March 23, 2008

The Hold Out Tour is usually just the placeholder series before the Champions Carnival with nothing especially important or exciting taking place, but this year though. Joe Doering goes into the Carnival, not only with gold, but with another big victory under his belt. The juniors also get a chance to shine with the junior tag league.

Nobukazu Hirai . . . shows some flare and personality, despite not having done anything in All Japan in years.

Joe Doering . . . continues his winning ways, by pinning a former Triple Crown Champion.

Ryuji Hijikata . . . scores a huge win and heads toward bigger and better things, after far too long.

This is the final night of the tournament, there are three more league matches and then the top two teams meet in the finals.


Aside from the booking, there isn’t anything about this match that’s particularly surprising. NOSAWA and MAZADA are fun enough heels, but, as workers, they’re far from interesting. That said, they aren’t vastly different here, they each break out some cool spots and they’ve got some fun double teams, but other than that they just punch and kick a lot. KAI and Yamato take their beating well, especially when they get trapped in submissions and really make the holds look excruciating. When it’s time to go home, KAI and Yamato aren’t much better or different from their opponents, they just start throwing out their own spots culminating with Yamato pinning MAZADA with a straightjacket suplex after a big splash from KAI. It’s cool to see the young boys finally return some of the abuse and to see them score the win, but there just wasn’t anything engrossing enough to take this to the next level.


You’d figure that the previous match would have a more interesting dynamic with NOSAWA and MAZADA’s heel characters, but you’d be wrong. Everyone here has a simple role and plays it well. Hijikata and Nakajima each kick hard enough on their own, as poor T28 finds out, but then they go and hit him with several sandwiching roundhouse kicks. KUSHIDA’s flashiness makes for some fun eye candy, it’s easy to sit back and marvel at what he can do. KUSHIDA makes a good hot tag for T28, and he rattles off several nice spots including getting a near fall on Hijikata with a reverse suplex and seated dropkick. KUSHIDA’s quick run just gives T28 a quick breather and then turns things back over to T28, but that only allows for one near fall before he gets finished off. Hijikata mostly stays out of the way here, to let Nakajima show off his growth and progression, and T28 was as good as finished after their version of Total Elimination, but Hijikata gives Nakajima the go-ahead to use his German suplex for the win. This is essentially a squash, but it’s a very fun squash with everyone bringing something to the table, only T28 seemed to bring the minimum, but even that was enough to get the point across.


Seeing as the winners would be going on to face Hijikata and Nakajima in the finals it’s understandable that they were holding back to a certain degree, but at the same time it’s disappointing because these four all have enough experience behind them that there’s no reason why they couldn’t steal the show. This is still a lot of fun, because they do a number of cool things, but it’s just filler, without any sort of focus or direction. There’s a fun moment in the early stages when King backs Samurai into the corner and does a clean break with a back somersault to show off his Lucha skills. Samurai responds to that by hitting King with a series of armdrags to show off his own Lucha prowess. Kaz and Kondo, as usual, play up the Speed vs. Power aspect with Kaz taking to the air to keep Kondo on his toes, including one of their favorite spots, when Kondo will attempt The Original, only for Kaz to counter that with a hurricanrana. There’s one point when it looks like they’re going to try to tell a bit of a story when King and Samurai go at it on the floor and hurt Samurai’s leg, but after he gets a breather and Kaz tags him back in, it’s like there’s nothing wrong. The heel team gets their own cool spot with King and Kondo countering the Tornado DDT and setting up Samurai for a Doomsday Device. In the end though it’s a simple cradle that gets it done, when Samurai ducks the KKL and rolls up Kondo with the Samurai clutch for the win. A finish that would have easily worked just as well if they’d decided to continue working over his leg and heeling things up.


Wow. You’d think this would a quick squash for the VM team, and it is, but there’s still a number of fun moments here from the lambs sent to slaughter to make this worth the time spent on it. I don’t know who’s under the Voodoo Mask (when I saw the match listing I was thinking ZODIAC, but this guy is a lot smaller), but he does a really good job bumping and selling for Hirai, the guy who hasn’t won a meaningful match in forever. Hirai, bless him, even shows a bit of personality when he’s knocking around Voodoo Mask, at one point he even mocks Kojima when he gives Mask a lariat in the corner and does Kojima’s taunt, and then does an elbow off the top. As for Araya, it’s same old, same old, and you wonder if All Japan is ever going to do something with him, like they seemed to be on the verge of doing in 2003, or if he’s just going to continue to flounder. He tries to charge at TARU while he’s on the ropes and gets kicked in the face each time. He tries to charge at Kojima in the corner and gets kicked in the face, he does catch Kojima with a lariat as he comes out the corner. Sanada tags in and hits Kojima with a lariat in the corner, to continue making Araya look worthless.

There’s isn’t very much notable from the heels. They’re their usual brawling and cheating selves. It seemed weird that Kojima would need to use a chair on Sanada of all people, but it worked because it got over Kojima’s heel character, and it led to Sanada getting a bit fired up and trying to fight back before Kojima finished him off. Kojima hits him with the chair and then gives him a brainbuster on the chair. Sanada kicks out at two and gets himself all fired up, he hits a dropkick and gets his own near fall on Kojima when he ducks Kojima’s lariat and hits a German suplex. But all good things must come to an end, and Sanada charges into a lariat and Kojima gets the win. If All Japan wants to play up Kojima learning the secret of the lariat from Stan Hansen, then Kojima should at least have the decency to make it look as brutal as Hansen’s, this one looked like he barely touched Sanada.


The idea here is to continue playing up Kea’s losing streak (which had started on 3/1), and it’s a good idea in theory and there are ways that they get that message across, but there’s far too much downtime here to take this to the next level. One of the biggest problems with the match (as odd as it might seem) is that it’s totally clean, while that seems like a good idea in theory, nobody cheating or doing any sort of heelish stuff means that there’s no reason for the fans to get behind anyone in particular. Watch the extended control segment on SUWAMA, the fans are totally silent both while they’re working him over, and when SUWAMA attempts to make a comeback. There’s the token applause for things like Nishimura’s head scissors escape, and the prerequisite spot where there are dual submissions being applied (figure four and stranglehold gamma in this case), but there’s no sense that the fans really *care* about what’s happening.

Again, playing up the losing streak angle is smart on their part, but it’s done far too infrequently here to make a significant difference. Maybe if it was Kea that was in trouble for the extended period of time instead of SUWAMA then it’d be worth the time that its given, but that would also require Kea to go all out, something that he’s rarely done well. Kea’s effectiveness here is on full display when it’s his turn to work over SUWAMA, and SUWAMA easily keeps Kea at bay and tags in Mutoh. Mutoh does all of one move, he traps Kea in a crossface, and then calmly tags SUWAMA right back in, rather than having the much more fresh Doering expend any energy on Kea. Kea gets stuck in a three-on-one situation, and gets whipped to the corner and all three of them charge at him, Mutoh hits a Shining Wizard and Doering hits the Revolution Bomb to finish him off. Kea doing the job was the obvious ending, and Doering continues to rack up big wins, by pinning a former Triple Crown Champion, but there’s really no sort of build to Doering’s win. It’s as though the result was supposed to speak for itself, which it does, but not enough to matter that much when Doering already has accomplished so much, and Kea has been in a slump.


Aside from a brief moment of stupidity from Kaz and Nakajima where they take turns blowing off backdrops and kicks, this is rather fun and smartly worked. It’s really too bad that there wasn’t anything truly at stake here other than bragging rights, especially with the All Asia Tag Titles seemingly sitting in Mutoh’s attic collecting dust. It’s got a number of smart moments and touches, and the final stretch is the icing on the cake. At first it looks like Hijikata and Nakajima’s strategy is to work over El Samurai’s knee, which makes it seem more odd that the heels in their other match didn’t do anything special with it. But El Samurai puts the kibosh on that when he counters Hijikata’s running kick on the apron into a powerbomb on the floor, and bless him, Hijikata puts it over awesomely, despite that’s usually just a throwaway spot for a big crowd pop. Kaz and Samurai take full advantage, and Kaz is especially smart with his attacks on Hijikata’s neck, even if it’s not always that interesting, such as the knee drops and elbow smashes to the back of the neck. But even with the boring stuff, he throws in a few cool spots like the straightjacket hold and the piledriver on the apron.

Nakajima gets his own chance to shine when Hijikata finally gets a tag (after Kaz charged into one of his roundhouse kicks) and after running through the stupidity laced no-selling bits with Kaz, he has several good exchanges with Samurai. They do lot of countering and blocking before Nakajima finally gets to dish out some offense, it looks a lot like the stuff that Samurai and KENTA were doing in the 1/10/04 NOAH match, which did a lot to help KENTA look like a future junior ace. That’s been El Samurai’s job description for a few years now, to help get the young guys to the next level, and he does it here as good as he’s ever done. He does it not by putting his flying shoes on whenever Nakajima lands a strike or move, but by forcing him to show how good a wrestler that he is and making him earn everything.

The final stretch when it’s down to Kaz and Hijikata is where Hijikata shows that he can come through in the clinch, and while Kaz is no Samurai, Hijikata is good enough himself to make up the difference. He’s behind the 8-ball thanks to an errant kick from Nakajima, and the opposition pounces right on him, and goes for the quick win with his usual array of finishers, but not once does Hijikata no-sell something. The closest that he gets to that is his kick out of a Tiger suplex, hardly amongst Hayashi’s finishers. Nakajima makes the save when he gets planted with a Tombstone from Kaz followed by a diving headbutt from Samurai and that’s followed by a big splash from Kaz. Hijikata counters the first attempt at the WA4 into a sunset flip, and the second attempt has Kaz hit the move, but Hijikata counters to a cradle. Nakajima saves again when Kaz hits the Final Cut, and Hijikata counters the second Final Cut and hits a series of slaps, knee strikes, and kicks to regain control. Hijikata hits the Fisherman’s buster for a near fall, and then, instead of doing it again, he alters it somewhat so that when he lands he can cradle Hayashi’s legs and gets his first major win as a result. These guys are never going to be in main events, except for matches like this, but it was great to see them try to take advantage of the opportunity. ***1/4

Conclusion: Aside from the semi-main event, there wasn’t anything bad here, everything else is fun in some form or another, which is something I appreciate far more than one match shows. The big selling point here is the main event, but if you can’t find it without getting the full show, it’s not a bad pickup at all.