Genichiro Tenryu and Kensuke Sasaki went to war at Wrestling World 2000
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2000 saw a sea change within New Japan Pro-Wrestling. A year removed from tensions between Keiji Muto and the injured Masahiro Chono began, Muto had changed the face of the nWo, and on Chono’s return, he made his dissatisfaction physically clear. A battle at Wrestling World 2000 would see nWo Japan truly crumble, as seeds were sown for a new group, Team2000 to take its place.
The ‘Black Summit’ would see Chono one up an opponent he knew all too well, blocking Muto’s attempts at the Dragon Screw before launching himself with a shoulder tackle to the floor. Muto would have Chono in trouble with the Figure Four, but it would be Chono’s submission that proved the more powerful, Muto tapping to the STF to grant the nWo Japan founder victory.
As nWo faded away, newer wrestlers were rising to the fore. As a promising trio of Young Lions in Hiroshi Tanahashi, Wataru Inoue and Katsuyori Shibata were toiling away in the Dojo, a super rookie by the name of Kenzo Suzuki would have a huge opportunity opposite Manabu Nakanishi, and surprised many with his competitiveness.
Truly a generational shift was taking place, and as a new millennium began, a perfect main event saw its own generational clash. Genichiro Tenryu was one of the last true main event warriors of the Showa era that had ended a decade prior, but was running strong with renewed fighting spirit in 2000, having upset Keiji Muto to lift the gold in the last title match of 1999. Sasaki needed his win and title back to lead New Japan at the forefront of Heisei into the new millennium. The resulting hard hitting war was an early match of the year candidate.
Tenryu set an instant blistering pace as he bowled down referee Tiger Hattori to lariat Sasaki at the bell, and Sasaki fired back in kind, advancing in the face of the veteran’s stinging strikes. Tenryu tested Sasaki’s resolve as he struck with Sasaki’s own Northern Lights Bomb finish. Not to be outdone, the challenger fired back with an incredible top rope Frankensteiner, before landing the Northern Lights Bomb twice to take the title.
Meanwhile, an era ended for Kazuo Yamazaki. The 1998 G1 Climax finalist, who had an influential, if not leading role in both NJPW and UWF wrestled his final match on January 4 2000 against a talent he’d had a hand in developing, in Yuji Nagata. After his final bout in the Tokyo Dome, Yamazaki would continue to coach the next generation, as well as transition into a successful broadcasting career.
Another era would end in 2000, with the last full year of business for World Championship Wrestling. WCW’s decade long relationship with NJPW would see its final influence on a January 4 card in 2000, including as it did a single match between Randy Savage and Rick Steiner. A long personal past between Savage and Masa Saito, who was on commentary duties for the event however would see the Macho Man more focused on Masa than his opponent, and paid the price, losing to Steiner and getting socked in the face by Saito afterward for good measure.