New Japan "J Crown Tournament"
review by PdW2kX

August 6th, 1996
The Great Sasuke vs. Masayoshi Motegi

There's high-flying from the word "go". Masayoshi quickly brings the pace down and the pain up as he relentlessly works on Sasuke's legs. Motegi ruthlessly does a variety of submissions and evens some cheating to keep his lead, but he still can only get a few nearfalls before he's rocked with a superkick. After some more nearfalls, The Great Sasuke wins it at 11:50 with a Tiger Suplex.

Analysis: A good, archetypal Great Sasuke match: he gets his ass beat for a long, long while, then makes a big comeback, then it looks like all hope is lost, then he makes another miraculous comeback, then he wins. In that regard, Motegi was good in his heelish ways and managed to make Sasuke's comeback seem all the more entertaining, and both men used a workable pace and some good psychology. Overall, it was a good contest, and a pleasing first match. ***

August 2nd, 1996
Ultimo Dragon vs. Jushin "Thunder" Liger

Both men do some "feeler" moves where they test each other out, and then do the "flipping armbar reversals" spot. Liger hits a nice somersault senton to the floor on Ultimo, and then treats him to a nasty German Suplex and a Koppu Kick, but Liger can only get 2½. Ultimo Dragon gets Liger in the La Magistral hold, Liger kicks out, Ultimo does the La Magistral again, and he ends up beating Liger with it at 2:38.

Analysis: A good match, despite its shortness. I understand why they made it so short, because of Liger's brain tumor, and I truly respect Jushin Liger for wrestling at all- it really shows how dedicated he is to N.J.P.W. and to their Juniors. With that said, had this been with no extenuating circumstances… at this stage in their careers, and with enough time, these two could've produced the single greatest Junior Heavyweight match of all time. But I respect and even liked the finish of the match- it established La Magistral as a serious pinning move instead of a gimmicky pin attempt, and it gave Dragon some good credibility and really won him over with the fans. So, with the knowledge that this could've been one of the greatest and was good for what it was, I'll give this one an average score. **½

August 3rd, 1996
Shinjiro Otani vs. Negro Casas

Otani begins with some submissions, and Negro Casas is all-too-happy to return the favor. Both men then get a bit aerial, and even score a few almost-wins on each other. Negro Casas takes a nasty fall to the outside, but for a while, it's all Negro Casas, as he hits a springboard dropkick, a dive through the ropes, and even a senton off the apron to Otani, onto the ring mats. But all is in vain, as Shinjiro hits two springboard dropkicks and a swan dive kneel kick at 11:34 to put Casas down and out. Post-match, though, both men shake each other's hands.

Analysis: Another good match, with Otani, the submission expert, facing Negro Casas, the expert high-flyer. Both men dabble into each other's styles, with effective and pleasing results. The whole "can you do better what I do best" psychology was a good one, and was capped off with lots of emotion and plenty of style. Both men were clearly on their A-game in this one. ***

August 3rd, 1996
El Samurai vs. Gran Hamada

Both men do a lot of effective chain wrestling, with plenty of counters. They also trade some good offense on each other, the highlight being Grand Hamada's splash off the top rope to the outside, barreling right through El Samurai. A big lariat and then a Tornado DDT by Hamada gets 2½, then Gran Hamada leaps off the top rope and hooks El Samurai into a DDT, getting a count of 2½ yet again. Gran Hamada hits a nice backdrop, and again he can only get 2½. El Samurai turns the match in his favor with an Avalanche Atomic Drop that looked beautiful to see. El Samurai hits a Samurai Bomb and a Diving Headbutt, but just like Gran Hamada shortly before, all El Samurai can get is 2½. After a backdrop, El Samurai nails another Samurai Bomb, which finally gets it done, giving him the win at 12:38.

Analysis: Both men displayed some real intensity in this one, and they combined great psychology, a strict pace, and lots of well-executed, killer moves that made a compelling, entertaining match. Both men were extremely crisp and energetic with their moves, and they put on a very top-notch effort. As a whole, the J Crown is simply getting consistently better, and this match was a real treat. ***¼

August 4th, 1996
J Crown Tournament Semi-Final Match: Ultimo Dragon vs. Shinjiro Otani

In one of the finer moments of the beginning of the match, Ultimo Dragon locks in the La Magistral hold, only for Otani to quickly kick out and wag his finer at Ultimo, symbolizing that what once worked won't be working anytime soon. Otani locks on a variety of submissions, and to his credit, Dragon puts on some pretty good submissions as well, even posing before locking in a particularly effective one. There's another good spot where Otani locks in an arm breaker and Dragon seems inches from tapping as he tries increasingly frantically to reach the ropes, while all the while Otani looks hell-bent on snapping Dragon's arm in as many pieces as possible. In the end, Ultimo Dragon does get to the ropes, but Otani gets the sizeable advantage and goes straight for the arm. Both men then put on some of the most entertaining near-falls I've ever seen, with huge moves and spots leading to epic-feeling near-falls that gets the usually-content and focused Japanese crowd nearly rabid by the end. After no less than seven fantastic near-falls, Ultimo Dragon hits a running Liger Bomb that finally and decisively pins Otani at 16:04. Soon after, both men shake hands.

Analysis: To be frank, this match kicked all kinds of ass. It was emotional as hell, entertaining as anything I've seen, and has got to have one of the greatest "near-fall after near-fall" spots I've ever seen in wrestling. It was simply astounding how well they played off each other's moves and offense, and the last few minutes were nothing short of truly epic, with each near-fall being almost as hard to believe as the last. This match had it all, and had it in spades, and without a doubt, this is one of the greatest Junior Heavyweight matches I've ever seen. I loved every last second of this, because they made every last thing mean something. The constant near-falls weren't great because they were near-falls, they were great because both men honestly had you believing that it was all over, only to kick out. Picture the best near-fall scenario you can think of, then picture it happening seven times, each better than the last. Both men never let up, and gave everything they had and a whole hell of a lot more. The crowd ate this one up as much as I did, and I've rarely seen a Japanese crowd get as rabid as they were in this one. It's praise well deserved, as this was a fantastic match. ****

August 4th, 1996
J Crown Tournament Semi-Final Match: El Samurai vs. The Great Sasuke

El Samurai starts the match out properly with a big diving splash through the ropes and a nasty Piledriver. There's a few submissions thrown in there, mainly by Great Sasuke. Samurai simply bides his time, waits to counter, and focuses on Sasuke's leg, leading to El Samurai dominating the match. After a few nearfalls, El Samurai hits a sweet Asai Moonsault that bends Sasuke over the guardrail while he himself spills onto some tables. After a couple Inverted DDT's by El Samurai, the Samurai Bomb gets 2½. The Great Sasuke finally mounts a comeback, and nails a Thunder Fire Powerbomb at 16:25 to get the win.

Analysis: Another fine, exciting match. The Great Sasuke slightly ignored all the great leg work El Samurai did on him, which hurt the match a bit. Still, I liked this one as much as the others, which is becoming high praise. Both men were still very athletic and crisp in their assortment of moves and selling, and blended all those elements with good, crazy action and raw intensity. It may've been not as good as the last match, but it was still a very good match. ***¼

August 5th, 1996
J Crown Tournament Final for the J Crown Championship: The Great Sasuke vs. Ultimo Dragon

It should be noted that the crowd is going ape even before this match begins. They can barely control themselves during the entrance, and get very ramped up the second the bell rings. Ultimo and Sasuke exchange some very quick reversals, then Ultimo combo's three submissions into one another seamlessly. Dragon hits a flawless Asai Moonsault that sends him into the crowd while Sasuke's back bends over the guardrail at a sick angle. Sasuke soon returns the favor with an Asai Moonsault of his own, one which also ends Sasuke into the crowd and also makes Dragon's spine bend on the guardrail. Ultimo can't seem to get in an Avalanche Hurricanrana, so he turns over and hits a Spinning Avalanche Hurricanrana. After a somersault senton from the top rope to the outside by The Great Sasuke, Ultimo locks in the La Magistral hold for a close 2¾. The Great Sasuke counters a powerbomb into a pinning hurricanrana, winning the whole shebang at 13:56. Post-match, both men shake hands and Sasuke celebrates, leading to a great visual of all the belts hanging off him, then held in the air.

Analysis: The finish was the only thing I didn't like, because, to be honest, it looked like Ultimo kicked out, but other than that, this was another fine match. It may have not been the epic encounter I was hoping for, but I enjoyed it for what it was. It wasn't the best match to end the tournament with, but it kicked its fair share of ass. Both were lightning-fast and displayed all the energy they were known for at the time, and this was simply a good match that had enough of everything to please everyone. ***

Final Thoughts: Though it may seem controversial, I enjoyed this event more than I did the Super J Cup '94. There's not a single match I disliked from this event, and I honestly can't say the same about the 1994 Super J Cup. From start to finish, the J-Crown was the pinnacle of Junior Heavyweight wrestling, and a tournament with so much sheer awesomeness it's breathtaking. Every last match was good, with the only average one being a match that proved that Jushin Liger has a tremendous amount of heart. Everything besides the Ultimo/Liger match is great, with Ultimo/Otani being one of the finest Junior Heavyweight matches I've ever seen. All the rest were varying levels of sheer greatness, with many of them being good for many different reasons. The Tournament felt really special and epic, not because it unified eight belts, but because everyone involved wrestled like they wanted to win all eight belts. And rest assured, everyone wrestled their asses off. Simply put, this is a great tournament that you need to see, no matter whom you are or what your preference is. Get it now.

Overall Rating of New Japan Pro Wrestling "J Crown Tournament 1996": ***½

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