January 8, 2006

The first major show of the new year by All Japan, and it’s a milestone. Three title matches, including the historical one hundredth match contested for the Triple Crown! Plus a shocking turn of events adds a new member to the ranks of the Voodoo Murders.

Akebono . . . makes me wish he wore a shirt while he wrestled.

TARU . . . causes a some serious juice to flow.

Arashi . . . is in a match so watchable that it’s almost scary.

A nice little video package opens things up to explain that there is some dissension in the ranks of ROD, concerning D’Lo Brown and Taiyo Kea. It’s followed up by some clips of Kea/TAKA vs. Palumbo/YASSHI, which features ROD getting the win after YASSHI gets hit with the TKO, as well as D’Lo and Kea getting into another argument. The real story is afterwards though, when YASSHI offers Kea a spot in the Voodoo Murders. Kea takes the shirt, but is undecided about whether or not he’ll join them.


David vs. Goliath type matches are fairly common in wrestling, and they can be a lot of fun. On paper this looks like an easy candidate for a fun match. Two young guys who are being touted as the future of All Japan, taking on one of the top guys in the company and his unstoppable tag partner. What makes this so underwhelming though is that neither Suwama nor Issei is able to get in any sort of offense that would give the impression of their team being able to get the win. Now obviously you can’t expect Mr. Suplex to be dishing it out to Akebono, but there is no good reason why neither of them doesn’t get much offense in on Mutoh. Issei does get an Argentine backbreaker on Mutoh, but other than that both of them mostly use forearms shots and tackles. Akebono’s girth doesn’t allow him to do much of anything, other than cause me to wish he wore a shirt when he wrestled, but it was a pleasant surprise to see him use the Black Hole Slam. Mutoh uses his usual stuff, and levels Issei with the Shining Wizard and then Akebono squashes him with the splash. The finish is obvious, but the ride there could have been so much more fun if the dojo boys had been able to get in more offense, or if Mutoh had gone the extra mile in putting over the little they did get.

SATOSHI KOJIMA © vs. TARU (Triple Crown)

With all the changes that All Japan had experienced, from the initial split, as well as the changes in ownership and direction, it’s great to see the Triple Crown had survived it all and made it to it’s one hundredth match. There was obviously no way that Kojima and TARU were going to have a match near the level of Jumbo vs. Tenryu, Misawa vs. Taue, or Kawada vs. Kobashi, but that’s the inherent problem with the Triple Crown right now, Kojima just doesn’t have any challengers who look like they could actually win. Lack of doubt concerning the finish aside, it’s certainly not the only thing that hurts this match. For starters, there doesn’t seem to be any indication or effort from either of them in terms of respecting such a milestone match. Some of the stuff done such as the ref bump, extended ref distraction, and brawl into the fans, all seems more suited for a trios or tag match, rather than an important Triple Crown match.

Of course being Kojima and TARU, they aren’t the brightest workers. They can both be fun, but they both require someone to carry the load to really be anything more. Which is where this really falls short. The match just doesn’t have any sort of story or flow to it at all. All they do is brawl with each other, without any sort of layout as to what they do, or why they do it. The only real storyline aspect comes when Kohei Wada takes over the referee’s duties, after TARU pulls the original ref into the path of the lariat (TARU had attacked and bloodied Wada before the match began). There isn’t any sense of focus or anything from Kojima when he’s on offense, and the only sense of focus that TARU brings is to work over Kojima’s cut on his forehead. TARU hitting the TARU Driller on the concrete could have made for a nice match breaker, but it wound up being a wasted spot. The CCD winds up being equally throwaway, and being Kojima it takes multiple lariats to put away TARU. Sometimes a storybook ending is just too much to ask for.

While the match itself leaves a decidedly bad taste in the mouth, the post match angle with Suwama turning heel and joining up with the VM is anything but. Obviously it was done as a swerve (and Mutoh accomplished his goal there) the actual execution of it is good as well. Suwama finally looks like the ass kicking suplex machine, as he throws around the All Japan ring boys. So if nothing else, this match taking place accomplished an impressive milestone in Triple Crown history, and a shocking swerve of a heel turn, that finally makes Suwama look credible.

SHUJI KONDO © vs. AKIRA (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)

When they were zeroing in on the injured limb, this was a fun little match. AKIRA brings plenty of flash and flare, and Kondo brings some nice power offense, so they’re both able to keep things looking interesting, but the action was mostly spotty. Of the two of them, Kondo is easily the best at working with the injured limb, which he does after YASSHI cracks AKIRA in the knee with the chair. Kondo brings some nasty offense to work over the knee, and AKIRA’s selling was good at first, but as things wore on it gradually got less and less. Kondo eventually does move on and use his strength to his advantage, rather than keeping at AKIRA’s knee, so it does make sense for AKIRA to not sell it as much. But then it’s hard to figure out why he used the knee as an excuse to not cover as the Musasabi, when he wasn’t having any trouble with it minutes before.

Kondo hurting his arm on the attempted lariat, and hitting the post is a nice moment. But AKIRA fails to capitalize as successfully at Kondo did. There are times when the arm comes into play, but never to the degree that Kondo makes AKIRA’s knee have that same effect. The run in and ref bump sucks, but at least the run in got paid off in a sense, when YASSHI got ran off by NOSAWA and MAZADA. The finish run is particularly fun, even with Kondo needing the KKL twice. It’s not as bad as Kojima needing five, and at least AKIRA took a wicked bump off the lariat. All it really lacked was a few convincing near falls, but AKIRA did well with avoiding the KKL and coming up with counters to the move, and giving it a huge sell job when Kondo hit it. The workers did an actual build up to the finishing move, and then paid it off? What kind of crazy idea is that?


It’s scary to see how watchable this actually is. Arashi shouldn’t be having fun matches, but here he is doing just that. Nakajima is easily the best performer here, and that’s a bit scary given the experience of the other three participants. Nakajima’s selling of his own kicks after Kaz takes out his knee is excellent, and Nakajima and Arashi working the simple Big Man vs. Little Man stuff was solid as well. Nakajima’s selling when he was in trouble was also quite good. Sasaki was almost the exact opposite of Nakajima here, no-selling left and right, and doing minimal offense. Kaz and Arashi were working *with* Nakajima, but Sasaki seems to be against that sort of thing in a wrestling match. Sasaki still has his frustrating habit of hogging the glory by beating down Nakajima’s opponents and then tagging him in, instead of letting Nakajima do anything on his own. Nakajima has shown that he’s quite talented given his age and experience, so why not let him run with it? The finish is almost an exact copy of their NOAH match from December. Kensuke nearly decapitates Hayashi with a lariat and leaves Nakajima to use a German suplex (with a gorgeous bridge) and get the pin.

Aside from Kensuke the match had some other issues though. First and foremost being execution, Arashi and Kaz’s powerbomb/spin kick looked especially bad. So did Kensuke’s facebuster to Hayashi, and Nakajima managed to whiff really big on a spin kick. Nakajima’s selling was good, but not always consistent. As oddly watchable as Arashi was, it’s also due to very basic nature of the exchanges between him and Sasaki. Whereas Hayashi was all over the page, with the flying moves and drilling Nakajima with the high impact stuff like the tombstone and WA4. So there were times when Arashi and Kaz didn’t gel together very well. Those sort of things keep this from being good, but it’s still shockingly decent, and we can only hope that Sasaki’s “wisdom” doesn’t start to rub off on young Katsuhiko.

Conclusion: Aside from a surprising final match, nothing here is really worth going out of your way to see. Devout AJPW fans will love it for the Suwama heel turn alone, and that was very well done. But as a whole, the show is really nothing special.