Interpromotional stuff here, as back in 2002 Pro Wrestling NOAH (still a relatively new company at the time) had been invaded by New Japan, as they would become used to over the decade and a half that would follow. More specifically, they’d been invaded by the New Japan junior heavyweights, lead by Jushin Liger. He spent most of his time beating the shit out of Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. This match took place on a NJPW Budokan Hall show in 2002 that saw a few other interpromotional matches, including Kikuchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru beating Liger and Minoru Tanaka for the junior heavyweight tag belts. However, both sides also brought two of their younger wrestlers to have a fight on the undercard, and the result was probably better than you might expect. Unless you have a higher opinion of Wataru Inoue than I do. Chances are that you do.
This was very early in the careers of both men, with Inoue still in his young lion trunks and KENTA rocking his grey tights. Nevertheless, interpromotional fighting = heated atmosphere, regardless of where you are on the card, and they predictably opened by throwing bombs at each other. KENTA hadn’t quite grown into the grumpy young man he would become but the signs were definitely there at this point. An early strike exchange caused him to bleed from the mouth so he got on Inoue’s back and tried to choke him out. When that didn’t work he just tried kicking the heck out of Inoue (at Inoue’s encouragement, what a stupid boy he is). They brawled to the floor where Inoue regained control with a knee off the apron and a chair-assisted knee over the barricade, CZ fuckin’ W style. Inoue had the cheek to dominate for a while until he got shut down with a fisherman buster. KENTA tried to finish with a huracanrana into an armbar but Inoue escaped. I liked that spot, and that’s something I like in young lion matches overall. Little things like that where you’re conditioned to believe the youngster’s a bit rubbish and is gonna give up, only for him to fire up and survive or even escape, those minor moments do a lot to build a young wrestler’s credibility.
KENTA did the deal but Inoue slipped out of a second Falcon Arrow and dumped KENTA on his head with a German which looked crazy. Inoue then caught him in a wild octopus stretch for the win, which came across as big, even though neither were main players in the interpromotional beef. This was actually a pretty fun and very intense ten minute match, it had a lot of heat both from the crowd and well conveyed by the work inside the ring, and both guys came out of it looking like future stars, if not quite the finished articles at that point. KENTA was growing into the young punk and I probably enjoyed this Inoue more than most of what would follow in his career.