February 22, 2004

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic lately for All Japan, with all the talk of this new King’s Road promotion, and I’ve also been craving some of the late Shinya Hashimoto lately as well. This was a review that I’d always thought needed retooling, so I may as well kill several birds with one stone.

Turmeric Storm . . . actually gets booked to win a match!

TAKA Michinoku . . . has a busy night ahead of him, having to work twice.

Shinya Hashimoto . . . is injured, broken down, past his prime, and still awesome.


This is pretty much a waste of talent here. Hamada and his teammates don’t get to show off much of anything, unless Urano is in the ring. Abdullah’s lack of mobility is an obvious hindrance, but Ebdullah doesn’t do any of his famous comedy to at least offset that. There are the occasional fun sequences such as Urano and Ishikari trading off slaps, as well as Hamada getting grumpy on Urano, but moments like that are few and far between. Ishikari’s selling of Abdullah’s 70's stuff is a nice touch, and with all the finishing move overkill that you see in wrestling, it’s unique if a bit cool to see a single elbow drop render Ishikari unconscious.


If Araya and Hosaka had tried to work with Hijikata and Hirai, this might have been decent. Instead we get Hosaka and Araya just working them over, in the least interesting ways possible. Hijikata does some decent looking stuff on the mat in the early going, but neither Hosaka nor Araya has any clue what to actually do with him. Hijikata starts laying in the kicks on Hosaka and finishes him with a fisherman buster. That’s the only worthwhile thing to come out of the match. The fact that Hijikata, one of the smaller workers on the roster, was able to nearly KO his much larger opponent with a single kick, goes against the grain of one of wrestling’s oldest traditions, size matters.


Aside from showcasing exactly how much ROD has over All Japan, this doesn’t accomplish anything other than to kill time. ROD uses Arashi’s lack of speed, HI69's smaller frame, and Kono’s lack of experience to their advantage. Even though HI69 has a size advantage over TAKA, TAKA is much more skilled and much quicker than he is, and as a result ROD still had the advantage. Buchanan shows off his agility, and Gladiator shows off his power. But more often than not, this is noticeably dull with an emphasis on a slow pace, rather than fun work or telling a story. It’s probably not a coincidence that the match is so dull, with TAKA spending most of it on the apron, but he had double duty to pull, so it’s understandable. It’s somewhat remarkable that a rookie like Kono doesn’t get put away after an Awesome bomb, but rather after a running one *and* the splash off the top. Judging from this though, it’s a good thing that Buchanan finally found himself a character and that All Japan stopped booking Gladiator.


After three duller-than-dirt matches, this is something of a pick-me-up. The action is all over the place, and there isn’t much thought given to selling or structure. But this is still fun thanks to the weapons, as well as Honma being a maniac and taking crazy bumps. Honma getting chucked off the balcony onto the ramp deserved a much better sell-job than the one Honma gave it, although Honma is something of a psycho. NOSAWA does try to play off it, by attacking the very spot in which Honma’s back grazed the table on the way down though, and Honma does do a nice job putting those attacks over. The heels are also fun with the plunder they bring into the match, as well as the fact that NOSAWA’s choice of a weapon is a Winnie the Pooh doll. Just when you think the brawling and weapons are getting old, Honma goes and brings a ladder into the match, for a whole new variety of spots. Including an oldie but a goodie, ‘seesaw’ spot that sends it up into NOSAWA’s face. Much like Honma with the ramp bump (although it’s less offensive here) NOSAWA’s selling doesn’t quite do it justice, but the odd selling makes sense in setting him up for Honma to finish him off with the blockbuster. It must be getting cold down in Hell, what with Honma and Miyamoto winning a match and all. Not that this was anything great, but it was fun, and it did its job of finally getting the fans somewhat into the show.

Just to kill the momentary buzz from Turmeric Storm actually winning a match, the next thing shown is a clip of Turmeric Storm failing to capture the All Asia Tag Team Titles from Shiryu and Great Kosuke.


For a couple of grumpy, grizzled veterans smacking each other around, this is fun. These two have both made a career out of torturing youngsters, so watching them dish it out to each other shows that they can take as well as give. What hurts though, is that for every moment of fun they provide, there is an equal amount of frustration. Tenryu makes Fuchi’s chest beat red, and then Fuchi starts and playing “now I’m selling, now I’m not” with Tenryu’s strikes. Fuchi never did have a ton of offense at his disposal, and he practically made his post prime career out of overkill with his backdrop, but Tenryu plays the same game that Fuchi played with Tenryu’s chops, in terms of randomly deciding when to sell. It’s great that they can have sneers on their faces and punch each other in the mouth, but it’d be more great if they could build a logical match while they were at it. The only real focus that comes out is Tenryu’s working on Fuchi’s neck, and the bulk of that came in the last half of the match, with Tenryu’s standard lariat, enzuigiri, etc. before finishing him off with the powerbomb. It makes sense in that vein, but straying from the standard Tenryu stuff would have been much nicer.

TAKA MICHINOKU vs. KAZ HAYASHI (Vacant AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)

Compared to the rest of the card thus far, this is certainly the best match of the night, but it’s mostly a one-man-performance. The one man in question happens to be the only person on the card who had to pull double duty and work twice. TAKA and Kaz start off working a decent paced back and forth match, with nobody really coming out on top, but then TAKA tries a dive and misses, hurting his knee. TAKA follows that with an excellent sell job. Kaz is good for a while at sticking with taking on TAKA’s knee, but strays away from it. Fortunately, TAKA doesn’t stray away from selling it, including a great moment when he back flipped out of Hayashi’s attempted German suplex, and remembered to sell after landing on his feet.

TAKA also eliminates the jumping kicks, as well as any other dives from his offense after that. He keeps Kaz on the mat and tries to wear him down the Just Facelock. It’s a great idea in theory, to compensate for his previous mistake and still work over Kaz. The problem comes up in that (A. Hayashi’s selling his more him selling fatigue than him putting over the hold itself and (B. TAKA doesn’t have anything else interesting to do offensively other than the Facelock. If you look at the number of things Kaz does, compared to TAKA, then he easily looks like the better wrestler in the match, but Kaz rarely makes him offense actually count. He hits TAKA with a WA4 on the ramp, and TAKA proceeds to crawl to his feet, hold Kaz down and then dive into the ring, that’s when he hit the move on the ramp. How can anyone expect the WA4 being done in the ring to get the job done, after that? Kaz also uses the Final Cut for two, as well as a moonsault that mostly hit TAKA in the knee area and still doesn’t get it done. Amazingly enough, its TAKA’s attempt at the Michinoku Driver II and Kaz’s reversal into the Final Cut that gets the win. There’s enough smart work from TAKA to make the match stand out, and it’s only fitting that after Kaz went through everyone else, that it got to be TAKA who ultimately dethroned him. ***


This bears a striking similarity to the previous match, in terms of a small storyline paving the way for the things that come later. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have TAKA’s awesome selling to carry it, so it falls flat compared to the last match. Kea looks as though he spent the year he was out with his knee injury watching some old Memphis tapes. When he’s unable to get a meaningful advantage over Kojima, he sneaks in a cheap shot with his knee brace, Kea doesn’t let the ref check it, until he’s been able to readjust it. The shots with the knee brace open a cut on Kojima’s head, and Kea starts doing everything he can to keep it bleeding. He also sneaks in shots below the belt whenever he gets the chance. Other than that though, Kea just throws out his usual stuff, and works in damn near every major move he’s got at his disposal. Two Cobra Clutch suplexes, the H50, TKO, and none of it matters, because he winds up going back to the knee brace to win anyway. Maybe working in one or two of his moves would have worked, to show Kea what he needed to do in order to win, but doing everything only devalues them.

Kojima is just as helpful as Hayashi was in the last match that being almost not at all. He hits his corner lariat, yells to the fans and then drops down, to put over the blood loss and fatigue. That part was very nice. When Kea tries to use the knee brace once too often, Kojima catches him with a Dragon screw, which is also a decent idea. Beyond that though, Kojima has nothing. He completely blows off Kea’s H50, the same move that gave Kea his biggest win ever. Kojima also totally no-sells a shot with Kea’s knee brace, so he can jump up to hit his lariat. That could have made sense in the vein of Kojima finally taking enough shots with that knee brace that he’s desensitized to anymore, it’d have been silly, but still made sense. But Kojima then goes on to charge directly into another knee shot from Kea and stays down for the count. Kea getting the win here was designed to push him up the card and show that he’s above being Kojima’s partner (Kea’s role before he got hurt) but all that this accomplished was Kea looking like that’s where he belongs, with all his big moves unable to get the job done, and needing to resort to cheating.


Some of the events in this match were obviously going to happen. The big tease toward Sapp and Jamal going at it, Sapp selling the same way Goldberg would sell for Luchadores, and of course D’Lo doing the job. What wasn’t expected though was D’Lo being the standout worker in the match. His vocal selling while in Mutoh’s knuckle lock is a highlight of the early portions, he’s got his bumping shoes for whenever Sapp gets his hands on him. D’Lo also brings plenty of attitude with him during his interactions with Mutoh. One particularly nice moment was Mutoh’s inability to use his usual stuff on Brown. On two separate occasions, Mutoh tries his Dragon screw and both times D’Lo has different ways to counter it. Brown is even able to block Mutoh’s Shining Wizard. In fact, it’s not until Sapp gives Mutoh the assist in the form of Team Wrestle-1 doing a Shining Impact that D’Lo is finally put down.

The two guys the match was more or less made around, Sapp and Jamal, both have nothing to contribute in the long run. They have two short sequences with each other (which have the fans red-hot), and neither is particularly conclusive in showing that one is more dominant than the other. Sure, it was Sapp’s Shining Wizard (at least somebody does the move worse than Mutoh) that put Jamal down, but the only thing that accomplished was letting them finish off D’Lo. Everything Sapp did to Jamal, Jamal was able to do to Sapp. The booking of the match, as well as the post match angle where Sapp turns down TAKA’s invitation to join ROD was obviously designed to set up a Sapp/Jamal singles match. It never came to be though. Sapp wound up going to New Japan where he won the IWGP Title and headlined a complete failure of a Tokyo Dome show.


If All Japan was at the point that they had to leave the Budokan, at least they get to leave on a high note. Both Hashimoto and Kawada are suffering from injuries and are past their primes, and there are times when that becomes apparent. But despite that, they still manage to show off just how good they really are, even in their current states. It’s been ages, probably years actually, since anyone has been able to give Kawada a halfway decent contest in the striking department, but Hashimoto is up to the task. Kawada actually bleeds from his ear after a slap from Hashimoto, a real moment of irony given what Kawada did to Misawa in this same building, for these same titles ten years previous.

When Hashimoto changes gear and starts going after Kawada’s knee, we are reminded as to how awesome a seller Kawada can be. Every kick, stomp, and chop that Hashimoto dishes out leaves Kawada on the mat writing in pain. Hashimoto also does some excellent work in going after Kawada’s leg. From the obvious tactics such as his foot sweep and his roundhouse kicks, and some unique ideas like draping Kawada’s leg over the second rope instead of the bottom rope, putting that much more stress on the leg when he comes crashing down on it. Likewise, when Kawada shifts gears and goes after Hashimoto’s shoulder, Hashimoto does just as awesome a sell-job. It’s not often we see Kawada take things to the ground, but that’s what he does to tear apart Hashimoto’s shoulder. Utilizing both a Juji-gatame and a Triangle choke, as well as modifying the Stretch Plum to put more stress on the arm.

The big problem here though is Kawada’s knee selling. As awesome a job as he did selling it when Hashimoto was tearing it apart. He completely forgets about it when it’s his turn to do the damage. Kicks are Kawada’s main weapons, so obviously he’s going to be kicking at Hashimoto, but he doesn’t do a single thing to show that his knee is still hurting him, or do anything to show him trying to block out the pain. It’s saddening to see that from someone as great as Kawada. The transition from Hashimoto on offense, to Kawada on offense was also weak, Kawada hitting a backdrop suplex and Hashimoto landing more on his shoulder than his back. Good idea in theory, but it more or less forced Kawada to forget about any damage done to his knee, so he could take Hashimoto over in the suplex. As frustrating as it is to see Kawada bringing the match down, Hashimoto is able to make up for it. He manages to surprise Kawada with a sweep and then drop him in the Brain buster, but doesn’t cover because he’d put too much pressure on his shoulder. Hashimoto crawls to his feet and gets ready for another one, but doesn’t have it in him to do it again. Kawada sees his opening and levels Hashimoto with a Ganmengiri and then locks in the modified Stretch Plum and Hashimoto’s corner throws in the towel. Obviously considering the injuries and the fact that they’re both broken down, this wasn’t going to be as up to par as it would have been a few years ago. But when a disappointing match is as good as this was, it shows just how awesome these two were, and it’s a shame they didn’t have a singles match before this. ***1/4

Conclusion: This certainly doesn’t look like your average AJPW show. The fun stuff is usually in the middle, and then the main events are painful. Before the hardcore matches this was duller than dirt. After that though, this turns into a fun show with something enjoyable in each match, recommendation to pick this bad boy up.