January 3, 2008

After etching himself into the annuls of All Japan history by winning the Real World Tag League, only one thing remains for Joe Doering: championship gold. Also, the Amigos bidding adios to All Japan opens the door for Kaz, TAKA, and NOSAWA to return, the dissension in the VM with SUWAMA boils over, and the annual junior heavyweight battle royal!

Nobutaka Araya . . . still can’t master the art of charging at an opponent in the corner, but at least he picks up a win.

Minoru Suzuki . . . utterly dismantles one of Kensuke Sasaki’s students, and that’s actually not a good thing for once.

SUWAMA . . . kills Hirai with suplexes and then celebrates his two years anniversary of joining the VM in a very fitting way.


The intensity they showed was impressive, but that was the only thing here that stood out. Each man was given a chance to control the match and show that, if nothing else, he was a competent wrestler, but neither man was able to do anything that might bring this to the next level. It’s not entirely their fault because they had so little experience, but you’d think that since they were given eight minutes in Korauken Hall, that they’d at least try to make it seem like they were rising to the occasion. The only storytelling is body part related, but they ride it out all they can for the last few minutes to make it at least interesting. It starts with Suruga missing a dropkick and Sanada taking advantage with the rookie killer, the crab hold. Suruga fights to the ropes and surprises Sanada with a Fujiwara armbar, and then its Sanada’s turn to get the ropes. From there on it’s Suruga kicking at Sanada’s arm while Sanada tries to go back to the hold, unsuccessfully, until he figures out what (at least Sanada thinks) that Suruga already knew. That if you wear down the body part first, the hold is more effective and it can cause a tap out. What a totally amazing excellent discovery! Sanada hits a backbreaker and then puts on the Stronghold/Liontamer type of crab hold for the win. There wasn’t anything outright bad, but it’s hard to praise the last few minutes too much when the first five were so dull.


I can’t imagine what purpose this served, aside from Kikutaro’s comedy stuff. Kikutaro basically plays the role of Jimmy Hart when he wound up having to team with one of his wrestlers. He’s scared to death of Hijikata (for good reason) but when Araya gets T28 in a compromising position, he’s all too willing to come in the put the boots to him before tagging out. Araya and Kikutaro also make sure to do their spot where Kikutaro tries to whip Araya into the corner to avalanche T28, but he keeps running into a boot. Hijikata is only seemingly there to intimidate Kikutaro and to kick Araya a few times to seemingly give his team a fighting chance. Most of the match is Araya beating on T28, Araya gives him a few chances to look good, although all he really does is dives and flying. It’s not bad, it’s actually some good flying, but it’s all that he shows, and it makes me wonder if that’s all that he has to offer. T28 does what he can, but Araya is just too big and too experienced (mostly too big) and in the ultimate slap in the face to the flyer, Araya pins him with a moonsault. The only worthwhile things here were the comedy spots. Hijikata’s talent was totally wasted.


It’s clear that this is better than the two previous matches, but this still has its own problems. There some pretty things going on, but not enough to salvage anything. The early exchanges on the mat with YASSHI and TAKA are excellent, it’s easy to look at YASSHI and not realize that he’s a product of T2P and can easily tie someone up in knots, but he shows it here when he seemingly effortlessly hangs with TAKA on the mat. TAKA and YASSHI start trading shots and TAKA outdoes YASSHI when he cheats first and goes to the eyes. YASSHI tries to avenge it a bit later but TAKA blocks the eye poke, and YASSHI grabs the junk for the claw. This is where they start to lose things, YASSHI is duller than dirt when he has to work over TAKA, there’s nothing done to build any sort of momentum. No hope spots for TAKA, no cheating to rile the fans up, it’s just YASSHI working over TAKA in the least interesting ways. TAKA doesn’t get a ‘hot tag’ he counters YASSHI on his own, scores a dropkick, and tags in Kaz himself.

Things pick up after Kaz tags in and they get quite good toward the end, but the damage was done by that point. All four are content to start throwing out spots without seemingly any motivation behind them to tell a story or to make anyone genuinely care about what’s going on. There’s a cool moment when Kondo charges for the Lanzarse and TAKA dodges him and Kaz counters into a crossface, while TAKA traps YASSHI in the Just Facelock. But after a few minutes Kondo escapes and saves YASSHI. Kondo doesn’t power out, or find some cool counter or anything, he just sort of crawls out. There was a potentially good tease of a hot near fall when YASSHI kicked TAKA low and rolled him up, but TAKA kicked out, and went right after YASSHI like nothing happened, and then quickly finished him off with the Michinoku Driver. Honestly, this isn’t all that much better than the first match, but these four have enough experience that they should be capable of a hell of a lot more than that.


Considering that the match itself was only here to set up the angle with TAKEMURA, it’s no surprise that it’s rather pedestrian. There are a couple of nice moments, like NOSAWA spitting on Nishimura to stop Nishimura’s flurry of European Uppercuts, and NOSAWA and MAZADA pulling out a few Kai En Tai double teams on Soya. NOSAWA and MAZADA mocking Nishimura and his bow before the match started was also amusing. But for the most part, most of the match is spent sitting in headlocks and other various rest holds, until the ref bump. The ref went down, Soya got posted, TAKEMURA showed up and poured a bucket of water over Nishimura’s head, and the Tokyo Gurentai proceeded to beat on Soya until the ref called for the DQ. The match wasn’t anything special, but the angle was cool, and I hope TAKEMURA might be able to light some kind of fire in NOSAWA and MAZADA, the way he did for Gedo and Jado back in ‘03.


One of the few things that I think that U.S. wrestling does better than Japan is the battle royal. In the U.S. it’s usually all action with everyone in the match doing something and showing that they want to win. In the Japanese versions, as shown here, the wrestlers just stand around while two guys work. I can understand that, to a point, in this match since the bulk of them had already wrestled, but it still doesn’t make for very engaging viewing.

The comedy bits do help a great deal though, like YASSHI, who’s won it for the last two years (and nobody has won it three times), eliminating himself when he inadvertently causes Kondo to be eliminated. Another good touch was Fuchi spending a three minute stretch giving everyone a bodyslam until TAKA gave him a small package to eliminate him, and then everyone turned the hold over to they could eliminate TAKA. There were a few throwbacks to the matches from earlier on the card, like Hijikata teeing off on Kikutaro and nobody being there to save him, and Kikutaro eliminating T28. The bulk of the action comes from Kaz and Hijikata, the final two. They both hit their finisher, the WA4 and Fisherman’s buster for near falls, and then wind up trading cradles and counters for near falls until Hayashi gets the win. I wish there would be something at stake in these matches so that it wouldn’t be such an exhibition, but it’s long been a tradition in All Japan, and I’m fine with respecting tradition.


Considering that all seventeen minutes of this are shown in full, this just might be the longest squash match that I’ve ever seen, they could have easily knocked a good ten minutes of this off and had the exact same effect. The Abdullah/Kensuke exchanges are amusing in a sort of car crash way. Sasaki is known for the stopping power of his chops and lariats, but against someone the size of Abdullah, they don’t seem that bad. Of course Abdullah is also nearly immobile, so it’s not like he’s going to have a ton of things to do himself, and all that he really has at his disposal are his thrusting chops, which look positively timid, and it’s more amusing than it is anything else to watch Sasaki, the Triple Crown Champion, having to sell those strikes. To his credit, he does sell them, which is more than what he usually does.

The bulk of the match is made up of Suzuki and Yamaguchi, and it’s what you’d expect, and that’s not always a good thing. It’s fun to watch Suzuki smack around the student for a little while, but it just goes on and on and on. Yamaguchi doesn’t do much to fight back, and the few things that he does try to do wind up being tools for Suzuki to make him look foolish. A good example of that is the armbar spot, when Suzuki locked in a reverse armbar, and all Yamaguchi had to do to alleviate the pressure was to just flip his body over, which he did, but that also put him into position for a juji-gatame, which Suzuki quickly locked in. When Yamaguchi tries to fight back with slaps and forearm shots, Suzuki just grins and slaps him back or attacks with knee strikes. The one brief time that Yamaguchi got a breath featured Kensuke beating Suzuki from one side of the ring to the other. As soon as Yamaguchi was back into the match, it was back to the beating, and by the time Suzuki locked in the sleeper it was like a mercy killing. I’m at a loss for what the point of this was. Maybe it was to make it clear that Kensuke is the top dog, or maybe it was Suzuki being Suzuki, but either way, they took a match with a lot of fun potential and killed it.

A nice little video package explains that since SUWAMA and Kojima lost in the finals of the tag league, there has been some dissension in the ranks of the VM. SUWAMA stormed out of the VM interview after the tag league finals. On 1/2 SUWAMA refused to help Kojima by holding Mutoh in place for TARU’s Axe kick, and when Mutoh broke SUWAMA’s grip when he was being held for Kojima’s lariat, Kojima paused for a second and then hit SUWAMA.


It seems weird that the video package was shown before this match, since there wasn’t anything here to add to the dissension. Even something simple like YASSHI (seconding SUWAMA and ZODIAC) interfering or trying to, and SUWAMA getting mad at him for it would have sufficed. As it is, this is just a quickie five minute time waster, and nothing notable until the very end. SUWAMA beats on Hirai, Kea beats on SUWAMA, and then ZODIAC gets involved leaving SUWAMA with Hirai and SUWAMA finishes him off. That’s the whole match, and until the end when SUWAMA spikes Hirai with a German suplex and then muscles him off the mat, a la Gary Albright, for a second one, there’s nothing particularly notable or interesting.


It’s fitting to end a rather low key show with a rather low key match. Considering Doering’s lack of experience and the limitations of TARU and Kojima, it’s no surprise that the work itself is rather basic, but nearly all of the action takes place in the last few minutes. The bulk of the match involves the four of them just sitting in holds to kill time, and there are times when they’ve got the chance to take the match somewhere and pass it up in favor of more time killing holds. There was a good chance with Doering’s arm, which had previously been hurt during the tag league, Kojima had worked it over with an armbar, and the heels had started to shark in on it, but just as quickly as it became a target it was forgotten about in favor of other useless holds and typical VM brawling tactics. It says a lot when a hot tag to Mutoh and his typical Dragon screw attacks are considered high end offense.

Once the ref gets bumped, the action picks up hugely. Kojima goes to town on Doering with a chair and breaks it over his head, and Doering totally no sells it and starts making a comeback. Mutoh traps Kojima in a figure four and TARU is a dead man. TARU tries to use the bat, but Joe snatches it away and bends it. Joe unloads on TARU with a series of big moves, and finishes him off with the spiral bomb, and makes himself that much more ingrained into the fine tradition of All Japan by winning the World Tag Team Titles. You really only need to see the last five minutes to catch all the action and excitement. I can understand wanting a longer match for a title change, but there wasn’t any reason to have this go for twenty-seven minutes, when they guys involved didn’t even have enough to fill up half of that. The action continues after the bell with the VM brawling with the new champions and the AJPW guys at ringside. SUWAMA comes out, and nearly two years to the day that he joined the VM by attacking Kojima, SUWAMA bids the VM farewell the same way. SUWAMA runs everyone off except TARU, TARU first tries to reason with him and then attack him, only for SUWAMA to plant him with a German suplex. SUWAMA and Mutoh shake hands, and, in a nice little touch, SUWAMA ignores Doering, who he’d been feuding with for about three months. The match itself was more than a bit of a let down, but the result and the aftermath are outstanding.

Conclusion: Considering how much fun All Japan has been in 2008, this is more than a big disappointing, but with TAKEMURA’s debut and SUWAMA’s babyface turn, it started planting the seeds for what made AJPW so much fun. Thumbs down for the show in full, but try to check out the tag title match and aftermath in some form or another.