When I watch pre split All Japan, I expect to see some good wrestling, which is what I get here. But I wasn’t prepared to see Akira Taue smacking around Vader like he’s Taue’s little brother, or Yoshinari Ogawa actually putting on his workboots. Just when I think I know how good they can be, All Japan has to go and up the ante.

Yoshinari Ogawa . . . is the standout wrestler (and not in a best-of-the-worst way) in a match with Misawa, Kobashi, and Akiyama.

Akira Taue . . . gives Vader a really good fight, but ultimately falls short of winning the Triple Crown for the second time.

Jun Izumida . . . thinks the secret to success lies in the power of the headbutt, and that might explain why he’s never done anything notable.


The big question, to me, isn’t ‘Why is this such a good match?’ it’s ‘Why wasn’t Ogawa this good on a regular basis?’ Maybe getting to play with the top dogs lit a fire under his ass, or maybe it’s just the freshness of him being added into the mix, but, whatever the case is, this is a pretty awesome match. It’s established from the get-to that the onus is on Ogawa to prove himself, Ogawa and Akiyama start off hot and heavy with some chain wrestling and then exchange counters and escapes with Akiyama coming out on the wrong end. Kobashi takes exception and Misawa evens the odds, leading to Misawa and Ogawa dispatching Kobashi with an elbow on the floor, and Ogawa taking down Akiyama with a drop toehold and Misawa hitting a big elbow drop.

Eventually, Kobashi and Akiyama are able to swing momentum back into their favor and start punishing Ogawa. Ogawa’s selling isn’t anything outstanding, it never has been, but it’s passable here, and Burning does a total 180 from the month before, now they’re the ones trying to be all heelish and heap abuse on the underdog. The really interesting dynamic to this is what Misawa does while Ogawa is getting put through the ringer, that being nothing. He’s not running in at a moments notice to turn the tide, the way he was for Akiyama a few years ago. Maybe it’s because 1999 Ogawa had far more experience than 1996 Akiyama, or maybe he just had more faith in Ogawa than Akiyama, but either way, it’s very thought provoking, provided one enjoys thinking while watching wrestling.

As fun as the Ogawa story is, it’s Misawa/Kobashi that people want to see and they don’t disappoint, too much. Honestly, the Misawa/Kobashi exchanges are mostly good, I can only imagine how long it had been since Misawa whipped out a headstand on the turnbuckle and then turned it into a head scissors, and he also surprises Kobashi with a head scissors takeover. The only real mark against them is when Kobashi catches Misawa by surprise in the sleeper and dumps him with the sleeper suplex, and Misawa pops right up like its nothing. Granted, that, much like the half-nelson suplex, was never something Kobashi used to win, so it’s not like they were killing its credibility, because it didn’t have any, but you’d think the first real big bump of the match would have some impact, and it doesn’t.

The sleeper suplex spot winds up being their only wrong move though, all four of them bring some smart work and good moments to the match, and make it better than it probably has any right to be. Watch when Akiyama picks up Misawa for the Exploder and Misawa elbows his way out, instead of just trying again, Akiyama hits a dropkick to the knee. Much like the sleeper and half-nelson suplexes, Misawa’s frog splash is also a trademark spot that isn’t that meaningful, but when Misawa starts gearing up for it, Ogawa start stomping and jumping on Kobashi’s ribs, and gives it that much more meaning when Misawa hits it, and the crowd certainly appreciates and understands what he was trying to accomplish. Both teams also pack their fair share of good double teams, Burning’s superbomb, Misawa/Ogawa’s backdrop/jumping neckbreaker drops and their backdrop/elbow combo.

When the match breaks down and all four start brawling, the Ogawa that I’m more familiar with comes out, the eye-poking, jaw breaking one, but it works to a tee here after having seen the abuse that he’d taken from Kobashi and Akiyama. Another spot that’s certainly not disrespected is Misawa’s running elbow. Misawa and Ogawa get a great near fall when Misawa hits Kobashi with the elbow and Ogawa follows up with the figure four cradle, and when Misawa gears up for another one, Kobashi outsmarts him with a big lariat and sends him to the floor, which leaves Ogawa with Akiyama. Once again, this is the Ogawa show, and he’s able to fend off Jun’s best shots and keep outwrestling him by taking him down with flash pins, but Akiyama finally puts the kibosh on that and plants him with the Exploder for the win. It seems like a slight on Kobashi, Akiyama, and Misawa to call this the Ogawa show, but that’s pretty much what this is. Ogawa had to step up and prove himself and he did, in grand fashion. Granted, over the next few years, the combination of Ogawa’s laziness and ego, and Misawa’s age and breakdown would make this tag team a chore to watch at times, but, on this night, Ogawa looked like a fitting partner for Misawa. ****

AKIRA TAUE vs. VADER (Triple Crown Decision Match)

Had this taken place a few years ago, this would have been a real treat, it’s still decent, but it’s definitely on the lower end of the Triple Crown spectrum. The only real storytelling element is that Vader and Taue try to make it look like this is going to be a real contest and not just a cakewalk for Vader. Which they do with Taue teeing off on Vader with chops and kicks, and Vader bumping left, right, and center for Taue. Vader only winds up winning thanks to a lucky break when he knocks Taue off the apron and the follows him down with a splash on the floor. After that, it was all Vader, although Taue doesn’t go down too easily. Vader finally hits the big powerbomb and puts him down for good.

As one should probably expect with this pairing, their work is far from pretty, Taue fails to take him down with the jumping neckbreaker drop, and they improvise with Taue taking him down with a sort of pushing Nodowa. There’s also Taue’s attempted lariat over the top rope, where he doesn’t have enough momentum to get Vader over the top. It still says a lot that their big problem was with execution, and not in going overboard with big spots and delayed selling. Twelve minutes doesn’t seem like enough time for a match involving the crown jewel, but, given this pairing, it was for the best.

Next is Jumbo Tsuruta’s retirement ceremony, complete with some clips from his more famous matches (AWA Title win, Triple Crown unification), and his farewell address. Jumbo then goes to the corners to pump his fist and give the fans one last Oh!


If you’re a big fan of the headbutt, then this is something you’ll want to go out of your way to see, seeing as that’s about all that Honda and Izumida do. At one point I started thinking about my childhood, when I always wondered why anyone would use the headbutt, since it hurt you just as much as your opponent, and then it dawned on me that, in today’s wrestling world, I can’t think of a single wrestler who uses it as a genuine offensive move. Yes. That’s how captivating the champions are.

The FMW team is a little bit better, Hayabusa at least has the sense to try and block or dodge the headbutts instead of just taking them. When they finally get their own offense, they take to the air and it’s as graceful as ever. Hayabusa’s springboard rana was a thing of beauty and their synchronized springboard sentons looked perfect. But, that’s all they’ve got to offer at the core, and while it’s more exciting that watching Izumida do his seventy-first headbutt, it’s not all that much better. There are a couple of nice touches to the match to save it from being a total washout. Izumida uses a single leg crab on Shinzaki and no-sells Hayabusa’s kicks when he tries to make the save. A little bit later, Shinzaki uses the stranglehold on Honda and no-sells Izumida’s attempts to make the save. Both teams have their moments when they look to have the match won, Izumida’s jumping headbutt (what else!) to Hayabusa, Hayabusa’s 450 and Firebird Splash, and Honda’s Dead End series to Shinzaki, but there’s always someone poised to make the save. In that sense, the finish isn’t much deeper than Shinzaki pinning Honda while Hayabusa holds back Izumida, although it probably should have been Izumida doing the job, seeing as Shinzaki used a diving headbutt.

Conclusion: This commercial release is definitely on a sliding scale. It goes from great, to decent, to barely watchable. It’s still good enough for me to recommend because the first two matches are enough to cancel out the last.