New Japan “Battle Formation 1996”
review by Jason Manning

Date: April 29th, 1996
Location: Tokyo Dome

“BATTLE FORMATION 1996!” This has always been one of my favorite-looking Tokyo Dome shows, but I’ve just never sat down to actually watch it. Now though, I will. And I will not stretch this introduction out any further. TO THE REVIEW!...

Koji Kanemoto & Shinjiro Otani vs. Yuji Nagata & Tokimitsu Ishizawa
Otani vs. Ishizawa is GOLD on the mat. Everybody else takes it to the mat at the start but it isn’t quite as golden. Then Otani and Ishizawa get back in there together and it is GOLD again. Kanemoto and Otani try to isolate Ishizawa which angers Nagata, so when Ishizawa prevents their attempted isolation by tagging in Nagata, he kicks the HOLY FUCKING HELL! out of Kanemoto and it blows the fucking roof off. Kanemoto and Otani try to isolate Yuji but he slaps the HOLY FUCKING HELL! out of Otani and this Nagata and Ishizawa tandem are outpunking Kanemoto and Otani. Ishizawa gets back in and it’s with Otani but it isn’t quite as golden anymore as they don’t really take it to the mat which disappoints me but the time has come to stand up and head to the finish. Otani delivers a fine Dragon suplex hold but Nagata breaks it. Kanemoto takes Nagata outside but Ishizawa avoids another Dragon suplex with the cross armbreaker takedown to a big ol’ pop but Kanemoto prevents the expected tap. They’re kicking things up a notch and Nagata SCREAMS WITH ANGER to a pop and he kicks the piss out of Kanemoto before there’s a little timing issue as Kanemoto wants a dropkick and Nagata wants a rolling koppou kick and both guys just kinda’ fall. Kanemoto drops the diving twisting senton as the ten minute mark hits and then slaps Nagata into a springboard dropkick from Otani, but Kanemoto himself tries to connect with a dropkick at the same time and completely misses. STOP MESSING UP KOJI. Kanemoto moonsaults THE LEGS and Nagata thankfully sells his hurting legs and Otani and Ishizawa fight on the outside as Nagata catches Kanemoto up top and brings him off with a belly-to-belly for the win (11:20). The crowd goes WILD for young Nagata! I LOVE IT! Everyone shows the youngin’ hatred afterwards and this was a mighty fine little wrestling match to kick off the show.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Randy Savage
Ahhh! Tenzan, Savage, the tights! THE COLORS! THE COLORS~!~! Savage looks like he’s about to shit himself as Tenzan screams at him “SHOULDERBLOCK CONTEST OLD MAN! SHOULDERBLOCK CONTEST! RAAAA! Be a man, Savage! RAAAAA! BE A MAN!” Then the match takes a turn for the worse as we get some extended Tenzan offense and I have been watching a lot of Tenzan lately and extended Tenzan offense does not excite me. Tenzan just kinda’ slowly beats up Savage for a while as Savage waits for his cue to do the elbow drop. Tenzan begins to run through his signature stuff until Savage avoids the moonsault and THAT’S HIS CUE! Selling is not an issue anymore as she drops the diving elbow and Tenzan kicks out, so he drops another diving elbow, and then a THIRD diving elbow and I’m wondering just what the fuck is going on. Then he just inside cradles Tenzan for the win (9:49). The logic astounds! This was really quite the batch of shit. Savage’s pants were nice though.

Masahiro Chono vs. Lex Luger
Well hot damn, what did Chono and Tenzan do to get stuck with the washed up WCW guys? Chono must be thinking this too and attacks at the bell, but Luger retaliates with a pair of really crappy lariats (ain’t no metal plate in Japan). Chono does his best to put them over and then hits the Yakuza kick. Luger TRANSITIONS! with the kitchen sink and delivers a press slam. Chono realizes how much time New Japan has decided to give this match and takes his sweet time on the outside before he heads back in. Luger brings the AGGRESSION with some chokes and whatnot and I seize to care. They head outside and Luger rams Chono’s back into stuff and HEY! That’s that thing called psychology! In a Lex Luger match! Lex Luger is working over Chono’s back to build to that Torture Rack thingy he does! I’m amazed! Lex fucking Luger! Psychology! In a Lex fucking Luger match! He keeps it going inside with a powerslam and a backbreaker but Chono refuses a superplex and hits the diving shoulderblock. Luger eats another Yakuza kick and comes back with a sleeper. A SLEEPER? Work the back again, brotha. Actually, Chono sells it like death and there is a buzz in the crowd about the possibility of Chono falling to it so I have no problems with this. None at all. Chono hits a backdrop and retaliates with a... SLEEPER! Chono doesn’t milk it for all its worth and turns it into a reverse DDT that Luger doesn’t seem to want to fall down for. Chono goes for a backdrop on the ramp and Luger becomes heeeeeeeel with a low blow and then he piledrives Chono on his neck. The referee begins counting really fast and Chono looks like he’s about to be counted out until he becomes YOUR GOD AND MINE and punches the referee down and I cry tears of joy! Oh man, that was too good. Oh MAN! Back inside Luger knows that Chono’s back is in so much pain from the two minutes of back work and he slaps on the Torture Rack but Chono gets out pretty quickly. Chono shows Luger that it is COOL to be a bad guy and pays him back with a low blow of his own to a pop. Chono hits a couple Yakuza kicks, Chono hits the diving shoulderblock, Luger tries to win with a couple of cradles for a couple of near falls, and Chono hits the Yakuza kick, Chono hits the inverted atomic drop, and Chono slaps on the STF on for the win (14:37). I expected a horrible match. I did not get a horrible match. It wasn’t very good or anything, but they kept it moving, Luger at least attempted some basic psychology, and Chono did enough cool heel stuff to make it perfectly OK in my book.

Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Genichiro Tenryu
Both guys lock it up to start and then quickly get to some stuff to pop the crowd including Fujinami busting out TWO topes in a row. He goes for a third but we get to some lame camerawork that doesn’t catch Tenryu punching Fujinami right in the motherfucking face which in turn shatters his nose into a million billion tiny little pieces, and then he punches and kicks Fujinami right in the nose for good measure. Fujinami gets back in the ring and HOT GOD DAMN is he bleeding a truckload, all from his freshly broken nose. It has somehow managed to reach ABOVE his nose, fellas. ABOVE. HIS. NOSE. That is how much blood there is and this is one of the hardest to watch juices ever. The rest of the match is a test in WILL for old Fujinami to see how long he can last with blood spurted all over his face from this nose of his. Tenryu punches and kicks him square in it, Tenryu lariats him in the face, Tenryu suplexes him around, and Fujinami tries and tries his best to not give up and keep on fighting back. Fujinami throwing desperation punches at Tenryu only for Tenryu to smack him right in the nose is a golden thing. The crowd really isn’t sure how to react to Tenryu’s onslaught of the injured Fujinami, and it’s mostly just a buzz as Tenryu goes to work with various offense. Fujinami manages to fight out of a powerbomb, spits out blood, and in a last ditch effort, reveals that he has enough power to slap on the Dragon sleeper. Tenryu gets to the ropes however and Fujinami misses a diving kneedrop, leading to Tenryu nailing him with a pair of lariats that are enough for the bloody Fujinami to call it a day (9:16). Really fun war and all the credit in the world goes out to Fujinami for lasting as long as he did.

Great Muta vs. Jinsei Shinzaki
Muta’s got some neat facepaint and pre-match ring attire going on while Shinzaki’s got the Hakushi paint on. Shinzaki ties a stick to the ringpost before the match and this must be some Japanese thing I’m not picking up on. I have heard from reliable sources that this match is all about Good (Mr. Shinzaki) vs. Evil (Mr. Muta), and I will believe that. After some locking up and whatnot Muta sprays mist (green is the color of choice tonight) into the air to distract Shinzaki, leading to a handspring elbow and a rolling savate kick that lands Jinsei outside. Shinzaki soon brings the rope-walking to a big pop, and then he begins to take control, even busting out a NERVE HOLD! Muta comes back after some rope-running and Shinzaki brings the slightly unneeded-yet-INSANE bumping as Muta knocks him off the apron and he lands OVER the guardrail into some tables, and the eternal Muta offense begins. Muta follows him and piledrivers him on a table and Jiminy Cricket!, the table actually breaks. Muta then breaks Shinzaki’s stick thingy and it must be ON now. Muta keeps half of the stick in his mouth and stares into the camera, intimidating me like I’ve never been intimidated before. Muta hits Jinsei with it he bleeeeeeeds. It isn’t Fujinami-level but the sight of the blood staining his white pants isn’t very pretty. Muta then HANGS Shinzaki by his belt from the ropes and this is nuts. They head outside and Muta USES SHINZAKI’S BLOOD to write a Japanese symbol on the stick and the crowd erupts. Shinzaki comes back by dropping Muta on his head with a backdrop but Muta avoids a dropkick and beats on poor, bloody Jinsei some more. Muta looks for the kill with the handspring elbow and the facecrusher and he goes for a moonsault, but Shinzaki avoids it. Muta lands on his feet however and soon delivers a top rope ‘rana and the assault on Shinzaki continues. Shinzaki comes back with a couple kicks and Muta has been waiting for this so he sprays the mist, but Shinzaki ducks it and kicks Muta around before they take a trip outside again where Jinsei tries to suffocate Muta with his cloak. Shinzaki then uses a chair like a man and just nails the shit out of Muta. Shinzaki gets back in and is bleeding buckets. Fuck, it may be more than Fujinami but his nose is at least still in tact. Shinzaki busts out a Space Flying Tiger Drop! and back in he runs through his signature offense before Muta counters the Praying powerbomb with TEH MIST and then chops him down before quickly dropping the moonsault for the win (19:44). This was really crappy wrestling-wise with a lot of slow brawling, a bunch of whacked transitions, a crappy finish and whatnot, but the props and the spots and the blood and the story-telling and all of that made it a goddamn crazy batch of fun.

Riki Choshu, Takashi Iizuka, Satoshi Kojima & Osamu Nishimura vs. Shiro Koshinaka, Akira Nogami, Michiyoshi Ohara & Akitoshi Saito
Ahhh, the days when they’d stick a bunch of wrasslers in these throwaway tags for a little undercard decency rather than clog things up with that legit stuff. Typical throwaway Dome multi-man tag as everyone gets in what they can, things rarely slow down, and nobody can really get in the way. Notable portions include Kojima and Ohara killing each other with lariats and the former J-J-Jacks (Nogami and Iizuka) having a fun hate-filled sequence with each other. Saito gets isolated for a little bit in the middle to kill time. Choshu seems extra pissed off tonight, probably because he’s stuck here, and a pissed off Choshu beating the shit outta’ guys is something I have absolutely no problem with. Everyone runs in for the finish and a Riki lariat on Nogami wraps up a fun little match (11:04).

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title
Jushin Thunder Liger [c] vs. Great Sasuke

Liger’s decked out in the always-swank black costume. After some ducking and diving, Sasuke decides to die right off the bat with a fantabulous tope con giro. Back inside, his hurting skull tells him that he should maybe slow things down, so he takes Liger to the mat, focusing intently on the champ’s arm. He looks very good on the mat, trying to rip Liger’s arm out of his socket with various holds. His matwork, it looks very good to me. Very, very good. Liger manages a counter of an Irish whip and dropkicks Sasuke’s leg, and Liger is a man for selling his arm after it. He realizes that Sasuke’s leg is in pain, so he takes Sasuke to the mat, focusing intently on the challenger’s leg. And it’s Liger working over a limb, so it’s a joy to watch, as he must outdo Sasuke’s neat arm work in every possible way. He even throws in a powerbomb for good measure. Sasuke’s screams of pain while in a figure-four make me love what is on my television screen. Sasuke tries to mount a comeback but Liger continues his assault of the leg and God, Liger sure is great. Jushin Thunder Liger is such an awesome wrestler. Yes, he is. I must reassure this because he is just so awesome. So absolutely, positively awesome. He lariats Sasuke right in the face on the ropes and my love for this match increases, if the wondrous limb work wasn’t enough. Sasuke somehow catches Liger with a dropkick good enough to knock Liger outside and Sasuke just says “Fuck it, it is my duty to die for these people, and it is my duty to take advantage of this excellent situation, leg hurting or not,” and he ends up in the crowd with a fantastic Asai moonsault. Sasuke continues springing off the ropes back inside and it angers me slightly as he disregards the beautiful leg work Liger just used on him. Liger realizes this too and decides to punish him by countering a leap from the top rope with a BRUTAL powerbomb followed up by a rolling koppou kick that wants to shatter Sasuke’s cheekbone. He continues his attempt to fracture Sasuke’s skull a few months before it actually did happen, and drops him with a brainbuster AND a Fisherman’s buster and the near falls are beginning. Liger drops Sasuke on the back of his head with a ‘rana from the top, but Sasuke counters it with a sunset flip and the near falls are coming in bundles and the crowd is not afraid to react to them. Sasuke heads up top and Liger brings him down with a supa’ Fisherman’s buster and Sasuke somehow kicks out and holds his hurting head. Liger heads up top but Sasuke jumps up and stupidly headbutts Liger in the face, so Liger refuses his ‘rana attempt and Sasuke falls HAAAARD. Right. On. His. Noggin’. Liger shakes his finger and shows exactly why he is the God of all things professional wrestling and drops a knee from the top on the back of Sasuke’s hurting skull. “You will SELL, you goddamn spunky bastard!” God SEZ. Jushin Thunder Liger then continues to show that HE TRULY IS THE GOD OF ALL THINGS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING and I mark out as he simply dropkicks Sasuke his hurting leg to keep him down. Liger then SHOTAY’s Sasuke in the face for a near fall and this match rules the world. Sasuke catches Liger out of nowhere with a ‘rana that lands Liger on his noggin’ for a near fall and then quickly delivers the Fire Thunder powerbomb followed by a Tiger suplex hold and that’s enough to keep Liger down (19:27). Definitely one of the best Dome junior matches you’ll ever see. THIS MATCH RULES. The limb work was mostly ignored but it did build the match up well enough and I wasn’t really expecting it to anyways. And it did keep things really, really fun for the first half. The ignoring of it did make for one HELLLL of a last half too as after the Asai moonsault the match turned into complete and utter GREATNESS (well, it was complete and utter greatness before, but after the Asai moonsault it was complete and utter GREATNESS, see) as both guys were not scared of ruling the friggin’ world, Liger especially. This match is SO awesome and if you have not seen it then GET TO IT. [****]

Animal Warrior, Hawk Warrior & Power Warrior vs. Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner & Scott Norton
Hawk and Scotty Steiner have a surprisingly fun sequence to kick things off where they replace chain wrestling with suplexes and other assorted power moves and then have a stand-off and it kinda’ sets the tone for the match, as this is a surprising batch of fun. Everybody really kicks it up a few notches and it’s just a really fun power match with non-stop action and everyone wanting to impress the large crowd that they’re wrestling in front of. The crowd’s really into it too, as the Dome always seemed to love these guys. Nobody’s afraid to dish out the big moves and nobody’s afraid to bump like a freak and it’s GREAT. Fuck, everyone even tries to sell for each other too. This match rules. Ricky is guilty of bringing the one and only rest hold of the entire match. He DEMOLISHES Kensuke with a rewind-worthy release German later on and everybody gets involved for the finish which rules a whole big bunch. Hawk hands Rick to Animal up top and he brings him down with a powerslam for the 3 count (15:17). Surprisingly LOTS! OF! FUN! [***]

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Nobuhiko Takada [c] vs. Shinya Hashimoto

This is one of those matches that just makes me sit back and say I *LOVE* professional wrestling. Takada is UWFi worker who has won New Japan’s top prize while Hash is the company man who wants it back. The match is fairly short yet they make every second count and THIS is how you do a big match. They know their strengths so take it right to the mat at the start and it looks all legit and stuff and I can dig that. Back up Hash lightly kicks Takada in the leg so Takada replies by kicking the shit out of him, including one that lands RIGHT IN THE FACE. This match rules already. He manages the cross armbreaker but Hash is quick to the ropes. Hash replies to the kicks with a few kneelifts and kicks of his own, but Takada unorthodoxly retaliates with an inside cradle that Hash is quick to the ropes for. Hash tries to rip Takada’s arm off with a wakigatame that the crowd is completely into, and Takada gets to the ropes. Hash kicks Takada in the leg a few times and Takada makes the mistake of stumbling, so Hash NAILS him with a few more stiff-as-sin kicks and then applies a figure-four and the crowd believes it can end here. THIS MATCH IS AWESOME. Takada gets to the ropes and back up he catches Hash by surprise with a rolling savate kick, and then he kicks him a few times before managing a BACKDROP SUPLEX! Takada then applies the cross armbreaker and shit, Takada beat Muto with it, so why can’t he beat Hash with it? The crowd goes wild for it but Hash manages to clasp his hands together. Takada modifies it into a crab hold, but Hash soon pushes his way out of it. Both guys get up and it is ON. Hash CHOPS THE FUCK out of Takada’s neck and Takada goes down. THIS MATCH IS THE GREATEST. Takada kicks Hash a bunch including another one RIGHT TO THE FACE, but Hash catches him out of nowhere with the legsweep and Takada goes down, holding his leg in pain. Hash attempts the brainbuster, but Takada WONDERFULLY counters with a wakigatame. I LOVE THIS MATCH. The whole crowd chants for Hashimoto and he reaches the ropes, and Takada goes “Eh, fuck this,” and keeps the wakigatame replied for a few more seconds to boos. Takada kicks Hash a couple more times and Hash comes back and tries to cave Takada’s stomach in with a lethal kick. Hash goes for the brainbuster again but Takada lands on his feet, still refusing it. Hash is pissed and manages to DDT Takada hard for a near fall. I LOVE THIS MATCH MORE THAN EVER. Hash finally manages the brainbuster and then gives a big fuck you to UWFi and puts Takada in a triangle choke hold. Takada struggles a bunch and the crowd heat is huge and Takada finally taps out (12:53). This match is friggin’ great. It was Hash’s big chance to do what even Muto failed to do, and Takada wasn’t ready to let go of the belt so easy. The submissions were over, and a BUNCH of heat and stiffness doesn’t hurt. It was a true spectacle to watch. The teasing of the cross armbreaker and brainbuster also ruled hard, and you leave the match thinking “Hmmm.. if Takada just would’ve fully applied that cross armbreaker for more than a few seconds...”. Finish was awesome too, really logical. Just a really smart, fun match; a near classic in every way. I would’ve liked to see them maybe go longer and “do more”, but the short time did work in the end as it was just both guys beating the shit out of each other for the pride of their company until one fell. They packed a LOOOAADDD of action into 13 minutes and this is one hell of a motherfucking batch of professional wrestling, yes it is. You want this. [****]

Hash blasts off an “ICH, NI, SAN, DAAAA!” to close out the show and he is the man again. Brings a tear to my eye.

Final Analysis: Almost everything here is gold, especially the Sasuke/Liger and Hash/Takada matches, which are both must-see professional wrestling. And Fujinami’s hardway juice is something you really need to check out. Everything else rules too, minus Savage/Tenzan and the first couple minutes of Chono/Luger. But I do not want to knock anything on this show, because it was just so really great to watch. This IZ Highly Recommended, yes it IZ.

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