PRO WRES LOVE IN RYOGOKU Vol 5 on 8/31/08
review by Mike Campbell
All Japan’s annual PPV of the summer has questions that need to be answered: Can Taiyo Kea and Suwama finally have a watchable match? Are the All Japan young boys, like KAI, ready to follow Suwama’s lead and move up the ladder? Will Hirooki Goto’s second IWGP Title match be as boss as his first? Can Nobutaka Araya charge into the corner and not get kicked in the face?
Ryuji Hijikata... continues the proud tradition of All Japan having a grumpy junior champion, at the expense of young KAI.
MASANOBU FUCHI vs. NOBUTAKA ARAYA
I can understand that Fuchi is probably too old and/or worn down to continue torturing the young boys, like he did to Kikuchi, Akiyama, Shiga, Miyamoto, etc. but there’s got to be something else for him to do at this point. If you’ve seen even a couple of their matches together, singles or tags, then you’ve seen this one. The only difference is that this only goes a minute and change. Fuchi makes Araya look like a chump. Araya is still unable to charge at Fuchi in the corner without getting booted in the face, and Fuchi finishes with the small package. Fuchi is old, but crafty and Araya is big, but stupid. That point was made abundantly clear long ago. If All Japan is insistent about keeping Araya on the bottom, at least have him work with, and put over, the young guys like Soya, Sanada, Raijin, etc. and dispel the size myth. Or if they want to give Fuchi one last run, push him for a junior title match. Either of those two scenarios has build and leads to something. Which this match in various forms (going on over a year now) doesn’t seem to have.
KAZ HAYASHI/EL SAMURAI/ANTONIO THOMAS vs. T28/YAMAMTO/PHIL ATLAS
Fans of the early days of ROH and the Scramble matches will love this. It’s a seven-minute sprint of the wrestlers pulling out every spot they could think of. Some of their stuff looks nice, such as the triple baseball slide dropkick from Atlas’ team, and Atlas’ flying in impressive like his tope con hilo and his rana that kicks off the Tower of Doom spot. But there’s just far too much going on to keep track of, and because it’s so rushed, there’s nothing that has any real meaning behind it and nothing that’s done really matters. There’s nothing to make Thomas seem like any sort of weak link to his team that leads up to T28 pinning him with the 450. And there isn’t anything as far as story being old or any real reason to anyone to make a genuine emotional investment in the match.
JOE DOERING/AKIRA RAIJIN/SCOTT D’AMORE vs. ZODIAC/KONDO/”brother”YASSHI
There isn’t anything outright bad here, but there’s very little that stands out to distinguish this from any other midcard trios match you might find in All Japan. Kondo and Doering spend most of the match on the apron, the only real notable moment from Kondo is when he intercepts a charging Raijin and plants him with The Original. D’Amore is the only one who really stands out, due to how well he moves for his size. ZODIAC adds a nice diving lariat and Stinger Splash, but he seems more concerned with making a Z shaped motion with his hands and yelling his name than he is with his wrestling, and with ZODIAC carrying the VM control segment by working over Raijin, it gets old fast. YASSHI’s only job is to the take the abuse and die at the end. It was fun to see all three babyfaces plant YASSHI with their finishes, en route to Raijin finishing him with a nice moonsault, but nobody seemed willing or able to take this to the next level.
OSAMU NISHIMURA/NOBUKAZU HIRAI/MANABU SOYA/SEIYA SANADA vs. MINORU SUZUKI/NOSAWA RONGAI/MAZADA/TAKEMURA
For as long as NOSAWA and his crew have been teaming with Suzuki, you’d think that they’d have picked up some of his talent or showmanship, even if only by osmosis. Most of the good moments here are courtesy of Suzuki, he gets Nishimura fired up in the opening moments by mocking his prerequisite ‘clean break in the corner’ spot and Nishimura goes nuts and starts pelting him with forearms. When Suzuki takes Nishimura down into a head scissors, he locks one of Nishimura’s arms to prevent the headstand. Suzuki lets go so that Nishimura can do it, but wags a finger toward his teammates to let them know that he’s got things under control. Indeed, Nishimura goes for the usual escape and Suzuki pushes him right over. There’s another cute part a bit later when TAKEMURA does a seated dropkick to Soya while he’s in a camel clutch and Suzuki seems to berate him. Suzuki starts running the ropes to build momentum, and then stops and playfully kicks Soya. But, aside from one bit where NOSAWA shakes the ropes to prevent a Nishimura knee drop, and buys TAKEMURA enough time to recover and move out of the way when Nishimura finally does jump, Suzuki’s partners aren’t nearly as entertaining.
For Nishimura’s team, this may as well be a 4-on-1 handicap match. Soya and Sanada aren’t expected to do much more than to let Suzuki’s team beat on them, and Hirai wasn’t even in the match until the finish, when Suzuki tapped him out with the chickenwing armlock (complete with Suzuki rolling Hirai all around the ring before firmly locking it in). So it was up to Nishimura to make the match competitive, he did a fairly respectable job of it, but he also played second fiddle to Suzuki in terms of being entertaining while doing so. There just wasn’t anything out of Nishimura that seemed like it could end the match, even the flash cradles from his Triple Crown match with Suwama would have probably worked. As it is, it’s still a somewhat fun outing, just less so when Suzuki isn’t involved.
RYUJI HIJIKATA © vs. KAI (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Aside from a few selling issues, namely blowing off kicks to the head, and a few odd ideas, this is one of the more fun AJPW Jr. Title matches in recent memory. They tell a pretty basic story, Hijikata gets grumpy, KAI combats that with spunkiness, and Hijikata gets more grumpy and wins. They pull the story off fairly well, but they run into more than a few issues in the process. The main one is that it never really feels like KAI can pull off the win. Granted, KAI only had about a year and half experience at this point, so he probably shouldn’t have a chance of beating a veteran like Hijikata, but they’re supposed to be creating doubt about the outcome and they don’t do that very well. It doesn’t help that KAI doesn’t have a ton of offense at his disposal, and Hijikata didn’t do a great job at putting over what KAI did use. KAI’s best chance to win comes after spiking Hijikata with a screwdriver and then hitting his frog splash. KAI goes up for a second splash and hits knees, and then Hijikata goes back to pelting him with kicks and slaps, as though he wasn’t just in trouble a minute before. The only real reason that KAI looks impressive here is showing how much of Hijikata’s big moves he’s able to take and kick out of. There’s also a couple brief moments of stupidity, they each take a roundhouse kick to the head and completely blow it off. The double KO after trading slaps to the face also looks silly.
While they didn’t do such a great job at making KAI look very good, there are quite a few smart touches to the match. The best one being the opening stretch when KAI dodges a charging kick and sends Hijikata to the floor. KAI gets a false sense of security and charges for a dive and gets hit with a big slap to the face and then Hijikata hits a charging kick from the apron. While Hijikata did a nice job devaluing his fisherman’s buster, he added a nice moment with his delay before doing the fisherman’s buster off the top, which explains KAI’s kick out. It was also nice to see Hijikata build to the armbar, even though he doesn’t really need to, and the fact that Hijikata had to modify it a bit before KAI had to give it up gave him a little rub. If you’re a fan of grumpy beatings, then you’ll not want to avoid this, Hijikata lays quite the beating on KAI, with the stiff kicks and slaps we all love, and a really dickish spot where he stomps his arm to soften it up a bit. It’d have been nice to see KAI get a bit more rub, and its not without issues, but this still makes for a fairly fun outing. ***
SATOSHI KOJIMA/HIROYOSHI TENZAN vs. TARU/TOGI MAKABE
Combing the recent Kojima/VM and the longstanding Tenzan/GBH feuds into one tag match seems like a good idea in theory. None of the four are very good, but there’s enough hate and potential shenanigans to cover that up. However, in theory and in execution are two different things. The brawling just isn’t very intense or hate filled. Tenzan is coming into the match banged up from his G1 Climax experience (GBH injured him on the first night) with his neck and shoulders taped up, but aside from when he takes a chair to the back (he dove in to protect Kojima, similar to what he did for Iizuka on 4/27) that’s the only time that it’s ever focused on. There’s the occasional nice moment, like Makabe trying to mock Kojima’s lariat and Kojima blocking it and hitting the Koji Cutter. But it’s just your average straight-up wrestling match, with no real fire at all to it. The only time things look really bleak for the babyfaces is when the various VM or GBH guys at ringside will interfere to turn the tide, but the heels never control for very long. TARU and Makabe, while fun at times, don’t have the hateful flair of a SUWA or even the grumpiness of Hijikata.
If you skip the first twelve-and-a-half minutes and just watch the last two, then this looks like a fun ECW sort of match. Kojima ducks a charging Makabe and TARU gets hit with the chain lariat, TARU tries to use the bat and Tenzan breaks it over his knee. Tenkoji takes out TARU with an ugly Koji Cutter/Anaconda Slam combo, the hit their tandem Koji Cutter on Makabe, and Kojima hits the lariat to finish off TARU. The other GBH and VM members try to attack Tenkoji, but they fight them off and stand tall as the victors. One could argue that there wasn’t anything to build up to in this match, the way the Tenzan/Iizuka vs. Makabe/Yano tag match built to Iizuka joining GBH, but the NJPW tag still had Tenzan’s gusher and the heels dickishly working it over, which is something that this match could still have done. It’d have been quite fitting considering that Kojima was busted open in his previous match with TARU, and that Makabe hit him with the chain at one point. Matches like this are my only real qualm about Mutoh’s All Japan right now. The booking is perfectly logical and seems to be laying the groundwork for something great, only for the match fall short.
KEIJI MUTOH © vs. HIROOKI GOTO (IWGP Heavyweight Title)
I can’t help but wonder if this match taking place in an All Japan ring is a sign of goodwill from New Japan to All Japan, or if it’s an indication of New Japan’s opinion of Goto’s star power. The winner of the G1 Climax challenging for the title is a big deal, you’d think it’d be something that New Japan would want to showcase on one of their own big shows. I won’t comment about his star power, but Goto’s performance on this night sure left a lot to be desired. He was good when he was working over Mutoh’s neck, but Goto’s selling was horrible. He’d just completely forget about Mutoh dropkicking him in the knee, hitting the Dragon screw, or spending time in the figure four. It’s bad enough when wrestlers will forget about having a body part worked over when they go on offense, but this is even worse, Goto seemed to forget about his knee being singled out, while Mutoh was still working it over. The only thing that Mutoh does that Goto really goes all out for is Mutoh’s Dragon screw neckbreaker.
Again, Goto was good when he was singling out Mutoh’s neck, so it’s not a total washout from him. He hit Mutoh with a surprise neckbreaker, while Mutoh was hung up in the corner, and used some simple and effective stuff like elbows to the neck area, and worked back to a crossface hold several times during the course of the match. Goto doesn’t break out the big guns until he’s unable to tap Mutoh to the crossface, but he still keeps the neck in focus with the German suplex and his DVD variation where he drops Mutoh’s neck across his knee. Of course, he breaks out the Shouten, but having KO’d Mutoh with it in their tag match (not to mention using it to win the G1), it was a given that he’d eventually go for it.
Goto’s biggest failing, winds up being where Mutoh comes through huge, he’s very good with selling the neck and showing that Goto’s strategy is paying off. Mutoh doesn’t overdo it though, he seems to find just the right level of showmanship to his selling, so that it doesn’t lose believability that he doesn’t get pinned or have to tap out, but it’s clear that Goto’s plan is working. Mutoh’s offense isn’t anything that anyone familiar with him wouldn’t have seen plenty of times before, dropkicks to the knee, Dragon screws, the figure four, and then he starts with the Shining Wizards, and the moonsault does the trick. There’s nothing wrong with Mutoh’s offense, but between Goto not making it seem very effective, and Mutoh not being especially crafty with how he goes about doing his stuff, aside from countering Goto’s vertical suplex into the Dragon screw neckbreaker, makes it come off very mundane. It’s hard to say if this would have been any better off taking place in New Japan instead of All Japan. The fans would have been behind Goto and Mutoh would have been able to heel things up, which probably would have had good results. But if Goto wasn’t able to make Mutoh look good in his own promotion, would he be willing to do so for the invading outsider champion?
SUWAMA © vs. TAIYO KEA (Triple Crown)
Why it was decided that this needed to go to a sixty-minute draw is beyond me, they’ve shown before that they clearly don’t have the tools available to do so. In the sixty-minutes they’re given, they show enough smart work and good ideas to get them through fifteen or twenty minutes. The best parts of the match all center around body part work, which is the only time that it really feels like there is something being truly built up. Unlike the challenger in the previous match, Kea’s selling is very good. Suwama working over Kea’s midsection is the highlight of the match, Suwama wasn’t as aggressive as he probably should have been, especially with him being champion, but Kea’s selling made up for it. The real beauty of the body work is that Kea doesn’t let it leave his mind, even long after Suwama stops singling it out, Kea will get planted by one of Suwama’s suplexes and will remember to sell the midsection.
In addition to the good stuff centering around Suwama singling out the body, Suwama is also pretty good with Kea’s leg. It helps that Kea practically gift-wrapped it to him, Kea landed awkwardly when escaping a suplex and appeared to tweak it, and Suwama took full advantage. Again, he wasn’t as aggressive, probably a combo of Suwama being babyface and his lack of experience, but Kea’s selling, and moments like Kea trying to crawl away from Suwama to protect it, made up for it. Things went a bit downhill when Kea was working over Suwama’s leg. There wasn’t any real catalyst for it, Kea just draped it over the guardrail and kicked it, and then started working it over from there. There’s certainly nothing wrong with an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ mentality, but it usually works best in situations involving longtime hate, stuff like Kojima/TARU, Tenzan/Makabe, or Kea in ROD against Suwama in VM. Kea also doesn’t really show the innovativeness or flash that Suwama did. Kea’s best moment was dropping Suwama on the table, but he follows that up with an overly long figure four, with very little out of Kea to get over the force he’s trying to apply. Kea goes back to the leg at about the fifty-five minute mark. After he basically threw his whole arsenal at Suwama, there’s no reason to think that a surprise rolling legbar is going to make a difference.
Once you take out the body part work, you’re in trouble. The early stuff with the surfboard hold was fun, the surfboard sequence is one of the oldest traditions in All Japan as far as showing the pecking order, with the ‘underneath’ guy having to take the pain and try several times to reverse the pressure, but Kea and Suwama were fairly even about the hold, with quick counters and reversals, although Suwama ultimately wins out. And Kea throws in a nice touch when he works back to the surfboard a bit later, and then uses it to plant Suwama with a backbreaker, suggesting that he was using the hold for more than just the usual demonstration. After the hard sell by Kea and the announcers of Kea’s newfound submission skills in the form of the front choke, it fails to make any real impact. Suwama is caught in the hold three times, and always manages to get the ropes, and there’s nothing that suggests that Kea made any real stride in the match due to the hold. Suwama is no prince himself in that area, he makes his ankle lock look like nothing, by failing to get the tap out after multiple applications, including the grapevine version (and this is after he’d already worn down Kea’s leg). Suwama also throws out the Last Ride twice too many (the only time it worked was the last one which saw time run out before the ref could finish the count), and uses the frog splash, which he’d used to win the titles, less than halfway into the match, simply to continue the wear down work on Kea’s midsection.
The only thing that they did that was truly offensive was their stupid pop up sequence, where they both blow off suplexes to hit one of their own. But, aside from their poor choices and bad ideas, they show that they just don’t have it in them to go a full sixty *and* to be interesting and exciting while doing it. A lot of the match is simply ‘I’ll do my stuff and you do yours’ with Kea’s trademark stuff like the suplexes and the jumping DDT, and Suwama’s suplexes. Neither one of them seemed to grasp the idea of really building up to something, and Kea selling his midsection after the suplexes should have been a neon sign for Suwama. But they were both more content to just pile up spots instead of doing smarter things like using the limbs to get them where they need to go or to heel things up more and rally the crowd behind the babyface. The best thing that can be said about this is that it’s not as bad as some of their previous matches, but it’s still far away from what should be expected from a fourteen-year veteran and the champion of the promotion.
Conclusion: This is more or less a textbook example of what to expect from All Japan. This card has all the makings to be something great (Tenkoji reunion, all three title matches had their own build up and reason for happening), but the actual wrestling falls flat on its face in comparison. This is something to take a pass on, no real reason to get this outside of being a completist.
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