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SLAM! Wrestling International -- 2000: The Year-In-Review in Japan and Mexico


What year-in-review package would be complete without the top experts covering international wrestling giving their picks for 2000?

This past year was a crazy one both in Japan and Mexico, with a lot of breakout stars emerging from the pack and more and more incredible performances from the top stars we've come to expect over the years.

The good folks at Live Audio Wrestling, Jeff Marek and Dan 'The Mouth' Lovranksi, join SLAM! Wrestling's own John Molinaro in selecting the very best from the past year in ten year-end-award categories.

So sit back, relax, and see who our panel picked as the best of the best in Mexico and Japan for 2000.

WRESTLER OF THE YEAR

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: In Japan, nobody meant more to their organization or had better matches than All Japan's Toshiaki Kawada. He literally carried All Japan on his shoulders the last half of the year. It shouldn't be understated: there'd be no All Japan today had Kawada left with Misawa and the others in June to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. What's more, he had an incredible year in the ring, putting on one incredible performance after another. It's even more amazing when you consider he returned this year after being out of action for several months due to an eye injury. In Mexico, it's hard to go with anybody other than El Hijo del Santo. If there's any doubt as to why EMLL was stale for most of the year, look no further than the absence of Santo. He's incapable of having a bad match. Even when he's in there with somone who isn't equal to his skills, he's able to bring out the best in them and carry them to a great match.

Jeff Marek: Although there were many who had outstanding in-ring years like Jun Akiyama and Yuji Nagata this is the easiest category to decide. Without a doubt what Toshiaki Kawada did this year was truly amazing. His matches with Kobashi, Misawa, Tenryu and Sasaki all stand out and all could be considered matches of the year for various reasons. But I'm going with him for wrestler of the year for what he did for an entire company. If it weren't for Toshiaki Kawada we wouldn't be talking about All Japan at all. After Misawa and the rest of the Japanese wrestlers left All Japan to form Pro Wrestling NOAH many of us thought that was the nail in the coffin for the once mighty company founded by Giant Baba. Kawada stayed and became the top draw in a company that has been revitalized with the promotion vs promotion angle with New Japan. Kawada carried an entire company through the latter parts of the spring and through to the winter. His matches with Kensuke Sasaki took on a life of their own mainly for historic reasons but also because they were simply great bouts. While the long term may not look bright for All Japan, Kawada made sure that at least the short term remains strong.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: Toshiaki Kawada. Here's a guy that has already been an amazing performer in the ring for years, but this year was probably his greatest triumph ever as he pulled off the ultimate challenge -- representing an entire promotion in an inter-promotional angle.

FEUD OF THE YEAR

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: In Japan, the All Japan vs New Japan feud totally changed the course of wrestling history. Had All Japan not backed into a working agreement with New Japan, they surely would have been dead after the mass exodus of talent leaving with Misawa. It also helped to revitalize New Japan from a boring first half of the year. Furthermore, the in-ring results speak volumes: two match of the year candidates in the Kawada vs. Sasaki match at the Dome and the Nagata & Iizuka vs. Kawada & Fuchi match at the December pay-per-view. In Mexico, no other feud captured my imagination quite like Villano III vs. Atlantis. This is what wrestling should be: two great wrestlers embroiled in a feud with great psychology, super heat, a compelling storyline and textbook booking that ended in one of the best matches I've seen in a long time.

Jeff Marek: This was a tough one since there are three legitimate feuds that stood out in Japan this year. Of course the All Japan vs New Japan feud was spectacular for the obvious historic reasons but it would have been so much more and a no brainer pick if it weren't for Misawa and company leaving. After Kawada the feud is pretty much silent since there is only one performer having dream matches. You could say that the Jun Akiyama vs Kenta Kobashi feud ranks up near the top but it took NOAH a long time to set up and get the ball rolling on this one. Mind you when they did hook up it was special and if Kobashi were healthy and they gave these guys some steam behind the matches I would have ranked it as the top feud in Japan. But my pick for feud of the year is Naoya Ogawa vs Shinya Hashimoto. This feud has grabbed the attention of Japanese wrestling fans ever since Ogawa "shot" on Hashimoto at the Tokyo Dome a couple of years ago. Everything about this feud speaks to what pro wrestling should be. A believable angle where fans don't know the difference between a work and a shoot, an unbeatable villain and an underdog babyface.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: All Japan vs New Japan. This angle not only excited fans and drew big at the box office, but it also helped revitalize New Japan and totally saved All Japan from what everyone thought was the end once Misawa took the entire roster to form NOAH.

MATCH OF THE YEAR

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: A very close call in Japan. The Shinjiro Ohtani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa vs. Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka match in June was fast paced and a thrill to watch. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. The Nagata & Iizuka vs. Kawada & Fuchi match at New Japan's December pay-per-view was a great match because it built slowly and 'crescendoed' into an all out brawl. Still, the Kawada vs. Sasaki match from the Tokyo Dome was out of this world. Never mind that it was a historic match as the IWGP World Champ took on the top star from All Japan. What mattered to me was how incredibly stiff and believable this match was. And as the match ended, to hear that Tokyo Dome crowd erupt like it did is something I'll never forget. In Mexico, it's no contest. The Atlantis vs Villano III mask vs. mask match was the best match on the planet, let alone Mexico. Nothing, repeat NOTHING, from either of the big two companies in the U.S. can compare to this match. What a masterpiece! Great booking, fantastic action, a frenzied crowd and a finish that reduced ringside fans to tears. What was the last match in the WWF or WCW that did that?

Jeff Marek: Takeshi Iizuka & Shinya Hashimoto vs Naoya Ogawa & Murakami Kazunari, January 4 Tokyo Dome. Since this bout occurred so early in the year and was later obscured by the Hashimoto retirement bout later in the year it didn't get a lot of recognition as match of the year. This match was booked perfectly and due to the body positioning it didn't look like a pro wrestling match. Also I haven't seen heat like that in years for a Tokyo Dome match. The heat was consistent throughout the entire match.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: Kensuke Sasaki vs Kawada. There might have been other matches this year that were more technically sound, but you can't beat this one for sheer drama and build up. It was the first stage of the invasion angle and it got everyone caught right up in it. Kawada really delivered the goods by leading the match and making Sasaki look, perhaps, the best he ever has. It's too bad that Kawada didn't triumph in the IWGP Tournament, so the angle could still carry on strongly.

TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: Another close call in Japan as there were a lot of good tag teams: Kojima and Tenzan, Otani & Takaiwa, Nagata & Iizuka... but I'll have to go with Kanemoto & Tanaka. Their contrasting styles perfectly complimented each other, making them a breathtaking team to watch. In Mexico, it's a no-brainer: Rey Bucanero and Ultimo Guerrero. These two young rudos were head and shoulders above every other team. The young, cocky duo set EMLL on fire and established themselves as the ultimate heel tag team in Mexico. Shades of the legendary Pareja del Terror tag team of Eddie Guerrero and "Love Machine" Art Barr.

Jeff Marek: Again, some good teams to consider for this award. Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan had a good year. Ditto for Yoshihiro Takayama & Takao Omori and Shinjiro Otani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa. However I'll pick Minoru Tanaka and Koji Kanemoto. These two guys are an almost perfect combination of speed and grace. Both as solo performers on any given night have the potential to be the best in the entire business and as a team work solidly and smoothly.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: This one is tough-Yugi Nagata and Takashi Iizuka had good matches at the end of the year, including the PPV match against Kawada and Fuchi. Tanaka and Kanemoto had hot contests all year with all the junior heavyweights in New Japan. But I'm going with Kojima and Tenzan because they are the complete package-talented wrestlers with great heel heat.

BEST TV SHOW

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: New Japan World Pro Wrestling. If Toryumon had a regular, weekly show, I'd pick them. They presented the best TV shows I've seen this year. But New Japan consistently presented the best shows on a weekly basis. In Mexico, I'll go with Grupo Revolucion. I didn't see much of their shows on ESPN 2, but what I did see impressed the hell out of me. With their focus on young, hungry stars, their TV show blew away EMLL and AAA on Galavision.

Jeff Marek: New Japan World Pro Wrestling. I have to go with this by default since they are the only major company with TV in Japan.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: New Japan. I love those Team 2000 promos with the raunchy rap music.

MOST IMPROVED

Sasaki John Molinaro: In Japan, nobody made more strides than Takeshi Iizuka. His work in New Japan really improved as he responded to the semi-major push he received from the company. I've long suspected that he could rise to the challenge and become a star if the promotion gave him half a chance. Glad to find out I was right. In Mexico, I think Antifaz del Norte is the most improved. This star out of Monterrey, (who fans might remember from his brief stay in ECW in 1999) expanded on his amazing aerial repertoire and began to use high spots within the context of the match storyline. I think he proved himself to be much more than just a daredevil.

Jeff Marek: Minorou Tanaka. I used to think that Kanemoto was the best at what he does in his division. Tanaka changed my thinking. This guy has all the tools to be everything you'd expect a New Japan Jr. to have. After coming in from Battlearts he picked up his game tremendously. He's quick, smooth, understands submissions, has good mat skills and works well with everybody he's in there with. I didn't see him have a bad match all year.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: Kenzo Suzuki

BEST BOX OFFICE DRAW

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: In Japan, I don't think anybody meant more to the box office than Toshiaki Kawada. Had it not been for him, the Do Judge!! show at the Tokyo Dome would not have been the huge financial success it was. There'd have been no way All Japan would have been able to draw decent crowds at Budokan Hall. The All Japan vs New Japan feud has drawn big money and a lot of that can be attributed to Kawada. In Mexico, nobody really stands out other than Psicosis. Without him, Tijuana would be dead as a territory. His matches at the Municipal auditorium were routinely sold out and he was the lone bright spot for promoter Benjamin Mora.

Jeff Marek: Naoya Ogawa. This was a toss up between Ogawa and Kawada and you can make equally compelling arguements either way. However I'm going with Ogawa based on his ability to draw so much money out of one program (Hashimoto).

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: There is no doubt that Kawada is the man here, too.

BEST TECHNICAL

Sasaki John Molinaro: Yuji Nagata was the best mat wrestler this past year in Japan. His stiff, snug working style made fans question where the line between worked and shoot moves existed. His work was always crisp and believable. In Mexico, the nod goes to veteran Blue Panther. After all these years, Panther can still out work and shoot on anybody that dares to challenge him.

Jeff Marek: Although you can make a really good case for putting either Minoru Tanaka or Jun Akiyama here I'm going with Yuji Nagata. Nagata has been overlooked for a couple of years both here and in his native land. There are few in the world who can measure up to him move for move.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: Minoru Tanaka. He really helped liven up the New Japan junior heavyweights by being a permanent member of the roster.

BEST PROMOTION

MASANORI SAITO John Molinaro: Not much question in either country. New Japan did better business, consistently produced better TV and put on better wrestling shows than any other promotion. Although their product was sort of dull the first half of the year, things really picked up in September with the New Japan vs. All Japan feud to the point where New Japan was totally exciting to watch again. In Mexico, although AAA and EMLL have all the resources and history behind them, Grupo Revolucion simply produced far better wrestling. By building around their young roster of talent, they managed to turn the heads of a lot of Lucha Libre fans.

Jeff Marek: New Japan. They did consistent business all year without interruption. Although they did have some stinker main events on major shows (eg. Choshu vs Onita) they really turned it on during the latter parts of 2000 putting together some very solid cards pushed by the All Japan feud.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: New Japan. They had a year filled with alot of changes that shook things up-Otani leaving, Muto leaving and coming back, Hashimoto leaving and coming back, and the interpromotional feud too.

BEST MAJOR SHOW/EVENT

Sasaki John Molinaro: From top to bottom, nothing can compare to New Japan's 2nd Judgement pay-per-view. A great undercard with several fantastic matches topped off by a main event that put to shame anything WCW or the WWF did on pay-per-view this year. In Mexico, what else can you pick but the March EMLL pay-per-view? Great wrestling from the opening bell to that memorable main event.

Jeff Marek: I was going to go with the New Japan Tokyo Dome card from Jan 4th but the more I thik about it the October 9th New Japan Tokyo Dome show should get the nod. I'm going with it mainly for historic reasons since I never thought I would see the IWGP champ in the ring with an All Japan wrestler.

Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: I might be biased because I just got finished watching it, but the New Japan PPV from 12/14 was pretty solid and the crowd heat by the end was phenomenal. A few three star matches, a four star extravaganza with the hot junior heavyweight tag match pitting Osaka Pro guys against New Japan's best, topped off with an amazing thirty minute draw with Kawada and Fuchi vs Nagata and Iizuka makes this the card of the year.

FULL 2000 YEAR-IN-REVIEW COVERAGE

2000: The Year-In-Review
2000 Year in Review - Japan
2000 Year in Review - Mexico
Top 10 stories in Japan of 2000
Top 10 stories in Mexico of 2000




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