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February 24, 2002 / Ryan Clingman

Keiji Mutoh vs. Toshiaki Kawada from AJPW 2002

Note: All Japan have uploaded this match with the incorrect date. It took place on the the 24th of February 2002; the video lists the date as the 27th. 

Recap from Ryan Clingman:

Ignoring the match’s content, there was something quite clearly “off” about this specific upload . Nothing in the arena was particularly strange, but for whatever reason, the GAORA logo that usually remains stationary in the top right hand corner, did not. As if someone was constantly adjusting a loose transparent film, with GAORA printed on its corner, atop every camera lens in the building, the logo drifted back and forth distractingly throughout the match.

This production related flaw, coupled with various camera issues, proved fairly distracting throughout the initial portion of the match, as Kawada and Mutoh engaged in what was an uncharacteristically dull mat sequence in the match’s opening minutes. But, without warning, Kawada tore into Mutoh with a leaping high kick, which immediately picked the match’s pace up to a point from which it wouldn’t fall for the rest of the night.

Kawada blocked a shining wizard, but took a dropkick to the knee before, moments later, comically throwing himself to the floor off of another shining wizard. This was a spot that, whilst promising in theory, didn’t fit with the tone of a Triple Crown Title match in practice. This was, however, the last spot that I could fairly criticize heavily, as for the remainder of the match Mutoh targeted Kawada’s leg – which he just so happened to injure less than a month later – and Kawada fired back with much of his standard offence, including enough jumping high kicks to match Mutoh’s absurd tally of shining wizards.

It should be stated, however, that whilst the remaining portion of the match was outstanding, and met the standards set by other Triple Crown matches of the early 2000s AJPW era, much like the classic Tenryu/Kojima match from later in 2002, this isn’t a match for those who don’t appreciate nearfalls and no-selling. The final stretch, as one would expect, saw both men empty their respective arsenals, with Kawada not only landing a bevy of brainbusters, powerbombs and highkicks, but also the Ganso Bomb – a scary proposition for an already physically worn 39 year-old Mutoh. Regardless, in a nearfall that shocked me, over 13 years later, Mutoh kicked out of the Ganso Bomb, Kawada’s strongest weapon. Budokan was left rumbling.

Kawada still came out on top, ending Mutoh’s first of two Triple Crown title reigns. Unfortunately, Kawada wouldn’t defend the title a single time during this reign, as he would injure his knee shortly after and was forced to vacate the championship. This was Kawada’s second vacation of the Triple Crown, but he would inevitably return to reclaim the crown for his fifth and final run in 2003 – he held the Triple Crown for well over a year in what was one of his last major career accomplishments.

In 2015 we see very few matches of this sort, and thus rating it with modern eyes would be an unfair approach, one that would most probably yield too high a rating with respect to this match’s contemporaries. However, it was still an outstanding Budokan main event – one that quite easily reached the **** ½ level – highly recommended.

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