DREAM POWER SERIES
March 21, 2023
Suwama . . . may not have become the second coming of Jumbo, but he’s entirely watchable at smacking around spunky youngsters.
Kenoh . . . tries to leave bootlace indentations in the chest and back of the All Japan World Tag Team Champions.
Shuji Ishikawa . . . apparently thinks that he’s the second coming of Shinya Hashimoto the way he dishes out 300lb diving footstomps!
OJI SHIIBA vs. BLACK MENSO~RE
This isn’t marginally better than what the rookies were doing in the opening match on the NOAH show a couple of days before this. These two are a lot more experienced, so their work is smoother and more complex, but they still have less than six minutes to work, so it’s not like they have the time to do a whole lot. Menso’s arm work makes for some fun filler, and it gives a bit of extra credence to the backslide near fall. Menso’s kick out of Shiiba’s cradle and rolling him into the LaBell lock was easily the highlight of the match, and Menso’s version looks a hell of a lot tighter than Bryan Danielson’s. Shiiba’s win comes a bit too easily for him, considering what all Menso had been throwing at him, and the fact that the theme of the match had been Shiiba’s inability to get any momentum going. Shiiba surprises him with a spiky DDT and then a head kick, which was a fine way to turn control over to him, but he immediately follows the kick with his finisher and wins. The DDT certainly looked nasty enough to set up the finish, but by going right to the finish afterwards, it makes all of Menso’s offense seem unimportant.
HIROYOSHI TENZAN/SATOSHI KOJIMA/YUTAKA YOSHIE vs. TAKAO OMORI/MITSUYA NAGAI/YOSHITATSU
This isn’t much more than a reminder that some of these guys are still active. The only one who really doesn’t have much to show is Nagai since he’s stuck working with Yoshie, but it does allow for a funny moment when he reverses a vertical suplex and sells like he’s completely spent. Tenzan, Kojima, and Omori more or less run through their familiar spots, and that mostly works out fine aside from Tenzan and Omori getting crossed up when he tries for the Mountain Bomb. It was nice seeing Yoshitatsu try to buck up and fire back at Tenzan with chops, it serves as a nice little reminder that he’s not the same young boy that Tenzan used to smack around between his tag title runs and various failed attempts to elevate him into a top guy. The Axe Bomber versus Lariat battle for the finish is OK, although it comes off more comedic than anything else. Other than Yoshie, none of the other guys look bad, although it’s obvious why they’re regulated to these sorts of matches instead of being involved in major feuds and big title matches.
HIKARU SATO vs. RISING HAYATO
Although this also gets a ridiculously small amount of time, it still manages to be a fun ride. It takes on a bit of a pro-style versus shootstyle theme, with Sato always being able to outwrestle HAYATO, but he doesn’t have any sort of answer for his flying or striking attacks. It seems like HAYATO is getting ahead; but then he tries to cover a little too deep after a quebrada, and it allows Sato to roll him over for his own near fall and that kicks off a series of counters and reversals that ends with Sato cradling HAYATO and scoring the win. It’s intended to come off as a fluke, but it’s actually the best finish on the show up to this point and feels much more natural than either Shiiba or Kojima’s wins.
DAN TAMURA vs. ATSUKI AOYAGI
Aoyagi’s flashiness makes this come off like a spotfest, but they actually manage to churn out a pretty fun match with a Flash versus Technique story. It seems like Tamura has what it takes to completely shut Aoyagi down, but Aoyagi is able to come back and take Tamura by surprise and rip out some impressive looking stuff. Tamura’s Boston crab seems wasted at first, Aoyagi starts his comeback after he makes the ropes, but he finds smart ways to sell and keep it in mind. One of his bigger spots was the moonsault off the second rope to the floor, but instead of landing on his feet to show off, he rolls back one more time and stays down, as though he wasn’t physically capable of landing on his feet. His inability to pick up Tamura for the fisherman’s buster was another smart touch. And, when Tamura traps him in the cloverleaf, the time spent in the crab hold is given some extra meaning and Aoyagi getting the rope break when Tamura eases off the pressure comes off perfectly.
That’s not to say that this isn’t without issues as well. Some of their early exchanges and spots give way to the cooperation, specifically Tamura’s back body drop and Aoyagi “surprising” Tamura with the handspring into the head kick. The rolling fisherman buster sequence is more than a little absurd, with Aoyagi giving Tamura two of them and then when he goes for the third it’s Tamura who hits it first. They go a little overboard for the finish; Tamura’s lariat looked nasty enough to believably end it (especially with Aoyagi’s bump that incidentally kicks Tamura in the head). But, instead Aoyagi kicks out so that Tamura can plant him with a couple of more spots, until he stays down after a powerbomb. If nothing else, using the powerbomb tries to play into Tamura wearing down Aoyagi’s back, although there are several better things that he could have done to show what he had in mind. Despite its issues, this is still a very fun match, and between this and his April match in GLEAT with Takanori Ito, Tamura is someone I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
MINORU SUZUKI/HOKUTO OMORI vs. JUN SAITO/REI SAITO
It’s hard to hate the Saito bros when they come out to “Dream Warriors” - but it gets a lot easier when they’re throwing slaps at Suzuki that look like they can’t even break an egg. Jun and Rei may look menacing, but their work is anything but. The nicest way to put it is that some of the spots show their competency. Suzuki and Omori work like they know they’re in front of a live crowd, while Jun and Rei work as though they think they’re in the gym practicing. Omori doesn’t get much to do, but he makes his few moments to shine count, such as the diving ace crusher that thwarts Jun’s lariat. The one thing that the Saitos have going for them is their size, and even as he’s winning the match, Suzuki finds a way to make that seem important. He can barely grasp his hands together for the Gotch piledriver, and he needs a little help from physics in order to actually get Rei up for the move. What anyone saw in Jun and Rei at this point to think that they’d be a good choice to hold any company’s tag titles is beyond me.
SUWAMA/MASAYUKI KONO vs. RYUKI HONDA/SHOTARO ASHINO
Being the successor to Jumbo was always going to be a daunting task for Suwama, but, if this is any indication, Suwama has done a fine job of picking up Jumbo’s mantle of the grumpy vet. Suwama’s complete disdain for Honda and Ashino is fully on display with his lariats and the backdrop that he uses to finish off Ashino. Other than that, there isn’t too much to see here. Ashino deadlifting Kono into the gutwrench was impressive, but that’s probably his best moment. Ashino’s ankle lock looked pretty much worthless by the end of the match. He traps Suwama in it on three separate occasions, and aside from a little bit of hobbling, it doesn’t seem to do much to hurt Suwama. Hell, the finishing stretch sees Kono break up the ankle lock, and after a tiny bit of selling, Suwama hits a running lariat and then plants Ashino with the backdrop for the win. Suwama needs virtually no time to recover, and he has no issues at all with his two big spots. Suwama and Kono’s intensity is the best thing to see here by a mile; their early control segment with Honda is more than watchable, even though they mostly stick with lower-range offense. But this is nothing close to Jumbo and Taue versus Kobashi and Kikuchi, it looks and feels far closer to Jumbo and Taue taking on Kikuchi and Asako.
KENTO MIYAHARA/YUMA ANZAI/RYO INOUE vs. MASA KITAMIYA/YOSHIKI INAMURA/KINYA OKADA
Well, this certainly isn’t lacking in hate or intensity; but it’s lacking in pretty much everything else. Overall, it just feels like Kitamiya and Miyahara wanted to use this match to let the four lower-ranked guys show what they could do, and the other four though that they should be in supporting roles for Miyahara and Kitamiya. And, as a result, nobody really shows off all that much. A match like this is virtually ideal for the low man on each team to get worked over by the other team’s top guy and show some perseverance before tagging out. But that never happens here. Miyahara hits a couple of kicks on Okada and cranks a headlock before deciding to tag out to Inoue. Okada tags out and Inamura turns the tide before tagging out to Kitamiya, but he only does some elbows and some low-range offense (although Inoue tries to really fly when he takes the back body drop). The closest that anyone comes to showing some perseverance is Inamura during the last stretch, and he doesn’t even get to do it with Miyahara. He takes a jumping knee from Anzai, and Inoue gets a couple of near falls from cradles and then does a kick barrage. But all it takes to switch the momentum is for Inamura to use his strength to throw Inoue into the corner while he’s charging and that’s enough to allow him to use the Muso and win the match for his team. Aside from the knee from Anzai (due to how well Inamura put it over) and that last kick from Inoue, it never really seemed like Inamura was in danger of losing the match.
The match feeling so flat is an especially big failing on the part of both senior team members. They only seemed to be interested in working with each other (which itself isn’t bad, they do have a history together from Kensuke Office/Diamond Ring), but even those exchanges aren’t special. They mostly feature them trading off strikes (kicks from Miyahara and elbows from Kitamiya) and no selling the rest. Kitamiya manages to hit his kneebuster, spear, and lock in his reverse figure four on Miyahara. Anzai makes the save, and after Kitamiya dispatches him, Miyahara is throwing kicks and hitting a running knee in the corner. Kitamiya blows off the knee and hits a German suplex, which Miyahara proceeds to pop up from and they continue trading strikes until Anzai and Inamura tag in.
Again, the one area where this wholly delivers is in attitude. Kitamiya’s cover attempt after the back body drop to Inoue seems odd. It’s not like anybody really thinks the match is going to end with it, but while he’s pinning Inoue, Kitamiya is trying to stare a hole through Miyahara and Anzai. Conversely, when Inamura is covering Inoue for the winning pin, the look on Miyahara’s face is borderline tragic. Even the younger guys manage to get in on some of the fun; Anzai takes a couple of kicks from Okada and tries to buck up and show him that he’ll have to do more than that to keep him down. The attitude and intensity alone are enough to make this better than both of the previous tag matches, but it’s hard to not come away from this feeling underwhelmed. NOAH and All Japan working together isn’t a new thing anyway and it’s long ceased feeling like a major happening, the way it did when Misawa returned to AJPW in 2004 against Kojima or when Mutoh and Kea challenged Misawa and Ogawa for the GHC Tag Titles at NOAH’s first Tokyo Dome show. But the opening few minutes gives the impression that this is going to be a war on that sort of level, and the work itself never gets there. ***
YUMA AOYAGI/NAOYA NOMURA © vs. KENOH/MANABU SOYA (AJPW World Tag Team Titles)
The Kenoh/Yuma exchanges alone are hateful enough to make this worth watching, but the rest of the match seems like it’s overshadowed by them. Soya and Nomura aren’t world class workers or anything, but they pretty much carry the match as far as the in-ring work goes, even though a good portion of what they do feels like it’s meant to be filler, especially the extended strike exchanges. They have a fun sequence early on where they take turns trying to hip toss each other in order to decide who the stronger man really is, Nomura escapes a body slam and give Soya one of his own to win the exchange. But a minute later Nomura whips Soya into the ropes, and Soya hooks the ropes to avoid rebounding off them, Nomura charges at Soya and gets himself hip tossed over the top rope. Both Soya and Nomura get to be the victim of some double teaming while their partner is on the floor. Soya gets worked over for a bit longer, and he gets hit with one of the biggest spots of the match when Nomura comes off the top with a splash. There’s a particularly smart moment from them when Soya blocks Nomura’s spear; he’d already done it a couple of times and seemingly had Soya stunned after a big elbow flurry, but Soya was still able to block it. And the finish seems like it’s designed to give Soya a boost of credibility. Kenoh gives one assist, and it’s after Soya already created himself the opening. Soya escapes a DVD and hits a lariat aimed at Nomura’s knee and then Kenoh comes off the top with a diving stomp to the knee. The two shots to the knee allow Soya to hit his own DVD and then the Wild Bomber before planting Nomura with his jumping DDT to give the NOAH team the titles.
While all this is going on, Kenoh and Yuma are pretty much trying to rip each other’s heads off. They’ll take any chance they get to knock the other one off the apron. Hell, early in the match Soya knocks Yuma off the apron and Kenoh jumps down and runs to the other side to get in some shots and then he sends him on a rail ride. Kenoh runs in and breaks up a pinfall and Yuma is right behind him afterward to land a couple of shots and then throw him to the floor. However, their intensity is pretty much all that they have going for them. When they’re actually legal in the match opposite one another, they tend to act goofy. Kenoh outsmarts Yuma and gets him in an ankle lock, and then he manages to dodge and avoid Nomura’s lariat attempts to break up the hold. Kenoh seems crafty for doing it, and then he ruins the moment by taking down Nomura and hooking in another ankle lock so that he’s got them in simultaneous submissions. They also work a double KO spot when Kenoh hits a German suplex and Yuma pops back up and does one of his own. Aside from the brawling on the floor and them stiffing the piss out of each other, there’s no sense that they’re really trying to add anything to the match. This really feels like it’s a tale of two matches: Soya and Nomura brought virtually all of the good and smart work, while Kenoh and Yuma brought the attitude and stiffness, which is the thing that most people are going to remember from this.
YUJI NAGATA © vs. SHUJI ISHIKAWA (Triple Crown)
How much one would enjoy this depends on what they place more value on, storytelling and selling or execution. The early filler with Nagata working the knee and Ishikawa working the midsection is some of the easiest filler to watch. Both men come up with some creative offense to move things along, and both Nagata and Ishikawa also do a great job at selling when they’re the one being worked over. The only thing that seemed out of place was Nagata’s ankle lock, since he’d been focusing more on the knee, but Ishikawa rolling over to relieve the pressure wound up putting him in position for the Nagata Lock. When most people think of Yuji Nagata, “crafty” isn’t often a term that comes to mind, but that sequence showed that Nagata was thinking ahead. Ishikawa hitting Nagata with the Giant Driver on the apron is probably the smartest moment of the match. Ishikawa gets to the spot in a believable manner and Nagata puts it over very well, he initially seems all but dead and then he slowly starts to stir and crawl to the ring, but then he collapses before he can get in and gives everyone a bit of a scare. Unfortunately, as happens all too often, once the body part portion is out of sight it’s also out of mind. There are several moments when either man’s weakened area could have come back into focus, but it never does. Toward the end when Nagata can’t get Ishikawa up for a backdrop suplex his first instinct is to kick at the leg he’d worked on, and Ishikawa barely even registers it. Similarly, it’s Ishikawa’s size that prevents Nagata from doing the backdrop, at least until he connects with a couple of head kicks, when it would have been more effective if Nagata’s weakened midsection was shown to be at least part of the reason.
Whether it’s due to their age, their bodies breaking down, or a combination of both, the execution of most of their work leaves quite a lot to be desired. While their work doesn’t look comparable to a Dragon Gate sort of match, it has the feeling of one in the sense that their sequences and exchanges feel rehearsed and choreographed. Nagata’s reversal of the whip into the corner is probably the most glaring case of it. It’s not just the wrestling exchanges either; most of their strikes are noticeably weak looking, not as bad as the Saitos, but still below what these two should be doing. There’s a sequence when Ishikawa “boots Nagata off the apron,” in actuality Ishikawa just hits a glancing kick and Nagata drops himself off the apron and then crumbles to the floor. Nagata starts working the leg when he hits a running kick to the knee while Ishikawa is charging at him, but it looked more like he was trying to trip Ishikawa instead of targeting the limb. When Nagata is ramming the knee into the post, it actually looks more like he’s helping Ishikawa stretch out. Aside from the Nagata Lock, most of the submissions look ugly too. Nagata gets his armbar toward the end and he seems to be exerting almost no pressure, unless the idea is that Ishikawa’s size means that his arms have next to nil as far as flexibility goes.
And it probably wouldn’t be a Triple Crown match, or at least a Yuji Nagata match, unless there was some overt goofiness to it. It starts just after the Giant Driver on the apron. Ishikawa climbs to the top and Nagata has to get up and meet him up there for a strike exchange that Nagata wins and takes him over with an Exploder. It’d have been easier for Nagata to just stay where he was, selling on the mat and let Ishikawa come off the top with a knee or elbow that misses when Nagata rolls out of the way. Nagata can continue selling and then recover and take over the match without wasting a big spot. And yes, the Exploder off the top is wasted. They exchange elbows and Ishikawa surprises Nagata with a Dragon suplex, which Nagata blows off, and then Nagata hits a regular Exploder, which Ishikawa no sells. Ishikawa hits a running knee and then they’re both down. After the Giant Driver off the apron was treated so well, Ishikawa hits a regular one that means nothing and then follows that up with an ugly powerbomb for a near fall. Ishikawa tries for some sort of wrist-clutch move, but Nagata apparently “fights out of it” by grimacing and shaking his arms. By the time they finally decide to end the match, there’s no reason to care about anything that either of them does. Nagata’s limb work doesn’t do anything to stop Ishikawa from doing what he wants, and when Nagata finally does score the backdrop hold and put Ishikawa away, the only drama is if Ishikawa will kick out the same way that he did after the regular backdrop. This obviously wasn’t going to be anything amazing, and as much as I appreciated the selling and the body part work, it looks like they’re both too far gone by this point to be able to put on a match like this and make it work.
Conclusion: It’s plain to see that this isn’t a bad show, even with a disappointing main event. The NOAH/AJPW stuff was what I was most excited for, and it delivered, along with some fun on the undercard.