This the first half of the Complete Edition of the 2008 Champions Carnival Tournament, it’s a commercial release of all matches of the tournament shown in full. This part contains the Block A matches, and the second part has the B block matches and the finals.

Hiroshi Tanahashi . . . finally seems to have found his calling, by being a pretty boy arrogant heel.

Taiyo Kea . . . finishes out the tournament with the big goose egg, thanks to a bad neck and some bad ideas.

Toshiaki Kawada . . . shows flashes of his past greatness, but also shows that he’s winding down.


The tournament begins with one of longest running storylines in All Japan, Kea’s quest to finally score the win over his former mentor, tag team partner, and rival, Mutoh. Actually, this is fairly good effort from them, and until they go off the deep end, this looks to have promise. Kea seems to know that he’s not going to be able to trade licks and bombs with Mutoh and win, so Kea looks to keep Mutoh grounded to get the advantage. It’s a good idea in theory, but Kea doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with Mutoh when he’s got him on the mat, so he sits there and fumbles around with armbars. Mutoh finally gets off the mat and hits Kea with two quick Dragon screws and then turns the tables on Kea by both keeping the pressure on his knee and softening his neck by putting on an STF. Kea hasn’t ever been much for selling, but he was really good here, when he finally escapes, he’s great at selling both the damage done to his neck and the fatigue from the STF. When Mutoh traps Kea in the corner and hits the first Shining Wizard of the match, Kea’s selling is beautiful.

Kea’s selling is the high point of the match though, after he gets warmed up a bit with throwing chops and kicks, Mutoh and Kea commence to what they seemed to be trying to avoid, throwing out bombs. Mutoh has a pile of Shining Wizards and his dragon screw neck whip (which, if nothing else, got a great reaction due to Kea’s neck already being in rough shape), and Kea has the TKO and variation of them, but they’re just throwing them out without any real build to them. Actually, Mutoh is a bit more forgivable here since, again, he’d worn down Kea’s neck, but Kea had ceased to sell it to any great degree, so Mutoh could have done something other than the Wizard to give the idea that he was trying to wear down the neck for the Wizard. It’s finally too much for Kea and he falls once again to Mutoh, and does a stretcher job to boot.


Aside from the VM cheating, there isn’t much that separates this from Kojima’s Triple Crown win over Kawada from 2/05. Kawada controls the bulk of the match, and while that helps the match turn out a lot better from moment to moment, it doesn’t do much for Kojima’s credibility. Of course it’s more forgivable here since, Kojima is coming off a failed challenge for the titles against Sasaki. The basic premise is that Kojima tries to be the bad ass heel, and Kawada outdoes him. Kojima tries to light up Kawada with chops, and Kawada turns the table. Kojima takes a break and tries to go after Kawada’s knee, and Kawada escapes his leg hold with a single kick. Unless TARU distracts the ref or one of the VM members gives him an assist, Kojima is clearly in trouble.

In a way, it makes sense that they go that route since Kawada is broken down and past his prime, but it’s also disappointing that someone as good as Kawada and as experienced as Kojima didn’t try anything more ambitious. One of their best moments comes when Kojima and Kawada and jockeying over a suplex on the apron and Kojima wins with a DDT. It’s a fairly common spot, but usually just a simple way to let the other wrestler take over on offense, Kawada, however, puts it over very nicely, making it actually matter. TARU and the other VM give Kojima some plunder to help him finish off Kawada, but even a brainbuster on a chair won’t keep down Dangerous K, but Kojima’s lariat finally does the trick. It seems odd that the lariat would do it, when the brainbuster couldn’t but it keeps Kojima’s lariat over as a finisher, and gives the impression that Kojima can also beat someone fair and square.


Why is Tanahashi, who’s only had one other singles match and a couple of tags, working better matches with Kea than Mutoh, who’s probably worked with Kea 100 times? The only thing that kept this from being a very good match was Kea’s selling (big surprise there), the early feeling out stuff isn’t very interesting, but they make up for that by having plenty of intensity. Kea’s neck is bandaged from his ordeal with Mutoh, but he just rips it right off to show how much it’s bothering him. They settle down and start focusing the match with Tanahashi working over Kea’s knee, and the Korauken Hall fans are *not* happy about that. And, bless him, Tanahashi just keeps on sharking away and giving the fans all the more reason to dislike him. He slams the knee into the post, and puts on a seated figure four, and when Kea gets the ropes, Tanahashi refuses to break. When Kea starts mounting a comeback, Tanahashi hits him low to end the comeback.

As fun as Tanahashi is, it’d help tremendously if Kea would just sell for him. Kea’s selling was a big reason for his match with Mutoh being as fun as it was, but Kea didn’t seem to have two nights of selling in him. When he mounts his comeback from Tanahashi working over his leg, he’s throwing out kicks like his leg is perfectly fine. When Tanahashi hits him low, it’s all of one minute before he’s back on his feet and trying to fight back. Kea does have a few good tricks up his sleeve however, when he’s trying to do the Surfing suplex and Tanahashi blocks, he opts to do a couple of backbreakers and then go for the Cobra clutch. Kea also blocks an attempted Sling Blade into the sickest backdrop driver that you’ll ever see. He planted Tanahashi like a railroad spike. Aside from those few spots, all Kea needs to do is just sit back and let Tanahashi do his thing, because the fans are eating it up and are dying to see Kea take him down.

Toward the end, the match becomes a bit like Kea/Mutoh with them trading big moves, but, again, Tanahashi has the decency to sell the big moves from Kea, and to not lather, rinse, repeat the same spot over and over again. Tanahashi charges into a TKO and he looks all but done, but Kea delays his cover and Tanahashi barely kicks out. Despite the knee seeming to be Tanahashi’s focal point, it was Kea’s neck that came back to haunt him, they did a good job of fighting over the Dragon suplex and Tanahashi hits the Sling Blade and then hits two High Fly Flows for the win. Even then, instead of the usual ‘finisher, near fall, and repeat the finisher’ sequence that most do, Tanahashi doesn’t waste time and goes right back up for the second splash to finish him off. It makes sense to use his finisher, but given the damage done to Kea’s knee and neck, a submission finish would have seemed more suitable, Tanahashi had already won a big match with a Texas Cloverleaf, and he’s used the Dragon sleeper forever, and tapping out a former Champions Carnival winner and Triple Crown Champion would establish Tanahashi right from the get go as someone to watch out for. ***1/4


Aside from the armbar finish, there isn’t much here that’s any real surprise. Kojima does his usual Kojima stuff and Mutoh does his usual Mutoh stuff. There’s a nice touch with a second referee on the floor to keep the VM from getting involved, since their interference is what got Kojima his first win. Kojima works in his usual brawling and a couple of familiar spots, like the Koji cutter. Mutoh does at least a dozen Shining Wizards from various places. Mutoh’s Fujiwara armbar seems like a mandatory spot at first, but Kojima keeps on selling his arm and they play off it well. Mutoh first tries for Shining Wizards, thinking that, like Kea, the injured body part will make the move more effective (in this case Kojima’s inability to block it), Kojima does block it at first, and continues to put over the effects on his arm from blocking until he can’t block it anymore, but Mutoh’s still not worn down enough to be finished off by the move.

Kojima’s Hulk-Up and lariat is forgivable, because he wasn’t so over the top and goofy with it. He showed that he was fighting through the pain because he thought that as much as it would hurt him to do the lariat, it’d hurt Mutoh more and he could get the win, but like Mutoh’s theory about the Shining Wizard, Mutoh wasn’t worn down enough. The second Hulk-Up and lariat is just stupid though. Mutoh goes back to the armbar, and with nobody able to help Kojima, he’s forced to give it up. It’s too bad they didn’t do more to keep the arm in focus, they could have taken the match in a more interesting, and unique (for them anyway) direction. It’s fun enough for what it is, but there was definitely room for improvement.


I can understand that All Japan didn’t want their major tournament to have any short squashes, especially with only five wrestlers per block, but there was just no way that Kea needed to get as much offense as he did, or that it needed to go as long as it did. Kea attacking at the bell and hitting a quick TKO was fine, but once Kawada started zeroing in on Kea’s neck, that should have been the end of Kea on offense. Kawada’s offense is simple enough, it’s a mostly chops and knee strikes to Kea’s neck, but after having seen the progression of the Kea neck injury throughout the tournament, its effectiveness is crystal clear. Kawada also stretches him out with a Stretch Plum and even locks in a front neck lock to keep the pain coming.

Kea’s selling is generally fine, like the match with Mutoh, he’s great about making the holds that Kawada uses look so effective, his selling after the neck lock is exceptionally good. Kea didn’t need to start throwing out bombs as the match wore down, they only thing they wound up accomplishing was giving the illusion that Kea was putting up a fight, making the match go longer, and making them less credible as finishers in the case of the TKO 34th and the H50. Kea does get something right with a small package near fall, but that’s about it. What’s even worse about Kea throwing out bombs is how many big ones Kawada needs, which is zero. The biggest move out of Kawada is either a brainbuster or a powerbomb, both with the idea to work the neck. Kawada winds up finishing Kea with a knee drop off the second rope to the back of his neck. He didn’t use any big moves because he didn’t need them. The loss doesn’t make Kea look bad because of the shape he was in when he went into the match. The only thing that caused Kea to look bad was Kea himself.


If you’re a big fan of body part psychology, then this is right up your alley. Mutoh and Tanahashi both do a very respectable job of tearing each other’s knees apart . . . eventually. Before they can get there, they have to kill enough time to get the match to go to the time limit. So they lay on the mat in rest holds, Tanahashi at least somewhat foreshadows what he’s going to do to Mutoh by holding a leg lace, but he doesn’t embellish anything, he just sits there and holds it. Once they’ve killed enough time, this turns into quite the fun ride, Tanahashi strikes first blood with a Dragon screw, and proceeds to shark in on Mutoh’s leg with the same sort of smug arrogance that he displayed with Kea the day before, and once again the crowd hates him for it. Mutoh’s selling isn’t anything outstanding, but at least he does attempt to sell. Once Mutoh turns the tables and goes after Tanahashi’s leg, the crowd erupts, not so much for anything Mutoh is doing, but because the arrogant outsider is getting a taste of his own medicine. Tanahashi also has the bonus of some beautiful selling here, which goes a long way toward the crowd being as heated as they are.

With all the knee sharking going on, it’s no great surprise that this winds up being your typical Keiji Mutoh match, lots of Dragon screws and Shining Wizards, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes sense with where the match is going, but it’s not always very interesting. Take Mutoh’s extended figure four leg lock. It makes sense for Mutoh to use one of his tried and true submissions, but by having Tanahashi survive for so long and then get the ropes, doesn’t say a whole lot about the move’s effectiveness, especially when the knee was already hurting. Thankfully, Tanahashi a few tricks up his sleeve to keep Mutoh on his toes, when Mutoh is gearing up for a Shining Wizard, Tanahashi springs to action and counters him with a Sling Blade (although Mutoh just blew it off and did the Dragon screw anyway). When Mutoh is attempting what feels like his fifteenth Dragon screw, Tanahashi hits a big slap to break Mutoh’s grasp. Tanahashi also shows that he can think on his feet when a Sling Blade attempt goes wrong, he puts on a Dragon sleeper, to cover it.

The negative to the match is that, as fun as it is, the knee work is all just filler. As the clock ticks down, they’re more worried about getting the win with the bombs than they are with having a logical match. Mutoh is going up for moonsaults, and Tanahashi is trying to win with the High Fly Flow. It makes sense to try to try to win with their best moves, but there’s no reason to completely ignore the story of the match up to that point to do it. Had Mutoh not already used it for a long time, then Tanahashi being stuck in the figure four and trying to play beat the clock would have made a great finish, or if you want to keep the heat on Tanahashi, Mutoh playing beat the clock in the Texas Cloverleaf would have sufficed just fine. Instead, Mutoh getting cradled for a near fall on a moonsault attempt is the best thing they come up with. Tanahashi at least leads in with the knee in the form of a grounded Dragon screw and hits the High Fly Flow and then goes back up for a second one only to miss and time runs out when Mutoh is going back up for the moonsault. Even the staple of Giant Baba’s booking in the 1980's the double count out would have worked here, with their knees being in too bad shape to let them beat the count. Instead they go with the time limit draw after throwing out bombs, which winds up leaving a fun match with a bad taste at the end. ***


Just like Kawada’s match with Kea, this was fine until Kea decided he needed to go on offense before he lost. Kojima is no prince himself, but even he was serviceable here. His heel turn had caused him to work a more brawling style anyway, and coupled with Kea going into the match with a bad neck, and the results weren’t shocking. Kojima’s work wasn’t anything mind blowing, although he did surprise a couple of times, like his frankensteiner off the top. Kea was also good enough to bring out the good selling, when Kojima would hit him with even a chop across the chest, Kea would wince, and when Kojima brought out heavier guns like the frankensteiner and a neckbreaker, Kea would put it over great, and wiggle his fingers to make sure his neck wasn’t broken. Of course, Kojima also went into the match with the banged up arm, and despite using that arm a good bit, he didn’t once sell the arm while on offense, even when he used it for his signature elbow.

Aside from his early attacks using the guardrail and his one armbar attempt (which went nowhere) Kea leaves the arm alone, he’s more concerned with throwing out his kicks and working in signature spots than he is with doing anything that people might think would help him win the match. He could have aimed his kicks at the arm, and used them as a lead in for the jumping DDT or the TKO, but he didn’t. It was just Taiyo Kea doing Taiyo Kea’s spots. The one exception is Kojima’s missed lariat into the Surfing suplex. The Michinoku Driver on the chair from Kea and followed by the TKO 34th was the only time that anyone thought Kea had a prayer of winning, and given that Kojima had already beaten Kawada and was going to be on the shelf anyway, there wasn’t any reason to not give Kea the win here. But even then, it’d have just been Kea lucking into the win, rather than him actually earning it. Kea also has the bright idea to no-sell Kojima’s lariat to the back of the neck (which is heavily bandaged) just so Kojima can do a second lariat and beat him. When you’re getting outworked by Kojima of all people, something is horribly wrong.


After seeing their exchanges during the 3/1 tag match, one would expect this to be a fairly intense brawl. It’s not a bad thing that they don’t totally go down that route, especially with them having to do a thirty-minute draw, but by going the conventional way, they rob the match of a lot of potential excitement. If nothing else, Kawada and Tanahashi work a smarter early stretch than Mutoh and Tanahashi did, instead of just killing time with meaningless holds, they try to lay the groundwork for something. The idea that Tanahashi isn’t intimidated by Dangerous K. Tanahashi doesn’t show the smug side of himself that he’d been showing before. He simply faces the music. When they lock up, Tanahashi backs Kawada into the corner and breaks clean. When they do a knuckle lock, Kawada gets the easy advantage, but he can’t break Tanahashi’s bridge. The usual way this ends is with Kawada helping him to his feet and then Tanahashi doing a monkey flip to escape the hold. But Tanahashi jumps to his feet by himself, not needing the help, on effect, telling Kawada that he may be a legend, but that he can’t take Tanahashi lightly.

Tanahashi does finally let his smug side out, with some fun results, it first shows up after he once again backs Kawada into the ropes, but instead of a clean break, he slaps him right across the face. Kawada blows his top and winds up chasing him to the floor, Tanahashi gets in and hits a baseball slide, followed by a plancha. He tries to whip him into the guardrail, but Kawada reverses it. When Kawada gets him into the ring, he does what he does best, he opens up a can of the ass-whip. It’s fun to watch, but Kawada already did that to him in the 3/1 tag. Given the overall importance of this match, Kawada should have been more concerned with trying to win. Nobody would believe that a series of kicks to the back and midsection would get Kawada the win. Tanahashi isn’t all that much better, when he’s got control of things, he’s more concerned with the cheap shots than he is with trying to win. They’re good for a chuckle, such as when he tries to steal Kawada’s half crab and face stomp. But, again, it’s nothing that anyone thinks that Tanahashi will use to win the match. After he’d spent both of his last matches working over the knee area of his opponents, it makes sense that he’d not do it here, so as not to appear to be repetitive and formulaic. But if there was ever an opponent who could make that work to a tee, it’s Dangerous K. The extended elbow exchanges between them were great for getting over the tension, but they didn’t do much to take the match in a meaningful direction.

Most of the good action in the match happens within the last ten minutes, they both seem to realize what they need to do and they commence to doing it, but it’s about ten minutes too late to make much difference. Kawada stretches him out for a bit with Stretch Plum, and then tries to beat him with his signature moves like the Ganmengiri and powerbomb. Tanahashi goes after Kawada’s knee and, surprise, Kawada’s selling is almost perfect. Tanahashi goes for the High Fly Flow and tries for the pin after the move, instead of instantly repeating it. When that doesn’t work, he tries for the Texas Cloverleaf. While the action picks up tremendously, it’s far from perfect. It’s a sad sight to watch Kawada swing and miss not once, but twice with the face kick, and when he finally hits, he’s so careful about making contact, that it looks like nothing resembling a knockout strike. Also, while the intent was good, the Texas Cloverleaf looked very bad. Given their exchanges on 3/1, Kawada’s track record, and the remarkable performances that Tanahashi had been putting on in this tournament, this could have easily been the best match of the entire tournament, but it’s not even the best match of the block.


Everyone should sell the Shining Wizard the way Kawada sells the one that Mutoh hits as soon as the bell rings. If they did so, then maybe Mutoh wouldn’t need to be doing about ten of them in each match. That’s actually the high point of this match, it doesn’t really say much about the match, but Kawada’s sell job is phenomenal. The rest of the match is like the Mutoh/Kojima match without the surprise armbar ending. Mutoh does Mutoh stuff and Kawada does Kawada stuff, and this time around Kawada picks up the win. It’s sad to say, but a ten minute sprint was probably the best way to go. They’ve both had flashes of their past brilliance shine through, but neither of them are the workers they were once upon a time. Kawada’s selling is still exceptional, and he doesn’t whiff any of his kicks this time, but he appears to be going through the motions, and Mutoh’s execution varies greatly. If nothing else, they at least knew that they didn’t need to try anything ambitious. Their goal was to get Tanahashi to the finals and they did just that.


If you need an indication of just how much the fans dislike Tanahashi, then you just need to listen the crowd in this match. They actually cheer for Kojima, and there is a decent sized pop when TARU interferes for him. With Kojima’s arm already in bad shape, it’s no surprise how this goes. Tanahashi is as fun and heelish as ever with Kojima’s arm, it’s just too bad that Kojima couldn’t sell his arm the first time around, as good as he did the second time. Late may be better than never, but consistency and timeliness is better than late. The lead in to the arm is good stuff, with TARU slipping a chair into the ring, and Kojima and Tanahashi having a bit of a contest over who can outdo who with the cheap shots. Tanahashi wins and hits Kojima right in his bad arm with the chair, and it picks up from there. It’s a bit like Tanahashi/Kea, with Kojima not needing to do anything because Tanahashi is so good with the stuff he uses. But Kojima doesn’t feel like selling very well, and he doesn’t let Tanahashi do his thing. He frequently cuts him off for extended strike exchanges, using his bad arm no less, and even does the elbow from the top (and he lets them chant along with him).

Kojima does finally decide to sell after a Koji cutter, but he puts on the best selling I’ve seen from him, possibly ever. Tanahashi used most of his really heelish things the first time around when Kojima didn’t feel like selling, but he’s got some good stuff up his sleeve, the Dragon screw arm whip is certainly unique, and his Dragon sleeper fake out to the armbar was great. Kojima’s idea of how to take back control was more than a bit odd, he let Tanahashi do his dropkick of the top rope and just no sold it. But then he hits the lariat, with the bad arm, and the sell job is wonderful. Why can’t Kojima work like this all the time? He rolls to the floor writhing in pain. They even have the doctor check on him. When Kojima rolls back in Tanahashi charges into another lariat, with the other arm, for a good near fall. Kojima gears up for another lariat and before we can wonder if he’s going to completely kill his great selling for before, Tanahashi counters into a small package for the win, and the distinction of being the only wrestler in the block to go undefeated. Considering that he got watchable matches out of Mutoh, Kea, and Kojima, it’s a safe bet to call Tanahashi the MVP of the tournament. ***1/4

Conclusion: The big reason to get this is the Tanahashi matches, but there’s still plenty of fun to go around, even without him. All Japan often suffers from fun booking, but disappointing in the ring. But this is clearly a step in the right direction for them. Thumbs up for the first half the 2008 Champions Carnival.