April 13, 2011

The end of All Japan’s spring tradition has come upon us, and questions will be answered: Will good luck continue to shine down upon Seiya Sanada? Will Ryota Hama’s losing streak end (Hama’s wrestling Funaki, so probably not)? And, can Takao Omori stop NJPW’s Yuji Nagata from going to the finals?

Masanobu Fuchi . . . is the standout of a tag team match, nearly ten years after he was supposed to be finished as major player.

Suwama . . . continues to look like a company ace by stealing the show with Kono.

Seiya Sanada . . . brings back to back disappointing performances to end the tournament the same way that it began.


This is a fun little match, although not exactly surprising at all. Soya puts in a good effort, he gets to knock Hashi around pretty good at a few points, but Soya doesn't have a chance with Jun, and that leads to his undoing, but, like his match with Sanada, Jun has to dig deeper than expected in order to keep the kid down. It's Fuchi who really looks good here, he and Jun work some basic matwork early on, but it's really tight, and Fuchi is awesome at putting over the effect of Jun's head scissors. There's also a nice moment when Fuchi is on his own against the outsider team, and manages to hold his own by booting Jun and Hashi in the face. The elder statesman shouldn't be the standout of a match involving a top name outsider and one of the top ranked young guns of the company, but he was. With All Japan and NOAH on good terms, maybe Fuchi can head over to NOAH and stretch Kanemaru or Shiozaki into oblivion.


Here's another match that doesn't play out in a very surprising way. Hama is bigger, but Funaki knows how to work around that, and it's not very long before Funaki is teeing off on Hama with nasty shots. Hama takes the opening to get in some shots of his own, including knocking Funaki silly with a punch, but Hama goes for too much and misses the pump splash, and Funaki is right there to pick up the pieces and KO Hama with a roundhouse.

TAIYO KEA (5) vs. JOE DOERING (2) (Block B)

Their intensity was welcome, Kea and Doering looked like they wanted to destroy each other, and that's commendable. But that, and a few smart counters from Kea, are the only good things here. Neither of these two are exactly great workers and it shows. There's not a ton of wrestling here anyway. It’s mostly a lot of punching, kicking, and other various strikes. They work in a double lariat spot but only Doering (the bigger and stronger wrestler, by a large margin) is the one to go down. Kea's armdrag counter to the DVD counter was nice, and his jackknife cradle counter to the powerbomb was smart, but it takes all of one counter kick from Doering to stun Kea long enough to hit the Revolution bomb.

YUJI NAGATA (6) vs. TAKAO OMORI (4) (Block A)

Who would have thought that Takao Omori would be having watchable matches in the year 2011? This still has issues, mostly because they're so in love with extended periods of pasting each other with slaps and forearm shots, but there are enough smart touches from both of them that the match as a whole still comes off decent. Nagata starts sharking on Omori's arm after he misses an elbow drop and Omori's selling is freaking great, Nagata comes up with some good ways to go back to the arm, the best one being when Omori couldn't hook on the full nelson and Nagata escaped and hooked up another armbar. Even the silly strike exchange has a nice touch with Nagata catching a charging Omori with an Exploder, only for Omori to muck it up by popping up to do an Axe bomber, just like he did with Suwama.

Omori adds his own smart touch to the match by stunning Nagata with the Axe bomber when Nagata is climbing the ropes and not in a position to block or counter, and Omori smartly takes advantage and follows up with Axe Guillotine driver, but Nagata is too fresh for that to work and he manages to escape. They get goofy with the finish, but at least it's short, Omori gets a good near fall from the Axe Guillotine driver, and follows up by throwing a series of Axe bombers that stagger, but don't drop, Nagata. Nagata counters one with a kick to Omori's arm, hits an enzuigiri, and finishes of Omori with the backdrop hold. It seems like that, if Nagata was nearly finished from the driver, then getting hit with two charging lariat-like strikes should be able to do more than stagger him.

SUWAMA (6) vs. KONO (4) (Block A)

Take all the smart work of Suwama's match with Omori the day before, and replace Omori’s goofiness with Kono being an awesome heel and you have this. Suwama asserts his dominance by easily controlling Kono when things are wrestling based, Kono can't even do a simple whip into the corner, he tries and Suwama counters and takes over Kono with a belly to belly. Kono has to hit Suwama's arm with the ring bell in order to finally be in control, and while he's no Nagata for sharking in on an injured limb, he does a respectable job. Kono's best shots are knee strikes with Suwama's arm draped over the apron, and he even gigs at the arm and renders it a crimson sleeve.

Kono attempts a running kick, but Suwama counters into a capture suplex for a near fall, and when Kono kicks out, Suwama segues to the ankle lock, and the ace of the company is back in control just like that. Rather than degenerating into goofiness with blowing off moves and strikes, the match breaks down with overbooking in the form of a couple of ref bumps and VM interference. The closest they come to anything really weird is Kono hitting the jumping knee from the top and Suwama cradling for a near fall, and even then, Suwama has established that he's clearly a better wrestler, so there is a logic to it. The ref gets bumped, a couple of chairs come into play and Kono scores the upset. ***1/2


This is fun to watch for the expected reasons, which is disappointing altogether. Suzuki does a respectable job torturing Sanada, but this is supposed to be Sanada's big win, going to the finals and defending the honor of AJPW and the tradition of the Champions Carnival against the outsider from New Japan, and, much like his match with Akiyama, Sanada doesn't step up. Yes, Suzuki deserves some blame for hogging the early part of the match, but when it's time for Sanada to take over he has hardly any real offense. It's mostly typical young lion type of offense, lots of forearms, a few flash cradles, a standing SSP, a missile dropkick, a German suplex, and Dragon suplex to win. Aside from the two suplexes, not exactly the type of onslaught that a cagey veteran like Suzuki should be falling to. It may be Sanada's big win, but this is just another Suzuki match, and nothing all that special.

YUJI NAGATA vs. SEIYA SANADA (Champions Carnival Finals)

I suppose if the idea was to put Sanada's back against the wall as much as possible, working fifteen minutes with Suzuki and then having to wrestle Nagata right after, then this was a good idea. Other than that, I'm at a loss as to why one of the most limited, and least experienced, members of the roster would be booked to work twice in a row. The Akiyama tag is right there to bridge the gap between the block matches and the finals. Sanada/Suzuki should have gone on first to give him as much rest as possible.

This is pretty much the exact same as the match Sanada had with Suzuki in that it's fun to watch for the wrong reasons. Nagata is even nastier than Suzuki when it comes to laying the beating on Sanada, he makes sure to really lay in the kicks, and he has some fun tearing at his arm. Nagata busts out some nice armbar counters, his escaping the Dragon suplex and taking down Sanada into the Nagata Lock II was the best moment of the match. It's a good match, thanks to Nagata, but Sanada, yet again, fails to bring the goods in an important match. Nagata challenges Sanada to bring it, and Sanada can't bring it. When Nagata has to sell a springboard dropkick and an enzuigiri like Terry Funk sells a garbage can shot, then something isn't right. Sanada gets a near fall from the standing moonsault that couldn't beat a low ranked junior like Yamato, and people are supposed to believe that it'll work against Nagata? Nagata's win doesn't feel like the disappointment that rains on the fans' parade, it's a total forgone conclusion. It's great that All Japan is smart enough to elevate the young talent up the card, take a look at what NOAH has become to see the result of not doing so, but I'd much rather watch Kono or Soya in a big match than Sanada at this point. ***

Conclusion: Like most of the tournament, this was lots of fun. Kono, Suwama, and Nagata all put on good performances. The only things that are really skippable are the Hama and Kea matches, and Suwama/Kono is the best match of the entire carnival.