BATTLE BANQUET on 7/18/04
review by Mike Campbell
After four difficult years since the big split, AJPW finally pulls themselves out of the gutter and puts on their best show in quite some time.
Keiji Mutoh . . . doesn’t nearly kill his match.
KAZ HAYASHI © vs. KATSUSHI TAKEMURA (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Takemura can be very enjoyable to watch. Even though he’s still a little green, the man is a real heat machine. He does a lot of enjoyable things here. When he’s kicking, eye gouging, and using the post and guardrail to his advantage, its not just because he can’t do a lot in the ring, and its not just to get his rudo type character over either. It’s a great way to give a false sense of security to an opponent. Takemura is capable inside the ring, and that’s how he suckers in Hayashi. When Hayashi has him in the ring and seemingly under control, Takemura catches him off guard with something, and suddenly it hits Hayashi that this guy can actually go in the ring at times.
Hayashi is no slouch himself, he impresses a lot in this match, being able to do a little of everything, whether he’s firing off the kicks, flying in the air, going to the ground with an ankle lock, and of course, his hard hitting high impact stuff like the Final Cut and WA4. The interference is not only forgivable, but even adds to the match a bit. Takemura shows that he’s not totally clueless, but that he’s not good enough to take down the AJPW Jr. Champion yet, and even though CTU have been removed, its MAZADA to the rescue. If Kaz felt he really needed to use a WA4 off the top to win, then at the very least, he could have allowed Takemura to either counter his regular one, or counter the Final Cut, instead of relying on the ref bump to delay the count. It was still a lot of fun, and if Hayashi has a few more matches like this one, it will help remove some of the tarnish that Kendo Ka Shin and his twenty two month reign of terror left on the title. ***.
KEIJI MUTOH vs. OSAMU NISHIMURA
For the first ten minutes or so, this was looking like the best match Keiji Mutoh has had since he jumped to All Japan. It was Keiji Mutoh match, without Mutoh doing the things that always drag his matches down. He wasn’t drop kicking Nishimura’s knee every ten seconds, or using half assed Dragon screws, and doing a Shining Wizard every forty six seconds. He was simply wrestling. The match really soars when Mutoh and Nishimura work the head scissors. They don’t clamp it on and say “okay, we can kill five minutes here”. They actually work the hold, and let Nishimura do his famous escape, then take it back to the ground, where Mutoh will put on a different variation, and telling Nishimura “okay, see if you can escape this version”. We’re so used to Mutoh do nothing but moonsaults, Shining Wizards, and the like, that we forget that he can still actually wrestle if the need arises.
The second half is where Mutoh starts to show his ugly side, but he manages to keep a lot of his more irritating habits to himself. The first Shining Wizard isn’t bad at all, he simply caught Nishimura on one knee, when he rolled through the sunset flip. There was no knee work, no set up, it came out of nowhere. The knee work that follows is standard stuff for Mutoh, and the figure four spot is really where it starts to fall apart. Not just the fact that they’re both laying there, not really working the hold. But Nishimura looking like he’s in a trance, and Mutoh looking like he’s trying to catch a quick nap. Mutoh’s sudden knee weakness is a bit awkward as well. Keiji Mutoh is right up there with Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada in terms of how public his knee troubles are. But its still odd to suddenly see Mutoh limping around, after wrestling for a good fifteen minutes or so without any problems. The Shining Wizard overkill at the end isn’t totally without cause. Nishimura spent a good amount of time showing how many ways he can do his headstand escape, so Mutoh is reciprocating with how many ways he can catch Nishimura with the Wizard. The only thing is that the headstand escape isn’t Nishimura’s finisher, so it doesn’t have to be protected as well. The final Shining Wizard is just that though, final. Nishimura is stunned and in position, Mutoh gives a quick yell to signify that he’s putting him away, and levels him. Its certainly not out of the realm of believability to think that Mutoh may have intentionally gone a little soft on the previous shots, to protect his knee, as well as to not finish off Nishimura, so they could have an actual match. But five Shining Wizards, is still five Shining Wizards, and Mutoh has plenty of moves at his disposal that would have had the same effect without dragging the match down. ***
Some highlights of the matches that didn’t make the cut for the TV show are shown. Nothing really important, the only ones that look like they’d have been worth seeing are Hijikata vs Ishikari, and Taiyo Kea vs Tomoaki Honma. The idea of Hamada, Road Warrior Animal, and Robert Gibson as a team sounds like it’d be a rather interesting affair.
ARASHI/NOBUTAKA ARAYA vs. MASANOBU FUCHI/GENICHIRO TENRYU
Fuchi and Tenryu make up the most grumpy tag team in wrestling. Fuchi is bad enough on his own, but when some young punk tries to make his name off Fuchi’s back, its Tenryu to the rescue, and nobody is going to be able to stand up to that. Arashi and Araya have their own problems already, the former All Asia Tag champions don’t even trust each other. Fuchi is already out for blood to avenge a loss to them over a year ago, for the same titles that Fuchi and Tenryu now wear. Tenryu is also out for blood, because they were both part of his WAR alliance, and they left him for greener pastures.
When you have two guys who don’t trust each other, and don’t get along, its not going to be long before they get beat, and it isn’t quite long. Araya can use his size against Fuchi quite well, but feels cocky enough to take not one, but two cheap shots and Tenryu on the apron and signs his own death warrant. Arashi tries to help, but Tenryu can’t be denied, and as he lays in the punches and chops, he’s asking Araya if he enjoys all the “success” he’s obtained. The ending is just a mercy killing by Tenryu, he could easily have gone another five or ten minutes beating on Araya, or let him tag, and then took some anger out on Arashi. But they don’t get along and they don’t trust each other. So the sooner Tenryu finishes off Araya, the sooner the match ends and they can go back to hating each other.
MITSUHARU MISAWA vs. SATOSHI KOJIMA
Misawa returns to the company he abandoned and left for dead four years previous. The fan reaction is a pretty sad indictment for wrestling fans, as they applaud him as the returning hero. If someone was shot in the head and left comatose, only to fight back and finally return to stable condition, and lead a normal life. Then four years later, came face to face with the person who pulled the trigger. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be too thrilled to meet him, let alone give him a standing ovation and chant his name.
Misawa always had a problem, working with the younger guys, his idea of helping them get over was to bump like hell, give them a few near falls, and then finish them off. The problem was that it didn’t raise their stock, it just looked like Misawa taking it easy on them before finishing them off. However, the best match I’ve seen out of Japan in 2004, featured Misawa busting his ass to make KENTA and Marufuji, two juniors, look like legit threats to the GHC Tag Titles, so I don’t see why Misawa can’t give Kojima the same treatment. If what Misawa brought, constitutes his A-Game, then he needs to pack it in pretty soon. Misawa has no problem taking the bumps, but he doesn’t really give them everything he could have put into it. Misawa only takes the Koji Cutter properly, a grand total of once. Every other instance he takes it on his knees, and it just sucks all the drama out of the pin. Misawa even allows Kojima the chance to both escape and survive the Emerald Frozian, which is a privilege that Misawa had only given to one person in the past, Kenta Kobashi. Misawa can’t even do his rope somersault properly, but Kojima is quick enough to cover it, with a well timed lariat to his knees, and it allows Misawa to take a dramatic flipping bump onto the floor.
Kojima carries some of the blame too. His early work with the chin lock, and head lock is pretty smart, a page out of the 6/12/98 Kenta Kobashi play book for winning your big matches. Kojima needs to take some of the blame because of his lack of big moves. All he ever employs are the lariat, and the Koji Cutter as his established finisher moves. So after he’s used them both, multiple times, the fans don’t buy anything else as being able to do the job. Misawa just survived three Koji Cutters, a fourth won’t do any good. Even with dramatically taking off the elbow pad, if Misawa just kicked out of the lariat, another one can’t be expected to have any more success than the last one did. Taiyo Kea, someone that Kojima is clearly above on the pecking order, has the running knee smash, The Hawaiian Smasher, H5O, and TKO at his disposal if he needs to put someone away. Too many people have survived the lariat and Koji Cutter, and when those are finished, the only thing left for Kojima to do is to try them again, and hope that they work this time around. If it barely gets the job done against lower guys, how is it going to help against someone like Misawa? His top rope elbow would be a fine choice for him to try to use as a legit finisher, and its plenty over with the fans. I understand, he’s since added a move called the “Koji Death Driver” to his arsenal, so it’s a step in the right direction.
Kojima also needs to learn how to really build a match. This match, the match that is supposed to help elevate Kojima, is pretty clearly an ode to the All Japan 1ate 1990's top this mentality. No body part work, aside from Kojima’s early attempts to weaken Misawa’s neck for the big lariat. Kojima breaks out the Koji Cutter several different ways, including one off the apron. Misawa doesn’t hold back too much either, with the Tiger driver off the apron. Kojima plays along with the Misawa game, taking the big overblown release German suplex, and doing the Misawa staple, in no selling it, and popping right up for a lariat.
Misawa dusting off the Tiger driver ‘91 to finally finish off Kojima is the biggest rub he could have given Kojima, even more than the Emerald Frozian kick out. A move he hasn’t needed to use in over four years, and he’s viewing it as the only possible way to put this young gun from All Japan away. The problem with him trying to give Kojima a big rub like this, is that others have already tried it and failed to help establish him. If Misawa were to give this sort of treatment to someone like Tomoaki Honma or Masayuki Kono, then it would be different story. All Japan has been trying to get Kojima over that last hump to be a main event player, for over two years now. Its not the fans, because the Japanese fans, and North American fans alike would love to see him as a big player. The problem is Kojima himself. The lack of moves, like I said above, and his ability to build a match on his own. ***
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © vs. TAKAO OMORI (Triple Crown)
Omori challenging for the Triple Crown is about four years overdue. His success in the Champions Carnival in the year 2000, definitely pointed in the direction of him getting a shot at the titles, especially when his hack of a tag team partner (at the time), Yoshihiro Takayama got a shot at the Triple Crown. Omori also achieved great success during the 2004 Carnival, as he was the only person in both blocks to be undefeated in the league portion, his only non victory being a time limit draw. In all honesty, this should not have been the main event of the show, because after dealing with Misawa vs Kojima, the fans are just too burned out. Its similar to WrestleMania X8 and the way the fans treated Jericho vs HHH.
Kawada turns this match into a great big “fuck you” to Misawa though, by taking a weaker opponent than Misawa had, and dragging him to a very good match. The opening mat work, as uncommon as it is in All Japan today, especially the main event, is all very good stuff. Forget this no selling chop fest, or taking stupid bumps and jumping back up. It’s Zen Nihon Pro Wrestling, and they wrestle. Kawada and Omori even tease the big bump off the apron. First with Kawada trying a Tiger driver, off all things. Then Omori with his attempted Axe Guillotine driver, and then Kawada trying a backdrop. But then on second thought, Kawada just says “hell no, we can actually work a match here” and hits a Ganmengiri to send Omori back into the ring. During the seemingly mandatory spot with the kick trade offs, Kawada starts to smash Omori with elbows, but he doesn’t go down, leaving Kawada to smash him with a jumping head kick. The slap trade off is another portion where it shows that Omori is clearly out of his league. Kawada, barely even registers that anything happened when Omori slaps him in the face, but when Kawada connects, you see the sweat fly right off.
Kawada’s selling has always been an issue in the last couple of years, because he used to just be so good, and now he’s just average. Kawada selling his knee getting torn to pieces, much better than just about any leg work I’ve seen him sell since the turn of the century. Kawada sells a simple pile driver from Omori, who employs a more Dangerous version of it, like it might be enough to pick up an upset, but Omori sadly, doesn’t try for the pin. Kawada is still, your reigning king of dickery though, and after Omori had been built up by running over everyone in his path with the Axe Bomber, en route to this match. You just know he’s going to try it. Kawada does every block in the book to prevent it, because he even thinks that if he gets hit, the match is going to be over. But when Omori does finally hit it, Kawada jumps right back up as if to say “That’s it? Come on, try one more time, I’ll assume you just didn’t hit it right”. Omori connects again, and Kawada says “nope, that’s horrible, how did you knock guys out with this?”. The Axe Guillotine driver, is enough to keep him down though, but not enough to put him away. Right after that is when they take it home, instead of having Omori hit the Axe Bomber five more times, and maybe plant Kawada with the Axe Guillotine driver three more times.
Kawada has plenty of potential moves he can use as a finisher, so he has some freedom in what he can level Omori with, before ending it. The backdrop is no big deal, because he hasn’t won with that in ages, and Kawada would wind up giving Mitsuya Nagai a hell of a rub off his backdrop four days later. The powerbomb had won him matches over Misawa before, and by letting Omori survive it, is just another flip of the bird towards the creator of NOAH. Finally, he just goes with the straight simple running face kick, a deadly strike that can easily be bought as a knockout. This was a really good match, that shows why Kawada is still the best. ***1/2
Conclusion: Can you say “best All Japan show of 2004"? All Japan has had to to pretty much hit the reset button once a year since the split, and this is a huge step up for them. Highest Recommendation possible for Battle Banquet 2004 Buy it here for $5.99.
To read Mike Campbell's puroresu reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com