This is the second half of the Champions Carnival. The wrestlers assigned to the A and B blocks were actually quite fitting. Block A had the big names and established stars of the tournament. Block B, on the other hand, contains the young upstarts, and the wrestlers who are established don’t have as much name value, despite their credentials. So they really are, essentially, the B-Team.

Joe Doering . . . proves that power being more important than technique isn’t exclusive to the feds in the U.S.

Osamu Nishimura . . . makes it his goal to destroy the knees of everyone that dares to meet him in the ring.

Hiroshi Tanahashi . . . helps give young Suwama the match of his career in an outstanding final match.


I’ve seen more than enough of his matches to know that Minoru Suzuki can have good matches, but apparently Joe Doering isn’t a wrestler that can have one with. It’s not all Joe’s fault. His typical North American powerhouse offense doesn’t always mesh well with Suzuki’s cagey quasi-shooter type. There are things Suzuki can do to lead to Doering’s powerhouse offense, like his failed piledriver attempt that allows Doering to do an Alabama slam. But the reverse isn’t true, when Joe gets trapped in Suzuki’s submissions or chokes, all he can really do is sit in the hold until Suzuki either lets go or gets him to the ropes.

Suzuki actually wins the match twice, he chokes out Joe about a minute in (the ref checks on Joe and his arm drops three times) and he actually taps out to an armbar, which Joe tries to cover up by wailing away to look like he’s struggling. Beyond those, all they really have at their disposal are exchanges of Suzuki’s slaps and Joe’s forearm shots. Sometimes they lead to something amusing, like when Joe gets pissed and actually chases Suzuki around the ring, but it’s mostly just mundane. The message that this sends out is loud and clear, that size takes precedence over skills. Suzuki was wiping the mat with Joe, but all it takes is one good lariat and a spiral bomb (although he makes Joe really fight for it) to end things. It’s fun at times, but it’s too much of a styles clash to really be anything more.


Given that Sasaki held the Triple Crown at this point, the time limit draw finish is obvious. He can’t take too many losses, but since the tournament winner gets a title shot, he can’t go too far in it either. This appears to have the same ‘Power vs. Technique’ story that Doering/Suzuki had, but it’s a much different dynamic with Nishimura’s 1970's style offense as opposed to Suzuki’s shootstyle offense. Not to mention that Sasaki doesn’t have much to do outside of his trademark stuff, other than chops and perfunctory holds, so this isn’t exactly the most exciting thirty-minute draw. They trade chops and European Uppercuts, for it seems like forever and Sasaki eats up time with rest holds. Nishimura at least tries to add something different to the mix, even though it’s just him doing his usual routine. He gives Kensuke his clean break in the corner and the chest slap, and also makes sure to work in his bridge spot.

It’s not until almost two-thirds into the match that it looks like it’s going to get interesting, when Nishimura starts to unload his European Uppercuts on Kensuke’s leg and then locks him in a figure four. Sasaki, like Tanahashi, lingers in the hold for far too long before he gets the ropes. Nishimura looks like he’s going to continue going after the leg, but Sasaki stops that before the match starts getting too engrossing. He gives Nishimura a chop, and then, just to really be annoying, does the Ippon Seionage without any problem with his leg. Sasaki then decides to try to play the submission game himself, with his Stranglehold Gamma and two extended crab holds, with the brilliant idea of building up to the crab holds with a bodyslam. Nishimura comes back with an abdominal stretch, and Kensuke’s idea of putting that over is to escape by doing a hip toss to Nishimura, over the top rope no less. The clock starts ticking and they both start digging out offense to try to get the win. Sasaki finally sells his knee . . . to explain why he delays in going to the pin after the Northern Lights Bomb, but time runs out before either of them can get the win. This was just way too long, too dull, and had too much of Kensuke sucking. The funny thing is that they had the chance to do something good staring them right in the face with Kensuke’s knee. He could hold Nishimura to the draw, but then Suzuki, Suwama, and Doering all take advantage of it in their matches. It’s an easy explanation of why he doesn’t go too far, but doesn’t make him look bad at all.


Who’s brilliant idea was it for this to go for twenty-five minutes? There are some good moments, mostly from Nishimura, but neither of them seemed to have enough in the tank. It also doesn’t help that this is once again a huge clash of styles and Joe was too inexperienced to really know what to do with Nishimura. The only times that the match looks like it’s going anywhere is when Nishimura targets a limb, first he goes after the bandaged arm with a hammerlock, but kept bridging out to keep Joe from countering, and then a short arm scissors. But as soon as the hold was released, Joe was back on his feet and throwing chops and clubbing forearms. A bit later on, Nishimura goes after Joe’s knee, and he sells it better than the arm, but it doesn’t allow for much more than Nishimura to dig out the Funk’s spinning toe hold, and a figure four.

When Nishimura isn’t doing any limb work, the match is duller than dirt. They work in the obligatory standing surfboard spot to put over Joe’s strength advantage, but it just goes on for far too long. They try to get over the idea of Joe working over the back for his Canadian Backbreaker (which he winds up using to win), but, aside from digging out the Steiner Recliner, he just uses a lot of clubbing forearms and basic moves. Its Nishimura’s selling that makes it clear what Joe is actually going for. They try to lead into the finish with Nishimura trying to pin Joe, only for Joe to bridge up and put on the hold, but Joe can’t bridge up all the way. He winds up having to almost clutch Nishimura’s head to get up, but then he falls before he can spin around. In short, this is like Doering’s match with Suzuki, only without Suzuki’s interesting offense to keep things fun.


If there wasn’t so much downtime in the first half, then this would have been good, not just good for a time limit draw, but good in general. Once they pick up some steam, the match takes a huge step in the right direction, thanks in part to Kensuke’s selling, and also thanks to Suwama pulling his own weight. They start out smartly by playing off the finish to their previous Carnival match, which saw Suwama score a fluke upset on Sasaki in fourteen seconds. Kensuke comes out with both guns blazing and tries to avenge that by getting a quick pin over Suwama with lariats. When that doesn’t work is when the match takes its nosedive, they start trading off chops, and while it’s not ridiculously over the top like Kobashi/Kensuke, it’s still boring and it’s not like they’re taking the match anywhere with it. They’ve got thirty minutes to kill and they figure that will eat up time and get the crowd excited, and they were only half right.

When Sasaki hurts him arm after he misses the chop, this starts to pick up. Suwama isn’t as devious or heelish as Chono, Mutoh, Tanahashi etc. would have been, but he’s okay with what he does. The rolling short arm scissors was interesting and watching him wrap it around the post almost seemed out of place, like something that SUWAMA, the red-haired VM member would do. Praise the Lord, Sasaki actually sells and sells well. He tries to light up Suwama with chops and sells his arm after each one, it’s weird that he didn’t learn from Kojima, of all people, and switch arms. Watching him continue to chop and then sell his arm almost makes you want to see someone tell him to use the other arm.

Suwama shows some brains of his own by how he uses Sasaki’s arm to create his own openings. It’s doubtful that anyone thinks that Suwama could make him tap (although after Mutoh/Kojima, they could have done to push the envelope), so he instead uses it as a way to work in other stuff. At one point Kensuke whips Suwama into the ropes and Suwama hits him in the arm on his way back to stun him, and then he gives Sasaki a belly to belly for a near fall. Suwama’s use of the Ankle Lock is a bit head scratching, they had the chance to test the waters on a tap out because they’d already established Sasaki’s arm as a weak point, but nobody thinks he’ll get the job done with the Ankle Lock, but again, Suwama is at least smart on how he goes about it. He takes a shot at the arm and then charges Sasaki and rolls into the hold, something that Kurt Angle wishes he was cool enough to do. A bit later on, Suwama catches Sasaki in corner doing the ten-count spot, and hits a power bomb and does the Samoa Joe spot where he puts on a submission after Sasaki kicks out of the pin attempt, in this case back to the ankle lock.

As nice as it is to see them working smart, the bottom line is that they still have to go to the time limit, so eventually the match breaks down into just throwing things at each other to get the crowd into the match. Neither of them do anything overtly offensive, Suwama’s escape of the NLB was actually a great moment, but any sort of flow or idea of them building to something just goes out the window so they can do the big moves and get the near falls. But since they’re going the distance, nothing that they do especially matters. It’s a good sign to see Sasaki holding his arm after spiking Suwama with a Tiger suplex or after his powerbomb variation, and being Sasaki, it’s still miles better than what’s probably expected of him. It’s a good start for Suwama, and a huge improvement for Kensuke, but it’s still below what the A block was doing on the same day.


If not for the irony involved, this would have been unremarkable, but it’s ironic that, after using his size and power to get to the first place of Block B, Doering would get squashed in the same manner. This is just your generic power guy match, with Joe and Kensuke seeing who can land the hardest shot, Doering with his clubbing forearms or Sasaki and his chops. Matches like that can be fun in the right context, but this isn’t the right context. The basic premise is that Joe tries to stand up to the Triple Crown Champion and show his growth, and Kensuke just mows him right down. They do zero to play up Kensuke’s arm injury from the day before, despite them having an opening with Kensuke’s use of the lariat. The NLB off the second was cool, but it was complete throwaway because Joe just kicked out and Kensuke went right back to the lariat to finish him off. Thanks for that, Ken-suck-e.


On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be vastly different from the previous match. They’re about the same length, they both feature the young gun trying to stand up to the veteran and show his growth, but he ultimately fails. Where this differs, and winds up coming out ahead, is the style of a match they go with. Joe and Kensuke went with the power match, which made sense for them, but neither of them actually did a whole lot, and the result was a dull affair. Suzuki and Suwama go with a shootstyle approach, which makes sense with Suwama’s amateur credentials and Suzuki’s history in places like UWF and Pancrase, and they also make sure to not half-ass it. When they are on their feet trading shots, it’s due to the hate they have for each other, and not some ridiculous form of chest thumping.

It seems like this will be a regular match, for all of thirty seconds, then Suzuki lets loose with his big slap, Suwama blows his top, and the fight is on! The only weak parts are when they work a mounted position or a guard, because Suwama really doesn’t know what to do. But other than that, this is less a match and more like a fight. At one point the ref tries to get between them, and Suwama just throws him aside to keep fighting. While he’s clearly going to be outclassed in the submission department, Suwama uses his strength to his advantage by hitting Suzuki with a pair of lariats that floor him, you’d think he got hit by Stan Hansen himself. Suwama’s suplexes seemed out of their element, especially the belly to belly, but he got a nice near fall from the backdrop. What leads to his undoing though is that he just can’t seem to avoid Suzuki’s sleeper hold. Suwama finds counters, and has the wherewithal to get to the ropes for the break, but Suzuki just keeps on coming, and, in the words of the late Owen Hart “Enough is enough” and Suzuki chokes him out. This is actually sort of similar to the Saito/Whaka match from the first NJPW Dome show. They obviously weren’t going to be able to go full tilt UWFI, but they made a good attempt to do something relatively unique.


This was a bit on the simplistic side, but it made its point. It’s similar to Suwama’s match with TARU from 3/1, in that Suwama just lets Nishimura do his thing until it’s time to go home, but Nishimura has more to do here than TARU did, so the result is a much better match. After Nishimura gets his prerequisite spots out of the way (the clean break and bridge) this starts to get interesting, Suwama shows up Nishimura by countering his abdominal stretch with one of his own, but Nishimura reverses that and seems to go for his cradle, but instead he torques up Suwama’s knee, and spends the better part of the next ten minutes wearing it out. Like Suwama in the Sasaki match, Nishimura doesn’t have the nasty flare that you’d expect from some of his contemporaries, but he shows about as much mean streak as you could expect him to, it was certainly out of left field for him to come down on the leg from the apron while Suwama was on the floor.

Some people would take issue with the finish, namely the backdrop overkill. But it worked in its own little way. First off, Suwama was smart enough to continue selling his leg, instead of forgetting about it so he could look like Superman. Second, he was already behind the 8-ball at this point, so he needed something tried and true to ensure the win, when he tried the Last Ride on Suzuki, he wound up in the sleeper hold, and despite his small size, Suwama’s knee might not be able to let him pull it off. Suwama needed the win here to even have a chance to make the finals. Nishimura goes for a headlock and Suwama hits a backdrop. Nishimura tries again, and Suwama hits it again, and again, and again, and finally Nishimura stays down. There were smarter and more exciting ways for them to go about it, Suwama could have learned from Suzuki and found new ways to catch Nishimura with the move, or maybe changed it up a bit with various types of suplexes, but, again, it made sense in its own way.


Now this is the right context for an extended exchange of strikes and no-sells. These two are longtime rivals, and they’re in each other’s face before they’re even introduced, so you know already know what to expect from them. Kensuke and Suzuki trade slaps and chops and neither wants to be the first to show weakness. Sasaki because he’s such a tough guy, and Suzuki because he’s a dick. Kensuke just lays into his chest and Suzuki stands there and stares at Sasaki with his trademark smirk and tongue sticking out. Suzuki eventually does have to give in and show that Kensuke’s onslaught is taking its toll on him, but he gets in his own share of respectable shots on Kensuke, so he at least gets to make his own point.

This also has a sort of shoot feel to it, not in the same way that Suwama’s match with Suzuki did, but more like an Edge/Matt Hardy type of shoot, where things feel like they could boil over at any second, which probably isn’t a coincidence, since Suzuki’s specialty is working like he’s gone into business for himself. There isn’t much to see here as far as wrestling goes, Sasaki is content to just run though his usual spots (the only exception seems to be a powerslam from the second rope, but, like the NLB it was a throwaway spot), but Suzuki isn’t content to just let him, which is what eventually does in Kensuke. Suzuki’s counters to Kensuke’s facebuster were welcome sights, and both times that Kensuke looked to have things in the bag, Suzuki would have a counter ready, in the form of his sleeper. Kensuke, like Suwama, was good with counters and escapes, but it only held off the inevitable and Suzuki winds up choking out the Triple Crown Champion. If nothing else, this block seems have the advantage as far as originality goes, the matches they’ve been putting on have been much more unique, and this is yet another example of that. The Triple Crown Champion taking on his longtime rival and the former champion would usually scream out a time limit draw, not a twelve minute sprint with the champion losing.


Suzuki and Nishimura have the same goal that Mutoh and Kawada had for their singles match on the same day, to simply ensure that someone else, Suwama in this case, makes it to the finals. However, they don’t let that single goal, or the fact that they’re booked in a four-minute match stop them from making it a fun ride. There’s another moment of irony, with both Doering and Suwama snapping when Suzuki hit his patented slap to the face, this time it’s Suzuki who snaps when Nishimura hits his slap to the chest. Suzuki proceeds to wipe the mat with Nishimura, he doesn’t appear to have any real rhyme or reason for doing anything else, which is understandable with them getting so little time. But Suzuki looks strong throughout, especially with the armbar spot. Nishimura gets the backslide out of nowhere to steal the win and ensure that Suzuki doesn’t make it to the finals. Like Mutoh/Kawada, they accomplished their prime goal, but unlike them, they also made it into a fun ride rather than seeing two washed up wrestlers throwing out their spots.


Suzuki’s loss ensures that the winner here goes to the finals, so it’s no surprise that this is a bit on the short side. They mostly use their time well, neither of them had the obvious attack method that Tanahashi did with Kojima’s arm, so they’re left their own devices. They both know what they need to do to win, it’s just a question of who has the right formula. Doering uses what brought him to the dance, that being his power moves. Doering just throws bomb after bomb at Suwama, including not one, but two, Diamond Cutters and several different powerbomb variations. Doering and his bombs make up the bulk of this, it’s not terribly interesting from a wrestling standpoint, but it really gets the crowd behind Suwama.

It’s Suwama who has the winning formula, which is by working smart. Doering is a big guy, so Suwama chops him down to size in the form of the Ankle Lock, and, like his match with Sasaki, he’s smart about working it. He wears him down with what I can only describe as a Dragon screw ankle wrench, and then goes for the kill. Joe gets the ropes the first time he’s stuck in the hold, but Suwama gets it back on as a counter to Doering’s attempt at the spiral bomb, Joe kicks him off, and Suwama goes back to it with his awesome rolling application. Suwama is relentless with the hold and finally Doering has to give it up. It’s a fairly mindless match, but the smart work surrounding the ankle lock is a hell of a nice touch. The result is the important thing here because it’s symbolic. Before going into, arguably, the biggest match of his career up to this point, Suwama vanquished the last ghost from his past, closing the books on that part of his career and moving on toward bigger and better things.

HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. SUWAMA (Champions Carnival Finals)

And this is what it all comes down to, the cocky New Japan wrestler who more or less skated his way to the finals, taking on the young All Japan wrestler who made it by the skin of his teeth. Not since Kawada/Hashimoto has an All Japan match had such an epic and important atmosphere to it. Tanahashi and Suwama both understand their roles and know exactly what they need to shoot for, and they more than hit the mark, with the results of one of the best heavyweight matches in All Japan in quite some time.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this is so good, Suwama and Tanahashi take all the good things from their previous matches and put them all together. The first ten or so minutes seem unfocused, they’re certainly not doing much from a wrestling perspective. But they’re doing an awesome job at getting the crowd behind Suwama with Tanahashi heeling things up left and right. He crowd plays, he disrespects Suwama, and the ref, and the rabid Korauken Hall fans hate him for it. Suwama, if nothing else, knows how to play along. So when Tanahashi gives him an opening to return the favor, he does it. A good example is when Tanahashi is throwing forearms in the corner and stops to get in the ref’s face, Tanahashi strolls back over and Suwama throws him in the corner and lets loose with his own forearms. There’s another great moment, when Tanahashi was getting the crowd riled up by ramming Suwama’s knee into the post, when Tanahashi stopped to soak up the boos, Suwama hits a slap to the face that would make Minoru Suzuki proud, and again, the Korauken Hall fans go nuts.

Tanahashi working over Suwama’s knee also isn’t much surprise, working over knees is one of the reasons that Tanahashi was as successful as he was. And the fact that Nishimura had softened up Suwama’s is just gravy. Tanahashi is as dogged and heelish with the knee as he’s always been, and then he seems to forget about it for a while. But just when you think it was only done as filler and feel let down, Tanahashi goes for the High Fly Flow and Suwama gets his knees up to block, and sells the leg that had been worked over, and Tanahashi is right back on it. The Texas Cloverleaf spot is an exceptionally great moment, unlike the Kawada match, Tanahashi has the hold firmly cinched in, and Suwama almost gets the ropes, only to get pulled back to the center and having to start again. And the crowd is once again rabid in support of Suwama.

The key to Suwama’s success is the same thing that led him to victory over Nishimura, the suplexes. But this time around, he’s not as mundane about it. Instead of just constantly doing the same thing, he changes things up a bit. He hits his first backdrop as a counter to the Sling Blade, then he picks up Tanahashi and spikes him with a German suplex. Suwama also pulls out some new offense in the form of a Kobashi Half Nelson suplex, and he uses an overhead belly to belly into the corner. The Last Ride is simply the final nail in Tanahashi’s coffin, but it’s not so easy. The first time he tries for it, Tanahashi escapes out the back door and gets a near fall of his own on Suwama with the trapped-arm German suplex. The second time Suwama tries, Tanahashi had already weakened the knee, but Suwama was still able to get him up, but, again, Tanahashi escapes and got a roll up for another near fall. But Suwama won’t be denied and hits Tanahashi with a big lariat, and then he finally hits the Last Ride (which looks like it utterly kills Tanahashi) to win the biggest match of his career.

While this is certainly a huge step forward for Suwama, and yet another stellar performance from Tanahashi, the match is not without its issues. The main one being the execution, several of Suwama’s suplexes look ugly, the belly to belly in the corner is the worst, which can be partly chalked up to Suwama’s knee. However, despite having the nickname of “Mr. Suplex” early in his career, he’s never really been given a chance to go that route. So it’s no surprise that they don’t always look great. There’s also a couple of times when they had the chance to take advantage of the big match atmosphere with bigger spots that one wouldn’t expect out of them, but they passed it up. The biggest example being when Tanahashi was in position for a sunset flip powerbomb, but instead, he opts to carry Suwama to the middle of the ring and powerbomb him there. But the good and smart work that’s present here far outweighs the disappointing aspects, this is probably the best All Japan match since Kondo and Hayashi stole the show, and the best heavyweight match in All Japan in forever. A fitting end to an exceptionally fun Champions Carnival. ***3/4

Conclusion: The league matches aren’t the same caliber as the other block, but that’s not surprising considering how the Blocks were divided up talent wise. However, there are quite a few solid efforts and good performances from the wrestlers, and then the awesome final is the icing on the cake. Huge recommendation for not just part 2, but for the whole Champions Carnival.