PRO WRESTLING LOVE IN RYOGOKU, 8/27/06
This is the first of three ‘catch up’ reviews I’m doing, since I’m so far out of date with the Japanese scene. My goal is to have all three reviews done before the anniversary of the site on July 1st. And I’m kicking it off with something that’s as recent as almost ten months ago.
Minoru Suzuki . . . teams with a couple of scrubs for the sole purpose of being an arrogant punk.
AHII vs. VOODOO MASK
Aside from Voodoo Mask’s two spots and AHII nearly killing him with the finish, there isn’t anything here that wasn’t in their match from a month later. AHII looks like something of a mid 90's WCW Rey Mysterio Jr. or a late 90's ECW Rob Van Dam. His ariel skills are breathtaking, but that’s the only thing he’s really got to offer. It’s telling when AHII sells Voodoo Masks vertical suplex and Jon Woo like complete death. The High Speed Hurricanrana ought to be named High Impact Hurricanrana considering AHII damn near spiked him on his head with it. If nothing else, it showed that All Japan is smart enough to get the most mileage of AHII, by keeping him in short matches on the undercard.
MASANAOBU FUCHI/RYUJI HIJIKATA/AKIRA vs. NOBUTAKA ARAYA/NOBUKAZU HIRAI/KIKUTARO
Wow. What a waste of AKIRA and Hijikata, and even Hirai deserved better than this. This is a total comedy match, with only decent exchange coming when Hijikata levels Hirai with several kicks, and then charges into an Exploder. Other than that almost the whole match is based on Kikutaro and Fuchi working the comedy spots, and Fuchi sneaking in cheap shots at Araya, as well as Kikutaro hitting Araya with cheap shots, and finally Hirai and Kikutaro trying to give Araya some sort of assistance, but it backfires on poor Araya. And Fuchi is no longer the master of backdrop overkill. He’s now challenging Bryan Danielson for the title of ‘Mr. Small Package.’ He attempts the finish off Kikutaro three times, and then gets an assist from AKIRA with the Musasabi press, before he can small package Kikutaro for the victory.
RO’Z vs. AKIRA RAIJIN
I wonder if WWE trademarked the name ‘Rosey’ of if someone else just realized that Rosey isn’t the best name for a big monster, and at least RO’Z is somewhat clever play on ROD. RO’Z looks better here than he ever did as a Super Hero, and this is just quickie two minute squash, where he no-sells everything from Raijin and kills him with a lariat, elbow, leg drop, and Arabian press. I could poke fun at him for being out of shape (he was noticeably winded after the match) but that’s just taking cheap shots.
TAKA MICHINOKU/BUCHANAN/D’LO BROWN vs. MINORU SUZUKI/NOSAWA RONGAI/MAZADA
It’s too bad that a feud with ROD and Minoru Gundan never really got off the ground (ROD was disbanded less than a month after this), judging from this match, it could have been pretty fun. No, it’s not the smoothest, or best worked trios match that All Japan ever had, but it’s certainly watchable and matches like this are the reason I keep following All Japan, because it’s fun. There isn’t any overarching theme to the match, but there’s plenty of action to be found in the match. TAKA and NOSAWA work the stiff kick and chop exchanges, Buchanan and MAZADA work some Big Man vs. Little Man comedy spots, until Buchanan has enough and chucks him across the ring. NOSAWA and MAZADA even double team TAKA with some Kai En Tai originals, and Suzuki comes in for a quick tease and then slaps TAKA across the face. The biggest statement that is made by the match is just how much higher up Suzuki is compared to his teammates. One mistimed slap is enough to take NOSAWA out of the equation, and when Buchanan holds Suzuki back, TAKA and D’Lo have no trouble at all finishing off MAZADA with a Michinoku Driver and Lo Down. Matches like this don’t set the world on fire, but they’re good enough to do their job, which is entertain.
SHUJI KONDO © vs. KAZ HAYASHI (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Aside from the lariat overkill and some ill advised timing and spots from Kaz, this kills every other AJPW Jr. Title match of the decade, and smokes every match for the GHC Jr. Title, aside from KENTA/SUWA, from the past twelve months. Shuji and Kaz are both on fire, bringing good spots, good execution, and (for the most part) good selling. At first Kaz uses his speed and flying to offset Kondo’s size and power, and he does so in good ways, like his rana counter to Kondo’s pancake attempt. When Kaz’s charging kick misses, Kondo is a magnificent punk about going after Kaz’s knee, the errant kicks were a very nice touch, and when it looked like Kaz was about to do something stupid like a jumping rana from the top, Kondo had a Boston Crab counter ready to save the match. And, thankfully, Kaz never does go full out and do something stupid to kill the match. When he goes back on offense after countering the Irish whip into his handspring jump kick, he sells the leg, and sells it again after his Quebrada.
My personal favorite part of the match was the little fight on the apron. Hayashi’s DDT counter of the charging spear was genius, and a couple minutes later when Kaz charged into The Original off the apron, they made sure to treat the biggest spot of the match like it was actually the biggest spot of the match. They both spent time on the floor selling, including Kondo selling the DDT he took, and Kaz selling his back. When they finally roll back into the ring, they spend a couple of more minutes selling the effects of what they just endured. Kondo finally hits a simple suplex and Kaz oversells (in a good way) the simple back bump, and then Kondo locks in the Gorilla clutch, both working Kaz’s back *and* his leg, which had all but been forgotten about by this point.
Even though this the smartest by far that I’ve seen Hayashi work, it’s still not perfect. Offhand, I can think of about ten different ways that Kaz could have gone back on offense, all of which didn’t have him get planted by The Original and then jump back to his feet. And he’s still got that annoying habit of doing the WA4 for no reason at all, and even sillier this time around is that he does it dead center of the ring, so Kondo has to kick out, instead of the foot on the rope. And Kaz’s bright idea is to throw all of his finishers at Kondo at this point, including the same spiking rana that AHII used to down Kondo’s stablemate in the opener. It all built up to Kaz attempting the WA4 off the top and Kondo getting some payback for the DDT on the apron with a flipping DDT counter. And then descending into the usual two-minute long nonsense with various attempts, blocks, and kick outs, with the King Kong Lariat, before Kondo finally puts him down for good. This pretty much has it all, good spots, good selling, (mostly) smart work, and a climactic ending, I could watch this until the end of time. ***3/4
GREAT MUTA vs. TAJIRI
Big Muta fans will wants to check this out, but anyone else will probably be just as well off skipping it. This is about as stereotypical as a Muta match can really get. There’s next to nothing as far as any real wrestling goes, I think Mutoh spends more time attacking the ring boys, the ref, and the fans, than he does Tajiri. And the little actual wrestling that does go on isn’t anything to write home about. The only stuff that really looks good are a couple of kicks and a hurricanrana from Tajiri, and the moonsault that Muta uses for the win. The big double mist spot that always seems to come up in matches where Muta wrestles someone else who spews mist, looks pretty bad. There are times that their antics are rather amusing, such as the big production of looking under the ring for each other. And Tajiri surprising Muta with the red mist, but moments like those are far too few and far between to have to sit through the rest of this.
TAIYO KEA © vs. TOSHIAKI KAWADA (Triple Crown)
The first half of this looked very promising, but by the end it’s obvious that both Kawada and Kea were trying too hard to make the match seem like an All Japan match, but it’s far more similar to a late 90's AJ/NOAH style, with a big emphasis on finishers and little in the way of anything else. It starts off with Kawada doing something he’s great at, and that’s asserting his position. Even though he’s no longer officially with All Japan, he’s still higher up than Kea, and every slap and kick that Kawada throws at Kea tells the story. As well as a couple of Kawada’s specialties, such as the running kick over the guardrail, and the crab hold with head stomps. Kea finally gets ahead in the match by going after Kawada’s knee, which totally changes the pace, as Kea goes from a sympathetic underdog to total punk with the ways he targets Kawada’s long standing injury. Kea’s attacks range from simple things like knee busters, leg drops, to surprisingly dickish things like chop blocks. And Kawada puts it over as only he can. The best moment of the match came when Kawada attempted his running kick in the corner but stopped in mid charge to sell his knee, and Kea charged him to take advantage, and jumped right into a ganmengiri with the good leg.
After that though, the match just basically falls to pieces. Kawada’s leg selling all but disappears, and they have constant strike battles, with Kea and Kawada both Hulking Up after taking a big shot. And in the strangest of twists, Kea starts trying to kick Kawada in the face, while Kawada starts taking shots at Kea’s leg. Kea also kills his brand-new finisher, TKO 34th (he’s the 34th Triple Crown Champion) right out the gate, it’s not exactly a killer move anyway, it’s just the FU only executed a bit better than by Cena. But he hits Kawada with no less than three of them, and never gets the job done. He also drops Kawada with a couple of his Surfing suplexes to no avail. Kawada is no prince either, bringing out several powerbombs, but he was at least smart enough to save his ‘big’ powerbomb (with sliding cover) for another day. And the really funny thing is that after hitting his finisher three times and failing, Kea pins Kawada with a simple powerbomb. It’s more than obvious that both Kea and Kawada were paying tribute to Baba, and there’s no reason to fault them for that, it’s just too bad that the biggest win of Kea’s career went from looking so promising to being so disappointing, and much like every other biggest win of Kea’s career, it all went up in smoke a little while later.
HIROSHI HASE/SATOSHI KOJIMA/KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA vs. TARU/KOHEI SUWAMA/”brother” YASSHI
All Japan could have done a worse job with Hase’s last match. This is more of a spectacle than it is an actual wrestling match, which makes sense to a certain degree. There are two things about the match that struck me odd. The first is that the heels get in next to nothing. Suwama’s only big spots are the Last Ride on Nakajima and a German onto Hase. TARU’s only real contribution is his sword fight on the floor with Hokuto, and the Axe Kick to Hase’s gonads. God bless him, YASSHI bumps and sells like nobodies business, but his only real offense is the three-way (both hands and mouth) testicular claw. The other odd thing about the match is that Kojima basically stays out of it, and Hase only makes occasional appearances to do his signature stuff, leaving Nakajima to carry the load. With as much promise as Nakajima had shown in his short career, he wasn’t up to the task here, and with the heels not getting much to do, the match tended to (A. Drag on at various points, and (B. Lack any real heat outside of the pops Hase got for his usual stuff.
The match is salvaged a good bit by the spectacle of what happens, such as the TARU/Hokuto sword fight on the floor, and when Kojima takes down the ref, and the heels start to clean house, Kensuke hits the ring and the heels are treated to a few of their famous double teams. There’s also one part that some people were probably annoyed by, but that I sort of found enjoyable on a deeper level. Midway into the match Suwama and Hase have a suplex pop up sequence, Hase with the Uranage and Suwama with the German suplex. Which is a sequence that I (and many others) dislike due to the blatant no-selling and the fact that it devalues the moves. The reason that I liked it here, however, was that it demonstrated the growth that Suwama had shown. The video package showing Hase’s career included a clip of Suwama’s debut match against Hase in 2004, and it’s hard to argue that Suwama had probably risen up the fastest out of everyone in All Japan, barring Jumbo Tsuruta. It’d have been nice to see Hase get an extended run in the match itself, his signature stuff got the biggest pops by a long shot, and YASSHI’s bumping and selling for the Giant Swing (with over forty rotations) and Uranage was rather good, and when the smoke had cleared, the only thing between Hase and victory was YASSHI, and the Northern Lights suplex quickly solved that problem.
Conclusion: Kondo/Hayashi by itself is enough to warrant a recommendation for this show, but it’s also got the bonus of historical moments, like Kea’s big win, and Hase’s retirement, as well as a rather fun and inoffensive undercard. This is the best All Japan show that I’ve seen in a long time.
For more of Mike Campbell's reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com