September 17, 2006

It’s been a long time since I sat down with some recent All Japan, but a combination of markdom and curiosity has forced my hand. Shuji Kondo in the main event! The end of the ROD vs. Voodoo Murders war! And I finally get a look at this AHII character I’ve been hearing so much about.

Nobutaka Araya . . . sports a new hairdo, but nothing in the way any change in his ring work.

Minoru Suzuki . . . is like Roddy Piper circa 1987 “still the same no-good sonofabitch [he’s] always been!”

Shuji Kondo . . . unleashes the power of Voodoo Murders on Satoshi Kojima.


Not having seen a lick of 2006 AJPW since the 1/8 show, it’s painfully obvious how much has changed amongst the undercard workers. That being almost nothing, except for Araya shaving his head. Hirai and Araya are as interesting as they’ve always been, and Fuchi is only really good for some comedy spots (in this case it’s how many times he cheap shots Araya on the apron, and prevent him from coming off the top), and doesn’t even show any real grumpiness. Sure he scores the win for his team when he pins Araya, but he just tags in and cradles him, so it’s not like anything he did before really contributed to it.

The only one who really stands out is Asahi, and that’s only due to not being familiar with him, so his act is somewhat fresh. He takes a good beating from Hirai and sells fairly well, when he’s given something specific to do, like sell his ribs, or his knee when Fuchi wrenches on it. But his only real contributions to the match from a work standpoint were a handful of kicks and chops (which admittedly did look good), and one crucifix near fall. The match itself is enjoyable thanks to Fuchi’s comedy, and Asahi taking a beating, but it’s nothing that one couldn’t see on basically any other AJPW show.


AHII was rather fun to watch, but came off looking like a bit of a one-trick pony. His high spots were good, when he hit them cleanly, which he did most of the time, but a couple of his hurricanranas looked a bit off. His twisting Asai Moonsault was spectacular, and his elevated 619 looked good too. His “high speed” hurricanrana wasn’t very “high speed” but looked good anyway. When he wasn’t jumping and flying though, he didn’t do a whole lot well. Despite Voodoo Mask having the only real extended control segment (as extended as a four minute match can be) AHII didn’t do anything notable in the selling department, which goes hand in hand with Voodoo Mask not doing anything notable in the work department. Again, AHII was fun to watch, but unless he was just having an off night, he doesn’t look like anything to go gaga over after seeing his act more than a few times.


Now comes the good stuff. If you like stiff kicks, especially to the back region, then this is the match for you. Aside from the stiffness, it’s the first match to attempt some storytelling, with Raijin being the underdog and trying to prove his worth. Nakajima, normally the whipping boy for occasions such as these, shows some rather uncharacteristic grumpiness as he’s pelting away on Raijin’s back. Of course, when Raijin tags in Hijikata, Nakajima assumes the position and takes his beating as good as he was giving it to Raijin.

Aside from kicking, there was also some wrestling going on, and some of it was rather good. The match started off with Raijin and Kaz doing some out-of-nowhere chain-wrestling, that actually looked pretty damn good. What really made the story with Raijin work so well was how well Hayashi and Nakajima would sell for him when he finally hit something. When Raijin surprises Hayashi with the tombstone, Hayashi puts it over marvelously, holding his head and not being fully balanced after getting to his feet. Hayashi gives similar respect to Raijin’s lariat, dropping like a safe. Hijikata isn’t in the match a whole lot, but does manage to bust out one swank looking spot, with his body slam, and the segued into the juji-gatame. The work isn’t all pretty and perfect though, early in the match Nakajima does a leap frog and takes an inadvertent back bump. In addition, the initial sequence that establishes Raijin as needing to prove himself comes on the heels of a snap mare/kick to back exchange with Nakajima, that seems to go on for ages, think Kobashi/Sasaki at the Dome.

Fortunately, the match ends on a high note, without any silly finisher overkill, and succeeds in putting over Raijin, in defeat. Kaz pulling out the WA4 was a bit out of nowhere, but Kaz has been known to do that, and after the beating Raijin took, Kaz could have probably finished him off anyway, aside from Hijikata making the save, that is. And when Nakajima removes Hijikata from the equation, Kaz drops a big splash for a surprising two count, and the Final Cut for the win. It’s remarkable on some level that someone who’s been as underwhelming as Kaz has been, and as inexperienced as Nakajima, could put on such a fun match, but that just goes to show just how much good can come from simple storytelling. ***1/4


Aside from Suzuki and MAZADA being punks and going after Brute’s shoulder, which eventually gets them the win by ref stop, there isn’t much to see here. There are the occasional fun moments, like MAZADA’s sell job of Mutoh’s power driver elbow, Mutoh mocking Suzuki by putting MAZADA in Suzuki’s trademark sleeper hold, and MAZADA’s tombstone. Also Suzuki ducking the Shining Wizard, resulting in Mutoh landing on his ass was a rather funny moment. But by and large, when the heels aren’t torturing Brute, the work itself is mostly dull. Thankfully, Suzuki is as nasty about attacking Brute’s arm as you’d expect, and Brute puts it over awesomely. It’s nice that the arm bits were more than just filler, especially when MAZADA and Minoru added the chair into the mix, but the exact same message could have been sent in a quickie ten minute tag, rather than going double the time, and with a lot of the non arm work being little more than filler.


Considering how long this feud had been going on, the structure and work in this match seem a bit underwhelming. It starts off with all eight of them brawling all over the arena, pretty much anyplace except inside the bathroom, and inside the ring. Once the action settles down into the ring, they basically pair off with one another and work a few quick exchanges and tag out for the next pair, and only TAKA/YASSHI and Kea/Suwama having the only notable exchanges from a wrestling perspective. After getting worked over for a bit, TAKA tags Kea, who cleans house, and plants YASSHI with the TKO and TKO 34th. But before he can finish the job, Buchanan and D’Lo turn on him, and he gets pinned by RO’Z.

What it lacks as far as wrestling goes, it makes up for with storytelling, namely the foreshadowing of Brown and Buchanan’s betrayal. During the eight man brawl, we get to see TAKA slamming YASSHI into walls, and Kea throwing Suwama into guardrails. D’Lo and Buchanan just exchange punches, and not very good looking ones, with RO’Z and TARU. During the match itself, the only notable thing that Buchanan and D’Lo do is one quick spot where Buchanan grabs YASSHI by his braids and spins him around, but YASSHI never leaves his feet, and the spot looks almost *too* cooperative. The only really extended control segment is toward the end, when the Voodoo Murders work over TAKA, with TARU choking him with the tape. Kea tries to save him, basically going into a 3-on-1 fight, while D’Lo, Buchanan, and Suwama just sit there and watch. In addition to foreshadowing, D’Lo and Buchanan pretty much just stay out of things, which makes it all the more plausible for Kea to get finished off as quickly as he did after Buchanan’s lariat and the Lo Down. The writing was basically on the wall anyway, with TAKA teaming with Hayashi more and more, and with Kea being more of a Royal Road representative, and what it lacked for wrestling, it made up for a bit with some storytelling. It wasn’t the blow off the long feud really deserved, but it made its point.


SK vs. SK - Battle of the Lariats! The idea here was probably to elevate Kondo in defeat, similar to what happened with Raijin, but despite having a better chance of success than the Raijin match, it’s not a successful attempt. Even though the match is between a junior heavyweight and a heavyweight, there isn’t a vast size difference between Kondo and Kojima, and Kondo having shown several impressive feats of strength, it’s not that ‘out there’ to see Kondo actually control Kojima for any period of time. But that never happens. Granted, Raijin never had any extended control either, but he was doing an excellent job putting over his beating, and Hayashi and Nakajima were selling for him when he did hit something. Neither of those things happens much either. Kojima and Kondo have their own little chop war, and Kondo doesn’t sell them either, in fact he’s got a cocky smirk on his face to show he’s no-selling just to be a punk. And while that’s great for smarky fanboy cheers (such as from myself) it doesn’t do anything for the actual match. Kojima does a decent job of putting over the Gorilla clutch while he’s in it, but once he makes the ropes, it’s like nothing happened.

Without any real meaningful selling or extended control, the match itself is more of an exhibition. It’s a decently entertaining one at times thanks to Kondo showing off his power, and doing some of his trademark stuff to Kojima. But there’s nothing between the spots to suggest any sort of attempted story being told. Kojima manages to bring a few unique things himself, such as his DDT off the top to the apron, and his spinning Koji Cutter in midair that he pulls off, similar to DDP and his one million ways to do the move. You could argue that Kojima having to dig relatively deep into his arsenal to put Kondo away would be some sort of elevation, but Kojima more or less wrote to book on silly things to lower the credibility of your offense. And everyone knew that it would eventually come down to the Battle of the Lariats - Western Lariat vs. King Kong Lariat. But meeting expectations isn’t always a good thing. There wasn’t anything wrong with them blocking the lariats, but Kojima and Kondo both go overboard, and like every other time it’s been sent out to do battle, the Western Lariat reigns supreme. It’s an enjoyable match at times. Thanks to Kondo pulling off his stuff. It’d be easy to just blame Kojima, and he certainly gave reasons to blame him, but Kondo is at fault too, for just playing along.

Conclusion: It looks like another case of status quo from All Japan. An enjoyable product, but one with some rather noticeable flaws. There are reasons to like this show, but aside from the Raijin tag match, and novelty of the ROD/Voodoo Murders blowoff, there really isn’t anything here that couldn’t be found any just about any other AJPW show.