By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Vader and Scorpio vs Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito 10/19/01
GHC Tag Team Title Match
With Pro Wrestling NOAH still in its relative infancy, the promotion had waited a little bit of time to get themselves established before introducing titles. The GHC World Title had been won by Mitsuharu Misawa in April of 2001, with Yoshinobu Kanemura following up with the Junior Heavyweight Title in June, but it wasn’t until October of that same year that the company set about crowning their first tag team champions.
An eleven team tournament was set up with the semi-finals on the 17th and the finals on the 19th. Contesting the first semi-final was the gaijin team of Vader and Scorpio against Tamon Honda and Masao Inoue, with the second semi-final seeing Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito take on Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa. Three of the teams had entered at the second round after a bye; only Honda and Inoue competed from the opening round (beating Bull Schmidt and Bison Smith).
Having left the WWF, Japan was an obvious choice for Vader in terms of next steps: a place where he was still respected and feared in equal measure. Whilst Scorpio didn’t have the storied history in Japan that his partner did, he had teamed with Vader in All Japan before making the jump to NOAH. They defeated Honda and Inoue in just over five minutes, adding to their second round victory over Daisuke Ikeda and Takashi Sugiura.
This immediately looked to put them at an advantage over the team of Akiyama and Saito, who had taken close to twenty minutes to dispatch the harder opposition team of Misawa and Ogawa on top of a victory over Michael Modest and Donovan Morgan in the earlier rounds. With Vader offering an advantage in brute force and Scorpio still a dangerous aerialist, things were looking good for the team from America to take the tournament and the gold.
A pre-match attempt to fire the team up – Vader and Scorpio exchanging clotheslines – didn’t exactly work as they ran straight into a double team offense from the native team which saw Scorpio eventually dropped with an early exploder suplex. Perhaps realising that they may struggle to match up physically with their opponents, Saito and Akiyama seemed intent to try and finish the match quickly, though a double suplex by Vader expertly highlighted the challenge they would face.
It was Saito who would eat the brunt of Vader’s first assault with punches and a clothesline seeing a two count and allowing the Mastodon to slap on a leglock. When Saito was up, he attempted to take the monster’s legs away from under him, only to eat several more punches and became a crash mat for Scorpio’s more athletic offense. The brutality wasn’t kept in the ring as a Vader Irish whip at ringside sent Saito over the guard rail and onto the announce table before a standing Scorpio moonsault earned the gaijin a nearfall.
A uranage on Scorpio finally allowed Saito to tag out to Akiyama for the hot tag and he took the contest to both opponents. When all four men ended up in the ring, it was the attack that Saito had withstood that saw Vader and Scorpio manage to work the match into one more closely resembling a handicap match, pitching Saito to the outside several times. A game Akiyama would fight both of his opponents off, however, even landing an exploder suplex on Vader.
With Saito still at ringside, Vader would dump Akiyama with a powerbomb and a chokeslam, the resulting pinfalls broken by a kickout and a rope break respectively. As Saito got onto the apron, he was punched back to the ramp and then knocked off once more by a flying Scorpio. Still, two Vader splashes were not enough to keep Akiyama down. It would take a Sky High Chokeslam, his chokeslam/powerbomb off of the turnbuckle, for Vader to finally keep Akiyama down for three.
Considering the dominant nature with which Vader and Scorpio won the GHC Tag Team Titles, you’d perhaps have expected them to hold the belts for a long while. Instead, they would lose them on their first defense against Misawa and Ogawa. Indeed, it wouldn’t be until the fourth tag team champions, Wild II (Takeshi Morishima and Takeshi Rikio), that the team winning the gold managed to make a successful defense of it. Not exactly the conventional way to cement a new championship, but the belts were off and running finally.