Samoa Joe vs. Masato Tanaka
15 September, 2001
Differ Ariake, Stadium; Tokyo, Japan
2001 Zero-One Fire Festival
I had never seen this match before, and I was quite pleased to stumble upon it tonight. For an eight minute match, it sure didn't disappoint.
This match is from 2001, so Masato Tanaka is pretty fresh from his big run in ECW; sure it was a few years prior, but he had been working freelance in Japan at that point, and had essentially stepped up a few notches. Zero-One was very loosely affiliated with New Japan (via Hashimoto & Inoki), and Tanaka was one of Zero-One's showcased native stars.
Zero One is also the place where Samoa Joe was put on the map, as he was essentially just a West Coast indy guy at this time. This match was part of the inaugural "Fire Festival" which is Zero-One's yearly tournament that every Japanese promotion seems to have. Joe had been given a very strong push up until this point, and the match with Tanaka was a big deal.
Considering that this is an under-ten minute match, the two men do a damn good job of pulling out all the stops. Since this is a pre-ROH Joe, you do not see a lot of what would become his "trademark offense" here, and instead what you see is a smaller and less polished wrestler really taking it to the veteran. Tanaka pulls out all the stops, doing his trademark chair-shots, his Tornado DDT's and his trademark moves from his time in ECW. Joe tends to counter with a lot of submissions, especially Fujiwara Arm-Bars, and eventually starts nailing Tanaka with some vicious suplexes.
Joe getting the win was a surprise for me, especially considering he used an Emerald Driver, which is Misawa's patented maneuver in Japan. I would recommend this match to anyone wanting an example of how to put together a ten minute match that actually is full of action and suspense. While it is not the best match ever, or even a perfect "textbook match" by any means, the crowd really got into the way this match was structured, and it had real suspense over who was going to win.