This week on Random Reviews, we take a dive into the archives of New Japan World, and pull out some matches from years gone by – with a hat-tip to Senor Lariato on Twitter, and his recommended watching list!

Hulk Hogan vs. Great Muta  (Wrestling Dontaku, May 3, 1993)
Yep, there’s Hulk Hogan matches on here, and we’re going back to his ill-fated 1993 run as WWE champion, up here against the Great Muta… and dear lord, the ring announcer looks like an extra from the cover of the Beatle’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album! This was actually the first ever Wrestling Dontaku event for New Japan, and no, Hogan’s WWE title wasn’t on the line here.

Muta sprays the mist to start the match, then flips the middle finger to Hogan as they start the feeling out process. My jaw hit the floor when the first move was made: Hulk Hogan rolling and taking down Muta with an armbar… what the hell, brother?! Muta rolls onto the runway leading to the ring for a breather, then flips his way back in, before Hogan goes for a leg trip into a headlock… seriously, what the hell, brother?! Who are you and why was this Hulkster not in the WWE in the 80s?

They work a collar-and-elbow tie-up, which leads to Muta charging his shoulder into Hogan in the corner, before Hogan returned the favour, but with knees instead of a shoulder. Muta ducks a back elbow but sends Hogan to the floor with a pair of dropkicks, as it’s the Hulkster who takes a breather now.

Back in the ring, Muta scores a two-count from a standing elbow drop, before working on Hogan’s left arm with an arm wringer, but Hogan reverses and takes him down once more with a drop toe hold, then trying something resembling a kimura, and then an STF. Was Japan in 1993 an alternate universe? Muta went under the ring, returning to work over Hogan with chops as they spilled onto the floor to continue exchanging strikes, before Hogan suplexed Muta out on the outside.

They spill into the crowd, over the admittedly-low barricades, with Muta and Hogan going into the front rows, before Hogan delivers a back suplex to Muta on the floor. Muta rolls into the ring, and straight back out again, which baits the Hulkster outside, allowing Muta to take control by throwing him into the ringpost. Muta grabs the hammer from the ring bell, and uses it on the back of Hogan’s neck, then on his shoulder, as the referee finally catches him using the foreign object (but with no DQ resulting from it).

Back inside, Muta snapmares Hogan into a seated rear chinlock, before sending him onto the runway, where Hogan takes a suplex. Muta then runs down the aisle, and returns to clothesline Hogan back into the ring, with both men getting their arm trapped in the ropes a la Cactus Jack. Somehow that affected Muta more, as he quickly took some punches from Hogan who forgot how to sell, but Muta fires back with a handspring elbow into the corner on the Hulkster.

A backbreaker drops Hogan once more, and Muta connects with a moonsault off the top for a near-fall, before dropkicking Hogan outside the ring again. Muta then uses a rope ladder from the lighting rig to swing into Hogan, like Tarzan, then uses a chair that sends Hogan to the inside. As the referee trying to grab the chair from Muta, Hogan hits the Axe Bomber lariat, before having the green mist sprayed into his face. That signals a mini Hulk-Up, as he sidesteps a diving Muta (even though he’s supposedly blinded!) and hits a legdrop for a two count, before a big boot and another Axe Bomber secures the win for Hogan.

That was something. A really fun match, with the novelty of Hogan actually wrestle and bust out new moves turned this up a notch for me. Having watched a steady stream of awful Hogan matches in the 90s, this was like night and day. Did New Japan have a secret Hulk Hogan clone who knew how to wrestle, or did Hogan intentionally restrict his moveset in America? I’d go with the latter, but would like to believe the former…***½

Ultimo Dragon vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger (Wrestling World, January 4, 1997)
Wrestling World was the precursor to New Japan’s current Wrestle Kingdom series of shows, as they retained their January 4th date at the packed-out Tokyo Dome; and this is for Ultimo Dragon’s J-Crown – the collection of 8 different titles (including, funnily enough, the WWF Light Heavyweight title that ended up being used on WCW during Ultimo Dragon’s reign). Of course, this being Japan, ceremony dictated that Dragon handed over the titles before his defence, which seemed like a set-up to have eight Japanese ladies in swimsuits parading the titles (and themselves).

Earlier on this same show, New Japan debuted the Super Liger character – which was Chris Jericho under a silver version of the famous Jushin “Thunder” Liger bodysuit. The golden original was meant to have had the debutant as a nemesis down the road, but Jericho was received so poorly under the gimmick, the act was quickly canned. Plans change, everyone!

The referee checks the horns on Liger’s mask (didn’t think I’d ever write that), and we’re underway! Liger takes Dragon into the corner early on, as they work a long collar-and-elbow tie-up sequence, ending with a La Magistral cradle getting Dragon a two-count after they’d largely cancelled each other out. After a brief spell outside, Liger returned and took down Dragon with a tiltawhirl backbreaker, before eventually locking in the surfboard and a grounded abdominal stretch, then finally a single leg crab as Dragon made the ropes.

Dragon’s kept grounded with a camel clutch, then an armbar as Dragon eventually made the ropes, only for Liger to go back to the seated abdominal stretch, with a roll-up for a near fall for good measure. Dragon grabbed a leglock after kicking out, before taking down Liger with a dropkick and going back to the leglock, transitioning it into an Indian deathlock as well. A sunset flip from Liger scores a near-fall, before they trade near-falls from a small package, and yes, Ultimo goes back to the leg grapevine.

Liger escapes, sends Dragon into the corner for a rolling kick, but Dragon quickly regains the upper hand with a monkey flip, before a jumping headscissors off the top rope and a quebrada for a near-fall. An Ultimo Dragon hip attack gets caught by Liger and turned into a release German suplex, before sending Dragon to the outside with another rolling kick, and following up with a plancha off the top rope.

Back inside, Liger kicks Dragon in the midsection and lands a Fisherman’s brainbuster for a two-count, before Dragon counters a suplex into a La Magistral cradle for a near-fall. Both men clothesline the other simultaneously, leading to a standing ten-count, but after getting up, a Shotei from Liger almost gets him the win.

Dragon blocks a super hurricanrana by holding onto the top rope, then connects with a ‘rana of his own after flying off the top, before both men go to the outside courtesy of some head scissors, with Dragon eventually connecting with a tope to the outside. The pressure stays on Liger with a cannonball dive off the top to the floor, before Dragon pulled off a fallaway slam on Liger in the ring, then a moonsault.

Liger went to the ropes to avoid a Tiger suplex, but Dragon pulled him away and hit the move regardless. Liger reverses a tombstone piledriver and drops Dragon flat on his back, but gets caught on the top rope, with Liger’s slaps not doing much to fend off the J-Crown champion, as Dragon hits the Dragonsteiner (starting behind Liger on the top rope, jumping and spinning around, ending with a hurricanrana off the top), only getting a near-fall from that.

Dragon signals for the finish, and actually pulls off a running Ligerbomb of his own, but again Liger kicks out, before rolling out of the way of a quebrada and scoring a near-fall with a la Magistral cradle. Dragon tries for another Ligerbomb, but Liger turns it into a hurricanrana, and finishes him off with a screwdriver (suplex into a sitout piledriver) for the win. That was incredible – not so sure this is hidden, but a definite gem from the New Japan World service. Hunt this one out! ****

Toshiaki Kawada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (WrestleKingdom, January 4, 2007)
We jump forward a decade now, to the first WrestleKingdom show, and a “New Japan versus All Japan” match here, featuring Shinsuke Nakamura, long before he became the charisma-spewing Nak we know and love today.

They start out tentatively, going for hammerlocks and holds, but Kawada and Nakamura cancel the other out, with Nakamura dragging himself to the ropes as Kawada went for a waistlock. Some cheapshots in the corner force Nakamura to return the favour, before Nakamura drills Kawada with a knee to the midsection.

Nakamura locks in a leg grapevine on Kawada in the middle of the ring next, but quickly grabs the ropes then the move is reversed, before laying into Kawada with more knees, then a sleeperhold, and finally a cross-armbar that Kawada gets a rope break on before the hold could be properly applied.

Kawada snaps back with slaps, a stiff slam then kicks to a grounded Nakamura, returning the favour after Nakamura hadn’t broken clearly earlier. The referee gets shoved down as this turned into MMA, with the pair trying to slap the other whilst occasionally going for a submission, with Nakamura locking in the cross arm-bar in the middle of the ring.  Kawada made the ropes to force a break, but took some stiff kicks to the back by Nakamura, before a lariat downed the All Japan veteran, who then countered a German suplex attempt and drilled Nakamura with a Pele kick, then an enziguiri. A reverse butterfly lock sent Nakamura scrambling for the ropes, as Kawada returned fire with kicks, and another reverse butterfly lock, folding Nakamura down for a two-count, and then switching to an armbar of his own.

Nakamura takes some kicks to the back of the leg, eventually going to the mat and taking some more kicks to the back, before getting back to his feet and taking a lariat. Kawada saw a powerbomb blocked, as Nakamura backdropped his way out of it, only to turn into a big boot and a belly-to-back suplex. Nakamura returned quickly with a reverse Exploder suplex, but took another belly-to-back suplex, then delivered a German suplex as the two traded move for move. A release Tiger suplex sent Kawada into the ropes as both men collapsed onto the mat.

We then got a sweet spot, as Nakamura looked to be taking a lariat, only to float over and take down Kawada for another armbar, before releasing the hold after a rope break, as the pair switched armbars back and forth. Kawada stamped on Nakamura’s head to escape a Triangle-like armbar, before fighting his way out of a fireman’s carry to kick away at Nakamura some more, only to take a powerbomb for a near-fall.

Kawada caught Nakamura in a triangle choke after kicking out, but was forced to release the hold as Nakamura rolled through for a pin. Nakamura finally got the fireman’s carry, and planted Kawada with a death valley driver for a near-fall, as they went back to trading forearms, until Kawada ultimately landed a jumping kick to the head, and then a kneedrop to the head for a near-fall.

Kawada tried for another powerbomb, and eventually got it at the third attempt, but Nakamura rolled out of the pin, before kicking out of a brainbuster. A few kicks later, Nakamura took a stiff shot to the head and was pinned, putting an end to a brutal strong-style affair that for me seemed to wander at times. ***½

MVP vs. Masato Tanaka (Destruction, October 10, 2011)
We end this week’s Random Reviews with a match between two guys who were already well known to western fans, with former WWE (and TNA) star MVP taking on ECW alumni Masato Tanaka, in a match for the IWGP Intercontinental championship.

MVP had won that belt in May of 2011, winning an eight-man tournament that wrapped up in the old ECW arena, during a rare New Japan tour of the US. Tanaka came with a Singapore cane, and tried to use it on MVP, who ducked and gave Tanaka – who was looking a lot smaller than in his ECW heyday – a pump kick, then a gorilla press slam and another pump kick to send him to the outside.

MVP met Tanaka on the outside with a plancha, then took Tanaka back inside for a side slam for a near-fall. Tanaka came back with a tornado DDT out of the corner, before hotshotting MVP on the top rope after originally trying for a superplex. Back on the floor, Tanaka sent MVP into the barricades, then took out a table and set up MVP across it, before Tanaka went up top and put MVP through the table with a big splash. At least the table broke!

Tanaka grabbed half of the broken table and jammed it into MVP’s chest, then took him back into the ring for some more knee strikes, then a camel clutch with some extra fish-hooking. Tanaka followed up by whipping MVP into the corner, then landing a clothesline, before more knees to the back as MVP laid prone by the ropes.

MVP landed three rolling German suplexes after avoiding a charge in the ropes, before dishing out repeat clotheslines in the corner, and an overhead belly to belly suplex. So far, this is feeling like a WWE TV match rather than anything that’d fit into the typical New Japan style. The “Ballin’” elbow gets the most half hearted crowd response I’ve ever heard for the move, before Tanaka takes a Fisherman’s suplex for a near-fall.

Another kick takes Tanaka out of the ring, and MVP follows as he goes to suplex Tanaka onto the barricade, only for the challenger to slump to the floor. MVP grabs the fragments of the broken table, then pulls out a second table, and sets it against the crowd barrier, and sure enough, Tanaka takes it this time, as MVP drops him with a powerbomb that barely dents the table. Yep, that one didn’t come close to breaking.

Going back inside, MVP hit a lariat and a folding powerbomb that almost saw him retain his title, but Tanaka came back with a lariat of his own, before being caught on the top rope by MVP, who brought him back down to earth with a superplex. Tanaka no sold it, and rushed back in on MVP with a diving forearm smash, before they traded standing forearm smashes, before Tanaka upgraded it to elbow smashes… only for MVP to catch an elbow smash off the ropes and turn it into a crossface. Tanaka made the ropes easily, and recovered to escape out of the Playmaker, then land a brainbuster and a lariat for a two-count, before a diving elbow smash was enough to make Tanaka only the second IWGP Intercontinental champion.

This match felt like it’d been lifted straight out of WWE, and worse, was a classic “we’ll fit twenty minutes worth of stuff into a ten minute slot”. It wasn’t bad, but it felt a little too Americanised for New Japan, and worst, rushed. **¾

If you have any suggestions – please send them across to us, either by reaching out on Twitter, Facebook, or using the contact form on the website.