By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Riki Choshu and Takayuki Iizuka © vs Masa Saito and Shinya Hashimoto 9/20/89
IWGP Tag Team Title Match
The tag scene in Japan as a general rule has always offered ample opportunities for those newcomers who are pegged as stars of the future. If you were a notable rookie or seeking experience, you would often be paired with a veteran of the sport as a means to allow you to develop your in-ring work. In late 1989, New Japan would end up having the IWGP Tag Team Title held by two different teams who fit into this category, with experienced hands leading relative newcomers to the title.
The reigning champions coming into the contest were the team of Riki Choshu and Takayuji Iizuka. Fourteen years separated the two men, with Iizuka only making his debut three years before. Having defeated the team of George Takano and Super Strong Machine to win the belts, they had made one defense of the title – a victory over Shinya Hashimoto and Akira Nogami. Perhaps realising that Akira’s lack of experience alongside his own was not the way to win gold, Hashimoto would return to challenge for the belts with Masa Saito, a man twenty three years his senior.
What added another layer of spice to the contest was Saito and Choshu’s tag team run the previous year; the longest reign in the relatively short history of the titles. Both men knew what it meant to hold the belts and also what the other was capable of. In some ways, Iizuka and Hashimoto became the wildcards in the match for their teams. It was as if the match hinged on what they were both capable of as much as anything else.
Saito’s belief in Hashimoto’s ability was evident as the youth would begin the contest against Choshu. With five years under his belt, Hashimoto had already shown his capability in the ring, but was yet to wear gold. The initial exchanges focused more on the ability of the veterans to nullify the younger partners without too much hassle, already setting up the feeling that it would be all about which of Iizuka and Hashimoto could have the biggest impact. When the two met in the ring, the strikes of Hashimoto were at least initially nullified by a leglock from Iizuka.
It would be Hashimoto who would eat the first prolonged offensive assault as a Choshu headscissors was coupled with an Iizuka kneedrop off of the top rope. The first real interaction between the veterans would also see the reigning champions come out on top as Choshu hit a lariat on Saito after Iizuka’s chops had had little effect. Saito’s strikes were also shrugged off by Choshu as he dumped the challenger on his head with a back suplex that allowed Iizuka to work the leglock on the old warhorse this time.
Saito would soon get his revenge, dumping Choshu with his own back suplex. The arrogance of youth saw Hashimoto aim to put Choshu in a scorpion deathlock, only for Iizuka to attack with a missile dropkick to halt the attempt. Iizuka continued to have success in his battles with Hashimoto, taking him to the canvas for some more work on the leg, though Hashimoto eventually reversed the hold. Showing a lack of sympathy, Choshu would roll his own partner back into the ring in an effort to fire him up to continue to do battle.
Choshu fared little better against Hashimoto until a desperation lariat was followed by a second, more forceful offering. Saito would take the opposite tack than Choshu, dragging Hashimoto to ringside to allow him to rest, though Iizuka would cut that short with a dropkick sending Hashimoto off of the apron. A dropkick would also send Saito down to the canvas as it looked like the challengers had the momentum to retain their titles. However, after successive switches in momentum, Saito and Choshu would end up brawling outside the ring. A T-bone suplex with a bridge would only get Iizuka a two count; a DDT after a telegraphed back body drop would see Hashimoto pick up the win and the titles for his team.
This was Hashimoto’s first title of any sort in an illustrious career with ten more title reigns in a tragically short time. As for Iizuka, as of writing he has only won three more titles, all tag team gold. Maybe these types of tag teams didn’t always quite pick the stars of the future correctly.