New and All Japan met in the finals of a Jan.4 2001 tournament.
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship had been defended in the main event of January 4’s Tokyo Dome every year since 1995, but in 2001, things were different; there was no champion to defend the belt.
In the summer of 2000, large shifts in the fabric of All Japan Pro-Wrestling led to the birth of the Pro Wrestling NOAH group consisting of a large part of the AJPW roster. In the wake of this move, AJPW’s Masanobu Fuchi would appear in ring at NJPW’s G1 Climax final to declare a ‘breaking down of walls’ between New and All Japan and a closer working relationship.
Controversy brewed, but so did curiosity over entirely new matchups between established stars from both companies. Top of that list was a match between two of the top heavyweight stars of wrestling at the dawn of the millennium; Toshiaki Kawada and Kensuke Sasaki. On October 9, a huge main event in the Tokyo Dome represented a dream clash of All Japan’s Kings’ Road style and NJPW’s Strong Style. Sasaki’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship wasd not at stake, but the two men wrestled as if it were, with Kawqada eventually coming out on top.
Disgraced that he wasn’t able to defend his promotion’s honour, Sasaki relinquished his IWGP title, which sat vacant at the end of 2000. A single elimination tournament would run through January 4 2001’s Wrestling World event, but despite the efforts of the likes of Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Masahiro Chono, Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima, it was only inevitable that Sasaki and Kawada meet again in the finals.
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