengths, highlight their storied past, and look forward to the future with very high hopes. An entertaining show and an easy Thumbs Up.

Score: 8/10

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