March 20, 2005

Keiji Mutoh’s All Japan is definitely not the same one as the greatest promotion ever that Giant Baba gave the world. Shows like this show that Mutoh’s All Japan can just be full of surprises.

Toshiaki Kawada . . . completely dogs it with a terrible performance.

NOSAWA Rongai . . . is in a fun singles match.

The Voodoo Murders . . . play a central role in one of the wildest and best angles to date in All Japan.


There are worse choices for an opener, this is fun enough, but still falls a bit flat when compared to what all could have been done. YASSHI, Kondo, and TARU are all fun heels, and aren’t shy about cheating, but that only stretches so far because the babyfaces don’t do anything to really add to what the Voodoo Murders are doing. The heels do some nice stuff like TARU choking AKIRA with the tag rope, and YASSHI pulling the rope back so that Honma can’t grab it to break the hold he’s stuck in. The ref missing AKIRA’s tag to Honma is a nice touch, but because the Voodoo Murders didn’t do a nice thorough beat down like they could have, the lack of heat is more than noticeable. Toshizo does a nice job of conveying his anger and frustration when he gets in the ring, laying out all three Voodoo Murders with roundhouse kicks, and when the ref won’t get out of his way, leveling him for good measure. Which winds up allowing TARU to attack all three of them with his sword and then lay a nasty kick to the groin of Toshizo. Kondo then strolls on over and levels Toshizo with the King Kong Lariat for the win, in what was a fun match, but disappointing considering what it could have been.

KOHEI SUWAMA vs. NOBUTAKA ARAYA (Winner Enters Champions Carnival)

Simple and effective have always gone hand in hand with each other, and when one looks at rookies like Suwama, and Go Shioski from NOAH, and sees them working a simple story with a match, they come off looking like easy picks for future stars. Suwama is able to do that for a time in this match, but when Araya is needed to take it further, is when the match falls flat on its face. They start out like most matches involving a rookie taking on a veteran do, with Suwama getting pounded on. Suwama is no slouch in the size or strength department and on more than one occasion, he unsuccessfully attempts to hand it back to Araya. Things change though when he’s able to get Araya onto the ground and fall back on his amateur credentials to apply some truly nasty looking arm bars and make Araya scream in pain. Suwama follows that up with a Fujiwara armbar, and then repays Araya for his earlier abuse by kicking his weak arm. Suwama then lives up to his Mr. Suplex nickname by dropping Araya with a nasty belly to belly for two.

After that is when it all falls apart, logic would say that when Suwama strays from the arm or the suplexes, is when Araya uses his experience to get him back in trouble again. However, Araya just takes his opening instead of waiting for when it would make more sense, and continues to pound on Suwama with clubbing forearms and enough lariats to make Kojima scratch his head. Araya also thinks using his takeover suplex (complete with nasty head bump) and his finisher, the moonsault is also a good idea, despite relatively zero build to either of them. And instead of going back to the arm, Suwama takes his cue straight from Araya on just taking control again for the hell of it, when he spikes him with a German suplex and then a second one (with a beautiful bridge) for the win. Along with simple and effective, rookies and potential always go hand in hand. But Suwama’s potential is going to be wasted if he’s continuously put in matches with workers who can only help him develop bad habits.


Watching this, and Rongai’s title challenge against Kaz Hayashi back in December, is like night and day. This is probably the smartest worked singles match that NOSAWA has taken part in, not that NOSAWA has a whole lot to do with that. It’s irritating to watch both of them blow off the roundhouse kicks to the head, especially when one can tune into WWE of all things and watch Tajiri be able to beat workers that are twice his size with a single kick like that. But thanks to guys like Nagata, Kanemoto, and Tanaka (and that thanks isn’t a positive one) it’s pretty much par for the course in Japan.

NOSAWA brings a few nice spots with him, but by and large nothing he does is of any dire consequence. It looks odd to see TAKA clamp on the Just Facelock moments after escaping NOSAWA’s Lucha style juji-gatame, but the beauty of a move like the juji-gatame is that its effects aren’t very long lasting and within seconds after being released the pain goes away. NOSAWA also brings a few fun cradles with him, and his Shining Wizard makes an appearance early on in the match, but NOSAWA’s offensive portions in the match lack that clear foci, and that’s what TAKA ultimately knows to bring, and use it en route to victory. TAKA makes NOSAWA’s neck a target early on, wearing him down with both his kicks, as well as simple holds like a headlock. The inevitable Michinoku Driver II vs. Rongai Driver battle takes place, and TAKA puts it over as a big near fall, despite that Rongai hadn’t done any sort of work to single out TAKA’s neck/head area, or tried to KO him. Rongai thankfully follows suit instead of blowing it off (and TAKA had singled his neck out, and used the roundhouses as KO attempts). In the end TAKA goes right back at the neck with the Just Facelock, but since it hadn’t worked for him after several attempts, TAKA steps it up by also hooking Rongai’s arm up, rendering him pretty much helpless and tapping out. It’s remarkable that this looks like an even match on the surface, but when looked at more closely, the match comes off looking more like a squash, thankfully it’s a smartly worked squash and hopefully an indication of how TAKA will work out as the champion. ***


Other than a somewhat creative ending, this has nothing in the way of anything decent. If this match is any indication of Kawada’s motivational state then it’s a good thing he got out of AJPW when he did, because he’s horrible here. Kawada hands Raijin quite possibly the most uninspired (by Kawada) and brutal beating of Rajin’s career. He just fires off kicks, stomps, and chops for the hell of it, without any sort of fire. Even worse is that Raijn just sits there with his thumb up his ass most of the time, and takes the abuse. He never fights back with any gusto, or acts like his career and his life is on the line ala Jun Akiyama in ‘93 and ‘95, even though Kawada is more grumpy now than he was then, and Raijin is actually more experienced here than Jun was back then.

Ishikari throws a few nice dropkicks and has a beautiful German suplex, but other than those spots he’s just as uninspired as Kawada seemed to be. Kawada and Mutoh have the brilliant exchanges they usually have, with Kawada blowing off the Dragon screw to hit two kicks, and then Mutoh blowing off the kicks for the figure four and the Shining Wizard. The heat is pretty much nonexistent, save for Kawada and Mutoh’s opening segment of the match, and Kawada’s cheap shot at Mutoh on the apron (ironically the only time that Tosh did look motivated at all). The ending is creative with Raijin getting a little heat back after getting beaten like the proverbial government mule for most of the match, pinning Ishikari with a sunset flip after Mutoh hit a Shining Wizard, but aside from that part, this is all fast-forward material unless you need to see Kawada at his absolute worst.


What this match lacks in engrossing and offensive variety, it makes up for in storytelling, unfortunately the story they went with wound up being a bit flawed by the ending they had to arrive at, although the attempt is very much welcome. The big strength in the story that is told is the ‘less is more’ philosophy with the real lack of Sasaki in the match. Hayashi tries to bully around Nakajima, and after Nakajima shows that despite his youth and lack of experience, he’s more than able to take care of himself, they both tag. Sasaki and Kojima tell the same story from the other end. The new Triple Crown champion is facing an old rival, his old coach, and someone he’s never been able to beat in his career. Despite a valiant attempt by Kojima to assert his position and show that he’s the big dog now, he’s no match for Sasaki. Sasaki then faces Hayashi in an attempt to get some payback for Nakajima, he gives Kaz several free shots at him, before he just hauls off and decks him several times, dropping Hayashi like a safe. Gold or no gold, Sasaki clearly asserted himself as the top dog in the match.

Kojima and Hayashi don’t learn from what Kensuke did though, and as soon as Nakajima tags in, instead of a good clean match, they once again bully Nakajima, this time by targeting his taped up shoulder. This is where Kensuke’s absence comes into play. He’s not rushing to Nakajima’s aid at a moment’s notice to protect him. He knows that Nakajima can take care of himself, and that he’ll eventually be able to rise above the vicious attacks he’s on the receiving end of, and fight back. Nakajima does in fact do that, but not before he takes his beating like a man, and does a good job with putting over how much pain he’s really being put through. When he finally gets out of the match, upon ducking a charging Kojima, and stunning Kaz with a roundhouse, is when it starts to fall apart though. Kensuke understandably is angry and once again subjects Kojima and Kaz to some payback, but when they need Nakajima back into the ring for the finish it goes downhill.

There are several good ways to accomplish Nakajima being forced to fight, despite being considerably weakened. Kensuke once again putting his faith in Nakajima and having it backfire on him, when Nakajima can’t take any more abuse and gets pinned. Kensuke falling prey to a double team, or some cheating, which winds up putting Nakajima into a two-on-one situation. But nothing of the sort happens. Kaz of all people, hits a lucky roundhouse on Sasaki and then hits him with the WA4. That’s fine in theory, but Kensuke doesn’t sell like he’s knocked out or in a bad position. He rolls over and tags himself out, which immediately takes away from the impact of Kaz hitting the move on someone as the size of Sasaki. Nakajima falls victim to Kojima’s lariat, while Kensuke is being held back by Hayashi on the floor. It feels tacked on as a cop-out ending, rather than as the logical ending to the fun story they were telling, despite several ways it could have been an effective and logical ending.


It’s a very good thing that this led up to the biggest angle of 2005, not just in the ROD vs. VM feud, but in All Japan as a whole, with the shocking debut of Giant Bernard (a.k.a. A-Train of WWE) as the new member of the Voodoo Murders. This match is just so horrible, that the angle is the only thing that it has going for it. The work itself is just awful on almost all accounts, Stamboli does a nice twisting leg drop, but that’s seriously it, as far as good work goes. Finishers are of no consequence, as Palumbo completely blows off Kea’s TKO, to do the 187, and then Jamal gives Palumbo his Samoan Drop (nearly identical to the 187) and Palumbo just rolls out under his own power. They try to tell a story with Jamal being taken out early via VM cheating and using a chair to bust him open, and Kea fighting from underneath and Jamal getting revenge. But the work by the FBI, as well as Kea’s lousy selling completely kills any flow or momentum.

Logic also says that since both the World Tag Titles and the All Asia Tag Titles have a very bad recent history as it concerns the titles being vacated, it’s not that wise to put them up for grabs in a twenty-six minute long (and it felt much longer) time killer designed simply to run a big angle. It looked like both teams were shooting for the fun that they had in the 2/16 trios match. Unfortunately, none of these four are the fun workers that TAKA and Rico were in that match, as well as the fact that while the VM’s methods of cheating were over-the-top and original on 2/16, and here it’s just repetitive and boring. You can only see so many ways of watching Jamal get hit over the head with a chair (although the juice is nice). TARU actually manages to draw some heat by interfering and preventing Jamal from doing the Flying Sausage, but it’s more heat for prolonging the match, than for interfering. TAKA finally stops TARU from interfering and Jamal drops the Flying Sausage for the pin. Then during ROD’s celebration, Bernard shows up and beats the tar out of all three of them, but the bigger picture is that he took AJPW’s top gaijin worker in Jamal and completely left him laying. It’s an easy pick for the craziest and best angle that All Japan has run since the split. It’s still easy to see how a match with the same elements like the VM cheating, busting Jamal open and leaving Kea two-on-one, TARU interfering, and ROD overcoming the odds and winning, could all be present in a ten minute brawl, that would probably be a lot more fun, than this twenty-six minute nightmare.

Conclusion: It’s about 50/50 in the fun match department, and the Bernard debut angle is good stuff. The disappointing yet fun opener, and the junior title match are prime reasons why Mutoh’s AJPW is a fun little promotion. I’ll very slightly recommend this show, but be prepared for the worst.