ALL JAPAN ON NTV
Yoshihiro Takayama . . . smacks around the rising star of this year’s Champion Carnival tournament.
Takao Omori . . . seems fired up and ready to replicate the good results of his tournament match with Kawada but runs into a big orange roadblock.
Stan Hansen . . . may be past his prime and getting older, but he still knows a thing or five about putting on an engaging match.
MAUNAKEA MOSSMAN vs. SHIGEO OKUMURA
The little bit of this that gets shown is decent, but unremarkable. The clip starts with Kea working Okumura over, but other than the Scorpion hold, he was missing that sadistic edge that you could always count on from Fuchi when he was given an outsider or a rookie to break in. Kea gives Okumura a couple of nice openings to work in some offense and get the crowd behind him. Okumura tries too much when he attempts a superplex and Kea throws him to the mat, comes off the top with a spin kick, and finishes him off with a Northern Lights suplex. It was fun to see the fans rally behind Okumura, but Kea needed to show more personality to make this anything more.
JUN AKIYAMA/MASAO INOUE vs. YOSHIHIRO TAKAYAMA/MASAHITO KAKIHARA
Looking at the push that Akiyama got in 1998, not only in the Champion Carnival proper but also with his becoming a genuine contender for the Triple Crown, makes this match look all the more like Akiyama was thrown in at the last minute (his scheduled Carnival match with Taue was scraped due to Taue’s knee injury). The former Kingdom wrestlers would go onto become minor threats in the tag team and junior ranks respectively, but neither would ever come close to Jun’s level here during their stints with All Japan, and yet Akiyama does pretty much everything he can to make them look good. Kakihara uses his speed and striking to surprise Akiyama early on and they work several mat exchanges that he comes out on top of. Akiyama is even more giving to Takayama, trading elbows and forearms with him and then letting Takayama blast him in the corner with knees. Inoue is… well, he’s Inoue. He’s no better or worse than pretty much any other time I’ve ever seen him. He’s not too bad at letting Takayama knock him around, and he is the one who runs Kakihara’s back into the guardrail and gets the story of them working the back going.
The story of Kakihara’s back getting worked over carries the last third of the match, and while Inoue is the one who gets the ball rolling, he’s the worst performer of the three people involved. All he really adds are stomps, which he does by flailing his arms around like he’s trying to imitate Manabu Nakanishi, whom he (maybe not so) coincidentally shares a finisher with. Kakihara’s selling is flawless, especially with the submissions, he always makes it seem like he’s on the verge of losing until Takayama bails him out. Akiyama certainly isn’t on the level of a 1992 Jumbo, but he shows a grumpiness that he hasn’t let out before when he stretches out Kakihara with the crab hold and then ups the ante with a Scorpion. Inoue and his Argentine Backbreaker don’t come off nearly as well as the holds that Akiyama works, despite Kakihara’s great selling. Just when it seems like Akiyama and Inoue are going to be able to cut off Takayama and finish off Kakihara, he counters Inoue’s German suplex into an ankle lock and Takayama lumbers across the ring and knocks Jun off the apron, and Kakihara taps out Inoue and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.
While it’s clear that this wouldn’t have come off nearly as well if Inoue were paired up with someone else, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to give all the credit to Akiyama. Takayama and Kakihara were excellent in their roles, even though Takayama didn’t have a whole lot to do. And, if nothing else, Inoue didn’t do anything to drag things down. The best parts of this, namely Akiyama and Kakihara’s mat sequences and Akiyama working the submissions, wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if Kakihara were working with the likes of Honda, Izumida or Wolf Hawkfield. ***1/4
Champion Carnival: KENTA KOBASHI (5) vs. TAKAO OMORI (2)
Omori’s performance is largely the same as it was in his match with Kawada from 3/22; he shows all the intensity you’d expect of an up-and-comer trying to show that he’s ready to take the next step, and he uses several of the same spots such as the DDT, running neckbreaker, spin kick, and the Axe bomber. The big difference here is that Kawada was willing to sell and put over what Omori threw at him, while Kobashi treats him like little more than a nuisance. Look no further than the early headlock sequence to see that. Omori works the same sequence of keeping the hold applied, including taking the backdrop suplex and holding on to it. Kawada sold the effects of the hold, and it gave some extra meaning when Omori threw bigger offense at him, but Kobashi gets free of the hold and just starts throwing his chops at Omori. The really odd thing was just after Omori surprises Kobashi with the DDT. Omori climbs the ropes and Kobashi gets up and climbs up the ropes and wants to suplex Omori off. Omori shoves him down and comes off the top with a flying elbow for a near fall and then climbs back up and misses a diving knee which allows Kobashi to take over. They’d have been just as well off to let Omori hit the elbow uninterrupted or for him to go right for the flying knee and give Kobashi control. All Kobashi popping up accomplishes is letting everyone watching know that Omori’s DDT didn’t hurt him too badly.
Omori is able to score little victories over Kobashi throughout the course of the match, but Kobashi doesn’t do anything to make them matter to any great degree. Early on they work a sequence where Omori comes off with a shoulder tackle that fails to drop Kobashi, Kobashi challenges him to bring the fight harder and Omori obliges when he ducks a chop and hits his spin kick and knocks Kobashi off his feet. They roll to the floor and Kobashi throws Omori into the rail and Omori comes right back and hits a lariat. But, after both men get back into the ring the action pretty much resets rather than allowing for Omori to press his advantage. The only real bit of rub that Kobashi gives Omori is how much Kobashi has to throw at him before keeping him down for good. Omori kicks out of the jackknife powerbomb, and Kobashi calls for the lariat only for Omori to get up a boot to block it. Omori tries his own lariat and spins himself right into the half-nelson suplex and that stuns Omori enough to allow Kobashi to hit the lariat and win the match.
Despite not coming off nearly as well as Omori’s match with Kawada, there’s enough good stuff here, between the pace, the intensity, and both men bringing some good offense, for this to be a good match. Omori’s original run in All Japan is probably best described as “The Guy in Akiyama’s Shadow,” and he doesn’t look all that far removed from Akiyama during the ’95 Carnival. It’d have been interesting to see how Omori would have fared if he were slotted into the role of Misawa’s partner instead of Ogawa, it’d certainly have added an extra layer of intrigue to the potential tag matches against Kobashi and Akiyama. Instead, Omori languished for another full year before he finally caught on when he and Takayama formed No Fear. ***
Champion Carnival: STAN HANSEN (8) vs. STEVE WILLIAMS (6)
For all the talk about ‘believability’ in wrestling, I don’t know if there’s any better example of it than this match. This isn’t some case of intricate matwork, a la Funk and Brisco from the ‘70’s, or faux-MMA from RINGS. It’s just two big lugs beating the living hell out of each other. The cooperation is there, but it never seems blatant. When Doc picks up Hansen and rams him into the post or later on in the match when he muscles up Hansen for the Doctor Bomb it seems impressive, but it doesn’t seem surprising. It is a bit surprising to see Hansen use a Fujiwara armbar when he starts working over Doc’s arm, but with all his years in the business it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s picked up on a few things that one wouldn’t expect to see out of him. And the hold itself is pretty straightforward, so it’s not like Hansen is using anything overly complex.
The best way to sum this up is that Doc and Hansen do what anyone familiar with them would expect them to do. Doc jumpstarts the match and works over Hansen’s ribs and midsection. Hansen takes over when he avoids a corner charge and Doc’s momentum takes him over the top rope. Hansen’s first instinct is to start beating Doc with the bullrope, but the ref intervenes, and Hansen settles for working over Doc’s arm and shoulder. Hansen’s choice of offense seems to be as much about trying to wear down the arm as it is simply getting to avenge some of what Doc put him through. Hansen’s selling is much better, but Doc’s selling isn’t bad at all. Neither of them exactly has a flair for the dramatic, such as how Kawada would crumple to the mat when his knee wouldn’t allow him to go along with a whip into the ropes, but they don’t need that to make something like this work. Look at Doc’s abdominal stretch to see how they do it. Hansen doesn’t escape by clawing and fighting his way to the ropes, or by finding the last bit of strength that he has and taking Doc over with a hip toss. No, he uses his free arm to throw elbows into Doc’s leg and it puts him off balance enough for Hansen to get out of the hold. Even the finishing sequence features all the excitement and big moves, without anything seeming overdone. After the Doctor Bomb isn’t enough to keep Hansen down and he was unable to do the Oklahoma Stampede, Doc looks for the dangerous backdrop, but his bad arm gives out and Hansen falls on top of him. Hansen adjusts his elbow pad to signal for the lariat and Doc manages to avoid it. But a simple punch causes Hansen to rebound off the ropes and he catches Doc flush with the lariat and gets the pin, it looks like it was just as much due to dumb luck as it was Hansen’s smarts. They’ve both done a lot better with other opponents (as recently as seven days ago in Hansen’s case) but for a couple of guys whose best days were behind them, this is still a pretty good outing, even if it’s not exactly deep. ***
Conclusion: This is definitely something worth checking out, even if there’s nothing mind-blowingly great. The Akiyama/Takayama tag is definitely something of a hidden gem.